Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Blog one – o Gymru (from Wales)

It’s Saturday afternoon and I am sitting in Adam and Andy’s cafe drinking coffee. A flat white, nonetheless. How to make a Melbourne girl feel at home. It’s been a frenetic week but, six days in, I’m feeling relaxed and happy. Rather than give you a blow by blow of my first week, I’ll pick out some highlights.

 

The flight

What can I say? There is nothing good about a long haul flight. I had prevaricated about paying for exit row seats and decided against the extra cost. At least, I thought I had… I looked forward to a cramped, miserable, leg-aching, twenty three hours without sleep. Imagine my surprise to find I had been assigned an exit row seat. The good flight fairy, perhaps? Or early onset Alzheimer’s? I must have paid for it. Whatever the case, the flight seemed shorter somehow.

Cymru

It was a pleasant twenty one degrees when I arrived at Heathrow airport – a little cloudy, a little grey, a perfectly ordinary must-wear-a-cardigan UK summers day. Did I tell you, the UK smells different to Australia. An absence of Eucalypts perhaps? Different cleaning products? From the airport, to the bus, to the open air, for some reason, it produces an overwhelming sense of welcome.

The rain started as my Arriva train crossed the border into Wales. What can I say? Wales is so moist and mossy and mountainous. It has been raining on and off since I arrived. It doesn’t seem to deter people from going out. They simply trudge through the rain in gor-tex jackets and sturdy boots.

Boots? Ah… boots…

Now, in case you were lucky enough to miss out, the question of my footwear has been a subject of much discussion in the lead up my departure. In Melbourne, I wear a cute pair of black ankle boots patterned in red. I had every intention of bringing them to Wales. Alas, a Welsh friend took one look at them and said they wouldn’t do. Hiking boots were the recommended footwear. But, although I found a pair of hiking boots with the obligatory touch of red, I couldn’t face the notion of wearing them for five months. Vanity, perhaps? Or simply because I’m an Aussie. Down under you only wear hiking boots if you are a serious hiker. And I’m not. So, what to wear? Could I wear Wellies (rubber boots) for five whole months? Surely there was an in between option. I raised the topic at work (as you do), discussed it in Welsh with my friend on Skype (as most wouldn’t). Sought earnest advice at multiple family gatherings. In the end, Andrew weighed in (possibly a little weary of the topic) and suggested I purchase a pair of Blundstone boots (with red stitching and elastic). I’m not sure how my Tasmanian made work boots will face up to the vagaries of the Welsh weather. But, if this sign on an office door is anything to go by, they were a safer choice than Wellies. The sign says:

No dirty Wellngtons in the office, please!!!!

I don’t expect to find: No dirty Blundtones stuck on an office door.

Maelor

I spent an intense day and a half learning everything about Stiwdio Maelor. While here, I will be greeting artists, taking applications for 2016, and acting as a general housekeeper for the stiwdio. I have learned about boilers and cookers (there is a switch on the wall for cookers In the UK) and British showers (started with a cord from the ceiling) and the intricacies of Gwynedd Council’s recycling programme. After, Veronica and Mary left for New York. I spent a couple of days in their Dolgellau house before heading down to Maelor. While in Dolgellau, I went for a jog along the Llwybr (pathway) Mawddach while listening to Brigyn on my iPod. I ran past hay meadows and through stiles, with my feet dancing around puddles, and the pebble grey river racing on ahead of me. As I finished my jog, I raised my hands in the air (hope no one was watching) and thought: dw i’n y nefoedd – I am in heaven.

Cymraeg (Welsh language)

One of the disheartening things for all lovers of the hen iaith (ancient language) is that you can’t be assured of speaking Welsh in Wales. Even in the heartlands, where Welsh speakers are ninety percent of the population, many newcomers expect Welsh speakers to use English. So where does that leave me? I have only five months – five short months – in which to take my Welsh language ability to the next level. I can’t sit around waiting for welsh speaking opportunities. I have to make them happen. This will involve taking a deep breath and going into shops, banks, pubs and railway stations and starting every conversation in Welsh. Sometimes, I will get a reply in kind. At other times, an English language reply, that indicates comprehension. In this instance, I’ve been advised to keep speaking Welsh. Many people understand the language but do not have the confidence to speak. It is therefore possible to have a simple bilingual exchange (on the level of buying milk or a postage stamp). In the worst case scenario, I will get an apology: sorry, I don’t speak Welsh. In which case, I will simply accept their apology and never shop there again (unless they happen to be the pub next door or make a damn good flat white). 🙂

Tomorrow, I am heading to the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (National Eisteddfod). This is Cymru Cymraeg’s (Welsh speaking Wales’) premier cultural event. If you are a Welsh speaker and in Wales during the first week in August you will be asked: wyt ti’n mind i’r eisteddfod (are you going to the eisteddfod)? It is the Welsh speaking place to be. I will be going to a concert in Monday night. The Say Something in Welsh birthday party on Thursday night. I have also signed up to volunteer in Maes D (the learners’ tent) throughout the week. I look forward to meeting old friends (online and otherwise) and speaking Welsh at every opportunity.

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Some pre-travel conversations

Next

Blog two – the Eisteddfod

14 Comments

  1. So glad to see you settled in, Liz, and working hard to get the footwear aspect working. That hint of red will absolutely make the difference. (Coming from a fellow red girl, it seems peculiar to some of us writers!)
    Love to see a map of where you are located. And more info on the writers house Stiwdio Maelor.

  2. Euan Mitchell

    It still amazes me that a language with such similar influences to English is so different. Despite the Roman and Norman conquests and the Oxford Dictionary, which should have made them much more alike, the Welsh language must have had tremendously different foundations to still appear so foreign.

    • ejcorbett@yahoo.com.au

      Welsh is a Celtic language. English is Germanic language (the language of that has arisen from waves of conquest – Angle, Saxon, Jute, Dane, Norman)). An old form of Welsh was once spoken across England and Wales and up into the Lowlands of Scotland. The wonder is not so much that the languages are different but that Welsh has survived! Though some would say the language is now fighting for its life.

  3. Sabina

    Very exciting Liz, looking forward to hearing all your adventures. I am sure the trip in itself is book worthy. All the best for your writing. Happy adventuring, speaking and immersing.

  4. Menna

    Croeso Liz,
    Due to holidaying in France for 5 weeks and (after a fortnight’s respite) 3 weeks travelling coast to coast in the USA, I missed your reasons for coming to the UK and Wales in particular! Sorry about that, Liz but by way of deduction, I think you are here to continue with your writing skill and also to perfect your Welsh using all available means. Pob lwc with all you have in mind to do. What an adventure lies ahead of you! ‘Chapeau’ as the French would say….I look forward to reading about more of your highlights. Incidentally, my college house in Wrecsam was named Maelor!!! Pob hwyl.

    • ejcorbett@yahoo.com.au

      Perfect deductions Menna. Thanks for your good wishes. 🙂

  5. Diane (aka Tahl)

    O, wnei di joio popeth mas draw, wi’n siwr! Blog neis i ddechrau. Wna i edrych ymlaen at ddarllen hanes dy anturau drwy’r misoedd i ddod.

    For others: Oh, you are going to enjoy everything hugely, I’m sure. Nice blogpost to start. I’m looking forward to reading your adventures through the coming months.

    • ejcorbett@yahoo.com.au

      Diolch Tahl. Dw i’n briadau mwynhau popeth! Dw i’n mor lwcs i gael y gyfle i aros yng Nghymru.

      Thanks Tahl. I intend to enjoy everything. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to stay in Wales. 🙂

  6. Nan Doe

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Writing from Canada after a wonderful three weeks in the beautiful land of my ancestors. Your picture from the bridge in Dolgellau certainly brought back memories of a number of walks to the pubs in town. And, like you, I think I could write a book about my nightmarish experience driving in Wales. But it was all worth it. Will be following your blogs.

    • ejcorbett@yahoo.com.au

      Thanks Nan. I’m glad you enjoyed Dolgellau. 🙂

  7. So sorry I’m so late to reply, Liz, but it’s wonderful to be reading of your adventures now things are calming down a little for me here in not-so-sunny Melbourne. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    • ejcorbett@yahoo.com.au

      Hope the conference was good? And the Bar Mitzvah.

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