Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Blog seven o Gymru – some Welsh language humour

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The first time I found myself engaging with Welsh language humour was in our Melbourne Welsh class as we each took turns reading aloud from segments of Bywyd Blodwen Jones. This experience transported me back to grade five. I recall sitting at the back of Mrs Morphett’s classroom and listening to my class mates massacre Colin Thiele’s, February Dragon. An avid reader, I always raced ahead during these reading sessions, earning myself a reprimand for losing my place when my turn came.

Not so with Bywyd Blodwen Jones.

I was the Welsh class dunce in those days. With a part time job, four teenagers living at home and a novel burbling around in my head, I had little time for homework. Welsh class was my weekly escape from domesticity. I loved engaging with the words even if none of them stayed in my head. Not so my classmates, who were more assiduous with their homework. As we went round the class reading aloud from the fictional diary of Blodwen Jones, I found myself half a page behind. And I wasn’t getting any of the jokes.

This situation changed once I started doing the Say Something in Welsh online audio course and five years of latent learning fell into place. I re-read Bywyd Blodwen Jones alone in my bedroom and laughed till my sides ached.

From this, I learned humour is an advanced language activity.

My second engagement with Welsh language humour occurred during Cwrs Haf (a Welsh language summer school). We were given a newspaper article to read. It had written by a man whose daughter had written to Father Christmas in Welsh and, horror of horrors, had received a reply in English. He was offended. Mortally. The result, a satirical letter to the editor of the local newspaper.

Now, I am all for Welsh children receiving services in Welsh. But, in this instance, I found myself thinking:

You miserable old sod. She was lucky to get a reply.

It took the poor tutor half the lesson to work out why myself and every other non-British person in the room were not appreciating the writer’s humour. You see, in Australia it is not possible for a child to write to Father Christmas, stick the letter in any letter box in the country and be guaranteed a response.

From this, I learned humour relies on an understanding of context.

After these experiences, you may wonder why I purchased a ticket to see Elis James doing Welsh language stand up comedy at Machynlleth’s, The Rag and Bone Shop. It will be all in Welsh, James Williams-Lucas, The Rag and Bone’s proprietor, warned as I handed over the money.

Paid â becso,’ I replied. ‘After two years of watching snippets of Y Gwers Cymraeg (a series of comedy sketches about learning Welsh) in our Melbourne Welsh classes, it will be enough to see him perform live.’

I got the time wrong (some things never change) and arrived at the venue half an hour early. This meant I got to chat to Steffan, the support act comedian, and Elis James who turned up with a plastic airline bag and a half eaten baguette he had bought at a London railway station. When Elis James heard I was a language learner from Australia, he said:

‘Oh, dear, most of my material is about life in Wales during the 1980’s.’

‘That’s okay,’ I replied. ‘I don’t expect to get any of the jokes.’

This wasn’t the case. You see the eighties, were the eighties, wherever you lived. Carmarthen wasn’t the only place with thugs, French exchange students, police who failed to turn up, and a mother who cooked the same, fail safe, dinners every week. Elis James is a great comic actor. His antics, interspersed with well placed snippets of English were enough. I laughed my head off. In all the right places. Then stood on the pavement chatting about the show afterwards. From this, I concluded that I had just successfully engaged in an advanced language activity. Which is another way of saying: I speak Welsh. 🙂

* * *

The Rag and Bone, Machynlleth
James Williams-Lucas started the Rag and Bone as a means to facilitate his touring theatre company, Theatre Rue, and the creative output of others. As a consequence, he has had to learn all about ‘tat’ to fine antiques. But after running the business as a shop and a venue for two years, he’s starting to get a good handle on things. He hopes to secure a twelve month program of quality creative work in all genres of the arts such as stand up, poetry, acoustic sets, theatre, lectures workshops and more, by night, whilst still offering curios, antiques and fine art by day.

 

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Blog eight o Gymru – a London interlude

2 Comments

  1. Angela Johnson.

    As a native Welsh speaker, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and admire your effort to learn Welsh and to struggle with its complexities. So many who move to Wales don’t even bother to learn the language and complain about the ‘natives’ speaking in their own tongue.
    R.S. Thomas and T. H Parry Williams were two fine poets; great patriots in their different ways. Thomas learned Welsh as a second language and became fiercely nationalist in his later years. Diolch yn fawr, Elizabeth, blog diddorol.

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Hi Angela. Thanks for reading my blog. Welsh is a truly beautiful language. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in Wales and to learn the language. I suspect it is in my blood. Cafodd fy mam ei geni yng Nghymru. Felly, dw i’n hanner Cymraes…

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