Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Cymru (Page 2 of 3)

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 ten o Gymru – creative writing for Welsh learners

At one stage, during a difficult phase in my life, I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. The book is a little bit new-age-power-of-positive-thinking. But life was pretty tough and, in my desperation, I did every darn exercise in the book. One of which, was to set up a Wish File. An exercise I had all but forgotten, until I spent the weekend at Tŷ Newydd.

Tŷ Newydd, is a sixteenth century manor house in the North Wales village of Llanystumdwy. It was once the home of Lloyd George, a Welsh man, and incidentally the only British Prime Minister to ever speak the language. Twenty five years ago, Tŷ Newydd became the National Writers’ Centre for Wales. And for some reason, back in that wounded, struggling place, filled with false positivity, I stuck a picture of Tŷ Nweydd in my Wish File, along with the words:

Do a writing course here.

I
 

Six years hence, I find myself living Wales and my days are no where near as difficult as they once were. So, when I saw an advertisement for: Ysgrifennu Creadigol i ddysgwr (creative writing for Welsh learners), at Tŷ Newydd, I knew it was time to make my wish come true.

The course was weekend course, completely in the Welsh language, with tutors Aled Lewis Evans and Bethan Gwanas. In our workshops we used childhood memories, postcards, and inanimate objects (such as flickering candles) as a stimulus for free writing. The writing exercises were familiar but, let me tell you, there was no absence of talent on the room and, as for the Welsh language, I had to paddle like a pup to keep my head above the water.

One of the writing exercises involved responding creatively to a piece of artwork and, because Aled, the tutor was a poet, I decided to break out of my comfort zone and try my hand at a bit of barddoniaeth (poetry). The result a rather basic piece (which is no doubt full of grammatical mistakes), of which I am ridiculously, new-mother proud.

The Widow’s House

Tŷ yn unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n sefyll ar ei ben ei hunan,

Lawr y bryn ar bwys yr afon,

Ble mae’r wlad yn priodi y mor.

 

Tŷ yn unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ tystio’r blyneddoedd hir,

Ysgythru straeon ar y wal,

Ble mae’r hen wraig yn fyw.

 

Tŷ yn. unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n gwylio y tymhorau heibio,

Cyrfri y tonnau ar y tywod,

Ble mae’r cwch yn trigio wag.

 

Tŷ n unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n clywed y dagrau gweddw,

Synth io ar y llwyd carreg llithrig,

bel mae ei gwr wedi boddi.

 

*

Lonely house, silent house,

Which stands by itself,

At the bottom of the hill by the river,

Where the old woman lives.

 

Lonely house, silent house,

Which witnesses the long years,

Etching stories on the wall,

Where the old woman lives.

 

Lonely house, silent house,

Which watches the seasons pass,

And counts the waves on the sand,

Where the boat stands empty.

 

Lonely house, silent house,

Which hears the widows tears,

Falling on the slippery grey rocks,

Where her husband drowned.

 
Cheerful? Not! Don’t blame me. Blame the artist. But isn’t the image striking? It hangs on the wall of the Tŷ Newydd library.

I drafted four more short prose pieces over the weekend and developed a character I hope to one day use in a novel. I also wrote and performed a short mock-radio drama with two other learners using the word plu (feathers) as a stimulus.

At times, the writing life can be so serious, the rewards so distant and unattainable. Writing in Welsh gave me a chance to play and experiment without seeking a measurable (or marketable) outcome which, incidentally, was also one of Julia Cameron’s recommendations. So, maybe some of that new-age-power-of-positive-thinking stuff has value. If nothing else, the exercise forced me to identify my desires. Which is the first step towards attainment. So, who knows? Some of my other wishes might also come true.

 

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 seven o Gymru – some Welsh language humour

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.

 

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 four – the rubber hits the road

You may have imagined from reading my blogs that my transition to life in Wales has been seamless. This is not the case and, this week, with my friends gone, the full implications of being far from home caught up with me.

You see, I had hoped to open up a UK bank account while in Wales but without proof of address (like a simple utility bill) this wasn’t possible. This meant I could only purchase an expensive, frequently expiring, pay-as-you-go phone plan, which cannot be tethered to iPads or computers. So…my McBook is dead. My iPad is dead. I have no WIFI, except in cafes, pubs and libraries.

Do I hear a collective shudder?

The man in the phone shop was terribly helpful and apologetic when he explained I could not have a proper phone plan. So, helpful and apologetic that when I asked him for an envelope in which to keep my Aussie SIM, he made me a little cardboard packet and stapled it closed. There was only one problem. He somehow managed to staple right through my Aussie SIM.

I was still in the halcyon phase of Eisteddfod and friends, at this stage. I filed my punctured SIM card away as a problem for the future – like when I got back to Australia. Veronica had left me a modem with a gigabyte of data per month. There was only one problem. I used that gig up in a week (no, I don’t have a problem). Then, on one of my trips to the cafe, I received an email. Someone had bought two copies of Grand Theft Auto on my iTunes account. I cancelled the purchase, marvelling at the ease with which this could accomplished.

Or … so I thought.

You see the Commonwealth Bank takes a dim view of people misappropriating credit cards. Within days mine had been cancelled. Fortunately, I’d just made a cash withdrawal. My Travel Card also worked. So, I wasn’t about to starve. I logged onto Netbank in order to update my contact details. This couldn’t be achieved without an SMS confirmation message. Which, of course, required my Aussie SIM card.

‘Have you tried your SIM?’ one of my friends asked.

‘It won’t work.’ I almost wailed. ‘I know it won’t.’

The SIM did work and, ten days later, when my new credit card arrived, I went straight to the cafe, Aussie SIM in hand, to reset my PIN. While in the cafe, Veronica (Stiwdio Maelor’s owner) called on FaceTime. I don’t know if you have ever used FaceTime but it rings on every Apple device you own. A little alarming when in a cafe with three devices pealing at once. I headed back to the studio, only to find one of our new artists knocking at the door. I wrapped my punctured Aussie SIM in its packet and shoved it in the cupboard. By the time I’d greeted the new artist and talked with Veronica, I was in no mood for internet banking. But I was down to my last £20 and needed to make a withdrawal next time I was in town. I grabbed the cardboard packet and headed for the single hotspot in the Stiwdio. Somehwere around this point, one of the other artists dropped her iPhone down the toilet. It was new! And expensive!

Are you getting the picture? We were struck in a kind of Apple users hell.

After discussing drowned iPhone remedies, I returned to my online banking. But when I opened the cardboard packet, my Aussie SIM was missing. It wasn’t on the work bench. Nor under any of the multiple notes I had been scribbling. I checked the bench again. Crawled on hands and knees about the studio. By this stage, my heart had started to pound. My throat was making funny little, strangled noises. I shook the packet, once, twice. Peered inside. Still nothing. Surely, I hadn’t dropped in the street? I sprinted back to my bedroom. Checked my desk, the bin, my bed, rummaged in the cupboard, upending my carefully folded woollens. And there it was, a glint of gold on the shelf beside my passport. I scooped the SIM card up, rocking back and forth. I heard people chatting outside the window, Stiwdio Maelor’s door opening and closing, laughter. Meanwhile, in the bedroom, I was quietly falling apart.

***

There’s nothing like a good cry to clear the system and, with a fully functioning banking system, I reckon I can survive on cafe and pub internet. Though, it’s possible I’m on a fast track towards alcoholism or caffeine poisoning. 🙂

 

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 two – the Eisteddfod

Anyone who did music lessons is probably familiar with the concept of an eisteddfod – a festival in which artist not only performs but also competes. From the spelling you have probably gathered the word is Welsh. However, if you are an Australian, you may not realise that you have been saying the the word wrong for your whole life. It is not an eisted-fod. The word has a double ‘dd’ which makes a soft ‘th’ sound in Welsh, much like in the English word ‘others.’ Eisteddfod (pronounce correctly please) is made up of two Welsh words: eistedd, which means to sit, and bod/fod which is the verb to be. The closest correlation you will probably get for eisteddfod in modern English is a ‘session.’

These days Eisteddfodau (the correct plural of eisteddfod) occur throughout the year in Wales. But the main eisteddfod – the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (national eisteddfod) is held during the first week of August. It receives over 160,000 visitors over an eight day period. It is the pinnacle of the Welsh cultural calendar Here’s what the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol website says about itself:

“All visitors have an eisteddfod story to tell. Whether they’ve competed annually for many years or if they’ve just been to the Maes (field) once a few years ago. They’ve all experienced the magic of the National Eistddfod.”

Which, I guess, is a convenient segue for me to tell you how this year’s magic worked for me.

Driving

As with any outdoor festival there is a massive caravan and camping site attached to the Eisteddofd. The less intrepid book B&Bs and self catering Accomodation close to the Maes. I drove from Corris – a distance of about thirty eight miles – thirty eight, misty Welsh miles sharing the road with tractors, buses and the occasional stray sheep. Google maps told me it would take an hour and ten minutes. But … I tend to slow down on hair-pin bends. A sensible strategy. Though it doesn’t seem to have occurred to some drivers in Land Rovers and luxury cars. One of the best things about driving to the Eisteddofd is the flags and banners strung up along the houses. The closer you get the more flags. Somehow the excitement seems to mount too.

Volunteering

I put my name down to volunteer in Maes D – the learners tent. This involved serving coffee and tea and wandering around Maes D and chatting to people interested in learning Welsh as well as those seeking a safe place in order to practice their Cymraeg. For my first shift, I teamed with two local women. This lead to the inevitable conversation:

“Where do you come from?”

“Australia. But I was born in England. My mum was Welsh.”

“You learned to speak Welsh from her?”

“No. I learned as an adult.”

“But… how did you learn Welsh in Australia?”

I’ve had this conversation so many times I have requested Say Something in Welsh business cards.

Concert

Monday night, I went to a concert in the Pavillion. It was called a Noson Llawen, which is traditional way of spending an evening in Welsh culture – an informal evening in which people stand up to sing, recite, or tell stories. In this case a host of local performers provided the entertainment. In between, the announcer told jokes in Welsh. I got one … maybe two of them. The highlight of the evening was Dafydd Iwan (a local legend) singing: Yma o hyd. This song is a kind of unofficial national anthem in Wales. It basically details the history conquest. The chorus between each verse can roughly be translated as:

“We are still here,

We are still here,

Despite the worst of everyone and everything,

We are still here.”

The first time round, everyone joined in the singing. For the encore, everyone stood and sang louder. Then there was a silence. Red dragons flickered across the stage screens. The music for the anthem started.

I had no trouble driving home after the concert. Though, the road was long and winding. I had lit up like a glow worm inside.

Friends

Thursday evening, was the parti penblwydd (birthday party) Say something in Welsh. Forty of us were scheduled to meet at a hotel in Trallwng (Welshpool). A number of us gave lifts to friends without cars who were staying in Maes B (camping ground). I ended up with a friend from Missisippi in my passenger seat. We got to the hotel okay and had a pleasant evening catching up with far flung members of our learners community. When it came time to leave, my friend suggested we drive back exactly the same way we had come. I agreed … In theory. But I hadn’t accounted for the one way roads in the centre of Trallwng. I couldn’t find the way we had come. In frustration, I punched Meifod (town closest to Maes B) into Google maps and activated the directions. I’m not sure what the staff at Google maps were drinking the night they mapped Wales but we had a dark, snaking tour through the Welsh back roads with hedgerows brushing the car on both sides. It was late. My friend wasn’t talking much. Just staring at the movie blue dot. Every so often I asked.

“How’s it going? Are we heading in the right direction?”

To which question he replied:

“I think so.”

This went on for what seemed like hours – same words, over and over, with a ghost-white mist drifting across the roads. I was tired. About to hit a jet lag wall. After Maes B, I would face a further hour and a half drive back to Corris. I started feeling tense. But trying not to show it. Not sure, I succeeded entirely. I think maybe my friend felt a little jaded too. When we turned the final corner and a saw blaze of the Eisteddfod lights, he said:

“Here. Drop me off here.”

“I can’t. The sign says Buses Only.”

“It’s empty! There aren’t any buses.”

I left my friend in the bus parking lot and drove home. As the clock turned the night into the morning and the Welsh language radio service ended, I heard an Australian man being interviewed about Australia’s disastrous loss in the cricket. I haven’t inherited the sporting gene. The results didn’t bother me overly. But the man’s accent caused a wave of homesickness. If I’d been a character from Harry Potter and found myself able to Aparate, I think, I might have wished myself 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.

Becoming a Welsh language expert…

I am not an expert at anything. I am a Jack-of-all-trades kind of girl. Imagine my surprise when an elderly gentleman approached me at the library.

‘I want to learn Welsh,’ he said. ‘One of your colleagues told me you are the library’s Welsh language expert.’

Turns out the man was vision impaired and needed a course that didn’t require him to be able to read or write. I knew just the course and my ‘Welsh language expert status’ was confirmed as surely if it had been listed on my job description along with a degree in library and information studies, eligiblility for ALIA accreditation, and holding a current Victorian driver’s license.

Now, personally, I think the ability to speak Welsh should be an essential requirement for every librarian. But as they haven’t yet achieved this in Wales, I don’t have much chance in suburban Melbourne. It was a shock therefore when on a second business-as-usual afternoon another man sought me out.

‘Hello. I’m looking for Liz Corbett.’

‘Yes. That’s me. How can I help you?’

‘I heard you speak Welsh.’

Heard! Where from? I guessed another of my colleagues had supplied the information.

‘I try, but…my Welsh isn’t fluent.’

Turns Ken James was a local historian with Welsh ancestry who was doing research on Eaglehawk’s Welsh Churches (yes, the hiraeth gets to us all eventually). He had a couple of cemetery inscriptions that needed translating. Would I have a look at them? Now, as my job description does not have ‘an ability to speak Welsh’ as a condition of employment, I am not paid to translate documents. As a librarian I am supposed to direct the borrower to the languages section. But as a person with an interest in Austalian history and Welsh language, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

‘I’ll have a go,’ I said. ‘If I can’t work it out, I know people who can. Why not email me a copy?’

Here is one of the inscriptions Ken James sent to me:

Jones

Serrhog Goffodwrineth / Robert Watkin Jones/ Pantymarch / Anwl Ac Unig Fab / Watkin Jones / Pandy, Llanuwchllyn, Bala / Yr Hwn A Hunodd Yn Yr Iesu / Hydref / 10 February 1884 Yn Zomywydd Oed / “God’s Will Be Done”.


It was school holidays and being a mildly (cough) obsessive person I didn’t want to wait until Welsh classes started back again. I looked up serrhog. It wasn’t in my dictionary. Neither was gofodwrineth. However, language is all about context. I am often telling my Welsh class. Your comprehension will sometimes be situational. So, what was the context here? I looked at English language cemetery inscriptions. They generally started with something like loving remembrance. I looked up remembrance in the English side of my dictionary and came up with: coffadwriaeth, remembrance, and serchog, with means affectionate. The spelling was wrong (possibly the family had no dictionary and may not have had much education in the Welsh language – it wasn’t exactly encouraged – and maybe they were relying on English speaking mason). Anyway, the inscription should have read: Serchog goffadwriaeth. Perfect.


See, being an expert is easy. 🙂


I knew Pantymarch and Llanuwchllyn, Bala were place names. I also knew that there was no letter z in the Welsh alphabet. A little enquiry, confirmed that Robert Watkin Jones had died at the age of twenty. Therefore zomywydd oed was probably 20 blwydd oed – twenty years old – Anwl ac Unig Fab meant: dear and only son.


I paused, thinking about this family far from home who had lost their only son at twenty years of age.


So, much pain, in those few words.


My final challenge with this inscription was the phrase: Yr Hwn A Hunodd Yn Yr Iesu.


Hunodd meant ‘slept’ my dictionary told me, Iesu, I knew, meant Jesus. But why yr hwn? And why yr Iesu? Literally, it seemed to be saying ‘the this and slept in the Jesus.’ Puzzled, I went where any sensible woman in this day and age who needs to know something goes. Facebook.


Fortunately Sion Meredith Director of Cymraeg i Oedolion – Canolbarth Cymru – Welsh for Adults mid-Wales was online. That’s right – a real expert. He confirmed my earlier guesswork and told me the phrase Yr Hwn a Hunodd yn yr Iesu meant: this one slept in Christ. Nice. I sent my results back to Ken James. Imagine my pleasure when a few months later he came back to the library with a signed copy of his book: Eaglehawk’s Welsh churches. He even put my name in the acknowledgements.

 

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