Friday, 19 February 2010

Welshness

Yesterday evening I watched Scrum V, the BBC Wales rugby highlights programme. It underlined what a bizarre win Wales had against Scotland last Saturday. What happened - Wales slogging away in downbeat, mediocre fashion for seventy losing minutes only to play the most sparkling and spontaneous rugby seen so far this championship in the last ten, scoring a winning try in the last move of the match - defied rational explanation. What can Warren Gatland, a coach from the dour and disciplined rugby culture of New Zealand, make of it all?

And then to round off the bizarreness, Wales flanker Andy Powell is arrested at a motorway service station at 5.40am the next morning having driven a golf cart over from their luxury hotel retreat. I can well imagine his logic: I've been drinking all night and I really fancy a fry-up; the hotel kitchen is closed but the motorway service station down the road will be open; I haven't got my car and I'm drunk; I'll take a golf buggy down the motorway as they don't count.

It all made me wonder whether there is a particularly Welsh form of - what would one call it? - whimsicality, fantasy, illogicality? Being rather mercurial, a bit random. One must always be careful about national stereotypes and generalising from particular eccentric incidents. But we do have some corroboration on this point and from a notably unromantic and bullshit-detecting writer, Kingsley Amis.

In his memoirs he reflects on his time in Swansea, a happy time. He liked the Welsh:
...I would still rather enter a room of randomly picked Welsh strangers than a comparable hodge-podge composed entirely of English. I would rather deal with a Welsh stranger, from an official to a shop-assistant, than an English one. (In Swansea market in 1987 I suddenly wondered what was making everybody so nice to me, until I realised what country I was in.) And if circumstances made it possible, I would choose to be nursed in illness by a Welshwoman.
But what a student of his described as 'a perfect summary of the Welsh character' might be found in the story of Mrs Professor Morgan and the grocery order:
On seeing that she had assembled a pile of goods that amounted to more than she could conveniently carry, the assistant said, 'Have you you [your] car with you, Mrs Morgan, or has the professor taken it down to the college today? Oh well, that being so I suggest we deliver your purchases for you, all right?'
Mrs Morgan was mightily pleased, though after about four days with nothing in sight her pleasure had abated.
When reprehended on the telephone, the manager said, 'But Mrs Morgan, this stow [store] has not operated a delivery service since 1939.'
'In that case, what did your assistant mean by his suggestion?'
Well...I suppose he was only trying to be helpful.'

12 comments:

worm said...

there was some brazen middle-class porn on channel 4 last night about how to set up your own small holding and make jam and all that , and it was filmed in the Usk valley which I have to say looked very pleasant indeed

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hmm. There's Welsh and there's Welsh, though, boyo, but still no worse on average than the English. Usk is very pretty it's true: I do hope the Sons of Glyndŵr get there before Foxtons the estate agents.

Sean said...

Did not know that you are Welsh Garth, you've not mentioned that before, or Wales even. Its a very subtle national character you have is not? As its Friday you are probably looking forward to the weekend to indulge your Welsh-i-nes?

Tell me Garth, your national team sponsors of your national sport, is it to remind you to use it or drink more beer?

Did I ever mention I was from Yorkshire?

Brit said...

I would describe Welshness as a sort of gloomy magic.

ghostofelberry said...

Very up and down country, Wales, at least from what i've seen; that suggests a different logic to Essex. If it is all as up & down as it looks, then i suppose one can't really go in straight lines very easily, everything is windy and cunning and a little whimsical.

My favourite countryside is that of Yorkshire & Lancashire - grandeur but secrecy too. Of course now everyone lives in cities we don't feel the land so much, i suppose.

worm said...

At what point did sticky-out ears become a welsh genetic trait?

I've googled it, and it appears there's no hard data on the prevalence of prominent ears in Wales, but in Welsh the word "clustiog" means large eared or long eared (like the handle(s) of a jug)

Stephen said...

I've liked all the people from Wales that I've met, admittedly only about 5. One thing I found, and my father who met quite a few in the merchant navy agreed, is how much welsh blokes love a fight. Stereotypical I admit, but I'm only going by my experience.

I'm off out to Newcastle now, where it's snowing, dressed in a t shirt and jeans and I'll no doubt end up falling ill from a dodgy kebab then cop off with a fat girl called Tracy.

Gaw said...

Worm: Parts of that border area are really lovely and are very good value as they're pretty well connected.

Gadjo: I fear you're too late: I think the area's already been described as the 'New Cotswolds' by marketeering agents.

Sean: As is sometimes the case you leave me rather baffled. Either that was some heavy-handed attempt at sarcasm or you are a remarkably careless reader. I shall assume it was the former you chippy, crude, unfunny Northern git (apologies if it turns out you're merely an unobservant Northern git).

Brit: I associate gloominess more with North Walians - the South Walians are often irrepressibly chipper. Magicality - now there's nice, isn't it?

Elb: A lot of the cunning comes from being colonised, I think. But the hills couldn't have helped.

Worm: Dunno but my Nain had ears like a bat.

Gaw said...

Stephen: In terms of punch-ups and t-shirts in worn in spite of sub-zero temperatures Cardiff and Newcastle could be twin-towns. You've even got a Newcy Brown equivalent in Brains Dark.

Sean said...

Yep, Garth we tend to play up to stereotypes dont we?

No Good Boyo said...

Wales, land of the friendly fight. Not sure whether anyone else has this phenomenon.

Gaw said...

Boyo: I believe some South Sea Islanders enjoyed what might be described as 'friendly war'. This was replaced by rugby and peace has more or less reigned ever since.