Category Archives: Travelling

Adventuring nearer home – Dinas Powys Quarry

Who knew that behind the big steel gates near Dinas Powys Common and St Andrews Major Primary School, lies a hidden gem of epic proportions?

 

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It’s Dinas Powys Quarry.

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Dinas Powys is my home. It’s a village – just- with a village centre, a village hall and an annual village show. It’s a village that the County Council and the Welsh government is trying to change forever with their big building programmes. We have, unusually it seems, a community council, our village is run by local people with a heart for our village. Dinas Powys is a community with a population of 8,800 at the last census and lies approximately 5.5 miles (9km) to the west of Cardiff in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The village also has the remains of a Norman castle…

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….and the parish church of St Andrew’s dates from the 12th century.

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The population had remained static at about 300-400 until the second half of the 19th century when there was an influx into this thriving rural community, including a big contingent from the West Country.

The growth of the coal industry saw the first passenger train arrive in Dinas Powys on Sunday, December 20, 1898, and after that the population increased rapidly.

Dinas Powys is a thriving community with a wide range of voluntary organisations and social groups for residents to enjoy, as well as a variety of sports clubs. The Common, a large area of open space administered by Dinas Powys Community Council, is a popular recreation area, and organised sport is also played at Parc Bryn-y-Don and Murch Playing Field.

 

It’s also the home of Dinas Powys Quarry.

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The quarry was used to extract limestone. The limestone rock was first excavated by hand.   It was used in the building of Barry Docks and for the building of some of the older houses in the Dinas Powys area.   During the 17th Century a rocky outcrop above the quarry became the favourite seat of Hugh Lloyd after he was replaced as Rector of St. Andrew’s Church. This became known as ‘Cadair Yr Esgob’ (The Bishop’s Seat) as Lloyd became Bishop of Llandaff after the Restoration. Hugh Lloyd used to visit the quarry to sit and contemplate about his forthcoming sermons.

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Armed with a treasure map, which Mia had drawn for us prior to our departure, we set out one sunny Sunday afternoon to discover the old quarry for ourselves. Notices around the village have, for some time informed us that the quarry was for sale. That was an intriguing prospect. For sure future excavations would be impossible as the quarry is uneconomic and the public outcry that would follow any decision to reopen with many large lorries full of stone travelling through our village would put the furor over Charlotte Church’s recent party in the shade! But oh that I had the money to buy this little gem- a shy part of our community, hiding behind the great metal gates – and preserve it for all members of the village and the wider community to enjoy.

Out adventure took us across stiles, up paths, across fields and through dense woodland. The adventurers numbered twelve in total.

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The sight we met when we reached the cliffs above the quarry took our breath away.

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The quarry lay hundreds of feet below us. The silence was eerie. You could almost touch it! We spoke little during our early minutes here. At one time the place would have been a hive of activity… large machines digging, huge lorries carrying, massive cranes lifting and explosive dynamite blowing the cliffs apart.

Now, just silence. A silence broken only by the occasional flapping of the wings of the few ducks who have made the quarry their home. The water, reflecting the sun and clouds overhead, hid years of neglect and illegal dumping, its secrets hidden forever or so it seems.

Just silence.

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Our excitement broke the silence. We chatted, pointed things out and for a short time we sensed that the quarry enjoyed our company.

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In the distance the town of Barry, the Vale of Glamorgan’s biggest town. The lights of Jenner park stood proudly on the horizon. The stone from the quarry helped build Barry’s massive docks over a century ago. Beyond the town the Bristol Channel sparkled in the late afternoon sun.

Far below us we saw the roof and the chimney of the home of the current owner. He still lives there it seems. What stories it could tell!

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We stood for all long time in awe!

All too soon though, we needed to make the return journey. Our homes in the village beckoned us.

As we left the silence returned, wrapping itself around the acres of land which contained the quarry.

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We followed Mia’s map, back through dense woodland, fields, paths and stiles.

 

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As we neared our cars, we took time out to visit the village cemetery, which contains the graves of many of our friends – a little corner of Bethesda, a place full of memories of people we loved and who loved us. People who guided us, modelled life for us and shared our joys and sorrows. People who adventured with us.

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Our memories warmed us on a cold afternoon.

As we left, we looked back up the path to the old quarry… still silent.

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Chasing the Lights – Tromso 2014

tromso_1076I have always been fascinated by The Northern Lights – The Aurora Borealis. This natural phenomenon – part of the wonder of God’s creation, has enchanted people for as long as they have been on earth. When dreaming about seeing the northern lights, you must remember that you are at the complete mercy of nature. The northern lights love to play hide and seek. Observing the aurora borealis is often a tug of war between your patience and the aurora itself. The guidebooks all say that you must ‘stay in the northern lights area at least a week, preferably two, and you will be rewarded – unless local weather suddenly decides to obstruct your view with clouds’. The truth for most of us is that we are restricted to a visit of just a few days. This uncertainty perhaps that just adds to the mystery that surrounds this enigmatic lady.

Our interest was further heightened after we watched a brilliant programme by Joanna Lumley about her interest in and visit to Norway to see the Lights. For her and her programme makers time and money was no worry and she had a great view of the lights.

index Hamsun_northernlights_194After watching the programme,  Boo and I made up our minds that we would try to see the Lights for ourselves.

What are Northern Lights?

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south..
Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

What causes the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere.                                                                                                                                                                  The most common auroral colour, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.

Legends of the Lights

‘Aurora borealis’, the lights of the northern hemisphere, means ‘dawn of the north’. ‘Aurora australis’ means ‘dawn of the south’. In Roman myths, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn.  Many cultural groups have legends about the lights. In medieval times, the occurrences of auroral displays were seen as harbingers of war or famine. The Maori of New Zealand shared a belief with many northern people of Europe and North America that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.
The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed that the lights indicated the location of manabai’wok (giants) who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen. The Inuit of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted: the seals, salmon, deer and beluga whales. Other aboriginal peoples believed that the lights were the spirits of their people.

For Christmas 2012, I arranged a trip to Iceland for Boo and me to see the lights. Sadly this trip did not give us a sighting of The Temperamental Lady, as locals affectionately know her. However we loved Iceland and the people. It was a truly wonderful trip.

For Christmas 2013 my present to the good lady was a trip to Tromsø. This ticked several boxes. Boo had always wanted to visit Norway, my step great grandfather was Norwegian and the country has always fascinated me, it was the home of Roald Dahl and, of course, it gave us an another opportunity to see the Lights.

1898560_10152383875412784_1925346693_oWe flew from London, via Oslo to Tromsø. We left in heavy rain.

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33downloadMost of the journey was through very thick cloud but as we approached Tromsø  our excitement began to mount…

Tromsø city is the ninth-largest urban area in Norway by population and the seventh largest city in Norway population.It is the largest city and the largest urban area in Northern Norway and the second largest city and urban area north of the Arctic Circle.

Most of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the small island of Tromsøya in the county of Troms, 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Tromsø Bridge connects Tromsøya to the mainland and the Trmosoyund Tunnel. The city is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

The city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway the oldest house dating from 1789. The Arctic Cathedral, a modern church from 1965, is probably the most famous landmark in Tromsø. The city is a cultural centre for its region, with several festivals taking place in the summer.

6525081-Bus_to_town_TromsoeGetting from Tromsø airport was easy using the Flybussen, which took us straight to our hotel. We had chosen this hotel due to its location, offer of free tea, coffee and hot chocolate and above all else the offer of free waffles each afternoon.

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We spent much time exploring this lovely Arctic town. The people we met in the tourist office in shops or walking about were simply delightful and so proud of the place they call home.

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Tromsø_library_-_2005-09-13The library in Tromsø.

DSC05475 DSC05476Tromsø is also home to the most northernmost brewery in the world. It’s called Mack. I don’t drink beer but was interested in this unique place. Sadly there were no organised tours during our stay there.

DSC05590 We were there though really to see the lights. We had booked with a company called Green Fox Guiding. We chose these on the recommendation of a friend and some of the wonderful reviews they had on Trip Advisor.

5 of 5 stars Reviewed 27th February 2014

You know what they say… “You get what you pay for” and this chase was worth every penny. Our guide, Markus, was awesome. The weather was not good in Tromso at all. In fact, several northern lights tour companies had cancelled due to bad weather. Not Green Fox, Markus picked up our small group of 8 and took us all the way over to Finland. He just kept going till he could find the best location. He stopped a couple times to check the area for possible activity and would not give up. We had an amazing night with a fire and tea, great biscuits, baguettes, and even roasted some marshmallows on the fire. Oh yes…I forgot to mention the most important part….we saw the lights. We saw so many dancing green and purple lights, it was unbelievable. On a night, when we had not hoped to see them at all, we ended up seeing them all over the place in Finland. Thank you for one of the most unforgettable experiences of a lifetime.

The tour was arranged for our first night in Tromsø.

Everything that we had read about Green Fox was true. We met Marcus outside the Tourist Office and he took us off to search for the Lights. Marcus’s enthusiasm was infectious. He told us he was taking us to Finland, as he understood they had clear conditions. It was pouring down with rain in Tromsø, so we just had to trust him. As time passed the weather worsened, we drove through heavy blizzards and strong winds. After several hours though we came to a stop. A lorry that had skidded in a blizzard blocked the road to Finland. We were marooned on a road that had a large turning place. Marcus looked worried, but as he got out to think about what to do, we saw that they sky was beginning to break into clear patches.

After some discussion we decided to stay and hope for the best. Marcus kept us well supplied with coffee and baguettes but we had no real sightings. Neither did we have the promised camp fire. It was frustration all the way.

Just as we decided to leave there was thick cloud cover again, we were FREEZING cold and the road to Finland opened again but much too late for us. It was a subdued group of passengers in the mini bus that made the long drive back to Tromsø.

_MG_7271 _MG_7291 _MG_7296 _MG_7290We got back late, feeling frustrated.

DSC05491The next day I mailed Marcus to thank him and cheekily asked him for another try and he gave me a full refund. Cool! Maybe we could try again.

DSC05495Saturday was spent resting and exploring Tromsø and in particular the football stadium in Tromsø. Many top British teams have played here and I was determined to have my photograph taken with my Barry Town top on. It was a long climb up to the stadium and it was freezing as I posed and Boo did the honours with the camera. As we strolled around some players came out so I asked if I could look around inside. Amazingly they said yes and let us in. Boo was very unsure but in true Newberry Tours style we toured the home and away dressing rooms and got out on to the pitch, carefully, having ben warned by the players not to let the door close on us otherwise we would have frozen into the hallowed turf.

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By late afternoon the rain was coming down like stair rods and this continued throughout the evening, which meant another ‘lights chasing’ night was out of the question. We chilled in the hotel, enjoying each other’s company.

Sunday was a quiet day in Tromsø. No shops were open apart from the odd food shop. We explored the quayside where each day enormous cruise ships would pull in tie up, discharge large groups of passengers and by the next morning be gone.

DSC05533We found Tromsø Baptist Church and arranged our day to attend ‘Evensong’ at 5.00pm. However, we turned up but no one else did! WE were gutted having built our day around it. As we waited a local offered to help and rang several numbers without success.

DSC05522 DSC05523 DSC05526Monday was to be our last full day in this lovely little Norwegian town with its delightful people. We had decided to walk across the Tromsø Bridge, which connects the island to the mainland.

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DSC05597We dressed up warmly and set off on the walk of the couple of miles across and back. The walk was tiring, especially the outward side, up the slope of the bridge with the biting wind chilling our faces. I had left my hat back in the hotel – schoolboy error! Going down the other side was a bit easier and the sight of The Arctic cathedral – our destination – kept us going.

DSC05557IMG_0222DSC05538The Arctic Cathedral, formally known as Tromsdalen Church or Tromsøysund Church is a church in the city of Tromsø. The church is commonly nicknamed the Ishavskatedralen, literally “The Cathedral of the Arctic Sea or “Arctic Cathedral”. The church was built in 1965 and it is a parish church and not, in fact, a cathedral as it is commonly called.

The church was designed by Jan Inge Hovic and is built mainly of concrete. Because of the church’s distinct look and situation, it has often been called The Opera House of Norway”, likening it to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The church is probably the most famous landmark in Tromsø, although Tromsø does have another church of interest, Tromsø Cathedral which is noted for being the only wooden cathedral in Norway.

The ground breaking of the church was 1 April 1964 and it was completed in 1965.The new church was consecrated on 19 November 1965. The church is built out of cast-in-place aluminium-coated concrete panels.

In 1972, a glass mosaic was added to the eastern side. The church acquired an organ built by Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri in 2005, with three manuals, pedal, 42 stops, and 2940 pipes.It replaced the old opus nr. 12 organ delivered by Vestlandske Orgelverksted, Hareid, which had 22 voices and 124 keys.

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On the journey back across the bridge w noticed that some people had put locks on, swearing undying love – a bit like the bridge near Notre Dame in Paris.

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We had determined to make a very important stop when we returned across the bridge. Lying just the other side was Tanter Ingers Tehus – the most northerly teashop in the world. This seriously needed a visit and we were more than ready for a cup of tea. We were not disappointed.

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We were the only customers and had the pick of the seats. The old girl behind the counter invited us to choose our cup from a vast array of bone china crockery, which she said came from all over the world. Boo chose a cup from Sweden and mine came from England.

IMG_0274 IMG_0279 IMG_0283She then proceeded to brew some tea in a black cast iron tea pot, but would not let us near it till her timer permitted.

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DSC05581 IMG_0293We sat and enjoyed the most glorious cup of tea – Boo… English Breakfast and mine… Darjeeling… all the flavour without the strength… We even treated ourselves to some cake even though we had waffles waiting in the hotel. We warmed up after the cold of the bridge and had the most splendid hour in that special place.

IMG_0295In the quiet, I had chance to think about how much I love my fellow traveller.

DSC05596So we approached the final night in Tromsø. We had more or less decided to have one last shot at the lights but when we enquired none of the tours would promise to even go, the weather being so bad. We were told to check later in the afternoon.

At 5.00pm I learnt that two tours were going – one heading for Finland again and the other going North towards Rakkfjorden. Despite the weather and the tug Finland had on us, we decided to go with The Arctic Guiding Services. They were not leaving till 8.00pm and heading for a break in the clouds near. This trip was on a proper coach which made the journey much more pleasurable and we got the front seat above the driver.

We left just after eight and travelled for a couple of hours towards Rakkfjorden. We made several stops looking for clear skies, but the blizzard and driving rain just continued unabated.

Amazingly just after eleven as we reached our destination the rain stopped. We got out into the freezing cold and gazed heavenwards. Much of the sky was covered with cloud but in the breaks we did see slight patches of green.

_MG_5057_MG_5073 _MG_5055 _MG_5054 What was amazing was that on photographs it was clearly green, but to the naked eye it was just like a cloud with a tinge of green. I was beginning to think that The Northern Lights are a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes. We spent an hour or two here with some great people before the cloud closed in and stars were no longer visible. We left again somewhat frustrated. The photographs tell us we some of the Lights but our eyes and our minds thought differently.

 

They still remain elusive.

 

We got back to the hotel and about 4.00 a.m. ready for a sleep before checking out and heading home the following day.

The flight home had Wi-Fi and we were able to follow the plane’s progress with great interest.

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Iceland disappointed with The Northern Lights, Norway tempted us with just a little taste.

The chase will continue in Finland in 2015.

 

 

 

Canada 2009

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I came across this old blog on a travel website I started but had not visited for several years. It was my first, not terribly good, attempt at blogging.  I have included bits of it here to ensure all my writing is in one place.

It is the account of a trip to Canada with friends Mark, Julie and Sharon, with Mark and Julie’s kids. It was an adventure that was cut short by the death of my beloved father. Because of what happened we never really spoke about this holiday. We didn’t share the photographs with our family and I didn’t keep any of the information about this adventure. It all seemed too painful.

However, it was a memorable holiday in so many ways, especially the welcome we had from our friends Lyndon and Laura. Five years down the line, I can now share with them how much we appreciated being with them.

The news of my father’s passing meant that we had to return home at short notice to be with our family. We always said we have unfinished business in Canada.

Here’s what happened…

August 13th 2009

We had for a long time talked about visiting our friends Lyndon and Laura in Canada. They had emigrated some years earlier. They were two of the youngsters in our Youth Group and as with many of the others, when they grew up they became our friends. Julie’s brother had been able to get ridiculously cheap flights to Canada and so we decided to go.

The plan was that we would fly to Vancouver, spend a few days there before driving up to Kelowna where our friends lived. After a week in Kelowna we were going to drive through The Rockies, along The Icefields Parkway to Calgary; from there we were going to fly to Toronto, visit that great city and see the Niagara Falls, before flying home.

Adventures don’t come much better.

Thursday 13th August 2009

We enjoyed a great flight from London with British Airways and landed in Vancouver.

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Screenshot 2014-04-01 02.34.58For thousands of years, the Vancouver area was home to native people who flourished on the bounty of forest and river.

In May 1792, American trader Robert Gray became the first non-native to enter the fabled “Great River of the West,” the Columbia River. Later that year, British Lt. William Broughton, serving under Capt. George Vancouver, explored 100 miles upriver. Along the way, he named a point of land along the shore in honour of his commander.

In 1806, American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped at what is now Capt. William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach just east of Vancouver on the return leg of their famed western expedition. Lewis characterized the area as “the only desired situation for settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.”

In 1825, Dr. John McLoughlin decided to move the northwest headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company from Astoria, Oregon to a more favorable setting upriver. He named the site after Point Vancouver on Broughton’s original map. Fort Vancouver was thus born.

For many years, Fort Vancouver was the centre of all fur trading in the Pacific Northwest from its vital location on the Columbia River. Vancouver was also a centre of British dominion over the Oregon Territory. In 1846, American control was extended north to the 49th parallel. The northwest became part of the United States and Captain Vancouver moved north to Canada, where a new city was born named Vancouver.

It was on Jan. 23, 1857, the City of Vancouver was born. Through the rest of the century, Vancouver steadily developed. In 1908, the first rail line east through the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge reached Vancouver. In 1910, a railroad bridge was opened south across the Columbia. In 1917, the first span of the Interstate Bridge was completed.

The city was named the Top Destination in Canada in TripAdvisor’s 2012 Travellers’ Choice awards, and was chosen as the world’s “Most Liveable City” in 2010 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a title it has been awarded eight times since 2002.

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Vancouver offers travellers both outstanding opportunities for outdoor adventure and the sophisticated amenities of a world-class city.

While this sea-level port city is known for its temperate climate, the surrounding snow-covered slopes are perfect for winter sports and breathtaking views of the city twinkling below. Vancouver is one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon.

We loved exploring the city. One day Mark and Julie went to visit some friends on Vancouver Island.

 

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I remember writing….’ Nearing the end of a fantastic stay in Vancouver. Worn out but seen all the sites! We are on the way to Kelowna a 395 Km drive tomorrow after we check out.’                                                                    Missing my family and friends back in Wales.’

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Sunday 16th August 2009 7.00 a.m. Canada Time

3.00p.m. Dinas Powys Time

I wrote in my travel blog….

‘Had a good sleep at last! My body must be getting used to this new time zone.

I was shocked the spell checker on this computer did not recognize Dinas Powys.

The others are all in bed but will be down soon for breakfast, before we depart for the long drive to Kelowna. We plan to stop in a place called Hope for a break. Hope it’s a good place. I think it probably is a nice place but who can tell.

Oh well, I have no idea if anyone will read this but me.’

 

P1030249The hire car, which took us from Vancouver to Kelowna and on to Calgary.P1030235My travel blog recorded these words…

At last we have reached the main destination of our holiday in North America as we arrived safely in Kelowna, British Columbia. The journey up to here yesterday took about 7 hours, but included a couple of stops, the main one in a place called Hope – no sign of Bob anywhere – but we did have a picnic beside a beautiful mountain lake, it was stunning and we began to appreciate the beauties of Canada after the busyness of Vancouver.

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Screenshot 2014-04-02 18.43.46The long drive took us up through the mountains and eventually we reached Kelowna and had a happy reunion with Lyndon, Laura and the kids, Charlotte, Jamieson and Jacob.

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P1030455Lyndon and Laura’s beautiful home in Kelowna

P1030381P1030385Again I recorded these words in my blog…                                                      ‘We had a BBQ in what Lyndon and Laura called their backyard – although it looked like a beautiful garden to me. After a wonderful time we began to make our way to the holiday home we are staying in for the week.’

P1030253On the way there, we had a brush with the Canadian Police! It’s something we still talk about  years later…

Just as we left Lyndon and Laura’s  and I was feeling good about driving this car which had its steering wheel on the wrong side , the police pulled me in! We had driven away from the house and at the next junction, the traffic lights turned to red so we stopped and a police car drew up behind us. On green I turned left and saw a sign 30km/hr max…

SchoolZones2So I went 30km/hour, which is very slow indeed (even for me!). Anyway, before long, on went the flashing blue lights and I was signalled to stop. I stopped and got out of the car. The police screamed at me… “Get back in the car!!!  Get back in the car!!! Get your hands on the steering wheel!! DON’T MOVE!!’                                                                                                                                   So I did..quite quickly actually! The police office  walked slowly up to the car with his hand on his gun and asked if I owned the car and where I was going. I explained the situation…

He then said “Why are you going so slow sir!!’

Why does everyone always say that to me?!

When I explained about the sign he laughed and said that was only when the kids were in the nearby school. He suddenly seemed much calmer and after checking my documents, gave us directions to our place and wished me well.
I drove off shaking, with Boo a quivering wreck beside me…and we reached our cabin at a respectable 50 km/hour.

P1030259The house where the owner of our holiday home lived.

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P1030271  P1030304My travel blog went on…                                                                                            ‘Things have certainly quietened down now after the excitement of my ‘arrest’ for slow and careful driving but we have had such fun talking and laughing about it! We spent yesterday quietly in Kelowna. We visited another mall, which they seem very proud of.                                                                                                                                                                We started with a Tim Horton’s Coffee- very famous here and very nice indeed – a great way to start any day.’

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I wasn’t fussed on the shopping bit but I managed to find Chapters Bookshop with a Starbucks so all was not wasted!!

We spent the rest of the day in our cabin and by the pool….boring for you to hear about but hugely enjoyable for us.’

P1030272The blog continued…                                                                                                        ‘In the evening we trecked over to Laura and Lyndon’s for Pizza and Corn on the cob. We had a fab time. They are looking after us so well. We are so grateful. We have so many happy memories to share.’

Kelowna  – 18th August 2009

I wrote…                                                                                                                                    A chilling day today at our cabin. Nothing much to report other than we are all well and enjoyed this much needed day doing nothing.                                                                                                                                                          I did use the time wisely to give our Canadian friends some bombing lessons. Bless them they are tough outdoor little kids used to hunting, skiing in the winter, they get involved in all kinds of sports and outdoor activities but have no clue about ‘bombing’ so I sacrificed my day off by concentrating my efforts in improving their bombing skills. It took a while but they just about got the hang of it towards the end of the day. I was pleased that even after the lessons I could see them trying to improve their skills in their own time. I even saw Ben and Nathan having a little go but of course as true Welshmen they were born good ‘bombers’.

P1030278  This is a particularly difficult version of  The Bomb”. Holding your leg at this angle is only done by experienced ‘Bombers’.Screenshot 2014-04-01 02.31.46Screenshot 2014-04-01 02.33.52Had a great BBQ in the evening and Lyndon and Laura joined us for a Thommo special around the pool.

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Screenshot 2014-04-01 02.33.10Kelowna Day – 19th August 2009

P1030311 As the largest city located on stunning Okanagan Lake, Kelowna is a recreational lakeside paradise with miles of beautiful parkland and several sandy beaches that provide wonderful opportunities for swimming, boating, water skiing, windsurfing and fishing. Even Kelowna’s main street ends at a beach!

Today, Lyndon and Laura showed us round Kelowna and took us to some incredible viewing points to see the wonder of the place where they live.

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P1030333To round off what was proving to be the perfect day, Lyndon decided to take us sailing on his boat. He looked the part in all his gear and we looked forward to some real adventures.

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It was quite a small boat so we decided to take it in turns to have a trip around the lake. Jean went first with Ben. We all had a huge giggle watching Boo trying to get her ample figure into Laura’s life jacket – called a Body Glove.

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She eventually succeeded, although there were bits of bosom sticking out of every available belt hole and armhole.

The weather was quite calm when they left but as they neared the centre of the lake a squall blew up and Lyndon quickly decided he had better take them back to land.

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This proved extremely difficult, especially when he got to shore. The wind was buffeting the small boat against the quayside and Laura was duly dispatched to summon help. It was hilarious and the incident has been recounted many, many times since that day. I am not to sure Lyndon thought it was as funny as we all did.

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It was shortly after this that this perfect day changed, in fact everything changed and my life will never be the same because of what followed. We had a call from my son telling us my father was unwell and that I needed to ring my brother.

We made our way back to the holiday home and I went out to a local phone box to ring home. I had a Canadian phone card.

I was alone.

I got through and before he could speak my brother started crying. Eventually, he told me my precious dad had passed away that day. It was sudden, unexpected.

I could do nothing to stop myself falling to my knees in that car park as the news began to sink in. I wept bitterly for a long time. I felt so alone and so desperately sad. I made my brother promise he would take care of my mum, although I didn’t need to, as I knew he and my sister would and that they would do it well.

I promised him I would come home as soon as I could.

I could not have been with better friends and Mark and Julie and Sharon along with Lyndon and Laura cared for me in the most wonderful way.

As best I could, I went back to our holiday home and shared the news with Boo and Bethany.

The following days were just a blur. On Sunday, after church, we were due to leave Kelowna and make our way down through the Rockies to Calgary. It seemed a better choice than driving back to Vancouver. Sharon was sharing our car and if we could get her to Calgary, then she could catch her onward flight to Toronto with Mark and Julie and the kids as planned and we were able to arrange emergency flights home from the same airport.

Sunday 23rd August 2009

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We went to Church  with heavy hearts. We were cheered up when we saw an old friend , Simon McKenzie, who had driven up from Penticton to see us.

 

P1030430  P1030294P1030498The journey to Calgary was planed to take us a few days but we had to change plans in order to get to Calgary as soon as we could. We felt gutted for the others, but I think they understood. From Kelowna we headed north to stay overnight in a place called Valemount. This small town was near to the start of the Icefields Highway.

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P1030515Sleep was difficult.

Jasper – Monday 24th August 2009

We started early the next day as we had so much to fit in. We headed for Jasper.

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Jasper is a turn-of-the-century railroad town and resort area that lies along the Athabasca River within sight of four mountain ranges. Small lakes—some warm enough for a dip—dot the valley floor, and trails for walking and biking loop throughout. It was a breathtaking drive . Dotted along the highway were numerous gates which could be closed in winter if the conditions become too bad. Other sings warned of the need for snow chains to be put on car wheels. Jasper itself was wonderful. The reindeer it seems wander free!

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From here we made our way down the famous Icefields Parkway. Trying to balance the utter sadness we felt with the exhilaration of the majestic beauty of this wonderful country was confusing. I saw many breathtaking sights through tear filled eyes.

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The Icefields Parkway
A great swath of sensational country awaits south along the Icefields Parkway. Named for the Columbia Icefield and the squadron of glaciers visible along the route, the parkway bowls along for 143 miles , passing through long, forested river valleys cradled by walls of dazzling peaks. Drivers frequently spot elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, wolf, or caribou. After about 21 miles of forest and crag, we pulled over beside Bow Lake for a good look at Crowfoot Glacier clinging to the scabrous cliffs of Crowfoot Mountain. From the lake’s north end, you can make out Bow Glacier Falls, a ferocious cascade plummeting nearly 400 feet (120 meters). A 3-mile (4.7-kilometer) trail leads to its base.

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The Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most stunning roadways.

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P1030584 P1030578 P1030636 Banff National Park
The National Park stretches roughly 300 miles along the jagged crest of the Canadian Rockies, Banff and the adjoining Jasper National Park take in a vast tangle of great strapping peaks, mauled by glaciers and capped by the largest ice fields south of Alaska. Melt-waters thunder from the heights, pool in gem-like alpine lakes, and rush down the forested walls of broad U-shaped valleys into powerful rivers. It’s a staggering, heart-swelling landscape, rich in wildlife, laced with hiking trails, and traversed by the most spectacular system of roads in the Rockies.

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P1030654In the afternoon we arrived in Banff, settled the others into their hotel, left them with their dreams of Toronto and the Niagara Falls and we made our way to the airport and our flight from Calgary back to be with our loved ones.

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It was an awful flight but when we arrived in London we were overwhelmed as Kate and Jason and Gaz and Keri had come to meet us at Heathrow.

Words can never express how much that meant to Boo, Bethany and me.


 …………………………………………………………………..

AXA Assistance Chicago

122. S. Michigan Ave

Suite 1100

Chicago 60603

USA 

 

From
Ray Stahl
 
To:
Mr. Roger Newberry
Phone
+1 312 935 3550
 
Phone
02920512665
Fax
+1 312 803 2754
 
Fax
Email
liberty-usa@axa-assistance.us

</ td>

Email
roger.newberry@btinternet.com
Date
24-Aug-2009
 
Pg(s)
Our Ref
AI2988838
Mr. Roger Newberry
 
Your Ref
AI2988838

 

Mr.Newberry,                                                                                                                                              I am writing to confirm that you, your wife and daughter and have been booked on the flight we previously discussed for this evening. The flight details are as follows:

 Flight BA102 departing Calgary August 24th at 21:35, arriving into London Heathrow at 13:25 on August 25th.

 The locator for your flight is 3QJ25Y.

 Please contact our office if you have any questions.

 Sincerely,

Ray Stahl

AXA Assistance

I acknowledge the help given by our travel insurers…

……………………………………………………………………………

Footnote

We always said that we had unfinished business in Canada and we were totally delighted to be invited back to Montreal in the summer of 2014 to attend the wedding of Charlotte Thomas. She and Bethany have been friends since they were born. Both are getting married this year.

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One more promise I make is that we will visit Laura and Lyndon again and travel The Icefields Parkway without rushing and view the majestic beauty with eyes that are not misted with sadness.

You have my word.

A Very Able Seaman

All the nice girls love a sailor

All the nice girls love a tar

For there’s something about a sailor

(Well you know what sailors are!)

Bright and breezy, free and easy,

He’s the ladies’ pride and joy!

He falls in love with Kate and Jane, then he’s off to sea again,

Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!

So go the words of a jolly old song I remember hearing many years ago. I have no idea whether the words are true. As far as being the ladies’ pride and joy, I can only say that I am sure that it applies to the lady of my house and her thoughts about me.

Yesterday I had a remarkable chance to find out. For all my life I have loved trains, my earliest dreams were about driving the steam engines I used to watch and travel on as a nipper. I spent many hours dreaming dreams in the Barry Scrapyard owned by Dai Woodham. Sadly I am not sure my dream of being a train driver will ever come true.

Imagine my surprise then to be offered the chance not to ride on a train but on a ship. My friend Bob became the creator of dreams yesterday when he offered me the opportunity to travel on a ship sailing the murky waters of The Bristol Channel.

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ImageThe Flinterbirka is an 83-metre long ocean going vessel weighing 3481 tons dead weight. It had recently sailed from Latvia carrying a consignment of wood to Cardiff Docks. Bob is a ships’ agent and my friend. Knowing that I like to make ordinary days special, he arranged with the ship’s captain, a fine Dutchman to take me from Cardiff Docks, down the Bristol Channel to Barry Docks where part of the cargo had to be offloaded.

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Bob dropped me off on the dockside shortly before 9.30pm the time the ship was booked to travel through the lock gates of Cardiff Docks for its epic voyage to Barry. In the eyes of the world a mere hop in the dark, but to me a chance to explore a world of which I knew nothing about. I was about to become a merchant seaman. I often wondered what it would be like to be called an able seaman and now I was about to find out! JK eat your heart out!

I made my way to the bridge of the ship and met the captain. He invited me to make myself at home, find my sea legs and enjoy the voyage! I wanted to salute him and say ‘Aye ‘Aye Cap’n, but I thought better of it. I said it in my mind though.

I gazed at the bank of computers and radar screens, fascinated by everything I could see.

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Shortly before departing we were joined by the two pilots, one trainee and one real pilot. The waters of the Bristol Channel are dangerous and the ships’ channels have to be negotiated with great care.

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We made our way through The Roath Dock and then through a cut and crossed the Queen Alexandra Dock.

The Queen Alexandra Dock, the last & largest of Cardiff great docks was opened by King Edward VII on the 13th July 1907. By then, coal exports from the South Wales Coalfields via Cardiff totaled nearly 9 million tons per annum. By 1913, this had risen to 10,700,000 tons, making Cardiff the biggest coal exporting dock in the world.

At the end of the dock there is a lock, where we stayed for a short while to allow a smaller ship to join us.

We went down to the level of the open sea outside. I gazed across at the barrage and the great city of Cardiff beyond. The sea was calm and all was well. As we left the port, the trainee pilot took control and guided the ship out through the channel, past Penarth Pier and along the coast.

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The hum of the engine and the sea breeze in my face caused me to think about coming out of retirement and becoming a real merchant seaman. I thought of some of the great sea farers of history, Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, James Cook and Ferdinand Magellan and I can honestly say none of them had ever been as excited as I was as we sailed down the coast. For those great men The West Indies, The New World, New Zealand and other famous places were their playground but for me something better, far better.

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We sailed past Lower Penarth, Lavernock Point, and Swanbridge with the lights of the Captains Wife glimmering in the mild Spring night. Then the excitement of seeing Sully Island shrouded in mystery, covered with a cloak of darkness.

As we passed Sully the captain made me a cup of real Dutch Coffee, it was beautiful, sipping it in the moonlight with the sea breezes ruffling my graying hair.

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Next came the bright lights of Dow Corning with Cadoxton perched above it. I hovered between the bridge chatting with the captain and the outside standing on deck watching my fellow seamen working away below me.

The flashing green light ahead marked our destination, the lock gates to Barry Docks.

Visitors to the seaside town of Barry which lies to the west of Cardiff, might be forgiven for thinking that the place held nothing more important than a pleasure beach, a fun fair and a few empty docks that seem to have little or no purpose.

Yet there was a time when Barry was the largest coal exporting port in Britain, possibly even the world. That may have been a long time ago and the town’s days of glory may be gone, but what a glory they were. The development of Barry as a port was down to two things – the rapid growth of the south Wales coal trade and the dynamic personality and business acumen of David Davies, the very first Welsh millionaire. Work began on the new dock at Barry on 14 November 1884, along with the construction of the new railway link. Everything was completed in double quick time and the dock opened for trade in 1889.

In due course, further docks were added and while exports in the first year were just one million tons, by 1903 they had multiplied to over nine million. By 1913, the year before the outbreak of World War One, Barry had surpassed both Cardiff and Penarth to become the largest coal exporting port in the country.

I thought of the history and the thousands of ships to have entered this historic port as the pilot and then the captain steered the ship carefully into the dock entrance and again into the lock. This time the lock took us up to the level of the water inside.

Before long we made our way through another cut before berthing at the dockside.

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I thanked the captain for his invitation and fine hospitality and helping to turn an ordinary day into something rather special.I shook his hand but held back from giving him a salute, although in my mind that’s exactly what I did… and he deserved it!

Waiting down on the dockside was a friend who will probably never know how much I appreciate his thoughtfulness. He was there to take me home and I was about to find out if the lady of the house, like all the other nice girls, really does love a sailor. Maybe she’ll call me Popeye and I can call her Olive!!

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Thanks Bob!

Lesotho 2012 – The final chapter.

Our visit to Peka had been memorable in so many ways; the one thing that stands out in my mind though is the privilege of knowing that I have friends living on the side of a hill in the little town of Peka in The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. I treasure the friendship that I share with these wonderful people. We have a mutual love and respect for one another. The friendship I share with Alice and her lovely family enriches my life immeasurably. I don’t know if Alice will ever read these words, if she does I hope she realises how much she and her family mean to The Newberry Family. I look forward to meeting again some time soon.

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When we got back to Maseru it was getting dark and we had another night in The Lancers Inn to look forward to. We had previously arranged to have a ‘team’ meal in The Lancers that evening, all friends together, five Westies, Five Lewises, the lady of the house and me. Matt and Helen and their beautiful girls had decided to join us by staying in The Lancers as a ‘special’ treat and they managed to book a ‘bungalow’ in the hotel. It was a beautifully designed self-contained apartment. We were so excited.

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The meal was superb but the company was even better. It was a memorable evening. We went to sleep reflecting on a most special day and one I will always remember.

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The next day promised further treats, we were due to start our journey home. We had planned to spend two nights at the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve, which is roughly between Maseru and Johannesburg.

After an early morning swim in the hotel pool,  we packed and tidied up and went for a stroll around Maseru town.

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We ended up at the Lesotho Craft Centre, a wonderful building shaped like a Basotho hat. The girls loved this and bought a load of gifts, presents and souvenirs.

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Outside there are some local women, who sit and make the famous Basotho hat in front of you. It was fun chattering and bartering with them and the lady of the house bought a traditional hat and also a winter hat, which would have looked great on a herd boy, but she still managed to make it look glamorous on her. Happy days!!

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Sadly, the end of the shopping trip meant the end of our stay in Lesotho. It had been another memorable visit and after checking out of The Lancers, we made our way to The Maseru Bridge border crossing and said goodbye to this beautiful place.

Being back in South Africa was a thrill and we drove the short journey to Ladybrand, a small town in the Republic. We stopped to pick up supplies and prepare for our stay in the Game Reserve. It was self-catering, so it meant being well prepared. We had lunch in a Wimpy (where else?!!!) and then did the shopping. Mark organized meat for the braai. The word braai is Afrikaans for barbecue or grill and is  a social custom in South Africa. Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Zambia. The term originated with the Afrikaans speaking people, but has since been adopted by South Africans of many ethnic backgrounds. A braai is a social occasion that has specific traditions and social norms. . In black and white South African, women rarely braai (cook) meat at a social gathering, as this is normally the preserve of men. The men gather round the braai or braaistand (the grill) outdoors and cook the food, while women prepare the pap, salads and deserts for the meal in the kitchen. The meal is subsequently eaten outside by the fire/braai, since the activity is normally engaged in during the long summer months. The braaing (cooking) of the meat is not the prerogative of all the men attending, as one person would normally be in charge. He will attend to the fire, check that the coals are ready, and braai (cook) the meat. Etiquette has it that you don’t interfere with the braaier’s duties, except if expressly asked to help. Other men may assist, but generally only partake in fireside conversation while having a drink in hand.

The rain was chucking it down thorough all the time we were in Ladybrand, but well fed and well stocked we made our way to Ventesburg and the game park. It was a long wet drive but we arrived safely and checked into our homes for the next two days. We were staying in rustic huts over looking the lake of the game park. It was idyllic.

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We ate and settled down for the night having planned an early start exploring the park.

We visited the park early to try and catch the animals – not literally – while they were active. Entry to the park was ridiculously cheap with an entry fee of R50 per car. With an exchange rate of almost R14 to £ it meant it cost just less than £4 per car (we had 7 in our car!) to tour the game reserve. It’s self-drive so you can just drive anywhere you like seeking out the best views of the animals. The roads of the park are unmade roads, which give you a real experience of rural life. The entry fee also allows you unlimited access for the whole day. That first visit turned out to be disappointing in terms of animal sightings and after a couple of hours hunting, we returned to our house for breakfast. We were hoping better things were to come… and they were!

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ImageWhen we returned later in the day, things were very different and we saw many animals – kudu, antelope, ostrich, guinea fowl, rhinos, wildebeest, monkeys, zebra, baboons and many others including the highlight of the day the giraffes. These animals are the favourite of the lady of the house. We followed a family of giraffe for some time before our paths finally crossed on the lower road. It was an incredible experience; seeing these wonderful animals so close and in their natural habitat. It was an almost spiritual experience.

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On the way out of the park we had a bit of childish fun finding silly signs and pretending to drive our vehicle ‘rally car style’ through the enormous puddles.

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We enjoyed a delightful evening with the braai, the food was wonderful with real South African steaks, Mark did not let us down at all. The food was great but the company was the best thing of all.

In the evening quietness, I reflected on many things this trip had given us, visiting a different continent, meeting up with a special family – Mark, Chabi and the girls hold a special place in our hearts – the SU camp with all those incredible children and young people, visiting Alice and her family in Peka, the smile on Alice’s mum’s face, church on Sunday, Maseru the changing city, driving through South Africa, the animals and then Matt Helen and the girls, such wonderful friends. I have so much to be grateful for in my life and I am really grateful.  I thank God very day for the good things I have. Best of all though, is the incredible lady who was brave enough to agree to share her life with me all those years ago.

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It was so good to share such an amazing time with the lady of the house.

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A glorious sunrise greeted us the next morning.

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I got up with the sun and sat outside overlooking the lake and read my Bible. Before the sun would set we would complete our journey to Johannesburg and be halfway home to our families in Wales.

It was an uneventful journey and after visiting a flea market near the airport we made our way to Oliver Tambo Airport, to catch our flights home.

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Some people asked me if it is worth going so far for only ten days…. I’m just guessing you know my answer!

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With grateful thanks to Mark, Malichaba, Patricia, Elizabeth and Angharad, Matt, Helen, Naomi, Hannah and Abigail and Boo – it was an experience I will never ever forget!

Lesotho 2012 – Chapter Three

Chapter 3

We really missed the camp after  the kids had all returned home, but we still had much to enjoy in this beautiful little country. Lesotho has several different ‘nicknames’. The Kingdom in the Sky’ and ‘The Mountain Kingdom’ are two of the most popular. Lesotho is called Southern Africa’s ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ for good reason. This stunningly beautiful, mountainous country is nestled island-like in the middle of South Africa The country offers superb mountain scenery and a proud traditional people

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The ‘lowland’ areas (all of which are still above 1000m, the height of Snowdon!!) are where most of the people live, while the highlands in the northeast and centre feature towering peaks (over 3000m) and verdant valleys. In these areas transport is difficult and fewer people live here.

Lesotho came into being during the early 19th century, when both the forced migration and Boer incursions into the hinterlands were at their height. Under the leadership of the legendary king Moshoeshoe the Great, the Basotho people sought sanctuary and strategic advantage amid the forbidding terrain of the Drackensburg and Maluti Mountain Ranges. The small nation they forged continues to be an intriguing anomaly in a sea of modernity.

Lesotho’s existence is attributable to a quirk of history and fortuitous timing. In the 1880s, direct British rule was deeply resented by the local population as an infringement on Basutholand’s freedom and sovereignty. Little were they to know that British occupation would secure the future independence of Lesotho as other kingdoms fell under the South African umbrella. All because at the precise moment when the Union of South Africa was created, Basutoland was a British Protectorate and was not included in the Union.

In 1910 the advisory Basutholand National Council was formed from members nominated by the chiefs. In the mid-1950s the council requested internal self-government from the British; by 1960 a new constitution was in place and elections were held for a legislative council. The main contenders were the Basutholand Congress Party (BCP), similar to South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), and the conservative Basutholand National Party (BNP) headed by Chief Leabua Jonathan.

The BCP won the 1960 elections and demanded full independence from Britain. This was eventually agreed to; independence came into effect in 1966. However, at the elections in 1965 the BCP lost to the BNP and Chief Jonathan became the first prime minister of the new Kingdom of Lesotho, which allied itself with the apartheid regime across the border.

In 2006, a new flag was chosen from four proposed designs; all of these designs included a brown Basotho hat instead of the shield. This was subsequently changed to a black Basotho hat in order to represent Lesotho as a black nation. The colours all mean something; the white standing for peace, the blue strip for rain and the green for prosperity.

After the camp, the lady of the house and I had agreed to book into a hotel as we had taken Mark & Chabi’s bed on our first night in Maseru and did not feel too happy about that. Their hospitality is legendary, but a party of seven descending on them with their five already in residence, meant our decision would help a little. It turned out to be an exciting thing to do! I had booked us into The Lancer’s Inn right in the middle of Maseru.

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I had stayed there when I first came to Lesotho in 2004 on a school exchange. We had one night there to acclimatise before being shipped off to our schools. I had forgotten how beautiful it was and can only describe it as an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of Maseru. The lobby is quiet and cool and the rooms are like rondavels (traditional Basotho houses). The gardens are immaculately kept and the whole place is stunning!

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The rooms were beautiful and the chance for a long warm shower and a lie on a huge double bed and watch the football on TV, after the hard work and sweat of the camp was wonderful.

We stayed in The Lancer’s for the night, had a quiet meal together in the restaurant and prepared ourselves to be picked up to go to Mark and Chabi’s church on Sunday morning.

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Church was an incredible experience – after we got over the embarrassment of being called out to the front to introduce ourselves and deliver the greetings of friends back home in Wales. We were warmly welcome and felt vey much at home. Mark is one of the church leaders and is highly respected. Basotho people sure know how to sing and we were swept along on a tide of music and song and totally loved every minute we were there. There were several hundred in the congregation. Church services tend to go on for several hours, so people just come and go as they will, but this never detracts from the solemnity of the occasion. We took our leave after about an hour, as we had pressing and important business to attend to…an appointment in Peka and the chance for me to keep a promise I had made almost nine years previously.

When I first visited Peka on a school exchange in early 2004, I had stayed with Alice Nkoala and her family in their home in Peka, a small town in the Leribe district in the north. It was an experience that changed my life in many ways. I was accepted, looked after and became part of the community even though my stay was a very short one. I was even offered a plot of land for a home by the local chief. Alice lived very simply with her mum and two children Mpho and Kwesi. They had very little but made me feel like a king! As I left them I promised that one day I would bring the my dearly beloved to meet Alice’s mum.  Since 2004 I had made four other visits to Lesotho, with various members of my family and friends and teachers on another school exchange, but each time without the lady who shares my life. For all those years I had wanted to keep my promise and was always nervous she would pass away before my promise could be kept. Life expectancy in Lesotho is in the late forties. Alice’s mum is was in her eighties and is an incredible lady.

Some years after my first visit I came across a book called ‘Singing Away the Hunger’. This book was written by a lady who had received little formal education, but had the gift of telling stories and with help from a visiting American lady, produced an incredible account of life in Lesotho across many decades.

The book was described like this …

In Singing Away the Hunger, ‘M’e Mpho relates the harsh realities of life matter-of-factly in the context of stories about her loving and religious mother, the babies and children who died too soon, the unscrupulous brother-in-law who stole her husband’s pension and the food out of her children’s mouth. It is an anguished yet loving portrait of life in Lesotho, a country portrayed as a place of human triumph, great natural beauty, good humour, and spiritual strength. In the final paragraph of the book, ‘M’e Mpho expresses this hope: “Maybe if there is one day enough for the hunger to stop, we can stop being so jealous of one another. If the jealousy is no more, we can begin to have dreams for each other. We can build something new.”
Since it was first published in Natal less than a year ago, SINGING AWAY THE HUNGER has brought the struggles and strengths of poor but resourceful Basotho women like ‘M’e Mpho to international attention.

I was so bowled over by this book, I scoured the Internet till I found the co-author and lady called Kathryn Kendall. Through her publisher, I made contact and we began to correspond and have become friends through our love for Lesotho and it’s beautiful people. The lady in the book reminded me so much of Alice’s mother. I had this dream of spending a week with Alice’s mum, who must have such a wealth of information about life in Lesotho over many years and getting it all down on paper for others to read. Alice tells me her mum is 94 years old this year…Incredible!

On this day however just keeping my promise to get the lady of the house to meet Alice’s mum was enough.

After the inevitable visit to the ‘Ladies’, we left church and Maseru and entered what I still consider the real Lesotho. Things are changing all the time and I am glad for the people, but I love to see the rondavels and the shepherds and herd boys looking after their animals and the people going about their simple daily lives. We stopped on the way to buy some peaches from a family on the side of the road.

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On the way, we stopped at a Craft centre just outside the town of Teyateyaneng; most people call it TY for obvious reasons! It was the most wonderful building made out of empty drink cans.

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It was fantastic to see. Inside we met a small group of ladies, who were weaving; a great skill practiced by many in this lovely country. They took us around the back and showed us the looms and explained how they used them.

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We bought all we could from them and left them beaming at the unexpected sales on a quiet Sunday morning!

Peka was calling!

The journey took just less than an hour. As we got to Peka, we called into the school where I had spent happy weeks teaching. It reminded me how simple and basic it compared to the school from which I had recently retired! The lady of the house enjoyed having her picture taken with me here!

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When we got to Alice’s house it was empty but we were met by Alice’s sister who remembered me and told us that Alice had a new home a little further up the hillside. When she pointed, we could see a Welsh flag hanging proudly from a fence. We had made it.

 

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The cars struggled up the dirt road and emotional scenes followed. It felt good to be back in my second home! My promise had been kept and Alice’s mum and my good lady got to know each other. Alice’s mum had raised her arms toward heaven and thanked God for her new friend. It was the most incredible few minutes.

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We showed many family pictures on our ipad and then Alice’s mum said something quite wonderful. Looking at a picture of Alfie our grandson, she said, ’Is this the boy I have been praying for? The one whose mum had difficulty conceiving? What a memory and what privilege to have a friend who cares so much that she prayed for our family every day, even though she lives 7000 miles from us.

Alice fed us well and brought out the bone china to give us a cup of Rooibos tea. I felt at peace.

We left reluctantly after several hours and I thought what I think every time I leave these dear people…  that I will probably never see this dear lady again. I hope my friendship with Alice and her family will continue for many years. I hope to return to that little home in the small town of Peka sometime soon. They hold a very special place in my heart.

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The journey back to Maseru was a quiet and reflective one.

Lesotho 2012 – Chapter Two

When we had arrived in Maseru, the lady of the house had a bad migraine, this condition is a blight on her life and she has to ensure she doesn’t get stressed or miss meal or anything like that in order to keep it under control! Obviously the stress of the journey had taken its toll. Thankfully when we woke, with the southern hemisphere sun streaming through the windows, the headache had gone and we were fit to face the day and all its possibilities. We were awakened just after five a.m. as no one had told the Westy girls of our need to sleep on, but we didn’t mind, as we knew we were in the middle of a great adventure.

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During the morning, I accompanied Mark and Matt to buy the food for the camp we were about to lead. We chose to shop in Pick’n Pay, the South African version of Tesco, who now have a shop in the mall in Maseru. Pick’n Pay, very kindly, partly sponsors the camp with generous amounts of food. We met the manager, a white South African chap and talked about rugby and the current form of the Wales team! He was a pleasant gentleman and was generous to the camp. We thanked him.

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Scripture Union Lesotho is an Interdenominational Christian Movement that specialises in working with children, youth and families.

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The Primary School camp is aimed at children in primary schools for children aged 6-13 years.  The camp was to run from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 8th December 2012. It is usually held in the Lesotho Durham Link, Maseru, where many teachers on exchanges have visited but this year they had decided to move the camp to their own facility in Maseru. It has good accommodation, a large hall for meetings and large grassy areas, which can be used for study groups or recreation.

In Pick’n Pay I was in heaven, at each till there was a packer and an abundance of carrier bags… I am not sure whether they charged for them. We had several overflowing trollies, which we tried to maneuver back to the car. While looking around the shelves earlier, I had split a massive sack of rice, which I then put back to save leaving a trail through the shop, only to find that the manager had found it and donated it to Scripture Union, but had forgotten to tell Matt, who promptly covered the entrance to the supermarket with a two inch thick layer of rice. We smiled…Happy days!

We dropped the food of at the camp, which was a ten-minute drive away from the centre of Maseru. It was late morning and as we got to the camp a solitary child was standing in the field, ready for the great adventure to begin! We were excited at the prospect of working with these precious young lives and giving them a holiday, which they would remember for years to come. Whenever we go into Maseru with Mark, we are astonished at the number of people he knows, most of them either ex pupils or ex campers. Each one obviously holds Mark in great respect. It’s an honour to be Mark’s friend and support him in his work. He has the respect of the people.

The girls had been chilling at Mark’s house with Chabi and the Westy girls and we were excited to pack the cars when we got back and return to the campsite for the action to start.

More children had arrived by now, all chatting excitedly, no one causing any kind of trouble. Mark showed us to our home for the next four days. We were due to stay in the S.U. director’s house, now empty as the current director lives in his family home in Maseru.

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The house was completely empty, so we set about borrowing mattresses and sheets to make the place as habitable as possible. We soon had it looking like a little palace. When we first entered the building we disturbed a few creatures, which seemed put out at having their silence interrupted. We shooed them away, hoping that they would not return seeking revenge. Their was an old fridge in the kitchen which we fired up, knowing at least we would have a good supply of cold drinks, essential in the hot sun.

We made our way out the meet the kids, only to be nearly bowled over by two enthusiastic young lads who ran to meet us. One of them introduced himself as Aaron.

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He had the biggest smile I had seen for some time. I noticed he had a bad skin condition, which looked like a burn of some kind. It ran under is chin and down across his neck. We later learned it was a condition like eczema and was being treated and was improving Turned out he had come from the Leribe district some miles away. Little did we know at the time that this little chap would steal our hearts and he would become our special little friend; given half a chance the lady of the house would have brought him back to Wales! But, he had his own family, sad as his situation was, his mum having run off with a relative and we hope and pray he grows up into a fine young man, guided by the Biblical principles he would have picked up on the camp.

Later in the day we all met in the main hall and the children were sectioned off into groups, with the girls mainly in the dorms and the boys under canvas.

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The weather had suddenly changed. The glorious daytime sunshine had given way to heavy rain as nightfall came. It meant we had to eat indoors and pitied the boys as they tried to settle into their tents with the rain chucking it down. They didn’t seem bothered at all; in fact it just made everything so much more exciting! The meal of meat and rice was fantastic and we  all enjoyed it so much!

Mark was expecting about 85 campers, the usual average figure but for some reason 143 had turned up, not far off double the expected numbers. Was Mark bothered? Not at all, at least he didn’t show it! More beds to find, more mouths to feed but all Mark thought was…’Great, more people to share the Good News with! African people seem to have this wonderful ability to accept what the day brings without getting stressed…and he coped wonderfully…everyone had a bed and a good meal. Matt gave his first address to all who had gathered. He was great. The theme of the week was to encourage the children not to be conformed to the pattern of society around them, which for many of these precious young lives would maybe be a life of petty crime, drinking heavily and getting involved in casual sex and other such things, but rather be transformed by the principles laid out in the Bible and lead a life of doing good and putting others first and living a God honouring life.

The kids were packed off to bed at the appropriate time and the leaders were not really expecting that much sleep – we were all far too excited!

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Part of my job on the camp was to lead early morning devotions for all the leaders at 6.00a.m. When Mark sent the original programme to us, I felt sure there was a typing error…6.00am? I didn’t know there were two six o’clocks in one day! The bright Lesotho sun made getting up easy and I felt my little inspirational talk went quite well. After this the kids had some exercise time. It was wonderful… all the kids and all the leaders running, jumping and stretching and it reminded me of the drill they would have in the army, but this was fun, the kids were laughing all they way through, although some of the leaders… and some were ladies of varying shapes, sizes and ages found it a little more difficult – doing the exercises, not smiling, they all did that!

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Aaron joined in enthusiastically. This time was great for preparing their bodies for the activities of the day.

After this, the first study time of the day took place. It was amazing. In an instant all 145 children were sat in groups around the site, each group with a couple of leaders, all studying the Bible together. Many of the groups found the shade of a tree or a bush to make things more comfortable in the heat of the morning sun. It was very impressive indeed!

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Breakfast followed. I was amazed so much could be done before breakfast, all I seem to do at home is get up, stagger to the bathroom, before finding the kettle and searching out the newspaper and reading the sports pages. We had eggs for breakfast with some kind of porridge and Rooibos tea, which was like a herbal tea. The food at every meal was superb.

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The rest of the day consisted then of another study time, a morning session with Matt and Helen, where they sang songs and listened to a story, which were followed by some activities. On Thursday it was canoeing and abseiling at the other campsite – The Lesotho Durham link

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and on Friday it was a range of craft activities such as jewellery making, paper mache modeling and such things. The children loved it all. Each day followed the same pattern. I was particularly impressed how Matt and Helen’s youngest two girls, Hannah and Abigail had joined in all the activities, two little white faces that I am certain nobody noticed, we were all one big happy family! Each evening another meeting took place where Matt and Helen again led a great session.

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It was all so well organized and the kids’ behaviour was outstanding. We made several more journeys to Pick’n Pay to make sure everyone was well fed!

On the final evening a talent show was held and we were treated to singing, acting and dancing… all Basotho style. We had such a lovely time. We were very sad when Saturday arrived and we had to send these delightful children back to their homes, those travelling furthest had to leave first.

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Saying goodbye to Aaron was tough for the beloved lady of mine. She bought him a little child’s Bible and sent a letter to Aaron’s dad, telling him how good he had been and to be proud of this little fella! He left as he arrived…smiling!

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We had bought special polo shirts with logos on, which included the flags of both our nations and details of the camp, to wear as we worked. None of us managed to have the shirts left by the end of the camp.

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The good lady of mine had in a rash moment promised hers to a young man who had asked for it; we others had passed ours on to various leaders and little Abby had given hers to my good lady, who had stuffed it into Aaron’s bag. His smile gave away how grateful he was! We also gave every child who attended a small gift of a teddy bear bearing the flags of Wales and Lesotho, details of the camp and a verse from the Bible. All over Lesotho we hope these little bears will be treasured and remind the owners of the great time they had in camp and the lessons they learnt!

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We packed up the camp as best we could and then Matt, Naomi and I walked down through the local village, every other time we had driven through and felt we needed to see it close up. It was very poor, but still the children smiled and every single person we met greeted us made us feel welcome. It was a special time.

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Before we left Matt was interviewed by the Lesotho Television Company and the interview was broadcast on national television later that evening, it was a great opportunity to share the news of what we had all done together.

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We had felt privileged to be a part of this work, an this simple community…. in this beautiful country, The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

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Lesotho 2012 – Chapter One

Earlier this year I e-mailed my friend Mark West in Lesotho and asked him if I could visit, knowing the answer already, but this time I asked if I could help in any way rather than just get under his feet and he asked me to help him run the 2012 Lesotho Scripture Union Camp. I politely told him I was too old, but said that I knew a man who could. After a phone call to Matt Lewis and a chat with the lady of the house I found myself booking flights to Johannesburg with Helen Lewis.

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The Kingdom of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light aircraft. While much of the tiny country, with spectacular canyons and thatched huts, remains untouched by modern machines, developers have laid down roads to reach its mineral and water resources. Resources are scarce – a consequence of the harsh environment of the highland plateau and limited agricultural space in the lowlands. So, Lesotho has been heavily dependent on the country, which completely surrounds it. Over the decades thousands of workers have been forced by the lack of job opportunities to find work at South African mines. South Africa has on several occasions intervened in Lesotho’s politics, including in 1998 when it sent its troops to help quell unrest.  The former British protectorate has had a turbulent, if not particularly bloody, period of independence with several parties, army factions and the royal family competing for power in coups and mutinies. The position of king has been reduced to a symbolic and unifying role. Lesotho has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV-Aids infection. Poverty is deep and widespread, with the UN describing 40% of the population as “ultra-poor”.  Mark lives in the capital Maseru, a small but busy place, which is slowly catching the world up and now has two shopping malls and a cinema. This was to be our home for ten wonderful days!

This adventure started on a frantic note. The lady of the house and I had just returned from a weekend in France helping Margaret Davis. We had a ten-hour turn around with a thousand jobs to do, but still ended up leaving Dinas Powys less than an hour later than originally planned. We had arranged to meet Matt and Helen at Cardiff Gate services. When we got there, there was no Matt and Helen and the old phone, which I had decided to take, had packed in. We could not make contact. The BBC was also reporting that the M4 had closed for the day due to a horrible accident. We were getting quite desperate!

Matt and Helen eventually arrived and led us by a different route via the M50 and Cirencester and we arrived in time to park our cars and make for Heathrow. Life is funny sometimes and when we checked in, we were told the flight had been delayed! Fancy that….. all that driving at speeds in excess of 55mph had been unnecessary. We were concerned, as we only had an hour and a half wait for our connection in Frankfurt to catch our flight to Johannesburg. The 45-minute delay became an hour, then two and then eventually the flight was cancelled! We were summoned to the Lufthansa desk and had to go back through customs and Passport Control and start all over again. Lufthansa eventually put us on a flight to Johannesburg with South African Airways. This meant a direct flight arriving only thirty minutes after our original flight. The flight was great, there was plenty of room and the staff were so attentive. This was our best ever flight – great plane, wonderful staff and beautiful food! Nothing was too much trouble for them.

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Two beaming faces met us at Johannesburg… Mark and Chabi our dear friends.

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I had no idea when Mark moved to Lesotho in 1990 that it would have such a dramatic impact on my own life. This was now my seventh visit to The Mountain Kingdom. Our visits began in 2000 when in a moment of weakness the lady of the house agreed to visit Mark and I booked the flights before she even thought of changing her mind.  Since then, I have for a number of years, worked with schools across South Wales building twinning links and have accompanied teachers, friends and family members on other visits. This visit was different and very special.

It began with a scare though! As we walked through Passport Control, I was approached by a worker and was whisked off to the airport clinic. Apparently, as I walked past a TV monitor, I had set off an alarm that had suggested I was possibly carrying a fever!  I had been feeling great up until then, but all of a sudden I felt sure I had contracted some deadly disease and began to feel awful. They were very pleasant to me but asked me to complete a form, which asked me about where I lived, what flight I had arrived on, who I had sat next to and several other personal questions. The nurse told me I had to have my temperature taken. She asked me to bend over and when I asked why she told me I had dropped my glasses!  I picked them up. She then put a probe into my ear and told me my temperature was normal! All this time Matt, Helen, the girls and my dearly beloved had no idea where I was!

After checking through the airport and arranging the car hire we had only one aim…finding a Wimpy for late breakfast/early lunch. We stopped and found one at Vall Mall, which was on the border of Transvaal and the Free State. I was in heaven!

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The journey to Maseru eventually took us about eight hours, including a hilarious stop at a roadworks. A sign warned us of a twenty-minute wait. I thought this was wild! We switched off the engines and sat and talked. When eventually the guy turned the sign round to GO, Matt’s hire car would not start. Confusion reigned, as we had to guide the enormous queue that had built up behind us, around our sick motor. We were in the middle of nowhere, no phone signal, and not sure about the South African equivalent of the AA.

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After trying many different things, we eventually got the car started with much cheering and back slapping and in a moment of ecstasy we looked up to find the workman turning his sign round to STOP and had to endure another twenty minute wait… this time with the engine running!

When reached the Maseru Bridge border crossing it was dark, but I felt I was back in a place I loved, visiting a nation I loved, sharing it with people I loved. It felt good! We decided on a KFC for supper, which we had at Mark and Chabi’s house.

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That night we slept in their house, actually in their bed – they had moved out of it for us – and looked forward to a wonderful adventure, serving God and helping our friends and meeting some very special children.

Moleskin Trousers

9th February 2012

Had a good day today.

After the seagull last week, I thought I would give Cardiff a miss and head west.

I have always wanted to catch the train to Bridgend going down the Vale of Glamorgan line through Rhoose and Llantwit Major. It was pretty cool as well . I had to decide whether to use my Senior Railcard or my Valley Lines Seniors card…I settled on the latter…only cost me three quid.

The ride was good; instead on turning left towards Barry Island the train went straight, past Romilly Park in Barry, then on past Porthkerry Park. Going across the Porthkerry Viaduct was awesome and fulfilled a lifelong ambition. The Rhoose/Cardiff International Airport station made me smile, it was tiny, although there was a bus ready to whisk passengers off to the terminal and sunny destinations across the world……except there were no airport passengers on the train.The journey past Rhoose followed the coast for a while going past Fontygary and Aberthaw, then cut inland at St Athan before heading down through the Vale…. it was really good.
Bridgend was FREEZING and a slightly seedy little town, so I had a little look around before heading for a proper old fashioned fish and chip cafe, where I ordered an OAPs lunchtime special..fish, chips, mushy peas and a massive cup of tea for a fiver.I guess I’m 3 years 8 months too young really, but I am a pensioner so I thought I would bluff it. I put my glasses on the end of my nose, looking at the menu, acted a bit doddery and asked for the OAP special. I thought…well if people are starting to stand up for me on the bus I deserve it.
I did look around for any seagulls before tucking in!

It was the nicest fish and chips I have tasted for many a long year. Pure class!

Before heading home I purchased a brand new pair of black moleskin M & S trousers in the Air Ambulance charity shop. I asked the old duck behind the counter did any moles have to suffer in the making of these trousers and she replied that she wasn’t really sure. I’m wearing them at the moment…they fitted perfectly and I can’t stop feeling them. To be honest I’m not really sure what moleskin is. I hate animal cruelty but those moles are such a nuisance digging up everybody’s lawns…so maybe these trousers mean it’s payback time.

I’ll have to give The Wind in the Willows a wide berth for a while….

Goodnight!

The Seagull. 2nd February 2012

I feel violated!  I had a good day in Cardiff rediscovering my roots. Today I did all the Arcades…
Wyndham Arcade
Royal Arcade
Morgan Arcade
High Street Arcade
Castle ArcadeLoads of good different shops, made a nice change from the usual St David’ s 2 lot.

Then it happened!

Keeping the promise I had made a week ago to myself I went for a bacon roll and a cup of tea at The Hayes Island Snack Bar (not an island any more by the way…). It came and I was salivating, a beautiful soft roll about 10 inches long filled with three rashers of lean bacon, freshly fried. I took them to a table to enjoy watching my fellow Cardiff citizens about their daily life. I noticed there were no pigeons around which pleased me. What I failed to notice though was the giant seagull sat waiting on the top of David Morgan. I opened the bag with great expectation and took a sip of tea…piping hot, not too strong, not too milky…life was good.

Then it happened!!! Before I had even taken a bite this massive seagull swooped down, brushing my face with his enormous wings and took my bacon roll. He dropped it about 20 yards away and then, mysteriously, the pigeons arrived and they ate it together…GUTTED!

I’ll stick to the market in future…..