The upcoming Scottish referendum has got us all talking; mainly about how the concept of ‘Britain’ is falling apart and why Scotland doesn’t want to be friends with England anymore. But living in Wales has opened my eyes to the wider effect of Scotland’s cry for independence on the UK in its entirety, as I’ve been able to see the referendum from a different viewpoint.
On Thursday night I attended a free event at the Wales Millennium Center, run by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. Its focus was on the changing shape of Britain, exploring the overall effect of the upcoming vote on those ‘minority’ countries within the UK. With speakers, musicians, and poets from Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Northern Ireland and England, we went on a journey together through some of the most beautiful poetry and music I have ever heard. Exploring language, dialect, where we consider ‘home’, war, peace, and what will happen to the UK, we enjoyed an evening of bringing together and sharing different ideas. It was an evening of embracing others opinions and hearing them share their thoughts through a beautiful yet simple medium – the spoken word. Even when I could not understand what was being said (my Welsh isn’t quite there yet, I’m able to ask for a cup of tea, but understanding Welsh poetry is a little past my abilities as of yet!) I could still appreciate the tone and voice behind the words being spoken.
By far one of the best portions of the evening was the performance by the Welsh folk group Calan, whose music was so spellbindingly enchanting that for someone who doesn’t generally listen to folk music, it still somehow managed to stir up some strong emotions within me. I couldn’t leave without buying their CD, and am now desperately awaiting the release of their new CD!
My second favourite aspect of the evening was the poetry by Christine De Luca, a Scottish poet whose work was as charming and humorous as it was moving. I am already searching for her anthologies online.
Another thing I loved was that the evening wasn’t negatively or positively skewed towards any nationality. It was an unbiased evening, completely and truly (although the beauty of the poetry and music did inspire very positive emotions). No-one was saying they were better than anybody else. I’ve heard a lot of negative talk about England, and the closer the referendum approached, the more I have heard people talking about how England is pants (not to go into too much detail!). As an English girl, I found this rather offensive, and whilst I’m not overly patriotic, nor am I against Scottish independence in any way, shape or form, I did find the negative comments about England pretty rude and unnecessary. But this evening was talking about the referendum in a completely unbiased way, approaching the subject with interest and open-mindedness, exploring the beauty in the UK in its entirety. I really appreciated this approach to the referendum discussion.
But overall I think the best part was discovering a Welsh pride hidden within me. I am English, and despite often referring to my nationality as ‘British’, I am an English girl through and through. But what determines our nationality? The place we are born? The place we grow up? The place where we have our most meaningful experiences? Although I am English (I was born there, I grew up there), the evening at the Wales Millennium Center stirred up a pride within me, not only of the UK as a whole; this Island I call home, but of Wales too, of living here, learning the language, and of letting myself slowly but surely become immersed in its rich culture and history. My boyfriend and his family have a large hand in this of course, as they are Welsh through and through! But although Wales might not be the place I physically grew up, through studying in Wales and Bangor becoming a ‘second home’ to me it is the place where I mentally and emotionally grew up, the place where I defined myself and my place in this world.
Perhaps this was what made me feel so proud to be in Wales, to be living here and learning the language, or maybe it was just damn good poetry. But the lasting effect of that evening on me, the impression it has left with me, I feel is longer lasting than the temporary uplifting effects of a good song or a beautifully written poem. I feel connected to the UK, and to Wales even more so than I ever have before, and amongst all my desires to run away abroad, to travel and to see everything, my appreciation of other cultures and my contempt of my own, I have found a secret pride in this rainy Island, and a strong sense of ‘home’ (even if I’m not sure where on this Island that is…).
I feel very lucky to have been able to appreciate such an evening, and thankful to my boss who recommended the event! Although my heart yearns for travel and adventure, whilst also being torn between England and Wales, I feel even more connected to Wales than ever, and for that, I am glad.