One of my greatest pleasures in South Wales was, of course, the birdwatching.   I had been fascinated by birds as long as I could remember. By the time I noticed pied wagtails on our school yard in Darlington Street school I was already hooked. My mother told me that it went way back, as a toddler I'd point up to the birds flying about the trees in wonder and point them out.

I found a wonderful patch in Cardiff,  an area of woods and field alongside the river Taff all the way down to the Western Avenue Bridge near Pontcanna fields.  That was another great patch but not 'my patch'.  I felt quite territorial about this.  'My patch' extended upstream to the pool just up from the weir but because the land beside it on my side of the river belonged to a private boat-house, the pool was pretty much my most northerly point. 

Farther north was also not considered 'my patch' but was along the route of my walks which extended past the Glamorgan canal nature reserve,  Pentyrch, Garth mountain, the Wenallt and once, just for the heck of it,  I walked to Caerphilly but generally Garth mountain was my outer limit so to speak.  I'll speak of those rambles later.

My patch also included the graveyard just behind Llandaff Cathedral, a great haunt for birds including goldcrests and spotted flycatcher, chiffchaffs and other delights.  The fields around were filled with cuckoo flowers and swallows in spring and redwings and fieldfares in mid winter.  The alders by the river were a good breeding place for willow warbler and the river itself was great for cormorants, grey heron, occasional teal, dabchick and other water birds as well as the regular moorhen and river rats.

The woodland along the path from the Cathedral to the weir were rich in grey squirrel, hedgehogs, nuthatch, long tailed tits as well as the usual crew of other tits, great spotted woodpecker amongst others.

This was the area I selected for my little effort in the British Trust for Ornithology's common bird census, and for several years I  dutifully submitted maps marked with territory holding, singing birds. This idyll was interrupted by a group of boys who wanted to shoot 'my' birds with their air rifles for sport.  I found this rather disheartening and distressing as you can imagine. 'Is nothing sacred?'  I remember actually yelling this one day!  Fortunately I was able to identify one of the boys involved,  a rather good looking kid called Richard who happened to be the brother of a girl I knew in Howells.   I got on his case with his family and things were somewhat tense for some time. Naturally he did not appreciate I was 'getting him into trouble'  but I had to do something,  trying to appeal to his group in the field, trying to get across my distress without making a total fool of myself to those boys, was not easy at all.  It seemed in time Richard did actually develop some respect for my little fight and either moved his operations elsewhere or just grew out of it.   

I loved visiting Glamorgan canal nature reserve because there lived kingfishers,  the only site I knew for them anywhere near me. The flash of brilliant turquoise over the water was a covetted sight but I was also amused by mallard ducklings on the lilypads or anything else I could find there.  I think it was there I met old Tom Davies, a lovely elderly gentleman always accompanied by his faithful busy spaniel, Lucy.  Tom showed me the paths of the Wenallt, a hill just north of Cardiff and east of Castell Coch and Garth mountain, and covered with dense forest.  I remember him stopping where a red fox had been so I could get a load of the nasty musky odour the fox had left there, probably a territorial marker.  

Tom told me where nightjars lived and of course I was eager to experience that since I'd never seen nightjars, ever.  Finally he agreed to take me to the sight one night before midsummer.  We made our way through dark trails to the edge of a quarried part of the Wenallt, deep in forest, and there we sat still for a while, as the dark fell.  Dark finally came some time after 10 p.m. in those parts and at that time of year.  I was delighted to see a woodcock over the hills to the north, also a first for me, then finally the long purring notes of a nightjar started up in the nearby trees, rising and falling as the bird turned its head. Unforgettable. I didn't actually see the bird but hearing it was enough for me.  I was delighted! 

Tom felt horribly guilty about keeping a teenage girl out so late and was concerned that my parents might think the worst.  I had to reassure him a hundred times that they would not be worried. When we finally arrived back in Llandaff, weary but content at something after midnight, Tom was still not happy in himself and insisted on explaining himself to my parents.  For my part I waxed lyrical about nightjars for the next few days and I'm sure my parents weren't really listening, but I was also sure they wouldn't believe a 16 year old girl would go for a 60 year old guy, however nice he was. The innocence of youth!

I did manage to 'fall in love' about that time, and that was most inconvenient and unfortunate.  Dad had swung a few connections and got me a voluntary position over the summer assisting at a vet's.  The head vet of the practise was very keen on my academic qualifications- this was just after I'd got my O levels- though his wife felt I should really go into medicine because she thought I had a doctor's hands.  I was delighted to watch practise, it was great experience and I assisted in sundry chores, such as washing windows,  filing paperwork and such. In those days, much as I had romantic aspirations, the idea of being a mother frankly appalled me. I had no desire to have any children, not then.

Seeing practise had three major elements,  and all completely fascinated me.  I wish I'd kept a detailed log book, I learned so much in just a few weeks.  First part was the surgery in which owners brought along their pets for examination.  I remember a tearful lady learning that her hamster had to be put down and the admirable tact with which the vet handled that. Another day a greyhound owner complaining that his dog was not winning any more races and should it be put down or was there something that could be done? Vets need to be so diplomatic, handling the owners' attitudes can be as much as of a challenge as diagnosing animals that can't describe their own symptoms.

Part 2 was the operation room itself and only for strong stomachs.  Some dogs needed to be handled with a rope collar on a stick, their pain made them too aggressive till they'd received a shot. This was rare though, and involved no cruelty. Most dogs were incredibly trusting and let us clean their plaque covered teeth (from unsuitable diets) or, in one case, remove an elastic band that had cut through the tissues of the neck all around.  A little more that dog would have bled to death but fortunately we caught it in time. I remember comforting a dog with a massive womb infection that was awaiting surgery, she was so miserable and I think she really valued my petting. I saw dozens of castrations and spaying of females, this was probably the most common operation.  By the end of my time there I felt reasonably confident I could have done either of those myself, I saw so many.  Only once I felt queasy. A cat had damaged an eye, it was swollen and filled with pus and had to be removed completely.  I suddenly found myself close to passing out.  Everyone was kind to me and blamed it on the ether. 

I was amused that one of the vets realised that some vet grade exterior line for stitching was pretty much identical to fishing line. To save money he actually bought fishing line instead, and sterilized it. I wondered if this was a joke. The vets made all those operations look so easy.. I had to express my admiration and appreciation that this appearance is often the mark of a craftsman.

Dogs always seemed to trust us but cats generally hated being put under, detested the ether, and banged and flailed about so that they had to be restrained by one or more people.  This was often where I came in.  They were not the most attractive beasts on the operating table but I was still somewhat fond of cats and saw an endless stream of them brought to the vets- strays found in various states of disease.  Most had to be put down. The most pathetic case was a trio of pretty Siamese kittens which had been dumped and left to die.  They were in a sorry state and all blind with eye infections. This all made me want to start a hostel for unwanted pets. Another girl who worked there just shook her head at me and told me the reality, that even if I could accommodate some there was simply no end to it, there were hundreds upon hundreds of unwanted cats, and in just this one city.

The final and sometimes exciting part of the practise was house calls, usually to farms round and about Cardiff but occasionally to elderly ladies and their ridiculously spoiled darlings.  Much of this stuff was straight James Herriot material and really makes me wish now I had taken a detailed log!  I remember bumping along farm roads for miles, desperate to use a bathroom!

Of course I fell for one of the vets, a Bristol university graduate called Tony, and was nursing my crush for a week or so, (that seemed like an age), till I discovered the dreadful truth.  He was married!  I wish someone had bothered to tell me earlier, but perhaps I hid it well. Sue, a nurse who worked at the infirmary across the street,  dropped by, radiant and very pregnant and my face probably made me look like an idiot. I suppose people were sympathetic to a love-sick 16 year old, the phenomenon is hardly new though it was new for me. Catastrophe!  I could hardly hold back my tears all the way home, oh the tragedy of it!  I can laugh now but then I was plunged into utter despair,  crashed into the house and then into my room to the consternation of my parents who had imagined something awful had happened to me. I was simply unable to even speak to tell them that the 'love of my life' was unavailable!

Well I got over that and sometime later met another Tony.  Trust me, I wasn't particularly partial to Tonys in general, this was one of life's little coincidences. I met him at a party somewhere, I forget the circumstances exactly.  He was moderately good looking and seemed to think he was some kind of womanizer though he wasn't getting anywhere with me fast.  He told me a sob story of his life as adopted son, fostered for years, suicidal but with unsympathetic father. Of course I felt for him but if the story was supposed to have any other kind of magic over me  it wasn't working. Perhaps it was true, or embellished, I really don't know. It sounded true.  He played so much the wordly big brother with innocent girl he needs to introduce to life that I was somewhat put off- of course I knew I had been sheltered but I was completely lacking the simplicity he seemed to assume I had. He knew I had a brain but had no clue how I operated it.  He wanted to get me to be stylish so he could show me off but inside I laughed at this. I was not the type to waste time with nails, shoes, hair and fashion. Once in a while I enjoyed looking fantastic but as a daily habit, nah, too boring, too high maintenance and there were other things I infinitely preferred doing.

Finally, when he tried to initiate me into the physical I realized I was not attracted to him at all and walked out of his apartment for the last time. We did not part on unfriendly terms though, and some years later I met up with him again. He was in the merchant navy and wanted to show me his berth on board ship. He was engaged to be married imminently and was clearly hoping for one last little fling with me before the big day. I refused even a kiss, no, uh uh, not going there or anywhere in that direction.  As far as I was concerned he was already taken. He was enough of a gentleman not to push it and again we parted on good terms. That was the last I saw of him.

Some time later I volunteered as assistant warden at the Ouse Washes near Cambridge, a position I managed to get by applying to the Royal Society for Protection of Birds.  This was totally great for me and I loved it. I lived in a little dorm just beyond the warden's house and had to go to the bathroom with a flashlight and a warning never to shine it into the trees for a moment by accident or I'd find myself covered in poop from the scores of wood pigeons using that stand of trees for the only roost for miles. The chief warden was a lovely mild mannered gentleman called Cliff who was more than happy to show me the birds of the place. He showed me a magnificent female Marsh harrier which regularly quartered the reserve as well as another kind of harrier, the metal kind.  These monsters went screaming over the Washes every so often as there were air force bases not far off.

Much of the time was spent happily painting and varnishing the volunteer cabin, a long but somewhat satisfying job which I saw as very decent rent for the privilege of staying in that wonderful place.

Apart from the harrier two other birds stand out in my mind from that time.  The first was a most strange duck I noticed a couple of times, much to the disbelief and amusement of Cliff, because it was not supposed to be there.  I could I.D. most of the ducks, thanks to Cliff's guidance, even though they were in eclipse plumage, but one just stumped me and I compared every section with it with the guide book and came to my impossible conclusion.  It matched American Wigeon in every respect. What could I say, I could only agree with him that it was highly unlikely and yet that's what it looked like, just sitting there on the edge of that pool and giving a pretty fair view.

One special bird of the Ouse Washes was the Black tailed godwit, a graceful wader that has a small nesting colony there.  Two weeks and not a single sighting, I was somewhat dismayed but on my late afternoon regular survey of the reserve on my last afternoon and last hour of light I turned into the last hide overlooking a pool and in front of my eyes a beautiful male black tailed godwit alighted at the edge of the pool. Yes!  You should have seen my face light up!  Two Liverpudlian birdwatchers barged in and also wanted a look,  but even their annoying chatter could not dampen my high spirits that moment, well not by much.

As a naturalist I liked to bring home anything which could be kept, pine cones, bird feathers, interesting rocks and shells, anything. I would not kill beetles and butterflies for such collections but anything already dead was fair game as long as it could be preserved without ever smelling nasty. Skulls were perfect for this since they were pretty much picked clean by nature's decomposers.  The lamb's skull and a very nice cat's skull were found by a friend and given to me. A few mice skulls were donated by the local cats, we found them on the lawn. I also had a gull's skull, I forget where I got that one, a hedgehog skull ( my mother never knew that I used one of her cooking pots to clean that one) and, by pure accident... my most interesting birds' skull.

I was walking by the Taff one rainy day when I began to bemoan to myself my lack of luck lately in finding more and interesting skulls. They really are not easy to find, and there's quite a lot of luck involved, birds' skulls can decompose to nothing in quite a short time, the bones being so light and fragile. Just as I was feeling grouchy about this I noticed a bedraggled bundle at the foot of a tree. It turned out to be a dead great spotted woodpecker, dead some weeks by the state of it, pretty much all the flesh was gone, bones, feathers, skull remaining.  This was a great find because now I was able to see for myself an extraordinary feature of this bird that I had before only seen in books. The long tongue actually passes OVER the entire skull and reemerges through the bill, allowing the bird to reach deep into crevices.  The tongue was dried out and still whole, its whole amazing route could be traced.


What a find!  As well as the skull I now also had two wings, though somewhat bedraggled and pretty much closed stiff.  Wings are also preserved quite easily with hardly any smell or attraction of vermin. I had to first pin out the wing onto a board to show off all the feathers. After a couple of weeks the wing had dried out sufficiently to hold itself in the spread position.  I found bird wings extraordinarily beautiful and though my mother did not like it she knew I'd not hurt a bird to get them.  I had to rely totally on luck and sharp eyes and birds that had not been dead long, and I would not miss an opportunity. I forget how many wings I was fortunate enough to find. I was particularly pleased with a house martin wing but at the same time sad because it had been found on a road and had obviously been hit by a vehicle.

Foolishly I did not bring my collection to Israel at the earliest possible opportunity. My mother assumed I wasn't coming back for it and disposed of the lot when she saw some mites. I can't blame her, they were probably just a few feather mites but she was concerned they'd spread to other contents of that closet. I was sad at the loss of that collection but we're well on our way with another.  The only other preserved item from back then was a vertebra of a false killer whale that had been found on a beach in South Wales by one of my birdwatching friends, and given to me, I think the same friend, Harvey, who gave me the lamb and cat skull if I remember rightly.  This very nice big bone I donated to the national museum, I can only hope it's still there.

Another memorable crush happened during my A level years.  I had become a member of the Cardiff Ornithologists' club, a wonderful group of people who taught me a lot in a very short time.  We had some wonderful outings to key locations within a few hours drive of Cardiff and my long suffering dad kindly got up at the crack of dawn to drive me to the meeting place, usually outside Cardiff museum. From there we'd board to tour bus to our destination.  Whitford point on the Gower peninsula yielded my first Slavonian grebes,  their eyes ruby red in the sun even over the distance. Portland Bill on the South coast gave me kittiwakes and an unforgettable view of adders sunbathing. Even though I knew they were venomous they inspired no fear in that relaxed state and I stopped to admire. Worm's Head gave me my best photograph of a male turnstone. 

I remember assembling my camera at record speed while some bloke laughed and said that I'd miss it.. I am the eternal optimist and it often pays off. The turnstone stayed put and only flew after I got that shot. I owned a 50 mm praktika back then which I'd bought from a friend of my brother's, (he was upgrading) , fully manual single lens reflex which I totally loved. My parents helped me buy a nice zoom lens for it. I had it for years till one fateful day it was stolen at the Shobdon drop zone. Dad managed to collect insurance on it somehow, good trick since it hadn't been insured. I also got a great shot of a fulmar flying over the headland. At the New Forest I saw my first pied flycatcher and, my favourite trip ever was Skomer island off the coast of Wales, wonderful trip, though not as awesome as Skokholm  (which currently is not yet in the college memoirs though it may have been added by the time you read this) . There I managed to get a shot of puffins.  At Cwm Ddu (pronounced as 'come thee' in the Brecon Beacons I got a shot of Shane as he was busy watching nesting ravens. Sneaky!  He was my crush at that time.

I adored Shane.  Many of the members of the club were happy to help me with unfamiliar birds and taught me a lot. Shane was one of these and I so much enjoyed his positive attitude and his quiet gentlemanly refinement. I used to visit him and his brother at home many times, and often met up with them at the central library where we'd all study for our A levels. They were both such utterly charming gentlemen! Wayne was heading to Cambridge for medicine I think,  Shane finally went to Aberdeen for zoology.  He'd considered Cambridge but since East Anglia is famously rich in birds he was somewhat afraid that would affect his studies! Probably right, though I expect he'd manage anyway. I met up with Steve, another member, a couple of years later, and asked for news of Shane.  Steve seemed to be filled with glee when he told me,  'he's president of the gay society there' and watched my jaw drop. I had no idea!

We'd gone out to the coastal farmlands between Cardiff and Newport looking for turtle doves or anything else we could find and had a very pleasant walk though all the time I felt a distance, a lack of response or chemistry or something on his part.  I was not the kind of girl to be pushy and I was wondering if I wasn't being too subtle but any kind of flirting somehow felt inappropriate. One of my favourite memories from that trip did not involve the crush at all but birds of course!  A couple of years before I'd noticed an unusual bird flying to and fro over the Taff approaching  the centre of town. It seemed tern like but different. I made sketches, took a detailed description and shelved it in my journal.  Now I told Shane and he had the pleasure of informing me that it was a black tern that had also been identified by one of the club's top birders within a day or two of my own observations!  It's always good when there are two independent witnesses to the same rare find, they back up each other and confirm the sighting. Brilliant!

At any rate,  though I felt somewhat sad I couldn't 'have' Shane I felt privileged to have met him and hope that contact can be renewed some day.


Memoirs of Cardiff would not be complete without a brief tour of the sites.

Cardiff Castle


The above site is a great site for pictures and history and I have no intention of writing an essay here when it is all covered much more beautifully there.  These memoirs are more about my personal experience.

Dad was friends with the warden who lived in a cozy apartment in a lower floor of the castle. He was also in charge of taking care of the castle's flock of very handsome pea-cocks which included a few albino birds.  I remember once seeing a tourist grab a tail feather from a bird which responded with a tremendous squawk, even louder than their usual cries. (I can't imagine how the warden put up with that on a daily basis).  The tourist then abandonned the five foot feather in the crook of a large tree near the entrance, probably when he realized it was not an eye feather but one of the 'crescent moon' feathers instead.  I just collected that feather and took it home.

The warden gave a private tour to me and dad which was totally wonderful.  I really enjoyed the layers of history, from the remnants of Roman Wall, the Norman Keep almost one thousand years old to the much more recent and ornate main body of the castle. When they asked me what I thought I could only say a rather inane sounding 'it should be kept' because I was quite honestly speechless about the place, I loved it.

We attended a Cardiff tattoo which was a display of fancy drills and other quasi military stuff, part of which was boring, part fascinating to watch. I remember my brother and myself had been warned to be on our best behaviour because we'd be in the V.I.P.s box.  Well we were so well behaved we were criticized afterwards for appearing so stiff we didn't seem to be having a good enough time!  Well what can I say, I couldn't show enthusiasm I didn't have but I had a good enough time, pretty much, apart from the boring parts when I was probably half asleep haha!

Another event I remember was the Benson and Hedges show jumping tournament which featured Prince Phillip back at the time he and Princess Anne were still together.  I was there with the vets in case anything should go wrong with any of the horses.  To everyone's relief their services were not required but I did get to see the princess (dressed herself in riding gear) standing not far from us by the entrance to the arena and watching her husband.

One of my other favourite places in the Cardiff area was St. Fagan's folk museum. http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/stfagans/

I've been here many times, and much as I appreciated the history I really loved the lake with its red crested pochard and swans, as well as the lovely scenic grounds. I took Sarah there on our visit when my brother was getting married, and she was amazed at how many robins were about the fences.  We also got in trouble for accidentally tripping the security in the manor house!  I also remember taking Jill Pearson and Jill Dance there- it is such a lovely and varied walk with so many fascinating things to sea from Celtic harps to looms in reconstructed cottages it's just perfect for a day's outing and picnic.

Not far from St. Fagans is the river Ely and its valley,  another place I enjoyed hiking from time to time.  I had one rather nasty memory from there.  I'd gone there birdwatching with Rhodri, a friend of my brothers, when we were shot at by teenage boys with air rifles.  Naturally my first instinct when I heard the zip of the pellets in the grass around me was to run for it and that we did, but then my fury at the situation made me want to confront them.  I also had the feeling they didn't really want to injure us, just scare us. We waited at a bridge till they caught up, then I gave them a piece of my mind.  I didn't think I did so well though, my voice was perhaps too shaky.  After I'd said my piece I turned my back and walked coolly away. And got shot in the leg.  Dang, that made me jump in the air and run, I felt like an idiot. Rhodri ran too till we were out of range. Then we walked to St. Fagan's police station and got the cops out on them. They were very nice to us, but I was in a really p'd off mood at the time, partly resenting the fact that Rhodri, being quite a bit smaller than me, was not much use in the situation - hardly his fault obviously.  The back of my thigh smarted a lot, had a mark, a bump and lots of red skin but no real penetration, my good denims had prevented that. Rhodri had been shot in the side of the neck and had a graze, and was naturally a bit traumatized. This made me all the more furious.

Rhodri was the son of a local cleric and a very good friend of my brother as I mentioned.  My brother would go to his house many times, right at the end of Fairwater, and it was there he found a couple of slow worms, a kind of legless lizard.  These he brought back to our garden and released with the winning argument that they would consume the little slugs that attacked mum's roses.  We caught sight of one of those lslow worms about four YEARS later so were happy they stuck around!

Another favourite haunt of mine was Ferry Road, down by the docks, an awesome place for birdwatchers especially in the middle of winter. Who cares if the temperature is below zero if you can go just two miles downriver from your house and see oystercatchers, shelduck, and an assortment of waders?  This was a long time before the waterfront was developed into a modern popular spot. I had to be gratified at the aerial view at the end of 'Torchwood' when I could point and say, " oh great they kept that bit of saltmarsh, and flats right down there to the left!  Wonderful, the shelduck etc.  can still come! "

I actually heard about the development of that waterfront from a Mother Superior I met in a bus on the way to Tel Aviv way back at the end of the '80s. I was taking Sarah to experience waves for the first time, she was a toddler back then, and found myself sitting next to a wizened but charming nun.  By amazing coincidence she was from Cardiff and this naturally led to news of the city. I knew that dad had a big hand in administrating the work out there and it always amused me that the fictional headquarters of Torchwood were supposed to be underneath all that.  I'd love to visit back there again just to meet John Barrowman!  It was also somewhat fun to see him at the top of the Norman keep at the castle and then show the kids a pic of Sarah in front of same Norman Keep-  the irony being that in the show it was probably just a film set and he wasn't there at all at that time.

I already mentioned Garth mountain, with its gorgeous oak forest and buzzards gliding under canopy and over bracken covered fen, and the Wenallt on the other side of the valley. Guarding, so to speak,  the river passage to the north,  was Castell Coch http://www.castellcoch.info/, a charming little castle that has special significance for my family for the simple reason that my brother chose to get married there back in 1999.  Paul's wedding to Elizabeth Munn was very special and memorable, the castle surrounds graced it with dignity, class and meaning. I was so moved I had to thank the officials that presided over it for making it all so nice for him!  Paul always loved the cool times of year and the beech woods outside the castle were a crisp zero degrees and quite magnificent.  We took photographs until I felt my toes would freeze off!

Less pleasant memories were the burglaries we experienced. Since our house faced a huge British telecom building, burglars felt secure in actually forcing open the front door. They knew they would not be observed by neighbours in that location.  I felt violated, seeing all the stuff cast off my shelves. Many houses in Llandaff were burgled in those days because it was a nice upper middle class neighbourhood and a juicy target for lower income hoodlums, most probably from Ely down the road. We heard of people whose inner doors had all been smashed through by house breakers.  My folks did get around to installing a security system not long before my mother passed away,  but before that she had a few strategies in place if we all had to leave the house.  She'd leave the radio playing to give the impression someone was home, and she'd leave a five or ten pound note on the table. This was just quick bait.. she figured if kids were breaking the house they'd rather take the easy money and leave rather than enter bedrooms and go through stuff.  Mum lost some of her jewelry but not much else was gone. They were wasting their time in my room.

Another bad memory was concerning the moth trap.  The moth trap itself was pretty cool.. it consisted of a very bright light which attracted moths to fall into a container below.  The mouth was considerably narrower than the space inside and the idea was that moths would lay eggs on the eggboxes within so that we could raise the young.  My brother was very much into moths back then, even ordering the shipping of pupae of elephant hawk moths to our door.  While we attended the moth trap I was suddenly aware of a nasty pinging in the grass around.  I recognised it right away, I'd been through that already with Rhodri!   Someone was shooting at us from the terraced houses over to our left, the nerve of them!  We moved indoors fast. Problem was it was impossible to locate the shooter in the upper windows of that tight row of  houses, could have come from any of them and they were remaining hidden of course. Damn snipers!

One of my saddest memories concerned my mice.  Some time in my upper teens I decided to breed mice. I'd obtained a male and three females which I called Willow (the male), Rowan, Hazel and Sycamore.  Rowan and Sycamore proved ridiculously fertile and founded an entire dynasty. Hazel seemed to be barren and developed a huge breast tumour. I had to euthenize her.  I kept track of all my mice, drawing pictures, keeping a log, making observations.  I saw that they all had personalities.. Juniper seemed very bright, outgoing and loved to explore whereas Spruce seemed rather dimwitted. Apple the Second (I hardly remember Apple the First) was all male, jumped on all the females and started scraps with the males until I had to separate him from the others, I felt sorry for the females in particular-  until I found a pregnant female in his isolation cage with him. Obviously she'd found him so attractive she wanted to be with him even in her present state and had squeezed her way in.

I learned that mice only stay in cages when they want to. If they really don't they'll simply squeeze their way out. I learned that baby mice open their eyes at ten days and as soon as they can see they're running and jumping about, and can already climb from the ground to the work bench, three feet, supporting their tiny weights on grappling hook like claws. I learned to pick them up in the middle of the tail and play with them, and don't remember them ever biting me. I loved them.  I learned that population pressure can cause increased aggressiveness and much nasty infanticide. I took to humane culling of most newborn mice to avoid future problems. At that age they're just pink wrinkled jelly beans, blindly and softly clicking in the palm of my hand. Schoolmates expressed shock at this and frankly I hated doing it but it had to be done, the alternatives were so much nastier. I hated cleaning the cages, I hated the smell from the male urine but got to the task as regularly as I could, given my low energy and the burden of school work.  It was clear I hadn't kept up enough as dad hated the smell far more than I did, and had a weaker stomach. The mice were kept on a large work bench in the garage and dad had to endure their proximity twice a day. It was making him heave.  One day I came back home from school to dead silence. All the mice were gone. Mum denied knowledge but was not meeting my eye. I knew that they must have disposed of my mice somehow but they weren't giving me any details, who or how.  I just had to get over it.

My parents very much supported respect of each other. If I was ever cheeky to mum, dad would turn into a living thunderhead. He'd give me a piece of his mind, demand I apologize and exile me to my room in penance. Then a while later when I didn't emerge he'd often come up and make sure I was O.K. and try to reassure me that they weren't too angry with me, try to smooth it all over and leave it behind. He would not tolerate any cheek but he was a softie at heart.  Mum said when I was a little kid he'd become angry at me and gave me a slap. When he saw the red mark of his fingers on my skin he felt so bad he never spanked me again!  I think mum spanked me a lot but I hardly remember it, she stopped when I was pretty small, and resorted to wide eyed scolding, most of which I must have tuned out to some extent because I don't remember a word of it, just the fact of it. That was back in Heathfield drive.  Later,  scoldings declined into pointed remarks of exasperation and very brief exhortations to consider others. I don't recall any lectures or rants.

When dad was due to return from the office, mum had us organized.  One of us had to go open the garage door, one of us get his slippers and another comfort or two ready , I forget exactly what. I considered this fun and liked doing it because I enjoyed dad's smiles of appreciation.  He always took great pride in any of our achievements, and, as I said, was willling to drive me to meetings and friends and such, even at times very difficult for him, (such as 5.30 a.m. on a sunday morning). he might grumble about it but he'd do it out of love and support for his kids' interests.  He staggered me one day by expressing his belief that there is more to local government than natural history.  I told him, rather coldly, that he vastly underestimated how much there is to natural history.  He simply retorted that I underestimated how much there was to local government. It was a stand-off. I felt frustrated, and my loves,  undervalued,  And yet, this was the man who'd built me a study rabbit cage and drove me to every meeting, how could I be mad at him with all this support?  I swung between anger at his attitudes, the loss of my mice, the lack of understanding, his apparent disdain for my interests and the paradoxical huge support he gave me for them.  My pocket money allowance was very modest and that was fine with me but dad was generous when it came to shelling out for particular things I wanted.. membership to the R.S.P.B. books, binoculars, camera equipment.  He would scorn my hobby while he was showing how much he wanted me to be happy. That was difficult to deal with at times.

Of course as a teenager I was going through the typical idealism of youth. Dad had said wryly that he'd be a Trotskyist if he hadn't got so involved with the establishment. He really did understand where I was coming from and he never lost his northern Protestant working class ethic. At the same time he scorned the leftists he'd encountered because of their short sighted lack of perspective on many issues. They tried to bother him in his office almost every day with demands for reforms, complaints against city hall. His entire career was dedicated to trying to please most of the people most of the time and did this very conscientiously.  He was entitled to more leave than anyone else and took less, simply because his presence in the hot seat was needed, whether it was a Taff flood emergency, the visit of the Pope or all the other humdrum issues of city administration. It was a huge responsibility and one that he managed with the help of his cigars or a bit of drink. He simply didn't have the time for any healthier way of dealing with that much stress. When he finally developed pancreatic cancer at the age of 71 (though he' dalready been retired over ten years) I think everyone was surprised he'd made it that long and attributed it natural northern toughness.  Well dad forced me to consider the relationship between experience and smartness especially in politics and economics. After a good long think I had to concede that the wisdom of his experience gave him a valid perspective of matters beyond my ken, even if he was woefully ignorant of certain aspects of the universe that fascinated me.  I also acknowledged that he had probably totally fulfilled his own potentials, something many have not accomplished.

I had to admit I admired the man, even if he made me furious at times:)


Ethnic diversity in Cardiff has increased greatly over the years.  Since the city is a port and at the estuary of three rivers, (the Taff, Ely and Rhymney) settlement has always been attractive.  As a port Cardiff has declined somewhat since the anthracite coal mines of the Rhondda valley ran out of coal for the steelworks by the coast. Tourism increased instead, the city's castles, the new millenium stadium and the beautiful green core have all made Cardiff a desirable place to live.  Welsh culture of course was always important and Welsh language greatly promoted.  Howells had an O level program for Welsh though I was never in it and only ever learned a few words of Welsh. My brother arrived in the country at an earlier age and was required to take Welsh. He went on to take the O level which certainly helped his qualifications for employment in Wales. (He is also a superb draughtsman, apprenticed to an architect and so was an asset in city planning, but that is another story).  I was mildly annoyed at some of our teachers who would speak in Welsh to each other if they didn't want the anglo girls to understand them. I'm generally not bothered by people speaking in their own language but those physics teachers were already annoying.  Otherwise I appreciated Welsh culture and managed to fake the Welsh national anthem with gusto.

Probably Cardiff's most famous ethnic star has been Dame Shirley Bassey whose father was Nigerian and mother, a Yorkshire lass. Ms. Bassey was raised in the notorious 'Tiger Bay' neighbourhood near the docks and is now probably best known for her James Bond theme tunes.  Cardiff also has a thriving Jewish community of several thousand souls. The old shul used to be on Cathedral road but was abandonned (since converted to a mosque I believe) and the new and handsome building is now located in Cyn Coed in the north part of the city. This area has been jokingly called 'Cohen Coed'  due to the high Jewish population.  When I was staying there on visits kosher food was no problem at all. I had obtained a little book which told me which products I could use from the general supermarket and generally bought canned fish and fresh vegetables and fruit. Some of the latter was imported from Israel so I had to ma'aser it. In addition a caravan would come each week from Birmingham with meat, bread, cheese, butter and milk ('halav Israel) and a nice variety of Jewish deli delights. I had my own pot, cutlery, dishes and and frying pan and ate pretty well.

The Indian population is thriving and most noticeable when the sweet chestnut trees in Bute park are ripe as they can often be seen gathering the nuts.  They are as far as I know, the only group in Cardiff that knows how to use these in their cuisine from scratch. Now many of the corner groceries have been taken over by Pakistani families. When I was there I'm sure it was Welsh owned - my dad would send me there regularly for the torturous job of buying his hamlet cigars, but when I went back for a visit the gentleman in charge was either Pakistani or Sikh and the shelves were stocked with many unfamiliar boxed products. I was at a loss to find anything I could use.

Another ethnic change I witnessed was the take-over of the 'chippies'.  Fish and chip shops in South Wales could never match the quality of those in Lancashire in my honest, though perhaps a little biased opinion. Therefore I considered it no great loss when these were largely taken over by immigrant Chinese families and became 'Chinese chippies' , an idea I always found highly amusing.  They still sold fish and chips but they also made egg rolls and other oriental dishes.  Most of this happened while I was already in Israel but my brother told me an anecdote that sticks in my mind and tickles my ribs.  My brother had just received his order of chips when one of the cooks asked him 'sore finger?'   My brother was totally baffled by this and asked for a repetition. 'Sore finger, sore finger!?'  Realization dawned. 'Salt and vinegar' ,  of course!  Almost everyone in the U.K. eats chips (french fries) with salt and vinegar though ketchup is also popular.


Copyright © 2008 Gila Atwood

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