Just Max and me. Adventures Day 1

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

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

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

 

I love him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and then I taught him all about the biscuit tin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Max slept on…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Max and me.

 

 

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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The Great Seel Park Adventure

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We all decided that an Adventure trip to Seel Park was a good idea. The day was warm, but overcast – a great day for adventuring. The four intrepid explorers Mia, Alfie, Millie and Lois set of with rucksacks full of provisions enough to see them through. We set off a little before lunchtime hoping to make base camp by the time we needed food.

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It was a long, first treck for Lois’s little legs but we were in high spirits. It was a challenging journey up Chapel Close, through the dangerous gully, which borders Ray Shaw’s and then across the dangers of High Field Close before we reached the edge of the great wilderness of Seel Park. There were many dangers, but our trusty dog Belle helped ward off any trouble. Little Lois particularly found the trip hard but she walked every step of the way.

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We scaled the slope up to the playground area and found an ideal place to set up base camp. When we were settled, the kids left the lady of the house and me to set up the tent and establish camp while they ran off to investigate the surroundings. They found plenty of things to keep them occupied!

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When base camp had been established, we called the kids for lunch and rucksacks were opened and the plentiful rations were consumed quickly. We had fun!

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After lunch it was back to climbing, swinging and spinning. The mood in the camp was good and Team Leader Mia was, as usual, kindness itself watching over the younger ones, helping, encouraging and keeping them as safe as possible.

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The lady of the house watched on nervously as the little ones climbed, slipped from time to time and took risks to improve their performance, and they had the most wonderful time.

Greying skies overhead forced us to make for the jungle sooner than we had expected. Little Lois was left behind in base camp while Mia, Alfie and Millie guided by Sherpa Rog took off. We had left our bags and anything that would slow us time back with the support team led by Nanna Newberry.

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We left the field and entered the jungle slowly, we knew not what dangers lay ahead. Feeling confident Alfie and Mia ran ahead, Millie preferring to stay near her guide. She let out several ear-piercing screams as she saw ‘bugs’ and once even saw a dreaded butterfly. Alfie, as usual, found a stick for protection. We walked a long way down, the green undergrowth was thick and made things quite dark and scary at times.

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Several times we reached a fork in the track and the little ones looked for guidance.

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Eventually we made to the bottom, where we found a locked gate with barbed wire blocking our progress. Undaunted, we took turns at climbing over. We all helped keeping the brambles away as we overcame this obstacle. Disaster struck as we reached to top of the field looking for a return to base camp. There was no way through, so we had to retrace our steps, climb over another locked gate before heading up another field.

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We crossed several dangerous stiles, before we saw base camp away in the distance.

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The reunion was sweet with so many stories to tell.

Back in HQ the explorers were weary but Millie had just enough strength to build herself a cushion bed before drifting off to sleep to dream about jungles and thorns and bramble and bugs.

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We had fun!

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