Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: corris (Page 2 of 3)

Blog fifteen o Gymru – making headlines in West Wales

Stiwdio Maelor is a residency stiwdio in Corris, mid Wales – a place where artists and writers can take time apart from their busy lives in order to create. It has no permanent gallery space, or events budget. However, occasionally an artist on an extended residency, will express the desire to exhibit new work. Then, depending on space and timetabling the Stiwdio will host an exhibition.

Now, in case you haven’t realised, I do not have a visual arts background. When Veronica left, within twenty four hours of my arriving in Wales (yes, unavoidably bad timing) I began to realise the challenges I would face. Within days, I found myself taking down an exhibition, part of which involved dismantling delicate glass-domed landscape reproductions with white gloves and re-packing them into numbered polystyrene layers of protection. Driving home in the car afterwards, Jonathan Syltie, the artist who’d been roped into helping me, said:

‘You don’t know much about art. But you seem to have a fair amount of common sense which is almost as good in the long run.’

The comment filled me with a ridiculous level of pride.

I used the same common sense a few weeks later when the ‘organiser’ of Jonathan’s exhibition flew to Portugal, without telling us, on the morning of the opening.

Setting up for Helfa Gelf – Gwynedd’s open arts trail – was decidedly tricker. Two of our Stiwdio artists had cancelled at the last minute leaving me alone with a big empty house and an American artist, Cindy Steiler. Fortunately, Cindy was more than adequate to the task. Between us, we managed to fill the house with art-work and people. After going through the Stiwdio one elderly gentleman said: ‘I haven’t seen anything this good in years.’

‘Seriously,’ Cindy said, when I mentioned it later. ‘That old guy needs to get out more.’

She was right. But that didn’t stop me feeling blue ribbon proud of what we had achieved.

When Mita Solanky, our British born artist in residence with a Gujarati heritage, expressed an interest in showing her new body of work, Veronica came up with the idea of asking, Mayur Raj Verma, a former Bollywood actor who now lives in Dolgellau to open the exhibition. He agreed and, as the dates of Raj’s availability, coincided with Diwali – the Hindu Festival of Lights – we decided to run with a Diwali theme – complete with candles, rangoli lights and Indian nibbles.

My job was to set up the Facebook publicity and to write the press releases. Stiwdio Maelor hasn’t hitherto enjoyed much success with the local papers. This time we hit their sweet spot. I like to think it had something to do with my excellent turn of phrase but, more likely, the name Raj Verma provided the entry point. Whatever the case, we were in there, on page twenty six right after the headlines: Boss hits employee on head head with broom, and, Police make arrest after part of man’s ear bitten off. Indeed! It’s all happening in West Wales.

In the lead up to the exhibition, we stripped the wallpaper and re-painted the common room. Found out the framers could not get our donated works ready in time for the exhibition. Spent a day framing them ourselves and another day hanging them. The latter was a serious business, involving hammers, nails, and plumb lines.

‘Damn!’ Veronica said, soon after she arrived. ‘I have forgotten my drill.

‘No, you haven’t,’ I replied, pointing to a big orange drill on the bench.

‘That’s not my drill. It’s Inge’s.’

At which point , I realised I had missed out on one of life’s foundational experiences. Drill ownership. ‘I’ve never had a drill.’ I confessed.

‘Every woman needs her own drill.’ Veronica replied, with a disbelieving shake of her head.

We planned a rough program for the afternoon:

2pm – doors opened

2.30 – Veronica welcomed everyone

2.35 – Raj made a speech and opened the exhibition

2.45 – Mita’s work was open for viewing

3.00 – artist talk by Mita Solanky

3.30 – readings by writers in residence Justin Wolfers and Elizabeth Jane Corbett

4.00 – short documentary on the Bollywood film industry

The afternoon went without a hitch – apart from floods making the Machynlleth Bridge impassable, Mita’s sister’s car breaking down, the Stiwdio doors getting accidentally locked so that people were standing in the rain, and Veronica announcing she lived in Dolgellau with Raj. Fortunately she corrected her error – perhaps it had something to do with the startled look on his wife’s face? Otherwise, Stiwdio Maelor may have enjoyed an altogether different headline in the local paper. Something like: Bollywood star’s wife hits stiwdio owner over head with broom.

Blog Fourteen o Gymru – in preparation for an exhibition

An exhibition

The artist is keen

She’s been here two months

Has new works to show

Autumnal works

A Gujarati heritage

I wonder! would Raj open the show?

Raj, you mean, Raj Verma?

The Bollywood star?

The event now getting

Big as Ben Hur

We’ll have readings

Readings!

Yes, why not?

You – and the other writer

You’ll have something, surely?

Yes, you do – but

Twenty minutes each

Will that be enough?

We’ll need posters

And invites

Facebook event

Oh, yes, and, I think

We should paint

Paint?

Yes, nothing, fancy

Over the wallpaper

Although

On second thoughts

I have a steamer

And a sander

We’ll do the lot

Together

It’ll be fun

You write a press release

Print posters

Your name is on everything

But what to read?

A short story?

Part of your manuscript?

No! You can’t

Your work is sh*t!

Perhaps, no one will come?

But – wait, no

That’s why you’re here

To grow

Take your work seriously

Besides

This isn’t about you

It’s about the other artists

And Maelor

And the exhibition

Which will be wonderful

With

Or without

Your contribution

 

Blog thirteen and a half o Gymru – an invitation

Blog thirteen o Gymru – bridging the cultural divide

There are two world in Wales. Within weeks of arriving, I had begun to get a sense of the divide. I worked out that the Church of Wales services were all bilingual and, as not many Welsh speakers attended, the bi tended to swing towards the monolingual. I found a Welsh chapel in the Main Street of Machynlleth. It’s notice boards were completely in Welsh. No taint of bilingualism there. The services were held every second Sunday, the notice board informed me, and on alternate weeks at Capel y Craig. The notice board gave no indication of which Sunday was the second Sunday. Or indeed the location of Capel y Craig. There was no phone number to contact.

Nothing to help and Aussie language learner in search of Cymru Cymraeg.

I had read about the resurgence of Papurau Bro (local papers) in Janet Davies excellent book The Welsh Language: a history. But as I had been given a pile of Welsh magazines to read, not to mention novels, and the articles in my Welsh homework book. I didn’t give the local Papur Bro (local paper – singular), much consideration. Until someone pointed out that the Chapel services and times were listed in the pages of Blewyn Glas.

Blewyn Glass! I’d seen that magazine. But where?

‘You can get it at the local post office,’ my source informed me. ‘The October edition came out this week.’

Okay, so I may have got a little excited and headed down to the post office first thing the next morning. I may also have failed to notice that Blewyn Glas cost £1 and walked home with it tucked under my arm, marvelling at the amazing free news service.

I showed my illegally acquired copy of Blewyn Glas to the long suffering artists in residence who had been forced to endure my lectures on the future of the Welsh language. I pointed out the calendar pages. It’s all there, I told them. Every Chapel service – times, preachers, locations – along with every Merched y Wawr meeting, Cylch Llenyddol (literature circle), Cwb Gwawr and choir practice, in every small town, in the whole district.

Once they had expressed the obligatory murmurs of excitement, they scurried back to their creative pursuits. I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to read Blewyn Glas from cover to cover. After the calendar section, it was arranged by towns, each section made up of reports, coming events, milestone celebrations and photographs. Corris took up one and a half pages. I started reading the Merched y Wawr article. Hang on a sec. I stopped, blinked, doubled back. Started reading again, more slowly. There was someone called Liz mentioned – a someone called Liz who happened to be an Australian language learner.

Me!

I was there on page 10 of Rhifyn 419 of Blewyn Glas.

What does it say? I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to learn Welsh if you want to read Blewyn Glas. But it may have just included the words ‘especially good’ and ‘from an ‘non Welsh speaking family’ as well as talking about the BBC grammar book that inspired me to learn Welsh on the other side of the world.

 

Blog eleven o Gymru – three women on a boat

When I told members of my Melbourne Welsh class I would be living in Wales for six months, two of my classmates announced their intention to visit me. I wasn’t convinced this would happen. Promises made in the bar after Welsh class are not binding. So, when I dragged my case across the Abergavenny railway bridge, it was something akin to a miracle to see Sue and Nicky walking towards me. It was Nicky’s first visit to Wales. For Sue, it was a return to the country of her birth. For all of us, it was pilgrimage towards something in which we have a tangible investment – yr hen iaith.

Sometime during the planning process, we had decided a canal holiday would be an essential part of the experience. Which is how, half an hour after meeting in Abergavenny, we found ourselves taking possession of a narrow boat. The training took over an hour. We learned how to tie knots, clean the propellor, charge the boat, steer with a tiller, fill the water tanks, turn on the power inverter and a host of other grubby, miscellaneous tasks. As I stood in owl-eyed concentration, listening to the man from Castle Narrow Boats explain the various procedures, I know I wasn’t the only one thinking: what have we got ourselves into?

It rained torrentially the first day. The words: ‘this is a bit miserable’ may have been uttered. But around mid-afternoon, as we sat drying our socks, skirts and shoes on the radiator the sun decided to put in an appearance. After that, we enjoyed slow mornings over coffee (an addiction to which we all freely admitted), traveling at a snail’s pace, coffees in cafes, dinners in pubs, and discussing every small decision and manoeuvre. We laughed far more than we could have imagined, especially when climbing into our coffin like bunks. After a glass or two of Reverend James, one of us (who shall remain nameless) decided the very Anglicised inhabitants of Crickhowell needed educating. A black texta was the proposed implement of instruction. The all English banner advertising a forthcoming literary festival need the words Gŵyl Lenyddiaeth added. Not to mention every-second retirement cottage with an English name. Fortunately, the shops were closed and we didn’t have a black texta, so Crughywel (proper spelling), missed out on the bi-lingual transformation. But we did enjoy making up wildly bigoted statements in Welsh as we walked back to the narrow boat that may have involved the words Sais and cropian and dros y fin.

 

 

After our canal boat holiday, we headed up to North Wales where it soon became apparent that the ‘opportunities to practice speaking Welsh’ that one eager member of the group had organised, were causing quite a bit of consternation in the breasts of others. The word fanatic may have crossed lips. Along with an observation that some were far more interested in Welsh men than yr hen iaith.

These differences established, we did all the touristy things one would expect in North Wales – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Beddgelert, Betws-y-coed, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerwchwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yes, I can say it), photographing an ancient burial chamber and, of course, visiting castles. An unexpected highlight was Barmouth which is truly the tackiest seaside town outside of Y Barri. But you see, Sue and I were born in the UK. We have tacky seaside memories. In a wave of nostalgia, we purchased, rock candy, some truly dreadful coconut ice and Jack Straws, a game I played often in my childhood.

 

I didn’t know Sue and Nicky well before the holiday – apart from our weekly Welsh classes and the occasional Saturday night dinner. But over the last fortnight, we have discussed language, relationships, faith, our family histories, hopes for the future, the experience of ageing, and have simply explored Wales together. We will have these memories for ever. No one can take them away from us. Or the friendship we have forged.

It has been a month of holidays for me with no great progress on my manuscript. But Sue and Nicky are the last of my scheduled visitors. The days are getting shorter and more greyscale. The landscape around me variegated. This will be the first winter I have spent in the northern hemisphere since childhood and, like the squirrels I have seen gathering nuts, I am looking forward to hibernating and making final pre-submission changes to my manuscript. By the time the trees begin to bud again, I will be back in Australia, hopefully, up to my neck in the submission process, as well as working on my next project.

Tan wythnos nesaf!

Blog nine o Gymru – life in the stiwdio

I have been in Wales two months. It’s time I told you a little about my role at Stiwdio Maelor. Established in 2014, the stiwdio provides low cost accomodation for artists and writers to take time out of their busy lives in order to be refreshed and inspired to create. Situated in the historic slate mining village of Corris, Maelor has three apartments – each with a bedroom and a studio – a shared bathroom, kitchen and a common room. It also has a single bedroom room for the volunteer coordinator (which is me).

As an introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would like living in what is effectively a shared house. But sharing a house with artists and writers has its benefits. Firstly, they are not here to socialise. Secondly, when they do come out of their rooms, it is normally to talk about the creative process. The remainder of the time, they are roaming the hills looking for inspiration or holed up in their studios painting, writing, drawing, stitching or sculpting.

We have had six artists through the stiwdio since I arrived at the end of July. The last two, Cindy and Erin from Florida, helped me revamp my web page, design new business cards and put up with me ruminating about whether or not to buy a yoghurt maker. Sometimes, of an evening, we would go to the pub and anti-socialise together. It was like having a holiday with two best friends I didn’t know I had. The place is quiet without them.

Speaking of WIFI, let us move onto my daily routine. It starts, with what I have now dubbed the seeking signal pose, a stance half way between supplication and a Kundalini yoga sequence. It involves bracing myself, leaning out of my bed and holding my phone up to the window in order to get a signal, then ducking back down beneath the covers to check my Facebook feed. Of course, standing on the pavement would be more effective. But I’m not sure if Corris is ready for me in full length thermal underwear (yes, and, it’s only summer), my tufty morning hair, and a plum coloured satin dressing gown that I picked up from the local charity shop.

My studio work involves cleaning and changing the bed linen when new artists arrive, receiving enquires from future residents, sending out information, and keeping the webpage updated. In between, I have been working on my manuscript and trying to speak Welsh with a many people as possible. We have a Welsh chat group every Tuesday morning in the local Institiwt, and have started a Welsh language dinner for the learners in the village. I am also attending Merched y Wawr twice a month. Joining a Welsh chapel is also on my list of priorities. But it hasn’t been easy to get away during our month of open studios. Meanwhile, I have been attending the church in the village. This week. Welsh classes have resumed after the summer break. I now have weekly homework to complete and, as Veronica has re-claimed her car, my trip to Machynlleth (closest town) also invloves a bus ride with my dirty washing.

This week, I did the bus run for the first time. I borrowed a small suit case and got my clothes to the laundrette, then dashed across the road to the supermarket. I quickly worked out that my groceries we’re going to be heavier than my clean laundry. I loaded the suitcase up with food, my three reusable shopping bags with clean clothes, and turned up at my first Welsh class looking like a bag woman. Trudging back through Corris that later evening, bags bugling, suitcase over-loaded and my back pack stuffed to the brim, the local cafe owner said: ‘Let me guess, it’s washing day?’

I have been trying to exercise regularly since arriving. So far the weather has been kind. I have been doing a short jog to Aberllefeni (go on, say it) every couple of days and some longer walks in the hills around Corris. Today, for the first time, I rode my borrowed bike to Machynlleth. I’m not sure how practical this will be as a transport option when the weather sets in (not to mention, the hills). But this evening’s ride was glorious. I had to stop half way along the route while a farmer herded his sheep into a new field. I got chatting to his wife while we watched them pass. I told her I was from Australia and that I was a Welsh learner.

Yn wir!’ Dwedodd hi wrtha i. ‘O’n i’n meddwl dy fod ti’n Gymraes.’

Ann her name was. She keeps ieir (hens) and, from that kind utterance, I am claiming her as my new best friend.

 

Blog six o Gymru – some Welsh poetry

We have a retired Vicar, living behind Stiwdio Maelor – a stooped, white haired man, lover of God and his country. We speak Welsh sometimes, though his voice is soft and my hearing so poor in the lower registers that I often fail to understand him. Oft times, we swap to English and I don’t mind so much. His wealth of local knowledge is too valuable to miss. On Sunday afternoon, when one of the artists staying at Stiwdio Maelor expressed a desire to see Tal-y-Llyn, he bundled us into the car and took us to the lake. He told us the real name, Llyn Mwyngll, and showed us his favourite vista from the Old Rectory garden. He pointed out the ancient mountain path from Corris to St Mary’s church, sold now, and ready to be turned into a B&B. It’s grounds so hallowed, people’s dreams will surely be haunted.

With him, I have shared my disappointment over the paucity of Welsh language church services in the area. How there is poetry in these mountains and, sometimes, I fancy the land laments the changing voices, the musicality of Welsh receding, further and further northwards. I tell him how sad this makes me feel, that I have been reading R. S. Thomas’ poetry.

Welsh
Why must I write so?
In Welsh, see:
A real Cymro,
Peat in my veins.
I was born late;
She claimed me,
Brought me up nice,
No hardship;
Only the one loss,
I can't speak my own
Language - Iesu,
All those good words;
And I outside them,
Picking up alms 
From blonde strangers.
I don't like their talk,
Their split vowels;
Names that are ghosts
From a green era.
I want my own
Speech, to be made
Free of its terms.
I want the right word
For the gut's trouble,
When I see this land
With its farms empty
Of flock, and the stone 
Manuscripts blurring
In wind and rain.
I want the town even,
The open door
Framing a slut,
So she can speak a Welsh
And bear children
To accuse the womb
That bore me.

Ah, he said, R. S. Thomas. He died a Welsh speaker, you know? I did know but still at times I feel his foment. When, I go into a shop and get snapped at for speaking Welsh. Yet when I look around at the people who have settled in Corris, I see community, caring, a different way a life, and there is beauty in that too. If not for these newcomers, the Vicar said, this town would be in ruins. Yet I know he mourns the loss of language too.

The next day in the cafe he handed me a poem. It’s by T. H. Parry Williams, he said. I have been working on a translation. To me, it sums up all the beauty and struggle and frustration.

Hon
Beth yw'r it's gennyf i am Gymru? Damwain a hap
Yw fy mod ar ei libart yn byw. Nid yw hon ar fap
Yn ddim byd ond cilcyn o ddaear mewn cilfach gefn
Ac dipyn o boendod i'r rhai sy'n credu mewn trefn.
A phwy sy'n trigo'n fangre dwedwch i mi,
Pwy ond gehilion o boblbach? Peidiwch, da chwi,
A charger am uned a chenedl a gwlad o hyd:
Mae digon o'r rhain, heb Gymru, i'w cael yn y byd.
Rwyf wedi alaru ers talwm ar glywed grŵn
Y Cymru, bondigrybwyll, yn cadw sŵn.
Mi af am dro, i osgoi eu lleferydd a'u llen,
Yn ôl i'm cynefin gynt, a'm dychmyg yn drên.
A dyma fi yno. Diolch am fod ar goll
Ymhell o gyffro geiriau'r eithafwyr oll
Dyma'r Wyddfa a'i chriw; dyma lymder a moelni'r tir;
Dyma'r llyn a'r afon a'r clogwyn: ac, ar fy ngwir,
Dacw'r tŷ lle'm ganed. Ond wele, rhwng llawer a ne'
Mae lleisiau a drychiolaethau ar hyd y lle.
Rwy'n dechrau simsanu braid: ac meddaf i chwi,
Mae rhyw ysictod fel petai'n dod drosof i;
Ac mi glywaf grafangau Cymru'n dirdynnu fy mron,
Duw a'm gwaredo, ni allaf dianc rhag hon.

This
What do I care about Wales? An accident
Of birth finds me living in her little backyard.
On a map she is a smudge on the fringes of land
Spoiling the orderliness of things
And the people, remains of past glories
Don't talk to me of nations, or language or country,
There's more than enough on the world without Wales.
Sick and tired of the moaning extremists and their like
I take a trip, my day dream the train
That takes me to my childhood haunts
And there I am lost
Far from their words and complaints
Look over there, the place I was born
A desolate landscape, and there's Snowdon and friends,
The lake, the rivers, the crags
But between them and the sky,
Voices and figures like phantoms appeal to me,
And a weakness comes over me like a mountain mist,
Dear God, for me, there is no escape from this.

Blog five – a matter of false information

Those who know me and can be bothered counting, may have noticed this is my fifth visit to the UK in the last ten years. You may also have observed that now and again (cough) I like to talk about the place. I mention the walks I’ve been on in Wales, the beachside amusement arccades, pubs which allow dogs (very civilised) the way people eat mushy peas with their fish and chips (maybe not so civilised) and how the Brits have a tendency to strip down to their Y fronts whenever the sun peeks out from behind a cloud (need I comment?). What you may not realise, is that I may have been guilty of giving you false information.

The misinformation, has its origins three years ago when, one Sunday, during my month long Welsh language Summer School, I decided to walk from Borth to Aberystwyth. It was a warm, blue sky, day, with only a whisper of cloud. I meandered along the Ceredigion Coastal Park, taking in the heather covered hillsides and spectacular sea views. Just short of Aberystwyth, I stopped for a drink at the cafe attached to the local caravan park. Having spent a number of summer holidays in Aussie Caravan parks, I enjoyed seeing how the Brits (largely from the Midlands judging by their accents) did the summer holiday thing. No, sun smart campaign, judging from the lobster-coloured backs of the children paddling on the beach. No trees for shade, or sun shelters and some of the caravans had two doors. Oh, my! How quaint! Semi-detached caravans!

Roll forward three years, and you will find me a little further along the coast with a group of Welsh speaking friends looking out over a different caravan park. The day wasn’t quite as sunny and, if I’m honest, it was a tad more windy (like blowing a force ten gale). As I sat shivering on the walls of Harlech Castle, I fell to making random summer holiday observations:

‘We don’t have castles in Australia so … this is not a normal summer holiday activity for me (nor the chattering teeth). Do many people stay in tents? Those semi-detached caravans you have are quaint.’

Silence. Four sets of eyes turned on me. ‘Semi-detached caravans?

‘Yes. I’ve seen them, near Aberystwyth.’

‘Really? I’ve never seen one.’ One by one, they all agreed.

Now at this point, I probably should have backed down. Four born and bred, British people, one who has an onsite caravan in a Welsh caravan park were telling me there was no such thing as a semi-detached caravan. What other evidence did I need? But here’s the thing about me. As well as telling tales of Brits sunbathing in their Y fronts, I may also have mentioned the semi-detached caravans a few times. Okay, so more than a few – and I was pretty damn sure they existed. I mean, why else would a caravan have two doors?

Our holiday finished without further reference to the great two door caravan fib. But back in Corris, I could not let the matter rest. I knew the Corris Caravan park wasn’t far away. I set off, camera in hand, to gather evidence. Imagine my delight when I came upon this scene.

I immediately sent a Facebook message to my friends.

‘Tystiolaeth!’ (Evidence)

‘Efallai’ (maybe)? The friend with the onsite caravan wrote. ‘Neu jyst carafan dau ddrws’ (or just a two door caravan).

No need to tell you what I thought of that idea. Who would be potty enough to make a caravan with two doors. Another friend messaged that she would best visiting the seaside town of Aberdyfi later in the week. She would do some research. I decided to join her This was too important a matter to leave to prejudiced minds.

We set off after dark, two middle aged women sneaking round a sleepy caravan park. Fortunately, we were in west Wales, where the crime rate is quite low, or we may have been arrested. Especially when we started circling two door caravans and peering through windows.

‘This one only has one storage box,’ my friend said.

I had to admit she was right.

‘And one number plate.’

Right again.

‘And look this one only has a name.’

I looked at the caravan in question. Number two, Seaspray, and there was only one storage box. I had to admit the evidence was stacking up against me. But what to do? How to tell my Aussie friends that a glorious West Wales holiday in a semi-detached caravan was no longer a possibility? And what about all my other stories. Maybe those men weren’t wearing Y fronts after all?

I’m not sure where all this doubt would have lead too, if not for the quiet persistence of my friend with the onsite caravan. Quite apart from our nighttime escapades, he’d been conducting his own quiet research. It’s called the World Wide Web, in case your interested. Far more sensible than creeping around caravan parks at night. Here’s the picture he sent me.

There may not be semi-detached caravans in modern Britain but once upon a time they did exist. In fact, if enough people make enquiries about semi-detached caravan holidays in West Wales we might be able to bring them back again. Meanwhile, I’m conducting another branch of research. Can someone please tell me why some British caravans have two doors?

 

Blog three – a Welsh speaking holiday

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know I have a small (cough) interest in the Welsh language. You may also remember that last year I went on a Say Something in Welsh Bootcamp and blogged about the experience. You may not realise, however, that a few of us from the Bootcamp kept in touch and that when I announced my imminent return to Wales, plans were put in motion for a second Welsh language holiday. Not an 'official' one this time. A holiday between five friends with the expressed intention of speaking Welsh. A Welsh speaking holiday! For no reason! Why not? People go on golf holidays and fishing holidays, hiking trips and literary tours. We would spend our holiday practicing the language of heaven.

Excited messages were exchanged on Facebook, phone calls made, a holiday house booked and money paid. As the date approached, we realised this thing was actually going to happen. We were going to take off our trainer wheels and speak Welsh for a whole week unassisted. Now, I must admit, along with the mounting excitement, I approached the week with a degree of trepidation. Bootcamp was so good. We laughed so much, learned so much. Could this holiday ever match that first experience?

From the outset, we knew the rules would have to be different. We would not have a fluent Welsh speaker to provide unknown vocabulary. We decided therefore that sentences like: Beth ydy gair am (what is the word for) 'sheets' would be acceptable. As would looking in a dictionary occasionally. But that we would not resort to English beyond those parameters. We would aim to use shops and cafes where we could be served in Welsh. In instances where we found ourselves caught in a non-Welsh speaking situation (of which there were few) we would keep conversation to the absolute minimum.

So how did we go? What were the highlights? What were the challenges?

Challenges

Of course, the primary challenge (and pleasure) was to speak Welsh. We were all super keen to do this. But the fact that we expressed how keen we were a number of times during the lead up to the holiday suggested we were a little afraid we wouldn't be able to do it. In the end, this was a non-issue. We do not have a relationship in English. We never have done. It would have felt unnatural to speak English.

For me, the week held another unexpected for challenge. This became apparent when on arrival my friends started unpacking massive, multiple packets of crisps. I don't normally eat crisps – far too many carbs and with way to much fat for this middle-aged-trying-not-to-put-on-weight Australian. My challenge was trying to resist the multiple packets of crisps while all around me other were munching. In Welsh! I made it almost to the end of the week before caving. Although, I do confess my self control didn't last beyond the first night as far as the chocolate was concerned.

Highlights

One of our number, expressed his intention to jog in the mornings. I suggested that this was something I should probably participate in too. The second morning, we set out along the Llwybr Mawddach (Mawddach path). Once he had warmed up, my friend picked up his pace. As he ran into the distance, the rain started to fall. I followed behind, my spectacles a foggy blur of steam and rain. As I reached my designated turning point, I jogged back along the now puddled path. Passing me on my homeward leg, my friend was clearly amused by the image of a bedraggled Aussie plodding along in the teeming rain. He called out Croeso i Gymru, Liz (Welcome to Wales). See, as well as the massive crisp eating tendencies, it would seem that Wales is a little wetter than Melbourne. Honesty compels me to admit that the wind is a bit parky too. For this reason, later in the week, when standing shivering on the turret at Castell Harlech with my collar pulled up and my coat zipped tight against the wind, I found myself saying:

Dw i ddim meddwl fi mod i'n Gymraes o gwbl. Merched o Awstralia ydw i (I don't think I'm a Welsh woman at all. I am a girl from Australia).

Of course, this comment was funny in Welsh. In fact, I find most things are funnier in Welsh. This could, of course be an element common to all language learners (we certainly laugh a lot at our St Augustine's, ESL dinners). The laughter coming from a three fold source:

  1. That you've followed the conversation well enough to make a joke
  2. That you've managed to express this humorous insight in real time
  3. That the people have understood you well enough to laugh in response

Another holiday highlight, was visiting the Aplaca farm of our friends Karen and Crispin. First, for an informal Sunday lunch and a walk around the farm, which was stunning. The second, as part of a group of local language learners. I confess, I felt a twinge of anxiety about attending a Welsh language afternoon with people who have attended regular Welsh classes, in Wales. Apart from my wonderful month at Cwrs Haf in Aberystwyth, the five of us on our Welsh language holiday had all learned Welsh outside of Wales, and primarily (although in my case not entirely) through the Say Something in Welsh course. We had a wonderful afternoon chatting with learners at all stages in their language learning journey. In fact, if you are reading this from Melbourne, where we use SSiW as our official class materials, I can safely say the system works. I don't think we shamed ourselves at all.

Our special visitor for the afternoon was the Welsh author Bethan Gwanas.

'Ydy'r fenyw 'na Bethan Gwanas?' Someone asked in hushed tones.

'Yes!' Eyes popping. 'It's Bethan Gwanas.'

'Be' y Bethan Gwanas?'

'Yes, it's the Bethan Gwanas.'

A final highlight, was spending the afternoon on a Pwllheli beach with Aran and Catrin Jones. Aran is the founder of Say Something in Welsh and he and his wife Catrin are the voices of the North Wales course. It was great to pick Aran's brains about what's coming next in the SSiW world and to joining him in waxwing lyrical about our hopes and fears for the Welsh language. I think, we may have also solved a most of the worlds problems while sitting in the sun on the Lleyn Peninsula that afternoon and afterwards as we ate pysgod a sglodion (fish and chips) while sitting on a Criccieth seaside wall.

It's amazing what can be achieved on a Welsh speaking holiday. 🙂

Hwyl am y tro!

 

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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