Monday, 19 September 2011

The Papal Visit - 29 years on!

1982 was the year,  Pope John Paul II was the Pope and Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff was the venue.
A group of us men (it appeared to be a men only occasion back then) gathered at the side of the A40 just outside Ross-on-Wye at 4am to catch the designated coach to Cardiff. I knew only a few of the others, Ted Drake-Lee RIP and Richard Vaughan of the famous Courtfield Vaughans and Bernard Hyde, a family friend who was on the charismatic road to Heaven (arms outstretched and eyes rolling upwards like a puppet on ecstasy) - but I must not malign the afflicted!

It was still dark when we arrived in Cardiff and disembarked at Pontcanna. we had been given a very officious briefing on the coach by a military looking gent wearing a black beret and sporting  a walrus moustache; our little group of four were allocated a 'paddock' of around 3 acres in size and given a format as to how pilgrims were to be placed within the paddock "fill from the back and NOT the front!"

Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff 1982
"Two's company, three's a crowd
We settled down in the early dawn and ate cold bacon sandwiches washed down with flasks of tea and coffee plus a few hip flasks of whisky and eagerly awaited both our pilgrims and the Holy Father. I believe that JPII was due to arrive at 11am and our paddock was at least 3 back from the stage where he was to celebrate Mass.
At 9am no bodies had presented themselves for our allocation and we were beginning to feel about as useful as a chocolate teapot; then, joy of joys, a group of four presented themselves and were duly escorted to the back row (it was on the principal of 'those who are first shall be last' etc).

Another hour or more elapsed and it became obvious that there was not going to be the turnout that the organisers had hoped for. We debated about releasing our four pilgrims from their bleak corner but the order came from above that they must remain in position.
I am always guided by the old adage 'rules were made for the guidance of wise men and the observance of fools' so I walked across and released them so that they could get a ringside position, much to the chagrin of the military gent who was looking decidedly flushed and angry.

Taking off my yellow beret and sash I stuffed them into my yellow bag and told all present of my plans for desertion. Some stayed put and some followed and the military gent huffed and puffed and, in a bit of a strop, grabbed his yellow bag which turned upside down whereupon about 30 miniature bottles of gin fell out - ah, the flush was alcohol based, not anger!

The rest is history as they say. The hymns were abysmal (even though then I was then still a Nervous Disorder Catholic) and Pontcanna Fields never got more than a couple of hundred thousand people but, I had seen the Pope and attended his Mass.


  1. It's anecdotes like this which make one's participation in great events all the more memorable. Rebellion in the face of officiousness is one of life's little triumphs.
    He sounds like an ideal candidate to lead a parish lay committee.
    By the way, were all the bottles empty?

  2. Genty - no they were full! He must have disposed of the empties on the quiet. I have never seen so many miniatures.

  3. Good to know that the inability to organise a social occasion in a brewery is not a recent phenomenon.