Identity thoughts (not footie)

Identity thoughts (not footie)

At one of the sessions on the Greeks that are punctuating this weekend it was pointed out that the Greeks would certainly not have called themselves that. The Graecoi (Bettany Hughes will sort out my spelling later) were a rather minor people who were neither central nor important to those of Hellas. This has resonance here because Hay, by bringing the media creme of England to the artistic aristocracy of Wales, puts the prejudices of both into sharp relief. The metropolitan English deal with the border either by pretending it isn’t there or by trumpeting their insouciant supremacy. They do what they have always done – take over: not deliberately or rudely but simply as a matter of unconscious course. They chuckle a little defensively at the Welsh they find here, harking back, as Norman Davies points out, to the word’s original meaning (along with Walloon, Vlach and Wallace in other Germanic root languages) of ‘the foreigner’ or ‘those we don’t understand’. It applies as strongly now as it ever did.

Meanwhile Wales’s great literary names – Dannie Abse and Gillian Clarke, for example – talk to enthusiastic but, it seems small audiences from this bulge of western Britain. Wales’ Minister of Culture announces the launch of ideas for the 2014 Dylan Thomas Festival, surely a major event, to a tiny crowd of quangocrats in the smallest tent on the site. Jon Gower, most civilised of BBC cultural commentators, discusses a century of short story writing from Wales to a similarly select group. It is as though both sides of the border enjoy their proximity, recognise each other’s value but blank each other out. As a Chilean Scotsman, brought up in Northern Ireland, London and Manchester but resident on this border, I’ve watched the phenomenon of mutual disregard with regret for 30 years. Of course it happens between all adjacent tribes with a history of antagonism but it is still sad. They miss so much that is worth catching.