Walled Up Toilets Are Of No Use When You Have To Pee!

14 03 2011

Monday, the dreaded day arrived; the entire reason for our trip was at our doorstep.  Were we ready?  Could Alannah hold her nerves together well enough to overcome her shyness and boldly plan out her future?  Was I ready?  While we had talked for almost six years about her dreams and goals, this was one of the first steps in bringing them to fruition and aiding my baby girl to cross the street on her own.  Big girl pants and all.

Alannah has always been my nerd child – she corrects me to say geek instead, but back in my day (am I really old enough to use that phrase?) the two were synonymous.  As a little girl she wanted to do everything from fire fighter to doctor to volcanologist – the latter was nixxed when she watched a programme where a husband and wife pair were killed during a sudden eruption.  Then she entered this odd phase where her passion for Ireland started impacting her goals and she wanted to become a member of the military to help defend Ireland’s rights, then that changed to joining the IRA – which was nixxed when she decided that American atheists like her probably didn’t have much ground to stand on in the fight for Ireland’s freedom.  Finally one day she came out of her room and announced she wanted to be an archaeologist.  She was seven and I had learned to bob and nod to her ever altering life decisions, and did the same with this.  She immersed herself in reading and somehow got her name on some mailing list and course catalogues from various colleges began to arrive.  One caught her attention specifically, Cardiff University in Wales.  It was a good school, from what I could tell and financially it was rather affordable.  But she was seven.  So I resumed bobbing and nodding and waited for the next career choice to emerge.

But it didn’t.

She set up shop on the property where the remains of my husband’s old home, destroyed in Hurricane Charlie, had been buried and she called the land Monto City and she employed her sister as her dig assistant.  She began digging up the land and found coins, a spoon and even a bottle of nail polish.  She was hooked.  So now, six years later, we find ourselves with the very serious reality of my baby girl going off to be an archaeologist.  And her school of choice has remained unchanged.  It was time to visit this school and give her a dose of reality – is this really what she wanted?

I had written to the Dean of Admission in early spring of 2010 and as the date neared we firmed up an opportunity for her to sit before them.  A month away from the D-Day he had written to ask if we could change our arrival date to the 14th of March as the university was inviting 25 students to attend an archaeology university day and it would be a great opportunity for her to really get an eye for what the school could offer and what she might truly want to do.  I changed the itinerary ever so slightly to work this out and now this D(amn) Day had arrived.

I’m not ready for my baby to grow up.  It isn’t very mature of me or the sign of a very supportive mother, this I know.  And outwardly I’ve done all I know how to encourage her and keep her focused and I really am proud to be the mother of a teenager who has their life’s goals so well determined.  But…that’s all I will say on that.

She sprung out of bed at 4:45 am today and showered and such.  Dressed so smartly in pinstripe black tailored pants and a crisp white blouse, her hair neatly up in a little bun – she looked so presentable.  The hose she had brought got a hole so she borrowed my black trouser socks and I decided to wear boots under my slacks instead.

Glenn and Kayla would be spending the day exploring Cardiff Castle while Alannah and I sat through the rigors at the university.  A few times over I wished I could switch places.  But I needed to be strong for her, her shyness and nerves were already rattling her.

On the drive out on the M4 we were to loop through a tiny village deemed the Most Beautiful Town in all of Britain, Castle Combe.  Though we spotted no castles, it was certainly very idyllic and lovely, perhaps yes, the most beautiful we’d yet seen.

And, as with everywhere else we seemed to go other than Edinburgh, the nicest people.  A friendly couple walking their dog ducked and paused to allow us to shoot pictures and another lady went back in and shut her door until after we’d taken a picture of her home – emerging afterwards to say good morning and offer her kind wave.  There’s no way I’d be smiling and waving at anyone coming back with large cameras to pull up and take pictures of my house.

We pushed on west and in the distance I could see the Brecon Beacons and soon the cables supporting the massive bridge over the Severn.  I was apprehensive, greatly, in part because of traffic and directions.  We were entirely reliant on Billy since I couldn’t finangle which way to go when I had been mapping the course out by hand.  But Billy didn’t fail us and led us right to the door to the Humanities Building, number 16.

The college was simpler in appearance than I’d anticipated, it could have easily been confused for a rural community college in some small town in Kansas.  But this was only one of many buildings on campus, a campus that comprised most all of northern Cardiff.  We quickly noticed the abundance of bi-lingual signs, Welsh and English, and Alannah commented with fret in her tone for the umpteenth time how she wished she had studied Welsh instead of Gaelic and Latin.  In due time.

We made our way into the building and I began to worry about Glenn and Kayla.  They were alone without my explicit guidance in this confusing city.  It’s funny, in hindsight, because most of this trip I’ve been grumpy when anyone would ask me about a direction or a meaning or a building’s history – as though I were some tour guide extraordinaire.  And now, here I was worrying if they could manage to find a castle bigger than most of the buildings in this town, located only a few blocks from where they’d left us.  How could they ever manage without me?  Oh my ego would take a hard bruising if they didn’t get lost.

Inside the school a lady directed us to a cafeteria of sorts for tea and biscuits until the conference began.  I’d somehow neglected to bring any money with me, so I asked Alannah if she’d like to walk the campus instead.  She was very happy to take in the fresh air, which I promptly began polluting with my fag as we walked.  There was a rail that ran alongside the campus, transporting students to some other distant location, unknown to us.  The students all looked like most any college student and all seemed fairly normal looking – no pink mohawks or facial metal.  (The latter was very relieving for me.)  The minutes seemed to drag on and we finally decided we would go back inside, hopefully avoid the attendant, and go up to the fourth floor where the conference would be.

Unless you know me well, you probably don’t know that I am such an extreme introvert and horribly shy.  My online persona doesn’t resonate that fact very well, but social situations where I have to interact with unknown people breaks my skin out in hives and I’d rather go sit in a corner and be unnoticed.  Alannah is much the same, though she doesn’t suffer from hives.  We were two peas in a pod, completely depending on the other to make it through the next six hours of hell for the greater good.

As we wandered down the hall, a gentleman pointed us in the right direction, unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the same Dr. Guest, dean, with whom I’d been exchanging emails for almost a year.  He directed us to a student who was processing visitors and I gave the boy Alannah’s name.  It wasn’t on the list.  Oh dear god and I’d not brought any of the email prints to show we were supposed to be here!  Then I saw my last name instead, and relief washed over me.  He asked what course she was interested in and she timidly replied – Roman Archaeology.  I hadn’t known there would be a test and the answer she gave was obviously not the right one.

The boy called over the gentleman to help us and I twisted my head halfway cocked over to read his dangling name tag.  Dr. Guest!  Oh whew, a person with whom I was at least kind of familiar.  He welcomed us and sorted out which course we were here to apply for and then showed us to a seat.  Tea and coffee and biscuits were in the back, but there was no way I could bring myself to go mingle with the people back there gathered round the table.  Thankfully we had reading material now and we gratefully immersed ourselves in taking it all in.  Oh look – a postcard!  We each studied it for quite some time, killing the minutes and trying to appear completely too comfortable and occupied to be spoken to.

The good doctor made his way back over later and struck up a casual conversation with Alannah, and I forgot myself and began speaking for her.  I had told myself this was her time and she needed to talk and there I was rambling on.  I stopped myself and let her flounder or swim on her own, the latter of which she managed to do somewhat.  No tears, no sweating, no panicked breaths.  We’re good.

We learned that her plan of finishing through a bachelor’s degree in the states in anthropology won’t likely be suitable as a basis for a master’s degree in archaeology taught in the UK.  The two fields are so terribly different and finding a US school that offers a suitable archaeology course is truly as difficult a challenge as we’d been finding it to be.  That meant I didn’t have the five years I’d thought I would before I’d have to let her go.

I recorded most of the speeches by various teachers and I glanced over several times to see Alannah’s reaction to the work loads and results they were discussing.  She looked riveted.  Which was nice to see, don’t get me wrong.  But all I could think of is three years, five months and fifteen days and she’ll be setting off to go to college so far away that I won’t see her but maybe once or twice a year.  Oh god.

They split us up after lunch, taking the conservation students this way, their parents another, arts archaeology students this way, parents another, and science archaeology students like Alannah this way and myself and a group of 7 parents another.  Thankfully, Dr. Guest was leading the group she was in and I hoped the informal meeting with him had been enough to solidify her into a comfort zone.  She shot me a panicked glance and I smiled the most fake beaming smile there was and watched her walk away.

For parents, we got to hear about pricing and the changes to the UK tuitions, dorm information and why choose their school.  We were given a brief tour of the classrooms and lecture halls and I was amazed.  In one room we saw a twelfth dynasty sarcophagus on loan from a local museum for conservation work, complete with the gauze wrap being delicately sewn to a backboard, in another room we looked at Roman legion armor recently excavated, and fossils in another.  We saw tools and machinery and loads of various equipment and I was truly fascinated by the level of seriousness being taught here – not just working in a dirty field with a trowel and a toothbrush.

Alannah later reported that her group saw much of the same, except they were broken into pairs and had to do various tasks in handling artefacts and she was bubbly with explaining it all.

After the meeting and conference we bid the doctor adieu and set out to walk the two blocks to meet up with Glenn and Kayla in front of the castle.


I can’t count. Or read a map.  Or both.

Two blocks turned out to be twelve and when you have to pee it doesn’t help to find the public toilets have been covered over in bricks and no place in sight that is out of sight to pee.

We found Glenn and Kayla finally and to my ego’s dismay, they hadn’t gotten lost or confused at all.  Not even for the sake of my pride.  They weren’t overly enthused with their tour, though the pictures of it leave me AMAZED so perhaps it just wasn’t all that they expected.

We wrapped up the day by finding a potty in a COSTA and setting out for the remains of a Celtic burial tomb on the outskirts of Cardiff.  It was obvious to me that it had been the home for some wanna-be witches and heathens from the burnt candles, pentagrams and condoms we found scattered about.  But the site itself was really magnificent.

It was referred to in a guide I had read as being a cairn, but this style of cairn certainly differed greatly from that of the Picts in Orkney.  There was a flat slab of stone, great in size as some of the megalithic stones at Stonehenge and likely from a similar place, judging from the colour.  It formed the roof of the tomb while all types of stones were layered up for the walls.  There were also multiple gatherings of similar stones in the general area and I wondered if they had a connection to the site or had been moved out of alignment.  As Glenn commented, they certainly weren’t naturally found here judging from their position and size.

The drive back to the hotel was fairly quiet and calm.  We stopped off at a restaurant called the Fox and Hounds, which looked straight out of some Robin Hood fairy tale, but was actually constructed in the year of my birth.  It was a comfortably casual establishment in Fleet, good pub comfort food and even had a mammoth dog lying at the foot of its master, who was busying himself in a pint.  Outside we spotted the fox half of the duo and weren’t quick enough to snag a picture before it slinked back into the shadows.

All in all, a good day.



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