Monday, 31 August 2015

Summer 2015

This summer was so full that I am looking forward to going back to work this week.  As the school year came to a close Carolene had some extensive tests and found that her cancer situation had not changed since her good report of two years ago.  It’s my turn.  It isn’t melanoma so we are not loosing sleep.  I am putting some cream on my face that is rather nasty.  I told my barber that it was the cream that made my face look ugly and he pointed out that I didn’t need cream for that.

Y Fenni

Shortly after school ended we went to a party in Abergavenny. The hostess, Carolene’s personal trainer, has a farm on Sugarloaf mountain outside of Abergavenny where she and her husband raise sheep and racehorses.  I made money betting on Double-D.  2.40 on a 4 pound bet.  Although Double-D is the horses real name she races under the name Multiview because the tracks would not allow a horse that sounded like a bra size.  Double-D is retired but the next generation is ready. 
The party was phenomenal.  The view was spectacular, the neighbours were interesting.  They all seem to raise race horses.  We had a good time and also toured Abergavenny.  On Sunday our good friend from Bewdley came down and joined us for a combination his birthday and mine lunch at the Chick and Egg.  Trains and buses on Sunday in the UK are not a good thing.  While waiting for a bus we saw the Brecon “Sunday bike bus” so we waited the hour for it to leave and were blessed by a very scenic three hour ride up to Brecon and down through the valleys to Cardiff.  We both want to go back to Brecon.

Wedding Cardiff Style

The next day!  We attended a young friend’s wedding at the 650 year old church in city centre: St. John’s.  The Anglican vicar recently confided to me that it was the Anglican service stretched to its limits.  Both families of bride and groom are charismatic to the extreme and the service reflected it.  The reception dinner was in Cardiff Castle.  What a setting and what a meal! 

Ty Dewi

Carolene had an infusion for her immune system that week, then we left for St David’s.  Friends who live in Richmond, BC recently bought a house in St Davids and offered it to us for a stay.  We love them.  We were there over a week.  We hiked the coastal trail, visited Fishguard, hiked the coast trail, visited Haverfordwest, hiked the coast …  We attended a concert by the Welsh Guard (think changing of the guards) in the Bishops Palace.  Excellent band.  We had tea twice with neighbours of our friends.  Lovely people (retired school masters you know).  We attended a musical night, also at the Bishops Palace, and heard a lot of great Welsh talent.  Mornings I ran along the coast path near where St David was born.  When it rained I stayed inside and read the Mabingobion.  [that is kind of like reading Shakespeare in Stratford].

When we were taking the bus into St David’s a man got on the bus with a shirt that had this on it a set theoretic statement about the existence of the empty set in purely symbolic form.  Needless to say he and I had a great conversation that was definitely not empty.  When he got up to get off the bus he reminded me that the sum of the reciprocals of the integers squared is pi over six and that he changed it around and posted it outside his house because his house was number six.  Only in Pembrokeshire!  

We have all heard expressions like “I bet you remember where you were when you heard Kennedy was assassinated” or “when the market crashed.”  Well I remember exactly where I was sitting when I first saw the proof that  the sum of the reciprocals of the integers squared is pi over six.

Rambling Around Cardiff

Coast Path:  Llantwit Major to St Donat’s

We took the bus to Llantwit Major and found our way to the beach where we had coffee and hiked west along the Welsh Coastal Path.  We found St Donat’s and the Atlantic College, kept going until we found the light house.  The giant fog horn’s bell was elliptical rather than circular.  I wonder why?  A number of WWII gun bunkers were there along the way.  Going inland we ended up at a lovely village with a most engaging pub.  We decided to take the bus to Llantwit Major from there but really must return to the pub for lunch someday.   At Llantwit major we visited the church (again), had lunch at the 400 year old Swan and returned home.

Exploring Cardiff – Splott

There are a lot of hidden jewels in Cardiff.  A religious farm, “God’s Plot” is now a suburb of Splott.  One afternoon we took the bus to uncharted Splott to investigate the indoor flea market which, as it turned out, is huge.  Carolene will return there some day.  We thought it would be a good idea to head from there to the coast and walk the coastal path to Cardiff Bay and then take the bus home.  Not a good idea.  As we crossed the park we thought we might be in an air field.  We were.   This was the Cardiff Municipal Airport from 1905? until 1954.  Once through the park we found ourselves in a mixture of abandoned cherry tree lined boulevards and empty factories.  Here, we found out later, was Cardiff’s last vain attempt of post coal industrialisation.  There was a Rover parts factory somewhere around here (we never did figure out exactly where but the road “Rover Way” might be a clue).  There was a steel smelter here for a short time.  Now there are junk yards garbage incinerators and busy roads with narrow sidewalks.  Not fun.  We made our way home past the University of South Wales can now claim we have visited the cream of Splott.

Exploring Cardiff – Adamsdown

Another farm, owned by Adam, is just west of City Centre and closely related to Splott.  It, too, has rough edges.  We found the site of a local cemetery that became full almost as soon as it was set apart. It is now a nice little park with swings and gravestones.  The beautiful royal infirmary, once the barracks for the military fighting the Rebecca riots, is on Newport road.  Found it.  The gothic church with flying buttresses was hard to find and when we did it was closed.  The vicar is on sick leave and they are down to mass on Wednesday and Sunday.  While we were leaving the caretaker stopped us and offered to open the church for us – “just come and find me when you are done and I will lock up, take your time.”  Organ recital August first.


A friend had to go to Chester to babysit for her son so she invited us for the ride.  We stayed in a hotel near the walled city.  Chester is a place rich in history.  We were sitting in front of Starbucks having coffee and a police car marked Heddlu drove up.  The man at the next table looked at me and I said “I think he is lost.”  He agreed.  I commented that I had heard it is still legal to shoot a Welshman in Chester thinking, perhaps, he didn’t know this gem.  He corrected me: “but only with a cross-bow!”

Malvern and the Waters

Back to Cardiff for what I thought would be a restful August.  Friends from Malvern came down to visit Castle Coch so we joined them for the day and visited Castle Coch, had lunch near an ancient Welsh castle-fort, and visited Caerphilly Castle.  These people offered their house in Malvern during the week they were away on holidays.  Off we went.  The basic premise was to do a lot of hiking and visit a few old friends.  We did hike a lot but we also saw a lot of wonderful friends left over from my exchange teacher days and we had a walk through the old school.

I always keep an eye on what is happening in Cardiff and try to catch whatever is happening like a rugby game or a festival in the park.  Last weekend cider seemed to be the important thing.  A number of companies were giving thimble size samples.  On Saturday one company had a taster in Bute park and gave out free burghers and free cider.  Lots of points for them.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Second Christmas in Wales

We celebrated out second Christmas in Wales but not in Wales – if that makes sense.  Now that we live in Cardiff city centre we were not restricted by bus schedules.

Christmas is very big in the UK.  Places of work go out for Christmas dinner at a cost of $50 to $80 per plate.  At school the staff wore Christmas sweaters (everyone owns at least one) on November 21st.  The next day St. John’s church (been there for over 900 years) had its first carol service.  The vicar was most apologetic but the Christmas Market opened November 13th with the Santa parade.  St John’s is in the middle of all the Christmas Market hype and she felt that there needed to be some kind of Christian presence.  When the Christmas market opened there were street entertainers every 20 feet the full length of St. Mary’s Street and Queen Street.  Some very good, some not so good but it was all fun.

The next weekend we enjoyed a harp concert at St John’s, another Carol service, and helped a young friend celebrate his 30th birthday at the Ty Mawr (pronounced tee mawer – the big house).  We are beginning to become suspicious of the number of 30th birthdays going around and are thinking of holding our own.  I also went to a local pub to watch Wales make the New Zealand rugby team very happy.  We missed Stir Sunday at St Fagan’s but someone did explain it to us and I made up for it by going to the hockey game.

The next weekend we went to central Wales for a church retreat near Llandovery.  We missed our school Christmas fair; an organ recital at the Tabernacle; the German Carol service at St Johns; Barry Brass at St Johns and the Advent Service at Llandaff Cathedral.  That was OK but I missed the Welsh rugby team breaking a decades long curse by beating South Africa!

Now we are into December.  The first week we missed more concerts than we got to.  The highlight of the week was a concert featuring a world class men’s welsh choir and a plant (childrens) choir at the Tabernacle church.  The children were below and the men were on the right side of the balcony.  They placed women who could sing across from the men as there were elaborate microphones in place for harmony singing and recording while the rest of us were at the end.  One of the pieces the men sang in welsh was to an old tune that has been resurrected as the Eli Jenkin’s prayer. 
There are lots of versions of Eli’s prayer on the web.  This one has the words: .  A close look at the words has me convinced that Dylan Thomas had some sense of the spiritual world, although the prayer kind of takes the mickey out of the more religious among us.

The weekend of December 12th saw the end of term one concert at school.  Some really great singing.  Even though it is a small school there is a lot of talent and Organ Morgan (what we lovingly call the music teacher) has a way of bringing the best out of the students all the way down to age three.  On Saturday we went to the German Carols at St John’s and visited the disappointing Riverside Food market (not our regular Sunday market) out our front door.  We were too tired to go to the twmpath which is a Welsh version of a Ceilidh but I believe there will be another one soon.   I am afraid the caller will call in cymraeg.  On Sunday a friend who celebrated her alleged thirtieth birthday this fall contacted us and we tried out the new Spanish/Mexican restaurant in town.  It was great!  

On Sunday night Carolene was a little ill so I went to a concert alone at the City Temple.  City temple is just around the corner from us in Riverside and the feature group was an acapella trio.  The singing was terrific and a lot of variety as well.  At one point they read the Bible (it was church and it was Christmas).  They said it was psalm 44 but it sounded like “we have yeard it with our own yars”.  I think they were from the ‘Valleys’.

I know it sounds silly but I spent most of the first week of Christmas vacation prepping for term two.  We went for a lot of walks around the Christmas markets and over to the Christmas midway near city hall.  On Saturday we went to St. Fagans museum of welsh life to see the winter solstice demonstration.  The person giving it was a historian who tried all the drying techniques and food preparations that he demonstrated.  We had him to ourselves for about 20 minutes so we pumped him full of questions.  St. Fagan’s has a long range plan to rescue old buildings in Wales, transport them to the site, and re-build them using expert builders and historians.  We can only take in so much at one time so we went for coffee at one of the coffee places.  I placed my order and the lady said “you will have to repeat that as I am having trouble understanding your Canadian accent.”  That was the second time that day someone there recognised us as Canadians.  Cariad Cymru. Cariad y Gymraeg.

For Christmas a young lady from church (I know she is young because we went to her 30th birthday this autumn) invited us to join her family for a few days.  We gladly went assuming that if they were her family they would be wonderful people.  We were absolutely correct on that one.   We had a wonderful four days in Horsham where we toured the town including the well-stocked museum; had tea with bampy (he was from Aberdare); went to a crib service at an Anglican church; had Christmas eve dinner with a number of interesting people; had Christmas dinner with the family including bampy; went to an Anglican church Christmas day and generally had a good time.  At the time I said that when I am 93 years old I want to be as bright and optimistic as grandpa but I wish I was like that now!

After Christmas we went to Bexhill by the Sea to visit Carolene’s friend from before she and I met.  This woman grew up in the UK, lived in Canada and now lives in the UK.  We caught up on a lot of years and toured Bexhill and Hastings.  On Sunday we joined them at church and it sounded like the preacher was going to quote Eli Jenkin’s prayer:  for us it is touch and go.  Monday Carolene and I spent a day touring a small ancient town called Rye.  It was a day well spent.  Rye was the setting for a new BBC drama that was aired while we were there so we watched.  It was a costume show. (Carolene protests – it had some very good repartee and demonstrations of clever one-up-manship!)

We are glad to be home in Cardiff.  We have spent the last two days wandering around city centre and having coffee at all our favourite places.  Had bora te at the Tabernacle church this morning and will take a long walk in Cefn Onn park (Kevin on) tomorrow.  I need to go back to school for a rest.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Can You Really Kill a Welshman?

It is still legal to shoot a Welshman in the city of Chester.  At night.  With a crossbow.  Similar laws exist in Hereford and other Welsh Marches cities.  There seems to be some kind of historical thing between the English and the Welsh that I have been trying to get to the root of with mixed success.

Early in my stay here I was told, by an Englishman, that if Wales plays, say, France England will cheer for Wales because it is part of the UK but if England plays France the Welsh will cheer for France.  Last year, during the six nation’s rugby, it would have been to Wales’ advantage for England to beat Ireland and there were lengthy discussions in the local papers here speculating on if the Welsh were permitted to cheer for England.  But one must remember that the Westminster government put special lighting in the Welsh countryside during WWII so that Wales would be bombed rather than England.  What about the plans to dam a river in Wales and flood a valley full of good farmland so an English city could have water?  I think the city was Chester so what Welshman would dare go there during crossbow season.

The Marches are an interesting thing.  It divides, sort of, England and Wales and was created not long after the battle of Hastings (you know 1066 and all that).  Wales was separate from England long before that.  When the Saxons moved into Britain the brythnionic tribes either got absorbed or migrated to the edges like Wales and Scotland.  Offa’s dyke was an early boundary between the two nations although Offa didn’t build the whole thing and nobody really can tell us who Offa was.

Back to the Normans:  It took under half a dozen years for the Normans to subdue England, but Wales did not capitulate so quickly and the Marcher lords were appointed with powers almost as strong as the king.  It still took over a hundred years for Wales to be subjugated and even then it never was complete.  It was almost complete in the 1970s, according to one historian, when Wales almost totally lost its identity and voted against devolution (a kind of separation from Westminster).

Last month an English friend asked me how many people actually considered themselves Welsh.  You have to remember that, historically, the Welsh were considered criminals and liars by genetics.  One story has it that “Welsh Rabbit” was so named because the Welsh were believed capable of serving you bread with cheese and lying about it being Rabbit!  The Royal Society (you know - scientists in London) once decreed that Welsh heads were smaller than English ones so they could never have the intelligence of the English.  

Culturally the Welsh have traditional costumes and poetry festivals called Eisteddfods with druidic ceremonies but these were all invented in the late 18th century so they don’t tell us who the Welsh are and why the animosity.  I visited an English friend last year and he was preparing his acreage for some sheep that were coming and, after noticing the leeks and daffodils in the garden I said “sheep, leeks, daffodils - are you a wanabe Welshman?”  That almost cost our friendship!

I even took a welsh language course to gain some insight.  Didn’t work very well.  dw i ddim n gallu gwybod.

Last summer I found out that there was a week-long Celtic Congress here in Cardiff so I went.  I learned a lot about Wales (and the other Celtic nations) and met many  interesting people.  On the first day I met a woman who kept talking to me in Welsh and I kept answering in English (you can only say bore da, arthro dw I, dwin dod o Ganada so many times).  It turns out she is very Welsh and as we rode the bus together every day, became good friends.  At the end of the Congress we exchanged e-mail address and agreed to get together with our spouses for tea in September.

I have mentioned the Celtic Congress to a number of English friends in Cardiff and the common reaction is to look at me with a combination of bewilderment and disdain.  I think the confusion comes from wondering how you could have a week long congress regarding a people that don’t actually exist.  As one English friend put it “sort of like father Christmas, one doesn’t really believe there is such a thing as the Welsh.”

Over the last year I have read a lot of history books about Cardiff and Wales and I am not any brighter for it.  The best author is John Davies from Aberystwyth University.  He doesn’t seem to appreciate all the good things the English have done for Wales.  As the English statesman said “the Celtic people are too stupid to govern themselves.  The very fact that they wish to govern themselves rather than be ruled by London is evidence of the fact.”

One could go back to the Celtic roots to find a clue.  Since the Celts didn’t leave a lot of written records it is open season on defining what the Celts were like.  Generally, people make up Celtic history to suite their beliefs.  “In Celtic Christianity they did bla, bla, bla…”

Back to the Marcher lords.  They ceased to exist long ago but they still lord it over Wales.  The only way to travel between north Wales and south Wales by train is to travel to one of the English Marcher cities:  Hereford, Shrewsbury or Chester and then travel back in.  To get to Aberystwyth (130 miles west of here) we had to take the train to Shrewsbury and change trains there.  We missed the train and the rail company put us on a taxi for the last two and a half hours of the trip.

This devolution thing went to a second vote and won.  This has been good for Wales although the English still cannot believe why they want to when they have Westminster.  In past centuries Welsh MPs in the house were asked to form committees to frame Welsh policies and, in fact, the most important prime minister of Britain was the Welshman David Lloyd George (so say the Welsh).  Referring to the English parliament as British was first done by a Welshman (why I am not sure).  The current “welsh office” is held by a staunch Englishman and not a Welshman.  The Welsh Parliament (Assembly) has way less decision making abilities that any of the Canadian provinces so they do have a long way to go.

Welsh National Health Service (NHS) is separate from England’s.  An English newspaper reported that huge numbers of Welsh are traveling across the border to use the English NHS.  The truth is that 5,000 more English come this way than Welsh go that way.  Does this make it legal to shoot English news publishers in Cardiff?  Only at night and with a cross-bow within sight of the castle.

Here is an interesting titbit.  A Welsh brewery in north Wales wanted to label their glasses for a special cwrw fest using the Welsh “peint” rather than the English pint.  They had to apply to London for permission and it took two years.

My questions are:  does the fact they want to spell it peint say something about the Welsh?  Does the fact that it took two years say something about the English attitude toward the Welsh?

“Hen wlad fy nhadau” is the Welsh national anthem; a beautiful song with a rich Rhondda valley history.  Google it and listen.  They are singing it across the street as I type (Cymru vs New Zealand rugby).  I learned about the great history of the song at the Celtic Congress.

Last year when England played Wales our church had a pub lunch to watch the game.  Almost everyone showed up in England jerseys.  It is a very English church.  (some of them still think I am an American).  When the TV played the Welsh anthem before the game only one person sang – the church worship leader.  He has agreed to teach it to me before this years’ Six Nations.  February 6.

I will be cheering for Wales and I still don’t know why.





Thursday, 20 November 2014

A Week in Wales

Although this wasn’t a typical week it does give some insight into life in Cardiff.

On Tuesday we went to a friend’s 30th birthday party in Dinas Powys and, no, we weren’t the oldest there.  We met a fascinating variety of people there.  One woman we met, with a strong welsh accent, asked where we were from, and when we told her she told us she was born in Vancouver and shortly thereafter her family moved to Kidwelly near Llanelli.  Dinas Powys has an interesting history.  It was closely linked to one of the oldest Christian communities in Wales at Llandough and was the location of a Roman Villa and is now a sleepy little town with some pubs with fireplaces.  

On Thursday Cardiff’s “Winter Wonderland” opened with a Santa parade and all sorts of street shows in the city centre.  The advertisements said that there were 90 things happening.  Until after Christmas a market will run on St. Mary’s street, a whole plethora of kiosks on The Hayes including crafts, mead, sausages, beer and anything you can think of.  Queens street has its usual “midway’ atmosphere and over at City Hall, in Gorsedd park, there are rides, more food, and an outdoor skating rink.

On Fridays I finish at 11:20 so I met Carolene at St. John’s church (built in 1180) for an organ concert, right in the middle of all that Christmas Winter Wonderland activity (we were almost the youngest).  St Johns has an organ recital once a month along with other special activities.

Friday night Cardiff Blues rugby team played Llanelli.  The teams were even so it was a nail biter with Cardiff winning in the end.  There are four professional teams in Wales representing four zones.  From these the national team is selected.  Cardiff has an amateur team called the Blue and Blacks who play the other city and town teams throughout the UK.  I enjoy watching them but the professional game was more intense.

Saturday morning a friend from England joined us for breakfast.  Two of her children were in a swimming meet at the aquatic centre.   Afterwards we did some Christmas shopping in the Christmas market and watched the huge rugby crowd.  In the evening we went to a free concert in Tiger Bay.  The Milford Haven brass band gave a fantastic concert.  We sat next to a band mother so we found out all about the band.  At the end she advised us strongly to visit Milford Haven.  The bus dropped us off outside of city centre as the rugby crowd was still clearing out.

On Sunday after breakfast with our friend from Bewdley, shopping at the Riverside Market, and declining a post church invitation for lunch we went back to Tiger Bay for another free concert at the Millennium Centre.  It was the launch concert for “Cwlwm Celtaidd” which will run in Porthcawl at the end of February.  There was Welsh Dance as well as some great Welsh music.  The band was called ‘dros dro’.  I looked it up and it means temporary.  Cwlwm Celtaidd is a Celtic festival involving music and dance from all six Celtic nations.  Last year there were dance workshops put on by a number of the nations - I might try one.

Sunday night curry supper for charity.  We each paid fifteen pounds for a fantastic curry meal to help support a cause that our sixth form is championing.  A lot of students, parents and teaching staff were there and a couple of students supplied excellent music followed by a pub-quiz.  I didn’t know the answers to any of the questions except what ocean sockeye salmon would be found.  Kind of close to home, eh?

Tuesday night I tried out Brotherhood MMA down the road. And you can see by their facebook page they specialise in training MMA fighters.  I was made welcome and we had a good training session.  A lot of the moves I am used to are grappling moves or BJJ moves so the instructor corrected me.  He was Welsh so when he said to pin the persons yur I wasn’t sure if I was to pin him here (yur) or bight off his ear (yur) or go away and come back next year (yur).

This weekend?:  striking for MMA; harp concert at St. Johns; birthday party at Ty Mawr; carol service at St Johns; choir at Tiger Bay; Wales vs All Blacks across the street; stir-up at the Welsh museum in St Fagans; and Sunday night hockey at the Bay.  Monday I have an eight and a half restful day at work.