I remember looking out of my bedroom window, which was situated in a south-westerly direction, onto the large, sloping roof of the blue club directly opposite me, separated between our house and two railtracks which led to the mines and the steel works of the industrial heartland of the Ebbw Valley. Many trains would come during the course of the day, laden with the produce of work and others returning empty to be filled up once again. Directly above the blue clubs gigantic roof you could see the hill top of Machen Mountain, with its slag heaps looking like some spawn of the loch ness monster with its irregular humps of slag taken from the earth of the old pits of Risca colliery. The mountain slopes were decorated with trees, and you could pinpoint clearings through the foliage where roads coiled their way up to the television mast at the top of the mountain.
To the right of the looming roof of the club, you could see down into the village itself and the crossroads which gave the village its name. Crosskeys was a junction where both the Sirhowy and the Ebbw Valleys joined, and were fed along into one straight route south. It was quite a busy junction with traffic lights controlling the passage of traffic and pedestrians. Groups of youths would be seen hanging around nearby, wasting away the hours of the day with boredom. Directly above the crossroads rose Mynydd Lan, with its old slate quarry gouged into its side like some obscene wound, in memory of its industrial heritage. This mountain however contained the remains of a forest fire and few trees remained on its side. From my window you could see directly up the Sirhowy valley, which then disappeared from view as two sides of the valley closed in together, shutting it out of sight. Of course this direct view up the western side of the valley was put into perspective by the rows upon rows of the roofs of terraced houses, again symbolic of 19th Century Industrialisation.
The main memory of the sight outside of my window was that it was always sunny, with swallows and swifts swooping around and landing directly on top of the blue club roof for a chatter and rest. I remember their migratory patterns towards the end of Summer whereby they would fly and swoop in a great formation and land on roofs to rejoin one another and then they would fly again, all the time gathering new friends and then finally fly and not come back, gone away to their new climes as our winter approached. And it was a peaceful memory as well, having lots of friends, lots to do and a loving and caring family. I distinctly remember the long drawn out summer evenings, the sun slowly resting into the west behind the valley hills, its twilight glow casting long, red, shadows across the tops of the terraced roofs, creating a serene, calm mood. Often I would just lie on my bed reading a book or just playing, watching the birds or the people cross the road. It was, in a single expressive word, contentment.
Our house was the old station masters house in Crosskeys, which used to be part of the old train station with only the station masters house remaining as a relic of bygone days. It was a big house, with a garden the size of a small allotment which was completely wild and overgrown. Towards the rear of the garden we had our own miniature tropics – a small rise covered with Chinese bamboo–like shoots which were just an incredible weed which you could not get rid of even though you would try and dig up the roots. My Sister and I, with friends, would spend whole days building dens here in different parts and having fights and so on. The house was situated in between two train tracks; the one track led to the Ebbw Vale Steelworks – a single track – not much traffic, and the other track, a double track, would lead to the coal mines of Abercarn and Oakdale. This was a busy track, and occasionally we would see the odd passenger train come up which would excite us, but it was mainly a freight track for coal and steel.
Our garden was, as I stated, very big. There was a shed near the bottom which had, in its previous years, been used as stables. In fact, during my adolescence, I remember very frequently finding the occasional horseshoe as well as old bottles in the garden and when I would dig to any serious intent – the old green type of bottle with a glass ball in the neck. I guess this would have to be something to do with it being near a train station. I also have fond memories exploring and finding all the wildlife in the garden, the many many caterpillars, ladybirds and a whole host of bugs and suchlike, this was probably because the garden was so unkempt and quite wild which allowed for a whole array of creatures to run rampant. I also remember my Mums strawberrys amd herb garden and my (usual) failed attempts at trying to grow my own radishes and so on. They never seemed to take off which was a great shame.
Then there were the trees; the biggest was a great big sycamore situated right in the centre of the back garden which was moved from the front of the house by my Dad and other family members. My Sister wanted a tree house built in it, but that never came about, but we had fun climbing the other trees in the garden though.
All in all, I have very fond memories of growing up in that big house in Crosskeys.