I went for a lovely long walk with Patch today – trying to keep up my New Year Resolution to lose weight. We set off about nine this morning, across the playing fields at the back of my house, where semi-comatose schoolboys limbered up in sub-Beckham-esque fashion, preparing themselves for their weekly dose of parental driven gladiatorial sport. All for fun, of course.
Patch was a ball of joy; prancing and dancing between yawning, stretching, spotty, Nike clad youths like a puppy on amphetamines. I don’t think I’ve seen her so happy. God knows what got into her; perhaps it was the bright, low sun, or the chill north-easterly wind blowing into the sides of our faces. Whatever, she was rejuvenated from her recent sullen demeanour. Maybe she suffers from Subsyndromal-Seasonal Affective Disorder and the sunshine blew away her blues. Or perhaps she sensed my distress at Cardiff Rugby running up a run of fourteen successive away defeats in the European Cup, and was having a laugh at my expense. I doubt it, not even Border Collies can be that malign.
The ground was decidedly squidgy underfoot – my spell checker just shouted at me, stupid thing, everyone knows what "squidgy" means and the spelling is an entirely subjective matter – and I, cleverly, was wearing black suede slip-ons, and dark green cords. I haven’t got the hang of this walking thing yet, have I? Nevertheless, I ploughed on and tried to ignore the strategically placed air-holes in my shoes – yes, the ones that were letting in water (letting in wa-ah-tah). It was an interesting sensation, and one that was completely new to me – at least in my adult life since graduating. From my neck to my ankles, I was warm as toast – my gloves, heavy cords, windcheater, polar-neck shirt and lambs wool sweater saw to that. Both extremities were becoming increasingly uncomfortable though, as two discordant natural phenomena – wind and rain attacked my opposites with a venom I thought only possible in areas of extreme climate like Siberia, the Antarctic or Newcastle.
Despite my dislike of hats, I will buy one in the market tomorrow morning, in time for my post prandial stroll (this spell checker is rubbish, it shouted at "prandial" then, not to mention "Subsyndromal" earlier, although I can understand the latter, it’s probably American). I think a Thinsulate Beanie will look the biz for country walks. I’ll cogitate on waterproof walking shoes. If, after a couple of months, I am still going for long, weekend walks, I may take a look in Alpine Sports for a pair. Do they do them in patent leather, or suede, I wonder? Or is battered chic de rigueur in the world of fashionable rambling? In the meantime, a pair of cheap trainers, and two sandwich bag clad feet will suffice.
Anyway, ignoring the creeping discomfort, I pressed on to the far side of the playing fields and crossed over the stile into the wilds of Cardiff marshes. Now we’re really talking squidgy here. This is gypsy horse and fly-tipping territory. If you’re not stepping in palomino droppings, then you’re clambering over dumped household waste. The open ground invites the wind to step up to the ockie too. One way to describe it is to imagine Jack Frost strafing the ground around me with phantom icicles like some mad Kamikaze pilot hell bent on crashing into the good ship Martyn, which is at that moment slowly winding its way between two shorelines bedecked with open fridge doors. Okay, so I might be slightly overstating things here, but you get the picture. The hood of my windcheater was of no use whatsoever. It flapped around, beating the side of my head with thin plastic slaps and only succeeded in irritating the life out of me.
Cardiff Marshes are not an area of outstanding natural beauty, although Patch seemed to like them. She’d reached the tongue slopping out of the side of her mouth stage by now, and was merrily jumping in and out of the small water channels that bordered each of the fields, running up to me with a silly lop-sided doggy grin on her face, and shaking herself off, then rolling in the mud with a sudden inverted squirm, almost as if this was fun. Back she’d go: splosh! (Spell checkers ARE a pain). Into the water, out again. Look at me, Dad, I’m wet. Now you are too. This IS fun. Collies are stuck in 1950’s Enid Blyton novels like the Secret Seven, or the Famous Five. Kids didn’t carry flick knives, wear hoods and steal car stereos for pocket money in those days, and Collies flounced about having fun. These days it would be the Fuck-You Five or the Sexually-Active Seven. Still we have a better standard of living and we don’t hang people anymore.
I stepped up the pace and soon the marshes were a thing of the past. We were on the coast road. There were plusses and minuses to this. It was dry, but it was even more exposed, if that were possible. Again, the Cardiff coastline is not the stuff of picture postcards, comprising as it does, a seawall and a couple of hundred metres of dark grey mud before the oily water of the Bristol channel stretches out to the distant shores of Weston-super-Mare. The seawall takes the natural curve of the bay away and causes it to look like an oil terminal loading dock. Which is shame; because I’m sure a ragged edge shoreline would add natural attractiveness in every way that the artificiality of the new Cardiff Bay to the West of the city has failed. Still, I wasn’t in this for the scenery and I could now see the turning point of my walk: The Lighthouse Inn.
The Lighthouse Inn is one of those odd places that occur mostly on shorelines or in mountains and forests. You can never find them in Yellow Pages, and only the locals know about them, yet they’re always packed and they serve the best beer and sandwiches known to mankind. On cold days, the wood fire crackles and pops with a heartiness only the fabled landlords of these taverns know how to conjure, and the smoke in the air smells fresh and likeable, contrasting completely with the smoke that dwells cancerously in the air of city centre watering holes. Dogs are allowed to sit under the table, and they instinctively know this. The barmaids are always buxom, wear cleavage revealing blouses and love bending down to smooth dogs. It’s almost a small corner of heaven set jewel-like in the depredations of commerce. My face warmed, my feet de-squidged, and contentment set in like a cotton wool wrap around my cockles. It was one of those; if I should die now… moments.
Regrettably, a slowly burning roast, and two hungry wee bairns were waiting for me back at Chez Winters, so after a single pint, a quick point of Percy at the porcelain (which smelled beautiful – it was almost too perfect – I thought I was in the Twilight Zone), I made my way through the winding lanes that brought me to the rear of Coleg Glan Hafren (now that REALLY screwed the spell checker), from whence I could cross the playing field from the East and clamber over the fence into my back yard.
I arrived home a little after one, cold, wet and happy. James was still asleep and Chris was on level twelve of Metal Gear Solid. Time had stood still for a few hours. I think I’ll do that again.