Lunchtime, and I was ready for a break. Spotted the wonderfully named "Pelican in her Piety" pub, and ordered my usual pot of tea and packet of salt and vinegar. More on the origin of the name later. Talking of names, I stayed recently in a district of Cardiff called "Splott". Apparently the name comes from Old English and means a speck, a blot, a patch of land. Anyway, back to the pub, as they say. I asked the lady behind the bar how far it was to the next small town on the Wales coastal path - Porthcawl. She looked at me with mild horror. I hoped that was due to the question, rather than me in general! Shook her head slowly, almost as if I was Marco Polo about to cross Mongolia, and said, "No, no, boyo, ooh no, that's a long way, now let me see, no wait, let me just ask my friend here, see". You have to imagine this all being said in a lovely, lilting Welsh accent. She asked her friend, and she looked just as horrified, and they both confirmed in unison that it was indeed a long way away, with much shaking of heads. I dared not ask whether they'd ever met a traveller who had indeed taken the path.
Off I went, and I came upon a wonderful Lilliputian suspension bridge, just for walkers. On that bridge I met a Danish woman and a Welsh man, and we had a long discussion about the pronunciation and meaning of the untranslatable, but nevertheless very desirable, state of hygge. Can one use it as an adjective and a verb? I'll leave you to look it up. All I can say is that this helps to explain why the Danes are the happiest people in the world.
But I digress. This blog was supposed to be about "What do you do?" which is often a question which comes up quickly when I'm staying with my Airbnb hosts. The answers from the hosts have included: engineer, teacher, social worker, special needs assistant, speech therapist, yoga instructor, producer for the BBC, care home worker, entrepreneur (having made and lost over $100 million, now making it again), architect, door-to-door salesperson, promoter of nutritional supplements, choir leader, HR manager, precision engineer, brickie, lecturer, a sound engineer from the rock music world, a French polisher, a youth worker, a town crier, head gardener for a stately home...and so on. I had never heard of some of the professions, such a music therapist - who uses music to help children who have been traumatized.
But it was when we moved beyond the formal titles to what people actually do with their time that things became more interesting. One host was helping her ex-Army son manage his PTSD, and used the Airbnb earnings to provide some extras for his children. Another used his spare time to develop bike routes by putting up signs, and identifying new paths. Several raised money for charity through various means, often by exercise, such as running marathons. Others helped children - for example by fostering them while they were being assessed for care, by teaching those with special needs, or by working to keep children with their families, rather than entering the foster system. Some hosts really enjoy the whole experience of meeting the Airbnb guests, and put themselves out to entertain the guests with wine, dinner and stories. In general, my sense is that many of the Airbnb hosts enjoy the social part of the experience as much as having a little extra money.
Some strange coincidences have occurred. Taking four, in increasing order of specificity:
i) I was the guest of a woman who went to the same secondary/high school near Norwich as I did. We were about 3-4 years apart, and didn't know each other, but remembered some of the same teachers. I guess there are over a thousand schools like that in the UK.
ii) I stayed as an Airbnb guest with a woman whose job is to help develop the route for the England coast path. There was an Act of Parliament passed in 2015 which stated that there should be a coast path all round England by 2020, and there's an organization working on this. I'm guessing that there are perhaps 2-300 people doing this, and maybe 25-50 crazy people walking the England coast path, so I'll leave the statisticians to figure out the chances...
iii) another Airbnb host was born in the same city (Dar-es-Salaam) and the same year (1960) as me, and our respective parents were teachers. They would probably have known each other, although its too late to find out now.
iv) I walked with someone who turned out to have gone to the same university as my late wife. Although they didn't know each other directly as they were about 3 years apart, her best friend at university was the sister of my wife's best friend from when she was a young girl. This really felt like a sign!
Finally, back to the Pelican in her piety. The pelican was believed to revive its dead chicks by spilling its own blood for them: an allusion to the belief that Christ shed his blood to save mankind. There are several references in Shakespeare's plays to this link. For example, in Hamlet, Laertes mentions the pelican while talking with Claudius about exacting revenge for his father’s death:
To his good friends thus wide I'll ope my arms
And, like the kind life-rend'ring pelican
Repast them with my blood.
Back to the pub. The pelican was part of the coat of arms of the local Carne family, which took over the priory nearby after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century.