Category Archives: Adventures with Alfie

Rainy Days and Mondays….

Alfie stayed  the night and all through breakfast this morning was talking about Millie’s visit. He loves his Monday get togethers with his two cousins. He was standing on the box near the window when she arrived and the expression on both their faces as they saw each other spoke volumes of the love and friendship they share. It was magical.

They spent the morning playing together in their special part of our home. The latest ‘must play’ game is a game they call ‘Penguin Race ’.

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It’s a bizarre little game where a group of three penguins climb a steep staircase only to slide round and start again. I bought it cheap on Amazon; UK HOTdeals recommended it. The kids absolutely love it although the repetitive tune does grate a bit after the first two and a half hours.

DSC05400After playing they settled down to watch UP! – to my mind the best film ever made without a shadow of a doubt. Up is a 2009 American computer animated produced Pixar and released by Disney. The film centres on an elderly widower named Carl Fredricksen and an earnest young Wilderness Explorer Russell. By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl sets out to fulfil his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America and to complete a promise made to his lifelong love. Docter. The producer began working on the story in 2004, which was based on fantasies of escaping from life when it becomes too irritating. He and eleven other Pixar artists spent three days in Venezuela gathering research and inspiration. The designs of the characters were caricatured and stylized considerably, and animators were challenged with creating realistic cloth. The floating house is attached by a varying number between 10,000 and 20,000 balloons in the film’s sequences.

Up was released on May 29, 2009 and opened the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first animated and 3D film to do so. The film became a great financial success, accumulating over $731 million in its theatrical release. Up received critical acclaim, with most reviewers commending the humour and heart of the film. Edward Asner was praised for his portrayal of Carl, and a montage of Carl and his wife Ellie aging together was widely lauded. The film received five Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture making it the second animated film in history to receive such a nomination (and Pixar’s first Best Picture nomination), following Beauty and The Beast. (1991) – this is the favourite film of the lady of the house.

Carl Fredricksen is a shy, quiet boy who idolizes explorer Charles F. Muntz. Muntz has been accused of fabricating the skeleton of a giant bird he claimed to have discovered in Paradise Falls, and vows to return there to capture one alive. One day, Carl befriends Ellie, who is also a Muntz fan. She confides to Carl her desire to move her “clubhouse” — an abandoned house in the neighbourhood — to a cliff overlooking Paradise Falls. Carl and Ellie eventually get married and grow old together in the restored house, and they planned to have children, but Ellie was diagnosed as infertile, so Carl wanted to fulfil their promise of travel to South America. They repeatedly pool their savings for a trip to Paradise Falls, but end up spending it on more pressing needs. An elderly Carl finally arranges for the trip, but Ellie suddenly becomes ill and dies.

Some time later, Carl still lives in the house when he accidentally injures a construction worker over damage to his mailbox, and a court orders him to move to a retirement home. However, Carl comes up with a scheme to keep his promise to Ellie: he turns his house into a makeshift airship, using thousands of helium balloons. Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer becomes an accidental passenger in his effort to earn his final merit badge for assisting the elderly.

After surviving a thunderstorm, the house lands near a ravine facing Paradise Falls. Carl and Russell harness themselves to the still-buoyant house and begin to walk it around the ravine, hoping to reach the falls before the balloons deflate. They later befriend a tall, colourful flightless bird (whom Russell names “Kevin”) trying to reach her chicks, and a dog named Dug, who wears a special collar that allows him to speak.

Carl and Russell encounter a pack of dogs led by Alpha, and are taken to Dug’s master, who turns out to be an elderly Charles Muntz. Muntz invites Carl and Russell aboard the “Spirit of Adventure” where he explains that he has spent the years since his disgrace searching Paradise Falls for the giant bird. When Russell notes the bird’s similarity to Kevin, Muntz then becomes hostile, prompting the pair to flee with Kevin and Dug. Muntz catches up with them and starts a fire beneath Carl’s house, forcing Carl to choose between saving it or Kevin. Carl rushes to put out the fire, allowing Muntz to take the bird. Carl and Russell eventually reach the falls, though Russell is disappointed in Carl over his decision to abandon Kevin.

Settling into his home, Carl looks through Ellie’s childhood scrapbook; finding photos of their happy marriage added into it, along with a note from Ellie thanking him for the “adventure” and encouraging him to go on a new one. Reinvigorated, he goes to find Russell, only to see him sailing off on some balloons to save Kevin. Carl empties the house of furniture and possessions, lightening it, and pursues him.

Muntz captures Russell, but Carl manages to board the dirigible in flight and free both Russell and Kevin. Dug defeats Alpha and become the dogs’ new leader. Muntz pursues them around the airship, finally cornering Dug, Kevin, and Russell inside Carl’s tethered house. Carl lures Kevin out through a window and back onto the airship with Dug and Russell clinging to her back, just as Muntz is about to close in; Muntz leaps after them, only to snag his foot on some balloon lines and fall to his death. The house then descends out of sight through the clouds.

Carl and Russell reunite Kevin with her chicks, and then fly the dirigible back to the city. Carl presents Russell with his final badge: a grape soda cap that Ellie gave to Carl when they first met and made their promise. The two then enjoy some ice cream together.

One of the best things about the film is that Carl Fredrickson is the spitting image of a friend of mine, a chap called David Chapman.

As time went on I had to collect the Princess Mia from school, something I always love to do. We strolled back and chatted about school and what she would like to do that afternoon.

One thing we had to do was visit Aunt Ciss – not a real aunt but the best friend of the mother of the lady of the house. Ciss never had children of her own and so the lady of the house has given Ciss a card and present for the past 45 years – without failing once! It’s an incredibly kind thing to do. I know how much Ciss appreciates it and thinks of my dear one as the daughter she never had.

On the way we decided to stop at Roath Park to feed wildlife. Roath Park stands in a beautiful location at the centre of Cardiff. The park still retains the classic Victorian Park atmosphere where local residents and visitors alike can enjoy their leisure time in many different pursuits.

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The land for Roath Park was donated by the Marquess of Bute to the city in 1887. Work initially focused on creating the lake from an area of marshland.

A lighthouse was constructed in the lake containing a scale model of the ‘Terra Nova’ ship as a memorial to Captain Scott who sailed to the Antarctic from Cardiff in 1910. The park’s atmosphere today still retains the Victorian elegance and its status as a Conservation Area ensures these qualities will be protected.

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There is a wide range of habitats in the park, which attracts a diverse variety of wildlife. The lake acts as an important habitat for over wintering and breeding birds, including mallard, cormorants and herons. Islands within the lake also act as safe nesting sites. There is a wildflower garden included in the park where the area is managed to encourage wildlife and native species.

The most interesting thing about the park is it stretches from The Oval, just past Cardiff High School then follows the Roath Brook, Nant Fawr from north to south; The Wild Gardens, Roath Park Lake, Botanical Gardens, Rose Gardens, Pleasure Gardens, Roath Park Recreation Ground, Roath Brook Gardens, Roath Mill Gardens and Waterloo Gardens. It’s a huge swathe of green land in the heart of our city.

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As we arrived it started raining, but we did what we could to feed the birds. They were all a little bit nervous at first – the children not the birds – but as they watched me they all became a little braver. Millie in particular was fearless and ended up chasing the geese around.

DSC05754 DSC05755 DSC05753We strolled around and then went and stood on the railings, looking at the birds. We noticed a coot, which had built a beautiful nest out in the safety of the water. The kids loved it.

DSC05764 DSC05763 DSC05759rp1After a while Alfie Millie and I strolled through the Wild Gardens while Mia and the lady of the house sheltered in the car. The Wild Gardens is the area to the north of the Lake, which was to be a second lake in the very first plans for the Park. That idea was abandoned on the grounds of expense.

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DSC05769 DSC05771In June 1894 when the Park opened, this area had not been developed. Shortly after, in September 1894, a public shelter was built, and this was followed in 1895/6 by the creation of footpaths and two bridges over the brook. Apart from these additions the Wild Gardens retained much of its original state with indigenous trees, plants and wild flowers and that is how it is to this day. The shelter has long gone but the area is still very natural and very peaceful.

From here we moved on to visit my mum’s grave; we had not been able to visit the day before, which was mothers day. We were hoping that Mia. Alfie and Millie would put the flowers on but the rain was chucking it down. We had bought a beautiful basket of spring bulbs. My mum LOVED flowers. I was thrilled that the grave looked so good. Obviously my brother had been hard at work – he is so kind and caring like that.

DSC05782 DSC05777DSC05780 DSC05781 DSC05782 DSC05783I spent a few quiet moments then realised we needed to push on to Great Aunt Cissie’s

Cissie is 93 year old and lives alone. She was delighted to see us and especially the kids. They were great with her and her friend who had come to visit.

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DSC05794 DSC05798 DSC05791 DSC05790After about an hour it was time to go home and the kids were bundled, giggling into the car and by the time we reached home all three were heavy eyed and happy. It was so good to be together and to be at home.

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Spring 2014

At last Spring has arrived and after months of putting off adventures because of the rain and the cold, the bright blue skies and warm sun made today a good day to go adventuring again. Alfie did not stay over last night and arrived just before eight followed by Millie just after nine, after the Princess Mia had been dropped off at school.

We had to wait until Mia’s lessons were over before we could go, so Millie and Alfie spent a leisurely morning playing in the little piece of paradise their Nan had created for them. The grown ups – Millie’s mum, the lady of the house and my good self enjoyed breakfast together and chatted through many things, putting the world to right. Just after ten we were joined by Belle’s aunt, who had brought some left over chicken and a little love note. Belle had soon devoured the chicken and Belle’s aunt had joined us for breakfast, which meandered into coffee time, as relaxed mornings do.

Before long it was time to pick up the Princess Mia from school and I was duly dispatched leaving the ‘girls ‘ to carry on nattering.

The Princess was glad to see me but it soon became obvious that she had a ‘tights’ problem. Every five yards of walking saw her tights drop down to her knees and after pulling them up many times, we decided the best solution was a ‘piggy back’. This worked fine and we soon arrived home and the problem with the underwear was duly reported to mum, who rolled her eyes and blamed the incorrect sizing!

After a hasty lunch we soon found ourselves heading for the station and the first real adventure of 2014.

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After battling with the machine at the station, the tickets were carefully placed in an accessible pocket, the dog in another pocket and we awaited the arrival of the train. Image

We were quite a crowd with three little kids, one glamorous gran, a little fat OAP and a scatty nervous little Yorkshire Terrier.

We looked quite a sight on the platform. Getting on and off the train need some technical manoeuvrings, but the lady of the house was magnificent at lifting the pushchairs, the kids and the little fat OAP onto the train in Eastbrook, off and on another train at Cardiff Queen Street and eventually off at Lisvane and Thornhill. While I was being helped on the train in Cardiff I noticed work on the new platform had only progressed slowly since we last adventured this way. I wondered what had caused the delay.

I gazed down at my dad and mums old house as we passed Llanishen and thought about my childhood growing up on that council estate in North Cardiff. When we stopped at Llanishen Station my mind went back to the days when the stationmaster tended the station garden and old steam trains came and took us to Barry and Lavernock.

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The walk from Lisvane Station to Cefn Onn Park was a short one. I longed for the days of the old Cefn Onn Station, which took you to the heart of the park.

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Parc Cefn Onn, originally named “Parc Cefn On”, in Lisvane, north of Cardiff, is a country park created in the valley of the Nant Fawr stream, which eventually runs into Roath Park. There are no early postcards of Parc Cefn Onn, because it originated in private ownership and was not open to the public until acquired by the Council in 1944, well past the peak of postcard production.

Beginning in 1911 the park was laid out by Ernest Prosser, General Manager of the Taff Vale, Cardiff, and Rhymney Railway Companies, whose intention was to create a woodland estate and house on the land then known as The Dingle. In the park he built a summerhouse where his son could convalesce from tuberculosis. Prosser abandoned his plans to build a house at The Dingle when his son died in 1922, but he continued to maintain the grounds until his own death in 1933. The estate was then inherited by a nephew who sold it to the Cardiff Council in 1944 for £7,500, after Prosser’s gardener, Tommy Jenkins, alerted members of the Council to the opportunity.

William Nelmes, Cardiff’s Director of Parks, described how Parc Cefn Onn came to be acquired:
“Local Authorities are often blamed for the protracted way in which they conduct their business and probably with some justification. In the case of the Parc Cefn On acquisition, however, very prompt action was taken: On a certain Saturday, in 1944, news was received that the property was for sale and the next day it was inspected by several members of the Council; on the Monday a deposit was paid by the Chairman of the Estates Committee and on the Tuesday a meeting was specially convened to approve the purchase of the property by the Corporation.”

The purchase was formally agreed on 21st August 1944 and the name Parc Cefn On was adopted the following month.In 1951 repairs to the thatched roof of the summer house cost £25-10-0.

The park quickly became popular with visitors, such that more frequent bus and train services were introduced and Cefn Onn Halt was opened by the Great Western Railway. The Council continued to develop the park into a site of national horticultural importance, attracting many visitors especially in the rhododendron season. The present day Parc Cefn Onn contains some rare and important native and exotic trees, while the streams, ponds, woodlands and other planting provide varied habitats for wildlife.

THE name Cefn Onn means ‘ridge of ash trees’.

There is an extensive network of streams and ponds throughout the woods. The biggest pond is artificial and created by damming the stream. Eventually this stream, as I said before, runs into Roath Park Lake. The streams and ponds act as a habitat for frogs, toads and common newts to spawn in the spring.

There are many rare and exotic trees in this park and some of them made Mia, Millie and Alfie gasp in admiration.

The size, colour and variety of trees are simply stunning – The Dawn Redwoods are the largest of their species in the city at 28 metres and an Edwardian- planted Grand Fir at 48 meters is reputed to be Cardiff’s tallest tree. The colour is forever changing with rhododendron and azalea providing late spring interest.

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Once we walked in through the gate and under the motorway and into the park, the dog’s lead was removed, the kids set free from the pushchairs and we were off, running, kicking dead leaves, picking up sticks. We had the most marvellous time, breathing in the fresh air and celebrating the arrival of Spring.

We passed many other people, old and young alike; all stopped for a chat or exchanged pleasantries. It was so good to be out.

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Before long we passed the magical spot where the path, now long overgrown, slopes down to the old Cefn Onn Halt.

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The kids had no idea, but even the lady of the house became a bit misty eyed as she herself thought about those happy days of long ago.

We arrived at the large pond, which the three little ‘uns loved and many sticks and stones were thrown in.

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After a while we moved on towards the old summerhouse, built for the first owner’s sick son but now derelict.

We decided on a photograph but I was reminded of my age and lack of agility here. I set the camera on timer and went racing up to join the others, but things I did a couple of years ago are no longer possible.  I failed!

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She did well.

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I had forgotten how beautiful this park is and we made our way around before finding a picnic table to stop and have a drink.

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After a brief break, we continued and Mia felt like a break, so she asked Alfie to push her in the pushchair. He duly obliged!

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We carried on around the park and soon found ourselves back at the gate. It was so wonderful to be out and to be able to enjoy such beauty, with three little treasures and one amazing lady who has brought such joy to my life. I looked at the kids running through the leaves and thought of Oscar Wilde’s story of The Selfish Giant. At one stage in the story the Giant says… ‘ I have many beautiful flowers in my garden, but the children are the most beautiful flowers of all.’ Today I know how he felt!!

 

We made our way next door to The Old Cottage.

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This is now a pub/restaurant, but years ago my friend lived here; it was their home. It must have been an idyllic place to live! Here, we enjoyed a welcome cup of tea, before thinking about heading home. We arrived home tired and happy, with fresh air in our lungs and happy memories locked in our minds, never to be forgotten.

I reflected on the old hymn I used to sing in church…

“Count your blessings, name the one by one.” That is almost an impossible job for me I have too many…

 

But here are three to start off!

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The Lost Adventure

While I was sorting through some old photographs, I came across some of an adventure the lady of the house and I shared with Millie and Alfie a few months ago. It was a great adventure and worth remembering.

It was a beautiful Autumn morning and Millie and Alfie had agreed to meet at our home to spend some time together. The Princess Mia was at school. We all had breakfast together, before heading off to find some new things to discover in the wonderful city called Cardiff, which is near to where we all live.

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We headed down towards Cardiff Bay, once a place to avoid, but now a bustling area where many Cardiff people love to go. Cardiff Bay is a diverse waterfront built around a freshwater lake known as ‘the Bay’. You will find a great mix of Cardiff attractions, entertainment and events, coupled with vibrant bars and shops that create a truly unique atmosphere worthy of any capital city!

Cardiff Bay is the area created by the Cardiff Bay Barrage in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The regeneration of Cardiff Bay is now widely regarded as one of the most successful regeneration projects in the United Kingdom. The Bay is supplied by two rivers the River Taff and the River Ely to form a 500-acre freshwater lake round the former dockland area south of the city centre. The Bay was formerly tidal, with access to the sea limited to a couple of hours each side of high water but now provides 24-hour access through three locks. Cardiff Bay played a major part n Cardiff’s development by being the means of exporting coal from the valleys to the rest of the world, helping to power the industrial age. The mining industry helped fund the building of Cardiff into the capital city of Wales and helped the third Marquis of Bute, who owned the docks, become the richest man in the world at the time.

As Cardiff exports grew, so did its population; dockworkers and sailors from across the world settled in neighbourhoods close to the docks, known as Tiger Bay and communities from up to 45 different nationalities, including Norwegian , Somalian and Yemeni, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean and Irish helped create the unique character of the area.

After the Second World War most of the industry closed down and became derelict. But, in 1999, new life was injected into the area by the building of the barrage one of the most controversial building projects of the day but also one of the most successful.

We parked in our usual place outside the Coal Exchange in Mount Stuart Square. It is still being renovated and still looks a bit sad these days, but I am sure it will soon be restored to its former glory.

We had two pushchairs, one each for Millie and Alfie and as we set off from the car I really fancied a pushchair race, but as I looked across at the lady of the house, she did not look to be in a racing mood so I let the matter drop. If anyone fancies a few laps of racing pushchairs around Mount Stuart Square some time…

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We moved rather sedately down to the water’s edge and spent some time feeding the ducks. Millie and Alfie loved this. I had raided the good lady’s wholemeal bread allowance, so we were well prepared and the Bay ducks had a healthy meal that morning.

On previous visits to the Bay we have met the Welsh Ladies Football team, had a trip around the Bay and shared many cups of coffee and had breakfast in Subway on more than one occasion. As we fed the ducks I saw the following sign.DSC05141

I really fancied a trip up to town up the River. I mentioned the fact tentatively to the good lady who shares my life and when she replied, ‘As long as you are paying Fatboy!’ I knew this was a possibility.

We waited in the queue along with a large group of school students who were admiring Millie and Alfie. They were obviously kind, caring people because when the boat came in they promptly took all the seats and left the four of us standing forlornly on the quayside. The teacher, incidentally a friend of ours, looked a little guilty as the boat pulled away and I knelt down to wipe the tears from Millie’s and Alfie’s cheeks. We decided to stay and wait for the next one so the two dear grandchildren played around the area and it meant when the next boat came in we had the choice of seats.

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It was BRILLIANT.

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We had a great view as the Lady Katherine chugged across the Bay, past the St David’s hotel where the rich and famous hang out (although I must say from the outside the building looks a bit like a sixties housing estate), up the Taff under the Bay Bridge, past the Channel View Leisure Centre and the Marl where I played many a game for North Clive Street Youth Football team, round past Taff Terrace, up Taff Embankment under the Railway bridge by Cardiff Central and we came to a stop next to Cardiff Castle and Bute Park. It was a splendid trip and well worth parting with three pounds, well six actually because the lady of the house had yet again ‘left her purse at home’.

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We strolled through Bute Park and then up into town.

The strange sounds coming from Millie and Alfie’s tummies reminded us it was lunchtime, so we made for Howells – one of the great department Stores in Cardiff.

James Howell’s first step towards the present Howells department store began with the establishment of a shop under the Stuart Hall in The Hayes, a street near St Mary Street. From there the first part of the current store was built in the late-19th century, this part of the building includes an ornate facade that is visible on St Mary Street. In the 1920s a large and well-proportioned neoclassical extension was built up to the corner of St Mary Street and Heol-y-Cawl. A unique result of this extension was that Bethany Chapel, built on the site of an earlier chapel in 1865, was absorbed into the fabric of the building and its frontage was incorporated into the interior and is still visible in the store today, fronting onto the men’s department.

Further extensions were added throughout the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, causing the building to show the architectural trends of the Late Victorian Era to the Modernism of the 1960s.

Howells Department Store was originally a family-run business, owned and managed by the family of James Howell. In the 1950s, the store was sold to Welsh banker Sir Julian Hodge, who subsequently sold the store to Mohammed Al-Fayed, owner of the Hose of Fraser chain, meaning the store ceased to be an independent department store. The store is still owned by House of Fraser, although the chain was bought by Icelandic investment company, Bauger late 2006. In the 1990s the Victorian frontage on St Mary Street, neglected for the best part of 50 years, was cleaned and restored, greatly enhancing the building’s appearance.

The building is Grade 2 listed. It also has a great restaurant, which is the most child friendly place in Cardiff.

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We had a great time there; Mille and Alfie ate their lunch, played together and watched some episodes of Peppa Pig. The lady of the house and I had tea – served in little silver pots and in Howells you always get a little jug of hot water without asking. Total class!

After leaving Howells, I wanted to catch a bendy bus back to the Bay but the dear lady wanted to walk. It was a nice day so I did what I was told; I mean we agreed to walk back to the car, still parked near the Coal Exchange.

It was a good walk on a bright clear, warm day. We had not even reached John Lewis and the two little ones were asleep, dreaming no doubt of ducks and boats and castles and posh shops. We walked down Bute Street, a street full of friendly faces

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We put them in the car, drove home and carried them into bed and still neither woke up.

It had been a great adventure, but the best part of all was the fact that the friendship between these two beautiful little cousins was growing closer.

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It had been such fun!

The lady of the house graciously allowed me to bring her some refreshments as she rested. It was a good end to the day.

Disneyland Dinas Powys

Alfie stayed the night, as he has been doing every Sunday since his mum changed her working days to the first part of the week instead of the latter part. Usually, Millie calls over and spends most of the day with him. They are growing close and are becoming great friends as well as cousins. The lady of the house was on nursery duty, so it meant I could have a little lie in after the busyness of the past week. It was about 8.15 am that I heard the first shouts of “Rog…Rog’ from the bottom of the stairs. It wasn’t the lady of the house calling me to get on with my chores, but my little friend Alfie wanting to play. Some months ago, Alfie’s parents were teaching him animal sounds…. ”What does a cat say? What sound does a lion make and so on, until someone said, “What does Nanna always say? In response to this the whole family shouted….”Rog!’ … and from that moment Alfie has called me Rog. It’s kind of cute and I don’t take it as a mark of disrespect from the little fella.

We were all excited about Millie’s visit today. We always love it when she comes to play on a Monday.  She came to our house just after dropping her big sister at nursery. I think that she thinks she is coming to Disneyland Dinas Powys as she turns the corner into our street. The lady of the house had switched on the Christmas lights outside – her impression of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation – even though it was daylight. True, it was a dark and dreary December day, but once Millie and Alfie get together every day is a bright and happy one and I am sure she just felt the lights were an added bonus. Actually I am dreading the bill next time round, I am sure it’s going to be massive. I’ve been creative in thinking of ways to save money. Last week I was fed up of watching the fifteenth consecutive episode of Knots Landing on Sky plus, that I told the lady of the house I was going to the cinema. I told her to put her coat on and she asked if I was taking her with me? She didn’t look too happy when I told her that I wasn’t and that I was just turning the central heating off! It’s only fair…  I am surviving on a pension!

Today, both Alfie and Millie smiled broadly when they saw each other. We hope that when they grow up they will remember these happy and special times.

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They played first with the Disneyland Express train set.

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This is the latest addition to the little piece of paradise that the lady of the house is creating for our precious grandkids. During December our dining room is transformed into what can only be described as Disneyland Resort Dinas Powys. The whole room is decked out with everything Disney. Soft toys, dolls, decorations… the lot. The Christmas tree is full… and I mean FULL… of Disney character ornaments, collected over the past years. Family friends and relatives from far and near bring their kids to participate in a Disney Treasure hunt on our tree – with a prize to the one who can collect the most names.

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I always feel sorry for Tinkerbelle who has the most uncomfortable place of all to spend the Christmas period.

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….and always without a word of complaint… OUCH!

Last Christmas her collection of Disney baby princess dolls was lined up looking out of the front window. It looked a bit like a scene from the Rocky Horror Show but at least it kept the carol singers away!

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This morning we had a bit of trouble keeping the train on the tracks but the addition of a couple of straight tracks solved the problem. Millie especially adored the little train with its sounds and music. She especially loved the Disney carriage, which has Minnie dancing romantically with Mickey. She gazed longingly at it for a long time. So cute!

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Alfie succeeded in knocking the train off the track half a dozen times as he ran excitedly round it trying to jump over it when he needed to!

Afterwards they spent some time checking out the characters. They were able to name and find loads of them. We were really impressed.

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We had Toy Story playing in the background and soon they were sitting side by side on their very own settee watching the film with a snack. It’s not just old people who have elevenses – Millie and Alfie love having a mid morning snack.  Toy Story is just one superb film; I love watching it too!

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One day soon they will be all grown up and will no doubt meeting in Starbucks. We hope they will remember our little house where their friendship was nurtured… such happy and special days.

Later in the morning we sat down for a story. I have started training them to become Roald Dahl fans and today we read The Enormous Crocodile. It’s a great tale about an enormous crocodile that loves to eat fat. juicy children. I am not too sure what Millie thought of my props, but they enjoyed the story… at least Millie did when the crocodile changed hands!

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Alfie loved feeding the crocodile with toast, hoping I am sure to avoid being eaten himself. He’s a canny lad!

ImageIt wasn’t long before our real life Princess Mia arrived at our house, her lessons for the day all over.

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Millie and Alfie both cheered and clapped. The three children played together happily before the girls had to leave to visit their grandma.

When Millie’s mum arrived she had with her a huge Victoria Sponge for us – not quite Bruce Bogtrotter proportions but big enough for us to realise today’s diet would not last too long! I loved it, the lady of the house loved it and so did Alfie!

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Mia loved playing with the enormous crocodile and I could see the enormous crocodile eyeing her up as a tasty snack as lunchtime was approaching. Luckily, being a princess, she had her magic wand with her, so she was able to keep the dreaded animal at bay. As she left she cast her spell on him so he cannot move until she returns.

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In a similar way these beautiful children cast their magic spell on us and enchant us every time they visit. Come back soon little ones!

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Mia, Alfie and Milie… you are loved!

Adventures with Alfie Day 25

It’s hard to believe we have reached the milestone of Adventures with Alfie Day 25. It began when a nervous grandfather was asked to take sole responsibility for a ten-month-old little child for a whole day. The task seemed daunting but Alfie and I both rose to the challenge. There is so much about life and the place where we live that I wanted to share with him and Fridays seemed to be as good a day as any. On our first Adventure we went to Cardiff on the train and visited the market and Café Zest. Without looking back I wondered, what were my highlights of our 25 Adventures?  In no particular order I came up with the following …

  • Visiting Merthyr on the train
  • That funny little café in Pontypridd that looked like an old Hollywood cinema
  • Castell Coch and Alfie chatting up the bride.
  • The boat trip around Cardiff Bay
  • Kids days in Techniquest.
  • Meeting the Welsh Ladies’ Football Team and the promise of being a mascot when he is older.
  • Finding a Wimpy in Caerphilly – that still amazes me!
  • Breakfasts in Subway.
  • The vast number of people Alfie has made smile.
  • Buying Alfie his first ever Clarks Pie.
  • Trips to Barry and meeting Dave Brown in McDonalds
  • Sitting by the fire in St Fagan’s
  • The Cardiff Centenary Walk
  • … and maybe best of all meeting the Cardiff City Football Team.

Each week has been exciting and, I hope, a treasure for Alfie as he grows up.  I hope he reads them when he is older and who knows when he has a family of his own, I am sure his own kids will love reading about his Adventures with his chubby old friend.

He already has his own little fan club of avid readers who eagerly await Fridays to see what the little fella has been up to.

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Today, as a special 25th treat, we decided on a trip on the Brecon Mountain Railways. Like Castell Coch it’s a place we talk about often, advise visitors to enjoy, but rarely do ourselves. Things were about to change.

We had a quiet start to the morning and had a little rest before the A470 called and the road to Merthyr.

I had prepared his food for the day, changed a smelly nappy and smartened myself up before we left.

The drive up the road to Pant in Merthyr was clear with a mixture of cloud and sun, but very little traffic. We sang together for a while before Alfie had a little snooze!

It was a journey I knew well from my days of living in Gelligaer and the part time job I had in Merthyr Motor Auctions, when we struggled as a family trying to live on a teachers’ wage in the 1970s. I worked with my big brother who has always looked out for me. They were tough days.

I love Merthyr with its magnificent history and Pant and Dowlais in particular. This was where the Motor Auctions were and a real host of characters lived and worked there. I will never forget, Smokie and Old Jim.

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I try and imagine the place full of factory chimneys and smoke during the time of the Iron Works. At one time it was one of the most famous places in the world. Hard to think that now, but the rows of ironworkers cottages all have their own story to tell. I wonder if there is such a thing as The Dowlais Local History Society?  If there is, I might join.

We followed the brown signs and soon arrived at the Pant Station. We looked at each other and smiled. I knew what was in store, Alfie smiled because that’s what he does 24/7 or should I say 24/7/365

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The Brecon Mountain Railway was conceived over 30 years ago when a search started to find a site to operate a steam tourist railway using various locomotives and equipment collected from Europe and further afield.

Merthyr Tydfil seemed ideal – located on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park with its beautiful mountain, lake and forest scenery. At one time it was the greatest iron-making town in the world and most of the earlier railways used iron rolled by its mills. It also witnessed in 1804 the trial run of the Trevithick locomotive – the first steam railway engine.

The site chosen was on the old abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway opened originally in 1859 and finally closed in 1964. This Railway fought its way through the Brecon Beacons using steep gradients and the Torpantau tunnel which at 1313-ft above sea level is the highest railway tunnel in Great Britain. The 5.5 miles stretch between Pant and Torpantau seemed suitable but difficulties were soon found. The scrap merchants had not only removed the track but also all the bridge girders and even the manhole covers. The ballast had been taken for road material and no buildings remained except for the shell of the signal box at Pontsticill and the station house, which was used as a sheep shelter. It was then discovered that the only part of the railway still in British Rail hands was one bridge abutment, which they readily agreed to sell! The remaining land had been sold off and it took between 5 and 20 years to obtain the rest from 12 different landowners.

At Pant the old station was not available so adjoining land was purchased for a deviation.

By 1978 the various planning and other consents had been obtained and construction started with the re-building of the Station House and conversion of the adjoining waiting room into a small workshop.

Then came a tin shed for storage and work started on the repair and replacement of the 7 bridges between Pant and Pontsticill. Track laying was commenced in 1979, but delayed for two months whilst a huge landslide was filled with a row of demolished terrace houses from Merthyr Tydfil.

Meanwhile the first carriage had been built at Pontsticill and “Sybil” – a small slate quarry engine from North Wales had been prepared to haul the train.

Track laying was completed late one summer evening in June 1980 and the railway opened to traffic the next day.

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We found a place to park, left the puschair in the boot and started adventuring.

We made our way in and straightaway I thought… that’s a good sign.

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I paid my dues; Alfie was free, and headed for Shunters the station teashop. Alfie has developed a healthy interest in teashops over the past 25 Fridays. He is learning well.

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I had a pot of tea and we shared a toasted teacake. On his second piece Alfie found it was covered in jam and proceeded to remove all the jam first, followed by the teacake! Lunch would come later.

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After enjoying this time together, we made our way up to the platform. As we did we had to pass the Railway workshops, full of heavy machinery.

ImageThere was a sign saying ‘Beware of heavy plant!’. I looked around expecting to see a 20-foot aspidistra or a 30 stone Peace Lily, till I realised what the sign actually meant. Alfie loved this and pointed excitedly at all the large machines. However, greater excitement was to follow. At the top of the ramp in the station waiting room, there was a huge model train display. Alfie was over the moon and spent a long time shouting ‘ Choo choo’ over and over again.

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Why does very child in the world say Choo choo whenever you mention a train? I guess it shows the power and majesty of steam trains.

It was a great display and I even mumbled a few choo choos of my own, pretending to encourage Alfie. When Aunt Bes gets married I wonder if the Blessed Lady  will let me build a train display in her room… I’ll choose the moment carefully!

We stopped looking only when excited chattering announced that the train was pulling into the station. What followed I will never, ever forget. As we walked on to the platform the train was just pulling in. Alfie’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened and threatened to fall from their sockets. He was spellbound! I had him hooked; he will be a steam train lover all his life from this day on.

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I was reminded of the old poem by Graeme King…

I’m a steam train, big and tough,                                                                                                           Riding steel rails, hear me chuff;                                                                                                         Running on my railroad track,                                                                                                              Smoke is steaming from my stack.

Down the line my big wheels roll,                                                                                                       Engineer puts in the coal,                                                                                                                          In my boiler, water’s poured,                                                                                                                    “TOOT!” the driver pulls the cord.

Every trip my friends are new,                                                                                                                  People wave when I come through;                                                                                                            Always happy, never gruff.                                                                                                                           Up the hills I huff and puff.

Clickety-clack the wheels all sing,                                                                                                               Part of history, I’m the King;                                                                                                                      Cross the land from east to west,                                                                                                                Want to ride? Well, be my guest!

Nice clean carriages, painted new,                                                                                                               Hear me whistle, just for you;                                                                                                                        Buy your tickets, climb inside,                                                                                                                     Let’s go for a steam train ride!

I made sure Alfie had not grazed his chin on the platform when his jaw dropped and after watching the engine uncouple and move to the front of the train we got on and waited for our journey to begin. We shared the carriage with a few other people, mostly retired by the look of them. Alfie continued to shout Choo choo! without stopping.  We pulled away and passed some coal trucks heavily laden with their black cargo evoking memories of a bygone age.

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We passed through some beautiful countryside before the reservoir at Taf Fechan came into view.  As the train approaches Pontsticill Station the Reservoir Dam can be seen. The Reservoir was completed in 1927 and can hold 3,400 million gallons of water. The water flooded the vicarage and 15th Century Capel Taf Fechan, Bethlehem Congregational Chapel, some cottages, smallholdings and land belonging to eight farms. In times of drought the remains of some of these buildings appear above water level. On the valley floor below the dam a new water treatment works has been completed.

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Soon the train passed, without stopping, through Pontsticill station. The original signal box could be seen alongside Station House. The grassed area to the right of the signal box was the site of the old turntable.

The journey now continued along the banks of the Taf Fechan Reservoir. On the left we saw the Merthyr Tydfil Sailing Club (Yes such a place does exist!) with its adjacent boat-park and at this point a deviation to the original railway alignment has been constructed to avoid the car park.

We journeyed on past Pontsticill station before reaching the terminus. The journey ends at the Northern end of the Reservoir and the locomotive runs round to the opposite end of the train for the return journey. It is not possible for passengers to alight at this temporary terminus. We could see that the track continues and next year the train will continue a further 1 1/2 miles to Torpantau, high in the Brecon Beacons. The company is, at present, constructing additional locomotives to cope with the severe gradients on this new section. When they open this new section, we will return.

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On the return the train stops at Pontsticill Station for twenty minutes, enough time for a picnic overlooking the reservoir and buy a cup of tea from the café built from some old railway wagons. Alfie had his picture taken with the guard. I so wanted to try on his hat but lost my nerve at the wrong time.

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We boarded the train and travelled the rest of the way back to Pant quietly reflecting on this marvellous little railway.

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Pant Station meant only one thing for Alfie, another chance to look at the model railway. We spent ages there. He was well and truly transfixed.

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The journey back to Cardiff was a long but happy one. Alfie didn’t or couldn’t sleep all the way back.

I reflected on the fact that in September, Alfie’s Adventures will change and become Alfie’s and Millie’s Adventures. His mum is changing her days in work and Alfie will visit us on a Tuesday, a day when he lady of the house is off work. I will miss these special days but hope including the lady of the house and Millie in our days will make them even more special. Trouble is the dear lady is not a pensioner so things might become a little more expensive.

Just think…

Alfie and Millie visit Cath Kidston

Alfie and Millie visit TK Maxx

Alfie and Millie’s Adventures in British Home Stores…

I think my little buddy and I need to start planning now.

Adventures with Alfie Day 24

This has been a wonderful week. Alfie has been staying with us for a few extra days as his mum had been called to work. On Monday Alfie had travelled to Bath with us and enjoyed breakfast in the Pump Rooms and a wonderful day looking at the sights of that great city. We went to Bath at the request of Richard and Kim, two friends of ours from Northern Ireland and the U.S.A. who were staying at our place.

On Tuesday Alfie and I had taken our two friends on a mini tour of the area, showing them Hebron Hall, Cosmeston Lakes, Penarth town centre and seafront – I am still mystified at what is going on there, the pier will look great when it is done but that building site where Rabaiotti’s used to be is a disgrace and an embarrassment.

Richard and Kim also wanted to see St Fagan’s and ‘The Fairy Castle’ otherwise known as Castell Coch. When Richard stayed with us we gave him a book all about Cardiff and Castell Coch had stood out for him as a place to visit. We were happy to take them. After Penarth we headed for Tongwynlais.

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Castell Coch was the beautiful fabled home of a very wealthy man. While resting on ancient foundations, Castell Coch, which means Red Castle in English is relatively modern, the by-product of a vivid Victorian imagination, assisted by untold wealth. The Middle Ages fascinated the Victorians as much as the Victorians fascinate us today. High Gothic was the order of the day.

The ‘eccentric genius’ William Burges was given free rein by his paymaster, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, to create a rural retreat to complement the opulence of his main residence, Cardiff Castle. He didn’t hold back. Dazzling ceilings, over-the-top furnishings and furniture were liberally applied.

Detailed architectural drawings still survive today and following Burges’s death in 1881, colleagues faithfully continued work on the interiors for another ten years. The castle was not suitable for, nor was it intended to be, a permanent residence and the family’s visits were infrequent.

When Alfie and I took Richard and Kim to Castell Coch it marked the end of probably a thirty-year gap since I had been before – what a waste, I had taken the place for granted all these years and I never realised before what a treasure it is. When we visited on Tuesday Alfie had been asleep so we had not gone in, but our friends had spent a couple of hours inside.

So we decided having not visited for over thirty years, we would make two visits in a week. It would be fun!

Alfie stayed overnight and the lady of the house had him bathed and dressed when I got up. He looked great. After breakfast, we took the lady of the house to work and then prepared for today’s adventure. On arrival home I had the usual ritual of unclipping Alfie’s harness in the car seat and then letting him play with it for five minutes. He is fascinated by straps and buckles. I sat and listened to Chris Evans.

We went inside.  Back in the house, as I was tidying up, Alfie noticed the back door open and made a bolt for it. In doing so he caught his foot on the dog basket and tripped and fell into the open door. He caught his head on the door and was sporting an egg shaped lump, almost as big as the free range ones I get from Janice and Tony for the rest of the day. I am still puzzled why Alfie was making a bolt for the door, as the current locking system is quite adequate.

After this we fed the fish, played in the garden and Alfie had great fun in the playhouse.

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After Aunt Bes got home and I helped her with some business, Alfie and I set out.

We travelled first to Thornhill Cemetery. On fathers’ day I noticed that my parents’ grave needed a Spring clean, so I had promised myself that as soon as I could, I would take my garden tools and spruce it up a bit. When we arrived Alfie had dozed off so I began work alone. It was a peaceful morning and in a strange way, dad and mum felt very close. They are not there I know, they are at home in heaven, but being there in the quietness and reading the words of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s poem “How do I love thee’, which is engraved on their headstone, caused me again to thank God for two such absolutely wonderful people I was able to call my parents. We are currently going through 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 in church, that great biblical piece on love and each week I think of them. We have learnt that… Love is patient, Love is kind, Love does not boast… and it reminds me of the house of love where I grew up and all those characteristics of love were regularly shown. My dad and mum both lived a life of love and I am committed to carrying that on with my own family. I smiled, wiped a single tear away from my cheek and got on with the job.

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I loved that time pulling up the weeds and grass – I felt like I was doing it for them. I wasn’t long into it when I heard the little fella, talking in the car. I got him out and he joined me kneeling by the graveside. He’s not into gardening much, so he was soon off exploring the other graves. He did find some of the other ones much more interesting than my dad and mum’s and played with the windmills and little ornaments that people had left on the graves. He was always totally respectful and just touched them and flicked the windmills to make them turn.

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I feel certain that the owners of the grave would only smile if they knew a cute little lad was fascinated by things put down to treasure their memories. There were many sad stories behind some of those graves, so many young people.

I got chatting to a couple of ladies who were tending the grave of a husband and dad. They had a car with a complete flower arranging set up in the back and the results were fantastic. I complemented them and thought of my mum’s old shop ‘Flower Trend”…  happy days!!

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We then moved on to tidy up the lady of the house’s dad’s grave, although as he was cremated he has a plaque with his name on.  He was a wonderfully kind and gentle man who was loved by all who knew him. I had the privilege of knowing him for only ten months but during that time I came to know and love him. He did a wonderful job of raising his children, but sadly he was taken from us too soon!

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Alfie was great here and helped me in cleaning the stone to bring it up to a standard, which honoured the great man.

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From here we moved on to Castell Coch for our visit. We drove up through the small village of Tongwynlais.

Tongwynlais is a small community village in the north of Cardiff. It is a quiet, friendly place with a population of around 2000. The village is very popular with cyclists as the Taff trail passes through.  If my Welsh lessons served me well Tongwynlais means ‘Sound of a white voice’. To the east of the village is Fforest Fawr, a beautiful Forest leading to Caerphilly Mountain. To the West you will find the river Taff, Forest Farm Country Park and the Glamorganshire Canal. I have always thought of Tongwynlais as being a bit rough but I am totally wrong, it’s  a pretty little village and a lively community.

During the summer months Tongwynlais has a beautiful display of hanging baskets, created by Tongwynlais Community Primary School and funded by Tongwynlais Community Council with help from local businesses who kindly contribute towards these and the Christmas lights in December. Each year the village is entered into the Cardiff In Bloom, Best Commercial Street competition.

We parked and made our way to the castle.

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I paid my entry fee (Seniors of course) and Alfie and I decided we would start our exploring in the teashop, as we were both hungry and thirsty. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch together before starting to explore the castle, which was full of winding staircases and grand rooms. Alfie loved climbing the stairs the best even thought they were steep, high and hard. Alfie is becoming a seasoned explorer and nothing was too hard for him to attempt.

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ImageWe loved looking at the grand rooms including a little chapel in one of the rooms in the top of one of the towers. Climbing downstairs was too much of a challenge for my young companion explorer and he ended to be carried in a safe pair of loving arms.

Having a look around the gift shop was, on reflection, not the best idea as Alfie decided to touch and grab almost every item on sale. We didn’t stay long in the gift shop.

As we left the castle, a wedding appeared and Alfie went off to explore the wedding car, a beautiful Rolls Royce.

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He started by checking the wheel nuts, much to the amusement of the bride and the chauffeur. He then chatted at length with the wedding party…  I am sure that little lad could charm his way into any and every situation. I am certain they were thinking about adding him to the guest list!

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As we made our way out to explore the grounds we met a man with a dog, who began showing off his training skills. Offering his dog a biscuit he said ‘Say please…’ He laughed when both Alfie and the dog raised a hand/paw into the air and signed ‘please’. Jokingly the man offered Alfie a biscuit and was amazed when Alfie fearlessly fed the dog, often with his hand half way down the dog’s throat. The dog’s owner was very impressed at Alfie’s love – and lack of fear – of dogs.

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We then attempted the early stages of the Fforest Fawr circular walk but must come back another day to complete it all. Alfie loved being at one with nature and explored every log and tree! I look forward to many other chances to get out into the wild!

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From here we had one last stop before heading home. It was Great Uncle John’s Birthday. Before today John was just Alfie’s Great Uncle. After our visit, he is now great Great Uncle John. The old fella was wonderful with Alfie and took him to explore the upper reaches of Newberry Towers, the Welsh equivalent of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and spent much time playing games and showing him how to throw the ball to Masie.  Both John and his good lady were so good with the little lad. He loved every single minute with them. It wasn’t long before Alfie had his hands down another dog’s throat, as he shared what was left of his crisps and sandwiches with the little dog and tried to retrieve the ball after Masie chased it on numerous occasions.

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Soon it was time to go home, so I carefully placed Alfie’s hair back over the egg shaped lump that was still on his forehead, so that his dad and mum wouldn’t notice and we made our way back down the A470. My little friend was totally exhausted and we barely reached the M4 before gentle snores coming from the back told me he was reliving his exciting day in Dreamland.

I glanced back at him and smiled, then I looked up and thanked God for such a cute little pal.

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.

Adventures with Alfie Day 22

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One of the main reasons for writing Adventures with Alfie is so that when he has grown up we can sit down together and read through them and he can learn about the wonderful place where he grew up and know that he had grandfather who loved sharing time with him and wanted him to know that he was loved more than words could ever say.

When he is older, he may not be living anywhere near Cardiff but wherever he is, he can sit with his own children and teach them about his heritage. This is part of my legacy for my dear grandson Alfie Jay!

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Alfie arrived at our place early on Thursday evening looking very much like Matilda’s dad – but only in looks – with a straw trilby perched on his head. He looked fantastic, really smart and ready to go adventuring, although he still had quite a while before we could see what this Friday brought.

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He was up bright and early and smiling the next day and the dear lady of the house assumed responsibility for his bath and preparation for the day. By the time came for her to go off to earn and honest shilling, we were all ready for another great day.

When I was putty Alfie in the car, one of the dear lady’s ‘girls’ sneaked into the car and hid under my seat. Time was tight so we left her there while I took the good lady to her place of employment. As I did so, Tilly, the quieter one of the Yappie and Scrappie double act crept out from under my seat and cuddled up to Alfie in his car seat. It looked very cute indeed, a little boy and a little dog, enjoying the trip as friends together.

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Tilly didn’t move all journey and Alfie loved having a new little travelling companion.

When we got home Alfie had time for a play before we left. He chose the little pink pushchair he had enjoyed the week before and had loads of fun. I half expected him to sit Tilly in the pushchair… I am sure the day will come…

We had planned the day in advance, breakfast down The Bay followed by the Cardiff Centenary Walk around the city. This was due to be part of Alfie’s legacy from me. Alfie is a boy who is Cardiff born and Cardiff bred.

We arrived in The Bay nice and early and found a car park in our usual spot near The Coal Exchange. We bought our ‘first hour free’ ticket and the paid for an additional six hours before making for Subway for our £2 breakfast of egg and bacon 6-inch sub and a cup of tea. Lovely stuff!!

When we got there the place was full of workmen all dressed in yellow hi-viz vests. I felt like we were on a cross between the set of Auf Weidersehen Pet and a gig practice for The Village People. All these workers were messing round and enjoying the tea break I presume! Usually the place is empty and Alfie and I have a quiet time together. Today was different.

As we left we were greeted by the shouts of the guy touting for rides around The Bay on his little boat. I saluted and called him captain. We had done that trip last time so we headed for the train. We had intended taking the train up to town; it’s a funny one-carriage shuttle that runs every twelve minutes connecting The Bay and the City Centre, but then I had the idea of taking Alfie on a Bendy Bus instead. That would be great fun…so we did. Alfie loved it… and so did I… and it was free!

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We got to town in no time and set about the Cardiff Centenary Walk, a gruelling 2.3 miles lay ahead. I was worried that travelling all that way might wear down the tyres of the Lady of the House’s still quite new pushchair. I had visions of her bringing out a tyre tred depth measurer when we got home. But it still had to be done. This was part of Alfie’s legacy from me and I hoped the Cardiff Centenary Walk would be a great way to explore the city centre on foot, and find out more about how Cardiff became the city it is today.

The Centenary Walk takes in some of Cardiff’s most celebrated and historic landmarks, as well as some well-kept secrets.

The walk began at The Old Library, just near Howells.

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This building opened in 1882 as a “Free Library, Museum and School of Arts”. The Welsh inscription high up on the south end of the building means, “He will not be wise who will not read”. Alfie…. take note!

As I looked back at the building from the next stopping point I noticed that the building isn’t quite symmetrical. Part of it was demolished to allow the road to be widened for traffic.

We walked through St John’s churchyard next and as you walk along the churchyard path you can see the brass numbers on the pavement, which mark family burial plots. I always thought this was spooky when I was a kid and we always jumped over them, thinking it was bad luck to step on a number.

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St John’s Church is where my dad and mum got married just after the war. This is the oldest church in the city centre and apart from parts of Cardiff Castle is said to be the oldest building in Cardiff still in constant use. It was founded at the end of the 12th century and rebuilt in the perpendicular style in the 15th century.

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After the 1607 floods, which destroyed the original parish church of St Mary’s, St John’s became the town’s principal church.

Inside you can see a memorial to Sir John Herbert, private Secretary to Elizabeth I and James I, and his brother Sir William Herbert, deputy lieutenant of Glamorgan and one of the leaders of gang warfare that dominated pre-Elizabethan Cardiff. The beautiful stained glass includes pieces by William Morris, Ford Maddox Brown and Edward Burne Jones.

From here we walked to Cardiff market.

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The Market was built by Solomon Andrews, a local entrepreneur, and became known as Solomon’s Temple. Ashton’s Fishmongers, just inside the entrance, was one of the original 349 traders when it opened in 1891 and it’s still my favourite even today. The market is partly on the site of the old County Jail and the gallows stood at the far end. This is where Dic Penderyn was publicly hanged on 13th August 1831 for his alleged part in the riots in Merthyr over working conditions.

The Market has a galleried hall with cast iron and glass roof and a decorated clock tower in the centre. Some of the stalls have their original cast iron numbers.

Next we walked down Church Street starting with the Owain Glyndwr pub. This is one of the oldest inn sites in Cardiff, first occupied in 1731. It was once called The Tennis Court, after the real tennis court that was behind it. High Street

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As we walked down Church Street, alongside the Old Arcade pub is an alleyway called the Old Arcade, which is one of Cardiff’s oldest arcades. The arcade and pub date from the construction of a market in 1835, which was replaced in 1891 by the present one.

On the right, the distinctive first floor windows of the white buildings at 3 and 4 Church Street date from 1829.

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The building was a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built on the site of the first Wesleyan meeting room in Cardiff. John Wesley would have preached here and records in his diary for 6th May 1743 “I preached at eleven in the new room which the Society has built in the heart of the town; and our souls were sweetly comforted together.”

At the end of Church Street Alfie and I came to the junction with St Mary Street and High Street, this was the most important part of the medieval town. On the left is St Mary Street, named after the principal church of medieval Cardiff. St Mary Street is an almost complete Victorian townscape, and the narrow frontages reflect the medieval burgage plots.

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The cream-coloured building on the corner of Church Street and St Mary Street was built for the Richards family. The house was originally called The Corner House and the building represents almost the last survivor of the 18th century town. It’s a Greggs Shop today. Alfie and I were tempted but we carried on, there was a long way to go!

ImageOn our right was High Street, the principal street of the medieval borough. From 1337 until the 1850s three successive guildhalls stood here until a new town hall opened in St Mary Street. The first floors of the guildhalls were used as a courtroom and a meeting place for the people running the town’s affairs, while the ground floor was used as a market.

Over the road we saw the NatWest Bank, which was built in 1880 for the National Provincial Bank. It has a fine Italianate façade with an arcaded ground floor and pedimented first floor windows.

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We crossed the road into Quay Street. Just here is a little café where my dad and mum would often enjoy faggots and peas together.

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This road got its name in the days when it led down to the town quay on the River Taff.

Half way down Quay Street we met Womanby Street The earliest known form of the name, from 1270, is Hundmanby – possibly meaning “the dwelling of the houndsman”.

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As we walked up the street a little way you can look through the archway on the right and see some old cottages. Jones Court was built in the 1830s as workers’ cottages and is now the last of the 50 or so 19th century housing courts in Cardiff. The houses had just two rooms and there was no water supply or drainage so they were perfect breeding grounds for disease. 396 Cardiffians died in a cholera outbreak in 1849.

ImageWe walked on and came out near the Angel Hotel. Rugby fans around the world know the Angel Hotel, because it’s so close to the home of Welsh rugby it became the traditional place to congregate before international matches.

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There have been several Angel Taverns on or near this site over the years. During World War One it became the USS Chattanooga when the US Navy took it over.

Next to the Angel Hotel, just across Westgate Street is the Millennium Stadium. Westgate Street runs along what was the course of the River Taff. The great 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was building his Great Western Railway westwards but the long curve of the river made a rail crossing difficult. So with the agreement of the Bute family, who owned the land, work began to divert the river in 1849 so that a short railway bridge could be built. That bridge still stands today.

This left a huge area of reclaimed land, which the 3rd Marquess of Bute allowed to be used for sport. The area was originally called the Great Park but became known as Cardiff Arms Park, after a nearby coaching inn.

The first organised sport here was cricket. Cardiff Football Club, later Cardiff Rugby Football Club, was formed in 1876 and held its first practice here. Tennis, hockey, bowls and even greyhound racing have taken place here.

The Millennium Stadium was built on the site of the former Cardiff Arms Park stadium in time to stage the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final, although the pitch was turned around by 45 degrees.

It is now one of the most famous stadia in the world. It is the home of Welsh rugby union and many of the national football team’s matches are played here too. Among the Stadium’s unusual features are a retractable roof, which takes about 20 minutes to open or close, and a removable pitch which means the Stadium can stage all sorts of other events, such as speedway, concerts and exhibitions, whatever the weather.

ImageOn the other end of Westgate Street you can see the stands of today’s Cardiff Arms Park stadium, which dates from 1967. Until then there was only one stadium here, which was shared by Cardiff Rugby Football Club and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). Today the smaller ground is the home of Cardiff RFC and the Cardiff Blues.

In the early 1930s the WRU built a new stand, possibly without consulting the 4th Marquess of Bute. It’s said that he was so angry that his view from the Castle to Penarth was blocked that he built the flats on Westgate Street in order to spoil the eastern aspect of the stadium.

The stand was bombed during World War Two but the stadium was rebuilt and the view to Penarth was gone for good.

Alfie and I then headed across the road towards the Castle. The wall opposite has got several hand-carved stone animals perched on it – not all indigenous to Cardiff!

The wall was designed by architect William Burges in 1866, though not built until 1890, and it was originally in front of the Castle. In 1925 the wall was moved to its present position when the road was widened.

At the end of the wall we could see the site of the West Gate of the old town wall. Owain Glyndwr, who led a famous Welsh revolt against the English Crown, broke through here with his troops to capture the Castle in 1404. The West Gate and the bridge over the moat were restored to their original design by the Marquess of Bute in 1921. Alfie let me know it was time for lunch so we went through the old West gate and into Bute Park for our lunch.

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We found a bench and Alfie and I enjoyed a great little picnic.

Countless people smiled at us as they walked by, Alfie has this wonderful way of engaging with people. I am sure the folk who passed by were just returning Alfie’s smiles.

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The bench we sat on was near the Waterbus stop, we could have caught Waterbus back to The Bay… that was tempting but we still had a lot of the Centenary Walk to complete.

We set off again after a charming little break and were soon passing The Castle Arcade. The six Victorian and Edwardian arcades are one of Cardiff’s most attractive and distinctive features. Castle Arcade was built around 1887 and if you go inside you can see a beautiful wooden gallery with a wooden second floor overhang and foot bridges.

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Next we came to the Castle and I looked down and noticed Alfie had dropped off to sleep. I would have to continue the walk on my own. It was a tough ask!

Cardiff Castle has a long history dating back to the Romans – below the red stones you can see the original Roman wall, which was discovered during building work in 1889.

The Normans built a Keep within the Roman site, which has also been associated with Owain Glyndwr and the Earl of Warwick. In the 19th century the architect William Burges restored the main Castle apartments for the 3rd Marquess of Bute.  The Castle grounds are a haven of tranquility in the city centre and the Norman Keep offers spectacular views of the city.

After the Castle we walked on to the City Hall in Cathays Park

This site of one of the most impressive civic centres in Britain. The origins of the name Cathays are not clear.

By the end of the 19th century Cardiff Corporation knew it needed land for new civic buildings. Councillor Peter Price said, “These could be arranged around a central park. If Lord Bute found it in his pleasure to sell this land for a moderate sum, we could make Cardiff one of the most beautiful towns in the country…”

There was a lot of controversy about the site the Corporation wanted, but it eventually bought Cathays Park from the Bute family for £161,000 in 1898 and plans for its development were drawn up. The Portland-stone buildings, parks and tree-lined avenues make the civic centre one of Cardiff’s most outstanding features and a world-ranking example of civic architecture.

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The City Hall was designed by architects Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards this is the flagship building of the civic centre. It cost £129,000 to build and was opened in 1906 following the granting of city status to Cardiff the previous year.

The clock tower rises 60 metres, and at the top of the dome is a Welsh dragon. The interior of this building is splendid with the imposing Marble Hall connecting the domed Council Chamber and ornate Assembly Rooms. The Hall houses marble statues of 11 heroes of Wales. As we got to the City hall we noticed little tent with two telescopes. Apparently there is a Peregrine Falcon’s nest with three chicks. A peregrine is the fastest bird in the world in flight! It was great to look through the telescope and see the nest high up near one of the four clock faces.

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I pushed on to the Law Courts.

The Law Courts were completed in 1904 at a cost of £96,000. The statue of Judge Gwilym Williams, “terror to malefactors”, is by Sir W Goscombe John (1860-1952), whose work can be seen across the city.

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There are obelisk-style lamp stands around the Law Courts building. They were really interesting listed structures with griffin and wyvern figureheads on ships’ prows, each bearing Cardiff’s coat of arms. They are believed to have been designed and built as part of the Law Courts’ development.

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The University of Wales Registry was next door.

This was the first building erected in Cathays Park, built in 1903/04. It became the administrative headquarters of the University of Wales when Cardiff Corporation offered the University a free site and peppercorn rent to secure the honour of being home to the University’s headquarters.

The style is Classical with Ionic columns at the entrance, circular windows on the upper floor, and beautifully detailed sleeping dragons by Sir W Goscombe John on the posts in front of the building.

Next door again was the Glamorganshire County Council building, which was created in 1888 and this building opened as its headquarters in 1912.

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There are two sculptured groups in front of the entrance representing Mining (Minerva with miners) and Navigation (represented by Neptune in a chariot), which were both so essential to building the economy of South Wales. Today the building is part of Cardiff University.

The next building up is the Bute Building.

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This building opened in 1916 as a Technical College, and is now part of Cardiff University. It’s in the form of a hollow rectangle, and the main façade is neo-Greek in style with a portico of Doric columns. The red dragon was installed in 1985.

The next building is The Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health, which opened in 1938. It was a gift from the great benefactor Lord David Davies of Llandinam to the Welsh people and dedicated to the memory of the loss of life in the First World War.

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It’s an abstract classical building with simple lines, built in a T- shape. Below the Temple is the Crypt, which houses the Welsh National Book of

Next I crossed the road and went into Alexandra Gardens.

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Alfie and I found the Falklands Memorial is set among six blue cedar trees, planted in memory of six Cardiff men killed in action in the 1982 Falklands Campaign.

At the centre of the Gardens is the National War Memorial, built to commemorate the men of Wales who lost their lives in the First World War. The Memorial is in the form of a sunken court containing a fountain, surrounded by a seat within a circle of Corinthian columns.

The three bronze figures of a soldier, sailor and an airman are raising wreaths towards the central figures of a winged Messenger of Victory.

The Welsh inscription on the outer frieze says “To the sons of Wales who gave their lives for their country in the war of 1914-18”. The other Welsh inscriptions are from the Welsh poets T Gwyn Jones and R Williams Parry and read “Over the sea he went to die”, “By the trench, resting” and “In the heavens hovering”.

My dad came here every year on Remembrance Sunday; I never once came with him, which I really regret now. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time!

Across the road is The University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which was formally opened in 1883 with 102 students enrolled, 15 of whom were women. In 1909 the College moved into this building, which was later extended. It is an imposing building, however some contemporary architects questioned its aesthetic quality.

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Today it’s the main building of Cardiff University.

Next we strolled down to The National Museum of Wales. Cardiff faced stiff competition from Aberystwyth, Swansea and Caernarfon to be the home of the National Museum of Wales. Cardiff offered this site, along with financial support, and in June 1905 the National Museum of Wales was awarded to Cardiff (the National Library went to Aberystwyth).

King George V laid the foundation stone in 1912 and after delays caused by the First World War, the same King finally opened the Museum in 1927. Extensions to the eastern side of the building were opened in 1932.

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The building was very well received, particularly the impressive entrance with its Doric style and massive bronze doors.

The building houses one of the world’s most exquisite collections of Impressionist art, as well as natural science galleries.

Opposite the Museum steps is a statue of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, by Rizzello. It was erected in 1960 as a memorial to one of the greatest international statesmen to come from Wales.

Now we headed into Gorsedd Gardens. The circle of stones is the Gorsedd circle, which had been erected elsewhere to proclaim the 1899 National Eisteddfod and moved here in 1905.

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The Gorsedd of Bards is an association whose members have made a distinguished contribution to the Welsh nation, language and culture. Members include opera singer Bryn Terfel and stars from the world of sport, pop, the arts and politics. During the annual National Eisteddfod the Gorsedd conducts ceremonies to honour literary achievements amongst Welsh poets and prose writers.

Opposite the Gardens is one of the most important 19th century townhouses in Wales, which revolutionised Cardiff’s domestic architecture.

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Park House was designed in French Gothic style by William Burges and built in the 1870s for John McConnochie, engineer of Cardiff’s docks. Burges’ influence can be seen across the city, from the Castle through to residential properties in the suburbs.

We were on our way to the New Theatre now and my legs were getting tired. My breakfast sub seemed a long way away!!

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This traditional Edwardian theatre by Runtz & Ford opened in 1906, with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and His Majesty’s Theatre Company performing Twelfth Night. The theatre is rumoured to have a friendly ghost known as The Grey Lady.

ImageNearby is the Park Hotel, now part of a hotel chain. It was built in 1885 in a French Renaissance style and was the brainchild of shop owner James Howell, who insisted that commercial travellers who wanted to do business with him had to stay in the Park. The original complex also included two public halls, a coffee house and ten shops.

After this we went down Charles Street, at the side of Marks and Spencer. Charles Street was built from the 1850s onwards and was one of the most fashionable streets in Cardiff.

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Here we found a cathedral. In the 19th century the number of Catholics increased dramatically with the influx of Irish immigrants who came to work in the docks and in 1888 St David’s Cathedral opened as Cardiff’s main Catholic church.

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It was built by the architectural firm of Pugin and Pugin in rock faced pennant sandstone dressed with red sandstone, and became a cathedral in 1916.

The Cathedral was bombed during the Second World War but following extensive restoration it re-opened in 1959.

The building opposite was Ebenezer Chapel, which opened in 1855 and from1976to2011was a Welsh language chapel. The multicoloured stonework is a mix of stone from all over the world, brought back as ballast by ships returning to Cardiff. The architect, RG Thomas, is said to have written to every head of state in the world requesting a stone to place in the façade.

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His idea was to have a stone representing every nation as a symbol of God’s universal power. That’s a pretty cool story!

 

After looking at the chapel we cut through to The Hayes.

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The building on the right hand corner opposite the statue, used to be the Fish Market. It opened in 1901 and sold fish brought in to Cardiff by the Neale and West fishing fleet.

Between 1936 and 1937 it was converted into Electricity Showrooms and Offices. Cardiff has had an electric supply since 1894, and was one of the first municipalities to adopt electric street lighting.

The interior of the building, particularly on the top floor, still has many original features.

Outside was a statue, which always has something, happening to it, whether it be seagulls or traffic cones!. John Batchelor was a radical reformer who was Mayor of Cardiff in 1853. His achievements included a new drainage and sewerage system, which helped combat the frequent cholera outbreaks.

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The building opposite was the David Morgan department store. David Morgan was born in Brecon, some 50 miles north of Cardiff, and opened his landmark store in 1879. He believed in no bargaining, no discounts and no sales and over the next 125 years the store gained a reputation for good value for money and quality products with exemplary customer service. The store remained in the hands of the direct descendants of David Morgan until it closed in early 2005.

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The mum of the lady of the house loved to go to David Morgan’s for lunch every single time she was in Cardiff. It was a special place!

We strolled on reflecting on many hours and pounds spent in that great shop. We soon reached Tabernacle Chapel

DSC04091This is a Welsh language chapel, where Welsh Baptists have met since 1821. It was rebuilt in 1865 with a classical façade. The great one-eyed preacher Christmas Evans was based here 1828-32.

The first television programme broadcast entirely in Welsh, a religious service, was transmitted from here on St David’s Day in 1953.

The shop next door but one was Spillers Records. Founded in 1894, it specialised in phonographs, wax phonograph cylinders and shellac phonograph discs. Spillers is now in the Morgan Arcade and claims to be the oldest record shop in the world.

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We then strolled down Caroline Street, passed The Old Brewery. When I was younger the smell of hops was strong all across this end of town

Ale has been brewed in Cardiff for centuries. In 1340 two tasters were appointed, whose jobs were to keep a check on the price of ale and test its quality. In 1855 there were seven breweries in the centre of Cardiff. The Brains brewery was the last of these.

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Brains beer is one of Cardiff’s great traditions. Samuel Arthur (SA) Brain founded the company in 1882 and bought this site, now called The Old Brewery, with his uncle. The company has remained in the family ever since.

Beer was brewed here from 1713, taking advantage of the natural well, right up until 1999. Today Brains is brewed on a site just south of the city centre.

Near The Old Brewery is a REAL Cardiff traditions which sadly is not in the Cardiff Centenary Walk but jolly well should be….

DSC04097Both these places are Cardiff Legends and I frequently visited them when I was younger!

We turned right into St Mary Street and passed The Royal Arcade and on the opposite corner, The Royal Hotel.

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The Royal Arcade is the oldest of Cardiff’s shopping arcades, dating from 1858.

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Alfie slept on!

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Over the road from the arcade is the Royal Hotel. This is where Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party of explorers dined on the eve of their departure from Cardiff in June 1910, on their ill-fated expedition to be first to reach the South Pole. The party reached the Pole in January 1912 only to discover that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them by a month. Scott and the four colleagues who made the final push to the Pole died on the journey back to their ship. It’s thought that the tower of the hotel was once the tallest habitable building in Cardiff.

Next stop was The Morgan Arcade!

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This is the best preserved of Cardiff’s Victorian arcades, built in 1896. It’s worth going in to see the first floor Venetian windows and the original slender wooden shop fronts. It was so impressive to look up the arcade from St Mary Street!

We were soon outside The House of Fraser store but to all real Cardiff people it will always be Howells!!

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This building was built for James Howell, a draper who moved his business here in 1867. Until 1843 part of the site had been used as barracks. The store incorporates the Bethany Baptist Chapel, which dates from 1865 and was sold to Howell’s store in 1964. You can see what’s left of the façade in the menswear department. A bronze plaque on the chapel façade commemorates Rawlings White who was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1555.

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In January 1943, during World War Two, a section of Howell’s store was commandeered to ensure that production of parachutes and barrage balloons was not interrupted after a serious fire destroyed the main manufacturing centre in Cardiff docks.

We strolled up Wharton Street and reached The Hayes.

The name Hayes is probably derived from the ancient word for land enclosed by a hedge. Local people were granted areas of land called burgages – sometimes known as heys – in medieval times and there were still vegetable gardens here until the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century the area had became a fashionable shopping area. The Hayes Island Snack Bar, a famous Cardiff landmark, was built in 1911 as the Tramway Parcel Express Office. It was the scene of the notorious Seagull/bacon roll incident, which will remain in my mind forever!!

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I sat down here to rest my weary feet, the walk completed. Alfie now decided to wake up! After a short break we made for the Bendy Bus and the trip back to our car!

On the way back home we stopped off at Pets at Home, we had one more job to do… buy some goldfish for the pond at home. The terrapins have woken up from hibernation and the pond needs to be got ready for the summer!

Alfie loved the pets and chose three shubunkins, which we took home and after letting the fish get used to the temperature, we let them go. It was great fun.

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When Alfie’s dad came, he left happily after a great days adventuring.

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Adventures with Alfie Day 21

Alfie arrived early this morning looking bleary eyed and tired. He had been awake in the night, and it showed. As usual, the lady of the house made a big fuss and kindly offered to get the little lad ready for the day in exchange for a lift to work. Seemed like a good deal to me. He looked very dapper today, after she had finished. When we got to the good lady’s workplace he was duly whipped away, to be shown off to her colleagues. He came back in good time and we set off for home through the busy school traffic.

When we got back, Alfie showed off his feminine side and played with a little pink pushchair for a while, taking a little rag doll in and out at regular intervals. When I looked up from the newspaper after a while, Alfie was standing there with his dummy in his mouth and his little comfort blanket gripped in his hand. I was torn between reading the latest articles about the ongoing saga at Manchester United – I am still overcome with grief with the impending retirement of AF – and giving my grandson and little friend a cuddle. Alfie won hands down and he snuggled in under the blanket on the settee. I was considering watching Jeremy Kyle; it’s been a while since I have sat mouth open at the antics of some of his guests, but just as Alfie’s breathing was getting heavy, the phone rang and disturbed him big time! He had another little play and then gave me a look, which said, “Get me into the cot quick!” which I did, and he slept for quite a while. It meant our Adventures would start later than usual.

While thinking of where to explore I had come across the following advertisement on Google…

Greenmeadow Community Farm

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Greenmeadow Community Farm has been a working farm for over 250 years. Set in over 120 acres, we have a wide range of pedigree and rare animals, which you can come and meet up close.

Nestled in the heart of Cwmbran, this is truly a Community Farm in every sense of the word, working closely with and serving the local community and welcoming visitors from far and wide.

We have a cosy farmhouse cafe offering kids’ favourites and a selection of homemade specials. We aim to use as much local produce as we can, supporting local farmers, growers and suppliers. We are planning to develop the Farm’s kitchen garden so that we can supply the cafe with fruit and vegetables grown on site. The tea, coffee and sugar we serve is Fair-trade.

The farm shop is full of tractors and animals to take home after your visit to the Farm. There really is something for everyone. We are forging relationships with local craftspeople and hoping to offer more locally made farm-related items in the shop.

Opening Hours

From 1st February to 23rd December Greenmeadow Community Farm is open 7 days a week, whatever the weather

SUMMER 10.00am – 6.00pm (Last admission at 5pm)

From Saturday 23rd March to October 2013

WINTER 10.30 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. November – March

The Farm is closed from Christmas Eve until 31st January inclusive.

Admission Costs

We operate a seasonal charging policy for admission to the Farm.  Admission prices are as follows:

Daily Summer (£)

Daily Winter (£)

Yearly Pass (£)

April – October

November – March

Concession/Child (age 2+)

£4.20

£3.60

£14.50

Adult

£5.20

£4.60

£18.50

Family (2 adults + 3 children)

£18.80

£16.40

£65.50

Free for Under 2’s.

Admission includes tractor/trailer rides.

It was the last bit that caught my eyes… as well as little pink pushchairs, Alfie LOVES big tractors. His favourite toy in the nursery is a green tractor, which he loves to play with every week…and he is eligible for free admission.

Greenmeadow Community Farm it is then.

When Alfie was up and about we set off. I had loaded the car with all that was needed while he was resting and building up his energy reserves ready for a big day of adventuring!

We headed up the Ely Link Road and down the M4 before leaving at Junction 26 and heading for Cwmbran and the farm. Cwmbran is a new town in Wales. Today it forms part of the county borough of Torfaen and lies within the historic boundaries of Monmouthshire. Cwmbran was established in 1949. On old maps Cwmbran is a farm. The farm lies on the edge of the town. As we drew close we both got very excited.

Greenmeadow was ‘rescued’ over 25 years ago by a group of local people. When the previous owner died and the house and farm became empty, they decided to buy the Farm and turn it into a Community Farm to ensure that it would remain a green space for the town and to provide a service to the local people and visitors alike. It is now a local treasure and the people of Cwmbran are very proud of it.

The actual farmhouse dates back to 1752 and is built from local Welsh stone with a traditional Welsh slate roof. The date stone above the fireplace in the café is original and proudly states the initials of the people who first lived here – Edward & Anne Jones. The letter I is shown instead of a J, as before 1800 Jones was spelt Iones.

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 The farmhouse has had a number of different owners since then. At one point the Adit Colliery, a local coal-mining colliery, owned it. Because of the colliery’s importance to the area, the farmhouse was the first house and for many years the only house in the area to have electricity.

The layout of the farmhouse has also changed over time. The area that is now the farm shop was originally a traditional farmhouse kitchen and scullery. The storage and repair of the Farm’s tractors as well as the stabling of its horses took place where the current kitchen stands and the small dairy herd was milked in the area that is now used as a hand washing facility for our visitors.

The farmhouse retains many of its original features including the beams, which can be seen in the café. There are several meat hooks hanging from the beams, which would have traditionally been used to hang salted meat as a method of preservation prior to the invention of fridges and freezers.

We parked the car and made our way to the entrance. I was charged £4.20, which did not match any price I had seen, but I was happy and we headed in.

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We went to the building housing small animals first. Alfie was so excited. It contained rabbits, guineu pigs, mice, rats, some massive tortoises and a load of new born chicks, he was running around and around the cages trying to take it all in. I think he like the large brown rat the best, probably my least favourite animal of all!

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From here we headed down towards the bigger animals. Alfie is walking everywhere now and it’s much more fun for him and me. A sign told us that the tractor ride was at two o’clock.

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We had about an hour to see the larger animals and have lunch before the big event! We passed several pens with rabbits and pigs before coming to a barn full of pigs, goats, chickens and cows – two big Friesians.

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Alfie loved them all. When we passed a pen containing a massive Middle white pig. As we passed I am sure I heard Alfie saying ‘Nanna!’

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I stepped back to look again and noticed the resemblance was striking. The pig looked like it had run into a brick wall and squashed its face. I smiled and walked on. We had a great time here, but soon it was time to go and have lunch, so it meant a walk back up to the café near the entrance.

When we got there, the thought of a sausage sandwich or a tasty bacon roll somehow did not seem so attractive. I wondered where they got the pork from and decided to give it a miss. Alfie didn’t seem to care much so I ordered him a child’s meal of some home cooked ham and some chips. He loved it!

We left the café just before two and headed down to the barn again where the tractor was waiting to take us on a ride.

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The tractor was massive and we had to sit behind in a big green trailer. Luckily the front seat was free so we made for it. Alfie was beside himself with excitement and all the way around on the ride he was shouting and pointing. It was an incredible experience for him…and me. We had a tour of the farm, looking at some rare breeds of sheep and some beautiful little ShetlandPonies.

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On the way out and on the way back we passed under a corrugated tunnel, which was great fun.

After the trip was over we made our way slowly back to the car. It was good to stroll about with the little man.

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Whilst driving back I realised we had to pass by the school where Alfie’s mum works. This would be a good end to the day. I made a quick phone call and turned off the M4 one junction before the usual one and it brought us to the school.

Alfie was so delighted to see his mum.

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ImageI travelled home alone and missed the little smiling face in my mirror, but smiled myself when I thought about the great day we’d had.

Thanks Alfie… another good one buddy!

Adventures with Alfie Day 20

The Village People sing a song called Go West, but for Alfie and me to enjoy today’s adventures it was definitely a case of Go East!

Our adventures would take us to Roath Park today, but there was an important job I had to do first. It is something I had been meaning to do all winter but today seemed an appropriate time.

I wanted to visit St Edeyrn’s Church in old Llanedeyrn Village.

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The name “Llanedeyrn” is not a modern name. It is believed to be derived from the name of a sixth century monk and Celtic saint named St. Edeyrn. During the sixth century, St. Edeyrn and a fellow monk, St. Isan, were given the task of spreading the faith and establishing places of worship. The first location chosen by the two monks was Llanishen, the place where I grew up! This area commemorates the first of the two monks St. Isan (Llan + Isan) and the other St. Edeyrn (the word “Llan” means settlement or place of worship in the Welsh language).

St. Edeyrn was reputed to have travelled widely and as a result there are churches in North and South Wales dedicated to his memory. St. Edeyrn gathered together a community of about 300 that lived and worshipped in the Llanedeyrn area. The original Norman style church dating back to 1123 exists only as stonework remnants beneath restoration work completed in 1888, the church today is a simple structure featuring a tower and five bells, adjacent to this church is a 15th century public house called the Unicorn. Curiously it is painted white!

I love the old church and visited its grounds fairly frequently when I was teaching in Pentwyn. Today though, Alfie and I came to show our respects to two ex pupils of mine who have been buried within the peaceful grounds of this lovely old church.

Sam Hully was taken from us last December after suffering with motor neurone disease; he was incredibly young at 30 to have such a devastating illness and he was incredibly brave till the end. His parents do what I do with Alfie with their granddaughter. We used to have a teacher/parent relationship, but now we have become friends and it’s a friendship I am beginning to treasure.

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Alfie and I found Sam’s grave near the gate to the churchyard. We had brought some flowers to put down on the grave – red to match the new City kit. Sam was the number one City fan. I found the whole thing very moving indeed. I have such fond memories of Sam, he was such a lovely boy!

Alice Brookes did not live long enough to be in Glyncoed Juniors and therefore be a pupil of mine. She died when she was still in our Infants School. I taught her sister at the time and saw the deep sorrow her passing caused. Alice was just six years of age.

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Alfie played with the windmills, which decorated Alice’s grave.  It was a poignant few minutes. I am sure Alice smiled down on him as he was doing it.

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The anniversary of her passing was in April and messages and flowers from family and friends were a powerful reminder of how much that little girl was loved and how much she is missed.

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Alfie and I sat quietly in the spring sunshine; my little friend had no idea what thoughts were going through my mind.

It was soon time to leave and as we came out of the church, we passed two ladies holding a beautiful plant, off to remember a dear one they too had lost.

Alfie and I had plans to visit Roath Park, a place where I enjoyed many happy hours when I was growing up.

Roath Park is one of Cardiff’s most popular parks, owned by the City of Cardiff and managed by the Parks Section. It retains a classic Victorian atmosphere and has many good facilities – it’s a really classy place!. The park has recently been awarded the prestigious Green Flag Award recognizing its high quality and its importance to Cardiff. Roath Park has widely diverse environments across the park.

The park was built on 130 acres of reformed bog land known then as a malarial bog, and includes a 30-acre lake. It is 1.3 miles around and was formed by the damming of the Nant Fawr stream. It is a popular facility for fishing and rowing. There are four islands within a conservation area, home to many water birds.

The Park occupies a long strip of land stretching from Cyncoed in the north to Roath towards the southeast. The park is divided into several parts along the Roath Brook, Nant Fawr. From north to south; The Wild Gardens, Roath Park Lake, Botanical Gardens, Rose Gardens, Pleasure Gardens, Roath Park Recreation Ground, Roath Brook Gardens, Roath Mill Gardens and Waterloo Gardens. It’s an incredible place.

The Marquis of Bute to the city donated the land for Roath Park in 1887. The park was officially opened to the public in 1894. Work initially focused on creating the lake from an area of marshland. In 1915 a lighthouse was constructed in the lake containing a scale model of the Terra Nova ship to commemorate Captain Scott’s ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic, which started out from Cardiff in 1910.

We parked the car in Lake Road West, loaded the pushchair with Alfie’s bag and lunchbox and most importantly, a bag of stale bread to feed the ducks and swans.

We had decided on a clockwise tour of the lake, which would mean a 1.3 mile walk for me and a 1.3 mile ride for Alfie. We fed some ducks and swans straight away and Alfie was totally fascinated by them, he giggled and laughed and pointed and shouted. The swans were brave enough to come and take the food from our hands. It was fun!

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I chuckled when I looked around and saw Alfie tucking into the bread and realised it was getting around lunchtime.

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As I looked I am sure I saw two swans complaining  to each other that this kid was eating their bread!!

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We strolled on and noticed a poster informing us that there were a number of Common Coots in the are around the lake. Then we happened to see one, she was chewing gum, had  fag under one wing and was wearing a skirt that was much too short. We also saw another coot sitting on her nest. We marvelled at her construction skills. We took a picture but didn’t get too close. Egg hatching is a serious business.

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A little further on we reached hallowed ground. I noticed a Willow Tree hanging out over the water of the lake. Spring was bringing a brighter shade of green to the leaves and my mind took me back 39 years to 1974 when one Sunday evening, I made probably the most important decision of my life and decided to ask the lady of the house if she would consider becoming my wife.

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After a lengthy one second to think about it she said yes… and the rest is history. I am so grateful that I have such a remarkable lady standing beside me, loving me and caring for me. She is a wonderful wife and an incredible grandmother to Alfie, Mia and Millie.

We strolled on to the top of the lake where there are some islands. I used to dream of adventures on those islands when I was small. I think they are used as bird sanctuaries these days, allowing the birds to nest in peace.

At the far end of the lake is something called The Wild Gardens. It’s a name I remember my mum using and I always expected to see herds of wildebeest roaming around. In truth it’s an untouched peace of land, which just grows naturally.

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The Wild Gardens was to be a second lake in the very first plans for the Park. That idea was abandoned on the grounds of expense.

In June 1894 when the Park opened, this area had not been developed. Shortly after, in September 1894, a public shelter was built, and this was followed in 1896 by the creation of footpaths and two bridges over the brook. Apart from these additions the Wild Gardens retained much of its original state with indigenous trees, plants and wild flowers. The formal opening was on 27th May 1896, and a report of the ceremony referred to unlocking the gate.

Alfie and I strolled slowly through enjoying the warm Spring weather, the peace and each other’s company. The birds sang noisily.

We walked back down the east side of the lake, pausing often to watch the birds.

We passed two nesting swans; they mate for life…a bit like me and the lady of the house!

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I showed Alfie where the changing huts used to be when people were allowed to swim in the lake.

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The lake has a long and interesting history. The dam, which holds the water back, is now called the promenade and this is where there is a lighthouse, built to commemorate the unsuccessful bid by Robert Falcon Scott and his team to be first to reach the South Pole. It’s a remarkable story of courage and endurance. When I was in school I read the incident in which Captain Oats, realizing he was holding the others up with his frostbite and health problems, bravely walked out one night, whispering the immortal words… ‘I’m going out and I may be some time!’

He was so brave!

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Alfie loved the lighthouse.

Further on we passed the bridge over a small weir, which controls the height of the water level in the lake, and I showed Alfie where I played Pooh Sticks every single time we visited the park when we were kids.

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Pooh sticks is a game Winnie the Pooh and friends play together on a warm and sunny day.

A brief history of Pooh Sticks is below…

One day, when Pooh bear was just walking along the bridge with a fir cone in his paw, in his own world, not looking where he was going (probably thinking about honey), he tripped over something. This made the fir-cone jerk out of his paw into the river.

“Bother”, said Pooh, as it floated slowly under the bridge. So Pooh went to get another fir cone, but then thought that he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day. So, he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped slowly away beneath him, and suddenly, there was his fir-cone slipping away too. ‘That’s funny,’ said Pooh. ‘I dropped it on the other side,’ said Pooh, ‘and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?’

And he went back for some more fir-cones. It did. It kept on doing it. Then he dropped two in at once, and leant over the bridge to see which of them would come out first; and one of them did; but as they were both the same size, he didn’t know if it was the one, which he wanted to win, or the other one. So the next time he dropped one big one and one little one, and the big one came out first, which was what he had said it would do, and the little one came out last, which was what he had said it would do, so he had won twice … and then he went home for tea.

And that was the beginning of the game called Pooh Sticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest. But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.’

‘The official Pooh Corner Rules for Playing Pooh Sticks’ was written in 1996 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the publication of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’.

1.First, you each select a stick and show it to your fellow competitors. You must agree which stick is which – or whose, as it were.

2.Check which way the stream is flowing. Competitors need to face the stream on the side where it runs in, under the bridge (upstream). Note: If the stream runs out, from under the bridge you are standing on the wrong side! (downstream).

3.Choose someone to be a Starter. This can be either the oldest or the youngest competitor.

4.All the competitors stand side-by-side facing upstream.

5.Each competitor holds his or her stick at arms length over the stream. The tall competitors should lower their arms to bring all the sticks to the same height over the stream as the shortest competitor’s stick.

6.The starter calls, ‘Ready – Steady – Go!” and all the competitors drop their sticks. Note: the stick must not be thrown into the water.

7.At this point in the game all the players must cross to the downstream side of the bridge. Please take care – young players like to race across. Remember, other people use bridges and some of them have vehicles or horses.

8.Look over the edge of the bridge for the sticks to emerge. The owner of the first Stick to float from under the bridge is the winner.

Remember: Falling into the water is SAD (Silly And Daft)!

I am looking forward to playing Pooh Sticks with Alfie, Princess Mia and Angel Millie when they are older.

We then passed a new memorial to Robert Scott, which I enjoyed but Alfie was not so interested.

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We walked on to the café where I ordered lunch but then withdrew the order, as they did not accept debit cards, so I went hungry and I just took Alfie for his lunch, which I had prepared at home. The café was called The Terra Nova, the name of Scott’s ship; it was a nice place with views over the lake.

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We had a good time.

As we strolled back to the car, we passed the place where we used to ride on the paddle boats, they were marvellous things with two handles which you had to turn to propel you along, I would love a go now, but they have long gone.

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Alfie dropped off to sleep as soon as he was back in the car and I am sure he had his hands outstretched in his sleep as if he was dreaming of Pooh Sticks.

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I still love Roath Park and now Alfie does as well.  Happy days!

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Adventures with Alfie – meeting Cardiff City.

Alfie’s mum was called into school today and his Nana Jean who normally looks after him on a Wednesday is poorly, so The Adventures with Alfie Team was called into action. The request for childcare came with an odd request from Alfie’s dad. I was asked if I could take Alfie to the Cardiff City Training Complex at the Vale Hotel in The Vale of Glamorgan to collect some Cardiff City autographs. He provided me with a kid’s size shirt in red and a picture, which looked like a pull-out from a cheap magazine, of Malky’s Maestros.

It was a challenge, but life is all about challenges and tackling them as best as one can.

I had no fears. I have been collecting football autographs since Adam was a boy. I had thousands of City autographs from when City were a great team in the Cardiff City 1 v 0 Real Madrid days. I have also spent hours outside Old Trafford with my boy (age 34) trying for a Ryan Giggs or Wayne Rooney!

Alfie was dropped off just after eight in his pyjamas – seemed like I had to do the full works. I coped well and at 9.30 a.m. we were fit and ready to go.

It was a beautiful day and the drive up to the Vale hotel via the Ely Link Road and the M4 was pleasant. When we arrived I didn’t have a clue where to go so I pulled into the cark park next to the building with a massive Cardiff City badge on it… seemed a good bet this was it.

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The BMWs and the Audis and the Porches next to my aging Ford Focus gave me that idea I was in the right place.

We got out and strolled around. There was this guy with a strong valleys accent holding a red football shirt. I guess he was doing the same thing. We chatted and before long the team started to come out and jog to the training pitch. I got as many autographs as I could and a few pictures too.

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I would like to have made them stand in a line so I could get them all, but this was not possible. I had a few funny looks from some of the players – an old geeky looking guy with a kid in a pushchair asking for autographs and photographs, but I must say most were really pleasant, especially Alfie’s favourite player, the home grown star Craig Bellamy, who lifted Alfie out of the pushchair for a ‘proper photo’.

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Once all the players had passed by I had one more to get and when I asked this guy wearing a ‘City’ top he laughed and told me he was just cutting the grass in the hotel… silly me. I still don’t recognise all the modern players but ask me about the proper City team with Bob Wilson, Gary Bell, Dave Carver, Ronnie Bird, Mel Sutton, Alan Warboys etc. and I would never have made that mistake!

My valleys butty and I then strolled down to watch them train. It was a warm spring day and we had a good time. For a while we watched the team being put through their paces.

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Malky the manager drove up and started talking to a few odd bods before being interviewed by some newsy looking chaps. Then he strolled up and started talking to us. He signed Alfie’s shirt and picture before jetting off to plot the downfall of next year’s premier league teams. I thanked him for getting into the Premier League. I started watching City in the early sixties, just after they had been relegated from the old Division One. It’s been a long wait – about fifty years – so the handshake I gave him was well deserved.

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As training drew to a close I managed to get a few more autographs before returning Alfie to our home and a fun filled afternoon with Aunt Bes.I hope Alfie’s dad is pleased with us.

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Happy days!

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Dedicated to Sam Hully…my old pupil and friend….

Adventures with Alfie Day 19

Alfie was up very early today and when I crawled wearily downstairs just after 7.15 a.m., he was dressed and smiling ready for a great day. I had arranged for a Tesco food delivery between eight and ten o’clock so any idea we had of going out adventuring nice and early were reliant upon how close to 8.00 a.m. they would come. Alfie and I were hoping that it would be earlier rather than later…if they came at 8.01 a.m. that would help…and as they are Tesco…Every Little Helps…

The lady of the house had been asked to walk to work so that the arrival of the Tesco delivery would not be missed. She obliged and walked as she usually did; she is continuing in her efforts to reduce her rather large and bulky frame in readiness for going on the beach in her bikini in the summer. Now, of course, she has the added incentive of a wedding in the family in 2014. Shares in Slimming World will no doubt rocket over the next eighteen months!

While waiting, Alfie and I had a great time playing together. Alfie did a spot of hoovering, knowing I am sure, how much I love having a clean home.

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We played lots of games together and had great fun, but the best game of all was a new game Alfie invented after I changed the batteries in his mini dyson. We called it 101 Things to do with 4 dead batteries. That was real fun. I think we got to 64!!

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Annoyingly, Tesco did not come until just before ten, which meant we were cutting it fine to make breakfast down the Bay. We were both ready, so when the stuff was away in the cupboards, we were in the car and off. Cardiff Bay was our first stop; it was a bright sunny morning, although a north- west wind did make it feel rather chilly.

Cardiff Bay used to be called Tiger Bay for many years. Tiger Bay was the local name the area of Cardiff, which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. It was re-branded as Cardiff Bay following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers Ely and Taff to create a huge freshwater lake.

As Cardiff’s coal exports grew in the nineteenth century, so did its population.  Dockworkers and sailors from across the world settled in neighbourhoods close to the docks, known as Tiger Bay. The name Tiger Bay was the nickname sailors gave it due to the fierce currents around the local tidal stretches of the River Severn, as they sailed into Cardiff Docks.

Migrant communities from up to 45 different nationalities helped create the unique multicultural character of the area, long before Tony Blair had the idea.

Tiger Bay had a reputation for being a tough and dangerous area. Merchant seamen arrived in Cardiff from all over the world, only staying for as long as it took to discharge and reload their ships. Consequently the area became the red-light district of Cardiff, and many murders and lesser crimes went unsolved and unpunished, the perpetrators having sailed for other ports. However, locals who lived and stayed in the area describe a far friendlier place, with a strong community spirit and sense of belonging. My mum grew up in Tiger Bay, in a fish and chip shop in Sophia Street, right at the very heart of things. The fish and chips she served were known all over the world, as sailors returned home and spoke of their time in Cardiff.

I managed to find a parking space right outside the world famous Coal Exchange Building, where the world’s first one million pound cheque was used. It has lost some of its former glory now but still has an air of grandeur.

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I noticed Alfie had fallen asleep just after we left home, that early morning was catching up with him and he didn’t even wake when I parked and transferred him to the pushchair, it would be a quiet start to todays’ adventures.

I made Subway just in time to get the £2 breakfast deal. Oats and honey roll with egg and bacon with a cup of coffee… gotta be right!

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I ate it alone but appreciated being out in the Bay. It was not busy and the wind was colder than I imagined, but it was still a great place to be. I checked my mail and my Facebook page and my little friend who was sleeping soundly by my side.

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After breakfast I strolled around the Bay for a while, loving every second. We passed a boat owner shouting out a message trying to draw customers to a twenty-minute boat ride around the harbour. He must have seen me coming because he started shouting that OAPs were welcome and buggies could be brought safely on board and kids were free. I quite fancied it but Alfie was asleep… or at least I thought he was but when I looked he was smiling and pointing to the man, I took it as a sign and we made our way down to the boat, both smiling now. The owner had a ships captain’s hat and the gift of the gab for sure. We got on and Alfie sat next to me in the rear of the boat.

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We made use of the blankets to keep us warm and we set off. We were ordered to call him Captain, even though his boat was small and reminded me of the African Queen in the old Humphrey Bogart film. It had a funnel up through the middle and vibrated rather a lot. Alfie loved it.

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We sailed out into the Bay passing quite close to The St David’s Spa and Hotel in case  “the rich people throw some money out of the windows” … but not a single penny came our way.

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The captain gave a running commentary as we sailed. He reminded me of an old wag who took us on a tour of the coast near Cannes in the south of France. That guy claimed he knew Joan Collins and when he tooted his horn; a window of a house on the shore opened and a hand waved a handkerchief, supposedly the hand of the aforesaid lady. We still smile when we think how good it must be to know someone famous!

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We were shown the new Dr Who Exhibition and the lock gate through which Captain Scott left to go to the South Pole.

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Looking back at Cardiff, the sun shone onto the Millennium Centre making it all look stunning. Cardiff is a great place to live; especially now we have a Premier League team here!

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We also passed The Sennedd and the Norwegian Church and the captain was rattling on about Roald Dahl and how he was christened there.

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We got off the boat and strolled lazily back to the car and headed for Penarth.

Friends of ours have been nagging me to visit The Little Monkeys Café in Penarth. On the Web it describes itself like this…

Little Monkeys Cafe aims to provide parents with a safe family friendly environment in which they can relax whilst their children have fun.


We offer a range of child friendly activities throughout the week specifically aimed at children from 6 months to 6 years old.  Each day is themed and our staff are guaranteed to keep your little ones entertained whilst you relax and enjoy some of the delights available at our cafe.

Want to join in too…Parents are more than welcome to join in all of our activities!

Little Monkeys Cafe is not a kid friendly Cafe, it’s a Cafe for kids. Everything we do places safety, development and fun as the first priority, we encourage noise and will do everything we can to ensure your little one gets to monkey around!

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Alfie and I felt it was worth a try  – and we were not disappointed!

When we first entered the café neither of us were too sure, it was quite full of young mums and their little darlings all milling about. Alfie and I crept in and sat in the corner of the play area and watched! Alfie was soon off playing with all the other kids and the abundance of toys. Bit by bit some left and we had more space and it was great, all staff who work there are trained in childcare and were fantastic with Alfie. The main kids helper a young lady called Lowra, she had a slight Eastern European accent and was superb.

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She had Alfie and a few other kids dancing and singing and drawing.

I soon felt brave enough to go out into main café part and order some food and drinks for us. Alfie was perfectly safe, as the playroom is off the café.

I ordered a Little Monkey’s fun box of food for the little man and some Brie and bacon sandwiches for me with pot of tea. All the food is healthy and Alfie had a cheese roll with a box of raisins and some organic puffy things and a sugar free drink. We ate together… friends, enjoying a special time together.

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After lunch Alfie played and an old friend of mine came in with her little son. I haven’t seen Kathryn for some time and I have never seen her son Andrew. He was a lovely little lad, really handsome and so well behaved. Kathryn was with a friend so it was not easy to talk much but she was pleased to see Alfie and he and Andrew played together for quite a while.

Soon it was time to leave. I went out to thank the owner for the care and attention shown to Alfie. She invited me back and it’s an invitation I intend to keep.

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We strolled though Penarth, down the Windsor Arcade and Alfie loved strolling on his own without being harnessed into the puschair. He reminded me of my dad, he looked into and examined every shop he passed, taking an interest in all he saw. How I wish my dad and mum could have seen this dear little fellow, but sadly they left us before that could happen. It was my mum’s birthday today and all day I was telling Alfie what a great lady she was and how she knew – without any doubt – that God would send him along one day to join our family. We had to wait quite a while for him, but God knew best.

When we got back to the car we went to visit Alfie’s Nana Muz, another great old lady. Her mind has been taken cruelly from her but she still smiled when she saw him and waved goodbye when we left. We love her a lot and the time we spent with her was precious. We also chatted and played with Keith – a great old fellow who sits near Beat. He loves trains, Cardiff City and books about Tiger Bay…my kind of guy!

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When we got home there was still time to look at the terrapins who have just woken up from their winter sleep.

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It had been a full and rewarding day.

When Alfie’s mum was collecting him she stayed to watch an old video of her wedding to Jason and a part of it has been dubbed with a Martyn Joseph song about Cardiff Bay… it seemed a suitably appropriate way to end a very ordinary but very special day. The day an old man and a little boy had spent together… just having fun… exploring Cardiff, boat trips, kids cafes, meeting old friends and visiting great nans!

Cardiff Bay by Martyn Joseph

 On a Friday over Cardiff Bay

 This is one day of our lives

 And on a Friday over Cardiff Bay

 Know that I love you

 All of my life

And the old man in the side street he made you smile

 Waved at us both so we both waved back…

 …Saw Captain Scott on the Terra Nova

 Setting sail for open sea

And maybe one day when you’re older

 You’ll come down this way and think of me

 It’ll be a Friday over Cardiff Bay

 Just one day of your life

 And on that Friday over Cardiff Bay

 Know that I loved you…

 

Adventures with Alfie Day 18

Little did I know at the start of the day what a lovely adventure awaited us. Alfie stayed overnight and the dear lady of the house slept in late so it was up to me to dress, feed and prepare the little man for the day ahead. We had a lovely time just doing things slowly and enjoying each other’s company. Alfie was playing so well, that I even thought at one time about staying home and just enjoying his company, but thought better of it and at just after 11.00am we were ready to go adventuring. We had thought to visit Caerphilly and Cefn Onn Park.

I think I have only visited the park once in the last quarter of a century, but it’s a place I remember with such fond affection from my childhood. We lived a couple of miles from the park in Llanishen and would regularly visit the park, which meant a long walk there and back up Heol Hir and across the fields. Now, sadly, the sprawling Thornhill Estate comes right to the park gate.

We caught the train from Eastbrook, but needed to change in Cardiff as our trains run only to Merthyr or Aberdare. It meant I had to ask Alfie to stay in his puschair.


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We changed at Queen Street and I noticed the renovations are going ahead well.

ImageI am not sure what they are doing but it certainly includes a new platform, where the disused Platform 1 used to be. Alfie loved looking at the diggers working away. I regularly used Queen Street station in the fifties and sixties and it was a grand station in those days.

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As we left Queen Street we passed Heath High Level and Llanishen Stations, both very familiar to me, as I used to live halfway between both stations and caught the train from both many, many times when I was young.

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I have loved trains with a passion ever since my earliest days. I have this amazing dream that one day I will be on a train and the driver will say to me…

‘Right, come on then sit here and take over!’ and I would sit in his seat and take control of the train. In the dream I would sit back, hands and feet on the controls and drive the train. The driver would tell me to take it up a couple of notches and I would build up the speed. I would drive through tunnels, across bridges, maybe taking it off the mainline up a branch line, looking out at all that was passing by. I would be wearing a drivers cap and high viz jacket, to the entire world, looking like a real driver. I would acknowledge the signals, wave at the signalmen who were guiding me safely on…

Sadly that will probably remain what it is – just an incredible dream. I don’t think such a dream could ever come true, but I will hold on to it, dreams are the magic of life.

Before Llanishen Station I caught a glimpse of my parents’ old home. We also passed The Court Field, where for many years I enjoyed the Whitsun treat with my old church.  It sounds really quaint now, giving the kids a treat of a day out on a field for being good in Sunday school. Happy Days!

The guard had warned me that if I wanted to split my journey and get out at Thornhill it was best to do it on the way back, to keep the inspectors happy! So we sat on the train all the way to Caerphilly, it meant travelling through Caerphilly tunnel. Caerphilly Tunnel at just over a mile in length, is the longer of the two tunnels on the Valley network, the other is at Cogan. 
 It was built by The Rhymney Railway Company. Seeking to build an alternative route to Cardiff Docks to rival that of the mighty Taff Vale Railway, the company was granted parliamentary permission to create a new line running from Caerphilly, through Llanishen to Cardiff. In order to do this, the company first had to blast its way through Caerphilly Mountain, creating a tunnel some one and a half miles in length. Unsurprisingly, in an age before health and safety of any kind, accidents were common, and a large incident inside the tunnel cost the lives of several of the railway “navvies”, some of whom were buried in St Isan’s churchyard in Llanishen. Alfie and I had visited Caerphilly before but coming by train took us to the ‘top end’ of town.

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When we arrived in Caerphilly, we got off the train and we knew straight away that we were at the top end of town because we passed a garage called The Top of the Town Garage. All was well.

We were hoping to unearth some treasures and we soon passed a shop that the lady of the house would absolutely love. It was a kind of vintage shop, many of which are springing up all over the place these days.

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I loved a plaque in the window and hoped it was true of my three beautiful grandkids and the lady of the house and me. It made me think again about the beautiful home she has made for her family. I am blessed to have such an incredible person as my wife and soul mate. I hope she knows how much she is loved.

I was deep in these thoughts when a sign caught my eye… Caerphilly Indoor Market.

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Great… time to check out the faggots! It always seems strange to me that in a market you can always buy faggots. My old dad loved them and would often buy one if he was out and they never once reached home! He would nibble away at them until they were gone!

Caerphilly market was a huge disappointment, probably the worst market I had ever seen. I felt sorry for the few stallholders who were there, striving hard to make a living.

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I wish them well. I don’t know what the future holds for them; perhaps I should have popped into Merlin’s Cupboard to find out!

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As we came out of the market we passed a tacky Bargain Store, and I noticed that the shop was probably a Woolworth’s in a former life – the doors were a giveaway!

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We went on down through the High Street and as I was crossing the road by Specsavers I saw something that made me rub my eyes in disbelief!

Wimpy!

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A visit to a Wimpy is normally the highlight of my visits to Lesotho and South Africa, I didn’t know any Wimpy existed in the UK any more and here was one in the quaint little valley town of Caerphilly. Wimpy was the original ‘McDonalds’ for my friends and me as were were growing up. It was our initiation into the world of burgers. We HAD to go in.

The welcome we had was outstanding! This lovely lady rushed over to help me through the door with the pushchair, fussed over getting me a high chair and even told me it was better if I took the tray off it as it fitted better under the table without it. Alfie and I settled in quickly. Coats were discarded and we set about eating. I had made Alfie’s lunch before we came and when I asked if it was alright to eat it in the café, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was fine. The menu was brought and lunch ordered. I was in heaven. A Wimpy in Caerphilly! The older lady and a younger one chatted and fussed and made me feel like I was royalty. They promised to read this account of our day and if they do…ladies you were wonderful, my only regret was you opted out of the photographs. I was invited back any time and was instructed to bring the lady of the house and the rest of the family. I am tempted to, but I am not sure if the Wimpy Menu manages to align itself too well with the Slimming World Fat Girls Club guidelines for health living.

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Alfie ate all his food and even he managed to steal a few of my chips, as I was distracted having my photograph taken. Happy days indeed!

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Unusually I had a meal and a dessert – the Rocky Road Sundae was on special offer!

We left totally happy and browsed around the top end of town and even managed to explore the lower end of town around Morrison’s. We went in every charity shop and I can tell you that the good folk of Caerphilly do not send many quality goods to the charity shops. I had no pickings at all today. Never mind, there will be other days, other charity shops and other bargains.

Going to the lower end of town meant passing the castle and the statue of Tommy Cooper, the comedy legend who was born here.

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ImageI walked past Glanmor’s, new shop and then further down to the old one. Alfie had fallen asleep, so I didn’t matter that Glanmores don’t provide high chairs. I looked in at the white table cloths and the waitresses, I could have sneaked for a cup of tea and a custard slice or some of the advertised lamb cawl, but I thought of the Wimpy, patted my belly affectionately, and walked past.

We strolled back to the station, past innumerable betting shops and amusements shops and waited for the train to take us to the next stage of our adventure, Cefn Onn Park. I looked at the darkening skies, it seemed like rain was on the way.

As I approached Caerphilly Station I noticed that years ago it would have been a much grander affair.

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One of the old bridges had now been incorporated into the car park and the old track bed filled in. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time and see how things were, but I would always have to turn it back again to allow me again to enjoy these incredible days with my grandchildren.

I almost stayed on the train, but as we arrived at Lisvane and Thornhill we took the plunge and jumped off. I was expecting a long walk, but soon realised the station was almost at the park entrance.

We ventured in!


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ImageParc Cefn Onn a country park on the northern fringes of Cardiff. It contains a truly magnificent collection of native and exotic trees set within an intimate valley. Visitors enjoy the stunning scenery and the calm, relaxing atmosphere.

The park was originally designed some 90 years ago taking advantage of the gentle valley containing the Nant Fawr stream. I think this is the same stream that runs through the woods where I used to play as a boy!

Cardiff Council acquired the site in 1944 and continued to invest in this great asset to the city. A car park and good path network are now provided.

The streams, ponds, woodlands and other planting make this a rich haven for wildlife. Visitors regularly return to enjoy the park in different seasons. Sadly, a thumping great motorway nearby has put paid to the tranquility of the scene around the entrance with the area now resonating to the endless roar of M4 traffic.

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However it didn’t take long to walk through the park and leave the traffic noise behind.

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Despite being April the park showed few signs of the outset of Spring. Trees loomed large overhead like skeletons against the darkening skies. There were though one or two signs that the long winter was ending.

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Before long the rain started. We made a dash for the cover of some larger evergreen trees and avoided the worst of it. True adventurers don’t let a bit of rain deter them.

Alfie woke up, as usual, with a big grin on his face – he’s such an incredible little fellow.

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As we sheltered, I realised we were at the part of the park where there is a fence which separates the two parts of the park. It was here you could walk across a massive wooden footbridge, which connected the two parts of the old Cefn Onn station. Well, I call it a station but in reality it was no more than a Halt. It was too small to take a whole train and in the latter years of its life passengers were asked to sit in a particular section of the train to avoid stepping into thin air as you got off.

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I noticed on the upward journey that the old wooden bridge is no more, but the massive stone support columns still stand majestically in the cutting where the old station used to be.

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In the background to this picture you can see the tall columns…but the bridge is no more!

We ventured out to see if we could see anything of the old bridge or the magical little station, now left to ruin.  A large metal fence barred our way, but I could look through at where the bridge was.

ImageTo the left was a pathway, which I often walked up to somewhere called the Graig, what the path lead to I cannot remember…but I do remember walking up there many times.

ImageThis was an adventure for another day.

As we walked back towards the park, I noticed an overgrown path, sloping down and remembered this was the old path to the station.

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I longed to explore it and stand again on the small platform of Cefn Onn Halt, but I looked at the new pushchair, and then looked at the path, overgrown with brambles and logs and looking decidedly muddy. Into my mind came the smiling face of the lady of the house. She has yet to use the new pushchair and the thought of me taking it home, covered in mud and snagged with brambles was too much and I knelt down next to Alfie and told him that this was an adventure I must tackle alone and on another day.

Do you know how to keep the lady of the house smiling?

I do!

I came across a lovely website when I got home, written by a fellow adventurer, here is an extract….

‘Hidden in a deep, dark, and silent cutting and only accessible by foot, this tiny wayside stop was situated next to a one-mile long tunnel that took the railway under Caerphilly Mountain. The Rhymney Railway built 
the railway line in 1871 to provide a direct link into Cardiff for their 1858 Rhymney to Caerphilly line. 

During the construction of the 2,000-yard tunnel, many Irish navvies came to the district. Such was the suspicion that Fenians (a secret Irish nationalist group) were lurking in their fold, that in October 1861, the group staying in Llanishen were guarded all night by armed police who expected insurrection. 

Cefn Onn Halt was opened by the Great Western Railway to serve the 160-acre wooded area known as Cefn-Onn Country Park (curiously, the halt was known as ‘Cefn On Halt’ until British Rail returned the missing letter ‘n’ back in the 1960s).

Created by Llanishen resident Mr. Prosser, a former Manager of the Old Taff Vale Railway, the woodland valley park offers a rich selection of flora including beds of azaleas and rhododendrons, several varieties of magnolias, oaks and Acers, Chinese Witch Hazel), flowering Mahonias, bamboo, conifers and unusual evergreens like Nothofagus, Eucalyptus niphophila (Snow Gum).

I regularly used the halt to commute to work in the late 70s and, latterly, found the station a convenient starting point for long, solitary walks up Cefn Onn Ridge and Caerphilly Mountain. 

Waiting for the train was always a pleasant experience, as the secluded cutting was almost silent apart from the sound of a nearby brook, the wind in the trees and singing birds. 

The imminent arrival of a train was always an exciting moment – you’d hear the distant rumble of the train entering the northern portal of the tunnel, with a deep ‘whooshing’ sound getting louder and louder before the train burst into the daylight, just 20m from your platform. 

At this point you had to manically wave your arms around to get the driver to stop (a mission I was not always successful at). 

 

The station closed on Saturday, 27th September 1986, with a new station – and acres of new housing – springing up nearby. 

Closure was initially scheduled for March that year, but was delayed after an objection was received from one person. 

So the trains no longer stop at little Cefn Onn halt, and the tranquility of this once-obscure area has been lost forever. 

This is my little tribute to this lost station.’  (*)

I can’t wait to go there myself…soon, very soon.

The rain came on heavier so Alfie and I went back to shelter under the evergreens. Some pretty young mums who had brought their little darlings and their dogs into the park for some fresh air soon joined us. We exchanged pleasantries and they made a fuss of Alfie before moving on. They didn’t make a fuss of me, but that was fine – I was deep in my thoughts of when I could come back and plough through the unknown and find the long lost treasure of Cefn Onn Halt.

As the rain eased off we made our way up to the pond, the final destination of today’s adventure.

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I found it… it looked so much smaller than it did when I was a little kid… but just being there was enough. We used to pass the pond and climb a steep slope which led to a grassy field next to the gold course. There was a cafe there and we would buy a tray of tea on a hot summer’s day.

The falling rain meant our stay was a short one. It was time to go home.

We made our way thoughtfully back, through the park, under the M4 and back to the station.  I thought how modern and unromantic this one was. As we neared the station I noticed the old road and bridge stood beside the new one. It is now unused but a reminder of how this little country area has changed over the years.

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We only had a short wait before boarding the train for our journey home. As we left Llanishen Station, we passed my parents’ old house again and I remembered the sacrifices they had made to make my childhood so idyllic and I whispered quietly “Thank you.”

Alfie played quietly with my phone on the journey home, it is frightening how good he is already at unlocking it, but he hasn’t learnt my password yet but busily tried all the numbers!

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I looked down at Alfie and promised that I too would do my best to ensure that he and the Princess Mia and the little angel we call Millie would have a childhood filled with wonderful memories. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a challenge I accept.

Alfie smiled… today had been a good day!

(*) Footnote: The link to the article on Cefn Onn Halt is http://www.urban75.org/photos/wales/cefn_onn.html

Adventures with Alfie Day 17

Alfie’s dad and mum wanted a day in London to round off their Easter break… this was encouraging news, as it meant I got to look after Alfie even though it was a school holiday.

He stayed overnight which was great although it meant the lady of the house once again deserting the marital bed to look after him in the nursery. I am sure the sacrifice was worth it.

The house was busy this morning with Aunt Bes being picked up early to join the excursion to London. The lady of the house gave Alfie a drink early on but Alfie wasn’t that keen on his breakfast, I don’t think he was feeling that great, but the prospect of a day adventuring was something to look forward to.

We had decided to visit Merthyr Tydfil today. The guidebooks tell me that…

 

A warm Welsh welcome awaits you in Merthyr Tydfil.

 

Merthyr Tydfil is supposed to be one of the most historically fascinating and beautiful regions of Wales and is ideally placed between Brecon Beacons National Park and Cardiff the Welsh capital.

A fifth of the County Borough lies within the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Merthyr Tydfil boasts some dramatic and breathtaking scenery. As one of the towns forming the Heads of the Valleys, Merthyr Tydfil is rich in culture, landscape and scenery. Once the Iron capital of the world, Merthyr Tydfil breathes life into its history with attractions such as Cyfarthfa Park, Joseph Parry’s cottage and The Brecon Mountain Railway.

Local tradition holds that a girl called Tydfil, daughter of a local chieftain named Brychan was an early local convert to Christianity and was pursued and murdered by a band of marauding Picts and Saxons while traveling to Hafod Tanglwys in Aberfan, a local farm that is still occupied to this day. The girl was considered a martyr after her death in approximately 480AD. “Merthyr” translates to “Martyr” in English and  tradition holds that, when the town was founded, the name was chosen in her honour. A church was eventually built on the traditional site of her burial

Taking the train from outside my door to Merthyr, non-stop is something I have always wanted to do and today was as good a day as any. It was still quite cold so Alfie and I had to wrap up warm. The good news was that I was able to use the new pushchair, Easyjet had ruined our other one – the garish pink one, on the way back from Disneyland Paris a couple of weeks ago and had sent us a new one – a top of the range Maclaren, I half expected Lewis Hamilton to be driving it when it came, so I felt really good on its maiden journey. It came equipped with suspension and a seat I could recline and it was easy to fold with one hand.

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We set off from Eastbrook shortly after 10.00 am and didn’t have long to wait. We were fortunate to find a seat with a table so we took our coats off and settled down to enjoy the journey. Alfie was great and looked out at everything going by. I was reminded of the poem I had learned in school…

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,

Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;

And charging along like troops in a battle

All through the meadows the horses and cattle:

All of the sights of the hill and the plain

Fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again, in the wink of an eye,

Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,

All by himself and gathering brambles;

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;

And here is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart runaway in the road

Lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill, and there is a river:

Each a glimpse and gone forever!

I think Robert Louis Stephenson wrote it – I prefer it to Treasure Island anyway. I think you are supposed to read in in the rhythm of a train belting over the tracks.

The journey was so interesting, into Cardiff then branch off after Queen Street Station, which is undergoing renovation to Cathays, Llandaff, Radyr, Taffs Well and then up the Taff Valley to Pontypridd then on up to Merthyr. Near Taffs Well we passed Castell Coch – the fairy castle which always interests visitors to our home.

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The journey took and hour and a quarter and we both loved it. The track follows the river Taff virtually all the way. It’s the river that gives all true Welshmen the name Taffy – although I am sure it should only apply to those of us who live near this great river. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons — the Taf Fechan and the Taf Fawr — before joining to form the River Taff north of Merthyr Tydfil.

There was a huge weir just after Radyr Station with a massive tree, stuck in the middle. Crowds of kids were playing nearby.

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As we neared Merthyr, we passed Quakers Yard station. I never really got that name – Quakers Yard is a village just passed Abercynon. I noticed though that the station sign is Mynwent Y Crynwyr. ‘Mynwent’ means graveyard in English so it seems like this place was a burial ground for Quakers…Hmmm… I must look further into this and have a bowl of porridge while I do so!

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As we approached Merthyr there was still snow on top of the mountains. I was pensive and thought of the hundreds of thousands of coal trucks that had travelled down this line over many years. Coal had made Cardiff the great city it is today. Now, part of the line is just a single track, with a train running every half hour. It is all so different these days. I looked at the mountains, now green and beautiful whereas when I was a bit younger the South Wales Valleys were bleak, dirty, depressing places full of coal tips. If you look closely, you can see some of the hills are coal tips, which have been landscaped and are now green and pleasant.  As we passed Aberfan I remembered that awful tragedy and how my brother and I went up to help in the rescue effort. It was a heartbreaking scene and my sixteenth birthday, October 21st 1966. I have much to share with Alfie, Mia and Millie when they are old enough to understand.

We arrived in Merthyr at about 11.30 am and I was pleased to have made the trip and even more pleased that the train ran right into the heart of the town. Alfie had been brilliant and had communicated well with all the passengers around him.

Merthyr is a typical valley town… busy and friendly – but no M & S or other important store, but to my delight a great selection of charity shops – even more than Penarth!

In the first one – a PDSA shop, I came across a real treasure – a ‘leather look’ flat cap or ‘Dai cap’ as my dad always called them. I felt like the bees knees, although after about fifteen minutes my head began to itch a little…

Alfie had dropped off to sleep as we got off the train so missed out on many of these delights. Merthyr was a friendly little place, it was cold but not as cold as the last few weeks, maybe Spring is eventually on the way.

I found my way to the Indoor market, which had a range of stalls; it reminded me a bit of Pontypridd market, but the faggots were even more tempting here!

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Merthyr seems to have been a big place for boxers and the town contains two statues to two famous boxers, Howard Winston and Johnny Owen.

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I remember the night Johnny Owen died, it was so very sad; he died in the ring, or just after the fight. I worked part time in Merthyr at the time, helping my brother out. He was manager of Merthyr Motor Auctions. The money came in handy when I was a struggling young teacher, looking back the lady of the house, Kate and Gaz hated me going.

I had a cup of coffee and some toast in a little café by the station.

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When Alfie woke up I took him around the town again just to have a look. He loved it and smiled at everyone he passed.

Merthyr is a Fair-trade town…good for everyone involved in setting that up.

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On the way home Alfie sat in the seat like a contented little old man all the way home, although at one time I thought we might not make it. Just before Ynysowen (Merthyr Vale) Station, the train was travelling quite fast when there was an enormous BANG! A few of the people around us screamed and a little girl near us burst out crying. At almost the same time we passed a train coming the other way. The train ground to a halt very quickly indeed. I had to hold Alfie to stop him being shot forward. We all looked around not knowing what to think. The train was still for a few minutes before crawling into the station. When it did, the driver and the guard got out and inspected the train all around and underneath and made several calls on their phones. After a long wait we set off again and when the guard came to see our tickets, he told us that the train had hit a door which had been left lying on the tracks, probably left by vandals. That could have been very serious.

Juts near Llandaff Station, we passed a derelict building my brother used to go to when he worked for some kind of charity – I must ask him what that was. I remember sleeping in the building on some occasions.

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The rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived home tired but happy after a lovely adventure in the town named after a young lady who died too young.

I will remember too the words on Johnny Owen’s statue..

The measure of a man is not the number of years he has lived…it is in the way he has lived them.

Wise words for us all.

Adventures with Alfie Day 16

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.

DSC02973The 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?

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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.

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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.

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Both Bes and I laughed when we passed Dai Ink’s Tattoo Parlour and we knew we were in the valleys!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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ImageThen 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.

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They were happy days, although we were always glad we didn’t live in Aneurin Bevan Avenue…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When we arrived home, we still had plenty of time to play together.

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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.

Happy days!

Adventures with Alfie Day 15

I had been looking for an opportunity to take Alfie to Cefn Mably Farm ever since the lady of the house and I had taken Princess Mia and Angel Millie there several months ago. Cefn Mably Farm says this about itself

‘A visit to Cefn Mably Farm Park provides an increasingly rare opportunity to meet and interact with a large variety of friendly farm animals in any weather and at any time if the year. At Cefn Mably Farm Park we have lots of space for both children and adults alike, with plenty of things for the family to see and do both inside and outside.

  • Coffee Shop and bistro
  • 6000 square foot of heated play barn
  • Indoor and outdoor play areas
  • 12,800 square foot undercover area
  • Picnic areas around farm
  • Under fours play area
  • Pony rides
  • Touch and hold area with the animals
  • Conservation and pond areas
  • Log play areas and
  • Under fives play areas

Our park was created with children in mind and provides lots of opportunities for them to observe the animals closely in an enjoyable and safe manner.

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The girls had enjoyed it immensely and I had promised myself and Alfie that we would venture up there some time and check it out for ourselves.

Today seemed the perfect day. Alfie had stayed overnight and after the lady of the house had prepared him for the day and I had made him a hearty bowl of porridge, Alfie set about playing with the farm set in the nursery, that little bit of paradise my dear lady had created for the grandchildren. I am sure I heard him say ‘Grampy’ as he picked up a rather large Gloucester Old Spot, but then it was early and my ears were still adjusting to the day.

It seemed to be a sign that we should visit Cefn Mably. Aunt Bes was home on a week’s holiday so she was invited to tag along. We knew she would enjoy the day, I even felt she would enjoy it more than Alfie!

Alfie wasn’t keen on his morning snooze…I am beginning to think the list of instructions handed to me last September when Alfie’s parents first asked me to be his co-adventurer last September is slightly out of date. As usual, just before we were due to leave on our latest expedition Alfie looked at me and smiled and some ‘farmyard’ smells reached my nostrils and I realised a change of nappy must take priority. Happy days.

We set off, expecting a day of fun and we were not to be disappointed. On the way we passed a car that had a registration number, which Alfie wished he could buy me for my next birthday. It was pretty cool, maybe one day…

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We reached the farm in good time and Alfie giggled out loud when we passed the farm van. Aunt Bes liked it as well.

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We paid our money and went in. The barn was warm and inviting and we found a table to set up as base camp. The log burning stove I the corner was well hidden by young mums and their offspring all crowding round and chatting happily. Still, it gave the barn a nice warm homely feeling.

With the words of captain Oates on my lips – ‘I’m going out and I may be some time!’ – we ventured out into a little wonderland for kids. Alfie loved it! We started in the touch and hold area and Alfie held a guinea pig and a rabbit and fed them with the food we had bought at the entrance and a carrot provided by the keeper. Alfie was a little unsure at first but was soon tucking into the carrot quite happily. We guided the vegetable towards the rabbit and he enjoyed it as well.

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Alfie loved brushing the rabbit, maybe a little overenthusiastically at times, but the rabbit seemed happy enough.

We moved onto the rabbit cages – a whole area of them, all abandoned, but brought here for safekeeping and a good home, and that is exactly what they get! They all looked in fantastic condition and were all tame and very child friendly. The boy loved feeding them with the little pellets of food we had bought.

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Aunt Bes enjoyed this bit too!

We moved on to the pigs and at one time I thought the lady of the house had made a surprise visit, but I quickly realised my mistake and was so glad she wasn’t around to notice this simple but understandable mistake, the similarity was quite striking.

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Alfie LOVED the pigs…and so did Aunt Bes! From the pigs we went to the horses, Alfie was wide eyed at such big animals, he giggled as he smoothed a large white one. Alfie tried to feed this one, the trouble was though he had no food to give him and when I turned round to see Alfie’s hand completely inside the horse’s mouth, I took a sudden sharp intake of breath. I pulled his hand out and quickly counted his fingers and thumbs. Thankfully there was the correct number of each and we carried on.

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Aunt Bes loved the horses!

Alfie had spotted a large old abandoned Massey Ferguson tractor and he sat on it and had fun. He looked a bit like Farmer Hogget, who knows where his future career lies, maybe one day he will be running his own farm. Aunt Bes enjoyed going on the tractor as well.

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After the tractor we noticed some child sized JCBs. This was too good an opportunity to miss.

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We made our way back to the barn to have our lunch – all that time with the horses had made me feel quite hungry. I was wondering what the lady of the house had packed me for lunch, probably a tasty Findus Lasagna or a nice well-done Tesco value burger. I had noticed on the way to the farm that in Aldi the prices on the Findus Lasagna had fallen from 7/1 down to 3/2.

As we did so Alfie noticed some small toy ride on tractors, he was hooked. He loved driving around the farmyard with me pushing him, gasping for breath. Aunt Bes was eyeing them up, but realised thankfully that she was not small enough and I had no puff left.

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We made our way to the cleaning area and scrubbed our hands thoroughly before heading into the barn for our lunch.

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Thankfully none of the products contained horsemeat and we enjoyed a leisurely lunchtime together.

After lunch we headed for the indoor soft play area. When I took Alfie to Coconuts some months ago, he was not all that keen. That was the day we left the Cath Kidston bag in Barry…I still have nightmares and wake up screaming at what could have happened. This time after a minute or so of uncertainty Alfie had a great time. Aunt Bes being younger and more nimble than me accompanied Alfie. Aunt Bes loved this. They played happily together, aunty and nephew and friends.

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When she needed a break, I took Alfie into the ballpark. It must have seemed funny to the other visitors to see this shoeless, fat, little old man crawling in on all fours, but the struggle was worth it. Alfie adored playing with the balls and with other children. He especially liked this little wind machine, which kept the balls hovering in mid air and managed to throw one ball up make it hover…clever lad.

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All too soon, it was time to go home. We tidied up, went to see the fish and then left. To leave the farm now you have to walk through the new shop. The shop is called The Moody Sow, quite a good name I thought. I suddenly thought of the lady of the house and what I should prepare for her tea.

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Alfie slept the entire way home Aunt Bes spoke about what a good time she had had.

When we arrived home, I realised Alfie was a bit hot wearing his bobble hat, still …… we ended the day as we had begun…with a smile.

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Adventuring is fun!

Adventures with Alfie Day 14

Dear Emelia and Asa

Are you going to Techniquest Toddler Day today? If you are please let me know. I would love to play with you.

Lots of Love

Alfie

Alfie and I decided to write this message on Facebook to two very special friends who, having read Alfie’s Adventures made a date to go along. Techniquest Toddler Days are held on the first Friday of every month.  Today was Pirates day… it sounded exciting!

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Alfie stayed over and didn’t wake until 8.00 a.m. just as the lady of the house was about to leave for work. She looked a bit envious, as we talked about what we might do today.

Over breakfast Alfie showed me a new game. It’s called ‘Grab the Porridge’. The rules are fairly simple; as your grampy is feeding you and looks away, you have to grab the spoon with the porridge on and hold as tight as you can… and when he turns away to collect a wet wipe you have to see how much of it you can spread over the tray of the high chair. It’s not all that enjoyable, I don’t think, but Alfie thought it was hilarious! I am sure he took too many goes as well.

While dressing him he showed me another new game. This one was called ‘Pulling Socks’. What you do is this…when your grampy has put on one shoe and sock and has started on the second you have to try and remove the first one before he notices. You earn points for speed and distance the sock and shoe are thrown. Have you ever seen Grampy Newberry go red in the face? Alfie has!

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Before we left Alfie had a little session in the pink kitchen. He pretends he is Jamie Oliver and enjoys making me a cup of tea and some toast.

We left home shortly before ten and made our way slowly down to the Bay. We parked near The Coal Exchange in our usual place. A traffic warden smiled at me as I parked the car. It was the kind of smile a shark would give an unexpecting little minnow before it makes a tasty snack from it. I had no cash on me so could only afford the one hour free option. I could see the warden note it in her book before giving me a ‘see you in 59 minutes’ kind of smile.

We made first of all for Subway where we had decided to have breakfast. When we got there the Bay was alive with yellow vested individuals, all checking doors and speaking into walkie-talkies. Subway was shut and one of the fluorescent clad workers told me to come back in fifteen minutes. I was worried, breakfast finished at eleven, time was running out. So we strolled around The Bay. It was beautiful. Today was the first day of February and the sky was blue and it was mild. Alfie was wrapped up warm in his stroller. For weeks the weather had been abysmal, but today felt just a little tiny bit like spring. I thought of my friends in school and smiled.

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We had such a great time – a little boy and his grandfather out walking in the winter sun. To all who looked on they were just two ordinary people, but we knew we were close friends, who went on adventures together and made ordinary days special. Alfie was singing.

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When we got back to Subway things were back to normal and the assistant told me there had been special emergency training for staff. I hope they all passed. I ordered my bacon and egg Subway roll and a cup of coffee and paid just £2 for the privilege. That has got to be right. I normally pay more than £2 just for the coffee! Alfie enjoyed a biscuit, as he had already had his breakfast at the proper time. As usual he took a huge interest in every other customer that came in, especially a group of schoolgirls who made such a fuss of him. The way he interacted with them made me feel so proud.

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After Breakfast we strolled around the Bay again, before making for Techniquest.

I paid my entrance fee and proceeded into the mayhem of Techniquest Toddlers’ Day. I looked for Emelia and Asa but guessed I was too early, but I was delighted to see five very familiar faces…my day was made. It was Keri, Princess Mia and Angel Millie along with Krista and my lovely little friend Lily. I was made up – this was a totally unexpected surprise. On the way Alfie had fallen asleep, so I was able to play a little bit with the girlies. It was BRILLIANT.

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Eventually Alfie woke up and was excited about the day ahead. He just had time to play a while with his cousins before Keri left to take Mia to school. When we alone we set off looking for fun and we found it more or less straight away on the face-painting table. Alfie decided to be a pirate, the theme of today’s toddler day.

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He sat brilliantly to be made into a real pirate…and then I asked to be done. The girl thought it was a real hoot and some of the young mums were laughing aloud. I enlisted the help of one to act as official photographer for Able Seaman Alfie and Jolly Roger. Avast Ye Landlubbers!

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Alfie then had a go on several of the exhibits before playing with the giant Lego and having another go on the giant piano he had been on with Millie some weeks before. He kept making for one note in particular the C flat and I wondered if it was a sign that when he grows up he will be looking to live in a musicians apartment near the coast. We then moved on to make a real pirates hat. Alfie’s was superb, but I lost the courage to ask if I could make a hat for myself. I was tempted but then I remembered I am sixty-two! It would have gone so well with my face too! Never mind!!

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It was time or lunch by now so we made our way down to the café. The staff in Techniquest are just fantastic and as I walked up to the counter with Alfies food in my hand the assistant smiled and said… ”Thirty seconds?” even before I even asked, I like that!

As we sat down to eat, I met an old Glyncoed family. I was so pleased to see them, even though I felt a little nervous as I struggled for words. This family has just gone through the most unimaginable tragedy with quiet dignity and I have enormous respect for them. They have just lost their son, a wonderful young man named Sam. I taught Sam some years ago now; he was the most fantastic pupil. Sam contracted Motor Neurone Disease despite being a very young man. He battled with it for two years before it took him. I cannot understand how the family have coped, but they have and in doing so have inspired many with their strength and courage. They were with their daughter, Sam’s sister, and their grand daughter a beautiful little girl called Poppy. I looked at her and could only think how having this precious new life would have helped them come to terms with the loss of Sam.

We sat on the same table and fed the little ones and I was sad when they left us.

Alfie finished his lunch and was ready to explore further. We had a little walk around but still could see no sign of Emelia and Asa.

Eventually we left and as I was walking across the car park I realised I had forgotten to pick up my complimentary drink. We turned back and as we re-entered I was struggling to find the coloured band I was wearing which shows I had paid. The guy on the desk burst out laughing and told me that he didn’t need to see the band as looking at my face was proof enough!

I remembered I was Jolly Roger! Silly me!

We met Asa and Emelia outside as we were leaving. Asa had an appointment, which had gone on longer than expected. We promised to meet up again soon. I was sad we missed them, but I knew they would have fun, just as we had done.

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After Techniquest we headed for Penarth and a visit to Nana Muz. We caused a riot in the home; all the staff were popping in to see the fat, jolly pirate and his little pirate lad. Beat enjoyed our visit and loved the family calendar we took in. She is a great lady and would have loved Alfie had her mind not been cruelly taken from her. Still she appreciates seeing the little ones who are so good at going in to visit.

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We made our way home and greeted parents, Aunt Bes and finally the lady of the house as they came home and burst out laughing at the pirates!

I am so glad my little friend and I can bring a little bit of happiness into the lives of those we meet each Friday.

Ahoy there me hearties!!

Adventures with Alfie Day 14 is dedicated to the memory of my old pupil Sam Hully and his remarkable family.

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Adventures with Alfie Day 13

The day started earlier than any other Adventures day…at 03.13 precisely. I know it was that time, because it glowed green in my bedroom from my Roberts Atomic cube clock.  The clock receives the time signal from Rugby somewhere and is guaranteed to be accurate to within one second in a million years. I am not sure whether I will be around to check, probably not, but it does keep great time and helped me never be late for work.

I lay staring at the clock as Alfie was deposited into our loving care by Aunt Bes! She had been on nursery duty and had been trying for some time to get him back to sleep downstairs in the nursery, after he had woken up sometime earlier… but Alfie was having none of it. Neither did he feel any more sleepy in my bed – the one that I share with the lady of the house. She had tried unsuccessfully to get the little darling back to sleep…but he was way too excited…today was Friday.

Her patience wearing thin amid reminding that she had to go to work later! I rose to the challenge and took Alfie down stairs to play. He was happy, excited and singing. At that precise moment I was not all that happy, not all that excited and did not feel much like singing.

We went into the lounge; I put the TV on and found a few things for Alfie to play with. I wrapped a blanket round myself to keep warm and thought…’What a lovely little grandson I have!’ I was kind of wishing Mia and Millie could join us for this unexpected bit of fun but thought their parents might not appreciate an 03.50 call.

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I thought we would start with a midnight feast and raided the biscuit barrel. I felt sure we could finish that lot off and judging by Alfie’s smile he thought the same way. He was signing PLEASE as I walked into the room.

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A cup of coffee for me and a cup of warm milk for the boy finished the preparation. We had fun. Alfie played and then realised he could climb up into the chair we have had since our older kids were Alfie’s age. Once he knew he could do it he did it a hundred times! Climb up. Turn round, wiggle his bottom till he felt comfortable, look very pleased with himself and then repeat the process.

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I started watching TV and watched by far the best three programmes I have seen for a long time. The first was called Bringing Books to Life, when famous people picked a book they loved and read it and acted out little scenes from it. This was followed by a programme in which some actors, mimed children’s stories; I didn’t catch the name of the programme, but I loved watching it. The third one was called Seeking Refuge. In it, five REAL kids spoke of their journeys to the UK to live. Anyone who thinks badly of immigrants coming to our country to find a peaceful place to grow up should be forced to watch it. In a few of them I felt a tear running down the side of my face, as I realised again how some children suffer so horrendously in life. I was so glad little Alfie is surrounded by love and fun and people who care for him.

The lady of the house came down, looking radiant, just after seven and was confronted by a scruffy, unshaven, shivering wreck and a little boy both of whom had been having such fun. She gazed suspiciously at the empty biscuit tin,

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but then smiled with much love as her eyes set upon the fat little scruffy, unshaven, shivering wreck that she had married in the dim and distant past! Then she saw Alfie still climbing in and out of his chair and swept him away to be fed, watered and changed, expressing her undying love as she did so!

I noticed that when Alfie stood up the crutch of his nappy was dragging along the floor, weighing no doubt several kilos… and I thought maybe I should have changed him some time before.

Alfie was soon cleaned and well fed and sleeping soundly in the cot and I took advantage of a few spare hours ahead of me and an empty nursery bed to claw back some of that lost sleep. It had been fun and I felt honoured to sleep in the nursery bed. I thought of all those who had slept in it before me, the lady of the house, Bes, Margaret Davis and many others.

As I closed my eyes and thought how lovely electric blankets were, my mind went back to that programme I had watched Bringing Books to life. If I were ever famous enough to be asked I would read Boy by Roald Dahl. I would read The Great Mouse Plot and Mrs Pratchett’s revenge….  sheer magical brilliance. Part of me is so sad that I have many teacher friends and not one of them has ever asked me to come in and read with their class. I have only had one chance to read since I retired and hung up my chalkboard duster, and that was to some older ladies in Coffee Morning. I even managed to squeeze in a reading of Boy there and they lapped it up and went hysterical when I stopped! I have been invited to read my story of Noman the Snowman in the Cathedral School soon. That will be fun, even more fun as that school was the school that Roald Dahl went to when he was young.

As I thought about the programme I also thought how much fun it would be to bring a story to life with Alfie and one sprang to life immediately…

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Burglar Bill!

Burglar Bill is a great story for kids about a burglar who steals among other things an old cardboard box only to discover it contains a little baby. He sets about looking after the baby on his own and does a great job. Later, when he was in bed one day, he gets burgled himself by Burglar Betty. It turns out that the baby is hers and eventually…

You will have to read the book yourself to find out what happens but I thought….BRILLIANT! We have all the characters ready, I could be Burglar Bill, the lady of the house is the spit of Burglar Betty anyway, and Alfie could be the kid.

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We could take schools by storm. That’s it… today’s adventure would be to turn ourselves into those delightful characters. A trip to town was on the cards.

We awoke around 11.30 and I thought I had better feed Alfie before we set off.

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We caught the train into Cardiff and started the search for costumes.

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We started with some of the Charity Shops near the station without success and then made our way around other shops.

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Some of the costumes I was not sure about. We even visited M & S and found a strong contender. Alfie checked the label carefully but was not sure it was right!

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Frustrated, we made our way home, but we did so by going past the joke shop in the High Street Arcade and met with some success I found the perfect mask! Yes, we were making progress. I asked some pretty young girls outside the shop if they would take a photo of me to mark the progress we had made, albeit small progress, but progress none the less. I put the mask on and approached them I could see the fear in their eyes as they gripped their mobile phones very tightly – I knew then that Burglar Bill was going to work, even without my stripy top I could scare people!

ImageThe relief was audible when I made it known that I wanted a photograph and was not about to steal their beloved iPhones. There was a bit of giggling, but they did the job and smiled again as I wished them well and went on my way, pushing my little man ahead of me. I did wonder if I would be apprehended by the boys in blue, when I realised I had forgotten to take my mask off. But all was well.

Feeling happy that progress had been made I decided it was time to eat and Alfie agreed. It was time to continue his education with a visit to The Louis on St Mary Street. A visit there is like a step back into the past. A quaint old place with waitresses, the youngest no less than sixty and another lady who sits in a little cash desk by the door collecting the money. Hand written bills are issued and the whole experience is truly lovely! One of the tables is taken over by the manager/owner and it is covered by a mountain of paperwork. He wears a massive bunch of keys on his belt , almost like a prison officer, but  fusses around in a very caring way. It’s got to be the best place in Cardiff, quiet, peaceful and sophisticated in an ordinary kind of way. I was starving and ordered an all day breakfast and scrambled egg on toast for the lad. My pot of tea came in silver pots and included a pot of hot water without me even asking.

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We had fun. Alfie had the whole restaurant smiling with affection at his antics. He threw everything he could lay his hands on onto the floor, sang loudly and smiled broadly at everyone.

Two clean plates later, we paid the lady at the cash desk. I was thinking that maybe The Louis have never heard of time and motion studies. She did put her knitting down while she counted my change back to me.

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We made our way back to the station to catch a train home and Alfie fell asleep. 03.13 seemed a long time ago. He didn’t wake till his dad came to pick him up.

On the train I closed my eyes and we both dreamt of burglars and boxes and Bringing Books to life in a big way!

We had fun.. but be warned and make sure your doors are locked tonight….and every night!

Adventures with Alfie (and Millie) Day 12

06 You’ve Got a FriendDay 12

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Alfie stayed with us overnight which was a very pleasant way to start the day. I looked after the little man while the lady of the house ran his bath for him. He smiled when he saw me and I realised it had been a few weeks since we had had a day together adventuring. I had already planned today’s adventure thanks to two of Alfie’s friends Joseph and Nathan Jones. Apparently they get tweeted by Techniquest  – I am sure it’s not as painful as it sounds! – and they let me know that Techniquest runs Toddler Days once a month.

When I checked the Website this is what I read!

Toddler Day – At the Zoo 

 

Friday 11 January 2013

 

Once a month during term-time pre-school children have their run of the  exhibits with activities

on a special theme.

There’ll be drawing and colouring and something to make to take home.

Admission costs just £4.60 for adults, who can enjoy a free cup of tea or

coffee in the café.

Techniquest is buggy-friendly, with nappy-changing facilities, lockers and a cafe that warms children’s food

 

Well, I was hooked…toddler day, free tea or coffee, nappy changing facilities… it offered the lot. I have an almost toddler, I love free tea and coffee..  Day sorted!

It was a glorious morning, crisp and clear with a beautiful blue sky – I am amazed at how many Adventure days have clear blue skies. The lady of the house insisted on bringing Alfie with her to work to do a bit of showing off! I was not amused. I was looking a mess; unwashed, unshaven and breath smelling like Gandhi’s flip flops meant either would either breakdown and have to walk home or meet someone I knew. I dropped her off at the door of her office and went to turn the car around. When I returned my worst fears materialised… Jeff Lacey was waiting outside.  He wanted to thank me for speaking in his Home Group on Wednesday. Very embarrassing!

Note to self…. Get a wash and brush up before doing the taxi run on a Friday morning!!

I decided that we would make an early start so Alfie missed his morning sleep. I had been listening recently to the story of an adventurer who is sailing around the world and he was asked how he sleeps. He answered that he sleeps off and on during the day but only in stretches of up to forty minutes. Alfie is beginning to become a great adventurer so I guessed he could miss one small nap!

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We headed at first for Penarth and breakfast at Hampton’s. The lady of the house and I had been there the week before and I fancied a return visit for breakfast. Hampton’s is a little jewel in Penarth. It is a kind of posh gift shop with a café upstairs called The Blue Pelican, it’s a really cool place. We parked the buggy, and booked a table for two. I had scrambled eggs on toast and I ordered a kids breakfast for the kid!

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We had a great time, relaxed, quiet and just a bit classy. As he does every week, Alfie charmed all the other customers in the place with his smile and cheery nature. He was totally fascinated by a giant polar bear, high on a top shelf.

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I was tempted to buy it but thought a house extension might be too high a price to pay in addition to the shop price!!

Next we headed for Cardiff Bay and Toddlers’ Day at Techniquest. Alfie sang most of the way down. We parked outside The Cole Exchange, that fabulous old building in The Bay and as I lifted Alfie out of the car, I noticed the singing had stopped and he had fallen asleep. I guessed like all great adventurers this was his forty minutes!! I lifted him into the buggy and he still did not stir, so I amended the itinerary for the day and headed for Starbucks via Tesco to buy a newspaper. The next forty-five minutes was wonderful. I ordered my usual  – tall, extra hot, skinny, single shot latte – and as an added bonus, I had a few pounds left on my Starbucks card, so it felt like a free drink. I took it outside, tucked the blanket snugly around Alfie, turned him away from the sun, zipped up my gillet and sat reading my paper in the warm, clear January sunshine and as I was enjoying my coffee, I cast a thought to all my ex colleagues who were in school sweating over their forthcoming inspection.

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The boy slept for ages and I eventually strolled down to Techniquest and booked in with him still sleeping. I received my security wristband and free cup of tea voucher and headed in. The place was very busy, full of pretty young mums with their over excited offspring all red faced and sweaty. I sat quietly amid the mayhem and waited for Alfie to join me. We sat near the buggy park. There must have been more than fifty buggies all parked higgledy-piggledy behind a barrier, with bags coats and numerous other things hanging from every available handle. I looked around for some male company; there were one to two dads and grandfathers so I was not completely alone. I had a few smiles from some young mums as they came to the buggy park to retrieve some important item, all smiled at me and all said they wished their offspring would have a sleep. I smiled back, desperately wishing Alfie would wake up. Thankfully none of them had come back to breastfeed their little one!

Techniquest’s mission is to engage people with science and to motivate them to learn more. It offers interactive experiences that are accessible to all. It was founded in 1985, by Professor John Beetlestone and his colleagues from Cardiff University; its first site was the gas showroom opposite Cardiff Castle (now Burger King). In 1988 it moved to a pre-fabricated industrial building in Cardiff Bay, with 100 exhibits; it was here that it launched its education programmes for schools. In 1995 it moved to its current site, the UK’s first purpose-built science centre, in Cardiff Bay. The building was formerly a heavy engineering plant; Techniquest was designed around the framework of the original building. It’s a large hall full of fascinating scientific things.

Alfie was woken by the screams, shrieks and laughter of the other kids and when he was settled, we set off. For the next hour or so we enjoyed all manner of fun together. He had has his face painted, I half fancied having a big spider put on my face but, even though it would have been great fun, I chickened out, I must be getting old and boring! We played in the water, built big Lego towers, tried building ball pyramids, pushed buttons, watched balloons being launched and a hundred other things. Marvellous times!

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We then decided to invite Millie, Alfie’s cousin down. A quick phone call and she was on her way. Alfie was thrilled. Millie is a beautiful little angel with striking blue-eyes, who has been sent to our family.  We had such fun! Millie loved all the exhibits and enjoyed the water especially but got herself soaked at the same time. I am sure they loved each other’s company, it was so good to see them playing happily together.

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They played on a giant piano, which was built into the floor and played tunes as they walked (or crawled) over them. They loved the ‘Infinity” mirror room which I also loved. It looked like I was in a room with a hundred Alfies and Millies.

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They also amazed me with a magic trick by appearing to climb up though a table, Great stuff.

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Sadly all good adventures have to come to an end. Millie’s mum had to go and collect Mia from school and I had to think about heading back home.On her way out Millie joined the painted faces group, she looked so cute!

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Alfie sang all the way home, I didn’t recognise the tune or the words but I did recognise a happy little boy who appears to enjoy going out with an ageing, tubby little fellow he calls grampy.

Happy days!

Adventures with Alfie Day 11

21st December 2012

Today is our last adventure before Christmas. It will be 2013 before we have another one. Today is my son’s birthday, it’s the shortest day of the year and at 11.10 am the sun was at it’s most southerly point in relation to the earth…so from now on it’s longer days all the way until June. Happy days!! I hate the dark dismal days of winter; the past few day have been particularly dark and grey… at least I should say that I used to hate the dark days of autumn and winter, now Mia, Millie and Alfie are three bright rays of sunshine which brighten up every day. I read once on a calendar that ‘perpetual sunshine produces a desert’. How true is that, how can we appreciate the sunny days without the rainy days that go with them! Now I can, like the Selfish Giant in Oscar Wilde’s story, appreciate that the winter is just the Spring resting.

Alfie came over at half past seven and the good lady of the house wasted no time in getting him ready for the day. Great excitement always erupts in our house when the grandkids visit! I heard her telling him that she wished she could miss work today to go adventuring. When I first saw Alfie he looked like Burglar Bill, one of the stories I loved reading to my kids in school.

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We took her to work and then came back.

Alfie was not terribly interested in his early morning nap, he had missed three adventuring days thanks to our travels to France and Africa, and the excitement was building!

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We had decided on visiting Caerphilly, which meant a trip over the mountain! For me it was a trip down memory lane as at one time we drove regularly through this small busting, interesting valley town on our way to our very first home in Gelligaer, and at one time the main way home was through Caerphilly. They were happy days those early married life days…it’s funny that excitement has increased down through the years and I don’t half still love the old lady who shares my life and makes it so good!.

Caerphilly is a town in the county borough of Caerphilly, located at the southern end of the Rhymney Valley. As of the 2001 Census the town has a population of 30,388. It is a commuter town of Cardiff and Newport, which are located some 7.5 miles and 12 miles away, respectively. It is separated from the Cardiff suburbs of Lisvane and Rhiwbina by Caerphilly Mountain and it is the largest town in the county borough of Caerphilly.The town gives its name to Caerphilly cheese, which originated in the area. The most interesting part of the town is the huge castle.

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Caerphilly Castle is a mediaeval fortress. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Claire in the 13th century as part of his campaign to conquer Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert and his descendants and the native Welsh rulers. Surrounded by extensive artificial lakes – considered by historian Allen Brown to be “the most elaborate water defences in all Britain” – it occupies around 30 acres and is the second largest castle in Britain, second only to Windsor Castle. It is famous for having introduced concentric castle defences to Britain and for its large gatehouses. It has a wild leaning tower; the South East Tower has split vertically at an angle producing a very noticeable lean, which manages to out-lean even the Tower of Pisa known as “The Leaning Tower”.

We arrived quite early and made our way through a little shopping mall to the jewel in Caerphilly’s crown, more important even than the castle, Glanmor’s Tea Rooms.

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It’s an exquisite little place with table service by waitresses of all ages, who wait on the tables, dressed all in black and wearing little white aprons. Highly civilised and much appreciated by me! I was saddened when I went in though to be told that there were no child seats. (Russell please note!)

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So I had to look forward to my pot of tea and custard slice with Alfie balanced on my lap!

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Not good!

I ordered Alfie hot buttered toast and we had a great time. The waitresses all loved him and he was on top form, pointing and shouting and getting excited about nothing in particular. The tea was great, Alfie’s toast was devoured hungrily and words cannot describe how much I loved my custard slice!

After we left we strolled over and had a look at the castle. We both enjoyed it. It was a lovely day, the only nice day of the week, Alfie day.

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The sun was shining and the sky was blue. As we left, I took Alfie to see the very first school I ever taught in, Twyn Junior School. I was there on teaching practice in 1970. I was there for six weeks and my class teacher was Roy Noble, now a famous radio personality in Wales. I met him recently; sadly he had no recollection of me, but I am proud of my little claim to fame and the wonderful journey that was my teaching career, started in this lovely little valley school.

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The building has a look of Colditz Castle about it but the school itself was a warm and friendly place and a great place to teach. I remember it with great affection.Inside there is a garden and all the classrooms lead off this garden, along outdoor corridors…may have changed now…

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We drove from here back over the mountain and stopped off at the Thornhill Farm Shop. This was a particular favourite haunt of my dad and mum, who made many visits to the shop and café, usually after their coffee morning on a Thursday. Things were much the same as I last visited with dad and mum several years ago. We had a beautiful time together Alfie and me. I ordered him child’s snack box, it had cheese sandwich, a cake and some sultanas in a box and a drink. He nearly burst with excitement when it came.

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After food we went out and visited their nativity barn. Alfie loved this bit even more than his snack box! It was a warm sweet smelling place, full of child friendly animals; there were some sheep, chickens, some piglets, a couple of huge bulls and some reindeer. We strolled round with Alfie shouting and pointing as he does at regular intervals.

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The Christmas story was portrayed around the barn and there was a DVD playing Vegetales. It seemed the perfect way to round off our adventures for this term.

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Already I am looking forward to new adventures in a new year when Alfie will be growing up and bringing more joy to the lives of all who know and love him!

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Happy Christmas little man! See you soon!

Adventures with Alfie Day 10

Friday 23rd November 2012

Alfie slept over again last night. He came a little late, as he had been packed off to the doctors with sticky eyes. I remember when our kids used to get it; we used to have a little tube of Golden Eye ointment to squeeze in. Things are a bit more modern now and Alfie came equipped with his usual bag of stuff and a little bottle of eye drops to put in four times a day…that’ll be fun!

When he woke up this morning he looked like Bartimaeus from Bible times. His left eye was completely stuck and his right eye was open just a crack, yet despite this he was able to give us the biggest of smiles. When I came down the lady of the house was giving him his early morning drink. I was dispatched to find cotton wool balls and warm salty water to sort his eyes out in preparation for the drops. My dear one had not forgotten her early training and soon Alfie was looking more his usual handsome self. I’m not sure he was that keen on his drops!

We took the good lady off to work, having prepared homemade meatballs in a light tomato sauce and spaghetti for her lunch. When we got home we had a little play together before Alfie went for his morning snooze!

He slept for ages, I am not sure whether his eyes had given him a disturbed night, but it was almost eleven o’clock by the time my movements eventually woke him. It was a glorious day, sunny, clear blue skies and not a breath of wind…all this going on while the news was telling me the whole country was on alert for some ark building, as the wind and rain was so bad. Not for us anyway, certainly not on a Friday…Alfie day.

We had decided to go to Cowbridge today as we had been looking for a present to take out to Lesotho and had seen something there some weeks ago and also because it is such a lovely little town, certainly the jewel of The Vale of Glamorgan! The drive down to Cowbridge was stunning, the roads were quiet and the scenery was wonderful. As we drove I was playing Alfie’s favourite CD – the one with all the kids songs on.  I avoided … ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ in the interests of the other road users! Alfie loved it and danced all the way!

The drive took us through the villages of St Nicholas and Bonvilston, both of which have strong connections with the family of the lady of the house. Her mum had spent many happy hours visiting her best friend who lived in St Nicholas and her cousin used to live in a house in Bonvilston; we used to love going there.

I was thinking on the way down about the name Cowbridge and wondered how many cows we would see crossing it. I wondered too about the Welsh name for Cowbridge, which is Y Bont Faen- The Stone Bridge. The two didn’t match unless the cows walked over a stone bridge?

Evidently the town lies on the site of a Roman settlement identified by some scholars as the fort of Bovium (cow-place). Recent excavations have revealed extensive Roman settlement nearby; the town lies alongside a Roman road. There are 17th century references to a ‘cow-bridge’ over a tributary of the River Thaw, which flows through the town. Last time I went there were ducks on the river and I had brought some bread so Alfie and I could feed them.

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When we arrived it was just like Penarth, nowhere to park!  I eventually found a place and we set off.

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We immediately passed what looked like a good place to stop for lunch. I promised myself that I would remember it if we needed a place to eat. The town is very pleasant and we love walking around looking at all the posh people who lived there. It was quite busy even though it was still school time. Almost every other shop is the kind of shop the lady of the house would steer me into.  I can’t help thinking that The Vale of Glamorgan would be better off having Cowbridge as its county town instead of Barry.

I noticed that the new Waitrose Supermarket was open and I though I might pop in later.

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We were making our way to Happy Days, which is a curious mix between a junk shop, a market and a shabby chic emporium. It is a favourite stopping off place for my dear one and me. It has a very good café in there and some really interesting stalls.

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The café was quiet so we made for it and had lunch while it was quiet. I had made Alfie’s usual… wholemeal sandwiches with grated cheese, a few biscuits and a rice pudding. He LOVED it and charmed every single customer, he really did put on a masterful performance of cuteness…I was very proud, he even had me spellbound! I ordered the most exquisite lunch of a Welsh rarebit with egg and bacon. The rarebit was made with Welsh cheese and leeks! My tea came in a pot (essential) served with a country roses bone china cup and saucer.

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I was at peace with the world. I promised myself and the café owner that I would visit Trip Advisor upon my return home. I was wishing I had the web address of Ramblings so I could tell him his establishment would soon be famous!

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We had a lovely relaxing time together and then moved on.

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Next door to Happy days was an old church where they were holding a Christmas Tree Festival. I walked in and it was truly wonderful. there were loads of different Christmas trees all around the church, put there by local organisations and charities. I would have loved a look around but an old bird on the door asked me for £3 entrance fee and I had only just about managed to find enough loose change for my rarebit so I had to pass…I will visit some other time.

We walked on and passed a rather impressive Tenovus Cancer Charity shop. I couldn’t believe the quality of the stock. Mostly M & S stuff… I must say, the people in Cowbridge throw away some good quality clothes. Annoyingly, there was nothing I fancied so we reluctantly left. We made our way to Waitrose, as I had made my mind up to buy some Manuka Honey. I thought there had been a pricing error when I saw the price tag, but I bought one anyway, people do speak very highly of it!

Next we went to feed the ducks but they were nowhere to be seen, Alfie looked sad. I was thinking perhaps the good people of Cowbridge like duck instead of turkey for Christmas and word had got to them and they had sought a different watering hole till the festive season had passed. Such is life!

We had decided to go home via The Amelia Trust Farm, which is just off the Cowbridge Road near Bonvilston. Halfway there Alfie fell asleep. He woke up as we pulled into the car park and he gave me a tired smile.

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He started to enjoy the animals, especially the goats and the cows but as we got near the pigs I was surprised to hear the strange noise they were making only to discover it wasn’t the pigs it was Alfie snoring. I carried on for a bit thinking the fresh air would do the little man good, but when I called into the café, he was sound asleep. I had a cup of coffee and turned the stroller round so I could just watch him. I quietly promised him I would come back here another day on another adventure.

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Looking at him just reminded me how much I love this little fellow.

I looked at the airport in the distance. How I loved going there when I was a kid, my dad often took me to watch the planes, jetting off to places far and near. Sadly now it’s quite hard to see a plane landing at our main airport and annoyingly, the airport is arranged in such a way that you are unable to see the planes anyway once you are there.

The drive home was a quiet one with Alfie asleep all the way. He failed to wake up when I lifted him into the cot. It had been a lovely day out. I can’t believe how quickly a day can go by.

Alfie woke up soon after and we had a little play before his dad arrived. I was sad as he left, as I will not have another adventure for two whole weeks!

 

I sat down and waited for the arrival of another tasty rarebit…the lady of the house was due home shortly.

Thanks buddy for another great day!

Adventures with Alfie Day 9

Friday 16th November 2012

I hate November or at least I used to hate it…grey days, clocks just gone back and the Spring as far away as it can be. I am sure I suffer from that horrible disease one gets when one lacks sunshine. After the shocking summer, I am even beginning to believe my niece who is championing the fact that the government is spraying the atmosphere with chemi trails to cause more cloud and rain cover to counteract the effects of global warming.

This year though there is a ray of sunshine in my life and it’s called grandchildren. We see a lot of ours thankfully. Mia and Millie are frequent visitors to our place and we have the wonderful prospect of having them staying this weekend. They are beautiful little treasuries and the other little ray of sunshine is Alfie who I look after every Friday. I had already made my mind up that today I would continue Alfie’s education with a visit to the library in Cardiff.

When I saw the fine drizzle, which covered Wales this morning I knew I had made the right decision!

Alfie slept over as usual and very kindly that lady of the house had been up early bathing, dressing and feeding the little fella so when I blearily made my way down stairs to prepare the good lady’s first meal of the day and prepare her second one as well, he was ready, smiling and ready to go adventuring. Being with this little man has changed me.

Sometimes my conversations used to go like this…

’Have a good day today?’

‘Yes.’

What d’you do?’

Went to town with Alfie.

‘Good time?’

‘Yeah…OK’

Not any more…What follows is what happens now…

When the lady of the house was safely out of harms way Alfie and I drove back home. We noticed that the traffic is always much lighter on a Friday. A lot of my friends ‘work from home’ on a Friday….so they say!!! I used to ask my headteacher if I could work from home from time to time and he always said the same…”No! You’ll never get thirty kids in your lounge Fatboy!’ and so in the end I gave up. I am still a little envious of those who are able to ‘work’ (term used very loosely) from home. Never mind life is tough sometimes!

When we got home we had a little play. After playing ‘farms’ last week we played ‘kitchens’ this week. Alfie had a little go pretending he was Heston Blumental.

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The kitchen is a bit pink, but Alfie appears not to notice too much. He made me a delicious cup of tea and had a little go at a few simple recipes, before going off for his nine o’clock nap at more or less the right time…that seems such a good idea. He went straight down…good little fella! I looked in the mirror and was truly shocked…what a mess, messed up hair, face sporting a rubbish MOVEMBER moustache, bags under my bloodshot eyes, looking like they are packed for a 6 month holiday and when I yawned my breath offended me! I was about to do the dishes, but I thought a bit of personal hygiene was long overdue. I checked Alfie, he was sleeping peacefully, so I decided shower first and do the dishes afterwards!

Job done and now looking decidedly more handsome and debonair, I looked around for something to wear. I noticed that Alfie was wearing his gillet and as I had just bought one for myself from the few pennies the lady of the house had given me for my birthday, I thought we could go as the ‘Gillet brothers’. I am never sure how to pronounce the word… Is it gillet ( gi…as in what you say to horses to make them go and …llet as in café au lait) or is it gillet (gill..what a fish breathes through and let, rhymes with net)? You can choose but I’m saying gillet.

Alfie woke in good time to go for the 10.28 train and we made our way to Eastbrook Station. When I was there something happened which made me Iaugh out loud. All of a sudden a posh sounding bird announced that the next train to arrive at Platform One was the 10.28 to Cardiff Central and then apologised that it was not expected to arrive until 10.32. Three things…. firstly, since when has Eastbrook Station had a Platform One…secondly, since when has Eatbrook Station had a station announcer and where has she hiding? Thirdly, how did she know the train was four minutes late? Brilliant…The train actually came at 10.30 but I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

It was quite busy so Alfie had to stay in his pushchair much to his embarrassment! Alfie’s parents often forget we only possess a Barbie pushchair and when they forget to leave their stroller this manly little one year old has to spend the day pretending to be Barbie’s boyfriend Ken! Oh the shame… but he seems to cope OK.

We arrived in Cardiff and made our way to the library, but first we had to stop off at the Cath Kidston shop to exchange some presents that we had bought for Alfie’s great nan’s 90th birthday.

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As I walked in through the door I noticed that this busy town centre store has almost as much Cath Kidston stuff as the good lady, who shares my life, has in our house!  Many people don’t know the existence of Cath Kidston, Dinas Powys.

I do!

The staff were as charming as ever and changed my things and made a big fuss of Alfie…he responded in his usual way! We then headed for the library and …

 

 

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…what a great decision it was to come here! It was wonderful. I caught the tail end of the Friday story telling session and the kids’ area (they have a whole floor of the building to themselves!) was full of pretty young mums with their little darlings all playing with toys and reading books. I was in heaven; fortunately there were a few not so pretty young dads with their little offspring as well, so I did not feel totally out of place. Alfie simply adored it, I put him down and he was off! He was so good interacting with the other little kids, stealing their toys and getting his toys stolen by others. He would sit and listen as young mums read to their kids. I know Alfie’s dad and mum love to read to him and I could tell he was loving it. I sat and played with him and read to him…

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I was having the best time ever… so was my little buddy! I noticed thought that several ladies were peeping down the back of their little darling’s nappies, then shaking their heads and looking straight at Alfie. I got the message. No worries though; this little piece of heaven in our city centre had been thoughtful enough to provide a ‘grampy and toddler’ changing room, I did the business ( and so had Alfie…big time) and rejoined the group. Most had gone home when we reappeared. This gave Alfie the chance to explore a bit more and he found the windows, which reached, down to the floor. He loved this even more than the toys and books and sat for ages and ages looking out on to the entrance to the John Lewis car park. He loved looking at the people car and buses going past it was great!

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We could have stayed there till teatime but a library helper started tidying up and it was dinnertime anyway. After chatting to the assistant and finding out about next week’s story time and rhyme time – Mia and Millie get ready…you are coming next week – we made our way out.

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We thought we would visit Hamleys before lunch.  I have only ever seen one other Hamleys in Regent Street in London, but now we have one in Cardiff.

On the way be bumped into an old friend Nigel Moffatt with his daughter Sarah and his mum. He was visiting from Basingstoke. We had a great chat and took some photographs.

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Nigel’s mum was in a wheelchair and I was tempted to challenge him to a race around St David’s Two. The Barbie puschair has excellent steering and I really fancied my chances…but thought better of it!

After saying our goodbyes, we went into the shop.

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What a paradise for kids is Hamleys! Alfie loved it, especially this toy bird, which was massive, but it reminded me of the seagull, which hovers menacingly over the Hayes Island Snack Bar, so I moved him on quickly.

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Near the door there was a toy elephant with a price label of £1000. I turned the Barbie pushchair quickly to the right, to avoid Alfie making eye contact with it! After a great look around and with my wallet firmly in my trouser pocket, we headed off for lunch at a familiar haunt, The Café Zest in House of Fraser.

We visited here once before and it was good today was even better. It was a bit later than last time, so the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ ladies (hair colour not choice of reading material!!) were nowhere to be seen and today the customers were decidedly younger. It was great, not too busy, high chair available and plenty of space. Alfie was happy to be having some food. I ordered my meal – jacket potato with prawns, mayonnaise and salad and a pot of tea. It was a good sign when not only did the tea come in a pot but it came with a little pot of hot water as well – without having to ask! My kind of shop… every time. When I asked a little nervously if they had a microwave to heat my grandson’s meal I was told ‘Of course!’ and the assistant even asked if I would like a china bowl instead of the old plastic one the meal came in. How kind is that?

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Alfie ate like a king… tender lamb with steamed vegetables followed by rice pudding. They even brought it to my table when it was done and another little lady hovered around me, clearing dishes away whenever one became empty. After his meal Alfie played quietly with the lid of his bottle while I demolished the jacket potato. Stunning.  A group of five blue haired brigade ladies settled on the next table to us and as usual Alfie charmed them with his smiles and shouts. They made me laugh, as they all ordered a pot of tea and a scone and then halfway through they all decided that the scones were not very nice…so all five went to the counter to complain and all five were given toasted tea cakes in compensation. Funny how all five disliked the scones…turns out they were all from Swansea on a visit…enough said!

Alfie waved goodbye, five ‘over sixty’ Swansea Jacks waved back and we made our way back to the station, tired but so very happy.

On the return journey the train was quieter, so I got Alfie out of the Barbie pushchair and we looked out of the window together all the way home. He loves to do that…more shouts, more window banging…and more fun!

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On the return journey we went on one more stop to Dinas Powys Station (Platform 2!!), as there had been a sighting of Alfie’s Noo Noo (comfort blanket), which he had lost the day before but sadly there was no sign. It was a long walk home and by the time we reached the end of our road the little man was asleep.

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Did you know it is possible to pick up a little ray of sunshine and place it in a cot and did you also know it is possible to enjoy November?

I do!

Adventures with Alfie Day 8

Friday9th November 2012

I had a strange dream in the space of time between when I awoke early to make sure Bes was up for work and the time I got up to prepare breakfast and lunch for the lady of the house and then take her to work. I dreamt I was carrying Alfie over the iron bridge that is near our home and I tripped and fell. I cannot remember what happened to the pushchair, Alfie or myself but I am sure it wasn’t pleasant!

What was pleasant was remembering when I woke up that it was Friday and Alfie had stayed with us overnight. When this happens the bed beside me is cold as the lady who normally keeps it warm is downstairs watching our little man. In that room which I often think of as a little bit of paradise created by the lady of the house for our grandchildren. It’s a little haven of peace and tranquillity and contains a cot for the babies and a bed for the supervising adult – always the good lady – she loves it and the grandkids love having such a special lady so close. It’s a great idea and a great place to stay – one day soon though as time goes by, the cot will become redundant – unless God send us some more little treasures.

Alfie gave me one of his best smiles when he saw me, his whole face lights up and it’s like he’s just about to burst with excitement. I can’t think of many other better ways to start a day.

The weather looked OK so we decided to go to Bridgend on the train. This is always a treat. I visited Bridgend some months ago in my pre Alfie days and returned home with a pair of brand new M & S moleskin trousers. I thought I would dig them out and wear them today…just for the fun. I stopped wearing them a while back because I couldn’t stop feeling them – they are very suede like to touch – and I began to get some strange stares on the train and the bus as I sat there stroking my trousers. I smiled as we left the house as I thought about the fact that I was wearing almost everything bought from a charity shop. The moleskin trousers from The Air Ambulance shop in Bridgend, my jumper from the Red Cross in Penarth and a shirt from Oxfam in Cardiff. Poor Alfie …..going out for the day with this old unshaven guy who looked like he was an ambassador for the United Nations.

I needed some cash for the train fare so I decided to walk down to the other end of the village to Dinas Powys station; this had two benefits for me. One, I could get some cash from the machine and secondly I wouldn’t have to carry Alfie in his pushchair up over the iron bridge. In my life dreams often come true! I actually enjoyed the walk, I was tooted several times, I am not sure whether it was some pretty young thing trying to flirt or whether I actually knew them!  I waved to several people not having a clue who they were and the one I did know… Sian Jones…I gave an extra big wave. Alfie was enjoying the autumnal breeze on his face as we made our way along. I hate November usually, but today being with our little man, the grey overcast day did have one little ray of sunshine and he was sitting in the pushchair in front of me.

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We arrived at Dinas Powys station earlier than I had anticipated, so rather than hang about in the cold; we decided to catch the earlier train and change in Barry. First I had to negotiate the reverse of what I dreaded before. The crossing at Dinas Powys station is via an underground passageway, reached by a steep flight of steps down then up the other side. I was very careful.

The train came almost immediately and we got on very excitedly. I was annoyed as the ticket collector came for my money just as the train was approaching where the Sully Branch line used to join the main Barry line. I was hoping to investigate and see if there was any evidence left, but when he left me we were approaching Cadoxton. We changed at Barry Town station, scene of one of the best Gavin and Stacey episodes and for me it was a trip down memory lane. For three years when I was in college in Barry I used to catch the train home from Barry every day. In those days it was a proper station with a café with china cups. I loved it. You could gaze over at Woodham’s scrapyard where there were hundreds of rusting steam engines. The rows of redundant steam locomotives were a picturesque sight for holidaymakers travelling to Barry Island, and became a centre for pilgrimage for steam enthusiasts from the emerging steam railway preservation movement.

A total of 213 locomotives were ‘rescued’ from Woodham’s yard. Over 100 have been restored to working order. Dai Woodham should be knighted! I often used to sit in lectures and watch the low loaders taking the trains away as they crawled up College Hill.

This morning we were able to see two old, rusty, magnificent engines.

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There is no proper café now just a Mind charity place selling teas and coffee, with a few second hand books. When they move into selling clothes I may give them a visit. The old signal box is still at the end of the station and I took Alfie to see it. He wasn’t too impressed. It looks like it is used as a mess hut now for the railway workers.I dreamt of how busy it would have been years ago.

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Alfie and I watched a plane flying low overhead coming into land at Cardiff Airport…he enjoyed that!

Our train came in and we got on. Annoyingly three things happened – firstly, the train had no tables so I had to sit down the end in the part where people can put their bicycles, secondly there was a bike already there, which meant a squeeze for Alfie’s pushchair and the owner of the bike was smelling to high heaven. I was gagging. Thirdly, Alfie fell asleep! I was just about to explain all about this line running through the heart of The Vale of Glamorgan and he was away dreaming of the steam engines at Barry!

The old Barry-Bridgend passenger service finished on 13 June 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts, but passenger trains on the eastern part of the line from Cardiff to Barry continued, and the western section continued to be used by through passenger trains between Cardiff and Bridgend when the main line via Pontyclun was closed. This still frequently happens at night and on Sundays and train operators often run empty coaching stock and empty mail trains via this route to retain train crew route knowledge. The scheme to re-open the line was promoted by the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend Borough Councils to the Welsh Assembly Government in August 1999. New stations were built at Rhoose, Cardiff International Airport and Llantwit Major.  At Bridgend, the Barry Bay was re-laid and a new platform built. The section of line between Barry and Bridgend reopened for passenger services on 12 June 2005. It’s such an interesting ride. The train leaves Barry station and instead of the sharp turn left towards Barry Island it goes straight on and passes Romilly Park. I think all visitors to Barry should come in this way. The West end is the best end and has many impressive houses edging the park. I checked Alfie he was still fast asleep. After this it crosses the Porthkerry Viaduct with wonderful views out across the Bristol Channel. The next stop is Rhoose Cardiff International Airport.

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It’s a hoot…no expensive facilities here, just a small platform and a coach waiting to take passengers to the Airport to be jetted off to some far flung destination. The coach driver was asleep just like Alfie. He must have the world’s most boring job… I’ve never seen a passenger use it!  After Rhoose Cardiff International Airport the train runs along the coast. The sun had come out and the channel was like a silver ribbon glinting in the Autumn sunshine. We passed Fontygary Bay, RAF St Athan – sadly no jet fighters here any more. I used to love it when they flew down low over the camp at Boverton when we took schools there. You could feel the heat off the engines and the noise was deafening. We all loved it!

After St Athan it leaves the edge of the coasts it nears Llantwit Major and then makes its way towards Bridgend. The Vale of Glamorgan is a beautiful place to live and this train ride is a great opportunity to see it in all its glory. I checked Alfie… still sleeping! Thankfully my smelly travelling companion left the train at Llantwit Major and took his bike with him.

When we arrived in Bridgend, I remembered the place with little affection it, it makes Barry seem like Monte Carlo. The sun had disappeared as I walked down Station Hill, I made a note… going down was fine but the walk back up may need some extra time. Bridgend has what most towns seem to have these days, an Eastern European Accordion player, a few Big Issue Sellers and a growing number of charity shops. The accordion player woke Alfie up. He was sitting outside the Air Ambulance Shop. I had a few coins in my pocket and as I thought about giving him a few, I remembered the moleskin trousers and the prospect of finding a moleskin jacket or a moleskin pair of pants or a moleskin hat to go with them proved too much. Despite the very pleasant playing and a cheery ‘Dobry wieczor’ I kept my hands… and my coins in my pocket.

Nothing! We left the shop with long faces.

I thought Alfie might like the market next so we made our way there. It was OK, but it wasn’t too special…no fish stall or animals or even pig heads and ox hearts…Cardiff is so much better.

I was thinking Bridgend is not a very child friendly town. No parks or gardens, no museums, not even any old steam trains, just shops and a lot of people dressed in jogging bottoms and young, heavily made up mums pushing heavily laden pushchairs. Alfie looked a bit bored and ready for his lunch. There is only one place to go for lunch in Bridgend…

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SEBS Fish and Chip Café.

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Bridgend can do one thing right. We headed there and I ordered my usual OAP special fish and chips, mushy peas and a hot drink. Bliss! They had no high chair so Alfie had to sit on my knee and eat his Hovis sandwiches with mature grated cheese, a fruit pot and some biscuits. He was ever so good and ate quietly and happily amusing all the other customers with his smiles and occasional shouts. He is trying so hard to talk and it’s hilarious. There was another family close by, a mum with her daughter both very overweight, who had two monstrous kids. Alfie though was superb. The café was full of interesting people. An elderly couple who came in holding hands, another couple him small and mousey looking, her very overweight with a tiger print top and she kept looking and smiling at Alfie. On the other side, a young lady, on her own, who looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. I will never know her, but I wish her well. Alfie sat on the seat next to me eating his biscuits, while I tucked into my fish and chips. He enjoyed sharing my mushy peas and we just enjoyed being in each other’s company.

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After SEBS we had a little walk around before attempting station Hill; Alfie loved it but I struggled a bit and pretended to stop and look at the view at regular intervals.

When we got on the train we found a table seat and prepared for the journey home. Alfie loved it! I was so pleased!  He got excited as the train began to pull out. He had been watching a big old raven hopping along the platform, which flew up as the train pulled out.

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He loved the trees, the fields, the sheep, and the horses. He banged the window and shouted. It was magical. If this little lad grows up loving train rides, he will have one happy grampy! I watched his eyes as the train raced along they were flickering from side to side, trying to take it all in.  He loved the sea as we neared Fontygary.

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The journey back, all fifty minutes, went by far too quickly and we soon arrived back home. No iron bridges to cross this time, so we slowly made our way back up our little Close.

Alfie wasn’t tired when we got back and as his dad was off playing football, we had an extra hour or two to enjoy playing together. The farmyard caught his eye and we played ‘farms’ until his eyes started getting heavy. Some real farmyard smells prompted me to change his nappy before settling him down for a little snooze before mum came to pick him up.

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I watched him sleeping, my day had started with a bad dream but we had a lovely time together and I found myself humming an old John Denver song, funny how old songs come back into your mind at a time you are not expecting them….

I watch you sleeping innocent and free,

I don’t know what your dreams may be,

You don’t know what you mean to me.

I watch you sleeping little angel face

And on behalf of the human race

Welcome to this crazy place.

I won’t be here forever,

But as long as I’m around,

I promise you I will never let you down

To help make a world you can feel worthy of

I will teach you to fly on the wings of my love.

Thanks buddy for another lovely day! See you next Friday

Adventures with Alfie Day 7

Adventures with Alfie Day 7

I find it hard to believe that this is the end of half term and apart from last week, I have looked after our little man every week. It has been a fun journey so far and I look forward to many more adventures in the weeks and months to come. When Alfie thinks of me I want him to think of fun times making ordinary days into adventures and realising that even ordinary days have the potential to make special things happen. Somewhere in the Bible it says, This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. I like doing that. I bought a slate plaque in an old ironmongers shop in Corwen while we were away last week. It says this.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.

Alfie and I were determined to enjoy the gift of this day and enjoy being together.

Alfie stayed over as usual last night and I was awakened by the sound of splashing water this morning and I realized that the lady of the house was bathing Alfie preparing him for the day ahead. I was quite taken aback when I walked blearily into the bathroom to clean my teeth to observe that the good lady was actually in the bath with Alfie. The water was up to Alfie’s neck and he was really enjoying the fun. Clearly, the water was not up to the neck of my favoured one and for a moment I didn’t know where to look…but then I thought I’ll be with Alfie all day I can look at him later. It was a pleasant way to start the day. I couldn’t really concentrate on cleaning my teeth properly though.

I was given the job of drying Alfie and we had a good little chat while he was practising his grins and smiles. The dear lady then dressed him while I set about preparing her lunch and the boy’s sandwiches. She brought Alfie with her when I took her to work and he was whisked off somewhere to be shown off.

We set out on today’s adventure quite late, as I had to visit the dentist and came back with a numb mouth sounding like a hideous drunk, slurring my words. I was hoping the boys in blue would not pull me over, as I am sure I would have been arrested for sounding drunk in charge of a minor.

I first had to fill up with petrol. My gauge was showing 2 miles to empty and I thought I might struggle to make St Mellons and back so I called into Tesco. I filled up and then wasn’t sure what to do… rush in and pay and hope no one steals Alfie or take him into the shop and waste time and annoy the boy with the constant in and out of his car seat. I thought I had it all worked out. I parked at the nearest pump and when I went to pay I walked backwards to the pay desk, not letting him out of my sight. Well, I tripped over the step and found it impossible to open the door of the pay desk with my hands fishing behind my back, so I gave up and went back to collect Alfie and he came with me to pay. I think I’ll write to Tesco and suggest they organize a crèche so that harassed grampies like me can pay for their fuel while some CRB checked person looks after the kids…can’t see it happening though!

The adventure this week had been pre arranged as Alfie’s mum had requested I take him to meet her pupils and teachers in St Mellons. However, I realise that all work (being showed off) and no play make Alfie a dull boy, so I decided that on the way I would continue his Cardiff Education and introduce him to an important  – maybe the most important – part of what he needs to know about this great city and we visited Paget Street in Grangetown, home of the world famous Clarks Pie.

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The shop was busy this morning and there was a queue almost to the door. The smell of that shop is captivating, much like the smell of a bar must be to a drunkard. I gazed lovingly at Frank Hennessey’s picture on the wall while I waited to be served. My turn came and I ordered two pies one hot and one cold. I didn’t buy one for the boy, I don’t want him to grow up into a boy that people could look at and say…Alfie ate all the pies…he must wait until he is a little; older to enjoy the delights of a Clarksie. The two old birds in the shop loved him though and when I asked for a photograph they both tried to claim they couldn’t use a camera; one dashed off to the window to take a Clarks pie baseball hat from their classy display and both complemented me for raising the boy in such a sensible way.

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After leaving the shop I took Alfie to show him some of the places where I played as a child when I visited my nan’s house. I also showed him the house where I was born…no brass plaque on the wall for me though, just loads of happy memories. My nan was great.

 

Then we drove to St Mellons and the smell was wonderful. I don’t know why so may drivers waste money on expensive car air fresheners…all you need is a hot Clarks Pie…. I was in heaven.

As I drove up Greenway Road I was faced with a dilemma. Alfie had obviously filled his nappy. I couldn’t take him into school smelling like that so I had to change him on the back seat of the car. It was a tricky operation but I think I got away with it and smelling much sweeter now I took him in to be shown off.

He was magnificent, smiling in the right places every time. He loved school and the small chairs and toys. Staff and kids alike thought he was wonderful.

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Alfie and I had agreed to give the cold Clarks pie to the headteacher, thinking that if we treated him well the next promotion might come his mum’s way. Clarks pies have great power…watch this space. The Head was delighted and was halfway through it before we reached the door of the office! I can’t help thinking that it needed more respect, like an old vintage wine …looked at, sniffed for a bit before tasting in very small bites.

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I was proud of Alfie and proud of his mum too.

At the end of lunchtime we popped into his mum’s classroom to meet the children who again adored Alfie. While his mum was addressing the pupils, I took refuge on a nearby metal filing cupboard…bad move! After a while I had this sinking feeling and had visions of me going base over apex in front of these six year olds. I shot up just in time but the cupboard was twisted and dented. I felt terrible mostly because the cupboard was personal property not the property of the council.

I left shamefaced and embarrassed, thinking maybe it was me who had eaten too many pies!

When I got back to the car and opend the door I gasped, the smell was rank! The old dirty nappy had been fermenting for the last hour and a half. Using Alfie’s coat as a fan I tried to divert some fresh air into the vehicle. When I felt it was safe  and hygienic enough, I put Alfie in and followed. Then I saw my Clarks pie on the seat. I was starving. I could resist no longer. I began greedily devouring the pie in between gagging at the smell of the dirty nappy. Such is the power of a Clarks Pie. Today I actually set a personal best and only had one single trickle of gravy down the outside of my coat. I carefully scraped it off and ate it… far too good to waste.

I decide to visit Roath Park on the way home. I was keen to show Alfie The Lighthouse at the park, that remarkable reminder of the fact that Scott of The Antarctic left from Cardiff on his last fateful voyage to the South Pole. I parked quite near the lake and took our little man to the very spot where thirty-eight years ago I asked the lady of the house to marry me.

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At first Alfie looked disinterested but as I explained this was where my adventure with the great lady had begun he started smiling and laughing, maybe he understood the significance of this hallowed spot or maybe it was the advancing group of geese and swans!!

It was too cold to walk far so we gave the lighthouse a miss and retreated to the car and headed for town. Great Aunt Bes had called with matters of utmost importance, which nothing could get in the way of. Her new phone had arrived and we simply had to meet her in the 3 shop to arrange to pick up a new Nano sim. Absolutely nothing else mattered! I know my place and the importance of such things and in no time at all we were in St David’s shopping centre purchasing the aforementioned article. I noticed Bethany look with disgust as we met, then I remembered the big gravy stain on my coat. Bother!! I looked round for a poppy seller… one of those would cover it!

Alfie and I then strolled to M & S to pick up some dollars for his dad’s birthday. Tonight Alfie is off to the USA to visit a friend of his dad and mum’s who is a marine and recently lost both his legs in Afghanistan. They have been collecting money to help Tim convert his car for disabled use… they are such caring people… I hope Alfie grows up to be like them.

On the way back to the car we popped into St John’s Church; I was explaining to the boy that this was the church where his great grandfather and great grandmother were married just after the war.

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It was quiet inside and I got thinking how very sad I am they never saw our little miracle. They always believed God would send him – they totally believed during the years of heartbreak – but they were taken before seeing him. How they would have loved this darling little man. At the back of the church we stopped and lit a candle, it seemed the right thing to do. All Alfie will have is pictures to look at and the stories we will tell. I was blessed I knew them as my dad and mum. We left the candle flickering in the quietness of the church and I wiped away a tear before going back out into the cold. I bought a carton of cockles in Ashton’s before heading back to the car and making our way home. It had been a full day for Alfie and he was asleep before we reached Penarth Road. Later his mum would be collecting him and then they’ll be heading off across the Atlantic. I’ll miss the little fella….

Alfie has promised that he would write to me from America… I am sure he will. Have fun…  go adventuring with your dad and mum my little friend.

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Adventures with Alfie Day 6

There was a windy start to the day and then I remembered our visit to the Royal India Restaurant the evening before, it had been our thirty seventh wedding anniversary and I had taken the lady of the house out as a special treat. She had wanted to go to a fancy dress party and had suggested I wear my invisible man costume, but I couldn’t see myself wearing that, so we went out for an Indian instead. We had a wonderful time, the food was quite exquisite, but we had made the mistake of having a starter and neither of us could finish our main course. During the course of the meal, we had both made schoolboy errors, the lady of the house had dribbled quite a large amount of her starter onto the crisp white cloths and had to lean forward to disguise it every time the waiter attended us. I kept thinking she was looking for a sly anniversary kiss, but each time she did it, my advances were thwarted by a quick ‘Sit down Fatboy, behave yourself!’ from the great lady, who has endured thirty seven years of awful jokes and an overweight spouse. She has put up with so much…poor soul! My mistake was to eat one of the whole green chilies that were decorating my chicken kalapuri. Very bad move! It was like eating a box of England’s Glory all alight at the same time. I smiled as I reflected on a pleasant evening and hoped the wind would die down soon!

Anyway I got up and looked out of the window and saw blue sky. St Fagan’s it is then I told myself! Alfie had not slept with us overnight so I settled back into bed, waiting for his mum’s car to drive up Chapel Close. When I heard it, I nudged the snoring Sleeping Beauty beside me and she obediently ran downstairs to meet our little man. Once upon a time, someone actually did compare me and the lady of the house to Beauty and the Beast, but I thought that was most unfair, I know she’s got an almighty growl on her, but my dear one looks nothing like the Beast!   How can people even think that!

Aunt Bes was in work, so after making breakfast for the dear lady and preparing her lunch I had to bundle Alfie into the car. I quickly had time to throw in the first load of washing; life is tough sometimes, before taking my beloved into work, receiving from her my orders for the day and then drive home, desperately trying to remember all I had been told!

Upon my return I gave Alfie his breakfast and we had only a little play together before the pips on the radio heralded nine of the clock and nap time.

Having been severely reprimanded last week for his lack of sleep I was determined to redeem myself.

Alfie found it hard to settle and on one of my frequent visits to his room I smelt why!  A nappy change took place between putting the first load of washing on the line and the second load into the machine. Alfie’s offering reminded me of last evening’s Lamb Korma…what is his mother feeding him? Time was ticking on so I decided to give the rest of the nap a miss and head for our first port of call. I had decided to take Alfie to visit his cousins in Barry. Of all our adventures surely the best must be visiting Mia and Millie, two beautiful little people. I felt a bit off colour and then realized that in seeing to the lady of the house and Alfie, I had not had any breakfast or even a drink. What was I to do?

Suddenly the answer was staring me in the face.

I leaned back and Alfie seemed to nod in agreement. Bliss! Alfie was still full from his Weetabix and mashed banana, so he didn’t fancy one. I thought I would buy a breakfast for Mia and Millie’s dad. He’s has a rough time lately, a little problem with the Crown Jewels. They’ve been playing up a bit and still causing more than a little discomfort… but forget cocodomol, paracetamol and antibiotics, what the boy needs is an Egg and Sausage Mcmuffin Breakfast. Fix any part of your body in no time!! I ate mine and we made our way to the exit. As we did so we were nearly run down by a pair of rough looking builders in a rough looking van. The hoots and the waves though, revealed one David Brown, a distant relative of Alfie’s with his sidekick Alfie’s Uncle Pete. Dave was tucking into a breakfast wrap and at the same time trying to negotiate his way around the car park. I gave him Alfie for a cuddle but perhaps his hands were a bit rough but I am not sure Alfie enjoyed it. We exchanged pleasantries before making our way to Afal Sur.

Mia and Millie were delighted to see us and we all had such fun playing together. Mia and Millie are so lovely and I know Mia has a big responsibility of being a big sister and big cousin but I am sure she is ready for the role!

After a while we left Barry creeping along the A4050, as some time earlier the petrol gauge in my car told me 0 miles till empty. I guessed the car was quite light now with very little petrol in it so I hoped we would make Tesco and we did…just! I paid with my plastic passport to Paradise (otherwise known as a credit card!) and we made our way to Saint Fagan’s. On the way I called into Western Cemetery, I wanted to show Alfie my grandparent’s grave. They were such lovely people. I often think of my family two or three generations down the line, I wonder what they will be like? I went to where I thought the grave was and it was not there. Either the council had moved it or I had forgotten where it was. I thought the former was unlikely. I was so sad that I could not find it. It’s been over a year since I visited it. I was sad and ashamed. I made my mind up to check at home and bring Alfie back one day soon. My grandparents lived in Cowbridge Road West and their house was quite a posh house by Ely standards – no offence meant. It was called ‘The Cedars’ and they had a television long before anybody else I knew. The also had an Anderson Shelter in the back garden, left over from the war.  They used it as a coalhouse and we loved playing around it and would occasionally sneak inside and pretend it was wartime, all the while being careful not to touch the coal. It had flowers growing over the top. We loved it!  The old house was sold a number of years ago and every time I drive past I remember my childhood and hope the new owners have left that little piece of history in their garden, they could make a fortune by allowing school children to visit!

As we drove down St Fagan’s Road more memories of my childhood flooded back. My dad would often drive home from my Nan’s house that way and we would shout, ‘Drive slowly dad… drive slowly dad!’ as we neared the level crossing in St Fagan’s village. We were in heaven if the gates were closed and we would rush out of the car and stand on the old level crossing gates and wait as the train hurtled by and then run back to the car before we caused a traffic jam. No seat belts or children’s seats in those days.

Alfie and I arrived at the museum, parked and made our way around this beautiful place. There were adverts around the entrance hall for the Halloween celebrations coming up shortly and I am sure one of the assistants must have thought I had come too early as she asked me to remove my mask as it was frightening the kids, only to walk away rather embarrassed when she realized I wasn’t even wearing a mask. Charming! Alfie just smiled!

We stopped at the first house and were immediately told off and informed that pushchairs were not allowed – bearing in mind the place was completely empty. When I questioned why this was so, three dreaded words came back to me… Health and Safety! Somehow I bottled up my anger and parked it outside where it caused a big obstruction and carried the little man in and we settled down by the log fire. Alfie loved it, staring into the flames.

He relaxed and was kicking his legs slowly, almost like he was waiting for a story. I thought about telling him The Great Mouse Plot from Boy. I had read the story at the ladies coffee morning two days earlier and the ladies went berserk twice, once when I pulled a fake mouse out of my pocket and waved it in their faces and again when I stopped halfway through the story as I was running out of time. I have never seen them so animated.

We chatted to the lady attendant for a bit, she loved Alfie, and then made our way around various other places. Alfie particularly loved the sheep and the Gwalia Stores but it was lunchtime. We decided to dine in the café by the front door. When we got there, I asked the young chap with a trendy little piece of facial hair, if tea came in a pot or was it a teabag in the cup? I didn’t like his answer so I chose latte; tea must be brewed properly in a teapot. What a common place! It was quite empty, so we enjoyed a leisurely lunch together. Alfie smiled at every person who sat anywhere near us.

As we prepared to leave, I watched several teachers counting their little loved ones back on to the waiting buses and just out of habit I started counting mine…ONE… that’s it, all correct! Good boy Alfie!

We then made our way home and as a special treat I took Alfie to the cemetery in St Andrews Major. I let him see the little Bethesda corner where some of my friends are buried. All of these men were good men, Trevor and Bert Davies, Paul Davies, Norman Courtney, Tom and Doris French but it wasn’t until I got to Ken Lewis’s grave and Peter Reid’s grave that I felt a little tear running down my face. We owe so much to these people, who set such a good example for us to follow and helped shape Bethesda into the place it is today.  When he can understand, I want Alfie to know about these people and know how important it is to leave the world a better place than it was when we found it. He will need help and I will stand with his parents and do my best to guide him that way… and I am sure the lady of the house will play her part as best she can as well.

I drove home; Alfie was quiet in the back. When I put him in for his afternoon snooze, he fell asleep between the front door and the cot. It had been a lovely day. McD’s for breakfast, a cuddle off Uncle Dave Brown, a great play with Mia and Millie, St. Fagan’s and sitting by the log fire with the old timer and now the peace and comfort of the little piece of paradise his nan created for her grandchildren.

I listened carefully…and yes the wind had died down. The lady of the house will be so pleased!

Adventures with Alfie Day 5

Friday 5th October 2012

As I drive past the local Infants School I always look up at the school motto above the door. It says, ‘Nid Byd, Byd Heb Gwybodaeth’, which literally means a world with no knowledge is no world. One day this school will be Alfie’s school. One thing I must try to do in my Friday Adventures is do my bit to prepare him for the time when he leaves the safety of family and enters the world of education. With this in mind and reflecting that we spent last week in Barry, Alfie and I decided this week we would up our game and head for a place of great learning…Yr Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru…The National Museum of Wales.

Alfie stayed overnight so we had another nice early start. The lady of the house, bless her was up early dressing Alfie and preparing him for the day. I gave him his breakfast of Weetabix and mashed banana and as my car is off the road, the lovely lady had to walk to work, so Alfie and I had an extended playing time before his morning nap. We had a lovely time. It appears Alfie has two favourite toys in his toy box; a police car that makes a great siren noise and an old plastic Quality Street jar.

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The sweets have long left the jar and are resting comfortably on my waistline and the hips of the lady of the house, but the jar retains a strange fascination for Alfie. We also had fun with an old Fisher Price toy we picked up in a car boot sale at Bessemer Road in recent weeks.

It’s a kind of pull along telephone and when you pull it its eyes pop up and down. I think it appeared in a Toy Story Film. Alfie really got the hang of pulling the string to make the eyes go…he had a fit of the giggles. While we were playing I was fascinated at Alfie’s ability to blow snot bubbles from his nose with effortless ease, almost without trying! He is teething and has the sniffles, that’s a common enough occurrence but snot bubbles is something else!

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Alfie had a little sleep then and I wondered if he could blow snot bubbles in his sleep. It might be possible. After his nap, we prepared for the day. A free day thanks to the Welsh Assembly Government who give free travel to the old and infirm; thankfully I am one of the former and they have also abolished entry charges to museums. Cool! My car has broken down so it meant the bus or the train. I went for the train thinking I had just missed a bus, but when I reached Cardiff Road, there was a huge queue of traffic, so I guessed the bus may be late, so I went to the bus stop and, great timing, the bus arrived almost immediately. I catch the good old number 95 into town. I was a bit panicky, as it will only take one pushchair unfolded, so if there is already one on board you have to remove your little darling and fold the blessed thing up, then you have no chance of reading The Metro. I held my breath, but thankfully all the young Barry mums were probably having a lie in or still watching Jeremy Kyle on ITV +1. The bus bounced its way into Cardiff and we got off at The Central Bus Station. As usual every human being within a five-seat radius of Alfie was captivated by his smile and he had the whole bus almost paying him compliments. Happy days!

It’s a fair walk from the bus station to the museum, so I gave Alfie the opportunity to have a look at some of Cardiff’s old arcades on the way. I am sure he loved them; we walked up the Wyndham Arcade down the Royal Arcade, up the Morgan Arcade, then across by the Hayes Island Snack Bar. I thought the pushchair had developed a fault, as it started pulling to the left as I went past, but I kept thinking of bacon rolls and seagulls and forced the pushchair on. As we passed by the fault seemed top correct itself…strange that.

As we went through the subway in front of The City Hall we stopped to hear a busking accordion player. Alfie loved the music and was fascinated by the way the man’s fingers skipped over the notes.

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He looked quite poor and a few of the notes near the top end were missing or all buckled. I was looking round for a seat. I love to hear music being played in the street; those Peruvian singers are my favourite. The guy smiled and started to chat. He asked Alfie’s age, Alfie was smiling away in time to the music. Turns out this Eastern European accordionist had four boys of his own; the youngest just about Alfie’s age. I gave Alfie a pound to drop in his case, but he tried to eat it, so I had to do it myself. You meet some nice people. He smiled and thought about his boys back in Eastern Europe and his dream of opening up a car wash in Tesco Car Park…he was a pound nearer to achieving that particular dream anyway. We strolled on. I was thinking that I hope that as Alfie grows up he has a good heart and cares for those less fortunate than he is. Before we entered the museum, I put Alfie’s mask on him. As a responsible and caring adult I knew that some of the statues in the museum had a habit of showing their bits and I consider Alfie too young for such things. Unless care is taken, he will grow up like his mum and grandmother.

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I remembered the time in Florence, that great city of culture, when the lady of the house came face to face with Michelangelo’s statue of David and giggled uncontrollably. Or the time the great lady and Alfie’s mum watched the ballet in the Wales Millennium Centre and were threatened with expulsion because of the sniggers every time the male ballet dancers flounced on to the stage. He wasn’t terribly keen on the mask, but I knew it was for the best!

Alfie and I did the natural world section first and boy did we have a good time. Buffalo, dinosaurs and all manner of strange beasts were on display. Alfie was fascinated! He particularly liked the moths and butterflies, unlike his aunt Bes who screams loudly at anything that has more than two legs and can climb up walls.

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From here we moved on to a display of Welsh ceramics and both dozed off, whilst walking around! Not all that interesting but at least no statues….

We decided to take the lift up to the next floor and quite unexpectedly the lift took us up to a café, that’s all that seemed to be on that floor. Still it was nearly dinnertime. I looked at Alfie, Alfie looked at me and we both nodded and agreed to stop for luncheon.

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It was a cool place with plenty of high chairs and a parents and baby changing room. There was also a kids playing area so I had all I needed. I set about feeding Alfie. I had prepared cheese sandwiches on white bread with extra mature cheddar followed by a fruit pot. He really enjoyed his lunch and consumed every bit. While he was eating, I looked at the menu and my eyes came across…warm salad with hot Penclawdd cockles, bacon and mangetouts. I gave into the temptation and ordered it with a pot of fair-trade tea.

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Heaven! They gave me a Welsh love spoon with the number 5 on it for my table to guide the waiter. Alfie loved it! He played drums on his high chair and amused all who were sitting around him. When my meal came they must have run out of mangetouts as they just gave me some pea cases instead. When I was a kid I used to love shelling peas for my mum, but eat the empty pea cases never! I didn’t feel like arguing so I just ate it. Words cannot describe how good it was. Alfie kept eyeing up my cockles, but much as I love him…there was not a chance of me sharing them.

After food we went to the play area, where I let Alfie draw a picture. He seemed to think that the crayons were edible and we had this massive fight to keep each one from his mouth.

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The finished picture was displayed in a little display area. I considered the implications; here I was, an ordinary boy from a council estate in Cardiff, with a grandchild with a piece of artwork on display in the National Museum of Wales. I was breathless with excitement. I cannot wait for the next museum catalogue…

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On the way to the exit, we walked through various galleries and the event I had been dreading happened. Luckily I was able to pull Alfie’s mask down in the nick of time.

Oh the shame of it, how could they stand there on their plinths with everything on show!! Alfie kept trying to pull the mask up but I knew what was best and kept pulling it down. I changed gear on the pushchair and beat a hasty retreat and reached the front door without any further embarrassment.

We walked back to town through the Gorsedd Gardens. These are right in front of the National Museum; these small gardens are an attractive place to walk. There are many well looked after flowerbeds, which are attractive throughout most of the year. There is a stone ‘druidic’ circle dating from 1899 when the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in the city. From here we walked across to the Earl of Windsor Garden. This is a quirky little garden just opposite the castle. It contains a statue of the Earl of Windsor… not really sure who he was! I took Alfie there because I could see a conker tree. We only found a few despite there being hundreds of empty shells. I explained the rules of conkers to Alfie, who was only desperate to eat them. He didn’t seem to appreciate anything about conkers or strings or what was a sixer or a tenner or a twelvesey. I saved the explanations of how some people claim to make a conker a champion by baking in the oven or soaking it in vinegar for another day. It’s a foul practice only undertaken by people who don’t appreciate the finer points of the sport. Alfie was getting tired!

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We made our way back to the bus station to catch the number 95 back home. Luckily I was again the only pushchair on the bus, which was very crowded. This very large lady perched herself on the seat next to mine. She was lovely with my little man and Alfie smiled at her all the way home, now older and wiser as a result of his day in the museum, learning about the natural world, how rude some statues are, the Gorsedd Circle and above all else how to play conkers!

We arrived home tired but happy and as Alfie went home I hope he looked up at the Infants school and smiled when he read ‘Nid Byd, Byd heb Gwybodaeth.’

Adventures with Alfie – Day 4

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 special!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Adventures with Alfie. Day 1

Friday 7th September 2012

Today, for the first time, K8 and Jas trusted me with the little miracle we sometimes call Alfie. K8 has gone back to work part time and I have agreed to care for Alfie on a Friday while she & Jas are working.

Big responsibility…but also big opportunity for fun and adventures together.

Been thinking… as Alfie was born in Cardiff I thought I had better get to work introducing him to the wonderful city of his birth. So today we took our first trip into Cardiff alone together. I think we were both excited as we boarded the train from Eastbrook – I decided on the train in case the bus pushchair space was taken and I had to do a quick fold up on the first day – and made our way into Cardiff. I think he’s going to like trains as he smiled all the way in!First stop of course was The Hayes Island Snack Bar where we sat and watched the Paralympics on the big screen. I toyed with the idea of a bacon roll, the smell wafting over the pigeon droppings was so tempting. Then the flashbacks started and I remembered the encounter with the seagull in October, so today I gave it a miss.
I think Alfie enjoyed it here, he smiled all the time!

After some time here we moved on to Ashton’s the fishmonger in Cardiff Market. He was amazed at all the ugly faces on display, but shook his head when I offered him one of my cockles…Hmmmm, some work to do there. I had already asked for ‘the usual please’ when the girl with the broad Caaardiff accent asked if she could help.
I think Alfie liked it here, he smiled all the time!

We strolled around the market and I showed Alfie where he could buy a pig’s head or an ox heart when he was bigger, he didn’t seem all that interested. All changed though when we took the lift upstairs to look at the pets! He loved the budgies and the rabbits. I thought about surprising K8 and Jas with a mouse or a rat, but thought better of it. One shop had an albino rabbit…I thought…albino, you can’t say fairer than that!
I think Alfie liked it here he smiled all the time!

By now it was getting close to food time. I want to help bring Alfie up proper like, so I decided today not to have a bacon roll in the market with the real Caaaardiff people but to go to Howells, where I felt I would have a better chance of a high chair and my tea in a pot instead of a polystyrene cup! On the way to my usual haunt on the top floor, I saw a sign, which said Café Zest, so I tried it! What a find! Plenty of space and definitely a refined clientele. It was like Fifty Shades of Grey, with all the old dears there. I think I was the youngest by a few years. Alfie wowed them all with his smiling and giggling. Big bonus…. they had a bacon roll and a pot of tea on special offer. I was in heaven. I ordered mine and a rack of toast for the little ‘un and we spent a very pleasant hour with the blue rinse brigade who all left talking about my little miracle! Perhaps that’s why it’s called the Café Zest, these old grippers has a certain zest for life and were great with the little man.
I think Alfie liked it here, he smiled all the time!

We made our way back to the station meandering through the Cardiff Arcades and the charity shops in Central Square and bought a beautiful shirt, Bargain!

I think Alfie liked this part of the trip as he smiled all the way!

We arrived home mid afternoon, looked at each other, shook hands and agreed… Fridays are going to be fun!

Then Alfie smiled!!