Noah And The Wales

Typical. You wait for one visit to Cardiff and two come along at once.

Never having been in the city before, I guess I expected lots of fat Nessas from Gavin and Stacey shouting “What’s occurin’?”, maybe a few rugby tops, and certainly a Welsh male voice choir on every corner singing Delilah for a few beers.

The reality? Lots of Nessas saying “what’s occurin’”, lots of rugby tops, no male voice choirs, and just about the happiest bunch of people I’ve seen in a long time. Of course that could be because the Brains brewery is right beside the rail station, but I didn’t ask too closely.

My first trip, two weeks ago, was to host a stage presentation for the BBC of their Wildlife and Springwatch event in a park opposite the town hall. It was pelting with rain and freezing, but still the good folk of Cardiff came out and joined me, the TV wildlife presenters, and assorted tarantulas, snakes, rats and bats for a fun Saturday afternoon.

I know as much about wildlife as I do about fashion, or the fundamental postulate of statistical mechanics, so the presenters were people I didn’t recognise. They are a breed apart and talk about excrement a lot, and their idea of a good Saturday night out would seem to be to round up dirt from animals and pull it apart to guess at their diet. The first person to come up with a quiz show based around different types of the stuff will have half of the UK watching, or at least half of Cardiff. Maybe they could call it Whose Poo.

It was in Cardiff that day, two weeks ago, that something unique happened, something I have never experienced before. It was special and I’ll always remember where I was when it happened. I was in the back of a cab from the station and I asked the driver how business was going, and guess what? He actually said “great thanks.” I have never come across this before or since. No long discussions about the recession, government, taxes, the cost of petrol, how much commission he pays on his fare meter. Just a “great thanks.” He was happy.

It seemed everyone else in Cardiff was the same, a real happy bunch. My hotel was a typical salesman sleepover place, but it had a smiling bloke outside it on the street singing and making lots of money.

My second visit to Cardiff was this weekend, two weeks later, for a business trip, and the hotel was nicer, posher, more expensive, but still had the same busker outside singing his happy songs. Of course I don’t speak Welsh so he could have been singing about that daft Scottish git being back in town again and how he would get some money off him, but at least he dissed me with a smile.

In case I leave you with the impression that Wales is the place to go for a fun time, and you think you’ll book a holiday there, here’s a word of advice. Budget to spend twice as long getting around as anywhere else in the UK. Someone thinks it’s a great idea to have all the destination signs at the station, all the announcements, road signs and anything else useful, put up in Welsh and English. Welsh first, English second. What is the point of that? Looking for my train to London, I couldn’t find it until someone told me that London is actually Llundain. Fair enough. I wasn’t in a hurry, but if I had been desperate for the toilets I would have had to crack the code that Toilet is actually Ty Bach, which I thought was a bit of material for holding curtains in place.

The latest UK census reveals that the number of Welsh speakers has fallen in the past ten years to 19%. That’s despite millions of pounds being invested in their own Welsh TV station and the population increasing significantly. In Cardiff it’s even worse with only eleven percent of people speaking the language, which, where I live, is about the same as the number of locals who speak Korean.

So, maybe I’ve discovered why everyone there is so happy. Millions of pounds are being spent on road signs, telly, radio and publishing, giving jobs to loads of people who spend their days being paid to deliver something that no one wants. A bit like being Helen Flanagan’s publicist I guess.

Go see the smiling people of Cardiff soon, while the jollity lasts. They’re lovely folk and they all speak English. But take a sat nav if you need the Ty Bach.