Cool Cymraeg rules

7th July 2006 at 01:00
But there might be good reasons to whisper those sweet nothings in English, writes Roy Noble

So Welsh is cool again. And just in time too, for my Noble frame. The news has caused a clearly discernible tingle, convincing my brain and the far-flung Commonwealth regions of my body to grasp at the passing coat-tails of this new, swishing sophistication that is more suave then swagger.

Oh, what it is to bask in the new surge of Cool Cymru - or more correctly, Cool Cymraeg. This new interest in the Welsh language from beyond our borders is driven by the fizz and bubble of youth, but I hope, as an older fogey, that I'm allowed a seat on their bus that takes Wales to the world.

Our young, Welsh-speaking Big Brother ambassadors Glyn and Imogen have thrown up a new interest and intrigue for the language and lilting accents that co-habit the reality TV boudoir.

The young generally take life's pressures in their stride, and the new breed of Welsh speakers comfortably use the language on a broad front in all its variant colours and cadences.

It was a different story in my youth. I am from the Amman Valley, on the cusp of two counties, Carmarthenshire and the old Glamorgan. Welsh was the language of hearth and heath, but there were odd hang-ups, sometimes in the most unlikely situations. In many cases it was at a base, yet urgent level.

I remember, in student days, having a summer job with Llandeilo rural district council. Us young bucks were in the "muck" gang and water supply troop for the duration of our summer holidays. In a trench near Cilycwm, Llandovery, I recall an avid debate between John Davies, Gareth Jones and myself.

John was to become honorary physician to the Welsh Rugby Union, with a practice, I believe, in Harley Street, London.

Gareth became the highly-respected headteacher of Lampeter comprehensive school and is now the director of education for Ceredigion. So, you can imagine the standard of debate.

I was merely included as ballast to stop the IQ total going into astral overdrive.

The motion before the house (or trench, as was the case on that day) was:

"Is it easier to do your courting in English or Welsh?" It was conducted between the poetic and rhythmic heaves of our long-armed shovels, under the caustic gaze of our mentor, Trevor the foreman from Penygroes, whose use of language was both succinct and international in its clarity, whether in Welsh or English.

We were all Welsh speakers, and all three of us were either courting or dabbling with Welsh-speaking girls. Yet it was finally agreed that "courting was definitely easier in English". Why?

Well, we all took our lead from matinee idols seen in the local cinemas, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck and the like.

"I love you" was such an effective, direct, all-encompassing and, thankfully, short phrase. In the 1950s, ready-made Welsh language sentences for the warm, intimate moments did not seem to slip happily and quickly into the mind. Perhaps thoughts of chapel deacon disapproval put breezeblocks on the path to passion.

Anyway, in those loving interludes, by the time you got the grammatically correct and much longer Welsh sentences out the mood had passed.

Regional colloquialisms and accents also threw up moments of confusion.

Years ago I attended a funeral in Anglesey. In conversation with the local mourners, I thought my south Wales Welsh was holding its own very well against their north Walian accent and phraseology. Our minds also parted when we used different words for everyday things, like "rwan" instead of my "nawr" for now, "hances" for handkerchief instead of "neisied", and "nofio"

for swimming where I would say "oifad".

It seemed I had won their acceptance when I was invited to be one of the bearers for the deceased's coffin.

At the cemetery, I found myself as one of the two lead bearers carrying the coffin from the hearse to the grave. As we passed the gate, I heard a voice saying "tro i'r dde" (turn to the right).

I did not think he was talking to me, so I held my path and direction, in spite of the obvious physical pressure coming from the other side of the coffin. I was firmly put in my place when the voice added: "Tell him in English, he's from the south."

Nowadays, the interweaving of regional differences is part of the rich set of patches that make up the quilt that is Wales.

I hope the stitches stay strong and that we take our lead from the Big Brother young, who seem to be setting a pattern of comfortable co-existence for all the Cymry - cool as we are.

Roy Noble is a former headteacher and presents The Roy Noble Show on BBC Radio Wales

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Ysgrifennwch at: TES Cymru, Ty Sophia, 28 Heol yr Eglwys Gadeiriol, Caerdydd CF11 9LJ. Ebost: Ffacs 029 2066 0207

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