Jill Nicholls: Chris Remembered

I see a thin man leaning over a crooked gate, his grey stone home behind.

I see a man brown skinned, even in darkest winter but one who will not be parted from his woolly jumpers, even in hottest summer.

I see man in all seasons, who sits, rug on knees, writing and thinking and drinking, in the light that glows peacefully through the tear in the red lampshade. I see him feeding the fire which fumes and spits and tells its own stories, as the logs crumble and twist, turning from crimson to grey as the flames take them.  I see the cobweb wall hangings, many moons old, lifting gently behind him but I have never seen a spider in the house.  I see the sparkling Christmas mobile that remains all year round, stirring and spinning a little in the rising warmth of the fire. I see him bending to place the aged black kettle in the hearth and I can taste the smoke flavoured tea – the unique Torrance blend.

I see him in summer, sitting on his chair on Peace Lawn, as if he has been growing there, surrounded by papers, reading Pound and Eliot and welcoming his visitors with his slow, warm smile.

I see him in the mornings and evenings, quietly smoking his pipe, caressing it with careful fingers, his words following the smoke, talking history, poetry, jazz, rap, Herodotus, the iniquities of publishers, Egypt and the Sky Goddess, the shortcomings of the Co-op’s wine selection, legends and the horrors of the literati.

I see hats. Round hats and knitted hats and many coloured hats, once even a black crim hat. Torrance and his hats, inseparable as moss on stones.

I see him chopping logs, planting a garden of glass jars over his seedlings, nurturing the vegetables and the tall, many coloured flowers that flourish like wild things in his garden. I see him fussing a proud, fluffy black cat who roams the valley and returns like a wayward  mistress.  Her spirit waves her tail still in the shadowy afterglow of the fire.

I see him playing a stringed biscuit tin on a midsummer evening. I see him raising a glass of red wine on a Friday night, across the country darkness to us all in the distant city. I see him at his table writing rainbow coloured letters full of observations form his valley. I see him during the year of the little red bull, when crossing he field to collect his letters from the bag on the fence was a dangerous mission. A man of dogged determination.

I see him in the Thatcher years, denouncing the spirt of the times, sitting in the corner of The Westgate when it was a decent pub, downing his pint of SA, in the perennial draught from the window, an anarchist still. I see him take a break from politics to talk about teeth.  The only person I ever met who looked forward to visiting the dentist because he had discovered the joys off getting high on novocaine.

I see him proudly drawing the bones of an aurochs from the mud, as a miner might draw precious stones from the earth, guarding them as custodian of the valley’s ancient past and resolutely refusing to have them handled by any expert from a museum.

I see him in Room 246, teaching, encouraging, listening, respectful of everyone and drawing from his students work they did not know they could create. I see him gently inspiring us all in a variety of ways, as if he somehow knew how to enable each writer to find their own unique muse. Every class of awkward, exhibitionist, arrogant, opinionated, eccentric and nervous writers turned from September to April into an enthusiastic batch of new hopefuls, like a bedful of his more difficult plants, under his generous and careful tending.

I see him out- declaiming the hecklers as he performs his poetry like a minstrel from old times.

A man who chose his own way and would not be turned from it by bulls or politicians or the cold, or the solitude or the grey Welsh rain.

Listen and he will tell you stories, give you words to remember because they are no ordinary words but beads of thought, strung into stories and visions.

I see a poet in a secret valley.


Jill Nicholls lives in Swansea and works part time as a counsellor at the University of Wales, Trinity St David (UWTSD). She first met Chris when she went to his legendary writing class in Room 246 in the early eighties and they remained good friends.

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