Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Of endings, and beginnings... by Cathy Ace

Birthday lunch in Wales with my mum and sister,
at one of my/our favourite spots:
Bracelet Bay, Mumbles
It’s the last day of August: September looms, with thoughts of mellow fruitfulness, the whiff of wood smoke in the cooling air, and the promise of a new academic year. I loved the start of the school year because it meant opening a new exercise book, with its unblemished pillowy pages just waiting to be written upon…all that potential…a wonderful time.

This year? I’m just back from a three-week visit to my family home in Wales, which is why I’ve been much less active than usual on social media; I've tried to keep liking and sharing posts made by others, but haven't really added much myself. Please indulge me as I share some memories, and thoughts?

I’m fortunate that my mother is still alive, and was even more fortunate to be able to be in Wales to celebrate her 88th birthday with her earlier this month...but, this time, things were a bit different…this time, her birthday celebration began with me and my sister collecting her from her new home, a residential care home. Yes, that step has now been taken. My sister has been brilliant throughout the whole transition; everything’s fallen to her over recent months, and she’s more than risen to the challenges.

So, today, I’m taking the chance offered here to celebrate new beginnings; Mum’s in a wonderful place, perched on a cliff overlooking the stunning Gower coast. Dylan Thomas's best friend lived there, and they wrote poetry there together...what a heritage and what a location (see photo!) - we know how fortunate she is to be there with wonderful, truly caring, staff. She moved there after an extended stay in hospital; it really was the only option, going forward, where we knew she'd be safe, with the 24 hour support she needs.

My sister has moved back into the family home, so there's been a great deal of upheaval for her. The photo on the left shows the view from my old bedroom window, which is now my sister's office - and it's where I was when I joined the panel at When Words Collide a few weeks ago. Believe me when I tell you that was a bit of a surreal experience.

It’s been a time of sometimes chaotic change; ultimately a chance to assess, purge, reset, and start over, for both of them. The photo on the right shows the Rag and Bone Man in our street. A presence in my life since childhood, he drives slowly along the streets (it used to be a horse-drawn cart) calling "Rag bone, rag bone, any old iron" a sound which jolted me back through five or six decades (I was brought back to this house as an infant - Mum lived here for 65 years). Thanks to him, the local charity shops and dumps, my sister's experience living "back at home" should be a bit less cluttered!

There have been tears, compromises, and – finally – the opportunity to live a slightly different life for both Mum and my sister. Like opening a new exercise book at the beginning of a new year, they both now have an opportunity to write whatever they choose on their blank pages.

I was happy to be able to spend time with them both, and happy to spend time at "home" in Swansea. And I took the chance to indulge in some uniquely "Swansea" experiences - most of which I repeat whenever I am able to get there!

A trip to Rhossili

The Kardomah Cafe, which hasn't changed a bit
 (literally) since the 1950s

Joe's in Mumbles for ice cream; faggots, peas and chips for lunch at The Worms Head pub in Rhossilli; a trip to the Kardomah cafe (another link to Dylan Thomas, who was famously one of "The Kardomah Boys") which still has "proper" waitresses, and serves a magnificent "Shoppers' Grill" in a cocoon where the decor hasn't changed a jot since the 1950s.

Swansea market

I had a couple of trips to Swansea market where the cockles and laverbread are always fresh and tempting - and where I ran into my old chum (and first boyfriend) Mal Pope (we should have got a photo!); and I tucked into a couple of Swansea Pies, because they are the BEST in the world.

The only other pie I've ever eaten that came close was at a
tiny place in Katoomba, Australia!

I also allowed myself to enjoy custard slices, chips with curry sauce from my favourite chip shop, and lots of time just chilling with my sister...and, of course, I was able to visit Mum every day in her delightful room by the sea, where she's really settled in...enjoying quizzes, art classes, visits by a hairdresser, manicurist, chiropodist...and more!

Yes - I took the chance to indulge, in many ways, folks...including THREE (yes, I admit it!) trips to Joe's Ice Cream Parlour for chocolate sundaes! They're celebrating their 100th birthday this year, and I have been going there for more than 60 of those 100 years, so feel I have contributed more than a little to their continuing success...and they have contributed more than a little to my continuing growth in girth!

But it all made me think about what I want to do going forward. What do I want to appear on my blank pages? How exactly do I want to live my life? How can I balance the need to tell stories, with family time?

I wrote my most recent book, The Case of the Disgraced Duke, while Mum was in hospital for an extended period, and I told her every day, when I spoke to her on the phone, about how it was progressing…promising her a “new book to read, very soon”. I was so pleased to be able to hand her a copy of that book in her new home, and she’s just finished it (yes, she’s enjoyed it very much!).

I know that, going forward, I shall continue to write because I need to carry on telling my stories…and I shall do my best to write as many books as possible for Mum to read. My time in Swansea reinforced my love for it, and I was able to get a chance to visit extended family, meet a few chums, take Mum to visit the graves of her parents, and my dad, at the cemetery...and just see how things are changing in what Dylan Thomas called a "lovely, ugly town" - because they are, constantly.

"Glad" to be home (yes, pun intended...LOL!)
My return to my home in Canada was wonderful: my husband greeting me at the airport; the chatter as he drove me along familiar highways and rural roads - he's also from Swansea, so totally understands my NEED to enjoy foods and places from my life before coming to Canada; wandering our acreage together, marveling at how my he's managed to keep everything alive through searing 37 degree heat, and a drought. 

It's been quite a month! On August 1st my latest book was published, and I have watched (at something of a distance) as it's become the best-selling of all my books, ever! 

THANK YOU to everyone who's read it (and if you haven't...yet...why not??? LOL!) and here's to a new academic year - still The New Year for me, in many ways - when we all get the chance to, Janus-like, look back and forward. 

If you want to read the 5th WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery for free - just ask your local library to get it for you. If you're able to put your hand in your pocket for your own copy, you can read it electronically, in paperback, or as a hard cover. All the details are at my website:




Gabriel Valjan said...

What a lovely and poignant essay about transition, elder care, love of family and place. I could snatches of Dylan Thomas's poetry (and booming voice from cassette recordings I once owned) while reading this. Thank you.

Brenda Chapman said...

Cathy - I'm so glad you had this lovely visit with your mom and sister. You make me want to visit Swansea! (What are faggots exactly?)

Dietrich Kalteis said...

It's nice that you had a chance to visit with your mom and sister, Cathy. Swansea sounds like a wonderful place.

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks folks - yes, I had good times! Brenda - faggots are meatballs made from offal, wrapped in the lining of a digestive tract of (usually) a pig. Traditionally served with processed peas, gravy, and mash. BIG in Wales, the West Country, the Midlands, in the UK. Cheap, tasty, and I MISS THEM! Butchers would all make their own faggots, but the biggest commercial brand was "Brains", though, oddly, of all the animal parts used, I'm pretty sure brains weren't LOL!

Alice Fitzpatrick said...

It sounds like a wonderful time with your mother and sister. So glad your mum is being taken care of. And your sister moving back to the family home, coming full circle. You brought back some memories of my childhood -- cockles in vinegar (obviously before I became a vegan!) and chips and curry sauce. I don't know why the latter has never caught on in Canada. And speaking of Dylan Thomas, my cousin used to run The Butcher's Arms in St. Clears. It was a drinking spot of Dylan Thomas (but then I suspect most pubs in south Wales were!), and was once owned by butcher Carl Eynon who was the inspiration for Butcher Beynon in Under Milk Wood. His picture held pride of place in the pub.

Karen in Ohio said...

Cathy, how lovely for you and your mum and sister to spend that time together. And thank you for sharing your hometown, and it's many gastronomic wonders! Who knew? I had to look up laverbread, which I'd never heard of before. Going on my list to try.

One big surprise for me is how tropical the plants look. I've always thought of Wales as I've thought of Scotland, cold and dreary, but Swansea is certainly not that, at least this time of year.

Cathy Ace said...

Hello Alice - oh yes, cockles, vinegar, and white idea why chips and curry sauce hasn't caught on!!! Yes, I suspect Thomas drank at many places, but what a special memory...Butcher Beynon!!

Cathy Ace said...

Hello Karen - ah yes, laverbread, faggots...all the "confusing" favourites! LOL! Right on the coast it can look exotic; the days the photos were taken were hot and sunny (which it isn't always, not even in August) but there's a terrible drought in the UK at the moment, so folks are struggling - but the scenery looks fabulous!!!

Dru Ann said...

I'm glad your mom and sister are settled in their new place. I'm glad you got to spend time with them.

Anonymous said...

Gabrielle St. George here, Cathy— So we can go home again after all— that’s a comfort to know. The scenery, your mom, and the pies, look amazing. Also, congrats on the huge popularity of your great new book! 😍.

Catriona McPherson said...

Of all the typos! I meant to say Kardomah's is NOW on my bucket list, but said NOT.

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Dru - thanks ever so was a good few weeks, in many ways :-)

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Alice - hope you enjoyed the memories, and your lovely home now

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Gabrielle - thanks ever so much x

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Catriona - YES to the Kardomah! ;-)

Susan C Shea said...

Lovely account of what sounds like a warm and memorable visit home. They say you can't go home again, but you put the lie to that, Cathy!