This weekend was time for my annual pilgrimage to Cardiff to watch mighty red-clad warriors smashing 18 shades of enlightenment into game, yet (hopefully) slightly inferior opposing barbarians from one of the lesser-developed bastions of Britain*. They did not disappoint.
Just as importantly, neither did my parents. With a bit of gentle guidance on my part a chunk of my birthday present this year consisted of filling two gaps in my Cramps collection – A Date With Elvis and Big Beat From Badsville. What I didn’t quite appreciate was just how, umm scanty Ms Rorschach’s, umm, scanties were on the cover of the latter LP! I had only seen the tamer version before where she’s leaning towards the camera with a switchblade in her hand and red fabric concealing her undergarments. Oops, sorry (again) mum.
Anyway, in a repeat of last year, my father, myself and my son went to cheer on our chosen gladiators, again presenting modelling agencies with a unique chance to sign three almost supernaturally good-looking chaps up for all manner of major global advertising campaigns in one go; a chance they singularly failed to grasp, again. Ah well, it gave us chance to spend the time we would have spent negotiating image rights contracts on visiting Cardiff Castle, for the first time.
Being Welsh I tend to take castles for granted, there’s one in my hometown and another two within easy walking distance, but Cardiff Castle was really something else. There was a Roman fortification on site from around 55AD** but the oldest bits still standing are only from 1139 – the paint is practically still wet on them! The Norman keep was spectacular, as was the incredible feverish Victorian Gotharama of the William Burges designed house, but my favourite part dated from a lot more recently. The Roman outer walls were redone in medieval times and the underground galleries were used as air-raid shelters in WWII, a large section of which has been left as it would have been – propaganda posters and all. The tunnel galleries are huge and so atmospheric, you can really imagine sheltering in there with 1879 other souls listening to the port of Cardiff being bombed. It was rather affecting.
From there it was my annual pilgrimage to Spiller’s Records, the oldest record shop in the world – as I tell anyone who will listen, 122 years and counting. It’s a great, friendly establishment and I treated myself to a slip mat and a rather splendid 12″, Songhoy Blues Re-covered. I was hungry for more from my fave young Malian guitar-o-holics and this record was a neat idea the band reinterpreting three of their favourite tunes, so we get African reworkings of the Clash ‘Should I Stay or Should I go?’, Manu Dibango ‘Soul Makossa’^ and, most excitingly of all, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. If you ever wanted to hear a sub-Saharan take on ‘Kashmir’ and let’s face it you should have, then this record is your man, man.
As always on match day Cardiff was a teeming mass of very happy, often rather drunken, fans all laughing, drinking and mixing together in perfect harmony in a way that gladdens my heart every time I see it. We had great tickets again and hunkered down to enjoy the match. The first half was rather endured than enjoyed, Scotland being the better team by a distance, but then Wales came out firing in the second half and had enough nous and muscle to put them away, courtesy of a great incisive George North try, finally. It was a tough, tough match and as I said when I commiserated with the pair of very pleasant Scottish chaps in front of us, their team should have won.
As our coach home wended its’ merry way through various communities that night, dropping off happy, loud, tall-tale-telling Welsh folk, mostly in their overly tight fitting replica shirts^^, to seek their nearest local pub for last orders, I looked over at my dozing son and sleeping father and then past them out into the coal-black night studded with a thousand homely lights and felt a wave of contentment blanketing me. I like the ritual of these occasions, our little routines of where and when we eat, our travel, the places we go to in Cardiff, the repeated conversations and the habit of when we get to our seats. I love the games themselves, the stadium, the emotion of the anthems^*, those constant twin prickling of pride and panic that ride you constantly throughout, the wonderful singing and the delirium of a good score. More than that though, I truly love the way it throws the three of us together for a full, uninterrupted day. Just like looking out of a coach window into the speeding Welsh night and spotting the light of a distant farmhouse, a beacon of warmth and welcome in the quiet dark.
633 Down (still).
PS: Hopefully now I’ve beaten my nasty cold in a Lazarus-style, my life will settle down to a pace that’ll actually allow me to review an old LP, or two; or more importantly, do some readin’ and commentin’, y’all.
*am ignoring France, as they don’t fit comfortably into that sentence.
**which qualifies as ‘fucking old’ in my book; I’ve got a history degree, so that’s like an official thing.
^stolen by Michael Jackson for ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”, sort, of allegedly, or so I read somewhere (that should cover all my legal liabilities and suchlike!).
^^my own one merely accentuates my athletic build. True story.
^*the only acceptable face of patriotism, for me.