Saturday, 18 July 2009

a rum do

on Twyn Barlwm

I got an e-mail from David yesterday, about the Idris Davies poem Rhymney I uploaded last week. It was short and to the point:

pronounced as RUM_KNEE an Englishwoman, albeit one who went to school in the Valleys, I hesitate to pronounce upon Welsh pronunciation. But... as I recall, Rh is pronounced differently to R; it is rolled, with lots of breath. Try reversing the letters, like this: Hrum-knee...

I once had to explain to Richard, by e-mail, how to pronounce the welsh LL. I found a useful description of it in my Welsh placenames book. "Like the TL in Bentley", it said. Which sort of works, although when Katie tried this explanation with some children in Nottingham when she introduced them to Llygoden, her toy mouse, they inserted a glottal stop and it came out as Ben_Lee.

Of course, there's proper pronunciation and there's pronunciation as it is pronounced. The locals were pretty casual about it in the Newbridge area, back in the 70s, and no-one spoke Welsh apart from the children of Mrs James, my English teacher, two of whose sons went to the Welsh school at Rhydfelen. So 'Celynen', for instance (the name of two local collieries: North Celynen and South Celynen) would be spoken 'Glennan'. This was in the Ebbw valley; I had the impression that things got progressively more Welsh as you travelled west.

Times change.

Here's a poem. I remember those hooters. (Nantgarw, by the way, is pronounced "Nant GAR oo") with the stress on the GAR, and a short 'a' sound as in 'ash')

Meic Stephens Hooters

Night after night from my small bed

I heard the hooters blowing up and down the cwm:

Lewis Merthyr, Albion, Nantgarw, Ty-draw —

these were the familiar banshees of my boyhood.

For each shift they hooted, not a night

without the high moan that kept me from sleep;

often, as my father beyond the thin wall

rumbled like the turbines he drove at work, I

stood for hours by the box-room window,

listening. The dogs of Annwn barked for me then,

Trystan called without hope to Esyllt

across the black waters. Ai, it was their wail

I heard that night a Heinkel flew up

the Taff and its last bomb fell on our village;

we huddled under the cwtsh, making

beasts against the candle’s light until the sky

was clear once more, and the hooters

sounded. I remember too how their special din

brought ambulances to the pit yard,

the masked men coming up the shaft with corpses

gutted by fire; then, as the big cars

moved down the blinded row on the way to Glyntaf,

all the hooters for twenty miles about

began to swell, a great hymn grieving the heart.

Years ago that was. I had forgotten

the hooters: my disasters, these days, are less

spectacular. We live now in this city:

our house is large, detached and behind fences.

I sleep easily, but waking tonight

found the same desolate clangour in my ears

that from an old and sunken level

used to chill me as a boy — the inevitable hooter

that paralyses with its mute alarm.

How long I have been standing at this window,

a man in the grown dark, only my wife

knows as I make for her white side, shivering.


  1. What a lovely poem.

    My mum writes as she speaks. Rob can't read her letters because he can't think with her accent.

    1. Think with her accent? That sounds like a question my brother in law asked a german work colleague, did she dream in german or english.

  2. the sound of those hooters was very striking. Sort of wheezy and low, and every one different. I was in Piraeus once when all the ships started hooting, which was really quite jolly, and not at all the same thing.

    The Bristol Short Story Prize was won by a story in South Wales dialect, too. I wonder if Rob could read that?