I am a stranger in a strange land.
As much I adore this sprawling metropolis, the inkblot on the cosmic sketchbook that is London, I know in my heart that it’s not home. You see, I’m not from round these parts. I’m not even English – not that should shock one the most multicultural student bodies in the country. If you have been at all confused by my somewhat uncommon nomenclature, I can assure you it is peculiar to my home country. I come from that beloved corner of Britain where the grass is greener and the rain is wetter. Wales. That old land of my fathers, where there are more sheep than vowels and where people communicate across the valleys with scores of male voice choirs, is where I call home. Here’s a joke for you:
What do you call a sheep tied to a lamppost in the middle of Cardiff? A leisure centre. Haha.
As devastatingly funny as that paragon of humour was, it is not an accurate depiction of my country. And yet this is what people think of when I tell them I’m from Wales, which is a shame of the highest calibre. Wales is such a lovely country, rich in culture and history; at least, that’s what I think but, hey, maybe I’m biased. Anyway, consider this a whistle-stop tour of the real green and pleasant land.
First off, the sheep. Yes, we do have a lot of them. In fact, they outnumber the people four to one, which is why I hope and pray they never revolt. We would be screwed! Keeping the sheep peaceful is one reason why we don’t shag them. The other reason is because it’s weird, and not the least bit icky.
Next, castles. Wales has lots of castles. If you don’t have a castle, you’re nothing. The reason we have so many is because they’re useful things to have when you find yourself being invaded. And people like invading Wales; Romans, Irish, Vikings, French (though we beat them) and it’s like a hobby for the English or something. If you’re ever in Wales, try and find your nearest castell, I promise it won’t be far. I once found one on a golf course.
By the way, castell isn’t a misspelling, it’s Welsh. Yes, Wales has its own language. It’s what everyone used to speak before the English invaded (I can’t remember which time) but now, sadly, it’s the reserve of the Gogleddwrau (the people of North Wales) and those know-it-alls who paid attention in GCSE Welsh. But I digress. Welsh is a lovely, musical language, filled with grammatical tomfoolery. For a start, we have more vowels than English, because we’re bohemian libertines like that. There’s also a few double-letters like ll, ch, ff, in case we need sounds that English people can’t pronounce (and not for lack of trying. I spent a year training a captive Englishman, nothing).
Onto the two big Rs: rugby and religion. In Wales, these are one and the same. Though he may be accused of being ignorant in many things, a Welshman knows his way around three things; a bible, a rugby ball…and a sheep, of course. These two facets are so intimately intertwined, so deeply ingrained in the Welsh identity that the well-known revival hymn Bread of Heaven often echoes round the Millennium Stadium during the pitched battles of the Six Nations. Indeed, the passion behind that anthem far outstrips the paltry quaverings of Jerusalem.
A word on the geography. There’s South Wales, where all the shiny, interesting and downright useful stuff, like Doctor Who and my house, for example, may be found. Then there’s West Wales. There are caravans here, and puffins, and holiday-homes for people in Surrey to visit on the weekend. Then there’s Mid Wales, which is full of mountains. I’m not sure what else is there…it’s quite a “here be dragons” place. And those are real dragons. Lastly, there’s North Wales. It’s like another country, completely alien in every way. They speak Welsh there…properly, I mean, not just as an easy way to chat up women. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that they hate South Wales with the passion of a thousand suns. I don’t why…it’s probably because we’re better.
The Welsh are a completely downtrodden yet eternally optimistic people. We’re the underdog of the British…and everyone loves an underdog. Hywl Fawr!