Today is St David’s Day, the one day each year that we wear leeks and daffodils upon our chests with delight, and dress our children in traditional (and maybe a little unusual) Welsh outfits.
As a proud Welshman I just wanted to write a short post about the things I flippin’ love about Wales.
We are known as a musical nation who all possess the innate ability to slip into song at any moment (I however seem to be the one exception). I’m not just talking Charlotte Church, The Stereophonics or even (hold onto your knickers ladies) Tom Jones – I’m talking male voice choirs and the rousing anthems that are sang with pride.
I was in the Principality Stadium (formerly the Millennium Stadium) last week to watch Wales beat France in the Six Nations, and needless to say the hairs were upright on the back of my neck, as the majority of the 80,000+ crowd joined in with the choir on the pitch to sing the classics from Calon Lan, Hymns and Arias, and Delilah!
It is often said, quite rightly, that we have a unique sense of humour. It is self deprecating, sharp, often sarcastic with quick-witted responses given by real-life characters – people unlike those you will meet elsewhere, larger than life with bags of quips. This humour can be found anywhere, from the real industrial towns in Wales, to the more cosmopolitan areas like Cardiff Bay, SA1 and Margam. We even see theat humour combine with song through the likes of Max Boyce, the father of the rugby ditty.
No I’m not still talking about Max Boyce, I’m talking about the country that gave the world the likes of Dylan Thomas, Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton and many other modern stars like Michael Sheen and Rob Brydon (in fact, all of those mentioned come from an area of around ten square miles).
Dylan Thomas influenced (and continues to influence) many people worldwide, including Bob Dylan (who took his last name from Thomas) and The Beatles (who included him on the cover of the Sgt Pepper album), his poetry is stunning and sometimes murky, often with complicated themes and always with outstanding descriptive words.
It is true that Thomas had a complex relationship with Wales at times (“Land of my fathers, they can keep it”), but he is regarded as the country’s most famous literary export, with the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and various sites in Laugharne (see here for my visit) celebrating his life and works.
I read recently that Welsh people are the most keen to exit Europe in the upcoming vote, based on various opinion polls. Many external commentators found this surprising, particularly because Wales benefits the most out of any UK country from European funding (in cash terms); it is the pride in the country however that makes people confident that we can survive, with many wanting Wales to break from the rest of the United Kingdom completely, and become independent. I don’t follow that line but I am still a very proud Welsh man.
The same survey talked about many English people referring to themselves as British first, and then English, the Welsh are always Welsh first however.
Watch the emotion in the eyes of any Welsh person singing Mae’n hen wlad fy nhadau with all of their heart and a tear in their eye.
The fresh food available in Welsh, particularly from the fields and coastline is stunning. Take a stroll through the famous Swansea Market (the largest indoor market in wales) and buy some freshly caught cockles or some locally produced (Gower) salt marsh lamb, accompanied with a variety of freshly grown veg, there is nothing like it.
I grant you that there aren’t as many Michelin starred venues to visit as in England, but there are some fantastic venues across Wales, with the best taking advantage of the fresh food available on our doorstep. Oh and Welsh cakes – if you haven’t tried them, you are seriously missing out.
I saved the best ’til last – the scenery will stun you into silence on a regular basis. Take a drive through the Brecon Beacons, through the narrow valley roads and ex-mining towns, past the rolling hills, fields and waterfalls as you make your way to the blue flag-status coasts.
In Wales, you can see the tide coming in at a stunning beach, and be back on the top of a mountain within an hour.
If you haven’t visited Wales before, please pop over the bridge and say hi (or Shwmae!). We are a friendly bunch and the £6.60 toll is well worth it x