It was the Pink Lady who came up with the suggestion. I cannot take the credit, not that I’m the credit taking type when it’s another’s idea. That’s not the sort of chap I am.
We would go to Betws-y-Coed. She wanted to see the Falls and why not, jolly nice falls they are indeed if I remember correctly. The last time I saw them (and photographed them) was back in the 1980s when Blameworthy and I attempted to drink North Wales dry. Well, a slight exaggeration truth be told but we did familiarize ourselves with two hundred or so public houses. I’m not sure of the exact amount but would hazard a guess that old Blameworth – keeper of the faith would probably be better placed to fill in that sort of detail.
I have to admit that the only memories I have of the place is via some recently discovered slides which I’ve converted to digital photos. Those and vague recollections of taking them with my first ever 35mm camera. I suspect that it was around September 1982.
Anyway, I digress, (frequently as many have pointed out) and so back to a planned jaunt to Betws-y-Coed. The Pink Lady had even sorted out what bus we would need – travelling arrangements is something she usually left to me.
It was a Wednesday and the previous day had seen us remain in Llandudno frequenting Caffe Nero because the weather was somewhat drizzly.
At the bus stop I saw the bus timetable showed another bus to that went to Betws-y-Coed thirty-five minutes earlier than the one the Pink Lady pointed out.
The Pink Lady was dubious. Did it actually go there? I pointed out the route against the number and according to that it certainly did.
So at 10am we’re on the bus, travelling on what was a nice day with a chance to see a lot more of the inland countryside that we normally see as we tended to keep to the coastlines.
So, we travel through and near to villages called Rowen, Llanddoged and the final one Llanrwst. I say the final one as it should have been the penultimate one prior to arriving at Betws-y-Coed.
It was the biggest place we’d been to on that bus ride and as we seemed to nose towards our ultimate destination the bus turned back into the town.
Call it a sixth sense based upon experience or call it a natural pessimism built up of years of using public transport but this didn’t seem right. The driver stopped at several bus stops as is their wont before suddenly charging off back the way we came.
At first I tried to pass this off as just the silly routes buses take you on when going to places. Unlike trains they don’t really have anything like direct routes or the discipline of rail tracks to keep them going in the right direction.
Needless to say I was clutching at straws. The bus really was on its way back to Llandudno…hey ho!
It was while paying particular attention to sigh posts that I noticed a sign post for Blaenau Ffestiniog. It brought a smile to my lips as my mind wandered back to the 1980s when Blameworthy and I travelled North Wales. We always to it as Blindmefesteringknob. We thought it rather amusing but then after the amount of beer we put away in those days most things were funny…
As we approached Conwy the Pink Lady decided that we shouldn’t waste the trip and drop off at Conwy. The sun was out and so why not?
On our trip there Monday the Pink Lady discovered a rather nice coffee place where we sat for coffee. On the way to it she noticed some Owls which she wanted to photograph so after she’d finished her coffee she left me to my own devices to see the perfect pictures…
The nightmare of the pointless bus journey was over but lessons were learnt.
The next day I decided that we weren’t going to be denied the delights of Betws-y-Coed and so I checked out the bus timetable to see where I went wrong. I couldn’t see it but this time decided we’d take the bus the Pink Lady recommended in the first place. At least if it went wrong this time the burden of responsibility wouldn’t be mine.
However, as we arrived at Llanrwst the old nerves kicked and I wondered if we’d get any further. But watching the signs carefully as we came out of the town I noted we were heading towards Betws-y-Coed.
It was a dull day so far but dry. Once we arrived and were off the bus I checked the bus timetable to see what one would be best to travel back on. There was one at 3.35pm. That gave us a good three hours…
So, after a comfort break and a wait while the Pink Lady looked at a map on a board, I led the way to Swallow Falls via a main road.
I took a photo of a pub and then began walking off, following a main road. The map the Pink Lady looked at meant nothing to me. Of course, the inevitable question followed after about ten minutes.
“Do you know where you’re going?” asked the Pink Lady.
“Absolutely, up this hill, Swallow Falls is about two miles?” I replied.
“How do you know that?”
“I have this remarkable sense of direction, an instinct admired by many…”
“Or maybe it was because you had a sneaky look at the road sign just by the pub you photographed?”
I hesitated then admitted: “Well, that probably helped a little.”
We continued on for about ten minutes. I was thinking how good I was getting at using a walking stick (and whether I should get a more dapper one when the old knee heels) when the Pink Lady spoke again.
“Two miles is quite far. Are you sure your knee is up to it?”
I thought for a second or two. “We came to see the Falls and see the Falls we shall.”
“Remember the Great Orme,” said she, with a touch of the old Doom and Gloom.
“It seems to be holding at the moment,” said I, hero that I am.
“That’s what you said after we got to the Rest and Be Thankful.”
That was true. Going up the steep hill posed no problem but coming down it darn near crippled me. It did for me for the rest of the day. I certainly didn’t want to go through that again.
“Let’s go on a little further,” I replied, not really wanting to give up. “See how it looks then…”
A few hundred yards more and the Pink Lady pointed out the sheep in the fields.
“Hmm,” I thought. “Did I ever tell you of the legend of the Great Orme Sheep Worrier Photographer. The Goswop as he became known as?”
The Pink Lady gave me a dubious look.
“Be a doubting Thomasine if you must but what I tell you is true. It’s a legend handed down by several generation…”
“Several generations,” said she in a cynical tone.
“Several generations of sheep, that is.”
“Fitrambler, there’s an old English expression and sometimes you’re full of it.”
“No, no, no, this was in the dark days of the 1980s, happened on the Great Orme late in the evenings – well, mostly.” I paused as I thought back. “Yes, sheep on the hills of the Great Orme going about their business – which I suppose was grass munching and baa-ing every so often.”
“Sheep are famous for the throaty baas. So much so you’d think they were going around disapproving of everything…”
The Pink Lady was shaking her head sadly. She could be a little cynical at times. “Stop procrastinating, Fitrambler, and let’s get this over with…”
“Well this old Goswop chappie used to charge around the side of the Great Orme where the sheep collected, getting up real close and taking their photos…”
“Well, that’s it really. But be fair the sheep don’t have any knowledge of camera’s, cheap or otherwise. They don’t know what this cheap instamatic camera is likely to do to them. Could be a nasty weapon and you know how nervous sheep can be.”
“And that’s it, is it, some bloke gets up close to a sheep and photographs it. Hardly Hammer House of Horror.”
“Look at it from the sheep’s point of view. All alone, nearest colleague a hundred yards away and then this maniac smelling of beer and hotdogs that have been over-splattered with mustard, flops down a few feet from you and the next thing there’s this small box clicking at you!”
The Pink Lady gave me one of her Paddington hard stares and I felt that conversation was at an end. I got the impression she thought I’d made it all up; very cynical.
We moved a few hundred yards further and I decided the Pink Lady was probably right and decided to call a halt to our walk to the Falls. My knee was beginning to ache and it was very likely I wouldn’t make the journey there and back without a lot of pain.
We walked back towards the centre of Betws-y-Coed to look at some of the sites. By the time we got back there and began wandering around the old knee was beginning to ache.
The train station at Betws-y-Coed is a fine old building finished in the 1860s and officially opened in 1868. It was part of the Conwy Valley line constructed by the London and North Western Railway. The main purpose for building it was to transport dressed slate from quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog to Deganwy.
Although there are trains that stop at this station the buildings itself, including the passenger station buildings are well-preserved and now used as cafes and tourist stops.
There is also the Conwy Valley Railway Museum that runs a miniature railway.
The Pink Lady and I took our refreshment in the Alpine Coffee Shop. She had soya milk latte and I had hot chocolate with cream and little marshmallows on the top. Sod the expense, I thought, give the cat another goldfish…
I even bought two jars of their Marmalade at £3.25 a shout. The old wallet bulked at that!
From a comfy settee we were able to see the train line whereby I later took photographs.
The hot chocolate was great but it was touch and go getting through to the marshmallows without losing them on the floor. Fortunately, there was only one casualty and I managed to eat the rest. It was a case of making a gap where you could get the spoon under and lift them off the cream. All rather nice.
Anyway, once we’d finished out drinks we ventured out again and the Pink Lady explored the shops. It gave me time to rest the knee.
I started looking at the photos I’d taken on the day to discover I’d taken 88. A record for me surely? Quite a few of them had sheep in them – subliminal or what?
Not long afterwards I noticed that the shop not too far from where I was sat sold Mint Magnums. Well, as old Oscar Wilde once said ‘I can resist everything except temptation’ I treated myself to one. And very nice it was too; only my third in five days. I was showing restraint.
It was shortly after that we made our way to the bus stop. 3.35pm it said and we were early by thirty minutes.
By 4pm to say I was getting anxious would be an understatement. It seemed every bus was on time and taking people everywhere else but where we wanted to go.
Finally, at 4.05pm the bus turned up. Although first in the queue, some kids and their gormless mother piled on before us. Although I should take pity on them as they were all deaf; well at least I assume so from the way they were shouting at each other…
However, we are not off on our way straight away. The driver gets out of the bus and faffs around and another ten minutes are lost.
The day might be still fairly young but old Fitrambler here had a nosebag appointment at 6pm. Woe betide the person who gets between a Fitrambler and his nosebag.
Fair play to the driver chappie he made good time on the way back and we were back in Llandudno by about 5.45pm. And an added bonus the brats got off twenty minutes into the journey. Perhaps they had a doctor’s appointment; one where their lugs got a good going over?
It seemed that my ten year visiting North Wales was beginning to be one marked by transport problems….
Saint Van der Bob, perhaps.
You realise, of course, that had the French version of Jim’ll Fix It ever been made, and had Jim been renamed Jaques, the inevitable English pronunciation of the French title would have been Jacksie Fixer. ‘Allo ‘Allo!
No, Sir Jim’ll could never have been a Frenchman. His total absence of human emotion was English as tuppence, his inches-below-the-surface violence and crudity utterly Northern. You’ll be trying to posit a Dutch Robert Robinson, next.
Jaques se fixer pour vous, pour vous
Jaques se fixer pour vous.
Comment est propos que puis, garcons et filles?
Jim’ll Fix It would have been called simply Jim Fixer in French, incidentally.
Dear, oh dear! French Jim’ll Fix It. Repellent; positively repellent. You disgust me, GloomLaden.
I was seriously disappointed when I read Crystal Rooms, It ticked all the boxes for a type of novel I’ve become addicted to over the years. Set in London and with a kaleidoscope of characters standing as exemplars of what Trollope would have called ‘the way we live now’, these novels include A Week In December, Capital, London Fields, Hearts and Minds. But Bragg makes every mistake going; unrealistically nice rich characters, modern working class types he clearly can’t relate to, a plot about Northern Oirish terrorism ringing false at every level. Even the Bassett bookshelf is too good for it.
Never mind the sex in Dickens; you’d best stay clear of Zola. Reading The Earth, I’ve just read a chapter in which a woman allows her mentally handicapped younger brother to have sex with her because she is to tired to fight him off. Strange that the French should be able to publish such things while Victorian values continued to pervade over here until – well, now, if you’re anything to go by.
There’s also the wonderful bedroom scene in Pickwick Papers, which out-Wodehouses Wodehouse; and let’s not forget Dick Swiveller.
By an amazing coincidence I spotted a fine hardback copy of Crystal Rooms for 50p in a Wootton Bassett charity shop today. Having read your comment only an hour or two earlier, I left it on the shelf, safe in the knowledge that it will still be there when we go back next month.
I don’t think it’s quite to say that Dickens didn’t write about sex. Admittedly, the only example I can think of is Ralph Nickelby – something of a hero of mine – attempting to pimp Nicholas’ sister Kate to Sir Mulberry Hawke and pals. Even this isn’t explicit. But if there isn’t sex, there is certainly erotic frisson: Pip’s recollections of Miss Havisham and Estella have an erotic undertow to them, surely. And the less said about Mrs Todgers the better.
I know what you mean about the war. It seemed still to be hanging in the air, somehow, even when I was a teenager. Never liked it then, don’t know. The war generation and its immediate successors seemed always to be trying to make us feel grateful or humbled or something. Bugger that. Bragg’s quadrilogy – there, that’s your other point nailed – is really about what Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters called the ‘post war dream’. Very close to being Bragg’s autobiography, it starts as a social realist attempt to explain the post war settlement and the reasons why (after decades of false dawn) it came to grief. It ends as a breathtakingly tragic love story.
Having seen the cover illustration for the Bragg ‘sexfest’, A Time To Dance, I didn’t need your advice to steer clear of it. With my sensitive disposition I can’t be expected to cope with all that sort of nonsense. Why do ageing modern novelists feel an obligation to write about sex? For that matter, why do ageing modern readers have the urge to read about it? If Dickens could make it into the GloomLaden Top Five without ever having acknowledged so much as the mere idea of sex in any of his novels, it can’t be essential for lesser authors to write about it. That said, I’m sure Bragg handled it better than Alan Titchmarsh.
I’ve been put off novels such as A Soldier’s Return and A Son of War because I assumed they were set in wartime. Had I given more thought to the fact that the soldier was returning I might have understood that the stories begin in the mid-40s and continue through the 1950s. I’ve grown tired of reading novels set in wartime; the whole subject has, surely, been done to death. But I feel more at home in the 1950s.
Have you read all four volumes? And if a three part series is a trilogy, what is the correct term for a novel in four parts?
Oh, and don’t touch Crystal Rooms with a bargepole. You’ll be tempted; it is Bragg’s attempt at a condition of England novel – which, as ever means a London novel – but fails to work at any level.
Of course, whatever I say, you’ll go back to Pratchett.
The Bragg books you really should read are the sequence commencing with The Soldier’s Return, continuing with A Son of War and Crossing The Lines and concluding with the breath-taking Remember Me. These are thinly disguised autobiographical novels. Steer clear of the historical saga Credo and the May to December sexfest A Time To Dance.
I’ll listen out for the Graham Swift readings. I’ve enjoyed a number of his novels but perhaps not quite enough to pay full price for the new hardback. I’m coming to the end of Melvyn Bragg’s The Hired Man this weekend, with A Fool’s Alphabet by Sebastian Faulks and Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George lined up next. What are your thoughts on the best of the rest of Bragg’s works.
Yes, the Bob programme was the one they put out shortly after his (continuing) death in which old Stop the Week hands reminisced about him. It was very good, I recall. Television paid no such tribute; they wiped most of the 1970s editions of Call My Bluff, for instance.
Meanwhile, you will be pleased to hear I’ve finished the excellent book on Savile and am back to Literature with Zola.
I see Graham Swift has a short story collection out called England and Other Stories. Ought to be up your street. But if you can’t be bothered even with that, Radio 4 Extra are reading from it next week to save you the eyework.
Correction to that last comment:
I misheard Mrs.B; the programme starts at 8am tomorrow. Please forgive me but he is, after all, the late Robert Robinson.
Mrs.Blameworthy tells me there’s a programme, introduced by Laurie Taylor and featuring Robert Robinson, on Radio 4 Extra at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Would that it were on Five Live.
My thinking is that Bob will remain dead for the foreseeable future, probably longer. People like you with your infantile prattle about his comb over have made a return even more unlikely than the impossible it always was. I hope, as you’re proud of yourself.
Despite all I’ve said about him in the past I confess to having been a little disappointed that he didn’t come back to life in time to meet us at the pub a few weeks ago. Can we expect any sort of resurrection prior to the pre-Christmas session, or will Bob continue to be as elusive as Fitrambler, do you think?
Robert Robinson is still dead. Well, you asked for it, Blamers.
Polly Brown was the lead singer with Pickettywitch. I bet even Sir Jim’ll wouldn’t have remembered that Nigel Fletcher was the drummer with Lieutenant Pigeon though. I never thought I would feel the need to ask this but can we get back to Robert Robinson now, please? At least he was a little less stomach churning than Savile, even allowing for his slightly more advanced state of decay.
But the point about Sir Jim’ll is that he thought and, tragically, acted, exclusively in terms of bodies. The inner lesbian inside you would not have interested him any more than your opinions on Wiltshire church opening hours, such as they are. Mind you, he would have awarded you two points for knowing the name of the lead singer of Picketywitch.
And, of course, only you can be absolutely sure that the body inside which you are trapped is that of a man. Despite having an enquiring mind – and a conviction, born of experience, that things are not always as they seem – I would have no desire to probe deeper in order to establish firm evidence. Jim’ll, despite being dead, would, undoubtedly, press on with enthusiasm given the opportunity.
I was naturally worried that if you, too, happened to be a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, there might be consequences almost as unpleasant as some of the stuff in Sir Jim’ll’s biography
The only thing uncontestable in this miserable existence, GloomLaden, is your opinion… and death, of course. While there is not a huge amount of room for debate concerning literary greatness, some great novelists are greater than others.
As for the old lesbian joke: I don’t recall you having quoted it in my presence before. Were you afraid I might take it the wrong way?
Why wouldn’t you have agreed with Waugh in my selection? He combines the comic tradition with a modernistic sensibility and manages to treat of the futility of existence without making it sound like hard work, as most modernists sadly do. As to mine being a predictable selection, it seems to me that greatness should feel uncontestable
As for lesbianism: I have always quoted the 1970s gag – I am a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. Unfortunately, it is the sort of line Sir Jim’ll might have used.