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Torfaen Tales

When In Rome

He’s invited me home to meet his mother, so he must be serious, thought Fiona. She gathered up her handbag and shopping as the bus neared her stop. The new man in her life occupied her thoughts as she walked the short distance to her little flat. Once inside, she went into her bedroom and tried on the new dress she’d bought for her first meeting with Rhys’s mother. She hoped it wasn’t too low cut, for she didn’t want to give the wrong impression.

Rhys’s mother lived in Wales. She was a widow. Rhys had an older sister, Bronwen, who lived near their mother. Bronwen was married with three children. She couldn’t remember their names, for they were Welsh names and not familiar. It seemed odd that less than two hundred miles away a different country existed, with its own language and customs. Part of the same land mass as England, but very different in character. Fiona started to form pictures in her mind of a quaint village, part of a coal mining community. She had been to Wales on holiday as a child. They’d gone to Llandudno. Fiona remembered going into a shop and hearing Welsh spoken. This had probably been her first exposure to the concept of foreign languages. She had a feeling that she’d cried when the shopkeeper had spoken to her in Welsh and she couldn’t understand.

Apart from buying a new dress to impress Rhys’s mother, Fiona had also bought a book to help her learn a few words of Welsh before meeting Rhys’s family. She remembered how useful it had been to learn a bit of Spanish last summer before going on holiday, and how much it had been appreciated by the locals.

Instead of flopping into a chair and switching on the television, Fiona picked up the Welsh book and made a start. By bedtime she felt she’d mastered the basics of pronunciation, tricky though it was, and learned how to say hello and goodbye.

By the time Rhys called for Fiona on Friday night she had managed to put in a few more hours with the Welsh book. She didn’t mention it to Rhys as they drove through the night, as she wanted to surprise him as well as his family.

Eventually they turned off the main road and Fiona saw a sign indicating that the village they wanted was just one mile away. It was all looking good. Although it was quite dark, Fiona could make out a number of picture-book cottages and a quaint little bridge over a stream. Then they turned left, and within minutes were on a modern housing estate. Fiona felt a little deflated as they pulled up outside a rather ordinary-looking brick house.

Rhys opened the door, and there they were in the sitting room.

“Well, everyone, this is Fiona,” he said.

“Noswaith da,” said Fiona with a smile and a nod, casting her eyes over the assembled group.

Rhys’s mother looked startled.

Rhys burst out laughing. “Oh, Fiona! That’s very good, but we don’t actually speak Welsh.”

Bronwen’s three children were instantly hysterical with laughter. The smallest boy was even rolling on the floor, tears pouring down his cheeks.

“Behave, you three!” barked Bronwen. “Where are your manners?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Fiona,” said Rhys’s mother, whose name was Joan. “This isn’t one of the Welsh speaking parts of the country. We’re quite close to the English border, you see. The children all learn it in school these days, but we were never taught.”

Fiona didn’t know what to say or where to look. She took a seat and accepted a cup of tea from Bronwen’s elder girl, Mirein. The girl smirked and silently mouthed ‘noswaith da’ as she handed over the cup of tea. The other two children were popping their heads up from behind the sofa and pulling silly faces.

Fiona sat miserably and drank her tea while listening to Bronwen and her mother discussing whether it would rain the following day. She hadn’t really noticed the absence of Rhys or the three children until they returned from the kitchen.

The behaviour of the three children was impeccable from then on. They sat politely and spoke only when spoken to. Around ten o’clock Bronwen’s husband Merfyn called in to pick them up.

While Rhys’s mother was making yet another cup of tea, Rhys moved closer to Fiona and put his arm around her shoulders.

“That was so lovely when you greeted the family in Welsh!”

“Oh, please don’t!” said Fiona, burying her face in her hands. “I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.”

“No, it was great. What else can you say?”

“Um, mae hi’n bwrw glaw.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

“It’s raining,” murmured Fiona.

Rhys laughed. “Very appropriate. It does rain quite a lot. Well, I could see the kids were taking the mickey out of you so I had a word with them in the kitchen.”

“Thanks. Whatever you said to them, they were like angels afterwards.”

“Oh, I told them you were a witch. That you’d gone to Hogwarts school with Harry Potter, and if they didn’t behave you’d turn them all into ants and squish them underfoot.”

When Joan returned with more cups of tea, Fiona and Rhys were doubled up with laughter. Rhys explained why.

“I’ll have to threaten those kids with Fiona the Witch next time they get out of hand,” she said with a grin. “And you’ll have to teach me a few words of Welsh, Fiona. I hope you brought your book with you.”

by Karenne Griffin


Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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