Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, August 28, 2007

IN the past few years it has been my great good fortune to work with a number of young people from the South Wales valleys.
Always of a relentlessly sunny disposition they were, don’t you believe a word from those who would suggest that the valleys imbue people with a demeanour that some would describe as well…gloomy.
Not just gloomy, in a perpetual state of Stygian gloom so inky that, like a black hole they actually consume light. No, no, they are the little rays of sunshine the lot of them.
But, my being North Walian, of a Gog, as the braver among them would eventually sum up the courage to call me, there was never a sense of a shared identity, save for the days when we united in abusing the English in the rugby.
Then eventually, usually as we parted company on a leaving do, they would summon up the courage to say what they really thought.
“David, you’re not really Welsh are yew? I mean you’re not from Welsh Weaallls are yew.”
Welsh Wales for the purposes of this conversation being whatever grassed over spoil tip was home to them.
The reason they had come to this conclusion was that because they had an accent like Huw Edwards, Charlotte Church or the little dragon off of Ivor the Engine, their Welsh credentials were beyond reproach.
My North East Welsh accent, like a Scouser on the run trying to disguise his roots, meant that I was, well, they thought, English.
A few years ago this would be akin to lighting the blue touch paper and standing well back, now I am resigned to us being a nation forever divided.
The problem is that many of those claiming Welshness because they sound like a tenor from Treorchy, couldn’t actually speak Welsh. For them it was how you sounded that was important, not what you spoke.
This division is illustrated by the Early Day Motion (think of it as Westminster graffiti, a sort of political peeing against a lamp-post), put down by South Wales MP Chris Bryant about train announcments which says: “That this House notes that the announcements at all railway stations in Wales are made in Welsh first and then in English; wholly supports the policy of bilingual announcements; but believes that it would be far more sensible and far more convenient for passengers, whether regular commuters or local visitors, if announcements at each station were made first in the language used by the majority of the local population.”
Wholly supports bilingual announcements as long as English comes first in parts of Wales then.
And who is to decide at which point English-first stops and Welsh-first starts?
This is just a mirror image of the old Fro Gymraeg that was suggested by Cymuned way back, but this time if the English-speakers telling us this is English Wales and then over to the West you get Welsh Wales.
The problem is that you create the division in visitors’ minds and then they wonder why anyone bother with Welsh at all. If they can get by without it in the Valleys, why do those bothersome folk in the North keep it up.
You think these attitudes don’t exist but only this week a friend returning from the LlÅ·n said she had found some people there a little ‘unfriendly’, when asked how, she said, oh, we went into shops and they were speaking Welsh.
It was suggested that had the shop been in France and the language French she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid – but the Welsh understand English she insisted.
And so we do, and that is our downfall. The Welsh language will not stand or fall because railway announcements are made first in English. But it is just one more sign to people that Welsh doesn’t matter, that as long as you speak English you’ll get by.
Try suggesting that in France, where the majority of people speak English, but hey, prefer to speak the language that they think in, no matter how inconvenient that may be to English tourists.
Welsh Wales starts at the Croeso I Gymru signs and it finishes at the sea and we don’t need Westminster MPs bolstering the divisions we create among ourselves.

ONE of the best bits of TV in recent months has been Griff Rhys Jones’s ‘Mountain’ which has seen him scaling Scots peaks, a few English hills and finishing up in Snowdonia on Sunday night.
The photography was the BBC at its best and a greater advert for the awe-inspiring beauty of the Welsh mountains there could not be.
It was no rose-tinted elegy though, he pointed out the impact of man on the mountains from the sheep that crop the slope of their bio-diversity, to the fag-ends and plastic bottle that adorn Yr Wyddfa.
But the strangest pollution comes in the form of the heaps of ash that were once people, scattered over the peak as a final resting place.
Not a bad place to be for eternity, but I think people always have visions of a handful of ash being caught by the wind and disappearing across the peak.
In actual fact cremation produces quite a bit of ash and rather than being caught by the breeze, the remains of the dearly departed end up as small heaps on the slopes.
As Griff pointed out, ash is quite fertile and so plants grow better in these heaps than elsewhere on the peaks and so the ecology is changed.
I’m not sure I would want my final resting place to contribute to such changes, so perhaps those scattering their loved ones from now one might consider doing it on a really windy day.

THERE is a bright side to Wales’s drubbing by France.
You can now get odds of 100-1 on them to win the World Cup.
Look, stick the tenner that you would normally put on the Grand National on them to win.
My theory, as always, is that they’re lulling the opposition into a false sense os security.
Come the final you’re £1,000 up.
One small note of warning, I haven’t won a bet since Seagram won the Grand National in 1991, and that was someone else’s tip.

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