Postcardd ffrom Llanelli

Hiya Holly!

Guess what – I’m in Doctor Who territory! Having trundled along from Cardiff, my Arriva two-coacher dropped me off at Llanelli and disappeared round the bend towards Camarthen, hooting happily like Gordon the Big Blue Engine. And under a perfect holiday sky, I headed for the sea.



‘But, hm, where is it?’ I thought, following signs for ‘the beach’. 100_2438Sand and mud stretched for miles, and barren mud gullies, dressed with Asda trollies and bike tyres, reached towards the town like the tentacles of an Ood.

I had to wait till teatime for water briefly to invade the flats – before nothingness returned. And apart from the ubiquitous seagulls, there was little evidence of estuary birds. It’s as if water and waders took one look and decided: ‘Hm – perhaps some other time.’

Alongside the railway and mudflats runs the tundra-like Millennium Coastal Park, its Tarmac trails and rough-cropped grass affording little shade and few benches on which to sit and ponder the mud. A solitary ship-shaped building, the Coastal Park Discovery Centre, offers basic comforts, including a smart cafe and balcony with elevated views of perhaps an extra mile of mud. In the shop, you can buy fluffy green and red dragons, plastic green and red rugby balls with dragons on, and knitted green and red tea cosies (dragons optional), all from a trestle table laid out first thing and cleared away at 4 o’clock sharp. Outside, an overflowing litter bin is clearly popular for burger boxes and nappies.

But what may pass for a lack of imagination is more than made up for by friendly people. And they speak English. In the cafe, I overheard a woman with a strong Welsh accent explaining to her friend how nothing was more annoying than people talking Welsh as you entered the room. I nodded across, smiling!

The Welsh language is distinctive. Lots of ddouble lletters – hard if you have a stutter, llethal with ffalse teeth! And there’s a ‘y’ in every other word, and ‘w’ insteadd of ‘u’, like bws (bus) or Millenniwm (Millennium). The strangest I’ve heardd is a place name on Anglesey starting Fanfare something and endding God God God. Perhaps it’s a religious thing – you know, a call to God? I mean, they do have llots of chapels here.

I’m staying at the Coastal Grill with Accommodation. It seems the ffashion to call places: ‘Bistro with Accommodation’ or ‘Restaurant with Rooms’. Posh soundding – until you step inside and ffind they’re just orddinary B&Bs!


Tardis shower

The shower in my room (Nwmber 15) is llike the control console of the Tardis. There are no instrwctions, and the llist on the outside wall talks more of llifestyle than knob control:100_2458

–  Immediately shower after strenuous exercise inadvisable.

–  Leave at once if feel uncomfortable when                                                taking steambath.

Llike David Tennant, I push at the bank of bwttons andd pull at chrome llevers wntil smoke and steam gwshes from every spout and the capsule shwdders as transportation begins. This morning I found myself being llathered ddown by Miss Llanelli 1957 – how I llove that abillity to ddrop in anywhere, anytime!  But it was a sharp awakening as the air cleared to a washbasin with no pllwg, a benddy, plastic toilet seat that ddoesn’t stay wp, and a wardrobe door that swings open when people go in and out of Nwmber 16 – handy when I want a clean shirt.

Each morning, the llandlord, who is also cook, greets people and takes their breakffast ordder. His ddaily pleasure is itemising the Ffull Welsh – never the same two ddays rwnning.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, button mushrooms and a hash brown,’ he said enthusiastically on my ffirst morning.

On the secondd morning, I eagerly awaited the new menu.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, baked beans, button mushrooms, hash brown, and this morning,’ he added prouddly with ddramatic pause, ‘it’s tinned tomato.’

Tinned tomato! Mmm!

The third dday was like the ffirst bwt with halff a fflat mwshroom insteadd of bwttons. Then, somewhat bizarrely, he added, ‘Or kippers with butter,’ which seemed as incongruous as the Tardis in the beddroom and as unlikely as ffindding ffreshly picked, pimento-stufffed olives in Lidl.


Theatre Elli


Council garddens

In empathy with its mwddy estuary, Llanelli town has an iddentity crisis. The main shops have moved out, the theatre (Theatr Elli) has closed andd the cinema converted to a Wetherspoons. Home Bargain Stores, Cash Generators and charity shops dominate the centre. Bwt in the middst of this plainness, set out serenely behindd the imposing Victorian Town Hall, lie the beautiffully manicured Council garddens, with colourfful beds, comffortable benches and a grand banddstand lladen with plwsh hanging baskets.

And the llong rows of terraced houses, tidily painted in neat pastels, with satellite ddishes 100_2486pointing symetrically to the heavens llistening for the Doctor’s return, are testimony to the undderlying vibrance of the community. Street names llike Great Western Crescent (Gilgant Great Western), Railway Terrace (Teras y Rheilfordd) andd Railway Place (Fford y Wagen) hint at the extensive railway network servicing the coal, steel andd tin inddustries in Llanelli’s heydday. Only the pretty, toytown coastal lline remains.

Time ffor reffreshment. The delightfful llandllady of the one surviving tradditional town centre pwb, the Double Dragon, ddeffies ddesigner bars like Stamps andd The Met – offering great beer, andd ddarts matches five ddays a week. Andd twcked between the kebab take-aways and overbearing Asda, the Bengal Lancer serves a cracking Prawn Methi andd Aloo Sag. A handdwritten notice promotes ‘Potion of Chips’ for £2.50. But no need for strange brews – ffive pints of Felinfoel and a curry brings on slleep soon enough!

Any llwck with a job yet? I know it’s not easy for gradduates these ddays …

Llove Paul

Paul Costello © August 2013



Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

A fabulous holiday read!



Warfarin Junkie

‘Did you feel a flutter just then?’ said Alice, softly, as she leaned across me on the couch.

‘Can’t say I did,’ I replied, cautiously keen. ‘My heart didn’t skip a beat, if that’s what you mean.’

‘It did actually,’ she said, snapping the suction pads off my chest. ‘The ECG shows you’ve got atrial fibrillation.’

So, at 65, I find I have atrial fibrillation, or put simply – an irregular heartbeat. No underlying heart disease according to subsequent scans; just a creaky pump. For all I know, it might have been there for years before Nurse Alice stumbled upon it during an MOT to check light-headedness – which turned out to be harmless; yet another symptom explained away by: ‘It’s your age.’

Atrial fibrillation occurs when different places around the atrium (the upper chamber of the heart) produce electrical impulses over and above the natural ones needed to make the heart beat. These erratic impulses make the atrium quiver or twitch, which is known as fibrillation.

I’d never have known this was happening. I didn’t twitch or quiver. There were no other symptoms to make me think something was wrong. Changes in general demeanour were down to my right to become angrier and madder with every passing year – not a quivering atrium. Only now, when I feel my pulse and know what to look for, do I realise it beats smoothly for, say, a dozen beats, then misses one. And after a further ten beats it may do three beats in one.

Four out of every hundred people over 65 have atrial fibrillation. It’s a fact – I asked ninety-nine other over-65s in my part of town: ‘Have you got atrial fibrillation?’ Just so as you know, the other three are Betty Jones (75), Marshal Ginster (70) and the Vicar, Henry Harmondsworth (83).

So – what’s the problem? Well apparently I’m at greater risk of a stroke. With fibrillation, the erratic flow of blood causes turbulence, making the blood form small clots which could move to the brain and cause a stroke. To reduce this risk, they prescribe warfarin (rat poison) to thin the blood so that it won’t clot so readily. It’s a little disturbing that rats are expected to go away and die somewhere after warfarin, yet there’s nothing in the box’s information leaflet saying: ‘Likely side effects – some people may go off and die somewhere.’ There are, however, hundreds of other possible side effects, getting all of which would mean you’d be dead anyway. I guess they know what they’re doing.

Since we all have a different metabolism, the amount of warfarin is determined individually, using a recognised coagulation measure called INR (International Norm Ratio). Typically they aim for your blood to take two to three times longer than normal to coagulate. To ensure the right level, I attend a regular warfarin clinic at my local hospital. A pinprick of blood is sucked from my thumb and a sophisticated machine reads its coagulation factor. Several of us see the bloodsucker at the same time, and our readings are entered in a Yellow Book handed out at the first visit. Looking rather like a Building Society Passbook, we have to keep this with us at all times in case of accident or trauma, so that the emergency services are aware of our warfarin level and current coagulation count. Bleeding – inside or out – is the biggest risk.

These sessions are like a society meeting – Warfarins Anonymous. We all know why we’re there, and empathy is rich. The bloodsucker calls out people’s results as a sort of ice-breaker.

‘You’re 2.6 today, Marshal.’

‘Oh, that’s pretty good,’ he replies.

I’m not sure how this public information sharing fits with patient confidentiality. I’ve never experienced a GP sticking his head round the waiting room door to say:

‘Listen up, everyone. I’ve just got Mrs Maxwell’s urine test results, and her pH reading is down to 7. Good, eh?’

When I raised this privately with the bloodsucker, she said that no-one else had questioned it in her entire sucking career. Probably scared of her.

I’m proud of my Yellow Book – it’s like a badge. I stand out from the rest. In the pub, I ‘accidentally’ leave it on the bar, and people seeing the dash of colour realise they’re drinking with a man of distinction. Great that I can still have a drink, actually – I’d been led to believe alcohol was a no-no if you’re on warfarin, but the nurse who sees you privately after the bloodsucker assured me it wasn’t a problem.

‘Stick with whatever you’re used to,’ she said. ‘We’ll make sure the warfarin level matches your normal lifestyle, but we suggest you don’t binge drink if you’ve not had alcohol for a few days. And the only thing you mustn’t have is cranberries, and possibly grapefruit.’

‘Great!’ I said. ‘I’ll wean myself off cranberry juice, but carry on with the eighteen pints of Carlsberg a night.’

In the high street I parade with the top half inch of my Yellow Book peeking from my jacket pocket like a handkerchief.

‘Wow, that man’s got a quivering atrium!’ I overhear from a passer-by who’s spotted the tell-tale yellow sliver.

‘2.7 in case you wondered,’ I call out.

‘Wonderful news!’ he says. ‘No need to go off and die somewhere!’

And I’m not the only show-off. Of every ninety-nine over-65s I pass daily, three have a yellow sliver about their person. Even the local Age Concern office has got in on the act, a notice in its window saying:

Come and chat about your INR measurement here

Yes, I love my Yellow Book.

But soon I’ll face the greed of the insurance man. I see his pointing finger hovering above me like the Uncle Sam recruiter, saying:

‘YOU have atrial fibrillation! Yes, YOU! Don’t deny it! Hand over £8,000 for your car insurance NOW – or go off and die somewhere! And £5,000 travel premium for your day trip to Calais – because YOU have atrial fibrillation!’

I don’t care. I shall live as long as anyone else. Yes, I have atrial fibrillation, but taking warfarin for life will protect me. I simply have to take a few milligrams a day. Which makes me officially a warfarin junkie.

Paul Costello © August 2013


Utterly front cover - final 30.5.13

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

A fabulous holiday read!