On to Cardiff

Houses in Exeter
Houses in Exeter.

The main challenge with public transport outside of London isn't that it runs off schedule, but that it runs infrequently. Every transfer point adds an average of thirty minutes to your journey. My fastest transfer was, of all places, in Bude, my last stop in Cornwall, while I had fifty-five minutes to wait in Exeter, exactly enough time to get within sight of something interesting before having to rush back to the train.


Devon County looks exactly like what romanticized upper-class pastoral life is supposed to look like. It is beautiful, lush, rolling country, and I kept waiting for someone named Mr. Darcy to appear in a carriage to offer Miss Elizabeth his gloved hand and a coat to tread upon.

By the bus stop in Bude
By the bus stop in Bude.

The English are scavengers of their own history. The main road in Wadebridge traversed a still-serviceable Medieval bridge, now paved, while a series of apartments and offices in Lostwithiel had been carved out of the Old Carriage Works, centuries-old frames fixed with modern doors and windows. The entire country is like an open geological dig, where the only difficulty is determining which bits to label 'historical' and which bits to label 'up for renovation.' There are so many 'bits,' in fact, that some just remain unlabelled altogether, as I would discover in the barrows around Stonehenge.


The Pierhead Building
The Pierhead Building.

I went to Cardiff to visit Socks, my best friend from my Izu days. When last I saw him, I lived in Shizuoka, and he had yet to acquire the house, wife, sixteen-year-old stepdaughter and six-year-old son that he has now. Nonetheless, getting in the car with him, I still felt like I should immediately begin trying to jam a digital 'dummy' tape into the radio so we could play a CD off my Discman. Old habits.

Cardiff has a lovely downtown area centered around the harbor, with the glass-walled parliament building not twenty paces from the sea. I had a twinge of panic at the sight of this poor city planning before rememberng that the UK doesn't get tsunami. For a moment I felt like Breetai marveling at Earth's unpreparedness for orbital bombardment in Robotech.


I will not apologize for geeking out in this case, as the Welsh National Assembly is also about two hundred yards from The Doctor Who Experience, or '£15 of Pure Geek Glee.' It's essentially a do-it-yourself simulator ride guided by Matt Smith, and freaky enough to ensure that at least one child will be wailing. After the ride you can enjoy taking photos by all the TARDISes ('TARDi'?) in the display room, where they even have the real set of David Tennant's control room, with all the exploded bits cleaned up as much as they could manage. My favorite discovery was the Cybermen history sequence, where the first Cyberman head looks like a ski mask with aluminum foil taped to it—which it probably was.

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle
One of the towers is listing
One of the towers is listing. The ten-foot-tall wooden dude is just for effect.

Just north of Cardiff, Caerphilly Castle is the textbook Medieval castle. Built in the 13th century, it is the second-largest castle in Britain, complete with portcullises, gatehouses, murder holes and the nation's first concentric defences. Rather than a moat, it stands more impressively in the midst of a man-made lake. The only problem with it was that the Clanking Death audio-video displays in the various towers utterly terrified one of the children we were babysitting that day.


After spending an evening looking after two four-year-olds with Socks, I became thoroughly convinced that we have such poor memories of our childhoods to save us the humiliation of remembering that we once needed to call in outside help to wipe our bottoms.

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