Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wales part 2

I’m on deadline and also trying not to think about yesterday’s post. Some is excellent – eg cheque, Italian copy of The Cinderella Project and apology for overcharging me and correct bill from accountant (this is the third year running I’ve had to query something – but you can guarantee if I change accountants the Inland Revenue will decide to investigate me and, although I’ve nothing to hide, I could do without the upheaval, so I’ll see how it goes next year). I also have proofs of The Doctor’s Royal Love-Child to do, and… OK. Am bricking it because now I have a date for my scary dental appointment; the stuff that came with it makes them come across as completely scary rather than kind. (Am torn between being very bolshy and very scared. Am certainly going to tell my lovely dentist on Tuesday that they are v intimidating.) So rather than think about that I’m going to distract you with more Tales from Wales.

Oh, and I nearly didn’t mention Welsh cakes. We had no ice cream on holiday (because we couldn’t find any!). But Welsh cakes… Daughter: ‘These are scrummy. Will you teach me how to cook them?’ Darling, I’ve never made Welsh cakes. What makes you think I know how to do them? ‘Because you’re the best cooker in the world and you can do anything.’ (Lovely compliment, but she’s also right in that at present I’m oven-shaped. Son and DH had the DVD camera and filmed me… so unfortunately now I know how many spare chins and spare tyres I have, and I can’t stay in denial any more. Especially as I weighed myself this morning… OK. When this book is delivered I’m going to schedule exercise into my day.)

Monday 23 July – driving through clouds
Went to the Big Pit (Pwll Mawr) at Blaenavon, the national mining museum of Wales, and on the way drove through a cloud, which was REALLY spooky – the equivalent of thick fog, narrow winding roads with a steep drop on one side, and sheep that just wandered out in front of the car. (Kids’ verdict: ‘That was fun. Can we do it again?’ DH, with very firm look at me: ‘No, Mum is going to navigate us a different route back.’) We had a tour round the coalmine; no batteries were allowed underground so we had to hand over all watches and cameras and put on the safety gear - which weighed 5kg. The lift shaft took us down 90m, and we were very squashed in the cage. The tunnels were so low we had to stoop (yes, even me), and our guide Llyn was excellent, telling us exactly how they used to do the various tasks in the mine. We could even see the seams of coal – I understand now why they’re called ‘black diamonds’ because the stuff really sparkles. (We had a coal fire when I was very young but I don’t remember sparkly coal.) Those poor pit ponies - even though the miners spoiled them - having to live and work in the dark for 11 months of the year... Am keeping politics out of this, but I do question whether closing the mines was the right thing to do. There's more than just money involved: there’s the life of the communities involved too. And given the mess our country is in right now, I believe that essential services (water and power and post) should be nationalised and run efficiently and effectively.

Read Milly Johnson's The Yorkshire Pudding Club and enjoyed it thoroughly - lively characters, made me laugh for the right reasons, and I will never look at Marmite in the same way again...

Tuesday 24 July – Raglan and Caerphilly
Went to Raglan, which must have been stunning in its heyday. There were 102 spiral steps to the top of the Great Tower, with stunning views; there was also once a very important library which was ruined by dearest Cromwell (so all the documents relating to Tintern Abbey were lost - am not sure whether I loathe Cromwell or Henry VIII most for the irreparable damage they caused: take rest of enormous rant as read) and the windows are all that remain of the library.

Then to Tredegar House; stupidly we didn't take the leaflet with us so we ended up driving round tiny villages and narrow roads with NO SIGNPOSTS anywhere to guide us - and the house wasn’t in the village of Tredegar (or even New Tredegar), it was in Newport. And it was closed on Tuesdays. Sigh. So we went to Caerphilly Castle instead. Very impressed by the leaning tower (apparently the degree of lean is 10 per cent - so of course I had to take the tourist pic of DH and son pretending to hold up the tower) and the water defences.

Read Robert Goddard's Never Go Back - enjoyed it, though had to pretend the characters were 20 years younger for it to work properly for me. Good plot, though. Also bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the way home and read it that evening - very satisfying ending. And not as much self-indulgence. Son was horrified. ‘You read HP in just one evening?’ Uh-huh. It’s only 600 pages ish. I’m a fast reader… If I’d told him that I read a book that morning before I got up, too, he would’ve freaked. Perfect way to unwind: DH brought me a cup of tea, just the way I like it (i.e. Earl Grey, very weak and milky), and I didn’t get out of bed until THREE HOURS past my usual getting-up time because I was reading, cuddled up to him.

Wednesday 25 July – Clearwell and Chepstow
Rainy so we decided to do something indoors, i.e. underground, and went to Clearwell Caves – iron had been mined there since Roman times. Interesting to read about the life of the iron miners (I think the coal miners treated the child workers rather better than the iron miners did – freaked son when he realised that had he been born in the 1830s instead of the 1990s he would’ve been working for two years now and only going to school for a couple of hours in the evenings). The caves themselves were a little disappointing, but that’s because I was expecting something more like the Blue John mines. No stalagmites or stalactites, but what you can see here is flowstone, which grows at the rate of 1 cubic centimetre per 100 years. (Yes, of course Nerdy Kate collected facts. That's where son gets it from...)
Then we went to Chepstow Castle; very interesting (and I bet it’s stunning when the river isn’t swollen and discoloured with flood water - the rivers were all the colour of melted milk chocolate because of the soil washed down off the hills and the rivers bursting their banks) but it poured with rain, and was very eerie when seagulls screamed into the gloom. Some lovely wallpaintings; also interesting to see the connection with home via Roger Bigod.

Read Adele Geras's Facing the Light - fabulous read and I'll definitely be buying more of hers. Reminded me of a cross between Judith Lennox and Robert Goddard at his best; excellent characterisation.


Michelle Styles said...

It sounds like you had a lovely holiday.

And start scheduling exercise NOW. Before your book is finished. YUse the time you are exercising as thinking time.
I say this as I have to start doing it as well...
A writing friend told me that she gained 5 lbs for every book. If it keeps going this way for me, it won't be pretty!

Liz Fielding said...

I got on the scales yesterday, too, Kate. No wonder I had to take all those things back to M&S because they didn't fit... :(

I've done Big Pit and the weight of the helmets is incredible. My kids have mining blood on both sides; my grandfather was part of the rescue team in the Sengenydd disaster, and the dh qualified as a mining surveyor before realising that there wasn't much future in it and moved above ground.

He still talks about it with incredible passion and enthusiasm, despite the fact that his father was badly burned in an explosion. The parts of his face where he had skin grafts showed white when it was cold and you see where his face mask had been. They gave him a miniature lamp and a certificate when he retired through ill health after 48 years...

Politics and coal mines ... there's no escaping it.

Liz Fielding said...

Michelle, I'm trying to work that out. I was 7 stone 10 lb when I first started writing so if I'd gained 5lbs for every book I wouldn't be able to get in this chair, but I've gained nearly 1lb for every book and believe me, it ain't pretty!