114. Benches II
There are four benches facing the circular Welsh National War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens. The benches happen to make the four main points of a compass. I don’t know if that is by intent. Adjacent to each one is an ornamental cherry tree.
Among the four benches, my favorite is the one on the west side. I have written about it before. For the last three years, I have continued to frequent this bench. I have visited this bench at every hour of the day and every hour of the night. I came sad; I came happy; I came just to wonder about existence, or something as routine as to think about what to write and how to phrase it. I have sat there wondering why I was not dead. I have sat there admiring life’s insolence to persist. I have sat there making notes for my next essay.
This last visit, my most recent visit, was Sunday afternoon, 27th June 2021. Three of the benches were each taken by a young couple, including my favorite bench. It obliged me to sit on the east bench and wait. The couples were heartwarming and heartbreaking. I was privately cheering them on, while envious of their intimacy.
The east bench is the only one bearing a plaque. It reads, “Richard George Davies, FLT/SGT. RAF”. He was killed in action, 2nd May 1942. He was 22-years-old and is buried in Denmark. I had never sat on that bench before this last Sunday. It is good to be reminded of those sacrifices that resulted in many of us enjoying a privileged life. There is no mechanism by which I can thank my benefactor, Flight Sergeant Davies and many like him, for preserving the good life I get to live.
When my west bench became available, I moved. A small group of graduating students in caps and gowns entered into Alexandra Gardens to pose and be photographed in front of the memorial. And why not? They do wedding photography and fashion photography here. It is a lovely memorial. The hoods of the gowns signified Cardiff University. These were red on the outside, had a white lining, and were edged with royal blue, signifying an Extended Bachelor and Integrated Master. (I looked it up.)
An angel stands inside the Welsh National War Memorial. He is atop a high plinth in a surrounding circle of columns. The angel is holding a sword by the forte of the blade. I suppose he cannot get cut, or maybe it is sheathed, which would be appropriate if the war is over. He points the blade down so the hilt’s simple grip and cross-guard form the Christian symbolic cross, recalling the Cross of Sacrifice. This is a male angel, as made plain by visible gonads, but is said to be Victory. The winged Victory of the Romans, and the Greeks before them, was a goddess.
From my favorite bench, I get a right quarter view of the angel framed between two columns. Above the columns, there is a frieze carved into the stone beam that encircles the memorial. From my bench, I can read only a small portion of it: “YN RHYEL MCMXIV – MCMXVIII” which translates to “AT WAR…”. Many times, I have taken out my carnet and tried to sketch the angel, but I have not had success.
My favorite bench is a perfect place to observe the passing of seasons. There have been times I was prepared to sit there while history unfolded all around. I would never move, watching the buildings being constructed beyond the gardens trying to rise and reach the tips of cranes that stood above them. I wanted to still be sitting there when the same buildings were being torn down. There have been times when I thought I could stay on that bench for the rest of my life. I wanted to be another bronze sculpture sitting on that bench. It would be like the bronze Benjamin Franklin that sits on a bench in the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I, too, could be a fixture of the gardens. Wrens and robins could take turns building nests in my lap.
Then there were the other voices inside my skull suggesting I stay only until I got hungry or it began to rain. Often, I would stay until the last chime of the hour bell of City Hall. This last Sunday, I came out to buy bananas, yet, as often happens, I found myself on my favorite bench. There came a strong breeze and clouds threatening rain, so rather than return home by a circuitous route through Bute Park, I went and completed my errands, buying bananas. But as I was lifting myself off my favorite bench, I thought about how I love this city of Cardiff. It suits all my moods. How do I repay this city for taking me in, cuddling me, nourishing me, and trying to console me? I feel a debt that needs to be repaid.