In an attempt to provide a momentary respite from the rigors of work and the limits of domesticity, a group of men in West Wales go on an annual outing. It has as its ostensible destination the town of Porthcawl, but it is actually designed to stop at every inviting public house along the way. During the course of the year, a fund is gradually accumulated sufficient to purchase twenty cases of pale ale to supplement the fare of the local pubs and to hire a sightseeing bus for transportation. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy with a poet’s flair for descriptive language and a fascination with the eccentricities of the men he accompanies. Because the boy lives in relatively meager circumstances with his uncle’s family in a small house adjoining their tiny shop, his range of social circumstances is limited to the intricate detail of the shop, his observations of the peculiarities of his uncle’s friends, and the energetically inventive stretch of his imagination. He first hears of the event when he reads an advertisement for sheep-dip, “which was all there was to read.”
Because he spends so much time with his relatives, he has created an image of them that gives them a dimension beyond the mundane facts of their lives. His uncle is described as a huge old buffalo bursting the bounds of the little house; his aunt is reduced to a tiny mouselike creature. When his uncle’s friends gather to plan their yearly outing, the boy turns his enthusiasm for local mythmaking toward their individualistic turns of speech, rendering their banter as the declarations of men with a singular capability, each exhibiting a skill appreciated and encouraged by the others, and each with a local history that includes some memorable feat from past excursions. There are certain conventions that have become a part of the preparation for the trip, including a temporary tiff in which the boy’s aunt, Sarah Thomas, withdraws to her mother’s house for the weekend. The uncle’s decision to include the boy is a change in the routine, although not without some historical precedent, greeted predictably with good-natured, characteristic complaints before the men subside into tacit acceptance and find other things about which to disagree.
The tour bus leaves the village on a beautiful August morning, making a brief return to collect old O. Jones who, typically, has missed the bus. With impeccable timing, the men arrive at the first public house just as it opens. The boy is instructed to guard the bus against thieves—a preposterous notion—and occupies himself by wistfully looking at the cows while the men carouse in the bar, feeling a familiar sense of isolation (“on the lonely road, the lost, unwanted boy, and the lake-eyed cows”) that is at the root of his poetic portraiture. When the men emerge, they are already...
(The entire section is 742 words.)