I met Michelle and Pete through my brother who is a contemporary of Pete’s. I really don’t remember the first time we met, it could be thirty or more years ago. As I haven’t lived in our home town since I was 18, I would surely have lost touch with them were it not for my brother, but he has maintained a constant, devoted attachment to them over the years and so kept my connection to them alive. I’ve seen them occasionally and heard all their news – babies born, marathons completed, kitchens fitted etc. together with the frequent updates about how thoroughly lovely they both are, what good friends they are and what a fantastic couple they make.
I can see what he means. There have been times when my poor brother really needed a friend and I was a long way from home with too many troubles of my own. Hearing Michelle’s calm, melodious voice on the phone, calling me ‘sis’ and telling me that our brother was OK and was in safe hands has been an enormous relief on more than one occasion. The name Peter comes from the Greek for ‘rock’ but it’s not just Pete who’s been the rock for my family, both of these lovely people have been there for us unfailingly over the years and we love them dearly.
We met at Michelle and Pete’s house in Barry, which meant I was able to meet this handsome boy. His name is Douglas and he is a mixture of Rottweiler, Mastiff and Teddy Bear. I also met Michelle’s dad, Tom which was a real pleasure. My brother was also present and we all sat in their lovely garden and had tea sitting in the sunshine, laughing and chatting animatedly. It might be strange that that a group of people from three different families, some of them strangers, can feel so relaxed and at home in each other’s company, but to me it immediately felt like a family gathering. Douglas is a good metaphor for us all – he was rescued from a potentially unpleasant environment, but has made his way into Michelle and Pete’s hearts and is now safe and happy.
Regretfully leaving Douglas and Tom behind, we headed off to Cosmeston Country park. This is a nature reserve created from a limestone quarry which has several lakes and a mature woodland. It’s a haven for wildlife, has an excellent reconstruction of the original medieval settlement and has the holy trinity of the modern family day out – car park, gift shop, cafe.
By now we were all starving, so we went to The Schooner Inn, opposite the entrance to the park. I was hoping to find that The Schooner was named after a now forgotten 18th century shipwreck or some other romantic tale but sadly no, the pub is in the old offices of the quarry and was presumably given its name because it is literally yards from the sea and is half way between what would then have been a busy sea port (Barry) and a Georgian tourist resort (Penarth). The Schooner is now a chain pub and survives by selling good, cheap food and beer and by keeping a a large car park and a relentlessly cheerful expression on the faces of its depressingly young staff.
11 July 2015
The Schooner Inn and Cosmeston Country Park
Michelle and Clive had eaten here before and were really excited about the chips. They had talked about them several times beforehand, trying in vain to explain what was so special about them, and were agog with anticipation at what Pete and I were going to make of them. Their disappointment when the chips turned out to have changed into the perfectly acceptable, but essentially ordinary variety was almost unbearable. Pete suggested that their previous visit had involved sweet potato chips, but this was greeted with scorn. Did we really think these two wouldn’t know a sweet potato chip from a normal one? Oh puleez! All we could glean was that the original chips had been coated with something – we could only speculate as to what. Fairy dust? Some kind of hallucinogenic?
As we were expecting to eat the magic chips, we ordered burgers to go with them. The burgers, unlike the chips didn’t disappoint and a silence descended as four hedonistic foodies tucked in. One of the major advantages of being ‘working class made good’ is that we are able to appreciate the finer things in life and, with just as much gusto, the coarser. I don’t doubt for a moment that we four could offer a cogent opinion on an obsiblue prawn parfait but are equally happy with a well cooked burger, something that people born to the good life might feel uncomfortable with.
After lunch we sauntered around the country park, remembering childhood visits and times we had taken our own children there. Conversation was easy, and constant, sometimes it was hard to finish one subject before another arose. We were able to take a lot of conversational shortcuts – we all went to the same terrible, brutal schools and grew up in the same impoverished but well intentioned communities. We have all survived and have created a new generation of people who are most definitely not victims of the cruelly limiting society that working class people in industrial South Wales endured when we were kids. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, positive, sunny day. There was an feeling of mild surprise – look at us, still here and smiling after all that! But we were definitely smiling.