Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The WAG needs Carl

I've never been to Merthyr Tydfil. I've only heard about it, and nothing good. When people here say "Merthyr," they say it with a tone of defeat -- as if they are remembering the pain and frustration of being punched really hard in the stomach.

In my head, Merthyr is associated mostly with its name. Welsh for "martyr," I envision life there as a process of slow and constant suffering. The once heart of Wales gouged by the deception of industrial promise; and a moral tale of what happens when you refuse to let go of the past. Merthyr, in my head is what Wales was. Or, rather, it is what What Wales Was has become. It is that unhappy cocktail of failed dreams, and ambition deficiency. In my head, the sun never shines in Merthyr.

That's almost certainly not true. I know a girl from Merthyr and she is, in fact, an incredibly warm and genuine person; the quintessential big-chested friendly Welsh woman who complains about the price of bread.

But, even she will lilt her voice just so slightly when speaking of her hometown -- as if speaking of a relative who was fortunate enough to pass away before the police could press charges over his collection of child porn.

Then, on the train tannoy (FTYPAH: "public-address system") this morning came the cheerful song of a proper Welsh valleys accent:

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome aboard the Arriva Trains Wales service to Merthyr Tydfil! Our next stop will be Cathays; please alight here for Cardiff University. Please have your tickets ready for the automatic ticket barriers. Those of you staying on past Cathays, again, welcome aboard! My name is Carl; I'll be taking care of you this morning, all the way up through Pontypridd and up to Merthyr! I'll be passing through the train shortly, so please have your tickets ready. OK, see you in a bit!"

Carl made Merthyr sound like a magical place. Pontypridd and Merthyr! Wow! He made them sound like places you'd want to go to. More than that, places you'd be a fool not to go to. What's that? You've never been to Merthyr? My dear boy, do you but hate life? Do you detest puppies and pretty girls and freedom? What man with even the weakest grasp on sanity would refute Merthyr Tydfil?

I wanted to stay on. I wanted to have a chat with Carl. Who can concentrate on learning Irish when Merthyr awaits? Just the enthusiasm that Carl put into saying the name was enough to make me think: "I am going to take a day trip to Merthyr in the summer. I will read up on it and go see this place with all its history. It will be great!"

Imagine how the Merthyr-bound passenger must have felt: "Hey! I'm going there! Carl's talking about me!"

Clearly, Carl needs to be employed by the Welsh Assembly Government. His happy voice should be piped into all the trains in Wales, making us all feel that the places we are going are special and important; making us eager to visit those places that are just down the road.


Curly said...

I've been to Merthyr twice, but driven past it on the way to Brecon (and beyond) many times - I actually quite like the place. Funnily enough, the thing I most despise about it is the retail park that blocks the view of the town below. Cyfarthfa Castle is also a nice plus point in the area, in its dominant location where uber-rich Englishmen once looked down upon their workforce.

Owen Hansen said...


Carwyn Edwards said...

I went to Merthyr in a similar curious state as Chris in 1998. Merthyr was playing Forest Green Rovers at Penydarren park in football it was a crucial promotion league match. Some dodge english football league. It's a great place plenty of pubs and all I remember within the 2,000+ crowd was the police had to separate Swansea and Cardiff fans fighting each other!!!Any other place in the world when fans from clubs not involved in the game come together for a fight!??!?!
The things that make me proud of my homeland!!!

Isn't that famous fashion designer from Merthy as well!

Rhys Wynne said...

It's quite grim really, but at least they've got Rhymney Brewery (which is confusingly in Merthyr, not in Rhymney). A pub called the Echange sells it on the top end of the town.

My friend Phyl runs the 'smallest Welsh bookshop in the World TM' there (which no-one knwos about as it's down a side alley and there's very little signage to it.

Rhys Wynne said...

O yeah, maybe the town has the worst life expectancy in Britain (and probably highest unemployment, sickness and teenage pregnancy ratesetc), but a few years back, results from a survey wasn't all that bad news (or was it?):
White sock sales soar in valleys town

"A superstore in the town has sold 73,000 pairs in the last year, which works out at one pair every four minutes."

Anonymous said...

His happy voice should be piped into all the trains in Wales, making us all feel that the places we are going are special and important; making us eager to visit those places that are just down the road.

That wouldn't work in Blaenau Ffestiniog