We left Llanfoist tonight around 4pm and drove in increasing darkness along the winding road to Brecon where we were going to see Joanna Lumley switch on the Christmas lights at 6pm.
We parked just away from the town centre at the Brecon Theatre which proved a smart move as the town was awash with families out to celebrate with a large sound stage erected in the town square where a local youth theatre group was singing Christmas carols.
All round there were street stalls offering Christmas cookies, cakes, decorations alongside the less traditional burger van although I did see that mulled wine was on offer alongside keg lager and wine! It was raining as we arrived and quite cold so we shelter in the local Costa for a hot panini with coffee but luckily the weather turned dry and warmer for the main event so we didn’t stay there too long.
First up were a traditional quartet of Nepalese dancers introduced by the local community group representative who I believe had been a Gurkha himself. The brigade has a company (Mandalay) based at the Infantry Battle School on the outskirts of Brecon. This was followed by a tiny seven year old girl dancer called Simran who danced alone a more modern interpretation of the art to great applause.
Joanna was chosen because of her close link to the Nepalese people as her father had served with the Gurkhas and she has campaigned tirelessly on their behalf to make sure that their loyal service to the UK is properly rewarded when they come to retire. Even in Abergavenny itself there is a Nepalese restaurant just of the town square.
Apart from the lovely Joanna who at the end of a 30 second countdown towards 6pm turned on the lights, followed by her amusing speech in English and Welsh, he’d also managed to get his excellency the Nepalese ambassador Dr. Durga Bahadur Subedi from London to close the event with a very good speech without notes that was very well received by the crowds of people in attendance.
A really ab fab night (pun intended), quite a coup for Brecon town and we all agreed it was great fun.
Operation Dynamo also known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk” saw a flotilla of 700 little ships cross the Channel to rescue over eight days 192,000 British and 139,000 French troops trapped on the beaches there in 1940. The film “Dunkirk” with Sir John Mills has always been one of my favourite movies that never fails to make me shed a tear or two of pride over that wartime achievement.
So today, 77 long years afterwards, in respectful homage to those brave seaman and rescued troops, Debbie & I decided to hire a small day boat from Brecon canal basin for 2 hours along the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal. Not exactly as arduous an expedition as for the folks in 1940, but given our track record of “Nutbrown” together, still quite a brave undertaking…
We left Llanfoist at 11am and despite going as slowly as possible down the Brecon Road savouring the views of the Brecon Beacons we arrived way too early.
Parking up outside the Brecon Theatre we spoke to Dave at Dragonfly boat hire & luckily he allowed us an extra 30 minutes before the original noon start I’d booked the day before.
After a rather brief safety briefing (we declined lifejackets as the depth of the canal is apparently only 2-3 feet) & signing my life away we headed off at a steady 2 knots with the 8 horsepower outboard barely at tick-over!
After we emerged into the sunlight again I spotted a heron and Debbie managed to take this photo before it disappeared for fresh fishing grounds!
Fortified with some bubbles and the odd quaff we finally approach the turnaround point in front of the lock, this is where the fun and games started as I tried to turn the boat around before mooring for our picnic. Fortunately there was no-one around to watch my increasingly desperate attempt to avoid ramming another boat moored on the bank but “all’s well that ends well” and we finally by some miracle made it without a single (hard) knock…
After finishing our picnic we made our way back to the basin, with Debbie taking over for just enough time for me to take the following picture of Pen y Fan in the distance. Shortly afterwards a low flying Apache helicopter buzzed us overhead on it’s way to some special forces exercise no doubt.
After another half hour or so we arrived back to Dave at the starting position about 15 minutes late but somewhat miraculously I executed a perfect left turn and gently moored alongside the wharf from where we’d departed just short of 3 hours previously. Great value for money for just £30 and highly recommended, especially on a warm sunny day.
Going back to the Dunkirk theme as our adventure finally came to an end I was put in mind of a speech made on the 4th June 1940 by Churchill made in the House of Commons. “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …”
Hopefully history won’t repeat itself with Brexit…
Well, after the drama of reliving my punk youth with the Stranglers anything else is going to be a bit of an anticlimax but here goes with the intrepid duo in the week that’s gone by since!
First and foremost Debbie cut my hair short again when we got back home ready for the warmer weather that we’ve been enjoying recently! Oh yes and Article 50 of Brexit was triggered, not sure which was the most traumatic…
In order to recover my nerves I’ve been reading the third omnibus edition of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey in the “snug” accompanied by my ever close companion Molly who seems to enjoy me laughing and joins in!
Next we booked another package holiday for June, this time in Menorca as Pefkos in September just seems too far away! It’s all inclusive and about the same price as Rhodes so we’ll see, but nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say and it’s only a 2 hour flight from Cardiff.
Following that I took Debbie to the community centre in Nelson where she attended Rose’s baby shower for her future first grandchild while I walked back to Paul’s house with Matthew and Thomas to watch a war film called Hacksaw Ridge based on a true WW2 story that blew my mind about the savagery of conflict with Japan.
Despite having booked two package holidays in 2017, we’ve decided enough is enough & to do lots of day trips or overnights for the rest of the year so we can either take the dogs with us or let James look after them for one night. I think we’ll enjoy that more and as an example today (Tuesday) we just dropped James off at work in town first thing and then headed towards Hay on Wye in the Land Rover with the two dogs.
It’s the first time we’ve been there and it’s so picturesque that we’d like to return and maybe even hire a canoe for a few hours to explore the River Wye. The town is full of bookshops and one caught my eye as we returned to the Freelander as can be seen below.
After spending a penny in Wye (or should I say 20p!) Molly was getting a bit excitable so rather than just go home we detoured back to Brecon and parked up in the canal basin where we go when visiting the theatre there.
The sun was really shining by now and the chap manning the ticket office of Dragonfly boats kept us entertained with stories of his own rescue dog (coincidentally a Westie like Hamish) and we were very tempted to take George and Thelma on a 2 hour picnic in the midweek soon when the weather improves but before it gets too popular.
Nipping into town we stopped off at Dugan’s Patisserie where we had two beautiful cups of Pukka camomile tea (which was so nice we bought some back at Waitrose later) along with two gluten free cakes which the dogs tried their best to beg from at the small outside table. We were invited inside but with two gruff bags looking for trouble we decided to sit in the sun and watch the world go by.
On the way back from town we passed the old Lansdowne Hotel, now called Ty Helyg, that I used to stay in while based in Brecon with the TA and where Debbie and Alex spent a hilarious night many years ago when he still had a Welsh accent. The hilarity stemmed from a very noisy toilet in our room that used a macerator as part of its workings that had him in stitches! The owner of the hotel at the time was a rather large Welsh lady with jet black dyed hair called Pam with her rather careworn husband although my memory is a little hazy…
Getting back home later we decided these days trips are the way forward! 🙂
Yesterday was an odd day with two return trips to Brecon in the space of a few hours after meeting up with two old friends while suffering a slight communications breakdown!
The two friends in question were firstly “Boycie” from the wonderful “Only Fools and Horses” TV comedy, played by actor John Challis. The second hand car dealer with Marlene his wife was always one of our favourite supporting characters in the show so when tickets became available for an evening with him at the Brecon theatre we snapped them up ages ago.
John had starred in one of our favourite Tom BakerDoctor Who episodes “The Seeds of Doom” as baddie “Scorby”. John said it was one of his happiest times making the six episodes. Athelhampton Hall in Dorset was the site we visited when the kids were small as part of our young family’s obsession to visit filming locations of the series. I remember it was a long drive from home only to find on arrival it was shut!
The second friend to meet up with in Brecon yesterday, only a few hours earlier, was my old (pun intended) Gartner colleague Paul Gunstone who’d put me up in his house in Ireland years before when I was visiting clients and prospects in the government at the time.
Paul has a fantastic sense of humour which was often displayed to great effect during quarterly operations reviews with senior sales management that I was invited to as guest. I always looked forward to his presentation as he was never “politically correct” and as one of the more mature area managers was less concerned about being “on message” as they say. Hugely entertaining!
I won’t go into too much detail here but each year he goes on a “pilgrimage” to South Wales and climbs Pen Y Fan usually with his family in tow! Out of the blue Debbie told me on my return from the tip that Paul had Facebook messaged me he would love to meet up mid afternoon after the descent!
I responded to the affirmative and suggested we meet up at Talybont en route to Brecon, as I remembered last year he was staying in a hotel there and assumed he was doing the same this year. Unfortunately Paul only had data signal at the top of the mountain and I only had it at home. Worse neither of us had each others mobile numbers which has changed since leaving our former mutual employer!
As I headed off in the Freelander without receiving a reply and no data connectivity materialised on arrival at Talybont we took the dogs for a short stroll before deciding that Brecon was our best bet for a signal but all we got was GPRS until I managed to piggyback on some free WiFi!
Instantly I got 5 messages, sent him my number and received a call from Paul to announce he was parked up in Waitrose opposite our estate in Llanfoist! He then instructed us to find a dog friendly pub garden and wait for his arrival with young son Nathan.
After about half an hour we finally met up and chin wagged over a pint before reluctantly making our way back home – Paul wasn’t staying over this year and had been on a day trip with Nathan so we invited them to have lunch with us next year now that communications had been firmly established!
Dropping the dogs off at home we retraced our steps in the Galaxy this time towards Brecon and our evening with “Boycie”.
I’m starting to get to know the A465 Heads of the Valleys road rather well between Abergavenny & Merthyr! I was up at the crack of dawn (well OK 8am) carrying down the broken JVC 40″ flat screen TV (with integral DVD) which had developed a large crack when I got back home from Curry’s PC World yesterday. I’d rung the store in Merthyr retail park straight away and they said return it ASAP.
Fortunately the car park was deserted pretty much at 9.15am when I arrived so I handed it over and got a refund. The chap serving was the same as had sold me the TV previously and he told me about compact Blu-ray players that would connect to our old Samsung which seemed like a good idea but only their Cwmbran store had stock. So retracing my steps I headed off back home and told Debbie the good news.
A quick scan of google showed us the Cwmbran store was in the normal retail park and so off we headed and as luck would have it a Sony piece of kit fitted the bill perfectly as it had BBC iPlayer & Amazon instant video and was a lot cheaper at £75 compared to the £280 I’d originally shelled out.
Once back home and configured all we had to wait for was Nicholls to deliver tomorrow our new distressed wood & branch console for our bedroom and Debbie would be happy! To celebrate we took James & Emma for a quick tour of the Brecon Beacons in the afternoon and had coffee in Brecon town’s Costa.
Later, some spectacular views of snow on the mountains were enjoyed by both when I parked the Freelander up overlooking the old Roman Road just outside Brecon.
Eventually we headed off to the A465 and I recrossed my earlier route from Merthyr – what a day! Capped off by Emma’s decision to delay her return to London from tomorrow to the 2nd April as she was enjoying her visit so much. 🙂