NWR Issue 113

People of Shitplace Dug our Own Hole

The wider world must have a strong impression of British people who now have turned away from change and difference, in work, culture and, perhaps especially, in language. It is dangerous to tell people what they should and shouldn’t be afraid of, but really, there are greater threats out there than EU migrants. To environmental diversity, to vulnerable and minority cultures, to the Welsh language. Harm to the latter, however, comes not from globalisation, since it has readily adapted to technology, first with television, now on the twittersphere. Two delightful points were made in Parch, Fflur Dafydd’s drama on S4C (series 2 reviewed in our November e-edition, subscriber package), through Oksana, a Russian migrant to the Carmarthenshire village of its setting. One is her disarming assumption that Welsh will be the medium of her UK ‘citizenship test’; the second, that the Welsh-speaking family and community she marries into accepts and absorbs her differences of language and culture. Apparently Anglophone communities (including those in Welsh-speaking areas of Wales), despite being dominant in most scenarios, struggle to accept in this way. (This is the point that Mike Parker was trying to make in his 2001 Planet article whose distortion of which by the local paper had a detrimental effect on his Westminster campaign, according to his recent book for Y Lolfa, The Greasy Poll: Diary of a Controversial Election.)

The uninitiated may not easily class Ceredigion farmers as belonging to a threatened cultural and linguistic minority (and here I unashamedly point my finger at certain English environmentalists and nature writers). But, as Caryl Lewis’ speech this summer as winner of the Welsh-language category of Wales Book of the Year (with her novel, Y Bwthyn) made clear, that is what they are. Protectors of language and dialects, food culture, flora and fauna, of landscape and a way of life, who in turn should be championed. Lewis’ speech, and indeed her fiction, deals with conservation. The subtleties of her speech, given in Welsh, must have been lost on the English category’s judge Caroline Sanderson (of The Bookseller), who in her own address noted the cosmopolitanism of the English entries, and the winner, Thomas Morris’ We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, in particular. This is not a situation in which WBOY’s Welsh category winner is a ‘Leave’ novel bemoaning change and fearing loss, while the English winning novel takes us on Remain-worthy Dublin stag parties and alternative worlds. But the EU referendum result, announced only a few weeks previously, coloured my reception of the prize. It colours everything.

Including this issue. In spirit post-Brexit pieces abound, especially Liz Jones’ memoir of how Merthyr Tudful waned in her affections amid tales of two-faced bullying of immigrants. While Kirsty Sedgman’s essay analysing audience responses to National Theatre Wales productions The Persians and For Mountain, Sand & Sea shows how issues of universality and national or local relevance contrasted wildly across Wales, with Barmouth audiences scoring high on relevance while those within the theatre-going catchment area of Sennybridge put more weight on artistic quality. I judge these arguments to make a Brexit-voter type distinction, with ‘universal’ standing in for ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘artistic quality’ for ‘educated’, while ‘local relevance’ represents a tentative or even latent patriotism. Finally, surely the inspiration for Jane Houston’s biting, satirical ‘“Heartland”’ must be Leave-land, Swansea or Lincoln variety? ‘In this once-proud-now-shit / place no-one speaks a real language and people / live in dog years, girls popping out kids, / kids dripping off us all our lives. // People of shitplace dug our own hole, / revel in the muck of it and ready for worse. / If we vote it is with eyes on the sky, / spotting flotillas passing like dark clouds.’


previous editorial: Punks and Safety Pins
next editorial: Review 15 Editorial


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