Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cardiff, Cannes to Paris, and Sicily August to October 2017

Cardiff memories

I did a two month odyssey across August to October 2017 that took in seventeen days back in home town Cardiff, a cruise along the Saone and Rhone rivers sandwiched between time in Cannes and Paris, and ending with a driving tour around Sicily. The latter two were with Lenglui. Serious travel. Overall, a bit too long away from the home turf; the planning needed to cover utilities bills and prepayment of credit cards was quite time consuming and grindingly detailed. But then sometimes you just roll with the travel and figure the things out as they transpire. 

This first part became more of a memoir as memories of my getting raised in Cardiff came back as the writing started to flow. Which was actually quite fun for me - I have toyed on and off over the years trying to kickstart my memories into a memoir but little has seemed to stick and roll. Perhaps travelogues like this will help bring them into focus. It is a bit rambling, but perhaps that is the way memory works - associations jog other associations and so on. Apologies if it gets a bit tedious. Feel free to skip to the Cruise.

It all began with a need to renew a passport and an assumed need to renew the Malaysia resident Visa contained therein. I had figured to try and leave this till the near end of the visa so as to maximise its life. Expiry was scheduled for November so I figured early August to get a renewal should be enough time to get a renewal. In this, I always like to go back to the UK to process this - this was advice given me for previous renewals and I have stuck with it. It is presumably possible to easily renew through the Embassy here in KL - but my preference allows for a holiday back in Blighty to catch up with Big sister and some old haunts in Cardiff town. 

From Kuala Lumpur, the traditionally fastest to London was via national carrier MAS. Since they have now teamed up with Emirates, though, all flights now have to go through Dubai, thus incurring extra travel time for stopovers. So this time, given that Lenglui and I would be returning together and Lenglui likes a bit of comfort, I splurged and went return with Premium Economy on BA. Which was…   all right, and certainly a step up from Economy in space and reclining terms. Service wise, didn't seem much different from standard and a bit less so in some respects staffwise (though there was some industrial action going on at the time). But it got you off the plane quite speedily and immigration was an automatic breeze. Cases took about ten minutes to carousel, and there is now a transit train from Terminal 5 to the Central area for catching the 401 National Express to Cardiff. Bit of a walk from carousel to transit train (and not entirely clear about how to get there) but asking the generally helpful staff (with one snotty exception) seemed to get me where I needed to go. The upshot was that I was well in time for the pre-booked National Express bus to Cardiff and spent an hour or so at a coffee bar table (opting against coffee - not at Three Pound for an espresso) surreptitiously charging phones and IPad. Also bought a sandwich at the newspaper stand and swiped some free papers for the bus ride. 

The National Express buses presently stop in Sophia Gardens, having been turfed there as a result of the old Wood Street and Cardiff Central area getting demolished to make way for (surprise) offices and a new BBC Centre. Sophia Gardens had a Pavilion that used to stage concerts in the 1970s until a huge snowdrift caused the roof to cave in. Remember queuing at 5am in the morning for tickets for Pink Floyd in 1974. Seem to remember Krokus and Nazareth and failing to blag my way backstage for  Blue Oyster Cult. Also the Jam in the late 70s or early 80s. 

Back to Wood Street Central Bus Station - I walked past it during my visit - total building site of debris and dump trucks. Sad. This also means that they come in via the Western Avenue and back along Llandaff Road and Cathedral Road. Which made for some pleasant memory joggers. Western Avenue was where the British Telecom yard used to be, my daily destination for the first sixteen months of my working life. I first started with what they called the "jointers" - these were the guys who laid the cables in the ground and "jointed" the wires and watersealed the "joints". Out in the big lorries with huge amounts of stores, they would park on the roadside, erect the tent over the joint hole and make tea. My memories are of cold and wet times making tea and learning how to stay warm. Rain, rain and more rain, especially when the jointing trips would take us into the Welsh Valleys. Cold, wet Wales - you either love it or…  endure it. Old saying about Wales; if it's not raining, it's going to. 

The other memory is of the daily bus, the Number One City Circular that would go from Penarth Road in Grangetown up Sloper Road and Cowbridge Road and Ely Roundabout turn right onto Western Avenue and stop directly opposite the Telecom yard for a life risking dash across the road to clock in for 7.30am. Dark and cold and stabbing streetlights are my main memory of this time. Joining the jointers at their shack office getting their job sheets written up and receiving their job notes for the day. Brrrrr…..  getting cold at the memory of it…  The manager's name was Arthur Jones (I think). Still remember that first day. Bleary eyed and cold and...  probably in shock. 

As an apprentice in those days with the Post Office (NB British Telecom only came into being in the late 70s; between 1975 and this time the Post Office governed telecommunications as well as the postal service) we got certain issue - I recall a brown leather Toolkit of screwdrivers, cutters, pliers and some other bits), a long black woollen coat and a shorter Donkey Jacket with big white reflective on the back. I also recall that in 1983 when I left I was required to give it all back. Can't remember if I did. I think so. 

Other aspects of my Telecoms "training" involved doing time with domestic phone installation (ie visiting people's houses to install new phones or extensions). This was a lot of fun - getting invited in, getting a cup of tea, sorting out the entrance and internal wiring - every house was a new puzzle waiting to be solved. This was in the spring of 1976. Then it was on to "fitting" with the "fitters" which was office installations - switchboards and extensions and central cabling to wherever the extensions needed to be. There were various styles of switchboard, ranging from a single phone with switchers to big new boards with flip switches that connected with outside lines through an operator. Didn't quite connect as well as with the domestic, but the guys were amazing fun. This was the really hot summer, and I recall one glorious playing lunchtime cricket with them all in the middle of Roath Park. Wonderful day. I remember some of the faces, though the names have all but vanished. Perhaps they will come back - I will add them if they do.  Ivor Hinchey is one - didn't have any front teeth - memories of eating Clark's Pies parked up next to the shop. Les…  something or other - dam sad - story goes he suffocated on car fumes in his garage - stories of hard men crying at his funeral at the stupidity of it all. 

Next up was time with Maintenance - if things broke down, Maintenance would look to fix it. Mostly it was no dial tone, so it would be a process of elimination as to where the fault was. This involved isolating where the dial tone was failing - start with the house, then move to the pole, then to the Distribution Box, then to the Exchange. Couple of memories of going house to house in a rickety old van with Geoff Lewis (a Grangetown boy from whom I bought my first car - was a Ford Anglia Estate) and a great memory of Christmas driving around Dinas and Penarth with Tony Barry in thick snow trying to get to homes whose phones had gone down - crisp, white, chilled, snowsliding all over the roads - brilliant. Tony was a great guy - looked like he'd gone ten rounds with Henry Cooper, but a huge heart.

Maintenance was my last session at Western Avenue Depot - I would then move to Exchange House which housed the Cardiff Central telephone exchange and opt to stay there with the Transmission group (essentially wiring cables in the exchange to network main and domestic lines) because the guys were fun and the exchange was warm and close to both town centre and home. I would (and did) cycle to the exchange in about ten minutes along Taff Embankment and clock in at the more civilised hour of 8am and 4.15pm finish. Did this for about end 1977 to mid 1982 (I think) before getting shunted back to Western Avenue for shit boring work at a Repeater station in Llandaff. There was one chap there pretty much in charge of the place, and all he seemed to do was rail against everything with opinion after opinion. I remember thinking - gawd, am I going to end up like him? Frustrated? Nothing to look forward to except a pension and a life of the 8.30 to 4.15? Wasn't too long after that the answer started to move increasingly from "no way" to "maybe" and that was the time I decided to quit. I remember standing at the bike shed in the Western Avenue depot asking myself whether I had had enough. As I unlocked the bike, the padlock key fell from my hand and I recall staring at it on the ground for some time. It was a breakthrough moment; I realised that the key to unlocking my employment prison was me. The Eagles song "Already Gone" comes to mind - "So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, And we never even know we have the key" - absolutely true. I had lived in fear of disappointing my mother for so long and making her happy in her own eyes that I was dying inside and wholly miserable (part of me is now thinking that whatever we do we always disappoint our parents, but maybe that is just me). Something snapped as I looked at that key and I thought "Enough. I can't do this anymore." The resignation process was quite quick and involved an interview with my immediate supervisor who wanted to check that I understood what I was doing (it was 1983 and job prospects were grim in those years). I think I remember saying something like "I have faith everything will be all right." The superior looked at me a bit skeptically, as if I was a bit barmy, but took all the bits that I had to release (tool kits, pass card, can't remember what else). And I was out the door. Free. And pretty skint - not much had been put away for this rainy day. And in some respects the storm was just beginning. But the good thing about storms is that they pass. Always. Might take some time, but they will dissipate. The oncoming one would take about six months. 

I remember somewhere along the way refusing the traditional promotion to Technical Officer. I didn't want it - I was happy doing the work. Then it got boring. Truth was, I should never have gone into the Post Office to begin with. It was electronic engineering, and I really struggled with the academic training they were putting us through - electronics theory, flows, applied and additional maths, telephony and telegraphy. The Grade C I got in Physics should have alerted me that a career in Electronics was not in the stars. Took eight years to figure this out - but at least it did get figured out; some people take a lifetime and still don't get the memo. 

Hey, this road connection is great - so many memories. One of the better ones was the daily bike ride along a trail through either Llandaff Fields (from Grangetown in the early days, around 1980 to 1981) or the trail along the river on the Depot side. Great fun. Except for one time I crashed into an oncoming bike rider. Hell of a smack. We both groaned for a bit as we recovered our wind, then wordlessly got on our bikes and continued on our ways. I wore a Biker's Leather jacked given me by bass player Nicky MacCormack - was damn good protection for that smack. 

Was living on both Amherst Street and Ferry Road with an Afghan Hound (Kara) so I would occasionally ride home to check on the dog. The Marl park was two minutes away so every evenings get back home and let the dog run across the field. Lord, Kara was a beautiful dog in flight. She sure loved to run with the other dogs. There was a small farm with sheep and one time she got in under the fence. The farmer was livid - talked about having the right to shoot the dog. Think I said something like "mend your fucking fences if you want to keep dogs out" which didn't go down too well. What are public parks for if not to let the dogs run? Another time me and Kara went past the old Sand Dredgers and into mud. Before the Barrage, the Taff River became an estuary that stretched all along the Marl up to the old Penarth Subway and Cardiff Yacht Club. When the tide was out you could walk along up to the Red House and then back along Ferry Road. It was all open land and had been since I was a kid. Is now houses and a Retail Park. This particular time we didn't get too far - Kara loved the mud and got quickly caked. I had to take her back for a wash down in the back yard of where I was staying (think it was number 45). 

The Marl has many memories. I would get taken to Grange Infants School at ages three to four and then into the Marl for a go on the swings with my mother. There was a black and tan stray mutt name of "Chipsy" who I would play with - beautiful dog, some Golden Retriever somewhere given his size and head shape. Loved that dog. We would never have one at home for some reason - but we would take in the neighbours dog for a couple of hours a day. Aged twelve to fifteen, Rusty from two doors down at Ivor Bartlett's would come in and stretch out in front of the fire. He would also follow me to the School Bus Stop at the Clarence Weighbridge in the morning. Small short haired black and tan, maybe a mix of beagle and dachshund. Used to occasionally chase the cars as they drove past as well. Dopey dog. 

Growing up on Corporation Road - on the corner of Bargoed Street there were a couple of shops - The Alma Fish and Chip shop (still there), the newsagent and Paddy the Butcher (now a mini market) and I forget what was next (is now a betting shop). John Lynch took over the newsagent and hired me as a newsboy for delivery around the area for a year or so. He would sit behind the counter strewn with papers and magazines and chinwag with pretty much everyone who would come in for papers or cigarettes or a Mars Bar. Total community, like a pub without the beer. The Lynch family are legend in Grangetown; would always be a topic of conversation among the "rustics" in the pub (the Inn On The River - my old stamping ground). 

Another old memory of Ferry Road - as a very young boy (five, maybe six) my grandfather (Grampy Bill) would take me blackberry picking along the road. On what is now Poundland, there was a gipsy encampment of caravans. Grampy went up to say hello and I remember a cage with a squirrel running back and forth. Just an impression - lots of kids of various ages. Travellers, they call them now. That's it - just a fragment of the squirrel in the cage and the gipsy boy holidng it up for me to see. 

Back to Western Avenue. There are two more places of note - Llandaff Tech (which is now a University - yes) and the Welsh Joint Education Committee across the road. The WJEC was (presumably still is, cos it was still there, in a swanky new office complex compared to the low prefabricated huts I seem to recall from my time there) the oversight and coordinator for examinations across Wales. I spent part of the summers of 1985 and 1986 working there sorting papers and delivering around the region for about two weeks or so. Some faces come back - Debs in the office with her amazing brown eyes, purple hair streaks and dangling gipsy earrings; Mary Fingernails (so called because she had grown her nails to amazing lengths and circular shape) and Debs' husband whose name escapes me at the moment - went on to do a Doctorate on James Joyce Ulysses (which I have yet to get to grips with notwithstanding a few attempts - too fricking long and unco-ordinated at the moment). And Chris the supervisor - Chris was an old volleyball buddy in my days on the court - he played for Pontypool whilst I was with Cardiff Volts from 1978 to about 1980/1. The Volts came about thanks to the British Telecom division I was attached to in Cardiff Telephone Exchange getting bored at lunchtimes and figuring to do something different from the Badminton that some of the other engineers did in the spare space in the building. This then transferred to Llandaff Fields and suddenly the VOLleyball Team Squad (VOLTS) was born (VOLTS being a play with the electronicals involved in telecomms). There were not many teams around at that time, and we were pretty confined to travelling to Bridgend, Pontypool or Abergavenny (who were the business; tall, lanky, fast - the rest of us were short and enthusiastic rather than lean and sportsbodied). Couple of odd memories - travelling to some place near Birmingham for an outdoor tournament in 1979 - two teams, I was in team B. One other tournament near Bristol circa 1980. Chris played with Pontypool - lovely man. Always looking out for other people. Nice friend to have. 

Llandaff Tech was where we Telecomms apprentices got sent to Day Release - once a week classes on Telecomms Principles, Telephony and Telegraphy and Applied Maths in attempts to teach us up to pass the City and Guilds Exams for Certification which would supposedly help in later years. As said somewhere in this memo, this was painful - understood little and cared less. Some names from this time - Bob Tennent and Phil Rendell, Peter O'Neill, Gareth Evans (nicknamed Nappy on account of his very young girlfriend whom I believe he married). Stuart MacCormack, Paul Heathfield. Simon O'Kill and Nick Olsen from Barry. Alan Wing. Best part of Llandaff Tech was walking along an adjoining lane toward the Llandaff village of a lunchtime to the Butchers Arms and the egg sandwiches with a pint of real Welsh Brewers something or other and a game of darts. We would occasionally go to the Black Lion further down the road, but those egg sandwiches were the total business - soft roll overflowing with egg mayo - perfect. Not much else comes back from the Tech. Little blips of rooms and tables. One lecturer we had was for (I guess) Cultural Studies or Liberal Arts or something. He was a flamboyant fop with violet suits and pink cravat and would be truing to engage us in thinking about wider pursuits. Very urbane, very witty and would not take shit from anyone. Recall Phil Rendell trying to be smart and he got labelled Philip "Tittish" Rendell, ostensibly for being a tit. Huge character - only had him for a couple of sessions. But he impacted. Kind of like a Trevor Howard crossed with Kenneth Williams and Leslie Philips. Wonky gnarly teeth, great wide smile and nuclear brown eyes - odd I can picture him in such detail. 

NB another set of nuclear eyes was the Trusts lecturer at Cardiff University (UCC as was) Professor Lee Sheridan. He was not our regular Trusts Lecturer, given that he was pretty senior in the University at this time. I recall only one lecture he gave to us students (and it was a pretty dull one, but I guess Trusts Law will do that to you). He was legend in Law, having pretty much single handedly set up the University of Singapore and got enticed to Cardiff to develop the Law School. At the end of my degree, when it had been pretty firmed up that I was going to work in Malaysia, I invited myself to talk with him to learn about his experiences. We spent a most pleasant two hours at his home with my first ever press coffee and he shares some names and how life was in the tropics. Lovely man, most gracious. As was Mrs Sheridan who came out to say hello. 

Lord, University days… all the lecturers, students, classes, places stayed, places got drunk - man…  brilliant three years. One to KIV.

Anyhow, Western Avenue turned into Llandaff Road which has only one memory of walking back to Grangetown from a Fitzalan School Cricket match in the field next to Llandaff Tech. Past the Llandaff Fields (open air swimming pool in summer, magic mushrooms in autumn, bleak mists and cold fog in winter) along Cathedral Road (one memory of a dentist here with a cute as a button receptionist - Betty Boop smile and squirrel nut brown eyes and skin). One other memory of being in some pub where a fracas had broken out - I was standing up whilst my drinking buddy was hiding under a table. Lord, that is a long story...

Okay, back to the trip.

Grabbed a taxi for the five minute drive to Grangetown and paid a fiver for the journey. Not bad. Got greeted by Sis at her home, dumped the bags and sat down for a catch up chinwag and a sandwich. Given the glory of the day, I opted to go straight into Town and check the Passport details at the Post Office in the St David's Centre. And take in a couple of Charity shops and Central Market on the way. Of course. 

It is a pleasant walk along the Taff Embankment. Or at least the part where they are not building is. There are swans and canoes and busboats trawling along, and the pathway gets well used by walkers and bike riders. Lot more bikes than memory recalls. Which pleases the environmentalist in me. Pedal power saves the atmosphere. Yes. Though instead of taking the continuance along the Taff, I turn up the Penarth Road past the Brains Brewery and under the Railway bridge that leads to the bottom of St Mary's Street. Much of this remains familiar from my time of walking to my then work at the British Telecom Exchange next to what is now Millenium Stadium. Though as said the Bus Station is gone. Along St Mary's Street, some old and some new places and spaces. Gamlin's Music Store was still there, as was the Army and Navy Surplus and the Bear Shop Tobacconist in the Wyndham Arcade - the Bear Shop is legend, and used to be on the corner of St Mary's Street and Wood Street (now a JD Wetherspoons). I have a memory as a very young kid of being stunned by seeing this bear when my Dad took me in there for him to buy some Golden Virginia tobacco for his rollups. Big mean looking sucker, about seven feet tall and growling with paws up ready to strike. Was good to see this old friend still around. 

Brains Brewery - so many memories of pubs and people...
Cut through Central Market to the Trinity Church and across the small graveyard walking on the numbered stones (rumour is that these cover some who fell in the war and for whom names could not be found) and into the St David's Centre and Post Office. I got scared by the receptionist lady of (I think) Polish descent (certainly Balkan region) that the passport delivery could take minimum three weeks. I had about seventeen days. She said "Maybe it vill come, maybe it vill not. I am don't think for sure." I am a bit anal about these things, so I opted to do the one day jobbo - here you can go online, pick a passport centre (for me, Newport  which is a 15 minute train ride 12 miles east) pinpoint a date and time, key in your money details and - whoosh! Costs a bit more than the mail service, but you get it same day. From the Post Office, I popped upstairs to the local Boots for a four passport instant photo booth (Five Pounds - used to be 50p) and checked the train times at Central Station on the walk back home. Also took in the Charity Shops en route, just to check they were all still there. They were. 

Ah, the walk - I had found a pair of walking boots at a boot sale that had proven much too small and which had wrecked my feet. The toenails were a bit on the long side resulting in one of the toes getting severely stabbed and drawing blood. Had to run into the Superdrug on Queen Street to buy some nail clippers and sit on one of the benches to take off the shoe and sock and clip the offending nail. I decided to cut loss and slowly hobble back to Grangetown and nurse my injury with a bottle of the excellent Lidl sherry at Five Pound a hit. Rich creamy glug, this one. 

Glorious day at Cardiff Bay with the Custom House
Cardiff is the place I was raised, and I have a sister still residing there. so she most kindly gives me bed and board and I buy some food and booze to share and we seem to get on well enough. During my time there we would drive to the various supermarkets and boot sales for entertainment, or take day trips to different towns. But most of my time got spent walking around the various charity shops in both Central town and the suburbs of Canton and Roath and the nearby town of Penarth. I am a total slut for Charity shops - the idea of getting something at far less than what you would need to pay in the Department stores gives an immense high. There used to be junk shops when I was a kid - corner shops that would offer what the charity stores now do. I recall a few on Paget Street over the late 60s and early 70s - have a memory of buying a copy of the Beatles "Rubber Soul" and "HELP!" for 10p each to play on my new Tellux record player (was about 11 or 12 at the time - magical songs - "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" and "The Night Before" are still with me). Also Grimwades in Canton - used to be on the Cowbridge Road then moved around the corner - Kings Road I think it is. Old man Grimwade was a short round man in my time - glasses, grey hair and sideburns, and he would prowl his store watching out for young oiks who might take a fancy to lifting something from his shop. And what a shop - packed to the rafters with all sorts of hardware and electricals and some of the most wonderful junk you would ever want to scour. Seem to remember first going there as a very young kid with my Dad and he would browse and I would marvel at it all. Still do - anywhere I come across a second hand store on my travels I have to visit. Is like Lenglui with a Pharmacy - cannot pass one by. Incidentally, there is still a junk store on the corner of the Kings Road, though I sense they operate more like pawn stores. There seems to be a facility where people can cash benefit cheques and presumably some of it gets diverted to pay off previously incurred expenses or credit extended. 

Got a regret of not buying a Spanish guitar for Ten Pounds at the Bessemer Road Boot Sale. The quality of the stuff attempting to be sold has become pretty grim compared to previous years. Many clearly operate the boot sales as a business and presumably scour dumps and jumble sales and the charity shops for discounts and unwanted donations to knock out at the Boot. Lot of black veils and strange accents heard along the aisles of hopefuls who had set out their wares. I barely bought anything, though you continue to check them out just on the off chance of finding true treasure amongst the junk. 

Inside the Old Arcade pub - still standing. Free wifi
In contrast, the Charity shops proved excellent - across my 17 days I amassed a wardrobe of shirts and pants and a decent pair of walking shoes (in addition to a sleeping bag which now resides in Grangetown for emergencies) for a good fraction of what would otherwise get paid either in Cardiff or certainly in Malaysia. A pound for a shirt at various shops prove irresistible. I was pretty soon overweight, so some things (well, all the books) had to remain whilst other bits got dumped (old pants, T-shirts). I had also picked up various "age-aids" given the Lenglui's increasing arthritis at a store called Able World on the Penarth Road (30 minute walk). These were things like can openers, key turners, shopping bag holders and bathroom handles, which hopefully would make life less painful. I took photos and whatsapped them to let her see - Lenglui was most happy. Also happy at some velcro (I guess) handlebar grips which she uses for hangbags and other luggage - two for a pound. Unbelievable. Canton's Cowbridge Road proved generally cheaper than Canton or Penarth, though the picking in Penarth remain the best. Better quality gear. Though Newport Centre would prove heaven. 

St Mary's Street in late summer - The Yard (right) where I would filch free wifi. And drink the wicked Brains Black
So - back to the Passport. As said, the HM website had sucked my money without so much as a thank you (I processed it on the IPad filching the Broadband from next door - my sis sees the internet as bad juju with people looking to bend you to their will and suck your savings; not entirely wrong, and we all need to be wary of the bad shites out there). An appointment had been set for 10.30am on what would turn out to be a sparklingly beautiful blue sky day. I opted to take an early train just in case things went strange. As it was, the strange thing was the timetables - could not figure out which train to take nor from which platform it would leave. And there were no wardens nor staff on the platform to ask. Equally, the displays were not entirely clear as to whether the train on platform was yours nor whether it would stop at where you wanted to go. Most confusing, and perhaps a sign of the times whereby the human touch has been completely lost in the race to replace it with so-called technological efficiency. Doesn't fucking work, John. Eventually, I asked someone on the proposed train whether it stopped at Newport. My first interrogation got a blank stare in response, whilst the second was positive. That was that - I had committed to the train. Small whiff of relief as it sped past familiar landmarks along the railtrack saying the direction was right. Just had to hope that the bugger would stop. It did.

Inside The Yard
Off the train and up the stairs to the exit, I asked someone at the gate the way to the Passport Office (though I had researched it on the Google Map the day before). He gave me that "Gawd, not again…", as if he had been asked it so many times before, but he answered pleasantly in that soft Welsh lilt of someone with roots in the Valleys, asking if it was a walk (yes) and to cross over the Station Road and bear left, straight all the way. Said it was about a mile, so would take about twenty minutes, which would get me there at about 9.30. Bit early, but there you go. So off I trotted in the cool blue morning, all my documents ready for submission and hopeful I might get in ahead of time. 

Would not happen. Got told at the gate to come back nearer the time,and that there was a useful cafe just around the corner where one could park for the interim. It was one of those big window corner shop jobboes, with a counter for service and a back area for frying up the sausage, bacon and eggs and making the sandwiches. Very cheerful. I ordered a mug of tea, and farted with the phone whilst slowly sipping. In my working time on the telephones, I had chance to visit many transport cafes, and this brought back memories of them; parked on a chair, plate of sausage and beans on toast with the tea and feeling king of the world. Long time ago. Actually, there were many moments on this visit where floods of memories got triggered; driving along the Cowbridge Road past places I haunted as a kid at Fitzalan High. Or along the Leckwith Road where the new football stadium now is. And under the railway bridge turning right off Sloper Road - old walks home along the railway track, first kiss in a disco at a (now gone) Community Hall, snogging an early girlfriend at her doorstep - oh, man….  hard to keep up when they are rushing on like a total tsunami of recall. But wonderful at the time - nostalgia is truly only for the old. 

The Royal Infirmary Newport Road - nice lighting here
Wow, lot of digressing going on… so - finished the tea and with about twenty minutes to kill decided to stroll around the streets. Quite cool in the shade, the sun was otherwise well warming. Not much happening around the Passport Office - on one side was a main road heading north and south whilst the other had a few streets of residential and others of warehouse showrooms. Think there was a Tesco somewhere, but could not seem to access it from my side. There was also quite a grand and spruce looking Freemasons Lodge that was clearly still popular given the notices and lack of broken windows. Seemed a bit out of place, like someone from a bygone age who had stumbled into the modern world, but a beautiful building nevertheless. This is why I enjoy walking the streets - you can come across gems like this that the guidebooks have no idea exist. Nice memory.

Back at the Passport Office, this time got ushered to the door and through the metal detectors (backpack separated and inspected) and parked with a number. There was a fantastic mural of Venice on one wall with superb detail. I went to have a closer look and got an odd stare from one of the parkees - kind of "wot so speshul abaht a painting?" There you go. As said, the print and detail were superb and took me back to when I had twice visited this exquisite town. No hope or plan to return, but crystal clear memories of many details and impressions. 

My number got called, documents and photos requested, two minutes to input into the system, and "thank you, come back at 2pm to collect your new passport". So there I was at 10.45 back on the streets. My sis had previously told me that Newport town was Charity Shop Heaven, so I found a short cut back to main street and…  yes. All the old friends and a couple of new ones. This would take up to 1pm, so with a lunch somewhere and a return walk to the Passport Office, the timing should be just right. 

What a wonderful two hours…  browsing in and out of all the regular suspects and picking up odd bits - couple of books from a store that actually was giving them away - some Trust that was manned by two old gents happy to pass their time with each other and a cup of tea. I found a couple of treasures and donated two pound to the cause. Then further down was a perfect pair of walking boots for three pound. Cost at least fifty in the Outdoors stores. Bargain. Can thank my mother for this - she could spot a bargain and I guess I didn't fall too far from this tree.

Had intended to lunch in a pub somewhere, but all the beer prices felt a bit stiff. They all seem to have gone Specialist Beer and the prices presumably sought to reflect this. Doesn't resonate too much with the large drop of Scots in me. So I parked on a bench in the sun and scarfed a Ginster's pasty two pack previously bought from the Poundstretcher for a pound and washed down with Grangetown's best tap water. There is nothing in the world that tastes quite like Grangetown Tap water - crisp, mineral, crunch, and cold with a hint of steel - finestkind. The Ginster's was a bit too much flake and stodge, so much of the second pasty got fed to pigeons. Who wolfed it down as soon as it hit the deck. No mercy, no sharing here. 

Latest car on the Newport roads
Twenty minute stroll back along the street to the Passport Office, same check on the bag but directed straight to collections where the pristine new and still purple EU passport was signed for to the kindly efficient lady behind the desk. A quick look to check it was me showed some updated security bits on the main page (though as yet no thumb print) and some pretty prints of British historical figures on the pages. Then stuff it in the bag and back out into the sun for a brisk stroll back to the station and the train to Cardiff. It would be a very full train, and I found myself parked next to a group of students who had clearly embraced gender freedom - twenty something boys simpering about phone charges and upcoming classes and parties and what to wear. Which came as something of a shock for some reason - I don't think I am gender biased, but this group seemed…  ineffectual. Preening, self absorbed - came across as expecting much and contributing little. Not sure if this is representative of British society today but it felt as if the future might not be in as safe hands as one might hope for. Then again, thinking back to when I was twenty, I was not much different. Except for the gender aspect - totally hetero, no desire for or attraction to the same sex. Then again, at nearly sixty and diabetic, sex doesn't seem to enter the consciousness so often any more…  Ageing is shite.

During the time in Cardiff, most evenings were spent with bottles of the excellent Lidl sherry with re-runs of Only Fools and Horses and some excellent music documentaries that my Sis had recorded on the Freeview for me, or at the only bar seemingly able to survive in the locale, the Legends. This is a Sports Bar, ostensibly requiring membership but rarely enforced, serving some of the best value beer in the area. The nearby Grange (apparently recently renovated and charging what the interior apparently demands) seems to survive, and my memories went back to the now vanished Baroness of Windsor, where I had some of my first pints of beer and lost my first and only bets on the horses. Story here is that I had 10 pence on four horses each to win. They each came in second. I took this as a lesson from the universe that horse betting was not for me. I have never done so since. 

The other beer outlets of note are the Catholic Club and the nearby Conservative Club, both bastions of beer and skittles well before I was a kid running the streets and back lanes. I was a scavenger, always rousting the bins for cast off treasures to souvenir back home - mostly comics and books. There was one comic, the Eagle, which would have coupons that would entitle you to a day in a Butlins Holiday Camp.

Side track - Butlins was pretty good to me over the years - holidays as a kid with parents (well, with mother and sister - dad was never too much in holiday memories) in Minehead, free days through the Eagle comic coupons there where I would hit snooker balls all day. Butlins also gave me work - first as a young teenage case carrier on Saturday morning check ins in Barry, and later as a barman in the Pig and Whistle getting free food and board right at a time when I really needed it. Part of the Rank Organisation in my time (1983-85), they could be pretty brutal in hiring and firing - but they hired me when I needed to be hired. So for that I am grateful. I learned a lot and grew up quickly in my time there. Huge memories of place and people (Christmas 1983, Summer 1984, Christmas 1984 and half of Summer 1985).

Cute graffiti on Cardiff Halls of Residence railway bridge
Other side track - the train from Newport to Cardiff hurtles past Rumney, which also brought back memories of my time doing GCE A-Levels there from 1983 to 1985. I used to ride a racing bike back and forth from Grangetown for classes (at that time, one could attend a certain number of hours class and still claim Unemployment or Supplementary Benefit - doubt that the same exists now). Buses would take too long, so rain and shine the bike was the main transport. 

All the lanes in Grangetown are now blocked off by metal gates accessible only by residents who may need to get to a back garage. All trash must now be brought through the front door and separated into paper, glass and other on pain of fines from the local authority. I remember with fondness running with dogs through the lanes and scavenging the bins ahead of the bin lorries coming to take it to the tip on Ferry Road. 

Took a couple of walks along Holmsdale Street to the Retail Park on Ferry Road and back through some old streets of my junior school days. Clark's Pies shop is still there, though anecdotal is that the pies are not what they used to be. I scarfed one from Central Market one day and this was proven so - the taste of my youth had either vanished or my taste buds remembered a more juicy and less dry pastry mouthful. So it goes - today's generation being raised on Clarks Pies will not know the difference. The old St Paul's Church on Paget Street is indeed looking old - I remember going there on Sunday mornings (I think) and sitting in the pews, and gaining a nickname of "lightning" for the speed with which my hand went up to answer scripture questions. Only other memory I have is of the place being darn cold - real church chill in the bones. But it was a bit sad to see it all overgrown and running down. Apparently it is due for demolition and conversion into (surprise) flats and apartments. Another chunk of my life getting pulled down in the name of progress. But no-one goes to church anymore, so what's the point? Supply and demand is still the name of the game, even when hallowed ground is in the mix. 

Clark's Pies Shop Paget Street Cardiff - food of my childhood
Shout out to a Facebook Group - Cardiff Past and Present - great photos of the city dating back decades and evoking many memories. Well worth a check out. 

Porthcawl beach and pier
The other main memory is a two hour bus ride to Porthcawl with Sis and a fish and chip lunch overlooking the sea. Beales, I think the name was. Excellent fish and chips, absolutely worth the two hour bus ride to get here for it. It was a sparkling blue sky day and enough breeze for comfort over chill. As perfect a summer day as you could want. There was also a wander through the funfair and the town (more charity shops) before the bus ride home. Very pleasant. 

Cosmeston Lakes - good to walk around and feed the birds
There was also a drive to Cosmeston Lakes to walk around the lake and birdwatch. The brilliant sunshine of a late summer day brought a lot of dogwalkers and bird feeders. A most pleasant diversion 20 minutes outside Cardiff if you enjoy wildlife and lake walks. And a stroll around the Pier Head - catch a blazing day and a public holiday (or not if you prefer a quieter walk) and the views of the Cardiff Bay are quite good. Again, memories of the Weston Boats that would dock and take people on board for a visit to Weston Super Mare and the floral Cuckoo clock or just to cruise around the Bristol Channel. And sidestep licensing laws that demanded no sale of liquor between three and five-thirty on shore. I think. 

Sunday lunch (or dinner) - well wicked
There were a couple of drinks and dinners with friends - Wetherspoons in the Docks for a Thursday special of Chicken Curry Rice with a pint of Guinness for a tenner with Sis and cousins, two Sunday Dinners with lifelong Grangetown muckers the Mercers and a lunch at The Captain's Wife in Wenvoe with oher lifelong friends Layla and David. Decided against catching up with other friends from the old days - gets to be too much booze sometimes and family needs to get first. On the last night, though, old mucker from back in the day John Sloman was giving a performance at a venue in Pentyrch called the Acapella (was an old chapel now converted to a studio and performance venue) so my old band mucker Martin and squeeze Ann picked me up from Grangetown and drove there to enjoy the show. Couple of very old faces were there, and it was good to say hello and see them still alive. Good way to end the holiday. 

John Soman at Acapella

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