About Town

Workaway schedules are approximate at best, and are often in tune with the weather forecast rather than a calendar. Although the suggested 4 to 5 hour work day schedule seems to be in compliance, I left the determined days off up to the hosts. As it turned out, I was invited to take a day off the first week, and a random day the second week. I suppose some workawayers sit right down and iron out these schedules beforehand, but to ask for a Saturday and Sunday off on a farm while I stayed there and ate didn’t feel right, especially because they seemed to have so little to eat to begin with, by choice or not. If I had made overnight plans somewhere else in Wales for a weekend, I’m sure they would have been more than happy to comply. 

Not that rain ever deterred them from sending me out. Rain that was forecast for Thursday, and because the kids and M were busy, and P was out scything someone else’s field, they gave me the day to myself. I decided to take the bus to Cardigan, another village on the coast south of Aberporth for the first half of the day, and return to a Drefach in time to go through the Woolen Museum. I would have lunch in Cardigan and supper in Drefach at a little pub I had my eye on since I walked by it the first day.

On my way down the big, half-hour walk hill, from Penboyr (the town that they live closest to) to Drefach to catch the bus, the rain started, so I opened the little umbrella which shielded me sufficiently from the rain but did little for the wind, whipping into my ears. I had to leave my soft green hat back at the farm, still soaked by the rain of its scythe-eureka moment, on a rack inside. Just as I was thinking to myself to find a woolen hat in Cardigan – surely a town with that name would have its namesake for sale everywhere – a car slowed behind me and pulled up.

“Do you want a lift?” A kindly looking man about my age offered through a rolled down window. By this time, I took it for granted that people offer passersby rides all the time. This time, the wind in my face proved too uncomfortable. “Thanks!” And in I went. Short introductions were made: I told him where I was working; he said he knew the farm and attended one of their “Open Weekends” and has a few scythes of his own. I realize now that doesn’t mean you necessarily know how to use one. (A lot of participants who attend P’s scythe workshops, according to him, believe they are intermediate when they should be in a beginner’s course.) As for me, I was catching the bus to Cardigan, and have you been in that Pub we just passed and is it any good? He said he didn’t know, he doesn’t live here, he’s only the “local.” Not sure what that was, but now approaching the bus stop, he pointed to it and said, “You’ll catch your bus there.” I said my thanks and off I went. 

Because of the ride, I was half an hour early, and if there were any congenial cafes or tea houses within the area I would have gladly stepped into one; as it was, Drefach has four places where people meet: two pubs that open after 4, the snack shop which also serves as a post office and an ER (the sign under the post office says defibrillator) and a lunchroom inside the museum, which was a twenty minute walk from my bus stop. All other life in Drefach is shut away in tiny houses that line the streets, and like other small European villages whose main industry has been replaced by modern life, forcing little shops to close one by one, it is sadly quiet. 

A woman came by with her collie, a perfect conversational starter. This was a Welsh Collie, smaller than the standard, wider face and shorter muzzle, similar to the Border in size, yet with ginger and white markings. She was a real sweetie, a 16 year-old champ who was walking slower every day, but still liked her morning stroll to the store and back. It was then 10:20, the time for the bus, and indeed it came around the corner on the opposite side of the street. The bus driver looked at me, I looked at him, he slowed ever so slightly, and then drove off. It didn’t phase me, as my bus was supposed to stop on my side of the street, obviously. But five minutes turned to ten, and my bus didn’t show up.

But someone else did – the man who dropped me off suddenly came around the corner and pulled to a sudden stop. “Didn’t the bus come by?” He asked. “Not over here. A bus came by over there.” “Which way did it go?” he asked. I pointed up the hill. “That would have been your bus then.” He chuckled. “Get in!” I walked around to the passenger’s side again, and reiterated I was going to Cardigan, and isn’t that quite a ways? “I’m not in a hurry to get to work. I have to help my son’s uncle lay some floor.” Sympathetic to his day ahead of laying floor, I aided in his playing hookie and off we went, on the way to Cardigan, about a half hour drive. Like with a crash course, I gleaned a little bit more of Wales, but the speed with which we were going mirrored his speech, and while touring the small, winding roads in a speed I haven’t felt since motoring in France with A. (and with dance music blaring from the radio as well), I was more inclined to look at the scenery before it disappeared around a bend, than ask him to repeat himself. It was lovely to hear the Welsh accent, albeit through the beats of the 90s, as I listened to an homage of his years as a youth traveling to Crete and parts of Europe in those years when everyone went to Europe. I’m not sure who the everyone he mentioned are, but since he mentioned the hippies who once liked to hang out at Newcastle Emlyn, which is by the way a great place for fish and chips, I assumed he meant the 70s. I also learned that most chapels (so called to distinguish any other religion from the Church of England’s churches) were not being used any more and a lot of them are sold off. Most people do not like that Prince Charles is the Prince of Wales, and most Welsh are quite fiercely independent and do not like England’s hot shots running the show for them; unfortunately, Wales has very little governing power. We passed through small pretty villages, with flowered patios and and brightly painted pubs, ice cream shops and tea houses, a cascading, wide river, rolling green hills, forested areas and pastures. He pointed to a field. “That’s where they have boot sales once a month.” “You mean people can buy their Wellingtons there?” He laughed, and said, “no, I guess what you would call a trunk sale.” “People sell things out of the trunk of their cars?” Aka: flea market. 

We were nearing Cardigan by the time I had summed up an overall impression of my Welsh escort and just in time too, as he asked me what my dinner plans were. I told him I have dinner with the family, and they were expecting me. Grateful as I was for the rides, (I could have easily visited the museum in Drefach first and taken a subsequent bus to Cardigan) he neither appealed to me as a date for dinner, as a pal to get “getting knackered” with, nor as a date to attend rave parties. Maybe a bit disappointed, he nevertheless wrote down his phone number, should I change my mind, or if I needed a lift to the train station on Sunday, and to call him either way. I offered him 5£ for the ride, which he would not accept, and we shook hands. “I’m Alec, by the way.” I replied in kind, and said thanks for the ride.

One of the first things I wanted to do in Cardigan was have a coffee and a Welsh cake. In fact, because of the weather, I wanted nothing more than to go from establishment to establishment, eating and warming. After a brief preliminary scan of the first street with so many offerings, I decided on Coffee1, a warm, wooden-floored coffee shop with perfect incandescent lighting and small couches and little private areas, called in Welsh “cwsch” which can mean anything that makes you feel snug, either in terms of a hug or a cubby hole. Although I should have ordered an Americano, which would have given me more caffeine for the buck, I was pleased by the latte and its creaminess, which together with the Welsh cake, a glorified shortbread cookie, with crystallized sugar and raisins, gave me a burst of good cheer. I stayed there a while; again, because of the speedy car ride I arrived in Cardigan earlier than the lunch hour I anticipated, I got out my journal and did some writing. It was reassuring to see people out and about – old friends catching up over coffee and cakes, a woman on her laptop with coffee by her side; an old couple out for a sandwich – it appeared as though life was still carrying on just the way I had left it, and people still ate sugar and drank coffee. 

It was getting on 12 though and time for lunch. So I put on my coats (down feather ski jacket under North Face semi waterproof jacket) and headed out to find a pie. Sure enough – it didn’t take long – by 12:20 I went onto Greggs for a fully lard-charged mutton pie. Delicious, mushy, full of flavor, spices and tender meat. With the meat and the lard warming my middle, I decided now would be a good time to find my hat. What Cardigan seemed to be noted for, at least in terms of clothing stores, was that most of them were consignment shops, all non profits for charity organizations, indicated by the names of the shops. Some were called Veterans of Wales, some The Friends of Dog Society, or Cat Lovers of Cardigan. There were several regular clothes shops, but all were featuring sun hats and bikinis. Not one shop in all the three main shopping streets and indoor markets sold good old wool cardigans or wool hats. Quite disappointing. I came across a little antique store, and so I popped in there for good measure; always on the lookout for cowbells, I thought maybe I could bring one back from Wales. The lady had no idea what she had in there, but I was welcome to look around, and sure enough I found a small sheep bell, and when I got back to the counter, she had found a small elephant bell from India. I decided to purchase both, the Indian bell a unique round shape with a brightly painted decorative shell. Despite her wrapping them in bubble wrap, they still clanged as I put them away. I guess I’ll always be able to be found. Coming back out, and up a side street, I passed another second hand store to whose proprietor I directly asked for a warm hat, and she pulled out a few from a sack hidden behind her counter, and although it was not wool, but a synthetic crochet, it fit, was warm, and what I needed.

The next stop was either for a beer in a pub or for candy in a sweets shop; I remember passing a place called Yum Yum, which had large glass jars lining each wall from top to bottom. I entered and was immediately seen to by a tall, matronly woman in a pristine white lab coat whose demeanor and authority over her product reflected that of a doctor dispensing controlled substances. I scanned for what I was looking for, and pointed to it, asked for a bit of it. Unsure how much an ounce would give me, she decided for me, and scooped out the request onto a scale and handed over the sweets in a cone shaped, cellophane baggie only after I forked over the 1.35£ and the transaction was complete. It was all very business like and properly done, this candy business. The serving of the beer was done with much less protocol. I went in to the Side Arms, a small hole in the wall with two other customers in it: a regular at the bar rolling his cigarettes and a regular at a table probably wishing he still could. I ordered a Guinness and took it to a table, and slowly while I sipped on the beer and chewed on my candy, felt my feet warm by the radiator underneath, which were becoming the warmest they’ve been since arriving in Wales. It was a great moment. It was a day of hedonism.

Back in a Drefach, I walked to the museum which explored the history of wool making, from the sheering to the final garment. Inside, the old machines can still be still threaded and are able to run; every so often they crank them up and finish a little bit more of the fabric the machine is set to weave. The factory was in use up until the late 70s, when most mills suffered a decline in use due to cottons and synthetics creating a higher demand. There are still a few running mills in western Wales, which, according to my Welsh escort, is the most beautiful part of Wales.

Too pleasantly satisfied to eat another dinner at the pub, I walked back home, and continued reading a book I picked up from M’s bookcase called Riding down the Mountains, a 57-year-old woman’s biking trip through Pakistan, India and Nepal in the early 80s. She had quite a harrowing experience, as a sole western woman on a bike. It makes my travels sound like luxury tours. 

Friday and Saturday had me scything again and the first of the seasonal hay bailing. The onslaught of continuous rain has kept M. and P. from scything the huge hay field for next winter’s food stock. Soon though, they’ll need to scythe the 6 acre field and let it dry on the ground, bail it (put it in big mounds), and transport it to the barn for the winter, but I don’t know how they’ll do that without a tractor, trailer or wagon before the uncut grass is no longer viable.

Tomorrow morning after breakfast, a friend of M. and P. is giving me a ride to the train station, where I’ll be taking a train to a Bath, England, to meet up with my friend L. I got to say, I so look forward to the rental apartment she’s found with its indoor plumbing and hot water showers.

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