Hywel Harris and Mrs Evans the cleaning lady

When I was a younger man and full of the joys of spring with no plans for the future I lived at Coleg Y Bedyddwyr Bala Bangor. Bala Bang was a Baptist church hostel in Bangor and part of the University. There came a time when the final test of my knowledge of the subject to which I had devoted the previous three years of study began to loom large.

This was a matter of concern as much of the time allocated to the study itself had been squandered. The essential life skills such as how to drink ten pints of beer and how to go at least five pints without breaking the seal would serve me well as I set out, suitcase in hand, to make my fortune. However it did little for my chances of achieving a level of performance in the final examination that would satisfy those deciding what class of degree I should receive, if any.

So there I was, sat incongruously on my own in the small but excellent library of the hostel, surrounded by theological works and my own small pile of engineering books trying to remember Laplace transforms and communication theory when in walked Eurig.

Eurig was a second year theological student. He wasn’t destined for a life of the cloth but was an aspiring teacher of Religious Education. This doesn’t mean that he wasn’t made of the right stuff. It can’t be easy teaching RE to kids, most of whom have at best no interest in the subject and at worst even less than that. You need to be of strong moral character to do it.

Eurig, who I remember was from Ystalafera in South Wales, came in to the library and proceeded to arrange his books tidily at one end of the single long table in the library. Having done his preparation Eurig proceeded to lean back, hands behind his head and stare into space. This was a bit off-putting for me. I desperately needed to learn all the stuff I had neglected over the previous year and couldn’t concentrate with Eurig there just staring into space.

“Thinking Eur?” Eurig continued to gaze at the light fitting and replied in the affirmative.

“What are you studying?”

“Hywel Harris” said the light fitting.

Now most of you will know that Hywel Harris was a famous Welsh Methodist cleric from the 18th century. He was effectively the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Wales. Google him.

“Ooh I know a lot about Hywel Harris” which was a bit of a fib.  I had barely heard of him but Eurig wasn’t to know and raised his eyebrows in astonishment.

“Go on ask me something about him”. Quiet descended while Eurig gave this some thought.

“Ok how about this then? Who was the woman that most influenced Hywel Harris in the formation of his theological stance?”

“Oh that’s easy” I said confidently. “It was Mrs Evans the cleaning lady.”

This took Eurig completely by surprise. “But wasn’t it…?” citing a name I have long since forgotten.

“Ahah that’s a common misconception” says I. “In actual fact Mrs Evans used to come in to his study to empty his waste paper bin whilst he was beavering away on one tract or another. He threw away a lot of drafts of his stuff.  He and she would hold long conversations about life, the universe and matters Presbyterian.”

“Are you sure?” said a now totally bewildered Eurig.

“Completely, I know my Hywel Harris.”

Eurig fell for it hook line and sinker. The joke had worked so well I struggled to keep a straight face and had to leave the library before I gave the game away. Upstairs I went to the common room and told its occupants the story.

A minute or two later in came Eurig and I had to leave discretely. The risk of breaking into laughter was too great. As I left I hear him ask the other students the Hywel Harris question to which they of course replied “Mrs Evans”.

Exam revision carried on and the day came when some of the results were published. Eurig had completely failed one exam. He had swotted up five essay subjects for an examination that required him to write five essays and not a single one of them came up. He can’t have lasted more than ten minutes in the room. Just enough time to write his name and for panic to gradually take over his system.

Poor old Eurig. To the rest of us this was hilarious and I can only be glad that the Hywel Harris question didn’t come up making me partly responsible for his predicament.

We don’t need to worry too much about Eurig though. The religious establishment kicked in and looked after it’s own. He was given an opportunity to resit the exam and this time passed. Phew.

I moved on from Bangor and have never seen him since. I should look him up one day for a chat about our subject of mutual interest.

By Trefor Davies

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