Once breakfast was done, the road trip began “properly”, you can check the earlier articles of road trip part one and part two. We were all now wide awake, the Welsh and English had provided us with a sweeping September sun and the car was chirpy, and full of petrol. We swapped car residents at each stop to vary the day’s passengers a bit. This worked well as we mixed the fusion of Austin’s endless cider fumes with the wit of Dan to Tom’s youthful enthusiasm. As shown below a signal of the day ahead was there for us, Austin’s cider tin being made in Hereford…
I had perked myself up and was in high spirits again. It felt I had got something back after 9 months missing. I had gone AWOL, and but for a few events and people would have probably have disappeared completely. You may never know or understand why. But that’s the way I felt in 2009. Life, as it was, was over. For me.
Then as we drove northward, it became obvious that I was back with the lads again. I played one of my old radio shows on my car tape deck and we sang along to the football tunes I had played, laughing at my idiocy and naivety of youth and early twenties. I was now 29, the songs and radio shows were trapped in a world of yesteryear. I remember singing to the Match of The Day theme song with Dan (he videoed it – which is now online below!) and some Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes as I drove us through sparse countryside, wheeled through the historic and sombre Bath and flirted with the suburbs of Bristol.
In Bath we booed a Jermain Beckford Road sign. We all hate Leeds. I’d almost forgotten to hate Leeds. It was nice to be able to hate them again. Even though they had division jumped and left us in the fourth tier.
However, this football day trip journey was heading for an emotional crossing for me. What lay ahead was The Severn Bridge. We had by-passed the bright lights of Bristol (a city I had visited a fair few times, and done both major football stadiums during my 6 year stint in pretty England) and were on course to cross the river Severn into Wales. This is a spectacular border crossing. And when I look back of some of the borders I’ve crossed by land, it’s up there with HK to China, Germany to Poland, Northern Ireland with the Republic and it’s much nicer than your Argentina – Brazil, Paraguay – Brazil and Colombia – Venezuela.
The Severn Bridge is simply an awesome border, great views, no border control, and yes you have to pay for the privilege of crossing it, but hey that’s OK isn’t it? (Excuse my Conservative Britishness here, but “Yes, that’s OK”, we built the thing, I’m happy to pay a wee bit of money for the pleasure of crossing it.) No traffic jam, fast and easy, worth the money. And you thought I was a tight travel cynic?
Deep inside my mind, however, our journey across The Severn held more than just a border crossing to myself. I was shaking inside. The significance of this crossing hadn’t passed me by. The others were unaware. In their joyous buzz. I was scared and scarred. Scared that on my final few days living in England (or even The UK), I was making the exact reverse journey that had seen me enter the country almost 6 years to the day (probably about 6 years and one week). Life had truly taken me on a full circle once again and scared the shit out of me. The others probably saw less significance in this crossing than myself. Was it only the “Severn Bridge full circle” that was getting to me? No, not a chance. For this bridge, more than most is a notorious suicide spot. Also the place that Manic Street Preachers rock’n’roll star guitarist and lyricist had left his car abandoned back in 1995. NEVER to be seen again. The Manic Street Preachers survived and how ironic that the chimes of “A Design For Life” edged their way into my radio system onboard my white Hyundai Accent by total chance at that very moment. Was this fate? Or was it life telling me I had won? I had beaten suicide and I was at ease with myself.
My tears were on the inside as I kept a brave face. I didn’t dare show the guys I was crying as we crossed the bridge. It was a moment of strength for me to muster. I added in some comedy on the way across, it’s my natural release from pain. Behind every joke a tale of woe, behind every smile a tear, behind every thumbs up a cut deep into my skin.
One such moment I added was asking the Severn Bridge Toll Attendant if he had “heard of Brett Pitman”. The barely known Channel Islander having held a regular place on the AFC Bournemouth team and was our star striker for a few seasons. The attendant was none the wiser. We paid our entrance fee to Wales, and it felt like the new beginning for me.
Arrival in Wales was spectacular. We synchronized a joint stop at the first motorway service station we saw. At Magor.
There I posted my kid brother a postcard from Wales. With sheep on it.
I photographed the Welsh souvenirs in the shop. I revelled in the dragon principality and had left the scars of Severn to sever themselves to safety. I knew it at the time, but we wouldn’t cross back into England the same way later on, rather directly down past Bristol. This meant the circle was complete. Since my crossing of the river Severn in September 2003 and the drive down to Bournemouth (which my Dad accompanied me on), I had been to Wales twice, both for football matches. (I have been to Wales five times in total).
Number 1 – September 2004. I had been part of Northern Ireland’s “Green and White Army” of 6,500 fans who flooded Cardiff for a day for the World Cup qualifier against Wales at The Millennium Stadium. We were 2-0 up, had 2 men sent off and still managed a nice wee 2-2 draw. We celebrated long into the night in Cardiff. I turned down an exchange of a pair of Welsh flag knickers in Walkabout Bar in Cardiff for my Northern Ireland scarf that night. Here, in September 2009, the same Northern Ireland flag had survived many a night out and would make the trip to Hereford for Ulster Cherry’s farewell.
Number 2 – February 2006. I had got a day trip bus return from Bournemouth to Swansea with my old mate “Mad Mike” for the Swansea City AFC v. AFC Bournemouth match at the then new Liberty Stadium. A carryout and some sharp pints of Brains in a pub beside the stadium (almost like a Wetherspoons) had made for another spirited night in Wales, despite a 0-1 reverse, with Swansea topping the league at the time in their first year back in the third tier (though they had to wait until 2008 to go up). They went from 2005 in Division Four (League 2) to 2011 in Division One (The Top Flight/The Premier League) where they have now established themselves and enjoy mid-table status. Mad Mike and I enjoyed Swansea.
Stopped at Magor Services in Wales. Happy and buoyant. I’ll not even go into the pun with the word “Magor” in detail, but a nerve hit when I saw it – reminded me of the crazy life I could have had with Hungarian Noemi – a Magyar…a nickname for a Hungarian, the country’s actual name being Magyarorszag!
Also at Magor, we bought a red and black inflatable dragon. This was some adventure. The simple things in life amuse me most.
A few more photos taken at Magor, Wales.
So to cut a long story short, emotions and history had been banished and we were in Wales! That’s the actual photo either Dan and I took of our entry into Wales.
On life’s corridor, this, my friends was already a special journey. It was great to be back, hello, hello…onwards to Abergavenny then…
From – North of Warminster, South of Bath, ENGLAND
To – Magor, near Newport, WALES
Via – Bath, Edge of Bristol and The Severn Bridge
Miles travelled – 120
TRACK 1 – Match of The Day Theme Tune:
TRACK 2 – THE TONY RICH PROJECT – NOBODY KNOWS:
(“i’m dying inside, and nobody knows it but me…”)
TRACK 3 – SIMON AND GARFUNKEL – BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER:
TRACK 4 – MANIC STREET PREACHERS – JUDGE YOURSELF:
EPIC ENGLAND TO WALES VIDEOS (either from Dan or myself):
1. SINGING MATCH OF THE DAY THEME TUNE IN SPARSE COUNTRYSIDE:
2. ME WITH THE SEVERN BRIDGE TOLL ATTENDANT:
3. ARRIVAL IN WALES, AT MAGOR NEAR NEWPORT: