Thursday, 9 March 2017


Everything seemed to be in flux back in September, 2006. I no longer recognised nor understood either the world nor my place therein. My landlord was dead and I was on borrowed time, the sole occupant of a house without an owner. I'd been told to continue paying my rent to the solicitor who was handling my landlord's affairs, but no-one had told me what was happening or what would happen. I was usually in Mexico at that time of year. Twelve months before I'd been over there with Rob Colson and we'd celebrated my fortieth birthday in Oaxaca, but now Rob was getting married and I had a girlfriend and it was all spinning out of control. I couldn't get a handle on things. I was just biding my time, seeing where the cards fell.

Marian wanted to visit some place called the Centre for Alternative Technology. This was supposed to be us getting on a train and going off on an adventure, but it all sounded a little dry to me.

'Aren't you interested in renewable energy sources, Lawrence?' This was the kind of question she habitually asked, phrased so as to coax you into giving the answer she was after. It was cut from the same cloth as so don't you care about the little children?

It turned out that the Centre for Alternative Technology was in Machynlleth, Wales at the northern tip of Powys, so I said okay because I've always liked Wales. The presence of mountains is usually enough to swing it for me.

We left from Euston station on Wednesday the 20th of September, according to a bank statement somehow still in my possession. We found a bed and breakfast, one I am unable to locate by looking at a map, but which I suspect may have been situated along Heol Y Doll because I recall the window in our room affording a good view of the hills to the south of the town, overlooking the fields on the western side. The bed and breakfast seemed to be huge, many floors and with a room tucked away everywhere you looked. Marian was unhappy with the bed in our accommodation and announced that we had to change, which meant that I had to do something about it because I had a penis, making it my job despite that the bed seemed fine to me.

Day one was the Centre for Alternative Technology which meant walking a little way out of town and catching a bus. It was basically an old farm up in the hills turned over to windmills, waterwheels, solar panels, demonstrations of composting and so on. The public get to walk around, and if they're interested in renewable energy sources, they will almost certainly have at least as much fun as Marian did. Personally I found it okay, undoubtedly worthwhile, but not actively fascinating. Marian took her time, stopping for rests, reading everything that there was to be read and pushing every button on every interactive display that there was to be pushed. We were there four or five hours, which seemed like a lot to me. Our approach to the exit became one of those exercises in mathematical philosophy where one is forever crossing half of whatever distance is left to cross. I bought a mouse pad recycled from pulverised orange juice cartons at the gift shop to use up some time, then came back to find Marian still giggling and pushing buttons to operate animated displays designed to educate the under tens.

Eventually we escaped, and ate, and I suppose we must have found something or other to talk about for the rest of the evening.

Next morning, I got up early and went out for a walk. I followed the main road south out of the town, then followed a path up into the hills. We had ascended this same path on the first afternoon, fresh off the train, but I wanted to go further and without stopping. It took me about thirty minutes to get to the top of the hill looking down over Machynlleth and across the Dyfi Valley. I could see our bed and breakfast. In fact I could see the window of our room - which made me happy, possibly because it was far away.

I celebrated by smoking a fag and my phone rang.

'Where are you?' She sounded pissed off.

'Look out the window. I'm on top of the hill.'

I waved.

'Can you see me?'

'Yes.' She didn't seem to appreciate the novelty.

'You sound pissed off.'

'I didn't sleep very well. This bed is as bad as the other one.'

I trudged back down to the town and we had breakfast at the White Lion. The White Lion also had a room going, so we were going to switch accommodation rather than move to a third room in the other place, but first we had things to do and sights to see. Marian wanted to return to the Centre for Alternative Technology and do it all again.

'But we went there yesterday,' I countered, not unreasonably in my view. 'We spent four or five hours there.'

'I thought you enjoyed it?'

'I did,' I said, genuinely bewildered, 'but why would we want to go again when we were there only yesterday?'

Marian went on the defensive. 'You know, Lawrence, I'm fairly sure that I told you I wanted to come and stay in Machynlleth so we could visit the Centre for Alternative Technology.'

'What? Every fucking day?'

I wasn't backing down this time, and she grudgingly agreed we would travel by rail to a town called Borth, the appeal of which was that it was on the coast, had a beach, and there was some kind of animal sanctuary nearby. We returned to the bed and breakfast, rearranged the contents of our backpacks accordingly, then set off. Borth was pleasant but not particularly memorable, and the animal sanctuary was nice enough but the weather had turned cold.

'I'd like my cardigan now, please,' Marian informed me.

I had to ask what she meant.

She explained that her cardigan was in my backpack, and she would like it now because it was getting cold.

The cardigan wasn't in my backpack because I'd taken it out back at the bed and breakfast, having assumed I'd somehow picked it up and stuffed it in there by mistake. Marian explained that she had put the cardigan in my backpack because there was no room in her own, and that I should stop messing about and just give her the damn thing because it was getting cold.

'No really, I don't have it,' I said.

'Why not?'

'Because I took it out, because I didn't know why it was in there. Maybe you should have told me you put it in.'

'I have to explain every simple little thing to you, now? Is that how it works?'

I should just have said yes. We caught the train, following a long walk on an increasingly chilly beach back to the station. Neither of us said a word. I made overtures but Marian refused to speak to me, even to look at me. My crime was too great.

That night we stayed at the White Lion, which was nice because it was an old half-timbered room with wonky floors and a television so we could watch Pobol y Cwm. We had a couple more days, so we ate at restaurants and went for walks. It was okay. It wasn't the worst holiday, but I've had better, and the world still didn't make any sense when we caught the train back to London.

1 comment:

  1. You know how much I love your Marian stories, don't you. She's amazing. I imagine her sounding like Imelda Staunton