Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

How I rediscovered my Welsh Heritage on a Sofa

Welsh Heritage

What a topsy-turvy world we live in. And what a June to remember. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to lose national dignity once in a week could be regarded as misfortune, to lose it twice looks like carelessness. No sooner had we voted to leave Europe with Brexit, than we were literally kicked out of the European Cup by tiny Iceland. Why, it seems hardly a day has gone by since the Iceland Britons were most familar with comprised a chain of frozen food outlets. Frozen cod fillets will never taste the same again.

But hold up there, as many a Johnny Foreigner can testify, we Brits have more than one face.

Besides English bums, crumbs and the odd coin or two, you can discover all sorts of surprising stuff festering in and on English sofas. Following centuries of hating the stroppy buggers, millions of English football fans discovered a love for the Welsh they never knew they had, while sitting on their sofas in front of the telly last night. After decades of smirking at Welsh defeats with the round ball – as opposed to the oval one – they found Britishness can mean embracing Welsh success on the football pitch as their own. To call tiny Wales’ defeat of the team ranked second in the world behind Argentina a ginormous thrashing would be an understatement. It was far more than that. The three-one victory over Belgium counted as the the biggest shock the world of international football has seen since as long ago as the beginninng of last May when, against odds of 5000/1, Leicester City clinched the English Premier League. Having been born in Leicester the joy of that triumph was just starting to fade when I was jolted awake by Williams’ unbelievable header in the 31st minute. For the Welsh wizards to put away two more was Christmas come early three times in one evening. Even better was the dawning of the realisation I could take some national pride in Wales’ fantastic achievement, having been made an honorary Welshman back in 1964.

In the 1960s the Hemming family used to spend its annual summer holiday camping in North Wales. While Tom Jones remained the main protagonist of an 18th century novel by Henry Fielding, Wales was chiefly famed for its grimness and continuous drizzle. That, and its inhabitants’ miserable outlook on life. And Ivor Emmanuel singing Men of Harlech in Zulu, of course. Not the language, the film.

I think our father was trying to teach my three sisters and I a lesson by taking us to Wales. The very first lesson we learned was how foreign the Welsh were. So foreign, many of them insisted on speaking their own impenetrable foreign language. Even worse, they saw us as being foreign. In what was, after all, more or less, our own British land. The cheek of it. Back in the 1960s, however far away we ventured from our green and pleasant land, we English were never foreign. Foreignness was something that began beyond the shores of England in foreign lands. It was something foreigners brought with them when they came to England.

Not long after crossing the English/Welsh border in our bottle green Thames Dormobile caravan the landscape changed dramatically. Gentle, rolling hills turned into forbidding, rocky mountains and happy, babbling brooks became raging torrents. For those having to read maps out loud place names became unreadable. Turn right at Cynfronydd, Dad, then follow the signs to Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwnfa. We should be able to see Betws Gwerfil Goch just over the brow of the next hill. No point in attempting to ask a local where the hell Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwnfa was. Luckily, our first holiday destination was the lovely seaside town of Barmouth. At least I was able to tell my friends where I’d been once I got back without causing irreparable damage to my tongue.

After spending several holidays in North Wales learning about the men and women of Harlech, the wonderful beach at Morfa Bychan and the slate mines that roofed the world at Blaenau Ffestiniog. After numbing our feet to the bone by dipping them into the ice-cold mountain streams of Snowdonia, where tiny sheep managed to cling to sheer mountainsides without falling off. After driving from the Welsh mainland to the small island of Anglesey across the first suspension bridge in the world. After learning it was built so island farmers could drive their cattle herds to market without losing half of them to the unpredictable, swirling waters of the Menai Straits. After learning all that, we discovered Oxwich Bay on the Gower Peninsula in the south of Wales. Its equitable climate meant, unlike North Wales, the clouds often parted to allow the sun to shine all day long, so we could lounge about on the beach instead of learning stuff in the teeming rain. Nevertheless, for a restless and bored teenager, mostly interested in learning more stuff about the female body, lounging about the beach with Mum and Dad was about as interesting as learning that the first suspension bridge in the world was designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826.

The best thing that happened that year was when Dai and the twins, Owen and Thomas, introduced themselves. From that moment the four of us became inseparable. By day we spied on girls sunning themselves on the beach in their swimming costumes, while trying to imagine the interesting stuff they concealed. By night we drank Coca Cola and smoked Gold Leaf cigarettes serreptitiously in the only little café the village possessed. Run by a pretty young art student and her mother it became the exclusive haunt of pubescent males after dark, when Mum disappeared upstairs. Spending all our pocket money on tobacco and Coke, profits boomed.

The boys made me an honorary Welshman the day before we went to see The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night at Swansea Odeon. In their eyes this was the highest accolade an Englishman could ever receive. Deep inside I wasn’t so sure. I felt a bit like a traitor, as there was little love lost by the between the brother nations.

I could never have dreamt a day would come when I would be proud to be Welsh. But that day finally arrived yeterday. Dod ar Gymru! as we Welshmen say.

 

Advertisements

19 comments on “How I rediscovered my Welsh Heritage on a Sofa

  1. Laura Bloomsbury
    July 23, 2016

    can’t understand how I keep missing your entertaining/provocative/raconteur posts Bryan as am an avid reader of yours and you are in my Reader as it were –

    belated thanks for this funny, memorable trip into foreign fields where our Brexit brothers and sisters managed to hold their own so far into the Euro land of fantasy football. Perhaps welsh for wags just means sheepdogs. Less distracting
    To thinks that all those trips to Wales gave you the springboard for a wanderlust that took you to the far frontiers of Conil – maybe you should try Patagonia (Ti ’rioed di blasu armadilo fachgen?” (Have you ever tasted armadillo, boy?)

    p.s. I too am an honorary Welshman – woman might be more accurate – having married a Thomas and camped under canvas in many a Brecon Beacon field with my half Welsh/half English offspring – those sheep can certainly sing at lambing time

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      July 23, 2016

      Well, for various reasons, I haven’t been posting much of late, but I hope to get back to it soon.

      After read Bruce Chatwin’s accounts of travelling to Patagonia many years ago – as well as Paul Theroux’s – I was tempted, but my boat will have to come in big if I want to consider it again.

      Thanks for popping by, Laura.

      Like

      • Laura Bloomsbury
        July 24, 2016

        Your writings should float you – seriously there is so much rubbish in print that we readers could do with some quality – batter a publisher Bryan

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bryan Hemming
        July 25, 2016

        Your support is always welcome and much appreciated, Laura, I only wish your belief in the media and publishing world was warranted.

        A few travel articles of mine were published by the Independent at the turn of the century at a time when other major newspapers were showing interest in my work. Believe it or not, the Telegraph once commissioned me to go to Armenia to write an article back in 1997. It was never published.

        Unfortunately, I am seen as too much of a maverick nowadays, and my recent attacks on Guardian journalists – however justified – could hardly have endeared me to one of the organs that would have been most interested in my work years ago.

        Some of the bigger outlets in the alternative media are keen for my more serious pieces, but I’ve had too many problems over the last few months to concentrate on much work. My biggest love is writing fiction, but a little column, where I could write one or two humorous observations – like this Welsh piece – a month, would be my ideal. Like you, I know there’s a market for them, but convincing editors has proven impossible. The Santa Catalina stories were born out of an article the Independent actually published, but the idea for more similar pieces wasn’t taken up. A link is here:

        http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/a-winters-tale-5359111.html

        For some reason the archives published the first paragraph twice. Maybe they love it so much.

        Like

      • Laura Bloomsbury
        July 26, 2016

        fully appreciate your response and a great deal of frustration I would imagine too. You tell it like it is, with irony, or with humour and with many strings to your bow – the world is wasteful of talent.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. rangewriter
    July 8, 2016

    Well I’m not a football fan, the British or the American version. I know next to nothing about Wales. But I’ve been to that amazing little dot called Iceland and I’m afraid I was ecstatic to learn that Iceland had beaten the Brits! Then I was deflated when they lost to, what was it, France? But even for little ol’ Iceland to get to the finals was an incredible feat (and luck, too I’m sure…they have lots of little gnomes to rub for luck).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      July 8, 2016

      With Norse blood surging through my veins it was impossible for me not to celebrate Viking success.

      As for for France, the English side of me is supposed to hate the French, and Norwegians aren’t exactly Francophiles, but I can’t help loving their food, their country, their films, the sounds they make when speaking English and their style. Even their arrogance is breathtaking for both its execution and belittling delivery..

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeremy Stocks
        July 8, 2016

        Ah the French. We’re supposed to hate them but sadly they have a better quality of life than us, their food is a reason not to lose weight (we forget healthy eating when in France) their landscape in the south is gorgeous, their women could read a shopping list and cause a commotion in the trousers, not to mention their films. Many of us teenagers saw our first pairs of breasts on Friday night through French films on portable black and white tellies!

        Like

  3. Jeremy Stocks
    July 4, 2016

    Bryan – heaven knows how I stumbled here, URL after URL but how nice. I’m like you in Bongo Bongo Land, but my version is Bavaria, Germany. I always fantasized about wearing a pith helmet and running a small shire in Kenya as a colonial to King George. A spell in Saudi aided those dreams.

    I’m actually from Llanfairfechan, North Wales, and studied in Leicester. Through a circuitous route via Mongolia, I ended up in Bayern, married to a German lady. We now own a caravan and travel lots to Spain, as far south as Murcia.

    Like

    • Bryan Hemming
      July 5, 2016

      However you stumbled in, Jeremy, I’m pleased to see you arrived safely and hope you enjoy yourself. My partner Angelica’s father lives in Munich, and she is from Freiburg. We met here in Andalucia thirteen years ago.

      Angelica is an artist. You can see her work here: Angelica Westerhoff. If you make it as far south as Cadiz, next time you’re in Spain, let us know, we live in Conil de la Frontera.

      Like

      • Jeremy Stocks
        July 8, 2016

        Thanks for the reply. We did live a few years in Munich but moved to the countryside outside. I like the mountain biking and cross country skiing here.

        We stayed down near the White Towns near Almeria a while back. One day when the wife stops working (she is the breadwinner) we will undertake a circumnavigation of Spain and Portugal.

        Looking forward to the football hysteria ending tbh so I can get back to gently teaching myself programming in Java.

        Like

  4. Nil
    July 2, 2016

    Lovely drifting around while the Red Dragons made minced meat of the Red Devils 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Colltales
    July 2, 2016

    What a wonderful piece of personal history rolled into a generous celebration finding common ground. Thanks for making us all welcome into the fortunate wave you’ve been riding all year. Just as Leicester seemed, at one point, impossible to dream going all the way, let’s hope the Welsh of your borrowed heritage will also write a new, winning chapter this summer. And thank goodness for the gods of football who have been offering such inspiring stories to counterbalance the bleakness of all else. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bob Van Noy
    July 2, 2016

    Bryan, I became aware of you through your excellent commentary on Consortium News… Fine essay you’ve written here, congratulations.
    It is a wonderful experience finding mutual understanding about the World. Sports truly are a great pressure valve to our contemporary trials… I especially appreciated your insight about the girls at the beach. Some things are universal.
    I remember reading “A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man” by James Joyce where he meets a beautiful young girl from afar, and is forever changed… Thanks and have a wonderful day.

    Like

    • Bryan Hemming
      July 2, 2016

      Thanks Bob, Consortium News is a much-needed window on the world as it is, and I have come to rely on it, especially the insights it gives to what is happening behind the scenes in Washington.

      You remind me we all should take every opportunity to give it a plug. So here’s mine:

      Consortium News. Click on the following to read: How Hillary Clinton Ignores Peace

      Like

    • Bryan Hemming
      July 4, 2016

      Thinking about your comment, I suddenly thought you might like to read a short story of mine about a young man’s struggle with puberty. My Beautiful Aunt appears on another of my blogs, Pedersen’s Last Dream. That blogs centres around a novel I am trying to finish, and a pilgrimage I made to Hammerfest in Norway. Way beyond the Arctic Circle, for many years Hammerfest was famed for being the northernmost town in the world. My grandfather was born there. I was brought up on stories of Norway by my Norwegian mother. On that trip I spent some time on an Arctic island.

      Here’s a link to the story: My Beautiful Aunt

      Like

  7. Martina Ramsauer
    July 2, 2016

    Your most lovely post makes me aware that I really missed something by nevery going to Wales and meet your stroppy buggers!:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      July 2, 2016

      Wales is well-worth visiting. I love it. Misty, damp mountains, dripping tents and all. It has some great castles and lots of open space with only three million inhabitants. Almost 1.3 million of them live in the largest metropolitan areas of Swansea and Cardiff in the south. Thanks for your comment.

      Like

  8. Jesska
    July 2, 2016

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Don't bottle it up, let everybody know your opinion. And please feel free to leave a link to any of your recent posts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on July 2, 2016 by in Articles, Autobiography, Humour and tagged , , , , , , , .

Member of The Internet Defense League

Rules on comments

As the comments sections are not intended to be general forums, comments are expected to bear some relevance to the subject of the post. Nevertheless, I do allow some generous leeway in this, particularly if I judge the comment to be of special interest.

Although I'm only too happy to link to your posts, those posts should be your own work, and not the work of others, due to copyright issues.

Follow Bryan Hemming on WordPress.com

Blogs I check out

Follow Bryan Hemming on WordPress.com

These caught my eye

Follow Bryan Hemming on WordPress.com

Hits

  • 58,774 hits

Pages

VIVID

Hold your verve

Musical Matters...

Mark Doran's Music Blog

El Coleccionista Hipnótico

hypnotist collector

More Crows than Eagles

More Coyotes than Wolves

Spanish scribbles

My journey into sketching and drawing in and around Jimena de la Frontera, Andalucia

The Contrary Farmer

Gene Logsdon Memorial Blogsite

Micheline's Blog

Art, music, books, history & current events

Photobooth Journal

A life in a photobooth.

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

%d bloggers like this: