Ah, Wales. My home from home. Land of My Fathers – Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau – although obviously not quite my fathers (perhaps ‘land from another mother’ would be more appropriate). Having spent nearly four years of my life there (both during uni and after I graduated), it’s always a treat to go back for the weekend and reminisce on those crazy years, the place I spent them in and the people I met. Plus, I was craving some much-needed respite from London Tahn.
This trip was mildly different from other Cardiff jaunts, in that this time I based myself in Swansea, where my best uni mate Colin now lives in a nifty flat on the Marina. I also travelled down with Graham, rather than on my own, and took the ‘ghost train’, rather than hammering it down the M4 corridor in my little bubble of a car.
We arrived on Friday evening, all kinds of exhausted. Graham took a disco nap while Col and I caught up on old times. Some spot-on conversations and many cups of tea later, we headed out past the boats on the Marina, and into town for some pizza. The main street in Swansea is Wind Street, a pedestrianised bar-swamped thoroughfare that has the rather accurate nickname ‘Wine Street’. I was coming down with a rather vicious cold and couldn’t quite believe that hot pants and bare arms and legs are still considered fashionable in Swansea (another striking similarity between Watford and Swansea high streets). Maybe I’m just getting older. Or colder.
Generally, Welsh locals are friendly and accommodating. We did have a passive-aggressive conversation with semi-inebriated fellow at a cashpoint, and I was reminded that it’s simply ‘the Welsh way’ to indulge in banter with strangers. We took a taxi to a slightly creepy out-of-town bar called Mozart, where we were the only punters but where we were informed that things only really got going at midnight. I had my doubts; it looked more like something out of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected than your average Swansea boozer. And when a hearse-like taxi playing a funeral march picked us up just before midnight, we knew sleep was the only logical option ahead.
Saturday dawned delightfully slowly, with a lovely lie-in and even lovelier cooked breakfast from Col. It was a sunny day but bitterly cold, and I was really starting to feel run down. Colin very kindly offered to drive us to Cardiff for a night out, stopping off on the way for a valleys walk in Glynneath, the village where he grew up. Outfit dilemmas aplenty, I chose something that I thought would be ‘practical’ for a walk and then adjusted for a night out in Cardiff.
Turns out, I was rather impractically attired for what turned out to be a long, freezing walk by a river to a point of natural beauty, the ‘lady’ waterfall (Scwd Gwladus). The boys had their fun trying to clamber across ice, rocks and branches, while I admired the large icicles, dark caves, and waterfall (from a safe distance).
Onwards to Cardiff, and a nostalgic return to my student haunts. Dinner at The Woodville (Scream pubs are the definition of ‘bargainous’, if indeed it was a word), pausing outside my old eleven-bed house on Glynrhondda Street, popping into the Union (Solus nightclub) and The Taf for a drink, cocktails and B-52s in Buffalo, Ten Feet Tall, then the indie club to end all indie clubs, Clwb Ifor Bach. God I love that place – so many great memories (and memory losses).
On the way back to the car, a house party was in full swing at my old address. I was very tempted to go in with the “I used to live here” line, but decided that it had had its day. Sometimes it’s better to leave memories unspoilt rather than fruitlessly attempt to keep reliving them. Because as much as it pains me to say it, I’m really really really not a student anymore.
We bumped into a couple of my old housemates coming out of Clwb, and arranged to meet up for food the next day in Mumbles, near Swansea. It was just so great to see them and indulge in some of our former uni banter. Mumbles or ‘The Mumbles’ (I was told I could say either) is an affluent seaside town going west towards the Atlantic. With its quaint houses along sea-facing cliffs it was sweet and scenic – made sweeter by all the ridiculously indulgent desserts and hot chocolates we ordered from a little place on the front. Having grown up in Hertfordshire, I always find it odd that people are so accustomed to seeing the sea. I find it a novelty still.
Our goodbyes and heartfelt thank to Col expressed, we were back in London after a mere four-hour train journey of head-cold hell. Going to Wales definitely feels like travelling abroad (Graham rightly observed that it “looked weird seeing only one language on signposts” again), and it also feels light years away from London. For me especially, it’s like recapturing another life, another version of myself that I sometimes forget I ever was. It’s nice to be reminded of her sometimes.