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Hang Ups

When I was a school child in the tiny cathedral town of St David's, March 1 (St David's Day) had a special significance and we always spent it in exactly the same way. It was a routine which as far as we knew stretched far into the Celtic mist to the days when David himself lived his unlikely life in these same streets - a lad like us, except he wore a halo instead of a school cap.

The girls always sported daffodils, the boys were weighed down by enormous leeks - in West Wales in the Sixties, size really did matter. The morning was given over to an interminable service in the cathedral where we'd sing hymns praising Wales and being subjected to sundry prelates making painful jokes to prove that beneath the pomposity and the platitudes they were really just like us.

We ignored them, of course, as we played improvised games of conkers with borrowed daffodils, or chewed on our leeks - delighting in those gritty pockets of mud our mums' diligent scrubbing hadn't been able to reach. Then back to school for cawl - a Welsh soup of the "eye of newt, toe of frog" variety. It was delicious, warming, compulsive and guaranteed to induce wind of such ferocity that were it ever to be eaten on the Mururoa Atoll, Greenpeace would surely send a ship.

We had time to reflect on the wisdom of so many guzzled helpings through a languorous afternoon devoted to the school eisteddfod where every performance had an accompaniment not unlike that of the 1812 Overture. I don't think we found the day particularly inspirational. I suspect that in those days we thought of being Welsh - if, indeed, we thought of it at all - as being something that wasn't going to last. In a world of Telstar and Yuri Gagarin, Wales, it seemed, had as much chance of surviving into our adulthood as valve radios or birthday postal orders from doting aunts.

We couldn't have possibly guessed then that in 30 years time, there would be a Welsh language television channel, a clutch of Plaid Cymru MPs, plans for a Welsh assembly or that Welsh-medium education would be flourishing. Instead of being as dead as St David, Wales in 1996 is alive and well and ready to define a new and exciting role for itself. That's why it's so important for the country that schemes such as WOMPI (see above) are made to work effectively and that MEU Cymru be given sufficient funding.

The information superhighway is going to eradicate traditional geographical disadvantages. It won't matter that you are based at one of the remoter edges of Europe - all that will count is where you are on the World Wide Web. Wales already has an impressive presence on the Internet, with a growing number of high-tech businesses touting their wares.

There are several Welsh language sites and myriad links to Welsh communities throughout the world. It's even possible to learn the language on-line - the site is based in Canada. There are dozens of tele-cottages throughout the principality and ambitious plans to use the new technology to link scattered communities.

Welsh schools are rushing on to the Internet. They see it as a way of broadening pupils' horizons and as a wonderful source of free teaching materials. Instead of turning us all into ersatz Americans, the Internet is offering minority cultures a chance to celebrate their uniqueness. Wales is rediscovering and reasserting its sense of identity with a new-found confidence. I heard one television commentator say that there was "a wind of change" blowing through Wales. I'd agree, although it's a phrase I tend not to use on St David's Day.

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