Archived entries for Wales

6 years and counting

Yesterday was a special day for me because it marked 6 years since I first arrived in Belgium. I’d had a fantastic weekend with friends in London en route, and then I took the Eurostar, for the first time, to Brussels.

Upon arriving, I’d arranged to meet my landlady in advance of moving in so I could store my things in the house. Being completely new to the city, I showed a taxi driver the address, which he looked at and nodded in a confident manner before proceeding to drive off in completely the wrong direction.

“Can I just check…was it the Avenue Albert Jonnart in Ixelles you were after, mate? Or the other one? No, hang on, No…I was thinking you were wanting the other Avenue Albert, the big one – no worries, I’ll just turn around right here in the middle of this lane and put my foot down even harder, and we’ll be there in no time!”

Unfamiliar streets whizzed past and I found myself at the door of what was to be my new accomodatiom for the next 6 months. Dropping my stuff at the house was brief, because I only had with me what I could carry, and then it was just a me, a rucksack to take with me to the Youth Hostel – no, really – and the rain.

I sat in Pain Quotidian to dry out, ordered a coffee, and wondered what on earth I’d let myself in for.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to sit there contemplating my next move for too long. Thanks to some contacts at BBC Wales where I’d recently done a work placement, I had found out about a Welsh reception held in Brussels every year to mark St David’s Day. So I went along, grateful to be somewhere that was a bit “home from home” on my first night in a new city abroad. I’ve been going to the Gwyl Dydd Dewi reception every year, a sort of annual marker of my time here. See below a photo from this year’s event.

Carwyn-Jones-St-Davids-Day-2013

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones opening the reception

St-Davids-Day-reception-2013

People enjoying the Welsh lamb, cheese and beer in the grand surroundings of the Bibliotheque Solvay

Young and, er, wild…

A quick trip to Cardiff for an interview for a place on the postgraduate diploma course in journalism – and, in response to the forthcoming question, I think it went OK and I’ll probably find out next week – and, at the Youth Hostel, I got my suit out of the suit bag…only to find it had crumpled inside. I had got up especially early that day in order to first wash then iron a shirt for this interview, so I was pissed off. “What’s the point of you being a suit bag” I fumed (at the suit bag) “if all you’re going to do is abandon your duties?! Well? No, don’t just shrug your shoulders like that. That’s not going to get the creases out of my shirt now, is it?”
I’m glad no-one entered the dormitory right then and caught me arguing with my suit bag.

So I had the interview in a shirt that had more creases than Keith Richards, but I hope they were paying more attention to articles rather than attire. I had a really nice evening following the interview, actually. At the YH when I got back there were a load of teenagers and my first thought was “Well that’s just great, isn’t it? A tiring and testing day and now a noisy rabble to contend with. Fantastic.”

Actually, though, they were all surprisingly well behaved, and as I was cooking my dinner and hadn’t yet been stabbed by one of the sharp meat knives, I struck up a conversation with a few of them and it turns out they were all Danish, on a school trip to find out about the UK. We ended up chatting for a good while, me telling them about my work in the Parliament and about the great times you have at university, and they told me all about Denmark and their school. It was a fascinating couple of hours. Eventually their teacher came in and reminded them that they were supposed to be in bed 15 minutes ago. They all lept to their feet, apologised to him profusely and scattered upstairs. It could have been such a different set of circumstances, with them coming back at 3 in the morning having been out all night finding out whether beer or wine bottles have the best impact when thrown against a shop window. They had, in fact, been sitting around a table, politely making conversation, and had forgot about the time. I was impressed.

Today I have been mostly…learning about the co-decision procedure and sampling Greek food and wine at a reception.

Still Life

Sardinia

Just back from Sardinia, where I joined my family who were staying near Stintino, in the North West of the island. As we went out of season, both Stintino and the surrounding area were deserted, giving the place a very “League-of-Gentlemen” feel: “Lei è locale?”

It reminded me in a way of where I come from, North West Wales. Beautiful scenery, absolutely packed with people in the summer months, and a bleak emptiness in the winter months. I began to wonder what would pass for news in Stintino, what would get the locals chatting excitedly in the shops, cafes and by the post box:

“Man Drops Keys Down Drain”

“Last Night’s Full Moon: Exclusive pictures inside!”

Speculating on what might constitute headline material in this remote part of Sardinia reminds me that North West Wales has itself produced some memorable “news” items recently:

Man rang 999 to report cold meal

Man gets breakfast tattoo on head

There comes a time when Scrabble clearly loses its appeal…

Familiarity

I’ve started my adventure in Brussels and today’s post, ladies and gents, is on the topic of familiarity. I’ve just spent a really good weekend in London meeting some old friends, some I’ve known for less than a year and others who I’ve known for at least the last ten years. I met some of their friends, all of whom were instantly welcoming, and it was interesting to meet some of the people I’d heard about in the stories told by my friends from home, during university holidays.

I’d been to Brighton the night before, a place I’m beginning to get to know better, and even though London is quite intimidating it’s still obviously British in character.

Arriving in Brussels on the Eurostar, was a bit of a shock, for suddenly I knew nobody and nothing was familiar. I was relieved at how quickly things started to become familiar, however. I started speaking French with the taxi driver, which was a source of comfort as I’ve been brought up going to France on family holidays, and spent last summer living and working in Bordeaux.

I checked into the Youth Hostel, and then took a taxi to drop off my heavy luggage at the house where I’ll be living for the next five months. I told the driver where I wanted to go and tried to show him the address on a printed email, but after about twenty minutes of driving he asked me to give him the address again, and then realised he’d be heading for a similar-sounding street in the wrong direction. It was alright, though, because he reset the taxi meter and then started talking in a lively manner about how he absolutely had to be finished by 6pm or else his wife would be angry. I was trying my best to understand and respond to the French, but secretly I was just willing him to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel.

That evening I went to a St David’s Day reception hosted by the Welsh Assembly, although I arrived only in time for the after-speech food and drinks. In the crowd there was a surprising absence of Welsh, and of familiar accents. Obviously I wasn’t expecting the unmistakeable sound of Maesgeirchen to come drifting (or rather, charging) across the floor, but the sounds of somewhere in Gwynedd would’ve been nice. I didn’t know anyone there, so I ended up randomly introducing myself to a few people who looked about my age. I met a political researcher and a couple of interns who were really friendly; they gave me their contact details and invited me out for drinks once I’d got settled in Brussels.

Yesterday I thought I’d better try and explore a bit of the city, so I wandered around the centre, with its shops, and unwittingly tried out the metro during the rush hour, which was heaving (“I am not a wall, Monsieur”). I had a new room-mate in the YH, Nicolas from Paris, so we went for a drink last night. He told me that if I want to sound more French I need to speak in a more monotone accent (“Ton accent, c’est trop vivant”), and I told him that yes, it’s true, there are people in Britain who really do enjoy Marmite.

 

 

 

 

Gifts of a different kind

sunrise-from-ysbyty-gwynedd.jpg

It’s been a good day today, a day of simple pleasures.

A short bike ride to the beach with my Dad, cruising along the track that runs parallel to the sand. The wind is cold but the sun is out, and the hills are a vivid green in the distance.
Enjoying a quick BLT sandwich in the cafe and catching up with some friends in the village.
I’m doing well, thanks. So where have you moved to now? Working in the power station, is he?
Then an afternoon in the pub with an old schoolfriend I haven’t seen for a whole twelve
months, lots to report from both sides. Leaping from April to October then back to July as
tales are told, characters are quoted and conclusions are drawn. In lowered voices we
exchange the most daring jokes we’ve heard since the last meeting, the ones which make you gasp but leave you grinning.

I’ll be writing to say thanks for the book vouchers, of course, but it’s moments like these
that I’m really grateful for.

Let’s just take you off that drip for a minute, dear, it’s time to start dancing!

I had my very first session as a radio broadcaster last night! I’ve been doing some work experience with Radio Ysbyty Gwynedd, a hospital radio station which broadcasts to the patients of Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Llandudno hospital. Last night saw me co-present the show with Alan, and yes, I was nervous. Not so much about the broadcasting itself, you understand, because when there’s just the two of you in the studio with the mixing desk and computer, it’s really just as if you’re talking amongst yourselves, albeit with headphones and microphones attached.

No, what was going through my mind the whole time has to do with my tendency towards Stupid, Glaringly Inappropriate Talk, or, in short, the Stupid GIT effect. Those of you who are, like myself, rather absent-minded when it comes to Considering the Consequences, will know exactly what I mean. One becomes accustomed to the awkward silences, the attempts at avoiding eye-contact by feigning an oh-so-sudden interest in one’s own shoelaces, before finally reaching in the thick fog of embarrassment for that ever-handy escape route, the Random Excuse to Leave (or RELeave if you’re taking shorthand).
Most of us, with the exception of, perhaps, Mother Teresa, have been there at some point. You’re in the company of the local vicar, spill the tea as you pass her a cup and, thoughts elsewhere, you mutter “Christ, that’s hot!” as the scalding beverage trickles down your hand.
You’re at the bus stop, talking to the man in the wheelchair, and in the middle of the discussion on the state of public transport you rhetorically inquire, “Don’t you just hate it when you have to leg it for the bus?”

So, when I was doing my co-presenting last night, although I was only really reading out requests, I kept thinking of topics or jokes that I just should mentally label as UNSAFE. There’s an example, right there: I did not, for example, have a “mental” Friday night out; I had, for the sake of the listeners, a delightful time at the…jigsaw club dinner.

Hospitals have got enough issues with people complaining about the lack of hygiene. Let’s hope Hospital Radio doesn’t make it to their list of things which need to be kept clean…

A half single to showbiz success?

I couldn’t believe it as I started reading the poster on the bus the other day. As I strained to read the details, I wondered what other unexpected ideas this particular bus company was going to come up with, in what seemed to be a bizarre attempt at bringing a bit of, er, “X appeal” to the bus industry.

What I was looking at was a poster for, yes, “Bus Driver X Factor”.

Takes quite a bit of imagination, not to mention courage, don’t you think?

According to the press release, the aim of Bus Driver X Factor is to “find the best driver as nominated and voted for by Arriva customers”, based on criteria such as the driver’s tendency to be “smiling and friendly”, accompanied perhaps by such virtues as being “always prepared to help people getting on and off the bus”.
The regional finals (I’m not making this up, honest) promise to be exciting, as the drivers battle it out in the fight to be “crowned as the Bus Driver X Factor winner”, receiving a trophy and cash prize at the end of the competition.

I’m a bit concerned, though, that the drivers of the buses I use regularly might let the fiercely competitive atmosphere, which must surely be stirring up between themselves and fellow drivers, distract them from actually doing their job.
Suppose John (or Ian or Ken or whoever) is constantly dreaming of Bus Driver Glory, his head full of images of That Beautiful Moment when the Trohpy Is Finally Mine, that he speeds straight past the request stop, oblivious to the protests and frantic waving?
What of the pressure and inevitable media intrusion into drivers’ private lives (“Service 32 Exeter to Taunton’s Phil in Short Change Shocker”) that will no doubt accompany such an event?

We’re supposed to be on the look out for signs of consideration, but will the inter-driver rivalry render our bus drivers even more bad-tempered and snappy than before?



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