/ Wales2016

Fri 23 - God performs magic, in mysterious ways

A comment on yesterday’s scribblings was that a reader was unaware of alcopops.

Some history of alcohol - the reason CAMRA was formed back in in the early 70s was that brewers had started to coalesce. The big 6 brewers (Watney, Whitbread, Bass, Courage, Ind Coope, and Scottish&Newcastle) were starting to buy up all the small independent brewers and generally close them down and brew in larger national breweries.Bitter beer was seen as passé and mild even more so. Profits could only be increased by targeting younger drinkers and ersatz copies of trendy German lagers with faux germanic names were invented and marketed heavily. Sterile, CO2 instilled keg beer was easier to brew,transport, keep and serve than the real living beer which produced its carbonation through the still active yeast and so handpumps were ripped out wholesale and replaced by CO2 dispensed keg fonts. If you are not a drinker, don’t care or wonder what all the fuss was about consider that the same thing was happening to bread, loaves baked in the early hours of the morning by master bakers (careful you make no types here, Brian) with a firm, crunchy dark crust protecting a cloud like white, fluffy interior full of flavour were disappearing rapidly, to be replaced by pre-sliced, Chorleywood stuff, a soggy crust framing a crumb made of bleached play-dough and araldite that would ball in the mouth and adhere to teeth. Back in 1928 when slicing machines were first introduced then sliced real bread was an innovation worthy of “best thing since sliced bread” but sadly, no longer.1

I digress, brewers targeted a younger lager drinking audience and then in the 70’s the entire alcohol industry started to go the same way with larger companies buying smaller and soon there were few if any independent distillers left (although the recent revival in craft gin is appearing to buck this trend in the same way that micro brewers did back in the 80s). Once again big-alcohol turned its attention to youngster and catered for the sweet tooth; initially through wine coolers - wine and lemonade pre-mixed and then through a heavily advertised campaign of pre-mixed spirit drinks - Hooch, Bacardi Breezer, Smirnoff Ice to name but a few. Take a small amount of 40% abv spirit, cut it with some fruit flavoured sucrose syrup and water until a bottle is a mere 4.5% abv and you have something that teenagers can drink a few of (anything too strong doesn’t sell enough bottles, make enough profit, prior to inebreation) and get well rat-arsed whilst simultaneously satisfying the sugar rush so craved by a generation brought up on sweeties and dental cavities. Alcohol+pop = alcopop - simple!

Did I mention I was digressing - back to the actual diary, blog thing. Today’s original plan of wandering down to the dock area and visiting the Senedd and other places was swapped for something a little nearer. After a late start we decided we’d hire bikes2 for an hour and trundle around the park. This may not seem very exciting, but bear in mind Liz was born and raised on the busy roads of N London and so never experienced the joys of cycling as a child. Although we tried a few decades ago to get her cycling, confidence was never high. So a campsite with cheap cycle rental business attached3 and a relatively motor-car free park road and path network seemed an ideal opportunity for confidence building. I must admit I almost regretted not paying a little extra and getting Liz a formal lesson as she started off quite wobbly and phrases like “I can’t do this” were not uncommon. But after just a couple of minutes her front wheel stopped jigging about from side to side and pointed straight forward, conveying her in a relatively straight line. Of course, the first gentle bend and it was off the bike to walk. The next one however was taken tentatively and the next breezed round. First circuit of the path and there was hesitation every time a pedestrian was overtaken, often leading to a hasty dismount. Second time round and pedestrians were whizzed past. Cycle return involved negotiating a 1m wide gateway, a slight uphill with a tight S bend followed by an even tighter U. The only thing the, now much more confident, cyclist baulked at was the last 10 metres, cycling into the rear entrance of the hire shop itself. Mission accomplished - Liz may not be ready for busy road cycling yet but obviously has more than enough confidence to warrant buying a bike and doing some riding around local parks and cyclepaths back home.

It’s a great pity that more places don’t take a liberated attitude to mixing pedestrians and cyclists. Cardiff is very flat (or at least this area is) and the park and river paths are busy with both foot and wheeled traffic, many for leisure or exercise, many using the routes as a convenient way in and out of the city. But beyond the park, cyclists seem to use the pavements freely, as if completely unaware of it being against the law. Or perhaps a local bye-law allows it, or perhaps in a city with such a high student population the police turn a blind eye, applying the common sense ruling that cyclists are much safer on the pavement than in the often heavy traffic. Whatever, good on you Cardiff, may more cities embrace such an enlightened attitude.

After all that energy, a lunch break and then walk out to find Llandaff cathedral a mile or so away along the river in the opposite direction to town. The idea of siting a cathedral out town was apparently to hide it from viking marauders. However the secondary effect is to hide it from passing tourists. Walking along the riverbank, at one point there is a tantalising glimpse of what must be the cathedral before it disappears again behind the trees, A couple of hundred unsighted yards further on, a tiny muddy footpath descends from the towpath across a field. No sign and the path looks more like something a few kids have trodden out as a shortcut home. We stand at the junction trying to make sense of on-phone maps when a local passes by and confirms that, indeed, that is the main route to the cathedral from the river. She adds that the cathedral is built in a dip, all the better to protect it from 12th or 21st century visitors. We descend and walk across the field, still no site of what should be some socking great homage to God4. At the end of the field there is a white house, we sidle past it and there no more than 30m away is a large ecclesiastical building. No wonder mediaeval peasants were impressed, they must have believed the building magicked itself before their very eyes - we certainly did!

The cathedral is small but has an interesting cross arch at the end of the nave, a huge architectural statement designed to showcase the Jacob Epstein bronze of Christ affixed to it. Above the alter of one side chapel there is a six panel set of ceramics depicting the 6 days of creation designed beautifully by Burne-Jones and another has a triptych by Rossetti . To my mind the showcase of the building was some exquisitely painted plasterwork in the Lady Chapel. I know it is all modern, the cathedral fared badly at the hands of Luftwaffe bombers during the last war, but I would hope it represents how the interior may have looked 700 years ago before puritanism removed such frivolities. Of course 700 years is but a twinkle in the eye of this site, the cathedral also hosts a pre-Norman celtic cross, possibly the oldest in the country.

We climb up the hill from the cathedral and just a few yards to the side road Cathedral Close, standing on the corner, again no more than 50 metres from the towering edifice a London Plane tree obscures it completely and once again Llandaff cathedral manages its disappearing trick. Houdini could only manage an elephant, Saints Teilo and Dyfrig can make an entire cathedral disappear and from several different vantage points. Look as we may, we couldn’t find the mirrors!

Soul satisfied, it is a short walk to help satisfy stomach at that other great cathedral, Tescos Extra. A canny thought, we’ll let them cook for us tonight and buy a hot, ready-roasted chicken. £6 for at least two evening meals and probably sandwiches too. Sorted!

Back home to the van, eat the chicken, wash-up, finish my novel (sci-fi? thriller?) and an early night. What an exciting life we lead. Well actually it did get a bit exciting - blue flashing lights outside as a fire engine arrived on site. It looks like they were called to bust the lock on the disabled toilets and free someone - makes a change from getting cats down from trees I presume.


  1. The more astute reader will have noticed an e acute and a couple of subscripts in this paragraph. I think I have mentioned (several times) I’m liking this concept of using markdown to generate HTML. These footnotes are another example of effortless scripting ↩

  2. Language fascinates me. Old languages, for example, Welsh have to add new words for ideas imported from another language or technological advances. The bicycle is an interesting example - the Welsh being ‘beic’. It’s almost as if the Welsh didn’t see bicycles or need a word for them until they were so commonplace that their English introducers were already using the abbreviated form ‘bike’. ↩

  3. Bravo, once again to Cardiff. In 1996 a small charity called Pedal Power was created to help disabled folk cycle and with the help of Cardiff Council, the Lottery et al, has dozens of bikes of all sorts here at Pontcanna. The bike shop here not only rents bikes to tourists like ourselves but also runs a highly spoken of ‘learn to cycle scheme’ and even more importantly has side-by-side type tandem trikes and the like so that those people without the ability to cycle either through mental or physical handicap can experience the pleasure by being escorted by a companion. Indeed several times this week we saw less fortunate folk enjoying the park this way. One teenager with some obvious life difficulties was squealling with delight as she was pedalled around - Bravo Pedal Power, Bravo! ↩

  4. Let’s just clear up any confusion that all these church and cathedral visits may be inducing, especially in the light of today’s entry’s title. I do not believe in God, I am an atheist. However that doesn’t stop me enjoying much of the beauty created over the centuries by other people’s homage to their God. Churches and cathedrals are some of the few buildings in our landscape that have withstood the ravages of time and contain flash-backs to times long gone by. They are as important, often more so, than any museum if we wish to understand life of yore. Understanding that and having a desire to explore it does not require a deep coupling to any religious belief system. And anyway, irrespective of religion, old churches and cathedrals are generally wonderful vessels of peace and tranquillity and an ideal opportunity to slip away from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life! ↩