It may come as a surprise to anyone that’s ever heard me speak, but I am in fact Welsh. You wouldn’t be able to tell from my rather home counties accent, but I actually come from the land of Max Boyce, Anthony Hopkins and leeks. I was born and bred in Cardiff and spent my first 11 years happily developing my lilting sing-song brogue until my parents decided to move the family to Brighton in 1976. Within months my Welsh lilt had wilted.
I’m very proudly Welsh (particularly during rugby union season) and am delighted that, linguistically, I can not only still remember the days of the week in Welsh, but that I can also correctly pronounce the longest place name in Europe, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Oh yes, people of Ealing, that’s how Welsh I am!
So last weekend I went with my sister and daughter on our annual visit to the place of my birth to stay with friends. It’s always great to go back there, and as soon as we cross the Severn Bridge my sister and I always start talking in a Welsh accent and singing Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey songs - not only to demonstrate our patriotic fervour, but also to embarrass and aggravate Molly, my 12 year old.
This visit we decided to have a little trip down memory lane and went on a tour of the area where we used to live. We sat in the car outside our old house (desperate to go and knock on the door and have a nose inside), had a look at various friends’ and family’s houses and stood at the gate of our junior school, where memories of pudding basin haircuts, satchels and pre-pubescent boys came flooding back.
However, the most interesting part of our trip was when on Sunday we took a drive out to Barry Island. Barry played a major part in our childhood. My nostalgic, rose tinted memory reminds me that on many a hazy summer holiday afternoon, Mum would pack us all into the Ford Cortina and schlep over to Barry to spend a day on the beach and to visit the Pleasure Park. It’s over 35 years since we last stepped foot there and my, how it’s changed. Of course, it didn’t help that we visited on a cold, grey December day but the place was hardly recognisable to me. The huge Butlins that used to reside on the top of the hill, looking out over the sea, has been replaced with a modern housing estate and when we rounded the corner to see the Pleasure Park, we stopped in our tracks.
My memory was of a vast, sprawling fun fair with huge rides, accompanied by the sound of screaming and laughing children. But now it was small, derelict and deeply sad. The log flume and a handful of other rides were still there behind the locked gates, but they looked unloved, covered in weeds and much smaller than in my memory. I know sometimes we see things that we thought were big when we were children and realise that their size was purely a reflection of how small we were. But this felt more than that, it felt almost like the fair had shrivelled in size due to lack of interest. It was a very depressing sight that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a spooky episode of Scooby Doo. According to the signs, the fair is still open in the summer months, but some subsequent Googling contradicts this – another victim of the recession perhaps?
But it wasn’t all gloomy in Barry, mainly because of a massively successful TV series. Barry Island appears to have achieved its own celebrity status in recent years. Gavin and Stacey really helped tell the rest of the country about the existence of this small Welsh seaside town. We spotted a large Gavin and Stacey gift shop (which was unfortunately closed so I can’t tell you what on earth was for sale). The word ‘lush’ was used on the canopies of many of the shops and cafés, and Marco’s café (where Stacey worked) has a massive hoarding depicting the stars of the show and was impressively busy for a particularly cold Sunday morning.
It was ‘fablass’ going back to South Wales and re-visiting some of the places of my childhood. Of course everything looks different through adult eyes, but there is a familiarity there and the memories that these places evoke are thankfully warm and happy ones. It makes me wonder what Molly will make of Ealing and its surroundings if she visits here in 35 years time?
NOTE TO SELF: Cymru am byth!