“A geography trip! The morn dawned clear and fine,
The bus moved off with a high pitched whine,
Like a mighty bumble-bee,
Taking us to Geography …”
Thus began a poem which I was moved to write for our School Magazine after a Sixth Form Geography trip to the Black Mountains, with the splendidly inspiring Graham Jones (known to all as Jop for reasons buried in the mists of antiquity). I submitted it (despite some scathing criticisms from Chris Edwards) to the School Magazine – but it was never actually published. This rejection put me off poetry for months. Looking back, I now quite understand why! So, dear readers, you have to suffer now the consequences of my youthful bardic frustrations.
Geography trips – which usually included Geology students (because they had hammers) – were epic events, immensely enjoyable, hugely illuminating and certainly inspiring, in terms of an appreciation of one’s native land, in terms of skills and knowledge acquired, and, if the truth be known, for generally mucking about (but at an appropriately sophisticated level). We normally assembled in a bizarre assortment of garbs; odd hats; and totally inappropriate footwear for trudging over rocks, crags and peat-bogs. Ray Mears would not have approved. Mums had concocted various gastronomic delights for the rucksack, including a selection of tomato and cheese sandwiches in different degrees of sogginess, vibrant pork pies with delectable jelly (this was before the EU had outlawed gelatine as a delicacy) and crisps from Smiths of Fforestfach) and there was a wide spectrum of beverages. Lads from Sketty and the Uplands usually secreted flagons of Truman’s in their persons; those of a more Calvinist persuasion from Morriston or Manselton self righteously swigged Dandelion and Burdock (Corona’s finest, I might add). How did these drinking preferences evolve over the lifetime of the drinker, I wonder.
The destinations of field trips included Lavernock Point off Penarth (for the red and green marls which apparently were the foundations for George Clements’ splendid wickets at St. Helens and on which the great Don Shepherd worked his magic), Bishopton Valley and Pwll Du (for the dry river valley, longshore drift and pebble beach), Craig Cefn Parc (for the incised meander and marginal land utilisation); Cribarth above Craig y Nos (for the sheep farming and the eroded anticline – very reminiscent of Jop’s balding pate); and Llangadog (for trilobites and dairy farming). Various natural and man-made wonders were patiently explained to us whilst certain citizens (from Cockett, as I recall), nefariously opened farm gates behind Jop’s back, thereby releasing large numbers of sheep into vicinities where sheep should really not be – with dire consequences.
Llangadog was particularly memorable, as after a long period of frenzied battering of unsuspecting rocks by hammers of different denominations, there emerged a whole battalion of trilobites to Jop’s great excitement. I collected about twenty large and impressive specimens of these fossils (worth a small fortune these days) and proudly stored them in a box under the stairs at home, to be brought out and admired at regular intervals on the kitchen table. One vacation, returning from Aber, I was mortified and furious to discover that Mam had chucked the “old rocks” away. Matricide seemed to be very appealing proposition at that time, but I somehow resisted the urge. No doubt archaeologists and geologists in centuries to come will discover my beloved fossils in some long forgotten landfill site – and will propound some theory that trilobites were indeed alive and well in twentieth century Swansea.
After the trilobite frenzy, certain boys unerringly had found a country pub (the Gwyn Arms) during the lunch break (to Jop’s earnest consternation in his “in loco parentis” role). I wrote in my ill-fated poem
“Boldly he strode into the Inn,
Calling offenders from that place of sin,
Out they came with heads bowed low,
And to the driver he said, “I mean, let’s go!”
The aforementioned boys (from Sketty, I suspect) exacted a subtle retribution on Jop by “accidentally” treading on his brown trilby, which had mysteriously found its way into a peaty hollow. I wrote
“Everybody was laughing at Mr. Jones’ brown felt hat
‘Oh, I mean, don’t step on it, lad!’
For ’twas the only one he had”.
It was never Jop’s intention that Geography trips should be a jolly, though they were undoubtedly very pleasurable … we were actually expected to take notes and write them up afterwards – even in the rain. Jop was not an apostle of the spoon-feeding philosophy of pedagogy. He expected us – in class also – to convert his spontaneous and elegaic outpourings on the hoof into systematic notes for subsequent examination. Whilst initially bewildering, (compared with the page by page dictation of Dick Evans), this was a superb preparation for later life; for listening, abstracting, classifying and synthesising. This, I guess is what much of life actually is. Still, this advanced cerebral activity was rather difficult to do this in a drizzle standing on Lavernock Point!
There are so many other tales to be told, dear friends – of the idiot (me) who mistook mudstone for basalt in Bracelet Bay … Curtis was not amused; of Clive Grenfell falling down a large hole in the drybed of Bishopston Valley, ostensibly trying to locate the underground river; of the literally mysterious holy silence on the top of Cribarth, where one sensed the Great Creator was certainly nearby. No doubt Moses had also experienced this sensation, in a far more epic manifestation on Mount Sinai.
These were the days, of course, before the Health and Safety czars, pursued their dread mission of minimising our enjoyment and excitement. I suppose that in some forgotten part of the kingdom geography trips do still occur. I do hope so, because they constituted unique formative experiences for us all – to laugh, to look, to interpret, to learn … but, above all, to wonder.