John Summers


The Raging Summer

Extract from Chapter 8 - The Preachers

In springtime you could hear the rain cropping at the hot split stones that tiled the roofs of Colliers Row and the thirsty sound of it going into the hot mountain that hadn’t tasted rain for weeks now. And in the rain a first blackbird would start singing.

‘Ach y fi! Ach y fi!’ The preachers were already pounding into us all about the filth of the canned Hollywood culture that was unreeling out of the film-cans in the Scala cinema of a Saturday night when the walls ran with sweat from the bated breaths of the packed audience, till we reeled ourselves out for twopennorth of chips to eat-in-the-hand going home along the frost-starred pavements, still goggle-eyed from, and temples throbbing with, hot congas danced down South America way, and something called the Big Apple jerked by bouncily-buttocked girls flounced with feathers.

Threatening umbrella aloft, grim flag of God, the black umbrella with the malacca cane handle bound by a plain gold ring that was the Welsh preacher’s real mark of his deep profession and respectability. The umbrella does for a Welsh preacher what a top hat does for a London stockbroker. Carried in the hand, never furled but left loose and flapping, readying perhaps for the Last Trump’s final deluge. ‘Ach y fi!’ The umbrella blackly aloft in grim abhorrence. ‘Ach y fi!’

For a collier, an umbrella would be out of place. Pit workers prefer to take the rain in their faces. Turning up the collars of their coats to it, perhaps and hunching shoulders to the wind-driven blow, enjoying the sting of fresh rain in their faces.

No miner who spends his days down in the dark ever flinches away from wind-driven snow either. They take the snowflakes in the face, in the mouth, as something to enjoy, and that smell and taste of polar fresh air.

But a big black umbrella is, for a proper Welsh preacher, always the essential.

His umbrella marked time to the heavy tread of Y Parchedig Rev. E. Williams Williams Tin-Chapel, B.A., B.D., B.Litt (Bangor, Normal) when he came up Rumni Upper High Street.

Williams Williams Tin-Chapel was cast like iron in the mould that had produced the great old Welsh preachers like Christmas Evans, Williams Williams Pantycelyn, Lewis Jubilee; all of them ranting hellfire and blazing away in their chapel pulpits of a Sunday night and driving all before them, pounding their black Bibles, banging the Bible slam-shut like the lid of a coffin to end every sermon as a final warning to all who refused this final offer of salvation. The preachers, most of them had come out of the coalmines themselves. Hit hard by religion before they’d gone studenting up to Bangor for Divinity and came home again fully ordained as Salvationists with Bible under one arm and their heads on one side and looking very holy.

Every nation, every race of people, has its own typical stance, the physical stance, the way a people will hold their bodies. The Italian’s shrug out from the shoulders. The Oriental’s low bow to the inscrutable will of a blankfaced Fate. The Englishman’s single minded precision expressed in the horizontal execution of the tight-furled umbrella, insurance against the rainy day, striking precisely forward in the half-turned twirl of the wrist to the sharp guardsmanlike precision of the click hard against the London pavements.

In Wales, for us Welsh, there was and still is only one proper stance to admire and that was the one of the crucified Jesus. The head slightly turned on one side and drooped upon one shoulder as He hangs from the nails of the Cross. It was, and still is, the expression seen in the gait of students of Divinity of Bangor, black hymnbook half-hidden, in the one hand, modestly, behind the small of the back as they brave the valley rain with the long-suffering look in the eyeballs turned slightly skywards.

Sad, not a pretty thing, to see a whole people walk into the salty water of that Dead Sea of suffering. Hairshirt and the sacred revered sores of the martyr; there was that fatal monkery about it that had imported itself here to Wales with the monasteries of the Middle Ages; monks who preached self-immolation, self-flagellation, as the real cure of the world’s diseases and ills. The cruel barb of that mad philosophy had buried itself deep in the flesh of the Welsh preachers, always ready to show how willing they were to practise what was preached.

In their preachers’ names they went in for the stagey business of the dropped first name to the mysterious initial. Rev. E. Bomper Edwards or the like of Parch. (Rev.) K. Alabaster Jones; some claimed that, in a land of so many Joneses, the whole business had started because you had to have something to distinguish you from the rest. But it was from the names of their own chapels, whence they took their titles, that we got to know them best: Jones Moriah, Lewis Ebenezer, Williams Zoar, Lloyd Penuel.

But most outstanding of these was the Parch. Williams Williams Tin-Chapel. He had got his name from that very first chapel of his, which he had helped nail together with his own hand when he came here long ago. A chapel high on the wind of the mountain above the valley. Hardly more than a hut and that nailed together of green-painted corrugated iron. A Full Gospel Crusade Mission, it said on the noticeboard outside where wild mountain ponies nuzzled out of the winter nights in the porch. Williams Williams Tin-Chapel’s first congregation had been half-wild miners and their families, coming from the huddle of damp miners’ cottages that were still up there on the mountain-top round the pit that had closed now many years ago.

From the ‘tin chapel’ Williams Williams had come down from the mountain like Moses, and now he had a bigger chapel in Rumni. But the name still stuck. Williams Williams Tin-Chapel.

‘Oh, Mr. Williams Williams, bach,’ as one overjoyed old woman, one of his first converts, had praised him with tearful overflowing joy, ‘we didn’t know what sin was till you came…’

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