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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 06:50 GMT
From the Coal House to celebrity
By Sian Harris
BBC News website

Cartwright family
The Cartwrights had thought they would miss their dog Bertie
How have three families transported back to a 1927 mining community for BBC Wales series Coal House readjusted to life in 2007? We begin with the Cartwrights, and will report on the others in the days ahead.

All the Coal House families have had to get used to being approached by fans, everywhere from the theatre to the supermarket.

But the prize for most unexpected encounter has to go to geology professor Joe Cartwright.

It happened on a business trip, as his wife Annabel explained: "He went to Holland and met the chief senior geologist with Shell in The Hague.

"He was all anxious as he had a very important presentation to do. But the man wanted to talk about Coal House. He saw Joe and asked 'How's your finger?' "

Via satellite TV, he had joined the hundreds of thousands who tuned in and saw Joe, 48, slice his finger in week one.

More than a month after the family left Blaenavon's Stack Square, they are recognised daily, including last week when Joe was buying stewing steak and the butcher joked it would cost him two shillings.

'So humbling'

Astrophysicist Annabel said she found it particularly strange people "knew" not only her, but her daughters.

She said: "I went to buy music in a shop I need for my daughter's cello exam. The woman asked me which one. I thought she meant which exam, but she meant Gwen or Kitty."

Cartwright family
I did feel sad leaving the cottage, I just loved it
Annabel Cartwright

It is a far cry from 1927 when the women in particular spent virtually all their time at home, with their families and neighbours for company.

The community spirit among the Coal House families is something Mrs Cartwright valued, while her husband misses the camaraderie at the Blaentillery Drift Mine.

The Cardiff University professor said: "I miss the mining, I miss all the blokes in the mine and rubbing shoulders with men who do the world's hardest job. It was so humbling.

"I was chuffed to bits I did ok and earned money. The guys down there knew I did a reasonable job and they let me know. That means more than anything else I've done in my career."

Recalling leaving day, Annabel said: "I did feel sad leaving the cottage, I just loved it. It was so beautiful in there. I loved the look of it.

"The sitting room was not comfortable to sit in but it was cosy and I loved my old plates on the rack. I loved lining them up."

When they first returned to their Penarth home, everyday aspects of modern life felt like luxuries, as Annabel remembers.

"Taking my shoes off and walking on carpet thinking 'this is nice actually'. Putting the lights and heating on. I made a cup of tea which took about three minutes straight to finish, wonderful."

Annabel Cartwright
Having a sink to wash dishes in feels like a luxury

Kitty, 11, said: "You kept thinking 'was that a dream or was that really real?' I remember things in Coal House but couldn't quite remember if I dreamt it."

Gwen, 12, is in no doubt of the 2007 items she missed most: "I did not miss central heating or the car. It was frozen peas and tomato ketchup."

Bringing them back to earth was a pile of bills for numerous utilities they had lived without in the Coal House.

Meanwhile, some tastes and skills they acquired in 1927 appear to have travelled through time.

Former non-cook Annabel has made her own mince pies, while scarce "treat" foods from 1927, like leeks, have retained their appeal.

She explained: "[In 1927] I could never afford to buy pears. I quite like pears but because I could not have one I could almost have snatched them. When I got out, I rushed out to buy pears."

Overall, the family believe the experience has "spectacularly" broadened their minds and given them a unique insight into how their forefathers lived.

Mr Cartwright said: "It makes me even more crave a simple life. Just to simplify life and value time with your family."

He added: "I feel privileged to have had the chance to do it, leaving aside public reaction, just for us as a family it was an amazing adventure.

"We're so lucky to have had that, we will always have those memories."

Coal House at Christmas is on Friday, 21 December, on BBC One Wales at 2100 GMT and repeated on Christmas Day on BBC Two Wales/2W at 1015 GMT.

Coal House families back to 2007
09 Nov 07 |  South East Wales
Coal House families back to 1927
15 Oct 07 |  South East Wales
Families vie for miners' TV show
01 Jul 07 |  South East Wales


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