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The Day I Tried to Improve Welsh/Polish Relations.

Truck

A massive truck

I like to think of myself as a helpful person, a net contributor to the society. Take, for example, the time I helped a Polish lorry driver who’d got lost in the town where I grew up. I was on my way to the pub to meet friends and was running late when I spied the huge truck parked up half on the pavement of a narrow road. The driver was standing in the headlights with a big map flapping in the wind and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His unruly hair was all over the place.

I checked the clock on my dashboard. I was very late. But then, what if nobody stops? I decided to do the right thing and pulled over. I jogged back up the street to help my fellow motorist.

‘Are you lost?’ I said.

Where the truck driver was

The site where the diplomatic relations began

He looked at me over the top of his map. His face was podgy and he had a five o’clock shadow. His eyes had big bags under them and he was clearly exhausted. He then said something to me in a foreign language that had something of the Slavic in it. I said earlier that my road companion was from Poland but in fact he could have been from anywhere in Eastern Europe.

‘Do you speak English?’ I said.

‘Nor nor!’

Map flapping in one hand he produced from his pocket the name of a company and an address. And I knew the address. The industrial estate for which he was headed was an old friend of mine. Legends nightclub was there, the only nightclub in a five mile radius. The only thing between my new friend and his destination was the language barrier. The directions were too complicated. He would never make it. I looked at my watch.

Bugger it, I thought. I am going to enhance Welsh/European relations with an extraordinary act of kindness. There was so much hate in the world about Polish immigrants stealing our jobs and here I was fighting the good fight on the ground.

‘You,’ I said, jabbing a finger at his chest. ‘Follow… me.’ And I motioned with my arms as if I was at a steering wheel.

He nodded enthusiastically, not unlike a dog. I nodded back, also like a dog. Two old dogs of the road.

‘Yes!’ I said.

‘Yes, yes,’ he said.

This was awesome, I thought. Here we were, two people from different parts of the globe coming together in a moment of friendship. We practically bounced back to our vehicles.

I smiled to myself as I turned the key. He’d tell stories of this when he returned to the taverns of his hometown. I pulled off and drove down the hill. It would only take ten minutes. My friends could wait. I kept my speed nice and easy so that he could follow in his huge wagon.

Down the hill and under the bridge and round the corner I went. On to the first roundabout. I slowed to make sure he could follow me. But when I checked in the mirror there was no truck in tow. I waited. Still no sign. Probably having a bit of bother on the narrow roads, I thought to myself. I circled the roundabout a few times but still my friend did not appear. And then a thought hit me. Not a good one.

I headed back up the road towards the truck and when I rounded the corner my fears were confirmed. My new friend had got his massive lorry wedged under the low bridge. There was a sign saying “low bridge,” I suddenly remembered. It didn’t register at the time. He either couldn’t read it or just was so worried about being lost he’d decided to take the plunge. Either way, he was in there and I was very late for the pub. I glanced up to the ceiling of the bridge and saw the only slightly mangled top of the big container bit behind the cab. It wasn’t so bad. And then I looked through the windshield. My new friend and I made eye contact. He was gesturing wildly at the roof. We stared at each other for a few seconds and I nodded apologetically and waved that it would be okay.

I always imagine the next part of the story from the point of view of the Polish driver. He’d been lost but a kindly local man had stopped his car and not just offered directions but agreed to take him all the way to his destination on the industrial estate. Soon he would be heading back to his homeland, the thought of his wife and children in his mind. Maybe she had prepared a simple fish supper over the fire for his return. What a service this young man had done for him. The metal screech as he crunched under the bridge probably darkened his jubilant mood somewhat. He probably thought, as I would have, just slam my foot down and try and get out the other end, but this would only have driven the truck deeper into the bridge until he could go no further. Disaster! he would have thought. Disaster. He would have raised his face to the heavens and relinquished control of the wheel.

But all was not lost. A minute later he would have seen a set of headlights appear, a beacon, and then the very car that had offered help would have come into his vision like a white horse at the most critical point of a battle. Yes, the young man has messed up by taking me under a low bridge but thank god he has come back. A speaker of the native tongue he will be able to help get me home. What an ambassador for his country he is. Look, he is waving to me.

And I wonder about the feeling in his chest as he saw me there, his only chance of escape, as I realised I really was very, very late. He would have watched my car reversing a little way down the street, before making a very slow and awkward three point turn (I’m not a great driver) and then disappearing into the darkness. I sometimes wonder, what did he think as he watched me do this? And I contemplate what happened to him afterwards, before I remember that I already know the answer. Because I was told the following day, about how the road was closed for several hours that night as the fire brigade de-wedged my new friend from the stony grip of the bridge.

Low Bridge

The site where diplomacy broke down.

I like to picture a happy ending to the story. I like to think of that driver as heroic. I imagine him like Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway where at last he delivers the package. I see the Polish driver walking down the middle of Coedcae Lane Industrial Estate with his package under his arm, past Legends and the TNT depot until he came at last to the place he was looking for, where he knocked on the metal goods in/out door of the warehouse, proud of a job well done. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.

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Terror Threat Foiled by Vigilant Staff at Whitchurch Lloyds Pharmacy

Bomb Squad

Vigilant staff members at Lloyds Pharmacy in Whitchurch prevented a terror attack this afternoon, when they discovered a suspicious package left in a corner. The diligent workers called the police and the shop was closed whilst the package was checked. Thank goodness for these brave people who stopped what could have been a terror attack on the scale of 9/11. Apart from it wasn’t a bomb. It was my backpack.

There I was, enjoying the intense heat of the day at home when I thought, hang on, I’ve left my backpack in the pharmacy. Panicked – my wallet and notebook and pens were in there – I raced to the shop in the hope it had been handed in. The three adult members of staff seemed to recognise me when I re-entered the shop.

‘Have you got my backpack by any chance?’ I said.

The pharmacy assistant stepped forward.

‘We had to call the police. We were terrified! We had to close the shop! We didn’t know if it was a bomb!’

My mind didn’t really register this.

‘The police tried calling you,’ said the rather sheepish pharmacist.

I checked my phone and sure enough there was a missed call and a message. My phone number is written in my notebook. The message was from a policeman telling me he had my bag and it would be kept at Fairwater Police Station until 10pm and then moved somewhere else after that, though I missed the last part because I was suddenly getting annoyed that my bag had been confiscated because three ridiculous people were unable to behave like adults. Now I had to go all the way across town to fetch my bag.

Why hadn’t they just checked the bag? I can kind of understand being worried (I can’t really – I think the world has gone crazy when it comes to terrorism) but surely shutting the shop is a bit over the top. The pharmacy is in the sleepy village of Whitchurch in Cardiff. And when the police realised it wasn’t a bomb why hadn’t they said, leave the bag here – we’ll call the owner. This is what I would do, and in fact it is what I do when bags get left behind where I work. If I closed the library every time a bag was left behind it would never be open. I never shut the place down and call the police, because that’s mental! And there were three adults there, none of whom were able to think like an adult. Squirming with anger, I of course politely thanked the staff and left the shop.

It was 5:30 and I needed to be at Amy’s grandfather’s for the weekly family meal by 6. Just enough time to get to Fairwater and back. Or so I thought. Through rush hour traffic in the stifling heat I got over to Fairwater in half an hour and remembered the policeman had said to call 101 to make arrangements for collection. I’ll do that, I thought, it’ll make the whole operation run nice and smooth. I’ll go there, get my bag, and get over to the family dinner. So I called 101 and got past the incredibly slow talking automated voice thing to a human, who took my details and asked about the bag, etc. She wanted to know the policeman’s name but I’d deleted the message and was pretty sure he hadn’t said his name anyway. So she ummed and arred for a while and said it would be best if she patched me through to public services where I got more umming and arring and supervisor-asking before at last she came back and said I’d have to go to Fairwater Police Station at 9pm as nobody was there to give me my bag at the moment. This phone call took 50 minutes. Quite an extraordinary length of time. I knew what she had to do – put out an APB to all vehicles. That’s basically what you should always do. Instead I got a reference number. Fuming, I politely thanked the phone operator and ended the call. She’s going to get a hammering in my blog, I thought.

My night was being wrecked by people doing ridiculous things. I pined for some common sense. It was almost seven o’clock now. Was I really going to wait for two hours? I didn’t even know where Fairwater Police Station was. So I popped into the local Coop for directions and took the decision to go there and wait for an officer to turn up. Surely someone would be there before 9pm. But when I got there I saw that Fairwater Police Station is, in fact, absolutely massive and choc full with policemen and women. There must have been at least forty cars in the car park.

Sadly, the car park was on the other side of a big metal gate so I pulled up in front of it and went in search of a front door. There was none. When I got back to my car the big metal gate was open and a big metal car was trying to get around my Ka. Fortunately the driver circumnavigated my car without me seeing me and I got my chance to get into the main complex, where two officers were at the door, recognising me from the photo ID in my wallet, beckoning me in.

Awesome, I thought. At last some people with common sense. ‘They thought it was a bomb!’ said the officer. ‘There hasn’t been a bomb in Cardiff since 1969!’

I laughed and nodded to the other officer. ‘I bet they just wanted to close the shop to get fifteen minutes off work,’ I said, jokingly. Just a bit of bants really. Bants with the lads. We had a good laugh about how over the top people can be. ‘If I closed the library every time a bag was left behind it would never be open!’ I said. There we were, three lads having a laugh, men of work being sensible. They gave me bag and I signed a form and it was done. I didn’t have to wait until 9pm because it would have been silly.

I chuckled to myself on the way home. It was nice to be accepted by the policemen. I had felt a manly bond with them. Then I thought. Then I had a bit of a cringe. They’d got my number from my notebook. Which meant they’d looked in my bag. Earlier that day I’d bought a present for my colleague, Wendy. Which meant that as they sifted through my things they would have picked up a pristine hardback edition of Alan Titchmarsh’s romantic bestseller, Haunted; a tale of love, betrayal and the past.

Alan Titchmarsh

The whole scene in the police station suddenly became something completely different in my head. They weren’t laughing at how stupid the people in the shop were, they were laughing at me acting all macho with a copy of an Alan Titchmarsh book in my bag. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing episode.

Addendum: I thought it was all over and took solace in the fact I would be able to blog about it. I’ll take a photo of the book next to the bag, I thought. That’ll be funny. It was a lovely light outside so I set up the shot, of the Alan Titchmarsh book next to my bag on my doorstep when my cool neighbour walked past. I was leaning over the book with my camera phone when he said, ‘Alright?’ I said, ‘Yeah I’m fine, thanks.’

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The Time I Went Fishing (A Salad Days Memoir)

Mumbles Seawall

There I was, in my salad days, standing on the windswept seawall at the Mumbles with a friend and two fishing rods. Whitecaps looked like a great mountain range in motion stretching back to the horizon, spindrift whipping up high enough to reach our faces. My fellow anglers had cast off their lines and were standing shivering in their mackintoshes and galoshes, leaning into the wind, holding on to the railing.

My friend, let’s call him Rob (his name was Rob), had brought me down to the ocean to partake in one of man’s oldest pastimes – recreational angling. Claiming to be nearly international standard, Rob certainly looked the part as he expertly set up the rods with the lines and weights and baits. ‘Now,’ he said, taking the role of sensei, ‘you pinch the line here, release the bale arm and… cast!’ I watched as the weights sang through the air, the line whizzing off the spool. Then the far end of the rod also flew off into the distance as it snapped in half. ‘Bastard!’ cried Rob, as he watched the end of his rod succumb to gravity and plop down into the water.

‘Is that supposed to happen?’ I said.

Hand over hand he pulled in the end of his broken rod from the water and up the wall.

Tutorial over it was my turn. I’d fished in my youth but was far from an expert, and had certainly never caught anything. Nonetheless, I managed to get my line a good fifty feet out and waited. What a fine thing it is, being around men’s men, men out hunting for food, for sustenance; real men. When they hauled their catches from the water they took brutal cudgels from their fishing boxes and beat their prey over the head to put it humanely out of its misery. Real men. I would be a real man too that day.

And it wasn’t long before I had my first bite. I felt like Ahab aboard the Pequod, locked as I was in the eternal struggle of man vs fish. And I was victorious. Squirming out of the water it came, maybe five inches long. I set it down on the seawall and it flubbed around. I sensed the eyes of my fellow anglers on the young buck with his first catch. I would impress them. I grabbed the cudgel. More eyes fell on me; this had become an event. One swift blow, I thought. I’d never killed anything before and didn’t really like the idea of it. I sort of wanted to give the fish back to the ocean but people were watching and the moment had me in its grip. I brought down the cudgel but it kind of slid off the fish’s body, most of the impact finding the concrete. The fish wobbled away from me and I struck again. To those bearing witness it must have seemed not unlike the game Whac-A-Mole as I scrambled around on my knees after my prey, whacking maniacally at it but missing or only landing body blows. At last I grabbed the fish with my left hand and raised my right and I swear, in that moment, our eyes locked, and the fish gave me a quick nod: End me.  That final strike did the job. I was breathless by this point and as I looked up I saw all the anglers turned towards me, staring, a visage of shock on all their faces.

I looked to Rob.

‘It was a baby,’ he said, his face ashen.

‘A baby?’

Apparently they have to be above a certain size before you kill them. The little ones are supposed to be put back. I had just a beaten an infant fish to death in cold blood. I felt awful. I looked at my hands. How could I have done such a thing?

We cast off again and soon enough I had another bite. As I pulled in the line a second little sprat came forth, but I looked at Rob and we exchanged knowing nods. This innocent would be returned to its home. I unhooked the fish, aware of the other fishermen watching me once more, went to the railing and lobbed the fish high into the air, its scales shimmering as they caught a sunburst, and down to the safe waters, a fall of perhaps forty feet. It slapped into the surface and disappeared, only to reappear some seconds later, bobbing on its side. I stared at it for a moment, we all did, me holding back the urge to tell the fish to swim away, you’re free. But it didn’t swim away. For it too was dead. A quick one-eyed glance along the seawall returned open-mouthed fishermen in horror at what they were witnessing.

Rob pointed out some steps that led down to the water’s edge. ‘You’re not supposed to throw them,’ he said.

But he needn’t have said anything. My days of killing were already over. I looked out over the ocean, at the white speck that was the dead fish and I shook my head. It didn’t have to die. I haven’t fished since.

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Excellent New Golf Umbrella Policy at Cardiff Museum

You can see a van Goch, a Monet, a Renoir, a woolly mammoth, a T-Rex skull, a life sized diorama of a British woodland scene resplendent with the taxidermied remains of the national fauna, and of course the happiest flying turtle in the world, but the best thing at Cardiff Museum at the moment is undoubtedly their new golf umbrella policy.

There I was this morning, this cold and drizzly day, on my way to the museum for a quick look around as is my wont when I was approached by a friendly member of museum staff and I thought to myself, that’s odd, I’m not usually approached. The gentleman said to me, ‘Excuse me sir, it’s entirely your decision but if you like you can check your umbrella in at reception.’

I looked down at my General Electric golf umbrella. It’s not my favourite umbrella; that was stolen from me by a chav working at Costco when I did my Food Hygiene Level Two training. It had been a dark, rainy day and I was in amongst a gaggle of Costco staff whose idea of food hygiene was washing a raw turkey in a sink with soapy water. Seriously. At close of play I went to retrieve my golf umbrella from the corner of the room where I had diligently stored it only to discover it had been lifted by light fingers. I had loved that umbrella. It was black and when I used it I thought of myself as a New Yorker on my way to an important marketing meeting. Now I have a GE umbrella and I feel a little dirty because it’s turquoise and gaudy, though it does have a button one can press which initiates a self-erecting mechanism.

Check my umbrella at reception? I thought. What an absolutely incredible idea. Off to reception I went with a new spring in my step. ‘I’d like to check in my umbrella,’ I said.

‘Certainly, sir,’ said the receptionist, taking the umbrella from me and handing me a laminated raffle ticket, number 18, which I duly pocketed. Liberated of the hassle of carrying an umbrella around indoors increased my enjoyment of the museum by at least 20%. So I’d like to thank Cardiff Museum for such an inspiring policy and one which I hope other institutions will adopt. It turned my day into an absolute delight.

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A Poppy Seed Bread Disaster

Ah, a crisp autumnal morn. What better way to start the day than a trip to your favourite baker for a loaf of your choice bread? For Amy and me, poppy seed loaf from M&S. I arrived at the bakery section and browsed the breads but couldn’t find the poppy seed. At ten in the morning? Something was up. The baker was nowhere to be seen. Looking around I found a member of staff, let’s call her Brenda.

‘Excuse me, have you got any poppy seed bread?’

She poked her head over the baking counter and had a look for the baker.

‘Angie,’ she called to a colleague coming up the aisle towards us. ‘You haven’t seen the baker have you?’

‘Freezer’s broke,’ said Angie. ‘Won’t be fixed ‘til Thursday. There’s no-one there.’

At this point I noticed a shelf on the back wall of the bakery, brimming with loaves, all sliced, wrapped, labelled and ready to go.

‘Is there any poppy seed?’ said Brenda.

Angie gave the few loaves on the countertop a cursory glance.

‘Can’t see any,’ she said.

I was sensing from Angie at this point a distinct air of disinterest.

I pointed at the loaves on the shelf behind the counter.

‘There’s a whole load of bread on that shelf,’ I said.

Angie’s eyes rolled over to the loaves.

‘I’m not allowed to go over there,’ she said to Brenda. ‘It’s against health and safety.’

Now I’m no walking clinometer but on the flat gradient of the shop floor I’d estimate the distance between Angie and the bread was no more than 1.8 metres. Under three paces. A quick risk assessment of the path she would need to take revealed no hazards. I looked at Angie. She seemed to be me around mi-fifties. This means she was over ten years old, the approximate age at which any normal person can decide whether or not walking three paces poses a reasonable risk. Just to reiterate I had already conducted a rudimentary risk assessment and considered the walk to the shelf of bread safe. She was probably capable of doing the same.

I really wanted the bread and so I said, ‘Just to let you know, I’m a health and safety officer and you can go behind there, you just wouldn’t be able to prepare food unless you have a Food Hygiene Level 2 certificate.’ I knew this from my experience as a barista. She was confusing health and safety with food hygiene laws, a rookie mistake.

As soon as I said these words Angie went into the space behind the counter. Nothing had changed. The risk in the area hadn’t diminished. No laws had been altered. Just because I had said these words, Angie went straight in there and checked the bread, just like a normal adult person.

And I thought, are people just being lazy these days and hiding behind fears of health and safety? No health and safety inspector, or food inspector would ever not let someone check some packaged bread and it’s ridiculous to think they would. Are we hiding behind “health and safety” to get out of doing work? Probably, I concluded. Angie certainly was. It made me think, gosh, the world gets just that little bit more awful each day doesn’t it.

At that point Angie turned back to me from the shelf of bread and said, ‘No, we ain’t got no poppy seed.’

Our eyes met. We both knew she hadn’t really given the shelf much of a check at all. But there was nothing I could do other than collect up a loaf of disappointing tiger bread.

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Welcome To My Blog

Good day to you internet viewer! How is your viewing today? Well I hope it’s going well.

You have come across the blog on your travels of one Rhys Thomas (me). Here you will find information about events occurring in my life, much as one might steal into someone’s private home and spy on their diary by torchlight. Welcome.

I’m hoping to keep this blog updated fairly regularly with things going on in my life at present, but also give you, my new friend, glimpses down the telescope of time into my past.

Hold on to your butts….

Rhys x

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