Transition from Merthyr Vale to Kelowna

Even though I’ll be back in Merthyr at some point, the pre-goodbye goodbyes were important. First, there was the announcement dinner with Canadian Jacquie’s family about 2 weeks before departure. Then on Friday the 9th of March 2012, there was “The Last Supper” with my former employers, Peter and Paul.

Zoe was there, too. Good laugh, great company!

On Saturday, Darren, Toby dog and I went for a lovely walk in Trelewis park, where we happened to see some Canada geese.

On Sunday, Viv came over to the house for a couple of hours to chat and help sort out some stuff.

She took a family photo of Darren, me, and Toby the dog.

Train to Gatwick

On Tuesday the 13th of March 2012, Darren drove me to Cardiff Central train station for the 12:25pm train to Gatwick Airport, via Reading. I arrived at Gatwick around 3:50pm and went straight to the Hilton Hotel, where I met my Loughton friend, Jacqui. We talked into the wee hours, as per usual, about anything and everything… after a filling dinner and a couple of drinks at an airport restaurant, of course! We reminisced about our trips to Portugal, and how life has changed for us in the last year.

We got up at 5:30am on Wednesday the 14th of March and Jacqui saw me off at the airport gate. It was sad, but at the same time, a healthy and happy look toward a new chapter in life.

Flying to Calgary

I usually fly with Canadian Affair, and I’m pleased they’ve gone back to using Air Transat as an airline. Much better than Thomas Cook. The service is excellent, and you don’t have to pay for soft drinks! I watched movies most of the way, but kept an eye out for the views. It was mostly cloudy over the UK and the Atlantic, but when we got over Greenland, wow oh wow!

Just so beautiful!

Leaving the coast of Greenland, it looked like glaciers on the water.

I was surprised to see snow over Alberta. Somehow, I thought it would be as mild as it had been in the United Kingdom.

When we made the descent into Calgary airport I was relieved to see that there was no snow there.

I took the airport shuttle to the Travelodge hotel near Sunridge Blvd for a few hours rest. My room had a view in the direction of downtown Calgary with the rocky mountains as a backdrop.

At 5pm, I met up with Genny and Jeannette for drinks and dinner at Tony Roma’s in Calgary’s northeast. (Genny had a pina colada, I had a blue martini.)

Jeannette had a red wine.

The following day, Thursday the 15th of March 2012, I headed out on the 10:30am flight with Westjet to the rocky mountain interior.

Despite the clouds, I could see some of the dramatic interior rocky mountain landscape as we flew over the Okanagan Valley.

I was still a bit dubious about whether we’ll still be having snow.

We made the descent into Kelowna Airport.

And landed safely in Kelowna.

I got an airport shuttle straight to the new apartment downtown. The apartment is very spacious. Apparently it’s 1200 square feet. It has a second washroom as an ensuite to the master bedroom, which I didn’t even know about!

It has a mountain view in the distance. (Everywhere you look in Kelowna, there is a mountain view!)

There’s a family of mallards that hang out just down the street. They make me smile! I also saw a car with a British Columbia license plate and a Cymru Wales dragon flag bumper sticker on it!

Exploring Downtown

A few short blocks down Bernard Avenue is the lake. I took this picture today, Sunday the 25th of March. It was only 5 degrees celsius, but there were people out walking in their flip flops and sandals, and others sitting outside cafes drinking their coffees. Typically Canadian!

It looks like visitors can take a short cruise on the lake.

There are some historical information boards on Kelowna.

I encountered the infamous Ogopogo (aka Nessie to the Scots).

Walking back on Bernard Street, I popped into a few of the boutiques that were open for a lazy Sunday afternoon trade.

Starting my second week at work tomorrow!

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Twists and Turns

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

— John Lennon

I’ve never been one to plan. I like to do things spontaneously, by whim or whatever feels right at the time. I know that this is not practical, and often not feasible. To be a responsible adult in our society seems to require setting down roots and partaking in pension schemes. It’s building a nest egg, it’s having a life plan.

In my life, it seems that whenever I made some kind of decision to settle in a place or commit to a project, a spanner would be thrown in the works. The result would find me in a new country, an alternate life, so far removed from the direction I was headed in. It has made me tend to float around, indecisive, and keeping options open.

It was only a few short months ago when I was convinced I would live for a few months travelling around Europe. And now, nothing could be further from my desires. Suddenly, Merthyr is the place for me to be, on so many levels. I’ve found my place, my people, and more and more, I sense my niche is slowly kneading out a groove here. While the outcome remains to be seen, it just feels right to be here now. It took 9 years and a willingness to leave forever, to get to this point.

Following a straight path to a well-defined goal rarely runs smoothly. Life has a way of throwing us unexpected twists and hidden turns. Funny thing, I do believe it’s far more fun and interesting in the long run, to just ride the tide. We may not predict where we’ll wind up, but in latter years, I’m convinced we’ll look back (with a youthful mischievous expression) on the many surprising adventures we encountered.

Why Merthyr Vale?

I’ve lived in Merthyr Vale since 2002 (save for a year in Penarth, and 7 months in Cardiff). People I meet here frequently ask, “Why did you come to Merthyr Vale?” There is no short answer, so here is the long one.

In November 2001, my then partner, Darren, and I decided to get away on one of our “magical mystery tours”. Just point the car in a direction, and go wherever it takes us. We aimed west, and as we got to the Severn Bridge, the sign for Tintern caught our attention. We veered left and followed the winding road to this beautiful place. Exploring Tintern Abbey, I had this very deep sense that this was my ‘home’, a place I longed to return. It was intense, committed, beyond my control. (The previous post, Closing the Door on Tintern Abbey, further describes that whole story separately.) We spent 1 night at The Wye Valley Hotel. I remember visiting the castle at Chepstow, and staying in a hotel in Barry for 1 night.

I was completely obsessed with the idea of moving to Wales after that. I just could not settle. Finally, in August, Darren agreed to go on another weekend away there. In my mind, it was to get clear whether Wales was where I wanted to be, or not. We went to Tintern again, stayed at the same hotel. Then drove on to Caerphilly. I loved Caerphilly. To me, it was the perfect place to live: a modern town, with an ancient castle in the centre, and beautiful countryside surrounding. Even Darren seemed to warm to the idea of this town as a new place to live. We ended up in Malvern for 1 night before driving back to Essex.

The Decision to Move to Wales

During the drive home, I remember playing a John Denver CD. When the song Country Roads came on, the words: “Country roads take me home to the place I belong…” triggered such emotion, tears streamed down my face and I knew I had to go back to Wales. As soon as we got back, Darren, who had previously vowed he’d never leave Essex, made the necessary phone calls to his employer and arranged a job transfer to the Cardiff branch within 4 hours. We had 5 weeks to move!

It worked out well, as our house lease was just coming to an end. I tried to work with letting agents by phone and email to arrange a place, ANY place, in Caerphilly to live. No help. We decided to widen the search to Cardiff. We even took another trip and viewed a few places. We settled on a flat, an agreement was approved, and then shortly thereafter, the owner decided not to let. Getting desperate, Darren said to find a place anywhere, just not Merthyr Tydfil. I meditated, and every time I did, all that ever came up was “Merthyr”, “Merthyr”. It whispered, it haunted.

I had an acquaintance in Wales, so I called on him for advice. John said, “You should try the valleys”. Turned out, he’d been living in Bedlinog for about a year, just over the mountain from Merthyr Vale. I can’t quite remember how it happened, but I recall seeing a tiny advert for a house to rent in Merthyr Vale. I asked John to preview it for me. He did, it was fine. I got on a coach to Cardiff, and the landlord picked me up from Cardiff bus station to drive me all the way up to Merthyr Vale to view the house. (When I think about it now, that was quite a thing to do, pick up and drop off someone, 45 minute drive each way, to view a house.)

The house was a Victorian mid-terrace on the side of the valley, with a high wall in front. It had a massive living room, high ceilings, and very old fashioned carpet, golden brown bathroom fixtures. The house on the left was derelict and boarded up. The house on the right was owned by a kind widower named Glynn and his terrier. (Coincidentally, the house we left in Essex, next door was a kind widower named Joe with the same breed of terrier!) The rent was £300 a month (less than half the £650 we paid for a smaller place in Essex). A bit nervous, I signed the lease on 47 Brynteg Terrace. We moved the day before Darren was due to start his first shift in Cardiff.

I was pleased that at least I knew 1 person in Wales. The day we moved in, John phoned me to say he was moving to Cornwall… the very next day! It felt as though, on some level, his job in Wales was done. I was now there, to ‘take over’.

Melancholy

We loved the house, despite its melancholy feel. Through the huge living room window, we looked across the valley to a cemetary. It took me 2 weeks to understand that the cemetary we faced was where the children of the 1966 Aberfan disaster were buried. I soon began a job as a casual library assistant and attempted to ask people about the incident. I quickly learned that there was still so much intense emotion about it, that people were unwilling to discuss it.

Those who know me well, know that I sense the energy of places and 47 Brynteg Terrace had quite a history of family life. Although I could not verify it, I sensed in more recent times there was a woman guardian of a young man who had mental health issues resulting from a feeling of guilt around the deaths of his young relatives in that disaster. The woman had issues of her own. She had never visited the cemetary to grieve.

When John returned to the area on a visit, he insisted we walk up to Aberfan cemetary. A spiritual person (we had mused in the past that we had known each other in a previous life as monks of the same order), John was certain that I had come to Merthyr to perform energy healing of the area. That is why we were in a house that had residue of guilt over Aberfan; that is why we now had to visit the cemetary. I was reluctant, but I knew that if John didn’t drag me there, I might procrastinate forever.

I don’t mind cemetaries at all. I find them rather calm and peaceful. I’ve never hesitated to walk into any. I’ve never felt anything bad in one. The second I saw the first child’s grave, such an intense grieving emotion flooded through me, like I have never experienced in my life! The strange thing was that it was completely impersonal. They were not my feelings. I was like a conduit for previously unexpressed, suppressed emotions. I felt like I was a vehicle through which the entire village was crying for their lost loved ones. I had no connection to any of these people, and yet I was processing their loss through my uncontrollable weeping.

I took photos of every grave. I thought I could commemorate these lives somehow; ensure they were remembered, immortalized. But I later decided it was not my place or duty, in fact very much not for me to do. John was really good about this. He just stepped aside and let me do my thing, somehow knowing that this was part of my purpose for being in Merthyr. He later affirmed that this was a tremendous release for the area. That now, it could ‘move on’ in a more positive light.

Interesting how coinciding with this, housing prices began to climb, doubling in one year, and now around 5 times the price they were. A derelict house now is rare. Building has been rampant. More people have moved to the area as it has become more desirable.

A part of the renewal schemes involved a row of houses, including 47 Brynteg Terrace, being torn down. This is how we were then moved to 42 Mount View in June 2002.

Not Quite Done

When I left my partner early 2008 and moved to Penarth and then Cardiff, I thought I was done with Merthyr Vale. Not so. It felt right to return in January 2010, though I could not entirely pinpoint why.

The Spitfire

If you read my previous post, Closing the Door on Wales, you will come to a part where it mentions seeing a spitfire flying very low, straight towards me. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I took a quick photo as it came towards me, and one when it was directly above. It was so loud, so close, that it filled the entire photo frame. It then disappeared behind me. I thought nothing more of it, until a few days later. I was driving through Mount Pleasant, and just as I drove past the space between some houses, it suddenly hit me: “Oh my God! Oh my God! The spitfire photos are missing!” The 2 shots of the spitfire did not appear among my photos. The gap between houses is where 2 Canadian piloted spitfires crashed in 1941, and underneath the wall on the other side is where the memorial mural is.

Mount Pleasant, Merthyr Vale memorial mural for Canadian Spitfire pilots who crashed here in 1941

When I returned to the house, I looked in the sequence of my photos where the spitfire photos should be. There was only 1 shot, and it was white. Pure white. Empty. Nothing. No data whatsoever. I have never, in the 10 years or so that I have owned this camera, have this happen.

I was told that some modern planes can interfere with cameras. But as a spitfire is very old, this is unlikely. Also, there are only 18 flight-worthy spitfires in all of UK, and the nearest I could find listed on the internet were in south of England. About a week later, I did see a news clip that there had been a 75th anniversary of the spitfire flight from Folkestone, Kent (200 miles away, on the east coast of England) on the 5th of March (the following day). I suppose the spitfire I saw may have been from a private collection, or on its way to Kent? I could find no reports of it. It remains a mystery how it could fly so low in a valley over the abbey.

In any case, it raised my attention to this mural and its history. I remember some years ago when my next door neighbour, Jeff, told me about this commission and its unveiling, urging me to attend. I meant to go, but, well, I didn’t feel comfortable, for some reason. In the back of my mind, I did think I should look into the story, what with it being about Canadians and all.

Well, this is when I learned about that gap in the houses. Funny enough, from my front door, you can see that gap.

To read more about the incident, see http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/spitfirecrash.htm. To hear a first hand account on video, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuuWilKFQU8.

Significance

So what does all this mean? I still don’t know! I’m still here, so I there is possibly still some purpose in my being here. I am making efforts to leave. Sometimes, we don’t fully know what the reason is for being in a certain place. At different times, I’ve been drawn to Australia, Arizona, and Iceland. I remember when I moved to Penarth, I thought I could seriously live there for the rest of my life. When I returned from my first holiday in Portugal, I remember looking out my Penarth window, smiling to myself, thinking: “I’ll be living in yet another country someday.” Three years hence, after another holiday in Portugal, I’ve thought of a temporary stint in London or Essex, then going to Europe. Can’t say why. It’s that gut feeling, all over again.