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16 October 2014

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In the Beginning

By Penny David
November 2006, Lampeter
A digital story from Capture Wales
Penny remembers her childhood in Lampeter.

"When the war ended, my father came back from Burma, collected his new wife from her family in Cornwall, and took up his old job in Lampeter - lecturing at St David's College.

Shortly before I was born, my parents moved into the little building that had been the Porters' Lodge (now the University Bookshop). Houses were hard to find. Ours was tiny, but outside we had all the College Grounds on our doorstep. This was my whole world for the first few years.

As I grew, I discovered soft lawns and the brown darkness under rhododendrons. I heard the plainchant of evensong and the clamour of rooks at twilight. My eyes lifted up to the tracery of branches against the sky. Generations of crows and clergymen stalked and flapped about below them.

The grass was green - but almost everything else was black-and-white in those days. God was in his Anglican heaven and the Bible told you so. My father - and most of the people at St David's College - were intent on keeping it that way. It all seemed so secure and unquestioning. Perhaps too safe.

At eighteen I had to escape. I had to find my own way. I went to Oxford and Africa and London. I worked at turning people's thoughts into words and their words into books.

Then, twenty years ago, Lampeter drew me back. I'm still here... trying to turn the landscape into words. The College Grounds have now become the Campus - I'm just a visitor in the place that was once my home - and the past is down the wrong end of a telescope.

The old, simple world has been folded up into a dusty photograph album."

Penny David

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I live and work in a former gardener's cottage on an estate near Lampeter. I'm 'middle-aged' though I don't feel it (wonder if I'm even 'grownup'?). I earn my living editing books (mostly about gardening) and sometimes - when I'm lucky - by writing about gardens.

What's your story about?
About growing up in a secure, loving - and believing - environment and then leaving it (and many of its values, including religion) behind. I hope my story doesn't sound ungrateful: it was the self-confidence that my clergyman father imbued in me - and his belief in education - that freed me to find my own godless way.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
It came out at the workshop as one strand from the spaghetti-like muddle of my thinking. I'm preoccupied with the past (not surprising: my degree was in history). Also not long ago I had to sort out my mother's house, which left me with mementos and memories - and all sorts of questions, but now there's no one left who remembers. My current stand is: 'I don't know where I'm going - but I'm interested in where I came from!'

What did you find most rewarding about the workshop?
Everything! Bonding with fellow participants under the gentle guidance and encouragement of the BBC team. Discovering a new medium. Learning about the technology, but most of all about one another, and how to help our stories take shape. Gaining confidence. We've become kind of blood brothers and greet one another like seasoned campaigners when we meet. I'm a bit isolated and on the 'edge of town' and it's helped me feel connected - a new peer group - but has also given me insights into the lives of some local people.

Your comments

"Yes, there is someone who remembers when you had accolades bestowed upon you for the sonnets you penned." Mike, Newport, Shropshire, Mar 2008.

"Beautifully written and spoken." Kathy, Brisbane, Australia, Sept 2007.

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