There are many ways to support Wales. Some of them involve waving giant inflatable daffodils and wearing a Wales Rugby Union shirt, and some of them don’t.
Some of them will genuinely help Wales and the people that live here, and some of them won’t. Here are some ideas about ways to support Wales the country, rather than Wales the rugby team (you can also do both of course but I’m not feeling in a particularly charitable mood towards people who only do the latter, it’s time to call it out).
Normalise the idea that better is possible for Wales
We are pretty quick to get defensive if someone criticises our National rugby teams, and more latterly also our football teams (yes plural, cos we have women’s teams too).
Most of us aren’t so quick to challenge back when people criticise or undermine Wales as a country. People like your sister who might be Welsh, and my uncle who isn’t, but also people who really should know better, like our own politicians.
Its not OK to undermine us as a rugby Nation.
But it is OK to say that Wales is too poor, too incompetent or too lacking in vision/ initiative/resources to make its own decisions or manage its own affairs. We won’t argue with that. We won’t even put up a fight in that conversation, we’ll just take it as a given.
We don’t want to talk about inequality of opportunity, imbalance of power and lack of representation in our political union with England.
We’ll just see them on the rugby pitch.
How about, from today, if you care enough to paint a Welsh dragon on your face, or you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you sing ‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’, then you spend some time in the pub after, whether we win or lose, chatting with your mates about what you all really want for Wales.
Wales the country, not Wales the rugby team.
And while you are at it, make it a regular thing and just normalise the idea that better is possible, and that we can achieve it if we put our minds to it.
We don’t have to limit our ambition for Wales to the WRU’s definition of success.
Top ‘n tail
One of the many empowering things about our journey through the Euros last summer was the attitude of FA Wales towards the Welsh language. Their use of Welsh was positive, prominent, and promoted a culture of Welsh being for everyone.
Even Budweiser cottoned on…
This is somewhat in contrast to the aforementioned sporting body.
But my point here isn’t (another) dig at the rugby (which I still enjoy with the air of bafflement of someone who grew up in the part of England where you don’t really discover rugby until you move to Wales, cos you know, over there it’s a bit posh).
My point is that we can all be like FA Wales. We can all promote Wales by having this positive attitude towards Welsh, whether we count ourselves as Welsh speakers or not.
A friend recounted an interesting story on this topic the other day. He works for an ‘England and Wales’ body that shall remain nameless. There had been a to-do, because someone had organised a public consultation in an area of Wales where practically everyone speaks Welsh and had rocked up with all the displays and paperwork in English only.
As you can probably imagine, the shit properly hit the fan and they had to beat a hasty retreat.
They rearranged and went back another day, properly prepared.
But what interests me is what happened next. The head of this particular ‘England and Wales’ department, my friend’s boss, is new in post and originally from the North of England. He was genuinely quite new to the reality that Welsh is the first language of many communities in Wales.
But he thought it was weird and interesting that he hadn’t previously been aware of this.
So he introduced a small but powerful policy. He asked that all staff in his Wales team, from then on, ‘top ‘n tail’ all their emails in welsh. Whether they are Welsh speakers or not. And whether they are emailing someone in Wales or not.
Actually, especially if they are emailing someone in England.
Just try it, start with ‘Shwmae’, and end with ‘Hwyl fawr’, put it in your email signature.
Throw in the odd ‘diolch’.
Until recently I worked for an ‘England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ based charity. I communicated a lot via email with colleagues over the border, and more and more I had been doing this same ‘top ‘n tailing’ myself.
At first no one commented, but gradually, my colleagues in England and Northern Ireland would, some of them, start their emails with a ‘Shwmae’.
A few of them started to look things up, and when I emailed ‘diolch’, I would get a ‘croeso’ in return.
One colleague based in the Head office in Swindon started learning using the ‘Say Something in Welsh’ website.
Gradually they were starting to get it…
We don’t have to hide our culture away, it belongs to all of us and we should let the whole world know about it.
Fake an interest in cricket
(I’m not aiming for all sports related things here, it’s just a coincidence).
By this, I don’t mean fake an interest in the same way that my other half fakes an interest in football in order to get on with my Dad (hi Dad, if you are reading this)…
I’m talking about the ‘England and Wales’ thing.
So there are many other examples, but cricket is a good one. Because the team is this weird entity called ‘England and Wales’, but obviously, most of the time, people (like sports pundits) just call them England.
So, even if you don’t like cricket (and everyone can like the Twenty20 in the sunshine surely?) you can fake it enough to show an interest in Wales having its own team.
And you can apply this principle to anywhere you find something labelled ‘England and Wales’. At the very least, you can vow only ever to say ‘Wales and England’ if you are referring to something that genuinely covers both countries.
Next time someone quotes a statistic for ‘England and Wales’ (which may or not be made up) try nodding and saying, ‘Hm, that’s interesting, but i’m wondering what that figure is for Wales?’
It’s normal to deal with things at the level of a country.
Not so much at the level of ‘one big country, plus this smaller one tacked on, but not either of these other two, one of which is bigger and a bit grizzly, so we let it have more of a sense of freedom in case it gets pissed of and storms out, and then that other one, well we often just forget about the other one because it’s a bit far away).
We aren’t being forgotten, we are being smothered.
But we won’t fight it because it’s being dressed up as a big, comforting hug, without which we’d be horribly lonely.
So get savvy and fake an interest in cricket.
Pack your own bag when you fly, or ‘Own your story’
Maybe you were born in Wales, maybe you weren’t. Maybe you speak some Welsh, or a lot, or maybe you don’t. Maybe you live in Wales, or maybe you used to.
Each of us has a different story of origin. A different set of ancestors, and decisions made by us or by them, plus some coincidences and a whole host of other factors that determine where we call home, and how we feel in relation to the place we live.
The thing about your story is it is yours.
If you don’t speak a lot of Welsh, it’s maybe because you have moved here and you are too busy studying something else, or working, or learning English. But own that decision.
If you live here, but you don’t feel Welsh, that’s because you have a powerful story of origin related to somewhere else. So own that, and then own the part of your story that is in Wales.
Whatever your story, make sure that all the things in it were put there by you.
If you fly, then probably when you do, you follow the advice to make sure that you packed your own bag, and that nobody else has sneaked something in there that they shouldn’t have, that might hold you up in customs, or worse.
Your story and how you feel about Wales and being Welsh, is a bit like that. Make sure that all of the things in there are things that you have chosen, that you are happy with.
And if anything has been sneaked in while you weren’t looking (for instance a nagging feeling that those who speak Welsh or those who don’t should necessarily have any reason to feel differently about Wales as a country) then, well. It’s up to you, you can take that bit out, or rewrite it.
Nobody can tell you how you should feel about Wales. Not me, not anyone. But the way you feel is determined by the story you tell yourself about how you ended up where you are.
Own that, and then own what comes next.
Reclaim the ‘P’ word
It’s easy to know what’s going on in the rugby, because it’s one of the designated topics about Wales that it’s OK to talk about, both in the media and in the pub.
If Rob Howley makes a decision no one agrees with, we’ll happily debate it at length over a few pints.
But if say, Welsh Assembly Members voted to remove the right of 1,400 EU citizens to remain in Wales (the 1,400 ones without jobs, you know, oh, you haven’t met them? All the better then, it’s easier to blame people we haven’t met). That’s not the sort of thing it’s cool to talk about in the pub.
Or if many of our Welsh MPs voted against an amendment to the Article 50 vote to hold Westminster to the promise of ensuring that Wales would receive the same level of funding after Brexit (let alone our share of the fabled £350million a week).
Na, not gonna discuss that one.
So, my point is this. It’s not always easy to find out what is going on in Welsh politics.
And God knows it isn’t always very exciting.
But is is possible to find out what’s going on if you look. And actually, once you change your default position to giving a shit and actually talking about politics (as it applies to Wales, not the one-size fits all version that the London media dole out) then actually it does start to get you, if not excited, then pretty worked up.
I used to be into the rugby, I used to wear my Wales shirt on match day. It’s kind of too big, because my husband bought it me and he got one big enough that he could hand sew a (smallish) Wales flag on the back of).
But now somehow, I can’t be bothered.
When I look back, I think the reason I enjoyed it was because it was fun, obviously (pre children, we watched the matches in the pub of course). But also it gave me a deep sense of belonging within my new home, Wales. I got to sing ‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’, which gave me tingles down my spine, and despite growing up in Derby, gave me, for the first time, a sense of deep, resounding, connection with the culture and history and land of the place I lived.
In a way that God Save the Queen never had or could.
So for me, those rugby supporting years were formative. I was making new friends, practising my Welsh. I was, without realising it, becoming a citizen of Wales.
But now, since last June when this journey began (my own journey towards Welsh independence), I have a different outlet for these activities that connect me to Wales.
Now, I spend time with groups of people, discussing what a better future for Wales looks like. Groups of people who have come together because of a mutual desire for Welsh independence, and increasingly, groups who are united by other causes, but end up talking about independence anyway.
Now, when I sing ‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’, it is at rallies. Rallies for Welsh independence, but also women’s marches and anti-racisim demonstrations.
Of course it’s perfectly possible to do both, and the real reason I’m not campaigning for independence and watching the rugby, has more to do with the three small children in my life, and the fact that I invariably miss the winning try because I was out of the room wiping someone’s bottom.
But soon, everyone in my life will be capable of wiping their own bottom, and we’ll watch the match together. And probably, I’ll be back in the pub one day, with a pint of Rev James in my hand.
But in the meantime, something has crossed over in me. I’ve found some different places to be channelling all of that energy, all of that passion that I felt on match day.
So hopefully I’ll see you at an independence rally one day, you can bring your inflatable daffodil, if you really want to, and we can sing ‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’ together.
I hope we win today, but if we don’t, I think there are more interesting conversations we can have about what’s holding Wales back, than what’s going on in the scrum.
If you too are thinking that your passion for Wales might extend as far as an interest in the future of our country as an independent Nation, then check out Yes Cymru.