Journey from the valleys to coast

Malcolm Thomas speaking at Morpeth Rotary Club.
Malcolm Thomas speaking at Morpeth Rotary Club.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Malcolm Thomas is a Welshman who has almost gone native after living for three years at Newbiggin-by-the Sea.

Noting that we recently had a speaker on mountaineering, he said his only experience back in Wales was when he was eight or nine, and his dad took him to the top of Snowdon on the train.

His situation as a Welshman in Newbiggin reminded him of the George Gershwin’s An American in Paris or Sting’s An Englishman in New York, so the challenge is there to write a new song.

With his accent, there is no doubt about where he comes from. Even now, people in Newbiggin ask if he is on holiday at Sandy Bay.

Over the last 30 years, he has worked for the church in various capacities. This has usually been sharing the Gospel, but over recent years, he has been taking funeral services, often at the request of Rotary member Alan Beal, a funeral director.

The key question is ‘how did I end up here?’

The first mention of Northumberland in his family was through his mother who used to write to an aunt and uncle living in Bedlington Station.

The uncle went there in the 1950s to find work as a miner. His family lived 365 miles away in South-West Wales in the village of Llangeinor, living in a house built on a mountain side in a narrow mining valley, with four working pits within four miles.

Both grandfathers were miners, as well as uncles and cousins. A famous man born in Llangeinor was Richard Price, a moral philosopher and non-conformist preacher.

In the 1700s, he wrote political pamphlets and was a supporter and friend of the founding fathers of America, especially Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. His writings and ideas made a significant contribution to the American Declaration of Independence.

Malcolm had a contented and happy childhood, passed the 11-plus exam, and went to the local grammar school, which then changed to a comprehensive school.

The family took what work they could, with his father, a mine electrician, often doing a double shift, from 6am to 2pm, and then 2pm to 10pm. His mother worked in a local shop.

In spite of all the work, they did not seem to have a lot of money and took their holidays six miles away at Porthcawl during the miners’ fortnight, along with all of the people they knew and worked with when at home.

There was a general lack of ambition and expectation. No one in the family had ever gone to university, and he was only the second in his family to pass the 11-plus exam. When he left school he went to the employment exchange, but that was as an employee.

In the early 1970s, there were jobs around, and he joined the Civil Service.

Later, he went into the manufacturing industry, starting with Wilkinson Sword. It introduced him to another Northumbrian name as it ran a large factory in Cramlington.

He worked in production control, warehousing, stores and purchasing, and eventually went into the gaming industry.

He worked for five or six years at a company making fruit machines and Space Invaders machines. It worked with arcades in the UK and the US, including ones in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but there were many problems.

The managing director came in one day and asked why the production line had stopped. He was told there were no parts.

He asked why and was told that it was because they had not paid their bills. Malcolm was instructed to ring the suppliers and say that there was a cheque in the post. Instead, he telexed all of the suppliers to come and pick up their goods, which they did two days later.

He got the sack, but at least he had a clear conscience.

Then there was a massive change when he began to explore the truth of what it meant to be a Christian and decided to devote his life to it.

He began training for the ministry in Sussex, while they shared a caravan with the children, then he and his family moved and worked all over Scotland. In April 1990, he came as a preacher to the New Life Christian Centre in Morpeth and stayed for 11 years.

He visited a number of Eastern European countries.

On one of the visits, he flew to Bucharest and decided to drive back to the UK. As a highlight, he decided he would drive back through Hungary.

When he got to six miles from the border, he found the traffic was stacked up all the way. He overtook them all, and at the border waved his passport out of the window.

He found that on that day, the authorities had placed a tax on the amount of petrol taken out of the country, but had not given notice of it.

At that time the church was giving support to a number of workers in East Germany.

The church was working in a former tracking station at the coast that the Russians had abandoned but left a giant map. The well-educated lady in charge spoke five languages but lived under threat. Her father was in prison and she had six bolts on the door of her flat.

Life in the East had many inconveniences. At a flat in Estonia, there was not enough power to put both the light and a kettle on at the same time.

He was stopped at a police roadblock one night with a colleague, an ex-UK police inspector, but they were only warned about not wearing a seatbelt.

In 2008, he was at one church in Bridgend, and his brother, a Christian and also a minister, was at another in the town. In 18 years in Northumberland, he only took four funerals as people don’t generally go to a Pentecostal church for them.

While at Wallsend, he was called upon to help at funerals as they were short of ministers and covered 200 funerals in 18 months. The families said they were pleased with what he had done.

When he retired, he moved to Northumberland to be close to his daughters and grandchildren. Three years ago in August, he moved to Newbiggin.

Alan Beal thanked him for his talk.