It’s bleak today – a typical Welsh winter morning where, even at nine o’clock, the night sky struggles for dominance over daylight. Wind is whipping. Rain slices at the windows. Such a change from yesterday’s gloriously crisp sun and blue sky. A day meant for venturing.
Paul and I started out yesterday driving across the moors of Llangynidr. We had a mission, one that we’d postponed long enough. Many years ago, before Paul moved to the U.S., he, his friend Carl and our precious Welsh-born boxer, Zippy, had an outing on the very same moors. Filled with bracken and sheep that looked worse for wear, the views over the Usk Valley below stopped traffic. For miles, all you saw were rolling green hills, a few pools of water, established, white-clad farm houses, and stone walls. Capped with an azure sky and puffy clouds, the scenery was what people traveled to Wales to see.
That day, so long ago, Zippy, being the pup she was, bounded out of the car and took off, leaving Paul and Carl in her wake. Worried when she didn’t come back, the two men clambered through the rough fields and down the edge of a ravine, shouting her name. They trudged across the moors, fearing the worst. No Zippy was to be found. Until, in the distance, a flock of sheep was seen charging up a far hill at full tilt. And at the rear of the flock was Zippy, chasing happily behind. Those memories and that story stayed with Paul and was told to all our friends in sweet remembrance of our dear dog.
Yesterday, we returned to the moors to spread her ashes where she loved to run.We trekked over the rain-sodden earth, past craters filled with rock, toward a precipice where a mound of ancient boulders held court. A perfect spot for Zippy. Slowly, Paul sliced through the blue ribbon of the white box holding Zippy’s memory. He removed the Indian-carved wooden case, lovingly touched the brass plaque marking her name, and made a slow arc in the air, presenting Zippy once again to her old hunting grounds. Then, it was time…But we couldn’t do it.
Through Paul’s tears coursed the memory of Zippy. She didn’t love Paul, she was “in love” with him. One look at her eyes as she beheld his being and you’d believe it too. Stretched out on the top of the sofa, she’d wrap her body around his shoulders and place her head gently on his shoulder. She’d sit in his lap, convinced of her ten pound weight and not her eighty-five pound reality. Her gentle “woof” told us she was locked out of the house, and her head would hang low when we’d return home and she’d done something bad. One look at her sloe-eyed, sagging face told the tale.
No, Zippy’s meant to be with Paul. Her rest wasn’t to be violated and her dust would go untouched. Her lovely carved box with the brass plaque wasn’t to be opened. Couldn’t be. Instead, she went back into the white packing box that brought her with us to Wales and was tucked safely into our trunk. We decided her new home would be Paul’s glassed-in Welsh bookcase that sits in his office.
Zippy is more than a memory, she, and all her funny, endearing ways, are a part of our life. She’ll come back to America with us, to be at Paul’s side — where she belongs.
The last time I left “Dibley,” (my pet name for the charming Welsh countryside) for a length of time, my mother was ill and I wanted to be with her. I was away for three months, returned to Wales, and headed back when my father’s health declined. That visit lasted six weeks. Now we’re leaving again, only this time we’re taking the furniture and dog with us.
Yes, it’s all my fault. Funny how it seems that everything is my fault. If I hadn’t wanted more adventure in my life (driving around the world and living in a green Land Rover when I was in my 20s was just the tip of the iceberg), we’d have never left Wellington, Florida and moved to Wales. But living in another culture, one I was familiar with having married a Welshman and having visited the country several times, well, living in another country held an allure. It didn’t help that my friend Vickye and I were producing a website www.achangeoflifestyle.com that was aimed at people looking to move away from the U.S., Canada and Britain and experience their own change of lifestyle. So, the bug caught me, we moved to Wales, and now, after two-and-a-half years, were going back to Florida.
Back to the heat. Back to the sun. Back to the traffic. Back to our friends. Back to our daughter, son-in-law and two delicious grandsons. They’re what we’re going back for. I miss them so much and don’t want to be out of their lives any longer — at least until they want us out, which should be in about ten years when they head off to college!
Yes, it’s all my fault, but I’m lucky. I happen to be married to a man who has a bit of “Ruth” in him. He’ll go where I go.
Our first stop in Wales was an idyllic cottage, perched on a hill overlooking three mountains. Between us and the soft peaks were velvet valleys, salmon-fed streams, silver birch trees, hedgerows, narrow country lanes and sheep. Living in The Coach House brought my dreams of life in Wales into reality.
Our second home lasted all of one month. Larger and located along the Usk River in the town of Usk, I felt like I was back in New York. (OK, that’s a stretch of the imagination, but think “living in town.”) We could walk to the post office, the grocery store, the hairdresser and several restaurants. The downside was that we had a landlord who ignored a major plumbing problem, saying he’d wait until it fixed itself! We didn’t wait. We were out of there, fast!
Our friend Malcolm found us a gorgeous, huge, American-ized house in the hills above the town of Blackwood, in the Welsh Valleys. Now, this part of Wales isn’t posh. It isn’t trendy. It’s working class and dotted with old mining villages where the century-old terraced houses snake up and down the hills in long lines. But what I love about this area is its history. Everywhere you look are remnants of the past. A past that put Wales on the map.
The old coal mines and iron works that we overlook fed the world and made industrialists rich, while Wales and the Welsh starved. Our friends in Cardiff all talk about their grandparents living in this area when they first emigrated to Wales from wherever. And like many immigrants, they became financially comfortable and moved to the city. We did the opposite. We relish living in the working Wales, where the people are friendly, warm, generous, helpful, kind, sweet and neighborly.
When we lived in the posh part of South Wales, not one person knocked on our door to say hello for nearly a year and a half. Here, neighbors stop by to tell us our garage door is open, to say hello, to have a “cuppa” and a piece of cake. To talk about the black bunny that lives across the street, or the red fox with the white-tipped tale and his family that meander across the street and down another slope. Children ride past on their bicycles and wave to our dog, Breeze, as she sits in the window and watches. And yes, we have a view of rolling green hills and sheep, thousands of them! This is the Wales I will miss terribly.
I’m not stopping this blog. I still have a lot to say. Until then, farewell to Dibley. I’m so glad you welcomed me and let me be a small part of your history. Stay tuned…
I’ve been quiet for a while, I know. That’s the way I deal with stress. My writing mindset goes out the window and I agitate inside. That’s where I’ve been. Inside.
I’m so fortunate. I live in one of the most gorgeous countries in the world – Wales. The view I’m looking at right this minute is of rolling hills, munching sheep, and even blue sky, which is unusual for Wales considering that the rivers have overflowed their banks in most parts of the country because of all the rain we’ve had.
My house is anyone’s dream — full of rooms that we don’t even use. Paul’s man-cave is two floors below my writing room and we communicate via Skype. Our dog (yes, I succumbed!) snores nearby and my bathtub is large, deep and full of hot water and relaxing bubbles when I need it to be. So what’s my problem? I’m standing in front of that proverbial wall again and don’t know if I have the strength to climb over it.
It first happened about six months after we got here. Maybe it’s my hormones, or lack of. Maybe it’s my emotions sneaking up to the surface. Maybe it’s just a simple lack of what is familiar. Somehow, even the summer weather in hothothot Florida suddenly becomes not too terrible! Horrors! Yup, the wall keeps popping up in front of me and the questions start. Did I make the right decision? What am I doing here? I miss my kids. My grandsons. Their hugs and kisses. I miss American coffee. American nine-lane highways. The Today show. GETMEOUTTAHERE! I scream before retreating to my bed for a good cry.
We went back to Florida in October and I was enveloped by two little boys, loads of wet kisses, books read at bedtime, talks shared with my daughter, laughs with my son-in-law, glorious dinners with friends, and girl talk. Boy, was it hard coming back.
Paul’s been sick since we got back to Wales. We cancelled Thanksgiving because he was in such pain. But he’s now recovering and I’m feeling the stress again, having pushed it aside to take care of him. I also faced the end of the first year of my parents’ deaths. That’s always the hardest. So, my turn, I’ve justified it as being.
I haven’t gone away. Just inside for now. But I’m outside this minute and want to wish all of my loyal readers a wonderful holiday season, whatever your religion, even if you don’t have one. Be good to each other, relish in your family and friendships, and greet the New Year with vigor, prepared to jump in with both feet and to experience all that life throws at you. Hey, even if life gives you parsnips, make soup!
Monday was a bank holiday here in Wales, meaning that it was one of those Monday holidays that seem to happen every other week in the U.S. But in the U.K., Bank Holidays are few and far between, so everyone looks forward to the three-day weekend.
Our Bank Holiday Monday dawned wet and rainy. There wasn’t a hint that it would clear, even past the horizon, so we resigned ourselves to a day of – of – no! We’re not going there! Forgetaboutit! We weren’t going to be put off by a bit of rain! We’re bold! We’re British (ancestry counts here, doesn’t it?) We were venturing out!
Not too far from our home is Felin Fach. Checking my Google Translate I discovered it means “old mill.” The village is a bit north of Brecon and has a lovely pub we’d wanted to visit. So, a reservation was made at the Felin Fach Griffin, boots and hats were on, we got into the car and told the SatNav where we wanted to go.
Having a mind of her own, Miss SatNav took us on the scenic route! Guess she didn’t grasp the driving dangers of absolutely torrential weather conditions. Over the moors toward Llangynidr we drove. It was bleak. Clouds touched the pavement as we shot through the mist. S-turns, sheep, low visibility — all kept us from plowing through with any speed. We emerged into daylight just in time to cross an old stone bridge, all of eight feet wide. We slid carefully through the stone sidings, over the raging River Usk, and made our way past Brecon toward Felin Fach.
The Felin Fach Griffin restaurant is the quintessential British pub. Low wooden beams, very used wood tables, a friendly hostess and a bar crowd spilling over onto the adjacent sofas. Adding to the ambiance was the Golden Retriever pup sleeping comfortably on the carpet.
Picking apart the menu like I usually do, I found an intriguing ham and pea soup and a small order of croquettes with gruyère. Paul stuck with his lamb cottage pie and both of us finished with clean plates. Gooseberry Fool (layers of gooseberry coulis and cream) topped with shortbread crumble and served with two spoons was the perfect end to our meal.
We left. But the rain hadn’t. Across the street was a long marquis (tent, here in the UK), tiny girls on horses, sheep, and an announcer remarking on the winners of the longest thistle and whitest fleece contests! We couldn’t resist a country fête (pronounced fate) and paid our four pounds to enter and tromp through the mud.
Indeed, inside the marquis were displays of onions the size of footballs (soccer balls), courgettes (zucchini) so large you could carve them out and paddle down the Usk, cakes, cookies, pies, flowers and dozens of samples from Welsh country kitchens — all spread out before us.
Outside, sheep were being judged, cows were poo-ing, antique cars lined up to be envied, dogs raced and the little girls pranced around the riding ring bedecked with ribbons. No one paid any attention to the rain, even as it streamed down from the sky.
We got into the swing of things and happily sloshed through the long, soft green grass laced with mud, remarking not on the weather conditions but on how remarkably soft the grass here in Wales is, compared to the hay that passes for grass in Florida. Had we not filled our tummies to the brim at the Felin Fach Griffin, we’d have stopped for sausages hot off the grill, pasties, donuts and ice cream.
We absorbed every delightful moment of our Bank Holiday Monday and decided that the British have the best attitude. They don’t let the weather get in the way of their plans. And neither did we!
For the first time in the nearly two years that we’ve lived in Wales I can honestly say… it’s hot outside! Granted, I was in Florida from July through October last year, so if the sun DID peep through the clouds I wasn’t here to enjoy it. And the past several months have seen the wettest draught this area has experienced – ever!
We’ve just returned from a glorious 12 days in France. The weather there cooperated, for the most part. But it shifted into high gear whenever we left our hotel to catch the tour bus that was guiding us around the vineyards of Bordeaux. It poured while we walked to the coach. It poured when we returned to the hotel. But in between, as we rolled past the undulating hills of vines and into each château, the sky was that kind of blue only found in France. Heavenly.
We’d left Bayeux on a somewhat sunny morning and turned south to Bordeaux. We were due into our hotel by four in the afternoon and had six hours of highway driving ahead of us. The top was down on the car, the wind coursed through our hair and we opted for toll roads (payage) because, God forbid, we should be late for our first vineyard tour that included dinner hosted by the vigneron (how do you like my newly acquired French? Vigneron – the wine maker!)
That was one of the surprises about Bordeaux… the wine makers at the premier cru estates aren’t the owners. They tend to the planting, maintaining, harvesting and creation of the high-ticket wines, but they don’t own the land. Insurance companies do. Banks do. Corporations far removed from the history of the chateau’s name that is emblazoned on the label own the properties. With one exception the human owner is non-existent.Chateau Margaux remains in the hands of a human. How comforting, considering that a case of any of these grand cru wines runs into the thousands of dollars. I’ll take the chateau where the vigneron is the owner… I like the taste of human attention and sweat in my glass of wine.
But I digress. Back to the heat. We enjoyed buzzing around France with the top to our little car snuggled safely in the trunk and letting the glorious sun pour over our faces. We turned the soundtrack to “A Good Year” onto high volume and sped along with grins on our faces. It WAS a good year!
Returning to Wales, we returned to rain. A week of it. Every day. The grass was soggy. The hill behind our house got weaker. Slugs happily munched our herbs that were straining for a bit of sun outside. Drains gurgled. And no let-up was in sight. Until this past weekend.
The gulf stream that was pouring so heavily down upon us was taking a detour north, leaving our skies clear. Our friends Katie and Ian, vacationing in Cornwall, would have sun-kissed days. The Olympics MAY open under a clear sky. Bradley Wiggins returned home to the UK from his successful win in the Tour de France under sunny skies.
If it only lasts a few days, a week, or maybe even two, I can say that the sun was shining in Wales. And what a wonderful feeling that is!
In the summer months, daylight begins to tiptoe through my bedroom windows around four in the morning. My eyes pop open, I look at the clock and pray that I fall back to sleep again.
Wales in the early morning hours is a miracle of nature. The air is cool. The mountains on the horizon are clearly defined. Birds are beginning to tweet and after an especially rainy night, they’re digging for breakfast in the soggy green grass below. Our bird-restaurant (actually a multi-tiered bird feeder chock full of treats) welcomes its first customers of the day.
The open French doors part gently as crisp outside air steals into the room. A fly visits, then leaves. Paul’s light snores create a rhythm to the morning. I should get up.
I have a new plan for those morning hours. If I cannot fall back to sleep I’ll turn on my computer, brew a cup of coffee and write. The morning silence accented by the rising sun should be a good inspiration for me to continue plodding through the book I am trying to finish. To date, no new words have appeared on my pages.
Four o’clock. Look at the time. Sleep. Five fifteen. Look at the time. Sleep. Six twenty. Look at the clock. Sleep. Seven o’clock. GET OUT OF BED ALREADY!
I used to be amused by the old people who lived near me in South Florida. They would be up, walking, exercising, drinking the inexpensive coffee from McDonald’s – long before we sane souls even considered getting out of bed. These were the same old folks who merrily stood in line at local restaurants at four in the afternoon, eagerly awaiting their early bird special. Sure they had to eat early – they’d be in bed, asleep, by eight at night!
Now I am one of them. An old person. My eyelids start to sag in the eight o’clock hour, just as BBC One is kicking into gear with its evening entertainment. Thank goodness for the “record” button. I put my head onto Paul’s lap. He scratches my back. I fall asleep. By nine o’clock I’m struggling to climb the stairs to my bed. It welcomes me as it has for years (yes, I brought it with me from New York to Florida to Wales). The fluffy duvet waiting for company. But I force myself to stay awake. Read. Anything to stave off the passage into slumberland.
Outside my open window, the farmland of Wales is dotted with slumbering sheep. Birds are silent. The hush of life rings into the room. It’s a beautiful sound – silence. And so I sleep. And the cycle of my night begins again. Perhaps one day I’ll actually climb out of bed when the sky is changing shades, turn on my computer and add a few words of my saga to the page. Perhaps. But not tonight.
Ever since our plane touched down at Heathrow, returning us to the UK, Paul and I have been on the treadmill of life. We’d just spent three glorious weeks wrapped in the warmth and tenderness of grandsons’ hugs, daughter’s hugs, son-in-law’s hugs, grand-dog’s hugs, and hugs from our dearest friends. When the hugging stopped, the eating began and we both returned to Wales packing the pounds.
And it didn’t stop there.
The Queen’s Jubilee, “Jubb-lee” in these parts of Wales, kicked off with a roaring tapas night at our favorite local pub, The Rock. The bar was strewn with a specially prepared selection of tid-bits that were delicious and filling. Paul posed with the Queen. Malcolm and Pat gobbled up the Publican’s (his name is Paul, too) specialties and I ate everything in sight. It wasn’t time to diet yet. We had four more days of festivities to get through.
The Epsom Derby, appropriately won by a thoroughbred named “Camelot” kicked off the official weekend, followed by BBC Television’s many specials about the Queen, including one with Prince Charles laughingly watching old home movies. You know, he actually DOES have a sense of humor! And the films were delightful! Prince Philip piloting his own red wagon down a hill. Prince Charles and Princess Anne doing an exotic hula on a Norfolk beach. Prince Phillip merrily slipping down a water slide on the Brittania. Queen Elizabeth lazing on a slope, doting on her two little children. These were lovely, intimate moments that we had never seen before and were welcomed into our databank of Queen memories.
Canaletto’s “St. Paul’s Overlooking the Thames” is the artist’s vision of an elaborate flotilla on the River Thames, painted in the mid-1700s. We had the real thing! One thousand ships sailed on the Thames, and the Queen and her family were in the middle of it on the Royal Barge. Both she and the Prince stood for hours and hours, under cover but in the rain. Don’t knock the Queen in my presence. She’s a hard worker and this Royalist appreciates her dedication. What other woman “of a certain age” puts in over 400 personal appearances every year – without complaining?
Every event, in our house and the homes of our friends, was accompanied by food and drink. You can’t toast the Queen without a glass of good red wine, can you? Or roast lamb? Roast Chicken (Malcolm and Pat’s house), Fettuccini with Welsh sausage and mushrooms (Katie and Ian’s house), or a table loaded with lamb stew, stuffed salmon, bean salad, new potatoes, cheesecake, cupcakes, Victoria sponge, champagne and Proseco, (Krys and Peter, Kath and Lyndon’s house) and finally, a trip to the loo where Union Jack toilet paper reigned!
As Rob Brydon said at the Gala Concert (a 20 out of 10), “Imagine – 60 years of reign. That’s a Welsh summer. 60 years of rain!” And so it is. Raining again. But nothing will dampen the spirits or memories of the glorious, festive, elegant, fun, patriotic Jubb-lee weekend in the mind of this Yank.