Wednesday 20 February 2008

Catch ups...

The school year has well and truly started, and we are nearly at the end of the third week. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of relief (supply) teaching work I have been able to pick up, with 4 days a week at a time when I wasn't expecting anything at all, to be honest!

It's not even the time of year for coughs and snuffles, but then, of course, some schools have banked staffing to burn off and teachers do need that CRT release. I have picked up a few other spots as well and have enjoyed a variety of teaching as both secondary and primary schools have called. (Long may it continue!)

Today I was thumbing through the diary, and I was looking at a quiet week next week with no bookings - and then, just this afternoon, I received a request for ten days this term from three schools. Very satisfying! Looks like I will be able to pay the phone and power bills after all... (Just kidding...! They are covered - but I can now also pay the finance bill on the car! LOL)

Elsa is hard at work and her hours seem to get ever longer and longer... I'm actually looking forward to a day off over the weekend - maybe we get get out after some of those blue cod skulking around the coast! 

Jack is back at university, with a more satisfying placement in his flat with a larger room, and the prospect of a year's academic study looming... heheh! Sarah and Rob are starting to think more of the wedding and Jen is feeling her way into her new job.

Sorry, I haven't yet won the Lottery, but I will keep buying tickets! I look forward to winning enough to travel first class back to the UK in the next year or two (yeah, right...!)

Drop me a line or a comment through the blog if you feel so inclined. Keep in touch!

Friday 1 February 2008


Well, it all seems a bit of a blur, really! Kind of hard to believe that it all happened! The jet lag is (slowly) fading although the sleep patterns will take a while to settle yet (not that I had great sleep patterns in the first place!)
However, it did happen, and one certain thing is that I WILL go back!

As this will be my last Welsh Kiwi blog entry, I want to thank all those who took me under their wings during my stay, and who spent so much time organising my trip.

Julie & David, Anne & Pat,  Sandra & Alun, and Glenda & Mike in particular, as they hosted me in their homes, took me round their home areas (and beyond), giving up their own time to make sure I met family, and saw my parents' "home" as much as possible, and gave added value to the trip as they introduced me to other parts of life in Britain.

Thanks to Alun and Sandra for their patience as I tracked down a slice of history through the castle ruins I visited; to Julie & David for that wonderful trip to Paris; Marilyn and Len for the dinner in Cardigan - a lovely way to meet people.
There were lots of others involved in small ways - Mavis and Edna for their knowledge of the families immediately spring to mind, and Ceris for your help with the artwork - but if I haven't mentioned you by name, please don't be offended.
My appreciation of the trip will never fade. Thank you!

I'll be back!

Keep in touch via email! It's wonderful knowing you now!
...And do let us know if you are coming out to New Zealand - there's a bedroom here at our home for you too!

Home again!

The flight to Dubai was easy, and I had the company of a very amiable passenger in the seat next to mine. The arrangements that had been made for my stopover went very smoothly and a short time after arrival I found myself comfortably ensconced in the Pearl Residence. 
Arabian Adventures had a lovely contact person arranged for visitors (Dounia) who was quick to listen to her clients' needs, and signed me up for the Sundowner Safari (otherwise known as the 'Dune Dinner Safari'). This involved being picked up in mid-afternoon by a wonderful driver (Kalid) in a very comfortable 4 wheel drive and I joined 5 others who had signed up. 

An hour out of Dubai, we joined the convoy of about 39 other vehicles (I had been mentally picturing about 6 vehicles, not 40!) and drove out into what I consider REAL desert - sand, sand and more sand! Here we drove over and round and up and down sand dunes to a meeting point for photos and a drink, then on to the camel farm for the next break. All great fun - although they had asked me to sign an indemnity form because of my back troubles. However, it wasn't a problem...

The next stop was seemingly in the middle of nowhere to watch a lovely sunset as the sun disappeared behind the dunes (hence the name of the safari) and then on to a bedouin camp setup. Here we had an opportunity to ride camels, drink Arabic coffee (I'm not a coffee drinker, but those who were said it was very good!), and we sat under bedouin tents eating a lovely meal, watching a belly dancer and drinking wine. Some of those on the safari tried the 'hubbly bubbly' pipes (apple flavoured tobacco?) and then it was away and back to town. (if you are going to visit Dubai, I seriously recommend this evening!)

Dubai has construction happening seemingly everywhere! Kalid did say they were building, amongst other things, a theme park that will eventually be bigger than even Disney World!

A wake up call at 5:45 the following morning had me stumbling round to find the shower, then I was whisked off by bus back to the airport for the long haul to Sydney, and then finally back to Christchurch, where Kevin and Andrew met me...

A short stay later and it was away on the final flight home, where my family met me and a short time after that I was sitting back comfortably in my own home, wondering where on Earth the last 5 weeks had gone!

Saturday 26 January 2008

To Mum and Dad

I will come back.

Hwyl fawr.

Last blog from the UK

This will be my last online entry from the UK, and don't know if I will be able to access on the way back, but I will try. We take the train to Heathrow tomorrow (easier than driving) and I fly to Dubai where I stay until Tuesday (local time). The remainder of the journey will take me through Sydney, and then on to Christchurch, before flying the final leg home later that evening.

Had a quiet day today with just a walk in to town for some bubble wrap for the last few items in the packing, and tomorrow morning sees me trying to squeeze everything into the suitcase and under the luggage limit at the same time! (Miracles I perform at once... The impossible takes me a little longer.)

It has been a marvelous adventure (as Aunty Mavis called it) and Wales was the heart of it all.

To Julie & David, Anne & Pat and Sandra & Alun: without you this trip simply couldn't have been as wonderful as it has been.
You have made me feel very welcome, and you have been fantastic hosts, giving me a wonderful introduction to my extended family, showing me around, and bringing me 'home'.
As I have said before, I feel something has been completed inside - and you can take the credit for that!

Thank you.
Everyone has been very patient with an, at times, utterly bewildered Kiwi, and I still feel I am wandering around with my eyes wide open like a kid eying up the presents under the tree on Christmas morning, even after nearly six weeks.

To the family I was privileged to meet, to those I have talked to by phone because we couldn't meet, and to those I have yet to meet - thank you for making me welcome. I look forward to keeping in touch!

This time tomorrow I will be high in the skies and heading away. I have mixed feelings about that. Part of me wants to stay and keep going. Part of me wants to be back at home with my family I am missing terribly, but being home means the adventure is over, so I want it to continue, but home is calling, but...
Do you see my problem...?

* sigh! *

I guess the only solution is to find an opportunity to travel to the UK again! Next time Elsa will come with me and I can show her the places I have seen - and we can explore further... Scotland, North Wales, Ireland...

I will have to sign off - if I can't make a blog entry on the journey home, I will certainly put an entry in when I do get home (and get over the jet lag!)

Take care all, and thank you for reading.

The Welsh Kiwi

Friday 25 January 2008

Baker Street

We set out this morning with the intention of visiting 221b Baker Street where the Sherlock Holmes museum is situated. Also we had the British Museum in mind, but in the end we were sidetracked by things Sherlockian, so to speak!

After riding the train to Liverpool Street station, then the underground to Baker Street station, we entered the building to find a very 'touristy' but fascinating set up. The rooms had been designed and furnished very much according to the books and stories, and there was even an actor dressed as Dr Watson to greet us. They had figures from some of the stories set up including a figure of Moriarty. Even the girls serving in the shop were in a costume reminiscent of the period.

There was a beautiful edition of the complete Holmes stories, but it was too expensive and heavy for my overloaded suitcase! We popped into the Beatles shop almost next door, then walked out past Madame Tussaud's waxworks (but didn't go in).

A quick discussion ensued and we decided on another trip on the tube designed to take us all the way to the Sherlock Holmes pub for a light lunch, but then, at my suggestion, Julie and I alighted at Westminster instead, right alongside the Houses of Parliament and 'Big Ben'. We walked over Westminster Bridge, and back, then round to have a look at Westminster Abbey, and the smaller St Margaret's Church alongside.

We caught a London black cab to finish the trip to the Holmes pub (my stomach clock had gone off a while back, and the wind was bitter despite the warmth from the sun). We had a lovely roast beef sandwich and I sampled a pint of Sherlock Holmes Ale, before we walked a bit further round to Trafalgar Square.

By now we had agreed to miss the British Museum for today rather than try to cram it into a less than adequate time to do it proper justice... and put it on the 'list of things to do next time when I come here with Elsa'.

We decided on an early return home and took the underground to Liverpool Street station and then home to Shenfield. The list of things to do has some excellent sites for the next trip... the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, a full tour of Westminster Abbey, the London Dungeons...

Indian takeaway for tea, tonight, I am told! Tomorrow I regrettably have to start the sorting and packing process for leaving on Sunday... :o(

Thursday 24 January 2008

A quiet day in Brentwood

To be honest, I didn't feel like doing much today! I walked into Brentwood to get a few things posted, and then declined an offer for more local sightseeing this afternoon. I sat down with a good book, a glass of coca cola, and snoozed a bit!

Mixed feelings at the moment. The end of the trip is close, and I'm torn between really looking forward to getting home and regretting that going home means this trip is over. There are only two days left here in Brentwood, one of which we will use for a trip to London to catch up on one or two other things I didn't get done, and the other will be a lazy day to sort, pack, and figure out what fits in the suitcase and what doesn't!

Part of me just wants a TARDIS to zap me back home without hassle, part of me wants those 2 days to extend out another couple of weeks.

However, on Sunday (UK time) I go to Heathrow and fly to Dubai - another new experience. I fly from there after a day or so giving me a chance to look around, and then I'm back in NZ late next week.

I feel like I have been eating for five weeks... My hosts all through this time (and the various pubs and cafes I have been visiting as I traveled) have all provided me with excellent food! As Julie put it today, it is kind of like an extended Christmas dinner!

Time to join weight watchers!

Wednesday 23 January 2008


A cold but sunny day saw us traveling to London for a spot of sightseeing. Catching the train from Shenfield, Julie and I traveled as far as Stratford, then switched to the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) line in to the Tower Hill station. A short walk from there took us to the Tower of London. We started off by taking the official 'tour' which gave a lot of background about the Tower's history and it's current day status. Contrary to popular belief, the Tower was not a place bathed in the blood of criminals, although some traitors did indeed meet their end there.

We heard about the Yeomen and their duties, and had a chance to look around the chapel there, the 'Bloody Tower', and I can say I have now seen the Crown Jewels! They have a wonderful history, well presented, as we walked through the White Tower and looked at the historical armoury.

We walked from there past St Olaf's church, where, reputedly, Samuel Pepys is buried. The gateway to the church is notable for the rather gruesome skulls above it! After lunch at Pizza Express (oh, that's not very English!) we went to All Hallows church where I had a taste of brass rubbing. Places for doing full sized brasses are not easily found these days, but they had smaller miniatures of the real thing available there.

From All Hallows, we caught a double-decker bus, Number 15 - the 'Heritage bus', which is the only line with the old-fashioned buses still in service. These are the ones with the conductor at the back where you can hop on. We took this bus all the way to Trafalgar Square where I saw Nelson's column, and the National Gallery, and looked down past the Admiralty down the mall towards Buckingham Palace, and then walked on to Picadilly Circus. Charing Cross Station was also on our way.

A little bit of shopping followed, with a walk down Regent Street, and included visits to the London Apple Store (eat your heart out, Jack!), Hamley's toy store (5 floors of toys... * wow! *) and TopShop. The crowds were h-u-g-e, and it became almost claustrophobic! When we emerged from TopShop, the Underground was closed due to some problem - right on rush hour and people were crowding the streets shoulder to shoulder as they waited for access to be reopened. A visit to Fortnum and Mason's could not be ignored

"Mind The Gap" - this is a saying used for train and tube travelers as they alight from the trains, and refers to the gao between the train and the platform. Well worth a t-shirt price heheh!

We caught the number 23 bus back to Liverpool Street, where we were lucky enough to basically walk into the station, walk on to the train we wanted and we were on our way in just 5 minutes to Shenfield and sanity!

Yet another visit to the photo store is on tomorrow, and a quiet day, to follow as I try to absorb everything! Friday will probably see me back in London to follow up on a visit to the Sherlock Holmes museum, the British Museum, and maybe look for an army surplus store (??? this will depend on the budget and what remains of it...)

With regards to the medal search, I have to quote Victor Meldrew: "I don't believe it!"
We contacted the National Archives, who had been closed for the couple of weeks before Christmas. I had left the search over the Christmas / New Year period, thinking staffing would be at best at a low level, and we set aside this week to try to track the citation... The National Archives has chosen THIS week to close to the public again for renovations. They reopen next Monday - the day after I begin my journey home! * aaaaaargh! *

However, I spoke to a very sympathetic worker there, who gave me some good information about the medals. Apparently, if there WAS a citation, it would have been sent with the medal, which did not happen, according to the info I have, so this may be the end of the search. She did warn that a citation for the medal I am looking for is, at best, RARE. Sounded like close to 100% of the medals fall into this category. The best I can probably hope for is a copy of the Gazette notice stating that the medal was awarded. This is, apparently, the case with the vast majority of medals.

However, she also gave me more leads to follow up online, so I have more homework to do.
Shame really.

Catch you tomorrow night!

Oh, last word - "EXTERMINATE!" I am now the proud owner of a Dalek! heheh (I did mention Hamley's, didn't I?)

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Back from Paris...

Had a quiet day today, going into Brentwood to sort photos and posting and then, after a wonderful pub lunch (steak and ale pie - there is a business opportunity in there somewhere, for in NZ!) a drive to a quiet little village called Writtle, just to see something different.

Tomorrow Julie and I are going to go to London, the first port of call being the Tower of London, then traveling on a double-decker bus to Trafalgar Square and Picadilly Circus. The bus is actually called the heritage bus and is the only double-decker kept on the streets in the old style - where you get on the back of the bus and there is a conductor to take your money (think Harry Potter‘s Knight Bus). All the others are just double-decker versions of a single level bus that we have in NZ - pay-the-driver-as-you-get-on style, although they do have the 'bendy' bus, which is much longer and 'bends' in the middle!

We have been discussing things to do in London, and have thought about (in addition to the ones above) Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks, Tower Bridge, Lloyds, Guild Hall, Globe Theatre (Shakespeare), going to a West End show (‘Stomp’ is currently on, as is ‘The Mousetrap’ - Agatha Christie), Canary Wharf, Sherlock Holmes museum, British Museum, Hanleys (the largest toy shop in the world!) parliament buildings (including Big Ben), Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, Natural History museum, St Paul’s Cathedral… So there is lots to do (apart from shopping in some of the great shops!) and we will have to make a slection - and do some of the others when I come back!

The weather today was great, with wintry sun and blue skies. I was also chuffed to see some foxes today racing around in the field next to Julie and David’s house. They are bigger animals than I thought, and these ones were looking very well fed, which is unusual at this time of year. (Haven’t seen a badger yet though!)

Will log in tomorrow and update. Keep in touch!

Monday 21 January 2008

Paris - Part 2

Occasionally, and particularly around the Louvre, I spotted fully armed soldiers strolling through the crowds with their automatic weapons, not a sight you are likely to see in Invercargill even on a bad day! The terrorism threats are very real here. Scary stuff…!

Our days started with a taxi ride up to Sacre Coeur, a church in the Montmartre district. After, we strolled round through the artists’ market (where a nice gent reckoned I looked like one of the three musketeers and wanted to paint my portrait - for around 70 Euros!) and then sat for a coffee (or coca cola on my part in a quiet square. We caught the Metro (French version of the Underground) to near the Notre Dame cathedral, and went in there to look around.

This place absolutely blew me away, with it’s massive ceilings, stained glass windows, and the most amazing sense of peace and tranquillity, despite the throngs looking through the cathedral at the time. Like the Louvre yesterday, I was surprised at the amount of flash photography that was happening in these monuments (particularly the Louvre with the paintings) but no-one seemed to be too worried. It was a pain at the Mona Lisa as everyone tried to get their partners / friends to photograph them standing in front of the painting! The queues became a little clogged when this happened!)

We lunched at a lovely little slightly off the main street café (with a delightful waitress who was very patient with my inability to read a French menu!) and then we strolled back to the hotel. In the evening, we found a small café for a sandwich.
It has been funny seeing the reaction of the French when David explains I am from New Zealand... (actually, I think he was doing it deliberately after a bit). They would pause and say, "New Zealand? Ah, rugby! The All Blacks!!" heheh

Back to London tomorrow where I can offload the Paris photos, and start the process of tracking the citation for the medal!

I’m into my last week here now :o( I leave this coming Sunday, but have a stopover in Dubai before I arrive back in NZ late next week (bearing in mind that I lose the day moving through the dateline… confused? You won’t be after the next episode of ‘Soap!‘)

Back again tomorrow night! Hopefully with some encouraging news on the medal…

Paris - Part 1

Hi folks… back from Paris! We took a taxi to Shenfield last Friday, and then a train to Liverpool Street Station, followed by a trip on the Underground to St Pancras Station where the international train departs from. It travels at up to 200 MILES per hour apparently and it certainly seemed fast enough as it took a mere 2 hours 15 minutes to travel from London to when we alighted in Paris. The tunnel goes underneath the channel - a strange feeling looking up at the ceiling of the carriage and knowing what is up there above you!

It is weird sitting in a taxi with the driver on the left hand side, and made even worse as the roads don’t appear to have any sort of lane marking and cars seem to drift around as suits the whim of the driver.
After booking in it was time for a bit of shopping at ‘Galeries Lafayette’ - a HUGE department store - NZ has nothing even remotely like it!

Dinner that evening was at a ‘posh’ restaurant called ‘Julien’ where the food was nice, but horribly expensive. I encountered the beggars for the first time and, with David’s help, manoeuvred round the odd scam that they try on you.

On Saturday, after a very civilised continental breakfast, we strolled off. We eventually reached the Seine and walked along it until we reached the Louvre and the Jardin de Tuilleries, which we walked through and then up the Champs Elysses to the Arc de Triomphe. The Arch was started by Napoleon who wanted a grand arch for his armies to come back into the city through, but Trafalgar and waterloo kind of got in the way, and it wasn’t actually finished until 1836.

The Champs Elysses is home to many of the big names in consumerism and fashion - and they are very expensive. I saw a nice top for Elsa that I saw was a ‘mere’ 570 Euros! (Ouch! No, Elsa, I didn’t buy it… Sorry!)

The walk up the Champs Elysses is about half an hour so we were tired at the top end, and decided to catch one of the sightseeing buses which travels round Paris. This took us to the Eiffel Tower, where we got off. David & Julie went off to find a cuppa while I took the lift for some breathtaking views of Paris.

The weather was kind to us and Paris was very mild, considering it is mid-January, but the views were better without heavy grey cloud or rain. Climbing back on the red bus tour (Les Cars Rouge) took us past some wonderful architecture (including the Grand Palais built for the Universal Expo in 1900) and we got off again at The Louvre. The entrance is under the pyramid in the courtyard (think ‘Da Vinci Code’) and will blow you away when you see the art they have on display!

Quite frankly, it was simply too much to take in on one afternoon, but I can now claim to have seen the Venus de milo, and the Mona Lisa (the real thing! Heheh About A3 size, Sarah...) (As for the other artworks, no, I’m not going to give some in-depth artistic, critical observations… I’ll stick with a simplistic “Man, those guys could paint!”)

By now I was flagging (it had been a very full day) so we headed back to the hotel…

Thursday 17 January 2008

Emsworth... and back to London

Traveling by train is scary in the UK. Well, no, travelling is very good - it’s the finding the right train at the right time in the right place that is scary! Itravelled from Cardiff to Southampton, changed trains and travelled on to Havant, where Glenda met me.

Glenda and Mike hosted me for two nights. After picking me up, Glenda introduced me to Mike and the comfortable surroundings of the Emsworth Sailing Club, particularly well-known to many New Zealanders because of Sir Peter Blake's connection to the club, and that of his wife Pippa. After that, I met my Aunt Edna for the first time! It so wonderful meeting family I have heard about for nearly 50 years... I'm only sorry I wasn't able to spend more time talking to her, as she knew my mum very well, and talked a lot about her visits to the UK.
(Message to Edna and Mavis - I'll bring Elsa in to see you next year!)

We had dinner with daughter Emma and her family - a great, fun evening (Hi Georgia!), with good food and drink and great company!

Glenda and Mike took me to some historic parts of the South of England on Wednesday. Emsworth is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Portsmouth, where I toured through Nelson's flagship "HMS Victory". After the official tour, we discovered a little side exhibition that had the main topsail from Victory preserved - complete with shot holes from the battle in Trafalgar. There was also a description of the making of the sail. A very interesting interlude!

Next up was a visit up the Spinnaker Tower with views of Portsmouth and the harbour. They have a piece of glass floor there, much larger than the small window on the Sky Tower in Auckland, and I’m sorry to say I chickened out of the opportunity to walk across it! After lunch in another cosy little pub, they took me to the D-Day Museum, a wonderful experience, looking at the history leading up to and including the invasion of Normandy.

Uncle Don was involved in the first wave, I understand, and the multimedia and static displays the museum have really brought the reality of that home.

We dined at the Blue Bell pub on haddock and chips, before heading for a good night’s sleep.

This morning Glenda and Mike dropped me at Guildford where I caught a train to Waterloo Station, then a short trip in a London black cab took me to Liverpool Street Station, where I caught another train to Shenfield, where David picked me up. A walk into Brentwood this afternoon enabled me to (finally) offload the pictures on the camera to CD, and we have spent a quiet evening getting ready for the trip to Paris tomorrow.

The next email / text / blog entries will be next Monday. Have a good weekend , folks and I will tell you about PARIS on our return! Keep in touch! Only 10 days left before I start the journey home… :o(


Time for an update! Monday was a wet-grey-wet-wet-grey sort of day, but Alun and Sandra took me out to see an area of the Rhondda I had not yet visited. We went through Aberfan, where the Pantglas School disaster occurred in 1966 (October 21st). A coal mine tip
collapsed and crushed the school. 144 people (mostly children) died in the disaster. In Aberfan there is a wonderful memorial to the children in the form of a series of arches in the cemetery there. Visiting the site is quite heart-rending as you walk along the rows reading the ages of the victims... 9...8...10...9...

I was feeling a little subdued, but we moved on, and visited Caerphilly Castle, walking around the outside as the afternoon was getting on and there were renovations happening which meant the main hall was closed anyway (Elsa - here's another place for us to visit next year!)

Tuesday started with a visit to Alun's workshop. He is a farrier and very skilled - I commented how he made the work look so easy, but he just pointed out "I've been doing it for a long time man!" Sandra, Ceris and Rhys took me into Cardiff to catch a train to Portsmouth (actually Havant but close enough) where I was met by Glenda...
(Read on in the next post!)

To Alun & Sandra, thank you so much for the last 8-9 days. Awesome! You showed me parts of Wales I would not have reached without you, and gave me the opportunity to meet family who would have been out of reach otherwise.

Thank you for hosting me!!

Sunday 13 January 2008

Back in the South

Firstly, thx to those who have sent me comments. Nice to get some feedback, and James, that's an ale I haven't come across yet, but I will look out for it! I was forced last night to actually drink the same ale twice (I have managed to drink a different beer every time I have gone out, so far!)

We traveled back to Trelewis this afternoon in pouring rain! Haven't seen so much rain fall in one go since I arrived here! Everything was running with water! I attended a family dinner last night at the Gwbert Hotel, where I was able to meet family of family (if that makes sense) and had a very enjoyable night with Marilyn, Len and their children and familes. Unfortunately a couple of others, Richard and Sian weren't able to attend, but I spoke to them by phone today.

Marilyn and Len's cottage at Netpool is delightful, and the Cliff Hotel where I stayed with Alun and Sandra was very comfortable. I would very much like to see Wales in the summer and, with luck, that will eventuate over the next year or three.

My thx to Alun and Sandra who opened up a part of Wales for me that I would not have seen otherwise, so I appreciate their time, and effort in hosting me.

Tomorrow is catch up with a bit of housekeeping (top up the phone again and get some cash in hand), then on Tuesday I move on to Emsworth inSouth England, near Portsmouth, for a couple of days with Glenda, before returning to David and Julie on Thursday.

Unfortunately I am now just two weeks from the end of the trip, but the past three weeks has been crammed full of family and memories, which has been awesome. I look forward to adding to it all over the next fortnight!

Saturday 12 January 2008

A Quick Catch up on the Last Week

Hello all! My visit to Laugharne this week was punctuated by loads of rain. However, in between the showers I have visited Dylan Thomas' boathouse, the ruins of a medieval village and Carreg Cennen castle - awesome stuff! We stayed at a time-share called 'Seasons', comfortable enough, but up the top of a hill where we were blasted by the wind and rain coming in off the sea!

When the weather cleared, we took a day tripping round the coast through seaside resorts that in summer would be packed shoulder to shoulder... Tenby (a walled town) and Saundersfoot to name a couple. I continue to be blown away by the history of this country in the most unexpected places.

After Laugharne we traveled to Cardigan, going round through St David's, the smallest city in the UK, with the cathedral, then a stop in Fishguard for a bite of lunch and now we are in Cardigan, where I have been sampling the local shops. I have already met another of my cousins, Marilyn...

Tonight will see a family dinner attended by about 25 people including myself, and tomorrow we head back to Alun & Sandra's place in Trelewis. I go to Glenda's for two nights after that, then back to London with David & Julie, where this whole trip started, and I will update the blog there as much as I can.

So, for those following my progress on the map. you can see I am seeing a parge portion of the South of Wales, from East to West, and that means my next trip over here (next year??? ;o) will allow me time to explore the North of Wales.

Paris is next weekend, then the London Tour (Tower Bridge... West End... Picadilly Circus...)

Catch up with you soon!

Sunday 6 January 2008

Last Day in the Rhondda

It was, as predicted, a quiet day. The weather started beautifully, with blue sky and no wind, but gradually sank back into a rainy afternoon.

I made a trip to Tescos in the morning to offload the current crop of pictures to CD and then we went to The Lord Tonypandy for a carvery lunch. After that Pat was off to his next ship and Jonathan was off back to university, so I had a quiet evening watching some drama on TV and getting the packing started (but not finished!!)

I will call up to say goodbye to Mavis in the morning to thank her for all she has done to help me in my family 'quest', then back home for the last minute packing, before Alun & Sandra pick me up just after lunchtime. The next leg of my journey, with them, takes me over to West Wales, and as I have said, I may not be able to update as much as I have been up until now. I will do what I can, however.

Many thx to Anne, Pat and family for my stay here in the Rhondda. They have been wonderful hosts and have driven me round, taken me to all sorts of places, and shown me as much of the area's history and where my family has come from as anyone could possibly expect.

It has been an awesome experience being here in the Rhondda, and in many ways, quite emotional.
I can't quite find the words to describe it, but visiting the Rhondda, as I have done, has left me with a sense of fulfilment.

Thank you.

Saturday 5 January 2008

St Fagan's

Have to be careful what to say for the first part of today as I don't want to give away any secrets... Visited a neighbour of Anne & Pat's today who is a brilliant painter. They have one of his paintings, of a colliery, on their wall. Jack paints mainly from old photographs, and does it brilliantly. His other favourite is flowers, and again, his work is awesome to look at.

After visiting Jack, Anne took me to St Fagan's where the "Museum of Welsh Life" is. For the Kiwi readers, think Ferrymead on a grand scale. They have transported buildings from different eras around Wales and rebuilt them on the site. Unfortunately, it rained heavily during our visit limiting our movement, so we didn't get to see everything I would have liked, and didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked at the ones we did visit. Additionally, some exhibits were closed (holiday time) such as the bakery and shops. It has therefore been put on the list of 'must do' items when Elsa and I return next year!

However, many of the buildings were manned and you can discuss the history of the particular building with the guides.

We visited old farmhouses (1700s) for both the richer farmers and poorer workers, looking at their living conditions, then a blacksmith, corn miller, an old schoolhouse, an early chapel (in which families had pews which they cared for themselves) and a set of terraced houses showing how they were lived in, in the early 1800s, late 1800s, 1920, 1940 and 1980. Very interesting comparisons to be made! At the right time of the year you can see the trades in action, not just look at the buildings.

My favourite was known as a 'long house' where the living space was shared with animals in a barn structure at one end of the house, and the family lived at the other. Because of the barn size of the building, there was also space upstairs for bedrooms. The workers in all these cases, of course, relied on daylight, rising with the sun and going to bed with the sun. It was simply dark at other times!

A visit to the gift / souvenir shop produced a little booklet of traditional Welsh recipes - something to try on visitors who are brave enough to face my 400+ photos (at this stage, but with 3 weeks still remaining! They aren't all great photos, of course, but are building into a wonderful record of the trip. Thank goodness for digital photogtraphy!)

A quiet day to finish my vist to the Rhondda tomorrow, a chance to upload my photos to CD, and then start packing up my gear for my trip to West Wales on Monday.

I will add to the blog tomorrow night, but I still have no idea how I will be able to update during the period to the 17th (10 days). Obviously I will do my best, but email contact will probably be out also, and I will be relying on texting unless I can access an internet cafe somewhere...

Take care all!

Friday 4 January 2008

The Heritage Park

I started the day with a walk into Tonypandy Square and found the library on the way, but it was closed until later in the day, so I stopped at a solicitor's office to ask for help finding a photocopying service for the certificates, but they were happy to do it there for me for one pound (a bargain!).

I arrived home in time to travel with Anne to pick up Mavis, and, with a stop for groceries on the way, we went to the Rhondda Heritage Park.

Set on the site of a colliery, the guides are ex-miners, so they certainly know what they are talking about. Ours had spent 17 years at the coalface. You start with 2 multimedia presentations which show the history of the collieries setting up, and also looks at the life of the miners. The park has a mock street set-up, so you can go into a miner's house, see what it was like, and also see a street with shops.

Collieries had huge tall chimneys to carry smoke and fumes away from the mines where the air was pumped down into the shafts, and being so high (45 metres) the smoke and fumes weren't pumped down with it. However looking at this high chimney, the guide explained that if you multiplied the height of the chimeny by 10 or more, then went down underground that distance, you had an idea of how far down the miners worked.

Coal was brought up at the rate of two trams every 30 seconds, and miners were expected to dig 16+ tons of coal in a shift. The tour then takes you down a simulated coal mine. You get into the same cage miners would have used. (It feels like you have traveled way down, but in reality you are only below the surface.) You then walk through a string of tunnels like the miners would have worked in, although ours were full size and I could stand up in them. The guide described them as "5 star" and many miners would have worked in much less space than that, possibly even crawling to get through areas, and work at ground level at the coalface itself.

Children started working in the mines at an early age, and, before the laws were changed, the youngest age known was a 4 year old!! They started by manning the air doors, which were used to control air flow through the mines and prevent dangerous gases escaping.

When Thatcher broke the unions, the then Coal Board tried to tell everyone the coal was all worked out anyway, but estimates are that there is a huge amount of untouched coal under the ground. While the level of demand isn't there as it was, of course, there is still a need for coal in the UK (eg power stations) but the government imports it instead. Weird! (Cheaper...)

One way it was explained to me was that if you put a postage stamp on a pool table, the stamp represents the amount of coal TAKEN to date. The rest of the table represents the unmined coal!

After a faked explosion, we had a simulated train ride back to the surface (kind of like a multimedia roller coaster - you still found yourself swaying through non-existent corners! heheh). All in all, a fascinating look at the life of a miner! The cafe gave me a chance to eat Welsh cakes, and the gift shop yielded several treasures! ;0)

I finished the day at the Penygraig Rugby Football Club, where I was made very welcome, even more so once it was known that I had traveled all the way from NZ... Hence the late posting of today's travels! LOL!!

Not sure what tomorrow has in store, other than a trip to visit a local painter who does wonderful paintings of the area, including collieries as they were back when! (More money needed?)

Thursday 3 January 2008

Not the quiet day planned after all!

Today was going to be a quiet day with a trip to the library to get some photocopying done of the certificates, but instead I spent the day with Alun & Sandra.
They took me up to Clydach Vale again and were able to show me mum's home in Marian Street, and we visited the site of the Clydach Vale mine, where there is now just a memorial to miners who died. Nothing else. You wouldn't know there had ever been a colliery there!

Mum's house is actually up for sale at the moment... Anyone with a spare 80 000 pounds who would like to gift it to me to bring the house back into the family, please get in touch!

Alun was a mine of information (no pun intended) about the site, showing me where the shafts had been, the houses, colliery baths etc. Alun had spent 2 months working at the coalface in the mine, but then changed to work as a blacksmith for the mines.

They took me up to visit Mum's cousin, Barbara, who was able to tell me that Mum and Dad had met at a place called 'The Rink' which was essentially a dance hall, but also had roller skating. Barbara also filled in a few gaps on Mum's side of the family tree, going back further than I have been able to on my grandmother's side, and she has photos too that I will write to her and ask for copies of once I return home.

Seems that Mum's side of the family was a bit mischievous, making the other side look positively staid - if all the stories are to be believed! Barbara was also the first policewoman in Tonpentre.

Next week promises to be a load of fun with Alun & Sandra!!

Off to the heritage park tomorrow, with hopefully a bit of photocopying in the morning. Looks like the trip to the rugby is off on Saturday, replaced with a trip to the Museum here in Rhondda which has a village showing the miners' houses at different stages through the century. That WILL be interesting.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Rugby (and other things)

This morning we headed off to Cardiff, a little later than planned admittedly as we all overslept a little. We found good parking in Sophia Park and walked out past Cardiff Castle ready for our tour of the Millenium Stadium. Despite the late start, we were still a little early, so found a seat in a small cafe for the biggest hot chocolate I have ever seen in my life! (You'd have loved it, Terry - very reminiscent of the the old "Victorian" in Christchurch! heheh)

We went for a walk after that through the shopping centre of Cariff (Queen Street? I'll have to check my map). * gulp * So many people!! After putting much needed money into my phone, we went out past Cardiff University where my father studied, looked at the town hall / council offices building, passed by a winter carnival (complete with outdoor skating rink - no, I didn't risk my back on it! LOL) and then on to the stadium for the tour.

The tour took us down into the changing rooms, out the players entrance into the stadium itself and into the middle of the pitch. The guide did this with a full sound track playing of a crowd cheering as though we were the players! (The effect was spoiled a little though as the turf had been lifted in preparation for another event, but hey, standing in the middle of the stadium playing area was freaky!)

We then went right up the top to roof level and then into the corporate boxes (which can be hired for a mere 100 000 pounds a year!!) Lastly, we got to sit in the royal box...! Nice seats they have up there. Not like the cheap plastic ones the common people get to sit on, believe me!

The shop was closed at the stadium, but the guide directed us to a nearby shop which was selling rugby gear and I now own a prized WRU rugby shirt.
Well, I own it until I get back to NZ and my son claims it as his Christmas present! * sigh *

A trip to another nearby shop, a Welsh crafts shop, yielded a couple of very nice wee souvenirs, then it was back home for tea and a quiet (almost) pint!

My cousin Alun, and Sandra, are picking me up tomorrow to spend the day with them, and we are going back up Clydach Vale, where Alun knows the houses Mum and Aunty Ol lived in, and to look at other places related to Mum's life, in the same way I have been spending time looking at Dad's life in the Rhondda. We'll do a bit of forward planning for next week, and on Friday I go to the Heritage Park here in the Rhondda. (

It has been suggested I should go along to a local rugby match on Saturday, too. Cool!
But time is running out in the Rhondda... Only a few days left.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

A Day of History

I spent the majority of today with Aunty Mavis. I took the family tree sheet (as I have it so far) over with me and she was able to fill in a large number of the gaps, then took me further, adding different parts that she knew. Mavis also had a pile of old photographs, and we worked mainly on the male lineage, but she was able to add on my grandmother's side as well. Quite amazing memory, really.

She has a store of birth, death and marriage certificates for the family, all of which she has made available to me for copying. I will put together an album to go alongside the family tree sheets and records. Anne pulled an old school project of Jonathan's out, which includes much of the information I have been looking for, including birth places. This has also been made available for copying. Thx to the family for this help!

Tucked in amongst the photos was one of Mum & Dad's marriage day which I had never seen before. We spent nearly three hours talking and adding information, and I recorded some of the stories she was telling - a lovely addition to the album once I have digitised it from the tape and maybe added it to CD.

Quote of the morning: "If a boy doesn't think anything of his mother, he won't think anything of his wife."

This afternoon we went to Bridgend, where they have manufacturer's outlet stores (think DressMart, Kiwi readers), and I found a nice Welsh information and souvenir store. (There, some of the overdue Christmas presents were taken care of... heheh!) I also bought some Welsh rugby supporter clothing... :o)

We came home in time to catch the second half of the Newport Dragons vs Llanelli Scarlets rugby match ('y clyb rygbi' according to the TV logo although the match commentary was all in Welsh!). I was disappointed to see the Dragons score an extra time try to win 15 - 13!

The Millenium Stadium tour is tomorrow, with an opportunity to look around Cardiff as well. (I need some cash! The banks should be open!)