Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Being Welsh

I don't make a big thing about being Welsh, but there's no reason why I shouldn't. I was born in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, I lived in Wales for the first eleven years of my life, and (on my Mum's side anyway) all my relatives came from there. If Wales ever became independent, or at least completely autonomous, I would surely be entitled to a Welsh passport.

I am in fact third-generation Welsh. The connection with that country runs mainly through the female line. My great-grandmother was a long-lived lady named Laura Amelia Gould, who was born in Liverpool in 1860, ended up in Newport in South Wales, and married a Swedish sailor called Carl Johan Carlson. Here she is, around 1880, when aged 20:

My grandmother, Eva Johanna Carlson, was born in Newport in 1894, and was the first Welsh-born person in my lineage. She married a person called William Edward Thomas - he sounds rather Welsh to me - who was an Employment Officer in the then Ministry of Labour. They eventually separated, and he went off to London, and contact was lost. I never knew my grandmother. She died of diabetes and other complications in the winter of 1948, four years before I was born. Here she is in 1946, at Mum and Dad's wedding, when aged 52:

My mother, Dorothy Thomas - no middle name - was born in Newport in 1921. She married my father, William Rodney Dommett, who was born in the West Country, in Devon, and was a Tax Officer in the Inland Revenue - although promotion followed, and he eventually became quite senior in the Department. Until 1963 we all lived at Barry, a seaside place south-west of Cardiff. Mum was very upset to leave Barry when Dad got his first key promotion, which obliged him to work in Southampton instead of Cardiff or Pontypridd. Mum had two children. She died of cancer in 2009. Throughout her life she retained a noticeable Welsh accent. Here she is in 2000, when 79:

Lucy Dommett - that's me, and just like Mum, no middle name - was born in Cardiff  in 1952. She married in 1983, was divorced in 1996, and never had children of her own. She changed her surname to Melford in 2009. She worked for the Inland Revenue from 1970 to 2005, and is now retired. Here she is, in a recent 2013 photo, when aged 60:

There, a continuous line of Welsh-born women that began in 1894 and is still going strong. I know what my Mum thought of me, but what about the rest? Who can say - although I'm pretty sure that they would have pursed their lips at the glasses of wine that always seem to feature in my photos!

Getting back to my main theme, do I really consider myself Welsh? After all, I've lived in southern or south-east England since 1963 - for fifty years - and although I've been back to Wales on numerous visits, I haven't moved my home back there. And although I can easily pick up the Welsh way of speaking, and at the time of writing this post - only three days after returning from Wales - the accent is still strong, it will gradually fade to the very ordinary English accent that I've used for decades past. Until I go back again.

Welshness is a tricky thing. Entitlement to certain things by reason of place of birth, and who one's mother was, is not all there is to it. What about close and unbroken contacts with the local community, one's schooling, the ties one's own children make, and the slow and constant absorption of Welsh culture? I haven't any of those things. Either I never had them, or I've stayed in England far too long. So long that other affinities have developed that seem to call just as loudly. I could learn the Welsh language: I had a grounding at Junior School in Barry Island; but would I speak it without feeling this was an artificial endeavour, as much so as brushing up on my Swedish, to reinforce my Scandinavian ancestry? And yet...

Where are my roots? That's simply answered: Sweden, and more recently South Wales or Devon. There are no other possibilities. Fifty years of moving on from Hampshire to London, and then around Sussex, have left me without a fixed abode. That's partly why I've been talking about yet another move to the West Country, to Devon, before I'm 65. At least it would take me to where Dad came from. Because a feeling grows and grows inside, that well before I die I must find that final place to make my home - that right place, the land of my fathers, or maybe the land of my mothers. But not sunny Sussex, whatever its charms and conveniences.

Visiting Blaenavon a few days ago set me off again. Cold, remote, unlovely, old-fashioned, untrendy Blaenavon with its plain streets and chapels, and little shops, and industrial relics and spoil tips - and a skyline to make you sing with delight.

I can see how I could make Devon my home, how I could fit in. It's much harder to imagine how it would work in Wales. I'd be such an outsider. I'd be excluded by fifty years of alien living from the intimacies and secrets of small-town Welsh life, especially in a place like Blaenavon. A little house somewhere on the coast, at Porthcawl, say - or Barry - would be more suitable for someone like me. But it would never be perfect.

Of course, some would say that, considering my personal situation, I'd be an outsider anywhere I decided to go, someone who would forever be debarred from deep-level community life; and because of that it wouldn't matter where I ended up. There's something in that.

Let's see what the next couple of years bring. Maybe fate will take a hand, as it often does.


  1. A bit risky putting all thhat information on the Internet Lucy. It makes tracing you much easier.....well I tink so. You don't know who might be reading it.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. A risk of what, exactly? It's much less personal information than I'd disclose on a genealogical site, and besides, I'm not interested in stealth. And the blog is supposed to be an autobiography.



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