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.