The Times Rallies to Wales’s Defence

It’s rare these days that I read a physical newspaper, but on an early flight yesterday morning I lighted upon a complimentary copy of the The Times. To my surprise, on opening it up page 3 featured a map of Wales with the headline “Chef makes a dog’s dinner of Wales” – the article can be read online, though with a more prosaic title, here (but note that The Times has a paywall in place).

The article itself wasn’t so remarkable: essentially, the celebrity chef James Martin featured the Michelin-starred Ynyshir restaurant at Eglwys Fach near Machynlleth on his programme “James Martin’s Great British Adventure”, but made so many crass errors in the voiceover and the accompanying graphics that even English viewers raised their eyebrows. Pembrokeshire was shown on the map as covering most of south Wales, and assigned a “299km coastal path” which, if true, would have extended Pembrokeshire to include Somerset and most of Devon as well. Ynyshir itself was shown as being in the Rhondda Valley (where there is of course another, entirely unrelated, Ynyshir), and Wales was described as a ‘Principality’ which it has not been since the 16th Century.

One could lay into the hapless Martin and tear a strip off him for his ignorance, but sadly we’re so used to this sort of thing that it doesn’t come as a surprise. Ignorance it is, though, and there is no excuse for it.

The Times Editorial

What struck me much more was the fact that the Times carried the subject beyond its already-prominent article on page 3 to its main Editorial. This was astonishingly enlightened, and good enough to quote in its entirety:

Wales covers 8,000 square miles and has 750 miles of coastline. To some residents of the rest of the United Kingdom, this is terra incognita. In the ITV series James Martin’s Great British Adventure, the eponymous presenter, a television chef, revealed an idiosyncratic grasp of Wales’s topography this week. His map showed the county of Pembrokeshire as covering all of south Wales, whereas it is just the far southwest corner. And the programme claimed that Ynyshir in on the west coast near Aberystwyth, when it is just above Cardiff.” (Note: this contradicts the article on page 3, which said the error was the other way around; I’m not inclined to watch the programme and see which is right. Anyway, to continue…)

“Anyone can make a mistake but Welsh viewers are entitled to expect media figures to do their homework. It’s not just a matter of pedantry or even manners. There’s a history of incomprehension and outsiders should be sensitive to it.

“It is more than half a millennium since Henry Tudor, a Welshman, was crowned King of England. His son, Henry VIII, initiated the Act of Union between England and Wales in 1536. Yet in the centuries since, Wales has not always been perceived as the equal partner it should be.

“The most distinctive feature of the Welsh identity is its language, which is the oldest (at least in the form of its ancestor, Brittonic Celtic) in the British Isles. Yet in the 19th Century there was a determined effort to stigmatise it and stamp it out. Some schools made use of a small piece of wood, known as a Welsh Not, as a badge of shame for any child who was overheard speaking Welsh.

“A few Victorian pioneers, fearing for the survival of their culture, made the transatlantic crossing from Wales to Patagonia, where they established a Welsh-speaking community that survives to this day. The influence of William Gladstone was crucial in removing persecutions and creating new Welsh institutions, including a national library. Television presenters will certainly be welcome to visit it before they write their scripts.”

I’m not usually much of a fan of The Times but Hear! Hear! to that.

An Equal Partnership

I was particularly struck by the paragraph ending “…the equal partner it should be”. If that were the case, then rather than worrying about the erosion of Welsh within Wales we’d be promoting its use across England. It so happens that the country I was flying home from yesterday was Canada, where in order to keep the Quebecois on board they have adopted French as an official language across the whole of the country, far beyond Quebec’s borders and even in areas where the majority of the population are Asians.  People who are serious about keeping Wales within the UK should be arguing for precisely this if they are to be true to history.

Yet I can’t see how having Welsh road signs in Essex and Welsh documents circulating in the civil service corridors of Whitehall and Walthamstow would help to raise living standards in Ynyshir, Eglwys Fach or anywhere else in Wales. Therefore, here in Gwlad we shall continue to make the case for independence as the one way that Wales can realistically achieve living standards on a par with the rest of the developed world, and hold its head high as a truly equal partner among its neighbours.

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