Julie and I were neighbours many years ago. I used to babysit for her children , then 7 and 4, when I was doing my A’ levels. I haven’t seen the kids since then and it’s very hard to believe that they are now 39 and 36, in my mind they are still small children. Julie and I never lost touch and have seen each other occasionally over the years. It’s at least 13 years since we were last together though, so it was a very pleasant surprise to realise that we still got on brilliantly and were still able to effortlessly talk our way through a three hour lunch without pausing for breath.
We agreed to meet about half way between our current homes, in the village of St Brides Major, which sounds more like Somerset than the Vale of Glamorgan. As usual, I had forgotten how beautiful it is around there – we all know about the Brecon Beacons and the Gower Peninsular, but the Vale is just as lovely in its own quiet way.
Lunch got off to a bad start when we realised that the pub we had chosen, The Farmers’ Arms, is closed on Tuesdays. We drove to the next pub, The Fox and Hounds which is always a welcome sight when playing pub cricket on a long journey (just declare and have done with it). Today however, it turned out to be less welcome as it too was closed. We carried on a few miles along the Wick Road, past some very melodramatic holes in the ground (Ewenny and Pant limestone quarries according to Google) and ended up in the Ewenny Garden Centre cafe.
The cafe was good – lots of space, comfy chairs and a table in the window in a little side room so that we were alone for much of the time. The garden centre looked okay as they go – the one unusual and unexplained feature was that the car park boasted a huge bronze giraffe. It was right by the front door so you really couldn’t miss it, but there was no explanation and no price tag on it.
The food was good – we both opted for curry. The choices on the menu were chicken, lentil or spinach. OR spinach. Spinach curry. Hmm. We both went for the chicken, with the famous half and half, unheard of in Southern England but de rigueur in Wales. The food was good, but the portion size was crazy. There was twice as much food as either of us could manage. After a couple of hours of chatting, we decided to go back in and try the desserts and they too turned out to be enormous. I don’t like overly large portions, I was brought up to clear my plate and can’t resist trying even when I know I don’t have to and probably shouldn’t even try.
27 January 2015
Ewenny Garden Centre, Vale of Glamorgan
Conversation was copious and varied. Julie had brought some photos of us taken in about 1982 when we were on a bike ride. I don’t remember it at all, it was like looking at a total stranger. She also brought photos of her children and grandchildren, all seven of them. Several of the grandchildren looked very much like their parents did as kids, but the adult versions of the children I used to babysit for looked very different, I doubt I would have recognised them on the street.
We talked a lot about the past and I realised just how close knit the community I grew up in was. We knew everyone in our neighbourhood and we knew all about them – no one had any secrets. I hated this at the time but now I can see how valuable that was for the elderly and vulnerable.
Julie came up with a couple of lines which made me laugh out loud. She said “I often go to Barry with my feet for the fish”. I knew what she meant of course but that didn’t stop me laughing and taking the piss. She ignored my caustic comments for a while but eventually told me I was just jealous because she was “down with the fish when you’re not”. Later in the conversation, while talking about travel, she said “in 1992 we discovered America”. More laughter and this time my comment about Columbus having done that 500 years ago was completely ignored. That’s a testament to the liveliness of the conversation – we both made hilarious gaffs, were punished unmercifully by the other and moved on to the next without pause and with no offence being offered or taken. I’m often accused of having a sharp tongue and it’s true, I do. But at least part of that steel is due to the linguistic forge where it was tempered. Barry people are quick, witty and merciless, but we are also a lot of fun.