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….

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28: The Great Orme

Llandudno 242

 

Having slipped off to the land of nod at around 9.30pm the previous evening I awoke at about 6.30am. The first full day in Llandudno beckoned.

So after a shower I got dressed and took my MacBook Air outside and began detailing our rather irritating journey up to Llandudno in the fine early morning weather.

Getting near to 8.30am and the Pink Lady was peering out the front door at me. Breakfast awaits…tally ho!

Cereal, orange juice to start with, followed by full English and round off with toast and coffee. What better start to the day could a hungry Fitrambler want?

Once over the Pink Lady was anxious to get to the sea front so we walked to the East Beach – the one with the pier. It was something of a tradition we walk round the Great Orme on a Sunday. I have to admit with the leg being a bit dodgy I wasn’t so keen…

However, after ten minutes sitting looking out to sea, the Pink Lady became restless and we started off. The knee didn’t feel too bad so I thought perhaps I might get away with it.

The Long & Winding Road.

The Long & Winding Road.

The plan was to stop at the Rest & Be Thankful – nothing new over the years – before continuing the journey. Last year it was the old back playing up but it did at least behave for all the long walks. I remember I didn’t stop walking at quite a pace until I reached the Rest & Be Thankful. I left the Pink Lady behind as I was frightened if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get going again. By the time the Pink Lady arrived I’d finished my first cup of Earl Grey. I offered to get her a drink but I think she might’ve been a little miffed at me for charging ahead.

Anyway, she got her own and also delighted in taking pictures of the stained glass at the entrance. Cheered her up somewhat.

Spectacular View.

Spectacular View.

I was on the final length of hill leading to the Rest & Be Thankful when I began to find it rather difficult going. It wasn’t so much the knee but both the legs were getting quite tired. I guessed this was down to not doing enough pre-holiday walking in.

But I got there with the Pink Lady and we decided on coffee. We found a table and as is often the case as soon as I got comfortable she wanted to move to another table.

Rest & BE Thankful - I was!

Rest & BE Thankful – I was!

‘They’ve moved the glass,’ said she, once we settled at the second table.

‘Oh,’ said I. Then frowned. ‘What glass?’ I looked around the table.

She signalled to the wall above the table where there was stained glass.

‘Ah,’ exclaimed I. ‘Been a bit of movement since last year as the counter’s in a different place.’

‘I took a picture of that last year and it looked better with the light shining through it.’

She was right. I remembered it was rather a good photo.

We stayed about half and hour before starting on the last half of the journey. This time it would be mainly down hill therefore easier.

We stopped after twenty minutes and the Pink Lady used her binoculars to look out. From where we were I pointed out the direction in which Bangor lay. Two years ago we went there (and yes, yes, ‘didn’t we have a lovely day the day we went to Bangor’. Better get that in before anyone else does!) and stood on the pier. By going nearly to the end we found we could make out the Great Orme with our binoculars.

When on Bangor pier, right at the end, we could see across to Beaumaris. I mentioned this but the Pink Lady was more concerned with a lighthouse.

‘It’s not actually on the land but in the sea. It’s to the right of two sail boats and that little island.’

The little island is Puffin Island. You can’t actually go there without the permission of the owner. It’s classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There are boat trips around it, some arranged by the RSPB and operate out of Beaumaris, Anglesey.

The next stop caught us at a point where below in 1940 the Royal Artillery’s Coastal Gunnery School was located. Now there are only the foundation but where we were resting was a board showing details about them. The actual installations were dismantled by the 1950s.

The Final Stretch!

The Final Stretch!

It was not long after this stop that the knee began to play up. Damn thing! I was hobbling and really making use of the walking stick.

By the time we were off the Great Orme and onto the West Beach I was grateful to find a bench to sit on.

‘You need to take something for the pain,’ suggested the Pink Lady. ‘Ibuprofen, a muscle relaxant would help.’

‘Not sure I can take it with the blood pressure tablets I’m on.’

‘Might be an idea to get a support bandage.’

We rested for a while and then I noticed the road train. The Pink Lady and I rode on that last year. I was reluctant then but this year there was a certain appeal as it would take me within an easier walking distance of the Guest House.

The Pink Lady decided to walk and I paid my £1.50 single journey ticket. Obviously I got to the other end but as with all train journeys these days there was a delay at one point; a bus was blocking the route by being parked where it shouldn’t. Some things never change.

The Pink Lady and I a little while later met at the monument. After a few minutes I made two suggestions. The first involved getting some fruit for dinner and the second one was a trip to Caffe Nero for a coffee.

We got the fruit and took it to the front to eat as we watched the sea and the blue sky. It wasn’t a bad day at all. I was beginning to feel hopeful about the holiday.

Once we’d eaten the second suggestion kicked in along with an amendment. Across from Caffe Nero there was a clothes shop she wanted to go to. Once she’d finished her customary Soya Milk Latte Grande she was across the road to the clothes shop.

I decided to get involved with some intellectual entertainment. Yep, a few games of Angry Birds on the iPad. Yeah, I know how to live! And also managed to sneak in a hot chocolate with a whipped cream topping sprinkled with chocolate bits. Which reminded me, over 24 hours here and not one Mint Magnum consumed!

The Pink Lady returned with carrier bags and a grin, having completed a successful shopping session. I was pleased. We’d both had fun in our respective ways.

We agreed to go back to the Guest House as my knee really giving me pain now.

Then a rest outside the Guest House with the sun shining brightly until the evening meal….Scotch Broth, Roast Beef and a jam sponge and custard…

We decided upon an evening in. I was a great big tired old Fitrambler….

27: Arrival

Such A Relief!

Such A Relief!

As it always seems to do the old annual jaunt to North Wales crept up on the Pink lady and I rather rapidly.

Normally I look forward to it but somehow I’ve done the old knee in and walking hasn’t been fun of late. Now I’m using a stick to walk – well two legs as well I don’t actually hop around on stick – and that rather dampens the usual long walks.

Still, it has it’s advantages. As I’ve been taking the bus part-way to work I’ve found that limping on with the stick ensures I always get a seat no matter how crowded the bus is.

Of course, besides the obvious pain at times and not being able to walk the distances, it does have drawbacks. Three times I’ve been helped across roads I didn’t want to cross! Hey ho!

Anyway back to the old Holiday.

The morning of the holiday I got up at my usual time of 7am and a lot of the moodiness had gone. I did a final check on the packing, had a spot of breakfast. Been on the toast and marmalade at weekends. I quite like that with black coffee. Of course I would normally have cereal, toast and white coffee at the weekends but the ‘fridge broke down a little while ago and being ‘fridge-less is a little awkward. Damn things just aren’t built to last these days. Only had it 25 years. I did think of fishing out the guarantee but the Pink Lady suggested I might well be wasting my time.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the holiday…

The Pink Lady and I agreed to meet up at Tesco’s. The sun was shining and as the time came to make my way to the rendezvous I began to feel the holiday spirit flow a little over me, despite the ache in the left knee.

Once I got to Tesco’s I sat at a bench and waited, watching people go by.

At about the appointed time the Pink Lady turned up and left me with her bags while she went and got the munchies for the journey.
Once that was accomplished we were off to the station to catch the train.

Immediately, the station announcements were full of cancelled and late trains but ours seemed to be holding up. Something of a relief as we would have 5 minutes to change trains at Newport Quay and we wouldn’t want to do that…

But then the first blow hit. Our train was on time but the one before it wasn’t so ours had to wait until the other had taken its passengers on board which led to us losing 6 minutes on our journey.

Not good!

Throughout that journey I was a little on edge as to whether the time would be made up. I asked the guard when we’d just left Bristol Parkway whether we’d make up the time.

‘Well, I’m checking with the driver and if we only going to be a few minutes late we’ll try and get the connecting train to hold. There’ll be an announcement…’

He strode off. I wasn’t optimistic. I’d had the feeling of doom and gloom over me. Maybe over the years I’d been infected by Mr Gloom-Laden, who would have enjoyed this disaster that was looming over us. Of course, he would have shifted the fault to Mr Blameworthy. He seemed to enjoy that. Goes to show, the vast majority of Blameworthy’s travel arrangement go to plan. Old Gloomers seems only to focus on those that don’t…Quite unreasonable in my book…

Anyway, the train wouldn’t hold and we were late and needless to say missed it!

Oh dear, I thought, most unfortunate.

Ok, more like I almost threw my cap down on the floor and stamped on it. But I’m British, damn it and we are not all that demonstrative. Besides, with my luck I’d have done further damage to the old knee.

With a couple of wraps dangled in front of me by the Pink Lady, the food distracted me and I munched for a few minutes. The old adrenaline stopped coursing and I was becalmed.

The train recommend was the Manchester Piccadilly. Even with my poor geographical knowledge I knew that wasn’t going to be a straight through train. Further investigation proved me right and we would have to change at Crewe to get the train through to Llandudno. We would have 11 minutes for the change.
After our experiences so far that amount of time could be quickly eaten away by a late train. So, I found out that there was a straight through train which left at 1.36pm, just under two hours time.

The Pink Lady left the choice to me and I decide we’d take the straight through train. Despite the wait it seemed the safest bet.
The chappie at the Enquiries desk told me it was Platform 4 which was across from us. After a further bit of munching we made our way down the platform to find a bout 100 steps to climb.

The Pink Lady took one look at the amount of steps and came to a sudden halt.

‘I can’t be doing with all those steps!’

I sighed under my breath. What other course was open to us. Higher a glider, get an Abseiling team to whisk us up? Put on jet packs? None of those remarks I made out loud as a smack round the chops usually offends…

‘There must be a lift!’ she said.

Must there, I thought?

Fortunately, there was a lift round the back. Or rather, unfortunately. I hate lifts. It’s the confinement and fear that the doors may not open thus leaving me trapped in a metal and concrete coffin.

But not wanting to appear the grizzling coward I held in all the whimpering and wining when the doors shut. It was either that or tackle the steps myself and with the ol’ leg playing up it was the lesser of two evils.

After two or three prayers – rather a miracle for me being something of a non-believer – we came to a halt at the appropriate floor. That was where you have that long pause – or rather it seems like it to me – before the doors blessedly open. Happily they did and I was out of there like a whippet off the starting blocks.

Of course, there was the lift down to platform 4 to deal with. The Pink Lady wasn’t prepared to descend loads of steps either.

Eventually we found a seat on the platform, I checked the board for our train and listen to the steady cancellation and train delay announcements that sporadically echoed throughout the station. With all that going on I wanted to be sure about the info I’d been given…

By about 1.05pm I decided to check the main board. Call me suspicious minded but the day hadn’t been all that wonderful transport-wise so far.

I got to the board to find the train we wanted would now leave from Platform 3. Oh Joy! As I made my way back to the Pink Lady I thought about how I was going to explain this without getting a clout? Or arriving in Llandudno looking rather like a Panda!

I was in luck. The Pink Lady took it rather well. Any suffering on my part was around having to use the lifts. Ten minutes later we were seated on Platform 3, more or less where we were forty minutes ago.

The good news was the train arrived on time. The bad was it left about four minutes late! Dinner in the Guest House is at 6pm and it’s never advisable to get between a Fitrambler and his nosebag. This bad start made me think we would be cutting it fine for the train to get to Llandudno Junction by 5.14pm. The Shuttle train to Llandudno left at 5.28pm. Miss that and the next one is 5.50pm. That would mean we’d end up at Llandudno Station at precisely nosebag time. Really not on!

We trundled along until we got to Shrewsbury where the train was put on hold. This was so that passengers of a connecting train which was late could get on board ours.

I wasn’t happy, not happy at all. They didn’t hold the other earlier train for us but these other blighters were going to be given the privilege. How really unfair.

So, ten minutes passed but I didn’t see a single passenger get on; not one! This is the sort of thing that starts off paranoia and conspiracy theories…

Ten minutes later we were off again!

We got to Chester and based on my estimates on how long it would take to get to Llandudno Junction we weren’t going to meet the connecting train…

As we pulled out of Chester Station the female announcer told us our next stop would be Newport.

Newport? Newport? We’d damn well come from Newport!

Then she announced all the stations called at on the way. All the ones we’d been through and those we expected to go through.

Fortunately, being an old hand at this travelling game, I recognised she was talking a lot of rot and we were heading towards Flint which was the correct station.

I got to speak to the guard who told me we were unlikely to get to Llandudno Junction until 5.45pm or a little later. That meant we’d be late for dinner. Late for dinner! I’m never late for dinner. It’s just unheard of. Better chance of Big Ben being a minute fast.

I almost felt like rattling off a letter to The Times…which shows just how angry I was!

I rang the Guest House and informed them. Seemed the decent thing to do.

However, the Guard got it wrong. We pulled in at Llandudno Junction at 5.24pm. I hurriedly limped towards the connecting train possibly leaving the Pink Lady behind. But, bad mannered as that might seem, one of us needed to try to hold the train at least for a minute while she caught up.

By the time we got to Llandudno and the Guess House we had nearly ten minutes to spare before I could tuck in to a well-needed evening meal…

Fitrambler in paradise…

 

Still, we could have been gassed and ended up Here!

Still, we could have been gassed and ended up Here!

26: The Time And The Place – Cardiff

The Big Sleep - Home for the Night

The Big Sleep – Home for the Night

Thinker turned into the entrance to our hotel, up a sharp, curved hill, and parked. His parking wasn’t great but then nor was mine. Sunny and I got out and Thinker decided he’d have another go. He pulled out in a wide ark with the intention of trying to park a little tighter. But by the time he’d completed the circle, a car with two women sneaked in front of him and took the place he intended to re-park in…

It was typical of our luck that day. When Sunny left Stevenage to go to Beaconsfield to take the rest of the Journey in Thinker’s car, his Satnav packed in. It delayed Sunny as he needed to get directions off Thinker.

Then, when they picked me up in Swindon, there was an accident on the motorway that literally added hours to our journey.

Hey ho!

I got out of the back of the car having been locked in one position almost literally for nearly three hours. My knees were playing up and I walked a few yards like a Groucho Marx impersonator – sans cigar!

We were about thirty or forty feet up. A road leading towards the centre of the city, running parallel with the hotel and another went off straight ahead. Park Inn and Cineworld on the left and Motorpoint Arena on the right leading on to a multi-floored glass structured shopping mall.

I took a couple of photos then walked back to the entrance of the hotel. I smiled as I remembered the name. The Big Sleep – I resisted doing a Humphrey Bogart lisp when talking to Sunny and Thinker; it was best as nobody suddenly jumped out at us with a gun.

We checked in after about a five-minute wait. Reception wasn’t overly fancy or large. At the opposite end to the check in desk there were a couple of armchairs. Beyond that was a refrigerate cabinet with soft drinks in and a bar further to the right of that.

There were two lifts and both Thinker and Sunny stood beside them, Sunny pressing the lift-call button. I noticed the lift next to it had an out-of-order sign on it.

After a couple of minutes Sunny pressed the lift call button again.

‘Taking its time, isn’t it?’ said Sunny.

I nodded. ‘Perhaps it’s having the same trouble as the other one.’

I pointed out the note on the doors of the other lift.

‘Maybe,’ Sunny gave the button another push.

But two minutes later we were still waiting.

Thinker looked at the door behind us. ‘Perhaps we’d better take the stairs.’

‘Good idea,’ I responded, with a great deal of enthusiasm.

‘You don’t like lifts, do you,’ said Sunny.

‘Um. No.’

Sunny smiled.

I defended myself. ‘Let’s face it, what if the one we got into suddenly got a bout of what put the other one out of commission? And if it got this bout while we were halfway between floors?’

‘Well, we’d have to be rescued,’ replied Sunny. ‘Sure it wouldn’t happen, though.’

‘Well, I’m not so confident. People have been known to get stuck in lifts…’

‘We won’t because we’re using the stairs…’

By the time we reached out rooms, the old Fitrambler lungs were going like a set of electric bellows on over-drive.

My room was large with a bathroom tagged on. A window ran the whole length of the room and showed more or less what I saw when we parked earlier. It made sure there was plenty of light in the room.

I unpacked my overnight bag, then washed and changed ready to meet Sunny in the corridor. Thinker got to us about twenty minutes later and we found the way down to the street.

‘Do you remember the way from what Topman told us?’ asked Thinker.

‘Of course,’ I replied, confidently.

Find a pub, not a problem. I’d been on trips with the expert pub sniffer; ‘Maps’ Blameworthy.

It didn’t seem as far as it looked on the maps and we were at The Yard within ten minutes.

Thinker and Sunny looked at the menu boards outside.

‘Sight of food is making me feel quite hungry,’ I remarked.

They both looked at me. Sunny said: ‘That’s not unusual.’

‘Not going to do Tom Jones on me, are you?’

They both frowned. I explained slowly. ‘Not…Unusual?…a Tom…Jones…song….’

My words tapered off as the hard stares continued. Well, you can’t come out with a gem all the time.

The front of The Yard had a newness to it that worried me but I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

We went inside. I got a sense of largeness, combined with a feel of lots of glittering metal around the bars. The pumps for the beer looked a little more like keg dispensers at first glance, which made me groan inside. There was a smell of food cooking, and I saw a metallic area where a couple of blokes in black t-shirts were cooking. Then to the right we saw Topman and Londontaff.

‘Londontaff’s in the chair,’ said Topman.

They weren’t too far into the beers that were in front of them, but how many were downed before we got there?

At the bar I decided to go with the Brains Dark.

Back at the table, Topman was talking of moving on.

‘I want you to taste Brains SA at its best, so as they haven’t got any on tonight, drink up, we’ll move on…’

We moved onto a place called The Cottage. A narrow-barred pub, more in line with what I considered to be a pub. They had Brains SA on. Londontaff and I found some seats while Thinker bought the round that Sunny and Topman brought back to the table.

The Cottage - The Second Pub

The Cottage – The Second Pub

 

They did have brains SA; but only it only rated 9/10 as far as Topman was concerned.

Of course, the convert in the team is Sunny. He used to be lager drinker. The only black mark I could put against his normally good character; since erased, I might add. He now enjoys a variety of ales, bottled and draught.

The next pub Topman took us to was the City Arms.

The City Arms - The Best Of The Night

The City Arms – The Best Of The Night

‘This one has been awarded CAMRA ‘Pub of the Year 2012’, and does serve a really good SA,’ Topman took delight in telling us
It was a packed pub with beers from Microbreweries as well as Brains, from which they sell Brains SA and Dark.

I have to say the SA was really good, much better than I’ve had anywhere else, even that night.

Later in the evening, when Topman, returned from buying a round at the bar, he said to me: ‘Can you do an American accent?’

It seemed a rather odd question.

‘Yes,’ I said, and demonstrated.

‘Good enough,’ he replied.

He didn’t explain himself at that moment in time, but brought up my second favourite subject after beer, food.

‘We’ve a few choices round here, and there is, the all-you-can-eat…does food from all over the world…’
My eyes probably glazed over at the last choice. ‘I quite like that one…’

‘Thought you might. Chinese, Indian, French, Japanese, Italian…Lots of variety…’

‘Actually, it was the ‘all you can eat’ bit that hooked me…To me, that’s like issuing a challenge…’
‘If we do go there, you will remember that other people will want to eat as well!’

Topman can be rather droll at times.

‘Yes, but at least if he’s eating he can’t do any of his jokes,’ said Thinker.

Once the latest round was drunk, we went out but not before Topman said: ‘See the woman at the stool by the bar…’ (I moved my eyes in the direction Topman was looking.) ‘Don’t look….’ (I wondered how I could see her if I didn’t look?) ‘But do the American accent as you go past.’

I still couldn’t work out what was going on, but I went along with it and used dialogue to suggest it was my first English pub and laid it on thick about the warm beer.

Once we were well away from the pub, Topman explained. ‘I saw her looking at you from the bar…’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, she reckoned she knew you, thought you were an American producer. Pro’bly the bow tie and jacket. So I went along with it and told her you were…’

‘As long as she doesn’t ask me for a job.’

We strolled around several pubs and places looking for somewhere to eat. Finally we settled where I would’ve been happy to go to all along. The All-You-Can-Eat.

(All you can eat – never get bored with hearing that.)

It was called Red Hot World.

Red Hot

Through a glass frontage in what is a shopping mall you are in a large room, rather like a big supermarket, but instead of shelves piled high with tins, packets and the like you there were tables and chairs in neat rows, in variety of reds. These ran for most of the floor ahead. To the left was a bar predominately in glass and silver, which served a nitro-keg beer and several lagers.

The chap who greeted us said there would be about a fifteen-minute wait. We chatted amongst ourselves and I noticed to the right of where we came was the food area. I could just see a few of the dishes through a wide entrance. The saliva glands went into overtime!

Time seemed to go by pretty quickly and we were shown a table on a Mezz floor. Once there we got a clean table, cutlery and told where to go for the food. Before the waiter could get the final word out, I was off and heading for the food.

The set up was shelves either side and sectioned off into cuisines of the world. The variety was stunning. The only disappointing thing for me was that even I couldn’t have a piece from every dish there. But I picked out mainly ones I hadn’t tried before, being an adventurous sort.

Unsurprisingly, I was the first one back to our table, my plate quite loaded (also unsurprisingly) and I was on my third mouthful by the time the others started to drift back.

Just A Few Odds and Ends To Get Me Started.

Just A Few Odds and Ends To Get Me Started.

Topman, seeing the way the food was stacked on my plate, commented: ‘You can go back a second time!’

Just before I shovelled another mouthful in, I said: ‘I will.’

Topman shook his head, then carried on with his own food.

I did go down for a second time, but called a halt there, well, as far as the main courses were concerned. Once I polished off seconds I helped myself to three puddings…

Once finished, I waited patiently for the others to finish theirs and then it was back to the City Arms for more beer.

It was a lot more crowded this time round, and fewer seats but I used my ‘getting old card’ to get a seat. As we were into the second round, Topman went off to the toilet and Thinker was pulling a face at his beer.

I asked him what was wrong, as he took another pull at the pint.

‘Tastes different,’ he said.

I looked at the colour and it was a little darker. I knew he’d ordered the same as me and realised he’d picked up the wrong beer. I told him so.

‘Ah,’ he said, putting down what we now knew to be Topman’s pint. It was missing a third. I wasn’t sure how much Topman drank or how much Thinker did, but Topman hadn’t long put it down when he got the round in.

Topman came back in, picked up his pint, frowned a little and I thought he was going to say something. But no, just that slight pause before putting away another third.

It was then I mentioned about the hotel and Thinker and Sunny agreed it was a pretty good one.

‘The rooms are big,’ said Sunny.

‘Like a converted office block,’ suggested Sunny.

‘Wonder what the breakfasts are like…’

Eight pairs of eyes gave me four Padding Bear hard stares.

‘What?’ I asked, injecting as much innocence into the word as I could.

There was shaking of heads, a couple of mutterings before Topman came up with an idea.

‘How about breakfast at my place?’

‘You sure Mrs Topman would be alright with that?’ said Londontaff.

‘No problem.’

‘I think you ought to ring her,’ insisted Londontaff.

A little more prodding and Topman went outside and called his wife. So, within fifteen minutes it was all arranged, we’d breakfast at Topman Towers in the morning, aiming to get there between 9.30 and 10.30am.

The next round was the last and Londontaff and Topman had to get the train back to Newport. Once Sunny, Thinker and I finished our drinks we made the decision to go back to our hotel.

‘We’re relying on you to get us back there,’ said Sunny.

I wasn’t sure why that was but I do have a good homing instinct, even after substantial amounts of beer. Maybe there was a little homing pigeon in the family lineage?

 

25: The Time And The Place – Stevenage

The First Pub Of The Evening.

The First Pub Of The Evening.

It was Topman who gave birth to the idea that led us to Stevenage.

There are four of us in our work team; all live quite a distance from each other so arranging an evening after work isn’t all that easy. Topman lives in Newport, Wales, Thinker lives in Beaconsfield, I live in Swindon and Sunny lives in Stevenage.

‘Why don’t we just have a night out in each of our home towns?’ suggested Topman.

We chose to do Sunny’s hometown first because he was the newest member of our team. Topman selected a reasonable hotel for the three members of the team who were playing away, in a manner of speaking…

The date decided on was the 19th July 2011. Topman played chauffeur and drove me to Stevenage just after mid-day.

Topman asked: ‘What d’you reckon on Sunny then?’

Sunny was the latest member of the team and replaced Smiler who left earlier in the year.

‘In what way?’ I asked, ever cautious.

‘I’ve got this feeling he could be a lager drinker.’

I frowned. It was a little disturbing. I’m sure a dark cloud appeared overhead.

‘Might not be…’

‘Well, when you gave him those two bottles of Black Sheep he seemed a little puzzled.’

‘I thought it was because he didn’t know much about our beer club.’

Within our team we often exchange bottles of beer we get from our travels.

‘No, he knew something about that…’

‘Hmm.’

‘Hmm.’

We got another fifty or more miles along before Topman spoke again.

‘I could be wrong…’

I nodded. ‘Yeah,’ I said, hopefully.

Once we got to the hotel, I took a shower and unpacked the change of clothes and bathroom toiletries. I was quite pleased with the room. It was spacious with large window, letting in plenty of light. The only problem was breakfast. When we booked in we were told we would have to have breakfast in our rooms. The dining room was to be used for a photo shoot early the next morning.

'What A Lovely Room'

‘What A Lovely Room’

I showered and changed, then, at around 5pm, we decided to go for the first beer while we waited for the others to arrive.

Topman was dressed into casual top and shorts. I couldn’t ever remember wearing shorts except at school. Lots of blokes these days do when going drinking. Having legs like albino twiglets I always tended to refrain from wearing them…

I located a place just round the corner – almost literally – called The Chequers. We made for there and found it was a Greene King pub; which is hardly surprising in a Greene King Dominated area.

Not a bad place, large bar and plenty of Rugby photographs about the walls, it brought back some memories for Topman. Being a Welshman, Rugby featured quite prominently in his life…

We both had the IPA. It wasn’t bad. But it would never hit my top ten. Actually, probably not the top twenty…

We were there for ten minutes when my ability to attract irritating little tics kicked in. He looked about middle to late thirties. His hair was short and dark. He was wearing jeans, trainers and a shirt along with some sort of sleeveless jacket. There was a white plastic bag by his feet. From the look in his eyes I guessed he’d been there a while.

‘So where do you come from?’ he chipped in as Topman was in mid-sentence.

‘Swindon,’ I replied.

‘Newport,’ Topman said.

He frowned as he digested the information.

‘You know each other?’ he asked, again interrupting our conversation.

‘We work together,’ said Topman; to try to deflect supplementary questions he added. ‘We’re meeting up with our work colleagues. One of them lives in Stevenage.’

‘Oh.’

He took some more time to digest this latest piece of information, then piped up again. ‘Who do you work for?’

We told him. Then what did we do. Then it a dissection on whether there was any point to it.

After about fifteen minutes, which seemed more like an hour, he got up, insisted on shaking our hands and wobbled his way out.

‘Sorry about that,’ I said to Topman.

‘No need for you to be sorry, it’s not your fault.’

‘Happens all the time, dogged by it; irritating little tics seem to latch onto me.’

We put away a second pint then Topman decided we should move on. We walked on towards the old town centre. It was only about five minutes before we got to the next pub, the Coach and Horses.

I wasn’t too keen on this one. Noisy; lots of shed-building music (thump, thump, bang, bang), no clips on the beer pumps; and a barman you almost expected to do a couple of Saturday Night Fever moves before he served you.

Greene King again and food!

Greene King again and food!

‘Any real beer?’ asked Topman.

‘Sorry, waiting for a delivery….’

I suspected he’d been waiting for that delivery for years. I would’ve left at that point but Topman convinced me to make do with John Smiths.

We went outside with what the pub dubiously called beer and sat at a bench.

We were just discussing when we thought Thinker and Sunny might turn up when Thinker rang.

‘That was Thinker,’ he told me.

‘Is he at the hotel yet?’ I asked.

‘Um, he’s in the car park at Tesco’s,’ replied Topman.

‘O.K.’ I frowned, ‘Doing the weekly shop?’

‘He’s a little lost and I’ve given him directions…’

‘Right.’

‘Better get back to the hotel, in case Thinker needs further help. Sunny should have arrived by now,’ suggested Topman.

Before we got any further let me explain some things about Thinker. He’s in his early thirties, around five-seven and of a very pleasant disposition. He is probably one of the most intelligent chaps I have ever met, but sometimes the minutiae of life can cause him a little trouble. Topman and I agree he has all the attributes to make a good Doctor Who.

As we’re approaching the hotel Thinker turns up in his car.

As Thinker stops alongside us, Topman leans towards the open window.

‘Found us then?’

‘Um, yes. The map I used took me to Tesco’s car park. I saw the hotel from the road but took the wrong turning.’

Topman frowned. ‘Why didn’t you use your SatNav?’

‘Ah, um, well, I’ve, er, lent it to my sister.’

‘Ok. Anyway, the hotel is just round the corner, opposite the front of this big building,’ said Topman pointing to the large building across the road.

You might think not a lot can go wrong in three hundred yards but one has to remember it’s Thinker we’re dealing with here…and to continue the Doctor Who analogy, like the TARDIS, Thinker’s car may not always end up where it should and rarely at the correct time.

We get back to the hotel, Thinker is just arriving in the car and Sunny is there, sat in the garden. He looked quite relaxed, casually dressed in polo shirt, jeans; no jacket.

Thinker tells us he’ll be about an hour, he wants to have a shower and get changed. So, rather than wait, off we went to the Chequers for the second time.

As Topman got the round in he glanced at me, then the lager pump, then Sunny. I knew what he was getting at. So when Sunny looked at the beers on offer and opted for lager, Topman gave me a ‘I told you so’ look.’

Well, no one is perfect.

It was while we were putting away the second round of a second visit to the Chequers when Londontaff joined us; Topman’s friend.

Shortly after, Thinker arrived and bought our fourth round. Shortly after disposing of that we were on the move again. Deeper into Stevenage old town where restaurants and other shops and more importantly, pubs lay in abundance…well, there were quite a few anyway.

The Pub That Did For Topman

The Pub That Did For Topman

The next pub was the Red Lion where we also ate a meal; nothing fancy just a steak and chips job for me. After this we made our way to a place called 2 Dry. For the first time that evening we got away from Greene King beers and moved to McMullen’s.

It was this pub that will always, in my opinion, be well-remembered by Topman. It was the wide-open staring eyes, not seeing, with so much sadness in them. Then the almost whispered:

‘Five pounds a pint!’

I patted his shoulder in sympathy, as did Londontaff and Thinker. We all hoped we’d move on before the next round.

‘I didn’t realise that when I asked for it,’ said Sunny, feeling a tad guilty.

The most expensive drink on the round as the beers came in cheaper, even Londontaff’s Guinness…

‘Five quid a pint,’ Topman mumbled again. He was still staring almost unseeing.

‘Anyway, McMullen’s makes a change from Greene King,’ I said, trying to move the subject along.

Topman looked at me, took me by the shoulders and shook me. ‘Five pounds a pint.’

Being a friend of long-standing, Londontaff, stepped in turned Topman around slapped him around the chops.

Topman shook his head, looked at his own beer, down to half a pint. The spell was broken.

I was feeling a little tired as the old pins for some reason were giving me a little trouble. There was a small table next our group and one chair. As the oldest I lay claim to it.

‘That’s the good thing about the beard going white, young kids give up their seats for me on the bus. I could also crap myself now and get away with it…People would just say, ‘poor old sod, getting old, can’t control his functions anymore…’ I told Londontaff.

Londontaff grinned…

Mrs Londontaff joined us and we stayed another half hour before the party went their separate ways. Sunny off to his house somewhere in Stevenage, Mr and Mrs Londontaff back to London – Mrs Londontaff driving, being the sober one, and Topman, Thinker and I to our hotel…

I awoke at about 8am the next morning and within half an hour was showered and dressed. I was about to ring down for breakfast when the telephone rang. It was reception.

‘Breakfast in the dining room,’ a voice informed me.

‘Oh, I thought it was to be in the bedroom.’

‘The dining room is now free. The photo shoot is not going ahead.’

‘Ok.’

I put the telephone down and shrugged. Although it might be a novelty having breakfast in my room I preferred it at a proper table.

I rang Topman. ‘Breakfast in the dining room.’

‘I thought we were supposed to have it in our rooms?’

‘The dining room is now free. The photo shoot is not going ahead’

‘Ok.’

I then rang Thinker.

‘Breakfast in the dining room.’

‘I thought we were supposed to have it in our rooms?’

‘The dining room is now free. The photo shoot is not going ahead.’

Ok.’

I began to get this terrible bout of déjà vu. It rather disoriented me for a while.

Unsurprisingly, as there was food involved, I was the first one down for breakfast. There didn’t seem to be anyone else. Either we were the only guests or the only ones who were having breakfast.

Within five minutes a waiter appeared and I went for the full English with coffee and toast. Well, what other choice could I possibly make?

Shortly afterwards, Topman arrived and about fifteen minutes after him, Thinker.

As soon as Thinker sat down both Topman and I thought he didn’t look all that good. But he bravely managed a full English washed down with lots of black coffee. It took him a bit of time but he got there. A real trooper.

Mine slid down rather quickly and I’m embarrassed to say I could’ve put away another quite easily….

24: A Death In The Family

133 Commercial Road – No longer Residential

They cremated Uncle Fitrambler, on a cold windy Friday in early March. Grey clouds haunted the skies threatening, at some point to rain.
There are only three males left with the Fitrambler name now. My father, Cousin Fitrambler, (Uncle Fitrambler’s son) and me. All of Dad’s brothers and sisters are now gone, he’s the only one left.

I am older than my sister and therefore the chances are she will bury me rather than me burying her. I selfishly have to admit I prefer it that way.

It was all of six years since I last visited the Crematorium. Not too surprising, after all it’s not on my list of ‘good days out in Swindon’, nor most people’s, I suppose. Although it’s a funny old world so there might be some out there who would rate it highly in the ‘fun things to do’ category. The last visit was in 2006 when Nicechap, a good friend of mine was cremated there.

Nothing changed much about the surroundings. You can see a lot of the countryside as you get out of the car. Green fields and a few trees, but with a blemish of a large warehouse complex, an industrial estate some mile or so away, but visible. It seemed to ruin things, put out the natural balance of the landscape.
Being a little higher up, I felt a cooler wind than the one blowing when I left home. It was about ten past eleven and I wished I had brought a coat, but my it was still on a peg at home, where I left it in my haste to get going.

Like Uncle Fitrambler, Mum and Dad were brought up in Swindon. Dad is nearly eighty now and Mum is younger – it does not befit a gentleman to reveal the age of a lady, even one’s mother. They no longer live in Swindon, having moved to Plymouth in 1999, where my sister lives. Caslindy brought them up. She moved to Plymouth after her marriage back in April 1984. Caslindy had to work the next day so the family were only up for the day.

I liked Uncle Fitrambler, liked him a lot. It has been just over a year since I wrote about him on this blog.

Uncle Fitrambler would often visit me on a Sunday because that would the time he was most likely to catch me in. He would never stay long and in all the visits he made to my house in the twenty-six years since I have live there, he only accepted a cup of tea once. Maybe that says something about my tea? He was never much of a conversationalist, mostly said the same things on every visit, the most important of which, in his view, was news on my mother and father. And of course there was what, if he had been a comedian, could be called his catchphrase, “There’s nobody about”; which referred to the fact he had outlived all of his friends and most of his family.

The longest visit I can recall was some ten years ago, that visit was just over half an hour and I had got him onto the subject of the past. Now I wish I had made more notes of what he said. I may have learnt a little more about the Fitrambler side of the family from a different perspective. The trouble is we often think there’s more time than there is…

There were many aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. Some I liked, some I would say I was quite indifferent about.

However, of all them, Uncle Fitrambler was the one who I always had contact with throughout my life.

Although I would not remember the occasion I first met Uncle Fitrambler at number 113 Commercial Road. This would have been in November 1957, a few days after I was born.

The place where I first lived is now Lloyds TSB, having been knocked down and rebuilt. But in1957, like most properties in Commercial Road, it was residential. Living there then, besides Uncle Fitrambler and myself were Mum, Dad, Gran and Gramp. Like a lot of sons and Caslindydaughters of that era, living at home until you married (and quite often afterwards) was quite common. Buying a house of your own then was rare for the majority.

One of the stories I have been told relates to a time when Uncle Fitrambler returned from the pub. He was not drunk but certainly under the influence – something I would learn a great deal about. He leaned over the pram to look at his nephew. Unfortunately, the pram tipped up and I went out.

Dad was not all that happy and once I was back, safely in the pram, Dad made his feeling know. Uncle Fitrambler felt really guilty and would not go to bed until be was positive I was alright.

I sometimes wonder if the beer I may have smelt on Uncle Fitrambler’s breath and the sensation of falling all those years ago helped me associate falling over and alcohol together; and as such accepted it quite philosophically in later years.

We moved on to Ripon Way, Park South when I was around two years old. It was then that I can recall early memories of Uncle Jim. I remember him as a quiet man who spent a lot of time behind a newspaper. So many memories buried in my head I cannot retrieve, but I do remember we had a wall paper in a blue, which was rather like small tiles and there was a patch where Uncle Fitrambler’s head rested when he sat at the kitchen table, where the Brylcream he wore in those days, stained. I can never ever remember his hair being anything other than neat and in place.

Good hair and lots of it have always been a Fitrambler trait.

When I was just passed five, the trio of Gran, Gramp and Uncle Jim left Ripon Way for a place of their own in Harding Street – no longer there but built over with pubs, hotels a car park etc, as was John Street and Shepherd Street. There Gran, Gramp and Uncle Fitrambler lived for many years until Uncle Fitrambler got married.

Those trio of streets were, I have since found, named after the man who owned the fields on which they were built, his name John Shepherd Harding.
I have always thought that they left Ripon Way because there was to be another Fitrambler, this time of the female variety entering number 3 Ripon way; my sister. So room was needed. I moved out of my parents bedroom and into the room that Gran and Gramp had used, and the third bedroom – called a box-room – would be where Caslindy would live once she grew to the appropriate age.

My second residence where I spent my childhood with friends like Velocipede.

It was a little while after they left, while experiencing my first year at infants school I was also going through a first wave of bullying; something that would follow me throughout my years at infants and junior school.

I remember confessing this to my father one night just before lights out in my bedroom. It was then I heard a story that my father has repeated many times over the years about Uncle Fitrambler.

“He was bullied at school, as well,” Dad told me.

I raised a suspicious eyebrow. It seemed to me at the time an unlikely coincidence.

“Yes, by a bloke who was a lot bigger than him. Used to get on at him all the time.”

I frowned, being bigger than Uncle Fitrambler was obviously a lot less embarrassing than being bullied by a midget…

“Your Uncle would come home crying and your Gran got fed up with it. She said to him the only way to deal with a bully was to fight them, stand up to them…”

I continued to listen, although I was not sure I liked the way the conversation was going.

“So, she said, if you don’t fight him then I’ll hit you..”

I considered my own situation. Was Dad suggesting that if I didn’t stand up and fight my bullies he would belt me one. Oh, tip top. A belting at school and a belting at home. Life is so sweet…

Dad went on: “So, Gran took Your Uncle to the bully’s house and spoke to the bully’s mother. She said your son has been bullying my son. Well, let ‘em sort it out now. Uncle Fitrambler wasn’t keen…”

Nor would I bloody be, I thought. I never was told how much bigger the bloke was who was bullying Uncle Fitrambler, but the two that were giving me problems were nearly six inches taller than me.

“But she made them face off against each other…Your Uncle was scared but he did beat him…”
When the bullying got to me, Dad would often tell that story. Fortunately, he didn’t do what Gran did and get me to face down my bullies. Uncle Fitrambler only had one bullying him, the tally in my life by aged six was up to half a dozen. It would not be so much a showdown to sort it out as a fully-fledged fight contest. I was not sure I would get passed the first round, so to speak. My opponents were also two years older than me, which is quite an age gap for a six year old.

I might just have a chance against eight year olds now, but would not necessarily put any money on it…

Uncle Fitrambler, prior to being called up into the army, was in the Home Guard. Although he was about seventeen at the time, he was in no way like a real life version of Private Pike from Dad’s Army.

Fortunately to my way of thinking World War II was over by the time he was of age. However he did do national service, where he learnt to box, and did quite well at it. A complete turn around from the bullying days.

Some years later my father, Aunty Oxford were preparing the room above The Fountain pub (now called the Pig On The Hill) for her wedding reception. They were taking some stuff out of the room and downstairs when they heard music. The piano was being played. Dad and Aunty Oxford were a little surprised as there was no one up there except Uncle Fitrambler…

When they went back upstairs it was Uncle Fitrambler who was playing the piano. Neither Dad nor Aunty Oxford knew he could play the piano. It was something he learnt to do in the army. I have since found out that Cousin Fitrambler, his son, never knew about his father being able to play.

Uncle Fitrambler managed to remain single for forty-odd years before he met Aunty Fitrambler. Shortly after that, Cousin Fitrambler was born. I have few memories of Cousin Fitrambler, despite living a couple of streets from him in the past twenty-six years.

On his many visits Uncle Fitrambler suggested Cousin Fitrambler and I should go for a drink together. I was not sure if Cousin Fitrambler or I would have much in common but I was willing to give it a go, despite him being about fourteen years between us. It never seemed to happen though. I have since found out that Cousin Fitrambler heard the same suggestion from his father but was also of the opinion we would not have all that much in common…

Funnily enough, it was a little after Aunty Fitrambler died that Cousin Fitrambler and I began to talk. All the times I used to go round there in the last few years and the odd occasions in decades past, Cousin Fitrambler was not in, always somewhere else.

It was in the last twenty years that Uncle Fitrambler used what I always termed his ‘catch-phrase’ – ‘there’s nobody about, nobody about any more’. It referred to the fact that he had outlived his friends and nearly all of his family.

His visits became less regular and the ability to walk well, becoming a shuffle. He had really begun to show his age, but he never gave in…

All these thoughts went through my head as we waited by the car until about fifteen minutes before the funeral was about to start.

As we approached the driveway near to the entrance, we saw another couple of cars pull up. It was ten minutes before the appointed time, or was it? I suddenly began to doubt myself. What if Uncle Fitrambler was inside and they were half way through the ceremony?

I did not fancy explaining that to my father, so casually, hands in pockets, I checked the roster. Panic over, I had got the time right. I relaxed a little.
Caslindy said: “Would you prefer to be buried or cremated.”

“Neither right now, despite the cold,” I retorted.

“I mean when you die.”

I felt Caslindy was being a little morbid; I suppose we were at the right place for it.

Moving the subject on, I brought our group around to Mum’s dad’s funeral. I was fond of Mum’s Dad, he was a really decent chap. But both Dad and I still have the memories of standing at the graveside, watching as they tried to lower a coffin into a grave that was not quite wide enough!

It was not funny. Dad and I knew it was not funny. It was not the right thing to do laugh during a funeral. Dad and I stood there trying not to laugh although I suspect from the back the shoulders could be seen twitching up and down and I certainly was in pain trying to pinch my lips together as tightly as possible. Caslindy and Mum maintained a better level of dignity than the male Fitramblers’.

Dad and I were just about getting ourselves under control when one of the chaps at the side of the grave tried to tap the coffin in with his foot, discretely.
Tears went down my cheeks but unfortunately not of the kind that they should have been! Our shoulders started to go again…

Back in the present I felt that little sister and Mum still were not amused, not really. I could not blame them..

Several groups of people began coming from the car park and out of the car (hearse) which pulled up earlier, Cousin Fitrambler got out. If I had not known better, then I would have though I was looking at a much younger Uncle Fitrambler, a lot of the characteristics were there…

We all exchanged a few words whereby Cousin Fitrambler thanked us for coming. There seemed quite a few others there. I would later find out that these were neighbours of Uncle Fitrambler. We went inside and took our place on the family side of the benches, on the right.

It looked the same, like everything, including the walls, were made out of wood. Not too reassuring if the coffin burner went rogue…

I did not listen too much to the woman who spoke about Uncle Fitrambler, his life and the son he left behind. I was too busy thinking about the man himself, what he meant to me and the memories we had created.

Quite a few people filed up to the coffin afterwards, Cousin Fitrambler first, then a couple from Aunty Fitrambler’s side. Dad went up to the coffee of his brother, I hung back until he, my sister and everyone else had left. Unlike everyone else I needed to pay my last respects alone.

I walked up to the coffin, touched it lightly, trying not to think too much about what was to happen to it once I left.

I just about managed to say:

“There really isn’t anyone about now, Uncle, nobody at all…”

23: If You Go Down To The Bakers Arms Today…

The Bakers Arms as I like to remember it.

The Bakers Arms as I like to remember it...

Closed,’ said Velocipede.

‘Closed?’

‘Looks like it to me,’ he insisted.

I sighed a little. We were just passed The Cricketers, having decided to move on from an unfortunately overcrowded Glue Pot. There was room on the benches outside, but the evening wasn’t a warm one, so without seats available inside, we decided to move on. It was something we rarely did on our monthly meetings.

I wasn’t too keen to move on because the Entire Stout was on, one of my favourite beers, but didn’t fancy having to stand all night. Well, the old back was playing up. It was part of the reason I was getting back into – slowly, mind you, doesn’t do to push these things – walking to work. Trying to re-establish a level of fitness seemed to be provoking the old spine and I’ve never been all that keen on Mr Pain.

Anyway, back to the point…

We got closer to the Bakers Arms. I was telling myself that it never looked all that bright a place from the outside. But then, it’d been at least a year since I’d last been in there; perhaps more.

We were within twenty yards of the Bakers Arms.

‘No, it’s alway been a little dull where the light’s concerned. See, there are thick coverings over the windows stopping the light getting out.

‘Hm.’

Velocipede was dubious. I was getting less convinced of my own spiel the nearer I got. I was beginning to feel disappointment coming on.

‘Quiet, too,’ added Velocipede.

‘It’s never been the noisiest of pubs anyway,’ I replied, still not giving up.

‘Hm,’ Velocipede responded.

‘No, not the Bakers, it can’t close. I can remember many a happy time Blameworthy and I spent in here. One of only a few pubs in Swindon we drank in with any great regularity. Yes, back in the 80s, when we were in our twenties. Use to put away a great deal of 3Bs then….how I ever got up for work in the morning I don’t know. Often three mid-week sessions…’

‘Closed,’ retorted Velocipede as we go the entrance, cutting me off in mid ‘memory lane’.

It did look dark, he had a point, darker than I remembered.

‘Two sets of doors,’ I said, ‘not so easy to see the light through.’

I could be quite stubborn sometimes, especially when I didn’t want to face an unpleasant truth. I tried the door. It wouldn’t budge.

‘Closed!’ I mumbled.

‘Penny’s dropped,’ mumbled Velocipede.

I pretended not to hear.

‘Odd thing, though,’ Velocipede added. ‘The opening times are pasted up on the inside of the window.’

‘Probably months out of date,’ I sighed, trying to get back to reality, no matter how unpleasant.

‘Says spring opening times. It’s spring now isn’t it,’ mused Velocipede.

He was right. I looked at the opening times. It should’ve been open. I looked at the couple of benches out the front. I wondered it Blameworthy and I ever used those in the hundreds – possibly a thousand times we went into the place? I couldn’t remember, but then we’re talking over twenty years ago; possibly more.

A few memories drifted over. I’d played for the darts team very briefly. I’d been recruited by a chap Blameworthy and I referred to only as The Cap; short for Captain. Not particularly original, but there you go.

Blameworthy and I often played darts in there, while consuming copious amounts of three Bs. There was a bench seat along the wall with the window to the outside world and the dartboard wall met it some twelve or more feet from the table we always tried to get. Nobody sat on the bench when we played darts, but then once you’ve narrowly missed losing an eye, you do tend to be a little more particular where you sit.

I must’ve been having one of my better nights when the Cap came along to join in. We didn’t usually like to get involved in groups or play anyone but each other, but we there were no plans to move on, so Cap was in.

We played a couple of games when Cap asked if I’d like to play for the Bakers Team. I must’ve been a tad drunk – six pints of 3Bs tends to do that – because I agreed.

At that point Cap noticed Blameworthy was finishing one of the pint’s on the table. Cap’s permanent frown seemed to get even deeper than normal.

‘That’s my pint,’ he said indignantly to Blameworthy.

Blameworthy frowned slightly as he finished the last mouthful, looked at the glass, wiped his bearded chops, then looked back at the table. He picked up another half full pint of beer and said: ‘This must be mine then,’ and proceeded to empty that glass of beer as well.

So unashamedly did he do it that Cap was left there staring at his empty glass. I was caught between amazement that he’d actually done what he did and amusement at the recreation of a sketch I’m sure we once saw on a Benny Hill show.

I think it was at that point I distracted Cap about the next darts game and where it would be played. Shortly after that I believe we left. I don’t remember Blameworthy and I ever playing a game of darts with Cap again, nor seeing Cap let his pint of beer leave his site when Blameworthy was around.

The Bakers Arms was also where Blameworthy and I were subject to a challenge we just couldn’t resist.

There was a period of time in the early 1980s when the Bakers Arms was Managed by a chap called Hummer and his wife. In my mind, probably the best landlord the place ever had. Hummer had a predilection for singing as he went around the bar, or collected glasses or closed the curtains. ‘Paper Roses’ was a favourite, as was ‘Jealous Guy’, the latter belted out in a style somewhat similar to Bryan Ferry.

But what we found out in Hummer’s era was there was a group of locals who when time was called always hung back. Over a period of time we got curious about this and found out he served people he could trust after hours. Not strictly legal and a precedent which haunted quite a few landlords who followed.
Eventually, Blameworthy and I became part of that group and would often take advantage of a few extra pints after hours. However, we noticed we always left before any of the other privileged people did.

‘Wonder how long they go on before they close,‘ mused Blameworthy, one night when we left after putting away about ten pints. It was after 1am.
I shrugged. ‘Can’t be all that long.’

‘Hmm, I wonder.’

And wonder we did for quite some time. Then, one Summer night, a Friday, June 1983, which was unusual as we rarely went out at weekends, Blameworthy and I walked up to the bar in the Bakers Arms at around 8pm.

There weren’t all that many in the pub at this time, but we worked away at the beer and played some darts. Last orders came.

‘I’m going to keep going up until they stop serving us,’ said Blameworthy.

I gave Blameworthy the thumbs up, not because I couldn’t think of anything to say but because my mouth after ten pints was a little slow espousing the words quickly enough.

It was after finishing the thirteenth pint that Blameworthy came back from the bar, grinning.

‘They’ve refused to serve me!’

It’s not often either of us are happy when refused service at a public house, but on this occasion we felt we’d outlasted the landlord’s keenest to serve with our keenest to consume.

‘We did it then?’

‘Yep.’

(Please note that all the words spoken by Blameworthy and I at the time would have been slurred and really hard to understand after the aforementioned thirteen pints. However, as anyone who drinks above average amounts will tell you, if you and the person you are drinking consume equal amounts of beer, their ears are able to translate slurred and disjointed speech with such efficiency that either would think the other perfectly sober and remarkably eloquent.)

We walked home pleased with our victory. Last ones out and refused service!

I smiled to myself as the memories poured back into the old noggin. Velocipede and I were still strolling to and fro by the corner pub when I noticed my second disappointment of the evening.

The Bakers Arms sign remained in place, but above the side window were the words: Irish Pub.

Irish Pub? Irish Pub?

I sighed out loud, not a happy bunny, thinking that had it been open it would have had an Irish theme to it. Perish forbid! If I wanted to experience an Irish theme I’d go to Ireland, I’m sure they’re better at it than us. Besides, the thought of all that didily dee music quite turned my stomach.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the Irish any more than any other nationality, but usually these sort of theme pubs tend to be insults to the type of pub they’re supposed to be emulating.

‘It’s closed, ha, ha!’

I don’t know about Velocipede but I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was the cackle of a laugh at the end of his pronouncement that did it, not his appearance. I’d seen the rather dumpy figure approaching through the shadows out of the corner of my eye.

The Bakers Arms almost like a scene from The Exorcist...

Almost like a scene from the Exorcist...

‘It’s showing a Spring Openings time notice in the window.’

‘Closed! Been closed since a’fore Christmas…ha, ha!’ retorted the squat figure, with a head something like an egg with a crew cut.

The most curious thing about the head was that it appeared to have only one eye on the left hand side – his left hand side, that is. It wasn’t until he got a little closer that I notice he did have two eyes in the conventional positions either side of a straight nose. It was just that one eyes was squinting and the other wide open to, I guessed, compensate for narrower vision of the other.

‘Yep. Closed, ha, ha!’ he retorted again.

He reminded me of a Frankenstein assistant from the thirties films or indeed any mad scientist assistant who generally seemed to be saddled with the name Igor.

Our Igor paused about ten feet from us. It would have been closed had we not stepped back to maintain an exclusion zone of around ten feet.

This was getting to be rather much for me. The first blow was The Bakers Arms being closed, the second blow was at some point between my last visit and now it’d been given an Irish theme, and now we have a refuge from a thirties horror film.

‘Why did it close?’

‘Before Christmas, ha, ha!’

‘Do you know why?’ I repeated as he obviously didn’t understand the question first time around.

This time Igor shrugged.

‘Dunno, ha, ha!’

I wasn’t sure why the ‘ha, ha’ had to go on the end of every sentence or the accompanying cackle but on a dark night with little street lighting and near a closed pub, it was getting quite atmospheric. Unfortunately, not an an atmosphere I liked.

‘But it has a Spring Opening times notice…’ insisted Velocipede; who’d been the first to notice it was closed.

‘Closed last year, ha, ha!’

Velocipede and I looked at each other and shrugged. No Bakers Arms to sup in. Would it ever re-open? I was still trying to come to terms with the Duke of Wellington having closed down last year. It felt like someone had it in for my favourite drinking holes.

‘Whaaaahooo, ha, ha,’ Igor yelled out.

We jumped again, the cry going right through us, being so unexpected.

Igor was no longer interested in us but in three women about thirty yards away near to The Cricketers. One of the girls called out, slightly less demonstrably. The girls halted a while, looking to see who’d cried out.

Perhaps one of them was Mrs Igor and it was their ritual mating call?

They seemed to stare at Igor for a while, then as he got closer they went inside The Cricketers. I’m not sure whether that was where they were going to meet or so that they could avoid young Igor?

Velocipede and I, thwarted in our efforts to drink in The Bakers Arms, decided to go back to the rather crowded Glue Pot. Not a bad thing, the Entire Stout was on rather good form that night from my point of view and Velocipede had been enjoying his beer.

As we walked passed The Cricketers, Velocipede broke the silence that had formed.

‘Was he pissed or mentally challenged?’ he asked.

‘I would’ve said pissed if it wasn’t for the look in his eye and he could walk in a straight line!’ I replied.

We walked a dozen or so more paces.

‘Mentally challenged?’ I queried.

‘Well, a bloody nutter!’

‘Quite…’

22: Nuisance Value

 

The Offending Fuse Box

 

First there was the washing machine. It was first installed in the Fitrambler Kitchen in 1999, and as I write is now twelve years old.

Unfortunately, as I said to the Pink Lady: “Things just aren’t built to last these days.”

She looked at me and sighed. “Twelve years is good for a washing machine.”

“I beg to differ. My ‘fridge is near on twenty-five years old and is still going,” I said; my fingers crossed behind my back, hoping it wouldn’t join the washing machine.

“Most washing machines these days don’t last more than four or five years, Fitrambler.”

My eyebrows shot up so far they almost left my forehead, fortunately m cap was there to stop them. “Five years! Five bloody years? Is that what I’ve got to look forward to? My next washing machine only lasting five years?”

The stare I got told me what I needed to know. A five year cycle on washing machines whether I liked it or not.

“It’s a bloody con! That’s all I can say!”

“The trouble with you, Fitrambler, is you just hate opening your wallet unless it’s for beer or gadgets!”

“I resent that remark.”

“Then buy a washing machine!”

“I’ll be looking soon…”

“This’ll go on for months just like it did with the bike.”

“Yee of little faith. I’ll get one sorted out. I’ve already spoken to Neatentidy and he’ll fit it for me.”

“You can always get the shop you buy it from to do that!”

“Well, Neatentidy fitted in the other one and will know his way around the connections…”

“You mean he won’t charge you and the company will…”

“You have a suspicious mind. And it’s not strictly true. He designed the kitchen, remember, so he’s better placed to get the new one connected. It’s a matter of trust rather than money.”

The Pink Lady gave me the look that always told me she wasn’t convinced.

When it came to doing the washing I felt sure I’d seen a laundrette near me recently. The last time I needed to use a laundrette was for about six months in 1999. There was a laundrette ten minutes away for many years but two weeks before I needed it the bloody thing burnt down. The one I had to use was just over twenty-five minutes walk away, which meant fifty minutes walking time and just over an hour to do the washing. It was Summer when I began but by the time I was nearing the end – when the new washing machine was due to be plumbed in – it was dark nights, cold or wet and the novelty of the walk had quickly worn off.

So, the following Sunday I looked for the laundrette I was sure I’d seen near to home; although the cynical part of me felt I probably imagined it. However, within five minutes I’d found it and returned home to get the washing.

Once I entered the laundrette the relief was short-lived. First I realised I hadn’t brought any washing powder or conditioner; so straight away was forced to part with £1.50 to buy some from the chap running the place. Then I realise it wasn’t going to be a simple matter, like a shop, going in, get what you want and get out. I’d forgotten about the previous experiences with a laundrette. There’s no guarantee that there will be a washing machine free, the wash takes about twenty-nine minutes and then you’ve got to hope one of the driers will be free immediately after, or the time in there is extended even further.

Needless to say, I had to wait ten minutes for a washing machine which would be big enough to take the amount of washing I’d brought, then there seemed to be one hell of a bigger queue for the driers; mainly due to most people using the place for just the driers after doing the actual wash at home.

I was in there for nearly two hours and parted with a total of £7.50. It wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences and it made me shudder to think I was going to have to go through this every week until I bought a new washing machine.

Still, I’d get the washing machine organised next week…

But I didn’t. Work was busy so I never got around to having a full lunch break so never got time to check the internet and I was getting home in the evenings after 7pm most nights so by the time I’d eaten and washed up, I was too tired to bother.

By the following week I’d agreed to do another job, a change from the usual. From the 28th November I would work at another site 2pm until 10pm. I was offered the 6am to 2pm shift first off, but somehow the thought of having to get up at 4am in the morning in order to get in on time for the start of the shift held little by way of appeal..

The secondment would be for about four weeks and would involve managing a team of Temps. It was also at a site the opposite side to where I normally worked in the town.

The following weekend, I got up early on the Sunday, after I’d decided to Something like two weeks later I got up early on a Sunday morning, I’d decided to get the washing out of the way early. Come back for dinner, wash up and then that left the whole afternoon free.

It sounded like a plan.

I was up around 8am, had breakfast and once finished I idled away time until the laundrette opened. Things went off-plan when I let myself get caught up in shredding papers and sorting out recycling rubbish for the bin men on Wednesday. So involved, that it was around 11.30 that I’d remembered the planned early visit to the laundrette.

I thought about dashing off, then remembered that there was no way to be sure how long I’d be in the place, and the old stomach hated to be kept waiting beyond mid-day for its Sunday feed. So I decided to do lunch first.

A quick meal, fish, sweet corn, carrots and potatoes. I got the stuff out of the ‘freezer and placed the fish on a tray and into the oven. I switched on the oven, the clock light went out, then came on and then went out again.

I shrugged, I wasn’t trying to time the cooking so what did it matter. Then, I realised I couldn’t hear the fan from the over. The light wasn’t on inside the oven either. Strange. So I then tried the hob. No heat.

If it hadn’t been that I’d seen the clock on for a few seconds, I would have thought I’d forgotten to turn on the cooker at the socket. I did check the socket, just to be sure, but it was switch on. The ‘fridge also worked off that circuit, so I put my ear to the ‘fridge to listen for it making a noise. It wasn’t. Great.
But all was not lost. It was, I decided, not a really a big deal. So I got the toolbox out, took hold of a screwdriver and fuse wire and opened the door to the cupboard under the stairs. I could see the appropriate fuse carrying a slight brown stain. It confirmed it. The fuse had blown. Been there before, earlier in the last decade the lights’ fuse went through a phase of blowing. The trouble was, then I wasn’t as well organised as I am now. I did have the right screwdriver and the fuse wire but not in an easily (or indeed known) assessable place.

I took hold of the offending fuse and within split-second of its removal, it fell to bits in my hand.

I wasn’t happy, hence I said out loud: “How terribly inconvenient.” Or words meaning more or less the same thing.

After a few minutes, after the pain in my toe died down – I kicked something which hadn’t seemed all that hard but had been – I decided to take stock. What was the worse thing about the situation?

No Cooker. No fridge. Hmm, well, no cooker wasn’t the end of the world short term. But the fridge was a problem. This fuse problem had hit just after I had filled it up with food and now it would slowly defrost.

Even my capacious appetite would have a problem shovelling that lot down within a few days.

Then of course a touch of common sense intruded on the blind panic. Whereas the cooker was part of the socket itself, the ‘fridge plugged into the socket. So, all I needed to do was plug it into another socket. And as luck would have it , there was a double socket a less than eighteen inches away. Only one plug in use and that was for the microwave.

So, I unplugged the ‘fridge and tried to plug it into the other socket. The lead wasn’t long enough.

A glance to the heavens; thwarted again!

I thought for a few seconds and came up with another solution. I got a spare extension lead. It wasn’t ideal, but I plugged the ‘fridge in and smiled as I waited for the ‘fridge to burst into life…

It didn’t.

I listened but the fridge didn’t make a sound. Great. So the ‘fridge was screwed now as well.

I swore, decided to do the washing at the laundrette, I couldn’t be bothered to deal with it now. Not that I was sure I knew how to deal with it.

I got two paces inside the dining room and there was a shudder and the fridge kicked into action. It must have been trying to piss me off even more than I was already pissed off.

So, a little relieved I went to the laundrette, which seemed more packed out than usual and so it took a record two hours to get the washing done.

I was still in a bit of a mood when I got in, very hungry. So, I decided I’d have to microwave the fish and microwave oven chips instead of the other vegetables I’d intended to have. It was either that or crunch my way through frozen fish and chips.

I was sure that the Pink Lady recommended a nice hot bath to relieve stress. I usually did the bath thing in the evening on a Sunday but decided late afternoon was ok.

So upstairs I toddled and switched on the emersion heater, then went downstairs and looked up the route to the place I’d be working at on 28th November.
I went back forty minutes later and started to run the hot tap, which after five minutes was still pumping out cold water. Oh great! Had the fuse gone on that as well? I opened the cupboard and looked at the light near the switch. It was on so the fuse couldn’t have gone.

The only other cause I could think of was that the element had gone. It would be the fourth in the twenty-five years I’d lived in the house. The water being hard, tends to clog them up, or so I’ve been told.

OK. No bath. Kettle on and a body wash. Oh fun.

Before that another pressing need had to be taken care of. I sat on the thrown (for want of a politer term) and reflected on the day. It hadn’t been one of my best and I was hoping this was the end of it.

I’d just finished the paperwork (being polite again), when the toilet seat broke. It was leaning that did it…

I got up from my undignified position – being on the floor, trousers around your ankles and your arm through a toilet seat – and felt like throwing the toilet seat. The only trouble was, with my luck at the moment, I’d throw it at the inside wall and it would bounce back and go through the double-glazed windows!
I’ve never been must of a DIY enthusiast, I’m more of a GSE person – Get Someone Else…

However, when I mentioned my predicament to Neatentidy, he offered to come to the rescue.

Of course, being without a cooker wasn’t an idea situation. The amount of times I was forced to consume takeaway curries or Chinese…well, it was just torture.