The weather is bitterly cold today and because of that we had planned to spend the day visiting friends rather than spending too much time out in temperatures hovering around zero! Alfie had spent the night with us and slept in great Aunt Bes’s bed. He didn’t seem to be in all that much of a rush to get up and was happy snoozing and singing quietly.
The lady of the house had got up and given him a drink, but despite the empty bottle Alfie was happy. The lady of the house had lined up Alfie’s clothes in order on the bed in the nursery, so when it came to dressing him I started at one end and by the time I reached the pillow end, he was looking very dapper and ready to enjoy the day ahead. After dressing the little lad I gave him his breakfast and we had our first giggle of the day. Alfie sneezed with a mouthful of Weetabix and it went everywhere. He burst out laughing and I joined him while trying to stop him spreading it all over the high chair and my shirt!
Aunt Bes had agreed to join us on today’s adventure. We had planned to visit some very special people called Arthur and Barbara Parker, friends of ours who live in Hengoed in the middle of the South Wales Valleys. However, when I rang there was no answer and that threw our plans into disarray! I had also planned to show Alfie the house where his mum first lived way back in 1977 and 1978. Despite no Parker visit it would be a good day…any day with Alfie is a good day!
Arthur and Barbara Parker were friends of ours who lived in an idyllic house in Blackwood in Gwent and were the leaders of a little chapel in Blackwood, which we attended when we first got married. They were wonderful to us a – such a godly couple who taught us so much. It would have been good to see them today.
We set off not long after ten, it was freezing and we were glad of the heater in the car. It soon became apparent that Bes had been eating garlic and this called for some evasive action – who has garlic pasta for breakfast?
I live in a mad house!
We made our way up the A470 before heading off through Caerphilly. We decided to go along the old road through Llanbradach; it was so different from when we used to drive through it years ago.
There is a by-pass now and the old village was almost traffic free. We passed the remains of the old viaduct and I again thought of the mistakes of the previous generation, which meant they knocked down so many of these iconic treasures. It must have been a majestic sight crossing the valley.
Both Bes and I laughed when we passed Dai Ink’s Tattoo Parlour and we knew we were in the valleys!
From Llanbradach we drove through to Ystrad Mynach, once our local town. Gone is the old hospital where the lady of the house used to have her medical checks when she was pregnant with Alfie’s mum. A new hospital across the road was evidence of the new life being breathed into these historic valleys. Our journey took us on up the hill towards the village that was our first home Gelligaer. As we passed the old Penallta Colliery, I was thrilled that the old the winding gear and mine buildings were still in place.
They were cold and silent now, but still there for us to look at and reminisce about. Across the road the old tip has been converted into a beautiful country park. It was not good when we lived there in the early seventies but now things are looking so much better, it was good to see things improving so much.
We drove into Gelligaer, passed the Harp Inn, a rough old spit and sawdust place when we lived there but looking much smarter now. Gelligaer is a town and parish in the County Borough of Caerphilly in the Rhymney Valley. The parish also includes the villages of Cefn Hengoed and Hengoed to the south.
Gelligaer is known for its stone Roman Fort, part of a network, believed to have been built between 103 and 111 A.D. and excavated in the early 20th century.
We showed Alfie where his Uncle John and Aunty Chris used to live and where Aunty Lisa used to go to school.
Then we stopped outside Alfie’s mum’s first home a little bungalow perched overlooking some beautiful open countryside just above Llancaiach Fawr an old Stuart country house.
They were happy days, although we were always glad we didn’t live in Aneurin Bevan Avenue…
We then moved on to find a place for lunch and we headed towards Pontypridd; Alfie would like a look at this great old valley town, home of Tom Jones. The name Pontypridd is from “Pont-y-tŷ-pridd” the Welsh for “bridge by the earthen house”, a reference to a succession of wooden bridges that formerly spanned the River Taff at this point. The establishment of Pontypridd was assured with the building of the Glamorganshire Canal to serve the coalmines of the Rhondda Valley. However, the volumes of coal extraction soon brought about the construction of the Taff Vale Railway which, at its peak, resulted in two trains calling at Pontypridd Railway Station every minute. The station is a long single island, at one point the world’s longest railway platform. We parked the car and strolled around the old town. Alfie enjoyed the warmth of his pushchair and liked looking out at the people who passed by. He was singing quietly. Alfie’s mum had allowed me to use his proper puschair and compared to other weeks I felt like I was driving a Rolls Royce.
We looked around the old town for a while taking in the old market.
As a young lad I remember there being a famous open-air market in Ponty, but I am not sure whether it still exists. In the market I was sorely tempted by some faggots one of the butchers was selling and a scruffy little café offered “The best faggots and peas in Ponty’. If it had been summer time or at least 20 degrees warmer I would have given into temptation I would have given in. It’s been a while since I tasted a good plate of faggots and peas. We needed somewhere warm today and little did we know a little gem was just across the street
We took a chance on a rather funny looking café called The Prince’s. It turned out to be a real find! It was like stepping back into to a 1950s American diner, a bit like being in a cinema entrance hall. It was just brilliant.
A rather eccentric looking young man found us looking for a seat and he treated us like royalty, putting us in a place he described as ‘my fathers’ table, a table that looked like all the others but it was near the bread slicer and the counter. A really friendly lady of middle age, but with a typical warm valleys personality served us at the table. She spoke to us as if we were old friends. I liked that! The owner brought us a high chair and did his best to make sure we felt at home and we did. We ordered fish and chips and a cheese sandwich for Alfie. When it came, the sandwich was delicious, home baked bread and full to bursting with tasty grated cheddar cheese. Alfie’s eyes lit up and he devoured it hungrily. Bes and I had fish and chips and it was gorgeous! I chatted with the owner, who fussed around every customer, as a hen would look after her chicks, being polite and friendly and chatty with each one. He told me that this had been his family business since 1948, first owned by his grandfather, then his father and now him. He said the place hasn’t changed all that much in the years since it opened. I must return one day! The lady of the house would love it!
We made our way to the car park as ‘great’ Aunt Bes had agreed to pick Princess Mia up from school. When we got to the car park, I realised Pontypridd hadn’t quite joined the 21st century when the ticket machine only accepted cash, so Bes was dispatched back to town to find a bank to draw out a fiver.
It didn’t take Alfie long to drop off to sleep on the way back home. He slept with a smile on his face.
When we arrived home, we still had plenty of time to play together.
We played in the kitchen, then on the farm and he loved it so much when the Princess Mia arrived from school. They love each other so much and shared a packet of buttons and played happily together until Mia’s mum arrived from school and took her home. Alfie’s dad arrived soon after and our house became quiet again.
It was good to have our home quiet and ordered again….but not as good as when the sounds of our grandchildren fill it with fun and laughter.
It had been another good day, reliving old memories and making new ones together, a little boy, his wonderful aunt and his old grampy.