The Welshman’s dishonest, he cheats when he can/ Little and dark, more like monkey than man/ He works underground with a lamp in his hat/ And he sings far too loud far too often and flat…
Michael Flanders there reminding us of the joys of witticised racism. He couldn’t be more wrong. Wales ain’t bad. It’s lovely. The Welsh are lovely, their culture is lovely, their language is lovely. It’s as if Stephen Fry founded a country. But there is one problem with Wales; one very curly problem. Sheep.
Wales, as a concept, is mostly about sheep. They are everywhere. Actually everywhere. Alive on hillsides and farmyards, dead on plates and the side of the road. Big ones, small ones, violently rutting ones, rarely out of earshot and rarely out of sight. The reek of sheep’s wool spindles up the valley. To know what it smells like in rural Wales, wear a woollen jumper continuously for six months, then piss on it. Now hold it over your face till you’re knocked out. The poor Welsh do their best to counteract it. I don’t doubt they started underground mining not to get coal or make money, but to get away from the smell of wet sheep.
Except when they’re shagging them. Sheep-buggery is rampant, and I can marshall legions of evidence to prove this viz. that I want it to be true. My old maths teacher – a Welshman so Welsh he makes Huw Edwards look like he’s from Norfolk – spent a good deal of time telling our class an elaborate history of sheep-rape, sheep-jobs and sheep-sodomy in Wales in the nineteenth century. So I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of this subject. It’s very useful. It’s a great way to racially abuse the Welsh.
As does the rain. It never rains, but it pours, and it never does anything but pour. Before going to Wales make sure you’re kitted out with waterproof coat, shoes, trousers and water. I was there a week and the gangrene had already set in. Wales, therefore, in weather terms, is basically England except yet more rain, wind, hail and (especially) sleet. Outrageously, the Scots outdo Wales in rain per square metre (fourty-four gallons of rain per second on average). The Welsh hate the Scots for this reason. Well, that and the fact that the perpetual weather makes them terminally depressed.
So the countryside is ruined. What about the towns? Most of Wales is poor as shit. This is not the fault of Wales. It is the fault of England. To be precise, the bits of England that voted Tory in the eighties, and thence shut down the mines. So if, as I did, you went on holiday to Blaenau Ffestinog, you will come to understand what is meant by ‘third world poverty’ without taking the bother of visiting the third world itself. It is buttock-clenchingly depressing.
There is only one source of income in the town, the railway. I love the railway. It’s a steam railway, and I like the smell of steam and the cheery conductors. Woo woo! Yes. But imagine if that was everything. Imagine if nothing else existed in your town except a railway. And imagine if that railway was populated exclusively by tourists. Mostly English tourists and mostly ones bringing their own food. You would, I could say with some certainty, go mad. Helping your madness are the immense walls of slate slag. These tower about the hamlet like Mrs Doyle’s sandwiches. They block out the sun. Really. They actually do block out the sun. This is the world if, instead of opening her box a second time, Pandora took a fag break, and forgot.
“Oh scathful harm, condition of Povertie!” wrote Chaucer, and allow me to repeat it and take the credit. Given that the economy of the area is derived from sheep and sheep-brothels, it should not be surprising that there aren’t that many people, and most of them seemingly poor. There is nothing here except mountains, railways, and sheep. And the Lloyd George museum. This was a sight of wanton calamity. For here was a rare, indeed unique example, of rampant rudeness and idiocy from an otherwise helpful and welcoming bunch.
I went into the museum. It was a big museum. Everything you could ever want of Lloyd George’s was here. His tea towels, his sock-drawer: everything. There were pictures of him as a dashing and debonair youth; there were quotes about how he read Euclid up a tree; there were paintings of him addressing the House of Commons. Best of all – best of bloody all – there was a hologram of him giving a speech about tariff reform. It looked like Lloyd George. It sounded like Lloyd George. And by golly if it didn’t appear to be him. Great! I took out my camera, about to snappy-snap.
Then catastrophe. A woman came over to me, waddling intently. “NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED,” she said, and meant it. I mean to say, dash it. We were the only people in the museum. Nobody cared. Nobody stirred. The photography wasn’t flash and neither were the exhibits. I could do no harm. But apparently, in Wales, you can allow your country to be defiled and derided in poncey student papers, all for the benefit of not taking photographs. Ghod.
Very little else was of interest. I longed for the bright lights of the city. Aberystwyth! Aberystwyth! So good they named it unpronounceably. I don’t care. They could send me to Anglesey. Anywhere to get me out of the Lleyn Peninsula. There are beaches on the Lleyn Peninsula. And mountains. But apart from them and the Lloyd George museum there’s nothing else. Driving eastwards brings me to Caernafon Castle. This is quite exciting as castles go. Walking round the edges makes you realise just how tough and hardy Edward I must have seemed to the Welsh. No wonder they retreated to the hills and sang songs and drank mead for a hundred years till Glyndwr came along and smote the English. For a bit.
Problem with Wales is, it isn’t really Wales. As you well recall from your readings in Welsh constitutional history, the Welsh Assembly was only established in 1999, and the referendum establishing it gave an almighty 50.3% in support. Sod India. England’s most successful colony was Wales, if only cos we stopped them being Welsh and made them the Yorkshire of the west. Thank God the Welsh have been regaining their identity, what’s left of it anyway. After all, now almost the only thing Welsh about Wales is the language. And that sounds like an early Bob Dylan song crossed with a fart in a bath.
Or does sound, to the English. The Welsh, in their lovely if downtrodden way, have succeeded in converting this panoply of mouth-gargler into a beautiful poetical song-dance, crooned by the poets and loved by themselves. They ought to be proud of their nation. It may be wet, poor, sheepy, smelly and cold, but its inhabitants have tackled this with verve and gusto. It’s remarkable really. They’re so far from London it’s unreal.