‘Do you want my chocolates?’ I asked the lady standing behind me at the bar. She looked at me suspiciously.
‘I don’t eat chocolate.’ she said dryly and turned away. She was one of several mothers waiting to be served with toddlers in the pub, all of whom appeared to be congregating with their children for a play date in a fenced off fun area just outside.
I was holding two large Americano coffees on saucers in front of me and on each there was a circular chocolate in a shiny golden wrapper. I’d been served them as the ladies distributed brightly coloured Fruit Shoot bottles behind me to their girls and boys and discussed what they would have with their scampi in broad Welsh accents.
‘Do YOU want my chocolates?’ I said, turning and smiling at the next woman in the queue.
She seemed to like chocolates but didn’t quite grasp what I was getting at.
‘I’m trying to be good’ I elaborated ‘and you’d be doing me and my dad a favour if you had our chocolates. They’ll be wasted otherwise.’ I said, shrugging a little. ‘I’m not going to eat mine.’
Her young daughter, standing next to her mom with a long pony tail and shorts stared intently at them, and then at her mom, waiting to see if the all clear would be given.
‘OK thanks!’ her mom said, smiled back at me motioned her daughter to take them from each from the two saucers, which she did. I said goodbye to them both and went back to sit with my dad, placing his coffee in front of him and sitting down with my own.
This pub wasn’t here the last time I visited. In fact NONE of the nearby buildings were. It felt a bit strange to be sitting in what I remembered as being a patch of grass until I drove past it yesterday and noted that it had been filled in by progress (although I’m fairly sure a brewery had also been involved at some point).
As I chatted with my dad I was pleased to hear that he had clearly taken my walking ideas to heart from the day before. I had suggested he could help his weight loss and general health by building a stroll into everyday activities. As he has a free bus pass he comes to town most days. I pointed out that if he came in to town on an earlier bus and had a little stroll by the beach for 30 minutes before his shopping it would probably make him feel loads better.
To my surprise, good as gold, my dad came in earlier than he needed to before meeting me and re-traced our walk along the promenade from yesterday.
He seemed visibly less tired by it this morning, and I’m sure it did him good. Even if there’s no immediate benefit, just getting out and watching the waves is fantastic for the spirit – and more than anything else I want him to be well.
As we drank our coffees I showed him how to do some things on his laptop (all sons of Silver Surfers must provide tech support when needed) and then after a fond farewell and some re-application of factor 50 (the 2nd of the day) I headed off to Nant Yr Arian forestry centre just outside Aber.
It’s a red kite and forestry conservation area that maintains mountain bike and walking trails, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and bio-diversity. Everything has an eco-slant on it. Even the toilet doors.
Way back in another life I used to come here a lot – but never when I was so heavy.
I parked up, paid for the time (it’s all for the benefit of the centre and helps maintain the trails, so I paid for more than I needed). and headed to the visitor centre.
Inside I was met by a tall gentleman who told me he was just closing the gift shop to go for a break, and that he’d be back shortly.
‘Ooh! Before you go…’ I said, grabbing his attention.
He turned to look at me.
‘I was wondering if I could quickly have a bit of advice please. I… erm… just wondered which walk won’t… well… KILL me.’
He looked me up and down.
‘Well…’ He said, rubbing his chin, still sizing me up.
‘I walked up Constitution Hill yesterday.’ I interjected. ‘I’m not very fit – but I’m taking things at my own pace and trying to break new ground.’
He lifted his eyebrows and reached for a leaflet from the rack, handing it to me.
‘Well – there’s a purple route, thats our easiest – round the lake. It’s wheelchair accessible.’ He pointed at the pages. ‘ Thats recommended for low mobility. There’s a yellow route with some climbing and steep slopes, and a red route which is quite a bit longer with a lot more climbs.’
‘I want views and a bit of exercise.’ I said. ‘Does the yellow one have nice views?’
‘Sure – three places on the route are outstanding.’ He pointed to the little blue markers on the map. ‘You’ll enjoy it. Just take it steady!’
I nodded and thanked him, looking at the leaflet. The distance was ok – a mile and a half was easy now, but the elevation? 200ft of climbing. Surely Constitution Hill was more…
The red route on the other hand looked like a much bigger challenge, but it had more views. ‘No – don’t run before you can walk.’ I muttered to myself. I still had to drive back to Warwick after the walk, so crippling myself was pointless.
I set off, taking it at my own pace, and just enjoying the view AND THE FACT I WAS DOING IT.
The view was wonderful. Although I’d seen it before – for some reason today I enjoyed it more than ever. Maybe the effort made it seem sharper and more vibrant. Maybe it was sun stroke. Who knows.
I do know that my Ambre Solarie Factor 50 was getting a good workout on top of this hilside – which had zero shade to begin with.
I think I could have fried an egg on my baldy barnett at one point – but I just sipped my water, stopped to pant and admire the view and then moved on – bit by bit. When there was a steep gradient I took it in chunks, and even sat on the mossy verge if I had difficulty catching my breath (only once was I COMPLETELY defeated and couldn’t breathe).
But it was all worth it. Every tremble of my legs, every ache in my knees and every stabbing pain in my plantar heel.
Just see for yourself.
At the end, when the walk finished by the lake I returned to the visitor centre, drenched in sweat and more than a little tired. I needed to eat and drink something COLD.
Sadly the menu only had cakes and cream teas or white bread sandwiches, and I wasn’t prepared to take all that effort and sabotage myself with sugary carbs for anything. I had (thanks to my dad) some cherry tomatoes in the car and two apples left over from my dinner with the seagull last night. I’d eat them later on the way home instead.
As I stood in the canteen thinking about what to drink the tall gift shop attendant passed by, noticed me and walked over to ask if I’d done the yellow walk.
‘Yep. All of it.’ I beamed. “I took it at my own pace – it was nice! I really enjoyed it.’
He looked a little surprised and then his eyes smiled at me – even though the rest of his face remained strangely unchanged. ‘Well done.’ he said. ‘One step at a time eh?’ He patted me on the shoulder and walked back to his fridge magnets in the gift shop.
Although I probably shouldn’t be bothered, my chest puffed out just a little at that point. It felt like I’d just scored full marks on a test at school and had a gold star in my exercise book.
Still feeling like this I went to sit outside in the shade where the breeze was. There was only one bench that I could sit on (fixed seat benches are impossible) so I sat behind an elderly couple and a young girl, opened my can of cold diet coke and sighed.
After a few minutes the little girl slowly turned her head to look at me. She started staring.
No. Please not now. I couldn’t take a fat comment now.
She looked me up and down, hiding by her grandmother’s arm, and stared at the area of my waist.
My hands clenched in my lap. Please don’t say it.
‘Graaaaandaaad.’ She said, pointing at me, and reaching out to him to get his attention.
Don’t do it.
No. No. NO. NOT NOW!
‘…he’s wearing the same watch as daddy.’
Her grandad turned and smiled. ‘He must have lots of money!’ he laughed as he looked at my Apple Watch.
‘Or her daddy has very good taste and sets a good example.’ I said, smiling back at him.
Today internet, the world left me alone and let me have my moment of success. That little girl and her grandparents, watching the world pass by was actually my favourite moment of the day. She didn’t see anything about me other than a man with a watch like her dad’s. She reminded me that there’s good out there too, and that not everyone sees me as a fat lump.
I’d like to shake her dad by the hand. He’s doing a good job.
He also has impeccable taste in timepieces.