Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Cardiff 2008. The nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.
A Victorian port, Cardiff, built on the coal from the valleys. My grandfather was as Welsh as they come, born and bred here in the 1870s (this makes me feel really, really old), my grandmother an incomer from Devon, orphaned at age seven when she was packed off across the Bristol Channel to live with an aunt and uncle in the city. Poor little mite. She eventually became a teacher, met my grandfather and married him.
He was born into a large, bilingual working-class family, Welsh and English, but the Victorian education system was definitely not inclined to pander to wishy-washy notions of cultural identity. English was the language of progress, of advancement and enlightenment. Accordingly the children were forbidden to speak Welsh in school and punished if they did so, and eventually English took over their lives completely and, yes, he did indeed advance, got a good job and after the First World War moved his family to London. Yet he returned to his origins, to Cardiff, with his second wife when he retired. In his eighties he did try to relearn his lost mother tongue. Too late, perhaps, he couldn't do it.
As I recall he disapproved of much of the modern world - pop music, football players - but he'd be surprised and delighted at how much of the Welsh language there is around the place in 2013.