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The following day, Thursday, we avoided Cardiff, thinking it might be too full of NATO and police officers to be borne with good grace. Instead, we took the train to Caerphilly in order to look at its castle. The town of Caerphilly made me oddly nostalgic for the 1990s - it seemed not to have been touched since then, so I daresay it too was feeling the same way. We had elevenses in a café that was still serving that prototypic form of caffe latte that comes in a tall glass mug and consists of slightly-soiled milk. I have been ruined, I fear, by knowledge of coffee that tastes recognisably of coffee. Still, the establishment also served loose leaf tea (which pleased the David) and was so extremely clean that I almost wanted to drop my shortbread on the floor in order to enjoy the rare thrill of innocent trust that would assuredly accompany the eating of it anyway.

As we strolled through the town, I felt somewhat sorry for Caerphilly. It had very obviously seen better days. When you think of Caerphilly you think of cheese, and perhaps of the castle, but as for present-day prosperity I am not sure that it’s very lively. Still, we did spot a local landmark…

…yes, really, a concrete cheese. I felt rather embarrassed taking photographs of it: it is situated right outside the Job Centre. Far be it from me to belittle the jobless, I thought, as a skinny, depressed-looking young man slouched past. Enough of this lactic levity - onwards to the castle!

But not before taking a picture with the sainted cheese!!

It’s big. Even today it dominates the town. It seems as though everything else in the place is looking up at it. The castle was once rather more ruinous than it looks now: its current state of repair may be attributed to the 3rd (him again!) and 4th Marquesses of Bute. Apparently the 4th M.’s project to restore the castle brought employment to the area during the Depression. (The town may be overdue a similar grand gesture by the 4th M.’s modern equivalent.)

We enjoyed exploring the castle: there were not too many other people around, which made for a much more atmospheric experience than I imagine would have been the case at the peak of Summer. The castle feels huge - apparently, it’s the second largest in Britain - and rather than seeming fake after its restoration, it is rather more comprehensible as a three dimensional structure than the more authentically-ruined kind tends to be. At its heyday there would have been much more colour and decoration of course, but it’s probably best that the 4th M. stuck to matters of structural integrity. Let’s face it, outré decor was more his father’s territory.

Instead of trying to describe everything, I shall let the pictures do the talking. Incidentally, if you watched a recent episode of Doctor Who (the one with Robin Hood), you might recognise the place. Again, click to enlarge any image, or Go Here to see the full set.

I loved this big wooden sculpture of the 4th M., holding up the Leaning Tower.

Of course we helped him out a bit.

The cost of entry was pretty good value, and permitted you to leave the site and return during the same day, so at lunch time we went over the road to a café. We had a pleasant lunch and then trotted back over to finish inspecting the castle. How very civilised!

On our return to Cardiff, we disdained the lure of afternoon tea (many places were closed anyway, owing to the NATO kerfuffle) and went to an unusual ice cream parlour. It labours under the slightly unfortunate name of Science Cream (excuse me, but that sounds like something Sheldon Cooper smears on a boil!). The reason? They make the ice cream before your very eyes, using liquid nitrogen. (There’s the ‘science bit’!) Davey was able to confess to having tried this himself (well, they had some liquid nitrogen left over this one time from some demonstrations…), but apparently, when bored physicists chuck the stuff in a bowl with unsweetened cream it doesn’t really work too well. However, when trained gelatists (I mean, there’s bound to be a word for it, isn’t there - the ice cream equivalent of barista?) combine high-quality ingredients with fresh liquid nitrogen in Kitchen-Aid mixers, you get yummy ice cream. My dears, there is something highly quaint about watching a strawberry-blond youth in a white coat pouring substances into a whirring-’n’-churning food mixer; it’s a bit like waiting for a prescription, especially when you remark the coyly-placed test tubes and beakers filled with coloured water. (It looks like Boots the Chemist used to do!) But the prescription is for yummy ice cream. To be taken orally, for the refreshment of tourists suffering from castle-overdose. It certainly was very good ice cream, though I wonder if the novelty of observing its manufacture will persist long enough to make this a viable business (they haven’t been open long)?

After a bit more trudging about, we decided to have an early dinner - this was NATO night after all, and the atmosphere was beginning to feel unpredictable. We picked, somewhat at random, a branch of Jamie’s Italian. Lots of people probably avoid this place entirely on principle (it’s surprising how many people really despise Jamie Oliver - myself, I’m fairly ambivalent), but the food was very good. However, I must award a black mark to the waitress for failing to mention the nuts that were strewed all over the special risotto that I ordered - luckily for all concerned I’m not really allergic to anything, except Meanness and Vulgarity.

Walking back towards our B&B, we did begin to see a few protestors here and there. One scene that did look very silly: one solitary protestor standing with a placard, faced with five police officers. Five! It all seemed fairly good-natured (they were even joking with each other a bit, the protestor and the cops), but honestly… that’s excessive. Further towards the castle entrance there were more protestors, but most of the crowd were only there because they wanted a glimpse of Obama.

We had to go a long way round to get back to the B&B, because Bute Park (next to the castle) was blocked off. We stopped off at Brewdog, perhaps the most hipsterish place I have ever visited. By lucky hap I was wearing leggings, a t-shirt covered with cartoon moustaches, cheap plimsolls, adorable glasses and a man’s shirt: the ideal disguise when wishing to observe the hipster and hipsterine in their native environment. (Well, if you half closed your eyes and pretended I were capable of being (a) serious and (b) ironic, you might think I merited indictment under that dread charge. I’m not sure I care.) Anyway, this is one of those places that serves the kind of beer that is made by earnest well-meaning folks who used to work in insurance until they went slightly potty and gave it all up and turned their garage into a microbrewery. I’m not much of a beer drinker - I will taste it, and when at home I will take a small glass of it, but it’s the sheer volume that puts me off when out of doors - so I had some kind of concoction combining fresh ginger, lemon, honey and (yes, truly) beer. It was actually very nice, though I felt silly when the bartender referred to it as a ‘beer cocktail’. It was more like a very self-conscious, post-modern shandy, but that may not be a word liked by hipsters. David chose a ridiculously strong variety of beer that, the bartender informed us very solemnly, can only be served in thirds of a pint. It even came in a special glass. (How Belgian!) That was quite delicious, although it tasted more like a combination of rum and cold coffee than beer. The clientèle did not fail to conform to one’s prejudices: beards, knitted hats worn indoors, interesting tattoos… there was even a couple who had brought along a small boy. (That, don’t you know, is the latest accessory. I presume he wasn’t having the beer, but you never know.) It was, I felt, somewhat more welcoming than regular pubs and bars, which often make me feel quite uncomfortable for some reason. Because they are more focused on appreciating the unique flavour than enabling sottishness (not to mention that some of the beer is weird, weird, weird), they let you taste things before ordering, which lends a certain air of cosy civility. I still think, though, that I am more of a teashop kind of fellow than a bibber of beer. It’s the noise, you know, and the expectation of adult tomfoolery: I am not much of a one for adult tomfoolery (otherwise known as ‘fun’; I prefer those simpler, more innocent lapses that are more rightly called Pleasure).

There were lots of helicopters buzzing about during the night. I have no idea what Obama and Co. had for their dinner, or what befell the Hexagons (see chapter one...!), but I hope they enjoyed their whirlwind visit enough to make the whole rigmarole worthwhile.

More to follow, shortly.


( 5 confidences — Confide in me... )
Sep. 23rd, 2014 03:56 pm (UTC)
When I first saw the 4th M yesterday I thought it was stone, but today I see it is oak. Amazing. I love how weathered it looks. I wish I could visit such places since I wonder if they would stir or release some memory in my soul of a place or life I once lived. There seems to be so little history here in Canada. Or so little history that remains.

I don't think I'm much of a beer person either since I don't enjoy the taste of it. Tea would be lovely but I do enjoy a glass of red wine now and then as well.
Oct. 8th, 2014 05:12 pm (UTC)
[please excuse this very belated reply!!]

Yes, huge and made of oak... remarkable piece of work really.

It's interesting how different places suit different people. Certainly I can imagine you liking some aspects of the UK. I really love Norway, I think if I had to live in a different country I'd go there. Really wonderful climate and scenery, and very straightforward down to earth people!

Ah, tea... wonderful substance! I agree, you can't really go wrong with tea. There used to be an amazing tea shop in Cornwall where we used to go every year, where they imported strange and wonderful teas from Taiwan (they would go over there in person for several months to source the tea and then have the shop open during the tourist season). You could spend the afternoon in there having tea tastings and it was very hypnotic somehow, the authentic way of making the tea and so forth and the low lighting... but eventually (argh!) they closed up shop and went online as it was not cost effective. :-( I think you'd have loved that place! They also sold beautiful teaware (surprisingly inexpensive), I am so glad I bought a beautiful earthenware tea caddy in there, it's one of my favourite things on the sideboard. :-)
Sep. 27th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
The cheese statue looks remarkably like an aerial view of the castle... I must think about this.
Sep. 27th, 2014 07:24 pm (UTC)
Well, as you surely know, everything contains everything else!
Sep. 29th, 2014 03:07 am (UTC)
I've always hoped so!
( 5 confidences — Confide in me... )

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