As the wind howls outside and the intermittent rain makes this year’s run-up to Christmas decidedly non-festive, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to venture outside purely for pleasure.
While lots has been happening in our lives lately, I have to admit we’ve not got an awful lot of hiking done in the past few weeks. And despite my passion for the great outdoors, I’m not half as keen to get out there in the middle of December.
I’m not a great lover of winter at the best of times. Getting up when it’s still dark, the need to have electric lights on from mid afternoon, the garden windblown and neglected… from November onwards, a dampness seems to settle upon Britain that doesn’t lift until February when our spirits are temporarily boasted with the promise of spring. Too soon we’re cruelly plunged back into winter, real winter this time, often with icy temperatures and heavy snow.
How long before scientists work out a way of getting those low pressure systems to occasionally avoid Britain?
I don’t do cosy… my family accuses me of having created a summer home with its lack of wallpaper, carpets, curtains (I prefer blinds) or even very much furniture. I prefer to replicate the wide open spaces I adore within my home with the result that any walls that can be removed are, our staircase is now open plan and furniture is kept to a minimum.
I really don’t know if I could live in a house where the decor hadn’t been updated for years and I couldn’t do anything about it. A house where the windows rattled so much you feared they might blow out at any time, or where the interior walls were so damp that slugs would come out of the old fireplace onto the carpets to play (slither?) at night.
These days, of course, the poet’s former home has been completely refurbished and restored to its former glory, but back in 2001, the house had definitely seen better days.
The current owner, Geoff Haden, has lovingly restored Dylan Thomas’s family home, however he did take photographs of how it looked when he bought it, which was how it looked when Harri lived there.
Harri lived mostly in the upstairs rooms, although he and his former partner were able to use all the house if there were no readings or creative writing classes going on downstairs. 5 Cwmdonkin Drive was sometimes opened to the public and, on those occasions, if Harri needed a book from the shelf downstairs, he’d find himself mingling with Dylan Thomas fans.
Visitors had no choice but to imagine how the former student house, privately owned but leased to Swansea City Council, might have looked in the poet’s 1920s childhood; while the basic structure of the house remained unchanged, there were some ‘modern’ additions like the second first floor bathroom, adjacent to the original.
It seems a strange way to live, but Harri said he got used to sharing his kitchen with visitors.
‘Sometimes you’d come out of the front door and there’d be people taking photographs,’ he remembers.
It still happens now of course.
We visited the Uplands at the end of August while we were planning and walking the routes in our ebook Dylan’s Welsh Walks and I was one of those people standing on the opposite side of the road so that I could get the whole house and its blue plaque in my photograph.
Unfortunately, there was no time to go inside (you need to book a tour) but we did seize the opportunity to pop down to another of Dylan Thomas’s favourite childhood haunts, the beautiful Cwmdonkin Park.
Harri’s not the sentimental kind, but I think he’s rather proud that he once shared a home with Wales’s most famous poet… even if they did live there nearly 70 years apart.
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