blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A trip to the UK (part I)

I've just come back from visiting my mother and sister in Wales and my daughter in London.

From seat 13K on the outbound flight, I didn't have too good a view through the small window that was blocked by the chair back in front of me. I did get a glimpse of Hyde Park, with the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial, as we came in over London. The films I watched, half asleep, were a dramatisation of the Kon Tiki expedition, starring a handsome Norwegian called Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, and a love story in Chinese, Say Yes, some of which I could follow.

The boat arriving at Bute Park to ferry us to Cardiff Bay (£3)
My first full day with Mum started warm, so that she and I could wait for my sister in Cardiff's Bute Park at an outdoor café; it turned colder in the afternoon. We ambled along the herbaceous border and caught one of the Taff riverboats down to Cardiff Bay (Tiger Bay, as was) that has an increasing number of attractions, the latest being the Doctor Who Experience in a big blue shed at Porth Teigr. I think Chris and I would be more interested in the World of Boats next door and the "self drive boats" for hire from the wharf. A little Norwegian church, now an art gallery and tea shop, bears witness to the number of Norwegian immigrant sailors and their families who once felt homesick here. Faith and I looked at these places after a stylish lunch at the Côte Bistro, while Mum had a rest in the Millenium Centre foyer.

Cloisters, Hereford Cathedral
The next morning Mum and I set off to Hereford on a direct train from Cardiff Central, passing Cwmbrân, where Chris and I used to live, and Abergavenny, where we used to go hiking or bilberry-ing. The Welsh border hills looked lovely, with clear outlines and cloud shadows on them. Once off the train at Hereford, it wasn't too long a walk to our hotel, the Green Dragon, that makes the most of its history. There has been some sort of hostelry here since 1079, when the masons needed a lodging while they built the Cathedral, and where pilgrims stayed on their visits to the local shrines. The girl at the reception desk told us there were secret passages between the hotel and Cathedral, but they'd been bricked up. In the 18th century the building was a coaching house, and later, an omnibus brought guests to and from the trains. The livery stables were eventually turned into garages with accommodation for one's chauffeur. The hotel now seems to be the essence of decayed gentility, its Garrick Lounge in particular. "Step back in time when you enter with it’s [sic] comfortable sofas and arm chairs," as the website says. When we were in there playing Scrabble, the lounge was full of people from Up North on their last legs leg of a coach tour. There's a ballroom, too.

The population of Hereford seemed to have a high average age, that day. Mum and I lunched at the Antique Tea Shop, every table taken by aged customers like us(!), then looked at the "Old House" museum on Butchers' Row, neatly furnished in the Jacobean style for the edification of its visitors. Among other interesting things, it had a painting of Urania, the muse of Astronomers; upstairs I also learned that the phrase "sleep tight" refers to the ropes under people's beds, that used to keep their mattresses firm.

The nave of Hereford Cathedral
The Cathedral was 100m down the street from our hotel. We had some time to spare before Evensong, so walked through the flowery cloisters and then across Castle Green to the iron footbridge over the River Wye. The Evensong service featured responses by Tomkins and an anthem by Purcell. The cathedral choir was a good one and the Bible was well read, but Mum tells me that the older she gets, the less religious she feels (unless she's listening to one of the Passions by J.S. Bach). We repaired to the hotel, just in time for a buffet supper of roast turkey, etc., administered by Indian waiters.

I had a long day on Friday, beginning with a walk in the rain after breakfast. We crossed the river on the old stone bridge and walked along the other bank to the iron one, passing a class of kids from a privileged school, having a lesson on the river, in kayaks. The swans gave them a wide berth. After that, we visited the Mappa Mundi exhibition in the Cathedral precincts: fascinating to get an idea of the mental picture people had of the world in the thirteenth century. Mum bought me a tea towel version of it, to hang on our wall at home. After another lunch at the Antique Tea Shop, with our luggage, we walked back to the station and caught the Cardiff train. Later that afternoon I caught another series of trains to London, travelling in heavy rain all the way. I arrived with a dripping umbrella at the new Travelodge in Teddington at about 9pm, a far cry from Hereford's Green Dragon. Emma immediately came in to meet me and we spent two hours in the bar, talking avidly. At the other end of the room was a group of metrologists from Sierra Leone. Emma knew that, because she'd met them at the NPL, earlier on.

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