Leaving the rat race

As I come to write, I am struck with the rather strange nature of the phrase “rat race”. The human race has forced a fair variety of animals to race against each other for our entertainment (and, more often, as a basis for a wager or three) over the years – but never so far as I know the rat. Then again, as previously established I am no great authority in the field of sport, so perhaps one of Sky’s more obscure sports channels does offer aficionados the chance to see members of genus Rattus going head-to-head on the track.

I should also make clear that despite the title, I have never knowingly participated in competitive sporting endeavour with any creature claiming allegiance to Order Rodentia.  In fact, I try to avoid running under any circumstances – competitive or not – as I can move quite swiftly walking and where that is insufficient would prefer to use my bike.

OK, title successfully deconstructed we can move on…

I recently spent a week on holiday not far from Barmouth (Abermaw) in west Wales.  This was a week of hiking, cake consumption and generally eating well (even if I says so as shouldn’t as I did most of the cooking) and (mostly) avoiding the responsibilities and stresses for my “normal” life.  For the most part as I did this, I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and the sun shone on my upturned apple cheeks (for the avoidance of doubt, this is not evidence of my desire for an “all-over” tan – my skin is ageing fast enough without encouragement from the sun’s ultry-violet rays).  Even my base was set in stunning grounds with views down to the Mawddach estuary and across to the Cader range.

In such circumstances, a chap’s mind quite naturally started to wonder if it was really necessary to return to the real world.  I’m not that materialistic (am I?) and surely I could survive on the salary I could draw working in a cake shop – and with all those mountains, I should be able to ameliorate the worst of the side effects of my eating any (or all) of the surplus stock (well, I do hate to see good food go to waste – much better that it go to waist!).  The desire to leave the rat race was particularly strong on my last day, the Sunday.  I was dropped off in Dolgellau and went for a walk around the town – a walk taken from the excellent range of guides produced by Kittiwake (I have yet to find a bad one in any of their walks in this part of Wales – and most have been excellent with very good directions).  Unlike previous years, T H Roberts is now open on a Sunday so I could have a pre-exertion slice of cake.  The walk was good with nice views of the town and it environs.  After the walk I had a little time to kill until my bus would take me back home, and so wandered over to the village cricket pitch.  I think this may have the most beautiful setting of any cricket ground in the world – and I suspect is unique in boasting a stone circle in the outfield.  As I sat there, with the River Wnion behind me and the sound of willow on leather before, it was very tempting to never leave.  With luck a photo should illustrate my point, but WordPress has made major changes to its interface so rather than permitting simple attachment it is now part of a “gallery” (presumably, they will be unable to return my pictures, but I may win a prize).

Eventually I did leave, if only to consume some post-exercise cake from the TH Cafe (you can never be too careful) and catch my bus.  There are some things I’d miss if I lived somewhere quite so remote – a viable mobile phone signal and decent broadband for sure.  I’d also miss the cultural activities that are possible living in and near more major conurbations – though saying that, I did have a lot of fun at Theatr Fach in Dolgellau with a two-man performance of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.  The other downside is that it is a long way from anywhere and I probably would have to run a car, as public transport is somewhat limited (though there was a later bus home from Dolgellau to my lodgings than Stagecoach offered the Sawston resident on a night out in Cambridge!).  On the plus side, I would note that the roads around Barmouth are the best (in terms of surface quality and traffic) of any I have seen in the UK – not much dual carriageway, but then who needs to hurry?

Still, on balance, I shall continue giving the other “rats” a run for their money – but I was (and remain) sorely tempted.  If “the man” pushes me too far or the stresses of life in the over-populated south grow too much, I could easily return to the land of my fathers – and I have always meant to learn Welsh to honour my roots.  Watch this space…

 

Delayed gratification

An art which we are slowly losing (perhaps) in our impatient, always-on, easy credit society.  So many now expect their wants and desires to be satisfied NOW, not even in 5 minutes time.  I am no more immune to this process than the next man (or, probably, woman) – though whenever I am waiting impatiently by a printer I do try and remember the days when dot-matrix was the height of technology and the printing of a 10 page document was a major undertaking (rather than a 60 second wait).  Nevertheless, delaying one’s gratification can add significant savour to its eventual delivery.

A couple of weeks back, I was in West Wales aiming once again to ascend the greatest, if not actually the highest, of Welsh peaks: Cader Idris.  I last accomplished this feat (unaccompanied and without the use of oxygen – other than that supplied by nature) in 1983: I know this as I used some of the photos I took at the time in my AO-level Geography Project.  I’d hoped to repeat the ascent (by the pony path) when I visited the area in 2010 and 2011 but the weather had not played ball, with the peak shrouded by cloud, even on otherwise sunny days.  This year, I was determined – and the weather forecast positive – and so began the ascent despite the clouds once again hiding my objective from view.  Before attempting such a daring feat, I had (of course) fortified myself with cake from T H Roberts – the finest cake supplier in Dolgellau (and, for my money, the realm) – something I had missed these past three years (and all the sweeter for it).

As the ascent continued, blue sky began to appear on the horizon – but Cader itself remained stubbornly occulted.  As I reached the Saddle, I too was engulfed in the clouds – but there were occasional breaks through which the sun-lit view was briefly revealed.  On reaching the summit, these shafts of clear view grew more common and broader and the stunning scenery of Wales was revealed in ever larger chunks and longer glimpses.  This produced a truly magical effect, and made me (at least) appreciate the views all the more.  As the descent began, the clouds lifted and all was revealed.  Often the descent can be an anti-climax as you’ve already seen everything and reached the top – but on this hike, the views going down were all new which added to the whole experience.   I can truly say that the mountain did not disappoint, and it was well worth the 31 year wait!

I must admit that I was not alone on the mountain that day, though it was hardly crowded – well, unless you count the skylarks and meadow pipits who were out in force (serenading me, I like to think).  Some hardy souls were already coming down as I began my ascent – these foolish folk who had seen nothing but cloud should have enjoyed a little leisurely cake before their day began.  In this case, gratifying one desire to delay another paid dividends.  Never underestimate the power of good cake to make your day a better one!

I like to think that my gymnastic training was helpful on the hike – all that balancing on one leg was really handy – but it was by no means essential as I dragged both of my parents (who, in the traditional manner, when lacking access to a TARDIS, are a tad older than me and who had not indulged in similar training) up there with me.  Lest you feel I am overly cruel, I didn’t force them with the aid of a rawhide whip – though they hadn’t intended to make the whole ascent – it just happened and we kept thinking the summit was closer than was actually the case as (a) it was hidden and (b) it was more than 30 years since any of us had last made this climb.

To silence the doubters among the readership, here is a picture of me lolling insouciantly against the trig point at the summit (with one parent – the other was holding the camera).

Top of the world, ma!

Top of the world, ma!

I should also point out that like the heroes of those Republic Serials of the 1940s (think King of the Rocket Men), my hat did not leave my head at any point on the climb – however, energetic I was (though no frenzied fist-fights broke out in my case).  It is never a mistake to be stylish!

Cake Walk

Safely ensconced at Glandwr Mill, it would seem that the title of this post does not create quite the dialectical opposition I had previously suggested.  My first two days in Cymru have each yielded both a fine walk and an excellent cake.  As a result, I can confirm that T H Roberts remains the cake connoisseur’s cafe of choice in this part of the world.

The rain, for which Wales is justly famed (and which my Sawston garden sorely needs), does serve at least two very useful purposes.  This morning’s downpours permitted a guilt-free lie-in and lazy morning (neither of which will be delivered by tomorrow’s sunny prognosis).   When the sun came out this afternoon (I’d always suspected something, you never hear mention of a girlfriend), we discovered it had also re-charged the local rivers so the Torrent Walk more than lived up to its billing – some seriously raging waters and evidence (for the more fanciful rambler) of a game of Pooh sticks played by local giants (I suppose there might be a more prosaic explanation for the tree trunks in the river – but I’m sticking with whimsy).

Tomorrow’s itinerary does not allow an excursion into Dolgellau, so any posts tomorrow night could see our hero going through the cake equivalent of cold turkey.  What this will mean for the quality (or even quantity) of any material produced is hard to judge…

Brevity Levity

Tomorrow, GofaDM is off on its hols to one of the Celtic fringes of this fair land.  Yes, the guiding intelligence(?) behind this blog will be packing a few treasured belongings into a spotted handkerchief and taking the morning train (I have a reservation in the first box car) off to the land of his fathers, look you, boyo.  OK, I’m not going to Bangor (and certainly not Maine), but Barmouth is fairly close and does actually possess a railway station – though lacks the song reference from Roger Miller (how very remiss of him – not even a shout-out for Abermaw).

Wales does tend to be rather communication-technology challenged – but this blog takes its responsibilities seriously and will try and continue from the Principality.  I can’t promise you the sort of searing travel insights to be found on Matathewsiasms – well, I could, but I fear it would only lead to later disappointment (and as a consultant I know the importance of managing expectations downwards) – but only more of the same old rubbish that you have come to know and, presumably, tolerate (or perhaps you are using this blog as a penance?).

As a back-up plan, I have established an account on Twitter (StuartFfoulkes) so that if all else fails I can “tweet” as I believe the modern vernacular would have it.  Yes, I have become a Twit (as I believe the users of Twitter are known) for the third time – obviously, I was already a twit in at least two other senses of that grouping of letters.

Now, I recognise this may be a juxtaposition too far – how can I, a man who has only very rarely managed to précis his thoughts down to 140 words hope to function within a world where you are limited to 140 characters?  Well, a chap in Latvia managed to get a Great Tit to use Twitter (I believe his process involved bacon fat, but having only finite examples of Parus Major to hand – as opposed to bush – produced only gibberish).  If a garden bird can manage it, surely it cannot be wholly beyond me.  I guess only time will tell, but I think things could get ugly…

I do know of at least one place in Wales with wi-fi access – and, luckily, it is one of my favourite places in the whole world.  In the Gwynedd town of Dolgellau lies T H Roberts: once upon a time it was an old fashioned ironmongers – and normally I would deplore the loss of such – but I can forgive its loss to the mongery of iron as it has been transformed into a very friendly cafe, with wi-fi access and more importantly truly excellent cakes!

I fear my vacational timing may be inopportune as summer seems to be coming to an end (there was definitely an autumnal nip in the air as I cycled home from a concert last night), but if Wales delivers on its promise of extensive precipitation then I will be forced to take the advice of Marie Antoinette and “eat cake” rather than that of Julie Andrews and “climb every mountain” (I have a related response to wet weather in Ireland, I find a decent bar and drink Guinness until either (a) it stops raining or (b) I stop caring).  As a result, the author’s weight on his return will be good indicator of climatic conditions whilst away (though, I’d still advise use of a rain gauge for any scientific work).  For interested parties, my departure weight is 12st 10lb (clothed) with an estimated 10% body fat (though I think this latter value should be viewed with some scepticism).

Hwyl fawr! (for now)