James is my brother’s son and the only one of my nephews who was brought up in my home town. When he was a little boy we saw a lot of each other. I babysat him, sang him James Taylor’s song Sweet Baby James and pretended to understand his seemingly endless supply of car related statistics. As he grew up, the age gap between us became less important and the relationship has now moved to one of friendship. I still feel a maternal thing for him though, he was the first baby I knew well and I don’t think I’ll ever shake the fact that in a sense he was my first son and I love him dearly.
As James lives in Cardiff, we met half way and had lunch in a Vale of Glamorgan village called St Hilary. He very thoughtfully offered to meet me from the train in Bridgend which meant I could drink, and then while driving me to the village, explaining exactly why his car accelerated so well at certain points. He still has all the statistics to hand but now that he also has a physics degree and 15 years of engineering behind him, his car related conversation is even more unintelligible. Like a lot of clever people, he seems to believe that us normal folks actually understand what he’s saying, so I found myself nodding enthusiastically and tutting sympathetically, while hoping desperately that I had my nods and tuts in the right place.
The village was called St Hilary and there followed several days of conversation about saints. Did you know that Saint Patrick is from Wales, Saint George is Turkish and Saint Andrew is from Palestine? Only good old Dewi Sant is actually from the country of which he is patron. James wondered how it gets decided that a certain saint is patron saint of a particular thing. He pointed out that there must be a hierarchy – someone gets to be patron saint of Ferraris and black stallions, while others get inflammatory diseases and mould.
The venue was a beautiful old thatched roofed pub called The Bush. The food was great and as we were so late (I couldn’t get away until 2pm) we had the place virtually to ourselves. We both had a hearty lunch and easily despatched three courses in near silence, eating being something our family takes very seriously and is extremely good at.
17 April 2015
The Bush, St Hilary, Vale of Glamorgan
Food dispensed with and it being a lovely day, we set off for a stroll to help settle the huge meal we had eaten. St Hilary is a typical Welsh village – it has a church, a decent pub, some very nice houses, a common and an iron age round house filled with the sound of drumming… Eh? We went to investigate and found exactly that. We briefly discussed the fact that two strangers entering a small village and being drawn to the sound of the strange rituals being enacted by the locals is the plot of several horror films, but decided to have a look anyway. We found some very friendly people who explained that the drummer in the picture below was celebrating his 40th birthday by drumming continuously for 40 hours and raising money for Wateraid. I didn’t mention that I too was marking a landmark birthday with a marathon of sorts, having lunch a lot and donating to the size of my waistline doesn’t quite stack up really, so I made a conscience salving donation to Wateraid on the spot and crept away sheepishly. Here’s the drummer’s Just Giving page if you’re feeling charitable: https://www.justgiving.com/TheBigBash2015/ We never really received a decent explanation for the round house other than the fact that the owners had the space and felt like doing it. This seems to me to be brilliantly creative, extravagant, adventurous and just a tiny bit mad.
We walked up onto the top of St Hilary’s common where there is a great view of the Bristol Channel. You can also see the smoke stacks for the power station, a fact which James is very familiar with as his first graduate job involved climbing it and many other impossible heights in scary places like steelworks and power stations. I remember him doing this job and realising that it was a good start to a career but just wishing it was over soon. It was dirty, hard and really, really dangerous. It was lovely today to look at the power station from a distance and know that this is as close as he has to get these days.
I was having a great time and didn’t want the day to end, so \I was pleased when James suggested we repair to the nearly town of Cowbridge for coffee. Cowbridge is pretty, affluent and well appointed, It’s about 10 miles from where we grew up but a miilion miles from how we grew up. We wandered around the pretty little physic garden and James told me the Welsh for all the labels on the herbs we were looking at. I always forget that he can speak Welsh as no one else in our family can, It’s a great trick though, and another reason for me to be proud.