The month started with a family visit to Southampton to watch cricket in its new and popular form of the Hundred at the Agea Stadium. I was immediately converted. I venture to suggest this is how many of today’s cricket audience would, openly or secretly, prefer cricket to be like: a game of highlights with loads of sixes and fours, running catches and misses on the boundary, frantic run-outs, and majestic stumpings; all slathered in controversy. The event in question was more like a rock or foodie festival as the banging music was rarely switched off and there were stalls around where anything from mushy peas and lobster sandwiches to pale ale and vegan yoghurt was on sale. Live acts were squeezed into all the few gaps: a short set at the interval was filled by Samm Henshaw (Gwen, a fan, told me that); there were DJs, talking heads and vox pops, a rich bonanza of howzat, gorblimey, and hooray. Ella had procured some corporate tickets from a well-known snack manufacturer so she, Gwen, Kay, and I watched from one of several private boxes as the sacred national game was turned into a toon frenzy of high-speed comedy. Ella also fixed it for Kay to meet one of her cricket heroes, Eoin Morgan, who later got a golden duck, although presumably not in consequence. Overall, I was very impressed, if slightly startled. Ages ago, I once watched a test match in which Geoffrey Boycott scored 180 runs while almost motionless at the crease for ten hours and I asleep for some of it. In Southampton I saw 600 runs and 30 wickets in four hours and eye-popping crash-bang action wherever I looked.
Alli and I then went on our annual holiday together according to our new tradition of accompanying the dogs on one of the UK’s islands for the week surrounding her birthday. 2020 had been Hayling Island; 2021 the Isle of Wight; 2022 was Anglesey. The weather for the week had not looked promising. However, staying in Bull Bay on the north coast near Amlwch, we had mostly sunny and dry days, although we were caught in a very wet thunderstorm just as we entered the Dingle Nature Reserve (Nant-y-Pandy) in Llangefni, and the frustrated rain hammered on our hot tin roof almost every night. The holiday was for the dogs – we were simply their carers, so our highlights were visits to beaches: of Llygwy, Cemaes, Benllech; to headlands, Point Lynas (lighthouse), Penrhyn Mawr; and to bays, Porth Amlwch, Moelfre, Trearddur, Beaumaris, Porth Eileann, Church (Porth Swtan), and Llechog. We went out to dinner at the Trecastell Hotel and had take-aways twice (one rubbish one decent). We also twice visited the incredible Parys copper mountain, a bleak but sepia-coloured landscape of oxidized iron and copper, which originally launched Amlwch as a significant town. The man who stumbled on the rich seams did not become wealthy, but he got a free house on the edge of the excavation site for life. His employers and their investors became millionaires (billionaires in old money). We looked over the breakwater and harbour in Porth Amlwch, the making of which I gave four months of my teenage life as a chainboy earning £15 a week in 1975, waving a long yellow rule for ease of theodolite survey, carefully measuring concrete slump factors, and sounding the alarm for controlled explosions in the bay. (I was living real life before becoming submerged in the silvery reflections of Oxford’s spires). We enjoyed jolly postcard-seaside Beaumaris, where we took a boat trip to see the seals, cormorants and shags on Puffin Island (plenty of shags but no puffins), and we hiked and stumbled uncertainly around the island’s craggy northern coastal walk. I doubled my grasp of Welsh vocabulary.
After four days of hiking and stumbling, we drove to the mainland to celebrate Alli’s 60th birthday at a house in Snowdonia with our daughters, who had prepared a celebration by hiring a substantial and comfortable house overlooking the Conwy Valley. On the first night, a five-course dinner of all Alli’s favourite dishes was cooked and prepared by Jessie, with assistance from Ella and Gwen. The following day we all climbed to a outcrop located above the wooded side of the valley, Cadair Ifan Goch (Chair of the Giant Ifan Goch) where Ifan Goch was supposed to have stood with one foot on one side of the valley, and the other on Pen-y-Gaer on the opposite side (the power pose) in order to wash his face in the river. Expecting rain, we were once again surprised by the weather’s good nature. Our daughters had chosen Snowdonia for the family reunion mostly because they wanted to climb Yr Wyddfa. This is exactly what they did on the next day: driving to Snowdon, climbing it (see masthead photo above), then driving back, finishing the day in the house’s hot tub after seven hours of walking. Alli and I were not feeling quite so fit and energetic so we opted for shorter walks with the dogs and an elderly visit to the Bodnant Garden near Conwy. We all met back together at the rented house then went out to dinner in Deganwy. It concluded a memorable and typically generous 60th birthday present from our brilliant daughters to their mother, from which their father as usual also derived unfair but full benefit.
Back at last in England, I more than doubled my daily editorial capacity and settled into a strict daily routine which took most of each weekday, after which I would walk the dogs. My youngest nephew George turned 18. Jessie completed her first triathlon within a gruelling two hours on the Hove seafront while Jurrat, Gwen, Ella and I watched in open-mouthed admiration as she passed effortlessly from swimming (in the sea) to cycling, then to the ‘sprint’ finish. This was preceded by a lightning visit from Ella and me to Gwen’s new all-purpose kitchen bakery in Hove, site of her weekly production of hundreds of cakes for the Brighton café chain Pelicano, described by Time Out as offering “Brighton’s best cakes”. I went to a food festival in Borde Hill where, desperate for some sort of social interaction, I volunteered to take part in a public competition which involved eating increasingly hot chili peppers on a stage in front of a gathering crowd of more than 200 fascinated people. A short time later, I stepped down carefully to muted applause after eating an unusually large Scotch Bonnet in its entirety in the seventh round. I spent the rest of the afternoon improving my sign language. In unrelated news, I joined the local sports centre, signing up for a membership that entitled me to unlimited swimming, and have visited several times since. We were visited by our Belgian friends Laurence, Claude and Sophie, who had kindly come to wish Alli a happy birthday. We went with them in a packed couple of days to experience the tourist highlights of Burgess Hill and Brighton and to visit some excellent local restaurants, a pit-stop at Jurrat and Jessie’s Brighton flat, to Devil’s Dyke (see photo above), Ditchling Beacon, and to the Artelium vineyard in Ditchling. It was great to renew our friendship, already thoroughly seasoned.
The weather has largely changed to damp and wet and we have started to prepare mentally for a colder autumn and winter. So I am
yours, laying out my winter clothes,