I approach visits to OldmaSock in my birth home Swansea, with a strange mixture of melancholy, nostalgia, and trepidation. This begins to set in as I cross the Severn Bridge into Wales and increases to a throat constricting angst as I drive behind the smoking steel works of Port Talbot and into the curve of Swansea Bay. This was once my home, a glorious outdoor childhood of magical beaches, mystical coves, swimming, surfing and a freedom to roam out of parental sight and jurisdiction as long as we kept ourselves out of trouble and our troubles to ourselves. But what followed was years of teenage angst and alienation unable or unwilling to fit in to the required Welsh norm. My parents, proud of their roots, having escaped the '50s gloom of Northern England had created their own little island of Yorkshire in Wales and created in me, a weird hybrid of Welsh passion and temper fired with Yorkshire traits of forthrightness and bloodymindedness. With all the support they needed from each other my parents never felt the need to engage or empathise too much with friends or even family and encouraged us to be independent from an early age. This proved a double edged sword, whilst instilling in us the wherewithal to do what we pleased they undermined the confidence necessary to do it.
|Woodland at Clyne Castle Gardens|
As the youngest child I was always wrong, at the bottom of the pile of family bullying that was constructed of my father at the top, always being right, my mother always thinking she was right, my brother being, at the very least, more right than I was, and myself always wrong. The youngest, the smallest, the most sensitive and most pushed around I learned to defend myself against everyone but my own family where I could never win. When would my time ever come?
Nearly forty years since I escaped from Wales I am still pondering this question and have decided that the only way for me to deal with the madness of OldmaSock is for me to emulate her bossy control of any situation. I have made a plan for the day - trip to Sainsburys in the morning to fill up OldmaSock's bare cupboards and freezer and in the afternoon a wander around Clyne Castle Garden's one of my favourite childhood haunts. I'm hoping to do Sainsbury's on my own but OldmaSock already has her bobble hat and shabby coat on ready for the jaunt. "If you come with me you have to behave sensibly" I tell her "I don't want you messing around and querying the price of everything whilst I'm trying to shop!".
She denies this will happen but I know that this is at least the third lie of the morning along with the second lie about taking her pills (she doesn't as attested by the ten weeks of prescription pills, delivered and packaged for easy identification and daily consumption, which are all stacked in the store cupboard where her food should be). What can I do? The first lie was that she was allowed to eat her daily grapefruit with the pills despite having been told a thousand times that the instructions say no grapefruit with pills. And what does it matter as she isn't taking them anyway. I can't force feed them to her and as OldmaSock is enviably and invariably fitter than anyone else in the family she seems to do well enough without them.
The fourth lie comes as she realises we are driving out of town to the large Sainsbury's instead of her favoured supermarket. "Oooh - we should go to Tesco's, you have to drive miles down the dual carriageway to come back because you can't turn into Sainsbury's!". She has been thinking of any excuse as to why we should go to Tesco's since we got in the car and in my new bossy controlling role with her I smugly turn right directly into Sainsbury's. Once in the shop I have a constant battle - as soon as I turn my back the decent ready meals I have put in the trolley disappear as OldmaSock swaps them for something cheaper and nastier. "Ooh that's expensive" she frets "ooh that's cheaper at Tescos" ... "Oooh we should have gone to Tesco's", "I wanted to go to Tesco's" she whines "I COULD HAVE GOT POINTS AT TESCOS" full blown tantrum. "Well I wanted to shop at Sainsbury's and I collect points at Sainsburys, and Sainsbury's do a brand match with Tesco's which means that if their product costs less, Sainsbury's will give me a voucher for the difference!!!!" I snap.
OldMaSock is by now genuinely upset and my victory over where we will shop seems more than a little hollow particularly when at the till I am handed a voucher for £10.60 off my next Sainsbury's shop as it was that much more than I would have paid at Tesco's. This only going to prove that OldmaSock was right and we might as well have shopped there in the first place!
At least OldmaSock cheers up when we get home and fill up her empty booze cabinet with sherry, gin, Bailey's and for some reason best known to herself "that yellow stuff" Advocaat. BroSock is a bit perturbed by the amount of alcohol I have bought for her but she enjoys the occasional tipple or two and who am I to deny her that?
In the afternoon with frayed tempers soothed we head off for Clyne Castle Gardens. Oldmasock would rather walk around Langland bay but we always do that and I am doing the bossing this time. It's a lovely wander up through the wooded slopes by the meandering stream and ponds where as children we used to play hide and seek under the enormous gunnera - a plant I have loved ever since but will probably never have the right conditions to grow.
|The 'enchanted tower' now seems tiny|
Past the "enchanted tower" which years ago grew up through the rhododendron canopy it's parapet emerging out into the light above. The Chinese bridge where I once posed for the photo below in the days of my misunderstood teenage melodramas.
And then out onto top of the park with its fabulous views (top picture) down the grassed slopes and the wide open expanse across Swansea Bay to the distant smoking steel works of Port Talbot.
As we walk across the grass sodden from an earlier deluge, I am worried that OldmaSock will slip and fall on the mud - perhaps we should have gone for her paved walk around the coast instead. But it is I whose feet disappear from under me as my bottom crashes down painfully onto the soggy, muddy, grass, the damp soaking uncomfortably through my jeans. "Ha ha ha" chortles OldmaSock "at least you managed to save the camera!".
When will my time ever come?