53. Bank Holiday, 28th December 2015
It was to be my first cigar since arriving in the United Kingdom. The last one was in August during my transatlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2. In my hand was the green aluminum tube holding a Punch Corona Gorda, a Christmas gift from one of Ms Keoghís nephews Ė Ms Keogh is my more significant other. I had intended to fire it up and, in the absence of a dog, take it for a walk. Nowhere in the flat did we have a box of matches. What did we need matches for? The walk began with the tube in my pocket until I reached the corner shop.
In the United States we call them convenience stores and any one of them will hand over a book of matches for the asking. It surprised me when the clerk requested 35 pence. It was one more obstacle to discourage me from smoking, but I have maybe only four or five cigars a year. It was a small price to pay and smoking should not be encouraged. I was the only customer and the sole clerk had to come out from the back. Perhaps he had been taking a smoking break. I was glad I could pay to compensate for the disturbance.
This was only the third time Iíve smoked an honest-to-goodness Cuban cigar. Or it is the fourth, if I count the one my sister brought back from Cuba, which I donít? That one had been crooked and pinky thin, so dry it burnt my tongue.
My cigar and I continued on to Cardiff Bay. At the corner of Bute Street and James Street or Bute Place, depending which signs you choose to believe, is the first of two 19th century buildings that I have a fondness for. The one is three stories of red brick boarded up and appearing abandoned. It was formerly the Bute Street Post Office and is now being called the Merchant House. The building is fronted with a portico resting on smooth, white columns. Abutting the west side of the to-be Merchant House is the Cory's Building, a five-story building in an Italianate Classical Style. Both buildings are handsome and solid in appearance. I wish to own them. The unrealistic romantic in me would convert that old post office into a publishing house and the Coryís Building into a collection of extravagant apartments for me and my friends. I am addicted to these kinds of ridiculous dreams. They plague my thoughts and distract me from purposeful contemplation of realistic goals. There are signs posted informing the passersby that a developer has other plans for them. I am gratified the buildings are to be preserved and refurbished.
I turned the corner and walked half a block to a new post office, closed because it was a Bank Holiday. I deposited the remainder of the thank-you notes I wrote the night before into the red pillar box standing in front of the closed office. At the Keogh Clanís Christmas Celebrations, I had been blest with too many underserved gifts. (Ms Keogh says, there is no merit involved with Christmas gifts, unexpected, perhaps, but not undeserved.) From the pillar box, I turned back and walked into Mermaid Quay for a pause at The Packet. I intended to take a pint of bitter, first exhausting my cigar and discarding it in the receptacle provided by the pubís door for that purpose. In the brief time it took me to absorb my ale, I watched Grimsby Town score their first goal against Lincoln City on the telly.
Having refueled, I crossed the street to the Tesco Express to stock up on needed things. To this end, I often wear a tattered L.L. Bean rucksack whenever Iím out. I bought three large bottles of Brecon Carreg Sparkling Natural Mineral Water and one large bottle of Comfort laundry detergent, which shows poor judgment because most of my walk was yet to come with this burden on my back. I did not head home.
Instead, I took the waterbus to Penarth. The yellow Princess Royal resembled a barge. Her captain was calling out from the dock that he was about to leave and I could see the boat was mostly empty. Why not? For £2, I saw I could have a choice seat and couldnít resist. This was my first time on the bayís water. Cardiff Bay, formerly a real bay, has been a manmade freshwater lake fed by the Taff and Ely since 2000. The tides are no longer allowed to encroach. I sailed upon the tarnished green water in the company of the captainís affectionate first mate, Bronwen, a black cocker spaniel.
As pleasant as I found the boat ride and its personnel, and despite the rucksackís weight, I decided to walk back. Traversing the Barrage, I saw for the first time what it must have been like before the Barrage was built. On the ocean side of the Barrage the tide had withdrawn and made mudflats visible.
These days, I am painfully happy. I mean that literally. I've been smiling so hard that I've developed muscle aches in my cheeks, particularly at the corners of my eyes. My fat cheeks rise so far, they seal my eyes and leave me squinting, even blinded. At such times, the absurdity of my condition and of being unable to control myself causes me to laugh, which makes it worse.
My happiness is because, after being together thirty years, I still love Ms Keogh. It is her, but it is also the combination of being with her in Wales. Wales is unlike the United States, where it is fashionable with many to appear or act in a threatening manner. In the States, too many folks think aggressive behavior is proof of their superiority. I canít help being happy here in Cardiff, where I am accomplishing more reading, writing, and walking. My life has never been better and I hope the Home Office will allow me to stay. I know happiness canít last, so I intend to make the most of it. My advice, existence is astonishing, focus on it.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.