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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deep in the undergrowth and back to comfort

Thursday brought hangovers to the young visitors in the Cain cottage. I awoke to hear someone quite ill in the bathroom next door and I tried to turn over and go back to sleep. After dozing for awhile Gareth and I realized the whole house was awake around us and we had better rouse ourselves for the walk we had planned with the family. Gareth's parents take long hikes almost every day, usually about 9 -10km, rounding up with a hearty pub lunch. The lunch part I completely got, but the school of thought I come from normally involves a bit of a walk to see a nice view or to get somewhere, not to take a detour of a few kilometers. Still when in Wales....

Gareth's Dad was really gracious about the fact that we had all rolled in drunk, slept too late and delayed their plans and we took off through the fields and down through a forest. It was really very pretty and I always appreciate greenery now since I live in the desert. Jenny was stung by some nettles right through her jeans but she recovered pretty quickly. Gareth climbed to the top of an old ruin - I thought he might try and jump off - he just has a boundless sense of adventure and a lack of fear but thankfully his Mum's cries made him come down, through a dark tunnel infested with god knows what! We then made our way down to the beach and it was absolutely breath-taking. I love the sea anywhere, but it was so unspoiled, nature as intended with views of the Welsh and British coastline speckled in places with sunlight and clouds in other areas. I got a bit excited when I thought I could see Ireland - but not from where we were unfortunately. We played on the beach with the doggy and looked in the rock pools for baby crabs. Then we climbed up again to the forest and found a rough path along the coast. The sky threatened rain but I could still hear the buzz of bees on the hedges. There were a few close calls with buzzing in my hair - which induces a worse panic when I'm hungover - and I think Gareth was tiring of my silly phobia. He was also hungover and  I think most of our patience was stretched a little thin!

We came to a beautiful lighthouse where I thought we might have a short break for tea but apparently we weren't half way there yet! We managed to convince Pete that we needed some water but I think he thought we were just lightweights (being completely right!). I was relieved to see a proper path leading back up towards various villages but Coral and Pete thought the low road through another forest might have been more interesting. There were many nettles to manouevre and little streams to jump across which normally I'd find quite fun, but I was feeling a little weary and longed for the normal path. Jenny, Owen and myself were obviously feeling the same as we all hung back, plodding slowly uphill through the forest, we could hear Pete up ahead and it's shameful that people twice our age were not even fazed by the physical activity whilst we tired so easily. Gareth came back a few times for me, particularly after I got nettle stings (managing to get some thorns up my coat sleeves!) and eventually it seemed we were on a road, looking at some lovely cottages and country homes. Finally we were at the pub, but we had missed lunch! The chef was nice enough to provide us some plates of chips and we made do with crisps and chocolate. I still couldn't face an alcoholic beverage and was quite surprised that Gareth could, but he never ceases to surprise me. Pete was jovial and asking me if I'd enjoyed the walk; the truth was that I really enjoyed the first few km, it was my own fault I was hungover and just wanted to sit for the last km or 2. After a few beverages Pete and Jenny decided they would walk home with the dog. The rest of us thought the rain was finally going to come down so we would take a bus back to St. Donat's. The bus-driver was ever so sweet and didn't charge us even though we had about 3 stops; Take note Bus Eireann!

We arrived back to the house as the heavens opened; only for us to realize that we had no keys. Jenny and Pete weren't home so Gareth decided he would climb through our bedroom window to get in. How I wish I had it on camera! So we happily came in out of the rain whilst poor Pete and Jenny got caught in it. For food, a Smorgasbord was decided on - this family could not have been more after my own heart - there was Le Rustique, rocket salad, beetroot, corn beef pie and lots of fresh bread amongst many other tasty delights. My favorite food is tapas, mainly because I find it hard to choose so little bits of many good foods - in any culture absolutely delight me. We all curled up to watch "The Shawshank Redemption" as I had never seen it. The rain battered the windows and the wind howled down the country lanes as we snuggled, drank wine and watched a great film in lovely company. We all retired to bed early and another part of our journey had been completed - leaving me with a feeling of perfect contentment. Saying goodbye to Coral and Pete I felt there was no question I would be back in this wonderful hearth of happiness without any realisement of how wrong I could be.
Hold onto perfect moments and savour them for a few more seconds....

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A warm welcome to Wales.

I entered the Cain household in Wales on a gorgeous Tuesday evening and was greeted warmly by Gareth's Mum Coral, sister Jenny and her fiancé Owen. Gareth and his Dad were outside chatting about the TransAm. I was promptly handed a glass of wine (obviously Gareth had told them something about me!) and barely had time to get my bearings before we were all sat down for dinner. When I settled the first thing I noticed was how much warmth was in the room. The house was absolutely immersed in love. I haven't noticed that about many households but as the family bantered and questioned me I couldn't help but settle and be myself; the wine probably helped. After dinner we moved to the sitting-room where Pete waxed lyrical about books and film - I hadn't expected him to be so chatty and welcoming. My preconception of military men was altered considerably! Later, Coral took out some old family photographs and I got a potted history of how their lives had been, and saw how like Gareth's grandmother he was. I think he was embarrassed by all the photo's and stories but he took it in good nature, very typical of him. I left Gareth up chatting to his mum as I cosied up in bed, but he crept in to whisper that she thought I was lovely, which helped me into a comfortable sleep.

Next morning Gareth had to get up to move the TransAm to the local garage. Since it was still dark and stormy outside I was a bit bewildered by him climbing out of bed and groggily said "It's the middle of the night!". I didn't live that comment down for my few days in St. Donat's. I rose much later, a little embarrassed I had slept so late. It was bacon and eggs all round and we took a trip to the local college, a United World College, steeped in history. I have my own history with UWC as I was accepted back in 2008 to a UWC in the U.S and did a UWC short course in Lithuania that year but I didn't pursue the college place. Nevertheless it was interesting been shown around the beautiful castle grounds and gardens, overlooking the sea.
Afterwards it was time for the pub for one or two, and more quizzing me on behalf of Gareth's gran who apparently was very inquisitive about me, or maybe just in general! I offered a background check and my significant digits (waist, bra-size etc) but they said she probably already had those! Back at the house Jenny whipped up a lovely carbonara for us and we got ready to go and meet friends of mine who just lived up the road in Llanwit Major. We had an entertaining cab ride to the Old Swan Inn where we met Sharon and Matt who I hadn't seen in about 3 years. There was a little of the evening sunshine left but soon we went inside to play pool, the jukebox and have some comedy gold from Sharon. The girl should be on stage! The vodkas were flying in, there were specials on Jager and soon Cain family dancing ensued. Interesting to note that Jenny and Gareth dance remarkably similarly, although I'm sure she'll still strenuously deny this! We seemed to have lost Owen for a bit but we found him outside pondering the stars. We certainly weren't ready for the night to be over so we took a walk to Matt and Sharon's place where the Reverend Boult was babysitting their kids. It was a loooooong walk as I remember and considering it was alcohol fueled it must have been quite a distance - Sharon will maintain "It's just around the corner," but at least she regaled us with funny tales of an Irish girl in a Welsh village throughout. The air had gotten to us by the time we reached theirs as none of us could finish the drinks they'd given us; I did however get to see her two beautiful boys, Evan and Sean, tucked up in bed. They looked so peaceful; I'm not sure it's always that way!!! We struggled to get a taxi and at one point Jenny and I thought we'd just sleep on the couch but eventually Sharon's persistence paid off and we got back to St. Donat's. We tried to be quiet but I'm pretty sure we woke Coral and Pete up! Noisy drunken teenagers....oh wait, we're not teenagers anymore! So, a late end to a fun night out - it just shows it's the company and not the place.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wasps and Worcester

We took full advantage of the Cockliffe House breakfast on Tuesday morning before our road trip to Wales. There was a fire-engine outside but the fire officers assured us it was just a regular fire drill.
I got into the TransAm doing last minute checks of my handbag for the usual keys, phone etc. It was then I noticed a wasp on my lap. Gareth was just getting into the car when I let a blood-curdling scream out of me. He nearly leapt out of the car in alarm but I was straight out of the passenger seat, hysterical in the carpark. This garnered a few suspicious looks from the firemen mostly directed at Gareth, wondering what he had done to induce such a reaction! He coaxed me back into the car after awhile, I peered around anxious that another member of the wasp family would be back to greet me but I settled in. Gareth was a little in shock, given the fact I'd gotten used to the bushes beside the hotel populated with bees and we'd left the windows open on the two balmy nights we'd spent there which had encouraged a few long-legged spider friends to lurk around our room. Whilst he was settling me I saw a look of alarm pass over his features - I was about to berate him for winding me up, that this wasn't the place when he said ever so calmly "Get out, get out of the car,". Once again I leapt out shrieking, this time in tears. The wasp had been hiding in the T-bar of the car, awaiting my return!! Gareth managed to get the wasp out and stamp on him to death on the ground. It took a little longer to stem my emotions but eventually we took off on our journey. I was still shaking and hunched over; I have a full-blown phobia of wasps. He did his best to reassure me and after a bit even managed to have a little laugh about it with him telling me in loved me in spite of my crazy phobia.

We were speeding down the motorway, Gareth showing off about how the speedometer was off the mark in the TransAm and I drifted off to sleep for a bit in the heat of the summer sun (I wasn't allowing the windows open very much in case any other unwelcome visitors decided to appear). I woke up to a small explosion and the windscreen being completed flooded with an unrecognizable liquid....We quickly pulled in roadside and investigated. I, of course called Mum & Dad (although how they were likely to help, being in Ireland, I've no idea!) who said to call the AA, something Gareth was already doing. We had some fun with me steering the TransAm whilst he pushed (Fun for both given it's a HUGE old car) and sat on the side of the Motorway waiting for assistance. We were blessed with a beautiful day so I just people watched on the M5 in the hour and twenty minutes it took for the guys to arrive. I even had a read of Cosmo! There had been a mix-up with the AA, so the roadside assistance literally just towed us to the next exit, 1 mile away. After more communications with the AA we took a seat in the Three Pears Beefeater and decided no time like the present for a lunch break whilst they attempted to fix the ripped pipe (hence the over-heating and explosion). Unfortunately it couldn't be fixed, given that TransAm parts aren't exactly in the average AA truck these days but it meant Gareth could have a pint to ease the stress (and a vino for me!) and we climbed aboard the tow truck for the next leg of the journey.

After another little snooze we were informed that the driver could only take us over the border into Wales where we would make a change to another tow truck. I hadn't been told about the crossing of the Severn and it's beauty took me by surprise. On a gorgeous summer's day like we were experiencing I was surprised I didn't spot any wake-boarders! The stop was lucky in away as I got to freshen up a little before the final leg of the journey - it was over 8 hours since we'd left the hotel and I had a little bit to go before my first meeting with Gareth's family. I didn't want to arrive a stinky mess!! The last tow truck driver was a friendly man, full of chat about Wales and pointing out the sights. There were some tricky roads to manoeuvre coming to St Donat's but we passed through some quaint little towns and I could see the sea glittering in the distance. We eventually pulled up to St Donat's about 6.45pm, a little frazzled and at least 4 hours after expected and Gareth's Dad waved from outside the cottage as we disembarked, ready to meet the Cain family.