by Jude Rogers.
13. Story Lines.
So here’s the rub: I am trying to write a book. This is the fourth I have attempted in the last few years, after plans for various bestsellers have floundered before the sales reps. Now I’ve been told that fiction would be my thing, so I am writing a book inspired by magic of the sunshine. All I need now is a perfect seaside destination.
I am in Cardiff for a few days with my friend Em. She is from Penarth, a town that sits quietly underneath the capital, then stretches out gingerly to a small, sandy shore. We are staying a few miles away from it on a hot, sunny Saturday, so we venture out into the new day, and into her old life.
a. First of all, however, we have to get to Penarth. We are staying with Em’s old English teacher in the International Sports Village, a glossy development of flats that have replaced the old docks. From here, coal used to be shipped out of Wales to the world; now people sit in their lovely white rooms, and gaze through their wide windows. Like many new developments, the Village is gorgeous within its parameters, but weirdly removed from the land beyond its boundaries. For instance, it’s hard to know what to do if you don’t have a car.
So we cross the A4055, and are told what to do in two languages.
To walk to Penarth from here legally, we have to go on an arduous walk back into town and then out again. Em, ever the daredevil, suggests something else.
We walk past the warning sign, and onto the thin pavement at the flank of the bridge. The cars whoosh past us angrily. The sun beats on us moodily. We live to tell the tale.
b. Cogan Hill is lined with old stone houses and lush, green leaves. Ahead of us, we learn of the restorative power of Brains Dark. “It’s Brains you want!”, the bridge tells us, in perfect local rhythms. From there, we descend into the scrubland below, and I think about my walk in Hackney Marshes a few weeks ago. I smile as I think about what these bushes could hide, what stories they could offer.
c. We come out into the town centre. The local branch of the Royal Air Force Association sits there tiredly and tattily, the gold-winged eagle on its sign shrugging apologetically. The main roundabout is much more proud of its neighbourhood, its gleaming black and white chevrons setting off a handsome clock. Here, you feel local order being preserved just as well as time is.
Nearby, we wander into an arcade with an old-fashioned sweet shop, where a small painted horse pulls a cart full of fudge. I assume it had some great part in Em’s childhood, but she laughs as she says she has never seen it before. We buy snowie chocolate sweets, strawberry balls, raspberry gums, and I think about how easily new things can play old tricks on us.
d. We pass Dave Lush the butchers – agreeing it is the best name we’ve ever heard – and head down through the park towards the sea. Rows of strangely pruned hedges look like alien families, popping up above the grass like peculiar mushrooms.
After drowsily wandering downhill in the warmth, we emerge onto the bay, and suddenly, I see it, and everything begins.
Penarth’s Victorian Pier says a gentle hello. I fall in love instantly, hook, line and sinker. It is painted with the colours from the inside of a toothpaste tube, and its baby blue domes blend in with the soft, dreamy sky. Em used to work here, she says, selling ice-creams in the summer. I see it all straightaway, and I tell myself to remember.
e. On the pier itself, a clock tells us the time of the morning tide. Another sign tells us what we are not allowed to do in English and Welsh. So we do not cycle, fish or skateboard, and instead we buy chips, and sit on a bench as we watch the small crowds go by. A tiny girl in a frilly dress waddles about with a 99. An old woman calls out to her carer as he buys her some tea. At the end of the pier, a tiny hut watches us shyly, a Welsh dragon waving desolatedly above him.
I stand next to the blue and ivory barriers, and look out to Western-Super-Mare, glittering brightly across the mouth of the Severn. It looks distant, full of promise, but it’s not what I want. It’s not what I’ve ever wanted. What I want is this breeze, these soft colours, and these everyday people, and the endless possibilities of what might happen next.