Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: s4c

Lost in another world – some serious Welshing

You’d be excused for thinking I’ve dropped off the planet. I have in fact, been in another world. A mile-long-resource-list, race-against-the-clock world, in which I’ve pitted my wits against legal and institutional constraints in order to access information.

Mostly, I have been working in Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, a gorgeous Art Deco building, nestled half way up Aberystwyth’s Penglais Hill, which is home to the largest collection of maps, manuscripts, books and journals pertaining to Wales. After a rocky start, in which I inadvertently broke the library’s ‘no digital photos’ rule, I booked myself into a library tour. In English (yes, that serious), followed by a one-on-one introductory session with a librarian. Through these session, I worked out that I could in fact use the library photocopier to scan to my email address for five pence a page. Which is outrageous, seeing as I have a perfectly good scanner on my iPad. But preferable to paying the £20 per day photography fee. The only constraint being that each page comes through as a separate email. So, when not at the library, I’ve spent hours downloading and moving individual PDF pages into folders. But, LlGC weren’t about to change their policy for a jumped up Aussie with aspirations of writing a novel from the point-of-view of Owain Glyn Dwr’s wife. So, I figured I’d better just toe the line.

As it turns out, LlGC is an amazing place to work. The building is stunning and they have whole bays full of the books I have been online-drooling over for months. I’m not sure what the staff make of me. You see I keep turning up and ordering lots of items and I persist in speaking Welsh, even when English would be easier. However, on seeing my book list and my extensive use of the catalogue’s ‘saved items’ function, the librarian conducting the introductory session figured I wasn’t going away. At least, not for the foreseeable future, and, quite frankly, I’ve been having a ball. Even, if the poor staff are working overtime.

Now, in case you don’t know the lay of the land, Stiwdio Maelor (an amazing creative artist’s residency studio in North Wales), is over an hour away on the most direct bus route to the LlGC. Fortunately, my good friend Carolyn now lives in Borth (only twenty minutes on the train). I have therefore been doing lots of sleep overs. Ours is a Welsh language friendship, so in addition to harassing the library staff, I’ve spent my evenings nattering to Caroline, whose Welsh is way better than mine (bonus for me). When, our friend Gareth joined us for the weekend, it was like Bootcamp all over again, with miming, misunderstanding and lame jokes in the Welsh language. We stayed up late one night comparing childhood TV experiences (as you do). When asked about Aussie TV shows, the only program I could come up with was Skippy. Which for some reason, we all found hilarious in the early hours of the morning.

As Carolyn works for Y Lolfa, I scored an invite to their fiftieth birthday party. For those who don’t know, Y Lolfa is a small press specializing in Welsh and English language books with a Welsh focus. I hadn’t realized Y Lolfa was founded in 1960s during the heady days in which Merched y Wawr was established and in which, Gwynfor Evans won Plaid Cymru’s first seat in parliament. It seemed fitting that the event featured a video with fake greetings from the queen. The following quote from Y Lolfa’s editor pretty much sums up the tone of the evening:

In a world dominated by large corporations and bureaucracies Y Lolfa believes that ‘small is beautiful’ in publishing as in life. It was André Gide who said: “I like small nations. I like small numbers. The world will be saved by the few.”

In the midst of all this Welshing (my friend Veronica has assigned a verb to my activities), I also got interviewed by S4C. It was my friend Helen’s fault. She’d been asked to do an interview for the Welsh learner’s TV program Dal ati. Being a self confessed hater of public speaking, she suggested I might like to join her. I wasn’t sure the producers of Dal ati would be all that keen on an Aussie interloper. My suspicions were confirmed when the producers sent a list of questions to Helen and not to me. But due to the above mentioned self-confessed hatred, I decided a show of moral support was required. As it turned out the strategy back-fired on both of us because, once they realized that we were friends, who had met online through the SSiW language forum, their journalistic eyes lit up. Helen’s carefully considered responses were thrown out the window and, all of a sudden, the cameras started rolling. The result, Helen’s excellent Welsh turned to ice and my mouth went into overdrive (my own peculiar nervous reaction) and I proceeded to make a number of ridiculous statements which, if they don’t edit rigorously, will see me portrayed me as light-headed Aussie bimbo on national TV.

Helen and I spent so long licking our wounds after the interview that I missed the train to Borth. Which meant that I had to change for the Parti Penblwydd Y Lolfa in the tiny toilet cubicle of the Wynnstay Hotel. This meant ordering an obligatory drink in the Pizzeria which, incidentally, sold only crisps. As I was wearing a borrowed dress (thanks Carolyn), I wasn’t sure how it should look and, quite frankly, the Wynnstay’s mirrors weren’t nearly long enough. I ended up crowning the afternoon’s loopy utterances by asking a couple in the Crisperia whether they thought I had my dress on backwards. They, to their credit, took the question in their stride. The man even said I looked very nice. Needless to say, I left the hotel pretty swiftly after that and made absolutely certain I didn’t open my mouth at all on the bus back into town.

We had dinner at a Greek restaurant prior to the Parti Penblwydd and found out too late that they only took payment in cash. While Gareth made a dash to the teller machine, the waitress made polite conversation with me.

‘There are lots of Welsh speakers out tonight (like they are normally locked up). Is something going on?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘it is Y Lolfa’s 50th birthday party.’

Upon which, her eyes grew wide. ‘And you’ve come all the way from Australia?’

It was tempting, oh so tempting to reply in the affirmative. But I didn’t want ‘dreadful liar’ added to my already going-down-hill reputation. Turns out this was wise because, during the party, the three of us were discussing something that involved pushing buttons. The verb to push was unfamiliar to Gareth.

‘Gwthio? He asked.

I said, yes, gwthio, and mimed the action of pushing a button. For some reason, Gareth had confused the verb to push with the verb to pull. So Carolyn said tynnu and mimed the action of pulling a lever. Through a series of repeat actions (which may have included a few other verbs) we established the contrasting meanings, at the end of which we looked up into the eyes of a startled onlooker, ‘Er…do you always communicate like this?’

‘Well, yes, of course, doesn’t everyone?’

A media hat trick – my BBC Radio Cymru interview

This week I made a media hat trick. I have now been interviewed in a Welsh newspaper, on Welsh language television, and most recently on BBC radio Cymru.

Yep, that’s right. I’m pretty much a household name in Wales. 🙂

I would like to be able to call this week’s interview a Welsh language hat trick. But the newspaper interview was in English. I couldn’t string two Welsh words together back then. But I’d won a prize with a short story inspired by one of my mum’s wartime memories and the South Wales Evening Post responded to the Bristol Short Story Prize’s press release.

It wasn’t my first interview. I’d done one for a Bristol & Bath publication call Venue a week earlier. Trouble is, I worked as a children’s librarian back then. I read heaps of kids books. I didn’t know that particular issue of the Venue was going to be about alfresco sex. My comments about Narnia and Anne of Green Gables, were bookended by strategies for getting naked in the English countryside (a fact that did not escape the teasing notice of my family). I cam across as a middle aged woman with a serious Peter Pan complex. As a consequence, when the South Wales Evening Post sent me a list of interview questions I worked hard at sounding mature.

‘Wow!’ The journalist wrote upon receiving my written responses. ‘You’ve pretty much done my job for me.’

The article came out largely unchanged. I’d learned my first media lesson – do your preparation.

I had less control over my second interview. It was in Welsh. I’d put my hand up in a fit of evangelistic fervour after the amazing online course, Say Something in Welsh, had transformed my language learning experience, achieving what years of formal, high school Japanese lessons never had – the ability to think in another language. I stood in front of the fuzzy TV microphone and babbled about the wonders of the SSiW course, only to find it edited out of the final interview. The producers made it sound like Cwrs Haf had transformed my experience (which it did in it’s own way). But at the time of the interview I had only been in Aberystwyth a day. No time for lightbulb moments, or pennies dropping. I came across as a massive exaggerator. 🙂

From this, I learned my second media lesson. If you are going to put your hand up for a jet-lagged interview in a sketchily obtained second language you may end up mis-understood.

So why did I say agree to a third interview? Good question. I’m still not sure. Probably because my friend Lowri Price asked me. Because, I’ve still got religion on the SSiW course. Because I’m coming to Wales in July and I’m getting excited. Maybe as a test? A radio interview is a pretty good measure of how far you’ve come. Or perhaps because it’s sometimes worth letting go, taking a risk, and swimming with the flow.

My interview with Siân Cothi took place Wednesday evening Melbourne time and aired in Wales Friday morning. I wasn’t jet-lagged this time. Nor was I edited out of shape. I pretty much managed to understand what was being said and to reply (albeit with plenty of mistakes). If you want to listen to my halting attempt to explain why I started learning Welsh, follow this link. My segment is two hours and seven minutes into the program. You can’t miss me, even if you don’t speak Welsh. I am the one talking really slow.


Mae eisiau S4C binge arna i!

Here is a nice quote:

“Hiraeth is in the mountains where the wind speaks in many tongues and the buzzards fly on silent wings. It’s the call of my spiritual home, it’s where ancient peoples made their home. 
Hiraeth – the link with the long-forgotten past, the language of the soul, the call from the inner self. Half forgotten – fraction remembered. It speaks from the rocks, from the earth, from the trees and in the waves. It’s always there.”

Not sure where this quote comes from originally but Owen from FFlic TV wrote it on the SSiW forum and lots of people liked it and I pinched it and I’m feeling pretty happy because I’ve just worked out how to stream videos from my Macbook to my iPad and watch them on our big TV screen. 

There is a a need for an S4C binge on me. 

Mae eisiau S4C binge arana i!

Understanding Welsh words – or, should I say, misunderstanding? :-)

Last month I attended a Welsh language Summer School in Aberystwyth. It was one of the most tiring, inspiring and exhilarating holidays I have ever been on. I reeled through the days drunk on words and meaning. When I got home, I found the Welsh language had entered my dreaming. If you’ve been reading this blog, you may have spent some of those moments with me.What you won’t know is that I also got filmed for Welsh television.

What? I hear you say. How could this be Liz?

Well, that’s a good question, and, if you are patient I will explain. But from the outset, I have to say, there was a fair bit of misunderstanding involved.

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s start at the beginning.

First, I learn Welsh. I go to the classes at the Celtic Club in Melbourne, do Mp3 lessons when I’m walking the dog. I also watch Welsh language television. Now, if you know anything about television rights, you will know that watching Welsh television from Australia involves an element of illegality. But for the purposes of this blog, let’s just say I watch short segments of Welsh language television on YouTube.

One of my favourite programmes is a show for learners called Hwb and, because I’m a cool info savvy public librarian, I follow the Hwb Twitter stream. I also spend time on a fantastic forum called Say Something in Welsh (yes, if you haven’t worked it out by now, I have a mildly obsessive personality). Anyway, in addition to the forum, SSiW sends out a weekly email newsletter and, as SSiW has links to Hwb (yes, Wales is a small place), they give us regular updates on what is happening.

One week, the newsletter said Hwb were looking for dysgywr o ddramor – learners from overseas. According to SSiW the success of Hwb depends on having as much interaction between learners and the program presenters as possible. This set up a rather uncomfortable feeling in my breast. Not only do I watch Hwb regularly and ‘illegally.’ I also owe my current proficiency in Welsh to the amazing SSiW team. And let’s face it there was no denying the fact, I am a dysgwr o ddramor.

‘If anyone feels up to doing a two minute Skype chat,’ the newsletter said, ‘just get in touch with Owen from Fflic television.’

Well, what could I do? They’d even provided the cyfeiriad ebost. I typed it into the address bar and sent a message – about our Welsh classes in Melbourne, my own language journey, the fact that I was planning to do summer school in Abersystwyth. All in Welsh by the way, which is where the word misunderstanding comes in.

Conscience assuaged, I pressed send. And promptly forgot about it. I mean who expects a return ebost from a stranger on television?

You can imagine my surprise when, two days later, I received an ebost from Owen. I pulled my dictionary out. ‘Helo Liz,‘ he said. ‘Diolch am dy ebost. We’d love to have you as one of our dysgywr o dramor (at least, I thought that’s what he said. It was all in Welsh). It would be incredible if we could come to Aberystwyth and meet you.

Wow! I thought, aren’t Welsh people kind. But why come to Aberyswyth, if I’m going to be chatting on Skype? It sounded like an awful lot of bother for a two minute TV segment.

Nevertheless, I sent Owen the dates of my course and turned my attention elsewhere. We were in the throws of buying and selling houses at this stage. I also had a five day stay in hospital somewhere in the middle. Being on Welsh television hardly impacted my consciousness.

Until I received another ebost from Owen.

‘I’ve been in touch with your tutor,’ he said (in Welsh remember). We’ve been given the all clear to film you in class.’

He added a date which was precisely three days after my arrival in Wales.

Great, I thought, I’m going to be jet-lagged on Welsh television.

About this point, it began to dawn on me that this was shaping up to be more than a two minute Skype chat. They were bringing a film crew to Aberystwyth and they were going to spend a whole morning filming me. Added to which, it was right at the beginning of the course. So, I’d be a complete twpsin on on national television. At that point, I made a firm decision:

I’m not telling anyone in Australia about this.

True to their word the film crew arrived in Aberystwyth. They gave me instructions. I understood about a quarter of what they said. I somehow managed to mutter a few things. Had manifold mistakes recorded for posterity and, to top it all off, no one wanted to sit next to me in class that morning.

At the end of filming, I signed the consent form. ‘Diolch yn fawr,’ said Owen. Bydden ni’n dweud wrthot ti pan bydd y eitem yn ddangos. O ie, hoffen ni’n siarad gyda ti ar Skype nes ymlaen, hefyd.’

By which I understood that the Skype chat was still going to happen at a later date.

I’ve been back in Australia almost a month now and, last week, I received another ebost from Owen.

‘Hiya Liz,’ the program will be on television this Sunday, 30th of September. ‘Please tell all your friends.’

My friends! Oh, dear, what a dilemma. I sent an ebost off to the course coordinators (I figured I owed them the courtesy). Considered posting a: hey, guess what, on the SSiW forum. But decided against it.
But the big questions was should I spill the beans down under?

On the one hand, this was a big moment. I’ve never been on television before. On the other hand, it was guaranteed to be embarrassing. I don’t even like looking at photos of myself, let alone a short film segment of me muffing up a foreign language. But what about my family? And the Welsh speaking world? It is a small community? What if people found out anyway?

In the end, the matter was taken out of my hands. The SSiW eNewsletter has a new segment entitled: Coming up on Hwb.

Under this weeks heading it says:

‘We meet Liz Corbett from Melbourne who attended a Welsh language course at The University of Wales, Aberystwyth. (Liz also learns with SSiW and some of us met her at the Eisteddfod).’

That’s the thing about the World Wide Web. It disseminates information.

SSIW has 23,000 members. Many in Australia. Some who even go to my Welsh class – the cat was well and truly out of the bag. Therefore, before any of you stumbled across my stuttering Welsh presence, I thought I’d better announce it.

Here it is, for the first and, possibly, last time in history, a YouTube of me speaking Welsh on national television.

Hospital days

I came to hospital on Wednesday morning with my iPhone, MacBook, and a few Welsh books. I expected to be home by dinner time. But, after taking my obligatory $280.00, the Doctor at Knox hospital said ‘we’ll be admitting you, Mrs Corbett.”What?’ I said. ‘As a day patient?’

‘No, Mrs Corbett. Face infections are serious. We will operate in the morning.’

It is now Friday and I’m still here, in room eighteen, of the Risby ward, with a dressing on my face and my arm hooked up to an IV tube. But now the pain is gone the whole thing is starting to feel kind of luxurious – like being on an airplane. I have a postcard sized portion of space. A buzzer. An overhead light and all my meals brought to me on a trolley.

What more could I ask for? I even get to spend the whole day in my pyjamas.

As I’m heading to Aberystwyth in August, I have been using the down time for a bit of a Welsh language revision. I have my SSiW lessons and flashcards on my iPhone. Season one of Gwaith Cartref on my MacBook. And plenty of Welsh books and dictionaries. This morning I finished reading my second ever Welsh Language novel: Parti Ann Haf.

It’s a small book (not a full length novel). Published especially for language learners and reluctant readers. It tells the story of a single mum called Ann Summer who takes on the job of a party planner. It has all the essentials of a women’s feel good story, strong female friendships, growth in self-knowledge, and an unexpected love interest. I read with a kind of wonder and amazement. Not so much at the story as at the fact I was reading and understanding it (albeit sometimes with a dictionary). I never thought I’d be able to communicate in a second language. But here I am, in Knox Hospital, doing it. Some of the paragraphs even came easily.At lunch time, the nurse came to change my dressing. ‘How’s it looking?’ I asked. ‘Do you think I’ll be able to go home soon?’

She pulled a dubious face. ‘The Doctor said IV for a couple more days, at least.’

So, what could I do? But smile and pull out my next book:

Blodwen Jones a’r aderyn prin. If it’s anything like Bethan Gwenas’ last book, it will be hilarious. I only hope I won’t be in hospital long enough to finish it.

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