The sheep-shaggers derby

“This is it, this is the big one” my resident sporting masochist kept repeating in the build up to the weekend. I stifle a yawn and feign interest, as this is the person who fills my bowl and knows not to disturb my finely calibrated sleeping routines. To me the idea of mutual arse-sniffing is a distinctly dog-thing, not to be engaged in by 30 self-respecting grown men, under the subtle cover of playing something called Rugby Union. But, on this occasion it seems we are talking the world’s number one all-conquering New Zealand All-Blacks coming to town. I gaze into a mirror and try to remind the unobservant one that the all blacks are always in town… me!

In a failed attempt to avoid all forms of stereo-type I imagine the trophy for this occasion… a startled Welsh ewe being mounted by a triumphalist kiwi. While my in-house hopeless romantic is dreaming of another planet somewhere in a parallel universe, where a Welsh 15 are putting the all-blacks to the sword. However, it is an occasion to behold, as it is not often that a consistently world-beating team swagger into town. As I stroll about the town centre, a mere three hours before kick-off, it is obvious that the forthcoming encounter requires serious preparation, as kiwi’s gather in familiar territory even when on the opposite side of the world.

Kiwi's

Not to be out-done in their own back-yard, the locals of Wales put on a display of national pride… otherwise known as the Max Boyces’ version of a boy-band called Boycezone!

Max Boyces

Everywhere you walk is accompanied by the deafening silence of plastic glasses, as the overlords of health and safety ensure everyone has fun… but with a strange after-taste in the mouth.

‘What about the match?’ You ask. ‘Who needs a match when you have an excuse to drink yourself stupid all day?’ I wonder. For the record, local expectations were high, and it all begins with the usual New Zealand tradition of the Haka

New Zealand captain Tana Umaga (2eR), su

haka_585_486970a

The match quickly develops throughout the first half into the unusual rugby combination of a low scoring ‘cracker’, before the home team twice take the lead in the second half, to set up the unlikely prospect of a ‘haha-wacker’!

But we are talking the world’s number one team here; and for all of the expectations as Wales lead with little more than 13 minutes left on the clock, inevitability strikes… with three tries and no further points conceded the scoreline takes on a familiar, but for this match rather unrepresentative, look:

Wales flags

 

Wales 16 New Zealand 34

NZ Flags

 

 

 

 

 

 

My resident optimist searches for a ray of hope in the repeated gloom, and offers a thought that maybe revenge will be sweet in the World Cup in 11 months time. Until we speak again I have been a bewildered Juno, and feel any such optimistic thoughts belong locked away in the bubble from whence they came. Don’t suffer too much disturbed sleep dreaming of the vision of that Welsh ewe!

[With thanks to BBC News Online for images of the Haka].

Celebration day

It turns out that the president and vice president of my fan club celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary the other day. They even called in for a few minutes to offer me pats, strokes and unsolicited compliments, when it probably should have been me doing that for them… but why change the natural order of things! So momentous was this event that even the right royal Lizzie, queen of as far as she can walk, dispatched a member of her own staff (well it said HM Royal Mail on the side of the van) to deliver a card with congratulations on achieving what ‘ones husband and I’ also managed to do a few years back. It seems the Queen has even changed her dress in the picture on the card, following some televised complaints by some ton-up Tessa’s who live long enough to build a collection of these things.

So how do you celebrate such an event, and what kind of place would match up to the occasion? For all that Cardiff may have to offer the final decision (imaginary drum roll at this point…) goes to the Gwaelod-y-Garth Inn a few miles north of the city in the foothills of the Taff Gorge… a portal into the terrifying spectre of the place known as ‘The Valleys’, comparable only to ‘Mordor’ in the Lord of the Rings.

         The view from the Garth (the rocky outcrop visible from the A470) down the Taff valley towards Cardiff. The Bristol Channel is in the background and on clear days Weston Super Mare is visible

I digress, into territory where no cats played any roles of consequence, so lets get back to the more important subject, me.. oh ok, them. Despite 60 years of saying ‘eh… what?’ and more recently enjoying the divergent tracts of ‘coffee with the girls’ for her and ‘golf’ for him, it seems that there are still a significant enough number of blood relatives and close friends scattered about the regions of South Wales, and even back in my old haunt of London. So it was that a great celebration was organised to bring the tribal elders, the deluded young, and the real young together for a magnificent feast. ‘The Gwaelod’, as it is known by its locals, was tasked to meet the challenge:

Now don’t get me wrong, but my personal imbiber can go off on one occasionally… is it a pub, is it a restaurant, why are the campaign for real ale folks honouring a place that focuses so much on grub? There is a simple answer that I offer in these situations… ‘if the quality of everything is fabulous enough just do less thinking and more enjoying’! However, a point was well made when the range of beers available included London Pride as a guest… even I, as a cool cat formerly of that parish, have to wonder at the waste of a good hand-pump by presenting this particular number. Fortunately, I am told that the regular Wye Valley bitter was adequately complemented by a stellar cast that included the Dark Star Hophead (which my surrogate drinker won’t shut up about since discovering it in a few local hostelries). Apparently the red wines could have done with being served at a slightly cooler temperature, but the gluggers of the Sauvignon Blanc were too busy emptying bottles to offer any professional comment… but the New Zealand economy has sent its appreciation.

Downstairs bar

The real triumph of the evening seems to be the food (and I will try not to go on again about what I find in my perpetual bowl of blandness). I am reliably told, by someone who often appreciates the curves in a walked straight line, that a herd of the highest quality gave of their loins so that the multitude could stuff themselves to the point of synchronised satisfied grinning. The fillet steak at this place was superb, as were reports of the various parts of lambs and pigs consumed in honour of the newlyweds of 60 years previously. As in previous posts of mine, I can confidently report that no vegetarians were harmed at this event, but the vegetables and chips were also deliciously presented, should any meat-avoiders want to attend any similar such occasion (blindfolded of course).

In the interests of financial considerations, I count myself lucky that my paws and fine coat are designed for better things than messing in the murky world of money… yet the satisfied throng seem to be suggesting that ‘The Gwaelod’ is not only a place for fine dining and watering, but very reasonable in its prices. One word of warning though, I noticed on their own website that this place had recently hosted some of the stick-waving bell-jangling bearded types… just when I thought I had escaped the English embarrassment of Morris and his local yocal dancing troupe!

That aside, if you are looking for quality for any occasion I think you will be purring after a visit to this place. I need to do some purring of my own right now to try and get some attention out of my typing staff, and to find out how I get my teeth into some of that herd. To my personal fan club I am still Juno, see you again soon.