A Welsh class of 7 million (part 2)

[Part 2 of 3 from ‘behind the scenes’]

Studios all have the same internal logic – that strange balance between ‘what looks normal on a screen’ and ‘where cameras move’ – and the audience were squeezed onto three narrow rows of plastic folding chairs. 

It wasn’t a very large set – ‘Heno’ has enough space to feel as though you’re going to get lost – but I suppose it’s possible that London prices are a bit steeper than Llanelli.

But oh – the whole Welsh thing had become a bit more than ‘I can say hello to you’ – there were daffodils on every chair – a big bunch of them on the panel’s desk – the co-host, Storm Huntley, had an admirably bright yellow dress on – and at the interval break, I found out that the plan was for Jeremy to bring a plate of welshcakes over to the audience, sit down next to me and ask me a couple of questions.

With the general expectation that I would answer them.

Using words.

Out loud.

He gave me a test run in the interval – asking me (dangerously) about how the SaySomethingin Method works – we’d been joined by the show’s editor, I think, and someone else from the production team, who both seemed genuinely nice people, who both used a few words of Welsh, and whose names I might remember if my brain hadn’t been having such a LIVELY internal dialogue about the contrasting benefits of flight, fight or freeze responses.

After my mouth stopped talking – I think I heard it say something about language learning – Jeremy looked thoughtful.

‘Perhaps you could try to get to the bit about how long it takes a little sooner when we’re on air,’ he said, in a tone of kind encouragement, and I find myself wondering how many different ways he’s worked out to say ‘JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION WILL YOU?’ to recalcitrant guests.

In the end, it all went off well enough – by which I mean that I can’t remember anything either he or I said, and I haven’t given in just yet to the strange temptation to watch a recording of it through my fingers.

I know that I stopped talking before anyone had to haul me off set, though, and that Jeremy looked pleasantly surprised to see that I could stop talking, and said something encouraging off-camera before carrying on.

My clearest memory is of the Glaswegian woman sitting next to me. ‘Would you like mine, too?’ I said, offering her my welshcake. ‘NO,’ she said firmly, ‘I put mine in my BAG. I thought it was going to be like a PANCAKE. Do people actually EAT these in Wales?’

Daffodils, welshcakes, yellow dresses – yes, I know, I know.

But it wasn’t about lazy stereotyping. 

Not this time. 

It was about looking quite genuinely towards Wales, about reaching out for signs of friendship. If the signs of friendship that come most immediately to hand are all a little predictable – well, that’s as much our fault as anyone else’s.

I left the studio having been genuinely surprised by the welcome I’d received. It wasn’t just that Jeremy Vine had a point to make about his positive attitude – his efforts and interest were clearly being shared by a lot of the people he worked with.

Last August, I spoke at the North American Festival of Wales in Washington D. C., where people who spoke Welsh were given something of a rock-star welcome – which certainly isn’t what we’d ever expect at home.

Having an echo of that – of genuine interest, and a willingness to connect – in London of all places, which often looks so incapable of noticing Wales – was unexpected and quietly inspiring.

Meanwhile, the fact that it was all revolving around the language – that people were preparing little bits of Welsh to use with me – that the speaking of Welsh itself was becoming part of the act of connection – that, I think, suggests some interesting thoughts for the future.

I picked up my credit card from the London Welsh Centre, walked back to Fitzrovia, did a quick Facebook Live in front of entirely the wrong BBC building (I’m very committed to the whole idea that making mistakes is valuable), found the right building, and was delighted to meet Jessica, the producer who’d been preparing for the piece.

She’d gone through our introductory sentence AND our first lesson, and was saying some excellent sentences in Welsh with obvious and wonderful enthusiasm.

I had a friendly security check, and then a photo-pass made up by an less than happy receptionist – I wisely decided not to try and teach her any Welsh – and then we were up in the Green Room, a section of office space curtained off for guests on various shows.

I was fretting about getting my mobile charged – Beca, the content manager at SaySomethingin, had been doing a brilliant job of intercepting incoming media calls and dealing with them herself, but Garry Owen from Taro’r Post had rather cunningly gone round the end of the goal and straight to Jessica, so I was committed to a call at 1.55 – with my battery down at about 15%.

That helped (a very small amount) to keep my mind off what was about to happen – and then an unlikely hero rode to the rescue to make sure that I couldn’t think about the Jeremy Vine show at all…

[Part 3 of 3 from ‘behind the scenes’ tomorrow…:-) ]


www.SaySomethinginWelsh.com/6min (if you’d like to learn Welsh in the same way Jeremy did, but with fewer distractions, and in just 6 minutes a day)


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