The bus journey from Cardiff to Brecon lingered slow and dreary. I sat in a back seat gazing out the window, watching the gray towns slide by. The old vehicle, gears grinding, labored up through the Welsh Valleys, deep furrows in the once green hills, now devastated by coal-mining. I was going to spend a week with my grandmother at Ffrwdgrech (frudegrech) to study for the forthcoming O Level exams.
At each of the mining towns—Treforest, Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil—the bus filled with short dark people chattering away in a mix of Welsh and English. I knew a little Welsh from school but the tumble of singsong sounds and backward verbs was beyond me. As members of the upper class, Evanses were more English than the English; in the company of the true Welsh, we were foreigners.
The Valleys were home to God-fearing miners who sang full-voiced in their tiny Non-conformist chapels on Sundays. Rows of narrow brick houses clung to the mountainsides, overshadowed by monstrous coal slag heaps. The black cones blocked the sun and looked as though, at any moment, they would devour the small houses below.
We passed near Aberfan and the bus grew silent. Across the valley I could see the black, scarred mountainside where, just a few months previously, 116 children suffocated under a landslide of mine tailings that engulfed a school. The tragedy could have been avoided: the powers-that-be knew of the danger but did nothing.
Beyond Merthyr Tydfil, the scenery shifted to the bleakly soothing landscape of the Brecon Beacons, rolling mountains of tufted grass and purple heather. Two small reservoirs on the left shrouded in mist told me we were entering Evans territory. At one time, my grandfather had owned most of the Brecon Beacons.
I got off the bus at the Drover’s Arms pub and walked the mile up Ffrwdgrech Road. It felt spookily familiar, reminding me of the years I’d cycled down to school, dressed in gray flannel shorts, my legs chapped by the stinging rain. The road climbed gently up the hill between mossy rock walls and then dipped down into a secluded wooded valley with an old stone bridge spanning a tumbling stream. That stream was the source of the name ‘Ffrwdgrech’—Welsh for bubbling brook or even better, farting stream. Just this side of the bridge stood the Lodge, a sharply gabled stone cottage guarding a big white wooden gate—the entrance to Ffrwdgrech House.
The Lodge had been my home from age seven to twelve until we abruptly moved to the dreary rental in Cardiff. Passing through Ffrwd’s gate, I saw evidence of new inhabitants in the Lodge—a small red tricycle on its side, flapping tea towels on the line. This was not my home any more. Had it ever felt like home? Ffrwd always evoked confused and contradictory feelings.
For five years, Toody, John and I roamed the woods and mountains unencumbered by fences and restrictions—collecting bird’s eggs, constructing dens, playing hide-and-seek with the children of the estate, woken each morning to the sounds of birds and brook. It was everything a child could wish for. Yet much as I loved the woods and streams, I never felt completely at ease; the Big House dominated our lives.
We’d been the poor relatives living rent-free at the Lodge with no car, phone or TV. When we first arrived, Grampa and Granny had lived a quiet dignified life in their massive mansion half a mile up the driveway. They tolerated us—but children were a disturbance. Their own offspring, my father, aunt and uncles, had been looked after by Nanny, kept segregated from adults in the nursery and shipped off to boarding school at age seven.
Grampa had grown softer with age, watching TV with Toody and me up in his bedroom—and then he died. The eldest son, Uncle David inherited everything: the estate, the properties and the investments; my father and his other siblings got nothing. That was the accepted tradition. Granny was eased out into the cottage next door and we lived on charity at the Lodge down the drive.
Walking up the driveway though a tunnel of massive branches, everything smelling damp and green, every tree and shrub lush with memory. Around the last bend, the drive emerged from sentinels of pink-budded rhododendrons into an expanse of lawn surrounding the Big House. The mansion sat enthroned at the end of the drive, a grand but somewhat ugly and imbalanced stately home. The original elegant Georgian building with its classic portico was overshadowed by a sprawling three-story Victorian addition stuck to one end.
Past the stable house and beyond the cobbled yard, I arrived at Granny’s modest cottage. I could see her busy in the kitchen.
“Granny, I’m here.” I called in the door.
“Oh, there you are Moey. You should have phoned; I would have come to collect you.” Her voice was clipped and upper class, her manner direct. White hair formed a perfectly permed halo around her lined face with its strong aquiline nose.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” I said and gave her a kiss on a soft chamois cheek that smelled faintly of lavender.
She was dressed as usual in a tweed skirt and knitted cardigan with sensible shoes. Every movement precise and controlled, she turned toward the sink to fill the kettle for tea. Even from the back her aristocratic bearing and no-nonsense authority asserted itself. Once the water had boiled, she filled the large blue teapot and covered it with a tea cosy.
I enjoyed watching as she deftly handled the tea things, radiating a kind of certainty that the world would do as it was told. Her strong, spade-like fingers with wrinkled leathery skin and knobby, outsized finger joints belonged to a peasant, not a lady. Granny was a dedicated gardener and over the years the soil had tempered her hands, turning them almost root-like.
“Put out plates and cups for three. If you want some fruitcake, it’s in the larder.” I did as I was told and arranged the elegant tea set and silver cutlery, wondering who was the third person. Afternoon tea, set for 4.00 each day, was the sacred and constant ritual, reserved for family and a tiny handful of friends. The polished antique oak table in the center of the kitchen was neatly laid out with everything in its place: fresh scones, homemade jam, mature fruitcake and a pot of Darjeeling tea.
“Go ring the bell for Bunnywun. She went for a walk around the pond.”
I gave a start—Bunnywun was the last person I expected. She was my favorite cousin and whenever she came to mind, my stomach fluttered. I couldn’t tell exactly what I felt but it was close to longing. A month older than me, Bunnywun was a vision of Snow White from the old Walt Disney movie: corn-flower blue eyes, milky pale skin, straight black hair and sweet smile above a dimpled chin. Thankfully, she didn’t have Snow White’s squeaky voice.
Most summer holidays we spent time together at Aunty Peggy’s cottage in Pembrokeshire. She’d been my closest companion: bobbing up and down in the freezing waves on Newgale sands, spending time together scooping up tiny shrimp off Parrog beach. A couple of summers ago, we’d kissed and fumbled in her sleeping bag, exploring our newly aroused sexuality. Then suddenly last year everything changed: she’d become sullen and withdrawn and hardly said a word to me. Everything about Bunnywun was bewildering.
I took the heavy brass hand-bell and gave it a satisfying ringing. The tones pealed out across the lawn and over the small lake we called the pond. A figure appeared in the distance and came up the grassy slope.
Bunnywun smiled her sweet smile as she came closer. I noticed she looked pale and drawn with dark smudges under her eyes. Tucked under her right arm was a small fluffy white poodle, struggling to get free. She put it down and it started to yip and jump around. The tightness in my chest relaxed and I smiled back.
“Stop it, Pearl,” Bunnywun scolded. The poodle’s distracting antics gave us something to pay attention to—easier than looking at each other as we said our ungainly hellos.
Granny directed us to the table and poured the tea. I helped myself to a scone and focused on eating and drinking. Teatime with Granny was unrushed and tranquil—not a time for serious discussion.
“Bunnywun’s been staying for a few days. She hasn’t been well,” Granny explained, as if Bunnywun couldn’t speak for herself.
“What’s the matter?” I asked Bunnywun.
She gave a tired smile. “I’ve been off school for six weeks in bed with Mono. I get tired—but I’m getting better.” Her weariness was palpable and in the fading light, her skin looked almost translucent.
“What are you going to do about O Levels?” Exams were foremost in my mind and it was a disaster to miss school.
“I don’t know. They say I can take them later—I really don’t have the energy to think about it.” We lapsed into a natural silence as the teatime ritual unfolded.
The rest of the evening moved in the slow and familiar texture of my grandmother’s life. The table was cleared, the dishes washed and we retired to the living room to watch the six o’clock news on BBC television. Later, after a light supper, Granny laid out cards for solitaire on her lap table, looking up now and then at the TV. Bunnywun sat for a while before going up to bed. I tried to watch television but Bunnywun’s presence in the house made it hard to settle.
At nine o’clock, Granny put the cards away and climbed the stairs with a heavy, steady tread and I followed soon after. Bunnywun’s door stood at the end of a short corridor between my room and Granny’s; there was no light under her door. Last summer had been painful; I hoped this time might be different.
Waking next morning to the shrill clear sounds of songbirds, raucous rooks cawing in colonies high in the beech trees, the feel of crisp linen sheets against my skin, it was as if Cardiff never existed. Sunlight navigated the striped pink wallpaper as I drifted in and out of half-sleep until I was ready to get up. I felt quietly settled for the first time in ages.
Granny was out in the garden but had left breakfast out. She was probably far across the lawns, tending the perennial beds, bent double pruning, weeding and transplanting.
After breakfast, I found Bunnywun in the sitting room reading with Pearl in her lap. She looked stronger.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Much better. I mostly get tired in the evenings.” She put her book aside and Pearl jumped down and stood at the door. “I need to take Pearl for a walk. Do you want to come?”
I knew I should study but it could wait. As we stepped outside into the sunny morning, the Brecon Beacons stood softly rounded and purple beyond the farthest woods, their shimmering form reflected in the pond at the foot of a perfectly mown expanse of green grass. We walked down to the water and around to the opposite side past a grove of apple trees. Looking back we could see the Big House standing vacant and silent. Uncle David and his wife Perenna still lived in Derbyshire so the house was unoccupied.
We wandered around the outside of the house, peering into the big windows noticing the changes. In the billiard room, an ordinary table and chairs had replaced the full-sized billiard table; the stuffed fox heads were all gone. Next door, the grand dining room, almost the size of a ballroom and once used for formal receptions, was empty and forlorn. In contrast, the drawing room looked almost as I remembered: graceful classical furniture and seascape paintings, glass display tables replete with small treasures, the white marble fireplace laid with oak logs.
Every room evoked memories and we talked about the times we’d spent playing in the 30 plus rooms as children.
“Do you remember when your family joined us at Ffrwd for Halloween?” I asked. “There were tubs of bobbing apples in the hall. I think we were about seven or eight.”
She nodded and laughed. “We played hide-and-seek and I got stuck at the top of the airing cupboard!”
“After your lot went home, Blodwyn, our Welsh nanny, told us a really scary ghost story. We sat huddled in the library around the fire with the lights out. You should have heard that story! She did these eerie sounds of creaking doors and scraping footsteps—scared us half to death. At the end, she clapped her hands and we all jumped and screamed.”
“That night I slept in the night-nursery with Toody and John. I woke in the middle of the night and their beds were empty. I jumped out of bed and ran down the corridor to find Blodwyn—and guess what? All the others were crammed into bed with her. I was the last one in!”
Bunnywun laughed and something let go inside of me. We walked under the spreading sycamore tree, past the tumbled down summerhouse, across a rustic bridge and into the woods. Bunnywun’s cheeks glowed as we remembered sliding down the polished mahogany bannisters, digging deep in the dressing-up chest for costumes and building towers with wooden bricks in the nursery.
It seemed natural that as our hands brushed, they caught and held just like we did as children. Time flashed by and before I knew it, we again came out from under the trees onto the lawn. There was Granny in the distance adding branches to a big pile beside the sundial. Startled, we let go of each other’s hands and moved apart. Granny stood up and gave us a wave. She walked towards us, slow and stately, in tune with the flow of nature.
“There you are. I’m going in for lunch.” She set off towards the cottage and we followed. A cold lunch waited on the table: bread, meat, cheese and homemade chutney, washed down with sweet Woodpecker cider.
“Moey, can you help get the brush to the bonfire site after lunch,” Granny asked. “Ted and I have been trimming the overgrown laurel bushes. It would be a great help.”
“Yes, of course Granny.” I could not refuse, but I felt a twinge of disappointment. Bunnywun was leaving the next day and our time together was limited.
“And Bunnywun,” Granny continued, “You need to go lie down. You look tired.”
Afternoon tasks complete, tea and supper eaten, the evening was a perfect replay of the last. At nine o’clock the TV was switched off, we climbed the stairs, said goodnight and went to our respective rooms. Closing my bedroom door I felt a nervous fluttering in my stomach.
I waited ‘til it got quiet and crept out into the hallway. Bunnywun’s room to my right had a sliver of light under the door. I quietly tapped on the door. A noise inside suggested invitation. Bunnywun, dressed in a high-necked nightdress, was sitting in bed illuminated by the dim glow of a sidelight.
“Can I come in?” I whispered.
She hesitated. “OK, but only for a minute. I have to go to sleep.”
Trying to control my shallow breathing, I stepped over to the bed and perched on the edge. She scooted over to give me room. The poodle lying beside her gave me a look; its tail was not wagging.
“I really liked it today. I wish we had more time together.” I kept my voice soft so as not to disturb Granny next door.
“ I know. I have to go home tomorrow. Mum is coming in the morning.” She looked at me with a soft smile.
I leaned over and kissed her; she returned the kiss.
“Let’s turn the light off.” I reached across and pushed the switch. In the darkness I heard a thump as the poodle jumped off the bed.
“Can I get under the bedclothes? I’m getting cold out here.”
She shifted and said, “You know we shouldn’t.” Her voice lacked conviction.
“Please,” I pleaded. “Just for a little while.” She moved over and I slipped under the blankets. I felt a wave of warmth as I kissed her and snuggled up into her neck. Something in me relaxed. I loved the feeling of her body against mine. My hands started to find their way under her nightgown to her soft skin.
There was a scratching noise out in the corridor. We both tensed. It happened again, more insistently this time. After a moment, the door to Granny’s room creaked opened and I could see a light through Bunnywuns’s half open door. I hadn’t shut the door after me and her nasty little dog had escaped.
“Get out of bed,” Bunnywun whispered in a strangled voice. My mind went frantic. Where can I hide? Not under the bed, I’m on the wrong side. I jumped out and squeezed myself against the wall—there was no room behind the door.
Granny’s voice was scratchy with sleep. “Bunnywun, Pearl got out and was scratching on my door.” I heard footsteps in the hallway. “I’ll bring her in.”
Total panic; my breath stopped. I tried to shrink into the wall. A few inches away from me, Granny came in carrying the dog. The dim light reflected off her white dressing gown and hair net.
I had to get away before she turned and saw me. As she stooped over the bed to hand Bunnywun the dog, I slipped out of the room. Quickly into my room—close the door as silently as possible—hold the doorknob in my shaking hand—try to breathe. All I could think of: Granny must have seen my shadow against the light. She’s going to knock. I stood listening by the door, holding my breath. Eventually there were soft sounds of ”Goodnight”, “Goodnight” and doors closing.
My breath let go. Oh my God! What is Bunnywun thinking? Did Granny see me? I climbed into bed and tried to sleep, but my mind and body refused to settle.
I awoke late the next morning. There was a bustle downstairs, people talking and doors opening and closing. I lay in bed, too cowardly to make an appearance. That must be Aunty Peggy calling out to her yapping dogs. She must be helping Bunnywun get her stuff together.
Eventually, I got dressed and went down—but it was too late. Bunnywun was already in the car, ready to leave. I stood in the morning light and said a limp goodbye through the car window, avoiding her eyes. The car started and she was gone, the back seat packed with nasty little dogs.
The rest of that week I tried to study, helped Granny in the garden and brooded. Did Granny know I’d been in Bunnywun’s room or not? She had the aristocratic ability to ignore anything she found distasteful. I could never ask her and she would never say.
Ffrwd felt even more confining and claustrophobic—just like the Big House, all closed up with me on the outside, an intruder. The gardens, the woods, the bridges and bamboo groves were beautiful, but the place felt alien and bitter. All that was left was Granny and her way of life: orderly, calm and contemplative. At the end of the week, she drove me to town and I took the bus back to Cardiff.
A few weeks later the O Level exams swept over me. Depressed and unmotivated, I hardly read my notes and knew for certain I’d done badly. Still, it would be months before the results came in the mail; the summer stretched long and forlorn before me.
With school over and nothing on the horizon, a persistent thought kept intruding: I have to get away—leave this place. Veronica and Jeffie were out of the house by age seventeen. Dilly spent half a year in Italy when she was sixteen. John flitted back and forth to Ireland every year. They escaped as soon as they could. It has to be time for me to go.
Being at Home
As a child, I never felt at home, never knew where I fit. By age 15, I’d lived in two countries and six houses, the last of which, 166 Whitchurch Road, was little more than a temporary dwelling. The Lodge at Ffrwd should have been idyllic, but I didn’t belong. Like everywhere I lived, it felt alien.
In my 50’s, I worked with a body-oriented therapist. During a session I captured an early memory of looking up through pink apple blossoms at the blue sky above. The image evoked an unexpected sense of wellbeing: I could feel my infant body being held and loved. This memory came from a time when I was younger than two years old and lived in Ireland.
I was born on a dairy farm near Dungarvan on the East coast of Ireland. All I recall of it is that orchard image and a feeling of harmony. Most of my life that serene feeling was buried beneath layers of tension and quiet distress. My first conscious (and upsetting) memory is of my mother suckling my infant brother Toody at her breast. The shock was overwhelming—I had lost my place.
Growing up, I struggled with questions of who I was and where I came from. Was I an upper class Evans of Ffrwdgrech or an insignificant poor relation? Was I Irish or Welsh, a Catholic or a Protestant? With no sense of belonging, I couldn’t tell who I was meant to be, couldn’t feel at home in my skin. Many clients have told me of a similar feeling of disconnection and not being settled in this world. Commonly, they had difficult childhoods, unwelcomed and unrecognized by their family.
At its most intense, some people feel their birth was a mistake. It’s as if they took a wrong turn in the other world and ended up on a strange planet populated by alien beings. They don’t belong here and toy with death as an escape from intolerable dis-coordination. For them, home is somewhere else—certainly not here.
A home is more than just a house. Home is where the heart is. These common sayings indicate a profound truth. In essence, home is not a place: it’s the felt center of our inner selves. Deeply embedded in our psyche, home is the archetype of embodiment in time and space. Without an inner sense of belonging to our selves and to the world, we are lost, floating without grounding or roots.
Houses and homes are the most common images appearing in dreams—considered to be a universal symbol of the self. Our dream-houses have many facets and dimensions, spaces filled with people and objects, rooms known and unknown. We move through these spaces, meet others, have ordinary and extraordinary experiences. Sometimes the rooms are confusing, dark and threatening; other times they are filled with light and joy.
House dreams reflect our experience of self at a level below far ordinary consciousness. They tell us if we are truly at home with our selves and highlight our dilemmas, fears and potential for growth. In many of my early dreams, plagued with anxiety, I hid in ruined buildings, unable to find a place safe from threat. In contrast, a later dream offers a glimpse of the expansive possibilities latent in all our psyches:
I am in the Big House at Ffrwd wandering the empty deserted rooms up in the old servant’s quarters. The corridors are distorted and the rooms strange. I come to what looks like a dead end but then, to my left, I see a steep narrow stairway that I never knew existed. I climb far up under the eves to find a series of attic rooms—extensive, untouched and unexplored. I wonder if a forgotten treasure might be hidden in some dark corner and start to search.
50 plus years on, Bunnywun still appears in my dreams. She is the same but different, transmuted into a quiet loving presence, wise and mature yet still an innocent young girl. She was my first attempt at love, the object of my longing and desire—puppy love mixed with lust. Over the years she’s become a part of me, an inner soul mate existing beyond the confines of time, an embodiment of love. How does this happen? How do we transform immature cravings into an inner state of loving?
Love is a long and tortuous learning curve for most of us. If our parents showered us with unconditional affection, then the path is less treacherous but by no means straightforward. Our initial passions are mainly projection and fantasy, almost totally unreal. It often takes a number of attempted relationships before we mature enough to realize how to relate lovingly. These attempts are filled with pain and heartbreak—but often a heart has to be broken to allow love to penetrate to its core.
Of course, we want to avoid pain and loss. To that end, we try to convince ourselves that love is true and eternal, that the one we are with is our soul mate and we will live happily-ever-after. Many relationships feed on nostalgia, on a yearning for the first feeling of being in love. You might characterize these initial ‘loves’ as learning relationships—like a bicycle with training wheels. Relationships are fertile grounds for self-deception and delusion, so our task is to discriminate the true from the false, reality from false attachment.
Inevitably, our fantastical expectations of love get eroded: the illusion wears thin and unreal relationship falls apart. Sometimes, if it is meant to be and both partners are committed to growing together, a real relationship begins to blossom. Like the moon waxing full, real love begins to eclipse the darkness of illusion, spreading the light of awareness. As we cultivate our hearts, we are no longer in love—captivated by a feeling—we begin to be love. Love is not a clinging attachment; it is attitude and action. Devoted acceptance and generous interaction with our beloved are the true essence of love.
When we practice loving—sharing a life and growing together—love becomes who we are rather than what we feel. My dreams now use Bunnywun to symbolize pure relatedness. She is the spirit of love in my inner world, no longer a physical being.
In ordinary life, I saw Bunnywun once more. We were both 18 and she was on her way to London to start her training as a nurse. We met for a few hours in Cardiff on a miserable drizzly day. Our time together was friendly if somewhat awkward and reserved on both our parts.
A few years later, Aunty Peggy told us the sad news. Bunnywun completed her training as a nurse and volunteered to join a nursing service in Nigeria. Soon after she arrived in Africa, she was killed in a traffic accident on some unnamed road in the middle of nowhere. She was 23.
Entitlement is a stone with many facets. In its darkest aspects, it means an attitude of privilege: assuming and expecting that you deserve special treatment, and manipulating others to get what you want. This is an aspect of narcissistic personality disorder, possibly the most unacknowledged and destructive of all psychological syndromes.
The narcissist has an impermeable and unquestioned self-system: I am the center of the world, deserving of more and better than others; I do not need to consider others because I am more important. They relate according to whether the other person is useful or not in supporting and reinforcing their inflated sense of self. Their entitlement knows no bounds.
Gross narcissism is pathological but seems to be accepted and even prized in US culture. Media loves the dominating personality and the demanding celebrity. We are fascinated with and a little jealous of people who insist on getting whatever they want. Maybe that’s because that resonates with our own hidden desires. We all want to be celebrated, to have preferential treatment, to be first in line. The needy child in our psyche craves attention and special treatment. If we do not want narcissism to colonize the whole of our personality, we have to accept and moderate that childish sense of entitlement.
Was Granny entitled? Violet Roquier Henrietta Bowen was undoubtedly born into privilege. The Bowens were an old eminent family; over a period of 500 years, many of the male line held the office of High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire. Sir George Bevan Bowen, Granny’s father and my great grandfather, was a High Sheriff and knighted by the Queen. He was entitled Sir George for services to the country.
Granny was an aristocrat and as such carried an aura that compelled deference and consideration. She knew who she was and how she should be treated and this somehow generated an attitude of respect and even awe in others. I never misbehaved around her and could not imagine treating her discourteously. I never saw her lord it over others or abuse her position for personal gain; she expected to be treated with the honor and decency all human beings are due. Her entitlement was not narcissistic.
On my last visit to the cottage, Granny was dying peacefully in her bedroom. Consumed by cancer and taking no medication, she waited with quiet dignity for death to arrive. She asked if I had money for the bus ride home and requested I fill the bird-feeder outside her window so she could watch the birds. Granny died as she lived—with grace and refinement.
Read the next chapter: 8: The Hero’s Journey
 Jerry M. Ruhl & Roland Evans, “Spirituality and Relationship in Later Life” in Jung and Aging. 2014. Spring Journal Books, New Orleans.
 Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662