Going back to Britain is not the same as it once was. I suppose that is a truism as, how could it be when I have spent the majority of the past few years outside the country of my birth.
It used to be that I felt a certain amount of excitement to ‘go home’ because of the people I knew I’d meet; the places I would be able to revisit; the shops that I miss so much, and the culture that used to be an important part of my life there. All of those things are still reasons to enjoy my return. But it is not the same.
I know that it’s a cliché, but the bloody weather really does get me down. I mean, it rains here in Spain and we have cloud and the winter is cold and it can be very windy. But, and it is a very big ‘but’, on most days you get to see the sun. It may not be very strong, and you may not see it for very long, but you do see it. And that is important. Very important.
I have not had the courage to check the weather forecast for Cardiff for the next few days. It may be that the weather will be a delightful surprise for me and I will relish it all the more for being unexpected. If it’s what I fear, then friends and culture and shops will have to do. And ‘do’ they will.
I think that I have left it far too late to trawl through the libraries in Cardiff in the hope that some institution will have the obscure journal, or at least the obscure article that I am finding so elusive at the moment. This is for my ‘research’ for my final piece of work in my Open University degree.
So, if you know of anywhere, or indeed if you happen to have a complete run of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts going back to 1982, then do let me know. The article I am interested in is by A. S. Fuchs, and is snappily titled, “The Virgin of the Councillors by Lluís Dalmau (1443-1445): The Contract and its Eyckian Execution.” It’s in volume 99 and on pages 45-54 – nine pages of what I am convinced will be eminently quotable stuff for me to us. Just if I can get my eyes on it. I live in hope!
Well, the above was written days ago, just before I actually went to Cardiff. Why, you may ask, have I written nothing since, while I was there?
Good question. To which the answer is capitalism.
Let me explain. In this modern world of ours, the Internet is not a luxury reserved for technology geeks – at least not entirely – but is something that all of us build our lives around. Probably we do this to the extent that we don’t actually think very much about the Internet, we just use it. Which is fine and dandy, until you find that you do not have access. Which is were capitalism comes in.
The hotel group I was using has the phrase “Wi-Fi throughout the hotel” in a massive banner outside the building. And, indeed it does.
What is not made clear is that you have to pay for it. A disgrace, but there you are. Nothing is for nothing in this harsh world (unless of course, you are a banker or developer or a member of the Conservative Party) and if you want ‘it’ you have to pay for it. Which I duly did.
And still couldn’t get access to my blogspace. I even wrote a daily screed and then spent fruitless moments (I am a hasty sort of person) trying vainly to get the thing to upload. But it didn’t and so I am now returned with little in the way of literary effusion to show for my short stay in Cardiff. So I will summarize.
I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and immediately went to the branch of Lidl which was at the end of the road on which the hotel was situated. And got something of a shock. The same sort of shock I had when I went into the London, Kensington branch of Tesco and discovered that there was a whole range of foodstuff set out temptingly for me on the shelves that had never been seen in the Tesco in St Mellons. I suppose you have to have some knowledge of Cardiff and its suburbs to grasp the distance between the social aspirations of Kensington and those of new St Mellons, but take it from one who knows – they’re vast! So, in much the same way, I was interested in the differences there were between the Welsh and the Catalan take on what a consumer would want.
Much of the stuff was common, but it was in the details that the differences became clear. Suffice to say that I took a half-price bottle of 20 year-old Tawny Port to my friends’ house that evening.
Where, it turned out, I was not expected until the following night! However that merely meant that I had two evenings with my friends rather than one!
The next day was largely taken up with the funeral of my aunt, which was the reason that I had come to Cardiff in the first place. This went well, if you can say that about funerals, and it was good to see members of my family.
My Friends Part II – Now It’s Dinner Time, made a good end to the day with much talk, excellent food and a small glass of Tawny Port with some delicious and creamy Stilton cheese.
The next days were taken up with visits, including one to my last remaining representative of my parents’ generation: my father’s younger sister, my aunt. Although she is not at all well, it was an excellent visit and one of her comments stayed with me so clearly that I wrote a poem about it.
If you wish to read that, or any other of the drafts of a range of poems that I have written, please go to smrnewpoems.blogspot.com.es
When I attempted to go to the local leisure centre for a swim, a clearly embarrassed lady asked for my age and, on being given it, announced triumphantly that I could swim for nothing! As I have previously made slighting remarks about the impossibility of getting anything for nothing, I can only excuse such blatant hypocrisy by stating that I had paid Cardiff Council Tax (and all its other manifestations) for decades before moving to Spain, so I feel that the council has been richly repaid for their moment of generosity. For which, by the way I am sincerely grateful!
Shops, friends and restaurants filled up other time, but I did make space for one visit that I had prepared for: a trip to the National Museum of Wales to see, once again, the Rembrandt portrait. This painting had been on loan to the museum, then it was taken back, eventually sold and appeared to be out of reach. But, the new owner (having paid thirty-five million quid for it) decided to loan it to the museum for three years. It had to be seen, and I envisaged a sequence of three poem connected to its being viewed. The first one has been written, the second in lying in notes in my notebook and the third is just a hazy idea at the moment.
The portrait of Catrina Hoghsaet is a brilliant work and, considering how much Gareth Bale cost Real Madrid, seems something of a bargain – given that Bale is just going to decline and be finished in his career in a few years, whereas the Rembrandt (with careful conservation) will last into the next centuries. Anyway, this writing is partly displacement activity to avoid the start of the work that will bring the other two poems into existence.
It only remains to say that on the flight to and from Cardiff, I was able, at no further cost, to get a seat by the emergency exit and so my legs were able to breathe!
Home in Castelldefels and I have decreed summer. I rode back from the swimming pool this morning without wearing my thin coat; I have given up the undershirt; I am wearing shorts and I had a café con hielo – all of that for me, is like hearing the first cuckoo of spring, but for summer, if you see what I mean. The next step is swimming in the sea.
And that might take a while!