salubrious places, shifting sands and broken bodies
23rd July 2013
In the guesthouse, before I leave, I pick up the information pack to find the check-out time. At the back of the information pack there is a brief history of thebuilt during the growth of in the . At that time was such a big port, founded on metal working in the valleys above, that there were 25 foreign consulates here. I also learn that the was the first passenger-carrying railway in the world. I feel I should have known that already, on my doorstep. I did read on a information board that it was the building of the railway that enabled the then village of to grow as a dormitory town for those working in , but, I guess, wanting more salubrious surroundings.
This reminds me that as you drive throughthere is a modern brick building, with a sort of dome-shaped front, that has the words ‘ ‘ emblazoned high on its frontage. I assume that while the building looks modern the name is .
The hotel has an almost boutique feel to it with lovely furniture and decoration in the front room, and attention to detail throughout, but without the four posters, chintz and snowdrift-like piles of sequinned cushions of the true boutique hotel! As I check out,, one of the proprietors, tells me that indeed he had run a boutique hotel in for many years before coming here two years ago, but here he wanted to create a more homely atmosphere.
I drive fromto , but knowing that I will drive back the same way as soon as I have checked into the campsite there. Earlier in the morning I had had a phone call from the office of about an interview with journalists at . had mentioned this the night before, and they rang to confirm. is back the other side of , but I have plenty of time over the next few days, so decide to make this another no-walk day, although a lot of driving.
On the way to, I drive the coast way to scout out breakfast possibilities for the next day. The at (‘food served all day’) does not open until 12 (‘all day’ suitably defined); at , where the car park had been packed and the beach full of bathers on Sunday, the only café is closed Monday to Wednesday, and there is just a beach-side burger van that opens at 10; even further down the road at the roadside inn does not open until 11am. So, it will be a burger-van breakfast, probably eaten on the hoof.
is a little hidden behind a small estate of chalets, but I find it with direction from a man with an t-shirt. The campsite is well laid out and has one of the best toilet and shower blocks I have seen. Each shower area is like two rooms, one with the shower and one with a sink and one of those white patio armchairs, and I took a peek in the disabled shower room, which is cavernous. A man is washing dishes and tells me that the current owners had been long-term campers themselves, knew how important the shower block is, and so designed the shower block first and then fitted the rest of the site around it.
I got out my electric cable and filled with water, to make the evening set up easier, then set back off throughto , an odd feeling as I am ‘going back’ a couple of weeks as I drive; space and time have become so intertwined.
While waiting in, a black people carrier with darkened windows pulls in. Out of it step a family of , dressed, with the exception of the three girls’ identical pink cardigans, in black, including the little girls’ black stockinged feet in the sand. I wonder how they can manage the heat, this is not the loose layered black women’s clothing you see in some countries, but jackets, trousers, skirts and waistcoats. Mind you, do the same and maybe for less reason.
As I’d arrived quite early, I sit in the van reading and writing for an hour or so, peeking out of the window every time I notice a car arrives, until I see a man get out of a car with a rucksack and small briefcase. As I look more carefully I see he has a the of . Although the job involves the normal round of deskwork, he also spends a considerable amount of time meeting people in beautiful places like this and getting involved in initiatives such as schemes for ‘problem’ youngsters.t-shirt. I go over and we greet each other. It turns out he is
He tells me about one project where teenagers who were not getting on at school and regularly truanting spent substantial periods of time in the outdoors, progressing from simple walks to full mountain expeditions. Although this took them away from school as much as their truanting, still their grades at school showed dramatic improvements.
The journalists are also interviewing a lady,, who used to work at the in , and retired to some years ago. I listen avidly to the things she is saying to the journalists and chat to her while they are busy with other things. She has such an amazing knowledge. She tells us about the miners who would come down by train from the valleys and cross on the ferry to for their summer holidays; before that the pilgrimage route ran through here in , and further back still there was , I think it was , occupation.
We also talk about the little shack community at. She said it started as tents for some taking more substantial summer holidays, and gradually some of the tents became makeshift corrugated iron structures, which developed in complexity and began to be occupied more continuously, until the local landowner realised he could charge rent and the community became, in a sense, normalised. At one point there was an old bus there. I had noticed, when I walked through, that there were some very ‘developed’ properties, although still made of modern steel section. She knows one person who has had one of the shacks there for many years, and feels it is becoming too upmarket.
Evidently the area of land there used to be much more extensive, with several farms and a small borough of its own, but gradually the shifting path of the river eroded the land away, so that the many farms became one, houses were lost to the water, and so, by the time of the campers, there was little more than the strip of land between hillside and sea that there is today.
While we wander round the headland looking for good places for photographs and talk, across the bay smoke rises and at first we think the helicopter is putting out a bush fire, until, above the distant chatter of helicopter rotors, we hear a louder rattle and realise this is a live firing exercise at the firing ranges near.
It has been a lovely evening, meeting, the journalists and people from , but a long one, and it is nearly nine by the time we finish, with an hour or so drive back to still ahead of me – I am very glad I’d sorted out the campsite earlier!
I need to stop into get food and had been told that there were several 24-hour supermarkets here. Roadworks make the road system in the centre of more complex and I know that both supermarkets and also fast-food places tend to be near the edge of the centre, but not at the very centre of a town. A semi-random skirting of the town takes me down a two-way street that is temporarily one way due to traffic works, with fast-food shops lining one side and cars parked on the double yellow lines. For some reason my law-abiding gene forces me to a car park and I have to walk back past the lines of yellow-line-parked cars to a kebab shop that also tells me where to find a for milk.
Walking back down the fast-food street I also notice it is the home of multiple money shops of various kinds. At a time when interest rates are so low, still, if you are poor or vulnerable, then you end up, even at the legal end of the market, paying the equivalent of several thousand per cent ; it is sad that it is necessary, but a promising initiative. to set up credit unionsin pay-day loans or those sell and buy back later stores. It was heartening to see, a few days later, that the is trying to get
Amongst the fast-food and money shops, there is ‘‘ the , a church youth centre and the . I think also about the food bank at , and the cross-church project I know about in organised initially by the . It is heartening to see these initiatives, the way people give so generously of their time, but they are also shocking in their prevalence.
Although there will have always been food needed at centres for homeless people, and various last resort charities, the common need for food handouts is not something I have seen in my lifetime until the last few years. It is as if we are unravelling fifty, maybe one hundred years of social development.
It is easy to say "it is just the recession, it is hitting everyone", but this is not the case, the high-end ‘executive’ housing is still clearly being built, house prices down thehave hardly fallen in the areas favoured by second home buyers, and, while the car industry has slumped, luxury cars have never had such huge sales. We are creating a brave new world that is not only unjust, but ultimately unstable.
I am reminded of the opening scenes of ‘‘ where the ‘s carriage runs over a young child, but the occupant is worried only at the delay in squeezing past the inconvenient morass of poverty. Although the bloody bodies are not there literally, still with childhood rickets and scurvy on the rise, we are already seeing children’s health sent back to a time before the , young bodies are being broken and young hearts wrung dry daily, permanently and directly by current public policy.
The mysterious ‘journalists’ above were (@rajeshmirchand), () and a cameraman, whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry!), who were filming for a report about the , the progress of which is being set back by funding cuts. They were looking at the to see how important it is to have a complete coast path rather than simply focus energy on a few selected places.
The available on starting at 26:40 (as long as the keep it available), but only includes a glimpse of me walking … the interview with me hit the cutting room floor as did much else, hours of filming for a few minutes on screen.report was aired on . The report is
I was fascinated by the whole process; they need to make sure they have anything they could possibly need, from images of our feet walking to out of focus shots of flowers, as they cannot come back for more once they are in the cutting room. Digital filming has advantages as they can take more than they would have once done using analog film or tape, effectively leaving many editorial decisions until later, but it has disadvantages. On the way back,bent down and picked up a bright yellow envelope, it was one of the storage cards that had slipped out of ‘s pocket – you could never drop a carton of celluloid like that!