Thursday, 19 August 2010

They'll keep a welcome in the hillsides (hopefully)

After 28 years spent in Africa and Spain I'm going home.

My decision hasn't exactly been greeted with universal enthusiasm, though. Several months ago I mentioned my intention to a friend who said, “Aren't you a bit young to be going home to die?”

No, I explained, you don't get it. Wales is amazing! Haven't you seen what they've done there? Look at the opening sequences of Torchwood; it's like CSI Cardiff now.

I won't bore Welsh readers any further with what they already know, but I would advise foreigners to see Rhod Gilbert's excellent stand-up routine: “Wales isn't shit anymore – we've done it up!”

Ultimately I'm hoping to settle in the Cardiff area where my pathetic inability to pass my driving test won't be quite so debilitating. The lure of the capital is always strong, but for me Cardiff will almost be like coming home, since I lived there from 1972 to 1979 while attending high school in the city.

Like all ports, Cardiff has always had a cosmopolitan ambience and this cultural mix was very much in evidence at my school. In my final year I shared a dormitory with a Venezuelan, a girl from Japan, a Nigerian, an Iranian and a half-Armenian, half-Indian girl. Hell, you want exotic? One of my friends came from England and was called Bunty.

After spending nearly three decades both as a rooinek and as a guiri, dear old Cardiff exerts a strong pull. I'm not generally a fan of city life, but now that the Millennium Centre seems to be attracting a steady stream of fantastic musical acts to add to Cardiff's rock solid theatrical, operatic and choral traditions, it's even more alluring. On my more confident days I even imagine what it would be like to be part of a choir again, something that would be a possibility in Caerdydd if I could only persuade the musical director that what's needed is a second alto who can double as a baritone when needed. Maybe I could be the first female member of Only Men Aloud? They'd have to change their name, mind.

The culinary scene is also as varied as you'll find in Wales, extending far beyond the obligatory Indian and Chinese restaurants. I'm sure that I'll even find a tapas bar or two.

First of all, however, I'm heading straight for my hometown.

I love Pembrokeshire even more than I love David Lynch which, as my close friends will attest, is quite a statement. I love its craggy, vertiginous cliffs and stacks and its bolshy disinclination to suck up to holidaymakers with resorts offering donkey rides, candyfloss and 'Kiss Me Quick' hats. Mostly it specialises in magnificent golden sandy beaches which offer nothing more than an intermittent ice-cream van in the way of modern amenities. When it does 'do' resort towns (Tenby and Saundersfoot, for instance) they are places of staggering prettiness, which have remained largely unspoiled since the Edwardian era, when they first started touting for business.

Considering its inaccessability, Pembroke town has proved surprisingly attractive to the 'escape to the country' crowd. There certainly is a lot of countryside, but the fact that the nearest Marks & Spencer is over thirty miles away (in Carmarthen) means that only hardened lovers of rural life would contemplate a move this far west.

Back in the 1970s, the nearest M&S was in Swansea; my Dad loved to tell his tale of the day he was obliged to explain the route to two baffled American tourists.
“So we find our way back to the main road and drive how far east?”
“Sixty miles.”
“SIXTY MILES?! You are joking, right?”
“No, that's correct. Of course, if you want a really decent sized branch you'd be better off going to the one in Cardiff.”
“Maybe we'll try Cardiff. How far's that?”
“A hundred miles, roughly.”

Despite the influx of Londoners and Mancunians suffering from some obscure ennui of the spirit, the town is still home to thousands of people whose families, like mine, have been there for generations. To listen to the locals you would imagine that the entire populace now consisted of retired accountants from Tring or organic food obsessed young professionals from Islington, but even the tiny amount of research that I've undertaken has revealed that many of my old schoolfriends are either still there or have returned. Most members of my family who moved away from the area in their youth have chosen to retain a presence there by buying property or regularly visiting relatives.

Pembroke is a place where roots are still important, whatever the locals say. I can just imagine popping into the local caff and trying to get my zany foreign habits past the waitresses.

“I see Keith Elsdon's daughter's back.”
“Oh yes, in the end they all return.”
“She's gone really weird, though. Do you know what she asked for? Apparently she wanted a bap, cut in half and toasted on something called a plancha. Then she asked me to spread olive oil and crushed tomato all over it!”
“Oh, give her a toasted teacake. She'll soon get over it.”

It's funny – by the time you're middle-aged you find comfort in the things that once drove you mad.

Anyone who is remotely interested in my experiences back in Wales can follow it on my new blog, Local Weirdo. I will also be blogging on Wales Online, the website of The Western Mail, Wales's daily newspaper, of which more later.

A View From a Broad will continue to feature its usual range of topics currently inspiring or enraging me.

1 comment:

  1. I do think you're a bit mad to be coming back. While you're sat there in sunny Spain, it's pouring down here (as is usual in South Wales usual in the middle of August). I can't dry the washing, have to wear waterproofs and wellies to walk the dog and still have a hot water bottle at night!

    You're going to move back here and my driving ambition at the moment is to get away. I'm hoping to be earning enough as a freelancer by this time next year to move to Greece. I don't want a perfect life, but I would like to be able to sit outdoors in the summer!