A Bridgend Too Far

In which The Author goes for a wander

In W.W.W.W.W.W (Part 1) I outlined the ongoing ‘slight technical problem’ which prevents anyone from accessing the WiFi in Aberdare Wetherspoon. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in Pontypridd. As my Facebook friends will have read, I’d really had a gutsful of people I kind-of know disturbing me when I was busy. I decided it was time to finally embark on my quest for Wifi in the various Wetherspoon pubs around South Wales.
There’s an odd ‘industrial hangover’ mentality in the Valleys which states that you can’t be ‘working’ unless you’re down a colliery, in a factory, wearing a uniform of some sort, dressed in overalls covered in cement, paint, and/or tarmac, sitting at a desk in an office, or standing behind the counter in a shop.
The Twenty-First Century concept of the Information Economy has yet to filter through the thick skulls of a fair number of people I’ve come across. The very notion that you might be working on something creative – something that calls for vocabulary and imagination and a fair amount of Tech know-how – has yet to make it into their lives. To these meatheads, creative people are either the sort of people who wear cravats and go to cocktail parties, or the sort of people they used to kick the crap out when they were teenagers. Or both.
The meatheads are mostly, but not exclusively, blokes. A lot of them are guys who apparently went to school at the same time as me. They insist on dragging me into pointless reminiscences about people I didn’t much care for at the time, and whom I haven’t knowingly seen since (at the very latest) the day we got our O level results, back in August 1982. Quite frankly, I’ve no idea who most of these blokes are. They all remember me, oddly enough. Perhaps I made a deep impression on their adolescent minds. Then again, maybe I just haven’t changed that much. Mind you, once they’ve shaved their heads they all look alike anyway. I’m going for the ‘James Burke in the Late 1970s’ look, personally – although (so far) I’ve drawn the line at the safari suit.
Some of the others are the pub bores I first mentioned in Freaks, Geeks and Space Invaders, and who seem to multiply with each passing day. Some of them are the older alcoholics, the Time Loopers who don’t realise that every day is Groundhog Day. Sometimes, only Rhian, Martin H. and I are the only people in the Prince who are aware that the sun has set at least once, and subsequently risen on a new day. Everyone else is trapped in the Time Loop.
I’m also convinced that I’ve got at least one stalker.
I’m serious.
He’s a guy named Mike, whom I first encountered in Aberdare Library. I was in there one afternoon, a year or more ago, when this chap rocked up to one of the PCs and started typing. After a while I decided to sneak a glance at what he was typing. To my amusement, he was typing the same piece over and over, deleting the whole thing whenever he made a mistake and starting again. I made a wry comment about it on Facebook, suggesting that maybe I should volunteer my Tech Support skills and show him where the Delete and Backspace keys were. But it was more fun to watch him crash back to Square One every few minutes, so I kept my emergency fund of IT knowledge to myself.
It wasn’t until several such encounters had passed that I was drafted in to help. Steven G., the Reference Librarian, as I’ve noted previously, is a fount of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to local history – but he’s strictly a child of the Paper Age. Mike had encountered a small problem, and Steven asked me if I knew of a way around it. (I think he was trying to type an accented character using the standard QWERTY layout, and between them they’d got themselves into a knot.) I had to show them how to access the extended character menu, for which I earned Brownie Points and a free printout of the weekend crossword.
However, Mike latched onto the fact that Mother used to go out with Peter D. (see Musings on the Loss of an Old Friend and the Misplacement of Another) – he works in the same care home where Peter was the maintenance man, and where Denis spent his last months. That meant that (in Mike’s mind, at least) we had something to talk about.
He’s a Christian. I don’t say that lightly, because (as I noted in Identity Crisis), about ninety per cent of the population of Wales is nominally Christian. He’s of the happy-clappy, low church, evangelistic type. He tells anyone who’s interested, and if they’re not interested he tells them anyway. A couple of months ago he latched on to a poor unsuspecting girl from Southern Africa who was using the computer next to him, when he heard her humming the melody to one of the modern hymns. He’s mentioned his ‘girlfriend’ a few times, but he’s very effeminate, and I think his girlfriend (if she exists at all) is a beard at best.
Now, this is why I think he’s stalking me. One evening, I’d stayed in the library until closing time, and Mike was there as well, hammering away at the keys of the PC in a vain attempt to reach the end of his second paragraph. By now, I’d realised that he was teaching himself to touch-type (a skill which I could do with perfecting myself, if the past few minutes are anything to go by. Then again, I’m in a pub, so I’ve got two excuses). We knew from our brief but frequent chats that we’d be heading in the same general direction – somewhere to the north of the town centre – and he offered me a lift home. It was pissing down, and the buses keep their own counsel after six o’clock, so I accepted his offer. His car was parked a short sprint away, so we piled in and he drove me as far as my street.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the South Wales Valleys, I should explain that the side streets were never designed for cars. In fact, they were designed for nothing bigger than the horse-drawn coal wagons which would ply their trade back in the Victorian era, when the towns and villages in this part of Wales first burst into life. This means that when my neighbours have double-parked their cars the entire length of the street, stopping outside my house is well-nigh impossible. That, as it turned out, was probably a Good Thing.
Mike had to squeeze his car through a tiny gap between a small open-backed lorry and a fairly substantial car, so that we were well beyond my house when he pulled up. He decided to try and continue the very boring and one-sided ‘conversation’ about his church meetings, which had started before we’d even left the Library. After Mike continued in this vein for several minutes, throwing in several gratuitous mentions of his ‘girlfriend’ for good measure, I told him that I really needed a pee, and I’d have to go before it was too late.
I waited until he’d driven out of sight before I made my way back to my house and opened the door. I had an uneasy feeling that, if he’d had known which house I lived in, Mike and a band of tambourine-wavers would turn up out of the blue one Sunday morning and try to drag me along with them. I had enough of that nonsense with Florence, and then with C—. I don’t need any more of it.
Anyway, I didn’t think any more of this incident until the day Martin, Huw F. and I went to London (see A Day in Parliament). We came back on the last train, and I called into the Prince for a swift pint to round the day off. I left when Rhian was closing up, and made my way through town, toying with the idea of buying a pizza from the takeaway in Canon Street. To my surprise, Mike pulled up in his car and offered me a lift home. He might have just finished a shift at the care home, or have been on his way to work, but it seemed a bit odd for him to be driving around town at midnight. Still, a lift was a lift, so I accepted gratefully.
Once again, he had to stop well past my house, as the parking situation was even worse at that time of night.
Anyway, Mike is in the Library pretty much every day, determined to crack the 60 wpm barrier if it kills him. (I can do 130 wpm on a good day – unfortunately, only about a quarter of them are real words. Then again, I can find my way around some basic HTML tags, which are way out of his league.) Considering that he allegedly works in a care home, he never seems to do any day shifts. But here’s the really weird part:
Three or four times I’ve been walking home from town, and he’s pulled up just opposite the Girls’ School, offering me a lift. The first time I had a good excuse – I had to call into LIDL on the way, and it’s just over the brow of the Gadlys hill, hardly worth stopping the car for. The second time, I told him the same thing (even though I was skint).
The third time was last Saturday. I was on the way home after a very disappointing day (see the last few entries for details) and Mike pulled up again, in exactly the same spot as before. This time, the alarm bells started ringing in my head, so I told him I was going for a pint in the Glandover. (I wasn’t really, but I bumped into Lew M. outside, and Ed L. was inside, so I ended up having a pint with them anyway.)
The most recent occasion was on Thursday. I really wasn’t in the mood for company, and while I was walking home guess what happened in exactly the same place
There’s a traffic roundabout on the outskirts of Aberdare, with one spur road that leads to the car park by the Library. It’s a favoured spot for police to park up at night, so that they can pounce on speeding motorists and drunk drivers as they hit town. It would also be a very convenient place to wait while someone crosses the bypass link road and continues walking past the school.
Maybe I’m just paranoid, but this time the alarm bells in my head were deafening. I didn’t even reply – I kept on walking and after a few moments Mike drove away. Yesterday, when he came into the Library in the afternoon, he didn’t even look in my direction. I think he’s got the message.
Anyway, Pontypridd was a bit of a fool’s errand. I’d gone there in search of a new net curtain for my front window. There used to be a shop called Roseby’s in Taff Street, which sold bedding and soft furnishings. I didn’t know that it had closed down. There’s another drapers called Shaw’s a few doors down, but the only nets they had were enormous. I found a stall in the indoor market, but it looks as though I want anything to fit my small window it’ll have to be made to measure. That left me with time to kill.
The town’s branch of W.H. Smith is nothing to get excited about. Neither is the indoor market, which makes Aberdare’s look positively bustling. The Morgan Tavern, which used to be the Criterion before it was the Celtic Pride, was closed. I had a look into the Greyhound, which has ominously rebranded itself as the Skinny Dog, but it seemed a bit chav-heavy. I decided to execute Phase One of Operation W.W.W.W.W.W. – the World Wide Web Wetherspoon Wifi Walkabout.
I’ve been into the Tumble Inn in Pontypridd a few times. I’ve never had food, but I’ve found the service quite quick. I toyed with the idea of ordering fish and chips, but the Wetherspoon chain generally isn’t noted for its food. I had a pint and tried accessing The Cloud. It took me about six attempts to get through the authentication protocols, and halfway through downloading a software update it crashed entirely. Phase One wasn’t an unmitigated success.
On the way to the station, I had the misfortune to encounter one of Aberdare’s ever-growing number of smackheads, alcoholics, shoplifters and least-wanted about town. She’s on Pubwatch, and is subject to an ASBO which keeps her out of the town centre. It didn’t take a genius to work out that she’d simply wash up somewhere else. I’ve only spoken to her once before, when I was doing that work placement in the summer. She was the girl whom I was supposed to helped to upload a CV and equip for job-hunting in the New Millennium – the one who didn’t show up on the day. She must know my name because of C—, I suppose. The addiction counselling service users all tend to stick together. I don’t want anything to do with her, and I certainly don’t want her junkie friends to think that we’re any more than passing faces in the crowd.
I called to the Prince and found the usual gang locked into their Time Loop. I had one pint there and then decided to get the bus home. In fact, I missed it by seconds, having been detained by one of the Time Loopers, who wanted to re-enact a conversation we’ve had several times already. I walked as far as the Library anyway, wondering when the next bus would come along.
A car pulled up when I was waiting, but to my relief it wasn’t Mike. The driver wanted directions to Aberdare Police Station. I tried not to laugh as I directed him to the roundabout and back into town along the one-way system. I was glad I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t been on a fool’s errand (see Oranges and Lemons.)
It started to pick with rain, so I headed (against my better judgement) to Wetherspoon. The idea of fish and chips was firmly lodged in my mind. Olly was in there with a few guys I know by sight, but the bar area was rammed, and I remembered that I had fish in the freezer anyway. I decided to have a last one in the ShiteLighthouse, and regretted it straight away. There were fewer than ten people in there (including the barbint), and one of them was a Lotek. At one point he asked me for help using the jukebox. I refused point blank. He didn’t need help anyway, as he only knows three songs by two different bands. I didn’t even bother making my excuses before I left.
That’s why I’m typing this particular entry in the Wyndham Arms in Bridgend. It’s a Wetherspoon, and I was able to access the Cloud immediately, with no buggering about. This morning, I couldn’t face another fucking day in Aberdare. Instead, I decided it was time to to do some more work on the Vanishing Valleys Project (see Where Do We Draw the Line?) I haven’t touched the area around Bridgend at all yet, so I thought I’d make a start on the town centre at least. I caught the train to Cardiff at lunchtime, and was in town just after two o’clock. I haven’t been here for ages – not since Rhian and Lucy split up, in fact – and it’s changed. It’s really changed.
I thought Aberdare was run-down. Considering that it’s always been a fairly affluent part of the country, Bridgend is dying on its arse. The top end of the town, near the railway station (in other words, the first thing visitors see when they leave the train) consists of a pub on one corner, a huge pub with no sign of life directly opposite it, an enormous chapel, the office of the two Conservative AMs, a taxi office, and a load of closed shops:

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Bridgend, even more than Aberdare, clearly has a fault-line amongst its young people, dividing them either into chavs/gangstas or rock/goth/emo types. It’s always been a fairly rocking town, as I recall from frequent visits here when I was younger, but there seems to be a dearth of places for people to go. I suspect that, like Aberdare, everyone starts off in ‘Spoons’ before moving on later. I passed several pubs which were closed this afternoon. Maybe they open in the evenings. I’ve got a funny feeling some of them don’t open at all any more.
I followed my nose and found my way to the cemetery, where I couldn’t resist this photo. Remember not to blink …

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There’s some very nice architecture here, mind you – I won’t upload too many photos, as I want to keep them for my project. I haven’t got as far as the huge and imposing church on the hill above the town centre yet. The rain started in earnest when I was walking around town, so I dived in here and wrote this blog instead. Next time I come over I’ll bring a map with me, and try and rope in a couple of local contacts to show me interesting things I’ll miss otherwise. Before the clocks change and the nights draw in too much, I hope to have covered a fair bit of this area photographically.
Most importantly, I’ve been able to sit in a pub, undisturbed apart from the delivery of a bowl of chips, for over two hours. That could never happen in Aberdare. It seems impossible to enjoy a quiet pint without being dragged into an unwanted conversation, or enlisted into providing Tech Support for someone who still doesn’t know that Elvis Presley is dead. Next spring, when the weather changes, I think I’ll be spending an increasing amount time away from Aberdare – simply so that I can have some time to myself.
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