I was sitting sipping overpriced coffee from a tiny cup, in a nondescript hotel bar in the centre of the city. The wafer thin biscuit they’d put on the teeny saucer was no compensation for the miserly brew.
There were more mirrors than walls in the place. I guess the owners either wanted to make the bar look bigger, or were catering for a clientele that was very much in love with itself. I suspect it was the latter.
Anyway, I was there with a small cast of fellow actors. See what I mean about the clientele? (That was a joke by the way. A lot of the actors I’ve met are racked with self-doubt). We were rehearsing for two murder mysteries coming up later that month. I say “rehearsing”, but there are no scripts for these 3 hours + performances. They are totally improvised. What we were doing was cementing our characters’ backgrounds and connections.
If on the night of a performance for example, someone asked my character what colour my fiance’s front door is, my answer would match my fiance’s; or indeed that of any other actor whose character might have visited my fiancé on a regular basis. Yes, we go into that much detail, even though the chances of being asked to confirm the colour of a door are slim to say the least, but it has happened.
When we’d finished figuring out where we’d all been on what dates, and with whom, and what colours our respective doors were, we settled down for a natter, and I somehow had to find a way to subtly steer the conversation around to the subject of my imminent move to North Wales of course.
“Did I tell you I’m moving to North Wales next month?!” I declared, out of the blue; already swiping through my tablet, looking for photos of where I was moving to, which my girlfriend had teasingly sent to me via Messenger. And as for my grin, well I doubt I’ve worn a smile that wide since I was a child on Christmas Eve, telling my parents that Santa was coming.
“Yes”, said my poor beleaguered colleagues with a collective sigh. Undeterred, I continued. “It’s the language I’m worried about” I confessed. At which point, a young Polish actor piped up.
“Do not worry. Everybody speaks English there” she said, with a better grasp of English than many native speakers I’ve met over the years. Nevertheless, she was wrong.
“Not where I’m moving to. About 80% of the population are Welsh speakers where I’ll be living” I explained. Another actor (and fellow writer) confirmed this. “They’re massive on the language in North Wales, very passionate about it”.
To illustrate my dilemma, I mentioned about the time just recently, during a visit there, when I’d almost lost my cash card to the local ATM. I’d been on auto pilot at the time, and had forgotten to choose the “English” option on the touch screen. I was suddenly staring at a string of letters that made no sense to me at all.
I opted for the Big Red Button with a massive X on it, then snatched my card out of the slot, and started again.
Even after my move, it took me five months to figure out that we weren’t driving past Gwasanaethau Services every time we drove into the village, but that “Gwasanaethau” was the Welsh word for services. In my defence, I was usually distracted by the spectacular scenery during those journeys.
I have also had to tackle the toilet problem since moving here, not knowing the Welsh for either “Ladies” or “Gents”. Often there are pictures on doors to help you out; the basic trouser/skirt combination usually does the trick.
But a few months back, I did my first bit of acting work around these parts; as an extra in a Welsh Soap*. We were on location in a church, and during a break I needed to pee. Off I went to the loo, only to return a minute or two later. I approached another actor.
“Excuse me, I need the toilet and…”
“They’re just out the door, turn left, then left again” the actor directed.
“Erm…I don’t know which is the Gents” I confessed sheepishly.
The actor told me which door to go through, and I went off again, praying I wasn’t about to be set up for some traditional prank that the Welsh like to play on us English**.
I know two Welsh words so far; “know” as being able to speak them, spell them, and know what they mean. The first word is “Llys”*** and the other is “Diolch”. It’s a start.
Speaking of “starts” and the Welsh language, my first Welsh Beginner’s lesson is tomorrow morning; which also happens to be my 54th birthday. My girlfriend has suggested I ask her fourteen year old son (aka “The Youth”) to help me out, bless her naïve cotton socks. I’m sure we all know how that would work out.
ME: What’s the Welsh for “I like your hair”
THE YOUTH: Erm…it’s “Rwyf wrth fy modd â’ch gwaelod”**** (wanders off sniggering to himself)
It never crossed my mind not to learn Welsh once I knew I’d be moving here. Why would it? After all, during that rehearsal just over a year ago, my Polish friend never once expected us to understand Polish, in order for us to communicate.
“Ah, but Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, and the official language of the UK is English”, some have argued; to which my reply is “cau i fyny!”
Anyway, we’ll see soon enough whether it’s possible to teach this old dog some new tricks, but until then, diolch for reading.
*The soap is called “Rownd A Rownd”
**For the record, I consider myself a Yorkshire-man first and foremost
***See Living The Dream #1
**** This joke will only work if the translation is correct.