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Sitdown Sunday: The story of the tragedy at Aberfan

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

The cemetery at Aberfan
The cemetery at Aberfan
Image: Andrew Matthews

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour. 

1. The mystery of Jim Sullivan’s disappearance

In 1975, the psych-folk musician Jim Sullivan disappeared in New Mexico. Since then, his music has been released posthumously, but there are still many questions about what happened to him.

(New York Times, approx 8 mins reading time)

On his 1969 debut album, “U.F.O.,” he sang of beckoning highways, of aliens, of an Arizona ghost town, of a man who looked “so natural” in death it was clearly his time to go. Six years later, the 35-year-old Sullivan disappeared in Santa Rosa, N.M. On the front seat of his recovered gray VW bug were his ID, his beloved 12-string Guild guitar, and a box of his two albums, “U.F.O.” and the 1972 LP “Jim Sullivan.”

2. The tragedy at Aberfan

Series 3 of The Crown has led to people revisiting the tragic story of what happened in Aberfan, Wales, when a slag heap collapsed and killed 116 children and 28 adults.

(BBC, approx 28 mins reading time)

In the village of Aberfan in the heart of the south Wales coalfield it was raining; as hard and unrelentingly as it had been for days, running into weeks. As the children left the coal-fire warmth of home they emerged into streets shrouded with a dense, cold fog. Mothers waved goodbye from the doorstep, never imagining in their worst nightmares that it would be for the last time.

3. China and mass detentions

Leaked files show how China organised mass detentions of Muslim people living in the Xinjiang region.

(New York Times, approx 21 mins reading time)

Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help and stay quiet. 

4. Mary Magdalene and me

Carmel McMahon writes about Ireland, emigration, and the treatment of women in recent history. 

(Longreads, approx 13 mins reading time)

Does the story begin when I had my first drink around the age of 10? It was during the recession-wracked ‘80s, and my father did not have a job. That Christmas, Santa brought us all the same digital watch and an orange. We were not pleased or grateful. Poverty shrank us. We spent Saint Stephen’s Day at my uncle’s house in Dublin. The living room, where the adults gathered, had leather sofas and Lladro ornaments. The air was thick with cigarette smoke that got thicker, and laughter that got louder as the evening progressed. 

5. Killed without consequence

Why is a double homicide in Phoenix, Arizona, left unsolved – despite the presence of eight witnesses?

(Phoenix Times, approx 20 mins reading time)

Alarmed by the sudden commotion, their father, Randy, and mother, Lisa, rushed down the stairs. “Is this your son?” one of the three teenagers said to Randy, gesturing toward Ty with a shotgun. “’Cause he’s about to get shot.” Randy Metheny feigned dropping to the ground, but when the teenager turned his head, he charged at the three boys. It was one of the last things he ever did. He was shot in the stomach with a shotgun at close range and collapsed to the ground. Lisa ran upstairs to call 911.

6. Natural wines

What has led to the popularity of natural wines? The journey is more interesting than you might expect. 

(The New Yorker, approx 25 mins reading time)

“Wine geeks”—men, mostly—discussed wines in terms of chemical compounds and quantifiable metrics: pH, total acidity, months of barrel aging. They celebrated the modernization of the notoriously finicky winemaking process; the developments allowed for greater consistency and precision. A year of difficult weather no longer had to mean a bad vintage. Wines being shipped across oceans could have longer shelf lives and more predictable tastes. The consolidation of the wine industry accelerated the trend, since a mass-produced wine couldn’t afford to have an off year.

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES… 

An archive piece from 1968 by St Clair McKelway, about a man with a thing for impersonations…

(The New Yorker, approx 72 mins reading time)

Except for swift, recurrent periods during which he was Royal St. Cyr, he stayed fairly close to the essentials of the name he had started out with. He was Royal St. Cyr only when he wished to drum home to himself and other people the notion that he was a lieutenant in the French Navy, which he wasn’t. Otherwise, he was, more or less successively, S. Clifford Weinberg, Ethan Allen Weinberg, Rodney S. Wyman, Sterling C. Wyman, Stanley Clifford Weyman, Allen Stanley Weyman, and C. Sterling Weinberg, and he went back to S. Clifford Weinberg and Ethan Allen Weinberg for second and third tries. In middle age, he settled firmly on Stanley Clifford Weyman. 

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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