It was the Friday before half term – the school had made the short trip to church to mark the upcoming All Saints’ day and continued the celebration by having the rest of the day off.
That’s how I came to be at home that day and, unusually for the time, watching the lunchtime news.
At that age, watching or listening to the news was something that your parents did – something incomprehensible that went over your head.
That day was different. It was different because it was comprehensible – it was different because, and this is my abiding memory, the newsreader wept. Robert Dougal was an old-style BBC newsreader; a man who, in 1939, had announced the outbreak of war in measured unemotive tones. But today he wept – the tears ran down his cheeks in uncontrolled streams
It was a day for uncontrolled streams.
It was the Friday before half term – the children had been to assembly and were returning to their classrooms. Under one of the slag heaps that towered over the little mining village, an uncontrolled stream bubbled, liquefying the waste and creating a river of sludge that hurtled down the hill, destroying the school and burying the children.
Since then, there have been many tragedies and many innocent deaths, but this is the one that never went away. As a child it was possible to enter into the terror in imagination and weep. As an adult, you gradually learnt about the negligence that led to this totally preventable event and the callousness with which the parents were treated and wept with anger.
Last night’s Surviving Aberfan (BBC 4) told the story of how the villagers coped with the aftermath – it was a story of enormous courage and dignity in the face of incomprehensible pain and overwhelming sorrow. But the pain and sorrow never go away – they are there in the memories of old ladies who had been young mothers; they are there in the nightmares of men and women who had been boys and girls; they are there in the hearts of anyone who remembers. I have never stopped weeping for Aberfan and I never shall.