Some people would have you believe that the Welsh weather is never very good. Ha! How could they say such a thing? How could anyone imply that this land is so green because it rains almost all the time? They’ve obviously been led astray. These folk probably also think that Wales is full of rugby-playing, hymn-singing, ex-miners who live in deep, dark, sodden valleys. And sheep – lots of sheep; though to be fair, I will concede that there are millions of the blessed things and they do seem to get absolutely everywhere.
We all know it’s wrong to generalize but still we do it. National characteristics are flouted as though they are the absolute measure of a people: Australians are loud and jovial until they lose at sport – then they are loud and…disappointed; the Irish are warm and friendly, with a slight tilt towards eccentricity; Germans allegedly have no sense of humour (oh, yes they do!) and are sticklers for rules – though based on personal experience (and a Swiss friend), I can say that nobody loves correct behaviour and a set of precise instructions more than the Swiss. Apart from my eldest daughter, who knows all the rules (including the obscure ones) to every board game we play. Attempts to soften the regime or plead for mercy are met with a firm refusal: “Rules control the fun”, she insists – though she’s on very shaky ground these days since we discovered she was cheating at Articulate by sneakily and consistently moving her own team’s piece a couple of places further than she should have.
Now, a question: what do the following countries have in common?
UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Slovenia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, USA, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Angola, Qatar, Lebanon, India, Mauritius, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.
Answer: my blogsite has been viewed by people in all these countries. That is astonishing to me! And it leads me to wonder what impression other nations have of Wales and the Welsh – I know that an awful lot of Americans have never heard of us, even with exports such as Tom Jones, Catherine Z-J and Anthony Hopkins. Which is interesting when you remember that the USA was founded by refugees from Europe (and beyond), who named many towns and cities after places they’d left behind. For instance, did you know there was a Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania? As well as Narbeth, Radnor and Bala Cynwyd, to name just a few.
I’ve found on travels through Europe that the easiest way of referencing Wales is through sport – most rugby or football fans know of Wales or Cardiff (though rugby fans are scarce if you’re outside France or Italy). Of course you don’t need any such explanations in Brittany, which is historically and culturally from the same stable as Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Which brings me to that glaring exception from this list – England. Our closest and most aggravating neighbour; and before that annoys the pants off some people, I say it with a certain affection. There’s so much to like about England: attractive market towns and gorgeous villages…some stunning countryside…glorious cathedrals…and of course the language, which is truly a wonder of the civilised world. As for the English themselves – they are a group of…confident people, I think. But to all my English friends – I love you all!
But why is it that England is described as being a ‘green and pleasant land’, while Wales is accused of wallowing in a never-ending cloud of drizzle? We’re right next to each other! They’re green and pleasant? And we’re green and soggy? Clearly the rain must stop when it reaches Offa’s Dyke. So, in the interests of cross-border relations, this month we’ve been donating some of our downpours to England – and no, we don’t want any back, thank you!
Joking aside, January is certainly a miserable month in this part of the world; the warmth of Christmas is behind us and the days are still short and bleak enough to remind us that summer is a long way away. Small wonder that we’re forced to entertain ourselves indoors. In our house this usually involves food of some kind. For instance, one of the presents I gave Mr B at Christmas was a sausage-making kit. It’s something he’s mentioned a few times and this year I finally took the hint.
At this point there was just a little bad language…
But what a success they turned out to be! They were made from a pork and apple mix and they tasted really good. Now on the agenda is to develop more recipes, which is just the thing to do on those dark winter days.
We’d just polished off the last of the sausages when along came St Dwynwen’s Day, which happens to be on 25th January (Burns’ Night). And instead of pretending to be Scottish and eating haggis, neeps and tatties, I contented myself with making Welsh cakes as a loving gesture to my husband, who could eat them all day and the next. A St Dwynwen’s Day token
St Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and was one of the twenty-four children of King Brychan of Brycheiniog (it sounds as though he was no shirker in the romantic stakes himself). I’m sure you’d like to know how this sainthood came about, so here’s the story:
Apparently the lovely Dwynwen, after being raped by Maelon (a rejected suitor), falls asleep in a forest and is visited by an angel in a dream. Telling the angel what’s happened, she says that she wants Maelon dead. Lo and behold, the next day news comes that Maelon has been turned into a block of ice. In an astounding about-face, Dwynwen decides that she loves Maelon after all and begs the angel (in another dream) to release the wretched, frozen fellow. At this point the story becomes even stranger because the sympathetic angel suddenly allows Dwynwen three wishes; I don’t know about you, but I almost believed it up until now…
Anyway, Dwynwen announces her three wishes: first, that the charming Maelon is released; second, that God will watch over and protect all true lovers; third, that she herself will never marry.
Yep. That’s exactly what I’d ask for.
As befits the best of stories, the angel grants the wishes. Maelon lives happily ever after with another woman, God smiles on all lovers and Dwynwen takes herself off to Ynys Môn (Anglesey), builds a chapel and lives there with an enchanted eel until the end of her days.
Isn’t that so much better than St Valentine! Completely bizarre, I love it – especially the bit about the enchanted eel.
* * *
Before ending this particular post, a mention of a news item I saw a couple of days ago. As many as 100,000 people were stranded at a Chinese railway station this week because of bad weather and it looked as though they’d be there for up to a day – or even more! Now that really knocks spots off the delay Mr B and I encountered at the Gare du Nord a couple of years back when Eurostar imploded!
Good riddance January…