‘We can’t just say it’s all bad man, we have to think about what could happen.’
– Jimmy, Cardiff.
I awake in the northern suburb of Roath Park, Cardiff. I’ve set an alarm, but what has me up and out of bed are the affections of a dog, Ropo, who runs into the room and licks my face and feet with his barbed and tickly tongue until I manage to shoo him away. I have tea and breakfast with Sebo, an accomplished photographer and, typically for that profession, overly perfectionistic and self-critical. Since the couple moved to Cardiff from Finland after Hanni got a PhD scholarship nine months ago, Sebo’s been volunteering at local galleries and organising small workshops, as well as occasional bits of work here and there for the BBC.
He’s also made friends with the guys at Punk Bikes, a small cooperatively-run bike shop on the junction between Newport Road and City Road to the east of the centre. My back brake has started rubbing against the wheel and the spring seems to have gone awry, once again – this curse previously afflicted me across the Midlands and Nottingham – and I’m starting to despair. At my insistence we cycle at a slow pace so I can keep up (!), and we cycle past a collage of neon and ruins, cuisine houses that span the continent of Asia besides tatty phone shops, neglected Victorian townhouses turned into cheap bedsit lets and, a little behind the scenes, garagelands besides one-way streets cutting hither and thither on this quiet sunny morning. We follow one down til we reach a tight alleyway marked with stylised graffiti. Here’s Punk Bikes, and the service is friendly and off-the-cuff. I’m shown some of their bizarre home-made cycles, odd trikes and bikes which somehow succeed in travelling from A to B. The brake spring is adjusted though they’ve no brake pads suitable for my old-fashioned bike, so I’m pointed elsewhere and head out. The repair’s overpriced but the ethos is sound, though by the end of the day the spring will go again.
‘I’m worried, there’s a generation of young people, some around thirty, who have never had a job in their life. And what’ll happen when they get older, and these people retire then? There’ll be no-one to do the jobs, cos they won’t have the skills.’
– talk at the Miner’s Institute, Blackwood.
I wake up in Aberdare, a little tired after another late night writing and trying to catch up with emails. Sleep deprivation’s dragging over many days, and the recent journeys have pushed my abilities, covering the most miles and steep hills in recent days. Fatigue I can deal with, but the slow starts are hard. There’s not enough time in the day for all the things I am trying to do. It’s not simply writing what’s happened, but arranging the different places I’ll be staying over the coming weeks, as well as keeping up with the modern dance of emails and their replies. Cut away meetings and emails, and what would remain of the activities of the average workplace?
‘We haven’t heard the full story’
– Conversation in the Dic Penderyn, Merthyr Tydfil.
I awake with slow and heavy movements in Uplands, Swansea, a residential suburb of the city largely populated with students at the nearby university. It’s the morning after the night before, and though my head’s not aching – I wisely bowed out of the drinking around 2am – I’m feeling a bit worn out.
Remarkably, Sarah and her housemates are all up before I am. Their relative youthfulness means they can manage a few hours’ kip and be up and spritely again! My age expresses itself as a headache, one slowly assuaged with coffee and Weetabix. We talk about drugs and their legalisation. I always feel slightly surprised when I hear people discussing drugs openly, call me sheltered, but across my trip, and I guess indeed before, it’s something that I notice younger people are more comfortable, and more sensible, talking about. Most are in favour of decriminalisation, of treating drug addiction as a social and health issue, something I agree with.
‘I’m shackled here.’
– Neil, St. Clears.
Breakfast is ready!
I’m woken by a friendly shout and the smell of frying bacon in the other room, after a lovely deep night’s sleep in Tenby. Everything is good: the friendly company of Declan and Dorie, who have kindly put me up through the Couchsurfing website, which I strongly recommend to any travellers considering a similar journey. Then there’s the small town of Tenby, dotted on the south-west Welsh coast, a delight of a place to pass the time. And then there’s the prospect of a full Irish breakfast this morning. This is the start of a good day.
Matt and Morgan rouse too, and we rub our bleary eyes at the sight of a feast: scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, baked beans, mushrooms, slices of warm buttery toast, avocado (there must be something healthy here…), black pudding, bacon and sausages for the meat eaters. There’s fresh coffee and tea too. Wonderful. We talk about the tricky business of living together with other people, of moving in as couples, and the complex etiquette of domestic work between house-mates. Everyone round the table has sufficient experience to draw on, much of it humorously negative. We’re laughing and eating together, and I wish this was the start and end of the day’s activities, but there’s some distance still to travel.
‘Let’s be honest…’
– Jeff, Haverfordwest.
I awake in my tent next to a five thousand year old memorial to a forgotten life and a forgotten way of living. Yet the large stone still stands improbably upright despite its hulking size over the smaller stones propping it up. Though the stones are in a residential area on the edge of Newport, a tall privet hedge ensures I’m secluded. A middle-aged man calls to a woman, perhaps his wife, in the distance, as he loads up an estate car with household bric a brac. Up and awake early, I pack up furtively and sneak out.