Monday, 2 November 2015

Rugby club men

I must make it clear from the outset that I'm going to be talking only about Welsh men of a certain type. It happens to be a type seen everywhere, and they may make up a significant proportion of the Welsh male population, at least in South Wales. I don't want to define them in terms of social class, though I will say that all of them would consider me an over-educated snooty bitch who needs putting in her place. The older ones might say this politely and gently, and with a wry sense of humour - for which all Wales is renowned. The younger ones, less worldly-wise, more brittle in their self-esteem, might say it harshly, with scorn in their voice and resentment in their face. Using intolerance as a shield and a weapon at the same time.

Not that I would ever do anything to provoke any such reaction. But just as I can detect their kind from numerous tiny clues, as well as more obvious ones, so they can pigeonhole me at a glance. We are not birds of a feather. A few years back, in Brighton, someone said to me that I would never be taken for an empty-headed fluffy-brained bimbo because my eyes gave me away. They looked much too intelligent for me to pass as a disco chick. This was, in its way, a very high compliment. Me, obviously intelligent? My goodness! Not many had ever said that before. But I knew what they meant. My eyes weren't dead or foolish. I had never believed they were sharp or clever eyes, but they were at least alert eyes that hinted at strong will, knowledge, education, perception, discernment, the judgement to resist guile and false flattery, and a self-assurance that would make me difficult to coerce or con. At the same time, those eyes placed me in danger. They made me threatening, capable of effective censure, a challenge to any man intent on having his way. Any man of the type I am talking about. But particularly any man who hated authority and was inclined to be rude to it whenever possible. And especially a man of violence, who would hit out, verbally if not physically, if confronted with someone he couldn't dominate.

There are many other eyes like mine in Brighton and elsewhere. Brisk, no-nonsense eyes in pretty faces. All of us likely to unsettle a certain type of man.

And, it seems to me, Wales is the place to encounter men who expect women to play second fiddle and know their lower status. They want to see decorative women, smartly-dressed even when pushing a buggy and child around town. They want to see their women at the shops, in the house, but nowhere else unless it's with them, or on their say-so. They want women who are good with children, and know how to make home seem warm and cosy. They expect their women to be chatty - but only with other women. They don't want a woman who knows a lot, and expresses her own opinions. Or is creative. Or better than them with words. They need to win every argument, because they, the man, must make all the decisions that matter. That's the culture.

They certainly don't want a woman of independent ideas - or independent means. Indeed, anything that makes a woman a force in her own right undermines their manhood, and if they do not clearly have the whip hand their standing among other men will be compromised. I'm trying not to exaggerate. But I do believe that the kind of Welsh male I am talking about is vulnerable to shame, and therefore acts tough to uphold their primacy. Such men often look beefy and muscular, not because they knock their wives and girlfriends around, but because it's a look that impresses other men.

So when they see me getting out of my big car, walking around the place unescorted, confident, camera in hand, meeting them in the eye, they feel it isn't right. Where's my man? Who is responsible for me? Why have I got what they haven't? Why am I here at all, where I don't belong? And their wives and girlfriends think the same. Their accusing eyes say so. Why aren't I conforming? Why am I independent? Why aren't I like them?

I'm going up to Treorchy this afternoon. It was once a grimy mining village in the Rhondda Fawr Valley. I last went there in 1960, when aged eight, in the company of the boy down the back lane, Peter Jones, and his Dad. We were going to see Peter's gran. The coal mining has gone, and I expect to find the place cleaned up, but something of the old atmosphere may linger. Last time, I found a pyramid-shaped piece of glass in a derelict house. I treasured it for years. Maybe, fifty-five years on, I should look for another souvenir. Otherwise I shall wander about, trying hard to reconcile now with then. I will take photographs, possibly in high-contrast black-and-white rather than colour, because I am recording a dream.

Let's hope no rugby-shirted lout steps in my way, and gives me a scowl.

Gosh, it had changed. The last of the afternoon sunshine lit up the trees on the valley side high above the town, making them golden. I saw no grime, but the terraces of little brick-and-stone houses were still there, in all the back streets. No Rugby Men scowled at me, but I could see some of them inside the rather clublike pubs. This wasn't a town where a woman on her own could go into a pub unnoticed and simply order a coffee. I didn't attempt it.

Dusk curtailed my visit. It was clearly a spectacular climb at the head of the valley, the A4061 snaking up and over in a series of hairpin bends. But I did it in the dark. I'd like to see the same view in daylight.

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