My friends, Gwyn and Pete, bought me my first tea towel of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Station in 1998. It is a simple cotton tea towel with a line drawing of the station in a blue colour. They also bought me the third tea towel with the brown line drawings.
Gwyn’s father was born on Anglesey and in 1998, not long after his wife had died, he asked if they would take him back to Anglesey to see his family for ‘one last time’. Hence the trip, although he went back more than once, and Gwyn and Pete have returned at least once a year ever since. I like the idea of people rediscovering their families.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (for obvious reasons, often known as Llanfair by locals) is probably the most famous place on Anglesey, because with it’s 58 letters is the longest single word in Europe and the second longest in the world. Translated from Welsh, it means “St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave”. Gwyn can pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch fluently on request; it is fascinating to hear. With my background of university education in Swansea I can manage “Llanfair” and then “gogogoch”, I blag the rest. Pathetic really but then I have the tea towel to remind me!!
I had always assumed that Llanfair…..is a name with deep historical routes. This isn’t strictly true. There has been a settlement there since 4000BC; it has been a farming area and in 1840 had a population of under 400. Today, it has a population of over 3000; it is the sixth largest settlement in Anglesey, 70% of whom speak Welsh. In the 1850’s, the railway was built from Chester to Holyhead, going through a village called Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll. A committee was formed to try and encourage trains, travellers and 19th Century tourists to stop at the village to help develop it as a commercial and tourist centre, so they renamed the village – with the longest name, at that time, in the world. Saatchi and Saatchi would earn millions today for coming up with a publicity stunt like that. A publicity stunt that worked!!
However, when I use this tea towel, there are two things that I think of: firstly, Saatchi and Saatchi may employ 6500 staff in 140 offices across 76 countries but some bloke in a small committee in Anglesey in 1850 came up with the greatest publicity stunt ever to attract tourists from all over the world, without harming the environment by creating some great metropolis. Low key effective tourism. The second thing I am reminded about is that Gwyn and Pete also bought me two other presents from this holiday; the first was an eraser with a red Welsh dragon on it. Bearing in mind it was bought 17 years ago, I am still using it on a regular basis. They don’t make things like that these days.
The second memory I have is of the cassette tape they bought me. It came from the James Pringle shop, a big tourist outlet in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It was a recording of the James Pringle Ladies’ Choir, singing a specially written song called “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch”. On one side of the tape the song is sung in English and on the other side it is sung in Welsh – exactly the same. It is not a long cassette because there is no other music on it, about 10 minutes on each side? The song is very simple and just explains what the name means. I love choirs and I think this is a fabulous cassette because it is so quirky and unique. However, it is an acquired taste and I nearly drove my friends potty with it. I used to play the cassette in the car when I was commuting from Leicester to Stevenage on a daily basis (why I did that is the story of another tea towel, the one from Stevenage). I used to take Steve and Liz as passengers. After about three plays of the tape, they would be begging me not to play it any more. However, it was a very effective way to ensure that they both stayed awake on the journey to talk to me otherwise I’d threaten to play it again.
On another occasion, I was driving to Wiltshire with another friend, Fee, who had never had any appreciation of my taste in music. When I was playing the tape, I did actually think she was going to rip the tape out of the tape deck and throw it out of the window but it achieved my aim of having another awake passenger. Sadly, as cars have changed they no longer have cassette decks, only CD players and I could no longer play the tape and I don’t have a cassette deck at home. In the end, I gave the tape to a charity shop and I deeply regret this because I miss the Ladies Choir. In fact, I have tried to track down a copy of the original recording with no luck. I then tried to find out if it was available on CD, again with no luck. I would love to be able to play it again to Steve, Fee and Liz (I’m not sure they would feel the same). So if anyone knows where I can get a copy then please let me know.
Using the tea towel, I remember those journeys to Stevenage, 168 miles round trip, the company I kept and how the Ladies Choir lightened the burden. It was a unique experience.
I do have a second Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch tea towel – a bright red pure linen tea towel, with a print of a railway ticket from the station. I bought it when I visited in 2013. I love the dramatic colour but it still takes me back to the memories of 1998 when Gwyn and Pete bought that first tea towel, eraser and cassette tape. It’s good to have friends.
30 June 2015
This blog spurred Pete to find his copy of the Llanfair song on tape; he had a spare copy which he gave to me. Pete has also put this into a CD, which means I can share it once again with Fee!
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