Notes from Wales (It’s near England)


I had a pie at the Chepstow Castle Inn, where a five-year-old occasionally plays the piano. On the 69 to Monmouth a moustache with a man behind told two ladies about an immigrant who got £10,000 to train to be a pilot. The ladies confirmed that British Airways had gone to the dogs. The moustache then mentioned his nephew who had graduated from Bristol University but couldn’t get an interview at Greggs the Baker. ‘They reckon he’ll jump ship when something better comes up. But it might never. There’s something up with that.’ The ladies reasoned that Greggs the Baker was very well-priced though.


monmouth church

I took a walk along the River Wye. As I passed the Rowing Club a dozen Pippa Middletons in identical leggings hauled a boat from its slumber. The boys were already on the water, being told through a megaphone to keep it up, which is surely a given when boating. I saw a small white church and found it pleasing because it was modest. (An important aspect of religion must be humility, and rarely is such a quality suggested by religious buildings. The more ornate the building, it can often seem, the more impertinent its clergy.) My thoughts were broken by the heavy breathing of a dozen Pippa Middletons, and also the A40, with its evergreen cargo hurrying this and that to here and there: pens to Bangor, cabbages to Pembroke, keyboards to Cardiff.


I spent much of the one hour journey along the North Wales coast looking out for miserable holiday resorts and talking with a man heading to a town neither of us could pronounce. He was going there to secure custom for his recruitment agency. We discussed the nature of his work for a while, agreeing that agencies are at best a necessary evil and at worst a sure way to drive down standards, waste money and disaffect staff.

toilet 14.20

At Llandudno (pronounced pot-fang-pink, or something equally unlikely) the station toilets are locked at 14.20 each day. It was 14.35 when I arrived. I wasn’t desperate or anything, just fancied going, so I asked a man in the ticket office why it was shut at this time, but failed to understand a word of his response. (Bloody Welsh immigrants.) I tried to perform my enquiry, charades-style, but this only served to embarrass him.

I went to my hostel and was checked-in by the two owners, one of whom was a kindly and soothing lady who quietly got on with the requisite paperwork, the other a younger man who finished all of his utterances, even the most inconsequential, with a short roar of laughter, which I enjoyed very much. I asked whether the continental breakfast happened to include Eggs Florentine (Florence being on the continent etc.) but was soberly assured that it was just Weetabix really, and that I would be sharing with a certain Mr Williamson, who had been behaving well this week. As I unpacked, the younger man acquainted me with the tea and coffee making facilities and demonstrated how a bunk-bed worked, waiting for a sign from me that I had understood perfectly before moving on to the next thing he wanted to demystify, like the sink. It was very sweet, really. I think he was just glad for the company.

ai weiwei The White House, by Ai Weiwei

I found, by chance, the Mostyn Art Gallery, established in the 1900s by the wife of one Lord Mostyn to exhibit the work of women artists. The current Lord Mostyn owns much of the town and much of London besides. I asked one of the gallery staff whether his Lordship cares for much of the artwork, which is of a subversive, anti-establishment bent. She said he comes in now and again, giggles a bit, tells everyone to keep up the good work and then sods off, no doubt to shoot something or fix up a cousin with an Austrian relative or order another miniature steam train for one of his stately homes.

And with that I went to Scotland.

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