Adventures with Alfie Day 23

I was actually in bed when Alfie arrived today. He looked so happy to see us. The lady of the house gave him his drink and dressed him and he was presented to me to look after for the day. What an exciting prospect! After taking the dear lady to work, we had breakfast together before Alfie had a little play and then a sleep – I am not sure he had much last night – before we went off adventuring. Alfie decided to play with the little pink pushchair again this week as well as the mini dyson. Quite a domesticated little fella!

He was also fascinated by Fergie. Fergie is a blue budgerigar that Mia and Millie’s dad rescued in their garden. Fergie was in distress, having been attacked by two magpies, until he was rescued and adopted. The magpies had gouged his eyes out and now he is blind and has lost some of his tail feathers, but has been given a new home and new hope. The lady of the house is budgie sitting for a week. Alfie was fascinated!

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We had decided to go to Barry today on the train, but several things happened to change things. I received a text from my old buddies Graeme and Llinos who are home from Scotland for a few days. Also the weather looked a bit bleak and I did not fancy being stranded somewhere in the rain with no car.

I am falling back in love with Barry after a long time when I thought the place was a dump. I was wrong Barry is a small town, rich in history.

Barry was very let down in the old South Glamorgan days when all the local money went to develop Cardiff Bay and places like Barry were left to decay. I love Cardiff Bay, but it’s a shame Barry wasn’t helped at all. As a young lad I absolutely loved Barry and I think I do again. Train enthusiasts love Barry too, because old Dai Woodham bought many of the old steam trains and stored them in his scrap yard. Loads were cut up, but lots were sold to Preservation Groups. I remember well, sitting in lectures in my old Barry Training College and gazing out as the huge low loaders crawled up the hill with massive steam locos strapped on the back. They now proudly work again on the preserved lines around Britain.

I suggested therefore to Graham and Llinos that I meet them in Charles Place, where my old friend Beryl lives. Beryl is Llinos’s mum.

When we got there, we were greeted by Beryl and a family friend Cyril; they were great with Alfie and he appreciated seeing them so much. We hadn’t been there long when Rhys, made a pertinent observation and told me that Alfie had snot on his nose. He was exactly right and I took the liberty of pulling out a tissue from a box on the table. I was embarrassed when half the box came out. Everyone laughed! I removed the offending snot and gave Rhys the job of snot spotter for the day. The lad did his job very well and cries of ‘SNOT!’ could be heard most of the time we were together. I like Rhys, you cannot beat a good snot spotter; they are hard to find these days. When we were outside near the car Rhys and Noah had the giggles when I showed them the roll of toilet paper I kept in the car to remove any snot I saw. I liked them to know I too had come prepared.

After a natter we set off down for a walk around the Knap. Cold Knap has a coastal pebble beach, approximately a mile west of the sandy beach at Barry Island, which attracts visitors during the summer months. It was founded by the Romans who used it as a port.

In the 50’s the Knap was the most vibrant part of Barry, having in the area –

One of the finest ballrooms in South Wales

A YMCA hostel with a staff of top class reputation

A boating lake with dozens of boats and a motor launch giving trips around the lake

The Knap Swimming Pool, Barry’s “Jewel in the Crown”. This was the largest and one of the best known outdoor swimming pools in the country, with at one time a water polo team, a swimming club and a lifeguard club, with a combined membership of over 250.

Barry Rowing Club, formed in 1897, must have one of the longest sporting histories in the town.

Cloakroom and toilet facilities equal to those at any comparable holiday resort, and

The grounds of the Knap Hotel, which, some summers, were covered with tents of Scout groups visiting the area.

The open air swimming pool has now been closed and been filled in, and the area turned into a tourist trail. I loved going to the pool as a youngster. We used to buy a mug of Oxo after swimming.

The pool was built in the 1920s by unemployed workers on a docket system, with funds from the Unemployed Grants Committee. The Lake and Pool was built on the bed of the old Cadoxton River which flowed from the Watchtower Bay end of the pool, towards Bindles, joining the brook which used to run through Romilly Park and out to sea at the Pebble Beach.

The Knap Pool was built as a tidal pool, designed to be filled at high tide by means of a sluice gate, which opened when the pressure of the water outside the pool was greater than pressure of the water in the pool. This system was discontinued when a gas engine was installed, allowing water to be pumped into the pool at high tide. This pump was installed at the deep end near the diving boards. The pool is one of the largest open-air pools in Britain, is 120 yards long and 30 yards wide, and contains over 1,000,000 gallons of water. I always remember the crowds and the fact the water was salty, like the water in Penarth Swimming Pool.

I have always thought The Knap was such a strange name. I used to call it Cold Knap when I was younger and many people still call it that, but all the road signs just say The Knap. The name always caused some sniggering in the back of the car when I was young. Youths used to scribble out part of the n to make it look like an r on the road signs, so Cold Knap became something else a little ruder. Isn’t it funny how some silly things stick in your mind years later? Maybe it is just me, although the lady of the house says there’s no maybe about it!

We had a lovely walk down through a kind of park along the seashore; we noticed a sand dredger parked on the beach against the harbour wall. The captain is not doing his job properly I could see, as the tide was miles out and the boat was stuck on the sand!

We soon came to the lake at The Knap; it’s quite interesting as it is built in the shape of a harp. You can’t tell when you just stand on the edge.

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Alfie loved the swans and ducks and I was kicking myself for not bringing some bread. I noticed that a small stream fed into the lake, just near to where we were standing. Great, here was my chance to introduce Rhys and Noah to Pooh sticks. I played Rhys as Noah was busy having fun with Alfie. I won the first race and the second…Wales 2 v 0 Scotland. I felt good but Rhys pulled one back before we had to leave to have our lunch in a nearby café.

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Still, beating the little lad 2 v 1 felt good and some revenge for the defeat Wales Football Team suffered in Hampden Park a couple of months ago!

Local author Gillian Clarke wrote a poem about the lake, which is now used in GCSE examinations. It goes like this…

Cold Knap Lake

We once watched a crowd

pull a drowned child from the lake.

Blue-lipped and dressed in water’s long green silk

she lay for dead.

Then kneeling on the earth,

a heroine, her red head bowed,

her wartime cotton frock soaked,

my mother gave a stranger’s child her breath.

The crowd stood silent,

drawn by the dread of it.

The child breathed, bleating

and rosy in my mother’s hands.

My father took her home to a poor house

and watched her thrashed for almost drowning.

Was I there?

Or is that troubled surface something else

shadowy under the dipped fingers of willows

where satiny mud blooms in cloudiness

after the treading, heavy webs of swans

as their wings beat and whistle on the air?

All lost things lie under closing water

in that lake with the poor man’s daughter.

Gillian Clarke says the poem is a true story, or “as true as I and my memory can make it”. (Clarke was a young girl when the main event happened, perhaps the same age as the child in the poem.) It is about a girl who nearly drowned in a lake and was given the kiss of life by Clarke’s mother. When the child was taken back to her “poor house”, she was “thrashed for almost drowning”. My word those times were tough.

We made our way to Romilly’s, which I think is a new eating place.

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When I walked in I though how much the lady of the house would like this… it was all shabby chic. Very kindly Graeme and Llinos paid for my lunch, they are such kind friends; they obviously enjoy feeding the elderly.

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The food was superb; I had a bacon and Brie sandwich and shared a pot of tea for two with Llinos. It was served in a pot, complete with fine bone china cups.

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All that was missing was Mr. Hungate saying, ‘May I…” I thought I was in heaven! I had brought Alfie’s lunch, so he tucked in happily.

During the meal Rhys drew a picture of Alfie, it was pretty impressive.

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I noticed during the meal, and all the others noticed it too, that Alfie is getting to look more like me every Friday!

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Graeme and Llinos are such wonderful friends to us. Llinos was a youngster when the lady of the house and I were Youth Leaders in our church. She found a Scottish boyfriend and went to live in Glasgow or just outside somewhere. We miss them a lot and hope one day they will come to Wales to live. Graeme is a great lad and I appreciate his gentle, friendly nature so much. Alfie and I were so happy enjoying lunch with such beautiful people. The boys too were so fantastic with Alfie… he has not enjoyed such a great lunch for a long time… three happy boys together.

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After lunch we made our way up to Romilly Park. Lots of things in Barry are called Romilly, I think he was some kind of Baron. The first Baron of Barry was John Romilly but it seems his dad was more famous, Sir Samuel Romilly. He has a public house named after him, so he must be well known.

Romilly Park was beautiful even if a bit windy. Alfie loved the open spaces and walking around the play area. I am not sure he loved the swings and seemed more anxious to get off than get on and certainly one go on the slide was more than enough.

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Alfie spent ages watching a squirrel that was busily devouring the contents of a waste bin. He would look around; disappear into the bin and a few seconds later reappear with a tasty morsel or two.

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After the park we made our way back to Charles Place, before thanking our friends for a delightful day.

When we got home Alfie had a sleep, having enjoyed a happy day with new and wonderful friends.

We played Pooh sticks today and it reminded me of what Winnie the Pooh said to piglet one day in Hundred Acre Wood…

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.

Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”

Alfie and I think the same about Graeme, Llinos, Noah and Rhys.

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