Today I’m going to write about good things. No tragedies, no sad losses, no whinging, even. Just good stuff, that has made me smile – hopefully it’ll have the same effect on some of you. So, where to begin?
How about this, probably the most delightful news of all – the birth of a baby. To my friend Rich and his wife Nia (who I’ve never met! I used to work with Rich and a meeting with Nia is long overdue), a beautiful baby girl. Many, many congratulations guys, I wish you years of joy. You will need strong stomachs, endless patience and – above all – a sense of humour, but you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams.
It would be nice if I could move seamlessly to the next in the line of delightful social events, a wedding. Alas, I can’t because I don’t know anyone who tied the knot this month so instead I’m going with this: thirty-four years ago this week, on the 25th July 1982, Michael and I travelled to Birmingham and were married at the Church of St Lazar. This may not sound unusual…except that we were both living in Cardiff, as were Michael’s family and most of our friends whilst my family lived not far away. So why did we hire a coach and transport our guests over 100 miles up the M5?
It was my Dad’s fault. He was Yugoslav – or, as we now say, he was born in the former Yugoslavia. He came to the UK in 1951, having been a World War II refugee. Because of this background, my sisters and I had been brought up as members of the Serbian Orthodox church. Typically for a church like this, set up in a foreign country, the catchment area is very large. So the ex-pat Yugoslav community in the UK, spread across the country with clusters in areas widely separated from each other, had a sort of peripatetic priest. He would come to various cities in the area he was allotted; our priest, Father Zebic, was responsible for Birmingham (the centre of his parish), Halifax, Leicester, Coventry and Cardiff. There may have been other towns, but I’ve no idea where they were.
Father Zeb would hold a service in Birmingham and then set off for one of the other places. One week it would be Cardiff, the next Leicester and so on. The services were held in Anglican churches whose vicars had kindly agreed to the loan. After some years the members of the parish decided to raise money to build their own church, which they finally did. It was built in Bournville, a leafy suburb of Birmingham. St Lazar’s became the focal point for all of the cultural, social and religious activities of the community.
The summer we got married, some members of the civil service and local government were involved in an industrial dispute and were working to rule. This caused a small problem for us; Father Zeb was an ‘appointed person’ for St Lazar’s but nowhere else, which meant that the only place he could carry out the legal part of a marriage was at that church. If he married us in Cardiff we would have to have a registrar in attendance. Normally this would be easily sorted out – the registrar would come to the church. But, as I mentioned, they were working to rule…you can see where I’m going with this.
The solution was obvious. We would go to Birmingham – all of us. And so we booked a coach (it was a small wedding so one was enough, thank goodness). My crowd were collected first and then Michael’s family and some other friends were picked up in Cardiff. Meanwhile I travelled in the car with my Dad (driving), Uncle Bob (Dad’s best friend and my Godfather – also Yugoslav, who’d settled in Chorley, Lancs) and Aunty Phil (my Mum’s sister, who suffered from travel-sickness on a bus). Not the easiest of journeys. Dad was never a happy driver; Uncle Bob was a bit deaf and spoke poor English with an accent that was a strange mixture of Yugoslav and Lancashire; Aunty Phil was very hard of hearing and had lived all her life in the Goytre valley outside Port-Talbot. It’s probably enough to say that conversation didn’t exactly flow in that car.
We arrived an hour early and Dad’s solution was to drive to a pub. As I remember it, there was a dart-board in the corner and sawdust on the floor. I swear there were men in there with ferrets. Luckily I can put your minds at rest here and tell you that I’d decided not to wear a long, traditional wedding dress and so I didn’t look too out of place…
Meanwhile the coachload of the bewildered had reached the church to find a barbecue in progress. My Mum almost swallowed her tongue when Father Zeb spotted her and said “Hello! What you doing here?” When he was reminded that he was supposed to be performing a wedding service he grinned and said “Oh yes! I will just finish my sausages.”
The good news is that we eventually all got inside the church at the same time and did what we were supposed to do. The Orthodox service is lovely and involves bride and groom wearing crowns, carrying candles and having their wrists tied together. Everything seems to be done three times, including walking around the small altar, putting on the wedding rings and being blessed.
Outside the lunacy continued. Dad had brought bottles of sljivovic, a lethal Serbian plum brandy, so that we could have an immediate toast. Mum dished out packets containing sandwiches and slices of cake to everyone, so that they shouldn’t get peckish on the bus journey back to South Wales for the reception. I wish the smart phone had been around then because I’m willing to bet that the impromptu photographs of people’s reactions would have been hilarious.
Anyway, thirty-four years later we’re still putting up with each other so I guess we must be doing something right.
Other recent happy events include Alex’s graduation, which I’ve already told you about, and my birthday. The best thing about my birthday was that all three girls stayed on after Alex’s day so that we could have a party on the Saturday. This meant a house full of friends, old and new. The weather was kind to us and we were able to sit out in the garden until late evening, before lolling in the living room and playing Articulate after drinking far too much wine.The aftermath of party weekend
The weather was even better the following week. So good, in fact, that we drove across to Cardigan Bay to spend the day on the beach on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. It took us just over two hours, partly because of the geography of the country but also due to the fact that a road can have many faces in Wales. The A40 which takes us past Brecon to Llandovery is reasonably straight, with a good surface. Soon after that, under a different letter and number, it narrows and begins to wind left to right, up and down but is still the main route to the beaches of Ceredigion. And then at one point it became this:
After about ten minutes the truck herded the cows into a field and we could carry on, being rewarded with our first sight of the sea.
We sizzled for several hours before we admitted that it was probably too hot so we drove to Cardigan for a stroll around the town, which is really pleasant. We had a bit of a hissy fit when we realized that we couldn’t get into the castle for nothing by using our Cadw cards and decided to go home instead.
Colourful Cardigan houses
As we approached Crickhowell the thermometer in the car told us that the outside temperature was 34 degrees – thank God for air conditioning!
But I’m not complaining, not this week. And never about good weather.
Heading back into the national park, and home
Above the hills, along the blue…