Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sosban fach

More domestic nirvana. It just keeps coming. This one's about cooking pans. But it does have a happy ending.

The intelligent reader will easily guess that the title of this post, Sosban fach, is Welsh for 'something saucepan', and they would be right. In fact it means 'little saucepan' and these words come from a very well-known traditional Welsh folk song that I learned a version of when young and in school. For I am of course Welsh, and I had to learn the language until aged eleven. It was, in my time - the 1950s and 1960s - already a compulsory subject in the infant and junior schools, and had I stayed in Wales I'd have had to study it up to O-level standard. And I imagine that nowadays, in even more nationalistic times, all children throughout Wales have to be passably fluent in Welsh before they can go to University.

I mean, Wales can't aspire to true nationhood without all its citizens being competent in the national tongue. I hear that the Welsh Assembly - that is, the devolved National Parliament in Cardiff - enforce compliance using the Heddlu, the official Language Police, whose cars are seen racing everywhere with flashing blue lights, striving to intercept persons who are not speaking Welsh, and then hauling them off to places of correction. Which for women means a brainwashing process at Castell Goch (the 'Blood-Red Castle') that involves lace-making, playing the harp, cooking faggots, and sitting around wearing a shawl and a very tall pointed black hat with a frilly lace lining. And for men - poor things - a spell down Pwll Mawr (the 'Big Pit'), hewing at the coalface. Mind you, it would be good Welsh anthracite - some consolation, I suppose.

I tell you, boyo, it's been a close thing many a time. There I would be, openly walking the streets of some Welsh town, sans shawl and pointed hat, when something about my appearance or way of speaking would get shocked locals fumbling feverishly for their phones, and dialling the Heddlu Helpline. Next thing, the Language Police would be screaming into town, eager to ask questions and if necessary make an arrest. Thank goodness I always carry a fake passport in the name of Lwsi Melffordd, and can say 'Sosban fach, boyo!' convincingly and well.

Truth to tell, I'd be in the stew good and proper if the Heddlu asked me to recite every line of the folk song, because I can only remember one line from my early schooldays: Sosban fach, yn berwi ar y tân, which means 'Little saucepan, boiling on the fire'. There are of course many more lines, and verses, and a chorus. Here's the Wikipedia article on the whole thing: And here is one folk singer's full version:

Sospan Fach - Little Saucepan - a Welsh Folk Song. Singer: Hanna Morgan.

(Note: Artists often sing their own versions of this song,
sometimes with verses and choruses played in a different order)

Mae bys Meri-Ann wedi brifo, Mary-Ann has hurt her finger,
A Dafydd y gwas ddim yn iach. And David the servant is not well.
Mae'r baban yn y crud yn crio, The baby in the cradle is crying,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tân, A little saucepan is boiling on the fire,
Sosban fawr yn berwi ar y llawr, A big saucepan is boiling on the floor,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
Mae bys Meri-Ann wedi brifo, Mary-Ann has hurt her finger,
A Dafydd y gwas ddim yn iach. And David the servant is not well.
Mae'r baban yn y crud yn crio, The baby in the cradle is crying,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tân, A little saucepan is boiling on the fire,
Sosban fawr yn berwi ar y llawr, A big saucepan is boiling on the floor,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
Mae bys Meri-Ann wedi gwella, Mary-Ann's finger has got better,
A Dafydd y gwas yn ei fedd; And David the servant is in his grave;
Mae'r baban yn y crud wedi tyfu, The baby in the cradle has grown up,
A'r gath wedi huno mewn hedd. And the cat is 'asleep in peace'.
Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tân A little saucepan is boiling on the fire,
Sosban fawr yn berwi ar y llawr A big saucepan is boiling on the floor,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.

Dai bach y sowldiwr, Little Dai the soldier,
Dai bach y sowldiwr, Little Dai the soldier,
Dai bach y sowldiwr, Little Dai the soldier,
A gwt ei grys e mas. And his shirt tail hanging out.

As you can see, there is a temporal progression, people growing up and dying as the song proceeds, though all the while the little saucepan is boiling away on the fire. Meaning, I suppose, that the little things at home never change. I don't remember anything about a 'sosban fawr' - a big saucepan - but I put that down to frivolity and inattention to my studies when young.

This is - look you - a clean version. I'm told that at games of rugby the crowd uses other words. (Really? Rugby words perhaps? No, I can't believe it. That sounds as unlikely as anything you might have read above)

But back to reality.

In late March and early April 2014 I bought two new frying pans while on holiday - a small one from Wroes in Bude...

...and a few days later, a larger one from Goulds in Dorchester. Here they both are, in action in the caravan:

They were both on offer at irresistible prices - £14.99 and £18.00 respectively - and I didn't resist. They weren't traditional teflon non-stick pans. They were 'ceramic'. Hence their very light-coloured cooking surface. And both were quite deep, rather like very wide saucepans. The brand was Naturepan, a new one to me. I was swayed a bit by a comment made at the till, in Wroes I think, by another customer. She told me that Naturepans were very good. She swore by them. Well! Say no more.

And these new pans not only looked great, and suited the gas hobs at home and in my caravan, but they cooked really well.

But within months a minor defect in the larger pan became evident, a small crack in that smooth cooking surface. It didn't bother me at first. But the cracks proliferated, particularly during 2016. So that nearly three years on, by late 2016, the larger pan was beginning to look rather shabby.

This was unreasonable, because I do look after my cooking stuff, always using silicone spoons and spatulas, and washing them up carefully, never abusing them in any way. I found myself in the market again for a new set pans, or at least a new larger pan.

Sussex is well-endowed with cookshops, but I'd discovered that Horsham (only half an hour away) now had a big new Waitrose and John Lewis At Home. John Lewis! The obvious first place to look. Parking was easy, and cheap. (Well, I call £2 for two hours 'quite cheap' nowadays) And the store did have a nice selection of good-quality pans, ranging from mid-range to pretty expensive. I looked at the normally good-value Tefal range, but thought them unexpectedly pricey. And another thing: the shape and feel of those Tefal handles was wrong. This matters an awful lot to me. If the pan doesn't feel right, then for me it's a no-no. I know that many would dismiss this as being over-pernickety, but I won't sacrifice comfort in the hand for prestige looks. For this reason I don't favour metal handles, such as you find on very expensive stainless steel or copper or cast iron pans. They get hot, and impossible to touch without oven gloves on, which introduces the possibility of one's grip slipping, with potentially dire results.

John Lewis's own ranges had much to recommend them, and I especially liked these silicon-handled pans, one small, one large, which would exactly match the handle-style of the small John Lewis wok I used in the caravan (I would take wok and both frying pans away with me on holiday):

But they were not cheap. The smaller one would cost £18. The larger one £32. A £50 investment to buy both. Hmmm! I walked away - keeping them in mind, but wanting to see what else was available in Horsham that afternoon.

I went next to Robert Dyas in Horsham's West Street, and saw some less expensive Tefal pans on offer there, in a two-pan set at only £20-odd:

Now this was good value. But the feel of the Tefal handles wasn't quite right. It was OK, but plasticky, and not a patch on the sure-grip silicone feel of the two John Lewis pans. Designed for larger hands too, I'd say. Robert Dyas also had a neat range of their own:

Ah, one could put together a two-pan set for just £19! I thought these were more attractive than the Tefal pans, but I still hesitated. This time it was about weight. They were slightly too lightweight. Oh dear. Was that a fatal flaw? I pondered the cooking issues involved. Well, there was a Steamer Trading Cookshop up the road, in East Street. They'd have as much on display as John Lewis, although it might all be more expensive still. Worth a look, though. And I'd have to pass Robert Dyas again on my way back to John Lewis...

Horsham's branch of Steamer Trading Cookshop was very large, very well stocked, and many of the pans on display were clearly upmarket. In fact there were expensively-dressed and booted ladies and gentlemen in the shop who were clearly the very kind of customer who had money and wanted impressive pots, pans and other gadgets for their stylish homes. Not that I was obviously Miss Dowdy in their company. But I wasn't going to spend £100 or more. For, as expected, STC didn't have any budget pans. I was impressed with what they did have, but it wasn't what I wanted.

Back to Robert Dyas. No, the pans there didn't scream 'Lucy! Buy me!' - or if they did, I was deaf to them. They were great value for money, and might well prove enduring, but they wouldn't engender pride of possession.

So ten minutes later I was back at John Lewis, wondering whether to buy both their own-brand pans, or just the large one. Did I spend a painful £50 or an easier-to-bear £32? In the end I bought both, partly because they had only one of the small own-brand pans left. I thought they might easily have none at all by the end of the afternoon. So if I wanted one, to make up a set of two (or three, including the wok when caravanning), then I'd best snap up that last remaining small pan now.

£50, though...

Once home, I was a bit more convinced that I'd done the right thing. With their wrapping torn off, my two new saucepans looked the business - ready to set boiling on the tân:

And what a good match with the older wok:

They'd be replacing this motley pair of pans, the small Naturepan from 2014, and a pan I inherited from Mum in 2009, which I was now using instead of the shabby larger Naturepan:

But there was a fatal snag with the smaller John Lewis pan I'd just bought. I hadn't understood that pans nowadays were designed primarily with flat induction hobs in mind. They would also be fine on many gas hobs, provided the metal supports underneath held them steady enough. That wasn't so on my gas hob in the kitchen. Nor on the gas hob in the caravan. Bugger. And I'd ripped the packaging to smithereens. I couldn't really take the small pan back as unsuitable - or at least I didn't have the nerve to.

The larger pan was fine. But I now had to think of what to do with the useless smaller pan. The happy outcome was that I offered it to next-door neighbour Jackie that evening. She and Jo and Clive had come over for a meal, with cards to follow. Jackie leapt at it, delighted:

So that's the promised Happy Ending. I like finding good new homes for my cast-offs. And Jackie got a brand-new unused cast-off. Naturally I had something for Jo, too. She got the heavy silver bracelet I bought a year ago, which had never felt quite comfortable on my wrist. But she loves bracelets, and it's always Bracelet City on both her wrists:

Poor Clive got nothing except my general hospitality. I hope he didn't mind. But really I own nothing he might covet, except possibly my Panasonic LX100 camera, and that is not going to be given away!

It was a jolly good fun evening. We shrieked our heads off after every triumph or disaster at cards. Well, Clive didn't: only girlies shriek. But we love making a noise.

And guess who trounced everyone at cards? The gods smile on those who give away new pans and hardly-worn bracelets.

And here's a thought to end on. I never pronounce 'saucepan' as SAWS-PAN. I say - and have always said - SOSS-PAN, like my Mum did. Now it's perfectly clear that I learned this at my mother's knee, or while asking her why her hands were so soft at washing-up time; and despite fifty-four years of living in England I've never lost that particular 'Welsh' pronunciation.

So how do you say it?

Strange fact
Do a Google search on 'Lwsi Melffordd'. I did it just now (12,40am on 16th February) and saw something I'd never seen before. A search result that turned up just one item - this post. Amazing.


  1. Sosban cracio!

    I too say 'sosspan', though not for one of those. Where I come from, my dear, we call 'em frying pans.


  2. Well, I would call a frying pan by its proper name, but a proper saucepan gets called a sosspan. This said, I tend to blur distinctions where pans are concerned. Many people have noticed it.


  3. I can hardly believe that Lwsi is only spelt with one L...

  4. Two Ls would make it a voiceless lateral fricative, as in 'Llanelli' or 'Llewelyn' and make the name unpronounceable, Coline. Welsh uses single ls, though not very often as the first letter of a word.


    1. See you with your voiceless lateral fricatives! That's me telt then...


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