My coronavirus first: driving to another country

On Saturday, I clocked up a series of firsts. My first drive over 10 miles since March. My first motorway journey and trip to another country – Wales – since lockdown.

I was on my way to see my father, Bob Skinner, for the first time since his care home closed to visitors in March. (I have blogged about that unforgettable visit here.)

I loved the drive – I treasured the time listening to music and Jack Thurston’s Bike Show podcasts. All things I used to enjoy on my daily commute. Working from home has been enjoyable but I have missed these audio moments.

Crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales, the motorway signs proclaimed: WELSH COVID RULES APPLY. It was a graphic reminder that Wales has, sensibly, taken a more careful approach to relaxing lockdown rules. The only reason I was able to make the journey to Cardiff was the scrapping of the Welsh ban on travelling more than five miles, allowing Dad’s Sunrise of Cardiff care home to allow visiting. It was nice seeing the familiar Welsh road signs: gwasanaethau (services), Caerdydd (Cardiff) and canol y ddinas (city centre).

I was very happy to drive the 300 mile round trip to see Dad for an hour (the maximum visit) but thought it would be nice to see something of my hometown after saying goodbye to Bob. So I hopped on my Brompton folding bike, and headed along Cyncoed Road and down Pen-y-lan hill towards the centre of town – canol y ddinas…

The roads were quiet, and I made up my route as I went along, threading through the streets of Cathays and emerging by the National Museum in Cathays Park. Cardiff has closed the roads around the castle to cars, and it was a pleasure to arrive at the imposing gates of the castle.

Entry to the grounds is currently free, so I wheeled my bike in, and enjoyed a few tranquil moments, reflecting on my visit to Dad.

I made my way back to Cyncoed via childhood spots such as Roath Park Lake, and past my childhood home in Winnipeg Drive, Lakeside. My Brompton is the electric version, so it made the climb back towards Cyncoed Road very easy.

I’m looking forward to a longer Welsh bike ride when we’re in Tenby in August.

Roath Park Lake and the Captain Scott memorial

I popped the Brompton back in the car, and enjoyed another easy drive (no queueing past the Brynglas tunnels at Newport). A memorable and enjoyable day.

ITV’s Good Morning Britain features my reunion with Dad

None of us will ever forget living through the coronavirus pandemic. But for me the sweetest memory will be visiting my 93 year old father, Bob Skinner, in his care home, Sunrise of Cardiff, on Saturday. This was our first meeting since February – I was due to visit on 20 March, but Sunrise closed to visitors the day before. (Dad and I had already agreed a visit was not wise given the fast escalating COVID-19 crisis.)

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We meet again!

Mine was one of countless family reunions happening around the country as lockdown restrictions eased. But, unusually, ours was featured on television. After Bob so eloquently praised care home workers on ITV’s Good Morning Britain in April, the programme asked to film him meeting his first visitors since March. Virgil from the Sunrise team in Cardiff filmed my visit for ITV. Then Bob’s granddaughter Ria visited live on Monday’s show. You can see it here.

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Dad and I reunited – as seen on TV!

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All smiles: Bob meets Ria

Ria and I both loved the experience of seeing Bob face to face (two metres apart) after months of Zoom calls, phone chats and emails. I noticed how well he looked – the Sunrise care has done him a power of good! Viewers to the show will have been struck by his energy, enthusiasm and eloquence. (Kate Garraway referred to how positive Dad had been throughout.) He started a blog – Bob the Blogger– about his coronavirus experience back in March, and blogs almost every day. You can read his post about his latest TV appearance here.

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I couldn’t give Bob a hug – that was tough, but I gave myself a gentle hug as Dad came towards me as a symbol of affection. Good Morning Britain presenters Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway spotted that and commented that we can’t give the hugs we want to. Dad said how much better it was to see family face to face. It is the start of better times.

Kate recalled Dad comparing the coronavirus crisis with the Second World War during his earlier GMB interview. Bob explained the key difference today is we are fighting a totally unknown, deadly enemy, and don’t know how to deal with it. He discussed this contrast in more detail in a blog post yesterday.

Dad talked about how happy he has been at Sunrise. It was a blessing that he moved from his home in Penarth six months before the COVID-19 lockdown began. It would have been a huge worry had he still been living alone, although his former neighbours in Penarth such as Therese and Brian would have been wonderfully supportive. As Dad said, he has had no worries and has been happy from the moment he moved in.

Later in the interview, Ria stepped onto the ‘stage’ to say good morning to Bob and to the presenters. It was a wonderful moment, live on national TV. As Ria said, it was rather overwhelming seeing Bob for the first time for many months. “It’s marvellous to see you!” Bob exclaimed with a broad smile to Ria.

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You can watch the Good Morning Britain segment with Dad, Ria and me here:

Monday’s edition of Good Morning Britain was an emotional one for other reasons. Writer Michael Rosen spoke with huge affection about the care he received as he recovered from an almost fatal encounter with COVID-19. Talking about the NHS staff who saved his life, he explained: “Just massive and incredible, they saved my life several times.”

Screenshot 2020-07-15 at 10.05.01Interviewing Michael was an emotional experience for presenter Kate Garraway. This was her first day back after a four month break while husband Derek Draper was in intensive care and came close to death from COVID-19. Movingly, Michael said he hoped his experience gave Kate hope. Welcome back, Kate, and heartfelt best wishes to Derek and Michael.

When Hereford United FC were watched by 35,000

Today’s sad news that Hereford United FC has been wound up in the High Court brought back childhood memories. In April 1976, I was one of 35,000 people who watched the team play Cardiff City at Ninian Park in Cardiff. Hereford were leading the old third division and City were placed second. Cardiff won 2-0 that unforgettable evening.

It was one of my favourite Ninian Park memories. I still have the match programme, signed by members of Cardiff City’s promotion team.

I hope Hereford one day rise from the ashes, like former Welsh Cup rival Newport County.

Cardiff Bay before regeneration

Cardiff Bay before regeneration

Atlantic Wharf, Cardiff, January 1986

(This post was inspired by www.wearecardiff.co.uk)

Cardiff has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. It’s hard to imagine how different the old Tiger Bay docklands looked before the Cardiff Bay redevelopment and Cardiff Bay barrage was announced by Margaret Thatcher’s Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards in 1986.

Dad and I visited the docks regularly and took these photos on a bitterly cold day at the start of 1986. We liked the look of the imposing warehouse on the right (east) bank of the Bute East Dock.

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Cardiff City’s surrender to relegation

In the end, it was a relief. Cardiff City surrendered their Premier League status today with another heavy defeat, away to Newcastle United. Owner Vincent Tan’s sacking of manager Malky Mackay in December destroyed the Bluebirds’ hope of securing a second season in the top flight.

Tan thought that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United pedigree would save the day. The opposite has been true: Solskjaer’s team has conceded an alarming number of goals without unduly threatening the opposition. By contrast, Mackay achieved some famous results, including defeating title contenders Manchester City, drawing with Manchester United and beating arch rivals Swansea.

At least we don’t have to worry about second season syndrome…

David Moyes, Frank O’Farrell and Cardiff City

David Moyes was fired as Manchester United manager today. The only surprise was that he lasted as long as he did. What are the chances that he follows in Frank O’Farrell’s footsteps and becomes Cardiff City manager?

Frank O’Farrell, like Moyes, took on mission impossible by following a legend as Man United boss – Matt Busby. He lasted longer than Moyes at Old Trafford, but also inherited a team that was in rapid decline from days of glory. He has described how Busby’s presence at United utterly overshadowed his unhappy time as manager. Moyes found Sir Alex Ferguson far more supportive, but Fergie’s extraordinary legacy of success would have been a formidable burden for anyone who took his place.

O’Farrell went on to become Cardiff City manager the season after losing his job at United. It was a big step down, as the Bluebirds were struggling at the foot of the old second division. He got the job at City days after Jimmy Scoular was fired after Cardiff lost the very first game I ever went to see: at home to West Bromwich Albion on 3 November 1973. (That grim game was the perfect introduction to life as a Cardiff City fan in the 1970s and 80s. My Latin teacher said there was an easy way to remember what nihil meant: it was the number of goals City was likely to score.)

Man United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seemed totally out of his depth as a premier league manager since succeeding the popular Malky Mackay last December. Cardiff could do worse than to offer Moyes the chance to rebuild his reputation in Wales. For all their troubles this season, City are in better health than in November 1973 when O’Farrell was appointed. And Moyes remains a decent manager, as he showed at Everton.

Long distance cycling: Cardiff to Bucks

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Above: departing Penarth, Wales for England

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on one of my most memorable experiences of the year: fulfilling an old ambition of cycling from Wales to Buckinghamshire. I set off on Monday 2 September from my parents’ flat on the seafront at Penarth, just outside Cardiff.

It was a real challenge. This was my first cycle tour carrying my own luggage since 1998. I’ve put on a few pounds since that tour of Normandy, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself struggling up the hills. This was also my first tour relying on digital rather than paper maps, which proved very frustrating. I couldn’t help looking back to my 325 mile cycle tour of the West Country in 1995, when I got lost just once while navigating the most obscure country lanes, thanks to a stack of Ordnance Survey maps. This time, I wasted a huge amount of time as my Garmin Edge 800 failed to alert me to my programmed turns. (I had a back up with the Bike Hub app, but it wasn’t the same as having a map on the handlebars.)

It was a wonderful ride, but I’ll be honest and say I enjoyed it more in retrospect than at the time, with some exceptions. It was wonderful bowling along at 18mph on the levels between Cardiff and Newport. I loved the 25mph race towards Tetbury, as the first day’s 73 mile ride came to an end and I looked forward to dinner with my sister and her family in Cirencester. The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire was a delight. I relished my al fresco lunch at the Cherry Tree pub in at Kingston Blount, Oxon on day 3, in glorious sunshine, followed by tea and cake at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre at Great Missenden on the final leg home.

My least favourite bit? The interminable attempt to escape from Swindon. My route past Purton was closed, so I had to navigate Swindon’s characterless sprawl. (I’d have been better off going straight through the town centre.) I was very relieved to reach open countryside – no wonder I enjoyed the Vale of the White Horse.

My biggest lesson: cycle touring rewards those who keep fit. But it’s still a peerless way to enjoy the countryside.

PS: my 16 year old Raleigh Randonneur proved a superb choice for the challenge, as did my Ortlieb front roller classic panniers and my old Camelbak classic hydration pack.

IMG_7583Above: into England, old Severn Bridge

IMG_7589Above: near Hawkesbury Upton, Glos

ImageAbove: Oxfordshire’s lovely Vale of the White Horse: Stanford in the Vale

ImageAbove: ploughman’s lunch at the Cherry Tree, Kingston Blount

Cardiff City, Premier League

Cardiff City are in the Premier League. Over 50 years since relegation from the old first division, we are once again in our neighbour’s football top flight. It’s also 86 years almost to the week since City became the only club from outside England to win the FA Cup.

Almost a year ago, I blogged my criticism for Cardiff City’s Malaysian owners’ decision to change the club red.  That reaction now seems churlish. Red looks like City’s lucky colour. And we should thank the Bluebirds’ Malaysian owners for helping the team make history.

Dad, watching Cardiff City reach third FA Cup final

Dad, watching Cardiff City reach third FA Cup final, April 2008

Our family has spent many hours cheering on Cardiff City. My father, Bob Skinner, took me to my first City game almost 40 years ago. (Against West Brom, on 3 November 1973 – we lost 1-0.) He was born within a goal kick of West Ham’s ground, which meant I grew up with affection for both clubs. (By coincidence, West Ham adopted a City song, ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’.) Family loyalties were stretched when we went to West Ham to see City in November 1979, but Cardiff lost 3-0. West Ham did well against the three Welsh teams in the old second division that autumn.

Five years ago, we watched City win an FA Cup semi final against Barnsley to reach a Wembley cup final for the first time since 1927. Another breakthrough in City’s renaissance. We should pay tribute to then manager Dave Jones for that revival.

Cardiff join Swansea in the Premier League. It’s the first time Wales has had two clubs in the top flight. A special moment.

Proud of the NHS

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Llandough hospital in the snow

Today has been a stressful yet wonderful day.

My amazing 84 year old mother has had a major operation at University Hospital Llandough at Penarth, just outside Cardiff. It followed months of health worries – with my 86 year old father bearing the brunt of the worry.

We were concerned that today’s snowfall would lead to the operation being cancelled – but Cardiff & the Vale University Hospital Board and its staff did a magnificent job keeping things going.

Mum will spend a long time recovering from today’s operation. But we’re so glad to see her tonight sleeping peacefully on the ward.

Dad and I thoroughly enjoyed a pint of HB tonight at Penarth Yacht Club, followed by dinner washed down by a fine bottle of Rioja. Dad even reminisced about his 1930s childhood, in particular how deadly dull Easter Sunday was. He also remembered how his father listened to the football pools news on Saturdays on Radio Luxembourg – once winning £70! A lot of money before the war.

We love M&S Culverhouse Cross

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M&S: a very special restaurant

We’ve loved Marks & Spencer’s Culverhouse Cross store in Cardiff for a long time. It has a huge range of goods, an excellent food hall and nice cafe almost all on one floor.

It now has the best restaurant of any high street store I’ve come across. We called in on our way to Mum and Dad’s in Penarth last weekend, and decided to have a late lunch there. It was great value – and the food was wonderful. (With at-table service.) Best of all was Owen’s dessert – with the kind of presentation you’d normally find only in a far more expensive restaurant.

We’ll definitely be back!