Welsh Rabid

An odd thing happened on Twitter this morning. Oliver Kamm posted a link to this article  in The Times:

Anyone can make a mistake but Welsh viewers are entitled to expect media figures to do their homework. It’s not just a matter of pedantry or even manners. There’s a history of incomprehension and outsiders should be sensitive to it.

It is more than half a millennium since Henry Tudor, a Welshman, was crowned King of England. His son, Henry VIII, initiated the Act of Union between England and Wales in 1536. Yet in the centuries since, Wales has not always been perceived as the equal partner it should be.

The media screws up everything it touches, and one of the things that grates me most about what I see of the modern Welsh is how quickly they claim victimhood for the slightest transgression. I was born in Wales and grew up there, and I find it irritating how ultra-defensive the Welsh get if they perceive someone has slighted them in any way. The other thing that irritates me is the narrative that Welsh heritage was ubiquitous, and ignores the fact there were pockets – such as South Pembrokeshire where I grew up – which were as much English as Welsh, and that much of what is associated with Wales is a recent invention: the flag was adopted in 1959, and the national costume dates from the Victorian era. I’m of the opinion if the Welsh want outsiders to take them more seriously – which they do – they need to stop writing their history on the fly. So I made this point:


This caused a riot on my timeline, mainly with people telling me the name Hwlfordd – the town’s Welsh name – is attested to the 14th century. Maybe it is, but it seems to be a corruption of the English name and nobody’s presented any evidence anyone called it that. There are also plenty of other place names in South Pembrokeshire which are English with no historical Welsh translation, but I am told:


I grew up in this place and never heard that; this sounds to me like Welsh history being re-written for an age where everyone must be a victim. What was revealing about my timeline is the viciousness of the responses; the slightest criticism of this increasingly ahistorical narrative about Welsh heritage unleashes a barrage of abuse. Bizarrely, I was then asked to defend the practice of translating Welsh names into English with even a BBC presenter wading in:

One of the things I noticed is the assumption I can’t be really be from Wales because I dare to criticise the dual-naming policy. I can’t find it any more, but I once saw a video of a prominent Welshman in the 1960s expressing his disappointment at the increase of Welsh nationalism. He believed Welshmen should go out and conquer the world, and that the results of government efforts to “restore” Welsh heritage would end up with the country becoming parochial, inward-looking, and ultimately unwelcoming. Was he wrong? I don’t think so.

UPDATE

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a BBC presenter is being disingenuous in ascribing to me an argument I have not made:


 

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53 thoughts on “Welsh Rabid

  1. The only problem the English have is that to an extent they were the last people to ‘invade’. Nobody bats an eyelid over Cumbria being cognate to Cymru or the people of Darwen to dderwen , or those witches of Pendle, what happened to the people there, as they are now considered English?

  2. I liked this idiot’s comment:
    >What an ignorant thing to write. Just because our view of the English, bred by centuries of oppression from our “neighbour” makes us biased, it does not make us insular. We love all other nations.

  3. I liked this idiot’s comment:

    Indeed. When I was growing up in Wales there was no sense of victimhood and oppression by the English. The only time they hated the English was when the rugby was on. This is a new thing, and I can’t think of a quicker way to ensure a population doesn’t develop than convincing them they’re victims of historical wrongdoings which should take front and centre of all dealings with their larger neighbour.

  4. Wales has splendid castles. Who built them, when and why?

    Oliver Kamm seems to be unaware that the legitimacy of the Tudor ascendancy after Bosworth was dubious and outlasted Henry VII’s reign.

  5. But Tim, you’re the one who decided to reply to a positive article about Wales in The Times with a negative comment saying Welsh people are inventing Welsh names for towns like Haverfordwest.

    Then when shown a 1527 map using Hwlffordd, showing quite clearly that it’s not a modern invention but a name used for at least 500 years, you ignore it and stick to your line that it was a name invented whilst your parents lived there.

    Playing the victim is boring, absolutely agree. But when you come rushing into a positive discussion with an infactual negative comment, and then keep going with that line of argument even after you’ve been pointed towards proof that you were wrong, can you really blame people for criticising you?

  6. As for the flag by the way, it was ‘adopted’ by the UK government in 1959 you are correct. But that’s not because it was invented in 1959. It was previously called the national ‘badge’ of Wales as the government didn’t think to officially bestow flag status on Wales.

    The design has been pretty much identical since 1807 (except for 6 years in the 50’s when the UK government tried to incorporate the design into a flag by adding the royal crown and a motto that they had not realised was probably originally written as a double-entendre for a Bull Penis, they changed it back in 1959 after a lot of derision) whilst the depiction of a red dragon on a green and white background has represented Wales since the 1400’s (i.e. Henry Tudor)

  7. Way back in 1527 people tended to spell things the way they felt right at the time. Shakespeare was born after that (1564?) and he couldn’t seem to spell his own name the same way twice running!

  8. Then when shown a 1527 map using Hwlffordd, showing quite clearly that it’s not a modern invention but a name used for at least 500 years,

    It showed no such thing. It was just an assertion that the word existed in the 14th century and therefore this is how the place was called before the English invented Haverfordwest.

    And no, it wasn’t a positive article about Wales it was yet another lament that non-Welsh don’t take them seriously enough.

  9. As for the flag by the way, it was ‘adopted’ by the UK government in 1959 you are correct. But that’s not because it was invented in 1959. It was previously called the national ‘badge’ of Wales as the government didn’t think to officially bestow flag status on Wales.

    Well, yes. It’s almost as if there was a concerted effort to consolidate all the trappings of a national heritage from what could be cobbled together from history. So let’s choose this flag, and let’s assign every place a Welsh name even if non is in use.

  10. “the UK government tried to incorporate the design into a flag by adding the royal crown and a motto that they had not realised was probably originally written as a double-entendre for a Bull Penis”

    I don’t believe that. It sounds like a cock and bull story if ever there was one.

  11. I also find it interesting that Edwards didn’t correct me, and he’s a knowledgeable chap who knows the history of every corner of Wales. Instead he decided to knock down a straw man. I wonder why?

  12. Reminds me of the current SNP mania for dual-naming everything, which extends even to marking Police cars with the word “Poileas” as if nobody could work out what they were from the English word, and putting up dual-name signs at all the railway stations in Ayrshire – a place where no Gaelic is spoken, and never has been, so they will have had to invent them all.

    It’s quite possible, too, that I will now get SNP hate mail for pointing this out.

  13. If you really want to enrage the Taffs point out how few of them are actually Taffs. Those industrial populations in the Valleys are largely four generations removed from Brum, the Black and West Countries with a levening of Irish. The number of sheep shaggers who moved south to work in the factories was pretty low.

  14. My Grandfather was from Pembrokshire, its why I have the welsh surname.

    Here is an interesting thing Tim, you say you were broughtup and lived in Wales, doesnt that make you Welsh, at least Welsh and whatever?

  15. Scottish police cars should have POLIS on them.
    First time I went to Turkey I thought that there must be some historical link between Central Scotland and the Ottomans.
    Meanwhile Lallans, Doric and the nameless mix of Irish Scots and Far North English spoken in Galloway languishes.

  16. I can see Wales from the room I’m typing this and I’m considering buying a house in north Wales as we have been visiting since childhood and my Mum is part Welsh but they do go on and they always have done. They will not be able to stop though the decrease in the daily language use though as the population of English moving in continues to increase, every second person in Flint, Denbigh,Mold etc seems to be scouse.

  17. Here is an interesting thing Tim, you say you were broughtup and lived in Wales, doesnt that make you Welsh, at least Welsh and whatever?

    It’s hard to say as my parents are English, and these days unfortunately anyone deviating from the Welsh Nationalist version of history and politics is subject to a Mao-style purity test and dismissed as a “plastic Welshman” who has no business commenting.

  18. If you really want to enrage the Taffs point out how few of them are actually Taffs

    Well, yes. Presumably they think the valleys were full of folk just standing around when they discovered anthracite.

  19. They will not be able to stop though the decrease in the daily language use

    When I was growing up it was common for Welsh-speaking parents to not bother speaking Welsh to their children. Hence the need for government intervention to save it.

  20. Long time reader, but this is the first post I feel I have some genuine opportunity comment on with some personal insight.

    I grew up (and started my career) in and around Bristol, and my wider family has lived between the West Country and Wales for the last 200-300 years or so.

    I spent all my summers with one set of Grandparents in Cardiganshire until I was about 16 (late 70s to early 90s). Oddly enough, it was one of the few areas where Welsh was genuinely, commonly, spoken daily in the 70s and 80s (Grandpa had a farm in Llechryd and the farm workers all spoke it; I even used to, when I was 2 or 3 years old!).

    I was very much a child over “from England” in those days, and I remember absolutely zero issues with the English. The “Welsh pride” I remember was more about things like an aptitude for engineering (Grandpa had been an engineer after leaving the RAF) and that they had helped ‘build the world’. The border with Bristol felt almost completely non-existent.

    I only noticed a change when I started working as an articled clerk in Bristol in the late 1990s. A lot of my audit clients were in the Rhonnda valley which, to be fair, had been fucked by the collapse of the coal industry. This had led to an almost complete loss of traditional male jobs in the region and, it must be said, a concomitant increase in English from the South West buying up property dirt cheap for weekend homes a couple of hours away on the M4. This is when I first started to really notice an anti-English sentiment and started getting “boy-from-the-City” type comments when I turned up at small businesses.

    My own personal take on it was, like a lot of hard-working communities, the collapse of local men being able to provide for their families led to a need to blame some outside agency, and the English made a -as always- convenient scapegoat. This sentiment was no doubt passed on to the children which, combined with the modern requirement to sit anywhere on the identity capital stack other than English White Male, has led to a desire to re-classify as a Celtic minority which has been capitalised on by the usual crowd, who were always there but previously kept in abeyance by my Grandpa’s generation who, not unreasonably, thought they were a bunch of Dave Spart nutters and, quite often, of English origin themselves.

    Funnily enough, my other Grandparents lived in Co. Kerry, where I spent a large part of the rest of the holidays. To be fair, I was too young to be there during the worst of the troubles but things were hardly a bed of roses in Bogside in the Eighties, either. However, same deal, never had any real anti-English issues and, while there was certainly a degree of anti-English/pro-nationalist sentiment, people seemed quite able to separate a wider political issue from a teenager (at this point at English public school, nominally Catholic, but with a C of E, ex-British Army officer father) over to stay with his Grandma. I’m not saying I’d have happily walked out on the streets of Derry singing Come Out Ye Black and Tans in an English accent back then, but there wasn’t a feeling of endless, collective, brooding resentment or insecurity. That being said, Kerry folk have always been a fairly sunny bunch: the only thing they thought was fucking hilarious was that my given names are William Patrick which, if you know your Irish history, is about as close as you can get to being called “Judas Jesus” in that part of the world.

    The only time I caught real shit was when I started going out drinking in the mid-to-late 90s in Dublin with childhood friends who’d gone on to Trinity College and started catching shit from people in bars and picked up on a new, mantle-of-oppression, type of “fuck-yous-all” anti-Brit sentiment which again, seemed to be based more on it being a bit of an economic boom time in the UK, while the ROI was still stuck with the Punt, shit roads, and fuck all work.

    Overall point being, as we all know, a lot of nasty, extremist movements initiate themselves using Entryism, and times of economic hardship are like bloody unicorns to these people, as it gives them fantastic opportunities to worm their way into communities and start dripping poison into peoples ears about how all of their woes and hardships are the fault of “those bastards” and if only you’d let me and my friends have a little more power, we’d show them all. And like termites, once those buggers are in walls, short of burning down the house, you can almost never get them out.

  21. William,

    Great comment, thanks. I suspect you’re absolutely spot on about how this has come about. If you look closely, the hard left are never too far away.

  22. Remember when our generation was growing up, and we used to chuckle at the fringe lefty nutters on whom Rik and Neil in the Young Ones were based?

    We assumed that they’d be rightly mocked in the real world and duly disregarded, but institutions gave these losers succour, and they now run everything.

    Perhaps you also remember that certain sections of Welsh society started burning down Englishmen’s holiday cottages in 1979 as an expression of their political nationalism. I think the same applies. The losers who no-one thought should be taken too seriously as a major threat were ignored, and now they’re the status quo.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_west/8408447.stm

  23. ‘I can’t think of a quicker way to ensure a population doesn’t develop than convincing them they’re victims of historical wrongdoings’

    I think this is pretty much exactly what Kanye West said. Although not about the taffs. And he was talking about moving on from real wrongdoings – but the outcome is still the same. Move On. Be your best.

  24. Wales would have to build a border wall to keep the English out if they become an independent nation with the proper financial foundations in place. Something the Irish Free State didn’t do.

  25. Wales would have to build a border wall to keep the English out if they become an independent nation with the proper financial foundations in place.

    There are Welsh farmers on my Twitter feed calling for independence. I have no idea what they think their economy will be based on. EU handouts?

  26. “the proper financial foundations”

    And there’s the problem. Wales is a money pit full of welfare junkies. A deficit of circa 14Bn on a population of 3.1million.

    Like every region that lives on the backs of London and the South East, there’s no thanks… only resentment.

  27. I didn’t know about the cottage burning. However, I do remember my father, who had lived in Lampeter during the war and up until about the mid-Fifties telling me that even back then, as the son of an “English” landowner (his family had bought a farming estate out of bankruptcy in the 1700s, newcomers!) the only people he, and others, were really wary of were those from the NW of Wales which was well-known to be the home base of the early incarnation of the Taffia.

    Further anecdote: we went back to bury my father in the family plot in Lampeter in 2016 and the locals couldn’t have been nicer. The burial was on Remembrance Sunday and the town council even invited me and my brother to lay a wreath on the memorial during the service (my great-grandfather had originally unveiled the memorial having lost his eldest son at the Somme; http://www.wwwmp.co.uk/ceredigion-memorials/lampeter-war-memorial/ ).

    I was genuinely surprised, as Lampeter is a university town, and the main Liberal Arts campus for the UoW. However, the other immediately noticeable thing about it was how comparatively prosperous it was, largely because of the boost the student population gave to the local economy.

    Over tea and welsh cakes (cooked on top of the wood burning stove at the church!) I got talking to the local vicar, and, diplomatically, mentioned we were taken aback by how moved we were by the local reception given our “outsider” status.

    He told me that the Trade Association remained a powerful local force, and they were all sensible men in their 50s & 60s, who kept an apprenticeship tradition going, kept an eye on relations between Town and Gown, and while they were careful to pay appropriate respects to the Gowns from the college, they were also damned careful to keep them out of local politics, and keep an eye on any rabble-rousing.

    They knew they were onto a good thing compared to the rest of the country, and wanted to make sure it wasn’t wrecked from within.

    The vicar even told me that he had been brought in a year ago to replace a predecessor who had been sent from England, and arrived with ideas about replacing Remembrance Sunday with a service “deploring war”, removing the pews, holding interfaith services, and so forth.

    Since many of the surnames on the memorial were still over the doors of the local shops and businesses, apparently some quiet but firm meetings were held in various pubs and working mens’ clubs and, in fairly short order, the Diocese was persuaded to send your man to a new posting in Cardiff, and my new friend -funnily enough, an ex-Army Chaplain- found himself in his new position.

  28. >Overall point being, as we all know, a lot of nasty, extremist movements initiate themselves using Entryism, and times of economic hardship are like bloody unicorns to these people, as it gives them fantastic opportunities to worm their way into communities and start dripping poison into peoples ears about how all of their woes and hardships are the fault of “those bastards” and if only you’d let me and my friends have a little more power, we’d show them all. And like termites, once those buggers are in walls, short of burning down the house, you can almost never get them out.

    Yes indeed.

  29. Further anecdote: we went back to bury my father in the family plot in Lampeter in 2016 and the locals couldn’t have been nicer.

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. They’re a friendly bunch in the main, but it’s not reflected in their national politics. Where have we heard that before?

  30. >Like every region that lives on the backs of London and the South East, there’s no thanks… only resentment.

    As someone from the West Country, who’s lived principally in London for the last 20 years, I’m a little wary of this sentiment. The Welsh I grew up with were hard-working, tough bastards, who had historically committed themselves to many of the hardest jobs available: mining, hill-farming and the sharper end of the military.

    The loss of the first two as viable work, and the material reduction in requirement for the 3rd was a real blow, and I have never believed a long-term solution should be “send your boy to London, Mrs Jones,” as this also rips the heart out of long-standing communities and leaves them vulnerable.

    I didn’t know a single man of my grandfather’s generation in Cardigan who hadn’t served in the some way, and many were hugely proud of children now working as engineers in far-flung corners of the Commonwealth. It was one the main reasons he went there to retire, as he felt comfortable surrounded by similarly industrious, brave and taciturn men.

    It has been genuinely commendable how Cardiff has pivoted to providing back-office services to a lot of national firms, and I was always impressed by what the more innovative-minded had managed to turn their hand to in the Rhonnda to try and provide honest, long-term local work. I also think the Beeb, for all its faults, did a good deed by producing Dr. Who there.

    I don’t have a solution, but I haven’t forgotten my home region, and I do feel that over-egging the “London pays for you” mindset adds fuel to the fire of a separatist, divisive mentality.

    It’s why I could never fully commit to the Libertarian position in full, and remain slightly confused how many people who argue for a return to the British national identity seem prepared to simultaneously lobby against helping those hardest hit by the globalisation of trade and labour.

    As I said in my first comment, economic hardship breeds extremism: any Make Britain Great Again strategy has got to apply to all of it, not just some of it, and not forget that the Welsh put a lot of blood and sweat into making it great the first time.

  31. Whether or not he truly believed it, Trump understood this, and I wish the bloody Tories would give some indication they did too. If we leave Europe and have no strategy to help the regions, we’re just storing up problems for the future, and there’ll be no one else to blame this time.

    I don’t think “learn to code” is any more helpful to a Welshman as it is to a miner from Arizona.

  32. I suppose the left must at least be quietly grateful Thatcher put the miners out of work, so they don’t have to campaign for it today in the name of environmentalism. Would have been fun to watch current generation of students go up against the picket lines, though…

  33. @Guto on February 22, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    imo Tim N is like a politician and will never admit he’s wrong or apologise

    A sure sign of weakness, insecurity and dishonour

  34. >. I suspect you’re absolutely spot on about how this has come about. If you look closely, the hard left are never too far away.

    To be fair, I kind of specifically avoided picking a side.

    While I think in the UK far right ideology has historically appealed more to the upper rather than working classes, I remember the skinhead movement being a fairly real thing in the late 70s and 80s, and driven by similar fears. I think the younger Muslims of today would be astonished by what the Pakistanis and Jamaicans put up with 40 years ago and , for the most part, with real fortitude and grace.

    I went to see the Don Macullin exhibition at the Tate the other day, which I highly recommend, and I was taken aback by how much I’d forgotten (and been insulated from, to be fair) just how properly fucking poor the poor working classes were between 1950-1990, and just how much violence was bubbling over in the estates and old industrial towns. I genuinely think those under 30 have no idea at all what poverty actually meant a generation ago, and just how grindingly shit and grey life was for an enormous number of people.

  35. @Tim Newman on February 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    I can’t think of a quicker way to ensure a population doesn’t develop than convincing them they’re victims of historical wrongdoings which should take front and centre of all dealings with their larger neighbour.

    Schools teaching in Welsh with English deemed a second language?

  36. >I suppose the left must at least be quietly grateful Thatcher put the miners out of work, so they don’t have to campaign for it today in the name of environmentalism. Would have been fun to watch current generation of students go up against the picket lines, though…

    More excellent comment!

  37. @William Harford

    You’ll have me moving to Wales in a few more posts. Really enjoyed reading everything you wrote.

  38. Regarding the language issue, translating everything into the “correct” language and having to keep it artificially alive through Government diktat and cash, a similar thing is happening here in New Zealand.

    There is some kind of Maori committee that is promoting the Maori language and is working hard to accommodate modern concepts into Maori. For example, there was some heated discussion about what the Maori word for Compact Disk should be and equally important, how to pronounce it. Even the Maori can’t agree on the meaning of their own words – it is more like Japanese where the same word can mean different things depending on the context and surrounding words – but it stokes the grievances against the Pakeha and is another claim for money from the government to keep them occupied.

    Being from Northumberland, the neglect of the region and the historical ignoring of the problems (The Jarrow Crusade, anyone?) has many similar points made above about the destruction of the societies when men are thrown onto the scrap heap.

  39. imo Tim N is like a politician and will never admit he’s wrong or apologise

    A sure sign of weakness, insecurity and dishonour

    Noted. Although if they were the case I doubt this blog would have many visitors nor my presence on others’ blogs very welcome.

    And if there’s one thing the last few years have taught me is to *never* grovel before a Twitter mob. If I’d been wrong about Hwlffordd, you can be sure Huw Edwards would have said so. I’m happy to be corrected, but not by fanatics on Twitter foaming at the mouth.

  40. The Welsh I grew up with were hard-working, tough bastards, who had historically committed themselves to many of the hardest jobs available: mining, hill-farming and the sharper end of the military.

    Like Scotland then, but I’m not sure if the modern generation holds up quite as well. A lot of people in Wales depend on the government for employment, and I’m not sure that’s wholly unrelated to a shifting in attitudes.

  41. Strangely the same individuals keep appearing here even though you are apparently weak and insecure, “go figure” as they say.

  42. >I’m not sure if the modern generation holds up quite as well. A lot of people in Wales depend on the government for employment, and I’m not sure that’s wholly unrelated to a shifting in attitudes.

    Fair point. It’s a fairly compelling argument for a Kantian nurture vs nature argument. It is also slightly chilling how little time (in terms of generations) it has taken to effect such a sea change in attitude. One has to hope the reverse is also true.

    I think there have been quite a lot of anecdotal examples of how surprisingly rapidly young, disaffected men can acquire a pride in the concepts good work done well, and fair pay for fair work, given the right environment and mentor.

  43. @William Harford… “I genuinely think those under 30 have no idea at all what poverty actually meant a generation ago, and just how grindingly shit and grey life was for an enormous number of people.”

    At the risk of descending into poverty porn one-upmanship, though a number who were around back then will remember: when the old girl ran out of money mid-week, dinner for us kids was little more than a slice of white bread with a scrape of margarine and sprinkled with sugar.

  44. Fascinating to read about the Welsh/English issues. As someone from Oregon, I hate Californians, so I understand the sentiment, but I doubt it’s comparable to centuries the centuries of history you’re talking about.

    Incidentally, the English, Welsh, and Scottish don’t get along, apparently. Just imagine if you import people from more exotic places…

  45. Great article, yet another candidate for JMs post title of the month.
    Some years ago when I was camping in the Elan Valley I took my motorbike for a spin along the mountain road to Aberystwyth. All signs were in Welsh with English translations in smaller type beneath. With one exception: on a particularly dangerous stretch the word DANGER was above the Welsh translation.
    My sister went to college in Carmarthen during the 1960s, about the time we heard of the Welsh Nationalists and their cottage burning industry. Her first encounter with this was when she ordered a pint in her estuary English accent. The pub went silent, then a voice piped up in Welsh. Forgive my spelling, Tulch dean pob Seiss. My sister, having learned a few words of Welsh looked the boyo in the eye and returned with Tulch dean pob Cwymru. They loved her!

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