Friday 28th September 2012
John Denver sings a song called ‘Thanks to You.’ It contains a magical few lines…
Wakin’ up with you and lookin’ forward to the day
What we plan to do, knowin’ anything at all’s okay
Life has a meaning
Love has got a name…
I’ve always loved the first two lines especially, because those words echo what I think about sharing my life with the lady of the house whose company I love each day. Today though, I found myself singing them to Alfie as I was watching him play early this morning. Another sleepover, and this meant seeing him from first light. People have begun to ask me, “What are you doing with Alfie next Friday?” and I always tell them the same thing, that we’ll see what the day brings and as far as Alfie is concerned that song sums it up… ‘What we plan to do….Knowing anything at all’s OK! Whatever I do with my little friend is great and we’ll enjoy it together.
Maybe it’s the time I spent with my friends in Africa, I’m not sure, but planning too far ahead is not in their way of thinking, and the older I get the more I tend to agree with them…. Let’s see what the day brings…
I spent yesterday with my old friend Mick and we had been reminiscing about the happy days we spent in Barry Island when he was on the Beach Missions. It gave me the idea for today’s adventure.
By the time we left home Alfie was on nappy number three for today! We called in on Alfie’s cousins’ house on the way to pick up my SD card. I was hoping for an invite in, but Mia and Millie were entertaining Lily their little friend from Bethesda, so I didn’t push it…looks like they were having great fun though. I had invited Bes along with us today, she was at a loose end and I thought she’d enjoy one of our fun days together. Through many of her teenage years Bes and I had set aside Wednesday as ‘our night’ and I will always treasure the happy memories of the times we spent together, sharing cups of coffee, revising for exams and just chillin’ together.
So we made our way to Barry Island for todays adventure. The lady of the house has given me grief all week for calling Penarth a slightly seedy place, so today we were headed for the jewel of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, the upmarket, beautiful coastal town of Barry, a town richly steeped in history, a place of unrivalled beauty, full of picturesque sights and interesting places to visit. The Island was quiet as we arrived. We parked next to an elderly couple who were visiting from Colwyn Bay. The chap said that he was disappointed that everything was so run down and had so obviously lost its former glories… ‘slightly seedy’ immediately sprang to my mind, so did the face of the dear lady I love, so I pushed it away again!
I am immensely proud of my home and all things Welsh but Barry Island sadly is in need of a huge amount of tender, loving care and attention. I blame Cardiff for it all of course! From the mid seventies till quite recently, we lived in South Glamorgan, which included Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. It was the time when Cardiff Bay was regenerated and it is wonderful, but sadly Cardiff took all the money for the Bay and for many years, pretty little towns like Penarth and Barry were neglected and what we have today is the legacy. Now, for the past few years, we have a Vale of Glamorgan council, let’s hope they can restore these towns to how they used to be.
Our first stop was Marco’s the coffee shop featured in Gavin and Stacey, that well-loved television series. We decided not to stop for a drink; it was not the warmest day and there were a couple of dogs sniffing around the tables and one of them took the opportunity to relieve itself on one of the tables. Marco was oblivious, too busy dreaming of lattes and cappuccinos! We strolled along the promenade, which was actually rather nice. The beach was deserted except for some people with metal detectors looking for buried treasure. I reflected that I was richer than them all in that I had some thing far more precious with me at that moment… a little grandson whom I love dearly and a beautiful daughter, who makes me proud every day of her life.
When we arrived at Number 5 of the sea wall, I thought of Mick and Clive and the beach missions and the many trips I had made to Barry as a young boy. We used to travel by steam train from Llanishen Station to Barry Island. We used to hold our breath as we approached Cogan station, as there were two ways the train could go. If it went via Cogan, Dinas Powys and Cadoxton we would be on the beach in no time, but if it took a left turn and went through Penarth, Alberta Place Halt, Lavernock, Swanbridge and Sully, the journey seemed to take so long. I would pay a small fortune to travel that route again today, but sadly part of the line has been built on, so this is one dream that will never come true. I walked the line from Barry McDonalds roundabout to Penarth a few years ago; it was a wonderful experience. Many of the bridges are still there and I think Lavernock platform is still standing but it’s all overgrown and neglected! My next mission is to walk the Wenvoe tunnel, a mile long piece of engineering which runs under Culverhouse cross.
We took a trek across the sand here and I was reminded it is impossible to push a pushchair over sand. I had to pull it. Bes and Alfie were sniggering behind me at my efforts. When we reached number 5 we sat and had an almost spiritual moment together. I remembered my beautiful parents and the sacrifices they made to get us to the beach, the steam train rides, sunburn and the smell of calamine lotion in the evening, kids meetings with the Beach Mission, Sian and Kate playing Clive’s accordion, with Sian playing the white notes and Kate pressing the black buttons and Mick saying they played it better than Clive. Happy days…
While I was thinking back, Alfie was busily tucking into the sand. I reminded him that sand which is on the beach and sandwiches in his lunch box were not the same. He smiled knowingly through two very gritted teeth. We made our way up to the fairground; it was sitting there sadly, gates locked; no children having fun, no teenagers showing off and eyeing up the girls. Our sadness melted away though when we realised Hyper Value, one of the original ones, was open, so we had a quick look around and dressed Alfie up in a daffodil hat.
Worryingly he seemed to like it, just like he seemed to be enjoying the pink pushchair! Hmmmmm!
It was getting close to lunch time so we all agreed to would try The Little Blue Deli in Barry’s Thompson Street. When I was in college in Barry, Thompson Street was the red light district, now though only a blue light shines in that infamous street. We drove up into town to the one bright spot in that dismal place. It was very, very busy but we found a seat but had to wait for a high chair for Alfie. While he waited, he amused himself by throwing the sauces and sugars all over the table. The lunch Kate had prepared for him looked so delicious. Home made Cottage Pie followed by an apple dessert. Bes and I treated ourselves to a Panini, so the three of us left, well-fed, well looked after by the owner and ready for The Gavin and Stacey Tour.
We visited the house where the television series was filmed, had some pictures taken, looked admiringly across at Uncle Bryn’s house, before making our way to Coconuts a soft play centre near Sully. Alfie was getting excited.
As we neared Coconuts I nearly wet myself. Thankfully my prostate is still fine and I don’t usually need Tenna for Men pads, but as we pulled off the road which leads from Barry to Sully, we had to drive up a little slope and actually cross one of the bridges on the old Barry Railway line.
I paused on the bridge, closed my eyes and I was back in the fifties, train window open, the smell of the smoke from the engine, the whistle blowing. Bes and Alfie were rolling their eyes impatiently. This was my second soft play centre of the week. I got in free because of the white hair and the fact I had a bus pass. We paid, Alfie had nappy number four of the day, and we set about soft playing. It was fun, although Alfie needs to crawl a bit more before I will feel I get my full £1.50s worth. His little 360-degree bum turn is cute but doesn’t get him very far and doesn’t get him to many of the toys. We tried the ballpark…. but that that was Alfie’s worst experience of the day. The place was full of pretty young things…and some not quite so pretty young things all doting on their little darlings. Some smiled at me and Alfie, as we were both wearing our Man Utd tops, but when I looked in the mirror I noticed my gold chain was hanging outside my top and I was looking decidedly like a Barry Boy, I decided that perhaps that was the reason for the smiles not my gentle relationship with my grandson. There was one other grandfather there or else he was a dad who had received a surprise later in his life! I was glad of Bes’s company today, to be sure! Coconuts was OK, but after Cefn Mably didn’t really light my fire. Alfie was yawning and I knew it was time to cross once again the old Barry Railway line bridge and head for home so Alfie could sleep and dream of his day.
When we arrived home I went to give Alfie a drink before his nap and my whole day fell apart. I could see the divorce papers arriving through the door of my one bedroomed flat. I could hear the divorce lawyers licking their lips mulling over the instructions they had received from the lady of the house. I had left Alfie’s Cath Kidston bag in Coconuts! I was devastated. Bes sat me down, bathed my head with a cool damp cloth and made me a cup of hot sweet tea before hot tailing it back to Coconuts on a quest of immense significance! I could hardly breathe till the phone call came…Bes’s voice was quiet but assured…”Dad…I’ve got it.” All this time Alfie was sleeping peacefully, unaware of the terrors his old grampy was suffering. I hope no one reading this breathes a word of any of this to the dear lady who shares my life. Losing a Cat Kidston bag? I shiver uncontrollably at the thought.
I went to check Alfie and whispered the good news of the bag to my little sleeping friend. His flickering eyelids seemed to say…What’s occurin’ grampy? And I knew the day had not been in vain!
The words of the chorus of that old John Denver song came back to my mind…
Thanks to you
The child within me lives again
Thanks to you
I have found a peace within
I know where I’m goin’ and what I want to do
Thanks to you.