This tea towel is entitled “Welsh Language”. It is the first tea towel I bought, when I went to Swansea University in 1970. I’d forgotten about this one; I kept thinking that my first one came from the Edinburgh Festival. That’s what happens when you have a lot. Back to the story. I’d lived all my childhood in Ealing (London) when suddenly, at the age of 19, I was thrust into life in South Wales. I had no connections with Wales, had never been there, didn’t even go for an interview or to one of those Open Days they organise now. How did I chose Swansea as the place to complete my education? In those days you had to make six choices. I wanted to do geography (had no idea what I wanted to do with geography at the end of three years). Geography was a big passion in my life and I knew that Swansea University had a great geography department with a good social bias. It was my first choice and I got the grades to get there. What I didn’t know, but was very soon to find out, was anything about Welsh politics and the Welsh language campaign. The University of Wales had, at that time, five colleges: Swansea, Cardiff, Bangor, Aberyswyth and Lampeter. Swansea, as a town, wasn’t a hotbed of Welsh language speakers but the Halls of residence that I stayed in (Newydd Beck) attracted a core of members of the Welsh Language Society. The Welsh Language Society was founded in 1962, a direction action pressure group campaigning for the right of all Welsh people to use the Welsh language in all aspects of their daily life. The most common direct action, while I was living in Swansea, was the taking down of English road signs; very confusing if you are going out for a drive in the country. There were a number of students at Newydd Beck whose first language was Welsh. They resented the fact that there were students from England, who did not speak Welsh. At meal times we all ate in the dining hall, sitting at long tables with 18 or 20 people. Meal times were interesting; all the Welsh speakers sat together and never spoke English. If you wanted the salt you had to ask for it in Welsh otherwise you wouldn’t get it. It may have meant a salt-free diet but it was also the awakening of a political awareness. I began to understand the politics of people who felt they were being deprived of their own culture, the ‘bravery’ of people who stuck to their principles of wanting the Welsh language to have the same status as the English language and to stick to those principles even if it meant appearing to be rude to fellow residents. It was uncomfortable at first, being made to feel unwelcome but gradually I developed an admiration for them, I wanted to find out more about Welsh culture. There were basic Welsh language classes held on a Wednesday evening. Learning a new language was not my forte. I was rubbish. But I did learn to say “happy Christmas” and to sing one verse of Good King Wenceslas in Welsh. Near Cardiff, 40 miles down the road was St Fagan’s National History Museum, an Open Air Museum chronicaling the historical lifestyle, culture and architecture of the Welsh people. Now there are over 40 buildings but when I was in Swansea there were only 12. A few of us went one weekend; it was great and then I saw, in a very small souvenir shop, this tea towel. My Welsh Language tea towel is pure linen and has held it’s colour for 45 years, with a dark green background, there are 60 circles, each with a picture with both the English and Welsh language word. I needed a tea towel at this time, having left home without a thought about the need for a tea towel. I had got by ‘borrowing’ other people’s tea towels. But when I laid my eyes on this one, I knew I had to have it. The tea towel taught me to count from one to ten, and other basic words like ‘tree’, ‘ship’ and ‘sun’ – not always useful to string a sentence together. But using my tea towel as a means of communication I was able to ask the less intimidating members of the Welsh Language Society how to pronounce the words (since the tea towel wasn’t much help in that respect). It proved to be an ice breaker but it didn’t make me fluent in Welsh. As I use my Welsh Language tea towel I remember the three glorious years at Swansea University, trips to the Brecon Beacons and Gower Peninsula, parcels from home from my mum who decided to take up knitting in order to send me knitted jumpers. She learned a basic pattern which I loved, plain and useful but I hadn’t taken into account the fact that she would knit the same pattern in a variety of colours (including mohair). At the height of her prowess I had more than 20 jumpers in the same style, just different colours. I remember learning how to ride a horse (very badly); I went on a field trip to Majorca in the worse thunderstorms for 15 years; I remember the friends I made, several of whom I am still in contact with- Ann, Caroline, Elizabeth and Linda. I remember pyjama discos and TRex, having long hair followed by a dreadful perm, travelling hundreds of miles to watch Brentford Football Club who never played in Wales. Swansea University was a very special time for me and my tea towel brings back memories of those times but sadly I notice I need to be very careful because there is a small hole, made through wear and tear, that is in danger of growing bigger. I did return to St Fagans in 2013 but although the shop was much bigger they didn’t have a Welsh Laguage tea towel otherwise I would have bought one; instead I bought a milk jug with ‘milk’ in Welsh.
29 June 2015: my friend Nick has emailed me to say that I am wrong, I did visit Newport to watch Brentford play football. I still have no recollection of this. Maybe I have tried to block out the memory of a very cold, wet winter’s day. However, he has the evidence because, from Canada, he scanned a letter I wrote to him in 1990 which mentions watching Brentford at Newport. I love the fact that he has read my blog but it is also a reminder (a serious one) that after all these years it is still possible to piece together the story of someone’s past. We should all remember this if we know someone with dementia or are working with someone.
September 2016: In my airing cupboard I found this tea towel, another to do with the Welsh Language. I am not sure when I bought this but it certainly complements my original Welsh Language tea towel
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