Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Category: Wales

Britain, the end of a fantasy – some thoughts on identity

  • You post an article from the New York Review of Books on Facebook. Among other things the article says:

“Strip away the post-imperial make-believe and the Little England nostalgia, and there’s almost nothing there, no clear sense of how a middling European country with little native industry can hope to thrive by cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner and most important political alliance.”

You make a comment about ‘little England.’ You figure you have a right. But you are told in no uncertain terms that, as an Aussie, you do not. This is British politics, none of your business. You are shocked, not so much by the objection (put a comment on Facebook and you invite a response) but by the monochromatic assessment of your situation. It doesn’t even come close to the schizophrenic sense of identity you live with.

See, you were born in England and, although you migrated to Australia during your childhood, you were raised by parents who called another place home. Your father supported the English cricket team, you stayed up late to watch the FA Cup final on television, your weekly viewing consisted of The Two Ronnies, Porridge and Are you Being Served? In school you learned about convicts, and ANZACs and the bombing of Darwin. But at home you heard stories of Shakespeare, the Blitz, and how you grandfather worked on the Bank of England’s wrought iron doors. In a grade four project about Beef Cattle, you wrote “Aborigines make good stockmen” because, your dad told you, before the white man, Australia’s first people wandered about aimlessly.

But there is another aspect to your identity. You see your mother is Welsh. So you are not allowed to call yourself English. You are British, your parents tell you: no need to be naturalised like all of those lesser European migrants. Australia is one of the pink countries on the map. Of course, you never use the word British. You instinctively know you will be laughed out of the playground. You drop the Pommie accent, try to blend in. Though in your spare time you read books by Enid Blyton, Malcom Saville, and Arthur Ransome.

Then you grow up and all your historical myths are all blown apart. You learn that the Aboriginal people did more than just wander about, that the men of Gallipoli were no braver than any other soldiers, that Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their mothers. That the British Empire wiped out whole nations and cultures. The full implication of this hits home while you are living in Fiji. You see an indigenous people living on their ancestral land, speaking their own language and enjoying their age-old but still evolving customs and you think: my God, what have we done?

With this history, it is no surprise that when you have a mid-life crisis (one of several) and decide you want to write a novel that you start with an emigration novel, set in the colonial period, that focuses on the experience of poor people, like your family would have been if they had emigrated in that era. You also decide to include Welsh and English characters. And although you know those decisions are personal, you also know you are trying to come to terms with the whole messy business of being a white Australian.

Despite this, you are not prepared for the effect your Welsh characters will have on your life. You know very little about Wales prior to starting your research – apart from coal mining and a passion for rugby. But before long you realise Wales has a language, that is still spoken, with incredible words like sglodion (chips) and gwdihw (owl) (which sounds like twit twoo) and pendwmpian (to drowse). That in Welsh  a peach is called an eirinen gwlanog (wooly plum) and ladybirds are called buwch goch gota (short red cows) and before long you are wondering how you have managed to live without the soul-song of such words.

You learn about Welsh myths and fairytales too, about eisteddfodau and poetry. About the experience of being annexed and incorporated, the Welsh struggle for independence. The even-now fight to keep a much-loved language alive. This touches a deep chord in you and, although it is tempting see it as a simple reconnection with your heritage, you also know there is also something intrinsically Australian in your response. See, we tend to back the underdog down under.

Over the years, you make regular trips to Wales, even live there for a while. Acquire a National Insurance Number and a bank account, get your name on the electoral roll. You have Welsh friends and places to stay. You read English and Welsh newspapers along with Australian ones and know the sense of divided loyalties you grew up with are still strong. Except, you are no longer proud of the Empire (life has knocked that out of you) and when you speak Welsh with your friends you feel like you belong. Yet you also know your life, your manners, your worldview are somehow foreign. Perhaps this is what the friend on Facebook objected to? This foot-in-two camps, belong-in-both-worlds mentality?

You fly back and forth, relate in two languages and straddle both worlds, because you don’t know any other way to live. For although you no longer sound like a Brit, or take pride in Empire, the tiny island on the top of the world is still important to you and, although one day when you are too old to travel, the land at bottom of the world will inevitably claim you, you know the hiraeth will remain, along with the interest and the outspoken Australian tendency to comment. Because, although on the outside you may sound like an Aussie, on the inside you still sometimes feel a long way from home.


Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel, The Tides Between, will be published by Odyssey Books in October 2017. For news on the release date follow this blog, or simply fill out the form below:

Wales 2015, here I come.

I left England at the age of five. Spent my childhood reading Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Malcom Saville and a host of other English children’s authors, watching The Goodlife, Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army and Are you Being Served? and inexplicably pining for a land I could barely recall. I would go back, I decided, once I came of age. I would visit this place my parents called home. But somehow it never happened. I got married, we had children, became saddled with a mortgage. The years rolled past until, one day, my young adult son got himself a UK passport. He said, ‘look mum, I’m more British than you are.’

That’s it, I decided. Time to make the journey.

I booked my frequent flyer tickets months in advance. Endured a round-about flight with interminable stopovers enroute. After thirty plus hours of travel, the pilot announced we had begun our descent into Heathrow. As I peered down on the little brown semi-detached houses with their baize, card table lawns my eyes filled with tears. They wouldn’t stop. Hiccuping sobs wracked my chest. As the plane touched down and we came to a juddering halt, I thought:

If I die now, it doesn’t matter I’m home.

In July last year, Andrew and I visited the UK together for the first time. After the long haul flight we boarded our National Express coach for Wales. Andrew dozed intermittently as we headed out onto the M4. I sat bolt upright on the seat beside him. As we approached the Severn Bridge, I jabbed him in the ribs.

‘Andrew. Wake up. We’re about to cross the border into Wales.’

Jet lagged and facing a further five hours in the coach, I don’t think the border crossing had registered as significant. But seeing my flushed face and quivering upright form, Andrew assumed an attitude of polite interest. As we passed through Chepstow and headed deeper into Wales, I began to point out landmarks. When he could finally get a word in, Andrew asked: ‘Liz, how many times have you been to Wales in the last eight years?’

‘Only four.’

‘Isn’t it time you came for a longer stint?’

It wasn’t in fact the first time Andrew had made this suggestion. He’d dangled the possibility before me a number of times. After a fleeting moment of consideration, I’d alway dismissed the possibility out of hand. We’re married right? Till death do us part. Good Christian girls don’t do that kind of thing. And frankly the idea of striking out on my own terrified me.

However, this time fate intervened in the form of my friend Veronica Calarco.

I first met Veronica, a fellow Aussie, on Cwrs Haf, a month long summer language school in Aberystwyth. We kept in touch, sharing news and making witticisms in our muddled up learners Welsh. On a trip home to Australia, Veronica and her partner, Mary, came to visit us in Melbourne. When planning our holiday, I learned that they had recently bought a house in Corris, Wales, which Veronica was planning to set up as an artist and writers residence. On visiting North Wales, Andrew and I were given a guided tour of the newly established Stiwdio Maelor. Veronica said: ‘I’m hoping to get a live in volunteer to manage the property.’

Bing! A light came on in my head. I could do that, I thought. I could live in this house, in this tiny edge-of-Snowdonia village, in this country that I love, with its brave history and melodious language. I would have a roof over my head, friends nearby, and my writing to keep me occupied. I could pick up casual job in a pub or a cafe. Before we left Corris, I asked Veronica to send me the volunteer application form. Andrew and I discussed the idea, on and off, throughout our holiday. Slowly over the weeks it took on solid form. So solid, that when I got back to Melbourne, I applied for leave without pay from the library. It was granted. I told the family, booked my airline tickets, wrote a profile for the Stwdio Maelor visiting artists page. All that remained was for me to make the announcement. Which I am doing now:

Hear this, hear this…

On July 26th 2015, Elizabeth Jane Corbett is going to live in Wales for six months. She plans to speak Welsh, enjoy the glory of a northern hemisphere autumn and try to understand why this tiny island on the far side of the world has called her name for so long.


Cymru connections – an interview with David Lloyd

What draws a person back to Wales? This is a question I often ask myself as I sit with my Welsh class, on Tuesday evenings, or when I talk with other far flung language learners on the Saysomethinginwelsh forum. What are we doing here, though many of us were born far from Wales? What is it about the western-most corner of the British mainland that calls to us? How has this connection shaped us? In what ways do we express that sense of dual identity?

This week, I put these questions to the American born writer David Lloyd. David and his wife, artist Kim Waale, are soon to do a residency at Stwidio Maelor, which is owned by my friend Veronica Calarco, and as I hope to spend time at the stiwdio next year, I have a growing interest in all things Maelor.

Writer, poet, literary critic, academic, David Lloyd is the director of Creative Writing at Le Moyne College. His poetry has been widely published in the U.S. and in Welsh publications such as Poetry Wales, Planet, New Welsh Review, Lampeter Review and through the Welsh presses Parthia and Gwasg Carreg Gwlach. His recent novel, Over the Line, was published by Syracuse University Press.

Born in America to Welsh speaking parents, David studied at Aberystwyth University in the early 1970’s, and returned to the university on a Watson Fellowship, later in the same decade. In 2001 he spent five months at Bangor University, on a Fullbright Fellowship. As an American citizen and a person with an obvious connection to Wales, I asked David about the influence of his Welsh heritage:

“Welshness is deeply embedded in my identity. It’s in the way I interact with the world and how I understand who I am. My interest in being a writer derived in part from hearing my father’s sermons each Sunday, which were beautifully constructed and delivered with passion. Perhaps my sister Margaret, also a poet, was similarly influenced. At some point in the 1950s my father stopped giving weekly sermons in Welsh and English, to only giving them in English – a result of the declining number of Welsh speakers. But throughout his life he was regularly called on to give Welsh-language talks or sermons. My brother Richard is a musician and composer, and his musical sense must derive to a great extent from the Welsh music we heard and sang during our childhood. I know I absorbed the rhythms of the Welsh language and of English as spoken by a north Walian (my father, from Corris) and a south Walian (my mother, from Pontrhydyfen).”

As the child of Welsh speaking parents it may surprise you to learn that David was not raised speaking the language, a situation he ascribes to a general feeling during the 1950’s that children of immigrants should Americanize.

“Even with this change in the primary language of our home, we all could speak some Welsh. Prayers before Sunday dinner were in Welsh; certain family routines were announced only in Welsh: bore da, mae’n bwyd yn barod, nos da, cysgwch yn dda. My brother closest in age to me were always cariad to our mother. On family vacations we sang Welsh-language hymns and folksongs in the car to pass the time. I remember an elderly parishioner, Mae Ellis, who insisted we exchange a bit of Welsh every Sunday, even if only Sut wyt ti? Di iawn, diolch yn fawr. Then she wiped any smudge off my face with a damp handkerchief pulled from her sleeve.”

David’s father died young, in his fifties but, in her later years, his mother came to regret not having raised her children as Welsh speakers. An omission David and his sister Margaret sought to rectify in the year 2000, returning to Aberystwyth for Cwrs Haf, an annual, month long intensive language school, which is, incidentally, the same course (different year) on which I met Veronica. David had this to say about the Summer School experience.

“It was fantastic, really – at the end we could carry on conversations in Welsh quite well – and on returning to the States for the first time I could speak with some fluency with my mother. She lived until 97 – the last native Welsh speaker in central New York.”

As a British born Australian of Welsh descent, I am always intrigued by other people’s experience of dual identity. I asked David what it means to be both Welsh and American.

“The immigrant experience – including the experience of children of immigrants – necessarily involves a degree of loss: of family, of community, of culture, of language. But it does bring compensations. I consider myself lucky to have two cultural streams flowing into my life. I love listening to live blues at the Dinosaur bar in Syracuse as much as I love hearing poets read at the Imperial Hotel in Merthyr Tyfil. (Mike Jenkins runs a reading series there.) I love camping in the Adirondack national park not far from where I live in New York State, but one of the great pleasures of my life is taking long walks in Wales with my family, searching out burial chambers, standing stones, and stone circles. I’m fascinated by American popular culture, but can’t read enough about Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Owain Glyn Dŵr. The modern poets who mean the most to me are American William Carlos Williams, Irishman Seamus Heaney, and Welshman R. S. Thomas. A description of my second book of poetry, The Gospel According to Frank (New American Press), might best display this cultural mash-up: the poems merge the public persona of Frank Sinatra with heroic figures drawn from Wales (The Mabinogi), Ireland (the Tain Bo Cuainge), and the Old and New Testaments.

“My most recent Welsh-related writing project is a series of stories set in the Welsh immigrant community in which I grew up, during the 1960s. The book, titled The Moving of the Water, is almost finished, and I’ve been publishing the stories. You can find two in on-line journals: “Home” in the Spring 2014 issue of the Welsh journal Lampeter Review and “The Key” in the 2013 issue of the US journal Stone Canoe.

In November of this year, David will be staying at Stwdio Maelor, in Corris, which happens to be his father’s home village. I asked what he hoped to achieve during his residency.

“My aim is to explore the part of Wales that my father knew well as a child – and then see what ways that experience feeds into my creative work. I’m back to writing poetry after having just published a novel, Over the Line, so I’m planning on drafting new poems at Stiwdio Maelor.”

No doubt, David will meet up with old friends and commune with those no longer present. Let’s also hope he also finds opportunities to speak the hen iaith too.

Photo: David Lloyd (center) with Welsh poets Nigel Jenkins (far left), Menna Elfyn (seated), Iwan Llwyd (far right).


Stiwdio Maelor in Corris has been set up to provide studios for local artists and to provide a retreat for artists from the UK and other parts of the world to take time out of their normal lives and visit a stunning area in North Wales. There are five studios available for rent to local artists and astudio/bedroom space available for visiting artists. The fees have been kept as low as possible so that all artists can take advantage of this project.


The unwritten rules of Welsh class

We have two unwritten rules in our Welsh class.

Firstly, if you go to Wales you must send a postcard – preferably written in Welsh. On my first trip ‘home’ to Wales, I had only been learning the language for six weeks. Having learned Rydw i’n hoffi and dydw i ddim yn hoffi, I filled the entire postcard with lists of foods I liked (faggots, Welsh Cake, bara brith) and foods didn’t like so much (laver bread) and, in a feat of linguistic dexterity I also told them the foods I didn’t like very much but that I didn’t hate (cockles, in case you are interested).

The second rule in our class is that, all books, DVD’s, and torrent files pertaining to Wales must be shared. Imagine the tension when a new offering is laid on the classroom table. The eyes of the only fifteen people in Melbourne who care take on a fanatical gleam. It’s like being in a secret society. Or at least the closest I will ever get to being in one. How sweet, to be with a group of others who get the ‘obsession.’

Recently, someone brought a copy of Pen Talar to class, a nine part TV drama spanning fifty years of the Welsh independance movement, that originally aired on S4C in 2010. I was second cab off the rank to borrow the DVDs and the timing couldn’t have been better. I got watch my nightly episodes with the Scotland referendum unfolding in the background.

Pen Talar tells it’s story through the lives of two West Wales families and in particular, through the experiences of their sons – Defi, a middle class boys whose father is the local school master, and Douglas, a ‘council house’ boy with an alcoholic father. The story opens in the seeming innocence of the nineteen fifties. Defi and Doug witnessess a crime – a shocking crime which binds, haunts and terrifies them well into their adult years. The fictional stories of Defi and Doug carry the viewers through each episode and, in common with all good historical fiction, we learn as much about the era in which the work was created as we do about the times being portrayed. In Pen Talar, we witness abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, marriage failure, tragic death and police corruption.

Forget London, Paris, New York, the action was all happening in West Wales.

The main reason I like watching Welsh TV is, of course, for the language. Though, for Pen Talar, I must confess to using the subtitles. They weren’t completely necessary. In many instances, I understood what was being said before the words appeared on the screen. But in this series, I wanted to understand the nuances (which are sadly still beyond me). I will, now go back and watch each episode in Welsh to reinforce the learning experience.

In Pen Talar, I recognised most of the actors from other Welsh language movies and TV series. The two Welsh characters from Patagonia were part of the series, multiple characters from a Gwaith Cartref and Alys. Even Dave Coaches from Gavin and Stacey got a gig. This is not surprising. I’m constantly amazed by who knows who in Cymru Cymraeg. With only 562,000 fluent Welsh speakers, the acting pool is limited. Yet, I am constantly blown away by the standard.

Pen Talar wasn’t simply an historical drama – it was a political drama. Through Defi’s eyes, we saw the mood after Tryweryn, the defeat of the first devolution referendum, the investiture of Prince Charles, holiday cottage burnings, Sinn Fein sympathies, bombing attempts, Gwynfor Evans’ courageous hunger strike, the coal industry under Thatcher, Blair’s eventual election victory, and the build up to second referendum, with only three months notice and Princes Diana’s tragic death overshadowing the entire process. It made me realise how long and hard the struggle, how truly visionary the early leaders. I knew the outcome of that 1997 referendum, won by only a slim majority, and I know Wales has since gone to increase its powers. But when they used real historical footage to announce the results on Pen Talar, my vision blurred. The series ended with these beautiful words.

My Wales, and land of my brotherhood,

My cry, my religion, the world’s only balm,

Her mission, her challenge

Pearl of the infinite hour held hostage by time,

Hope of the long course on the short term,

This was my window, the harvesting and the shearing,

I saw order in my palace yonder

There is a roar, a greed through a windowless forest,

Let us guard the wall against the beast,

Let us guard the well against the mire.

I’m not sure who wrote the poem. Hopefully, I’ll pick up the name on my second viewing. Unless, someone out there knows? And wants to drop me a line?


Week one – roundabouts

Week one of our holiday has been dominated by the word Roundabouts. There are about 25,000 roundabouts in the UK. I estimate around 24,000 of them are in Wales. Okay, so maybe an exaggeration. But perception is reality and, when I talk about roundabouts, I don’t mean innocent traffic islands around which a single lane of traffic flows in an orderly fashion. I mean three lane, seven exit, monstrosities designed to direct, baffle and potentially maim poor tourists.

Prior to picking up our hire car in Swansea, I made Andrew a magnanimous offer.

‘I will do all the driving in Wales,’ I said, ‘so that you can enjoy the sights.’

Andrew accepted without demure (he didn’t know about the roundabouts). But driving around Wales, he came to regret this decision. As I listened to the computer generated iPhone map and tried to remember that the windscreen wiper was not the indicator he moaned, clutched the dashboard and closed his eyes, the flash-by scenes of his life competing with the breathtaking scenery of Wales.

Despite, the ever present roundabout-terror, we have enjoyed the first week of our holiday. Below are the highlights of our first week.

A four night stay with my cousin, Joyce, in Rhos, Pontardawe.

While staying in South Wales, we got lost on the way to Castell Coch (ending up on a remote stretch of the Brecon Beacons). Tried to visit Cardiff but, due to the above mentioned roundabout problems, didn’t manage to find a parking spot. We had an interesting ‘flat white’ coffee in Llandyffryn (have ordered cappuccinos since), visited the Mumbles, had faggots and mushy peas in a road-side cafe, heard interesting local family history/gossip from my cousin Gwyn in Cwmafan, and met Sam, my Canada cousin’s young adult daughter, for the first time.

A drive through mid-Wales and a visit to Stiwdio Maelor

On leaving Rhos, we drove over the Brecon Beacons, lunched in Llanbedr Pont Steffan, took in a stunning, historic quilt exhibition, had afternoon tea at the Treehouse in Aberystwyth and spent the night with our friend’s Veronica and Mary in Dolgellau. After a late breakfast in Machynlleth, we visited Corris, where Veronica has set up Stwdio Maelor, a North Wales retreat for writers and artists. While there, she mentioned that she is looking for residents. Hmm… I may take her up on that offer at some point.

A three night stay with Aussie friends in the mill town of Trefriw, North Wales

When planning our UK holiday we were thrilled to learn that our travel plans coincided with those of our Aussie friends Mike and Sue. As not-so-recent British migrants, they were taking a week out of their family visits to spend a week in Trefriw, North Wales. When they asked us to join them, the word ‘no’ didn’t enter into the equation. We spent a glorious couple of days hiking, castle viewing and tea drinking. With Mike in the driver’s seat, Andrew was at last able to open his eyes and enjoy the scenery. You will be relieved to know he pronounced Wales beautiful. This means our marriage has a future and our anniversary holiday will not be terminated. He may even contemplate a return visit at some point.

I have hired a car on all three of my previous UK visits. Each time, I forgot about the roundabouts. Each time, I said never again. This time the ban will be enforced, if my most recent passenger has any say in the matter. We are in London now and have returned the hire car. Fortunately, we took out fully-comprehensive car insurance that first day in Swansea because I may just have clipped the side mirror and most certainly scraped the passenger door. You will be pleased to know we are using bikes and public transport for the remainder of our UK holiday.

Go for it Scotland!

I have no right to comment on this. I hold a British passport but I don’t live in the UK. At least, I haven’t since childhood. Yet, though most of my growing up was done in the Southern Hemisphere, I was raised by parents who thought of Britain as home. Hence, I thought of the UK as home. Though, strangely, this was a fractured image. They spoke of a Britain their parents had defended during World War Two. Yet, my dad rolled his eyes whenever mum spoke of Wales, as if her pride was ridiculous, as if the notion of Wales was foolish.

I mean, why would anyone want to be Welsh when they could be English?

I caught my first glimpse of this prejudice in my family home. Though, at the time, I scarcely understood it’s meaning. I know now there was an historic precedence.

Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief, Taffy came to my house and stole a leg of beef.

Rhymes like this were only the tip of a vast condescension. The Blue Books and the Welsh Not were a colder more present reality. The two World Wars weakened Wales’ hunger for self determination. People were seduced by the myth of Britain. If you wanted to get on in the world, they were told, you had to leave this foolish notion of Welshness behind.

Fortunately, the mood in Britain is shifting. Since 1998, Wales has had its own National Assembly. Scotland also has its own parliament. In September, Scotland will vote on the matter of independence.

I have no ‘real’ right to hold an opinion on this. My life daily life will not be affected by the outcome. But I do know people in Wales are watching, and waiting, and, even if I don’t have a right to an opinion, even if I can’t vote, something deep inside me says: Go for it Scotland!


Passing the Welsh test

Saturday, 1st of March is St David's day. Every daffodil wearing, dragon flying, leek eating, language learning Melbournian with Cymric pretension will be out in force.

The festivities kick off Friday evening with a concert at the Melbourne recital centre.

Mid-day Saturday, there will be a flag raising ceremony at the Welsh Church followed by a Cambrian Society lunch.

Saturday evening, members of the Melbourne Welsh Facebook group will gather at the Imperial Hotel on Bourke Street.

Sunday afternoon, the Welsh church will host one of its quarterly Cymanfa Ganu's at St Michael's Church.

See, there's a lot happening. But, due to a minor mishap with dates, I will not be attending any of these functions. And by the look of disgust on my friend Dai Trên's face, I'll be letting the side down.

'I have to work!' I protested

'Work! Couldn't you have swapped shifts?'

Well, yes, I could have, if I'd realised. But this year the Feast of St David failed to register in my seriously-distracted-trying-to-finish-a-novel brain. Not when I checked my work roster. Or when we invited friends over for dinner. Even when I volunteered to help out at the Sydney Road Street Festival, the date didn't click. Until it was too late. By then I was already triple booked. Swapping would have created a serious dilemma. Like – who the hell did I promise to do what with first?

See, it was much simpler to honour my work commitments. Though, Dai's tsk of disapproval, told me he didn't approve of the decision.

That's when I found the Welshometre:

Wales online's 100% scientific, totally accurate and unflinchingly precise tool to discover exactly how Welsh you really are.

I sat gazing at my iPad screen. I could take the challenge. Decide this issue once and for all. But…what if I failed? All those trips back to Wales? The years I've spent learning the language? The family tree going back to the 1800's? My novel with Welsh characters? They would all be worth nothing. I'd never be able to look Dai Trên in the eye again.

I pressed start.

The questions were tricky. They asked about food, the appeal of swimming in cold water, strange choices in footwear, names of bridges and the popularity of various hardware stores. There were also language questions – not the Welsh language, the strange dialect of Valleys English known as Wenglish. I found myself sweating. So much was riding on the outcome. My hand shook as I clicked the button for my results.

Congratulations the Welshometre said, you are 100% Welsh

I sat, basking in a red and green green glow of satisfaction. Once my initial flush of pride passed, I wrote an email to Dai Trên.

Dear Dai,

I may have may have stuffed my work roster up and be missing every St David's Day event in the City of Melbourne. But I have just passed a reliable Welsh authenticity test with flying colours. I will therefore be wearing my daffodil with pride tomorrow, confident in the knowledge that I am 100% Welsh.


Great little giant

Cawr mawr bychan — great little giant,
Cryf cadarn gwan, gwynion ruddiau — strong, mighty weakling, pale of cheek.
Cyfoethog tlawd — poor wealthy one,
A’n Tad a’n Brawd, awdur brodiau … our Father and Brother, author of brothers …
Isel uchel — low and high,
Emmanuael, mêl feddyliau … Emmanuel of honeyed thoughts
Pali ni myn — he won’t have silk,
Nid urael gwyn ei gynhiniau — of no white weaving are his rags;
Yn lle syndal — no fine linen
Ynghylch ei wâl gwelid carpiau … where he lies, only tatters …
Ei leferydd — and his words
Wrth fugelydd, gwylwyr ffaldau — are for shepherds, the fold-watchers,
Engyl yd fydd — there’ll be angels
A nos fal dydd dyfu’n olau– like day, night will become bright …
Nos lawenydd — a night for joy
I lu bedydd; byddwn ninniau — for all Christendom; so let us be.
This lovely poem was written by Brother Madog sometime in the twelfth century.

Responding to a phone call …

I haven’t posted in Cymraeg for a while.

I bet you thought I was slacking off.

But rest assured the pursuit of bilingual proficiency is still gyda fi – with me.

Last week I learned about how to respond to phone calls. Now this is a great relief because, when I grow up, I want to live in Wales.

I plan to work in a library.

Now, I am presuming old ladies are the same all over the world. That somewhere in Wales there is a library, like my current branch, that specialises in services to the antiquarian female of the species.

Just in case you are not familiar with the antiquarian female. They are renowned for worrying about their fines – even when their seniority makes them exempt. They chase up their reservations with terrier like tenacity. They also like to speak to their favourite librarian – which can be a problem when a library service employs a new phone system, and their call no longer goes to a specific branch.

But not to worry. Now I have done Gwers un deg tri – that’s lesson 73, I reckon I am now employable anywhere in the Welsh speaking world.

Here is how I think it will go:

It is 10:01 am. The library opens at ten, and if the antiquarian female is not pacing up and down outside the library door, she will be on the phone.

Bore da, ga i’n siarad gyda Rhiannon, os gwelwch chi ‘n dda? – Good Morning, may I speak to Rhiannon, please.

O (that’s, Oh, in Welsh), mae Rhiannon yn mewn y cyfarfod, bore ma. Ga i chi helpu chi? – Oh, Rhiannon is in a meeting. Can I help you?

Nage, unig Rhiannon – no, only Rhiannon (you gotta hand it to the elderly, they are persistent).

Ga i ymryd neges? – May, may I take a message

Wel, dw i ‘n eisiau yn gwybod a Rhiannon wedi ffeindio fy llyfr – Well, I want to know whether Rhiannon found my book.

Beth ydy y llyfr enw? – What is the name of the book?

Dw i ‘n ddim yn cofio enw. Roedd e’n enw doniol – I don’t know the name. It was a funny name.

Gadw Rhiannon yn llyfr i ti? – Did Rhiannon reserve the book for you?

Wel, dydw i ddim yn gwybod! Dw i ‘n eisiau gofyn Rhiannon – well, I don’t know! I want to ask Rhiannon.

Ydych ch yn cael y card llyfragel? – Do you have a library card?

Wrth gwrs! – Of course!

Fe fyddi di ‘n darllen y rhif yn y card cefn, os gwelwch chi ‘n dda? – Will you read the number on the card, please?

Here, you must bear in mind that I have had to repeat these quetions a number of times, in a very loud voice, but I am not sounding harrassed or impatient. I am impeccably polite. It is the first thing we learn in library school – especially in regard to old ladies.

O, mae ‘n dau, sero, sero, wyth, pedwar, sero, sero, dau, pump, naw, un, pump, dau, saith – Oh, it is: 20084002591527

Ydy y llyfr enw y Guernsey literary ac tynnu croen taten cymdeithas? – Was the name of the book, the Guernsey literary and potato peel society?

Ydy enw yna! Sut oeddet ti ‘n gwybod? – Yes, that’s the name! How did you know?

Fe welais i ‘n ar y cyfriadur – I looked on the computer.

Wel, dyna deallus! – Well, there’s clever!

That’s it folks, five minutes in the life of a bilingual libararian.

I will not tell you how long it took me to write that crisp and rivetting piece of dialogue. Nor will I let myself think of the possible number of mistakes, contained therein.

I will simply sit back and await lucrative job offers from all around Wales. I will probably get Llareggub (that’s buggerall backwards, in case you were thumbing through your dictionary).

So I won’t be giving up my daytime job, just yet.

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