Thoughts after hearing Under Milk Wood

When I was young, a friend once told me she used to write poems, but she stopped when she heard Jackson Browne, because he had already said what she wanted to say, and better than she could. I hope she got over it, but I know what she meant, having just enjoyed a new performance of Under Milk Wood, all that melancholy and humour and sheer joy of words. What is there left to say for those of us less gifted? But it also makes you proud to be (even a little bit) Welsh.

What claim do I have to Welshness though, born and bred in Yorkshire? Well, my mother’s family (farmers and miners) came out of West Wales and she and my father grew up in the Valleys, in Pontypool and Bargoed, before they left for London and then the north. And she let us know that Wales was a better place, where dull mornings gave way to beautiful afternoons, instead of the other way round. Where people spoke properly and cared for learning, unlike those uncouth, ungrammatical Yorkshire folk I was picking up bad habits from. And some among my schoolmates let me know too, that I was not one of them – ‘you talk too posh’ (though when I left, southerners might equally say, ‘you’re obviously from Yorkshire’).

Every summer we would go to Wales, to the Lleyn peninsula – driving all day across country, towing our little white and blue caravan from east to west, over the sheepy, lark-singing moors and down again, to the sea. We passed the holiday camp – nearly there! – coming to Pwllheli – through the marina, where the rigging rings against the masts, to Gimlet Rock. The dark, hard-faceted boulders piled along the breakwater were perfect for small explorers, clambering in plastic shoes, smeared with black tar washed up by the sea.

We would visit my mother’s old school friend, ‘Auntie’ Ilid, in her big house under the hill, and drive with picnics – eating sun-warmed tomatoes like apples by the dunes – to the sea – to Hell’s Mouth, Whistling Sands, Aberdaron – or inland towards the mountains, past Criccieth, to Ffestiniog, Betws-y-Coed, or Beddgelert, to be reminded of the Mabinogion and its sad story of a loyal hound.

So now, when the Six Nations play, I remember those great teams of the seventies, watching in black and white with my father, who would join in the anthems with a light and wavering tenor, and I cheer for Wales and feel, for a time, like Shakespeare’s Hal, ‘I am Welsh you know.’

Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts


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