Cardiff January 2012 Pubs
Cardiff seems to have a rather strong pub culture, with lots of great venues of various different themes and vibes from iconic traditional to modern gastronomic high-design flagships. I know I was attracted to the pub culture during my long week in this city, and no doubt drinking would take a considerable role in my life were I to actually live there. The role of alcohol to one’s enjoyment of Cardiff probably cannot be overstated.
Not in a rush, I wait patiently at the bar while others are served. I don’t really care how quickly I’m served to join my party of one. A number of patrons cut ahead of me, I do stand out being taller than this crowd and a bit differently dressed, I am noticed but ignored. One could not look up and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there, four inches taller than me and wearing a black fedora.” But I don’t mind the queue-jumping as long as I do eventually get a drink.
The barmaid does finally notice my permanent residence directly in front of her and addresses her known-answer question to me and a young woman to my left. “Who’s next then?” As I step forward the young lady, who had just walked up, makes a face and scornfully mutters, “He is,” shooting me an absolute look of death.
Am I inside some sad angry prison? Where have I come that people are so sour? Social interactions in this city are starting to feel like punishments.
A gentleman in his 50’s starts to sing-along with muted music, much to the dismay of his formally-dressed wife. A posh group of two couples, they are clearly having a full night on the town as I stand at a nearby counter, jotting down notes from the day. “At least he has a nice singing voice,” I console, I am standing directly next to the two women. Their attention turns to me.
“Are you a writer?” they inquire. “What are you writing about?”
“Oh!” they lighten, “so what do you think?”
These seem like nice people. Probably not from Cardiff. I have to pause to be diplomatic after 6 days of wandering this town. “Well, last month in New York City I had 30 great days. One week here I’ve had one pleasant evening. So I couldn’t call it a smashing success.” (My pleasant evening was with two girls I met who were visiting Cardiff from a nearby town, Pontypridd.)
“Don’t you feel like we Welsh welcome you with arms wide open?” the man who was singing suggests while he gestures a big open hug.
“Nnnooooo,” I offer tentatively, “I’ve been surprised that the people here have been shockingly harsh.” I feel badly saying this to the nice people, but it’s true.
“Oh, you’ve met the wrong people then, ” posh woman number two states, who lived 3 years in Montreal with her husband.
“Yes, I certainly have.”
At the Duke of Wellington I meet a homeless alcoholic who talks about his plans to soon visit Ireland. “Where will you stay?” I ask. “I don’t need anywhere to say,” he replies.
Oh right, of course.
My flat rental came with an unexpected flat owner who assumed I wouldn’t mind if he stayed on the couch. If I had rented a flat-share it would have been far cheaper, less than half the amount I paid for an entire flat rental. Additionally, he didn’t tell me of his changed plans and that he would be staying. After giving me an introduction and showing me around, he just didn’t leave. So a couple days later I finally moved to a far more conveniently-located accommodation, a hotel which cost less money and gave me privacy. For some reason, the 5 minute walk to the city centre kept taking 25 minutes and this misrepresentation of the property I also found annoying. The agency refunded my money because they agreed, flat rentals are meant to come vacant, even if the owner does have time-off from his work which usually takes him out-of-town. “But I bought you fish and chips,” the deluded man argued after I’d left.
Anyway, one day while I was still staying there I decided to grab lunch at the neighbourhood pub near the flat. After finding a nice, amicable seat where I’m able to interact with others at the bar I discover that food is not on today. Since I’m here now, I decide, I might as well have a pint anyway, chat with the locals, maybe do a bit of writing and find lunch afterwards.
Before taking a sip of my just-paid-for pint I am shooed-away. Despite there being no drink, no coat, nothing to suggest this seat was already claimed, I am sent away brusquely as the trespasser I apparently am. There’s nowhere else to go but to a segregated table section that’s entirely empty. I take the nearest seat for a few moments and take another sip. This is pointless, I think, I didn’t want the drink, I wanted the experience of the drink. I walk-out leaving my full pint on the table.
A social meet-up, four of us made RSVPs indicating our intention to attend a decent little spot in Cardiff’s impressive shopping district. I arrive on-time and find myself alone. I take a table for 4 and contrive a meet-up sign using my tablet, since I am here ahead of the organiser.
A little more than minutes later, a friendly man about my own age appears. A dweller of the countryside not too far outside of Cardiff, he attends organised meet-ups regularly as he enjoys social situations. He may enjoy them but he is not good at them. Socially gifted, he is not.
I am embarrassed to be with him as he holds service staff hostage to his endless pointless ramblings. The staff are fantastically patient. After twenty minutes pouring over the cake menu he still requires lengthy assistance before his final selection can be made. Deciding on the right sweet is a momentous commitment to this fellow, it is not a decision he takes lightly. Imagine going for dinner with him, I couldn’t abide it. Would I fake an emergency phone call and run out the door, leaving cash on the table in excess of my bill? Fake going to the washroom, pay and sneak away? The kind of man who just will not stop talking and does not pick-up on any social cues, it seems like I may end-up going through the payment process and finding myself awkwardly walking away from him still bantering on. I fantasise about escaping, ending this interaction, while he goes on and on and on.
The two other attendees never show and with portable internet I can see that they also never cancelled. Somehow it is 2 hours before I escape this man’s company. I nearly run as we part ways, early in the evening. He suggests he’d be happy to continue on somewhere else. I will continue on somewhere else, but only after he’s out of my line of vision and out of ear-shot. Whatever way he’s going, I go opposite, and in a hurry. “Which way are you going? . . . .Oh, I’m going this way, bye.” “But I thought you said you stayed . . . .” his voice trailing off in the distance as I round a corner and continue on to reclaim my happy-place anywhere he is not.
(Note: I am a nice person, not generally judgemental and I play well with others. He was simply exceptional, as was my landlord who I should have met briefly and never have seen again, according to my rental contract. Actually, thinking about it, there may be quite a few exceptional people in Cardiff.)
Cardiff is not Wales. When I have fully recovered from my stay in Cardiff I may try to visit other places in that nation to see if I can find the warm, friendly, down-to-earth Wales I had imagined.
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