Monday, June 17, 2013

Grading the 'Bucket List Trip'

Yes, it HAS been long overdue, but finally it is time to give that Bucket List Trip a scorecard.

Before embarking on that trip, I had compiled a list of ‘places, people and things’ that I planned (or hoped) to encounter – and posted that list in this Swansea Jack’s new venture series on January 28th. Some of the places I DID visit in Wales have been pictured in prior blog-postings created during my trip. Check back and see them – they will have been posted between late February and mid March.

As I was gathering my thoughts for this review, it seemed apt that I should present most of my recollections in a series of collages - both the successes and the rare ‘misses’.  

So, how did the trip rate? Read on -

Places I had planned (hoped) to visit in Wales:

Swansea (of course!)                                              - yep
Llanelli                                                                  - yep; believe it or not – for the first time ever!
Carmarthen                                                            - yep
Conwy area of North Wales                                     - yep
Pont-Nedd-Fechan waterfalls                                   - nope!

My inability to find an acceptable bus schedule to Pont Nedd Fechan caused me to give this trip a miss. Had I been able to make it, I could have (again) seen some of the many waterfalls on the Pyrddin, Mellte and Hepste tributaries of the ‘Little Neath River’ – such as those in seen in these 1959 photos of mine.

I’d rate the ‘places’ segment with an A-

People I had planned to see:

WWWC contacts                                      - yep; all 4 of ‘em: - Iain, Alan, Gaynor and Robert
My (oldest) brother                                    - yep; hosted me for a few weeks in Guildford.
My long-time friend and drinking buddy       - yep; Barry and Pat hosted me for a week in Swansea.
A former University colleague                     - yep; Allan, in North Wales (last seen in 2002)
Another former University colleague            - nope; Ian (in Southampton; last seen in 1968) was ill.
The gang from my old Swansea local.         - yep; probably 80% the whole crew

The folks at WWWC (World Wide Welsh Community), whom I had never met before  – except on-line at WWWC and either on the telephone, or via webcam on Skype and/or Facebook, were fantastic in their hospitality. Da iawn, pob – that’s Welsh for ‘Well done, all’. I first met with Iain (top right), then with Gaynor, then Alan (top left) and Robert (bottom right).

After arrival in the UK, I added to the list of previously planned meetings and made arrangements to meet up with several other people, including:

Christie, emeritus professor; a former grammar-school mate (last seen in St Louis in the mid 80s),
Jimmy, my wife’s cousin - Best Man at our wedding - (last seen in Croydon in 2002),
Susan, oldest daughter of my ‘middle’ brother (last seen at my mother’s funeral in Swansea in 2002),
Rosina, my ‘middle’ brother’s first wife (last seen at my wedding - in Swansea in 1970).
Some of the encounters with people, ‘planned’ and ‘unplanned’, were chronicled in various earlier ‘Bucket Trip’ blog-postings and can be viewed there, but five of those people (Christie, Allan, Barry & Pat and Rosina) are shown here:


I’d rate the ‘people’ segment with an A+

Things I had wanted to do:

Eat a Wimpy Burger                                              - nope!                
Eat fish and chips, a rissole and a sausage               - yep
Drink 1/2 pint of 'Bitter' and 1/2 pint of 'Mild'         - nope!                                                                
Ride on a double-decker bus                                  - nope!
Ride on a railway train                                            - yep; several times
Walk around downtown Swansea and its shops      - yep
Get photos of each of my old Swansea schools       - yep; all 4 of ‘em
Walk on the cobbled beach at Bracelet Bay            - yep
Walk barefoot in 'grannies mud' in Swansea Bay     - nope!  
Eat an Eynon's pie (or equivalent)                           - yep; several kinds.
Visit Swansea Market                                            - yep – not to be missed.
Eat (maybe!) laver-bread (never had it before)        - yep - eventually
Attend a Gymanfa Ganu                                          - nope!                                                  

Though I missed a few, I’d still rate the things segment with a B+.  

Wimpy Burger. I recall from my college days going to a 'Wimpy Bar' in Swansea and experiencing the distinctively diiferent taste of a Wimpey Burger. I saw this place in Carmarthen, but didn’t go in – fully expecting (wrongly so) to see the one in Swansea. Damn it!  I should have gone to this one.

Mild and Bitter – I used to drink each before leaving the UK in 1970 and though the distinction has long left my memory, the terms remain. See how ‘Wiki’ describes them:

Both it appears, are ‘ales’ – top fermented beers – unlike lagers, which are ‘bottom fermented brews.

On my first day in Wales, I was told by the manager of a new pub in Llanelli that ‘mild’ and ‘bitter’ did not exist anymore. So, I never asked again. Well, he was partially correct – though the term ‘Mild’ may have disappeared, ‘Bitter’ certainly has not – as can be seen here at the Valley Hotel in Bishopston on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea - one of many pubs I frequented in my 'late-teen' and college days. 

The ‘holy’ variety (brewed by Brains Brewing Company of Cardiff) is a dark bitter – unlike the lighter colored variety by John Courage.

By the time I had got to Bishopston, I had already sampled various UK brews and confirmed what I had concluded many years ago - I no longer cared for ales, preferring the lighter, crisper, taste of lagers or ‘ice brews’.  

Double-decker buses – I saw purple ‘bendy-buses’ in Swansea, open-top tourist red double-deckers in London, blue double-deckers in Guildford, traditional red double-deckers in Llandudno, but only got to ride on the single-decker blue First Cymru buses in the Swansea area. It seems the days of the double-decker in Swansea have long gone, though ridership on some routes is still quite high – not surprising given the high cost of fuel and parking charges and the traffic and parking nightmares associated with busy town centers. Oh well, at least I avoided the compulsion to climb the stairs to the upper deck.  

Train rides – gone are the days of the steam locomotives, diesel electric or all-electric now! Even the track segments are in much longer lengths – no more of that hypnotic ‘clickety-clack’ sound as you roll along. You can book your ticket ‘on-line’ plug in your laptop to an outlet alongside your numbered-seat, see the arrival time and platform of the next 5 or 6 trains on an LED screen. So much modernization since my childhood days, when nothing could beat the thrill of standing on the bridge near St Helens Cricket Ground and getting engulfed in the cloud of smoke from the passing coal-fired ‘2-4-0 loco’ on its way towards Gorseinon! All aboard! ‘Whoo-hoo; chug-chug’ - sorry, no longer those more soothing sounds; now it is high-decibel horn blast that alerts you to the ‘train now arriving on platform . . . ‘

My schooling – though one never stops learning, this was the progression of my schooling in Wales

At the age of about 4, and for 3 more years, I went to what is now a ‘Welsh-only’ school, but back in the late 1940s, it was known as Brynmill Infants School. It was there that I twice got ‘caned’ – once for peeing over the wall of the boys toilet – into the girl’s toilet area – quite some feat; the wall must have been at least 6 feet high.  I never did discover who ‘squealed’ on me!

The next 3 years – when I was in my rugby-playing and ‘Flower-Pot Men’(a kids TV program)-watching days, I was at Brynmill Primary School, just a couple of hundred yards away from the ‘Infants’ school. It too was ‘co-ed’, though the boys had a separate playground from the girls. We were too rough, I guess. I have no recollection of any toilet incidents there, but we did have a gaudy-looking 6-foot tall skinny teacher we called ‘Painted Doll’ – a scary sight indeed! It was from this school, when I was maybe only 8-years old, that I scared my mother when I took 45 minutes to complete the 5-minute walk home. I had been looking for a (non-existent) shortcut through alleys and garage roof-tops! 

After the (in)famous ’11-plus’ exam, I was ‘elevated’ to attend (for the next 7 years) Dynevor Grammar School in the center of Swansea. At that time, it was a ‘boys’ only school. I may have been less attentive to my studies had it been ‘co-ed’. Biology teacher Mr ‘Mop’ Lloyd’s pointy-breasted laboratory assistant, Zena, was distraction enough for a pubescent lad.

Within those walls, I studied and received ‘O-level credits in 10 or so different subjects and 3 ‘A-level’ subjects, including my main subject – Geology. It was while there that I wore my first pair of ‘longs’ (full-length trousers), skipped off from a Geography field-class for a pint at the rural pub and rejected the hated ritual of my Dad cutting my hair, spending a one-time charge of about $1 at a local barber-shop and have always cut my own hair ever since!  I learned frugality along with vanity!   

With a head full of book-knowledge, and little else, ready to venture off to ‘Uni’, my Dad got me a summer job as a scaffolder’s laborer on the reconstruction of Swansea Market. I learned the ways of the REAL world on day one at that job, when I discovered someone had stolen my brand-new tea jug! 

For the next 3 years, I was a proud attendee (and Honors 1st Class Graduate) at the Geology Department at Coleg y Prifysgol, Abertawe (the University of Wales, Swansea). I recall attending lectures dressed (as if in a court of law) in a long black gown (we only wore the cap at graduation) – it was considered ‘the done thing’ - to show respect to the institution and its staff. A blazer, complete with an embossed University badge, and a green-and-white striped college tie were also part of the ensemble.  It was not until I after earned my B.Sc. degree that I attended any institution of learning in anything other than a uniform.  How times have changed!

Here, are Brynmill Infants School (top left), Brynmill Primary School (top right), Dynevor Grammar School (bottom left), and Swansea University.

'Grannies mud' - The tide was ‘out’ as I walked on the beach at Swansea Bay, but being quite cold – and with no means of cleansing my feet afterward, I opted to forego the walk out as far as the ‘grannies-mud’, but did capture this array of the forefront’s mixture of expansive sand and occasional areas of cobbles, seaweed and sea-shells.

Swansea Market - As mentioned earlier, I worked on the reconstruction of Swansea Market – a glass-covered acre of stalls containing sea-foods, vegetables, meats, flowers, pastries, eggs, linens, trinkets – a sight not to pass up. It is always amazing to see the wide variety of fresh seafood - fish, squid, octopus, whelks, crabs, clams, cockles, oysters, mussels – and all cuts of meats, organs and sausages as well as fresh vegetables and flowers.

Laverbread - As noted in an earlier blog-post, I did (for the first ever) sample cockles – on St David’s Day in Llanelli and though I had purchased an oval (sardine-like) tin of Parson’s Laverbread (in Welsh, Bara Llawr) at Swansea Market a week or so later, I still had not taken my first-ever taste of it - until I cooked it for a Te Bach (with the local Welsh Society) in St Louis in mid May.  It was more palatable than the cockles, but having gone 70 years without the taste of either, I can honestly say I don’t regret having deprived myself of those Welsh delicacies for so long!  Here’s one final look at them: 

Gymanfa Ganu - it is a ‘singing festival’ – one usually of hymns or songs of praise, held in a chapel setting. Unfortunately, I failed to attend (or even be aware of the existence of) one whilst I was in Wales. They are likely now more common in Welsh-communities in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio than in Wales now! Here is (was) an old chapel in Swansea that has not heard a Gymanfa Ganu in some years, I’d say. Sounds, unknown to my grandmother, emanate from it now!  It is one of a few places of worship in Swansea that one could say must have changed their recording labels from 'His Master's Voice' to 'Mecca'!

That last photo illustrates that some things (even in Wales) change and, as said by Thomas Wolfe, ‘You can’t go home again’. ['t_Go_Home_Again  ]  But, in spite (sometimes because) of those changes, memories can still flow forth – and even be renewed and expanded. I, and some of the people with whom I reminisced, more than once remarked, ‘Yes, I had forgotten that!’

That alone is worth a plaudit and an overall Bucket List Trip grading at an enviable A - not an A+, for one HAS to leave (scoring) room to tempt yet another trip home, right? 


  1. A- not acceptable. Re-do entire project. After all these years of selective amnesia the " Painted Doll" reappears!!!! Smelling salts all round.

  2. You mean you remember her too? Bad thing was, even if I was home from school (sick), I would still see her - she used to walk past our house on her way to and from school. Pity paper bags weren't popular then; I'd have got two; one to cover her head - and one for mine, in case her bag fell off!

  3. It was only when I read her name that the whole ghastly hidden past appeared, the memory could have ruined the rest of my retirement.

  4. Nice summary of a great trip - and great to meet you in person
    here all week !!