“I would like to go back to Wales. I’m obsessed with my childhood and at least three times a week dream I am back there” – Anthony Hopkins
After a comfortable night in the caravan and a full English breakfast in the morning I tentatively raised the subject of plans for the day.
I hope that he won’t mind me saying but my travelling companion is rather eclectic by nature and I knew that he had a lot of things that he wanted to show me but I was certain that he didn’t really have what you would call a schedule to follow. It was a tough thirty minutes or so putting a sensible itinerary together but this was essential because without a set route we would almost certainly have been driving all around South Wales in a completely ragged and hopelessly disorganised way and contributing thousands of tonnes of CO2 towards global warming.
To begin with we drove west towards Swansea because our first destination was Aberavon close to the steel town of Port Talbot and we come now to the question of the Welsh language because as an Englishman I confess that I am seriously confused about the naming of Port Talbot.
The Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith) has spent several years obsessively insisting on using Welsh place names instead of English; for example Cardiff is now Caerdydd*, Swansea is Abertawe and Merthyr Tidfil has amusingly become Merthyr Tudful and this is why I am confused because Port Talbot stubbornly remains Port Talbot, curious because it is named (wash your mouth out) after an English landowning family, the Talbots, who built the port there.
Let’s think about it. What used to be Portmadoc in North Wales has become Porthmadog and just west of Swansea Burry Port is Porth Tywyn, so following that line of logic Port Talbot should surely be something like Porth Turbot but whilst Cymdeithas yr Iaith have zealously removed as many English place names as possible Port Talbot curiously remains Port Talbot. But then, who wants to be called after a fish in any language
Welsh is a noble ancient language but the absurd thing is that Cymdeithas yr Iaith are so opposed to anything remotely English that when there is no equivalent (traditional) Welsh word they just make one up (except for Port Talbot). Last time I identified Tacsi and Ambiwlans, two completely unnecessary new words that have been added to the lexicon of Wales and now I present further evidence such as ffacs (for fax), garag (garage) and compiwter (computer) but driving along today I came upon possibly the best example of all.
We drove past the entrance to a GOLF course.
The game of golf originated in Scotland and is played all over the World. All over the World it is called GOLF, every country in Western Europe calls it GOLF (check it out if you don’t believe me – Catalan, Basque, Galician) if Scotland had a language it would almost certainly call it GOLF, but in Wales they have decided to call it GOLFF which is surely language revisionism at its most absurd.
I laughed so much I almost had to pull over and stop for fear of crashing the car!
After some confusion and an unnecessary detour through the town we eventually arrived at the seafront and a stunning three-mile wide beach, perhaps one of the best beaches that you could ever hope to see, magnificent golden honey-comb sand only just separated from a burning blue sky by a foaming white surf, certainly one of the finest that I have ever set foot on and I walked to the shoreline and admired the views that perfectly combined natural and built environment with the Port Talbot steel works to my left and the docks of Swansea to my right, a pair of modern industrial pincers surrounding the idyllic Swansea Bay and the Bristol Channel beyond.
I could have stayed much longer, but…
… of course my pal hadn’t brought me here to see the beach because there were more important things to tell me about. Film actors! Because Port Talbot is blessed by being either birthplace or nearby birthplace or the home to some of the film industries most famous people.
Richard Burton was born in nearby Pontrhydyfen, Anthony Hopkins was born in Margam and Michael Sheen (born in Newport) was bought up in Port Talbot. My friend likes these bits of information and we spoke about our visit to a local man on the promenade. “A shame you weren’t here three days ago”, he said, “Anthony Hopkins was here shopping in the pie shop”.
Quite frankly this sounded rather unlikely to me and I thought straight away that it was a little joke at our expense. I did some research when I returned home and it turns out to be entirely true, he was indeed in South Wales just a week before our visit. Nevertheless, call me a sceptic if you like but I somehow doubt that Anthony Hopkins, who lives in Malibu, California and enjoys a life of fine dining experiences, has any sort of fantasies about tucking into a Peter’s Pie!
We left Aberavon and Port Talbot and made our way north-east towards the Rhondda Valley stopping on the way at the village of Pontrhydyfen to see the house where Richard Burton was born and the pub The Miners Arms which proudly displays old photographs of the actor on his many visits home including a famous return in 1972 when he took Elizabeth Taylor to meet his family while filming the movie “Under Milk Wood”.
It must have been great to be in The Miners Arms the night Burton turned up there. Drinks all round and all of it charged to Richard’s bar bill!
I thought about this. Everyone has to come from somewhere, however remote, however grubby, however humble. I guess if I were rich and successful and married to one of the most famous woman in the world I’d probably want to take her back to my home town to meet the folks just as Richard did.
After Pontrhydyfen we drove to the Rhondda an area consisting made up of two valleys, those of the larger Rhondda Fawr valley (mawr large) and the smaller Rhondda Fach valley (bach small). We reached Rhondda Fawr and after an argument about the route headed north towards the Brecon Beacons. My route because I was driving!
An interesting picture, Richard looks likes he wants to get it over with and Elizabeth looks as though she is ready to bail out – “I’m a celebrity get me out of here!”
* I wonder if the Welsh Language Society are aware that there are five towns in the USA (in Alabama, California, Illonois, Maryland and Tennessee) called Cardiff and none of them are referred to as Caerdydd. If I were Cymdeithas yr Iaith I would be urgently taking that up with The United States Board on Geographic Names!