Just Max and me… Adventures Day 2

On the way home from school on Thursday Alfie asked me, “is Grandma still at your house?”

No sooner had he said it, he realised his mistake and after hitting his head a few times with a clenched fist he corrected himself. ‘Is Margaret at your house?” he said giggling.


Max arrived a little later than usual. His mum was taking Alfie to Breakfast Club – a real treat for them both. When I opened the door I didn’t know what to expect as Poor max had been unwell earlier in the week with his new teeth and various minor infections. I was met with the biggest smile ever and I knew my little friend was better and looking forward to one of our Friday specials, Just Max and me. However today was going to be slightly different. Today was going to be Just Max and me and Margaret.

Margaret is my friend. We met by accident 26 years ago nearly when I paid a trip to Northern France to sing with a group of young people.  It’s been a lovely friendship based on mutual respect and a desire to support each other. Margaret teaches English to Senior Citizens in France and also tries to share her Christian love with all she meets. She has dedicated her life to serving others.


Max spent the first couple of hours having his breakfast, playing and watching train videos – his absolute favourite pastime. Watching steam train videos is a mark of great parenting (and grandparenting) skills!


After breakfast we had a game of ‘Hide the Remote Control’. I am beginning to get to now some of Max’s favourite places to hide it!


We had already decided to head for Barry Island, it was a glorious day late in September – too nice to stay at home. However Max looked a little tired and so we decided he would catch a later train after he had chance to nap. He certainly didn’t want to sleep all the way around Barry Island.


The yapping dog woke Max and we prepared to set off. It was something of a motley crew Max , Margaret and me!

Going to Barry on the train is wonderful but for a young lad in a pushchair it has a nightmare beginning. We have to negotiate the iron bridge over to the Barry Island Platform or Platform 2 as the lady robot announcer calls it.

So, pushchair under one arm and the other holding Max’s left hand and Margaret holding Max’s right hand we set off.


The train arrived on schedule and as Max saw the oncoming train he was visibly shaking with the greatest excitement. Unprompted, he waved frantically at the driver who waved frantically back and even gave him a personal toot on the train horn.DSC01369


Max was very anxious to leave the confines of the pushchair and sat excitedly by the window. He just loved the train journey, down through Dinas Powys, across the moors, through Cadoxton and the various Barry Stations. As we slowed down Max waved to every single passenger waiting on every single station.

When the guard came around I had a moment of panic! In my rush to make sure I had everything, I realised I had left the very thing I needed most at home – not Max or Margaret but my wallet. I searched every pocket three times at least as she inched her way towards me. A big smile and a cheery ‘Tickets please’ gave me hope. I asked her if I could pay with my phone and after she confirmed that I could all was well. I gave all my fellow passengers a look of disbelief and told them I had no idea how it works but was grateful that it did. They all smiled and looked at the two ‘old dears’ and the smiling little lad!

As we were heading towards Cadoxton, Margaret must have been thinking and she asked me if Alfie ever still called her grandma. I smiled and told her what Alfie had said to me just the day before! I think she liked that.

She replied, “Well, he’s the nearest I will ever get to be anyone’s grandma!”

I had a moment of sadness in my happy day. Margaret would have made a lovely ‘grandma’ – she has so many talents that she could have shared with them. Mia used to love and sit and watch Margaret knitting and they would often spend hours together.

As the train past the Docks Building I explained to Margaret what an wonderful building it was.

Barry docks office building
Barry docks office building

The Dock Offices at Barry cost £59,000 to build. Constructed of red brick and Portland stone, a clock tower was added at an additional cost of £6,000. It has a ‘theme’ of the calendar. There are four floors – the seasons of the year; seven lights in the traceried fanlight window – days of the week. The porch has twelve panels – months of the year.
Within the building are 52 marble fireplaces – weeks of the year. The windows number 365 days, one for each day of the year. Each window has four panes of glass – weeks to a month. In the east and west walls of the entrance hall are two circular windows – Sun and Moon. The staircase, made of Portland stone, has 31 steps (days of the month) from ground to first and second floors and has an ornamental ironwork balustrade with circular foliage and fruit trails.


We pulled into Barry Island spot on time and made our way off the station. I looked at the lovely old building and remembered many happy visits here in the 1950s, when I arrived on a proper steam train and Barry Island had a proper station. How good it would be if the new franchise did up these great old places.


I spent many happy hours in Barry Island as a child. My mum and dad would take us on the train from Llanishen Station to Barry Island on a regular basis. Most of the journeys were on steam trains. Unforgettable bliss!


On the way, we would hold our breath after Grangetown Station, as the train would take one of two routes as it approached Penarth. The short way was via Cogan, Dinas Powys and Cadoxton and on to Barry, but the long way, which always brought groans from us kids, was through Penarth via Dingle Road, Alberta Place Halt, Swanbridge, Lavernock and Sully, before joining the main line near Cadoxton. I would give my right arm to be able to travel that line again on a steam train. Sadly houses have been built on the track bed in some places and so that dream will never become a reality and I will never have to learn to write with my left hand!! A few years ago I did walk the old line from Biglis Roundabout to Penarth Station. I had to sneak through a garden near Lavernock but an amazing amount of track bed is still left.

The journey home would be made smelling of calamine lotion as we always got sunburnt and spent two days in agony every time. No sun cream or after sun gel in those days!

Max loves to ride in the pushchair and look out at all the interesting things there is to see. We had to walk around the fairground, now closed until next summer and headed towards the beach, It was glorious. Max was so happy. After crossing the road Max got out to walk and investigate everything. He’s just at that age where he wants to look into everything and find out about things.


We walked down towards the beach and stood by  Number 4 on the sea wall, the scene of many beach missions with my old buddies Mick and Clive. Max was desperate for the beach, but I wasn’t ready for shoes full of sand – some other time my little friend.


As we walked away from the beach I saw Margaret heading towards the local gym. I noticed she had worn her trainers and was thinking maybe she was after completing a couple of circuits….




We headed for Whitmore and Jackson’s, Max needed his lunch and Margaret and I were about to share a cream tea, Doug and Joy’s Christmas present to her from last year! It was delicious.


Max negotiated his way through his lunch, insisting he ate both yoghurts all on his own – he did a great job!  Some of his jam sandwich fingers ended up with one side on the floor but he enjoyed it all. He certainly has a great appetite.

We were having such a lovely time that we decided to catch a later train home, which we did.

With some spare time I was able to tell Max and Margaret about the old tunnel that once ran between Barry Island Station  and the little dock station. At one time you could get a train right to where the Paddle Steamers left for Weston and Minehead. I would loved to have travelled on that little stretch.


We had another bout of Max shaking with excitement as the train crawled around the sharp bend into Barry  Island Station for our trip home. Amazingly Max had another wave from the driver and another special toot from the horn. Max needs no prompting he just waves madly himself. Even I get the urge to wave at a train driver!! Why is that?

Max loved to journey home, no signs of tiredness.  It was a great day – such fun and such good company – Just Max and me…and Margaret! Looking forward to next Friday before this Friday has finished!


He was met by  his brother Alfie who was looking for someone to be a Robin for his Batman.


Happy Days!



Just Max and me. Adventures Day 1

A boy’s story is the best that is ever told. – Charles DickensDSC01166

I cannot believe it was six years ago that I was first entrusted with my grandson Alfie, while his parents were at work. I loved it and created Adventures with Alfie, chronicling the fun times we had together. He will soon be at an age where he can read the accounts for himself – I hope he loves them.

History is about to repeat itself and every Friday for the next few months it will be ‘Just Max and me’.  This will be fun!

Max, like Alfie, is something special. He was born to parents who were at one time told that they had ‘little or no chance of ever conceiving and raising children’. God had other ideas and Alfie came first and then Max made a surprise but very welcome appearance. He is eighteen months old now and a real ‘character’. He is happy, loving and possesses a smile that reminds me of a sunrise on a beautiful summer day. At this age he wants to know everything about everything, pick up everything within reach – the breakable ones interesting him most and several things have to be moved to safer places before his arrival.


I love him.

The Blue Fairy once told Pinocchio, ‘Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy. I hope that the times we spend together, just Max and me, will help him along that road.I always try and remember that a real boy is the only thing that God can use to make a real man.

Max arrived early with his mum and brother, we had breakfast together with his cousins before walking to school. I love those days.


In the school yard we met up with another Max – someone who is so famous his name is on every cooker and record player in the world – so he says!!


After the drop offs and kisses Max, and I walked to the shops before heading across to visit Eli and Elsie. We were greeted by a yapping Mash who welcomed us in!


Max and Eli had a great time playing together with the trains and Eli’s wigwam.


After a while we headed home, as we were going into Cardiff to give Max some valuable lessons on the place of his birth.

Before we went Max had time for a  little relax, a quick drink


and then I taught him all about the biscuit tin!


After his quick snack, he walked into the children’s room, patted the television saying ‘Cho choo!” He spent the next half hour glued to a YouTube video of the best steam trains of 2016 and 2015. Epic stuff! We sat together for most of that time, just Max and me.


I’ve worked out now that the best way into and out of Cardiff with a pushchair is train in and bus out. Catching the 95 bus into town is something of a lottery because if there is already a pushchair on board, having a second one can cause a bit of a fuss. It’s possible you would have to let the bus go without you if it’s full. Coming home the 304 bus from Custom House Street always has space as that is the terminus and you can get in the pushchair space nice and early.

Max enjoyed the train ride in, but between the Central Station and Queen Street Station he dozed off. Not good! He was going to miss some valuable lessons. Getting off at Queen Street made me remember what a great station it used to be. Now it’s a soul-less piece on concrete. Years ago it had class and atmosphere, but in their wisdom the city planners pulled it down. That was an act of Social Vandalism.


We got off and made our way along Queen Street and popped into a few shops. Max slept on…

Lunchtime was approaching and I had hoped we would eat together but as I was passing Greggs, the pushchair developed a fault and violently swerved to the left. I felt compelled to stop and sample some of Greggs finest wares, giving the pushchair a chance to correct itself.


I had a Steak slice and a carton of fresh soup – chicken, butternut squash and greens. It was exquisite! The soup had a slight ‘aromatic’ taste which was beautiful and anyone who has ever eaten a Gregg’s Steak Slice will know it’s the nearest thing to heaven this side of the veil. Max slept on.


We then made our way to the market so I could show Max Ashton’s Fish counter and the butchers in the far left hand corner of the market hall. Both are legendary places in my humble opinion. Every child should spend as much time as possible looking and learning and being fascinated by these great shops.


Max slept on…

Had he been awake I would have shown him the pigs’ heads, the ox hearts and the sheep testicles, as well as the massive beef bones. This butcher wastes not a thing. One day I must try cow cheeks he has on sale, although my days of eating tongue have sadly passed. Growing up we often had all kinds of strange meat – liver, stuffed hearts and rabbit, but I only ever saw my dad eat brains once – only ever once!! I can’t think why!


As we were leaving the market  the little man stirred and a street musician nearby playing loudly helped him wake up. But the timing was good, we were nearing Howells, where I had planned to take lunch.


If you know Howells you will know the second floor restaurant which has a wonderful play area for the kids. Sadly the shop’s days are numbered, Howells will soon become block of apartments and this historic building will no longer be  a part of the lives of Cardiffians as it has been for generations. (I hope they save the church hidden with its walls!)

We made our way to the second floor where Max enjoyed the lovely lunch his dad and mum had prepared. While the rest of the shop appeared empty the restaurant area was quite full of young mums and some families all with at least one little person with them. It was so lovely. We made a rather an inglorious entrance. I found a place quite near the counter, collected a high chair for Max, but as I lifted him out of the pushchair, the weight of his bags made the pushchair tip backwards and as it did it knocked a chair over which made a terrible racket! For a few brief seconds chaos reigned. All eyes turned to see what was happening with this little old fat chap with the cute little boy. I think I got away with a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes.


Max enjoyed his lunch immensely, but kept looking over his shoulder at the other little kids playing quietly. He obviously wanted to get down with them, which he eventually did. He was great and played quietly with the others and when it was time, he sat quietly back in his pushchair as we made our way to catch the two o’clock 304 bus back home.


It was the bus journey home that in many ways was the highlight of the day. We got on and parked the pushchair and immediately Max wanted to get out. Was this the best course of action for a one year old on a bus ride home? Absolutely!

Max loved it! He loved looking out of the window and waving at anyone who passed.



He stood up on he seat and waved at all the other passengers on the bus and all the passengers on the bus waved back. His smile lit up the whole place. He then proceeded to play ‘peek-a-boo’ with the middle aged couple in the seat behind. He would duck down behind the seat and look up at them between the handle. It was so cute! He had a fit of the giggles, which lasted much of the way home. Most of the bus waved to him as we got off.


When we got home he walked straight into the children’s room patted the television and said ‘Choo-choo!’ I sat on the settee, patted the settee beside me and my little friend came and sat quietly beside me.


Dad arrived soon after and Max was bundled into the van to pick up his big brother.


It was such a lovely day, I’m sixty five and half years older than him, but we had such a special time…

Just Max and me.



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