Aug 172012

Welsh FlagI recently experienced a fortnight’s holiday in Wales. I’d been to Wales before, but mainly stayed in North and Mid Wales. This time we headed further south towards the Gower Peninsula. South Wales has the reputation of being the heart of the country and we were looking forward to experiencing the Welsh culture first hand. As we turned off the M6 we noticed the first indications that you’re in Wales. Massive road signs full of consonants and as we wound our way south the vowels became less and less.

It was great fun listening to our sat-nav trying to keep up with the turn by turn instructions containing place names like Llanddeusant. It’s probably why it gave up with about seventy miles to go and we ended up having to buy a new sat-nav.

Unfortunately that’s as Welsh as it got. With the exception of public signage and official leaflets, Welsh was never used. Advertising was all in English, Newsagents were full of English papers and Magazines, Menus were English as were the Polish waiters and shop assistants. The local people we met admitted to us that they didn’t speak Welsh.

Laugharne Castle

Laugharne Castle

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of Welsh heritage to absorb. Our first excursion was to Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse at Laugharne. IT was a great place with a Castle to visit and great scenery too. Highly recommended if you’re in the area. As you tour Laugharne Castle you trigger audio sequences where voices from the past tell tales from the castles history, in English only.

During our stay our quest for Welsh culture took us to the Rhonda Valley and a tour of a coal-mine. How Welsh can you get? As we descended into the pit our guide asked each member of the group where we were from. There was a young family from Germany and the father was translating what the guide was saying for his young son. There was also a mature couple on holiday from. “Oh dear”, joked the guide, “Can anyone translate into Welsh?” No one could, not even the couple from Bangor.

During the first half of the twentieth century it became apparent that Welsh was a dying language and a movement began to preserve it. Yet over the twentieth century the total number of speakers of Welsh remained pretty much constant in the face of a sharp rise in the population. It’s now believed that all those who do speak Welsh are bi-lingual.

The long-term prospects must be pretty bleak for any particular language with a small community of speakers, and particularly one like Welsh which is both devoid of great concentrations of speakers, and is surrounded by the particularly aggressive culture of the American and English-speaking world.

Welsh is still a dying language, and it’s dying for reason. No one ‘needs’ to use it. Producing all this dual language signage, government literature etc is both expensive and unnecessary. If people want to preserve the Welsh language, record it and put it in a museum with the rest of the countries great heritage.

Dec 052011
Christmas Present

Well here we are in December once more, As this is a seasonal topic I’d like to be able to say that December is a the month that brings us Christmas. However, with apologies to Sesame Street, this Christmas is brought to you by the months October, November, December and the number of your overdraft limit.

I’ve resisted mentioning Christmas before now, Christmas needs putting back into December. It’s not like we need reminding that it’s coming and we need to buy gifts for the occasion. Do the retailers really think that if they don’t start reminding us two or three months in advance we’ll all forget about Christmas and won’t spend any money? I like to think we could all boycott any store with a Grotto, Christmas Decorations or piped Christmas Carols and jingles until the first day of December each year. Unfortunately that won’t happen as we’d all starve to death by mid November.

That said, once December arrives I have to join in with Spendmas, the period Before Christmas when the obligatory shopping is performed. I can no longer dismiss the dreaded question, “What do you want for Christmas?” by saying “Go away, it’s only <insert month here>”.  I could be more prepared for the dreaded question by having a list ready on the first of December. But that would mean thinking about Christmas in November and that would be surrendering to the enemy.

“What would you like for Christmas?” should be a nice question to be asked, we all know the objects we desire but the fact we don’t already own them is because we either can’t afford them or justify the expense. That leaves us with the problem of thinking of something we’d like but not enough to actually bother to get ourselves, like a DVD of a film you missed at the cinema that won’t be shown on TV for another two months, or something you need but not necessarily want to buy, such as socks or slippers, because you’ve worn out the ones you got for a previous Christmas.

Once you have this mental list of not so desirable gifts and Christmas morning disappointments, you have to reduce it down in consideration of the person asking the question and limit your response to a price band. This is tricky, if you ask for something they think is too expensive you look greedy. If you ask for something too cheap, you’ll probably get it.

Except where children are involved, you also have to consider how much you intend spending on the reciprocal gift. You can’t ask for something that costs more than you intend spending on the person asking the question, however if you ask for something significantly cheaper than what you buy them, they will feel bad about it on Christmas Morning and over-compensate the following year making you feel bad. You then get into an annual gift war, which becomes expensive for both parties.

One of the worst things that can happen is when the question is asked by someone who isn’t currently on your shopping list. If you can’t politely wriggle out at this moment you can end up committed to buying each other gifts for years to come.

All of this thought process has to be gone through in a moment and the brain has to shut down all the senses while it computes an answer, if you don’t believe me go up to a friend, look into their eyes and ask them; “What do you want for Christmas?

Aug 292011
Boating Rant

After a hectic week doing the tourist thing around Loch Ness we spent the second week of our annual holiday on the boat pottering up and down the Lancaster canal. We didn’t go very far, In fact we didn’t go any further than we would on a weekend’s trip, we just went both ways. South to Galgate and North to Tewitfield with a few stops between of course. We managed always to cruise in sunshine which was more good luck than good management as there were plenty of heavy showers during the week. But I had a full tub of [More…]

Aug 282011
Nessie Hunting

My wife and I have recently returned from a week in the Loch Ness area of Scotland. We booked a shed in the woods in Glen Urquhart not far from Drumnadrochit, home to Nessieland. The place also boasts not one, but two, Loch Ness/Nessie exhibitions and associated Nessie shops as well as providing Nessie hunting boat trips on the loch. The contrast between the two exhibitions was interesting. The first was basically a cinema style presentation with some panels of press cuttings and other “historical evidence”. All squarely aimed at promoting the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster before ejecting [More…]

May 032011
Back in harness

Back in harness today. It doesn’t take long for the daily routine to reclaim your soul and file away the events of the holiday in the memories file, but before I close the file drawer I’ll share some of my thoughts and observations on my week in Northumbria. When we describe something we generally do so by comparing it to something else we already know well. So where The Lake District is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak with a funny accent (mainly Polish). Northumbria is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak [More…]