A Welshman’s Shed is his Castle?

Over the past few months I’ve slowly been working my way through the Scottish Gaelic lessons on Duolingo. The one I did this morning contained two sentences that gave me a blast of nostalgia for my Welsh classes nearly 20 years ago.

The sentences in question were Is toil leam seadaichean gu mòr (“I really like sheds”) and Latha sgoinneil ann an seada beag (“A brilliant day in a small shed”). While perhaps not quite as intrinsically exciting as Òbh òbh, tha leòmhann anns an taigh agad a-rithhist (“Oh dear, there is a lion in your house again”; a phrase that cropped up in a lesson I did a couple of weeks ago) — although admittedly the brilliant day one leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation — these reminded me of my first Welsh tutor, Siân.

As well as having bright red hair and a very vivacious personality, not to mention a lovely Llanelli accent (slightly at odds with the North Wales variety of Welsh she was teaching us), Siân had a slightly wicked sense of humour. For instance, during group oral exercises she would take great delight in asking somebody (usually me) to translate phrases such as “her party” into Welsh, where it becomes ei pharti. Suffice it to say that the ‘ph’ in Welsh is the same sound that it generally is in English — think pheasant or pharmacy — and the word as a whole rhymes with the English version. (Incidentally, modern Welsh also uses ‘ff’ for the same sound as ‘ph’, albeit not interchangeably, but uses a single ‘f’ to represent the sound that we’d write in English with a ‘v’; this also crops up with an ‘f’ in the English word “of” and as I recall that sound / letter combo used to be much more common in Old English).

She also had a fixation for garden sheds and would regularly mention them in pretty much every lesson, usually with an observation along the lines that every married man needed one as his special domain, while the wife ruled the rest of the house. I don’t think I ever had the pleasure of meeting Siân’s husband.

Mind you, I too had a bit of a fixation in those Welsh lessons, as I’d mention ironing almost as often as Siân mentioned sheds. Not that I was ever a fan of ironing itself, but the Welsh word for it (smwddio, pronounced a bit like “smoothie” with an ‘o’ on the end) is so delightfully onomatopoeic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it (the word, not the activity). As a result, any time we were assembling a list of words with which to practice whatever grammatical constructions we were working on at the time, you could pretty much guarantee that both sied (that’s how you write “shed” in Welsh; it’s pronounced the same as in English) and smwddio would appear — at least until I was banned from using the latter. I always thought that was a bit unfair, since Siân still got to talk about sheds regularly. Perk of being the teacher, I suppose.

Anyway, while I only had Siân as my Welsh tutor (or rather one of them, as we had her on Mondays, Jim on Tuesdays and Rhiannon on Thursdays) for one year, and then had two further years of Welsh lessons (with tutors Angela and Nia) before gaining my A-level and stopping my formal Welsh education, I have recently been working my way through the Duolingo Welsh course by way of revision of the basics (and extending my grasp of South Wales Welsh, to which the course is slightly biased). And today’s Gaelic lesson wasn’t the only one to provide noteworthy sentences. The Welsh one contained this little gem, which I’ve never before needed to utter and probably never will, although I think I can totally get behind the sentiment: Noson carioci? Basai’n well gyda fi fwyta malwod byw! (“Karaoke night? I’d rather eat live snails!”, though up here in the North we’d actually say Basai’n well gen i fwyta…, which means exactly the same thing).