Thursday, March 02, 2006

Weekend in Wales

So, a weekend away in deepest Wales. And a week (well almost) in London to recover. Considering that I spent my entire childhood, up to the age of 18, on the Welsh doorstep, you’d think I’d be adequately prepared for a trip across the border. But the truth is that I was totally blown away. I know that I mocked before I set off and hinted at past expeditions to the Gulag-like Colomendy. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. We weren’t sleeping in freezing wood cabins after all. (Which is a shame in some ways, since I schlepped my sleeping bag with me and consequently spent most of the car journey curled up in the fetal position with my sleeping bag rolled up in the footwell).

The accommodation was fantastic. The hostel is a converted stately home and the building was simply fabulous. We were given massive rooms with en-suite bathrooms (which is more than I can offer guests – or even myself – in my own flat) complete with tea/coffee making facilities and TV/Internet. And if you don’t believe me, take a look at this…

Now, you have to agree, compared to Ablution Blocks and communal dormitories, that’s the high life.

Even more amazing than Man’s handiwork was the natural environment. The view was breathtaking. I’m no photographer, so you’ll have to make do with this fairly grainy image…

…but even given my ropey photography, you can tell that this is pretty special scenery. On Saturday morning I woke up, opened the balcony doors in my bedroom (yes, I had a balcony!!) and listened…to absolutely nothing. Apart from the odd sheep bleating (well, I was in Wales after all) and some birds in a near-by tree there was total and utter silence. No trains. No cars. No people.

I started to wonder why on earth I choose to live in polluted, congested London.

I think part of the answer lies in the fact that Wales (or, at least, the bit of it that I visited at the weekend) really is in the middle of nowhere. Beyond the back of beyond. It took us four hours to drive there. Admittedly, we were travelling in the height of rush hour on a Friday. And yes, we probably would have got there sooner had we taken an up-to-date map with us. Unfortunately, my friend C (who was driving) had a map of Britain that was over 15 years old and had been drawn before the new Severn Bridge was built. So what had been the M4 was now the M48 and what had been The Severn Bridge was now The Old Severn Bridge. All this meant that what had been three competent adults following the signs with a trusted road map was now three lost, slightly hysterical adults travelling through the Welsh countryside without a clue of where they were or how to get back to where they needed to be.

We crossed the New Severn Bridge (£4.99) only to discover that we’d crossed the wrong one. So we had to cross back into England (no charge) and find the Old Severn Bridge and cross that one instead (£4.99). We tried explaining to the man in the toll booth that we’d just paid £4.99 crossing the other bridge in error only to come straight back again and did we really have to pay again? After he’d comprehended our position, (“Let me get this straight madam. You crossed the new bridge at a cost of £4.99. Then immediately turned your car around and crossed back again. And now you’re crossing for a third time? Only you want to cross free of charge? Is that correct?”) He just laughed and told us that was our lookout. He sits in a 2m by 2m metal booth all day handing out 1p in change to strangers thrusting fivers at him. This is the only bit of work-related entertainment he’s likely to get this month.

What made our map-reading difficulties all the more galling is the fact that I was specifically asked NOT to read the map. This is because I have a notoriously bad sense of direction. I’ve turned down dinner invitations because I know I’d not be able to find my way to the host’s house. I’ve been on my way from Mill Hill to Elstree and ended up in Whetstone. This is like trying to get from France to Germany and ending up in New York. In fact, the situation has become so awkward that I’ve recently invested in a sat-nav system. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring it along with me for the journey to Wales. No problem, decided C, because her colleague A, who was travelling with us in the car, is a whizz at map reading. In fact, he’s a qualified navigator who served in the Israeli army in exactly that capacity. He is a militarily trained map reader. And we still ended up crossing the wrong bridge and giving some shmock who works the toll booth the biggest belly laugh he’s ever had on the job.

But it’s not just the remoteness that made me feel out of place in Wales. It’s what the remoteness makes you do. I’d hazard a guess that, had I spent the weekend on a Leadership Training Course in London, the atmosphere would have been totally different. We’d have discussed the agenda, chatted about leadership techniques and compared different management theories. But locked away in the countryside, miles away from home, with the nearest farm half a kilometre away, people start behaving a bit differently. They start emoting. Opening up. Discussing feelings. And what should have been a leadership training course became a weekend of free therapy and group sharing. You may be surprised to learn (since I reveal so much on this blog) that I hate all that communal sharing. You tell me your hang-ups and I’ll tell you mine. It encourages people who have a safe keep-me-at-some-distance relationship to become confidants and counsellors. And the result is invariably messy. Some woman will cry. Some bloke will lose his temper. And the next morning everyone feels awkward and embarrassed and worried that they’ve revealed too much. It reminds me of that scene in Awakenings when Robin Williams wakes up all the comatose patients and suddenly the silence is shattered by a stampede of neuroses; a cacophony of jabbering, clapping, whittering maniacs. Of course, the people on the course were neither jabbering or whittering or maniacs. But the comparison still stands. If you herd a group of strangers together in a remote location for long enough, ply them with a little wine and suggest they chat openly, the floodgates of emotion invariably open. I squirmed in the corner, arms folded, resolutely British, and resisted the urge to share. No uncomfortable self-revelation for me, thank you very much. This isn’t the Oprah show. I was determined to get through the whole weekend without once starting a sentence with the phrase “Thank you for that” or “I hear what you’re saying”. I wasn’t about to tell a group of 9 people I’d only just met my innermost dreams, hopes and fears. I’ve got a freely accessible web-site, visited by strangers around the world, to do that.


Blogger Nancy said...

I enjoyed the post. The pictures are beautiful!! Keep sharing!!

This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News

7:26 am  

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