Homeward Bound

On the North West tip of Wales, where the mountains tumble downwards and the straits of Menai open out into the wide expanse of Llandudno Bay, there lies a city. It’s not a big city by any means and it’s not perfect but it’s one I’ll always have a soft spot for. This is where I spent the best three years of my life, met some good friends as well as encountering a few people who I’d rather forget to be honest with you. It’s the closest place I’ve got to a real home city so this is therefore about the places that mean something to me, the places that inspired and the places where those three years played out. This is about my return home…

At first i’ll confess that it feels a little strange to be riding the North Wales coast line again as I haven’t done it for nearly two years. I know each and every stop on the route: Shotton, Flint, Prestatyn, Rhyl, Abergele & Pensarn, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction… I have to get off briefly at Llandudno Junction to change trains for the final onward push, something I’ve done a million times before, and the feeling of familiarity grows a little more. The sun’s shining for the first time in months and there’s a good whiff in the air… And as my next train arrives and progresses onwards I begin to get that buzz you only get when you’re approaching home after a long time away. Every sight is intimately familiar to me… The huge castle at Conwy, The deceptive slopes of Conwy Mountain just beyond the town, the breach in the huge wall  of mountains wherein lies Aber Falls and the village to which it gives its name, the long dark tunnels just beyond and finally, after what seems like too long, I’m back. It’s home.

Everything seems just the same as ever except they’ve now added a huge car park at the back of the station and to be honest I’m sorely tempted to go for a random walk around it just for the hell but I decide that can wait. Instead I head to the bridge that leads across the tracks and eventually out into the city. I’ve got several hours to kill before I can check into my hotel so I decide that I can’t go much wrong by first taking a walk down the High street and then try and find some lunch. Like the station it’s very much the same but a little different. They have a Greg’s and a Cafe Nero now for one thing. Despite the fact the world is in a serious recession Bangor looks to be in fine fettle and that can only be a good thing, I’m pleased to say.

I decide to grab some money from a cashpoint in order to pay for lunch. As this is a Saturday lunchtime the best place to go for money is the supermarket (Less of a queue). Alas the supermarket is at the end of Bangor’s takeaway district’ which means going up the dreaded ‘bitch hill.’ But that also means I get to see the new students union building which according to the schedule should have been finished by now… Actually it seems like they’ve done very little since i left two years ago. They’ve got a couple of big cranes on sight so that’s a good sign. At least they are working on it. I’m also secretly glad it’s not there as the old students union building has quite a reputation for it to live up to. The old building is where I got my start in radio, where I had some of the best nights of my life and where I met a lot of good people. It was also the starting point for when I climbed Mount Snowdon in my first week and also the start of my disastrous attempt at canoeing (I wasn’t very good… nuff said.) The old place has fond memories for me and it is something of a shame that it’s not there anymore in some ways. But hey… That’s life and when the new building is completed it should be cool.

But onwards… Or more specifically up Bitch Hill. They don’t call it that for nothing though and I had actually forgotten how steep it was. I’ve been up and down here many times; drunk, sober, soaking wet, in rain, snow, sunshine and with an evil landlord trying to kill me. Turn right at the top and you enter the takeaway district. Turn left and it’s the supermarket. I turn left for the cash point and then back down the bitch for some food… Of course I could have just bought something from somewhere up here but most of the time during the day TD is better when you’re with friends. You look a bit weird eating there on your own… Though saying that there is always ‘Options’ coffee shop, although I find that’s better for breakfast. Lower Bangor is much better in terms of picking up some food on a Saturday lunchtime… There’s about five bakeries as well as Subway, KFC, Gregs and the two Coffee shops plus a couple of takeaways that are usually open.

In the end I decided that I would like to visit one of my favourite chip shops, Dean Street… Which rather stupidly is at the other end of Bangor from the supermarket. Dean Street, in my day at least (god that makes me sound old…) Dean street was famous for three things: Firstly the electronic engineering and computer science buildings, secondly the chip shop and thirdly the Octagon (Ocky to its fans) which was without a doubt one of the most adored and simultaneously reviled nightclubs in Bangor. I almost went in there on my first day in Bangor but didn’t as I’d left my ID behind (stupid!) I didn’t actually go in for another three years, not until a couple of nights before I left actually. It makes a nice pair of bookends to my university life I feel. Alas, like the old Students Union Octagon has gone… Really… GONE! This place that was always there and looming over the city nightlife has gone and been replaced by somewhere called ‘Peep.’ I have to say I’m a little shocked and saddened by this revelation at first… But not for long as the chip shop just opposite is calling.

Bangor has so many chip shops it’s difficult to ascertain which is truly the best… But Dean Street is definitely up there amongst the top five. Fortunately its open and very soon I’m ordering the traditional cheesy chips… Though I do go for something unusual and add a splash of vinegar to proceedings.

And then from Dean Street it’s off up to the best dining spot in all of Bangor, in fact the best spot in all of Bangor, PERIOD. From Dean street it’s a short trip across the main road, up the steps, round past the BBC building and then just a little further up another hill and you’re there: Roman Camp… Which is neither Roman nor a Camp. It’s actually just a slag heap covered in grass… But it’s a nice spot as from here you can see the city, the sea, the mountains and the Menai. In the picture below (which I took for my dissertation) you can see what I’m on about. You can see the city (or part of it), The mountains (upon one of which you can just about spot a massive cairn) and you can also just about see Penrhyn castle.

Bangor

It’s a pleasant day and eating my claim from Dean Street up here is a nice throwback. This is where, if I had a break between lectures and was feeling hungry, I would come up and eat something bought from one of Bangor’s many food outlets… Dean street was usually the best. Roman Camp also occupies an important place in my literary universe…

Once feeding is complete I head down the back of Roman Camp with the intention of heading towards the pier… And that’s when I get a weird feeling that I really shouldn’t have left this town… I feel like I made a mistake in leaving. It’s a feeling I keep getting over the weekend but I also keep getting the opposing feeling… That it was a good thing I left, that I need to move on from Bangor…  It’s an odd conflict put it that way.

Anyway… I progress down to the pier and it’s just the same as ever… Sticking out into the middle of the Menai and offering some lovely views. This is where I’d come for a long walk on those afternoons when i was feeling particularly down and needed to get out of the house. That was usually in third year though and not reflective of my whole time in Bangor. The pier is really a bittersweet place for me… I recall walking up here on my first week and throwing a fish tank ornament into the Menai for luck (Ahhh… The innocence of youth!) and during the summer it’s also where you can get good ice creams for a good price. But like I said towards the end of my time it became where I’d walk to when I needed to get out in third year…

As I leave the pier I’m heading along that route i used to take. There are some good places on the route, ‘the Tap’ for instance where I had my last meal and spent many a happy night drinking within… The site of the former boatyard where they’re now building apartments, the petrol station where I used to buy something to eat on my return from the pier… The swimming pool where I once performed the most spectacular (and painful) belly flop imaginable… And then I come to Seiriol road and at the end is the house where some good friends of mine used to live and where I have a few good memories… Trying to take a shot of brandy and spitting it all up the window or stealing the Christmas tree for a laugh. I look on that place with some fondness and I have to say I was tempted to go up and see who lives there now… But I resist and instead move on down to the next road… There, just across the street from me is the house where I once lived. It’s where I wrote Malvolio and it’s where I was inspired to write what would become The Rebels. It’s where I spent many hours locked in my room stuffing my face with doughnuts whilst crafting the radio edition of Dark Legend… But it’s also the sight of one of my biggest mistakes. Before I even moved in I made a bad call and all I will say is that by the end of second year, by which point I had stupidly signed up for another year living there, I was already paying for that mistake. However, it was also that mistake that eventually led to The Rebels so every cloud and all that… Turns out the place is up for sale (either again or the same as it was when I left) and somewhere at the back of my mind a little gnome starts whispering to me that I should gather enough money together to buy the place considering it’s importance… But thinking rationally, buying it would be another mistake. Don’t ask me why but I think it just would. I’ve moved on from when I lived in that house and going back there now, to live, wouldn’t be right…

By this point it’s about time I should be checking into my Hotel. My knee is starting to ache after I did it in tripping up that pavement in Chester and truth be told i need to sit down. But I decide it’s worth taking a quick detour to see a couple more places of importance. I head back down the high street, up Bitch Hill and this time i turn right into China Town. Just as it ever was, buzzing with life (or traffic fumes… not sure!) There’s a new oriental grocery store opened up but everything else is there. Including two places that mean a lot to me. In the middle sits ‘The Greek,’ perhaps one of my favourite Bangor pubs. The drinks are cheap and the women busty… Ok there’s no busty women but you get the picture. This is where Malvolio got its first public airing, those immortal words causing a near riot… ‘If music be the food of love… I want some more.!’ Alas, it is shut but further up is another of my favourite pubs: The Belle Vue. This was where we’d come after Archaeology society lectures and after rehearsals/performances for the drama society I was involved in. It was also a good place to unwind after exams… Like the Greek the place is closed but it looks just as inviting as it always did.

And round the corner I find my hotel for the next few days… The Menai. It’s another place I’ve frequented often but it again holds good memories… Even though it’s probably where I made that big mistake I mentioned earlier. Still, the rooms are cheap and comfortable enough. At least I won’t have to stay in the same room as anyone who talks in their sleep!

And that evening? Well it’s time for the main event, the reason I’ve come back, the closest thing I’ve ever had to a real family: Storm FM. The reunion is being held in a place I don’t much care for but nevertheless it’s still an important place in my life. It’s where I originally signed up for Storm and was subsequently sick in the bin outside. It’s where the cider makes me ill and where the music is loud and you can hardly hear anything: The place they call Varsity. We spend longer than I’d like here but it’s good to see so many old faces again. Eventually we move on across the road to Fat Cats and from there a brief stop in the Yellow pub. I’m ashamed to say that Yellow Pub became my toilet stop when the Storm studio was over the road but that’s not all it was good for. They do nice food there as well. I had a ’21st birthday breakfast’ here once. After that I got to try out the new student nightclub (something which has been missing since they knocked the old SU down) and I must say it was kind of cool. It wasn’t a patch on the other one but still a worthy successor.

The next day I try and walk to some beach type place on the outside of town but my knee is killing me so in the end I only get as far as the harbour… Which is nice enough… Not spectacular but nice enough. And as for the afternoon? Well that afternoon I go back to the roots of my radio career… I retur to Storm FM. I return to the place where Dark Legend (radio edition) was recorded and where I spent many, many happy hours. Of course this is the second Storm Studio I’m talking about as the first has long since been demolished… There is supposed to be a reunion show going on so I’m looking forwards to getting my hands on some proper radio controls once again. As it happens I’m let into the building by some circus people (They were from the circus society… Not dressed like circus people if you must know) and then comes the process of actually getting into the studio… And just like old times it turns out I have to wait for about five/ten minutes… Rather unsurprisingly the studio is almost empty as there’s nobody overseeing the reunion show and it’s a come/go thing… So i crack my knuckles, seat myself at the console and I’m off, as if nothing has ever changed. I quickly find my way back through the control panel and I’m into my stride almost immediately, knocking the tunes out like I’ve never been gone. I’m on my own for the first half hour and for the remaining two joined by a couple of others and we spend the rest of the afternoon talking about topics ranging from Bob Dylan films and the weather to chickens crossing the road and Suggs walking up the driveway, alongside many points in between. Good fun and I enjoy every minute of it.

When I had left the studio the last time around i must admit that I was actually in tears. The best three years of my life were over… But this time there are no tears. I’m pumped up on adrenaline and I now realize something I didn’t then… Every year can be the best year of your life so long as you make good choices and take chances and opportunities when they come your way. Things may change but there is no reason that the good times have to end. There can be good times to be had in most places… You’ve just got to embrace them. Take the last couple of years… I’ve been stuck in the worst place imaginable and, granted, it’s been nowhere near as good as those three years… But I’ve still had some good times and done some amazing stuff; Bristol, three days spent in Bolton, The history challenge, the dark legend books… I don’t think I’d have missed any of that for the world. Even in the darkest of times there are silver linings. Those three years were truly amazing but nothing can last forever and they had to end at some point… It’s just at the time I thought everything was over and I’d never have such brilliant times again. I loved that station and to be honest I still do and probably always will… I’ve never had quite the same experiences since then but there’s no reason why I won’t have them one day. It’s just a matter of time. Also I know something else as I leave: Once a member of Storm FM you’re a member for life. You can be a thousand miles away and it’ll still be with you, whatever you do and wherever you go… And eventually you’ll be drawn back to the mother-station like a moth to a flame and you’ll be welcomed back with open arms…

And that night the fun continues as I once again meet up with my old friends at ‘Noodle One,’ a restaurant I’ve never been in before but somewhere that was quite nice nonetheless. I found the portions to be a bit large quite frankly but it’s was still quite a nice meal. And afterwards we all walk across town to a place called ‘The Mostyn,’ perhaps Bangor’s most isolated pub… But it’s rammed as they’re having a karaoke night so we all end up in The Skerries, not my favourite pub as in the past I’ve always ended up standing by the back door shivering… Not this time though… And we’re all there till closing time (by which point the conversation had taken on an absurd maritime twist… It’s best you don’t ask but it did involve the words Trawler, Grimsby, Summer and ‘working on’). It’s a night I’ve not had the likes of for a long time and I never realized before but I’ve missed them.

The next morning it’s time to check out of the hotel but as my train doesn’t leave till afternoon so I hook up with a friend for a coffee and a chat before leaving… But as it turns out the weekend has one last surprise in store for me… I get invited for a wander around Caernarfon Castle with a few other friends and we all have a jolly nice time of it, finishing up with Ice creams on the riverbank before making the return trip to Bangor.

And that’s where it ends… My return home. My friends drop me off at the train station, we say goodbye and once again I leave my home city… My love for the place has only grown stronger and I’m actually a bit sad that I have to leave again even though I really don’t want to. Last time I left I couldn’t be certain of returning. I had no idea what the future held for me. I know what the future has in store for me now- My destiny is to become the greatest writer of the 21st century and Bangor has already played a starring role in that destiny. It still has a few hands to play though and it’s not out of the game yet. There’s a movie to be filmed here for one thing and one day I’ll be back again. My city… My Bangor… My home!

PS: If anybody wants to ask me any Dark Legend related questions let me know as I’ll be doing another interview soon. (The second edition of Volume 1 has just been released if you want to tell your friends about it btw…)

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