I heard a truck, a light tap of a horn, and went to look out the front window as a slip of paper came through the letter box. It was an emergency notice from the water company that water was being shut off immediately so that emergency repairs could be carried out. I ran to fill up some big pots while Kate went with the notice next door. A minute later Jennifer appeared in her apron wondering what it was all about. I thought it extremely considerate of the company to warn us. However, we never noticed any interruption of service! ?????
John and I took our first day trip without the girls, postponed from a fortnight ago when we spotted Kate’s chicken pox. We poked around Rochester in Kent, seeing the old cathedral and castle. For the second time we’ve seen organ pipes painted, though these were more uniform than the ones in Gloucester. I found a silver and ebony stick locked in a case that was shaped like a shepherd’s crook, but it had an odd extra piece sticking out. I wish I could have seen it better because it might have been a device for blowing out tall candles. Armin, a college friend, told us they use a blower in Germany – air blown into the tube and aimed at the flame.
The ruins of the castle are still impressive. People are allowed to climb the five or six stories on the old twisting stairs, and all the openings of windows are fenced in. What a marvelous view of the city from way up in the air!
It was good to speak to Harold, Aunt Kay, and Howard on the phone for a few minutes. For those of you who don’t know, Harold is John’s cousin who was getting married on Feb. 27.
We set out for Cardiff, Wales, in rain hoping the weather would change for the better. It did – we could see the moon and stars much of the way, but that was the last we saw of the sky for the whole trip.
Cardiff Castle, with a few Roman walls and additions from every century thereafter, is in the center of the city. We climbed up the steep hill to the round keep. The children were fascinated by all the peacocks, so John and I were left to concentrate on the history of the place.
Cardiff is noted for shopping arcades, so we dutifully walked through several. We discovered one of the crafts of this area – hand-carved lovespoons. We think a man is supposed to carve one for his sweetheart, but the stores help out those with five thumbs.
Outside Cardiff is a folk museum laid out like a little village showing Wales of the past. Cheerful log fires were burning in every house. One friendly guide invited the children to sit close to the fire, actually inside the huge chimney, and to look up to the way it narrowed at the top. We tried a picture upstairs in a thatched cottage, trying to get the lovely underside of the thatch. Even in fairly primitive houses there were grandfather clocks. We liked the beds in the more comfortable houses – a mattress completely enclosed in a large wooden box. Must have been cozy. One guide pointed to what we thought was a stone floor. “No,” he said, “It’s made of earth, manure, and blood.” That accounted for its red colour.
We drove into the Welsh mountains, but the fog was so thick we could only see the side of the road. My impression of Wales is of green and grey – lush green grass, grey sky, grey buildings, grey earth. Coal mining is the main industry in the southern part. It is a poor land, though the miners are better paid now than they used to be. We saw Aberfan. Do you remember the tragedy of 10 – 15 years ago when a slag heap buried a school, killing most of the students? We saw no scar on the landscape; grass must have covered it now.
We all laughed the next day, even Lisa. We said, “Can’t you just imagine coming into your hotel room after a pleasant evening, relaxing in bed, and then hearing someone in the thin-walled bath next to you violently vomiting? Poor Lisa had been asleep, woke in time to aim the first bit in her own bed and got the rest into the toilet. John helped her in the bathroom as I stripped off her sheets and pillowcases before the mess soaked in. Kate calmly slept through it, but $ woke up, peered over the side of his cot, and mischievously imitated the (w)retched sound.
John $ had had a coke the night of Lisa’s sickness and was wide awake after all the excitement. His father fell asleep, woke with a start when $ made a sound, leapt out of bed, grabbed the boy, ran with him into the bathroom and thrust his head in the toilet, thinking he was about to throw up. Then he stopped to look at $ – white as a sheet, shaking, and a heartbeat going a mile a minute. The poor mite was scared stiff! He hadn’t a clue as to what was happening. We must have sat holding him for an hour after that traumatic experience; he would lie back not moving a muscle, but his eyes were sprung wide open. Never did get sick!
Parts of the Welsh mountains reminded us of the moors – no trees, sparse grass, marshy land, wild ponies and sheep grazing. Across major roads are cattle grids to keep animals away from villages. The sheep had long tails, even the ones penned in and obviously belonging to someone. All other sheep we’ve seen have had their tails docked.
Sunday morning we inquired at the hotel about the time of the service in the cathedral, but no one knew. We often get to church on time, though we never know if the service is at 9, 9:30, 10, or 11. There seems to be no set custom. This time we missed; the last hymn of a crowded communion service was being sung as we walked in at 10. We stood at the back until the processional ended, and a former headmaster of a school caught us to welcome us. He knew the history of the church thoroughly and had a knack of asking questions that would catch Kate’s interest. He showed her a picture in which a man appears to have six toes, a mouse carved in the underside of a kneeler, a squirrel in King David’s family tree, a stone carving of a pelican, and a peep hole from a side chapel to the altar of the lady chapel. He held us spellbound with the tale behind the six female angels and their placement in the church. Several times he made “witnessing” statements – if only all churches had such men alert on the front line!
The cathedral for Cardiff is called Llandaff Cathedral. The double “l” has a guttural sound, almost like “cl”.
On our way home, we went to Hereford to see the cathedral there. That church is very open; John spotted repairs in the marble floor where a choir screen once stood. In so many churches the screen obscures the altar and the whole front of the church.
We drove around Caerphilly castle, second in size only to Windsor, though it’s crumbling. We also saw the beautiful ruins of Tintern Abbey. The weather was against us most of the trip, but we had a good time. The hotel we stayed in two nights really has good ideas for family travel. We got a special rate for staying two nights at the weekend, and the price included breakfast for all and a three-course dinner for two adults. We paid one pound extra per night per child for the room and paid for their meals. They had a choice of things from a kiddie’s menu or anything from the regular menu at half price! It was not a costly holiday.
Back at home, I was measuring milk for pancakes when movement from the back garden caught my eye. It was a fox! It had a pointed muzzle, dainty legs, red fur, and a paint brush tail dipped in white paint. Beautiful.