A holiday over and a lesson learned

Llyn Clywedog

Llyn Clywedog

OK, so we’re back home now – and with very mixed feelings.  We had a wonderful day on Sunday, Carole’s birthday.  We’d stayed overnight with Carole’s brother Jon and his lovely wife Ceri and their 2 fantastic children, Megan and Jack (yes, we have 2 Jack’s in our family and we’re still not sure which is the more mischievous).

By Dolgoch Falls

By Dolgoch Falls

After breakfast, we’d had a wonderful drive through mid-Wales, stopping off at Dolgoch Falls to enjoy a spectacular walk up the valley – you can see a video here.  Arriving in Aberdyfi (or, to English speakers, Aberdovey) we were simply blown away by how achingly pretty the place was.

Our sat-nav (known affectionately as ‘Missy’) had brought us unerringly to the village but then guided us a mile or two along the coast and seemed convinced that our bed for the night was to be found on a wooded bank.  Now, we don’t normally like to contradict Missy – she’s guided us unerringly through France, Switzerland and Italy (including the demolition derby racetrack, otherwise known as Milan) in the past, but we were pretty certain she’d got it wrong this time.

So, turned round and headed back into town.  We found a convenience store and popped in to buy some fruit and ask directions.  The selection of fruit was limited – in fact it ran to 4 apples, which we quickly snapped up – but the friendliness of the lady behind the counter could not have been more expansive and she told us exactly where we’d find our bed for the night.

On the way into the store, we’d spotted that next door was an ice cream store (we both have a sort of in-built radar for these things – it’s uncanny – you could call it a gift).  So, we figured checking in at our B&B could wait a while and we stepped inside to a wonderful array of home-made ice creams.  Carole settled on ginger, usually my choice, but I had spotted this season’s new flavour – salted peanut!  Both were excellent and we promised ourselves we’d be back for more.

If we were to embark on an ice-cream-fest over the next couple of days, we’d need some cash.  On the way in to the village, Carole had spotted a bank and so we walked down the road to draw cash from the machine.  Well, that was the intention…

When we got to the bank, which stood on a corner, there was no evidence of a cash point.  We looked around the side – no, just a solid wall.

Aberdyfi - achingly pretty

Aberdyfi - achingly pretty

No worries, we didn’t need cash that night.  We already knew from the reviews we’d read that the B&B had an excellent fish restaurant and we’d taken the precaution of booking in both nights.  We’d pop into the bank after breakfast on Monday to get some cash before heading out for the day.  We checked in the window to see the opening times – 09.30 until midday.  A little later than we’d ideally have like but, hey, we were on holiday, so there was no rush.

Then, we noticed a word after the opening times… ‘Thursdays’.  We checked again.  Did it mean the bank closed at lunchtime on Thursdays but was open all day the rest of the week?

No.  It opened Thursday mornings only.

We were beginning to understand Aberdyfi now – and the more we understood it, the more we liked it.

We checked in at the B&B and were delighted with our choice.  A warm welcome, a light, airy room, a bed so large it came with its own zip code, and a great bathroom – what more could we want?  If you really want to know which B&B it was, send us a message; we don’t want to broadcast it here as, rather selfishly, we’d like there still to be room for us next time we visit!

After another walk along the beach in the evening sunshine, we headed back to our room to freshen up for dinner.   Slightly regretting the earlier ice cream – only because it had taken the edge off our appetites – we had a wonderful meal with seafood very much the theme.

It had been a long but very happy day so we decided to head upstairs without dessert (there’d be more ice cream tomorrow and before that, a mountainous breakfast) and have coffee in our room before an early night.

I woke early and showered and headed out to take some pictures in the

Early morning Aberdyfi

Early morning Aberdyfi

morning light while Carole used the bathroom.  I got talking to a fascinating Dutch man, who visits the area every year for a month or more.  He told me that people complain about the weather but that’s part of what draws him back.  He loved to see the weather being ‘made’ by the mountains that surrounded us.

Heading back to the room, I found Carole was now ready and so we headed back to the scene of the previous night’s excesses – the dining room.

Now, something very odd happens to the average British person when staying in an hotel or guest house.  It’s a type of madness.  Content the rest of the year with a quickly-slurped bowl of cereal or a snatched slice of toast – when away from home, breakfast takes on a completely different complexion.

Strapping myself in, I began, reasonably (and healthily) enough with a bowl of natural yoghurt and fruit compote.  I’m afraid it all went downhill from there.  The waitress delivered me a full rack of toast and a cooked breakfast I swear was so large it had snow on top.  Never wishing to offend, I worked my way through it manfully until, what seemed like several hours later, we got down from the table having cleaned our plates and, in the process, consumed the equivalent of the recommended annual calorific intake for the population of Guam.

Now, at this stage I’d like to confess openly that my knowledge of the nutritional sciences is, at best, somewhat incomplete, but I do know the benefit of fresh fruit in the diet and figured I ought, at least, to try to get my five-a-day inside me to counteract the breakfast I’d just had.  I’m not sure if cholesterol makes a noise but I’m positive I could hear a thick glooping sound coming from my major arteries, so remedial action was needed and we’d long-since consumed the convenience store apples.

So, with teeth brushed, we headed for the car and asked Missy to find us a supermarket.  “9.2 miles” she said.  “OK”, we replied, “lead on”.  And so she did… on, and on, and on…


Missy had guided us unerringly through Europe...

Only after we’d already travelled about 15 miles and Missy told us there was a similar distance to go, did the penny begin to drop that the first distance she’d given us was measured as the crow flies directly across the Dyfi estuary and took no account of the fact that we had to travel 10 miles inland to cross the bridge.  I’m convinced it was the Welsh language road signs that did for her – she managed ok in Europe, but most of the time they use vowels as well as consonants!

Anyway, after this 60-mile round trip in entirely the opposite direction we’d intended for the day’s exploration, we headed into the heartland of Snowdonia, first to Blaenau Ffestiniog and then on to Betws y Coed, with snatched glances of a distant Snowdon along the way.  Walking around Betws, we realised it was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten.  Deciding that, although neither of us was really hungry after that alp-sized breakfast, we perhaps ought to have a little something to keep us going until dinner, we stepped into a charming hotel that seemed a remnant from a gentler age, and had tea and ginger cake and whiled an hour away looking out through the window.

Having drained the teapot dry, we headed back to the car and returned to Aberdyfi, taking a detour and stopping off for a while at Barmouth, a favourite haunt of one of my cousins.  We walked along the beach, keeping our eyes peeled for him and his wife, but no luck – in fact, I’d no reason to suspect he was there at the same time, but it made a pleasant game for half an hour.

Back at the B&B, I took a shower and then lay on the bed to rest before dinner and had quickly drifted off.  The next thing I knew, Carole was shaking me from my slumber, telling me to dress as our table was booked for 10 minutes time.  I confessed to her that, I didn’t particularly feel like dinner, but maybe could manage a starter.  She told me she felt the same.

Had it been a larger establishment, we probably would have cancelled our reservation, but we know how every penny counts for a small business, so we rallied ourselves and headed down.

That’s when things started to go downhill.  Nothing to do with the B&B, the excellent restaurant or the environs – but the next few hours were going to be unpleasant… deeply unpleasant.

Part way through her Thai fishcakes, Carole’s demeanour began to change and a pallor came to her cheeks.  She excused herself and headed back to the room, returning a few minutes later.  Less than five minutes went by before she again headed to the room, saying she would be unlikely be back down but that I should stay and finish my (to be honest, unwanted) meal.

I did this as quickly as I could and took myself up to the room, carrying with me Carole’s glass and unfinished half-bottle of wine, which she would no doubt wish to finish when she felt better.

I arrived at the room to find Carole being ill in the bathroom – very ill!  She looked up at me from her kneeling position and said “Well, that was a waste of a dinner”.

Although it was only 8.15, we decided to get into bed.  We knew we were in for a long night.  A couple more trips to the bathroom for Carole and then, sure enough, I started.

I lost count how many times we had to make that journey but, by morning, the bedroom carpet was considerably thinner.

The 'Great White Telephone'

The 'Great White Telephone'

If you can bear to hear more, out of all this, a fairly profound lesson was delivered to me.  At one point, I had managed to stagger to the bathroom to use what is often known as the great white telephone, when my body decided it had had enough of being relatively vertical and wished to see how things might be different if viewed from the horizontal plane.

I slid, somewhat gracefully, from my kneeling position in front of the lavatory pan and lay helpless but fully conscious on the floor.  I literally had no strength to get up.  I thought of calling out to Carole but decided against it.

Now, it could be said that the dignity of a man lying helpless on the bathroom floor is already severely compromised but I was convinced that what little dignity I had left would be wiped out if Carole came in and proceeded to be ill all over me!

No, that wasn’t the profound lesson I promised, but I thought it worthy of consideration at the time.

This was the lesson – and it was very personal to me, but I hope it is of help to you.

As I lay there, literally helpless, I remembered my own father’s death had followed his collapse with a brain haemorrhage in his own bathroom more than 12 years ago.  I’d had a low-grade headache for most of the day and he had reported a similar thing to my mother that day.

I began to wonder if this was ‘it’.  Had my time come and was I to follow in my father’s footsteps?

Now, here’s the thing.  This all seemed an intellectual exercise.  I was not fearful at all that this may be the end.  I was merely disappointed – and not disappointed by the things I have still not done either.

I was disappointed that I was not at home with Carole and our two sons with me.  That’s all.

Pretty simple.  But in that moment I saw and understood with absolute clarity what I’d known for years.  What was important to me.  I’ve written before about the difference between knowing and understanding and this was the best example I’ve had to date of that difference.

Well, as you probably guessed by now, I didn’t die.  After a few minutes, I managed to summon the strength to climb up onto the loo and from there made it back to bed.

You’ve suffered long enough now.  I shan’t give any detail to the experience that was the six-and-a-half hour journey home, other than to say it wasn’t the jolliest of affairs, and that, when we checked out, Carole’s half bottle of wine still stood, unfinished.

We’re safely home now and have had a night in our normal-sized bed without having to use loud-hailers to communicate with each other over the endless tracts of bed-linen.

Will we be back to Aberdyfi?  Absolutely!

Do we want any more profound lessons next time we go?

I’d settle for finding out what the other ice cream flavours taste like.

We’ll see you soon,

Carole and Ivan Signature

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