The Western Mail
11th September, 1933
IN THREE WELSH COUNTIES
Search for Old
By GARETH JONES
a man be gracious and courteous to strangers it shows that he is a citizen of
the world,” wrote Francis Bacon three centuries ago.
Bacon was right Wales is full of citizens of the world, and I met many of them
when I walked through mining villages, along mountain streams, following the
border of Breconshire. and Carmarthenshire, across the Black Mountains to the
Usk and from the Usk to the Towy.
was a tramp in search of personalities. Before
setting out I asked myself: Has the twentieth century crushed the Welsh
hospitality and courtesy of the past? Has
our mechanical, age levelled men and women until they are all alike? Is there still left in Wales the Celtic fantasy and legend
which delighted our ancestors? Has
Puritanism banished humour from our midst?
answer to these questions will be to tell of the gracious welcome of people to
whom I was a stranger, of ‘the wit which sparkles in Welsh villages, of the
laughter which stilt resounds in Welsh cottages, and of the fairy tales still
told around the kitchen fire.
My First Encounter
now forward to search for the personalities of Wales to-day. My starting point was
Pontardawe, but I experienced my first strange
encounter when the bus was leaving Swansea and approaching Clydach. Behind me I heard strains of melancholy song, monotonous and weird, yet
not unlike a Welsh hymn in the minor key, sung by two men with high voices.
around, I saw two Indians, whom I greeted and questioned concerning their
drooping moustache, replied, “That was one of the songs we used to sing in our
village in Lahore.”
is it like in your village?”
faces brightened and one of them replied in his strange broken English: “There
are some rich farms there and much fruit growing. It is not like South Wales.
make everything in our own village, make our own cloth and the potter, you see
him making pots out of clay in the road.”
remarked that Gandhi favoured home industries and asked whether they liked
Gandhi. One answered with enthusiasm: “Gandhi good man. He holy man.
He fasting and can never die through fasting.”
other broke in: “I can fast too. I
fasted for two weeks and only had water and salt. “They continued to tell me of their adoration of Gandhi, how he wanted
India to be free and how he wanted the English to go.
do you think of us in Wales?” I asked.
Hindu with the moustache pondered and said: “Welsh treat us good. They are different from English, they are better, kinder, more friendly.
My brother here and me, we learn Welsh.”
and what have you learned?”
know ‘Bore da,’ ‘Nos da.’ but the one we know best is ‘Dim arian’
(No money). But we hope that ‘Dim arian’ will not be true in Brecon where we
now go to sell ties.”
conversation brought me to a town which appeared to be Fontardawe. Addressing
myself to a traveller in front I inquired: “Is this Pontardawe?”
no,” he said; “ this is only the outskirts of the town.” I resigned myself to a long drive through the suburbs, but thought it
wise to ask: “How far is the centre?” “The
centre is there,” he said, pointing to a four cross-roads only fifty yards
away. So, having wished the Indians
“Good luck” in selling ties in Brecon, I descended into Pontardawe.
I met, my first Welsh personality, and a tragic one he was. I saw him leaning against the bridge, staring aimlessly down the street.
Boredom was written across his face. I felt guilty at having good clothes and good food, and I remembered that
he was but one, of. many standing idle in the streets of South Wales.
approached him and found not revolutionary fervour nor passionate hatred nor a
desire to tear all the symbols of capitalism down, but a hungry apathetic
bitterness, without enough energy for passion.
is nothing to do, nothing, nothing,” he said in Welsh. “All we do is to hang about all day, waiting for something to turn up,
and nothing ever turns up.”
more effort should be made in this country to rescue such a man from the effects
of unemployment., I thought, as I tramped further on the Gwaun-cae-gurwen road
to Rhydyfro, where a more cheerful prospect awaited me.