UK trip 8 May 2005: Davies family at Gobowen
Continued from Wales and Ellwood cousins | Hayes & Greene family history.
We were up at 6:00, and left the “Grill and Tea Room” at 7:50, driving up the road past Llanberis, through the Snowdonia National Park to Porthmadog.
The tea room had offered only a rudimentary breakfast, and we stopped at a stall on the side of the road for sausage and bacon butties, and the woman who ran it said she had been in South Africa for three years. She had only been running the stall a few months. It was called “Snax”, and seemed well-positioned for custom, just far enough from any town to catch people being hungry on a journey. A bloke came after us and asked for “Best and mushrooms”, and none of us understood what he meant, and he said it was “B.E.S.T: Bacon, Egg, Sausage and Tomato”, and said it was quite a common term where he came from.
We reached Oswestry about 11:30, and drove on to Gobowen to see John and Shirley Davies, but they were not at home, so we went back to Oswestry and got the car washed, and filled up with petrol. The flowers that had fallen on the car the first night we had it, at Beckington, did not come off in the wash though. The Davies were still not back when we drove past their house, so we went on to Whittington and had lunch at the pub there, Ye Old Boote Inn, and there was a bike show at the castle over the road.
We’d left a note for the Davies, and John phoned while we were having lunch, so after lunch we drove back to their house Nyddfa, in Bypass road. John and Shirley Davies seemed little changed since I had last seen them over 30 years ago, and we chatted to catch up on things that had happened in the intervening time.
John and Shirley Davies had been invited to South Africa by Ambrose Reeves, the Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, in the 1950s. The way Bishop Reeves told it, he had invited them because they were in the parish of Halton Moor, in Leeds, where there had been a revival of parish life, with regular parish meetings, house churches and various other good things. He hoped that they would introduce such things in the Diocese of Johannesburg. John became parish priest at Evander in the area that later became known as Kragveld, because of all the coal-fired power stations there.
He was invited to speak at the Wits University Anglican Society in 1959 and 1960, where I was a student at the time, and read a paper of Christian art that made a deep impression on me. He read another one at a conference of the Anglican Students Federation in 1961, on Religion versus God, which made an even deeper impression. Though I wasn’t at the conference I listened to a tape recording of it several times, and eventually typed it out and distributed as a tract. Seventeen years later I read a book by Fr Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, which had similar notions of the battle between God and religion.
John Davies became Anglican chaplain at Wits University in 1963, and he his wife Shirley and their three children, Mary, Mark and Elizabeth came to live in Johannesburg, where I was living at the time, and became good friends, and taught me a great deal.
One thing that Shirley used to say in 1964/65 has stuck in my mind, and I sometimes mention it to other people. Back then the dominating feature of South African life was apartheid, and when students came to their house in Parktown that seemed to be the topic of almost every conversation. And Shirley would say, “When South Africa has solved the problem of the blacks and the whites, you’ll come face to face with the real problem for the first time: the problem of the Haves and the Have nots.”
Fifty years later I have cause to remember her words, as during the last 21 years when we should have been tackling the problem of the Haves and the Have-nots, very little has been done.
Mark was still deaf, and though he could lip read, needed things explained to him. Shirley made more lunch of bacon butties, which was our second lunch, so we were well fed. In the afternoon Elizabeth arrived, with her children Nicholas, Michael and Bethan. It was Michael’s 13th birthday recently, and we had a celebration of that too.
Bethan said she was doing a school project on Botswana, and we tried to teach her the only Tswana song we knew:
Mangwane Mpulele, ke ne la ke pula
Ga de le pedi, ga de le tharo
I wasn’t even sure if my transcription of it was correct, since I’d learnt it at a campfire in the veld near Gobabis in Namibia from an Austrian tourist who had recently crossed over from Botswana where he had learnt it. According to him the translation he had been given was “Mother of my girlfriend, I’m standing in the rain. Let me in and I’ll marry your daughter, and if you have two or three daughters, I’ll marry them all.”
Mary arrived a little later, unaccompanied by her children, who were busy with exams, or her partner, who was suffering from sciatica. We looked at some old photos Mary had brought, many of which were ones I had sent her when she was a child, and which she had kept. We had brought a few of our pictures taken when I had known them thirty years before, and Mark was particularly pleased to see one of his old friend Justin Baker, whom he had not seen for so long.
We went outside to take a photo of the whole family.
When the children and grandchildren had all left, we sat talking, mainly about theological education, and went to bed about 10:30.
We had a lot to talk about after 30 years.