It wasn’t the weather that I found to be chilly in Cardiff. But with a mammoth shopping zone and some world-class activities for young people, Cardiff is not without its redeeming qualities.
The story I share here is not very representative of my visit, but it was my favourite encounter in Wales’ capital city.
Lunch from a Bygone era
“It’s chilly today,” she said for the second time, even though it was actually unseasonably warm. In fact, today with a high of 17 degrees Celcius, I had been told earlier that now I did not need to come back to experience summer since I already have. Well that is lucky, I nearly spoke aloud. My experience in Cardiff so far had not left me wanting more. (The typical summer high is only 19 degrees Celcius.)
“It is a bit fresh,” I agreed back. She sat having just ordered, with her shopping trolley for company. “Were you doing your shopping today then?” We’re sat side-by-side at single tables facing the the serving area in the middle of a restaurant/coffee shop on St. Mary’s. Clearly a hang-out for the pensioner crowd when downtown on errands, it looked about my pace today. I’ve eaten in enough pubs and sometimes one wants to pass the gastronomic delights of the trendy cafe culture for some simple food.
“I was to see my Doctor, he tells me it will take a month before my lungs clear up,” she declares, a hand just below her neck. “Did he give you any tablets?” “No, he didn’t. He said it will just go away, but he did tell me to take it easy.”
“I have arthritis from here to here,” she shows me. She still has good upper-mobility for an octogenarian, able to put her hand on the back of her neck and the bottom of her spine. “I do have tablets for that, for the pain.”
“Do you remember the flood we had twenty years back?” she asks but doesn’t wait for a response. “It rained solid for twelve straight hours!” “That’s a lot of rain,” I encourage. “I was a cleaner at the bank. I had this really heavy professional vacuum cleaner, you know, those big shiny metal ones they made, but I wasn’t allowed to use the lift. So, I would put my vacuum into the lift, press the button, and then run down the stairs to get it!” she tells me, laughing at the memory and how absurd it seems today. “There was no way I could carry it, it was way too heavy!” “I guess those were the days of upstairs/downstairs,” I suggest. “Aye yes they were. A cleaner woman wouldn’t use the same lift that customers and front staff used, but there was only one lift so we had to use the stairs.” “Things sure have changed,” I comment.
“I had the day off, I was working six days then. I decided to give my own home a real good scrub. I’d been at it all day and didn’t even know it was raining until my son, he came home, didn’t he, when he opened the door water near filled-up my house!”
“It kept coming and at its highest it were up to here!” she shows me on the wall between us. Nearly shoulder height when sitting, the chair rail. ” I couldn’t believe it! I wasted my whole day! You should have seen the mess! I’ve fourteen steps down to my cellar, very deep, and even after it was all over the water only lowered to just below the first stair.”
There’s a pause as she sips her tea and takes a bite of toast. “Do you have family in Cardiff?” I inquire. “Oh yes, too many family. I don’t know how many grandchildren. I tried to buy things for them to share at Christmas, and Julie, she complained that I never bought her nothing! And what did I get? Nothing!”
“Actually, I did get five gift cards, for five pound each, you know, for Boots or somewhere. There was a big sale at the bookstore so I got myself fifteen books! They were three-for-five pounds. I love reading. ”
“My son, he never left, his Dad died when he was twenty-five so he stayed around to take his place, like. He never married. I told him he should marry, but he didn’t”
“You’re lucky to have your family So close. In Canada, I live in a different time-zone than my mother.” “You’re from Canada? I’ve been there! Fifteen odd years ago I took a cruise of Canada.” (Does she mean she took a tour?) “One place, the guide took us to this great French Mansion, I’d never seen anything like it, and he said, ‘This is where you’ll be staying.’ Well, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t put it into words what it was like, but none of us took the tour the next day, we didn’t want to leave the hotel! I can’t remember where is was.” (There are a number of possibilities, the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec or the Fairmont Banff Springs are probably most likely.)
“Did you travel by yourself?” “I did. I always wanted to go and my son, he told me, if you want to do it Mam, then you should.”
The stories continued rolling until she was done her buttered toast and cup of tea, and I my mixed grill. I thanked her for her interesting stories and we parted ways. As I got outside I looked back and saw her just a few steps from our tables with her trolley taking baby steps.
Getting old is hard, I thought, but we all do and she’s had her turn. She made my day and elevated my feeling for Cardiff. So this is a place that may have had a friendly past. I wonder what happened.