Last summer we decided to have a fence built atop part of our garden wall, to give us some privacy from occasional passers-by. Not that we’d mind if they did just pass by (or smile and say hello) but sitting in the sun isn’t quite as enjoyable as it should be when people old enough to know better lean over the wall just to have a good nose. A fence it had to be. So after some local enquiries I tracked down a company based in Abergavenny and a pleasant, outdoorsy young man duly turned up to quote for the work. A fortnight later he returned with a truckload of wood and other paraphernalia and got on with the job.
So far, so routine. It was when we were chatting, as you do over a mug of tea, that things became a little weird. I’m not sure if other people do this or if it’s a Welsh thing, or just a ‘me’ thing. Let’s assume everyone does it because that’ll help me feel normal and so I know you’ll understand when I explain that the conversation soon turned to the “How long have you lived here?”, “Where are you from originally?”, or “Where did your family come from?” variety. I mean, there’s no point meeting somebody new and not interrogating them is there?
And it was justified because it turned out that although our fencer had lived in Abergavenny his entire life, his mother had actually lived next door to me when I was growing up; not only that but his father had lived in the house the other side of hers. Pretty strange, eh? When he came back the next day he told me that he’d spoken to his mother and she remembered our family well, and that she’d once made a little girl’s dress in school sewing class which she’d given to my mother for one of us to have. This story was corroborated by my middle sister (“Don’t you remember, it was blue; and Mum made me take in a box of chocolates as a thank you…) who has a memory for things long gone that borders on the freakish. I mean, why would I remember a time when we looked like this?
Port Talbot reared its head again last week when I met an older woman at the local gallery where I volunteer. She was over 80 and was visiting the area for a few days. She started telling me that she’d been living in Cheshire for over 40 years but that she was now on her own there and thinking of returning to South Wales. All her family live either down here or in East Anglia and so she felt isolated and had a hankering to come home. I asked her where she’d come from originally and the conversation went something like this:
“Me, too…which part?”
“Me, too! Which street?”
At this point I was preparing myself to hear that she’d also somehow been a next-door neighbour but no…she’d lived two streets away, before moving to a house on the other side of town…where my cousin now lives.
I suppose just one of these random meetings isn’t that unusual but it starts to get a little strange when a succession of folk emerge from a shared past. The first year we lived here we had some work done in the kitchen which required the input of a tiler. He was one of those individuals who likes to have a natter and as I’m not averse to that myself, we shared a few anecdotes over tea and biscuits one morning. During the course of the conversation it turned out that his first wife had worked with Mr B over thirty years previously, in Cardiff. If we all still lived in the city then possibly we wouldn’t have been surprised at the coincidence but as we don’t and we haven’t had any contact for three decades, it was one of those moments when you really do wonder if the universe does indeed have a plan. And before anyone thinks to themselves “But how distant are you – you’re all less than 30 miles from Cardiff!” then it’s worth pointing out that once outside the city boundaries, some communities are fairly insular.
It’s got to the point where I just assume that there are better than fifty-fifty odds that I’ll know someone when I meet them, or at least know someone that they know. Lizzie came home with a group of friends recently, who we’d not met before. One of the girls had a Welsh relative and Lizzie must have realised where my mind was galloping off to because she stated firmly: “Mum – just because this is Wales it doesn’t mean that everyone knows everyone else.” But there’s always a chance…
Anyhow, the news this week. Following on from my last post when I told you about one of our woodland group falling into the canal, I have to report that somebody else I know has also got a soaking. Jo, a local friend, was walking her dog on the towpath when the dog’s ball fell into the water. Jo crouched down at the side and leaned over to retrieve the ball when the dog came up behind her and gave her a nudge, resulting in Jo going into the canal headfirst. I just hope we’re not working to the adage ‘these things go in threes‘ here, because I really don’t fancy being number three of that bunch.A trap for the unwary…
My own mini-disaster involved the cooking of Toad-in-the-Hole. For anyone reading this who’s unfamiliar with strangely named British food, it’s a dish of sausages covered in a batter (Yorkshire Pudding to be exact) and then baked. The trick to making it successfully is that the oven needs to be at a very high temperature; you pour oil or scoop fat (traditionally beef lard is used but we don’t usually have that available in our house) into a tin and heat it in the oven until the fat is smoking hot. Then you quickly add browned sausages and pour in the batter, which causes the fat to sizzle and spit, before putting the tin back into the oven and watching with satisfaction through the glass door as the pudding rises dramatically around the sausages. If you don’t have beef fat then the next best option is now reckoned to be duck or goose fat and as I happened to have a jar of duck fat in the fridge I decided to use that. While it was melting and reaching its smoking point in the oven I browned the sausages and mulled over what to cook to go with the Toad. Onion gravy is popular and one of our favourite accompaniments, with peas or green beans added. The other option, and the one I chose to go with on this occasion, provides the ultimate in comfort food: Toad-in-the-Hole and baked beans.
So after a few minutes I opened the oven door to remove my blisteringly hot dish of smoking fat…to be confronted by a brown, sticky mess. This had never happened before and I couldn’t figure it out. Why was the fat not now liquid and smoking? I picked up the jar I’d used and squinted at it, then poked the contents with a teaspoon before eventually realising that I’d been trying to achieve the necessary culinary chemistry with crystallised honey. You won’t be surprised to learn that this meant going back to the starting point.
Mistakes are easily made and as long as they don’t have bad consequences it’s not a problem – in fact they’re a useful way of learning something. Just last week we were at Powis Castle and I pointed across the grounds and said to Mr B:
“What sort of deer are they?“
And he answered “Canada Geese“.
The view from the terrace at Powis Castle
Coincidences are spiritual puns
Childhood days in Port Talbot – the place to be in the sixties!
Oh, coincidences, synchronicities… yep. There’s a woman local to us who set up an arts centre. We’re originally from London, but live in mid-Wales now and we discovered that she and my husband lived not far from each other in, in England. Weird. And… your deer/canada geese mistake is like mine when I look across the pastures here and see sheep then realise they are in fact swans (though the giveaway is that they are bright white. What sheep are ever bright white? Mud-coloured, yes, bright white, no.)
Ha ha, you and I must need the same pair of specs! Also my three daughters live in London so you probably know them…
I know everyone in London, sure. Particularly as I no longer live there! *Grins*.
Great post 🙂 It’s the six-degrees-of-separation rule: everyone is connected to everyone else by no more than 6 steps apparently (knowing someone who knows someone who knows the person that you know). I’ve no idea where the idea started but I’ve certainly encountered many such examples. Which has started me thinking how very difficult it would be to establish that connection. I’ve never lived in South Wales, though I have visited. Just where/how/when might our paths have connected in the past fifty+ years? How intriguing!
Of course, we could just bond over the trauma of being in photos like that, wearing such dresses and swimming costumes. Oh, the memories!
(I’m now going to wait for your next post, which will tell who is unfortunate enough to suffer the third dunking…)
Thanks Sandra. I’ve so many examples of the six degrees of separation I’m creaking under the strain! I think some coincidences can be explained by geography and others by life-style choices or attitudes so maybe they’re not as strange as they appear. As for the dunking…I’m staying well away from the water so I hope it won’t be me!
J > Lots of interest in this post – lots of angles and nooks and intricacies. BTW Powys Castle has got to be one of my abs fab NT gardens. From our Shropshire days. BTW-2 : I note that you worked as a radiographer. Did you see my recent post “Night Flight – Blue Light” in which I reported seeing X-rays (or rather, molecules ionized by x-rays)? I wonder whether you’ve any recollection of others experiencing the same?
Thanks for your nice comments – I’ve read your post about your experience and no, I’ve never heard of anything like it! Very interesting and just slightly bizarre! I hope you’re well-recovered now x
Yeah, well, the other night after choir, my lovely, I think you had left by that time. I went over to congratulate the Irish chap from the Malvern walking group on his fiddle-playing. Someone from the group asked me the usual “whereabouts in Germany?” Ah, Wiesbaden, he said, he knows and loves it and has a friend there. I have no idea why I did it – I mean, Wiesbaden’s a city with almost 300,000 inhabitants – but I said, oh, what’s his name then. The name he gave is a fairly common one in Germany, but I still said, oh, is he an ornithologist? And indeed it was a chap that Douglas and I used to go on birdwatching excursions with. So there! – Love your blog and should have said earlier!
It is uncanny, isn’t it? Such a small world! Danke sehr x
I don’t know if it happens elsewhere, but it’s definitely a welsh thing! Interesting to have so many occurrences in such a short space of time though. My latest was when I’d heard rumours that the new guy in work lived in the same area as me. I decided to make polite conversation and ask and it turns out that he lives around the corner! Not only that, but owns the shop I’ve been longing to turn into a craft shop for years. I do love stuff like this.
Ps. I now want toad in the hole!
We’re in the Twilight Zone…
It’s impossible to type the music without sounding silly. I’ll let you imagine.
Very small world indeed, as when I started my Hairdressing Apprenticeship all those years ago, Vicky was my first real client and I did her hair throughout her pregnancy, it was very sad. Love reading your blog, you seem very well adapted to country living!
It gets weirder and weirder! And thanks – we’ve adapted well and are still in one piece!
I dispute the term ‘freakish’ but remember the day of the photograph well. The curtain behind us was green, there was a pull down blind on the door & the photographer was trying to entice us to smile by using a scrawny toy bird. Memory engrams get strengthened by revisiting them & when I worked in NPT hospital a few years ago I used to walk down Water Street past the shop door though it’s no longer a photographer’s. Now that you have confessed to trying to fry sausages in honey, that memory of yours is as good as cast in stone. You reputation as a cook in contol of her kitchen is probably more vulnerable. Great blog!
How can you dispute the term freakish when you freely admit to such detailed recall of an event that took place over fifty years ago? I bet most people will be on my side here!
Now look here, you’re really going to have to stop doing this because spraying your coffee over your computer from having a laughing fit isn’t cool, plus my old machine is so ancient a sudden application of hot liquid is very likely to be terminal (I assume the blue sparks aren’t a good sign)…
But thought you’d find it reassuring to know that when the previous-but-one-neighbour-across-the-road had ‘a-man-in’ to do some work, it turned out he’d lived in our house when he was a boy and his mother apparently had died in our garden – small world…
Crikey! At least we haven’t had anyone claim a body in the garden…