37: Stout Fellows

The Three Crowns

It was back in July 2013 that Blameworthy and I last drank together. That’s nearly four years ago. It’s a long time by any standards.

It wasn’t as though we intended the gap in our meeting to be so long, it just seemed to work out that way. During that time, we kept in erratic contact via email but we seemed unable to tie down another meeting.

However, 2017, was to be the year a plan would come together. Finally, we would get together again for a few – or probably more accurately, a lot of beer.

Over a bout of email tennis, it was decided we would have a lunchtime session; and in the spirit of past adventures it would be Chippenham on a Sunday lunchtime.

Close and local is not us.

On reflection, our last drinking session together was in Wroughton, some four miles or so from where I live and a little further from where Blameworthy lives.

Wroughton was an old stomping ground from the 1980s. In those days we would quite often on a day off from work or of an evening we would walk out to a pub called the Carter’s Rest or The Wheatsheaf; although occasionally we would grace another pub in the village with our presence.

In those days Blameworthy and I lived closer to each other, a street away. But now, some thirty years later, we lived about thirty minutes away from each other.

For that trip to Wroughton, we agreed we would meet up in The Town Gardens in Old Town. To me it seemed like an odd place to meet up. However, Blameworthy does have a rather large garden these days. Perhaps he was looking for a few tips. The only gardening tips I ever entertain are the ones that will get my garden paved over as soon as the funds become available.

The Town Gardens

However, part of Blameworthy’s plan was to get to Wroughton by a different route to the one we were used to. It was certainly different to the one we would have taken in the 1980s.

As I walked up Victoria Hill, just before mid-day that Saturday afternoon, it was warm, and I was looking forward to the day ahead. Beer and exercise and all in good company.

However, by the time I got to The Town Gardens, I suddenly looked for my wallet. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, or just one of those coincidences. I can’t explain but on checking I found that my wallet wasn’t in any of my pockets. Almost as if to torture me, a memory stirred, one of me placing the wallet on my table before devouring an early lunch. (When old Fitrambler sits down to eat, all other considerations disappear from the brain box.)

I looked at my watch and saw that I had enough time to finish the walk to meet up with Blameworthy but not enough time to go back, get the wallet and meet Blameworthy on time.

Oh hump! I thought and one or two words that might be deemed a tad stronger.

I decided I’d go the punctuality route and meet Blameworthy. It didn’t sit well heading towards a drinking session with little more than enough change in coins and silver for a couple of rounds.

After the preliminary greetings were over and just before we started the walk to Wroughton, I told Blameworthy about forgetting my wallet. Although I felt bad about it, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Blameworthy said rather than go back he would cover the expense of the session. He’s that sort of a chap.

This time the walk to Wroughton would be more like a walk in the country, rather than one that followed major roads. We came out of The Town Gardens and followed Goddard’s Avenue to a little side-pathway that I didn’t know existed. We followed that road that led over a bridge into a new estate – or at least it was new to me at the time – called Wichelstowe.

Wichelstowe

It was while we were walking through this new estate that the Fitrambler imagination started up. The place seemed totally deserted. I looked around at the windows and it was as though they were all occupied, but no sign of people.

It made me think of a post-apocalyptic future where Blameworthy and I were the only ones left. That soon died as another fantasy played across the brain box; that we were gunfighter coming to town…

“We’re a’comin’ for ya, Kincade!”

Well, they always seem to be called Kincade, don’t they?

O.K, back in the real world, we were in a deserted estate (sans the yapping dog that suddenly runs the length of the street. Possibly a dog who once starred in many a Lassie film, and now was reduced to this bit part).

It took roughly ten minutes to walk through that estate and not once did I see any signs of life. Did everyone emigrate lunchtime?

Finally, after about fifteen minutes, we ended up in Wroughton, and our first stop was The Carter’s Rest. As in the 1980s, it had a good selection of ales.

The Carter’s Rest

Again, I thought back to the 1980s, when we drank there, we mainly stuck to a back room which had a pool table. It was fairly private with good access to a hatch that gave us an easy way to get our beer. Most of these pool sessions were dinner time ones whereby we could play games mostly un interrupted.

The room also contained a Duke box and we spent quite a lot of hard-earned silver in that machine. If not filled with our coins, the locals took their choices. (Well, you had to be fair now and again and let them have a go.)

Frequently, the Glen Miller track ‘In The Mood’ played. That would cause an impromptu dance routine. This would usually involve movements with the pool cue; waving and swinging. How those overhead lights survived is anyone’s guess, especially after half a dozen pints…

I always felt the routine was professionally done but being half-cut, you can believe anything. More sober witnesses to the display probably just despaired at the idiocy of the young!

After a couple in The Carter’s Rest, but without any games of pool, we moved onto The White Hart. Probably one of the first five pubs I ever drank Real Ale in; a Wadworths pub.

The White Hart

I have to say after The White Hart the memory becomes a little hazy. I think our next port of call was The Check Inn, where I missed out on the round. This was partly because I was getting light-headed and also as I was feeling guilty that Blameworthy was footing all the beer bill.

The Check Inn

Once we came out of there our final beer was one in the new estate of Wichelstowe, The Bayberry. People serving behind the bar, people drinking behind the bar convinced me that after all there was life in the new estate.

Then, as we were something like half-way home, it decided to rain. Well, it would, wouldn’t it, especially as I didn’t have a coat. Once home, the pangs of hunger began and picking up my wallet from my table, I phoned through for a large Chinese takeaway…

The Bayberry

Those thoughts about our last meeting played across my mind as I waited outside Swindon station that dull but dry Sunday in mid-April.

I reflected on the fact that I’d only had a couple of pieces of toast with soya margarine; not a good breakfast if you’re intending to have one or two dinner time, or as is more likely the case, a half-dozen.

As it’d never happened before, so was quite positive it wouldn’t this time, we wouldn’t eat during a session; not even a pub lunch. Blameworthy doesn’t do eating on a drinking trip. (And yes, there are those wags who would say I do more than enough eating for both of us!)

Sometimes, with people I’ve been friends with, after a long gap, there can be a certain discomfort. That never happens with Blameworthy. It’s always as though our last meeting was yesterday; nothing has changed save for the odd wrinkle and grey hair.

We didn’t wait long for the train, nor did we have any trouble getting a seat. Usually, when I travel alone, all sorts of things go wrong, but it started off well…

…if you didn’t count the woman.

On the seats opposite, there was a woman who seemed in the process of wanting to re-arrange area where she was sat from the aisle. She was constantly bending over to mess with something I couldn’t see, waving her arse close to my face. Trying to pay attention to what Blameworthy was saying while having buttocks waved in one eye line wasn’t easy. I suppose I was lucky she wasn’t suffering from a bout of wind!

After ten minutes the woman seemed to settle, and I could give my full attention to Blameworthy.

We arrived on time and as soon as we were out of the station I remembered the last time I was in Chippenham. It was 24th April 2010, a beer festival and with Blameworthy, Gloom-Laden and Mrs Gowithit.

The walk to the pub took about twenty minutes, but by Blameworthy’s own admission we weren’t going the direct route. A good walk would add to the thirst.

The pub was The Three Crowns. It wasn’t open when we got there but we didn’t have to wait too long before it did. I’d no sooner sat down outside when the landlord was opening the doors.

Once inside it was just a matter of deciding which of the beers to have. There was a good selection of dark beers.

Chippenham 2018 1

However, there was the danger signal we both spotted early on but neither of us mention although both of us probably had the same thoughts. The beer was called Killer Stout, and at 7.9% it wasn’t hard to figure out how it got its name. We both felt it would be wise to stay away from that one. It would be the sensible thing to do. After all, it would be foolish to drink something of that strength at dinner time; and not too wise in the evening either.

Unfortunately, despite our obvious maturity (and the fact that we should know better) we both knew that, a few pints down the line, one or the other of us would give into temptation. It would be one of those things that ‘seems amusing at the time’.

As soon as we got the barman’s attention, I bought the first round. We found a window seat. I quite liked the first pint, it went down well but Blameworthy suggested we try one of the others for the second round. He went to get up, but I stopped him and got the second-round in. I reminded him that he bought all the beers the last time we drank together. I owed him and intended to pay.

Chippenham 2018 2

After trying a different beer, we went back to the first. We stuck to that until the penultimate round. I was on a comfort break and when I returned I saw Blameworthy at the bar. I was a little disappointed because I felt I should be getting the round! I detected a few grins and wondered what the joke was. Then, Blameworthy brought the beer to me, suggesting we go into the backroom. He made the confession at this point that he’d just bought the Killer Stout.

There wasn’t anyone else in the backroom which suited me. I’d felt a little dizzy when I returned from the toilet and so if I was going to fall over after the Killer Stout I wanted as few witnesses as possible.

As it turned out I remained upright, thankfully. The Killer Stout went down as easily as the previous three pints. We had another pint, but not a second Killer Stout. Sometimes it’s best not to push your luck.

I was also happy that I was able to get back to the station walking in a relative straight line. Inevitably, though, when I got close to the station, the need for another comfort break was upon me.

There was a pub close to the station and Blameworthy headed straight for it. Where there’s a pub there’s a toilet, or so I thought it was reasonable to believe.

Old Road Tavern

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go that easily. It turned out rather like doing the conga, as we walked into the pub through one door, through the bar area, out into the garden, then back in to the bar and then out again without being able to see a single sign for the toilet!

By this time, I was almost dancing with the need to empty my bladder. Fortunately, not too far away and right near the steps leading into the station was a parking area, walled off sufficiently to advertise itself to me as an unofficial toilet.

I was sure my eyes glazed over behind the cover of the wall and was able to reduce the contents of my bladder.

We didn’t have much time before our train was due. Unfortunately, as is often the case when you need to relieve yourself in a hurry, the whole process takes on the image of a stuck tap; it won’t bloody turn off.

Fortunately, it did eventually and in time for when the train was supposed to arrive. However, I’d hurried (panicked) for nothing as that train was cancelled and so we had to wait for the next one. Had I known the train wasn’t going to arrive on time I would have found somewhere with more dignity to relieve myself – like a public toilet…

Anyway, as we travelled on the next train to Swindon, Blameworthy was already making plans for our trip to Oxford…

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36: Long Ago In Llandudno…

 

Llandudno 1980s Style: The Prom

The association with North Wales began in 1980. Up until that year I hadn’t considered it as a holiday choice. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the place.

But in 1980, friends of mine, Mr and Mrs Post, were going to Llandudno for their holiday.

‘We’re off to see Llandudno,’ said Mrs Post.

‘And I’m off to see the Wizard…’ I re-joined cheerfully, bit my voice trailed off as two pairs of eyes gave me hard stares. ‘…the won…der…ful..wiz…’

Deciding my failed attempted at humour was over, Mrs Post continued. ‘It’s in North Wales. Our daughter was going with us but she’s decided to spend the week with her boyfriend,’ she explained. ‘We were wondering if you’d like to come along? Have the room she was going to have?’

I agreed. It was somewhere I hadn’t been and as such it’d be an adventure. Besides, I suspected they’d lose their money if they couldn’t get someone else to take the room; and it was quite a few years since I last had a holiday.

Fortunately, taking the room intended for their daughter didn’t involve dressing up in women’s clothes. I have always been one for trying something different but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere! Besides, it would have been a devil of a job getting something in my size that showed me at my best!

(Apologies to those of a weak disposition in whose head I’ve put pictures of a distasteful nature!)

Anyway, with the holiday agreed, I let my parents know (I was still living at home at the time). When it got around to how we were going to get there I said it’d be by train. However, Dad Fitrambler said we could use his car rather than fuss about with a train journey.

That being the case it made life a lot easier for the Posts and me.

So, the day arrived and off we went. I can’t remember how long the journey lasted but I do remember we made several stops. One of which was in a place called Ruthin where I managed to use the public toilets and find a shop which sold bottles of Old Peculiar; the two are not mutually exclusive! I bought four in a pack, roughly just under a half pint per bottle. Well, on many holiday one must ensure you stock up on essential supplies; first rule of survival.

A View From The Room 1

The place we stayed in was in Lloyd Street which led directly to the promenade and the beach. Unusually, if you went in the other direction it also led to the beach, although not directly and not the same beach. Llandudno had two beaches. The east and west beaches; something I’d not come across before.

The house was divided up into small self-catering rooms. Mine was one of the singles at the back and with just a view of other houses, along with one of the biggest features in the resort and that was the Great Orme. The Posts’ room was a double at the front and the view was the main street and the building opposite housed the Lifeboat Service.

My flat, as with all of them in that house, was self-catering and the room was equipped with a sink, a cooker, a fridge. On top of the wardrobe in the corner opposite the window and next to the door was a television. It was only a black and white set (only the double rooms got a colour set). It was a room I’d use for my visits over the next five years.

Once I’d unpacked and had a quick wash, I went to the Posts’ room and we all went out for a stroll for the evening. Mrs Post wasn’t in for the long walk or indeed a few beers so took advantage of the Bingo games going on. That left Mr Post and myself to try out a beer.

A View From The Room 2

After the long journey we went to The Albert (a Greenall’s Pub) for a beer.

The beer, a mild, didn’t taste too bad, in fact it was a lot better than I expected. I’ve always quite liked mild. So, I was pleased that quite a few pubs served a mild; it was to be the first of many.

As we had arrived rather late in the day so we got an early night, only having the one drink.
Over the week, we paid a visit to Colwyn Bay, the next day, and I had a half (I was driving) in The Park. There was a lot of work going on in the town, mainly along the coast. A little further in there was a mini-market with stalls selling a variety of things from records to sweets to foods, including Welsh Cakes. (It must be recorded here that The Pink Lady makes a wonderful Welsh cake which I’ve been lucky enough to sample on more than one occasion.)

The next day we made a trip to Conwy where I was rather impressed by the Castle. I managed to get one in at The Liverpool Arms; a half of bass.

The Self Catering Flats are now just Private Flats.

After that there was the day we drove up to the top of the Great Orme. I remember the facilities reminding me very much of the 50s and 60s; very minimal. It was like some of the early cafe’s where they did mugs of tea, bacon sandwiches and fry-ups. The tables were wash vinyl style. But on top the Great Orme it was like a vast assembly room from school with tables and chairs. A big difference compared with my more recent visits. So not much to get excited about except, of course, the view. That was quite stunning and remains so.

It only took a couple of days for me to decide it might a good place for Blameworthy and I to visit next year. That was mainly down to there being a vast number of pubs and I thought it beautiful part of Britain. It was also an area Blameworthy hadn’t been too. Of course, transport and getting from place to place would be important. As we would be drinking, me driving wouldn’t be a good idea, presupposing Dad would lend me his car again.

Llandudno itself isn’t on a direct rail route. Approximately three miles from Llandudno is Llandudno Junction which is a station on the main line. There are regular trains that go from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno and back again during the day; Llandudno Junction is a station on the main line The North Wales Coastal Line. This goes along the coast to as far away as Holyhead in one direction and Chester in the other. Between Llandudno Junction and Llandudno is Deganwy. Like Rhos-on-sea and Colwyn Bay, Deganwy and Conwy almost seem as though they are the same place

I did think about taking the tram up to the Great Orme but never got around to it. (Some twenty years later the Pink Lady and I did.) However, more importantly, only a few yards from the tram station was a pub; The King’s Head. I nailed that one (naturally) that evening. Pints all round as I wasn’t driving, and fish and chips from a place no more than ten yards away.

Fitrambler in paradise!

The next day was a drive to Rhyl. It was the furthest we ventured that week. A strong memory of that trip that remains after all this time was Mr Post and I having a drink in The Abbey Vaults. It was in this public house that I tried my first half of Marston’s Pedigree. Again, I was playing it safe as I was driving…

The Albert (Picture Courtesy the Blameworthy Archive)

There was a television in one corner, high up on the wall. A Gerry Anderson series called Joe 90 was just starting and brought back memories of my childhood. It wasn’t best series Gerry Anderson produced (I’m more of a Thunderbirds fan) but it was entertaining enough. I would have liked to have watched the episode all the way through as it didn’t seem to get many repeats in the Swindon area. But Mrs Post was outside and it was unfair to leave her there on her own, despite the weather being rather good. Some years later, video would be mainstream and owning TV programmes would become commonplace.

Conwy From The Outside

The Rhyl monorail made an impression on me. I hadn’t seen anything like it before (nor since) and had to have a photograph. Up until recently, I always thought it was around for years but that wasn’t the case.

Conwy From The Wales of the Castle

The monorail opened for business in August 1980. It was about 15 feet in the air on specially made pillars and ran about six hundred yards. It was doomed to failure because it suffered regular technical faults, most of which were between stops. I don’t suppose the sight of passengers climbing down ladders was a good advertisement for the ride. The sight probably caused some amusement; except if you were one of the passengers and suffered from vertigo.

It lasted six weeks and ran up debts in of over of £650,000…

Another of many Pubs We Drank In.

Another thing I noticed within the amusement arcades and that was pool tables. Blameworthy and I were rather partial to games of pool. In fact, we began an annual pool contest on the strength of the many opportunities we got to play.

The Doomed Rhyl Monorail from a distance

Having had good weather all week I got back home feeling it was money well-spent!

A few days after that first week, I managed to persuade Blameworthy that North Wales, with Llandudno as our base, would make a good place for a booze-hound week.

So, the following year, again in my father’s car – he was kind enough to lend it to me again – Blameworthy and I began our journey. It was no surprised he’d prepared a route which would take us to some good pubs on the way.

Of course, I played it sensibly and only drank shandy…

A Closer Look At The Monorail

All was going quite well until the final part of the journey and negotiating a lot of bends high up in North Wales. I don’t think, up until then, I’d ever been around so many bends and certainly not as many so high up.

We’d been travelling a few miles when disaster struck!

It was my fault, really. I made the mistake of spending too much time looking in the rear-view mirror at the chap behind and not enough on the road ahead. With each bend, I could see him get closer. It wasn’t a sensible preoccupation and I found that out when taking a bend that seemed to suddenly creep up on me too fast!

I swerved to avoid and narrowly missed – and I mean by mere inches – the car coming the other way; having strayed to the wrong side of the road taking that bend. Then I found that I was heading for the other end of the bend, the one with only a barrier between the end of the road and a very long drop. I turned the wheel again and we hit a barrier side on, smashing it, the poles either end of the barrier hit the front and back of the car before we came to a halt. A little further and we would have plunged over the edge and not only could I have been done for reckless driving but also for flying without a pilot’s license!

It was only when I got out of the car to inspected the damage that I realized what a drop it was.
Although it was probably of little importance in the scheme of things, the half dozen eggs given to me by Mum, were still intact in the box. However, some of the butter had got into Blameworthy’s jacket and it seemed to reappear throughout the course of the week.

From the car I nearly hit, a man charged over. At first, I thought I was going to get a crack on the conk. I’d come so close to smacking into his car so I couldn’t blame him. However, he was quite good about it. He asked if we were all right and if he needed to get the police or an ambulance. Blameworthy dismissed that idea.

‘You scared my wife. Anyway, best get back, she can’t seem to get her hands off the steering wheel, gripped it so hard when she saw you coming at us.’

I apologised as I remembered how close I’d come to smacking into his car. I guessed he’d take over the driving, once he’d prised her hands off the steering wheel…

The man strode off to his car and left us alone.

A few minutes later, I was, all things considered, feeling lucky. Part of that was because we hadn’t gone over the edge and partially because the dent in the front missed penetrating the radiator by millimetres; that really would have put the tin lid on things. We wouldn’t have been able to get to Llandudno in it; or indeed anywhere in it.

The bonnet was in a mountain shape but was soon bashed down but we tied it down with string; not sure where that came from? It rattled a lot and made things tense as I imagined it would fly up at any minute and block my vision. Another accident wouldn’t have been welcome!

As we changed the back tyre, a shard of wood puncturing the tyre, I thought about how I was going to explain this to my father, the grievous bodily harm I’d inflicted on his pride and joy. I worked on it for most of the journey to Llandudno.

As we got into Llandudno, it began to pour down with rain and we eventually made our way to the flats. By the time we had settled in, the rain had stopped. Blameworthy wanted to get out and around a few pubs. I suppose the alcohol would sooth his shattered nerves, if they were shattered. He seemed remarkably calm considering what had happened to us…

Over The Top Of The Entrance To The Fun-fare At Rhyl

However, I rang my father first. I used a call box because in those days iPhones or indeed any sort of mobile phone were not common place. I felt it was better to get the bad news out-of-the-way first. I told him what happened. He asked first if either of us were hurt and when I told him we weren’t he said not to worry about the car, we would talk about it when I got back…

Later, I would find out that my sister retorted ‘…and then he’ll kill you!’

Despite the bad start, or perhaps because of it, it was quite a good holiday. There was no chance of using the car but a couple of places were within walking distances and others we got to by train. We discovered a weekly train pass that allowed us to travel anywhere along the North Coast – Holyhead to Chester. It was only nine pounds. A bargain however your looked at it.

Being in a new area and one that was hundreds of miles from home was the different sorts of beers available. We certainly allowed ourselves to sample as many of them as we could over the week. It was also an opportunity to try many different pubs. I think we went around 40-50 during that week in 1981.

That first year I believe we began a tradition that seemed to last quite a few years – being forced to walk from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno. For some reason, every time we got the last train back from Chester it was late and because of that we missed the last train from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno.

Boo hiss!!

The Links Hotel in the 1980s

The station between those two was Deganwy. For some reason, Blameworthy and I thought it sound like a South African state. So much so that we took to punching the air and saying rather too loudly, ‘Deganwy!

Well, we laughed!

By the end of the week the ‘joke’ died somewhat and we gave a slight raising of the hand and only muttered ‘Deganwy,’ almost instinctively while distracted by reading the paper

Of the pubs’ we visited (numerous times) in Llandudno was The Links Hotel; it served JW Lees beers; a beer I hadn’t heard of prior to the holiday. It was like Marston’s the previous year.

There was also The Washington where we played darts quite often. In those days it was an Ansell’s pub. I can remember the Ansell’s brand from the commercials. Several men, walking to the pub with the designation ‘The Ansell’s Bitter Men’. I didn’t qualify for the title as I tended to drink the Ansell’s mild; rebel that I was. Then there was The King’s Head, another favourite; we had quite a few late-night drinking sessions there.

Something else (besides the forced walk from Llandudno Junction after a visit to Chester) that became something of a tradition was a walk to Conwy. We did most of the walk along the beach, then across the bridge that led to the little town built inside castle walls. We seemed to always have the right weather for that walk, dry and sunny.

In those days, my focus would have been more on the beer and the walkies, the odd game of darts and pool – and no one plays odder games than Blameworthy and I.

After a week of drinking I remember that we got an early night on the Friday and began our journey home at 5am Saturday morning. This was because of the state of my father’s car and wanting to avoid too much attention of the way home; a flapping bonnet was inclined to be something of an attention grabber.

Initially, on my return home, my father wasn’t home but once he returned he seemed a lot more relaxed than I expected him to be. However, a few hours later that changed; a closer inspection gave rise to the full extent of the damage. His main complaint beyond the obvious was how I managed to hit three sides of the car; the back, the front and the side. At first, he developed the theory that I hit the side first and then had another couple of attempt to hit the back and front. I let the accusations go as I knew the full impact (no pun intended) of the damage had got through to him. I couldn’t really blame him for being angry. It was a mess!
After that accident, I made one of those promises that you make after an evening putting away too much booze; and that was never again. I decided I would give up driving.

However, later in 1981, friends of mine got me to hire a car and drive them to Cornwall, Bude to be precise. I got the taste for driving back. So much so, that the following year, 1982, in an Auction in May I bought a Yellow Mark III Cortina for £390.00. The only other car I had ever owned prior to that on was a mini, in a similar colour. The new car had a problem driver seat (and some might say a problem driver) but that and a few other irritations were fixed by Neatentidy. He was always rather good with cars.

It was in this car which I christened ‘Chloe’ but others later called it ‘The Yellow Peril’ that I made my second visit to Llandudno in, with Blameworthy. After the previous year’s accident, I felt he was very brave to go through that journey with me a second time and he did it without a sedative. Fortunately, this time I got us there without a redesign of the car’s bodywork. I did consider having another accident so that Dad would feel less paranoid about me crashing his car but felt Blameworthy’s nerves probably couldn’t stand it. I knew mine wouldn’t.

The funny thing about these holidays is that I remember it as being Sunny all the time.

Roughly seven weeks over five years and not a single rainy day seems quite preposterous in Britain. Still, memory is often selective.

Betws y Coed

I did most of the cooking as our holidays were self-catering. There’s another sign of Blameworthy’s bravery in the face of adversity. I sometimes think, what with my driving and cooking Blameworthy should have been awarded the George Cross years ago; but then, that medal is generally awarded posthumously. I am sure when given the choice between being alive without the medal or getting the medal and being dead that he would choose the former. I certainly would.

On one occasion, deciding on a cooked breakfast, he told me he liked his bacon crispy, so I did my best. He ended up with bits of bacon so crisp that when he tried to cut into it sent pieces charging across the plate like shrapnel from a cluster bomb.

Then there was the curry, the one I tried to do without a packet sauce. Half-way through he told me he felt the chunks of pineapple – as he identified them – were a bit over the top. It puzzled me and then when he pointed one out I corrected him and told him they were cloves of garlic. He didn’t look too comfortable about that, especially as he had chewed and swallowed about four of the things. (Unlucky, as there were only four in the whole mix – what are the odds?) Still, we had little trouble getting to the bar in crowed pubs, he just breathed a pathway.

It was the day we were going to check out the pubs in Prestatyn, I’d run out of milk, so we ate our muesli without it. Our enjoyment of the macabre was such we finished a whole packet of the cereal. It seemed funny at the time.

There were quite a few regrets during that day; the beer we drank seemed to expand the cereal in our stomachs. I am sure I must have got a bout of wind that compared to thunder for the rest of the day; jet propelled or what!

Fortunately, not all breakfasts were disasters, (well, unless I cooked them!) We had many days when we just went for the breakfast cereal (with milk) and it was only the excesses of beer that did for us on occasion. To be fair, though, I cannot remember getting a single bad hangover on those holidays. But then, I suppose you need to be sober to get a hangover.

Over the years, we must have been in most pubs along the coast of North Wales and played pool in many of them. We did have an annual pool match every year. A lot of the games I remember playing in Rhyl in one of the large amusement arcades; this was when pubs shut between 3pm and 5.30pm.

During one of these games in the arcade, I went and got two hotdogs for Blameworthy and myself and decided to be very over generous with the mustard; again, it seemed funny at the time. As it was me who’d done the damage to the hotdog I felt I obligated to finish mine with all the mustard on; I think Blameworthy was sensible enough to remove a lot of the mustard on his; giving me a slightly disapproving sideways glance as he did.

Once the first couple of years were over and we had been to most pubs once we tended to go back to the best ones which often had a pool table. One of those was the Dudley Arms in Rhyl.

We drank in there quite often and played quite a bit of pool.

One year, much to Blameworthy’s annoyance, of each game we played and I kept the score in a small notebook, meticulously recording the results of every game.

After a few days, it became known as ‘that bloody book’. Looking back, I can’t blame him for getting annoyed, I think I even got to hate it, but it had to be filled in. I don’t know why it did, but the OCD in me said it did!

On the return from a drinking session, quite possibly in the King’s Head, we got Fish and Chips from Tribells (still going today and it’s really called that and I don’t think it got its name from a Star Trek episode.). It was only a few hundred yards up from where we were staying. We got a few yards away from the chip shop when Blameworthy, for some reason I don’t remember, decided he didn’t want his fish and chips and lobbed them across the road.

There was no way any of my portion of fish and chips would end up taking flying lessons. I kept a tight hold and ate mine alone in the flat. Unfortunately, I still felt hungry after mine. So, and I put it down to the vast quantity of beer I’d probably drunk that night, I went back outside and looked for Blameworthy’s thrown fish and chips. A grin to rival a Cheshire cat’s spread across my face as I found they were still there. Fortunately, wrapped in several layers of paper and undamaged.

What’s the old expression? Waste not, want not. Well, that was certainly my motto that evening.

And yes, they went down rather well.

The next morning, I planned to confess what I’d done and pay Blameworthy for them, but in the cold light of day I felt a little embarrassed. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

The Washington – we played a lot of darts there

I think it was the third year, 1983, that began the mystery of the disappearing jeans pockets. It was something that bothered my mother for a few years. When I got back from Llandudno, when washing my jeans, she noticed the inside of the pockets were missing. It wasn’t as if they were worn away because there would have been traces of them, they were gone!

Eventually, I confessed. There were a few times when I used some public toilets and unfortunately there wasn’t any toilet paper, so one had to improvise. Don’t judge, the alternative wasn’t a pleasant option!

And talking of toilets, in the place where we were staying, there wasn’t a toilet on suite. But one on each floor. My memory tells me the one of my floor was just a toilet and there was a separate bathroom. From the door to the toilet itself was quite a few feet. It also had a slightly faulty lock. You thought you were locked in and then it would click and the door would slowly open.

The first time this happened, I’d just sat down and the door creaked open. Not wanting to be exposed, I got up and moved to the floor. Unfortunately, as my trousers and pants were around the ankles, I fell forward. For a few seconds, whilst laying there, I had visions of another guest walking by and seeing me flat-out on the floor white buttocks on show – not a pretty sight!
Fortunately, I got up, pulled up the trousers and made sure the lock was engaged properly before without being seen! I could then conclude my business without interruption. Fortunately, there was always toilet paper in there so the jeans pockets survived!

I think the last time I went to North Wales with Blameworthy was 1984. I’m not sure why we stopped, it could be we had done North Wales well and truly.

But then, I didn’t know that I was far from finished with North Wales and Llandudno because 20 years later…

35: ‘The Name Is Moore, Roger Moore’

Sir Roger Moore 0001

One of my earliest memories of Roger Moore was from a series called “Ivanhoe”. It was made in 1958. It ran for a total of 39 episodes, and although the pilot episode was made in colour, the actual series was filmed in black and white.

Moore starred as the lead character of Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe and his squire/armourer was played by Robert Brown. Brown would go on to star in the Bond Film “The Spy Who Loved Me” as Admiral Hargreaves, but later took on the role of M (after the death of Bernard Lee) for Moore last three Bond films, “For Your Eyes Only”, “Octopussy” and “A View To A Kill”.

Moore followed this with a series I’ve never seen called “The Alaskans”. It ran for 37 episodes.

Following on from that series, Moore also filled in for James Garner, who was in dispute with the makers of his hit show, “Maverick” – it’s fifth series. Moore played Beauregard Maverick, a cousin of Brett Maverick; the English accent was explained away by having the character return from many years in Britain.

Then, it was the big one, the series that made his name internationally, “The Saint”. It was also the one that got my interest. It was one of the few non-science fiction shows I took interest in. It was through Mr. Moore and this series that I moved from reading comics to books. I discovered that Leslie Charteris created The Saint in a book series than began in 1927. I avidly read the books, usually second hand, as many were out of print at the time.

It was Roger Moore who introduced me to the Bond films and the books. I hadn’t taken much interest in them before but once he left his latest series – an all-time favourite of mine – The Persuaders to become Bond, I decided to give them a go.

Oddly enough, the first Bond films I saw starred Connery. I’d been following the making of “Live And Let Die” in various film publications, when I got my chance to see my first Bond double bill. It was “Dr. No” and “You Only Live Twice”.

The next two films I saw were From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. I took my sister with me to see those and our choice of favourite Bond left us in different camps; fortunately, we never fell out over it.

It seemed then that all the films went through one of our local 2 cinemas (now gone) within 12 months. I got to see them all. However, for pure entertainment value, Roger Moore provided that as Bond. Connery may have been a closer portrayal of the character with regards to Ian Fleming’s books, but Moore never failed to entertain.

At the time repeats with regards to TV series and re-showings at cinemas was the only way to enjoy these pieces of entertainment; video-recorders were at least 15 years away.

As previously mentioned, my all-time favourite TV series with Roger Moore had to be “The Persuaders!” I found the clashing dynamic of Roger Moore and Tony Curtis irresistible. It originally ran on a Friday night through 1971 to 1972 and got a Sunday repeat a few years later and each time I managed to con my father into watching the episode again.

Roger Moore hung up the Walther PPK after “A View To A Kill”. It was around this time that video-recorders were about and I rented one. This opened a new world where you could rediscover old programmes and enjoy them again; or in some cases wonder why you enjoyed them the first time around.

While in London, a large record/CD store stocked video cassettes – a vast store house compared with Swindon – and two they had there were edited “The Persuaders!” episodes. At £30 each I felt it was expensive, but I thought, this was Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, it was “The Persuaders!”. So, it was a case of ‘sod the expense, give the cat another goldfish’ and I slapped down the old credit card. I had my hands on four episodes of the series, albeit edited into making 98 minute tv movies with new opening titles. It was close enough at that time.

Sir Roger Moore 0003

But it was back in 2011, September, that I got to meet Sir Roger Moore – as he now was – in London. It was a promotion event by Network, who had remaster all the episodes and were releasing them in the Blu Ray format, along with extras.

It cost me £80.00 to get The Gold Napoleon (named after an episode of the series) ticket for the event, which entitled me to a buffet (sandwiches, sausage rolls, nuts, crisps and the like), drink (wine or fizzy cider some would refer to as Champagne) and to meet Sir Roger himself, get my box set of “The Persuaders!”. There would then follow, after a showing on a big screen of two episodes of the show (‘Overture’ and ‘A Death In The Family’), an interview with Roger Moore, conducted by Barry Norman – and a very nice interview too – along with a question and answer session.

That ticket might have seemed expensive if it hadn’t been that it included a copy of “The Persuaders!” Blu Ray box set, retailing at the time £55.00. So, I guess, technically the ticket was only £25.00 more than I would have forked out anyway. (It’s how I persuaded myself, ok?)

As I’ve always been of a nervous disposition (aka: a snivelling coward) I decided I didn’t fancy travelling the tube late at night (the event was scheduled to end between 10-11pm). So, it came to pass that with the help of Topman, I booked a hotel room for about £100.00. On top of that there was the train fare of £33.00. I also, the next day, treated myself to a full breakfast (the hotel room didn’t include this) at a placed called “The Angus Steakhouse” for about £12.00.

It was about twenty minutes into the event that The Gold Napoleon ticket holders were asked to leave the buffet and queue up ready to collect their box set and then join the queue to see Sir Roger. It seemed like two thirds of the people who came joined that queue.

Despite how tedious it must have been for him, Sir Roger was smiling and always polite, the English gentleman through and through. It was one of those occasions, I’m glad to say, where meeting your hero(s) did not disappoint…far from it…

 

 

33: A Leg Up

Definitely not where the deer and the antelope play!

Definitely not where the deer and the antelope play!

 

It was in the Range – no not the place where the deer and the antelope play but the store – when it really started and I was subject to the machinations of Mr Pain.

Over the years Mr Pain and I have crossed paths many times, despite my best efforts to avoid him. The trouble is that old Mr Pain is quite indefatigable.

Anyway, there I was in The Range, shopping (like you do) and Mr Pain struck!

All I did was bend down and pick up a boxed Cafetière, stood back up then walked three paces…yes, just three normal paces.

Pain!

It was like someone had tugged my calf bone away from my knee-joint.

‘Ahh!’ I cried, like you do.

I rested a minute or two then moved a couple of paces forward and it happened again.

‘Ahh!’ I exclaimed again. Well, you have to don’t you, pain does that.

A couple of more repeats of this and some people around me either thought I was someone only let out at weekends, or possibly thought I’d achieve a eureka moment. Needless to say none of them were correct.

After about fifteen minutes the pain in the knee halted and so did my cries of ahh!

The Pink Lady was at the craft section and so I made my way there. I was trying to work out how just bending down, picking something up and then walking three paces could cause me such grief. I did recall that back in the early part of this century it happened before but then it was just once and after a minute or two it went away; which, needless to say, suited me.

Within a few feet of the Pink Lady it happened again.

‘Ahh!’

‘What?’

‘Nothing…’ Then I moved again. ‘Ahh!’

‘What?’ Responded the Pink Lady but this time a little more irritably. ‘And don’t say nothing!’

I moved another step forward intending to explain but instead went: ‘Ahh!’ As pain shot through my knee again.

Deciding the best way to get out some sort of explanation was to stand still. I did and then was able to explain my constant exclamation of the first word of an old gravy commercial.

‘Did you twist it?’

I shook my head. ‘No.’

‘Bash it.’

‘No,’ I sighed, feeling that I had already explained.

‘You just walked three paces and the pain started.’

‘Yes,’ I responded, glad we’d finished with a sort of reverse charades.

‘Does it hurt now?’

‘No, only when I walk.’

Well, don’t walk, then, a voice in my head said in a Tommy Cooper voice…

I managed to hobble about for the rest of the day but once I got home the knee was throbbing and I was happy to rest it.

For the next few days even walks of a short distance, the few hundred yards to the shops proved very painful. However, my optimism was at its best and I felt it’d go away in a week or so. I put it down to a muscle strain.

After two weeks, it was July and the knee was still as painful as ever, more so if I tried to walk on uneven ground. Slowly, as time moved on I thought it was getting a little better, then it would start again and I’d be back to square one.

A couple of weeks before the old annual jaunt to Llandudno, I bought a walking stick; the type used by walkers. I could adjust it to shoulder height – rather like a ski stick or to the height of a normal walking stick. It spent most of its time as a walking stick. Needs must and all that sort of thing…

Just over a month later The Pink Lady and I met up for our annual jaunt to Llandudno and went through a really terrible journey; the worst we’d ever experienced. (see Telling Tales: Arrival). That did not help the old knee but it held up and by Sunday there was the annual walk around the Great Orme to look forward to.

It began promisingly as I made it up the steep incline and to The Rest and Be Thankful tea room. But coming down with the weight being put on the knee it got progressively worse and did for me. The week, although not a total disaster, wasn’t one of our best. I got home with the knee in a worst state than it had been when the trouble began.

So within about ten days of getting back home I made an appointment to see Doctor Calm. It was then I found out it was more than just a muscle strain. It was a slightly torn cartilage.

‘Normally,’ he smiled, ‘if you were a top athlete or professional footballer…’ (yes, yes, I suspected he was trying to be amusing too!) ‘You would be booked in for intensive physiotherapy…’ He paused again as he shuffled through some papers in a drawer and then came out with a photocopied sheet of paper that he passed over to me. ‘…but you’re not you will need to go through these exercises.’

I looked at the sheet of exercises and wasn’t really keen but he was the doctor and as such should know best. I would just have to give it a go…

Unfortunately, beyond walking and riding a bike I have never been the sort of chap who goes much in for other sorts of exercise. Joining a gym has never thrilled me much and the thought of continuing with a sports like I was compelled to do at school never appealed either.

I tried to do the exercises but my will was weak. After a few weeks of feeling nothing much had changed I weakened and the gap between doing them lengthened and finally I stopped doing them.

I began to get depressed and told myself it was all over. It was walking with a stick from now on and it’d be short distance walks – like to the bus stop and back – but nothing much beyond that. I couldn’t manage more than five or ten minutes on the old pins without being in terrible pain!

Age had taken its toll on old Fitrambler and had been cruel enough to do it while he was in his mid-fifties. Still, nobody ever said life was fair.

So, I slowly fell into a depression. I hadn’t seen Blameworthy for nearly a year. That last get-together had us walking from Old Town in Swindon to Wroughton. It was a fair few steps we got through that day and I had hoped we would get-together and do something similar this year.

The knee poured the proverbial cold water over that idea. After all, as obliging as Blameworthy was, piggy backing me to the pub and back was far beyond what one could expect from a friend; less still when you consider the poor chap had back trouble himself not so long ago!

No, it was all over, no more walking. I felt very, very sorry for myself because I was really hoping I’d be active well into my sixties…and beyond!

It was one of many evenings during the dark winter – when I was into my thirtieth night of feeling sorry for myself – that I remembered the 2006 jaunt to Llandudno; the second this century. It was then that I met Walkalot and his wife Mrs Walkalot (who didn’t). He and his wife were staying in the same guest house as me. On first appearance I placed him in his early sixties. No grey in his black hair, not overly wrinkled. In conversations I discovered that even though he was retired he still walked about eight miles a day.

Eight miles a day! Eight!

At the time I was forty-nine. I was just beginning to get my fitness back after a little bit of a health scare (See Telling Tales: A Shock To The System). Before it all went downhill for me at the beginning of this century I usually managed five to six miles.

Then I found out he was in his middle-seventies!

It was a shock and one that put the proverbial boot up the old backside. If a man in his seventies could walk up to eight miles a day, then I should be able to at least half a dozen, if not more being in my late forties. This spurred me on and I vowed I get my act together and be fit enough to gradually get up to that sort of standard and then beyond.

I have to admit even though it sounds like blowing one’s own trumpet, I did become a lot fitter over the next few years. So much so, that in 2008 I managed to walk from Rhyl to Llandudno in a day. I didn’t know the distance while I was walking it for the first time but later found out if it was twenty miles.

As luck would have it I walked it on a very clean and sunny day; perhaps a little too hot. It was the sort of day that when you looked out to sea you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began.

The following year I walked it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

The memory faded and I was back in 2014 with a dodgy knee and depression…I wouldn’t be able to do that walk ever again…

So, the local bus service began to make a lot more money out of me as I hobbled from home to bus stop and from work to bus stop…a repetition that only added to the depression.

It was in late November 2014 when I was talking to Scrumcyclist that things changed for the better. Our group was going out for our Christmas meal at The Narrowboat, at Weedon, , where we would stay the night and Scrumcyclist offered to give me a lift. It was a kindness that would save me going through getting train tickets to Northampton and then busing it to the place where the festivities were taking place. Instead it would be return tickets to Oxford and then driven to the venue. Over the last ten years or so I have lost my enthusiasm for rail journeys and so been driven in the company of someone you know was a much better prospect.

Worked for me!

‘The trouble is,’ I said, after mentioning the injury, ‘by not doing any exercise I’ve put on quite a bit of weight. I know I should cut back on what goes in the old nosebags but…’

I mentioned about the knee injury and the visit to Dr Calm. ‘I don’t fancy having an operation on it but if it’s the only way to sort it out…’

‘A slightly torn cartilage you say…’ Scrumcyclist said. I nodded. ‘Hmm. Well, they probably want to avoid surgery. The idea behind the exercises is to strengthen the muscles around the knee to take the strain off the cartilage. That way you don’t feel the pain so much and don’t need surgery.’

I thought about that and it made perfect sense. If I hadn’t been in such a rather large sulk about the situation I might have thought of that myself…hmm, perhaps not.

We finalized the details of the trip. I would go by train to Oxford and Scrumcyclist would pick me up at Oxford station, and then it was on to The Narrowboat together.

On the bus home that night I decided I’d begin to get some exercise. As much as I was sure the exercises the doctor gave me would do what they were intended to do, I decided I would work out my own regime to strengthen the knee muscles…

So I made a plan. I would walk to the bus stop every day. Big deal, I hear you cry! However, it would be the second bus stop along the journey to work. I did that for two weeks, then for the following two weeks I did the third, then the fourth. This took me around a third of the way to work. Just over two months the pain was getting less as I walked for longer.

Finally, there was the big test. I again took the bus into work but began walking the whole way home. For the first week I found it wasn’t the knee that gave me the problem but my lower back began to ache by the time I’d walked about a tenth of the journey. It was quite uncomfortable and I began to wonder if this wasn’t going to be another block to my walking days.

However, by the end of the second week, the back ache began after about 25 percent of the journey. By the end of the month it was down to the last ten percent.

By the sixth week I felt elated. The old Fitrambler stride was back. I could go walkies again, even take the old ball, throw it and chase after it… (hmm, note to self, must get that dog!)

By eight weeks I was getting more adventurous and walking routes that didn’t directly lead to home but went via parts of the town I hadn’t visited for many years. The lack of pain in the knee was encouraging my adventurousness…

Not every walk was via the old proverbial scenic route but it did put me in the mind-set that my walking days were not yet over.

32: Apple And Blackcurrant Squash

Which Is Bad For You?

Which Is Bad For You?

 

To say Blameworthy and I drank rather a lot during the eighties is something like saying the Pope prays a bit. The amount we drank throughout the eighties would have had today’s health lobby in epileptic fits. Fingers would be violently wagged and predictions of doomed kidneys not far behind; with the added threat of a badly battered liver thrown in.

Nowadays it’s all referred to as Units of Alcohol and if you go over a certain amount of units then you are in the danger zone. Trouble, ailments galore…and lashings of tut-tuts!

Well, despite us being well over the unit safety limit – many times over in a night let alone a week – Blameworthy and I have survived reasonably well physically. That’s not to condone the copious amounts we drank but more to say we are doing ok considering…

In later years we have found a way to curb what the health critics would call excessive alcohol intake – we rarely drink together this has a tendency to curb our drinking by fifty percent…or at least I try to convince myself it does.

Some wags have suggested that as Blameworthy and I rarely frequent the pubs together like we did in the ‘old days’ it’s a possible explanation as to why so many Public Houses have closed over the last twenty years or so. Their profit levels dropping rapidly after our semi-retirements – if that is what our abstinence can be described as.

It has to be admitted that The Duke of Wellington – so frequently blessed with out custom – is no longer a pub. Whether this is evidence of their reliance on booze hounds like Blameworthy and I is anyone’s guess…

However much the doomsayers of old condemned our capacious ability to consume beer, there was little warning of another beverage which was in recent times to do me more damage than alcohol ever did.

And that is Apple and Blackcurrant squash.

How so, you may ask. Well, get comfortable and I shall tell you the woes that accompanied the pint of the aforementioned concoction.

Ever since my brush with Doctor Calm and the need to take medication for my rather OTT blood pressure, I have been taking a pint of Apple and Blackcurrant squash up with me to bed in the evenings. The main reason for this is down to one of the pills I take for my blood pressure in the morning. There is a particular tablet that whilst keeping the old BP down does drain the liquid in my body necessitating me drinking more liquids than I have ever done before to replace those the pill gets rid of.

Even beer didn’t disturb my sleep as much as this tablet does. Three times a night! Three times! And each time it’s during a good bit in a dream I’m having!
Anyway, a particular night in 2012, I was in bed early as I needed to be up early in the morning. I got out of bed at around 1am to take care of a need precipitated by the tablet and returned a minute or two later to replenish the liquid lost.

Being half asleep pouring the liquid in worked ok but when I went to put the glass back down on the bedside table I misplaced it on top of a pen which unbalanced the glass and sent the contents pouring across the bedside table and the floor.

With an exclamation of ‘Oh dear’ (or perhaps something a little harsher with about the same amount of characters) I switched on the light to commence a mop-up operation.

Needless to say once finished I was wide awake.

Back into bed I found I couldn’t get comfortable. The quilt wasn’t quite in place; it wasn’t covering one corner of the bed. Not vitally important but after the debacle with the Apple and Blackcurrant squash I wasn’t happy. I wanted it to be in the correctly place…

However, anger and stubbornness had me shaking the quilt from the top to try to get it into place. The more it didn’t the more I became angry with it and increasingly aggressive.

I know it would have been easier to get out of bed to get the thing in place. I know that trying angrily to shake it from a semi-laying down position was totally the wrong way to do it!

But anger removed all rational thought and I became determined it was going to be shaken into place without me having to get out of bed.

The fight went on for about twenty minutes – such was my stubbornness – before it finally fell into place and I had secured the victory I wanted.

Another hour and the adrenaline had died down and I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, I managed to get up early and into work. I ached a bit but all seemed to be fine.

However, by 8am that evening I began to feel some chest pains; aches I couldn’t figure out where they came from.

That night I was in quite a lot of pain and found it difficult to sleep laying down so had to sit up. This stopped the chest from hurting so badly but had the effect of every hour on the hour of me having get out of bed to shake my arse – hula dancer style sans grass skirt – in order to restore the circulation in my buttocks quickly enough for me to get back into bed for another hour’s asleep.

I dread to think what the neighbours – if for some reason insomniac – would have thought if I hadn’t had my curtains closed and me being observed going through the hourly arse shaking ritual.

I am not sure I have much of a reputation for sanity in the street where I live. In the early part of this century I did some gardening – not something I do often – and filled about a dozen large sacks with garden waste. These I stacked in the small area outside my front room window. My friend Anecdote offered to load them in his estate car and take them to the tip.

All went well. We loaded the car – after a couple of beers – then made off to the tip. But, we were too late and it was closed. We had to bring the rubbish back.

Unfortunately, the neighbour who saw us load the car also witnessed us unloading and putting it back at the front of the house.

I could imagine him saying to his wife: ‘That bloke next door. He just loaded his garden rubbish into his friend’s car and took it for a ride round for half an hour…’

Anyway, I digress…

Finally, as is so often the case, a new day dawns and the pains are worse. Walking and breathing were difficult but I managed to get into work; albeit later than planned.

More or less as soon as I walked through the door Mrs Immediately noticed I was not well.

‘You look pale,’ she said. ‘Are you alright?’

‘A little achey,’ I responded.

Within five minutes of sitting down Mrs Immediately commented again. ‘You don’t look well.’

‘I’m alright,’ I replied, despite the pain.

‘You should get a doctor’s appointment.’

‘No, no I’m fine. It’ll probably go by the end of the day.’

Five minutes later.

‘You’re no better. You should ring the doctor,’ said Mrs Immediately; yet again.

I inwardly sighed. I knew I wouldn’t get any peace until I rang the doctor. When Mrs Immediately got the bit between her teeth she wouldn’t let go; never give in. It was unwise not to do what Mrs Immediately told you do…er..um well immediately.

And to be quite honest I wasn’t getting any better. I felt pretty bad the breath was becoming even more difficult and painful.

‘If you don’t want to do it then I will,’ she said.

I hadn’t reacted within a split second so she was onto me again.

I dialled the doctor’s number and got an appointment for 16:30 that day. If nothing else my ears wouldn’t get a bashing from Mrs Immediately.

Shortly afterwards I informed Topman and he was insistent that I go home now and not hang about. Topman wasn’t prepared to listen to a word of argument and went even further to tell me that he did not expect me in the next day.

So some half an hour later I was on my way home. I was walking quite slow but allowed enough time to get to the bus stop on time.

Once home I dozed and wake up half an hour before I was due for my doctor’s appointment. I decided I would get there early and began making my way.

It was this walk, normally no more than six or seven minutes, which brought home to me how bad the old chest was. I took twenty minutes to get there. It also helped me understand why Grandfather Fitrambler couldn’t walk very far in his later years.

Grandfather Fitrambler had breathing problems and, as I was finding myself, if you couldn’t take in enough oxygen then movement of any kind was difficult. It depleted your energy levels.

I got to the doctors, managed to get my breath back enough to tell them I had an appointment with the emergency doctor.

Ten minutes after my appointment was set for I got to see Dr Calm. I explained what was wrong.

‘Hmm,’ he said with a frown.

Then he got me to stand up and stood up himself. He stretched his arms straight out in front of him.

‘Put your arms on the outside of mine…’

I frowned but did as I was told. If this was the first stage of the beginning of some sort of Morris Dance…however the lack of the sound of bells from the direction of his knees took that thought out of my head. Besides, if he wanted to Morris Dance I would have pointed him in the direction of the Pink Lady; she was far more experience in that than I ever would be.

‘Now try and push my arms inwards,’ said Doctor Calm.

I did as he said and although it hurt managed to move his arms a little.

‘Hmm.’ he said.

He got me to sit down and then got me to do some deep breathing, which also resulted in pain. After that he clipped a device to my finger, checked the reading on it.

‘Hmm.’

I babbled within this time telling him that I thought it was probably strained muscles. Or probably hoping he’d say it was…

‘Hmm.’

He then got me to strip to the waist, listened to my back and chest.

‘Hmm.’ Then: ‘Ok, you can get dressed, please.’

I got dressed and then, once settled back in our respective seats he began to fill out the ‘Hmms.’

‘It could well be you strained the muscles in your chest. This would have the effect of making breathing painful. Shallow breathing means you’re not getting enough oxygen. The oxygen levels in your system seem to back that up. However, just to be safe, I’m going to book you in for an immediate ECG with the nurse. I’ll arrange an appointment for an x-ray tomorrow…’

Being the devoted drivelling coward that I am I asked: ‘Any chance of some painkillers.’

‘I’m not sure that would be a good idea…’ Doctor Calm replied as he tapped the keys on his computer.

I thought it was a great idea. Painkillers equals no pain and a happy Fitrambler…what’s not to like?

‘You can take some Paracetamol. But you need the pain so that we can see if you are getting better or not.’

For a few seconds I did consider grizzling but felt that probably wouldn’t change his mind.

Ten minutes later I was in the waiting room awaiting the call from the nurse.

Once I was called I shuffled my way into her office she smiled at me. I tried to smile back but because of the pain I probably grimaced; an expression more at home in a Hammer horror film.

She got me to strip to the waist and take off my footwear. My walking trainers were coming to the end of their life so some nose twitching accompanied this; but in a very English way nothing was mentioned.

I moved over to the trolley which was where I would lay down. I suddenly felt a cold sweat form. Laying down caused pain…I didn’t like this one bit.

What I didn’t predict was the pain I was going to go through trying to get on the trolley to lay down in the first place. I couldn’t use my arms to lever me on because that caused pain and I couldn’t lift my leg high enough to use that to get me on top.

However, while the nurse went to get the ECG machine I saw a chair by the trolley.

Ah ha!

I would use that as an intermediate stage to getting on the trolley. I raised my leg to the chair with minimal pain but then when I put the weight on the chair I must have been at the wrong angle. I slipped and sent the chair ten feet away from the trolley.

Unfortunately, I let out what can only be described as a girly-scream. If I’d had more chance to evaluate the pain I might have been better prepared and been able to let out a manlier scream but no, a girly one issue forth…

I got my breath back after a minute then went to get the chair back just as the nurse was coming in. She frowned at me.

‘I thought you would’ve been on the examination trolley by now?’

‘Working on it,’ I said.

She sat back on her seat while I struggled to get onto the trolley. She was untangling the wires for the ECG and then filling out some more paperwork while I struggled a second time only sending the chair a couple of feet and this time managing to suppress a potential girly scream!

Finally, I got on top of the trolley but when I tried to lay down and relax pain went through my chest and there was another stifled girly scream.

It seemed like hours I was there laying in pain but was only minutes and then the nurse got up and started to place the wires on the strategic parts of my anatomy.

‘You should have asked for help if you were having trouble getting on the trolley…’ she said.

Personally, I felt the yelps of pain and sending the chair flying a couple of times might have given her a clue but hey ho!

Once the tabs were placed on she started the ECG and then walked away just as tab felt off my side.

‘Tab’s fallen off.’

She carried on walking to the desk.

I repeated myself. ‘Tab’s fallen off!’

She seemed not to pay attention and went back to tapping her computer keyboard.

A few minutes later she came back and looked at the ECG then at my body and saw the loose tab.

She sighed. ‘You really should have said one of the tabs had come loose. We don’t want to be here all night…’

I went to say something but was in too much pain. She re-applied the offending tab and then walked away while the machine did its stuff.

This time there was a reading and she smiled. ‘Right, you can get down and get dressed now. All over.’

‘A bit of help, please,’ I said as I tried to get in a more upright position.

It was a wasted remark on her receding back. I struggled stifling an excessive amount of girly screams as pain shot through me.

I got to the chair a few minutes later just as the nurse looked up from her computer.

‘Not dressed yet, are we?’

Well, I wasn’t but she seemed ok.

I managed to get my clothes on and left the bow tie to sit in my pocket. I felt I didn’t want to inconvenience her any more than I had.

I slowly left the surgery and began what now seemed a long walk home. The physical pain I’d just been through was fading but the memory was pretty clear…

I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so bought a tin of soup from the corner shop before going home. It would be a simple thing to cook. And for what could be termed a red-letter day in diaries of those who knew me, I didn’t feel hungry.

Fortunately, there was not any permanent damage and I was surprised that the pain eased off within days. However, all those dire warnings about the dangers of alcohol and it turns out that the spilling of a pint of Apple and Blackcurrant squash was far more dangerous than any beer I’d drunk in the past or was likely to drink in the future…

31: Fall Out

Llandudno Junction

Llandudno Junction

They say lightening never strikes the same place twice…in fact “they” say a lot but I’ve yet to be told who “they” are? I feel that these “they” persons should discontinue their covert behavior and show themselves (or should that be “theyselves?”).

Well, on the old lightening thing I beg to differ…

It was a frustrating and annoying train journey that took the Pink Lady and I to Llandudno (Telling Tales 27: Arrival) and fate decided it would be an equally appalling journey that would take us home.

We finished breakfast at around 9.15am, finished any last-minute packing and then brought our bags down to the lounge. The Pink Lady wanted to have a last look at the sea front before we set of to catch our late morning train. I felt the old knee was up to that; and even if it hadn’t been I would have gone anyway.

Once back we said our usual goodbyes and not for the first time that week I noticed Mr Guest-House was a little subdued. This year he hadn’t seemed quite as friendly as the previous years; something was lacking. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But then, not everyone is up to salts all the time.

Once we said our final goodbyes we were off to the station.

To me it’s quite amazing that a train – in this case one that takes a 12-minute journey every half hour – that only has to go from Llandudno to Llandudno Junction and back again cannot be on time. Only two stops! Just two! Is it really too much to ask? Well, experience says it obviously is!

So, pulling along our luggage, the Pink Lady ahead as I struggled along doing my bad Long John Silver impression (sans parrot) as the knee was throbbing away…
After nearly two months I was getting quite fed up with the knee. It often lulled me into a false sense of security, made me think perhaps kit was going to be ok then pain…

It was the one hundredth time in the last few months that I made a mental note to get a doctor’s appointment once I got back home; I’d put it off long enough.

When the problem first occurred I thought – wanted to believe – it was a strained or pulled muscle. But having gone on so long without getting the slightest bit better, I suspected it was something far more serious.

It was with that in mind the old imagination started to kick in rather morbidly…

Most of us are aware that as you get older things don’t always work as well as they once did. Although throughout my younger years – right up until about my late forties – I gave it minimal thought; it was too far into the future. But what with the blood pressure and the very, very mild heart attack Dr Calm told me about back in the middle 00’s, I’d become a lot more aware of the fact that with each passing year things were unlikely to improve; I was passed my peak – presuppose I’d had a peak to pass.

The knee taking so long to heel was a point in fact. I’d pulled muscles before – one particularly bad case was due to Blackcurrant and Apple squash, although that’s another story. (No, really that is another story!) But most other muscle strains healed after relatively short periods of time; weeks rather than months.

I have never been someone who’s been into vast amounts of exercise like sport; even at school games was something I was expected to do rather than wanted to do. I hadn’t taken much interest in extra sporting activities out of school hours. However, one thing I’d always enjoyed was a walk and this was being hampered by the knee being so dodgy.

In previous holidays in North Wales The Pink Lady and I did rather a lot of walking. This holiday had been marred by me not being able to walk. I was getting to the stage where I seriously wondered whether it was ever going to heal!

Would this year mark the end of the Fitrambler walkies? Not being able to go much further than ten minutes walking distance from my house, no long walkies on holidays in North Wales, no long walkies while visiting the parents in Plymouth!

No long walkies anywhere!

It put me in the sort of depressed mood whereby I decided, that in my middle-fifties I would no longer be able to walk far; and whenever I did walk even the short distances I would have to take my walking stick. I felt it was far too early in life to be in possession of a walking stick; even thought it’s a rather nice walking stick! Although I suppose carrying a walking stick did have some advantages; one that springs readily to mind is accidentally prodding the flood of kids who crowd the early morning bus I needed to get me to work!

I was jerked out of my thoughts by the Llandudno Junction train finally pulling in five minutes late. The Pink Lady and I got on board. Fortunately, there were seats.

I let the Pink Lady choose where we sat. I would like to say that was purely out of chivalry, which in part it is, but there’s also something of a time-saving motive behind it. Nine times out of ten wherever decide to sit, The Pink Lady wants to sit elsewhere.

Once settle we waited and waited. Despite its lack of punctuality, it seemed in no hurry to depart. I was becoming increasing agitated and inclined towards a verbal expression of my unhappiness at what the rail company obviously loosely term as a ‘service’.

So, having pulled in five minutes late, it added a further five minutes’ delay and it was getting tight in regards to getting our connection at Llandudno Junction…

Finally, it pulled away and then informed us that the Deganwy stop was a request stop and so it wouldn’t stop unless requested. We were told this three times before we actually arrived at the stop. I suppose they were applying the rules so the lowest common denominator would understand; themselves…

I wasn’t the least bit surprised we didn’t get the connection we wanted. The one on which we had reserve seats; the very train that would have taken us through just over fifty percent of the journey without the need to charge hurried towards the next connection…No, that little pleasure was completely denied us…

So the result of all this was a free-for-all to get the bags secure and find somewhere to sit. Things weren’t totally against us as we managed to find seats despite the crowds. This was to be in my estimation the best part of the journey.

However, with regard to punctuality, this train performed no better than the previous one. We arrived at Birmingham New Street that, despite all attempts otherwise, always seemed cramped, dark and oppressive. My over active imagination convinced me you could make a good horror film at that station. I suspected, though, the station was such a depressing one that most people would deliberately fall into the arms of the mystery killer voluntarily!

I would probably rate Birmingham New Street as one of the worst stations I have ever had to deal with. It is a maze; even white mice have difficulty finding their way through it.

The Pink Lady and I separated and through mutual mis-direction by staff ended up with different ideas about which train to catch. The one The Pink Lady wanted to go on looked a little too crowded and I tried to say something but was given the look that would brook no argument from me.

So, wishing to avoid being slapped around the chops until my teeth rattled, I got on the train of her choice. To be honest, there was no guarantee the one I’d been directed to by the station staff would have been any better.
Unfortunately, the train we boarded wasn’t without faults – no surprises there.

There seemed to be only one coach which had several seats available; something that at face value seemed a plus. Quickly, though we found the carriage’s air conditioning wasn’t working. This meant sub-tropical temperatures for the journey.

I was prepared to risk that but The Pink Lady wasn’t, so we ended up in the corridor near the toilets; a convenience, conveniently nearby so to speak.
Within thirty minutes of the journey my knee was throbbing like mad and being near the toilet became less of a convenience. The Pink Lady was across the side which had a door and an open window.

Ten minutes into the journey…

‘You in the queue?’ I was asked.

‘What queue,’ I asked in return.

‘For the toilet.’

‘No, no, you go ahead,’ I replied.

It was one of those large toilets which you press buttons to get in, lock it and get out. Spacious though they are I have always been a bit wary of them. What it the electronics fail and the door suddenly slides open; there you are with your trousers down for all to see. Or worse, the door won’t unlock and you are trapped inside – in that sense they are almost as bad as lifts.

A few minutes later the guard came by with bottles of water which we secured a bottle each. It was the first drink I’d had since breakfast so even though warm, it hit the spot.

‘You in the queue?’ a voice said.

‘Sorry?’ I frowned, screwing the top back on my bottle of water.

‘The toilet? You in the queue.’

‘No, no I’m not,’ I replied.

The man moved forward into the toilet.

‘So you’re not in the queue for the toilet then?’ another voice said from directly behind me.

‘No, no I’m not. If I had been, then I would’ve gone in before the bloke who just did go in…’

The man sighed, shaking his head. ‘I’ve been bloody standing behind you for five minutes thinking you were in the queue for the toilet.’

A few minutes later the first man came out of the toilet and a few seconds later the second man walked past giving me a shake of his head.
Unfortunately, although in keeping with the type of day I was having, after the tenth time of being asked I rather lost it:

‘No, I’m not in a queue for the toilet! Perhaps I ought to get a tannoy announcement saying ‘the poor bastard with the walking stick, white hair and beard who has had to stand in the corridor where the toilet happens to be is not in a queue for the aforementioned toilet so don’t so sodding ask him ’.’

‘Alright, mate, alright. Just asked.’

He shuffled into the toilet looking as though my outburst had probably made it easier for him to carry out his business.

Over forty minutes later we reached Bristol Parkway, where after a wait we took the 18.01 to Swindon. Finally, seats and an uneventful journey back home, travel as it should be!

Just outside of the station The Pink Lady was picked up by her daughter. Feeling my knee can’t get any worse I walked the seven minute journey back to my house. Once home I felt I could relax a little and put behind me what must have been the worst holiday in North Wales since I began going there again in 2005.

There were some good highlights but most of what I knew would stick in my mind is my knee and the way it interfered with getting about.

However, the continuing saga of the knee wasn’t the only piece of bad luck linked to the holiday. When I received my usual Christmas Card from Mr & Mrs Guest-house it contained some rather bad news. They felt as we were regular guests we should have advanced notice that they were selling up; they were getting out of the guest house business.

This was rather a shock and very disorientating for old Fitrambler. I’d been going there ten years and it was hard to imagine staying anywhere else. Unfortunately, if we were to go back we would have to.

When I talked things over with the Pink Lady we decided we would miss a year. I still wanted to go back to Llandudno albeit staying at an untried Guest House or Hotel but there were rumblings that the Pink Lady would prefer using the closure of Audley House as prompt to try some other place.

When I think back to early 2005 when I was planning to have a holiday I planned on visiting all the places I hadn’t been to for many years, like Weymouth and Margate; the childhood holidays. Then I looked at Llandudno where Blameworthy and I went between 1981 and 1984. However, Llandudno was the place I settle for in 2005 and enjoyed it so much I returned for the next nine years.

I could see it was a good idea to try somewhere else but I also pined for a return to Llandudno at the same time. As it turned out it’s 2016 and we’ve not been back to Llandudno nor have we tried pastures new…

30: A,B & C

The Little Orme

The Little Orme

One of the things about two week holidays at the Guest House was you often got a change of guests on your second week. It might be because they have already finished their second week prior to me starting my first or were only having one week anyway. Whatever, change happens and you are faced with some new arrivals you will either get on with or not as the case may be.

Although, to be honest, the vast majority of the guests I rarely said much to other than ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ to. There were a few guests who took their holidays around their same time as I did; like Walkfar and his wife Walkless who tended to come Monday’s to Friday’s. They had been coming for twenty years or more but only lived less than an hour away by train in Flint.

It was at the beginning of my second week when I was in the lounge ten minutes before lunch was due to start when Mrs Guest-House entered the room. I am pretty much a creature of habit when it comes to my holiday routine and usually like to have a little read in the lounge about half an hour before dinner is served; so to speak.

It was too early for the evening meal so I was a little puzzled; old Fitrambler hates having the old taste buds tempted before time. So, when I am in the lounge and Mrs Guest-House comes in, rather like Pavlov’s dogs the old salvia glands go into overdrive.

‘We’ve got some new guests in tonight,’ she told me.

It wasn’t a regular occurrence to be told about guests in advance so I was a little surprised. The usual routine was to meet them during breakfast or the evening meal. They just suddenly appear and the ones you are use to seeing at that table have just as suddenly disappeared…

‘One of them is nearly 93 years old…’ added Mrs Guest-House.

I hoped I wasn’t going to be asked to sing happy birthday, the old Fitrambler warble wasn’t really up to much these days. Come to think of it it was never up to much.

‘She’s in pretty good shape for her age…’ continued Mrs Guest-House.

Now I wondered if Mrs Guest-House and her husband were going into the dating agency business? I Know I am knocking on a bit but even I felt I could aim for a woman a good thirty years below that!

I raised an eyebrow and this must have registered with her.

Mrs Guest-House enlightened me further. ‘They are regulars but they’ve never been here at the same time as you. They’re registered blind…’

I still wasn’t sure why I was being so enlightened. I do have an extreme fondness for dogs but was quite dubious about my ability to do impersonations of a guide dog…so I rather hoped they had brought their own! The nearest I got to barking was when I got something stuck in my throat; woe betide anyone who was standing in front of me when I freed it!

‘They do quite well for their age and disability. They’re very nice. They’ll be joining you for the evening meal.’

At first I thought she meant on the same table. It would be cramped because my table is usually only meant for two.

‘They’ll be on the table next to the window in front of yours,’ she told me.

Something of a relief, I thought. Nothing worse than being on an overcrowded table. There tends to be problems with getting food in the mouth. One wrong shove of the elbow and somebody else ends up with what was on your fork on their plate or worse, in their ear. One thing I’m disinclined to do and that is to share my nosh…very few have ever attempted to remove food from the Fitrambler plate and the few that have usually get a warning growl…and if that doesn’t put them off then embedding my molars in their hand usually helps them get the message!

It was five minutes later I was at my usual table when I heard Mrs Guest House and three other voices alternating. The voices sounded a little like Minnie Bannister and Henry Crunn from The Goons, save for a slight Midlands twang.

I guessed this would be ‘The Trio’ Mrs Guest House talked about earlier.

They emerged into the dining room with Mrs Guest House helping The Trio, giving them instructions as to where everything was and who was where in the room. I was mentioned along with my geographical position and I was then introduced to Mr and Mrs Makeit and their friend Mrs Withem.

They seemed a nice enough group. Mr Makeit, I decided after a few minutes, was obviously the ring leader and organiser of the group. He was also, I came to realise, the one who did most of the talking and explained things to them.

Mr Makeit stood about five-six, thinning brushed back hair, brown framed glasses with very thick lenses. He wore a jacket with a thin jumper separating it from his shirt. Mrs Makeit was a few inches taller, white haired and looked as though there was oriental blood from a few generations ago; it was the eyes that gave me that impression. She wore a jumper, slacks and sensible flat shoes but no socks. She moved well for her age and I later found out she was capable of doing ten press-ups. I thought that was quite impressive; it was something I couldn’t do. Not that it was something I would ever want to aspire to; I could think of many things I’d rather do than press-ups…not doing press-ups immediately sprang to mind.

Mrs Withem was shorter than Mr Makeit, thinner and seemed greyer, not just her hair but her mode of dress. Grey skirt, grey jumper and blouse. She wore smaller, more oval shaped glasses but with equally as thick lenses as Mr Makeit. Her hair was very thin and short.

They were from Stoke area, Hanley, which would explain the Midlands accent. He certainly mentioned the place many times over the next few days. He seemed well-informed about the area in which he lived, taking a great deal of interest in its history.

Mr and Mrs Makeit had been married for fifty-three years. I quite admired married couples who stayed together long stretches like that. Not everyone has what it takes to survive such a gruelling endurance test. Let’s be fair the divorce courts are full of people who swore to love each other forever!

Other than where I came from and being told where I was sitting and whether or not I drove here, their conversation remained strictly between themselves. Mr Makeit ensuring they all had what they needed, after Mr and Mrs Guest-House pointed out where the food was. Being in possession of a decent set of peepers I hadn’t thought about let alone had to go through the worry of where things might be on a dinner table; being able to see everything to hand was something I took for granted. But when you can’t see things all that well then the assistance given by Mr and Mrs Guest-House becomes vital; after all, no one wants to put their fingers into hot soup when the real aim was to pick up the soup spoon.

As was usually the case, once lunch was over coffee or tea was served in the front lounge. I rather liked that routine as it gave me thinking time about what had happened during the day; relive a few of the pleasant memories. The Trio and myself were the only ones there. They were talking amongst themselves or so I assumed so I got on with writing out my postcards. Then, there would be a silence, almost an unnatural silence. I would look up and see they were all looking ahead. Then Mr Makeit would ask a question again. It was greeted with silence for a second time. Then I realised he was talking to me!

Again it was a difference between me, a sighted person and them being blind; I would look directly at a person I was talking to but they didn’t. I suppose if you cannot see anyone all that well there was no real need to look at them.
Then, after he repeated the question a third time, I answered him and he proceeded to talked over the last part of my answer. He would continue for a minute or two asking me (or so I thought) whether I remembered something, perhaps a place and a person, only to find he was now talking to his wife and Mrs Withem. I learnt that talking to them you needed to listen and be aware at all times so you would know your cue. I couldn’t rely on being looked at when I was being spoken to.

I would go back into trying to get the postcards written as they chatted to each other and then suddenly out of the blue find I was back in the conversation. Of course I would have to get him to recap – he must have thought there was something wrong with the old Fitrambler lugs!

The two women didn’t make conversation and all communications went through Mr Makeit.

Finally, when they went to their rooms, I was able to finish writing out my postcards, then went out and posted them.

The next day I was early for breakfast and finished just after 9am. I spent a little time looking at the light drizzle outside from the lounge; working out what I would do if it was going to rain all day? Over the last five years of holidays get in Llandudno I’d always been lucky and never suffered all that much rain. Most of the time it might rain over night and for an hour or two in the morning but usually stop just as I was due to go out. That being the case I hadn’t been forced to look for alternatives to being out in the fresh air.

There was a little drizzling of rain but on inspection of the clouds over the Great Orme I decided it wouldn’t last long.

Twenty minutes later I saw a gap in the weather and nipped outside before the Trio came into the lounge from breakfast. Within two minutes of being outside it started to spot with rain again. I got up and then realised I’d left my keys on the small coffee table by the side of the armchair I’d been sat in. I stayed on the porch and cursed myself for my stupidity.

What I should have done was to ring the bell and got Mr or Mrs Guest-House to let me in but I thought the Trio would get there first and I didn’t really want to get into another confusing conversation with them. However, I decided I would wait until I could see Mrs Guest-House and then get her attention…

I looked through the glass in the door to see Mr Makeit staring at me. His glasses made him look like a bee staring through the bottom of two jam-jars. I almost jumped back; luckily I didn’t as I would have sent the poor old postie sprawling across the path. I hadn’t seen him come up behind me.

Mr Makeit probably hadn’t seen me but after nearly committing common assault on the postie, I panicked and knocked the door and Mr Makeit let me in but not before the postie had deposited the letters in the wall box, staring at me cautiously, looking for a warning move that would place him in harm’s way again. Trying to smile at him reassuringly didn’t help.

With the postie gone I thanked Mr Makeit for letting me in.

‘Forgot my keys,’ I said.

‘Ah, it’s you, Fitrambler,’ he said, as I got within ten inches of him. ‘I thought you’d gone out ages ago.’

‘I went out into the garden to see if it had stopped raining but forgot to take my keys…’ I more or less repeated when I said a few seconds ago.

Again I reflected how easy it was to take for granted how well one’s own peepers worked and so everyday recognition of people was so easy. Mr Makeit needed to be very close for a decent identification. It reminded me of Gloom-Laden and his similar eye problems easy to forget how bad his eyes are; although they were not as bad as Mr Makeit’s.

For a minute or two I thought he was going to block the way for the rest of the day, but he finally moved to one side and he followed me back into the other room.

‘Still raining,’ Mr Makeit announced to the two women.’

‘Oh,’ responded Mrs Makeit.

‘What’d he say,’ asked Miss Withem.

‘I said it’s still raining,’ replied Mr Makeit.

‘I know, you said,’ said Mrs Makeit.

‘I were telling, Miss Withem,’ said Mr Makeit to Mrs Makeit.

‘What’d he say…’ Miss Withem asked Mr Makeit.

‘I said I was telling you it’s raining.’

‘I know, you said, I heard you,’ responded Mrs Withem.

I sat down in my chair. It was a depressingly bad start to the day but the sun arrived at about 10am and I was able to got out for a walk day.

When I arrived for lunch later that day, the Trio were already in place. As soon as I entered the room I was introduced by Mrs Guest-House again. I almost felt I was expected to do five minutes of stand up. I sat at my seat, was asked by Mr Makeit what I did after I went out that morning.

I told him about my walk to Conwy and back again…

‘What’d he say?’ asked Miss Withem.

‘Is that the young man?’ chirped in Mrs Makeit.

‘Said he went for a walk,’ responded Mr Makeit.

‘Who did?’ asked Miss Withem.

‘Fitrambler,’ clarified Mr Makeit.

‘Is he here,’ asked Miss Withem.

‘Yes, he’s in his usual seat behind you, Miss Withem,’ said Mr Makeit.

‘Did he go for a walk?’ asked Mrs Makeit.

‘Yes he did,’ Mr Makeit replied and then said to me. ‘Was it you that passed us in the afternoon, about 1pm.’

‘Yes, I did,’ I said, swallowing my water.

‘What’d he say?’

‘He said he said hello when we were by the Church. Told you it were him, I recognised his voice.’ He turned to me. ‘I recognised your voice.’

‘Whose voice,’ asked Mrs Makeit.

‘Fitrambler’s.’

‘Is the young man here?’ inquired Mrs Makeit.

‘Yes, I told you,’ replied Mr Makeit.

‘She forgets,’ added Miss Withem. ‘She’s nearly 93.’

The soup came and for a while my participation in the conversation was over for a while. Mrs Guest-House gradually served everyone with a bowl of soup. She makes it clear – as she did with breakfast – where everything they need is on the table. Mr Guest House brought my soup and third for Mrs Makeit.

Once Mr and Mrs Guest-House had gone Kelvin played the organiser again making sure each knew what is what and that they have got what they need. Until he felt satisfied they were alright he didn’t worry about his own needs. I guessed that at home he ran around (so to speak) for them, cooking and making sure they were alright. He seemed to relish the role and more importantly it all worked well for them.

The soup was pea and ham, the main course was sausages and mash, with white cabbage and peas. The pudding was syrup sponge and custard. Ah, Fitrambler in paradise.

The next morning, I got down to breakfast at 8.40 and tucked to the usual cereal, the full English (or full Welsh as Mr Guest-House referred to it; although he is actually a Scotsman), followed by toast. It was this breakfast that always set me up for the day.

Most of my days on holiday in Llandudno followed the same basic pattern. The large breakfast, plenty of walking – different destinations each day – an hour break at lunch – generally made up of fruit and water. Then more walking until 6pm when I would sit down to a three course evening meal.

Just as I was on the last piece of toast, thinking to myself are breakfast’s getting quicker or am I just disposing of them faster when The Trio walked into the dining room. Again, Mr Makeit organised things for himself and the two women.

The more I watched him at work the more I admired his spirit. Mrs Makeit, at 93, was 17 years older than Mr Makeit. If things followed a chronological order, then there was every chance she would go first. How sad that would be when you centred your life around someone; facing that day when they are no longer there and a part of your life has become null and void.

It was a depressing thought and I quickly shuddered my way out of it.

I got back early that day being a Sunday, having gone not much further than a walk around the Great Orme; around five miles. By 4pm, the Trio turned up and the peace and quiet was shattered.

They fussed over their coats and getting comfortable, then ten minutes later Mrs Guest-House is on hand with hot tea for them and some sort of cake. Mrs Guest-House was good like that; a sort of female Jeeves who seems to suddenly appear when needed and always with the appropriate item. I wondered when she and her husband ever got time to rest up?

As usual, they were grateful with Mr Makeit leading the ‘thank you’s’. I was offered coffee but declined; never got a look-in on the cake, thought. Probably just as well, as the old Fitrambler cake-shelf needed the break.

Once settled in with their tea and cake Mr Makeit opened a conversation.

‘What did you get up to today?’

‘A walk round the Great…’

Mr Makeit interrupted and then took me through a little of what he and his wife and Mrs Withem did. I frowned but any attempt to look indignant at being talked over was rather wasted on him. I have a rather good disapproving stare but it was useless here. I could never understand people who ask you something but talk over you before you have had much of a chance to answer. Why ask in the first place? Why not just say ‘I won’t ask anything about you because, let’s face it, all I’m really interested in is what I have to say’. It would be a lot more honest and save me a lot of unnecessary effort.

Mr Makeit, however, was no worse than a lot of people I knew, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. These days I tend to take that sort of behaviour to as a good reason not to waste my time in engaging in conversation; as long as I can put half a dozen words together for them to interrupt everything set up nicely for their monologues. I can conserve my energy for other things…

Nearly and hour later Mr Makeit is organising his women upstairs for a viewing of ‘Songs Of Praise’. It is one of their favourite programmes and Mr Makeit wonders if I ever watch it. Mr Makeit never fails to catch it; whether away from home or not.

‘Not really,’ I replied, ‘ I have high blood pressure and shouldn’t allow myself to get too excited.’

Mr Makeit frowned and I remembered he probably couldn’t see my face and thus didn’t realise I was joking. I suspected, however, that even if he did it wouldn’t have had his sides splitting…

There’s a telly in the front room, but also all of the rooms have one so I was a little grateful they wanted to go to their rooms to watch it.

As usual, around 5.55pm The Trio are helped to lunch by Mr and Mrs Guest-House. As I walked into the dining room I am announced as usual – all very Agatha Christie.

On hearing I had arrived Mr Makeit tells me: ‘Songs of Praise’ was from Trafalgar today…’

I sat down, glad my burning curiosity over that was settled, and acknowledged what he said. He carried on about what songs were sung and who was on the programme. However, as soon as the soup arrived the conversation – albeit one way – was over.

The soup tonight was leak and potato. The main course was roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potato, new potatoes, peas, carrots, a jug of gravy and some horse radish sauce. The pudding was apple lattice tart and custard. (I mention this because Blameworthy would never forgive me for not sharing the information with him. I wish I had taken pictures.)

Again, once dinner was over with it was an adjournment to the lounge for tea or coffee.

‘Ever been to Handley,’ asked Mr Makeit, after we’d settled in our usual seats.

I looked around but both the women were looking downwards and as they came from there I deduced the question was for me. I can be quite quick on the uptake when I want to be.

‘Can’t say I have, the nearest I’ve been is Birming….’

‘No good supermarkets in Handley,’ Mr Makeit said.

‘Oh, quite a few where I co…’

‘The only Marks and Spencers was taken way…’ Mr Makeit mused.

I presumed the thief had a rather large swag bag…

‘Stoke’s not a great one for shops, and the pottery industry has gone…’

‘To pot,’ I responded dryly.

‘Yes, yes,’ Mr Makeit replied a little impatiently. ‘The pottery industry, it’s all gone.’

I suspected my inability to know when I was being spoken to and my failed quips led him to believe I was either slightly deaf or perhaps a tad imbecilic.

From there Mr Makeit told me he was seventy-five. I was a little surprised as I placed him more in his sixties. He met his wife while they worked in the Blind Workshops many years ago…

Mr Makeit had been friends Mrs Withit since she was eleven and he was nine. He married his wife in 1956, some fifty-three years ago and despite the age gap it worked well. Mrs Withit’s husband died some years ago and so diminished the gang by one.

Originally, I thought they all lived in the same house but Mr and Mrs Makeit lived in a terraced house in the same area as the one Mrs Withit lived in; an address in Hanley, Stoke. I suspected this was when they married.

The strange thing about conversations with Mr Makeit was that neither of the two women ever really joined in. If they spoke it was always through him. Whether they had hearing problems or didn’t like to speak to anyone other than Mr Makeit I never found out; although to be fair I never spoke directly to them much either.

The next day I missed The Trio at breakfast. I got down earlier and left earlier. It wasn’t that I was trying to avoid them but because I wanted to get out quickly to walk to Colwyn Bay. The weather looked good. The final destination was to be old Colwyn. When I walked to Colwyn Bay last year I hadn’t given myself much time to look around Old Colwyn so decide to explore it this time around.

The walk took about an hour and half and the predicted good weather ended up being in for the day. I broke one of my holiday rules and instead of having just fruit and perhaps a yogurt for breakfast I had fish and chips. The smell possessed me as I went past the third Fish and Chip shop; the willpower just collapsed.

I got back Llandudno at about three in the afternoon, treated myself to a Mint Magnum, which I ate on the sea-front not too far from the Peer. Having spent most of the day walking I relaxed there for nearly two hours. There’s something quite calming to watching the sea while nibbling on a Mint Magnum.

When dinner time finally cam around again Mr Makeit asked me again when I was going home; I was beginning to think he was trying to get rid of me..

‘Saturday,’ I told him.

‘We’re going back on Friday,’ he replied, telling me what he had already told me a couple of times already.

‘Did you go for a walk today?’

‘I walked to Colwyn Bay,’ I responded.

He asked about some of the sights and inquired about Old Colwyn. They never went too far beyond Llandudno and I guessed the logistics were very much against it with their disability. I suspected that even in their younger days it wouldn’t have been easy with their sight problems. It made me appreciate my holiday all the more, the walks and the sights I could enjoy. It also made me admire Mr Makeit and his wife and their friend, Mrs Withem. It wasn’t easy to get around like I could and holidays couldn’t be easy at times. It would be easy to just stick around where you lived and not dare to go anywhere. But they didn’t and enjoyed themselves despite their disability.

Once lunch was over I witnessed the first rebellion I had seen in the Trio. Mr Makeit wanted to go to a show but Mrs Makeit and Mrs Withem didn’t want to go and he wouldn’t go without them. He tried to compromise by suggesting they go for a short walk; but they didn’t want to do that either. I could see both sides – on the one hand making the most of the holiday and on the other being very tired from a busy day. Both women were older than Mr Makeit and so tired quicker. In the end they went to their rooms…

Another day, and another walk to Conwy, then the final evening meal with The Trio. I was in the lounge while The Trio are placed at their seats and then I was called into dinner.

Today, Mrs Withem wasn’t happy that her portion of Cottage pie seemed too big. Mrs Withem had had the best of starts to the meal; having mistaken the Pepper for the Salt and liberally sprinkled it over her soup. She then spent nearly ten minutes sneezing and that seemed to unsettle Mrs Makeit who knocked over a small pot with two artificial flowers in; no real harm done but frustrating for them.

After dinner there was a second rebellion. Mr Makeit wants to go for a walk again but what must have been another busy day for the two women had left them disinclined to go anyway other than their rooms for the evening. This time when the women went to their rooms Mr Makeit went off for a walk on his own but not as a very happy man. I suspected it was stubbornness on his part. He wasn’t prepared to go without a walk for a second day but at the same time knew he wouldn’t enjoy it without the two women.

It pointed out to me that like most people, things weren’t always perfect between them. But they got on better than a lot of people I knew.

Soon, The Trio’s last day arrived and although most of the contact I had been having with them was during meal times, I knew I was going to miss them. I had got quite use to having them around. Usually on the Llandudno holidays I never really got too friendly with anyone. Still, my own departure would be twenty-four hours later…

After breakfast I decided to go outside and wait at the table…well when I say wait I don’t mean take orders or anything, just sit watching the world go by…(ok, perhaps a little too pedantic there…)

As it was rather overcast I had put a jacket on. The taxi was supposed to be picking The Trio up at 9.30am. I was updating my diary and by 10.00am the bloke still hadn’t turned up. Maybe he was an ex-bus driver?

Mr Makeit came out and was as worried as I was becoming. Then a bloke turns up in a cab from a company called Z-Cars. He found a parking space, though at first I thought he was going to the wrong Guest House. But the street wasn’t the easiest to park in.

Minutes later I was helping with the cases and saying farewell my farewells.
Like with a lot of the guests I have seen over the first five years since I first returned to Llandudno as my annual holiday, I never knew whether I would see them again.

As it happened I never did. As of 2010 I wasn’t on holiday alone as the Pink Lady joined me for the next five years. Those next five holidays were also later in the year, no longer early June but mainly late July or August. But as was always the case, I was kept up to date about the people I got fond of by Mrs Guest-House…

Unfortunately, I found out in 2014 that Mrs Withem had died and Mrs Makeit was really struggling to get around; hardly surprising as she would have been about ninety-seven. They hadn’t had their holiday that year. I felt a little sadness as I thought about what Mr Makeit would do once Mrs Makeit died; I got the impression he didn’t have any other family or friends…who would do the job of looking after him as he had devotedly looked after his wife and her friend?

29: Many Happy Returns

Betws-y-coed at Last!

Betws-y-coed at Last!

 

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.

 

One of the Sights for me

One of the Sights for 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?

So relaxing.

So relaxing.

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.

Not Swallow Falls but nice anyway.

Not Swallow Falls but nice anyway.

 

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.

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Fitrambler!

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Fitrambler!

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.

The sheep and the legend of Goswop!

The sheep and the legend of Goswop!

“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.”

“Baa-ing.”

“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…”

“And?”

“And?”

“Yes, and?”

“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.

No Wonder The Welsh Are Always Singing!

No Wonder The Welsh Are Always Singing!

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.

A Train Station Adapting To The Times.

A Train Station Adapting To The Times.

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.

The Station Platform.

The Station Platform.

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 Everyone Waits For A Train On The Platform.

Not Everyone Waits For A Train On The Platform.

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….