Tuesday, March 12, 2013

There’s people in them thar buckets!

Weeks before embarking on this journey, I had made arrangements with some friends of yore, to meet as we had previously done. ‘Yore’ is defined here as ‘in the 1960s’

Thursday – March 7th

A group of guys (most of whom I knew) who were regulars at ‘The Rhyddings’ in the mid ‘60s made a pledge on 6.6.66 (June 6th 1966) that they would reconvene at that hostelry again on the next (and subsequent) arithmetic oddity-date – that would be 7.7.77 (July 7th 1977), and so they did – right up through 12.12.12 (Dec. 12th 2012). My involvement with that facet of my friendship with the guys whom I had drank many a pint in the early and mid ‘60s was limited. I missed the inaugural meeting because I was in Ireland conducting post-graduate studies there. I had left for the USA by 7.7.77 and was never able to make it back across the pond for subsequent meetings, though I did maintain contact, via their ‘6.6.66 Rhyddings Group’ web page, to which I also made contributions. However, I was able to be present at the 02.02.02 meeting – but only because I was in Swansea at that time to attend my mother’s funeral. When he heard I was coming over, Peter sent out the rally cry and about 15 of the Group showed up to greet me when I arrived at The Rhyddings, a little wind-blown from my trip to Rhosilli earlier in the day.

Several brought memorabilia, old photos, school magazines, church bulletins, all designed to rekindle the memories of ‘yore’. One of guys brought his friend, former Swansea Town Football Club great, Mel Charles – an idol of mine in the late 1950s.

After a few beers and lots of catch-up chat 8 or 9 of us went off for the obligatory curry. I had asked if the attire for the evening was ‘Top hat and tails’, or ‘Blue Jeans’, but had been told ‘Bib and walking stick – to protect against beer and curry stains, and aid in ambulation after the beer’. I took neither, and fortunately, neither was missed. There was a bit of a kerfuffle by one gent (initials DT) over what he should order (after 50-odd years of this, he should know what kind of curry he likes) and his dire concern because he saw no flash from my camera, which when set on ‘Auto’, determines whether a flash is needed or not. Maybe ‘Auto’ is a new word in his lexicon? In spite of 4 draught beers being listed on the restaurant’s menu, there were only 3 spigots – and only was attached to a beer barrel. Maybe the owner was trying hard to ‘push’ the Cobra brand. In spite of an unmade person (MC) licking the spoon meant to ladle my raita on to my papadom, and yet another guy (JW) who for some unknown reason was also obsessed with criticizing my camera, the evening was good. It was a reasonable Indian lager, a good curry (I had Vindaloo Chicken – hot, please) and I got to ‘chin-wag’ with friends I had not seen in many years. 

Friday – March 8th.

Thursday’s wind hand demolished my ‘brolly’ so first on the agenda to be off to the ‘Pound Shop’ to buy a new one – or should I cross the road to the ‘99p Shop’? What would that much questioned chicken do? New umbrella in hand, a couple of corned beef pasties in my backpack, I walked through Sandfields viewing several pubs that I had (and some I had not) dared set foot in back then.

I emerged from the Sandfields near the old Baths Laundry, once also an indoor swimming pool, now converted to $300,000 one-bedroom apartments; somebody cleaned up on that deal. Across the road are the remnants of the old bridge that once spanned the Mumbles Road, the Mumbles Railway tracks and the old Great Western steam locomotive tracks. The bridge has been relocated to the Promenade, but the steps and arches remain. Can you spot Mumbles Head through the arches?

The Slip, where all the ‘Cymers’ used to roll off the buses from the valleys to plonk their kids on the glass-strewn sand while the dads would paddle at the edge of the sea, trousers rolled up and with a knotted handkerchief on theirs heads to ward off the sun. Yes, they did look a right bunch of plonkers! The glass was the result of ‘pop’ (soda) bottles being dashed against the few cobbles that appear at low tide. As kids we would gather the unbroken bottles to collect a penny or two at the place that sold the pop and other kid-attracting stuff. This trip, I took photos and left nothing – well, I left a message, but it would be gone at high tide.

I walked along the beach, stopping to talk to a man who was digging for lug-worms which he sold to fishermen who may venture out in the cold bay in search of sea bass – or one of several other species of the plentiful fish. I resumed my walk along the Promenade, near the point I had been picked by my host’s son earlier in the week, passing the Cenotaph (a war memorial still decorated with the poppy wreaths laid there on November 11th. The large iron bridge that once spanned Oystermouth / Mumbles Road at the Slip was moved on to the Promenade several years ago when it was deemed structurally unsafe to remain spanning the road. It looks odd in its new home.

At the foot of Brynmill Lane, opposite the lower entrance into Singleton Park, I caught the 2A bus to Oystermouth to a pre-arranged lunch meeting. Arriving in Oystermouth a little early for my ‘lunch-date’, I walked up to the recently (2011?) renovated Oystermouth Castle. Renovations continue, so entry to the inner parts of the structure was not possible, but what I was able to see is impressive. A good view of Mumbles can be had, even from the base of the castle’s walls; from the top, it must be majestic.

A half-mile along the coast to mumbles Head is the George Hotel. I was still a little early, and as I waited outside, a saw a noticeably very attractive lady pull up and emerge from her car not 20 feet from where I stood. She asked, ‘Is it OK to park there?’ I replied, ‘I don’t know. Are you Rosina?’ ‘Yes’, came the response. Rosina is the woman I had not seen in more than 43 years – she was my brother’s first wife; age has done little to mar her beauty. I recall, as a studious schoolboy of 14 or so, being ousted from the ‘middle room’ of our house by my brother and Rosina who wanted ‘a little privacy to‘conduct activities to which I was not to be a witness’!  A few moments later, her daughter, Susan arrived. It was Susan whom I had contacted a few days earlier to arrange the lunch-date; I last saw Susan at my mother’s funeral 11 years ago. We had a nice long lunch (I had a Ploughman’s) and reunion. When I get back to the US, I will pull up my family tree chart and now that I have Susan’s email, will get her to fill in the parts of that side of the family that had not been recorded in my mother’s diary. It was a trip down memory lane!

Barry and his wife Pat, joined us later in the lunch – as Barry knew of Rosina and her late brother, who like Barry had been a Merchant Seaman. Tony had been ‘lost at sea’ off the coast of Cornwall some 40 or so years ago. Barry had aided in the process of getting a Merchant Seaman’s memorial installed in the Swansea dockland. I had gone to that memorial earlier in the week and seen Tony’s name ensconced there.

After dropping Pat back at her home, Barry drove me to St Gabriel’s Church in Brynmill where my mother and father’s ashes are interred.

From there, we headed up to my old street (Rhyddings Terrace) to number 105. That is the home of my mother’s best friend, Mrs Hedley. When I was 7 or 8-year old ‘nipper’, my mother would head off once a week to Ynysmeudw to my grandmother’s house. It was on those days that I would go to Mrs Hedley for my lunch. I was surprised to learn from her son-in-law (Edwin, one of the 6.6.66 Group) that she was still alive – and will be 99 in June. I told her I’d back in 15 months with a big box of candles! I had not seen here since my mother’s funeral and had not seen her daughter Pat in a couple of decades.

Following a brief panic on the way back to West Cross, I located what I was fearing had become my ‘lost wallet’; it has fallen between the car seats. Phew! What a relief!

That evening, I bought dinner for my hosts at their favorite Chinese Restaurant, Emperor,in High Street. Dining out in the UK – regardless of type of restaurant - is not as near as economical as it is in the US, though many grocery-store products are favorably or equally priced. For not the first, nor the last time, I discovered that very few places in the UK will honor an American Express credit card and those that do, seem to have difficulty getting it – and other US-issued cards – to ‘work’. UK-issued credit cards have a built-in ‘chip’ and when inserted into the card-reader prompts for a PIN. All the card-readers in the UK require that my credit cards be swiped – not inserted – but some still won’t work. I’m unable to discern whether it is equipment or operator malfunction. Either way, it is frustrating. I’m curious as to how much (if any) difficulty UK-credit card users may encounter in the US.

To be continued.

No comments:

Post a Comment