Skip to content

WHEW!!!

June 13, 2012

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 Rock on Tapas Friday

Our pub, The Rock, celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee with tapas and toasts!

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!

loo roll

The celebration never stopped!

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.

Paul and the Queen

The “Queen” greeting Paul and welcoming him home from The Americas!

MANIACS IN OUR MIDST

May 4, 2012

It doesn’t matter if you’re driving down the M4 Motorway between Cardiff and London, or on an itsy-bitsy, two-lane (that’s the British definition of a one-lane), curvy road, drivers whiz past at incredible speeds.

Or, they sneak up on you, hug your rear bumper and with an agitated look on their faces (you can see them sneering in the rear-view mirror), yank their car out into the road and scream past.

Or, they plow down a hill in the fast lane, when it’s raining cats and dogs (or cows and lambs in this country), going well over the speed limit, creating waves of water that cover your windshield, leaving you blinded while they laugh their way down a “put your car in low-gear, 15-degree incline.”

I’m talking about British drivers, here. They’re mad. Just like their French, Italian and Portuguese cousins. I know. I’ve driven in those countries and it’s enough to scare the pants off of you. (Take note: I’m 65 years old. You DON’T want to do that to me!)

The British driver, regardless of age, has to show his prowess when he’s behind the wheel. He gains his strength by becoming master of the road. She drives her U.S.-styled SUV, the one that takes up most of the already-skinny road, with one hand, yapping on the mobile phone (illegal here), and expects you to stop in your tracks and wave her through. Who does she think she is? Princess Anne?

Now, American drivers aren’t any better. But American drivers didn’t have to sit through hours of study that make university courses look like third grade. They didn’t have to take a theory exam with questions like: “What do you do when a shepherd and his flock are in the road ahead?” Or, how many meters does it take to stop a car, going 70 miles an hour, on a rainy day? No, American drivers only have to recognize where the ignition and accelerator are on the car, know what a STOP sign means, and have to demonstrate that they can drive in a straight line in a vacant parking lot.

In other words, the British driving test ain’t easy!! But all the idiots on the road have taken, and PASSED their driving test! “How,” I wondered?

Not only is there a theory test, you have to take the “hazard test”, indicating with your computer mouse when a hazard “might” occur, and re-indicating when it “does” occur. Many of the 14 hazard test segment videos take place on a grainy computer screen, in nighttime driving conditions, and have windshield wipers flapping in front of your face.

And then there is part three: the practical test, which you can only book AFTER you’ve passed the theory and hazard tests, giving you at least ten days to work your way into a mental frenzy.  On test day, an examiner sits in the passenger seat, telling you where to turn, when to stop, orders a three-point turn, a stab at parallel parking, a cruise on the dual carriageway (that’s a divided highway, for my American friends), up hills, down hills, in traffic, on narrow lanes and through hospital access roads and parking lots. All the while he’s jotting little lines on his grading paper, making you aware you’ve done something wrong, and creating an even tenser atmosphere in the car.

I failed the first time I took my practical test. I was speeding in the hospital area. A “criminal offense” my examiner told me with his eyes narrowed to illustrate the severity of my crime. It was the immediate reason for my failure. I also went too slowly down the hill, in the rain, while minding the “switch to lower gear” sign. He expected me to go at least 60 miles per hour in third gear. Another maniac.

BUT – today was different. Same testing office. Same examiner. Only this time, I kept my eyes on the speedometer, let the steering wheel slide through my hands, used my indicators (turn signals), looked through all the mirrors when I pulled out from a stop and even turned around to see what was in my blind spot. There wasn’t too much I did wrong.

So, after driving for fifty years, after holding a driving license that has no points, no accidents, no bad things on it, after all that time, I am officially a licensed UK driver.

Watch out maniacs…!

I FAILED!

April 19, 2012

I failed my driving test.  Yes, Me!  Failed!  She who has been driving for over fifty years.  She who is constantly being criticized for going too slowly. She who failed because she went too slowly down a steep hill, in the rain, in low gear (as the signs requested) and didn’t pass the truck in front of her even though she was comfortably the requisite four seconds behind him. She who also went 37 miles per hour in a 30-mile hospital zone. She was speeding!

Oh well, now I understand why all the nutters in Britain and Europe get away with it!  They drive like they’re in a Formula 1 race whether they’re on a highway or going over a one-lane country road. They zip through town, around curves, zig sagging here and there and taking to the air when a speed bump gets in their way. But – I know they’re thinking that if they don’t go fast enough they might get ticketed for going too slowly. Sounds reasonable.

I’m venting here.

I don’t fail. I got 100% on the written part of the test. I scored high on the hazard portion. I pass all my tests with flying colors. Well, almost all my tests.

Getting a driving license here in the UK is not easy, obviously. Especially for a Yank. Goodness, you’re sitting in the passenger seat, shifting gears with your left hand, watching the traffic pass you by on the wrong side of the road, and trying to steer, shift, operate the windshield wipers and turn signals — all at the same time. Oy!

So, it’s back onto the road for me with my big red L plates gleaming off the hood, front and back. In ten days, I’ll take the test again. And this time, believe me, I’ll do thirty when the sign says thirty, and seventy even if a gale force wind is howling down the valley bringing with it snow and sleet and cars and trucks are pulled over waiting for it to pass. If the sign says seventy, I’m doing seventy. Or maybe not.

WILD FOR WILD GARLIC

April 16, 2012

We were a mile away, inching our way up a one-track British lane bordered by freshly sprouting hedges, when suddenly my nose twitched. And twitched again. I recognized the fragrance immediately and knew that we were close to Llwyn Ffranc Farm, home to fields upon fields of wild garlic.

Wild Garlic, freshly foraged.

We’d met Stephen Powell, one of the forces behind the Community Forest Farm at Llwyn Ffranc, several weeks before at his stall in the Abergavenny Farmer’s Market. Knowing he was the wild garlic man, and expecting to see baskets of white and pink bulbs, we were surprised when Stephen pointed to a pile of rich green leaves spread out on the table. Wild Garlic. Lovely to meet you. Now what do I do with you?Stephen explained that, like many herbs, wild garlic is perfect in stews, sauces and especially mashed potatoes. Paul grinned immediately, licked his lips, and before you could say Llwyn Ffranc, a white paper bag containing the shining leaves was in our hand.

Yes, laced with the chopped wild garlic, the potatoes were delicious. But we knew there was something more exciting ahead as Stephen had invited us to go foraging during the Wild Garlic Celebration.

Hence, the drive north of Abergavenny, to the base of the Skirrid Mountain. There, we parked the car in a field and headed to the stone house to await our guide who would take us into the woods!  An assorted group gathered, all properly prepared to hike into the hills, and all carrying bags to fill with their harvest. For a city girl like me, THIS WAS EXCITING!

I must mention, Paul and I have tried many times to plant and harvest our own vegetables. My tomato plants came with large green worms attached. Paul’s potatoes got rot. Our mint, known to take over a garden if you let it, shriveled up and died. We love the thought of planting and harvesting, but actually being successful at it is beyond our talents. So, foraging someone else’s field is a perfect pastime for us.

Up the hill we marched, keeping to the tail end of the group as Paul’s gout and other maladies afflicting the elderly (!) were acting up. Slopping through mud, inching up the inclines as if we had skis on our feet, and totally messing up my new wellies and their leopard-trimmed inserts, we finally made it to the wild garlic fields.

Heading for the hills!

The green carpet of leaves was so lush I wanted to lie down and roll in it, but that would have been frowned upon I’m sure. So I contented myself by squatting and picking the leaves, placing them gently in my bag, and moving over and across the ravines weaving in and out of the hillside.Soon the group was ready to climb back down the mountain, but this time, we led the brigade and slid our way down, stopping now and again to admire the bluebells and buttercups, the baby lambs and to listen to the silence. A forest is a wondrous place.

Up close and personal!

A warm cup of tea was waiting for us as we approached the farmhouse, followed by a cauldron of nettle and wild garlic soup, wild garlic pesto, squirrel pate (yes, I DID try it!), and apple and sloe jam. These were new experiences for this Yank, and as the sun slowly slid behind the Skirrid, I know I’d had an afternoon to treasure.A footnote to our day: we couldn’t get out of the field when we tried to leave. The mud had gotten soggier and our tires dug deeply into the muck. It took a team of fellow foragers to push our little car out, but not before soaking us, and them, in the rich, brown soggy earth that provides the nutrients for the wild garlic. We hit the car wash, wallowed in a bubble bath when we got home, and made mashed potatoes and wild garlic to go with our dinner! That, and a glass of wine, rounded out our experience of foraging on a mountainside. What a heavenly day!

Umm, what do we do now?

 

FAB-LUS!

March 27, 2012

One of the joys of living amongst the Welsh people is listening to them speak. Unlike the “lockjaw” of the posh English, whose lips and jaws remain steadfast while words squeak through the slit that’s just above their chin, the Welsh relish each word and phrase, and offer them up in a sing-song manner that’s music to the ears, even if we can’t understand what they’re saying!

We’ve moved again. Don’t ask. Just know that water gurgling up into our shower every time we flushed the toilet wasn’t appealing. So we packed up our thousand-pounds plus of treasures and moved to an area of Wales that’s less prestigious than the “shire” in which we lived for the past seventeen months. We’re now residents of “The Valleys,” a name my Los Angeles friends will understand, and one that designates deep-rooted Welsh history. The Valleys are a microcosm of all that is good about Wales.

The Valleys is where Wales came of age and prospered. At least some Welsh prospered while the majority labored and aged. Veins of black gold, coal, gave birth to the area’s heritage. Below the velvet green carpets that now cover the rolling hills, remnants of the wonton destruction of the hillsides in the quest for riches remain. All that is left of the valleys are sleeping coal mines clinging to past glories, a few noble sculptures edging the roads and a tourist attraction. Remembrances of “How Green Was My Valley” continuously pop into mind, but Malibu was never a true substitute for the wealth and beauty of South Wales.

Houses, for the most part, are attached, terraced, made of stone and small. They have stood for over one hundred years and snake up and over the hills everywhere you look. These homes belong to the working classes. The people who put this country on the map. And these are the people who sing Welsh when they speak. Who acknowledge something wonderful with the simple, two-syllable “fab-lus.”

Words tumble out of their mouths that I don’t understand, but I smile anyway, enjoying all the musical notes they hit within each sentence. Just hearing them speak makes me break out in a smile. These are the Welsh who are the sugar in my tea.

They are friendly, these Valley Welsh. They say hello. They stop for a chat. There is no pretense erupting from their demeanor. They are real.

We weren’t in our house for one day when a card was pushed through our mail slot welcoming us to the neighborhood. In the fifteen months we lived on the “posh” side of the mountain, the only people who spoke with us were our lovely landlords and the kind, sweet men who worked for them. Talking to the sheep was joyous, but it lacked in engaging conversation.

I went for a walk the other day. Down our hillside, up an Alp and into the tiny village to buy our weekend newspapers. I passed a mudded field where cows stood. Another field held two fuzzy ponies. Baby calves snuggled into their mothers, and in the distance, large white specks were followed by frolicking smaller specks. I passed rusted fences adjacent to hillside gardens and neatly manicured lawns. Daffodils and crocuses (i?) were standing at attention in some gardens while barren blackberry bushes still lay dormant.

A "Fab-Lus" field of daffodils in "The Valleys."

An old lady sitting on her stoop waved and said hello. A young man stumbling out of one of the terraced homes gave a mumbled greeting before climbing into his car. A teenage girl with angst written all over her face (what teenager doesn’t have angst on her face?) was the only person I passed who didn’t offer commentary on the day. On my way back home an old man, out of breath from climbing the uphill side of the Alp was carrying a walking stick. He stopped and smiled his greeting: “Bee-yew-tee-ful day, in’nt, luv?”I stopped for a moment, smiled back at him in appreciation, and the only word that popped out of my mouth was: “FAB-LUS!” And it was.

 

THE SECRET SUPPER CLWB (WELSH STYLE)

March 9, 2012

The well-dressed crowd arrived at the Grade II Listed and historic Raglan Barracks, a sprawling stone-walled military headquarters set atop a crest overlooking glittering Newport, South Wales. Members of a male voice choir and several men dressed in kilts were roaming the grounds in search of the Sergeants’ Mess, while those of us who were “dressed to impress” found the Officer’s Mess. All, I might add, were in high spirits. It helped that Wales had squeaked past rival England in an important rugby match that afternoon, and the Welsh are known for redefining “celebratory mood.” They are not timid in their outpouring of joy when one of their teams wins a duel, regardless of their dress. Air punches, back slaps and outcries of “Oy, did you see….” brought the Welsh brand of civility to all those gathered.

We were the inaugural guests of The Secret Supper Clwb, (don’t you just love the Welsh spelling?!) a formal dining occasion produced by impresario Phillip Mungeam and chef Emma Evans. So named because the location is held secret until just days before the event, the Clwb promises exotic, unusual and even historic locations for the main event of expertly prepared gourmet meals and festive entertainment.

Sipping sparkling aperitifs, the majority of the guests were strangers to each other, but polite conversation (amid the back slaps) and gentle introductions were made as a harpist played in the background. Suddenly the genteel mood of the richly paneled officer’s bar was jolted out of its cocoon when a rapping on the table was followed by a belting baritone voice. “Dinner will be served in five minutes,” our master of ceremonies announced, or rather, bellowed.

Silver service from top to bottom at the Raglan Officers' Mess.

If you’ve never been to an officer’s mess, let me explain: it’s not messy and it’s not like a canteen. No, an officer’s mess is formal dining defined. The dining room’s handsome wooden tables were laid with fine china, regimental silver red wine glasses, candelabras, enough silver eating utensils to choke even the largest dish washer, and elegant port wine glasses alongside crystal white wine glasses. Candles and low lighting set the mood as we found our places amid the elegance.

That elegance didn’t last long. Suddenly our baritone, Karl Daymond of the Wales Opera Playhouse, appeared in a Viking cap, to which two long braids were attached. His fingers danced across the keys of his electronic keyboard and his impressive operatic voice told us we were in for an evening of fun! The Viking was replaced with silly hats, signs, patter and a toothful grin that appeared whenever a camera was pointed its way. He worked the crowd of strangers into a table full of great friends in only minutes with his easy manner and retorts with all seated in front of him. His was the warmth that melted the ice.

Karl Daymond's rich Welsh baritone voice entertained throughout the evening!

The most delicious homemade, sun-dried tomato bread preceded the panfried wild garlic mushrooms that were served over toasted brioche. They were followed by very slowly cooked Welsh shoulder of lamb topped with a rosemary and redcurrant jus, butternut squash and celeriac, Dauphinoise potatoes, buttered carrots and crispy kale. Welsh songs, anthems, jokes, a lot of oomph-ing and even a long-running Tom Jones tribute with the entire crowd joining in for a rousing “Delilah” linked the courses, and the participants.

Impressario Phillip Mungeam and Chef Emma Evans earned their applause!

As we left the Officers’ Mess, strains of “There’s a Welcome in the Hillside” were heard coming from the open windows of the Sergeants’ Mess. Whether the singers were wearing kilts or tuxedos didn’t matter. Their voices blended in rapturous harmony and seemed a fitting end to a truly Welsh evening. It was the most fun Paul and I had had in “yonks,” and we cannot wait for the next installment of The Secret Supper Clwb. When and where will it be?  That’s a Secret!!!!

A NOBLE DAY

February 2, 2012

Paul and I were in America when into my inbox arrived a query from a lady, Lisa Birkbeck, who was the researcher for a BBC Radio Wales program. Roy Noble, who had an afternoon slot, might be interested in interviewing me.  On air. Me?  Why? And How did Lisa find me?

Roy Noble, Jann and Paul Seal in the BBC Radio Wales Studios

It seems that a good researcher finds good material, and I was one of them. Ahem. Lisa had found my blog (“Living Dibley,” the one you’re reading now) and thought that interviewing an American living in Wales and presenting her point of view just might make a lively few minutes. I told Lisa when we’d be returning to Wales, and we made arrangements to communicate – after the jet lag wore off.

True to form the intrepid researcher shot me another email just days after our return, and a date was set for me to come to the Cardiff studio to record, live, with Roy Noble.

Mr. Noble, Roy, as we are now on a first-name basis, is a teddy-bear kind of guy with a Father Christmas twinkle peeking out above his snowy beard. A coal miner’s son who was born in and still lives in South Wales, Roy speaks with the dancing lilt of a Welshman and his words come out surrounded by the mellow tones that only a true Welsh male voice can produce.

Roy had done his homework, read my blog, and knew a bit about my travels around the world when I was a young college graduate. He was fascinated by how many moves I had made in my adult life (coming up to 24, not including the one that was to take place the day after the interview.) I explained that I was a “ten year” girl, and moving every ten years was somehow wired into my genetics.

He was fascinated by how I had adjusted to living in South Wales.  How did I feel about the food compared to that in America?  What a no brainer!  The food here is far superior, fresher, has traveled less distance before appearing in the market, and tastes like the food it looks like.  Next?  Customer service.  Hands down, Wales.  Not since I moved here has anyone asked me if I want to hear the instructions in Spanish, like they do in South Florida.

My meeting a Welshman online and then marrying him when he came to America intrigued Roy. He chuckled recalling the persuasive powers of Welsh men and I assured him that Paul’s Welsh roots were true to form!

Other countries came into the conversation and again, Wales came out on top, especially for beauty. When I added the fascination of Afghanistan and Iran, granted it was 40 years ago, an exotic element came into the conversation.

Roy had traveled to America when he was a headmaster and had been invited into homes throughout the States.  He remembers fondly Arizona and Rhode Island, but was never intrigued enough to pack up his bags and move across the pond. His Welsh blood runs deep. His nationality is Welsh. He speaks fluent Welsh. He’s a true and respected citizen of Wales. So it was with a bit of shame that the only words I could repeat in Welsh were Cymru (Wales) and Croeso (Welcome).

It took me a few days to listen to my interview on the computer. I never remember, after the fact, what I say when I’m on radio, television or in front of a print reporter. It was only after hearing the playback of the interview that I regretted not having more time to share my enthusiasm for this lovely country.

What I can say here, and did say on air, is that THIS American is besotted with her new country.

Croeso i Cymru