The wonder of Wales


Have you ever wondered what happens if you use hedge clippers to cut their own cable? Please don’t say I’m the only one who has felt their teeth judder to the tune of a power tool and asked themselves, a bit like Father Dougal, what it would actually really feel like if you trained its blades onto its vital parts. In the event, nothing. You look away for a split second, laughing, and the motor cuts out instantly. No blue flash, no sticking to the ground, no being thrown backwards through the open front door. What happens is that you stare appalledwise – first at the severed insulation and shinily exposed wires, then at the amount of overgrown hedge you still have to cut (90 per cent). Then you apologise sheepishly to their aghast 85-year-old owner who thinks you’ve probably just seen the face of God, and fetch the shears.

Luckily for the shears/unluckily for the hedge, I have the arms of Hercules – another interesting discovery made in the course of a few days’ jaunt to Pembrokeshire, courtesy of a very dear friend who was renting a cottage with her two ridiculously adorable sons. After several days of wondrous walks, glorious swims and hothousing more freckles than is surely advisable, I picked up a tennis racquet at a nearby friend’s house and discovered to my joy that 30 racquet-free years have not dimmed my talent. I’m just exactly as awful as I ever was and tennis is just as much fun. Fun for me, I should say. Less fun for the unshakably charming host who smiled politely as I waved at the next-door field as an explanation for where at least one of the balls might be found, and less fun for the blameless small boy ambling about his four-year-old business on the other side of the net from my flailing serve.

But yes to Pembrokeshire. Yes and double yes. Apart from an apparently endless round of country fairs, hog roasts, art workshops and talks on church architecture, there are walks that will take your breath away. Red sandstone to the east, leaving softer cliffs buckled and gentle; limestone to the west, producing stacks and arches and sheer drops with seagulls wheeling dizzily far below. Gormenghast and Lord of the Rings, but with the occasional tea shop.

And the train to get there! At Swansea you are decanted into a two-carriage train that takes you to 1935. You trundle through people’s gardens, past their potting sheds, past families having picnics. You toot and stop at lanes that cross the railway but are too small to merit a level crossing (which will give an idea of the velocity of your trundle). Passengers wishing to disembark at the quieter stations have to request it of the guard, who’ll do a head count and have a word with the driver. Passengers wishing to embark from these same spots are sternly enjoined by signs on the platform that they must “Please signal clearly” to the incoming train so that its asphyxiating pace – that of a stout spaniel, at a guess – can be slowed in time for the Titfield Thunderbolt to hit its mark.

So now I am entirely in love, although Pembrokeshire may have to wait for my return. The box of OS maps grows fuller, the weekends more heavily pencilled with words like Lewes, New Forest, Faversham and Hereford. And as an aside, there is an urgency. News of a former colleague’s appallingly sudden death last week; a near miss suffered by a dear friend six weeks ago; a friend’s baby who only lived for two days in May. It pushes you to eat life in great bites, to drink in beauty, to bottle laughter, to dance A LOT more often and to gloat that yes, one will always be the greatest tennis player to cut a hedge-trimmer’s power cord this afternoon in south London.


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