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Home > Places

I’ve put you down for Rugby and singing in the choir

Griff Rhys Jones in Swansea

5 December 2003

A few months ago an odd thing happened to me. An emotion stirred in my breast. I am beginning to feel Welsh.

I have of course been labelled Welsh in the past. My full name, Griffith Ap Llewllyn Ap Look-you Festiniog Rhys Jones, meant I was continuously singled out for abuse as a boy. “Ah Rhys Jones,” went my school master, “I’ve put you down for Rugby and singing in the choir.”

“But, Sir, I have no aptitude.” “Nonsense, you are Welsh.” “But, Sir, I persuaded my parents to leave Wales when I was six months old. Since then I’ve been brought up in middle class Midhurst and scummy Harlow, which is why my voice is like a strangled news vendor trying to sound posh.” “Shut up and sing The Ashgrove, Rhys Jones!”

My ‘Da’, God bless him, very occasionally got ‘ec-sited’ by rugby on ‘the telly’. Both my parents could sound Welsh in moments of crisis, my Granny muttered in the Welsh language and my Granda swore effectively: “Dew you, Dew you, Fucky! – God, God, Fuck!” But I have so far managed to avoid getting involved with Wales as much as is humanely possible. In truth, I am more likely to get misty-eyed about The Central Line than about Snowdonia. I have been proud of my anti-patriotic stance (‘Come home to a real fire: buy a cottage in Wales,’ went the quickie in Not The Nine O’Clock News). But, but… a month ago I had to tramp around Wales for a television programme, and now I am working in Swansea, and I have felt this peculiar stirring in my inner regions. Have I gone a bit ‘roosty’?

You know, bits of Wales are very beautiful and Swansea has a low-rent Sydney kind of feel to it: there is a big bay and a huge beach and you can’t swim because the sea is poisonous or something. And when the sun shines on the rows of thirties terraces with the big shady trees, and if you squint, you might almost be in a hilly Bournemouth.

And shine it does, not that Swansea folk would ever admit that it. But they are probably just being resentful, disparaging and gloomy about their own good fortune. Because that’s what the Welsh generally are, especially about their own country.

So while my cockles are warming to the Land of my Fathers, I cannot help but consider that the reason they may previously have been as chilly as a saucer in a Prestatyn ‘caffy’ is because nobody runs down the place quite as much as the residents.

Never mind Kingsley Amis and his Welsh sojourn recorded in damning detail in That Uncertain Feeling. It was actually Dylan Thomas, boyo of this town, who really managed to put us off the whole country. Under Milk Wood is our Twentieth Century encapsulation of Wales. (There isn’t anything else, is there?) It’s creepy, gloomy, poetic and backward-looking, a dream of introspection and unsatisfied longing. It is Wales’s self-portrait; fluting, plaintive and intense... You don’t want to go there, do you? And Dylan ran away to drink himself to death, didn’t he?

Latterly, of course, there’s been some rock ‘n’ roll, and gosh haven’t the Manic Street Preachers made an effort to be the gloomiest band ever? Well done those ‘blokies’, slice up your arms and throw yourself off a bridge why don’t you?

For God’s sake! Edinburgh is awash with smug self-satisfied Scottish people; so it seems is London. Ireland churns out all those proud-of-themselves Irish artistes like the terrifying Fiona Shaw or that flock of twinkly-eyed middle of the road ‘tee-vee’ presenters; I mean they are so comfortably at home with being naff. Patrick Kielty comes across as a worry-free zone; it’s obviously never even occurred to him how awful he is. But Huw Edwards? Look at him. Clearly eating himself up with guilt. Jonathan Price? A gloomy wan bastard if ever I saw one. Tony Hopkins? Miserable as sin.

Half the problem is that bloody language. Many of the fine actors I am working with at the moment thrive in the Welsh Radio soaps, which are recorded in Bangor. Radio soaps recorded in English are a pretty recondite notion in the modern world of broadcasting, but in Welsh! I turned on Channel 4 in my hotel hoping for my usual dose of transvestite and intrusive sex programming to find a bizarrely bad soap opera in Welsh. Forget the Eisteddfod. Welsh culture is 99% soap operas.

No wonder Wales is so introspective. The Welsh are hiding behind this language thing. What could be more encouraging to a culture of grumpy resentment than cheap soaps?

For Wales to flourish they should cancel their soaps and keep their language for official forms. They must import espresso coffee and ban salad cream. They must stop whingeing and be happy. Then we’ll all love them and we’ll have lots of Welsh people presenting TV shows instead of those smug Irish blarney merchants. And stop complaining about the English all the time. Beat them. It’s incredibly easy if the football, cricket and Eurovision Song Contest are anything to go by.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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