Monthly Archives: November 2019

Parking WIN! The joys of commuting.

I don’t commute to London as a rule, but occasionally I pretend. By which I mean it’s a few days back and forth when work is up in town, playing with the big knobs. (To a Welshman such as myself, that’s code “working with important people” only in a slightly disrespectful way. Please don’t read too much into it. Why, what did you think it meant?)

Our abode is in the middle of nowhere: equidistant Swindon and Hungerford railway stations. A quick squizz at pricing shows that Swindon is almost double the cost for a train ticket and three times the cost for parking. Needless to say, Hungerford is where I meet GWRs finest.

Random precision is in play here: arriving crisply for the 06.36 on days allocated to me apparently scattergun by customers. [Sigh] This has the side-effect of allowing a people watching experiment. As I am here occasionally, infrequently, it’s curious to see who I recognise. Sure enough there are the same folk stood on the same m² of platform for the same train. Poor bastards. Imagine having allowed your life to be ruled by this hamster-wheel. Grinding through this journey, day-in day-out.

(Assuming they live nearby and work in the city; that’s one-hour-ten on the train each way (give or take) plus a drive to/from the station and a twice-daily game of stinky-sardines on the tube. Let’s call it two hours door to door: four hours a day: sixteen hours commute a week. (Being generous here and allowing them to work from home on Friday and take holidays.) Over a year that’s 768(ish) hours of drudgery. Or, put another way, a month commuting. A month! I do hope their jobs are frickin’ awesome. How else could it possibly be worth it?)

Famously intolerant as I am, just a few commuting days here and there drives me crackers. Hence I start to look for tiny wins in order to make the days seem like I am not totally wasting my life. To whit, for London I have a grand total of two nuggets of winningness. One is the amazing Rebecca and her lifesaving flat-whites: Carpuccino: . She graces the station approach with a smile, everyone’s name/beverage and – as aforementioned – excellent coffee.

The other, headline win? The best parking space @ Hungerford.

You may not realise as a casual user of the station*, but there is a pecking order for parking. And one space in particular is a  few country inches ahead.

The sweet, sweet feeling when the headlights pick up the vacant space… Back the car in – this is of crucial importance as we shall see – and take a moment to reflect on how you are winning at life. The daily commuters have their own particular spaces I note. [Does this make me sound stalker creepy?] It baffles me that they do not take the opportunity to make space #1 their own but I guess they have their reasons. (My musing is that the karma of their routine must not be messed with by crazy notions such as parking in a different place. The sky would fall in.)

Today can throw anything at me now because I have already won.

Dear reader, I can see you are bemused. [Frankly, well done for reading this far.] May I (semi*) reveal how this makes it a WIN?

The homeward bound sardine canister barrels westward from Paddington, carefully select your carriage (dependent upon the rolling stock configuration). As the train slows for Hungerford, gather bags, stand in pole position at the correctly judged door, digits poised over the button.

[Heart quickens, senses heighten, you’re alive, a hunter, a creature electric with wit and crackling with fleet instinct.]

The train stops, you press TWO buttons. One, the door opens, simultaneously two, the car unlocks. You take TWELVE strides. (If you’ve got it bob-on it’s TWELVE.) You grasp the handle, you open the door, sling laptop bag into the passenger seat and slide into the cockpit.


The engine fires, the seatbelt clicks, the ‘screen is wiped, engage first gear, nose gingerly forward – minus points for running down any fellow travelers, we’re not monsters – and ease out of the car park.

As quick to do as it is to describe.

Oh, the deep, indescribable, mystical joy of beating the train out of the station!

(On rare occasion I have even edged ahead of the train leaving the town centre. (This bonus win is too much to plan for and is best treated as a cherry on top. Breaking traffic to do so laws doesn’t count.) It can take at least 4 of the 15 minute drive home to stop smiling about how generally excellent things are.)

What a time to be alive.

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Over a glass of something, do ask me about those heady days when I used to nip out a side door at Heathrow Terminal 1 when I commuted to Ireland on Aer Fungus saving 10 maybe fifteen seconds per trip… Cray-zee.

*foolish mortal! You are not a proper rail traveler. You are not a commuter. You do not bear the scars, you do not know of the delays, you know NOTHING. Nuh-THING.

**not a full reveal. Please don’t be offended, but you’ll have to carve out your own commuting win. Imagine after reading this I arrived at the station bleary eyed, full of pre-commute anxiety and your car is in space #1. Imagine.

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Coaltown Coffee Roasters, Ammanford.

In these turbulent, uncertain times it’s oft we encounter something that just ain’t right. Only here it’s in a good way. A very good way. The excellent folk of the Coaltown Roastery host the best kind of surprise.

[Dear reader, I do not mean to decry their amazing people, nor food nor beverages, nor damn them with faint praise: it’s just not the kind of thing you expect in a Welsh backwater.]

Think: that expression you wear when something just shouldn’t do what it does. Bemused, surprised, delighted.

When a 100% electric Porsche gives you neck strain in silence, when you drink cocktails doing origami, when the hipster gourmet coffee roastery you are visiting is in Ammanford, not Shoreditch, not Osaka, not Brooklyn.

Annnnd recalibrate.

Even where Coaltown are located is akin to misinformation. I mean, check their address:  Foundry Road. Y’know opposite Lidl, by the railway track. Almost like that movie moment when the bookshelf swings open to reveal a secret lab’. (No, that’s too much, I am merely trying to share its incongruity but have overdone it. (Damn that extra shot of espresso.)) I don’t recall that documentary foretelling Ammanford as [ahem] ground zero for coffee, do you? I mean Uncle Eddie lived here in the ’70s, lots of industrial revolution activity happened and (post 20th century) closed down here. But coffee roasting as its renaissance? Really?


This locale is not known as a tourist destination yet the place is packed with lunchtime visitors. The barista spoke warmly of getting the enterprise set up right – they 100% have I’d say – and now it’s about creating the right kind of habit. (With it being a caffeine based venture, habit is an apt choice of word.)

I won’t pretend to understand the nuances, subtleties and general zeitgeistiness of coffee, but am happy to be an appreciative ignoramus. The coffee was – forgive my technical language – bloody lovely.

The physical setup is an industrial shed of the kind that you’ve driven past a thousand times. Inside lurks an industrial coffee roastery – all steampunk machinery and hessian sacks – with smells and noises to match. Lovely seating, on-trend fittings and fixtures, splendid tableware, sleek iPadish tills, a mezzanine, the on-show wood-fired oven. Attention to detail and no nonsense. Kind of. Confession: another thing which caught me off guard I guess. Namely, lots of Brits, especially – let’s face it – the Welsh, would find all this focus on artisanal eating a tad unnecessary.  To use a horribly dated vernacular, “a bit poncy”. And yet here we are, early November, Tuesday lunchtime, in West Wales, in an ex-coaltown sampling on-site-roasted-and-ground espresso and wood fired foods. We are a zillion miles from the ubiquity that is Starbucks. The place is buzzing, the team are splendid. It’s rather brilliant.

And the scoff? More local lingo – “Tidy mind.”

St David’s pizza: wood fired, with rarebit sauce, Welshman’s caviar – IE: laverbread – cockles, leeks and bacon. No passata on the base. Mmmm. Intrepid Mum sampled the belly pork flatbread with emmental, ham, gherkins and sriracha aioli. (She found the latter unbearably spicy which made her glow rather. How palettes differ: I thought it perfect for drawing out the flavour of the pork.)

Two varieties of single origin coffee with gooey GF brownie to follow.

Me? I’d come back just for the cakeage.

Then, having drank wayyy too much coffee, we splurge in the shop buying ker-ching bags of ready-to-go coffee to drink at home. Along with a jar of suitably expensive/crazy-but-it-might-just-work Espresso Martini Marmalade.

As you do.

Do come round and try some. But only if you bring decent sourdough bread.

And as long as you promise to mail order from Coaltown Coffee.

PS: I am currently sporting a beard. If I become any more hipster, shoot me.

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Origami & Cocktails on a Friday night

“The advantages of simple origami are twofold…”

Tim Vine, Punmeister General.

Of all the Friday par-tay activities, for some reason we’ve never ticked the origami and cocktails box until now. Silly now that I write it, because it’s standard out fayre these days isn’t it?

Isn’t it? Oh. (I am recklessly out of touch mind. Who knows what the hipster/bleeding edge/in-the-know crowd are up to in these crazy times.)

Before we go further, it was a pre-booked one-off event. If you turn up peckish and thirsty with an armful of card next Friday…

We arrive with light trepidation at (firm favourite) Bunce’s on Marlborough High Street on a gloomy November night. Brightening our mood immediately Sophie and the gang provide their twist on Kir Royal: quince juice with fizz. Soon we – a neat ten – are sat round a communal table armed with little more than brightly coloured paper and clueless enthusiasm.

Tutor Ruth took us gently and patiently through some simple origami techniques. Meanwhile Sophie’s team provided surprising and delightful finger food washed down with matching dangerously quaffable cocktails. What could possibly go wrong?

Kir, Disaronno Sour, a Vodka Peppercorn & ginger one, finishing with a Espresso Martini with pud’.

(You’ll note reading the above line that we were quite certain of cocktail #1, less bothered and in the swing of folding for #2, gently pickled and really note caring for #3 and jolted into tipsy 100% awake by #4.)

The food? Wow.

Bunce’s have a way of serving up food combos that your ear says “that just won’t work”, but your palate does little somersaults of joy.

The first was an artichoke soup with added apple and magic. I’m going to have to ask exactly what was in it, but it was given the moniker “Christmas in a mug” by my neighbour: perfect. Next were “cheesy-fish-profiteroles”, then cauliflower cheese balls, duck bites with pumpkin ketchup. The roast new spuds with sour cream arrived as the alcofrolic erects were setting chin. We gorged unselfconsciously on these to soak up the booze.

By now we had a joyous mess of colourful paper sculpture strewn across the table. The mood? Kindergarten-down-the-pub. Hazy appreciation of the art of origami and a conversation about architecture was sensibly interrupted by dessert. Fab’ little apple meringue towers with teeny dense, gooey brownies washed away with a weapons grade Espresso Martini.

No, we are not origami ninjas but, yes, we had a most excellent time.

The peak of the evening came off camera when “our driver” came to collect. G proudly, triumphantly showed a folded piece of primary colour A4 channeling a excited “TA-DA!” This was met with the kind of out-loud eye roll that only teenage offspring can manage.

Suggestions for next time please.

I’ll kick off: “Yoga and Real Ale.”



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