Monday, January 21, 2013

emlyn of carmarthen

Today, while taking a new route to the City Centre, I ran into Emlyn of Carmarthen.

I first noticed Emlyn, a short, sturdy man probably in his late 60s, more than a year ago as I walked to work near the University of Cardiff, his tiny Yorkshire terrier trailing slowly behind him.

Our walking paths coincided irregularly and we started up conversation, usually around his Yorkie, Toby, whose little legs were aged and tired, but persistent. Emlyn himself, in my mind, is how I've come to see a Welshman of the Valleys: not tall in stature, but bull-like and physically strong, with twinkling eyes and a friendly laugh and banter. His name in Welsh, so the Internet tells me, means: 'around the valley.'

It was always a joy to see them.

Then, about a year ago, I saw Emlyn walking by himself. He looked lost without Toby, who had passed away. I said, 'You need to get another dog. It will help.'

Six months ago, I ran into Emlyn again, with a new, young Toby trotting along beside him, passing his youth as if by intravenous into Emlyn, whose own gait was sprightly again. We chatted and exchanged names. He was from the small town of Mountain Ash in the Valleys, and he and his wife weren't living in Cardiff but were from Carmarthen, travelling to Cardiff once a week or so to take care of an aged uncle.

And I hadn't seen them since today, while taking a new sidestreet. I met his wife, who is a good match for him and whose eyes dance like his. Emlyn had the new Toby, dressed in his winter coat, in his arms as they got into their car for the return to Carmarthen.

One day, hopefully, I will have my camera with me when I bump into Emlyn and Toby and capture a little of that love of life.

Friday, January 4, 2013

review and roundup

I thought I should give more consideration to 2012 and round up some of my reflections and observations:

I now know to open my windows in the winter to get rid of the condensation inside (from cooking, laundry, breathing, etc). Even though originally it seemed to go against common sense, I have found that the fresh air and circulation dries the indoors out and thus actually keeps it warmer when I turn on the heat (and my walls aren't dripping wet!).

I am always finding better places to shop (though prices on basics such as eggs, bread constantly rise) -- a seesaw battle.

Megabus is a fantastically cheap way to travel to London (£7 one way for a three-hour trip). Travelling the London Tube, however, from the coach station to the St. Pancras train station is exorbitantly high (almost £5 for a 15-minute ride). If you want to travel by train in Europe check out the amazing site 'the Man in Seat 61' -- it helped me learn about the Eurostar and showed me how to pick a seat and will probably answer any question you have about rail trips on the continent.

I obtained my Key to the Castle, a passcard available to anyone working or living in Cardiff and which allows free entry into the Cardiff Castle grounds, discounts on food, beverages and the gift shop. I really enjoy this as the grounds are lovely and quiet and the grounds are open to exploration with the audio phones. Last year they opened a tunnel depicting a World War II bomb shelter and it is eerily evocative with benches along the walls and music and bomb sounds echoing the hallways.

I discovered Chapter Arts Centre. Unfortunately it is on the other side of town (an hour's walk); if I lived closer I would be there all the time. I've never seen anything quite like it. Paul Harris had mentioned it before, but not until I picked up one of their free monthly magazines did I realize that it was the place for which I had been looking. It is open seven days a week, until late in the evening, has an excellent bar and cafe, art museum, cinemas, live theatre, gaming and jazz nights (free) and a neighbourhood vegetable garden. It is always buzzing with children and families, older people like me and creative types of all ages. The air is charged. It is a good place to meet people. I went one Sunday to sit and read and enjoy a stout before taking in a discounted film. Weekends are probably not a good time to go there to read. Table space was at a premium and by mid-afternoon I was enjoying the company of two strangers who asked if they could join me. A couple of hours later and the number had increased by another two people who were friends of the original pair. I received a tip about a possible vacancy at the tourism bureau (not quite right, but it led to my application for the ticketseller job at the castle) and had a thoroughly engaging afternoon.

If you read Yann Martel's Life of Pi, don't give up on it. It is quite slow-going in the first third of the book, but it opens onto the whole universe and is full of beautiful writing. I began to read the book by the Canadian Booker Prize winner not realizing it was being made into a film by Ang Lee. I saw the film on this New Year's Eve just passed, and it recreates the novel quite exceptionally and in some small ways improves upon it.

I found out how very, very painful corns on your feet are. It is one of those truisms that if you've never experienced something you probably cannot imagine it properly. I'd gone almost 60 years without a corn and often thought people were exaggerating the pain that they caused, imagining them to be like hard blisters or calluses. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is like a hot needle being twisted into your toe and they are very difficult to get rid of, considering a person is generally walking all the time. They appeared rather quickly, one on each foot between my fourth and fifth toes, one in particular forming a corn on top of a corn on top of a corn. I walked around Paris and can attest that cobblestones are not helpful when trying to pretend your foot is not on fire. It has been several months and the last corn is almost gone. I'm so glad that they are not permanent. I was afraid they would be.

I recently picked up a  box of 10 jigsaw puzzles that are well-made and not impossible to do and discovered that they were made in Canada. This was after finishing several puzzles over the course of the year that were more infuriating to put together than they were challenging or fun. I never realized before how badly some puzzles can be cut or made and maybe that is because most of the puzzles I've ever done must have been made in Canada.

OK, I think that's it -- I'm stretching now. I know I'll think of something more interesting later. Til then.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

out with the old, in with the new

Whew! I'm looking forward to a fresh start in 2013 and not sorry to see the backside of 2012. It wasn't a bad year -- which is a lot to be thankful for -- but it was an awkward year, never quite reaching a comfortable stride. It felt full of false starts and flat stops and the highlights felt hard-won, whether they were or not.

A lot of the frustration was due to struggles on the job, often physical job-related ailments, one small but tedious strain after another, so that much of the year I never felt physically on top of things, or was always seeking pain-free effort. It did come for short intervals: aggravated elbow joints healed and sinus problems came and went and my speed improved as well, but it may be time to seriously look for work outside of the hotel industry.

The difficult year at work was eased with travel and visits-- in March my first trip to Europe with the cruise to St. Malo and St. Servan, in May a visit from my brother and sister-in-law, in July a trip home to friends and family in Canada and the U.S., in October my first visit to Paris, la belle cite, and shorter, local Welsh excursions scattered in between.

I'm hoping that 2013 unfolds with more grace and ease. I have been in Wales about two and a quarter years now -- almost at the halfway point of my five-year visa. I think I am a little frustrated at working so hard and playing so little, even though in many ways things are much easier than during the first year. No Olympics this year -- which is good from my workpoint view -- maybe less rain? (2012 was the rainiest year in 100 years in the U.K.), maybe another job? (I've currently applied to be a ticketseller at Cardiff Castle).

Definitely more travel -- one of the bonuses of living here in the U.K. is the five-weeks of vacation, which is wonderful. At the end of March I plan to go to Canada/U.S. for a week and then down to my stepmother's in Florida for a week (sunshine, yes! yes! yes!). I'm hoping my brother and sister-in-law return in May, but I haven't heard at this point. If not, perhaps I can see them in Europe. I hope to make a weekender to Amsterdam and see the Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums. And I plan to return to Paris for a day or two longer than my first short visit, because, well, Paris is profound in every way. I hope, that before I return for good to Canada, that I will come to know Paris well.

So welcome, 2013! Croeso and bienvenue!!!