You’re at a work colleague’s wedding reception and there are the few odd faces you know, but, in general, they are all strangers. Sitting around the large circular table, and after the awkward introductions, and the polite descriptions about how you know the bride and groom, the person to your left turns to you and asks the inescapable question, “So, tell me about yourself.” My stock interview answer is ready (By the way, I’m notoriously hopeless in job interviews) and I usually say something like, “Well, I’m a mum to cheeky Charlie, a primary school teacher, a writer and I’m Welsh.”
As March 1st is the national day that honours Wales’s patron St David, it is therefore the perfect excuse for me to proudly show off my Celtic roots. You see, I feel passionately about Wales and enthusiastically celebrate the country’s achievements – of which there are many. Currently, I am keenly supporting Wales in the six nations, watching the matches with my son, and cheering on our boys. Similarly, in June, during Euro 2016, my living room shook and exploded with roars each time a goal was scored against Belgium, growing louder with every goal. First Williams, then Robson-Kanu, and the nail in the coffin scored by Vokes. We defended our heroes too. “That was never a hand ball Ref,” we screamed when Ramsay was harshly awarded a second yellow card.
My dad and son Charlie supporting Wales.
Also, in our house, we follow the antics of Derek the legendary walking weatherman, and, we don’t have cuddles – we have cwtches. We keep up with the rumours as well, my uncle Maldwyn told me (he heard it from his mate, who, in turn, probably heard it from his mate) that apparently Gareth Bale was seen entering Nandos in Nantgarw.
However, despite loudly declaring that I’m Welsh, I have a secret fear. I’m terrified that I am going to be publicly pulled up and hauled before a court as a fraud. If any of you have heard me speak you may have noticed that I have a crystal-clear English accent. Even when I’m wearing my Welsh rugby top and daffodil mask, I worry that when people hear me talk they’ll disgustedly say, “Who is this phoney?”
The thing is I was born and raised in London. Yes, I was in Wales during every school holiday, but I was influenced by my English upbringing. I know the London Underground map like the back of my hand, far better than the twisty train routes through the valleys. I’ve watched more productions of Under Milk Wood and A Child’s Christmas In Wales than I can count, yet the characters I meet in my everyday life show little resemblance to the quirky villagers like Aunty Hannah and Mrs Ogmore Pritchard. I go to events at the London Welsh Centre and am immersed in the Welsh culture, but then I go back home to an ordinary, little English town.
Though, I feel most like an imposter when my poor knowledge of the Welsh language becomes evident. If I had been brought up in Wales I would have been surrounded by the language – on signs, on the TV and radio, in school lessons, and at sport’s games. The pronunciation of certain phrases would be second nature and I would not have to think about it. I try my best to sing the Welsh national anthem, though, without wanting to do an impression of John Redwood, I sometimes choose to hum the tune. I still stand tall and feel as impassioned as the people near me but I’m just utterly embarrassed about, and concerned how disrespectful, my awful articulation of such important words would be viewed.
Despite my cover-ups, I have been caught out! I was directed by the actor Guy Masterson in a play I wrote called, ‘Dylan Thomas, the man, the myth.’ After the first rehearsal, apart from reminding me that I would not be talking to a group of five year olds, (The patronising teacher tone needed to be knocked out of me) he commented, “You really need to learn how to pronounce the ‘Ll’ sound correctly.” As I was narrating a show that included words such as, Llewelyn and Llansteffan, I needed to work on it.
Well, I practised and practised, I truly did. I put my tongue under my top lip and breathed out just as Guy suggested. I went on YouTube and found a very helpful video and I think I just about got away with it. The only problem is that since then, I’m so aware of my dreadful mistake, that whenever I have to say a word with the Ll sound, I stop and pause and it completely affects the flow of the sentence.
I also remember at my Mum’s funeral a relative called Mair remarked to someone with a smile and a twinkle, “Hannah always pronounces my name the English way.” I’ll be honest; I’m still not sure how I got it wrong. I checked out this link and I suspect I’m not rolling my rs enough.
Meetings can be tricky as well. I sometimes find myself getting distracted as I’m desperately trying to note down phonetically some of the Welsh place names I’m going to need to use. Inevitably, I make a pig’s ear of it anyway and splutter and stutter and then apologise profusely.
Despite it all though, and whether I’m a fake or not, I am full of pride when I tell people I’m Welsh. My dad (born and bred in Pontypridd) has been very influential and convinced me I’m Welsh. He has told me all the good things about his country of birth – albeit through slightly nostalgic eyes. He’s also adamant that all my best schoolteachers were actually Welsh!
Of course, there’s the Dylan Thomas connection too. In fact, if I look back at my family tree, both sides, I have roots in North, South and West Wales. Maybe that is why I feel very much at home whenever I visit these areas. Without doubt, I can claim to have Welsh blood, but, is that enough? I certainly hope so.
For those of you who are Welsh through and through, part Welsh or just want to be Welsh like me – Happy St David’s Day.
Hannah Ellis – 27th February 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.hannahellisconsultancy.com