Fourteen years on : Living the Dream in Llanfairfechan

Last Monday while I was waiting at the bus-stop for my transport to Llandudno I was joined by a charming young man who lives across the road and who has recently completed his degree in applied psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.  To make conversation, I mentioned the fact that fourteen years ago to the day we moved into our house.

‘I was eight,’ he replied with a smile.  I refrained from asking if he remembered an early confrontation we’d had when he and his little friend let down the tyres on our car.  He probably wouldn’t have: fourteen years is a big slice out of his 22, a passing moment in my 74.  This chance meeting set me thinking about some of the many changes that have occurred since my husband and I got into our little Hydundai Amica and set off from Leach Street, Prestwich, where we had been living for the past ten years, to start our new life in Maes Dolfor, Llanfairfechan.  We didn’t even know how to pronounce the names of some of the places we passed through on the way.

That being the case, we took immediate steps to remedy our ignorance of the Welsh language by enrolling on a course run by Bangor University, beginning in January 2003.  To my immense relief what had seemed like an insurmountable challenge before we started turned out to be a delightful experience which has enriched our lives ever since.  I even managed to distinguish myself by gaining ‘A’ grades in all the examinations up to ‘A’ level and winning a number of prizes for writing in Welsh.Version 3

This photograph was taken in 2005, when I was the proud winner of the Learners’ Chair at the Eisteddfod held in Bala.

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And  this one was taken at the Merched y Wawr annual conference in Machynlleth in 2010 when I won the Learners’ Writing Challenge for the second of three years in a row.  These successes led on to my being commissioned to write a series of articles about Welsh artists for a magazine called Y Faner Newydd.   This also was one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I was privileged to meet some of the giants of Welsh art.  Here I am with Gwilym Prichard and Claudia Williams in their fascinating home in Tenby. scan-27

And here I am with Clive Hicks-Jenkins at his equally wonderful residence outside Aberystwyth.

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At that time I was still painting, but within a short number of years I had developed cataracts on both eyes which finally put paid to any artistic endeavour, but not before I had exhibited my work in a number of locations.  This was at Theatr Gwynedd, Bangor in 2008.  The couple on the right in the photograph are John and Veronica Allan who started off as neighbours and then became friends, a friendship that lasted until John’s death in June this year.  He was a wonderful man and is greatly missed.  Veronica now lives at Cemaes Bay where she is surrounded by her many children and grandchildren.  A lovely woman who will always have her own special place in my heart. scan-19

Until the end of 2005, much of my spare time was taken up with travelling to Cardiff to visit my beloved father, who was in residential care because of his dementia.  Those years seemed an eternity at the time, and yet the 11 that have passed since we laid him to rest in the same grave as my mother at Coed Bel cemetery above Prestatyn have flown by.  Some wounds never really heal, but life must go on.

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As you can see from the above, Dad was still capable of enjoying himself until quite late in the progress of his illness.  This was us in Roath Park, Cardiff.  As if to compensate me for the loss of my darling Dad, I have been blessed with a new family.  I moved here with Louis Anthony Brady (b.13.9.44, m. 12.8.93), known as Tony.  Now he prefers to be known as Louis.  Through my marriage with him I have gained two daughters, two sons-in-law and three wonderful grandsons.

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This was Louis, his daughter Cathy and grandson Alex on the Bute Ferry last June.  Typical Scottish summer weather.

Ethan in a boat at Llanberis

And this is Master Ethan Brady Speakman, born in 2012 and the bringer of great happiness to his grandfather, his parents and relatives.

Over the last few years I have also been privileged to renew my friendship with two wonderful women.  I first met Susan Zaman on my first day as an ‘A’ level student at St. John’s College, Manchester in September 1965.  Two years ago we celebrated 50 years by booking into a hotel in Llandudno for dinner, bed and breakfast.  Since Susan retired from teaching three years ago we have been able to spend many happy hours together.

This was the two of us, above right, on our 50th anniversary.  The beautiful lady on the left, above, is Georgina Robson, my dear friend since the 1970s.  As an added bonus, Georgie and her husband Keith now live in Paris, so when it comes to a question of who should visit whom, it isn’t much of a contest!

This turn up for the books has necessitated my enrolling on a French language course, which I attend once a week in Llandudno before continuing on to my thrice-weekly gym-and-swim.  A painful shoulder condition has recently dictated that I have to attend a Pilates session once a week.  And with editing the Llanfairfechan page of the local Welsh language newspaper once a month, I’m fair run off my feet.

All in all, as you can see, the move has turned out to be something of a success.  We’re thinking of unpacking and making it a bit more permanent next year!  May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2017.  Cheers!

 

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Marks and Spencer’s: A Mecca for the Post-Menopausal

I freely admit that I very seldom visit the town about twelve miles to the east of the Village without ‘popping into Marks’, even if it is only to see what is reduced in the food hall.  I buy almost all of my clothes there: the trousers (size 14, length short) fit my shape well and on the whole I find things last.  I have tried buying elsewhere: knickers and bras from a specialist cut-price underwear emporium, sweaters from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and cheap tops for holidays from all over the place.  But I always come back to Marks in the end, while agreeing with other women of my age that ‘they’ve gone very dear’, ‘you can very seldom get what you want’ and ‘they’re not getting the colours right.’

My perambulations around Per Una, Indigo and Classic are concerned purely with seeing what is available and at what price, but I have noticed that other solitary (even if only temporarily) older women use the place as a kind of informal club.  They sit in the cafe hoping someone will join them and talk to them, they pester the saleswomen with impossible queries about future ranges and they quite brazenly come up to me and start conversations about the clothes on the rails which very quickly move on to their personal circumstances.

‘I’m looking for a gentleman.  And I mean a gentleman.  It must be a gentleman,’ a seventy-four-year-old blonde called Norma told me recently.  ‘Can you help me to find one?’  As she was patently sober, I wondered what on earth could be in her mind, until she explained that she was not ‘on-line’ and needed someone she could trust (!) with a computer to initiate her into the rites of internet dating.  I directed her to Curry’s P.C. World and the public library, which was where I was taught how to use a computer four years ago.

‘I’ll buy a tablet,’ Norma assured me.  She was arrayed in bright green jeans with a diamante trim on the back pockets (new, as I could see the same garment still being displayed a foot away from where we were standing) and I privately opined that some sort of a tablet would probably be a good idea, although not necessarily the sort she was thinking of.  She explained to me that she was a widow.  Her husband had been a big man, a marvellous figure of a man with a well-paid job which involved him in working away and to ‘make it up to her’ he had installed her (his second wife) in a wondrous big bungalow from where he bore her away on cruises whenever the opportunity arose.  There was nowhere she hadn’t been with her wonderful big well-paid husband, but now he was dead and she was living in a flat in what amounted to a pensioners’ enclave where people were both nosy and malicious, constantly suggesting in a not very nice way that she could not possibly be in possession of a figure like hers if she ate.  She had to find an elderly gentleman who would appreciate her and take her on cruises.  Before it was too late, was the implication.

In order to avoid any confusion on my part regarding the question of whether or not she ate, she took all the shopping out of her bag and showed me the items one by one.  I seem to remember she had some fish and a few vegetables.  I’m an automatic bread punter myself, which probably accounts for my size fourteen figure, but at least I don’t have the neighbours threatening to turn me in for starving myself.  Norma then questioned me about my origins and told me about hers and we parted with expressions of mutual good-will and hopes that we would come across each other again in Marks and Spencer’s, expressions which were one hundred per cent insincere on my part.  She had never once inquired whether I was a fellow-widow, a divorcee or still married.

When these wandering widows do discover that I am married, they tend to become discouraged.  They will be very enthusiastic until the words ‘And are you on your own, like me?’ have been uttered and the reply, ‘No, I’m married’ has been elicited, when they start to look distracted and turn their attention back to the trousers or tops which provided the original pretext for the interview.  Of course not all the M&S aficionados are in the habit of accosting me.  There are some regulars who are as capable of ignoring my existence as I am of ignoring theirs.  One such lady is a tiny (size 8?) over-made-up sprite with permed and frizzy yellow hair who invariably decks herself out in denim.  Probably the Twiggy-designed Classic denim, jeans and matching jacket which is always worn with the collar turned up.  One afternoon I witnessed her in action in a charity shop, going into a lot of detail to the assistant about some garment she had recently purchased and specifying exactly the kind of top she required to wear with it.  The assistant, anxious to keep a weather-eye out for potential shop-lifters, was desperately trying to disentangle herself from the conversation but to no avail.  Shortly afterwards I came across Frizzy in Per Una treating the saleswoman there to the same diatribe.  Last Friday, coming back to the Village from the opposite direction having been to the market in the town eight miles to the west, I saw her on the bus.  Collar up, cheeks ablaze, she rather spoilt the effect by falling asleep.  When she woke up and saw me watching her the look she treated me to assured me that I have made an enemy for life.

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Ann Oldwife’s Tale

So here we have it.  Many years later my husband sent me something he referred to as his autobiography: about half a dozen pages of complaints about my performance as his wife.  I had discovered nightclubs, was the gist of what he had written, I had discovered nightclubs and left him all alone to suffer night after night under the intolerable burden of writing his interminable contributions to New Society and other such specialised journals.  The neighbours were constantly knocking on the door, distressed by the sight of him sitting up in his bay window worrying his head and missing out on whatever life should have been offering him.  That was what he wrote.  He wrote that they – the neighbours – regularly begged him to stop working and go out.  He was, after all, still  a young and vigorous fellow and should have been out playing football.  So why wasn’t he?  A reasonable question, I thought, and I put his outpouring into the recycling without comment.  Why did he marry me?  Another reasonable question, I believe.  I know exactly why I married him.  It was 1964 and I was living in one room on my wage of £8 a week.  Marriage meant moving to a flat with its own bathroom.  It meant having enough to eat.  I was not sufficiently educated to be able to find the sort of job that would have paid for enough to eat and provided me with my own bathroom.  I was 22 years old.  I was glad to get him.  I thought I loved him.  Obviously, I didn’t.  Of course I can see that now.  I could see it by the time he left me six years later.  He did that classic thing: he ‘went off with another woman.’  A woman I knew, although not well.  Something he didn’t include in his ‘autobiography’ was the fact that he brought her to our home and slept in the lounge with her.  There wasn’t a spare bedroom because we had two lodgers.  We also had no carpets.  Years later when I casually mentioned that fact he said I’d never told him I wanted carpets.  He didn’t mention the lodgers or the lack of carpets in his autobiography, nor did he mention that one of his friends was so outraged by his behaviour that he came up and took me out for an evening to cheer me up.

Please don’t think that I resent the way this man behaved towards me.  I don’t.  We didn’t love each other.  I had disappointed him.  I wasn’t the ‘lovely housewife’ he desired.  He was my benefactor, he kept me, fed me, clothed me and put a roof over my head while I spent five years in full-time higher education.  For that I thank him.  When he went off with his other woman I was in a position to obtain the kind of job which could provide me with my own bathroom and with more than enough to eat.  He was not a bad man.  But he was a monumentally boring one.  And he still is.

It would be wrong of me to give the impression that I in any way ruined my life by marrying the monumental bore.  I had been making a pretty thorough job of ruining my life before I ever met him.  I had left school at 16 with 8 ‘O’ level passes, somewhat to my surprise as I had avoided making any effort to do well.  I worked in an office for two years and then decided to apply for a place in a teachers’ training college.  Unfortunately I knew no better than to apply to colleges which were run by nuns – in the case of the one which accepted me, the sisters of mercy.  I misbehaved in just about every way calculated to upset the merciful sisters and at the end of the second year I was told to leave.  After having received a grant for two years.  The monumental bore was thus faced with the necessity to support me for the first two years of my University career.  At the end of which time I changed my mind about the course I wanted to study and landed him with another year of supporting me.  And it was then, if I remember rightly, but of course I’m sure he will be only too willing to correct me if he perceives me to be wrong, that I discovered nightclubs and plunged him into the inferno which acted as spur to the writing of his autobiography.  I had also started writing verse and turned out not to be too bad at it, to the extent of winning several prizes.  If I’m honest, I don’t think the M.B. really liked that.  I think he was resentful of my success.  When I graduated he left me with his new lady friend and I settled back into the routine of doing absolutely everything I could to ruin my life.

The M.B. very kindly agreed to support me while I studied for a Master’s degree.  I had two new lodgers in the house and my responsibility was to keep the place clean and decent and report any problems to the owner, the aforementioned Monumental Bore. The lodgers, as nearly as I can recall, were called Rosencranz and Guildernstern.  They had a habit of dismantling internal combustion engines on the dining-room table.  One of them offered to repair a car for a neighbour, brought it home and parked it on the drive.  After several weeks the neighbour’s mother verbally abused me on the street because the car was still unrepaired.  Whereas I had never felt ill-used or resentful about anything the M.B. had done, I certainly did feel resentful about this and decided I’d had enough of sharing my accommodation with R & G.  I refused to continue with the arrangement and the M.B. was thus faced with the inconvenience of having to sell the house.  Meanwhile I had increased the intensity of my efforts to ruin my life by falling in love with a totally unsuitable married man – let us call him the Complete Bastard, for that is what he was – and becoming pregnant.  My studies were in disarray, I was faced with the need to find somewhere to move to and I had to pay for my abortion.

That was the end of the Master’s degree.  I moved back to living in poverty, but in two rooms rather than one.  I started working in a pub and eventually I moved on.

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