The Children of Aberfan

Today was the 54th Anniversary of the day the children died at Aberfan. I was ten years old, too young to follow the news, too young to take an interest in what was around me. Certain things stick in the mind though, because I heard so much about them. One such was Aberfan.

Today, if money were not so venerated as to be held greater than human lives, a hundred and more men and women would be entering their Sixties. They would have lives and loves and successes and failures, good times, bad times. men and women would have been born who are in this world only ghosts, possibilities denied. What would any of those never born have done? What achievements were withheld from us because money meant more than human lives?

Who amongst us have lived lesser lives, seen duller, more awful times because the man or woman they would have met, fallen in love with and married wasn’t there at that crucial moment to meet them for the first time?

We all of us only ever lead contingent lives, dependent upon the world and the people around us, who change our lives and fates in every moment, by decisions that create ripples. I have often joked that if a long-demolished newsagents in Openshaw, in 1966, had placed a different DC Comic in their window one Friday afternoon in March, I would have never met the woman I married. But it’s true, as it is for everybody.

The children of Aberfan never had that chance. They, like the kid in Neil Young’s ‘Rocking in the Free World’, never got to go to school, never got to fall in love, never got to be cool. We remember things like armistice Day and VE Day every year, and rightly so. But we should remember with equal vigour the stains on our reputation and dedicate ourselves with all our vigour to ensuring that we will not allow such things to happen again.

That is how we pay our proper respect to the children of Aberfan.

Two deaths

Announced today, two more who have left us. One male, aged 87, a public figure, a shaper of the world we know. One 86, female, known to more people than she have ever wished but to far fewer that she deserved. One is Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard, rock’n’roll pioneer, flambuoyant, colourful, influential in more than just music. The other is Rennie Williams. You probably don’t know her name, just as I didn’t until a few minutes ago, for which I am ashamed. Rennie Williams was a schoolteacher in Aberfan in 1966. She was in the school the day of the disaster, she got the surviving children out. I mean no disrespect to Little Richard when I point out the discrepancy between the responses their passing will bring. Bow your heads to her, for she leaves the greater gap in the world.