Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blwyddyn newydd dda -- Happy New Year!

2010 has been an eventful year. It's hard to believe that in January I was just beginning the research to apply for my U.K. ancestry visa. And now I'm in Wales.

This is a short post as the library's almost closing and I'm getting hungry. The libraries are closed around January 1st for several days as they were around Christmas, so the next post will be in 2011.

No special plans for New Year's Eve. I was supposed to have tomorrow, New Year's Eve day off, but am working instead. That's OK, but it will definitely mean a quiet New Year's Eve. That's OK too, because New Year's to me is best as a quiet, reflective time.

I have big expectations for 2011. I hope to make several easy day trips around Cardiff by train and bus to spots like Bath and possibly the West Coast of Wales. My brother and his family are planning a family bike trip to Ireland in May, so hopefully I will see some of them then. Also, at some point, Paris beckons -- and Amsterdam ... and ...

Europe, so close and yet so far.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nadolig Llawen (Merry Christmas)

Merry Christmas from Wales!

After an eight-day stretch of working I am off for two days, work Christmas Eve day and then off Christmas Day. Definitely sleeping in tomorrow, or as they say here, having a 'lie-in.'

Today the hotel had a very nice turkey dinner with cranberry sauce and roast potatoes for the day staff at noon. It was quite festive with Christmas tunes and flashing lights and our supervisors, dressed as Santas, served us. I was impressed. It's been a long time since a workplace of mine has followed through on the spirit of the season. Dinner was a bit rushed (for me) as we still had rooms to clean afterwards, but nonetheless, it was quite nice. And that is not even our main fancy dress gala, which takes place at the end of January at another major hotel.

The U.K. is being hamstrung by consistent cold and snow. Our hotel had a group of 40 cancel yesterday. Cardiff received about six beautiful fluffy inches a few days ago, but the country isn't used to it. No one has shovels, salt, or snowploughs so everything has ground to a halt, a week before Christmas. But the snowfalls here have been picture-perfect with the snow clinging to the trees. I have realized that despite the cold and wet feet, the snow makes me deliriously happy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

nativity play

On the pedestrianized Hayes in downtown Cardiff, in the midst of the shopping arcades and across from the large shopping centres, a rather grand but laid-back building is easy to pass by. It is the Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Chapel and, like many churches I've seen here, doesn't fit the traditional bell tower image -- though those churches abound as well.

This chapel often has signs out front advertising choral groups, which sadly, I haven't heard yet. But this Christmas season, they've done something that I think is rather remarkable. Every day until early evening volunteers have been putting on a nativity play every forty minutes, 20 minutes long, rotating through six teams of players inside a makeshift theatre. The wise men, very grand in velvets and cloths and a life-size camel puppet stand in the Hayes and simply let people know when the next performance begins.

I attended it one night after a long day at work. Sitting on wooden benches in a semi-heated room, the simple story unfolded with the actors in pantomine and a voice telling the story. It was very well told, admirably acted and performed, with large puppets used imaginatively throughout. I will probably attend it again. It is welcoming and refreshing with no preaching, no philosophizing and no quest for funds -- a reminder of the reason we celebrate Christmas.

I haven't regularly attended church in a long time, and in Toronto, I only went into my neighbourhood church to light candles on special occasions. But I grew up Catholic with all the pomp and majesty of beautiful ritual. At my flat in Cardiff I regularly get free flyers from churches and congrations in the area and last weekend attended a Carols by Candlelight service at Highfields Church down my street. Again, a non-traditional church in my view, it is situated in a solid imposing structure that looks like an old union hall to me, but apparently was a former Presbyterian church, and now seems to be an open congregation.

I had walked by that building before and seen people in the lit rooms, gathered for I didn't know what, at the time.

The Carol service was a very pleasant experience shared with people of all ages and several nationalities, reminding me how churches build communities and communities build churches.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

watchin' the telly

I wouldn't be able to live without my TV. Simple as that. After work, and because I live on my own, it's the perfect way to unwind. And British TV is both superb and mingboggling ridiculous.

I've never had cable, and I believe some of the shows I'm watching have been available in N. America for years, but they're new to me here on the free channels. I particulary enjoy the shows which show couples buying houses and flats in the U.K. and in Europe such as Relocation, Relocation and A Place in the Sun: Home or Away? It's amazing how many people have so much money. Also amazing how much more the British can get for their pound in Europe.

Grand Designs tracks people, many architects, but not all -- as they build their dream homes. (People with even a LOT more money.) This show is fascinating for the trials these people put themselves through as well as the logistics of doing a show over a span of several years. The homes and struggles for the most part are inspirational -- sometimes headscratching -- and in many cases true works of art.

Coast is an amazing show highlighting the coastal areas of Great Britain and Ireland. Fascinating, well done and beautifully photographed with Scottish historian Neil Oliver an engaging host.

Corrie Street celebrated 50 years on the air last week. The Manchester-based soap outdid itself with a week-long celebration of all things Coronation. I won't be a spoiler here. In N. America the show is more than a year behind. Prepare for changes next year, Canadian audiences.

And, lots of cooking shows, Simon Cowell and remarkable talent on the X-Factor, multiple quiz shows that are really platforms for multiple comedians, and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here -- which I can't watch (I tried), but is very popular.

Carry on.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tiger Bay

On Sunday, a rather frigid day, as winter has struck Wales and the U.K. with a hammer blow, I walked down to Cardiff Bay as I hadn't been there in awhile and it is one of my favourite places.

I wandered into the Pierhead Building, a striking, imposing red brick structure on the waterfront and encountered a little museum that answered a lot of my wonderings about the building and Cardiff's industrial past.

Before shipping and coal collapsed and before the Bay was rebuilt as a stunning tourist destination the Docks and the area surrounding it were known as Tiger Bay.

I remember that name from an old British film with Hayley Mills that I saw as a child, one of the first of the wave of British gritty 60s films which also included A Taste of Honey. Those movies, in black and white, reeked of grey, industrial Britain. I only realized a few years ago that the Tiger Bay in the film was a real place, part of Cardiff.

The museum had first-person recollections from a vast number of Cardiffians and Welsh, but the ones I found most striking were from two men.

One, a man of colour, spoke of the 'heaven' that was the Tiger Bay in which he grew up. Everywhere were sailors and merchants from the four corners of the Earth, and anywhere you went you could hear people talking in their various native tongues: Chinese, Spanish, Welsh, English. Many of the men settled in Cardiff and, as the man said with pride, "All of our grandmothers were Welsh girls." Families, he said, were like rainbows, and he wished he could show you the Tiger Bay of his youth.

Another man, a Somali, told a sadder story. He spoke about how hard it was for the Somali sailors away from home, often only able to bath once a week, staying in squalid conditions and spending all of their money on clothes, just to feel good.

Tiger Bay has been demolished and the area gentrified, but the sense of it still tugs and pulls, not unlike the tides on Bristol Channel.