In the Welsh Valleys
-- Please note -- Postings may be severely delayed over the coming 10 days -- Northern Ireland and Bask Country previously suffered from my strict one-year travel schedule, and so does Wales. This is my second and last day in Wales, and I realise that I should have allowed more time to cover Europe`s smaller countries. In an attempt to find out some more about Welsh life, its pleasures and challenges, I took a train out of the capital to have a look in The Valleys and see what life is like beyond the northern borders of the capital.
I have been recommended to go to Pontypridd on a day trip and arrive there on a train from Cardiff in the early afternoon. From the station, one main shopping streets runs through the centre right to the end of the city. The shops are neither classy nor trendy. Most of them are of the All-for-one-pound or even second-hand kind. What used to be one of the centres of the Welsh mining industry, known for its big city market, has turned into a provincial suburb of Cardiff. It has secondary schools and even a university, but it`s hard to find people aged between 20 and 30. Only a handful of young mothers represent an entire age group, of which most members have moved away to the bigger cities.
..explains that it`s not easy to start a life outside the Valleys
Cost of living
Ian (32, photo) explains that Pontypridd has hardly got any employment options for youngsters: `They either work in shops, in call centres or in nursing, but there is not a lot to do around here. I myself am a truck driver and need to travel back and forth to Cardiff every day. Fortunately, the train connection is quite good. It allows me to stay in the valley, because the prices of apartments in Cardiff are impossibly high. Many people are forced to stay here, because only the lucky few who find a really good job are able to pay Cardiff-level rents. Or even beers, everything is just so much more expensive in Cardiff.`
According to Hywel (23), England is not a favourite alternative to find a job. `We don`t like the English. They look down on us, as do some groups of immigrants. We always support any rugby team playing against England and very few people would give up their lives in Wales to make a living across the border. There are also frequent fights with English people living here in the valleys, or with kebab shop owners. We feel like they do not respect our culture and sometimes, particularly when both sides are drunk, it`s hard to avoid a fight. But it`s always man fights, no stabbings or shootings.`
Lewis (19) thinks the problems Pontypridd is facing are the same as everywhere else. `You get bored wherever you are. There may not be lots to do but it`s an alright place for living. The swimming pool closed down and there is not much amusement other than pubs and clubs. But at least, people don`t ignore each other, like they do in London. They work hard and are conscious about what they do. And if you travel further noth or west, you will find that the people get even friendlier and more welcoming than here. Welsh people know how to value things, we don`t always need more and more.`
One exception to that, according to Johnny (20) is sex: `it`s not a matter of which girl you sleep with, but simply how many. I`ve had 10 now. Finding girls is quite easy, especially when everybody is drunk, which to me happens every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and during one night of playing billiard throughout the week. When I`m sober, I go for a 6 or a 7 [out of 10], but when I`m drunk, I`ll settle for a 3 or 4. One problem: everybody knows each other, especially further up the valley. By the time I want to find somebody to live with, I will try and find one from the other valley, because I don`t like to know if she has slept with many boys before me.`
Johnny`s friends are happy to agree that such is the common standard for young boys in the valley and it perfectly explains why there are so many mothers with children in town. `That`s what sometimes happens when people are drunk: they don`t pay too much attention.` Rhydian (19) tells me that when he was in secondary school, 30 out of 200 girls from the same year had a child before they turned 20.
More so than having a baby, getting married is one of the few ways for people to move out to live on their own. Once again, they are restricted to the Valley area, because housing, public transportation and going out in Cardiff are way too expensive. Housing and beer can cost up to three times as much as it does in the Valleys. Thanks to the heritage of this area as a mining region, we fortunately have an efficient railway system, so Pontypriddians can easily commute to Cardiff. There is a train every 20 minutes, which only takes half an hour to get to the very city centre.
Rest of Wales
As said, I wish I had sufficient time to also discover the north-western part of Wales. By alternative, I will describe what people have been telling me about this region so far. For a start, North and West Wales are rather mountainous, rainy and green. Sheep populate the hilly slopes, while numerous castles revive the spirit of medieval battles between England and Wales. Villages tend to be isolated from one another which explains people`s strong sense of community within their small social circle. Inhabitants are said to be very friendly and welcoming, although some also suggest that they may have racist and separatist sympathies. Either way, they
Much more than in the South, the Welsh language flourishes in the rest of the country. Many people in the North and West use Welsh as their main language of conversation, which makes quite a change from the southern areas. State schools all over Wales offer all courses in Welsh, but kids from populated areas are more likely to speak English with each other outside school hours. But among friends or at any occasion outside school, the kids from the populated areas are more likely to speak English.
One sentiment that does keep all the isolated areas together is the strong sense of Welsh identity, combined with the fear of having to become English. Rural or metropolitan, supporter of Cardiff or Swansea football team ? all Welsh feel equally Welsh, united and strong when their country is compared to England.
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