A quick refresher- At the start of the war Aunt Mable came shuffling out of the fog. Her nephews despised her and tried to get rid of her. They failed. Now, a year on, they’re stuck with her. Last time, Crusty the Chauffeur was almost caught with some stolen military grade petrol but thanks to Edward he got away with it. Now, it’s time for everyone to relax a little…
We argued over which beach we wanted to spend our outing at. Seeing as it nearly ended in a three way fight between myself, Edward and Erasmus Father was forced to step in. He suggested Porth Tywyn, on the far side of Mon and that was supposed to be the end of the argument. It was Mable who almost started it again.
‘Will Porth Tywyn not have been protected as a potential invasion site? I hardly think that we can take the children somewhere they might end up being blown up by a mine.’
‘No… You’re absolutely right. We can’t take the children there,’ Father admitted.
‘What about Benllech?’ Edward piped up.
‘No. Benllech smells funny,’ Seamus protested.
‘I want Trefadog,’ Erasmus joined in.
‘Trefadog will be protected as well,’ Edward scathed. ‘And besides, it’s far too close to Caergybi.’
Tangerine and Elizabeth were pouring over a gazetteer from the library, a guide to North Wales, and now Tangerine made a suggestion.
‘What about this place, Porth Tr… Tr.. Porth T-R-W-Y-N.’
‘True-in,’ Erasmus snobbishly corrected. Mable looked down her nose at him.
‘How is it that you can mangle English but when it comes to Welsh you speak perfectly?’ Erasmus did not have an answer, and neither did anybody else.
‘Trwyn is too close to Caergybi,’ Edward remarked. That had been his go-to response for any suggested beach between Abermenai and Moelfre. Father had already seen through that excuse. He knew as well as Edward did that there were only three decent beaches on the rest of the Mon coast, one of which was Benllech.
Father now put his foot down.
‘Porth Trwyn it is,’ he declared. It’s almost perfect. A lovely beach and isolated enough that you lot can’t get up to too much mischief.’ Mable started to cackle.
‘Anyone would think you didn’t know your own children at all. If there’s mischief, they’ll get up to it.’
‘Oh, I know they’ll get up to mischief if they can. I would expect nothing less. The trick is to anticipate it before it happens.’
‘Is Trwyn that beach near to where Lord Satan lives?’ Erasmus piped up over them.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Mable gasped, horrified.
‘He means Lord Sootan,’ Father sighed. ‘And no. He doesn’t live near Porth Trwyn. He’s further up the coast at Church bay.’
‘Can we not go there?’ Seamus asked.
‘No. It’s best to avoid Lord Satan wherever possible,’ Father winked.
It was to be another week before our seaside outing. That night the rain started to fall, an enormous waterfall from the sky that never seemed to end. The track down to the village was rendered impassable and even in those brief periods when the rain managed to stop we were trapped inside and getting on each other’s nerves. There were at least three fights a day during that week and only the threat of our outing being cancelled stayed our hands from killing each other.
Fletch came the closest to being left behind after he attempted to lock Seamus out in the rain. Unfortunately for himself he forgot about the front door and as soon as he entered the hall he was set upon by a soaking wet and angry mass. After Father threatened him with being banned from the seaside trip, Fletch shut himself up in his room and only came out for meal times, determined to get to the beach. He could have just behaved himself and not attempted to lock anybody outside in the rain again but I don’t think he could trust himself enough for that.
When the rain finally cleared and set us free from the castle our outing was good to go, but not before an operation of military proportions. There was the food to prepare, an enormous picnic that was akin to the interior of a grocer’s shop. It took up a whole three hampers and were it not for the ration it might have been even bigger. Then there was we children. Tippsy was used to wrangling all of us into a classroom but when we were all as excited and hyped up as we became that morning there was absolutely no chance. It took four adults, Father, Mable, Tippsy and Mrs Violent, to arrange us into the four cars that had been brought around to the drive and to get us all to calm down.
We formed into a small convoy of vehicles on the way out of the village, I was in a car driven by Mrs Violent, along with Edward, Erasmus, Ti and Tangerine, but once we were out on the Ogwen road Mrs Violent, who was not accustomed to driving, stalled the car. Four became one and it was five minutes before she could get the thing started again.
‘Where exactly are we going?’ she asked once she managed to get the car moving.
‘Mon,’ Edward said calmly. ‘If you get us to the bridge we can work out our way from there.’
We got lost.
We got lost very quickly.
For some reason, instead of going straight on after having crossed the bridge at Porthaethwy, Mrs Violent turned right and headed for Beaumaris.
‘We need to cross the island, not go around it. Head towards Llangefni,’ Edward instructed.
‘I will when I see a turn off,’ Mrs Violent sighed, from that point looking for a turn off but not seeing one until we were at Beaumaris. From there we ended up going on a circuitous route around the island, past Pentraeth and Red Wharf, Moelfre and Cemaes before eventually stumbling upon our destination. We never got anywhere near Llangefni.
Just outside Beaumaris we caught a glimpse of the blackened shell of a large mansion through the trees at the side of the road, Baron Hill, the former home of Lord Bulkeley.
‘Oh dear,’ Tangerine gasped. ‘Did that house get bombed?’
‘Actually it was Polish soldiers,’ Edward told her. ‘They started a fire and accidentally burnt the place down. I doubt it’ll get rebuilt. Bulkeley hasn’t even lived there for twenty years.’
‘Not surprising,’ I sniffed. ‘There’s supposed to be a vampire who lives on the grounds.’ Edward screamed and buried his face.
‘Arthur… I highly doubt Lord Bulkeley has been keeping a vampire on his estate,’ Mrs Violent chastised.
‘If vampires existed I wouldn’t put it past him. He could set it on people he didn’t like. Those polish soldiers who burnt his house down maybe?’
‘Edward, that’s monstrous!’
‘Maybe that’s why the Polish soldiers burnt the house down. Perhaps Lord Bulkeley let the vampire loose and it tried to attack them…’
‘So they set the place on fire to stop it? Yes. Because that’s exactly what you do when you’re being attacked by a vampire. You set the house on fire!’
‘Lord Satan is a tennis vampire,’ Erasmus piped up.
‘He’s not a vampire. He’s an umpire. There’s a difference.’
‘Why are you so obsessed with Lord Satan at the moment?’ Erasmus failed to answer.
Porth Trwyn was a tiny cove hidden away behind miles and miles of flat fields. You could never find it unless you were looking for it. The others had not bothered to wait, assuming we would show up sooner or later. The children had shimmied down to their bathing costumes and were already splashing about in the surf. Seamus was currently attempting to drown Fletch for some reason. Mable was sat on a deck chair, knitting, and Father was leaning back against a dune, reading a newspaper. The headline was alarming. CAER ARIANRHOD DESTROYED. NO SURVIVORS.
Caer Arianrhod, as the crow flew, was not so far away. It had been a prison for women, on a remote part of the coast, south of Caernarfon, and if somewhere as remote as Caer Arianrhod, which I assumed had been destroyed in a bombing raid, could be hit then they could get any of us at any time. Those Nasties were frighteningly close and they wouldn’t stop for anything. They wouldn’t stop until we were all either dead or their eternal slaves.
The headline unsettled me and instead of going to play in the sea with the other children I sat down in the middle of the beach and mindlessly began digging myself into a hole with my hands. Father noticed and, proving that he was perhaps the greatest father I could have ever wished for, came and sat down next me.
‘Digging yourself to New Zealand?’ he smiled. I shook my head and carried on digging. ‘If there’s something bothering you…’
‘Nasties,’ I said bluntly.
‘Ah,’ Father remarked. ‘You really shouldn’t let them bother you. Let them bother you and they’ve already won.’
‘They’re going to win anyway,’ I sulked.
‘Do you think I would let that happen? Would the Prime Minister? Would King George? They’ve only won when we surrender completely, and none of us are going to do that.’
‘Then they’ll wipe us all out… Like they did to everyone in Caer Arianrhod.’
‘Caer Arianrhod? That wasn’t the Nasties.’ He ran away to collect the newspaper he had been reading. ‘Look. Nothing to do with them at all. It was a gas explosion, just an accident. A terrible one, but still just an accident.’ I pulled a bewildered expression. It didn’t seem possible that such an accident could happen in the midst of a war such as this one. ‘Just because there’s a war going on it doesn’t mean the world stops turning. There are still accidents, still terrible gas explosions like this one at Caer Arianrhod. Just because there’s one big *—* on the horizon doesn’t mean all the usual *—* of life don’t go on. They have to go on. All life must go on, in spite of the war.’
Father put one arm over my shoulder and pointed out to sea.
‘Know what’s directly over that way?’
‘Ireland,’ I said.
‘Right… Swim straight on and you’ll wind up in Dublin, Ireland, peace! And without the war life there goes on, as before. As I understand it De Valera is committed to maintaining peace at all costs.’
‘But what about the Nasties? Doesn’t he think they need to be stopped?’
‘He may do, but he also knows that to join in the fight would cause more heartache to his country than it can afford. They’re already suffering because of the U-boats and the war over here and it would be far worse for them than it is for us if they joined in. People don’t like it, especially over here, but the alternative would not be pleasant.’
‘And what if the Nasties get us and turn on them next?’
‘Then they’re in trouble. I doubt they could stand the fight for long.’
‘And what about the Americans? What’s their excuse?’
‘They haven’t got one,’ Father answered. ‘But it kind of proves my point, doesn’t it? It’s only a small part of the world that’s under this cloud of war, for the moment. Life for everyone else goes on, and so it must for us, despite the war. The world itself keeps turning, the same as ever, and if we don’t keep turning with it we’ll fall off.’
‘TIBERIUS, NO, THAT’S A JELLYFISH!’ We were interrupted by a shout from Mrs Violent, who was running up the beach to where Ti was prodding at something buried in the sand. Father got up and sprinted, followed by Mable. Tippsy, who was in the process of getting tipsy, sat and watched and laughed.
I reflected on Father’s words. Though there was a war on we had to keep turning with the rest of the world. We had to keep living. For us, however, it was more than just the war. It was the coming of Mable, of Tippsy, of Tangerine and Elizabeth and the other evacuees. It was Father being far away most of the time, our car collection being taken away by Flip-Flop and Crusty going down to London to work with Father. Life just wasn’t the same as it had been. Almost everything we had known, everything we had been used to, had gone. Somehow though, I realized, we had carried on. We were living. The fact that we were all here, at the beach, was proof.
That day on the beach, now I think back, might have been the most normal of the entire war. After Father and I had spoken of Caer Arianrhod I almost forgot about the Nasties and the war and the threat of bombs from the sky. For one day it was almost as if none of it was happening. We could have been Ireland or America, could have been a land at peace. All was well, for the moment.
Whilst Father was giving Ti a lecture about playing with jellyfish, I climbed from my hole and ran to the sea, splashing into the waves. The water was crystal clear that day, warmed by the sun but with just enough chill to make dipping in and diving under the surf an absolute joy. I rolled over onto my back and lay there for a while, drifting with the tide, eyes closed, enjoying the peace. Then Edward came and pulled me under, a ridiculous laugh on his face. We then both had a water scrap for a while before emerging from the waves, hungry and eager to set into our picnic.
It wasn’t long before Erasmus and I were trying to build a massive fort and Seamus and Edward their own, so that we could see whose was better. We never did find out because Fletch, oaf that he was, fell into ours and destroyed it completely. He ran away before we could beat him and we were left with an inconsolable Erasmus. The only way we could get him to stop crying was if we all teamed up and built a mega-fort, the best and biggest that we could manage, and took turns guarding it so that Fletch didn’t ruin it again.
By the time we had finished we, that is Edward, Seamus and I, were getting tired of having so many other children around. It was so noisy that it was becoming difficult to enjoy ourselves. So, we took Earnest and went for a wander up the coast where we found another, more sheltered cove not so far away. We sat here, enjoying the quiet, watching the sea. From here, across the bay, we could make out Caergybi and the flanks of Mynydd Twr hiding behind it. Compared to the mountains we were used to, Mynydd Twr was pathetic. It was too small to be called a mountain.
Whilst we sat on the sand Earnest explored the cove, toddling here and there, and eventually decided to attempt some rock climbing on the cliffs behind. We kept an eye on him, saw that he was in no danger, and when he started climbing we made sure that one of us was close by so that if he fell or climbed too high we could catch him before any serious damage was done. This climbing quickly tired him out and before long he was curled up on the sand, snoring his head off.
‘You realize,’ Edward mused after a while. ‘This war has been going on for a whole year now. A year!’
‘Aye. That means we’ve had a year of Mable and Tippsy,’ I grieved.
‘Mable isn’t so bad really,’ Seamus said. ‘I mean, yes she beats us. Yes she’s practically… Err… What’s that word beginning with D?’
‘Draconian! Yes she’s practically draconian, but at least she’s not as bad as Tippsy. At least she’s one of us, much as we might hate to admit it.’
‘You don’t suppose the other errant aunt will turn up as well do you?’ I asked, thinking of Aunt Jezebel, Mother’s sister, who had performed her own disappearing act not long before Seamus was born.
‘I shouldn’t think so. Besides, she has no right to be anywhere near the castle. If she turns up we can always fling her out on her ear.’
‘We tried that with Mable and it didn’t work,’ I pointed out.
‘I don’t think she’ll turn up anyway. Not whilst Father is alive. I once heard Mother say it was his fault that she stormed out.’
‘Has anyone ever told us why she ran away like she did?’ I wondered.
‘Aye. I got it from Bryn. Apparently, she was duped by some relative of the Baron Penrhyn and after Father stepped in she accused him of interfering and stormed out.’
‘If she does come back,’ Seamus prophesied, ‘she probably won’t do it for seventy years. By that time we’ll all be as ancient as Mable and practically dead anyway, so it won’t matter.’
‘I hope this war ends soon,’ I yawned. ‘One year of it is quite enough for me.’
‘I hate to say this Arthur, but it probably isn’t going to end soon. It’ll be a few years yet. Hitler’s got half of Europe in his pocket, not to mention there’s Italy to deal with. Besides, I don’t think it can get much worse than this.’
‘You say that, but it will. You know it will,’ Seamus dragged. That was precisely the thing I dreaded, the war getting worse, and for it to go on getting worse and worse, forever.
We stayed on the beach till late afternoon, till we were all tired and falling asleep and again hungry.
‘I like them like this,’ I heard Mable comment as we climbed into the cars. ‘They’re behaving. Not up to mischief.’ Seamus managed a half-hearted ‘*—* you *—*’ under his breath before falling into the car, though Father still heard and clipped him about the ear for his impudence.
By the time we arrived back at Cythry it was dark and we were all itching for supper and bed. Alas, Bryn was waiting for us in the village and he flagged down the lead car of our convoy. Father popped his head out of the driver’s window.
‘What is it?’ he asked. ‘Has something happened?’
‘You might want to go up to the top of mountain and see… It’s… Well it isn’t anything good.’
‘Stay here,’ Father said to us when the cars were pulled into the drive. He got out of the car and immediately marched for the track up to the mountain. Of course, we were never going to stay. Mrs Violent and Tippsy managed to stop the younger children by herding them inside but myself, Seamus, Edward, Elizabeth and Tangerine all got away and followed Father up the track.
‘I thought I told you to stay there?’ he growled when we caught up to him. A crunching clack signified that Mable wasn’t far behind us.
‘Did you think we’d listen?’ Edward scoffed. Father sighed, as tired as all of us and too tired to argue.
The sight will never leave me. We got to the top of the mountain and found a horde of villagers all staring at the horizon. Above us the sky was black, clear and starry, but over on the horizon there was this burning glow, the glow of flames and fire. Something enormous was burning and it didn’t take a great deal of brains to work out what it was. That was Liverpool, fifty miles away. That night the Nasties weren’t just bombing it, they were destroying it. They were attempting to wipe it from the face of the earth.
It was monstrous.
How many people were there, caught under the tempest? What had they ever done to deserve their city being obliterated around them? What had they ever done to the Nasties that warranted such destruction? The only thing they had done was to not roll over and capitulate, to stand firm. For that the Nasties were exacting their revenge. I could have cried for those caught under the tempest, I wanted to cry for them, but the horror was too much to let me cry. My eyes were too dry, too fixed on the sight of the flames and the vision of horror.
‘Poor people,’ I heard Mable say as she came up behind us. ‘Those poor, poor, people. Dear God, save them from this awful night.’ God? If there was a God, I thought, he had surely forsaken us all.
Image courtesy of The Daily Post (And yeah, I know… It’s Church Bay, not Porth Trwyn. I couldn’t find a decent picture of Trwyn.)
THE OTHER AUNT MABLE STORIES ARE:
(In chronological order)
The Coming of Aunt Mable | Aunt Mable Takes Over | Aunt Mable And The School Mistress | Escape From Aunt Mable | Aunt Mable and The Evacuees | Aunt Mable and The Dogs Of War | Aunt Mable and The Sin of The Chauffeur