I had always intended my last lunch to be a tribute to all the people I can no longer spend any time with but would very much like to, but as the lunches ticked by and number 50 got closer, I realised that talking about dead people was no way to end a party and definitely not typical of me. It occurred to me that meeting someone new, making a new friend, was far more ‘me’ than sitting around moaning about the dearly departed, after all, most of the people I had lunch with were new to me at one point – I love new people!
I have been corresponding by email with Claire for about 18 months. She works for one of O.H.’s customers so there’s no direct link, but she quickly realised that if she had a question about our professional insurance, time sheets, invoices or contracts, she was better off emailing me for a quick answer rather than listen to him flounder, and then ask me anyway.
Presumably it was the arch-flounderer himself who told Claire about my 50 lunches idea and gave her the address of the blog. I had intended it as a means of jogging my memory and a way to check back with my lunch date to make sure I had got my facts right; it never occurred to me that anyone else might like to read it. Claire however, did like to read it. What’s more, she emailed me and told me so, which is kind, generous and, as it turns out, typical.
The Pettigrew Tearooms restaurant is in the gatehouse at the entrance to Bute Park, right in the heart of our nation’s capital. Cardiff is a good looking city in lots of ways, but the elaborate, extravagant Victorian re-imagining of a Norman castle and the splendid park that surrounds it are the jewel in the crown.
The Tearooms are a new venture, only begun in 2012, but they’ve gone for a vintage/country cottage look that suits the building very well. It’s a small venue (just as well given that I had no idea what Claire looked like) and for a room with wooden floors and stone walls, was quite remarkably noisy. There was a very promising selection of cakes and smiley, busy looking staff, and the noise meant that Claire and I were able to chat freely and volubly but privately too, which is so much more relaxing than the whispered conversation which is necessary in some establishments.
18 September 2015
The Pettigrew Tearooms, Cardiff Castle
It turned out that I need not have worried about Claire and I recognising each other – as soon as I walked into the room, a tall, attractive young woman with a broad smile stood up and came to meet me. I wondered how she could be so sure it was me, but then I remembered that she’s read this blog. I was momentarily horrified by the sudden realisation that I have published 50 pictures of myself on the internet – I’m supposed to value my privacy after all, but by then Claire had made it all the way across the room and we were hugging like old friends. One-nil to the Internet.
The Pettigrew do a magnificent afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches, scones and proper tea with a strainer and china cups. It was so spectacular that we both immediately started exclaiming in delight and taking photos of it. That’s what I love about the Welsh – when we like something we tell people, often quite loudly – it’s no wonder we have a national competition for song and dance, telling people how we feel is what we’re all about.
Lunch underway, Claire and I settled down to a proper chat. We are both from the same town and have both worked as teachers and with software engineers, so there was a lot of common ground. It was odd to meet someone new as an adult but to be able to revert to childhood vocabulary – there was a lot of the verbal shorthand which is only possible when two people have the same background. I told Claire that I was looking forward to taking the scenic route back to Swansea. We both remembered playing in the woods and on the beach in Porthceri Park as children. We had both looked up at the viaduct towering above us, while endless coal trains rattled across, taking Welsh coal from ‘up the valleys’ to the power station in Aberthaw. These days the coal comes from Poland and kids don’t play in the woods – most of the traffic on the viaduct is people going to Cardiff airport to start their Mediterranean holiday. On a brighter note, people wanting to cross the viaduct means that there are now passenger trains, and I was able to see my home town from a whole new perspective.
Before that however, there was a long and entertaining conversation with Claire. It was a strange situation – I had never met her before and knew virtually nothing about her, but she had read my blog and so knew far more than anyone could ever reasonably want to know about me. She was very kind, she offered me as much information about herself as I wanted but seemed genuinely interested to know more about me. When I photographed us together, she bent over in a very uncomfortable manner so that she wouldn’t make me look ridiculously short (which I am). This is how automatically accommodating Claire is, she makes you feel like a movie star, no wonder she’s so good at her job.
I was particularly interested to get Claire’s opinion on what my next job should be. I had been offered a teaching post but was very unsure about taking it. I wondered if I should try to get back into IT or just try for a minimum wage job on the basis that no one would expect me to spend my spare time preparing lessons or marking. Claire’s advice was very left field – try the job, you’ll never know what might have been if you don’t, but if it doesn’t work out, give up teaching and write a book. I’d never given any serious thought to writing before, it’s something I’ve always done, but in my own time because I enjoy it. I’d never once thought of writing full time and it had never crossed my mind that anyone might like to read what I wrote. If I take up her suggestion, try it and it works, it will be Claire I dedicate the book to. Thanks Clare, you were a great lunch companion and gave me exactly what I needed at the end of my first 50 years – a great big challenge to take me forward.