Sunday, November 26, 2006
1 Guiness Record down, 39,999 to go...
What better excuse to get my ass to Wales than to join a gathering of the Jones Clan? A lady from work dropped a newspaper article on my desk some weeks before explaining that they were holding the Jones, Jones, Jones Extravaganza. A gathering of Jones’s from around the globe in an attempt to beat a Swiss record held by a group of Norbergs. They managed to gather 583 Norbergs for a festival a couple years ago. This created and set the Guinness record for the largest gathering of people with the same last name. Well, the Norbergs’ time had come; no longer could we sit idly by watching them bask in their record holding glory. Or something….
After kicking around the idea for a couple months, I realized that Wales was only a two hour train ride. Well shit, I have gone to Poughkeepsie for less. I caught a 3pm train through the English countryside. The trains really are a nice way to travel. It was a very pleasant, easy ride to Cardiff through rolling green hills.
After checking into a very cool, modern Novotel, I caught a cab to the Millennium Center for the show. It was pretty easy to meet people, easy opener being, “So, you’re a Jones, huh?” I met a lady who was even a Jones2. A Jones who had married a Jones. I ended up hanging out w/ a couple of guys, Evan, a Tennessean going to school in Glasgow and Collin, a local Cardiffian. Odd as this may sound, it was nice to have somebody understand some of the annoyances of being a Jones. We all gathered around and starting bitching about the various pop culture references, “I’m Jonesing for something”, “Mr. Jones and me”, etc… Also odd, as Evan put it, was that “looking around for girls here feels almost incestuous.”
We had assigned seating for the show so we made our way to our seats. The show was presented by Jones’s and all the performers were Jones’s. At least 50-70% of the show was in Welsh (the rest in English). That was actually pretty annoying. They made a big deal about how many Jones’s from here or there, farthest away was probably New Zealand. The most spoken language there was definitely English. Really, who out side of Wales speaks that funking guttural Welsh? It seemed a bit odd to invite people from around the world and then snub them by speaking a local language. Ahh well… the performances were fine, nobody I had heard of (until the last one but more on that later). Mostly classical though they through in some comedy routines (in welsh) and a long skit w/ some trio, apparently from a popular TV show. I got the impression that this was the Bunker’s of wales. The mood was fun though and a good time was had by all.
Eventually, it was time for the official tally from the Guinness folk. We had to top 583 to make the good book. Finally tally… drum roll… 1222. Take THAT, Norberg!! I guess I have to get the book this year as I am in it and I assume the rest of the gathering will as well. Which makes this a great record for the Guinness folk. We will see how long our reign lasts. We just have to keep the Chinese from organizing (India too).
The final performer was Grace Jones. All I can say is Wow, she has issues. The hall darkened (did I mention that it was a REALLY beautiful hall?). Out of the dark, we were treated to a full stereo experience. Random “whooshing” out of the right speaker, then random “whooshing” out of the left speakers. Wash, rinse, repeat for a couple of minutes. This would be amazing in the year or two after we invented stereo sound. The lights finally game up to Grace sitting on some big stairs thing. She started ‘singing’ (for generous values of the word sing) some song. Think of bad 80s experimental pop (I know, I know, bad and 80s might be redundant). It only took about a minute before she lifted her dress and started shaking her ass at the audience. I think we were supposed to be impressed. She did it so often as to make me think that this is the whole point of her performance, to get up and shake her ass at the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, for 50 (or whatever) she has a nice ass. As it was, it was more disturbing than erotic. A strange way to end an otherwise family friendly, light hearted evening.
After the show, I met up Evan and Collin and we wandered over to the pier for a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
I had planned to take the train back to London later in the evening which gave me the day to explore Cardiff. The Castle and St. Faggins were the planned agendas. First stop, train station to put my bag into a locker. At the Extravaganza, I had heard word of a big match the next day between Wales and Australia. Feeling very American, I had to ask what kind of match, football? No, rugby. Any tickets left, that could be fun? No, definitely not. Ok, then, I put it out of my mind. Of course, the train station didn’t have lockers. Whew, I feel safer. Leaving the station though, I noticed two things. One was that though we were still many hours before the match, there were swarms, nay, hordes of people in jerseys. Mostly Welsh red and white but a good 30% or so in the green/yellow Aussie colors. Second was the complex array of gates that had been erected for some large scale crowd control. Uh-oh. Do I really want to make that nice relaxing ride through the English farm land in a train packed with drunk rugby fans? 3 guesses and the first 2 don’t count. Talking to a cop, I figure out my last train I can catch is the 3:45. After that, the drunken hordes descend. As the cop put it, “They are alright. It shouldn’t be a problem but if you have the option, you should probably leave”. (emphasis his)
Fair enough, still time for the castle but maybe not for the St. Faggins village. The village sounded cool, old time houses from medieval times to present in some sort of Colonial Williamsburg type thing. But it was a half hour outside of town and I didn’t think I had the time. Castle it is.
The Cardiff Castle was pretty cool. I didn’t have the right timing for the clock tower tour but I did get the standard tour and the grounds pass. First stop was a wander through their little World War museum. Not too much interesting for me. More for locals who had somebody in the wars. There were uniforms, medals, enrollment lists, etc… I did get a kick out of a Russian Maxim gun. There was an inscription on this and some of the other weapons detailing who captured it and when. Valiant moments of bravery all, I am sure. The reason I liked this one though was the name of the captor, “D” Coy of the 1st Battalion Welsh Army. I hear “D” Coy does some good work.
Wandered into the Castle proper next. Apparently there has been a defensive structure here since 1081. Originally it was just a mound of earth w/ timber defenses. Expanded in the 12th century into a twelve sided shell keep by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, it served as last line of defense for the royal family. It also served as a prison for Robert, Duke of Normandy. Despite being the stronghold that it was, it was raided in 1134 and the Earl and his family were abducted. Reinforced in the 13th century, it again fell in 1404 when the moat proved no defense against Owain Glynder.
This was the first “real” castle I had been in. You could see the successive additions of extra defenses over the years. And it had a real live moat. Not sure if anything lived in there though. It was probably pretty nasty considering that it wasn’t all that big and the ‘privy’ was just a hole in the tower that had a shaft down to the moat (w/ big bars in it, in case the thought of climbing up the shithole wasn’t enough of a deterrent.)
In the larger wall around the inner castle was the living quarters, church, etc… The tour covered these. One of the coolest parts was the rooftop garden. One of the lords, after traveling to the Middle East, brought back the idea of the rooftop garden. It was quite nice and brought me back to much of the fantasy I have read, most specifically the Queen’s garden in the Hobb series. The fountain in the garden cost as much as a school. Gotta have priorities.
There were many interesting rooms. Each redone in the 19th or 20th century as “what we think it looked like”. The lords of the manors had traveled far and wide and brought many treasures and ideas back from around the globe. One interesting room was the nursery, where they had commissioned an American to paint 15 or 20 great murals depicting scenes from various fairy tales. Hansel and Grettle, Rapunzel, the Invisible Prince, etc… Also in this room was a portrait of one of the royal families. In this family, the young prince was disguised as a little girl. Apparently, young boys had a much higher mortality rate than young girls (or is that a lower mortality rate? Whichever one means more little boys died). To “fix” this, they would disguise their young boys as girls until they were 5 or so. I am guessing no one kept empirical numbers on the effectiveness of this treatment.
The streets were even more packed in red by the time I got out. Everybody was now making their way to the game. Turns out the bus stop to catch the bus to St. Faggins was inside the area that has been sectioned off for the rugby crowd. Ahh well, maybe another time. I made my way through the crowd and caught a leisurely train ride back to London. Returned w/ plenty of time to watch the fireworks. Apparently they are celebrating Guy Hawkes who tried to blow up parliament. Go Figure….