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Book extract: The Geography of the Heart by Cath Barton

17 Feb 2024 4 minute read
The Geography of the Heart by Cath Barton is published by Arroyo Seco Press

Cath Barton

The Abergavenny-based writer Cath Barton‘s latest book has just been published hy Arroyo Seco Press in California. We are pleased to publish this extract. 


When I was thirteen the Beatles were well on their way to becoming famous. But not so famous that they weren’t still doing gigs wherever they could get them. On 22 June 1963 they were booked to play Abergavenny Town Hall and my cousin Lili had a ticket. Lili lived in a council house with her mum, Bronwen, who was my Mum’s sister and had married beneath her, according to Mum. I was only too well aware, even then, that my mum was a terrible snob.

It was a Saturday. Lili told me that she and her friends spent the morning in the Wimpy in Frogmore Street eyeing up the local talent as the lads walked up and down the street, and the afternoon getting ready for their Big Night Out. Lili was fifteen and apprenticed as a hairdresser so she did all the girls’ hair. She did the best beehives, everyone said so, apparently. I thought she was very bold and very grown up.

The local paper reported that there were 600 people at the gig, and that John Lennon was flown into Pen-y-Pound football ground by helicopter as he’d been on Juke Box Jury earlier in the evening.

‘I never seen so many people in one place before, Megan,’ Lili said when she told me the story. ‘And the noise!’

‘Did you scream, Lili?’

‘Of course! Everyone did – you would have!’

‘And did girls, you know, did they?’

‘I couldn’t say, Megan,’ said my cousin, suddenly all coy.

Lili and Bronwen used to come over to where we lived in Beaconsfield every Christmas. Lili’s dad Ron never came and we never went to Wales. I tried asking Mum why but she’d always change the subject. I always thought it was something to do with Lili’s dad not being good enough for Mum. Though goodness knows she was one to talk, what with my dad having done a bunk when I was three. Good riddance as far as I was concerned, though Mum for some inexplicable reason wouldn’t have a word said against him.

Lili and her friends had their picture taken for the local paper on the night of the Beatles’ gig, she said, but they never printed it, which was, as Lili said, a crying shame, because she reckoned she could have sold it for a lot of money. I wondered why she hadn’t got an autograph.

That would definitely have made her money. The trouble was that money ran through Lili’s hands like water. By the time I came to live in Abergavenny Lili was long gone from the town, seduced by an Italian Lothario and running his ice-cream business somewhere in the Valleys. By then Mum couldn’t remember exactly where, nor could she think of his surname, though a card came for her every Christmas with a smudged postmark, kisses from Lili and Giuseppe and an awful lot of glitter.

‘Your cousin Lili was a one,’ was all my mother would say, with a faraway look in her eyes, and I had to stop myself from saying something mean. I would have liked to have had my hair done in a beehive, but Mum thought hair lacquer was ‘bad for the air.’ It wasn’t that my mother was an environmentalist before her time, she just hated the thought of me having something that she couldn’t have.

I have sometimes wondered whether Lili really did go to see the Beatles or whether she made the whole thing up.

Extract from The Geography of the Heart by Cath Barton, which is published by Arroyo Seco Press and is available here.

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