Aberfan: The Green Hollow


Aberfan: The Green Hollow

A film poem commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, performed by Michael Sheen, Jonathan Pryce, Sian Phillips, Eve Myles and Iwan Rheon.


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Transcript


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Never in my life have I ever seen anything like this.

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I hope that I shall never, ever see anything like it again.

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For years, of course, miners have been used to having roll calls

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whenever there's been a pit disaster.

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Today, for the first time in history,

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the roll call was for the miners' children.

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Ahh. How to talk about it.

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That's been a struggle from the very start.

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When something like that happens,

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a village, a person...

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they're bound to go dark.

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They did their best, they really did.

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Psychologists offered to the community -

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educational and clinical.

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But all that, those processes, they were still in their infancy.

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And sometimes - well, right then, straight after,

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isn't when you need 'em.

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I remember, for example, the one appointed to me,

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he'd say, "Don't think about bad things, like what happened,

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"but happy things, like your birthday."

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My birthday!

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How could he have known?

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There was no worse thing.

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I'd been looking forward to mine -

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20, 30 friends at a party.

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But then, when the date came,

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there were only three, four of us about,

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and that's when it really sunk in.

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My friends - they'd been wiped out.

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The journeys will be starting soon.

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You can't see them, down here in the street,

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but once they're up and running

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their sound is all through the village -

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last thing I hear before going to sleep,

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and first thing, too, just after I wake.

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Or when we're playing down the river, or in school, on a break.

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Rumble they do, and clang.

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Metal wheels on metal tracks.

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Drams they call 'em, too,

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carrying the spoil and the shale from down by the pit,

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across the black bridge

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and all the way up to the top of the tip.

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Number seven - that's the one they're going to now.

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Even if you were there, though, on the mountain, I mean,

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you'd still only hear them,

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wouldn't see them - not till the cranes, at least.

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Not with this fog, like a cloud in the street.

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It's dark. I can still tell it's thick.

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The way the streetlights blur out, and how I can't see the ridge.

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If I could, that would be darker again,

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like ink spilt on ink.

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And above it, just the moon -

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a harvest one in a week or two.

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Will says they'll be putting a man on it soon.

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He means the Americans, but I don't know.

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I think the Russians might get there first.

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They're launching Lunik 12 tomorrow.

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Like a spinning top it is, with spikes all over.

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Putting it into orbit, if they can.

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That's what Dad says -

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"Like a moon for a moon, but made by man."

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Mad about science, my Tomos, always following them rockets.

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Which is fine by me.

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Better by far he's looking up there to the darkness of space,

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than down to the blackness of this bloody place.

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What still haunts me the most

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is how it was staring us in the face.

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Not just the thing itself, but even the word - tip.

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Pit, turned inside out,

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wrong way round,

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which is how it was, of course.

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I was the one meant to be in danger.

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It was miners who died for coal...

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-CHILDREN CHANTING MINERS' NICKNAMES

-..hundreds each year.

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Us, in that daylight night...

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CHILDREN CHANTING

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..not our children, above ground,

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learning in the light.

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HORN

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That's the pit, sounding the end of the safety shift.

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And that's the bus, "Merthyr Col" on its side,

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getting ready to give the next lot a ride.

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Never see daylight, not in winter,

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not unless you're carried out on a stretcher.

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That's what my dad says.

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He's down there, see?

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But coming up now. He'll wash, change.

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And if it's been hot, screw my vest into my tommy box.

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Then he'll catch the bus back to have breakfast together.

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It's important, isn't it? To eat round the table as one.

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Otherwise, what's the point of having fathers, a mother, sons?

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Might eat three times today.

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Together, I mean. Half-term, so short hours, isn't it?

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So, yeah, Tom'll be home long before tea.

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And then tomorrow, a whole week off.

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I can't wait!

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I'm playing piano at a wedding first thing -

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Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, for our neighbours Sheryl and Colin.

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OUT OF TUNE PIANO

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Then, hopefully, I'll be in time for the films, down at Bugs.

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Cartoons, then Riders Of Death Valley.

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MUSIC: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

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Wasn't always like this, of course.

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Summer grazing, that's what brought the first people here.

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Good land, sheltered spot, fed by six streams at least.

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It's all still here, in a way - in the names, the streets.

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Hafod Tanglwys - the summer place of Tanglwys.

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Bryngolau - hill of light.

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Pantglas - the green hollow,

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and still is, I suppose, though with kids now, not grass.

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And Aberfan, of course.

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The mouth of the Fan,

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the biggest of those streams feeding the Taff.

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I still feel guilty about it. Silly, I know, but I do.

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Because I can remember so clearly thinking, that morning

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as Jack did his rounds in the van,

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how nothing new, or nothing exciting ever happened in Aberfan.

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Mind you, I was only nine, so maybe that's it!

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And I lived at the top end, which was poorer.

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But I wanted to be like my sister, older - to listen to the jukebox

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down Emanuelli's cafe.

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1960s POP MUSIC PLAYS

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The boys from Bedlinog, straight-backed on their motorbikes,

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winking through the window to take me away.

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I wanted something to change -

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for life to go faster, for me and the village.

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And now?

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Now I just wish that I'd somehow slowed time.

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Stopped it even.

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And with it, that slippage.

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MUSIC: It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones

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Barbara! You out of the bathroom yet?

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Get in there, Anne, if she is! Half an hour to get yourself set.

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Last day of school today, then half-term.

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If it's fine tomorrow, I may go help on the farm.

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Or play up the mountain, or tag, or hide and seek

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up the old canal bank. But that's tomorrow.

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Should think of today - that's what Mam would say.

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Still a morning of school.

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Maths, English, then break.

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Might do some skipping, if Beth brings her rope.

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GLASS CLATTERS

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That's Jack the Milk, going door to door.

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He's already been out for an hour, maybe more.

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We usually pass him on our way up to school,

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still delivering all down Moy Road,

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with Bryntaf and Aberfan Fawr still to go.

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Like the valley's still asleep when the mist's down this deep.

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But it isn't - never really quiet, this village.

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One shift coming up, another going down.

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Generations down that pit. Not my boys, though.

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I'm working down there so they won't.

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Will's heading for an apprentice at JJ's garage,

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and, well...according to some, he's got a chance in the ring.

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And Tomos bach, he's good with his hands, too,

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in a different way.

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Only nine, but plays piano with both of 'em.

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One of the dinner ladies knew my mam!

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I mean, when she was little and in Pantglas, too.

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They're not like the teachers, see. They're softer, will hold a hand.

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And they know everyone, not just the child,

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but their tad-cu, their nan - the whole family.

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She's right, they do. Which is good, isn't it?

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I mean, to know your daughter's in a place

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where they know more than just her face.

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Not like down Cardiff, where you're just one in a queue.

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On your own. No belongings, no names behind you.

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Take my Gwyn. Gwyn the Rose they call him round here.

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Famous for his flowers.

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Someone knocks at least once a week,

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thumb in their buttonhole after a five-leaf.

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Gives him a pride, to be known like that.

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Had an accident, see? Down the pit.

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Works in Hoover's now.

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He's had his fair share, fair play -

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so those roses, well, they add to him, don't they?

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I stopped growing them after.

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Least, let them go wild, stopped cutting them back.

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Didn't seem right.

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And flowers, well... they changed for me, too.

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Whenever I saw them, in a window, a vase,

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I'd see the cemetery slope again.

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Like a quilt, spread.

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A quilt of flowers for our village dead.

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Anne! You getting dressed up there?

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Never mind half day, you know the rules - school's still school.

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She's a dreamer, that one. Youngest of six and youngest by far.

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Gets 'em yearning too soon -

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I mean, when their brothers and sisters are all in their teens.

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But I say to her, "Anne, you cherish these days,

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"cos believe me, cariad, one blink, and the world'll make you old

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"in a hundred ways.'

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"One blink, and the world'll make you old...

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"..in a hundred ways."

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Last day for me, too.

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So I'll be out tonight.

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The Bystanders playing down Troed-y-rhiw.

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I saw them at the Social last month.

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Like the Beatles and Moody Blues, all in one.

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Bit of soul, bit of Motown.

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From Merthyr they are.

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We helped them, after, to carry their kit back up to the train in the Vale.

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I think Will saw, and got jealous a bit!

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Still - this bloody mist!

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Least it's stopped raining, I suppose.

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Old women and sticks it was last night,

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streaming black all down the gullies.

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We were just used to it, see?

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The colour of coal in our water, our river,

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was all we'd ever known.

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The tips were just there, part of home.

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So, no.

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We didn't see any wrong in the rain.

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Always been the same - that's why we love a small coal charabanc.

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Six or seven buses in convoy, away for a day on the beach in Barry.

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Then the long drive back, Tomos asleep on my lap,

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the smell of the sea in his hair, sand in his toes.

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Yeah, he still loves going on those.

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Who wouldn't? It's the ocean -

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got to beat swimming down the Taff,

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or in the streams under the tips, hasn't it?

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Not that here's as bad as all that.

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Loads to do! The mountain - that's a playground in itself.

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Anne goes up there for hide and seek.

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And Tomos? Sits on cardboard to slide down the tips.

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Could do without those, granted.

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But to remove them - well, the cost...

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NCB reckon it would close the pit.

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And we do all right, too, don't we?

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So, yeah, can't complain. A good place to be, Aberfan.

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CLASSICAL PIANO INSTRUMENTAL

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Bye, Mam.

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Bye, love.

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And that's how they went.

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Out a hundred doors for their last days.

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And that's how we said our last goodbyes,

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with all the luxury of easy time.

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But it was already draining.

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Running out like sand in the glass,

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like that pile of tailings and shale,

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already moving, pressed to a shifting,

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under the weight of its own black hand.

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Restless with rain,

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storm water.

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CLOCK CHIMES

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And under it, on their way to school...

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..my son.

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My daughter.

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Bye...

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..love.

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CHILDREN LAUGH

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I love this time of year.

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-I think it's my favourite.

-Harvest festival.

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Bonfire Night.

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Then after half term we start rehearsing the Nativity.

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Sometimes, if we're early, we go into Maypoles -

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a grocer's on the high street, just to watch their bobbins,

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strung up on a string.

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More like a zip-line it is.

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-One push from the counter...

-And off they go, to the register.

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That morning, though, we were late,

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so didn't go to Maypoles,

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but Anderson's instead - a tuck shop on the hill,

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next to Georgie the barber's.

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-CHILDREN:

-Three shrimps, please, and two flying saucers.

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Georgie was still in bed, his shop sign turned to "closed".

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He's always said, if it had been the other way round, well -

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let's just say he's grateful he dozed.

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Shh, listen!

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-To what?

-The birds. They aren't singing.

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-How can you listen to nothing?

-It's this mist, isn't it?

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What about it?

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Can't see, can they? So don't know it's day.

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It was true.

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The mist was still lying heavy,

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so as we walked up to school,

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just a few steps apart we'd lose sight of each other.

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If only I'd have known.

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I'd have made sure to stay closer.

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Do you think Mrs Jennings will still make us go out?

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Even if at break, it's still like this?

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You know her rules - outside, whatever the weather.

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What shall we play, if she does?

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Hopscotch? Tag? Stuck in the mud?

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L-O-N-D-O-N spells London?

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Or Dickie five stones, or ginger ginger, maybe later?

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You know what my dad said last night, about Mr Beynon?

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That he'd beat him in a fight?

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That he's in love with Miss Jones?

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No! That he used to play for Aberdare, years ago.

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At lock he was, and one of their best.

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I could believe it. Huge, he was.

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I still remember, standing at his feet,

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my head well under his chest, looking up, saying, "Sir?" -

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and thinking, "Dewww, he goes on for ever!"

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We had assembly that day.

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The whole school, sitting cross-legged on the parquet floor.

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OK, sit down, class.

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The whole school, ages five to ten,

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singing All Things Bright And Beautiful.

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# All things bright and beautiful

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# All creatures great and small

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# All things wise and wonderful

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# The Lord God made them all. #

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No. There Is A Green Hill Far Away.

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That's what we sang, I think. Can't be sure.

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# There is a green hill far away

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# Outside a city wall... #

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Then we went to our classes -

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that I do know.

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Each age through a different door.

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I sat by the window. I remember that.

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Mr Beynon up front, writing the date.

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"20th August 1963.

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"Dear Sir, re: danger from coal slurry being tipped at the rear

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"of Pantglas School, Aberfan.

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-DIFFERENT VOICES:

-"I am very apprehensive about this matter...

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"..as are the councillors and the residents in this area...

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"..as they have previously experienced, during periods of rain...

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"13th December 1963.

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"Dear Sir, re: danger from coal slurry being tipped at the rear...

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-"Danger from coal slurry being tipped...

-..danger from coal slurry being tipped...

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"..tipped at the rear of Pantglas School, Aberfan.

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"As a matter of emergency... I feel it is necessary

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"that the NCB be made to commit...

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"31st January 1964. Dear Sir, re:...

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"on the 22nd January I stated that the pipes

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"under the Aberfan road were half full of silt

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"and that conditions...

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"So far as the council are concerned,

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"there has been a deterioration in the position...

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"As I have said, the silt washed down will now build up...

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"I have not yet had a satisfactory reply to the questions raised.

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"..sliding in the manner that I have envisaged.

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"You are no doubt aware of the tips above Pantglas...

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"You are no doubt aware of the tips above Pantglas...

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"..and if they were to move, a very serious position would accrue."

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October...?

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Come on, who can tell me?

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October 21st, sir, 1966.

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I'd been out in that mist, so thick I could only see

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a couple of the poles down below,

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the ones that carry the wires up from town.

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One, two, maybe three, no more.

0:21:530:21:56

Then suddenly...those wires started swinging around,

0:21:590:22:05

started jumping.

0:22:050:22:06

Like some giant hand was playing at skipping.

0:22:070:22:10

RUMBLING

0:22:100:22:13

Sir?

0:22:150:22:16

-Yes?

-Is that thunder?

0:22:160:22:18

Maybe, Anne.

0:22:190:22:21

But then it got louder than thunder ever can.

0:22:260:22:30

And faster.

0:22:300:22:32

I looked out the window, saw Jack the Milk, then -

0:22:330:22:35

and I still don't know why, I had no time to think -

0:22:350:22:37

I put the book I was reading over my head.

0:22:370:22:40

-RUMBLING

-Seconds later, the darkness came in.

0:22:400:22:43

RUMBLING

0:22:430:22:47

As if all the eyes in all the world...

0:22:470:22:50

had chosen then to blink.

0:22:500:22:52

SOUNDS LIKE THUNDER

0:22:520:22:56

RUMBLING FADES TO SILENCE

0:22:560:22:59

CHATTERING

0:23:130:23:17

Thank you very much for sharing.

0:23:180:23:20

Glad to. It's good therapy for me.

0:23:200:23:22

I was thinking about how you must have felt on that journey,

0:23:220:23:25

on the bus on the way home.

0:23:250:23:27

I hadn't really thought about it for 50 years. Yeah.

0:23:270:23:29

And, you know, when you live in an area, you know lots of people.

0:23:290:23:32

-That's right.

-Yeah, so, generation yna, stopio siarad Cymraeg 'da pobol.

0:23:320:23:36

Obviously, we learnt about it, growing up with history in school..

0:23:360:23:40

-Yes.

-..and that kind of thing.

0:23:400:23:41

-But the fact that it shouldn't have happened.

-Oh, no.

0:23:410:23:44

People were talking even months before

0:23:440:23:47

about the slag heap, and somebody should do something about it.

0:23:470:23:50

Very quiet, please. Very still. Here we go.

0:23:500:23:53

I'm a scientist, so I don't believe in spirits and such.

0:23:570:24:00

But I've always kept a diary, a page of A4, every night,

0:24:000:24:04

so it's there, in black and white.

0:24:040:24:06

We couldn't sleep. Me or my wife.

0:24:070:24:10

We were living, in East London back then,

0:24:100:24:12

us and our baby girl,

0:24:120:24:15

but that wasn't where we were from.

0:24:150:24:17

No, that was Merthyr and Aberfan.

0:24:170:24:20

And that's where we were going in the early dark that morning.

0:24:200:24:24

I was getting ready for work, up at the bank.

0:24:240:24:27

Hadn't long put on my suit and tie, when a neighbour came over,

0:24:270:24:30

asked if he could use our phone.

0:24:300:24:32

He seemed...upset.

0:24:320:24:35

"Of course," I said. "Why?"

0:24:350:24:37

"There's something wrong. A house has collapsed, up at Moy Road."

0:24:370:24:41

"Collapsed? How?"

0:24:410:24:44

"That's all I was told. But it's happened, just now."

0:24:440:24:47

So I dialled 999. Got through to the fire service, and let them know.

0:24:490:24:53

As I was on the line, I heard a woman scream.

0:24:530:24:57

I looked up. Men were running past my window.

0:24:570:25:01

"I think this is something major. How long till you arrive?

0:25:010:25:06

"As soon as we can. Your call's been logged at 9.25."

0:25:060:25:09

I'd just got back from honeymoon.

0:25:100:25:12

A week near Burnham Beeches.

0:25:120:25:14

I was still living in Cardiff with my wife and her parents.

0:25:140:25:18

I was young, ambitious. Been at the Express for a year and a half.

0:25:180:25:22

I wanted to go places, travel.

0:25:220:25:24

And I did.

0:25:240:25:26

But this morning it was just Merthyr again, on the train -

0:25:260:25:30

an early interview with the council's John Beale,

0:25:300:25:33

Director of Education.

0:25:330:25:34

After I was coming down the steps of his offices,

0:25:350:25:38

a car pulled up on the kerb - one of the paper's photographers,

0:25:380:25:42

Mel Parry, only 18 back then -

0:25:420:25:45

been to the station for the morning call.

0:25:450:25:48

There's been a couple of incidents - a domestic fire in Dowlais,

0:25:480:25:51

or an outhouse at a school collapsed in Aberfan.

0:25:510:25:54

Which do you think, Sam?

0:25:540:25:56

Fires are common enough. Let's try the school.

0:25:560:25:58

Sounds a bit different.

0:25:580:26:01

'So he got in, and I drove on.'

0:26:010:26:03

We were approaching Merthyr Vale when we saw the cars in the mist.

0:26:040:26:08

A chain of headlights,

0:26:080:26:10

blue and red stitched with police, an ambulance.

0:26:100:26:13

All coming towards us, away from Aberfan.

0:26:130:26:15

I watched them pass, become a river of red in our mirror.

0:26:160:26:19

I'd been Mayor's secretary since March of '66.

0:26:210:26:25

I'd gone in early that morning.

0:26:250:26:27

We lit the fire. Switchboard girl had been in to turn her handle.

0:26:270:26:31

All was normal.

0:26:310:26:32

Then, suddenly, the men were leaving.

0:26:340:26:37

They'd been told, you see, to go to Aberfan.

0:26:370:26:39

The offices emptied, to a man.

0:26:390:26:41

Just the women left.

0:26:410:26:43

No-one could tell us why. We didn't know what to do.

0:26:430:26:46

But then the ambulances started streaking through town,

0:26:480:26:50

and we knew.

0:26:500:26:52

Within the hour, we'd gone from staffing the office, to a crisis HQ.

0:26:520:26:58

Must have been around 9.30 as we reached Dowlais Top,

0:26:580:27:01

when out of the mist we saw a roadblock.

0:27:010:27:04

I pulled up.

0:27:040:27:05

"Which way you going?" "Brecon Road, in Merthyr."

0:27:060:27:09

Which is when he said, 'A disaster."

0:27:090:27:13

That's what he called it, even then.

0:27:130:27:15

Of course, we thought it was the pit.

0:27:150:27:18

All my father's side is from Aberfan,

0:27:180:27:20

and always been miners, too.

0:27:200:27:22

The officer was about to signal us on,

0:27:220:27:24

when he saw the sticker above my bumper - BMA.

0:27:240:27:28

"Are you a doctor?" "Student. Final year."

0:27:280:27:32

"But you're medical? We could use your help, if so.

0:27:320:27:35

"All the other doctors, see, they're up at St Tydfil's or Merthyr Central for the casualties."

0:27:350:27:40

"Of course. Anything I can do."

0:27:400:27:43

And that was it. They waved us through.

0:27:430:27:46

I followed the crowd running down my street,

0:27:460:27:49

turned at the Mack and couldn't believe it.

0:27:490:27:51

They're making a film, that's all I could think.

0:27:510:27:54

The apex of the roofs, you see,

0:27:540:27:56

they were all, well... sitting on rubble.

0:27:560:27:59

Everything else had gone.

0:27:590:28:02

And then, as I looked, that rubble wept.

0:28:020:28:07

The Cardiff-to-Merthyr main burst by the slipping tip.

0:28:070:28:11

It just kept coming, turning windows to waterfalls,

0:28:110:28:15

but thick and black,

0:28:150:28:18

not like water at all.

0:28:180:28:20

It looked like the Somme.

0:28:280:28:30

That's what I thought when I came round the corner.

0:28:300:28:33

A mountain of slurry, with men all over,

0:28:330:28:35

like ants, and all of them digging with their fingers, their hands.

0:28:350:28:39

I had my notebook, my pen, but I couldn't take them out.

0:28:390:28:42

So instead, I climbed up onto it,

0:28:420:28:44

that mass of underground waste,

0:28:440:28:47

and joined a chain, passing back buckets of slurry.

0:28:470:28:50

It was only after a while I noticed -

0:28:540:28:56

it was still moving.

0:28:560:28:58

The whole dark body of it,

0:28:580:29:00

a slow buckle and seep like a small coal muscle,

0:29:000:29:04

hard but supple, flexing under our feet.

0:29:040:29:06

More people were coming all the time,

0:29:070:29:10

with shovels, picks, spades.

0:29:100:29:13

I saw firemen further up, pulling out a man in pyjamas.

0:29:130:29:17

In one of the classrooms a dram was stuck -

0:29:170:29:20

that's what someone said -

0:29:200:29:21

and animals, too, from the farm on the hill -

0:29:210:29:23

sheep, a cow, all dead.

0:29:230:29:26

It sounds odd to say it now, but what it resembled, that scene,

0:29:350:29:39

was like something from the gold rush -

0:29:390:29:41

like one of those old photos

0:29:410:29:42

where every man has staked out his pitch to prospect for wealth.

0:29:420:29:46

Except these men were digging for something else,

0:29:490:29:53

something more precious, too - their little ones.

0:29:530:29:57

Their sons, daughters, nephews, nieces -

0:29:580:30:03

still stuck in that school.

0:30:030:30:05

Most had never worked so hard in their life,

0:30:060:30:09

so began collapsing with pains in their chests.

0:30:090:30:11

I did my best to see them right,

0:30:110:30:13

treated sprains, cuts - but it wasn't enough.

0:30:130:30:16

How could it be, in that landscape of pain?

0:30:160:30:20

With that great black tongue lolling out of the mist...

0:30:200:30:23

..and just there, nearby, the mothers,

0:30:250:30:28

holding each other, knee-deep in the grit,

0:30:280:30:32

looking on at what that slipping tip had done.

0:30:320:30:35

Soon enough, every able man was working to clear it.

0:30:400:30:44

Some children had been pulled out alive,

0:30:440:30:46

but everybody knew we didn't have much time.

0:30:460:30:49

I heard lorries, and turned to see the miners, up from the colliery.

0:30:490:30:55

Hundreds of them, jumping off before those lorries had stopped

0:30:550:30:59

and diving straight in to attack that slip.

0:30:590:31:01

God, did they work.

0:31:010:31:04

And organised us too.

0:31:040:31:06

Had teams digging trenches, others making corrugate chutes.

0:31:070:31:12

Every now and then a cry would go up, and to a man

0:31:120:31:14

we'd all still and listen.

0:31:140:31:17

Machines would stop - breaths were held,

0:31:170:31:21

until the source of the sound was found,

0:31:210:31:24

and then the fury of digging again.

0:31:240:31:26

Until around 11...

0:31:290:31:30

..when for the first time that day hundreds of us listened,

0:31:320:31:37

leant on our shovels, strained every sense...

0:31:370:31:41

..only to be met with nothing but silence.

0:31:420:31:45

At around 11 we assembled in the chamber

0:31:470:31:49

to be informed of the plans.

0:31:490:31:52

"We're setting up mortuaries," they said, "wherever we can."

0:31:520:31:57

We were stunned, numb.

0:31:570:32:00

But of course had to carry on.

0:32:000:32:02

There was so much to be done.

0:32:020:32:05

I'd taken over with a shovel when a young man came over.

0:32:050:32:08

"Went to a classroom," he said.

0:32:080:32:10

"You'd better come through, just in case."

0:32:100:32:13

So I passed my tool to another and followed him into the ruins of that place.

0:32:130:32:16

For years I've had dreams because of what I saw.

0:32:190:32:24

The classroom... it was like it had been shaken.

0:32:240:32:28

Desks, chairs, a boulder,

0:32:300:32:33

a clock angled where it fell.

0:32:330:32:35

And there...

0:32:380:32:39

..up against the wall...

0:32:410:32:42

..no higher than your waist...

0:32:430:32:45

..20 children...

0:32:470:32:48

..their master in front of them, his arms spread in protection,

0:32:510:32:54

trying to save them all.

0:32:540:32:55

He was a big man.

0:32:580:32:59

But what could he have done?

0:33:020:33:04

One teacher against a mountain.

0:33:040:33:06

I could see, behind him, their faces,

0:33:090:33:12

their mouths still open as if they'd been caught mid-song.

0:33:120:33:16

Except you could tell it wasn't a song those mouths had been making,

0:33:170:33:22

all crammed as they were with the same black note,

0:33:220:33:25

of shale, slurry and grit.

0:33:250:33:27

And their eyes as well.

0:33:320:33:33

I've never seen a thing so wrong.

0:33:360:33:38

There was nothing to be done.

0:33:400:33:41

At around four, the women as well as the men

0:33:510:33:55

were asked to go to Aberfan.

0:33:550:33:57

Once there, we gathered in a hall, unsure what would happen.

0:33:570:34:01

But then John Beale, Director of Education,

0:34:010:34:04

he came in, school registers under his arm.

0:34:040:34:07

He wanted to account for the children,

0:34:080:34:11

so began to read out their names.

0:34:110:34:13

But their sound on the air, what it conjured,

0:34:140:34:18

was too much for him.

0:34:180:34:20

He broke down.

0:34:210:34:22

And anyway, nobody knew...

0:34:240:34:27

..who had survived and who had not.

0:34:280:34:30

So each of the women was given a street,

0:34:320:34:35

and told to go down it from door to door...

0:34:350:34:38

..asking each family a single question

0:34:400:34:44

against the grain of natural law.

0:34:440:34:46

I was 22.

0:34:480:34:49

Each time I knocked,

0:34:500:34:52

I prayed the answer would be, "Yes, he's here,"

0:34:520:34:55

or, "Yes, she's asleep upstairs."

0:34:550:34:57

But of course, all too often it wasn't.

0:34:590:35:02

I wrote down the name...

0:35:120:35:15

or the names,

0:35:150:35:18

the ages -

0:35:180:35:20

seven, eight, nine.

0:35:200:35:24

We'd talk, if they wanted.

0:35:260:35:28

And then they'd close their door, softly,

0:35:300:35:33

the hand of a husband or wife on their shoulder,

0:35:330:35:37

and I'd carry on, with my list of numbers, names and ages,

0:35:370:35:44

willing for it not to grow any longer.

0:35:440:35:47

At some point, the NCB rescue teams came.

0:35:490:35:52

Like the cavalry they were,

0:35:520:35:54

in their yellow jackets and hats.

0:35:540:35:56

Then the Army, digging trenches,

0:35:560:35:58

clearing storm water - from all over country,

0:35:580:36:01

feather pumps and tenders.

0:36:010:36:02

No-one else would be pulled out alive.

0:36:030:36:06

Not from the houses, nor the school.

0:36:060:36:09

But still, all you could hear was the sound of digging tools.

0:36:090:36:11

And, occasionally, quiet crying.

0:36:110:36:15

Because now there was other work to do.

0:36:160:36:18

Supporting the parents at Bethania chapel,

0:36:190:36:23

small bodies under blankets on every pew,

0:36:230:36:25

as they went in to identify their children,

0:36:250:36:29

sometimes by face,

0:36:290:36:31

but often by just a piece of cloth, a pair of shoes.

0:36:310:36:35

Somehow, throughout it all, the workers were fed, watered.

0:36:370:36:40

Soup and bread from the Salvation Army,

0:36:400:36:43

the Civil Defence.

0:36:430:36:45

Even, at one point, a plate of wedding cake.

0:36:460:36:50

But then, that's what happens, isn't it?

0:36:500:36:52

The world ruptures and we offer what we can.

0:36:520:36:56

And that's what happened that night.

0:36:590:37:02

To a woman, a man...

0:37:020:37:05

..people gave their strength, their sympathy...

0:37:060:37:10

..offered up for Aberfan.

0:37:120:37:13

When the day started fading, they brought in arc lights,

0:37:150:37:17

powered by canisters of gas.

0:37:170:37:20

Towers were erected, from which they shone

0:37:200:37:23

across that whole expanse of ruin and slurry and dark.

0:37:230:37:26

Everyone was covered in muck, me included.

0:37:280:37:30

I'd worn my best suit to go and see John Beale,

0:37:300:37:34

but now you'd have thought I'd spent the day down the pit.

0:37:340:37:36

But we hadn't. It had come to us.

0:37:370:37:41

Everyone knew that now.

0:37:410:37:44

And when it did, like some heartless pied piper,

0:37:440:37:48

it harvested the best of that town.

0:37:480:37:51

It was time for me to go.

0:37:520:37:54

Dusk was giving to night. I wanted to see my wife.

0:37:540:37:58

The Merthyr-to-Cardiff line had been cut, so I got a bus.

0:37:580:38:00

I was the only one on it, and like that,

0:38:000:38:02

held in the brightness of its upper deck,

0:38:020:38:05

I travelled home alone, through the darkness,

0:38:050:38:08

being sick at my feet as it went.

0:38:080:38:12

I couldn't help seeing one specific sight.

0:38:120:38:14

The curtains of a house in a short terraced street

0:38:160:38:19

I'd passed earlier that day.

0:38:190:38:21

They were closed, which in Wales, not at night, means only one thing -

0:38:220:38:26

a house where the seeds of death have been sown.

0:38:260:38:29

I walked on, but as I did I looked down the rest of that row,

0:38:300:38:35

which is when I saw -

0:38:350:38:37

the curtains, they were drawn in every window.

0:38:370:38:41

It's amazing, our school.

0:39:060:39:08

Got iPads and Astroturf and loads of clubs, too.

0:39:080:39:12

Science is my favourite.

0:39:120:39:14

We've been learning about Tim Peake all this week.

0:39:140:39:17

Six months he was up there!

0:39:170:39:19

Mr Davies says tomorrow we'll be able to see it from here.

0:39:190:39:23

A man-made star, that's what it'll be like,

0:39:230:39:26

just above the mountain ridge.

0:39:260:39:28

Slow, but faster than a satellite.

0:39:280:39:31

Dancing's more my thing - cha-cha-cha, jive and Latin.

0:39:310:39:36

I play football, too, in a mixed team run by the Social.

0:39:360:39:40

Unless it's tipping - then I'll stay inside

0:39:400:39:42

and listen to One Direction.

0:39:420:39:44

It just looked so beautiful, when we first drove in.

0:39:550:39:59

We thought it would be a good place for the kids.

0:39:590:40:01

And we were right.

0:40:030:40:05

It's scenic, quiet.

0:40:050:40:08

They feel safe, even at night.

0:40:080:40:10

I didn't go to school for about a year after.

0:40:300:40:32

None of us did, who'd survived.

0:40:320:40:34

They put some caravans down at the site where the Welsh school is now.

0:40:340:40:38

Back then it was a tip - coal and slag at the sides.

0:40:380:40:40

Toys had been donated, books for us to read.

0:40:420:40:44

We could stay, leave, come and go as we pleased.

0:40:440:40:47

I didn't live at home, either, for a while,

0:40:490:40:51

I went to live with an older sister.

0:40:510:40:53

In the street, see, every child except me was dead.

0:40:530:40:56

So I was difficult for the other parents to see.

0:40:570:41:00

"They took all the roses,"

0:41:020:41:05

that's what one woman said to me.

0:41:050:41:07

"And left us the thorns."

0:41:070:41:09

So, yeah, I went away for a bit.

0:41:170:41:19

When I came back, my mother was completely bald.

0:41:190:41:21

She'd been on the ambulances, taking the bodies.

0:41:230:41:25

Weeks later, her hair fell out.

0:41:270:41:28

"You're the lucky one," she'd say, when I asked after friends.

0:41:320:41:36

"That's all you need to know about."

0:41:360:41:38

In the end, they sent us to Mount Pleasant,

0:41:400:41:43

but we were too disruptive, that's what they say -

0:41:430:41:47

the Pantglas kids.

0:41:470:41:49

And still, if there was thunder, lightning,

0:41:490:41:51

the teachers would shout, tell us to hide.

0:41:510:41:53

They were only young themselves and, like us, still traumatised.

0:41:530:41:56

So, yeah, wouldn't be right to say those who'd survived

0:41:580:42:01

entirely escaped that tip's landslide.

0:42:010:42:04

We got out, yes,

0:42:050:42:08

and most of us have got on, too.

0:42:080:42:10

But the shadow of that shale, those tailings...

0:42:110:42:14

..it's long and deep, and cast inside.

0:42:160:42:19

BOTH: How could it not be?

0:42:210:42:23

We were children, going to school with our friends.

0:42:230:42:27

Then, minutes later, climbing out again without them.

0:42:280:42:33

Aberfan is known, isn't it?

0:42:420:42:44

Anywhere you go, you say the name, and people are, like, "Oh," nodding,

0:42:440:42:47

thinking of the disaster.

0:42:470:42:49

But that's not the whole story.

0:42:490:42:52

I mean, if it was, they must think we're a miserable place,

0:42:520:42:55

sitting round crying, long in the face. But that's not true.

0:42:550:42:58

Take the Young Wives' Club.

0:42:580:43:00

1960s POP MUSIC PLAYS

0:43:000:43:04

I know it grew from what happened, but it grew beyond it, too.

0:43:040:43:08

Buses to London, theatre trips.

0:43:080:43:10

I reckon that's mostly what they do!

0:43:120:43:14

Might sound strange but it's true,

0:43:170:43:20

and partly why the group was formed.

0:43:200:43:23

We felt guilty, see, whether your child had survived or died,

0:43:230:43:29

to be seen laughing in the street, or having fun.

0:43:290:43:35

But we were human,

0:43:350:43:37

and hurting terribly, all of us,

0:43:370:43:42

which is why it was so vital to have somewhere we could go

0:43:420:43:46

to laugh, cry, have a recital,

0:43:460:43:49

or just talk, get on a bus,

0:43:490:43:52

to go out together, to forget, and remember.

0:43:520:43:55

Coming together for 50 years or so,

0:43:570:44:00

and for many of us, all carrying that same green hollow.

0:44:000:44:04

The club's changed, obviously, over the years.

0:44:110:44:16

Just last week, we put it to the vote,

0:44:160:44:19

and decided - time to drop the "young" from the title.

0:44:190:44:23

So just the Wives' Club now we are.

0:44:230:44:28

I don't know - it's fine by me,

0:44:310:44:35

if what we were, what we've known...

0:44:350:44:39

..starts becoming...history.

0:44:400:44:43

It was years later, when we were adults,

0:45:060:45:09

that we all finally talked about it.

0:45:090:45:13

We got in touch, said, "Right, let's do this."

0:45:130:45:17

Asked each other questions, shared our stories.

0:45:170:45:20

And got really drunk as we did,

0:45:200:45:23

as if it was the only way we could let everything out.

0:45:230:45:25

Since then, I'd say it's been better.

0:45:270:45:29

All of us still carry the scars, of course.

0:45:310:45:34

And I couldn't help notice that none of us, when we met,

0:45:350:45:39

had held down relationships -

0:45:390:45:41

either never married, or had, then got divorced.

0:45:410:45:45

We'd mostly been successful, though.

0:45:450:45:49

A barrister, a writer, an accountant, a mayor.

0:45:490:45:53

As if, having survived that collapsing pile,

0:45:550:45:59

we'd made a pact with ourselves

0:45:590:46:02

to make the living we'd been given worthwhile.

0:46:020:46:05

I studied hard, in the end.

0:46:090:46:12

Went to university, then worked for years in the City.

0:46:120:46:16

I felt, in a way, like I had a duty,

0:46:170:46:21

to succeed not just for me, but for my friends as well -

0:46:210:46:27

the children in that class who never got the chance

0:46:270:46:31

to be what they hoped...

0:46:310:46:32

..or to even try.

0:46:350:46:37

So, yeah...

0:46:390:46:40

..I think that's why.

0:46:420:46:44

CLASSICAL PIANO INSTRUMENTAL

0:46:440:46:52

There was, at least, a public conversation.

0:46:540:46:57

The funerals first, of course.

0:46:570:47:00

A kind of communal speech of grief -

0:47:000:47:04

the grave like a trench,

0:47:040:47:07

the hearses, the crowds, the flowers.

0:47:070:47:11

But we had to heal, and I'd say we have.

0:47:480:47:51

Whole place is greening back up.

0:47:530:47:55

Go up the canal bank, in July, August,

0:47:560:47:59

when the thistle heads are seeding,

0:47:590:48:01

catching the light, early berries budding,

0:48:010:48:05

chaffinches singing.

0:48:050:48:07

Well, beautiful it is.

0:48:070:48:10

I've always tried to do my bit -

0:48:140:48:17

set up a scheme for apprenticeships, that kind of thing.

0:48:170:48:20

Can't say why.

0:48:220:48:24

Because I was there, perhaps...

0:48:260:48:28

..or because I'm still here.

0:48:290:48:31

Don't get me wrong.

0:48:370:48:38

It's not like there hasn't been anger.

0:48:390:48:41

Of course there has. Still is.

0:48:430:48:45

I remember on the Monday after,

0:48:470:48:50

when it first made itself known,

0:48:500:48:53

when our silent grief became heard.

0:48:530:48:55

It was at an inquest at Zion chapel, into the deaths of 30 children.

0:48:570:49:02

The coroner, he was reading out the causes -

0:49:040:49:08

asphyxia, multiple injuries...

0:49:080:49:12

..when from out the crowd, a father stood.

0:49:140:49:17

No, sir. Buried alive by the National Coal Board.

0:49:180:49:23

That's what I want on the official record.

0:49:230:49:25

The coroner, Mr Hamilton, paused...

0:49:270:49:31

..and in the silence, a woman cried out...

0:49:330:49:38

They have killed our children!

0:49:380:49:40

Then there were the tribunals.

0:49:450:49:47

Another public conversation,

0:49:470:49:50

and necessary, I'm sure,

0:49:500:49:53

though many found it hard to settle with its conclusion.

0:49:530:49:56

No-one prosecuted, no-one sacked

0:49:560:50:00

nor forced to resign -

0:50:000:50:03

and with the NCB claiming no knowledge or sign

0:50:030:50:05

of a spring under the tip.

0:50:050:50:08

After generations had swum in it.

0:50:080:50:10

Corporate manslaughter, that's what it amounted to.

0:50:120:50:16

"Not wickedness, but ignorance, ineptitude

0:50:160:50:20

"and a failure of communication."

0:50:200:50:22

That's what the final report claimed,

0:50:230:50:26

and that the NCB carried the blame for a lack of regulation.

0:50:260:50:30

I was on the tip removal committee.

0:50:400:50:42

Had to be, really.

0:50:420:50:44

Like everyone else, I wanted them gone.

0:50:440:50:48

Not surprising, when you think what they'd done.

0:50:480:50:52

But after the tribunal, they were inspected,

0:50:520:50:56

and the NCB declared them safe.

0:50:560:50:59

"No reason to go," that's what they said.

0:51:010:51:04

Well, we wouldn't take no.

0:51:040:51:06

Because that wasn't the point, was it?

0:51:060:51:10

Safe or not - and we'd heard that before -

0:51:100:51:13

we didn't want to see them each day when we opened our door.

0:51:130:51:18

Piles of the stuff on the mountainside,

0:51:180:51:22

dug out, for many of us, by our very own hands.

0:51:220:51:27

It took my boy away.

0:51:290:51:31

That was reason enough for me.

0:51:480:51:50

But eventually they went.

0:51:500:51:52

Which is when we were left asking, "What next?"

0:51:520:51:55

Removing those tips, see, it brought us together,

0:51:570:52:02

and in a way - no denying - it helped,

0:52:020:52:06

and we didn't want that helping to end.

0:52:060:52:09

So, we had a meeting and someone said, "Why not a choir?"

0:52:100:52:16

# And I will sing with the understanding also

0:52:160:52:22

# Alleluia, alleluia

0:52:220:52:25

# Alleluia. #

0:52:250:52:29

The choir's changed, of course - lots of new men -

0:52:300:52:34

but the spirit hasn't.

0:52:340:52:36

It's still the same, we're still here, and still singing.

0:52:380:52:42

# For my heart would break

0:52:420:52:45

# If you should wake and see me go... #

0:52:450:52:51

I won't lie - went off the rails for a bit.

0:52:530:52:57

Lots of us did. And not just the kids.

0:52:570:53:00

Hardly a surprise. I mean, we've had our own daughter since, so I know.

0:53:000:53:05

Is anything more alive than a... eight, nine-year-old child? No.

0:53:050:53:10

So imagine losing all that life at once,

0:53:110:53:16

all that talk and song and dance and...and fight.

0:53:160:53:21

Enough to put any place out for the count.

0:53:230:53:25

But we got back up, didn't we? That's for sure.

0:53:270:53:30

As a village, and on our own.

0:53:310:53:33

Me, I took up at JJ's, became a mechanic -

0:53:340:53:39

married Barbara, too.

0:53:390:53:41

I don't know, we'd always fancied each other.

0:53:410:53:44

Even though my brother died, while her sister survived,

0:53:440:53:47

we both still lost, in a way.

0:53:470:53:50

Maybe that drew us closer. I like to think so.

0:53:500:53:53

I still think of my brother every day.

0:53:570:54:00

What type of man he'd have been.

0:54:000:54:03

If he'd had kids, in their faces,

0:54:030:54:06

how much of him, or me, we'd have seen.

0:54:060:54:09

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:130:54:17

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:180:54:20

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:220:54:24

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:240:54:27

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:290:54:32

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:320:54:34

But you've got to move on, haven't you?

0:54:340:54:36

But you've got to move on.

0:54:390:54:42

Haven't you?

0:54:420:54:43

I'm going to be a painter, like Tom's dad!

0:55:080:55:11

-A dancer on Strictly!

-A goalkeeper for Chelsea.

0:55:110:55:13

A pilot or hairdresser.

0:55:130:55:15

A fish-and-chip man.

0:55:150:55:17

A teacher.

0:55:170:55:19

For me, it's about opening the world to these children. And their eyes.

0:55:190:55:23

Letting them see what they could do,

0:55:230:55:25

who they could be.

0:55:250:55:27

-A rugby player.

-A freerunner.

-A singer.

0:55:270:55:30

-A soldier.

-A nurse.

0:55:300:55:32

Because you can only aspire to what you can imagine, or see.

0:55:320:55:36

-A farmer.

-A miner.

0:55:360:55:38

-A lorry driver.

-A dinner lady.

0:55:380:55:41

All that, though - the teaching, the running the school -

0:55:410:55:44

that comes easily enough to me.

0:55:440:55:46

But then there are the other things that are harder to negotiate.

0:55:460:55:48

-A football player.

-An actor.

0:55:480:55:51

A doctor.

0:55:510:55:52

The first man on the moon - an astronaut!

0:55:520:55:56

Each year, for example, we mark the disaster's date.

0:55:560:55:59

And we should.

0:55:590:56:01

But it's difficult, sometimes, to know exactly what to do.

0:56:010:56:04

Some want to talk, to remember.

0:56:040:56:06

Others - they stay quiet, they try to forget.

0:56:060:56:09

And here, well, they're children -

0:56:100:56:12

some the same age as those who died.

0:56:120:56:15

So, yes, we teach it, but gently, as part of the general history.

0:56:150:56:19

The way I see it, more and more, is that we're all carbon, aren't we?

0:56:240:56:28

At least, that's what Tom keeps telling me.

0:56:280:56:31

And what happened here...

0:56:330:56:34

..it was the most terrible weight.

0:56:360:56:38

The worst you can imagine.

0:56:410:56:42

A weight on lives, families, the community, the town.

0:56:440:56:47

But what happens to carbon under pressure,

0:56:500:56:53

if you keep pressing down?

0:56:530:56:56

Well, at first, you get coal.

0:56:560:56:59

A darkness that burns.

0:57:000:57:02

But keep pressing long and hard enough

0:57:040:57:06

and some of that coal turns diamond...

0:57:060:57:09

..and some of that darkness light.

0:57:100:57:14

Now, I'm not saying we're all diamonds here, of course I'm not.

0:57:140:57:17

But I do think that when so many have felt the same pressure,

0:57:170:57:22

at exactly the same time, then sometimes, in places,

0:57:220:57:25

we're pushed through till we shine.

0:57:250:57:27

An unexpected brightness...

0:57:300:57:32

..made both of that darkness

0:57:330:57:36

and that sharing of weight...

0:57:360:57:38

..its source buried under years.

0:57:410:57:44

But there, deeply rooted in our memories...

0:57:450:57:49

..a day...

0:57:510:57:52

..a date.

0:57:530:57:54

# All things bright and beautiful

0:58:020:58:06

# All creatures great and small

0:58:060:58:11

# All things wise and wonderful... #

0:58:110:58:15

SINGING FADES

0:58:150:58:17

A film poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, written by Owen Sheers and performed by a stellar cast of Wales's best-known acting talent, including Michael Sheen, Jonathan Pryce, Sian Phillips, Eve Myles and Iwan Rheon, with some contributions from the local community.