This Saturday I'll be in Cardiff, a city very close to my heart for many and varied reasons.
Half my family are from South Wales and annual trips for the two week summer holiday from Wylam, our bijoux village in Northumberland, to Bridgend to stay with my tiny, pepper pie making, story-telling grandma and our slightly terrifying but softly spoken, one sweet-a-day-from-the-tin giving grandpa, are a staple memory of my youth.
I remember weather watching after the 6 o'clock news – no Apps back then - to find the best day for our visit to Swansea beach or our essential trip to the local cinema on inclement days. From Wylam, you had to travel to Newcastle to see a film and so we never did, which meant our holiday visits were a Big Deal. Then there were the trips to Auntie E and Uncle E who doted and fussed and plied our enormous family with the best-ever filled sandwiches and if we were lucky, let us print photos in the dark room. If we were really lucky, we were allowed to stay the night and marvel at our equally doting and very grown up twin cousins who got up at 6am to set their hair in rollers before going to work.
I'm sure they were delighted to have the very young me around at that time as they made their preparations to leave.
But my strongest memory of them all is spending most of our days on the glorious foot high wall which edged our grandparents' front garden. It seemed enormous at the time and it was only in later years that I realised the garden, although pristinely kept, was little bigger than the footprint of the house. The wall, with its slightly curved hard stone top, provided the perfect beam for my three gymnastics-mad sisters and me to choreograph and 'perfect' our routines, ready for the shows for interested adults at the end of the day.
But Cardiff? Well, my older sister went to university in Cardiff and thus I was afforded my first real taste of freedom at sweet sixteen. Mind you, as well as the 'hanging out' with incredibly cool students (they were three years older and, at 16, you don't get much cooler than that, do you?) etched in my brain are also the memories of Birmingham Bus Station.
I had to travel from Newark via Nottingham and change at Birmingham for onward travel to the final change in Bristol before reaching my destination, surprisingly only five hours later.
How I ever managed the logistical feat of boarding a bus in Birmingham remains a mystery.
There was a 'unique' system where people were ejected from their first coach into an area the size of a school playground which was already screaming at the edges before the coach crawled in. The flock of onward travelling passengers were then left to fend for themselves. No chance of a cup of tea in a white plastic cup, even if I could have afforded it, picture being centre of the Mosh Pit when Wham! were playing and you'll know why keeping a firm footing was my first concern.
My second concern was 'The Announcement'. Would I hear it? Even back then my hearing wasn't my best asset and add to the mob of people the crackling loud speaker, and deciphering the instruction, 'Bristol bound, Zone E' was every bit as stressful as the anticipation of O-levels. Even back then, deep in the middle of the Eighties, five foot one and three quarters was pretty tiny and never did I feel smaller: invisible. And younger. My memory of the view of the others in the crush to catch the coach was grey with a purple tinge - and just because these people were four times my age, doesn’t mean they couldn't bustle and jostle with the rest of them.
|Birmingham Coach Station, 2009, |
after its £15m refurbishment
Once the coach had pulled into its allotted zone, and the hopeful passengers had lolloped and sprinted and hurdled their way to the awaiting coach, there was one more obstacle to onward travel. The seats were a free-for-all and I'd miss an average of three coaches before finally snagging a place on each journey. In addition to my size and youth, I blame my Mum for teaching me to queue. I do remember feeling very Mary Whitehouse about the rudeness of it all.
Still, my ticket cost about 3p so mustn't grumble.
Once there of course, hanging out with my very mature and all-knowing big sis who just wanted me to have 'the best time', I fell in love with Cardiff: the city nightlife, the university union, the castle, the sport, the shops. All this so close to your student digs? Life couldn’t get better than this. In fact, I'd have considered it as a university option if it hadn't been 'my sister's city'. No matter, she lived there for many years after and I've been visiting the city ever since.
And why am I travelling to Cardiff this time? I'm privileged to have been appointed Writer in Residence at Octavo's in West Bute Street where you will find me between 11 and 4pm on Saturday 15th October. I'll be signing books, hosting a Q & A at 1pm and basically being in a gorgeous book shop in Cardiff, so, please do come visit if you're remotely local. You'll receive a warm welcome from me and the super friendly staff, the beautiful book shop is bursting with new reads, advice and well, cakes...
The idea is that if you don’t turn up, I sit, surrounded by books and a stone's throw from their pretty gorgeous looking café, and write. I admit that on a normal day this would be absolutely no hardship to me, however, this Saturday is different. I love, love, love to meet readers (and potential readers) of Glass Houses and Tea & Chemo – actually, it's just nice to chat with any fellow readers, in fact, just chatting generally is right up there with cafes and Prosecco and a run in the hills for me.
Oh, and as well as a Book Café, Octavo's is also a wine bar.
See you in Cardiff, I hope!
|Apologies - too busy|
to take photos, really!
Thanks so much to everyone who came to Waterstones in Harrogate last Saturday. There was a wonderful buzzy atmosphere, lovely to see happy faces old and new and… we sold every last copy of Glass Houses :)