A Welsh class of 7 million (part 3)

[Recap: sitting nervously in the Green Room at Radio 2, wondering how many different ways a live language lesson can go wrong.]

‘Are you the Welsh guy?’ said a friendly young bloke.

I admitted it.

‘You’re not on until 1, are you? That’s plenty of time.’ It was 14 minutes and 11 seconds, not that I was counting. ‘Steve’s just had a thought – would you record an intro in Welsh for Serious Jockin’?’

My face must have shown how few of those words I’d understood.

‘Steve Wright in the afternoon? If you could just record an intro?’

Ah, now there was a name I did in fact recognise – if only because my wife Catrin used to listen to him all the time. She was doing nothing but tease me about ‘your new best friend Jeremy’, but if I recorded an intro for Steve Wright, I might finally impress her – a mere 14 years after getting married.

‘Just a sentence,’ said Steve, as I sat down opposite him, ‘or maybe two. Actually, let me write something down. What’s DJ Silly Boy in Welsh?’

Yes, once again I’d got myself very quickly out of my depth. ‘Um, sorry, but what do you actually mean when you say bangers?’

Oh, I see.

‘Would you mind if I just said bangers for that bit, actually?’

‘No, great, that’d be cool, that’d be funny actually, go for it.’

And I’m sorry, but there is definitely not a translation for serious jockin.’

‘No, okay, I see. But you can do some of it in Welsh, right?’

I tried to redeem myself by hamming up the delivery as much as possible – getting a little hammier each time Steve said ‘Actually, let’s just do that one more time’ – and the friendly blokes on his team said ‘That was awesome!’ on the way out – and now I’ve been followed by someone from a talent agency on Twitter, so perhaps if everyone stops learning Welsh I can fall back on recording advertising jingles.

No, seriously, I’ve actually been followed by someone from a talent agency on Twitter.

You should SEE how much that made Catrin roll her eyes.

And that quickly and easily, it was time – and then it all got very strange indeed.

I’m prone to exaggeration – okay, I exaggerate more than anyone else in the entire universe – and I might have been playing up the whole idea of nerves as I bounced in and out of different Twitter conversations in the days leading up to the show.

But I’d also spent some time wondering what 7.42 million people would look like if they all stood somewhere together, and by the time I was sitting in the Green Room, I had some genuine butterflies in the stomach, and that feeling of tightness in my hands and my throat that I know perfectly well can end up making my voice sound shaky and nervous.

But the utterly bizarre side-trip into Steve Wright’s recording studio had thrown all that off-track.

When the door to Jeremy Vine’s studio opened and he beckoned me in, it was suddenly just another recording studio, and I had a one-on-one Welsh lesson to give, which is as utterly normal as it gets for me. Jessica was there at first, and we’d been chatting, and I felt very comfortable with her, and Jeremy looked familiar, and there were a couple of little Welsh flags near the microphones, and it all seemed oddly quiet and relaxing.

And when all’s said and done, I really rather love getting people to start talking Welsh.

I’d been told that I’d have 10 minutes – and every now and then I’d glance at the clock, and another 10 minutes would have gone past, but I was in the middle of a Welsh lesson, and there was no way I leave a Welsh lesson unless someone actually drags me out.

And then there was the choir – which I’d thought would be stereotyped – I’d been trying to persuade them to play some Meinir’s ‘Gafael yn Dynn’ or Yws Gwynedd’s ‘Sebona Fi’, and I haven’t given up on that yet – but no, they were genuinely fantastic, squeezed into the studio, with the conductor cheerfully whacking me in the side of the head every time he started.

Yes, of course I sang along. But very quietly. I’ve done my time in a male voice choir, I know I’m better suited to mime than bass.

And then it was over – Jessica was standing in the door, looking significantly at me, I was deciding what to teach after ‘because’, and then only very slowly realising that they were serious – I was going to have to leave half-way through a sentence. I didn’t quite start twitching, but I wasn’t far off.

Ugh, I hate unfinished sentences.

But there we were – my phone was charged, I hopped on a call with Taro’r Post, caught Steve Wright for a quick photo so Catrin couldn’t accuse me of making it all up, and then it dawned on Jessica and me that while we’d been doing that, Jeremy had been up and out like a greyhound, possibly doing his best to escape from being forced to learn any more Welsh…;-)

I would have liked to have told him face to face how well he’d done – because he was comfortably in the top half a dozen or so people I’ve taught, and I think it’s important that people know when they’ve done really, really well. Particularly with languages, since most of us are conditioned to feel that we’re ‘just not very good at languages’.

And that was all she wrote.

Train home, my kids and my wife in my arms again, and back to the real world. London is lots of fun, but nothing can beat the slopes of Moel Tryfan, the views from Comin Uwchgwyrfai and the chance just to breathe for a while.

‘Does it make any difference?’ asked Garry Owen.

It’s a fair question.

I don’t know.

But I suspect it might.

It’s certainly made a difference to Jeremy Vine – we’ve got to know each other a bit (as much as you can in the hectic environment of London media), he’s thought about Wales and the language in more detail than he might have done previously, and he’s got a small bunch of new Welsh synapses that will never entirely disappear.

It’s had a clear impact for a couple of days – we’ve seen far more people sign up for our courses – which will all tail off pretty rapidly.

But it’s also built a bridge with someone who has a significant platform – so as a first step, it seems likely that there will be a naturally more nuanced response on Jeremy’s shows – born of his interest and willingness to learn – when the topic of Wales crops up in the future.

But it might – just perhaps – have done something else, too.

It might have shown us a new, extra way forward – based on friendliness and learning a little bit of Welsh – and perhaps we can learn how to build more bridges with the people who shape discourse in London, on that model.

And that might even lead to a shift in the discourse, and a wider understanding – or even a new normality – that of course Welsh is a cultural treasure that we can all value and support.

If that becomes the new normal, then we’ll race past the target of a million speakers without even breaking sweat.

Maybe my kids will get to speak Welsh because it’s normal, without ever needing to worry about whether or not it’s going to survive.

And that would be worth everything.


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