Tour Diary: Cardiff (UK / Day 5)

Salty Snack of the Day: Nothing at all – food was a bit thin on the ground today.

 Britishisms Heard Uttered: Skiving off – Lisa was talking with a young woman who is of the sort that seems to exude joy, always laughing raucously, in the front room of the Crescent. For some reason began telling a story of school days during the time the gym teacher expected them to run laps. She and a friend were always forging notes and “skiving off.”

 Birds: Mute Swans – Again not particularly unusual except for their shear numbers on the rivers in and around Cardiff.

I walked around the York neighborhood of our host on a perfect sunny morning and found a lovely park with a small canal and various fetching features. As I was walking along most people did not make eye contact, but when a very old gentleman came along on a scooter he looked right at me so, I bid him a good morning as per tradition. His face split into a broad smile and he proclaimed, “Ah it’s a grand one isn’t it?” That started my day off right.

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It was a long drive to Cardiff and at our first stop Ollie said the van was acting wonky so he called a mechanic to take a look. Within ten minutes a yellow AA van pulls up. What the hell is this? How is such service possible? And then the man gets out and is so jolly and downright silly that we were all under the illusion that we were already fast friends. He proclaimed the van fit, and although that wasn’t exactly true, when we asked to get a picture with him he bent over and began patting the engine saying, “ Better look busy then hadn’t I?”

For weeks, or more likely months, my son and I had been discussing the fact that Dr. Who was filmed in Cardiff and that the official Dr. Who museum was located there. He is a fan, as so many of his age are. He’s drawn me in as well and promised I would do my best to get there. With traffic and the engine troubles we arrived in Cardiff at 4:00. Everyone was kindly willing to run out to the museum but when we looked at the itinerary we were intended to load in at 4:00. I was sad to let him down, but the shows are the reason we’re here and sometimes that’s just the way Bruce Hornsby is.

Cardiff on a Saturday is apparently already a lively place, but this day in particular promised to up the ante. The Principality Stadium was hosting the four Welsh rugby teams in a two game tournament and we were told 70,000 people would be showing up. Unfortunately this meant that the road leading up to our venue was closed and we would have to carry our gear about half a mile. The promoter had rented amps so all we had to carry were guitars, cables (leads) and whatever merch we could manage. Cardiff made an impressive first impression with the Natural History Museum, Town Hall (I think), and directly to our right the Cardiff Castle. It was quickest to cut through the park surrounding the Castle so we followed the moat (I know! Right?) and humped our way to the Moon Club. As we waited for the door to be opened a group of lads who had obviously been drinking all day offered Lisa a hot vodka. There didn’t seem to be any saying no so she and Joe split it. Apparently it’s habanero infused vodka and hot as hell. The made fun of us, but then much more quietly admitted that it had kicked their assess too and that was why they were so willing to part with one.

The venue was standard dark sticky box, spray paint decorations, lights all flashy for the DJ’s etc. The stage was again very small. John’s stool was all but hanging off the stage and I was facing sideways all night. We carried the incredibly heavy road cases containing the rented amps up two flights of stairs and then the sound man informed us he was going to play some music to get the system ready. He went behind the sound board and the apocalypse erupted. The initial sound wave caused a small cascading ripple in the trod upon filth on the floor. Almost simultaneously the pressure wave staggered us backwards. Not wishing to appear weak I pasted a look upon my face I hoped would give the impression that I had just remembered something, that however regrettable, demanded my immediate attention elsewhere. Slowly but surely the rest of the band wandered out, all with the same incredulous question. “Why has he got the music so loud?” After the third full song my spirits began to sag. When finally we began to soundcheck properly he worked with a steadfast, unhurried manner that either indicated a profound dedication to God and country or a plodding incompetence. For some reason as we moved into the third hour since our arrival I began to feel panicky and hopeless. When soundcheck finally ended I just left the band and went in search of food. I realized I hadn’t eaten since morning and was famished. Cardiff has a huge variety of vegetarian restaurants. Far more than any we’d seen so far. Unfortunately the lack of meat must tire them out so much that they all closed at 6:00. It now being 7:00 meant I wandered for half a despairing hour before I found a burrito.

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Thus revived I began my exploration of this beautiful city. Immediately I began to notice large groups of people engaged in hen-dos. Bachelorette parties to us. Apparently it is tradition to come to the city and send the brides to be off grandly. I saw a man in full bridal gown, more enormous inflatable penises than I wanted to count, women from grannies on down lined up to enter a building painted in fuchsia with garish lighting that promised experiences I will forever have to leave a mystery. I saw an entire bridal party in full Disney princess costumes. Mix into this the rugby match letting out and the streets were a riot of happy people. I moved towards the Castle hoping to get a peak inside but it was closed. The adjoining park was open however and just beautiful. The trees and flowers were just different enough to reinforce the feeling of being in a different place. I walked along the canal, wandered through copses of fantastical trees and then, with feet that were now beginning to complain with every step, made to head back to the Moon. I was somewhat impeded in this task but the huge wooden doors that were firmly locked. I look around and saw a sign with a clock indicating the park had closed 15 minutes prior. No bell ringing, no polite announcement, just silently and implacably closed. I looked at the high walls, moats, canals and various other classic impediments to movement and thought, “Oh for fuck’s sake.” I looked around and saw a few other stragglers who seemed not only calm, but possibly entirely unaware of the disaster that had befallen them. I began to walk back into the park and spied two skateboarding youths moving with some purpose, so I decided to follow them. When they got to the next set of big wrought iron gates they clambered over like teenaged spider monkeys. Since I am no longer either of these I continued to travel the outer perimeter wondering at what point I was going to have to inform the band of my predicament. I had, with the false firm conviction of a man not being quite honest with himself, decided I would indeed scale the next set of gates if needs be. However, anti-climactically upon approach there was an obvious path tromped through the brush to the right of the gate and I scampered out like the tenth child of a Catholic mother.

IMG_2243I got back just in time to set up and off we went. We played to probably 40 people, which felt just fine. At the end of the show they were all shouting out songs so once again there was the surreal feeling of being so far from home and yet preceded by our music. The sound was spot on. Ollie said easily the best of the tour. So it is good to allow people their own way of doing things. It’s hard to complain about a man who is thorough, conscientious, and skilled at his job.

If I were to complain, however unbecoming that might be, it would have to be about the men’s bathroom. The stickiness of the floor was not only noisome but required conscious effort to move one’s foot from place to place. Still, that was nothing compared to the smell. When you entered you would began to swat at the air as if being set upon by some unseen attacker. The best I could come up with was as if the entire urine output of say, a Wembley stadium audience attending the World Asparagus competition, was boiled down in a pot on the stove into a syrup, and then liberally applied with a spatula to the inside of your nose.

The streets outside were wall to wall revelers and everyone was in high spirits, perhaps even figuratively as well. I saw no poor behavior except one lout verbally abusing a street musician. As he wasn’t a mime I saw no need for this. The women of Wales are apparently impervious to the cold as the de rigueur outfit for all ages was a very short skirt, very high heels and no coats. The men all had coats, jackets and scarves so take from that what you will. I don’t know how to describe it, and I loathe broad generalizations, but there did seem to be a national character evident. Whether physical or cultural, or more likely much deeper than either, you can tell you are in a country separate from England. I felt as if these might be the people God would call upon to rebuild the world if it were to collapse in upon itself. And that they might just tear it down in celebration all for the chance to do it all again.

Tomorrow is London.