Eating with Real People

Steak and roast chicken, savoury sausage and baked salmon, wine and puddings, maple fudge and a custard slice. It has been a week of eating. When I arrive at my home town of Port Talbot in South Wales, within minutes of getting off the train, it’s the first thing I organise, and then organise again. And again.

Pretty cappuccino at
Cafe Remos, Aberafan Beach
Actually, the custard slice was only half a custard slice. I shared it with my sister at Café Remos on Aberafan Beach after we’d spent a couple of hours walking around the western perimeter of the council estate where we both grew up. My new book, Real Port Talbot, will include memoir (my own and others’) as well as local history and the only way to see an area, to notice what remains, and to remember what has disappeared is to walk it. Even if the wind threatens to take off the top layer of our faces as we turn the corners of the ‘colour’ streets near the beach. And, appropriately, it’s in Scarlet Avenue that my sister confesses to forgery.

‘I only had one ticket for the Naval Club Disco,’ she says, ‘and I wanted my friend Veronica to come with me so we made another one.’

I’m impressed. She was only 12! Think of what she could have achieved if she’d capitalised on this talent.  

I confess that I once stole a monkey nut from the greengrocery section at the Co-op in Fairway. I could feel the dare rising up in me as I realised it would be small enough to fit into my eight-year-old hand and I brushed my fingers over the top of the pile and closed them around one. 

In the warmth of Café Remos we watch the whip of the sea and the rain slap against the plate glass windows. Opposite us a man is reading a  black leather bible and making copious notes into a spiral bound notebook. I wonder what his reaction would be if he knew he was in the presence of a forger and a thief?

At this point my sister and I would like to point out that we were not encouraged by our successes in these fields and that these were our first and only attempts at deceit for material gain. And I didn’t even like monkey nuts.

12 Cafe, 37 Commercial Road, Taibach, Port Talbot

You could pass 12 Café in Taibach, a community to the east of Port Talbot town centre, and be excused for thinking that this was a contemporary café more or less like any other. It offers leather sofas at the front, plenty of bright, clean tables and chairs, and free wi-fi. All the food is prepared fresh every day as the intoxicating, savoury scent of baking proves as you enter.

I’ve come in with Allen Blethyn, a retired carpenter and joiner who discovered his passion late in life for local history, for researching the people and the places and the events that make us who we are now. Allen has shown me copper slag coping stones, chapels and old butcher’s shops and now he takes me into 12 Café because he understands that the Real Port Talbot will be just that: a real account of the town as it is now as well as a record of the past.

12 Café is a social enterprise run by West Glamorgan Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Limited. You can read more about the project and its aims here.

While I am sure there are lots of different social enterprises providing valuable help to people and communities this one, revolving around the preparation of food, of people eating together, particularly appeals to me. The whole ethos of cooking is about transformation and understanding. It’s about self-confidence and contributing to the enjoyment of others. And one cheese and onion toastie and a café latte later it is obvious that 12 Café has all these ingredients and more. 

I currently have two stamps on my loyalty card. I reckon I’ll be getting my free coffee very soon. But if you're too far away to pop into 12 Café you can Like them on Facebook and tell them what a great job they’re doing.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about something that has disappeared from your life.
  2. Write about a crime.
  3. Write about something you remember from your past that has affected your present life.
  4. Write about a particular smell that you associate with a particular place.
  5. Write about a favourite cafe.