3 July 2012

Taxi drivers, Welsh rarebit and being chosen to be Welsh

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Taxi drivers tell you a lot about where you live, says journalist Daniel Lloyd.

I’m not talking about the perilous junction on North Street, or the inside scoop on how people won’t dare venture to the King’s Head pub anymore since the new landlady took over. I mean the actual driver, the human being.

But before I go into a taxi cab tirade a few things about me. I don’t speak Welsh (it was brought into the curriculum after I left school). I thought Welsh rarebit was ‘rabbit’ until I was 20. I support Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, and for the last seven years I’ve lived in London working as a journalist. Giving up my spiritual home, language and culinary knowledge could be seen as ghastly sins in some Welsh eyes. Despite this lack of inherent Welshness, South Wales is my home and always will be. I just can’t get those rainy hills out of my head and heart – and couldn’t if I tried.

Firstly, Wales’ heritage is at the forefront of British culture. Whether it’s through regurgitated catchphrases born on ‘Gavin and Stacey,’ or sporting achievements in rugby, you can’t get away from Wales, or the Welsh. But despite all the plaudits we’re never that far from ridicule. It could be through using a clever bit of editing on Big Brother to poke fun of a girl from the valleys, a documentary on drinking culture in Cardiff, or tales of frisky footballers getting up to mischief. But the hyper sensitivity felt by other nations in similar circumstances is lost in the valleys. We embrace it and laugh with everyone else. We’re the passionate, welcoming, jester-like neighbours – the life of the party.

Living in London I’ve noticed that there is such a mix of ethnicities, there’s no need to embrace English culture. You can be Welsh, Nigerian or Croatian in the city and no one blinks an eye. Hundreds of pockets of nationalities can be found within the M25, find one, settle down and be at home away from home.

“But what does this have to do with taxi drivers?” you ask. Well, in Wales they’re similar to London. Some are cheery, some are sad, some are xenophobic, some get mad, but in Wales the taxi drivers have one thing in common, the accent. That thick valleys twang that you’ve heard on shows like ‘Little Britain’ rings through the Perspex glass from Swansea to the Brecon Beacons. I was brought up near Newport where the majority of taxi drivers are of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin. Yestyn from the local rugby club sounds exactly like Syed from Dragon taxis.

The point being that once you’ve set foot on that soil being Welsh isn’t a thing you choose, it chooses you. The infectious nature of the accent, people, and passion is something a lot of people are unable to resist. I’m afraid you can’t hide from it. So who is Welsh? Whoever wants to be, but just a few tips first. Don’t take yourself too seriously, be jolly, when England play Wales in rugby learn to hate those men in white for eighty minutes, oh, and Welsh rarebit is like cheese on toast, but better.

Daniel Lloyd

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