les Davey de France

Alan and Pat live and work in Bordeaux. Alan is a pastor and Pat was a nurse. Now we work with UFM worldwide. Read on! (If you'd like to know what took us to Bordeaux, then start with the archives from September 2004)

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Yma o hyd

 I moved back to South Wales from Hemel Hempstead probably in the summer of 1982. I'd been sent for a few months to work in Cardiff anyway, and while I was there I applied for and got a job with HTV. About a year afterwards I moved to British Telecom where I stayed until I entered pastoral ministry in 1991. 

Our office was in the city centre and within a short walk, in a side-room of a concert hall, I discovered that Welsh classes were to be organised - one hour a week on Wednesday lunchtimes. I had long wanted to learn Welsh, so I thought I'd give it a go. It was good, but inadequate so I moved to evening classes with an extraordinary teacher called Ken Kane, then with a man named Chris Rees at the University.

At work some of our colleagues were local people as I was. My team leader at one time travelled down from Merthyr Tydfil each day. The 1980s were turbulent years, especially in some areas of Britain. After the unrest and upheaval of the 1970s Mrs Thatcher had vowed to break the power of the unions and, at the same time, the coal industry was to be closed down. This had a huge impact on us locally. Cardiff had once been the busiest port in the world, exporting coal from South Wales all over the world.

Things were so traumatic that we struggled to discuss it. For example, during the miners' strike of 1984 to 1985 some men dropped a concrete block from a bridge over the A470 onto the car of a strike-breaking colleague. He was killed. We were aghast. We all took this road regularly. And the thought of so brutally murdering a colleague was horrifying.

Nowadays some of my family still live in the Rhondda valley. The area has changed from the post-industrial grey place of my childhood memories to a green country park, with wonderful walks, lakes and streams, trees, birds and fish, and clean air. And, of course, unemployment, though people find work outside the valley in the industrial parks around.

The song "Yma o hyd" was released in 1983, sung by Dafydd Iwan and the group Ar Log.  It expressed a sense of defiance against the forces of globalisation that have, over the centuries, worked to drive the Welsh language and culture into extinction. Not just Welsh, of course. Cornish, Manx, Cumbrian, all became extinct. The regional languages of France : Gascon, Burgundian, etc, have suffered similarly, while others have done a little better, like Catalan, Provençal and Breton. 

By the time I learned the song some lines had been changed to reflect the conflict with the Thatcher government - er gweitha hen Faggie a'i chriw - despite old Maggie and her gang - but personally I don't think of the song as being particularly anti-English or anti-Tory, but rather expressing the struggle so many minority cultures face for survival.

For example, a Norwegian friend here once said to us, "I wish they would just abolish the language and adopt English. After all, who in the world speaks Norwegian?" "What about Ibsen?" "Translate it!" 

Now the song has undergone a huge resurgence of interest. The political climate in 2022 is very different from in 1983. The United Kingdom has other issues to divide over. Welsh language and culture is perhaps stronger now than forty years ago - well, the language anyway. 

Some Welsh people feel that the song is not positive enough. Resistance and dogged perseverance... well everyone knows the Welsh can do that! But hanging in there is not enough to enable you to thrive in the 21st century.

Maybe. But at least it gives you a starting point.

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