The continuing adventures in the mountainous annex next to England.
So, safely in Wales, we set about in our week or fortnight of fun and japes. To be honest the first day or two would be spent in or around the house, because my sister would be upstairs *still* blowing chunks copiously. If we did go out, it would be to a local hostelry. The hostelry of choice was some 3 miles away (!) and was run by a family who to this day remember me coming to visit, of course that wasn’t because we were regulars there at all. When my sister was up and about we would head off to local places to relieve our boredom.
Llandudno was always a favourite at least once per trip, but this was because there was (and still is) a large Asda’s there and they had the best toy department I’d ever seen. One particular year I got a surprisingly realistic M-16 machine gun, with gun belt that rotated as the gun made its "realistic firing sound." None of this red barrel so the police could identify it as a toy.
Another favourite was a beach on Anglesey. It was white sand, stretched for miles, and had a ludicrously expensive shop next to the car park selling ice creams, boats, and buckets and spades. The grown ups would settle down with a nice cold can of beer into a deckchair, and zed away in the sun until they became a delicate shade of lobster. We had a regular game of digging a large hole in the sand, deep enough that we would have to make steps so we could get out. At the end of the day the grown ups would fill in the hole with us in it, meaning we would get buried up to our necks. They’d then pretend to leave without us. Strange, we always fell for it. One year, being of such fair skin, I had no sun protection and got completely burnt. I’ll never forget the effect of the sunstroke, and how ill it really made me feel. For days afterwards I remember sitting out on the drive, because in the house I just felt claustrophobic. I could hear the TV, and the Olympics in Moscow. I’ve never felt that unwell from the sun since, but will never forget it.
Bangor was always the place to go shopping. It had everything you could possibly want. The car park at one end of the high street, and the simple walk up one side of the shops and then back down the other. This made shopping such an idealistic experience. Outside the Woolworths was an ice cream vendor, and we would get an ice cream on the way back to the car, sometimes with a flake in it, if we’d been good.
Of course we did some touristy things whilst we were there. Such delights as the Great Orme cable car ride. I remember the hillside near the top littered with messages made in pebbles, and seeing my Uncle’s initials – WWW. Oh what a difference that means today. We also went one year to Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog (come on then spellchecker, sort that one out), and for many years afterwards I had a wooden (not slate) plaque with the obligatory "A gift from…" printed on it. Another year a visit was paid to a place called Fort Belon, a large military museum. It had tanks, guns, things to play with. The most notable thing about the trip was on the journey home we saw a sign for Caernarvon Airport, and flights. The price has long been forgotten, but the experience never has been. It was the first time I’d ever flown and probably stood the test of time because most people sample their first flight on some trip to Spain etc on a 727. My first trip was taken cooped up in the back of a 4 seater Cessna.
Christmas visits would be punctuated with playing with new toys. My cousin, a lonely child, was used to getting what she wanted. One year I had got a "Buzz Off" toy and remember how frustrating it was when I kept hearing it going off upstairs, and then her and my sister grinning at me innocently and denying the noise. My aunt and uncle would just tell me to stop making such a fuss. Still, I put up with this week in week out each visit, just waiting for the moment I could wreak revenge on her. I must have been 13 or so when I finally got the chance. I was left home alone with her and my sister, seeing as they were of 'responsible' age, and they were allowed out until 9pm. At about 10pm my sister appeared saying had I seen my cousin, knowing I hadn’t, then went back out saying she was looking for her. 5 minutes later my cousin comes back in, with the same line, and disappears out again. I thought that I’m not one to have the piss taken that easily, so I followed her. They were both outside, with all their friends, and I know at this point I would get revenge. This to-ing and fro-ing went on for the best part of 45 minutes, at which point my aunt phoned up to see if I was okay, and were the girls back in? I told her what had been happening, and I swear I could hear the kettle effect as she blew her top. She said she’d be home in about 20 minutes and to tell the girls that they were for the high jump. I went outside, to relay the message. My cousin came up to me, threatened me (even though I was bigger then her) if I told on her, and stormed in the house. My sister followed shortly after. I remember going to bed with a warm feeling inside me, as I could hear my cousin crying as she got one strip after another torn from her.
Nowadays everybody's grown up (physically, but not mentally in the case of my cousin), and returns to the area are spent visiting one family or another in the area. I still visit all the old places… the beach at Llanddona, the shopping centre in Bangor, the pier in Llandudno, and the Menai bridge. Only now I take my son with me. The beach is where I flop down to sleep in the sun, and he settles down to dig a large hole in the sand. The only difference now is the lack of beer in hand, because I can’t drink and drive so easily. The Asda’s in Llandudno has long stopped selling toys, and is quite a small supermarket by today’s standards. Bangor is full of seedy pound shops or empty units with hoardings advertising agents. All the big retailers have moved to the enterprise zone just outside of town. Fort Belon has long gone.
Still, in a month’s time, I’ll be back, and I’ll feel like a 9 year old all over again.
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