Saturday, 22 September 2007

Swing low sweet chariot

Four hours of hurtling through first the English then the Welsh countryside, going out as far west as you can without getting your feet wet, gets you to Solva. Plunge down a tree-lined valley towards the sea and it feels like you're going down a green tunnel before you arrive happily at your destination.

I know I've gone a little misty-eyed about this place when I've mentioned it before, but it truly is fantastic. It always manages to have the right effect. We could almost feel our stresses dissolving as we got out of the car. Although that might be something to do with my driving, in all honesty.

We quickly dumped our luggage in quaintly-named Honeysuckle Cottage, our home for the next seven days:

Cute, isn't it?

Then we headed off for the Harbour Inn. It's a tradition built up over quite a few visits that our first drink will be here - if weather permits we'll enjoy the view of the harbour itself. However, this time it wasn't the climate that kept us inside - we'd just got there in time for the second half of the match between England and Samoa in the Rugby World Cup.

I've already cheerfully admitted that sporting prowess is not my ace card. However, rugby union is something I played at school - many moons ago - and I still think it's one of the finest spectator sports going. I prefer it over football, although as I support Birmingham City that's not exactly surprising.

Being in Wales means being in a place where they're passionate about their rugby. This is so much more than just a sport - it's woven into the DNA of the Principality. So the pub was full of people - young, old, male, female - watching the match. Most of them were Welsh. And they were rooting for the Samoans.

When England is playing another team, other home nation supporters often want the opposition to win. If you ask a Welshman who're they're supporting, the answer might well be, "Wales, followed by whoever is playing against the English".

This is something that a lot of English people find difficult to understand. And in fact, that afternoon there was a handful of English tourists (including one brave soul in an England shirt) cheering on their team. There was a tiny bit of tension - nothing serious at all - but the view from one corner of the pub was, "How dare you not support England?" It was something I've heard before, in various sporting tournaments.

And it was then I understood perfectly. If you have a neighbour who assumes you're going to support them blindly, and who then gets antsy when you don't, it's a natural reaction to go the other way. Nothing like a nice wind-up, isn't there?

Anyway, England won 44 to 22 (even more remarkably, in the football Birmingham City scraped a 1-1 draw against the mighty Liverpool) and once the game was over, everyone was laughing and joking as the beer and banter flowed naturally.

Solva does that to you - you can't stay tense for long.

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