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.
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.
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.