• Judith Barrow Author

Memories of Moving to Pembrokeshire: What Really Happened. My Dream, His Nightmare?#MondayBlogs

Updated: Mar 2

Photo courtesy @David Barrow

Judith's Version:

July 1978

We found Pembrokeshire by accident.

With three children under three, an old cottage half renovated and a small business that had become so successful that we were working seven days a week, we were exhausted. David, my husband, thought we should get off the treadmill; at least for a fortnight.

Pre-children, cottage and business, we always holidayed in Cornwall. But we decided it was too far with a young family and an unreliable van. We’d go to Wales; not too difficult a journey from Lancashire, we thought.

Once that was mentioned, David was eager to see Four Crosses, near Welshpool, where his grandfather originated from.

‘We could stay there,’ he said.

‘But the children will want beaches,’ I protested. ‘And I’ve heard Pembrokeshire has wonderful beaches.

Photo courtesy David Barrow

We agreed to toss a coin and Pembrokeshire won. We’d call at Four Crosses on the way home.

I borrowed books on Wales from the library and, balancing our 8-month-old twins, one on each knee, I read as much as I could about the county. It sounded just the place to take children for a holiday. We booked a caravan and, when the big day came, packed the van to the hilt with everything the children would need, remembering only at the last minute, to throw a few clothes in for ourselves.

It took 10 hours.

In 1978 there was no easy route from the North of England to West Wales.

We meandered through small lanes, stopping for emergencies like much needed drinks, picnics, lavatory stops and throwing bread to the ducks whenever our eldest daughter spotted water. I’d learned to keep a bag of stale bread for such times.

The closer we were to our destination the slower we went. In the heat of the day the engine in our old van struggled; we needed to top up the radiator every hour or so. For the last 50 miles we became stuck in traffic jams.

We got lost numerous times.

All this and three ever-increasingly fractious children.

We arrived at the caravan site in the middle of the night so were relieved to find the key in the door.

The owner, a farmer, had given up and gone home.

Photo courtesy @ David Barrow

I woke early. Leaving David in charge of our exhausted and still sleeping family, I crept out.

The sun was already warm; a soft breeze barely moved the leaves on the oak tree nearby. Skylarks fluttered and swooped overhead, calling to one another.

Although the caravan was one of four in the farmer’s field, we were the only people there. It was so quiet, so peaceful.

photo courtesy@ David Barrow

I walked along a small path. Within minutes I was faced by a panorama of sea. It seemed so still from the top of the cliff, but the water blended turquoise and dark blue with unseen currents, the horizon was a silvery line.

Faint voices from two small fishing boats carried on the air.

The sandstone cliffs curved round in a natural cove. Jagged rocks, surrounded by white ripples of water, jutted up towards the sky.

Photo courtesy @ David Barrow

I fell in love with Pembrokeshire.

I’d always liked living so close to the Pennines. The moors, criss-crossed by ancient stone walls, were glorious with wild rhododendrons in summer, heather in the autumn. Even when brooding under swathes of drifting mist or white-over with snow, I was happy there.

But Pembrokeshire has a powerful glory of its own.

Within months we’d thrown caution, and our past lives, to the wind and moved here, much to the consternation of our extended family

David's Version:

November 1978

Photo courtesy @ David Barrow

It’ll be better for the children,’ she said. ‘Pembrokeshire’s beautiful and has to have a better climate than at home – please, I love the house, let’s buy it.

It was a blind leap of faith. With a little bit of research we would have found out Pembrokeshire was one of the wettest counties in Britain. But there was no such thing as Google in those days – and besides, when we went there on holiday, the sun shone.

And the children had been very ill with measles and whooping cough and the doctor had said we needed to move to somewhere milder, warmer.

So the decision was made.

I packed in my job with her optimistic words echoing in my ears. ‘You’re a qualified electrician; you’ll get a job anywhere.’ Said goodbye to lifelong friends with my promise of keeping in touch and their promise of, ‘We’ll come and see you next summer; have a holiday with you.’ With much grinding of my teeth to keep smiling throughout all the recriminations of family, who insisted in declaring we were moving to the ends of the earth, we put one life behind us and looked with optimism towards a new future.

Photo courtesy@Pixabay

The day we moved in it rained all day; I remember thinking, better climate my arse. At least back home we knew what to expect every morning when we got up and looked through the window. The village we lived in on the Pennine moors was either shrouded in mist so thick you could almost taste it, or the rain was coming down in stair rods, swept almost horizontal by the wind. In summer, even though the sun shone you could be blown off your feet as soon as you set foot outside. And in winter you’d be snowed in for weeks.

Photo courtesy@Pixabay

So, with each mile nearer to our new home I became more disenchanted. Looking back to the day we viewed the new house I suddenly remembered wiping the muck off the inside of that bedroom window and looking out, thinking it wasn’t really a village; just shops and a road with houses. At least in the place we’d lived in since we were kids, there were five pubs, three churches, a Labour Club and A Con club (actually, thinking back, that was an apt name for the Conservative Club, bearing in mind today’s Government). Anyhow, as I said five pubs, three churches, two clubs – a good ratio that covered all options.

Driving along the winding exposed roads on the tops after Newtown we passed a straggling line of men.

‘I wonder what they’re doing,’ she said.

‘Minding their own bloody business,’ I muttered, peering through the windscreen. Forty miles back the windscreen wipers developed a judder and threatened to give up the ghost. So every now and then I’d have to wind my window down and give them a shove. With every blast of cold air the kids howled, my wife’s chin quivered with a contrived brave smile and my jacket sleeve became more sodden. A few miles further on I realised they could have been a group of poor immigrants, wearily making their way away from Wales and I was seriously on the verge of turning around and offering some of them a lift back with me to England. I could have squashed them in somehow.

Earlier that morning, when the removal van and the car were packed up to the gills with our life’s necessities I joked we were taking everything with us bar the kitchen sink.

When we got to the house in Pembrokeshire I wished we had brought the kitchen sink. Oh and the bath. The guy who’d built the house had gone bankrupt and he’d stripped the place before the Receiver stepped in. There was no water, no electricity, no heating – it was November and we had three kids under three. And there was definitely no telephone to let the rest of the family that we’d arrived. Which, as it turned out, wasn’t a bad thing; the babies were screaming, the toddler was throwing a right paddy because we’d lost her comfort blanket and Judith was skriking.

Photo courtesy @ David Barrow

I put my arms around all four of them and asked her, ‘are you sorry we’ve moved?’

‘No,’ she wailed, ‘I love this house.’

Photo courtesy@Pixabay

Three weeks later it was still raining; boy did it rain.

Photo courtesy@Pixabay

And then the cold weather set in and the pipes froze. And so did we.

I went to the Job Centre and was sent to what was then the Benefits Agency. They wanted to know everything except the size and make of my underpants. ‘Sod that for a soldier,’ I said, ‘I’ll start up on my own.’

So, with fingerless mittens donned, Judith dragged out her old typewriter, typed a whole load of leaflets and, with the twins in the pushchair and the eldest balanced on the handle, trooped off to push them through letterboxes.

We’d managed to get the electricity and water turned back on the week we arrived and so while she was out I carried on installing the kitchen sink and a bathroom suite. They’d used up most of our savings. Carpets came later, much later. So, because of this and because the house was larger than the last one we lived in and because the furniture was spread so thinly between the all rooms the place echoed emptily. One table, two chairs and three high chairs presiding in splendid isolation in the dining room, thirty foot by twenty, with no curtains.

When I could afford the petrol, I got in the car and ventured further afield delivering more leaflets. I put an advert in the local newspaper.

And then we waited – and waited.

We didn’t starve; Judith worked wonders with vegetables, chicken and mince. And we kept warm with the little heater that we trailed from room to room, wherever we were in the house, and saved electricity by all going to bed with hot water bottles when it got dark.

And still we waited, avoiding one another’s eyes over the of the children’s heads, refusing to put words to our fear. To our failure.

And then one day there was a knock on the front door; my first job. Such a relief, I can tell you.

And, to cut a long story short, it took off from there. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, that there weren’t times when the money didn’t come in, that I didn’t have sleepless nights worrying over unpaid bills and red reminders.

Or that, forty-two years later, I don’t look back on that wet depressing journey, that day in November of nineteen-seventy-eight and remember the sheer terror as we made that blind leap of faith.

But I what I will say, it was one of the best moves we ever made in our lives.

Photo courtesy @ David Barrow

Writings and Reviewings: https://judithbarrow.blogspot.com/ Where I post my views on books and connect with other authors. Please feel free to visit anytime.

My latest book: The Memory - to be released on March 19, 2020...

"Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future..." https://amzn.to/3bHKFOE



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