by Michael Lewis
David is a common given name in Wales because St. David or Dewi Sant is the patron saint of the Principality and as much celebrated as St. Patrick in Ireland. The name is usually shortened to Dai. I have five Davids in my family including a son.
Dai Anthony, my Uncle Dave, a small but feisty man, was married to my mother’s younger sister my Auntie Sybil. She was a small person, too, but gave the impression of being tiny because she was so thin; the bones of her limbs and face seemed to glow through her skin. The largest part of her was her right arm which she earned honestly as we shall see.
I knew them well because during WWII I lived with them in my grandpa and grandmother’s multigenerational home. With the lodger Robert and the dogs and my cousins Ronny and Ken and Uncle Les, it was a busy place, especially when the men were coming home from the pit and the tin tub, placed in front of the kitchen fire, had to be filled with hot water for them to bath in. That’s what those very large copper kettles were for that one now sees in antique stores all polished up after their long hard-working lives.
Uncle Dave’s nickname was “Gwiwer” (Squirrel) which he tolerated but didn’t much like.
Uncle Dave’s nickname was “Gwiwer” (Squirrel) which he tolerated but didn’t much like. He really hated “Y Wiwer” (The Squirrel) and that apparently got him into fights with teasers. Though not a big man he was quick and punched above his weight and those on the receiving end soon learned respect. However, as a young man, dad told me, he had a black eye most of the time.
His small stature and quickness might have explained his nickname and, I have to admit, he had a rather pointy face, big teeth and a quick almost jerky way of moving his head and limbs. However, he earned the nick-name by his exploits on the soccer field.
Dad said he was an exceptional player and earned a dozen caps by playing several seasons for the national soccer team in the 20s and 30s. Apparently, he was a semi-professional player who played every weekend of the season with his club team. The immense salaries for playing soccer were years in the future; even Stanley Matthews, later Sir Stanley and the most celebrated English player of the era, made the top wage of 5-pounds in the 1930s. I’m sure Squirrel earned much less in rugby-mad-Wales, but, like Matthews, he was a quick and elusive outside right. I’m sure if he made only ten bob per game it was valuable income in those straitened times.
By the time I was a teenager, Uncle Dave was the Steward (manager) of the imposing Llanharran Workingmen’s Club in Pont-y-Clun. It was a wealthy enterprise and the club owned a significant share of the local Crown Brewery. These members-only clubs were all over south Wales because, for example, they could be open on Sundays when the blue laws closed pubs. Also, the beer was cheap and the club had excellent facilities for snooker, billiard, darts and whist, Bingo, weekend dances and a well-equipped stage for variety shows. The local rugby and soccer teams made it their home. The Club was a kind of community center.
Uncle Dave ran a tight ship and was a fastidious manager: he scolded me once, while helping out at the club, for picking up the empty glasses in the wrong way by putting my fingers in them. “Don’t do that Michael. Use a tray,” he said.
Uncle Dave paid to install one-arm bandits, for amusement of the members, on the understanding with the governors on The Committee that he would keep any income. The members loved Las Vegas-style gambling, of course, and, because the punters put in real money to win tokens that were good for purchases at the bar, the machines were a gold mine.
One evening an old lady had unusually bad luck. Uncle Dave, who had a chapel-going Puritan streak, became more and more agitated as he watched her squander her money. Towards closing time he approached the machine, put in a key:
“Sorry, Blodwyn, love, but I have to shut the machine. Just one more pull, now, OK?”
That was Uncle Dave: tough as nails and demanding but kind too.
Hard to believe but Double Jackpot! He traded the tokens for cash. That was Uncle Dave: tough as nails and demanding but kind too.
Of course, the bar was the main focus of the club and that was Auntie Sybil’s domain. In any bar the cheapest beer is drawn from a barrel stored in the cellar where it remains cool; it must be pulled up to the bar using a beer engine. This is called “pulling a pint” because it requires that considerable force be applied to the handle located on the bar-top. Auntie Sybil could pull pints all night and had the muscles to prove it.
One evening I was at the club when Auntie Sybil had to leave for a few moments. It was a quiet time so she asked me to take over the bar, which I was happy to do; I think all men want to be a Jackie Gleason. Well it’s not so simple. My first and only customer wanted a pint of bitter, a G-and-T for the missus, 20 Players, peanuts and a bag of Smith’s crisps. I could find all these bits and pieces, but I knew I could not add the prices (pounds, shillings and pence) quickly enough to avoid a scolding. So I said, “Whaddy-ya think --- a couple of quid should cover it?” He agreed with alacrity and we parted friends.
I told Auntie Sybil that I might owe the till some money, and recounted my experience. She laughed. “Iolo Jones, that old bugger. He orders the same thing every night and knew exactly how much he owed.”