- The Weather
There’s no other word for it. It sucks! A northern latitude (Cardiff is on a parallel with Calgary) on the border of the Atlantic Ocean is inevitably going to be stormy. This is weather that defeated armies! People often ask why it took the Normans a couple of centuries to subdue such a small country. The answer is very simple: soaked to the skin, firewood drenched, roads reduced to marshes that bogged wagons to the axles, and horses to the knees, that sucked the shoes off the men, it was the weather that again and again drove the invaders, as Shakespeare put it, “weather-beaten and bootless back.”
It’s not just the rain. That I can cope with. I quite like it, actually (well, I suppose you’d have to learn to like rain if you’re going to live in Wales, just as a Canadian has to learn to love snow!). The mountains take on a different, mournful quality, providing a backdrop to expose the curtains of water drifting between wisps of cloud.
What gets to me is the wind. Not a gusting breeze that stirs the leaves for a minute before subsiding, but a constant, relentless passage of air. It’s like standing next to a speeding train, except the train will eventually pass by. It inflates your clothes like sails, making it difficult to walk. It whips hats from your head. Umbrellas are pointless at best; perilous, at worst, dragging you behind them as you wrestle to retain your grip on the handle. The Welsh wind messes your hair, blows debris into your eyes. Clouds of grit scour your cheeks.
But the most discouraging thing of all is its ceaselessness. Hour upon hour, day after day, continues the onslaught, without relief but to get indoors, to stay as long as possible. Why are the Welsh so attached to the pub, rather than outdoor activities? Wales is gorgeous! But best observed from behind a window.
- Drivers Don’t Signal
It’s surely not asking much that a driver slide his hand a few inches down the steering wheel until he can go “click” with his little finger on the protruding lever. I’ve seen professional drivers and even police officers fail to signal a manoeuvre.
In fairness, this is a reflection of the courtesy of Welsh drivers – to a fault, sometimes. They make room for other vehicles. They allow you to go first. They yield when they don’t have to. I once had an accident thanks to a car that had the right of way pulling up to allow another vehicle to turn (avoidance of traffic accidents is the reason right-of-way laws exist!). But if everybody signals meticulously in other parts of the British Isles, such as the south-east of England, it has less to do with English punctiliousness than because they’re such aggressive drivers, you’re risking death if you don’t!
- One-party government
This is a strictly non-political blog, so I will say just this, without names. The welsh vote so religiously for just one party that it has almost no chance of ever losing power. No matter how corrupt, how irresponsible, how incompetent, how self-serving, and regardless of the number of fact-finding tours of the Bahamas that Welsh politicians feel are necessary, the Welsh people will reliably troop into the polling stations to cast mountains of votes for that party. In which case, why should it change its ways, or even care what the people think of their antics? Good government requires politicians to face a credible threat to their careers.
The thing is, put this to most Welsh people, and they will readily agree with you. But come election time, off they trot to the polling stations again to dutifully vote that same party another term!
- Celebrating Failure
From Owain Glyndwr to the national soccer team knocked out of the Euros less early than anticipated (and when did Wales give a stuff about soccer anyway?), the Welsh have a tendency to get terribly excited about doing less miserably than expected. Of course, that does mean that, when Wales does genuinely triumph, such as winning the Six Nations rugby tournament undefeated, the country is utterly delirious for days on end!
And finally, rounding it back to the original point, hand in hand with the weather stalks winter! Not cold as such; in fact, for such a northern latitude, our climate is remarkably mild. We generally don’t get snow in winter except on the high elevations.
But, having visited thirteen countries on three continents, I can declare, hand on heart, that never have I witnessed winters so gloomy, so bleak, so lifeless, so colourless, so miserable, that feel so long: the sun hidden without a glimmer for weeks on end, the chill damp that seeps through all your clothes, your walls, that cannot be driven off with heaters.
But then comes March, when for two or three weeks, the black iron sheet of cloud disperses and the glorious sun dazzles from clear, cerulean skies; and the Welsh emerge, as it were, from their hibernation, blinking in the unfamiliar light – and go a little bit mad!
The euphoria is palpable! People smile! People are happy! Their love is revived – I’d bet money there’s a spike in births every December! It’s not warm, but they fling open their windows. They lounge in parks. They take their children to jump and play in woods. It feels like the end of a horror movie.
Except that, in every horror movie, as we all know, the monster isn’t quite dead. Slowly, it finds a new malign vigour. It rises again. It returns to the fray for one last desperate act of malice, and this time, it’s angry! In terms of the Welsh climate, that’s called “April.”