Today is March 1st, St David’s day. Or Dydd Dewi Sant in Welsh. I’ve seen lots of social media posts wanting pictures of Welshies. I could spam you with that, so I thought I’d do a post on something a little different.
I grew up in Wales, granted it wasn’t a particularly Welsh part of Wales, being only a stones throw from England. As my primary school teacher used to say, I “could put one foot in England and one foot in Wales” I lived so close to the border. We did the curriculum minimum Welsh lessons, mainly because it had only just become compulsory and our teachers had to learn Welsh in order to teach us!
All I remember from twelve years of Welsh lessons are random phrases such as “mae’n heulog” (it’s sunny), “Pam?” (Why?), “ble rwy t’in blew?” (Where do you live?), “ga i ffindiau ty bach is gwelech yn fawr?” (please may I go to the toilet?), “diolch yn fawr” (thank you very much), “merlota” (horse riding), “cefyl” (horse), and “sbwriel” (rubbish. As in, it’s rubbish). Then there are of course, the words which are so similar to English you can’t fail to understand them – tacsi, bws, snwcr. It’s still compulsory to learn Welsh until the age of 16 in Wales, and I think the fact that teachers now have a basic grasp of the language means the level of teaching compulsory Welsh has improved. I have to say, that I think I have retained more Welsh phrases than Spanish ones, which I studied for a couple of years in secondary school.
In primary school we all did embrace our country and culture in March. On St David’s Day, or the nearest school day to it, we always held an Eisteddfod competition. This is a festival of Welsh music, literature, and performance. Each year group entered a number of competitions – recitation, handwriting, art, cookery (making Welsh cakes of course), music … there were others I just can’t remember them. I do remember one year in infants having to make a daffodil for the art competition. Dad and I stayed up late one evening crafting a giant free standing daffodil out of empty Stihl chainsaw boxes. It was almost as big as me! I coloured or painted it the appropriate colours and cut it out with Dad’s help. I remember the whole school’s artwork being on display on the stage (there were only eighty something pupils. Only 5 in my year) and the oldest juniors commenting on how good my daffodil was.
The best part about the Eisteddfod was the long assembly, listening to music and recitations, and waiting with baited breath for the results. Anything entered beforehand (such as the giant daffodil) was entered under a pseudonym so the result was always a surprise to everyone. We had certificates, and earnt house points which were put towards the end of term “scores on the doors” (a favourite quote from one of the infant teachers). There you go, another Welsh phrase – “ty coch” or Red House, which was the house I was in. In fact, I can probably remember the welsh version of “I can see a rainbow”.
On St David’s Day we were allowed to dress up in either the traditional Welsh lady dress, or in Welsh rugby shirts. With English unsporty parents I did no more than wear a daffodil on my school jumper. At the time, I felt a bit left out. But when the old photos appear on Facebook twenty years later, I’m secretly very relieved!
So I had the be content with wearing a daffodil. Not a leek, they weren’t as pretty. Talking of daffodils, let’s move away from primary school humiliation.
The five miles between my village (or more precisely, hamlet, as there were fewer than thirty houses or something) and the next village, was lined with daffodils. I’m sure I remember a story that a lady left money in her will for bulbs to be planted along that stretch of road. It is always beautiful to see each spring, and is definitely one of my favourite sights along the road. But did you know that daffs are poisonous? To both humans and horses. And probably dogs. So yes, don’t eat daffodils and don’t let your horse graze near them! I’ll just continue to enjoy them in the garden and along verges.
A riding school I worked at an ex-polo horse called Daffodil. As old as the hills, and with an interesting gait to say the least, she was the sweetest chestnut mare you could ever meet. You could lead the smallest child from her all day long, and she was perfect to hack so was a very popular hack escort amongst the instructors. We used to call her Daffy and I remember being very sad when she moved on, because despite the fact she wasn’t much of a looker, with lumps and bumps, and three unique gaits, she was such a gentle soul who had a niche job.
Back to the subject of all things Welsh! Shall we move on to the equine side of things? I learnt to ride on Welsh ponies, and will always have a soft spot for them. But I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I always think the cob part in the Welsh C and Ds name lets them down because many equestrians assume they are novice rides, plodding, and suitable for beginners. They aren’t. They’re very sensitive animals, who have a big personality so need a confident handler to keep them in line and to keep them confident. Unfortunately I see too many inexperienced owners and riders with Welshies who are out of their depth until they get some help to understand the highly strung, sensitive nature of a Welsh Cob. Then of course, there’s no stopping them because they begin to harness the full potential of their Welshie and have great fun.
Welsh ponies, on the other hand, are best suited to confident children and best kept with plenty of turn out and lots of varied work so that they don’t become too cheeky and energetic. They can be great fun all round pony club ponies, but they do need to be kept busy!