(From the memoirs of Horace Drake)
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.
From Gray’s Elegy
On the subject of technological progress in my lifetime, there is no doubt that the ‘quality of life’ of the average citizen has improved beyond all recognition. Nevertheless these improvements have not been matched by an increase in human contentedness. It is also tempting to speculate that every human extravagance or luxury is accompanied by a degree of discomfort. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise and are linked to climate change, the effects of microwave radiation from mobile phones are still uncertain, many new drugs have side effects which are not obvious for years or decades, and some food additives and pesticides are likely causes of cancer. Often it is a ‘balancing act’ between two outcomes – nitrites are added to ham and bacon to prevent botulism (which can be lethal in a matter of days) but they can also combine with other chemicals in the stomach to potentially produce in tiny amounts some of the most powerful carcinogens known to man. Since you cannot eliminate risks completely, moderation gives the best chance of a fulfilling life.
Recently my granddaughter Carissa called me to say she had won the most prestigious cup at Speech Day on passing out from her Junior School. The inscription read “Leadership through Service”. Carissa said that she had thought of me and my Army Regiment’s motto “Service before Self” when she received the trophy, and wanted to share the experience with me. It was a moment of great comfort which is hard to describe except to those who understand already – to “pass on the baton” to a generation whose life is just beginning.
With my granddaughter Carissa and her trophy for “Leadership through Service”
I am very proud that James has recently started two philanthropic ventures in my name: The Drake Foundation (www.drakefoundation. org) has been set up to help establish a scientific basis for understanding concussion in contact sports, with the aim of improving player safety. Based on James‘ initiative, a pioneering study will gather comprehensive data from a top professional rugby team over a threeyear period. It will be evaluated by a world-renowned neuroscience institute. This has never been done before in the UK in any contact sport and is the first such study worldwide in rugby union. They will also develop a concussion database, a concussion registry and launch a scientific journal. The Drake Calleja Trust (www. drakecallejatrust.org), which is in the process of being formed, will work with the lyric tenor and successor to the great Enrico Caruso to help underprivileged children with musical talent.
As I completed these memoirs, I was impelled to return once again to my childhood home. Aberkenfig is now a backwater – much quieter since the by-pass was built to take the main Bridgend- to-Maesteg road south of the village. Not a soul passed by as I turned off the main street towards the Welfare Hall, on the left my primary school exactly as it was just ahead of Dr. Fitz’s house. I turned left over Pandy bridge overlooking the site of the fairground where I first met Gwyneth, along the secluded river path to Ty‘n y Wern. The water flowed silently, eternally as the dragonflies of my youth cast their glow on the journey of my life.
I pass Llansantffraid Church, where in my youth every member of the congregation was familiar to me. I see them now - the welldressed, the ragged, the hungry, the holy and the hypocritical, belting out in perfect harmony the verses of ‘Cwm Rhondda‘.
I am opening the gate now, and before me is the stage of my childhood, with its brambles hiding their barbs under mouth-watering blackberries, its profusion of wild roses along the perimeter, its stately row of sycamores on the top boundary. I close my eyes and there is a commotion in the corner of the turkey pen as my mother prepares a special meal; my father removes his watch on its shiny chain from his waistcoat pocket and studies it carefully ahead of his daily shift.
In front of me now is the little “House in the Meadow” with its still-scary yet tiny bedroom window through which I had fallen as a child. Perhaps that and other accidents of childhood have made me sensitive to the vulnerable ones around me. Or possibly it was an accident of birth combined with the impact of two World Wars – one ending shortly before I was born, and the second consuming some of my best years. It may also have been a consequence of large families such as ours being compelled to share everything with our siblings from an early age. Or maybe it was the example of parents who spent their lives helping others (my mother instilled into me the simple Christian aphorism: “You reap what you sow”). Whatever the reasons, I have no regrets – I would do exactly the same again, and there are still today countless others who share my philosophy. So I am happy to tell my grandchildren that there is no cause for despair in a more material age than I grew up into; caring people exist now to the same extent as they did in my youth – you just have to look for them.