Feel like a tourist?

Don’t know where to start with this one. Partly because I fear trouble lies ahead and partly because it genuinely is difficult to talk about raging furies… and I’ve got one going. Expect me to scuttle past the incorrigible and the politically correct (again) into something recognisably ill-advisedly human. And try to – yaknow – gimme the benefit.

Friends and followers will know I live in Pembrokeshire. We (I mean us as a family, personally) have got bugger all in the way of gargeous property, moolah, land or any of that stuff but what we have around us (my god! Jewel of jewels!) is the coast, The Coast Path, the twinkling sea and the gannets and the smell of mackerel or gorse or honeysuckle or horse-shit or ploughed fields, or the quiet glory that is a mown meadow sprawled out with a single grass-stem in its gob, reading and baking to hay under a smiling, banjo-playing sun. We’ve got all that, always, and particularly in the last week or several we’ve had shed loads, barn loads of it; I’m pretty clear that it’s not just my heart that’s been singing.

Now our tiddly but kinda pleasantly bijou home – four foot deep in kids, animals, wholefood-in-boxes and yeh, animal hairs – is denied a sea view but the total wonder that is the high-rez surround-sound cliff-top is but a hundred and nine point six-two-five yards away. (I labour this because it’s important – key, even – to the unseasonal angst I am about to unleash). Visitors come because they know about, or know something about what Pembrokeshire is.

These visitors, or grockles as we call ‘em, when they fail to reverse into passing places, or sit stupidly and wait whilst a zillion horses clop to all intents and purposes on the spot, preventing us locals from doing actual work in Haverfordwest or Milford, these vis-i-tors do come. (These particular horses, by the way are so experienced and so dumb that you could doughnut your Audi mid-ride and they would barely register your presence, so the alleged courtesy of sitting quietly, engine purring a self-righteous countdown for the life of the planet whilst the (Alexarrnder look! Wubberly geegees!) clomp past is utter townie doe-eyed bollocks). But I do digress…

Visitors stay next door on both sides of us, because on the one hand local people (Guy, computer guy who moves into his garage conversion) cash in and on the other a genuinely delightful family from Brighton/London/all over use their own, second gaff and/or rent it out. In passing I will say that I’m more offended by the amount of money folks charge than the practice of renting out but our hamlet effort is about 40% aliens in the summer and this sometimes feels… undermining. Anyway.

Last week some folks rented Guy’s place and once or twice I said hello to a bloke maybe sixty-odd on my way for that essential snort of briny wotsits with the dog. If pushed, I might place him in ‘The Merch’ on account of his propensity to wear apparently the same white vest for three or four days running whilst having a smoke on the doorstep. Plus he had that slickish back-combed barnet-thing redolent of greasy galley-food and cheery but solitary maritime banter going on. It is arguably entirely irrelevant that this gentleman was/is undoubtedly from Northern Ireland… but it is also undoubtedly true… and so I record the fact.

For some days we had no meaningful contact until one evening Bethan my wife heard The Family Next Door ‘gassing’ in the back garden and described their exchange as being ‘like something out of a cartoon’ but this comment hung, shorn of impact, undervalued, in the air at the time. Then I had a proper conversation with this guy. He nailed me slightly as I passed with the pooch.

You gotta television picture? he asked.

Yeh, we have – and no probs. You have a problem with yours, or what?

Nothing for three days.

Aaah. Hang on (I say) the BT lot were carving up the hedge the other day and bunging up a new pole… they’ll have maybe cut the wire, the donkeys. Happened before.

He neither confirms nor denies that he’s heard this story but I’m somehow immediately certain that Guy has already explained this one to him… and that he’s unimpressed. His manner shifts slightly towards the Miserable Git About to Bore the Universe end of the market. But… I don’t want to hate this man. In fact I want to give him every chance to pull through to Genuine Bloke In a Spot-hood, me being a sucker for well, anyone who patently ain’t posh. I wallow in the possibilities for a moment, giving him every chance – after all, he isn’t posh, he doesn’t reek of privilege, he’s got a working man’s hands and face and manner – no, I don’t want to be hating him, do I? What’s he on about, really?

Me and the wife can just about manage without the telly like but it’s not been easy with the children.

Oh right.

And you got a mobile signal at all?

Nope. Nobody does mate. It’s just a fact of life. You’ll get a mobile signal up there (I point) or up there… but not here. No chance. Just the way it is. Pembrokeshire. Although I reckon there’s something quite nice about not being available when you’re home, to be honest…

Well the telly being off hasn’t been good. Okay for me and the wife but what’s the children (who are grown up, by the way) gonna do? They’ve gone home. Couldn’t stand it anymore… and what happens if there’s a fire and you’ve no mobile… the place is gonna be burnt down before you can do anything…

I’m weirdly stunned; in shock; but immediately the rage is rising. All I can actually get out before easing away is

Well if there’s a fire we’d use a landline, first up… and then we’d probably step outside and call for help or run to the neighbours, as yado…

But I’m already walking away, right? Having swiftly computed the black-and-white of what he’s said, the psychotic, poisonous essence of it… that the children have gone home because there is no telly… walking away, the fury rising yard by yard as I contemplate firstly shocking, summary violence and then calm towards something more proportionate. And then back to justifiable violence once more. Finally I settle and simply wonder what exactly it is that stops me from saying this;

Let me get this right you complete fucking moron. You and your family of unfeeling arse’oles have come to Pembrokeshire where you could walk to a sensational cliff-top in one minute, from where you could walk possibly the finest stretch of coast in Western Europe, or drop down onto a beach that cries out for games or swims or dog-walks or digging or rock-pooling or surfing or paddling out in a sit-on-top or okay just lounging in yer humming fucking vest… and your kids have gone home because there’s no telly? Is this what you’re telling me? With a straight, slightly unremarkable face? With no sense that this marks you out as right up there with the dumbest creatures that have ever walked this earth? You’ve firstly chosen – unless this is some surreal Community Service Award thing(?)- to come to the most beautiful place any sentient being could imagine and then both brain cells have triggered fall-into-a-decline mode because you can’t plonk yer idle underwashed bumholes in front of a gogglebox? In weather that might only be described as absolutely fucking magnificent? When the sun is beaming for you and the gannets are plunging and the sand-eels twirling and the bass practically coming in their pants with excitement… because the whole natural world is screaming ‘Look at me I am a wonder!!’ You, my friend are farting in the living-room and smoking on the doorstep and quite simply unaware… of the presence or value of anything. Well I’m sorry not to sympathise or support your campaign to reduce the rental fee against my friend and neighbour, Guy – that’s where you’re Neanderthal logic is going, right? – but having now reflected upon this and without needing to put this to the committee that is my family and our dog and the pigs in that field… I’ve decided we’re gonna eat you. Bethaaan! Get the knife!

This is clearly how it should have gone. It didn’t, because not only have I read stuff which argues against violence even under appalling temptation, in the main, I believe it. However, despite the need to defer to certain moral guidelines re how we might describe or appreciate other humans, I choose to show no pity in my description of this man and his dumb family, even after a day or three’s reflection.

Yes I know not we’re all reliant or addicted to something and that for many that thing is the telefuckingvision. I find it difficult, though, to claw back from the brink of homicide in this case. To have actually gone home (or in the parents case allowed their offspring to make that choice) is, as we say in Wales, ‘beyond’. They are thus anti-life and their obvious ignorance – traceable to lower life-chances as it may certainly be – offends me so significantly that I react… so. I wanted to cut him up and maybe not eat him but spread him out there for the gulls and the ravens. That feeling remains.

There are bigger questions here, on education and sensitivity and reliance and lack of opportunity as well as issues (of course) around my own levels of tolerance. But in the short term I am left with raw anger at the crushing, crushing stupidity of this ‘ordinary’ family. And sure, sadness that this is where we, the world, the people, the nation, some of us are at – mindless and dead to the most wonderful of things.

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Iron Man Wales

In Tenby the wind gathered, cruelly, for the final unforgiving hours of Iron Man Wales, together with that spirit-sapping drizzle familiar to all those who bumble through their local parks. Generous crowds – certainly in the tens of thousands if village clappers and farmstead fans are included – had assembled to heartily cheer the contestants round. Those at the forefront of this appallingly demanding event cruised relatively serenely through both transition and through the town; for those hanging on, the warmth extended to them seemed more essential to that primary goal – completion.

We watched as Sylvain Rota of France swooped impressively through the bike/run changeover, with the kind of faintly absurd ease befitting an unchallenged leader of the wonderfully diverse multitudes. Should we have stayed rooted to that spot, we might have seen allegedly lesser athletes trundle through for a further three or four hours; this prior to the 26 miles 385 yards still to be enjoyed in that increasingly testing seaside weather.

1500 competitors, supported and processed by an army of volunteers and officials hauled themselves in order or disorder through the decidedly nippy waters, the lush countryside and the hugely atmospheric streets around this iconic South Pembrokeshire resort. In view of the stats – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, full marathon – words such as ‘punishing’ spring inadequately to mind. Hard here not to simply express every superlative available to the (medium) literary consciousness and then daub it on every numbered vest.

When it came down to it, along the genuinely splendid Esplanade overlooking Caldey and the by now deserted South Beach, Rota did indeed triumph – his first Iron Man victory – in 8 hours 52 minutes and 43 seconds. Daniel Niederreiter of Austria and Christian Ritter of Germany pursued him home at roughly three minute intervals, followed by first GB athlete Daniel Halksworth in fourth. Joanna Carritt of GB finished an impressive 18th overall.

As I walked away from the finish line some 30 minutes after Rota, a cavalry charge of what looked like solid club athletes were concluding their bike ride on a parallel street. Suggesting finishing times for these individuals around 12 hours.

The fact that the park and ride service from the local airfield was scheduled to run until midnight may give some indication of the frayed edges of such a challenge; I try not to think too precisely about the state the very latest contestants may clock in at. Fear of glibness only prevents me from be-medalling them personally, in this column.

As a venue Tenby rose to this. Following the outstanding success of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event in North Pembrokeshire last weekend, local chests have been thrust out proudly – in certain cases, athletically. But even the sedentary seemed to have stirred to their doorstep or street corner to applaud the whoosh or whirr or gasp and splutter of the passing über-humans. The red-carpeted finish was appropriately ‘rammed’ as we say in Wales, as well as spectacularly TV-friendly. Even in the rain.

Sleepy Abereiddy

American Steven Lobue won a sparkling and competitive Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series Event held over the weekend in Pembrokeshire. Diving last in the final round, he maintained his lead to stave off strong challenges from Orlando Duque of Colombia in second and GB’s Gary Hunt in third.

The scene could hardly have been more stunning for an event making its debut in the UK – the North Pembrokeshire Coastline magnificently disporting as the athletes leapt from a 27m platform built out from the cliff. Below, in the former slate quarry now marine playground to visitors and locals alike known to all as The Blue Lagoon, a deceptively ‘hard’ and emphatically cool surface lay in wait. From this height, the water must be breached feet-first, such are the forces of compression – such are the perils.

Previous venues have included various locations in Mexico, Corsica, the Azores and Croatia. But Abereiddy, this raw yet majestic hunk of West Wales, with its slate long and deeply disembowelled and the sea invited in showed not a sign of awe. Instead, it glinted and it winked its natural glories at the crew, at the crowds. Towards 3,000 paying guests attended over the two days of competition – that figure excluding the flotilla of kayakers and cheapskates who were welcomed in from the accommodating sea.

The four rounds of competition featured two required dives with a fixed degree of difficulty and two optional dives, where competitors struck out for bigger points through increased tricksiness. Many of us would feel familiar in some degree with the characteristic pikes, tucks, somersaults and twists. What make this special is the elevation and the speed of fall.

In later rounds it seemed de rigeur to throw in 3 or even 4 somersaults and more than a full twist before entering the water at 90 kph. No wonder that moment of focussing before the dive seemed so endless and so precious. Onlookers, fortunately, are trapped into this silence, offering the competitors space to do their very particular thing.

Lobue and his smiling but spiralling posse mastered that moment here, seemingly easy with this conflict between sheer spine-chilling danger and counterintuitive calm and body control. All these guys – including the wild card entrant from Leeds on a brave or foolish mission to join the circus – gracefully, fearlessly shared with us their appreciation of this purest of extreme sports. It was extraordinary.

Away

So going away is a kindof imperative. Ya need to, ya have to, it makes spiritual sense. Maybe the crushingly banal “change is as good as a rest” motif tessellated somewhere in the shadowy but soft-focussed depths of your mind has something, enough truth to make it worth the effort of packing all that stuff?  A picnic. Water. Information; mobile phone stuff, dog stuff. And that’s just for the journey. In our case this was up to the Llyn.

So we’re in Pembrokeshire, meaning we scoot – or creep and boot! – straight up the coast, pretty much. Over the glorious pimples – the Preseli’s – ‘cross the often really rather majestic Teifi and then up through the Mid-Wales coastline, where you can’t overtake for 60 miles, unless you get your Lewis Hamilton head on, which I do, when it’s safe, at about ten minute intervals. (Make that twenty minutes). Think about stopping at Aberaeron, which should you be slowish, educated, maybe foodie people might entrap you – so far we’re proving too young, too wild, too… on a journey. But I don’t rule it out, for the wide-street regency(?)-battenburg thing that’s going on is certainly appealing; and maybe too the marina I mean harbour. But by one principal car park the sea-wall and indeed the seaside is more concrete than abstract in its er… appeal.

But I’m being snobbish. It’s almost certainly a lovely town, Aberaeron – certainly parts of it are – but like much of the alternately low-slung/darkly brooding townie developed coast from here to Aberystwyth and beyond, compared to Pembs, it’s crap alternating with high pastures. The coast, that is. Something to do with the non-sand; and caravans; and fields. So we tend to look for kites.

I have, in this context to relate a minor but possibly horrifying tale for soulful or, perchance, twitchy members of my readership. On a recent jaunt up here in my capacity as coach to a junior regional cricket side, (I thank yo’), during a moment of coach-like joviality I bet the assembled players (12, aged 9 or 10, on a minibus) 50p I would see the first red kite. And I did. However it failed to dawn on me until the return journey that I think none of the boys had understood the red kite in question to be a bird of prey. They had (presumably) assumed I’d asked them a surreal question about… red kites. What this says about their family lives in rural South West Wales I try hard – very hard – not to be too judgemental upon. But I don’t care in the slightest if I sound pretentious in the following revelation; that my son and daughter both knew what a red kite was when they were 4. Maybe earlier.

In case you are interested, there are loads of Kites in this part of Ceredigion and beyond because a) the world is getting more wonderful and b) there’s a feeding station just up the road.

You skirt Aber ‘proper’ as you go North, into richer territory. Views of more authentic mountains and authentically twisted, bat-friendly trees. A flash of Aberdovey, of a river, of a railway. Less kites but maybe an osprey as Machynlleth approaches. Detour to Ynys Hir, the wetland/estuary wildlife reserve south of Mac, for a walk, a picnic, a squirrel-fest. Wonder what the posh hotel that apparently doesn’t take kids is like. Fusty and pompous? Or a relief? Imagine staying there when we’re older and foodier and all that. Wild sex and willow warblers. Maybe.

On through absurdly walled mountain flanks – Cadair Idris – passing glassy glacial lakes and pubs fit for proper trekkers with filthy boots and good taste in bitter. Down the ensuing bullet-road, who’s shamelessly exposed invitation to speed I fully intent to accept, in an Aston Martin, one day, pausing for a celebratory pint – or overnight stop! – at the Three Foxes. Then on, past stony Dolgellau.

Having stopped for healthy nosebaggings at The Quarry Cafe, Machynlleth, we were keen to (I was keen) to press on, but the Mawddach estuary is always a treasure and in the sunshine, the extraordinary railway bridge framing the view, I almost stopped. These few miles just south of and leading into Barmouth are just top. Beyond it gets caravanacious and Scousiferous and Mancunatious, as we know – and why wouldn’t it with a real, major population within striking distance? Fortunately there are the local, hoodied mountains and the views of Things Further Off; the big guns of Snowdonia proper.

Harlech is worth a proper shuftie and I always had a soft spot for the wacky little toll bridge towards Porthmadoc – a 12 year old boy inevitably fidgeting with his Nintendo between curt revolutions of the STOP/GO sign. Otherwise blast on past Criccieth and Pwhelli, both of which seem disappointing. Getting close now, to our bolthole by Rhiw. And things open up and we lose the people and the tack and the everything, except that land’s end feeling as we roll past Porth Neigwl. Second time around, we find our slot, down a gravel track, to a loose, child-friendly, animal-friendly former farmstead. Here. Let the dog out.