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Thump! The Sap has just dashed in and slams my back door, he’s furious. He’s standing on the doormat as naked as the day he was born shivering with a mixture of cold and rage. In fact, if you take into account there’s an awful lot more of him, he’s even more naked than the day he was born. The Chief is still cocooned above the cab, which plainly hasn’t helped his demeanour. Noisily, he lights the gas fire, fills the kettle and clatters it onto the stove, knowing that just a whiff of tea will wake her easier than any poking, prodding or shaking.
Eventually she eases her legs out of the warmth and carefully climbs down the ladder where she grabs yesterday’s clothes that he has hung above the fire. The tea poured, they sit and ruminate on his stupidity. Who in his right mind would rush out naked into a field full of bleating sheep at the crack of dawn? Twice now in Wales he’s innocently gone into a field of sheep, he tells her, and twice he’s had withering Welshmen hollering and honking their horns, perhaps because they look on the English as Johnny foreigners, typically trying to corner the best females.
I listen in amazement because my previous owners have all been normal, conformist types that took me on nice campsites away from sheep and trouble and avoided confrontation of any sort. These two are certainly different but I’m not yet sure if it’s down to crass stupidity or both having rebellious streaks which are compounded by being together. They are certainly going to change my life, I just hope they don’t manage to shorten it too soon.
I hear him telling her that in the early seventies when he first got too close to a sheep in Wales, it wasn’t the disaster it could be today because the boyos only had their parents’ Brownie box cameras to capture his embarrassment. Luckily, there was no internet back then, so pictures of him on all fours, half naked, trying to get poor legs-in-the-air Blodwyn the Blacknose into a more comfortable position, wouldn’t have gone beyond the local chemists. They certainly wouldn’t have reached far-off Cardiff, where woolly-minded journalists sometimes flocked to unearth the latest sheep-dipping scandal. In those days, there would have been little chance of his images going national let alone becoming a cause célèbre with The League against Cruel Sports baying at his heels.
But nowadays he says he is worried about this particular nude incursion into a field of sheep because 3G mobile has finally reached the depths of Welsh Wales. The Sap fears there is a possibility that the passing drunkard with horn blaring might have realised there could be money to be made. Apart from the attractions of living things, he believes there’s nothing the Celts like more than English money.
Would you believe it? Now he’s got me at the histrionics, pondering all sorts of possibilities about the recent horn blowing . Now, I’m a level-headed sort of campervan, yet the rarefied damp air of the Principality seems to have brought out the Kinnockesque in me. For my readers who don’t understand this British political nuance, suffice to say that it alludes to a one-time leader of a UK political party who seemed constantly smitten with verbal diarrhoea and stupid statements.
I ponder whether the promise of short-term wealth might have taken Dai the Drunk’s immediate focus away from some earthy Brenda the Barmaid. After all, some female must have waved her sizeable temptations before him all evening so clearly to raise his blood pressure. Now bear with me, don’t dismiss my offering out of hand. I am sure I could plainly see, as he drove by, that his flagging resolve was stiffened even more by the prospect of transient riches with which to buy his Brenda’s fitting attachment. Yes, without a doubt I saw him take his non-honking hand from its R.S.I-inducing activity and fumble for his Smartphone. Despite the alcohol, the blood pressure and those licentious thoughts about Brenda spread before him, there was the possibility, if only a faint one, that his poised Smartphone did indeed record The Sap’s discomfiture, while the car, not unusually with a drunk in charge, steered its own wayward course.
The Chief says she doesn’t know what he’s worried about because he’s not famous enough for any pictures to go viral and who’s going to recognise his backside anyway, other than his long-retired proctologist?
He has calmed down, overwhelmed by logic; it’s 6am, a soothing cuppa and some toast and they’re ready to point me in the direction of Devil’s Bridge...It’s a Sunday and early, the place appears, unsurprisingly, to be closed. He tells her that it seems impossible to believe that in living memory Wales had ‘dry’ counties where pubs weren’t allowed to open on Sundays at all. The men of many such places chose to sleep all day and avoid Sunday’s wretched reality of closed pubs and open chapels. The Sap reckons that many of the ‘Great Little Trains’ that chuff from Llanfair-no-wayre to Pant-y-hoes and back, owe their latter day salvation to the railway licensing law that enabled alcohol to be sold on moving trains, including trains crawling across those parched counties. Anyway, the trains don’t run for another five hours, maybe to allow Dai the Drunk and friends to recover from last night’s binge before embarking on the next.
It’s a typical grey overcast day and I am parked opposite a sign that says, ‘Entrance to the devil’s bridge viewpoint and gardens’. They are huddled in front of what looks like an old football turnstile incongruously guarding the entrance and are rifling through pockets and purse to find a second £1 coin, but without success. Now this next bit is funny...after both offering to forego the undoubted pleasure of the view, the two squeeze into the stile and he reaches back through the bars to feel for the little slit. After a groping struggle he eventually finds the spot and I hear the coin thump into the empty box below, whereupon they inch their conjoined bodies, penguin like, around to the viewing side. Now if those two lovers of good and plentiful food can squeeze their combined girths through, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people managed to claim their 50% discount, provided, of course, that old Trevor the Turnstile’s watchful eye has drifted away into bygone memories of better days when he worked down the pits in the Rhonda Valley and his only encounter with a turnstile was on Saturday afternoons at Swansea Town’s Vetch Field, long before Swansea itself was promoted to the City league.
It can’t have been very big or particularly interesting, this devil’s bridge because they’re soon back and we’re on our way to Aber-wrist-ache where we park on the vast empty seafront road. Now this could be a nice place, apart from the weather. I can well believe that, given a bit of sunshine, it could be a highly ranked resort, particularly if it were moved a couple of hundred miles south. If it were in Cornwall it would be crawling with tourists at this ungodly hour. Even I, Sammy the Snail, with more battery cells than brain cells, can picture Aber-wrist-ache swathed in glorious Cornish sunshine. It makes me wonder what crimes the Welsh must have committed in centuries past to be so punished by precipitation, but that quite naturally leads me back to sheep. He says that statistically it is always raining somewhere in Wales, which is depressing, especially for the Welsh and may explain why I haven’t seen a happy-looking one yet. Yes, Aber-wrist-ache is depressing; judging by the amount of puddles on the road, the place is well ahead in the rain charts.
The Sap opens his door and dashes to the sea wall to smell the air. His only reward, apart from the shivers, is to catch a great splash of pooh on his head from an anti-English seagull. That must have been the last straw and as he turns toward me, two gnarled Welsh women walking their retired sheep dogs point their walking sticks accusingly at him and squawk in Welsh. He stops and politely asks what they are saying but a sudden squall distorts their heckling words so they sound to me like sleep plucker. Obviously not to The Chief because she’s laughing her socks off and they’re really thick long socks! When he gets in she mops his head and suggests the old dogs and their walkers might be reincarnations of ancient Welsh witches, because how else could they recognise his chubby pink cheeks when they are swathed in camouflage trousers?
Now it’s his turn to laugh his socks off, but it’s not quite so easy because he forgot to put any on this morning. He tells her that maybe his army surplus camouflage trousers are so effective that the old biddies saw right through them. Yet within seconds he has a face as long as a donkey’s thingy when he convinces himself that Dai the Drunk must have exposed his backside to the merciless world of social media. How else, he says, could Myfanwy the Miserable and Gweneth the Grim have identified him as a gwyrdroi except by that damned photograph?
He is not just being stupid, I think he is being exceptionally dim-witted. It is far more likely that it is yours truly that has been identified and word has gone around there’s an English ponce at large in the area, only because he’s driving an exceptionally splendid campervan.
The Chief asks what gwydroi means, that the wizzened witches shouted after him as he dashed for my sanctuary to escape their flailing walking sticks. He says it has a familiar ring about it but he doesn’t know for sure. The he goes deathly white and I bend my ear in anticipation. He now recalls the hordes of sightseers shouting the same word with venom back in 1970. As the police led him away for interrogation he asked what the crowds had been shouting. ‘Gwyrdroi?’ asked the officer, ‘it means pervert...that's the word my superior used when he told me to bring you in’.
The Sap fears that all eyes are now upon him, all tongues are wagging their double quick Welsh lingo, while suddenly flocks of sheep seem to have deserted distant hillsides and been confined to their pens under heavy guard, meaning a fat shepherd with a huge crook. That’s the bent-at-the-end ‘Little Bo-Peep’ type, not the Kray-twins, hardened criminal sort of crook. Quickly, mindful of those ubiquitous net curtains twitching in nearly every window, we’re heading north, not that it will be any warmer but the puddles might have dried up and his new-found infamy might not have reached the banks of the Dee. After a long wet drive we’re in Thlan-goth-lingummy, where she says they have an annual singing competition called an eye-something or other. I ask you...how can anything to do with singing start with eye? It’s as daft as something to do with rhythmic percussion starting with ear!
It’s their lunchtime when we arrive at Thlan-goth-lingummy and he heads through the town looking for road-signs for an aqueduct that he’s been told carries a canal with its barges across a valley. Soon I’m parked up enjoying my handsome reflection in the water while they have a late fool-English breakfast. She suggested Welsh Rabbit but he said he hates cooked cheese...totally mad...now I want to know, what have rabbits to do with cheese anyway, apart from whey-hey!?
They have left me in peace and head off to cross the valley on this aquaduck thing. They disappear around a bend in the water, so what happened next I do not know, but all the time they’ve been gone there’s been a flotilla of funny pencil-shaped boats going by crewed by even funnier rubber-shaped people who wave at me as if they know I’m a celebrity.
Suddenly, they’re back and as usual she is ‘gasping’ and ordering him to ‘get the kettle on’; She’s so bossy! Little do I know that disaster lurks beneath the tranquil surface of the water. He has left something switched on so that when he tries to start my engine there is only a clunk and it does not burst into life. Stupidity to the fore once more, they manage with the help of a passing local, who I expect wished he had passed much earlier, to push me forward half my length. Then it’s back I go with The Sap managing to start me in reverse gear, but he only just gets his foot from revving accelerator pedal to my brake in the nick of time because my back wheel is halfway down the grass to the water. I can see my life shortening by the day, because unlike those pencil-shaped barges, this blob of a campervan can only swim like a brick.
With a sense of relief I’m heading back to Thlan-goth-lingummy but he stops along the road where The Chief climbs out to photograph what I now know to be the aqueduct with one of those pencil-shaped barges and rubber people in transit. Reaching Thlan-goth-lingummy he parks me at the top of the car park just in case my battery isn’t yet up to scratch...I can’t see any nearby hazardous water, which is a great relief but there is an enormous stone wall at the bottom, which I hope he stays well away from. He has taken The Chief to see the steam railway which once stretched from somewhere to somewhere else and took many of the Midland’s holidaymakers to west Wales. Now though, he says, it has joined the ranks of those that trickle to Panty-y-hoes and back, but they have plans to expand. From what I’ve recently learnt, they should just focus on survival.
The sun must have set because the grey clouds have got darker. In my past lives I would have been comfortably parked up on a nice little campsite by now, but these two have an aversion to such gatherings and off we go to look for a suitable bolt-hole for the night. He spots a straightened piece of road where the old road is still accessible, albeit one end is closed off and we settle down for the night; at least we thought we had until a familiar noise outside brings a sense of doom and pulling back my curtains reveals a field full of sheep. Like a shot he’s on his way again.
The Chief deepens the doom and gloom when she reminds him that the chances of finding somewhere to park up with no sheep nearby must be akin to finding decent cheese without calories which she knows is something The Sap has been hoping to find all his life. But he presses on remorselessly, climbing ever higher as we head for the Horseshoe Pass and the road to the north Wales coast. We pull in to a picnic spot but it’s now too dark for The Sap to read the sign that says ‘No Overnight Camping’, only in English.
They’re tucked up in bed when they hear a car enter the site and despite the fact we’re the only ones here, it parks right next to us. Any second we expect a knock on the door but nothing. The Sap is out of bed like a shot and pulls back the curtain expecting to see a courting couple so overcome by urgency that they didn’t even see me in the corner. But no; he tells The Chief that there is only one man in it and he’s just sitting there, no booze, no wacky baccy, no R.S.I., no nothing. He tells The Chief that he’s not coming back to bed while the threat remains outside. He says that in some ‘Aires’, those roadside stops in France, thieves have been known to squirt engine ‘cold start’, into campervans. This is basically ether, as once used as an anaesthetic and when the occupants are judged to be out for the count, the thieves break in to steal anything worth having.
He tells her to go to sleep and he will exercise his manly duty and keep guard all night. As the dawn breaks, The Sap has slept fitfully next to my door, stirring with every forest sound, when finally our next door neighbour starts his engine and leaves. For days afterwards they speculate what he had been doing in the car park and particularly why he had to park next to us.
My favourite reason? He had been shacked up with Jones the Bread’s wife but when Jones came home early from Wynifred the Widow’s, Jones chased him out but he couldn’t go home because he knew Ivor the Engine was there still enjoying his wife, Glenys the Gaumont’s pleasures until it was time to prepare the engine of his great little train for its journey to Pant-y-hoes and back. Maybe our companion for the night sought safety in numbers in case Jones the Bread came looking for him. Talk about interbreeding...and not only with the sheep and rabbits.