Almanac Travel: Dylan Thomas and the mammalian protuberances

Reaching the front of the Moon and Sixpence’s meals queue, the portly Welshman announced, ‘A chicken tikka and half ’n’ half.’

Half ’n’ half? I wondered. What could that mean? What could you have with Indian in half ‘n’ half portions? The blinking-eyed tavern employee also found his order baffling. ‘Sorry. Can you explain?’

And then the bloke did, encapsulating the essence of contemporary British dining, the way tradition is combined with the exotic. ‘Darling,’ he sighed, drained after a long day of golf and Abbot Ale, ‘half rice and half chips.’

Of course, I thought, just as they prefer it in downtown New Delhi. Chips. The UK runs on potato. Next time you’re in your local Tandoori Oven be sure, as a loyal member of the Commonwealth, to order a dish with half ‘n’ half. After all, surely there aren’t boorish people on this planet who subsist only on rice?

Besides combining the culinary, Wales offers much: bottle green mountains, picturesque villages and at least one castle per resident. Driving into Tintern late afternoon blonde sunlight blanketed the town, and through its narrow valley gushed the River Wye. Standing majestically is Tintern Abbey: arresting and vast, and it’s easy to see why William Wordsworth was inspired by this setting

Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

*

Dylan Thomas described Swansea as that ‘beautiful ugly place’ and we agree. Its eastern approaches are gruesomely industrial and smoke pumps into a dirty sky whilst rows of terrace houses cower and weep in the heavy shadows. Zooming through as smartly as our timid Renault allowed we emerged in the dishy village of Mumbles.

The name, a bastardisation of mammalian, is inspired by the twin headland landmarks which once reminded folks of breasts. After fifteen minutes of gazing and slack-jawed dribbling I couldn’t see them, and so Kerry and Roxy (by now barking in fluent Welsh) took me to nearby Oystermouth Castle, built in the twelfth century.

After, waiting on the misty Mumbles foreshore for the wife to return with lunch a dishevelled labourer wobbled out of his breakfast pub onto the esplanade and slurred the following at his phone

Mrs Smith? I won’t be able to tile your bathroom today. No, sorry. I’m stuck in traffic. I think there’s been an accident.

Hanging up on the trusting Mrs Smith he lurched back into the Fox and Hounds to his conspiratorial pint where I’m sure, to keep his conscience tidy, he spent the afternoon accidentally getting roaring.

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobble streets silent and the hunched, courters’ and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

So starts my favourite play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, and the Carmarthenshire village of Laugharne presented a pilgrimage. The foreshore’s dominated by the obligatory castle, and an estuary laps tranquilly below the house (now a museum) of Thomas, his wife Caitlin and their children.

Up on the cliff rests an impressive boatshed, and it’s in here that Thomas wrote. Inside, a wooden table strewn with paper and brown ale bottles posed in a poignant tableau, and after several photos, we wandered through some picturesque lanes before discovering where the poet applied himself with tremendous verve: Brown’s Hotel.

The bar is hazy, musty and residence of sassy octogenarians. I ordered a pint and a bowl of water as two whiskery retirees enchantingly crooned, ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ for an entirely indifferent Roxy. We claimed the rickety table where Thomas invested countless singular hours.

The tobacco-stained walls are collaged with newspaper clippings and yellowed photos of their celebrated former patron, and I was smitten by an ancient advertisement for local ale whose slogan is Under Milk Wood’s opening: ‘to begin at the beginning.’ It’s marginally more elegant than, say, ‘Queenslanders don’t give a XXXX for anything else.’

Downing my Stella, Roxy and I abandoned the beery citizens to their throaty laughter and endless self-amusement. An intriguing footnote occurred shortly after our Welsh trip with the news that Neil Morrissey, of Men Behaving Badly and more impressively, Bob the Builder fame purchased Brown’s Hotel for a few pennies shy of 700,000 pounds.

*

Pembrokeshire’s Tenby is kaleidoscopically bright and explored perfectly on foot. The beaches are fabulously broad and white, the cobblestoned streets zigzag here and there, and a stonewall once protected the old town from invaders like, for example, the feckin’ English.

Appealing to all ages with bucks’ and hens’ nights and bowls tournaments dominating its social calendar, Tenby bursts with jovial pubs, cafes and restaurants. We ambled happily about and then dropped Roxy off in our room after she bravely endured her first elevator ride; mercifully not initialling one of the lift corners. Many hotels and pubs here are pet friendly, and this is something Australia could better embrace.

An unhurried drive through some showery, but charismatic countryside included a pause at Llandovery where we saw a silver sculpture of an esteemed elder that resembled Darth Vader, who may or may not have been born in Central Wales. It was raining when we arrived at Brecon Friday afternoon and still drizzly when we departed Saturday- not surprising given that seventy inches annually tumble down.

Following Indian snacks from a gleefully criminal take-away, we then investigated the town centre, boating canal and River Usk banks across from which we could spy some lush green and soggy sponge-like golf course fairways.

Back in Hertfordshire having concluded our holiday we ordered some chicken tikka and half ’n’ half from our local Indian restaurant up on Holywell Hill.

We’d assimilated.

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I’ve flicked this on to Enzo Mitani, Mickey, I reckon he’d be able to come up with a suitable export-grade condiment to accompany the half-n-half

  2. Enough’s enough, Swish.

    The festival state? Wine? Defence? No to all. I’m marching to parliament house to demand the introduction of licence plates bearing the following-

    SA- The Chicken Salt State.

    And we should forget this nuclear dump nonsense. Just send the president-elect a bag of chicken salt, and use social media to spread photos of him pouring the good stuff onto a steak, or Hillary’s head. Plus chicken salt’s got a longer half-life. Economic disaster averted.

  3. “SA – the Half and Half State”. Says it all really. Most of us who wax eloquent about SA on this site are expats. Swish, Crio, Budge, myself – and until recently the Mickster himself.
    Speaking of which are these witty travelogues current or from your time living in the UK? Can’t imagine you took the dogs on an all-paid European tour.
    Have never read Dylan Thomas, but remember hearing the BBC radio recording of famous Welsh actors performing it. Richard Burton; Mary Hopkin – those were the days.
    No idea what it is about, and don’t know a word of it – but the mellifluous sound reverberates around my skull as I think of it. Honey and cakes and ale and cider with Rosie.

  4. PB- these pieces are from about a decade ago. We flew our dog over to live with us at great expense. And back home at similar cost, but it was worth it. She visited Wales, Scotland and much of England with us. And they are considerably more dog-friendly than we are. This always astonishes me.

    The BBC recording of Under Milk Wood is fantastic. However, there’s an English actor, Guy Masterson, who performs the entire play as a solo artist- and he switches seamlessly between the dozens of characters (voices). He comes out here occasionally to perform it, and is worth a look, often as part of Fringe/ Festivals of Arts.

    Nothing like being an expat to discover your affection for a place!

  5. Entertains as always,Mickey and yep PB I am certainly not eloquent

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