It started with a train ticket or two, the occasional beer mat, an autumn leaf, then a few notes scrawled across my diary on a journey along the Gower peninsula. Before I knew it, I had a pile of them – notebooks filled with my travels and bits of flotsam tucked between their pages.
There are times when ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ just doesn’t cut it. Photos are really great, yes, no doubt about that. But if all I’d done was take pictures on that train journey, would I have remembered the retired man across the aisle, easing the creases out of his Cymbran Coast Gazer map?
The train toots. We pull into Tywyn (pron. Tow-inn, as in ouch) Map man has thinning grey hair, a checked flannel shirt, a serious expression and three thick silver earrings up one ear. Tywyn has small boats, solid old pubs and lots of pea-green static caravans. A girl about six waves to us. She’s not too sure.
Back out now, right next to the water … beautiful … huge fat sheep with podgy lambs shoving up underneath them, sky turning ten shades of silver, and gulls flying level with the train window.
We’re squealing gently into Barmouth. Love that sound. A vast car park, amusements. Huddles of shuffly youths outside the Sandancer Leisure Centre and Disco Club. Granite.
Now suddenly here’s another odd bit of beach. Huge swathes of smooth grass and big pools in it, like a pitted billiard table filled with water. Derelict tractors, sky like Quink, a very serious looking tall black church.
Pulling into Porthmadog now. An elderly lady on the platform in her wheelchair, wearing a big straw hat. Spattering rain, the hem of her floral dress flapping in the breeze.
It’s become addictive. Now, I can’t imagine travelling anywhere – even on a weekend break – without a journal. Of course, it does bring with it a whole other lot of stationery to think about. Lined or blank? A5 or A6? When I’m writing fiction or poetry I won’t go near spiral binding, but it comes into its own when you’re sitting on a wobbly chunk of rock somewhere, balancing a notebook on your knee.
And then what about categories? I went through a phase of dividing by season, but gave it up. There’s something about the randomness of opening a travel journal and not knowing what the weather’s going to be like, or where you’re going to find yourself. Like Seattle …
There was a long wait for tables, so we sat up at the bar, watching the bartenders make cocktails. Mesmerising. We had burger and fries and were offered three different types of cheese to go on top. And bacon. Two beers.
Two guys along from us. ‘Excuse us, ladies, but we need to know … What do you think to ducks’ testicles – should we get them?’ For ducks’ testicles were indeed on the menu. He said he was very fond of his own testicles (very attached to them, in fact, said his friend) but he wasn’t so sure about the duck kind.
In the end they went for shaved Brussel sprouts. We had another beer.
There are some things in life a picture just can't handle.