One Step at a Time

There’s an enormity about living in a rural environment. It just takes up all the space. Typical. Nature in west Wales is both king and queen of egotists. To live here you just have to bow down and curtsy. This is while nature’s courtiers, the big-beaked black crows, sit above our power lines, cawing out courtly calls. The sea is to our left, the bog to the right, hills and mountains at the back and sand dunes sprinkled in between. Nature has made itself at home.

We also have some weirdos living here too.. present company included. Ha! Jack’s dad used to say that people lived here because they couldn’t survive an urban environment. The word he used was ‘quaint’. My ears pricked up when he said it. I liked the way it rolled off the tongue. I liked the idea of it too.

Quaint were the people who came here for a holiday and never left. In my case, I came here to go to university. Actually, as I write this, I realise that this visitor’s fate was what happened to my father-in-law too. His own father, George, who’d fought in the trenches in the First World War, used to come here for the therapeutic properties of the Atlantic-facing sea air. He’d suffered from a respiratory condition. Was this why, many years later, Jack’s dad moved here too? To be closer to his father? Only the crows will tell me now Grandpa.

As I’ve said before, Wales is for the Welshies. The Romans never got this far. You can feel it too. The Celts have their own special brand of irreverence, as if it hangs on the tailcoats of a sou’westerly breeze. The Atlantic must manufacture the Celtic craic… perhaps spitting it out of one of its more mysterious cyclonic zones.

The thing is, this isn’t the easiest place to live. The wet and the cold mixed together; there should be a Welsh word devoted to describe the resulting chill in your bones. And another one for the way it lingers in your body for five months of the year. Then there’s the land. You can see the division when you drive from the rich, fertile English fields to the sheep-shorn grassy Wales. It’s like the English drew an invisible line when they got to first mountainous moor. ‘You can have this bit chums!,’ the St. George’s gang said, already galloping off away on their steeds. The Welsh would have sighed. Typical English.

From salt marsh to standing stone, hilly oak glade to fields peppered with holes; lead, silver and the endless, underground warrens of coal. Wales is its own place.

‘Reverse ethnic cleansing,’ my friend told me a few years ago. I’d almost choked into my Morrisons coffee. She’d been living here for some years but was struggling to get a job. Don’t get me wrong; she was after a certain type of job, a professional job. Those things are hard to get around here. What was the deal about her cleansing comment? Well, my English friend didn’t speak Welsh.

You see, worthy jobs here have a bilingual requirement. You have to show an active interest in learning this ancient European language to access the employment sector. No problem, right.. when in Wales you may say.. And you’d be right. What this does in actual practice is subtle though. It keeps the foreigners out. The English included. And well, sometimes the best person for the job doesn’t get the job. The Welsh person gets the job. It’s the most clever case of nationalism, no? Put in a mother tongue that only the most enthusiastic will learn since seeing this language in written form is enough to make the average non-speaker and non-linguistically minded person want to lie down.

Nature smiles in response. In these over-crowded, fresh air, life-style seeking modern times, the Welsh have finally won. This one.


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