From my novel The Three Bears
Even in a small country like Wales (and Wales is the definitive small country), there are many tribes and factions. Even in the smaller virtual country of Welsh-speaking Wales, there are many. Take Pobol y Cwm for example. Pobol y Cwm is a Welsh language soap opera, filmed mostly in Cardiff and set in the Gwendraeth Valley between Llanelli and Carmarthen. (Pobol y Cwm is Welsh for People of the Valley.)
The programme is made at the BBC studios in Llandaff, Cardiff, on behalf of the Welsh TV channel S4C. If you were to pronounce S4C phonetically in Welsh it would sound like S ped war EK. It’s known by some (cynics that they are) as S ped war Cheque because of the generous dollops of cash it splashes over its actors and programme makers, especially those associated with Pobol y Cwm.
So, there I was on the set of the Deri Arms – the local pub in Pobol-y-Cwm-Land, pretending to be a pub owner from Llanelli who had come to buy a few kegs of beer from the local brewery.
I arrived in the Green Room at about a quarter to nine, not even knowing I was playing an actual part; up until then I’d only done work as a background extra. So this director came to see me at about five past nine and gave me about five lines to say in a scene with one of the brewery’s owners, something to do with complaining about the beer being too expensive.
Anyway, my Welsh is crap, and the director was a Gog (a Welsh speaking Welshman from the Gogledd (North)), so, by the time I went on set at half nine I was in bits.
The thing about Welsh is that apart from the differences in language that occur even between neighbouring villages, there is a distinct north/south divide, so the lines the director gave me would not have been spoken by a geezer from the South, especially Llanelli. But my Welsh language skills were not good enough to make the dialogue sound right. I was away from there by ten anyway, but because it was a ‘walk-on’ part, I got paid about £170, not bad for an hour or so’s work.
Anyway when the episode was screened they cut three of my five lines because they were so crap. Needless to say, they never asked me back after that, not surprising since I couldn’t speak Welsh and couldn’t act.
Before that episode, I’d visited the Pobol y Cwm studios a few times, sometimes with my cool younger son (who can speak Welsh and can act, by the way), who himself did a couple of ‘walk-ons’, and I’d got by all right, mostly by grunting and nodding at the director and the other actors. I only did it at first because my son started when he was young enough to need a chaperone. Thing is, I like to think of myself as an intelligent sort of guy. (Did I tell you I joined Mensa once? I won’t tell you what I thought of them in case I get sued).
But what I realised after that was that, in Welsh at least, I’m as thick as two short planks. The memory that the Pobol-y-Cwmers have of me is of a slow stupid, idle, middle-aged man who couldn’t understand simple directions and could hardly construct a sentence. In fact, I don’t suppose they remember me at all, that one hour between 9 and 10 on a normal weekday workday was, to them, just a tiny part of their whole experience during all their years on that job. To me it was a massively traumatic hour that I still churn over in my mind years later – it’s all about perspective isn’t it? Our characters are made by moments like that; change and trauma are the raw materials of life.
I mean, like now, I’m sitting in a computer training room in a car components factory. This is the shithole I use to work in a couple of decades ago, before I packed it in to start my own computer business (but that’s another story). I’ve come back now, on a temporary, part-time, freelance basis to teach under-educated shop floor workers how to use a word-processor. Why they just don’t grab hold of a mouse and suss it out for themselves is beyond me – but there you go – there’s a pot of money allocated by the government for this sort of thing and there’s thousands of people like me all over the country sucking cash out of the pot, a bit like the Pobol-y-Cwmers and their ilk getting their Tuscan holidays and their Gites paid for by grants and subsidies.
I come here twice a week for a few hours and when I’m here I often meet people I used to work with twenty years ago. There’s a lot of them still here, and bugger it, they’re still the same, still dreaming about their Post Offices in the Shetlands or fantasising about packing it all in and buying a beach bar in Benidorm.
But they won’t. They’ll just keep on coming here day after day, keep on paying their phone bills on time and patronising the shit-food joints and the same poxy pubs on the weekends until they retire or keel over from cars or cancer. What’s the fucking point of all that eh?
I’m telling you – change is life. Right?