Friday, 21 December 2012

What Mike Tea Learned at Christmas 1975

Back in the 1970’s I worked in a famous gentleman’s outfitter’s in the High Street (I won’t name it because someone is bound to start singing and I don’t want you to do that) Back in the day it was all a woman could do to get her husband to go shopping for clothes once a year. This particular Christmas a young family came in to buy dad some clothes for the festive season before going on to toy shops and goodness knows what altogether.

I don’t recall whether they bought anything but I do remember a desperate wife and mother come rushing back into the shop, followed by her vexed husband and family asking if we had found some money she had dropped..

This was a time when credit cards were not common-place and debit cards hadn’t been invented. It was not uncommon for people to come into town with their money in cash and this is what they had done; a couple of week’s pay, bonuses, holiday money, all in a bundle and now lost at the very beginning of their adventure in the Christmas rush.

Well, we searched high and low but never found that cash and they went on retracing their steps and hoping above hope that some kind soul had found it and “handed it in” somewhere. During the rest of the day we found ourselves periodically going back to the search, looking under coat racks, searching behind counters, even looking in those places out of bounds to customers but nothing turned up.

The look of desperation on her face wrung our hearts that day, moved us to action, and I simply hope they found their money. I learned three lessons from that encounter, the first about life in general, the second about people and the third about me.

About life I learned that some things happen about which we can do nothing no matter how much we might want to do something. The lesson is that we should do what we can and not what we can’t. So often we get in our own way in a futile effort to change the past when the future is ready to meet us with fresh opportunities for growth and redemption.

About people I have learned that everyone, no matter their status in life, can be a moment away from calamity and disaster. An unkind word spoken in haste can be as devastating as a betrayal, job loss is often unexpected and frightening, the loss of all your Christmas money a week before the big day is certainly disastrous when it is all you have. The loss of a loved one…

A sudden turn in fortune can be devastating and people are much more vulnerable than a brave face and a confident step would have you think. We should stop assuming everyone else is alright and show a kindness, be a friend.

Every year when Christmas comes around I think of that family and their unfortunate mother. I learned about myself that I care and think about these things; that’s who I am. Life is too short to go around trying to be someone else. Find out who you are and be that person because that’s who you were made to be.

Have a Happy Christmas and, if you are into that sort of thing, resolve in 2013 to do what you can, not what you can’t, to remember that other people are vulnerable too, and to find and be who you are. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, make some new friends along the way and maybe even make a difference.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Best Tea in Carmarthen–The Old Curiosity

Carmarthen River TowyCarmarthen lays claim to being the oldest town in Wales. There are fabled links to Merlin, and certainly it dates back to Roman times. It stands on the banks of the river Towy and is the capital of the county of Carmarthenshire.

It is also my favourite place to go to get away, a place from my childhood, where I used, as a boy, to visit the cattle market in the town centre (now sadly moved out to nearby Johnstown – the cattle market that is, not the town centre).

In its place stands the inevitable shopping mall that makes at least that part of Carmarthen indistinguishable from any other town. Thankfully, most of the old streets and many of the old names survive.Carmarthen bridge Street


The winding little streets leading to and from the old town quay are there, Bridge Street (right), Quay Street where the museum used to be before it, too, moved out of town, and Blue Street where the bus station is today.


Water Street is where we would go to find Morgan’s Traditional Chip Shop for a slap-up meal of fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar (before the days when we all did our best to live forever), “Established 1934” it says over the door and I certainly remember it from the 1950’s and 60’s.

Carmarthen Old marketThis leads out to St Catherine Street and the old cattle market end of the produce market (left) where you could buy fresh produce at temporary stalls from farmers in for market day. The produce market has moved to its second new home in 30 years, a purpose built indoor affair I haven’t made up my mind about yet. It doesn’t give you the same panoramic view across the central market stalls that the old place had and lacks that old world, Heath Robinson charm.Time will tell no doubt.

Lammas Street is where we used to get off our Eynon’s bus to begin our exploration of the old town, and where we met the last bus of the afternoon home. There was a gentleman’s outfitters there many years ago with a huge Top Hat hanging outside to advertise its business. Although another business occupies the property the hat of fond Carmarthen Lammas Streetmemory is still there.

The street (right) is named for Lammas Day, a day on which the first harvest is celebrated. It falls on August 1st and is marked by bringing to church a loaf made from the first crop of the year. It coincides with the feast of St Peter in Chains, when St Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison is commemorated.

Carmarthen King Street

Speaking of St Peter, Jackson Lane leads up from the market to King Street (left) which leads from Nott Square at one end to Saint Peter’s Church at the other. St Peter’s is not far short of celebrating its 900th year and is a great building with a lively congregation whose avowed aim is “Seeking to know Jesus and to make him known.”

Carmarthen Old Curiosity 1

On that pleasant walk from Nott Square to St Peter’s is a wonderful restaurant, The Old Curiosity (right). On the wall at the back are framed pictures showing the shop when it was indeed an Old Curiosity Shop, filled with antiques, curios and books. The restaurant has kept that old world atmosphere and it is here that you will find what to my mind is the best cup of tea in Carmarthen – along with many more delightful treats.

Carmarthen Old Curiosity 3The menu is surprisingly broad for a small establishment and the food is really good. Nothing is too much trouble for the polite and helpful staff and whether you simply need somewhere to sit away from the bustle of a busy market day with a cup of tea and a snack or you are looking for a good meal to set you up for the rest of your day exploring this old capital Margaret (left) and the others will not disappoint you.

I do like Carmarthen and when I go there I always seem to find my way to The Old Curiosity restaurant in King Street. The tea is delicious – did I mention the tea?