A Voyage with My Son, Part 1.

I’m not sure how this pilgrimage transpired, but my son and I agreed to spend two or three days travelling around my home town of Swansea visiting various landmarks of my childhood and some dubious haunts that played a role in my formative years. Perhaps it was an opportunity to discover what made his old man tick. He left Swansea when he was nine, but nevertheless he said he was excited to partake in the exploration.

Day 1: Landed at Heathrow Airport around 11.00am. Rented a car from Enterprise, picked my son up from Fleet and drove to Cardiff to stay the night with my brother. On the way we stopped for a snack at a service station and I enjoyed fish and chips courtesy of Harry Ramsden. It cost 6 pounds and change to cross the Severn Bridge into Wales. No wonder Englishmen have a low esteem for the Welsh.

We dined at a Lebanese restaurant which was devoid of alcohol much to the disappointment of my son and I. My lasting memory of the restaurant was  a particularly noisy fruit juice machine which made conversation nearly impossible.

Day 2: The next morning my brother served up a wonderful Welsh breakfast comprising lava bread, cockles, bacon and all the trimmings. Fortified by an exquisite start to the day we bade our farewells and headed for Swansea, home of Dylan Thomas, Katherine Zeta-Jones and Harry Secombe.

We were welcomed by a bleak overcast morning as we hit the outskirts of Swansea, and I was surprised by the number of pubs that were now vacant and boarded up. Ignoring the negative vibes I quickly gave my son a tour of the houses I lived in from about the age of 5, quickly followed by two schools I attended, Gwyrosydd and Penlan Comprehensive, that had a huge impact on making me the old crabby cynic that I am today.

Penlan Comprehensive is no longer with us today, but the building which could easily be mistaken for Stalag 17 now houses a Welsh speaking Secondary School. I believe it rained most of the seven years I spent there, and I recall trudging up the long narrow driveway only to receive a soaking by various teachers’ cars kicking up spray as they sped for safety of the staffroom, and then having to tentatively attempt a crossing of a sea of mud. Happy days!

My friends Phillip and Marian graciously gave us lodgings for two nights, and we fed on a Chinese Takeaway which included my favorite, crispy duck. We washed it down with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, which curiously is championed by the pubs and bars of Swansea, and it just happened to be first day of its arrival in the Principality. I don’t know what all the fuss is about because its a very mediocre wine and very overrated. Earlier, we had lunch at the Westbourne which has considerably ascended up market since my days in the Guildhall. You can’t possibly visit Swansea without having a Joe’s icecream, but I didn’t realize I had to use my weekly allowance to pay for one.

Ah, the Guildhall. I spent 28 years in the corridors of power of local government, initially as a Bob Cratchett impersonator in the Treasurer’s Department, and latterly as a poor man’s Hippodamus or to pay homage to the Garden City movement, Ebenezer Howard. We drove to Pantycelyn Road in Mayhill which gives the visitor a panoramic view of the City and the Bay, and marveled at the mess we planners made of a once “Ugly, Lovely Town (sic Dylan Thomas.)

To be Continued:


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