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Torfaen Tales

Stop Look and Listen

I was waiting in the queue in the Post Office, minding my own business, when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder.

“Rob! How’s it going, mate?”

I turned, startled. It was Dai Wells. I hardly recognised him. He’d lost all his wiry ginger hair, and his face was brown and weatherbeaten.

“Dai! Lord, I haven’t seen you in more years than I can remember.”

Dai nodded. “I’ve been abroad these past twenty years. Anyway, what about you?”

“Oh, still here. I work for the Gas Board. Married Ceri Harris, three kids. Never been any further abroad than a booze cruise to Calais,” I said with a mixture of regret and envy. It sounded as though Dai had really lived, whereas the closest I ever got to the high life was climbing a ladder to fix the guttering.

Anyway, as soon as Dai and I finished our business in the Post Office we made our way over to the King’s Head to catch up properly over a pint or two. It turned out he’d gone off to Greece straight after we left school and picked tomatoes for the summer, and from there to Africa where he‘d got a job driving a tour bus. The countries he’d visited since turned into a blur. Places I’d hardly heard of. And the jobs he’d done! Everything from barman to deep sea diver. He’d ended up in Brazil, where he’d sunk all his money into his own business. He’d been convinced he’d make a fortune turning recycled plastic bottles into spectacle frames.

“Sadly it didn’t work out. All I did was make a spectacle of myself,” he said with a shrug and a grin. “So here I am, back in Wales and looking for work.”

“Did you bring one of those gorgeous Brazilian women back with you?”

He shook his head with a far-off look in his eye. “Been married twice, Rob, but no senhorita in tow. I married an Australian girl called Raelene and we had a daughter, Cindy. But Raelene got fed up with me working all around Australia driving lorries. She went off with an insurance salesman. Cindy would be 17 now and I haven’t seen her since she was three. I don’t even know where she is. Then I met a French girl, Martine, in Canada. That lasted two years. Of course I’ve dipped my toe in since but I haven’t taken the plunge. So, you married Ceri Harris? Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really fancied her in the fourth form. Couldn‘t take my eyes off her. Mr Carter used to tell me off all the time for not paying attention in class.”

“Good old Mr Carter,” I said, remembering our head teacher.

“Stop, Look and Listen!” we chanted in unison and laughed like drains.

Mr Carter would have been dead proud to be remembered for his favourite saying. As well as being our headmaster he’d taught English. At the beginning of each year he’d get all the new kids together and give them his pep talk.

“Remember when you were a little dwt, and your mam would take your hand to cross the road, saying Stop, Look and Listen. Well, that rule is still useful in later life. Particularly in your teens when you’re bound to face temptation. If your mate tries to tell you that smoking, stealing cars, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, vandalising the neighbourhood, and whatever else, is great, stop and think. Look closely at the people who do those things and I think you’ll find they’re losers, each and every one of them. Listen to your elders and betters, and listen to your inner voice. So remember, Stop, Look and Listen. If you do so regularly you won‘t go far wrong.”

I could hear him now in the corners of my mind. He was a good man, Mr Carter. Firm but fair.

“You know, I thought of him and his motto years after I left school,“ I said to Dai. “Probably the only time I’ve ever come close to doing anything illegal. One of the other engineers tried to get me in on a scam, but I changed my mind at the last minute. Good thing too, ’cos the bosses were onto him and he got the sack a couple of months later. Anyway, my life’s been pretty dull compared to yours. It doesn’t seem as though you’ve stopped, looked or listened very often and you‘ve turned out all right.”

Dai shrugged. “Wish I had on times, though. Sure, I’ve had some great times but I can’t help regretting some of the things I’ve done. Maybe I wouldn’t have wasted all that money trying to make spectacle frames. And how about this?”

Dai turned around and pointed to some strange little marks on the back of his bald skull.

“What is it, mate? Some sort of African tribal marking?”

“Nah, failed hair transplant. I panicked when I started to go bald in my thirties. Cost me a fortune, but the whole lot still fell out including the hair they tried to plant on my head.”

After the fourth pint I thought I’d better get on home before the dog got my dinner. I decided not to invite Dai back; even with a head like a billiard ball I couldn’t trust him not to try and turn my Ceri‘s head. Anyway, he was staying with his brother so I knew he wasn’t homeless or hungry.

“See you round, mate,” he said as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and headed off in the opposite direction. “And don’t forget, Stop, Look and Listen.”

By Karenne Griffin

Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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