From Carol Browne
a few weeks ago I made a serious attempt at tackling a life-long goal. I have always wanted to learn Welsh and now that I am semi-retired, I have the time and the inclination to take on new projects. I already have a good grounding in French and a smattering of German but Welsh has been what you might call the Holy Grail for me when wanting to learn another language. There are a number of reasons for this. As a Brit, I believe we in the UK should value and preserve all our languages. It is a shame they aren’t taught in schools. The UK comprises four nations so why should English alone be the national tongue? Welsh is a British language and the Britons were here first!
Apart from the historical and cultural reasons for learning another language, it has been shown to help with cognitive function and to ward off dementia. It opens up neural pathways in the brain and is especially good for the mental development of children. Other languages can stretch our minds with their varied uses of syntax and imagery; it is a different way of looking at the world.
I have another reason for learning Welsh, however. This one will ask many of the people reading this blog to suspend disbelief. I did have another attempt at learning Welsh a long time ago. I was about eight years old and had inherited a bookcase with its contents from my great uncle. In it was a Teach Yourself Welsh book. So I tried. I desperately wanted to learn Welsh because being Welsh was an obsession of mine. Coincidentally, all my family holidays were spent in Wales as we weren’t too far from the Welsh border. Trust me, once you cross that border you feel different. There is something a bit magical about Wales. Druids, castles, dragons, yes! But the whole ethos of that country feels otherworldly. The beaches are gorgeous too and there are stunning waterfalls and lush woodland that seem to be a natural haunt for the faerie folk.
My attempt at learning Welsh on my own at such a young age was a failure. I could write the words but had no idea how to say them. No Internet then. There were no evening classes and no college courses in Welsh, even had I been old enough to attend. I was forced to abandon the attempt. But my obsession with Wales persisted. I didn’t just want to speak Welsh; I wanted to be Welsh. Being English instead actually caused me considerable depression. Bonkers! Why would a child have such outlandish thoughts!
Fast forward twenty years to a morning bus ride on my way to work. I remember it clearly. I was gazing sadly out of the window, thinking that if anyone were to ask me what my biggest regret in life was, I would have to say, “Not being Welsh”. Only one thought cheered me up. That evening there was something to look forward to. A neighbour and I had booked readings with a local clairvoyant medium. Although we both had an interest in spiritual and esoteric matters, we had not been to a medium before and it was a bit of a giggle; but I was not prepared for what I was to hear.
When my turn to sit with the medium came, she told me about my present life and quite a few things that would happen in my future (I dismissed them at the time but they all came to pass!). She said that I could ask her some questions before I left. Something prompted me to say, “Can you see people’s past lives?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I can see some of yours. In your most recent past life you were Welsh.”
Yep, I almost fell off the chair! How could she know I was obsessed with being Welsh? Nobody knew that!
She went on to tell me I was a woman with a smallholding in Maesteg, South Wales, and I loved animals but didn’t like human society so lived like a recluse. She said, unfortunately, I had brought that vibration with me to this lifetime (I have. My bad, but it wasn’t a conscious decision!). I died of cancer in about 1874.
“One day, you will go back to Maesteg and recognise where you used to live,” she went on.
So far, I haven’t made it to Maesteg, but you never know.
The funny thing is, as soon as she told me I had been Welsh, my obsession with being Welsh evaporated along with the sadness. Something lifted and I was content with my Englishness from that point on. Fortunately, my love for Wales and the language did not go away. Now, thanks to Duolingo, I am learning Welsh and I know how to pronounce it this time, so I have more chance of success.
For all those years before that clairvoyant released me from my past-life enchantment, I endured an inexplicable longing for a place with which I felt a profound but irrational bond. It was nostalgia for a home that no longer existed and a sense of deep sorrow and regret to have lost it. I experienced something for which there is no word in English.
But there is a word that encapsulates all of those feelings. The word is hiraeth. It’s Welsh, of course!
Here’s a brief intro to my latest book. I hope you enjoy it.
An elf laments a passing era,
But truth and beauty will survive,
For they live on in stories and verses,
And in our imaginations thrive.
Nature, nostalgia, mystery and magic,
In twisty tales and poems that rhyme,
Are here, with myth and fantasy blended,
To capture another place and time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Once upon a time a little girl wrote a poem about a flower.
Impressed, her teacher pinned it to the wall and, in doing so, showed the child which path to follow.
Over the years poems and stories flowed from her pen like magic from a wizard’s wand.
She is much older now, a little wiser too, and she lives in rural Cambridgeshire, where there are many trees to hug.
But inside her still is that little girl who loved Nature and discovered the magic of words.
She hopes to live happily ever after.