We seem to have done the dales for a bit, though we’d still like to go up to Sedburgh and The Howgills, but it was also something about going to a spot which Peter and Geoffrey knew and could show us around. Conversations in the squash club came up with this place they’d been to a couple of times when their children had been small. Log cabins on a hill not far from Bala – Trawsfynydd.

Geoff’s face lit up more than the average, ‘Yes.’  ell it was too positive to miss, so I got on with it. Surfed the net, got the booking form by post, consulted on price and free time and it was confirmed within a week.

‘Was Mark coming?’

‘Don’t know.’

Now its always a bit tricky. We don’t want to upset the guy, but he has a habit of taking over. He’s a big lad, 6ft 5in, with bulk to match, and its accompanied by big appetites and occupying everybody’s space. He’s a busy lad and often is away replacing hospital washing machines so the situation never arises, but on this occasion it does. How will it pan out, especially with Peter and chronic anxiety, especially when they fight like cat and dog on the squash court three times a week. As  people who do not shy away from physical contact in a non-contact game and neither is averse to bending the rules and swearing black is white, how would this transfer to the gentle sphere of a boy’s week away?    (recollections of squash games)

Peter, Geoffrey and I are the vanguard. We set off middle Tuesday afternoon and ease our way across to the M57 and into N. Wales. The roads narrow gradually and its all pretty slow around Ruthin. I regale them with tales of previous trips with my medical school friends when we used to trip down from Liverpool to visit old public schools and stamping grounds. Andy’s old school is still there, grand but somehow smaller.  Tales of Roberts (first name?) who runs Sport Abroad, and monumental sessions in pubs on the front at Rhos and tea with the Kenworthies. Gran and granddad at The Adelphi, steak and something with Bernard, Edina, Chris and Duncan. I distinctly remember Bernard sending a complaint to the chef saying his steak had been battered – I hadn’t a clue what he was on about. They’re dead now, retiring to the south opened a post office and a clothing shop. Edina remarried and lit up people’s lives with her amusing if somewhat infuriating dementia. And Duncan went on to make Four Weddings and Notting Hill. And I forgot to ask him how I could get a date with Julia Roberts. Perhaps I’ll send him my book? Edina’s memorial service in Saddleworth.

Then all the tales about Waterloo Schoolboys which was a haven for old Rydalians.  (Chris Jennings played in the centre for England). I got all public school oriented – what a pain. Still we had some decent trips.

And then we were in Bala, having scoured the roadside for thirty minutes for a suitable hostelry. Don’t they have pubs in N. Wales? Did they open at 6 o’clock as the third or fourth closed one passed us by? There were loads in Bala and we chose the wrong one. The Ship. We’d stopped by another but there were ten women sat round in a circle in front of the fire. Across the road was The Ship. Well it were a “Goth” experience, dark and vaguely dirty and intimidating. The decent lager was off, then the beer was off so we had the guiness. Even the ale was dark. So we stood by the fire which was off. The landlady failed on three attempts to light it, but attracted quite a crowd of wellwishers in the process. One or two began to dismantle it, tools and bits began littering the floor. Then there was a serious commotion somewhere up and in, difficult to be more precise. Landlady disappears and quiet returned . . .  mmmm . . . did they have something nasty chained up? We discover its children, three appear and then disappear into they pool room. And then there was the inevitable single male nursing a pint alone sat at the bar. Didn’t he have a home to go to?

The trip over to Bala is a breeze compared to what Peter and Geoffrey recall. Straightened out all the bends. A little glitch in the memory at Trawsfynydd itself and we were there, no. 137, key in the door. Good job Geoffrey’d remembered that we might be later than the reception closing, quick mobile call and its arranged, somewhere near Ashton. Mobiles have their uses. Unpack, get the dog some comfort. Discover there are only two wine glasses and no bog roll. Jean’s made a chicken something, there’s baking potatoes and its over to the Geoffrey school of cooking – bung it in the oven and piss off to the pub. So we did. The Rhiw Goch, next to a ski slope. Large TV which three people are watching, a soap, but we soldier on. Pinch a working amount of bog roll.

We pay the balance, get two more wine glasses, overhear the splendours of a pub in Gellidan, as the receptionist informs a caller where to get a late meal on arrival.

Peter puts in a bid for Harlech and Barmouth. I’d like to see the narrow gauge railway and Portmadoc, so we do them all. Tan-y-Bwllc station, small gauge and everything to scale, little seats and waiting rooms, except a massive signal which would have dwarfed an A4 pacific. Dinky. No trains, not even the winter time table which took a degree in logic to understand and only went to January and we’d come ing February. Quite a lot of workmen and a notable absence of Welsh accents, imported industrial labour from the north of England.

The approach to Portmadoc is a long thin stretch shared with the railway and is a toll road, costs 5p. Two people are manning it, one is a woman. We’re not local so we have to pay. Is it a return? I forget to ask so we pay coming back too. Actually its a day rover. Pormadoc is in a mild swirling sea fret, atmospheric and not too intrusive. Another dinky station – the harbour – and presumably where the slate was exported.  The cafe is pleasant for coffee. One end houses an engine. They advertise a railwayman’s breakfast, bacon sausage eggs mushrooms tomatoes fried bread beans and hash browns, all for £4.70 but they don’t serve it after 11.30 am. Next item was the all-day breakfast, as above but without hash browns, £3.50. A hash brown was a fried potato cake in my day. A strange man is in the queue in front, we meet him later lurking in the gents – there’s always one where not far from Peter is concerned. He’s North Wales equivalent of the missing link. The man serving is a close second. They both sport untidy out of fashion long hair and sideburns and wear thick  rimmed spectacles. Loud, we hear all his news and opinions and we gather he is a railway nerd who joined the company.

‘Do you know,’ he says, ’so-and-so is really boring. All he talks about is cars and football.’

We we never.

Coffee is the signal to discuss dinner. The Geoffrey school. Braising steak and veg, which we’d already bought in anticipation. Peter and Geoffrey wander in search of a butcher. Smiles and chuckles, further tales of butchers. Two big slabs of meat. 2£ worth or 2lbs I can’t remember (check). Anyway its lob some more on. They came away with half a cow or so they said. It’s to be a fait accompli. We’re not having Mark take over and cook for hours.

So Portmadoc is nice and I’ve some nice photos. Next is Harlech and another toll bridge, 30p and definately not value for money. It’s a few ex-army portable bailey bridges strung together with a bit of tarmac. Single file controlled by lights operated by the man who took the money. Still we couldn’t complain. But then we ran into the mist and my expected view of Port Meirion was obscured. Tales of the time we stayed, must have been 1977 or there abouts. Presented a paper to the Welsh Medical Soc on Huntington’s Disease. There were two juniors, me (reg) and a student come nearly qualified brain with an eastern european name, probably a prof now, who was on our firm anyway. He did something incomprehensible on blood groups. The lectern or whatever he was using to support his notes, collapsed in the middle. Wag next to me, renal physician from Rhyl or something says, ‘Must have been heavy’. The main turn was a bloke from W Wales, he must have been retired, but he was so funny you couldn’t stop laughing or feeling a pain, and he was only talking about flowers and I seem to vaguely remember chicken poisening. Anyway we stayed in one of these Italianate villas, crazy, overlooking a river estuary, terrific.

Harlech is invisible. We park up and I shape to duck down a side street.

‘We’re not going down there are we?’

This is Geoffrey’s signal to change direction.Peter looks for a pork pie and fails.We have to go within ten yards of the castle to see it. Peter tells us how he and Caroline had a relaxing hour walking with the dog and chucking sticks. We go to the pub.  Peter’s mobile goes off.

‘Mark, where are you?  Caernavon. How long will you be? Half an hour. We’ll wait for you here. Peter asks the  barman how long he’ll be. It’s 20 mins from Portmadoc and half an hour between there and Caernavon.  n hour later he arrives ‘Where’ve you been?’

‘Too many roadworks.’  or ‘traffic’ why not ‘time of the month.’

‘Oh aye, sure’.

Barmouth is no different and actually looks very tacky. A pasty is the best we could find. Peter has a memory of walking with Caroline and chucking sticks at the dog. We give it up as a bad job and head back to the hills. Mark and Geoffrey are going to fight it out over the meal and Peter and I take the dog for a walk in the forest and discuss the meaning of culture – I’m desperately trying to work out some sort of presentation on globalisation as a context for literature and I’m failing.

Food’s away when we get back, the lads sat reading papers and books. It’s not far off going to the pub time, so those that have to get a shower and a change of clothes.

‘What’re doing that for. Carrots can go in with the steak.’

‘We need to do them in a pan first.’

‘No we don’t’.

Its the first of two or three minor spats as the short cuts of Geoffrey are somehow made unecessarily complex. Does gravy need all that work? Peter Geoffrey and myself stand coats on waiting to go. Mark studies and turns adjusts a knob or two studies again. We look at each other. Mark eventually gets the message.

We avoid the TV lounge and have a rather rawcous half hour sharing the lounge with a young couple and their children having a meal. Back at the cabin Mark fusses some more, and Geoffrey gives in. We three sit at table and wait to be served. The meal is terrific and enough for six, or Geoffrey and I and two helpings each for Mark and Peter. I blink and miss Mark eating, the food must have gone somewhere.

Discussion as to who is sleeping where. The couch is supposedly a double but can we unwrap it? No. The ends come down and that’s as far as we acheive. It’s not looking good for Mark – or the rest of us. His temper after a poor night is worth avoiding.  There’s an unspoken understanding that Peter will have a bedroom to himself – to many harley davidsons and power drills for the rest of us. Mark will go in with Geoffrey and I’ll have the couch – I’m embarrassed about someone else sleeping with the dog.

It’s good enough for all of us – can’t ask for more. I’m up and away with the dog.  Mark’s about when I return, in shorts and making a coffee in his personal mug which holds a pint. The others stir and the boxing match for breakfast begins.

‘I’m not doing ought,’ says Mark. Geoffrey gets on quietly.

I go for a shower. I return and Mark’s doing breakfast, ‘I thought you weren’t doing it?’

‘Oh, they weren’t doing it right.’ Geoff has disappeared and then reappears looking a mess. His red jumper is inside out and back to front, the makers label acts as a kind of pendant on a necklace. He’s nothing on his feet. He’s not shaved since he arrived. He mooches about and makes a slice of toast and butters it at an angle. He fails to notice the drip of melted marge, and there’s a little yellow trail along the kitchen lino leading to the lounge. There’s  a small discontinuity and I check, yes there’s some on his right foot. He wonders why the dog wants to lick his feet.

Peter opts out and sits at the table closed eyes whistling tunelessly to himself. This is the I’m anxious, what’s going on, please help, mode. He hopes that when he opens his eyes it will all have gone away. It does after breakfast.

What are we having for tea? Peter Geoffrey and I have already decided on pie, its fits with the piss off to the pub philosophy and it sabertages Mark.

We go for sand and sea again and its successful at Criccieth, the scene of former glories for Mark who stayed here one famous occasion whilst doing a big washing machine nearby. They got up for breakfast to find the dining room curtained and sombre. Quick inadvised peak and the police are just cutting down a man swinging by his neck from the children’s climbing frame. No problem for Mark returning to the scene and its extremely pleasant walking on the front. Search of various shops is fruitless as far as pies are concerned. Peter has memories of chucking sticks at Caroline and running around with Jake. He smiles and hums to himself a happy hour relaxing.

We return inland and up to Beddlegert. It’s a copper mining spot or was. We hope to see Snowden, and think we do. It’s good enough for us. There’s a nice walk along the river bank with no sheep and young people planting trees. Gelert, we hear, was a dog, buried in a cave nearby. We imagine it saved a drowning child from the torrential flooding of the local river. We repair to The Tanronnen, the best looking pub. It’s full of awards, for best kept village and so on. Queen mother’s prizes galore. Whoever does the local picture framing is quids in. There’s a picture of Macca and his second wife with young children, next to a rather austere residence and a strange man in a suit tie bald head and glasses. We estimated it at mid 1970’s. Macca had long hair and a beard, but the best dressed man in Beddlegert?

A man arrives at 2.10. Nicely decked out walker, with stick and daysack. Beard and bald. Can he have a pot of tea. Sorry, we’ve just stopped serving. Man takes a step back and pauses. Not satisfied, steps forward juts out his chin leans almost into the face of the local welsh barman forceful  ‘Well I’m surprised.’ He wasn’t surprised, he was livid.  We’re amused. Barman is adamant. Exit upset walker who strangely goes to the tea rooms across the bridge.

We don’t find a pie shop despite inquiring of the landlady. Next stop Tremadoc where we spotted a Spar on the way up. No pies here either, but I get a lovely pepper beef sandwich with mild spicey mustard and salad. The others stay outside and get accosted by Tremadoc’s missing link, an elderly gentleman speaking a foreign language who seems to have escaped from somewhere and is waiting for a bus. I think he wanted us to give him a lift.

We have to go  back to Portmadoc and Kwiksave. Loads of pies and everything else.  For seven quid we’ve a boxful. Peter and Mark take photos of me. It makes up into a brilliant meal. Peter struggles with his second helping. I blink twice again and Mark’s plate is empty.

Small crisis the following morning

‘There’ll be a massive traffic jam all round Manchester. We’ll need to set off early and miss it. The trafficmaster sent me right through the middle recently.’

Trafficmaster is a gismo that tells you about traffic I guess, but I remain unconvinced.

‘I’m not spoiling my last day in case their might be problems around Manchester.’

‘M62 is a nightmare.’

‘We go M57.’


We eat and pack in good time. The remains of the beer disappears into Mark’s car.  We’ll go Blaunae and then Bettwys. I’m needing the loo as we climb up into this strange urban landscape in the middle of knowhere. It seems past its sell by date but as we approach the centre we realise its quite big and still populated, shops pubs, rail links and thankfully a loo. You don’t always get that these days. I turn off quickly and Mark follows. Geoffrey is concerned about the unscheduled stop.

He’s out the car in double time, scowling and rubbing his hands. He shouts almost at the top of his voice, ‘We’re not stopping here are we? I thought we were going to Bettwys.’ He’s plainly putting a bid in for not stopping here.

Equally plainly and equally loudly I shout, ‘I’m deperate for a shit.’

Difficult to describe Geoffrey’s look just then. Stopped in his tracks, surprised, embarrassed smile, a hint of each, but the it was also dismay, like something he’d treasured had let him down, the lost a quid and found nineteen bob look. I’d got my point across but I’d spoken other volumes.

We walk round the golf course at Bettwys having driven over the Duke of Wellington Bridge? in N. Wales. And Mark’s away, noon on the dot. The sun comes out and Peter and I revert to mooching mode. A coffee in the station cafe, listening to the pleasant lilt of female welsh gossip and watching the 12.30 to Conway which on another time and another schedule we might have caught. We lose our way out of the car park but somehow end up in T? over a one way humpback bridge with lights at one end only?  Then the lovely sweep of the Vale of Conway and the first sight of the castle. It’s a slight time lapse for me, singing recently in Llandudno and Bettwys. It’s easy to park and we do the beach and the castle walls and then find lunch. It’s valentine’s day and the Lancashire clientelle are ribbing the ample barmaid, who has a knack of hitching her trousers up as she walks away from you. Women normally pull their shirts or pullovers down don’t they? Why are women so self-conscious about bums. Well I suppose some should be. She wasn’t. Her boyfriend had forgotten, her card that is, so there would be no sex for him tonight. Just a hint of a pause, and Lancashire man next to us, ‘Oh, right that’s how you do it, must remember that.’

We’ve no problems around Manchester.

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