When Mr Jenkins died and Mr Pugh moved in, he became the first Welsh Nationalist in our cul-de-sac and was therefore considered a bit of an oddity.
“Welsh Independence? Plaid Cymru? Here in Cefn Coed? Barmy! We can't even organise a proper milk round, never mind run a country! He’s nuts, that man!”
It was the first time I'd ever heard my dad criticise another grown-up, except when he shouted at the telly, which was, let's face it, most of the time. There were rules. There were grown-ups and there were kids. Nobody broke rank. Before CCTV there was a great network of grown-ups who would tell your mam if you'd done anything bad. The dinner lady who caught me peeing behind the bins at school. She told my mam on the bus. A clip around the ear and no pocket money that week. Trefor the Milk caught us scrumping apples. No Apple Crumble that night. That’s how it worked, see.
When Mr Pugh moved in, he turned his back garden into a giant vegetable patch. He grew peas. We loved those peas. They tasted so sweet. We'd dress in black, SAS-like, for our night-time Pea Raids. We didn't have balaclavas, so we used knitted tea cosies, from Aunty Gwennie's Christmas presents drawer and cut eye holes into them. We called ourselves the Tea Cosy Boys and told no one. We practised climbing walls in the dark and running away in disguise, just in case. Me all knock knees and uppercuts, Jed [not his real name] a limping river-dancer.
On the day of the Silver Jubilee Party, with tables pushed together, with bunting, balloons and cupcakes and inside-out wallpaper as a tablecloth and sausage rolls, pop and Trefor the Milk already drunk, we finally got to meet Mr Pugh.
"Oh, you two," he said, "I wonder who it is, who climbs my wall, whispering and giggling in the dark, leaving little footprints in my soil and trails of peapods everywhere?"
We looked to the floor.
“I wonder whose little white scrawny necks shine like beacons in the night sky because their tea cosies don't come down far enough? Who could that possibly be?"
We looked at each other. He knows, but fair play, he hasn’t told our mams.
“Look boys, If you want peas, I can give you peas, I can show you how to grow them."
And so over the next few weeks and years, Mr Pugh taught us all he knew about pea cultivation in a Welsh Nationalist Community Service kind of way. We learned about Welsh culture, language and English oppression. We grew our own peas. Dad befriended Mr Pugh. We shouldered his coffin.
In a 1999 referendum, the Welsh narrowly voted for its own National Assembly. Sadly Mr Pugh never lived to see it. But these days, as I tend my own vegetable patch, I think of him
looking down at me like some wonderful kindly Welsh Captain Birdseye.
Diolch yn fawr Mr Pugh.
© Kevin Owen