Mischievous Black Cat To Inspire People To Learn Welsh!
By AmeriCymru, 2019-05-08
Teach Your Cat Welsh has been developed due to the huge popularity of the dog version, as well as numerous requests by cat-lovers who are learning Welsh!
“The popularity of the series has been amazing! I was thrilled when Teach Your Dog Welsh was re-printed for the first time – but I’m amazed that it’s been reprinted three more times since! A lot of cat lovers approached me personally or contacted me over social media asking if there’d be a cat version of the book,” says author and illustrator Anne Cakebread.
The mischievous black cat in the book, who – unlike the very obedient dog in Teach Your Dog Welsh – often ignores instructions, has been inspired by two cats: one being Chanel, the cat of Anne Cakebread’s two nieces. Mari and Elin are thrilled to have Chanel in a book.
“Chanel made a lovely model as she’s nice and plump and full of character,” said Anne Cakebread. “The other cat that inspired the personality is the local black tom cat with yellow eyes who prowls and hunts around the old Abbey ruins, and is a bit of a legend here in St Dogmaels. He’s a seriously tough character!”
Originally from Cardiff, Anne and her partner moved to St Dogmaels on the west Wales coast. She wanted to improve her Welsh as it was important to her to become part of the lively Welsh-speaking community in the area.
“I first had to unlearn the Welsh I'd been taught in school as it's nothing like the Welsh people speak here. That's why I've made the expressions in the book colloquial, as a large part of learning is listening to what people say around you.”
The original book was inspired by Frieda, a rescue whippet, who only understood Welsh commands when she was first homed with Anne and her partner. Slowly, whilst dealing with Frieda, Anne realised that she was overcoming her nerves about speaking Welsh aloud by talking to the dog, and her Welsh was improving as a result – this gave her the idea of creating a book to help other would-be learners whilst also using her skills as an illustrator.
Summoning up the confidence to use a language you’re learning can be daunting at first, and a number of books are available to help with vocabulary and pronunciation, but the light hearted context and the beautiful illustrations mean that this book is a bit out of the ordinary. Lefi Gruffudd from Y Lolfa says:
“This book is both a practical and a fun way to practise Welsh, and hopefully it will be a useful resource to Welsh learners.”
Carolyn Hodges, Head of English Publishing at Y Lolfa, who developed language-teaching materials for Oxford University Press for many years, said: “Some people have a bad experience of learning Welsh at school and that puts them off trying again as adults. One of the key factors in motivating someone to start learning and using a new language is to make it enjoyable. Teach Your Cat Welsh really brings the language to life and makes it fun – it’s a really positive (re)introduction to this wonderful language.”
“It was particularly fun for me to edit the book as I started learning Welsh on my own in Oxford, where the only ‘person’ I had to practise on was my cat! This book would have been really useful!”
There are plans to expand the Teach Your Cat Welsh and Teach Your Dog Welsh series to include translations into other minority languages including Cornish and Irish. Teach Your Dog Māori is already available as an e-book, and there will be a special travel edition teaching Japanese to coincide with the Rugby World Cup in the autumn.
Anne Cakebread is a freelance illustrator with over 20 years’ experience in publishing and TV, including cover art and illustrations for numerous books, magazines and adverts. She also illustrated sets and props for Boomerang on S4C’s award-winning ABC. She grew up and went to school in Radyr, Cardiff and now lives with her partner, two whippets and lurcher in St Dogmaels, where she runs a B&B Oriel Milgi.
Teach Your Cat Welsh by Anne Cakebread is available now (£4.99, Y Lolfa).
An Interview With Anisha Johnson: Winner 2019 WCE Short Story Competition
By AmeriCymru, 2019-03-23
Read Anisha Johnson's winning entry here: Flapper Girl
AmeriCymru: Hi Anisha and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did you first decide to start writing?
Anisha: I've been writing for as long as I can remember! My mother taught me to read when I was three and put a pencil in my hand as soon as I could hold one, so I was always encouraged to read and write as much as I could.
I was homeschooled by my mother my whole life, so I had the chance to write not just essays but also creative writing pieces for school. However, I wouldn't say that writing really became one of my hobbies until freshman year of high school, when I started to write outside of school hours as well. I started writing poetry first, and I finally decided to tackle the challenge of writing a novel when I participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2015. After that I set myself the goal of writing a novel every year, and I've continued to write short stories and poetry since then.
AmeriCymru: What is your writing process? Do you rely largely on observation or are your stories pure products of the imagination?
Anisha: Both, actually, although I would say that the latter is usually more prevalent. I've been writing a lot of historical fiction lately, which has seemed to require more observation and research than imagination, but whenever I write fantasy, short stories, or poetry, I tend to write from my own imagination as much as I can. As fantasy is usually my genre of choice, I spend a lot of time with my eyes shut just thinking about various possibilities and ideas (this is usually what I'm doing when I'm caught daydreaming). I feel obligated to think of all my worlds and characters completely on my own, because it somehow seems like cheating to borrow from something that I saw in real life (that being said, if I'm really stuck and desperately need inspiration, I tend to get it from my writer friends. I’ll tell them about my ideas and ask them to pitch in and give ideas of their own, and sometimes by the end of these conversations the story has changed completely!).
My writing process is very haphazard. I hate writing outlines, so I usually just trust myself to remember all of my ideas, although sometimes if I have an idea for a particular line or scene I'll write it down in a document full of notes related to that particular writing project. For all of my novels, I basically just have these twenty-page long documents full of random ideas and pieces of dialogue, that I scroll through periodically to remind myself. It's complete chaos, but it's worked for me so far. And it's very gratifying to finish writing a novel and delete the last random idea from my notes, knowing that I have incorporated everything I wanted to into the book.
I also try to write for at least an hour a day (even if I'm writing trash! Writing stuff that I know I'll throw away later is better than writing nothing at all, and many of my best ideas have come from short stories or false starts that were eventually deleted). Discipline is a very important part of my writing process. Consequently, I don't usually write out-of-sequence; I like to write all of my scenes in the order that they're going to appear in the final version.
I guess you said say that my writing process consists of organized chaos…
AmeriCymru: In his adjudication Mike Jenkins says:- "...in the end I went for 'Flapper Girl' by Anisha Johnson, which really caught a moment in time very well." Did you have a particular effect on the reader in mind as you wrote this story?
Anisha: Sort of, but I didn't put as much thought into it as I'd like to pretend I did. I mainly just wanted readers to put down the story and immediately start wondering what would happen to the character next. I think that everybody has experienced difficult situations where telling the truth could lead to disaster, and struggled with the outcomes of such situations. It's easy to feel sympathy for people going through similar situations, and I had this in mind when I wrote this story. I wanted readers to feel pity for the character trying to make a difficult decision, but I also wanted them to feel proud of her, in a way, for finally choosing to take the hard-but-right path, in the same way that we all feel proud of ourselves when we do the right thing despite the hardship that sometimes entails. Other than that, I really just wanted readers to enjoy the story!
AmeriCymru: Have you published anything else? Where can readers go to find more of your work?
Anisha: Yes! One of my poems, ‘human’, was published as a winner in the California Coastal Art and Poetry Contest, an consequently published in an electronic issue of Chapman University’s TAB: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics. My poem ‘sometimes’ was published in the Live Poets Society of NJ’s anthology “My World” in summer of 2018. And my short story ‘The Fog’ was published as an Honorable Mention in Bluefire, the literary journal of the Leyla Beban Young Authors Foundation.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Anisha Johnson?
Anisha: I graduated from high school in June 2018, and am taking a gap year before attending Mount Holyoke College this fall to study computer science, film, and creative writing. I have several more writing projects in the works, ranging from novels to poems, and I hope to learn screenwriting in the near future as well.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Anisha: Thank you for reading my story and my interview — it means the world to authors like me who are just starting out in their careers! Writing really would mean nothing without people to read it. Every new audience that I write for helps me grow as an author, so thank you for being one of those audiences.
Malad Valley Welsh Festival - An Interview With Jean Thomas
By AmeriCymru, 2018-06-09
CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE EVENT WEBSITE
AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the history of the Malad Valley? What is the Welsh connection?
Jean: Malad Valley was named by Donald McKenzie and a group of French trappers who camped along the Malad River in the early 1800s and became very ill from drinking the water. Hence, they named the area “Malad” or “sick” in French. (They probably ate the poisonous water parsnips, but the water is pretty alkali and would taste bad.)
Malad was founded in 1864 by Henry Peck and his sons, who had a contract with the Wells Fargo Freight Company to provide wild hay for the teams of horses taking goods to the Montana gold and silver mines and coming back with gold and silver. They brought their families and several other Welsh settlers to the Malad Valley the next year.
By 1868 several other Welsh Mormon families arrived in the Malad Valley, settling Malad City, St. John, and Samaria. They had been converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wales and were encouraged to “gather to Zion,” which was the Salt Lake Valley. Considering that the English had usurped all the farms and mines, the attraction of free land under the Homestead Act was certainly a draw, too.
Hundreds of Welsh Mormons came north, stopping first in Willard, Utah, and then coming to the Malad Valley, which in the spring reminded them of their homeland.
Several years ago, researchers at Brigham Young University, beginning DNA research to trace ancient peoples, selected Malad as a starting point for their research because there were more descendants of Welsh ancestry in Malad than anywhere else in the world outside of Wales. They drew blood from hundreds of people in Malad and began their DNA research. That preliminary research eventually was sold several times and expanded to become some of the DNA-based genealogy companies today.
AmeriCymru: What is the history of the event? When was the first Malad Valley Welsh Festival held?
Jean: The Welsh pioneers brought their music and poetry traditions with them, and an eisteddfod started in the 1880s with competitions in choral music, vocal solos and ensembles, dance, and all types of poetry. The eisteddfod was held one year in Malad and the next year in St. John with judges coming from as far away as Salt Lake City. The eisteddfod lasted until the beginning of World War I.
People in Malad had talked for years of starting a Welsh Festival, but it finally became a reality in 2005 when the first Festival was held. A committee of 20 citizens interested in promoting and celebrating the Welsh heritage of Malad Valley planned and organized the first Welsh Festival in about six months. That first Festival attracted about 500 people. This year is the 14th annual Malad Valley Welsh Festival.
AmeriCymru: A tremendous amount of work goes into organizing an event like this. When do you start planning and organizing the Festival? How many people are involved?
Jean: After the first couple of years, the core committee members knew what worked and what did not although every year we introduce new activities and events. The next year’s Festival is already partly planned when the current year’s Festival is underway because we get names and suggestions for presenters, musical groups, etc., that we can’t use in the current year but that may be asked to participate in a following year. Everyone takes a month off to breathe after the Festival is over, and then plans get started for the next year with confirming presenters, musicians, etc.
We operate with a chair, co-chair, secretary, and treasurer and 26 committee chairs. The size of committees ranges from 1 – 20 members. In addition, many volunteers are involved as hosts and hostesses, drivers, guides, and judges. Last year approximately 200 people were involved in some way with putting on the Festival, including operating vendor booths.
AmeriCymru: What’s on the agenda for this year’s Festival? Any particular events you wish to highlight?
Jean: Our presentations are always featured. One presenter this year is Carla Kelly, an award-winning novelist, who will talk about writing her sequel to “My Loving Vigil Keeping,” the story of the Scofield (Utah) mine disaster in 1900 that killed over 200 Welsh and Finnish miners. The other presentation will be on traveling in Wales with anecdotes and pictures of places in Wales. To go along with that presentation, we will display “A Walk Through Wales” with huge banners with pictures of castles, landscapes, and other sites in Wales. Last year we started our poetry competitions – one for youths and one for adults. The crowning of the youth “Bards” after they read/recite their original poems will again be featured. The adult “Bard of the Welsh Festival” will be “chaired” in a beautiful Welsh Festival chair and will preside over the finale event and next year’s Festival. For the first time, we are having an introductory event when the Bard from the Festival last year will walk in, preceded by a “knight” and Welsh dancers. In addition, we have all-day Celtic music on the outdoor amphitheater plus three indoor concerts: a choral concert, a youth concert, and a piano ensemble concert. Kids’ activities, games played by the pioneers, wagon rides along historic routes, a quilt show and bake sale, tours of the historic 136-year-old Presbyterian Church, and community meals will provide fun for everyone. In addition, to celebrate its sesquicentennial, Samaria (a small town 6 miles southeast of Malad) will host several events, including tours of pioneer-era cabins, displays about Welsh pioneers coming to Malad Valley, a Welsh children’s farm, and other exhibits.
AmeriCymru: You are featuring a presentation on traditional Welsh dance by Laraine Miner. Care to tell us a little more about this?
Jean: Yes, Laraine Miner will be one of the outdoor presenters on the amphitheater. She will talk about traditional Welsh dances and use local students to demonstrate the dances. The students learned the dances during summer school and are excited to show what they have learned. Laraine is from Idaho Falls and is a well-known folk dance instructor and performer. We are excited that she is able to come to the Festival this year.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Jean: We are celebrating both our Welsh and pioneer heritage, which are intertwined for most long-time Malad residents. It is not an eisteddfod, but music and poetry are highlighted. We are proud of our pioneer heritage and want those early settlers and their struggles to survive drought, blizzards, grasshoppers, illness, and barren, sagebrush-covered land to be honored and remembered. Malad Valley did not end up being very much like their beloved Wales, but they persevered, and we are the products of their Welsh work ethic and stubbornness.
'Filming Owain Glyndwr' by David Barry
By AmeriCymru, 2016-03-26
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About David Barry :- David Barry (born 30 April 1943) is a Welsh actor. He is best known for his role as Frankie Abott, (the gum-chewing mother's boy who was convinced he was extremely tough), in the LWT sitcom Please Sir! and the spin-off series The Fenn Street Gang, He has appeared in several films, notably two TV spin-off movies - Please Sir! and George and Mildred. David is now an author with two novels and an autobiography under his belt, Each Man Kills , Flashback and Willie The Actor.
About Flashback :- "David Barry's autobiography spans almost five decades of theatre, film and television experience. As a 14 year old he toured Europe with Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in one of the most prestigious post-war theatre tours. Vivien Leigh took a shine to him and he saw both sides of her close up. One minute she was sweetness and light, and the next she became a screaming harridan as she publicly berated Sir Laurence. In his early twenties, he starred as Frankie Abbott in the hit television sitcoms Please, Sir! and Fenn Street Gang, and those days are recounted with great humour. Hilarious events unfold as he describes working with dodgy producers and touring with argumentative actors. His is a story that covers everything from the pitfalls of working in live television to performing with hard drinking actors. 'Imagine yourself travelling - as a member of the company - with a train-load of top stars to the great cities of Europe.'" Daily Express.
Filming Owain Glyndwr ( an excerpt from 'Flashback', reproduced by kind permission of the author )
Made for television back in the 1980s, Owain, Prince of Wales, was shot back-to-back, a Welsh language version for showing on S4C, and an English version for Channel 4. The production company was English, as was the director, James Hill, and the brief they had been given by S4C was that they wanted bilingual actors who had never appeared in Pobl Y Cwm the Welsh language television soap opera. I had never appeared in the programme, and I speak a little bit of Welsh, having been brought up by fluent Welsh-speaking parents in North Wales, so my agent suggested me to the casting director who was based in London. Normally, if an actor is not known to a particular director or producer, the actor is required to interview or audition for the part. But they were finding it difficult to cast some of the smaller roles in this costume drama, because most Welsh speaking actors had presumably appeared in the Welsh soap opera at some stage. So I was accepted for the role of Second Soldier merely on the recommendation of my agent.
When the two bulky scripts dropped onto my doormat a few days later, I immediately read the English version with interest. There was no point in trying to read the Welsh version, as I had lived in England since my early teens and my Welsh was now very basic. But I knew I could cope with learning six lines, which was all my part amounted to.
I had often thought this great Welsh hero was a good subject for an exciting historical drama. But as I slowly turned the pages, mouth agape, I became more and more disappointed. Whoever had written this, or conceived of the idea, seemed to be trying to create a family adventure along the lines of the old Fifties and Sixties series Ivanhoe, William Tell and Robin Hood. There was even a corny scene in the script, straight out of a John Ford western, where the hero exits a castle on horseback, along with his sidekick Rhodri, who spots one of Henry IVs snipers up a tree, about to kill Owain with an arrow. Rhodri fires one from the hip and fells the sniping archer, whereupon our hero salutes his friend and thanks him. Diolch, Rhodri. And how do you do a John Wayne drawl in Welsh?
Halfway through the script, desperately disappointed, I gave up reading it, and only bothered reading my own characters lines. I knew this particular film was going to be a sad, bad experience, but little did I know of the farcical events that lay in store for me.
A week later I caught the Holyhead train from Euston Station, and had been instructed to get off at Llandudno Junction, where a film unit car would meet me to transport me to my hotel ready for filming on the following day. It was there I met Martin Gower, the actor who would be playing First Soldier. Our characters seemed to be the comedy relief, a sort of double-act of two inept soldiers who end up being pushed into the river by Owain and his merry men in this travesty of a historical epic.
During the drive along the beautiful Conwy Valley we got to know each other, and I discovered that Martins upbringing was similar to my own, having moved to England when he was quite young, with a Welsh tongue that was terribly rusty. But we thought we could cope with our six lines each, especially if we helped each other out in the hotel that evening.
Most of the cast and crew stayed in hotels in Betwys-y-Coed, but Martin and I were quartered in a beautiful country manor hotel at Dolwyddelan, about four miles from Betwys. As it was unusually perfect weather, we became rain cover. Most of our scenes were interiors, so we were kept on stand-by in case it should rain. It meant that in those pre mobile phone days we couldnt leave the hotel and had to hang around all day, eating and drinking. It was such a hardship, tucking into a salmon freshly caught in the nearby salmon leap by one of the waiters.
When they eventually decided to use us in a scene, we were picked up by Mr Jones the Taxi who was ferrying many of the cast here and there. As we headed for the production office at Llanrwst, where the make-up department and wardrobe were based, Mr Jones told us that he had been involved in many films, most notably The Inn of the Sixth Happiness which had been shot in the Snowdonia region, where they built an entire Chinese village on the hillside near Beddgelert. Mr Jones reminisced about the halcyon days of chauffeuring Ingrid Bergman around the Welsh mountains, when films were films and they were well organised. Not like this lot, he opined. This lot dont seem to know what they are doing.
And to prove him right, when we got to the Llanrwst production office, one of the runners was gabbling into his walkie-talkie about some lost portable toilets, which should have gone to the current location, but which had gone in the opposite direction, and loads of actors and crew were now clutching the cheeks of their backsides tightly.
When I was kitted out in my chain-mail, I went to make-up, and was reminded that perhaps I had only been cast because I fitted the brief no Pobl Y Cwm appearances and a smattering of Welsh but was actually miscast. I was supposed to be a tough soldier, one of Henry IVs mercenaries, about to rape a fair, local maiden until rescued by Owain. The make-up girl stared with concentration at my face and declared, You look like Noddy. You look so cute. How am I going to make you look tough?
I suggested a scar, but in my balaclava-like helmet there wasnt really much room left on my face. I continued to look cute.
As soon as we were ready, one of the unit cars drove us to one of the locations, the impressive Gwydir Castle, a 15th century fortified manor house less than two miles from Llanrwst. As the film had at least been blessed by sunny weather, exteriors were being filmed in the courtyard of the castle. At first glance, a film set can be misleadingly impressive in a costume drama, and you almost believe for a moment that you are stepping back in time. Until you notice all the technical paraphernalia, or an actor in doublet and hose smoking a cigarette or tucking in to a bacon butty.
As soon as we arrived on the set, we became acquainted with some of the other actors, and noticed a strange atmosphere, almost as if the cast were method actors and resented the English production company and crew. We soon discovered the reason for this when we were told by one of the actors that he had approached the director just before they were due to shoot the Welsh version of a scene, and asked if he could change a couple of lines, as they were tongue twisters. But the director, apparently pushed for time, had said dismissively that he wasnt too bothered about the Welsh version and could they just get on with it. Of course, word of this spread like wildfire throughout the cast, creating a lot of resentment. Some of the actors had re-christened the production company Mickey Llygoden Films.
When the director heard this, and asked what it meant, he wasnt pleased when he discovered Llygoden translated to mouse.
Also staying at our hotel up in the hills was Dafydd, the location caterer, with whom we drank in the evenings; which probably explains our preferential treatment on the set at lunchtimes, when we were offered a surreptitious livener in our orange juice.
Dafydd, had an assistant, Tom, who helped with the cooking in the chuck wagon. One morning I noticed Dafydd was struggling on his own. I asked him what had happened to Tom. Looking over his shoulder and lowering his voice, Dafydd replied, Tom had to go back to Caernarfon to sign on.
Outside our hotel was a small station. The railway ran from Blaenau Ffestiniog via Betwys-y-Coud to Llandudno Junction, and one night the three of us decided to go to Betwys-y-Coed by train, and drink with some of the other actors and crew at their hotel. We would have to share a taxi back, and I had Mr Joness number on a scrap of paper. Just before midnight it looked as if the bar was shutting, so I went and telephoned Mr Jones to order our taxi. His number rang and rang and rang. I thought he must have been busy working, as it was now pub turning-out time. But when I returned to the bar, and told the barman that there was no reply from Mr Jones the Taxi, he looked at his watch and said, Oh, you wont get Mr Jones now. He takes tablets.
So we walked. The following day, feeling a bit jaded, as soon as lunchtime came around, Dafydd stuck another livener in our orange juice.
I never did see the end result of our film and my tough soldier performance. But a friend saw it, and I was told I looked rather sweet.
Usually, when actors work in a large budget made-for-television film, over the years they receive small cheques for repeats or sales abroad. I dont think I ever received a residual cheque for Owain, Prince of Wales, so presumably, and deservedly, it sank without trace.
Perhaps one day some screenwriter and film company will do justice to the Owain Glyndwr story, a great tale of intrigue, politics, double-dealing, love and war. Of course, as almost everyone knows, Glyndwr vanished, and nobody knows what became of the man. It was almost as if he deliberately created his own legend status. And there is no evidence that he was betrayed or assassinated, so a film ending remains open to interpretation. Now theres an intriguing thought, and its just given me an idea!
Filming Owain Glyndwr was an extract from David Barrys autobiography Flashback, in which he writes about a childhood in North Wales, and touring to theatres in Cardiff, Swansea, Porthcawl and Llandudno. Flashback is available from www.amazon.com price $14.95.
What's In A Name - Julie McGowan ( Guest Article )
By AmeriCymru, 2013-12-04
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Julie McGowan is a Welsh writer, living in Usk, south Wales. Her first novel, ''The Mountains Between'' was a regional best-seller on its first release and is now in its third edition, having received much acclaim in Wales (including promotion on BBC Wales radio). ''Don''t Pass Me By'' is also set in S. Wales. It was released in 2014 and has achieved great sales and reviews.'' Buy ''Don''t Pass Me By'' here
In this article Julie talks about nicknames in Wales:- " It’s a ‘gift’ which we here in Wales have had for generations - the adaptation of people’s names, derived either from a notable physical feature, or their personal habits, jobs, or pastimes. All done completely without malice, and with mutual appreciation of wit at its best, or silliness at its worst. In fact for many years receiving a nickname from one’s work colleagues and friends was a mark of social inclusion and a sign of popularity. "
Her latest publication is an anthology of short stories - 'Close To You'. Buy 'Close To You' here
Have you noticed how, in recent years, people in the public eye have been given nicknames simply by shortening their surnames or adding ‘ers’ to the end? So we have Sir Paul ‘Macca’ McCartney, and David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff. Or couples’ names are blended together, as in ‘Brangelina’ or ‘Posh & Becks’.
The boringness of these names is due possibly to our much more politically correct society, or else it could simply be that none of these people have Welsh families, because, if so, they would have been given much more inventive names.
It’s a ‘gift’ which we here in Wales have had for generations - the adaptation of people’s names, derived either from a notable physical feature, or their personal habits, jobs, or pastimes. All done completely without malice, and with mutual appreciation of wit at its best, or silliness at its worst. In fact for many years receiving a nickname from one’s work colleagues and friends was a mark of social inclusion and a sign of popularity.
My parents’ generation were past masters of the genre, with friends who included ‘Basketass’ – no explanation needed, really; ‘Morgan Bucket’, the origin of which I think had something to do with the shape of his head, and ‘Organ Morgan’ (no relation to Bucket), whose nickname derived not from a reference to any anatomical attribute, but from his musical performances at Sunday chapel.
Best of all, though, was ‘Titty’ Lewis. This chap went through his whole life with this moniker because it was claimed that he was breastfed until he started school. I’ve no idea what his real name was, but there is no evidence to suggest he ever minded this nickname, and, eventually, he was so universally known by it that no-one actually took any notice of its origin or its connotations.
Then there was ‘Gobby’ Davies – not, as one might think, a slangy reference to him talking a lot, but because he started so many sentences with ‘I go’be honest’, while his mate was known as ‘taters n’ gravy’ as he always said that potatoes and gravy was his favourite meal. Yet another friend was called ‘Bonar’ Thomas because apparently, like Bonar Law, the political contemporary of Lloyd George, he talked a lot. For many years my parents referred to a neighbour only as ‘The Widow’, as she moved to the area on the death of her first husband. They continued to call her this even after she re-married, so that her new spouse became confusingly known as ‘The Widow’s husband’.
The local greengrocer was known as ‘Up-and-down Mike’ because his prices varied so much from week to week, and, in my present town, an undertaker was called ‘Ted the Box’, while one of our best known publicans is referred to as ‘Fatty Keys’.
Many of these people are long gone, and with them, possibly, the ability to laugh at each other and themselves and the knowledge that to be given a nickname within the community was a badge of affection and inclusivity rather than the reverse.
My children, however, seem to have inherited the habit from their grandparents. One daughter always calls her younger brother ‘Fatman’, even though he is now very slim, because, as a toddler in a nappy, he resembled a sumo wrestler. He, on the other hand, calls her ‘Gimli’ as her small stature and wild curly hair reminds him, he claims, of the dwarf character in ‘Lord of the Rings’, and our youngest is known to everyone as ‘Titch’ just because she was the last in the line.
A life-long friend of my son is known as ‘The Ginge’ because of his auburn locks, and another is called ‘Dodgy Dave’ because he wheels and deals, even though his real name is Joe. Meanwhile, one of my daughter’s circle is known as ‘Chainsaw Rhys’ to differentiate him from the other Rhys whose skull didn’t have an unfortunate collision with a piece of machinery.
They are already passing the habit on, too. Younger daughter, convinced her sister was expecting a large boy, nicknamed him ‘Tank’. When scans confirmed a girl was on the way, she became ‘Tankini’, although we are all hoping a more regular feminine name will stick once she’s here.
It would be a shame if affectionate nicknames, bestowed with no malice and received as such, were to be sacrificed on the altar of correctness. After all, they haven’t hurt the likes of Twiggy or Whoopi Goldberg, have they?