When Newton was still a tiny village, that is, roundabout 1948-ish, it had many great characters. One of these was Alf Owen. Alf had a riding-school on Pickets Mead, and his only interests in life were his horses, and a pint of Best Bitter. (Evan Evans & Bevan, Vale of Glamorgan Brewery)! Having horses, and being a boozer, he was naturally a friend of 10 year-old Dickiebo and his Dad – who hated horses! (Worked that one out?)
Alf was a grizzly old man, with a truly weather-beaten face, always clad in the mandatory thick, grey flannels, turned-up twice at the bottoms, (no bloody jeans in those days!), thick woollen pullover, and ‘hacking-jacket’, with matching flat-cap. Hobnail boots with thick, brown, leather laces, which always caught my eye. Why? Well, because of the way that he walked. He walked very slowly, because, as he told us daily, he was ‘all strapped up’ around the stomach, with bandages, after some long-since-forgotten stomach operation. As he brought his feet forward when walking, his toes would point up at the sky, and his foot would then come down, about 6 inches in front of it’s former position. Slow going! His stables were at the bottom of his garden, so he didn’t have far to walk, to get to work. There were two corrugated steel lean-to’s which were called ‘stables’, and sandwiched between them, was Alf’s pride and joy – his ‘Tack Room’. A monstrous abuse of the English language if ever there was one. All it was, really, was a couple more corrugated sheets linking the two ‘stables’, but in there, was where Alf held Court.
Pride of place was his rocking-chair. An old – some would say, very old – wooden chair, with hay thereon, to soften his seat. Having walked the entire length of the garden to get there, he would walk up to the chair, about-face, and lift both feet, thereby ensuring a square landing on the chair. A huge sigh and – ready for the day. Issuing his orders to us lot of gophers, telling us which horses to prepare for whom, and at what time. I remember one day, he told me to go to his field on the s-bend in Murton Lanes, and fetch in Dolly. I returned about an hour later, still carrying the halter – the field is only about 3 minutes away! – without Dolly, and Alf never let me forget it. The bloody horse just ran away from me every time I got close! All round the walls of the ‘tack room’ were rosettes which Alf claimed to have won at gymkhanas. Not sure he did but……..if he says so! Anyway, on a rainy day we would congregate in the tack room and listen to Alf’s tales of yesteryear. Great!
He would enjoy a pint, or two, hmmmm, lunchtimes, not in the Newton Inn, but in the Rock & Fountain, opposite. This was because my old man was frequently ‘barred’ from the Newton by the landlord, Iori Evans. So there would be the old man, Alf, Jack Evans – my favourite dustbin man, – Cyril Thrush, the window-cleaner, Dick Woollacott, the farmer, and John Daniels, the Dentist. When there was a Fox Hunt, they would all gather outside the Rock before the start, to imbibe. I shall always remember what I call, “Alf’s Farewell!” He was well past riding, of course. He had a small grey pony, Betsy, which was on the hunt, and had gathered outside the Rock, with a young girl astride it. Then Alf’s beer took over. He lifted the girl off Betsy, and somehow swung his leg over the poor little nag – strapped stomach or not! His feet nearly reached the ground, so he wrapped his legs under Betsy’s belly and went cantering off, up the hill, wildy shouting, “Tally-Ho. Tally-Ho!”
I loved these characters and learnt much from them – which is probably why I am no bloody professor! What’s your excuse?