I met One-Armed-Tommy in Millers Tavern back in 2006.
He was half sitting on a ridiculously tall bar stool while leaning against a wall painted with the unmistakable hue of nicotine yellow, a colour many Welsh pubs had back in the day.
At his feet were a couple of acoustic amps and he was laying down some savage licks on his guitar. I think it might have even been Mustang Sally.
As you’ve probably surmised, One-Armed-Tommy, as his name suggests, only had one arm.
The strumming was taken care of by a foot-powered mechanical guitar strummer, a wonderous device I couldn’t take my eyes off.
While he belted out his endless husky stream of rock classics all the while chain smoking and guzzling pints in the Cardiff pub, I sat at the bar doing the same thing; chain-smoking my heart to a standstill (it’s okay mom, I quit smoking many moons ago) and challenging my liver to a duel. Weapon of choice: heavy-glassed pints of Ansells bitter.
Down the road and across a creek is the mighty Millennium Stadium, Cardiff’s crowning glory and one of the best rugby and football grounds in Europe (for some reason I ended up in Cardiff for the 2007 Carling Cup Final between Chelsea v Arsenal. That’s a story for another day.)
Back to the pub, the more I think of it now One-Armed’s name might have been Johnny. Or was it Lefty? The point is I learnt several valuable lessons that evening.
Prolonged staring at a mechanical strumming device gives the impression you ogling the groin of the guitarist but most importantly – and once you’ve explained that wasn’t your intention – if a one-armed Welsh guitarist offers to buy you a beer, take the man up on the offer.
Do not however take him up on the offer of joining in a shout with some bawdy Welshmen because those lads can hold their drink.
I remember at one point asking Tommy/Johnny/Lefty about his arm and how he came to part with it and while I haven’t the foggiest of his actual response – he’d drunkenly slipped into the thickest Welsh accent not even a Newfoundlander could understand – I like to think that he lost it fighting a dragon.
As I leaden-footedly stumbled back to the Cardiff Backpackers Hostel only a few blocks away, three sails to the wind and all that, I remember turning around and staring at Millers Tavern and thinking that Wales was a wonderful place.
It was, and still is I imagine, a place of opportunity, of history and culture and where a one-armed Welsh guitarist could entertain a healthy crowd of locals and then happily embarrass an Australian tourist at the pool table (he was pool shark too), while regaling rugby stories filled with all manner of mischief.
I later found out that Millers was one of only a few pubs to survive the blitz and it not only provided shelter for all those left homeless but they also gave people free ale. Can you imagine drunken Welsh screaming at the German bombers flying overhead?
The names only recently been changed and it’s now called the New Millers Tavern although I suspect the only thing new thing about it is the word ‘New’ painted onto the sign.
I returned to Millers in Sept. 2007 during the Rugby World Cup when Wales played Australia at Millennium Stadium but alas One-Armed Tommy/Johnny/Lefty wasn’t there, instead he’d been replaced by hundreds of red-wearing beer swilling Welsh supporters baying at anything in green and gold.
I didn’t bother joining them for a drink however the feeling of pride, history and culture was still the same and is why I have a soft spot for Wales when it comes to rugby, that and their 2007 team contained five Joneses, three Thomases, and a couple of Williamses thrown in for good measure.
This time around they’ve lost two Joneses, all of their Thomases, maintained their Williams quota and picked up an extra Davies to take the tally to two. (For those unaware of what I’m doing here, I’m highlighting the fact that the last names of Jones, Thomas, Williams and Davies are extremely common, kind of like Pilgrim, Simms and Cull on the Northern Peninsula).
Anyway their clash against Samoa was a lot more entertaining than this story with Wales eventual 17-10 winners.
While the Welsh should have been too strong for Samoa -- not in a literal sense though, Samoa’s forward pack weighs more than most European hatchbacks -- they hadn’t beaten Wales this decade.
I wonder if One-Armed Tommy was watching at Millers?