St David’s Day in Wales

This is a piece I wrote this morning, on St David’s Day. If you would prefer to listen there is an audio recording at the end.

lambIf you believe the hype, the Welsh are rugby-obsessed lamb-eating choristers. As with most lazy stereotyping this is completely wrong of course. I’m as Welsh as they come and I don’t like rugby, lamb or male voice choirs. It’s not just me though, but most Welshies are too afraid to admit it. For example, a friend persuaded me to go to a rugby international in the Millennium Stadium a few years ago, to see a match involving our Celtic cousins Ireland. Because of a ticketing mix-up I ended up sitting up next to strangers in the upper hinterlands of the stadium.

We were so far away from the action that the players on the pitch were no more than abstract blobs of colour moving sporadically on a green background. It didn’t seem to matter to the fans though, since they simply stared across at the giant TV screens to get glimpses of the ‘boys’ they admired so much, even then though they constantly whispered to each other to confirm what they were seeing.

Now and again the mass of people around me would rise to their feet or cheer loudly in unison at some divine kick or tackle, though how they managed to discriminate who had done what was a mystery to me. I wasn’t sure how to react and anyway I’m not the sort of person to do something just because everyone else is doing it so I sat quietly and waited for the ordeal to pass.

This wasn’t enough for the true fans who surrounded me, and I became increasingly paranoid as puzzled expressions were turned towards me; ‘who is this interloper in our midst’ they seemed to say, ‘how dare he not support our heroes’. After about twenty minutes, in a pause in the game, the bloke next to me, a nondescript middle-aged man of the sort you see pushing trolleys around a supermarket car park, turned to me.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“Um, Llanelli,” I said.

“Well bloody hell man,” he said. “What’s the matter with you? Why aren’t you cheering Wales then, coming from good old Sospan like that – it’s in your blood man.”

“Um,” I said and mumbled something about feeling unwell.

He narrowed his eyes and looked at me suspiciously. He was about to continue with his interrogation but was distracted by something dramatic occurring on the huge screen. Everyone jumped out of their seat and roared. I too stood up, but I didn’t roar, I took advantage of the distraction, pushed myself along the row to the aisle and walked quickly through the concrete corridors towards the arse end of the stadium, until I was excreted onto the banks of the Taff. I strode off home, a free man, as joyfully as Morgan Freeman at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.

Someone in my family told me an anecdote once (I won’t give away his name in case of recriminations – let’s call him Dai), anyway, he was on Swansea station waiting for a connection from Llanelli to Cardiff on an International day. A guard spoke to him:

“Where are you from?” the guard asked.

“Llanelli,” Dai said.

“Ah good old Sospan. Going to the match?”

“Nah,” Dai said.

The guard nodded. “Should be a good game though, shame I’m working.”

Dai nodded back. “Yeah.”

“I expect you’ll be in the pub cheering the boys on then.”

Dai shook his head: “No, I’m not really interested in rugby.”

The guard looked shocked. Then looked around to make sure no one was listening and leant in close to Dai’s ear.

“To tell the truth, neither am I,” he whispered.

They both had a chuckle.

I had a chuckle too at the radio just now, but it soon turned into annoyance. Radio Wales is on in the background as I am writing this, and they are making a big deal of St David’s Day, talking about the Welsh Assembly, daffodils, leeks and the like. They even had a report from St Fagans Museum where there is a live ‘lambcam’ to capture the births of the cute woolly creatures that are destined for the plates and soup bowls of the nation.

Yes, one of the so-called traditional dishes of Wales is Cawl, a soup or stew made from vegetables, including potatoes and leeks, along with chunks of dead flesh from sheep. Apparently everyone in Wales eats it, especially on St David’s Day.

Ironically the man we now know as St David, who died in the year 589, was actually a strict vegetarian, probably a vegan; he existed on a diet of bread, herbs and water (he didn’t drink alcohol) and he lived until he was over a hundred years old.

I’ll leave the myth of male voice choirs for another day (not to mention the Eisteddfod). In the meantime isn’t it time to come out of the closet and admit it – you don’t really like rugby do you?

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St David’s Day in Wales Audio recording below

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