Welcome to the first in an occasional series of guest blogs. For our first guest blog we’d like to thank Tom Scott of the Richard Burton Museum.
Tom, an avid collector of Richard Burton memorabilia, set up an online museum to display his collection in 2012. The museum has gone from strength to strength, showcasing his unique and important collection of Burton material, as well as a growing collection of Dylan Thomas related items. Tom’s website has been recognised by the National Library of Wales for it’s role in the documentary heritage of Wales, and is included in their digital archive. Tom tells us that he hopes one day to find a home for his collection that will enable it to go on show to the public. We’re delighted that Tom has chosen to give an insight into his first experience of Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas.
My childhood was idyllic…I’m not looking through ‘rose-tinted glasses’ whatsoever…It really was. The fields behind my childhood home seemed to go on forever. The barbed wire fences, complete with dirty dangling clumps of wool from the grazing sheep, the smell of rabbits and the curranty evidential proof that they were in abundance, the chirping grasshoppers which were a rich vibrant green and as big as my tiny hands, and the long walk through the field which led to the woods at the bottom were my domain. The woods, housing a stagnant lake, full of croaking frogs and toads, newts and huge catfish, the ruins from the big house which used to stand majestically there, an old sand-stone hall, long ago vanished since a fire in the 1920’s..woodland paths, old garden ornaments, fonts and statues and old foundation stones, strewn with ivy and moss…it was a childhood heaven…it was MY perfect playground. A little village called Sudbrooke…my home. The haystacks I played on with my school friends that summer holiday were truly ‘as high as the house’. The combine harvesters and the farmers were our friends…the sun was our ally…the fields and the woods were our companions, and my greatest memory of all was the summer of 1976…the heatwave…
The tar boiled on the roads; I can still smell the rich aroma of the tar and the stickiness of my tyres as the wheels of my Chopper bike cycled along our street. The ladybirds, in swarms, were out that summer, covering curtains, as were the the thunderflies…my god, they got everywhere, in our clothes, on our skin, in our teeth and eyes as we cycled along…and the sun continually beat down, relentlessly. It was a long, glorious and heavenly summer.
But the best gift of all that summer was when my mother said, ”We are going to your Gran and Grandads for a holiday.”
I loved my grandparents house and our holidays there. A huge white 1930’s stucco building awaited us, with a garden long, winding and thin, complete with the fragrance of my Grandad’s prize-winning roses, two greenhouses full of the most wonderful tomatoes, tomatoes like I have never smelt since, sweet and rich, pear trees, apple trees, and plum trees to give you tummy-ache before you were called in for dinner, a swing on a huge oak tree and a front room full of rich brown leather 1950’s furniture and a huge walnut dining table. The house was comfortable, safe and all embracing. The whole house had a beautiful feel, it smelt of my Gran’s steak and kidney pie, old oak, leather, polish, Radox, Vim and coal-tar soap, old books, log fires and the pages of the Radio Times…but what I remember most of all was my grandad’s collection of special books, locked away in his glass-fronted cabinet. They were beautiful, and although I wasn’t allowed to touch, when the house was quiet and still in the early mornings when only I was awake, I still did. Carefully easing the creaking doors wide and holding them in my little hands, my eyes wide and in awe like big saucers. Leather bound editions of Defoe, Jonathan Swift, with colour plates and etchings so alive and wonderful…books on Captain Cook, Charles Dickens and best of all, Shakespeare. The illustrations, colourised and vibrant….the smell of these old books, their glorious fustiness have stayed with me for all these years.
For some reason I couldn’t read or write until I was ten years old. My teachers despaired but it wasn’t down to dyslexia or anything related to that…I just couldn’t ‘get it’. During the holiday’s my mother was determined to get me reading, and passed on her concerns to my grandad. He knew I loved dinosaurs at that time and read the ‘How and Why’ book of Dinosaurs endlessly to me…pointing out the simpler words…and trying to get me to read on my own…Thanks to my grandads, and my mother’s determination and patience, I eventually started to learn..It was a slow start …but at least it was a start.
A monumental occurrence happened during that holiday. I loved the cosiness and the feeling of the warm protectiveness of sitting on my grandad’s lap, hearing his soft, mellow voice, and twiddling the little loose sticky bits of St. Bruno pipe tobacco which had fallen out of his tobacco pouch and into his cardigan pocket, or opening the stuffed leather pouch and sniffing deep the rich aroma of the flakes. It was on an evening such as this, when finally the sun had gone down and it was an early evening after my bath, my mother, gran and sisters were in the kitchen doing whatever mothers, grans and annoying sisters did and I was snug in the cool evening shade of the front room, as always snuggled with my grandad. We, or rather I, was attempting to read, badly as usual, when for some reason my grandad said…’Wait a moment’…struggled up to the old gramophone.. his knees creaking and cracking as he bent down to pull a record from the rack and, for some special, but monumental reason for me, he pulled out the vinyl album of Richard Burton Reads Fifteen Poems By Dylan Thomas. And said just one word….”Listen”….In that one moment…my life was changed forever.
I listened to the poems which were being read, not knowing who either the voice belonged to or who had written such magical words but knew from that moment my life would be enriched. Oh God, those poems were beautiful, and the voice reading them was so rich and powerful, making them come alive with such emotion and love. He said..”When you can read properly, this is the one writer you should read and enjoy” I sat on my grandad’s knee and let the words just wash over me. I watched as the words drifted out of the old gramophone, seeming to be in rhythm with the swirls of blue fragrant smoke from my grandads pipe. I didn’t know what the words meant but they washed over me and made me feel warm, special and for some unknown reason..very priviledged. From that moment something changed inside of me, I had a new vigour and determination to read…and since then I certainly have. The Christmas following that long hot summer I was back on my grandad’s knee and was reading for myself, well nearly, all the stories from A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Dog another treasured book from the forbidden cabinet.
My grandad gave me two gifts…the enjoyment of books and the determination to enjoy them. To hold them, to smell them, to be enriched by them…and to appreciate their power. He also gave me a life-long love of Dylan Thomas’s poetry and prose, made real by the man who spoke them so beautifully, when dear Dylan no longer could.. Richard Burton. When asked, as I often am, who came first into your life, Dylan Thomas or Richard Burton? I am lucky enough to be able to answer…’Neither came first, they arrived together’ and for that, dear Grandad I shall be eternally grateful to you……..
Tom Scott – April 2017
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