Diane and Paul Return to the UK - Day 6 Cardiff Again

Day 6 :

Wooden Spoons, Castles and

My Welsh Great Grandmother 

Welsh Folk dancers

Castle Emcee & Me

Myra & Paul Whitcome of Aukland, NZ
We decided ahead of time that Saturday would be what we used to call a “hang out day” when my niece was little (back when I was actually permitted to hang out with her.) And then we’d end the day with dinner in the Cardiff Castle.


I ran out to the market and bought scones, Welshcakes, and oranges for breakfast which we had with awful Starbucks coffee. Really, we should stop drinking coffee here. Actually, we have except we keep buying & drinking something they call coffee. On the way, I discovered that we hadn’t discovered 1/10th of the downtown area, nor, smack dab in the middle of the city center, the 12th century Roman fort which over the next 700 years was transformed into “Cardiff Castle.” Surprising to see a castle rise up in the middle of the city like that.


After breakfast, Paul, who is the shopper of the two of us, went out shopping while I wrote all morning, and then I went out to shop. I really don’t need stuff, but I couldn’t help but go to the Wooden Spoon shop. Welsh wooden spoons have a long romantic tradition of being given to the beloved by the lover. The shop engraver was originally English but is clearly a Welsh convert and as he waited on me and a Cardiff native buying a spoon as a 1-year birthday present for her granddaughter, the two of them regaled me with what a wonderful place Wales is. I told them I didn’t need to be converted, that I loved it more than I had imagined.


When I had originally planned to come to Wales, I hoped I could go to the birthplace of my great-grandmother, Gretta Swaller neé Thomas, my mother’s grandmother, who died in childbirth when her daughter (my grandmother) was five years old. When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me that she remembered her mother singing in Welsh, “and the Welsh really can sing,” but then, other than the pain of being raised by a mean 12-year-old sister, Grandma remembered nothing much about her childhood and nothing of her mother. But my mother is buried next to that great-grandmother now, and I’d like to learn more about her. With the help of a Massillon librarian, I found my great-grandmother’s marriage and death certificates and most helpful, the 1900 census (one year before she died) saying she had come to the U.S. from Wales 14 years previously. But there we’re stumped. She does not appear on any ship’s logs of the period, and we have no names of parents. So I had originally planned to come to her hometown, but instead I have come to her homeland.


Meanwhile, out on the streets a folk dance festival was happening all day, mostly Welsh dancers, but dancers from other regions, too, including Normandy.


At 6:15, we left for dinner at Cardiff Castle, an experience about which I will say overall, was a fun time, but the only thing on our trip we would not do again. (Ne me regrette, but never no more.) It was fairly expensive, and the administrative details were a horror. (Just briefly, arriving early, we were told to wait on a freezing balcony, in the rain for a pre-dinner tour of some castle rooms, and we were forgotten there, stood there for 20 minutes, and then when we knocked three times to get in, were scolded for knocking, missed the beginning of the tour we paid $24 extra for.)


But most of the food was good, especially the first course of glamorgan sausage and the last, some incredibly rich mousse. And our company was nice. Most people were there with tour buses they traveled with, so we were at a table of ourselves and four other leftovers: a darling young couple of the type I call Internationalistas. She was born in Lithuania but hasn’t been back in a decade and lives in Ireland. He was a Welshman in sales. The other couple were the Whitcombes, a retired truck driver named Paul and his wife Myra, from Aukland, New Zealand, both car fans, driving for weeks now around the British Isles. We laughed that he was the first person we knew to have a busman’s holiday literally.


The Emcee was a Welsh actor and a good singer, and he did a good job of hosting, with a lot of joking at the expense of the many Australians, whose rugby team The Wallabys had lost that day  to the British Lions. He explained each course of the food, and got me up onstage to discuss chicken. He was backed up by four young actors who dished up food and performances. I heard our waiter early in the evening and said, “You are very good. I hope you are singing elsewhere, too,” and he said, “Well, I am always at auditions.” Later, we learned that he had been in the London cast of Les Mis. He went on to do two solos, just terrific, as were the rest of the cast. Dinner theater audiences like this can be a pain, I know, but the troupe was made up of just terrific, talented troopers.


And they had spread the evening out long, so it was 10:00 as we waddled our mousse-filled bodies back out the castle gates to the modern city, which was rocking on a Saturday night.



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