One of the reasons I am looking forward to coming home is that our baths all have two taps that look like taps and when you turn them on water, either cold or hot, pours forth. I know lots of Capetonians have more sophisticated baths and that’s fine with me because I don’t have to use them. But at the end of five energetic cycling days in Wales I wanted a gentle soak in a tub.
The first bath had 12 holes in the side and a complex set of dials, one of which came away in my hand. Guiltily I pushed it back and tried again. No water. I then fiddled with the apparatus above the dial while gently turning it. Still no water flowed out of one, let alone 12 holes.
I called my sister. She, after all studied medicine at UCT so should have been better equipped to deal with this scientific water-producing wonder. When she too was unsuccessful we called the hotel porter. He came. He saw. He conquered. He made it all look so easy and we postponed bathing till after dinner. Blame it on the wine but when we tried to bath before retiring we could not recall the procedure.
A knowledgeable friend recognised the 12 holes as a jacuzzi-bath. “You have to wait ages till the bath fills up to hole-height before the water starts bubbling all over you,” she said. “On hotel holidays my kids are usually banging on the door shouting ‘Hurry up Mum’ so I’ve never really enjoyed the luxury of one!”
Over the next two weeks in the UK I opted for showers. No two had similar controls and I either ended up with a cold trickle or a Niagara Falls scalding. And in the one bathroom where the temperature and volume were perfect, the shower door did not close properly and I flooded the floor with soapy water.
A slim fit through cycle paths
Another thing I discovered on my travels is that only thin cyclists can make use of dedicated cycle paths in Wales. I am sure there are plump and even fatties who ride bikes all over Cardiff but they would be unable to get through the barriers which are erected at the beginning and end of most cycle paths.
These barriers, designed to keep out motorbikes and scooters, come in two designs. One is a ground level arrangement of stout red poles through which it is possible to manoeuvre the mobile wheels of a bike.
The other, more common one, is a metal opening which curves in the middle like the hour-glass waist of a film star. The space is just wide enough to push through the handlebars but is a tight fit for even a slim cyclist. Definitely not for anyone with embonpoint.
Hopefully barriers won’t be necessary along the new cycle paths currently being built in Tokai and Firgrove roads. I can’t wait to see them completed.
The recreational meadow called The Warren
In Wales some of the inhabitants speak three languages: English, Welsh and Welsh-English. This makes use of English words and grammar but sounds like Welsh. So after dinner at the Swan, Hay-on-Wye’s principal coaching inn dating back to 1821, we had difficulty following a local’s directions to any place prepared to sell us late-night ice creams.
While enjoying them in a corner of a pub, a crowd of happy diners emerged from the restaurant. One explained they were members of the Warren Club, named after a group of businessmen and locals who in the 1970s had clubbed together to buy a beautiful riverside meadow called The Warren. This recreational meadow, named after the rabbits first bred there in medieval times, had been a public amenity for generations so the people of Hay were horrified that it was to be sold for a private caravan park.
Once the meadow had been bought, a “200 Club” which quickly became a “300 Club”, was set up to maintain the unspoiled beauty of The Warren which has been designated a place of Special Scientific Interest because of its bird life, otters and of course the rabbits.
Hay has another claim to fame. It has achieved international recognition as the original “Town of Books”. If you can’t find a copy of a rare book, you’ll be sure to find it in one of the 30 book shops in this small town on the England-Wales border.
A reminder of a catstrophic incident
On our ride on the Taff Trail from Brecon to the coal mining town of Merthyr Tydfil we were reminded of the Aberfan disaster on October 21, 1956. We came across a plaque commemorating the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip which led to the death of 116 children and 28 adults. They died when 40 000 cubic metres of slurry slid down a hill covering the village and the classrooms of Pantglass Junior School.
On the hillside above us were a row of white arches near the top of Aberfan cemetery marking the graves of the children. And what made us weep was to read that October 21 was the last day of school before half term. A day later and the school would have been empty.
A former old coal miner told us there were still old people living in Aberfan who would attend the 50th anniversary service in memory of their dead children.
It’s a joke
A homeless man quizzed by a social worker confessed that until recently he’d had it all. “I had a cook, a roof over my head, TV, gym, library, the lot. “Was it drugs? Alcohol? Divorce?”
“No. I got out of jail.”