What I’ve been Reading and Listening to – May 15th-21st

Following on from the idea I had last Sunday, here is what I’ve been reading and listening to over the past week.

What I’ve been reading – Sword of God by Chris Kuzneski

Sword of God

This is one of my Free Books finds, and the third of Kuzneski’s books for me. They’re very much in a Dan Brown vein (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, I love me some Dan Brown!), expert characters travelling the world to solve mysterious mysteries going back centuries. Kuzneski’s main characters give his books a slightly different twist, they’re two former elite soldiers, so there’s a bit more violence and gore (especially in this book) than in Brown’s novels. I’m still going very slowly with this book (Goodreads now tells me I’m 8 books behind my target, if I want to reach 100 books this year, eek!), I’m 120 pages in after having started it on Monday – which is just shocking for my standards. I’m still having trouble sitting down and focusing on reading. I’m still at a point in the book where I’m trying to figure out how everything’s connected – the protagonists are in South Korea, but there are also other characters in Saudi Arabia on a seemingly unrelated archaeological mission. I chose this out of the pile I’ve accumulated from the Free Books, because how easy the other two were to read; I found them gripping, and with all the cliffhangers at the end of chapters, I wanted to carry on reading to find out what happened next. Hopefully by next week I’ll be able to say that I’ve finished it!

What I’ve been listening to – The Bright Sessions

So, out of the pile of audio drama podcasts I’m subscribed to, this week I’ve mostly been listening to The Bright Sessions. Again, without giving too much away, the show’s description is ‘therapy for the strange and unusual’. Doctor Bright has a list of patients who have extraordinary abilities. There’s Sam, the time traveller; Caleb the empath who can feel other people’s emotions; Chloe the mind-reader; and Damien, who… Well, you’ll see. The episodes revolve around Doctor Bright’s therapy sessions with these young people, and their relationships with the world around them. Without being too spoilery, I’ve got to a very interesting point towards in season 2, which has made me appreciate the podcast on a whole other level – and that means I’ve been listening to it much more this week than I have done before. The Bright Sessions is on its third season, and I currently have 24 episodes to get through to catch up!

Wedding Season and The Long Term Single Woman

I had originally only planned one post about my sad state as a long-term single woman in her early 30s, but apparently this is turning out to be a series…

On Thursday, a friend who I have known for my entire life posted on Facebook that she had now been married for five years. I stopped and did some mental maths for a minute. May 2012. I honestly hadn’t realised it had already been five years since her wedding day. Back then I’d never even had a boyfriend. I mean, can you imagine? One of your oldest friends gets married when you’re both 26, and you’ve never even experienced what it’s like to be in a relationship? It’s just so completely beyond ‘normal’ people’s experiences. You see photos of her in her white dress, smiling with her new husband, holding her bouquet; knowing that the odds of you being able to do the same thing, to have that magical wonderful day, the best day of your life, are very much stacked against you. Nobody even wants to go for a drink with you, never mind marry you. I’ve been a bridesmaid twice, and yes, they were beautiful experiences; but on both days I was fighting the black cloud that was lurking in the back of my mind – the persistent voice of doom, the ‘I’ll never have all this’. The thought that I’ll always be the bridesmaid in blue, never the bride in white. People assume that they’ll get married at some point in their lives, or at least find someone to spend the rest of their days with. I don’t remember ever being convinced about it, and certainly not in my teens. As my friends made steps forward with the opposite sex, I stayed in the exact same place until a couple of months before my A Level exams. My two oldest schoolfriends are now both married, and I’m just as single as ever.

This morning, I woke up to coverage on two different news channels of a wedding. A wedding that didn’t mean anything to me. I’m anything but a royalist, but that’s a discussion for another day. It’s the cult of celebrity I suppose, people who are famous not because of anything they’ve actually done, but simply because they’re there, who they know or who they’re related to. I had been starting to think recently when wedding season was going to start again, and I got my answer this morning when I was having breakfast. There’s a hashtag for it which is already trending on Twitter. This is an exaggerated example of what happens during the summer, I wake up in the morning, and if I’m stupid enough to think that going on Facebook is a good idea, I’m met with wedding photos and statuses of friends congratulating people on getting married, or excited about their own wedding.

I was so embarrassed by showing up as a single 29 year old to my younger brother’s wedding, and the conversations I had during the course of the day about my single status only made me feel worse about myself. I was one of four women in the bride’s party, and the oldest by far. The two teenage bridesmaids had their boyfriends join them for the reception. It feels like it’s taboo to talk about this, single people aren’t supposed to feel sad at weddings, and especially not talk about it. It’s a day for everyone to be happy, regardless of any issues they’re dealing with internally. And I genuinely say this without any bitterness, it’s a day where anyone apart from the bride and groom don’t really count. It’s their special day, and if that makes you sad, you just have to bottle it up and deal with it another day.

This past week, I didn’t watch an episode of my guilty pleasure TV show (Scorpion, in case anyone’s wondering) because two of the characters were getting married. It’s a show that I enjoy watching because I can turn my brain off and let myself get carried away with the over-the-top ridiculousness. I was so disappointed when the wedding storyline started to unfold, because I knew it would ruin the show for me to a certain extent. I tried to watch the episode, and I did get a few minutes in, but with wedding preparations right from the beginning, I was forcing myself to watch something I really didn’t want to.

Society, drugged up on reality TV and titillating celebrity headlines, doesn’t deem someone like me to be of interest. I know that can sound incredibly bitter, but I completely agree. I read a lot, I obsessively love audio drama podcasts, I spend a lot of my free time learning languages, and I listen to K-pop for crying out loud. I behave like someone who is at least 10 years younger than I actually am. Because everyone tells single people to find hobbies. The problem is, I found the wrong ones. I am a perfect example of a woman who is anything but girlfriend/wife material. And that’s not necessarily even a bad thing. I’m the first person to criticise myself, but I speak three languages fluently, can read another two, and I’m learning another; I’ve lived abroad, I read a lot, I enjoy writing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m talented, but as people told me on Thursday night, I’m interesting and unique. But the problem with men is that there’s interesting, and there’s interesting.

I’m aware of how ridiculous all this can sound to people who are married, or are in relationships, but this time of year can be very damaging to lonely people like me. I said I was going through a phase of acceptance of my long-term single state, I never said I was happy with it. Last August, I stopped posting on Facebook, and deleted the app, because seeing so many weddings every single weekend was detrimental to me. There are people like me who have stopped going on Facebook, have stopped communicating with people through that site, because there are too many images and words on there that wound us. Waking up on a Saturday morning and faffing about on social media because you’re not quite ready to leave the warm cocoon of your bed, and seeing wedding photos can be harmful. If you’re not careful, if you don’t have the right state of mind, it will chip away at you. I’m fully aware that I’ve become bitter. I say that I hate weddings, but that’s only half the story. I hate being reminded that I’ve never had that special day, especially now that I’m in my 30s; and that more than likely I never will. I’d love to be a bride, to wear a beautiful white dress. I’ve got a fairly clear idea of what kind of dress I’d like to have – maybe in another lifetime where things will go right for me – as counterproductive as such thoughts are for someone who’s spent nearly their entire life alone; there still always seems to be that vague glimmer of hope in the back of my mind, that one day, I’ll get that too. To be as happy as all of the people I’ve seen in photos on Facebook over the years. I would suggest that couples spare a thought for the single people of the world when they post photo after photo on social media, but who am I to tell them to not be happy? They got lucky, and I shouldn’t begrudge that. It’s just, I wish I had that too.

An Italian Evening

Last night I had the pleasure of being part of a night out organised for two classes of Italian learners, at an Italian restaurant in Llanelli – about half an hour east of Carmarthen. Long story short, my aunt is one of the teacher’s neighbours, and she had been invited to join the group, and in turn my aunt invited me.

I went over to Llanelli not quite knowing what to expect. I must admit, groups of people who I don’t know intimidate me a fair bit. I’m very introverted, and do much better with one-to-one conversations. But it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.

Fueled by a very nice (no really, this was a particularly good one) glass of Prosecco, I got talking to the teacher, and her other half. And the conversations I had over the course of the evening were, honestly, energising. I spoke with the teacher in Italian, and I was very aware of how fast I was speaking. I overheard her saying in Italian to one of her students later on, ‘She speaks Italian in a phenomenal way’. I was so flattered. After 10 months of lying mostly dormant, only appearing on rare occasions, my full-blown speedy Milanese-inflicted Italian was back. It was like a part of my personality had returned. I’d been thinking a lot recently about how being constantly called inglese (English) during my years in Italy had erased part of my personality; but last night I realised how I’d lost another part of my personality by not speaking Italian. I’ve read so many times about how people have different personalities for each of the languages they speak, when they speak more than one fluently; and it’s something I’ve started to become aware of since moving back to Wales last summer – as Welsh is my first language. What I noticed with my Italian last night was something I hadn’t really thought about before – it was like my personality became more outgoing; and with the gestures I was making, I was occupying more space with my body. Switching from Italian to English was something I’d taken for granted in Italy; at work I almost always spoke English, and outside almost exclusively Italian. But this was a context where I was speaking three languages in the space of about three hours. Italian’s seen as much more of a ‘flamboyant’ language, where people speak faster, and louder. If you don’t speak the language, it can often seem that people are arguing, when they’re just having a lively, friendly, discussion. When I was living in Italy I unconsciously adapted how I spoke the language to reflect how my friends spoke, and what I heard and saw around me on a daily basis. On the way home last night, I started thinking about how my spoken Italian reflects my written English – very wordy, long sentences. Italian loves going off on tangents, which I did brilliantly last night. When explaining that one of my flatmates during my year abroad in Italy had studied at the same university as the Italian teacher, I went off on a tangent about how my university sent students out to Italy in their second year as opposed to their third year, if they had started learning Italian from scratch in their first year – as I had done. As I went off down that road, I was fully aware of of how, had I had the same discussion in English, I would’ve been much more concise. I’m sure people who speak more than one language will understand where I’m coming from, even though it’s difficult to put into words the transformation a person goes through when they switch from one language they speak fluently to another.

The teacher, as it turned out, had also lived in Trieste for a period of time. I visited Trieste at Easter in 2015, and I really enjoyed talking about how interesting the city was from a historical and architectural point of view, and also about the train journey over from Milan. Her boyfriend – and this was a MASSIVE case of Small World Syndrome – had been to the Expo which was held in Milan two years ago! I was sitting in a restaurant in Llanelli, in the county I grew up in, talking to a Scottish man, about a huge event that had taken place in Milan a couple of years ago, that very few people outside of Italy would realise the significance of. We talked about the infamous Japanese pavilion and its’ 10 hour queues, a few of the pavilions one or both of us managed to see, the food, the impact that Expo had had on the city… It was a very enjoyable, and quite surreal experience!

I’ve only been out at night a few times since moving back to my hometown. Walking the short distance from the car back to the house, I noticed the stars in the sky. I hadn’t seen the stars since living in the town itself. In my still slightly wine-induced state, and after some inspiring conversation which made me think about my place in the world and how I could use my skills for good, it was somewhat of a Dantesque moment – when Dante and Virgil leave Hell, and the end of Inferno, and see the stars again.

Oh, and if anyone in or around Llanelli would like to go for an Italian meal, I highly recommend Marzano’s. It’s tucked away on Cowell Street, a couple of minutes from the shops in the town centre. I had a lovely vegetarian lasagna; I must admit there were a couple of peppers too many for my personal taste, but it was still delicious. I’m a bit wary of ordering vegetarian lasagna in the UK, because some places have the bad habit of throwing in everything apart from the kitchen sink. But this worked very well. Yes, they have an amazing Prosecco (honestly), and the staff is very friendly. And bonus points for the huge photo of Venice on the wall!

 

 

Dating Apps and The Long Term Single Woman

First thing this morning, before I’d even had my coffee, I heard someone talk about how they’d stopped going on dating sites as a means of being more productive and getting more done in life. It was actually quite an interesting concept for me, not only because of who it was coming from (a very interesting and, in my opinion, very attractive man in his late 20s); but because I’d been made to believe that my problems with dating sites were fairly isolated. I’ve been told when talking about current or past experiences with all the different dating apps and sites that exist, that I’m too negative or that I’m complaining too much about what I’ve experienced. Today I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my own experience with them over the years, which to me is just analogous with the rest of my life.

I’ve been on and off dating sites for just over six years, if memory serves correctly. So I was 24 back then, as it was before my birthday; and living in a large European city – namely Milan. Population, about one and a half million. Since then I’ve tried pretty much everything out there, the big names such as OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Tinder – because which self-respecting single isn’t on Tinder? I’ve had accounts on Match.com, and Meetic. I’ve tried Zoosk, Lovoo, Bumble, Happn, and even Badoo for my sins back in the day (shudder). And probably more that (For my own sanity, I deleted any emails I got from those sites once I deleted my account). And I’ve never got a date (or anything else, for that matter!) from any of them. Ever. Not even met anyone who I got talking to, because I’ve never ‘got talking to’ anyone. I’ve received very few messages, mostly from men who I deemed unsuitable due to their age (I’ve had both far too young and far too old, especially since hitting my 30s), or lived too far away – like 100s of miles away. And you might call me fussy, but aren’t women supposed to be bombarded with messages on those things?

Since moving back to Wales, I’ve tried various different sites over three different periods. The memory that most stands out from these experiments is the two separate times I tried Tinder again, when it got to a point where I got the message – both times – saying that there were no more people in my area. Of course, at that point I hadn’t had any matches. Just last month I went back on OkCupid, which had been my favourite dating site – as much of an oxymoron as that sounds. The feature that made me like it the most was the test it has in your profile, a series of questions to suss out your personality. It is then able to compare you to other people; so when viewing the profile of someone you think is interesting, you’re able to see whether they’re more or less adventurous, or outgoing, or creative, or countless other personality traits. It was an easy thing to get through when I just wanted to kill some time. I only deleted my profile this past Sunday. I’d initially deleted the app and kept my profile, because I thought, what harm would it do to use it as a passive thing? Something running in the background whilst I got on with my life. Something to maybe give me a slight glimmer of hope that one day, my single status would change. But the emails I got about new ‘matches’ (what they call people with an apparently similar personality to mine, from the results of that test) annoyed me. I know there was probably a way of unsubscribing, but at that point I’d had enough. It was like that old school game show where, on losing out on winning the main prize, the contestant was shown ‘what they could’ve won’. In the month and a half I spent registered on that site since the beginning of last month, I didn’t get a single message. So these emails where somewhat like rubbing salt in the wound.

My complete lack of luck on dating sites is also a sign of a wider – well, it’s not really a problem. But I basically don’t get any attention from men on any kind of social media. I don’t have random men sliding into my DMs on anywhere, and I have never – shock horror – received a dick pick (TMI, I know). Not even one. According to something I read on Twitter not so long ago, that saying this apparently makes me ‘fake’. Well, sorry to disappoint the girls who said and agreed with this, I’m most certainly not fake. Just unattractive.

So, basically I’ve got bored with sitting around for a fish to take the bait. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, why don’t I initialise? Why don’t I send the first message? Because I know I’ll get rejected. Because it’s happened every single time I’ve tried to ask someone out in person. Because my self-esteem and self-confidence are so low, that I’d rather sit around and wait, and not put myself in a position where it’s highly likely I’ll get hurt again. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and reflection on my status as a 30-something woman who’s been single for nearly all of her life; and I’ve – hopefully – realised for the last time that dating sites just don’t work for me. As far as I see it, they’re a complete waste of time unless you fall into a very strict series of criteria. And that might sound bitter, but honestly, it isn’t – or mostly. It’s a point of realising that something just doesn’t work for you, and moving on from that. It isn’t something accessible like society likes to think it is, it requires hours of work – it needs to be treated like a job hunt. And seeing as I’m actually looking for a job at the moment, I have no desire to spend hours on dating sites too – especially when I’d more than likely not get anywhere with it. I really do have better things to do with my time. Things that will be productive, things that will make me happy. Hell, at this point, even staring at paint drying is more constructive.

So, for people in relationships saying, ‘Just go on a dating app!’, it isn’t that easy. Success means having to put in a lot of hard work, and even with that, a simple date still isn’t achievable for some of us. And it’s not necessarily our problem, due to the superficial nature of these apps. I mean, Tinder is its own beast, but many many apps and sites now incorporate swiping as a feature. A quick way of establishing who you’re interested in. As someone who spent all of their teens, and nearly all of their twenties, and yes all of their thirties so far, single; dating hasn’t become more accessible thanks to these apps – it’s become more superficial. Where a swipe is enough to decide whether that person is worth getting to know or having sex with. Yes, of course, afterwards you message or whatever, but that person’s looks alone are purely enough to initiate communication. It’s taken me a long time to realise that I shouldn’t be forced to comply with what society thinks is acceptable, and to do what is more beneficial for me. People think that singles shouldn’t not try, they have to put themselves out there somehow, and dating apps are by far the easiest way to do that. But I know I’m not going to get anything out of those apps, I know that all too well now, so it’s actually better for my well-being to not try. These apps can get so addictive, if you have the right mindset they’re almost like a game. Or like shopping, seeing what’s on offer. But when you’re unable to get what’s on offer, it can be very detrimental. Very often you can just be left feeling that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.

I suppose that’s my two cents on dating apps and how they’ve influenced modern-day society. Again, it’s been more personal than what my blog had initially set out to be; but I hope it goes some way to piecing together who I am, and where I am in life right now.

The Rain

Rain

It rained all day yesterday. And I don’t mean miserable, half-arsed drizzle, but proper full-blown tipping it down rain. This morning when I woke up around 7.30 I was nudged into consciousness by the rain pattering on my window. Didn’t the weather forecast say that today was supposed to be a bit better?

I had inititally planned to go into town yesterday to pick up a couple of things, but once I saw just how heavily it was raining when I got out of bed, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I’m not exactly keen on going outside to just get rained on today, either. My trusted weather site is claiming that there’s going to be ‘a bit of rain this morning’, and I’m just looking out the window and thinking, this isn’t ‘a bit’, mate.

We’ve been really lucky with the weather recently. The news was reporting a few days ago that the past April had been the driest one since records began. At the beginning of last week we got into the high teens (!), and I was actually on the beach in nothing more than a T-shirt and cardigan on Wednesday! It was on Thursday that the weather decided to turn. I had to go to the Royal Mail sorting office to pick up a parcel I’d missed from being at the beach on Wednesday, and decided to call into the Free Books store as it was just down the road from there. As I was browsing around, the heavens opened. The rain was hammering down on the building’s metal roof. It was quite an alarming sound! By the time I’d chosen my three books for the day, the cloudburst had moved on, even though it did start raining lightly when I was about halfway home. Luckily for me, I always carry an umbrella in my bag, it was a habit that I had a hard time shifting even in Italy, but some people got caught out. At a crossroads not far from my house, I was amused at the sight of two very contrasting outfits – a woman in a denim dress, bare legs and flip flops; and another in a heavy raincoat. To me, it perfectly summed up the British mentality towards the weather; the contrast between what we should really be wearing, and the Welsh and British mentality of rushing to wear flip flops, dresses and shorts once we get the slightest bit of sun.

I don’t mind the rain, I mean, I’m Welsh, rain is in our blood. I’d much rather prefer it to the searing heat of the Italian summer, where you sweat pints just from sitting down and not moving even a milimetre. Yesterday I actually spent most of the afternoon reading (hopefully I’m getting back into the groove!), and it felt very cosy to be tucked up in the warmth inside, with the wind and rain lashing outside. We’ll see what today brings. I’m trying to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just for a 15 minute walk around the block; it does me good having a break from staring at the same four walls all day every day. After doing this every day last week except for Saturday, I’m already starting to feel a little bit stir crazy. But for now, I’m going to carry on watching the raindrops racing down my window, and listen to the soft pattering of the water against the windowpane.

What I’ve been Reading and Listening to – May 8th-14th

A few days ago I had an idea for a new weekly feature on my blog. I’m a bit worried  of running out of steam sooner or later when it comes to ideas and things to write about, so having a fixed post to write every week is going to hopefully encourage me to carry on writing. Yes, this seems to be a common idea on the internets, but it means I get to share my love of books and podcasts. The ‘watching’ element here is purposely missing, I hardly watch any TV, and my unemployed arse doesn’t subscribe to any streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.

What I’ve been reading – Feed by Mira Grant

Feed

I’m in a fairly big reading slump at the moment, desperately trying to claw myself out of it. Goodreads is reminding me that I’m seven books behind where I should be if I want to reach my target of reading 100 books a year (which I’ve done for the past two years). What I’ve been doing to try and help is re-reading books I love. Feed is a book I first read on my Kindle in February 2015, and much to my surprise, I found the paperback copy in the Free Books store a few weeks ago. I love anything zombie, so this is very much my bag. It’s different from your average zombie tale, humans and zombies coexist. It’s set in the US, where society has been transformed from the one we know to one where people keep themselves safe from the threat of zombie attacks. The main character is a blogger, in a world where blogging is a serious form of journalism, after traditional media failed to accurately report on the rising of the zombies. If you’re into your zombies, or anything post-apocalyptic in general like I am, I highly recommend it, for an original take on the genre.

What I’ve been listening to – ars PARADOXICA

Over the last month and a half, I’ve developed a very deep love for audio drama podcasts. It started off with Wolf 359, which is set on a space station in deep space and is AMAZING, and from there it’s just snowballed. This week I’ve mostly been listening to ars PARADOXICA, which, without giving too much away, is about a physicist by the name of Sally Grissom who accidentally invents time travel. She lands in Philadelphia in 1943, and becomes trapped in the past. It’s a fascinating story of the effects of time travel not only on Sally herself, but also about how the creation of time travel changes the world. So far there are two seasons comprising of a total of 22 episodes, and I’ve now got four left to listen to before I’m up to date.

Eurovision 2017

As a life-long Eurovision fan, and someone who lived in Italy for seven years, I obviously have a lot of feelings about this year’s edition.

There was so much hype surrounding Italy’s entry. And for good reason too! It’s difficult not to be biased, but Occidentali’s Karma was genuinely my favourite entry this year. I’d liked it ever since Gabbani took part in Sanremo back in February. So yes, the song’s been around for a fair while by now, and people all over Europe have got to know it. Even though, being completely in Italian this year, it wasn’t necessarily initally understood in the UK. For UK viewers, the gorilla was still very much a novelty right up until the end of the show last night. Gabbani and his gorilla ended up a very respectable sixth, Italy’s third-best result since they re-joined the competition in 2011. But from what I’ve seen, Italian fans are generally very disappointed. And I don’t blame them! Italy been touted as one of the favourites for this year’s edition, there was so much faith in this year’s entry. But that’s just the nature of the Eurovision beast. Songs that should done better don’t because of political voting, people’s bad tastes, or simply for reasons that are unexplained… Yes, Italy should’ve done much better, at least top 3, but justice is rarely served on this Saturday in May. And from what I’ve seen, that’s something Italian viewers have yet to get their heads around.

It’s very much in the Italian psyche to believe that they’re better than everyone else, at everything. I’m sorry Italy, but that’s just what I saw when I lived out there. And that sense of pride can get carried away. I briefly popped my head into Italian Twitter after the end of the show, and saw threats and insults towards the rest of Europe, people not wanting to take part anymore, tweeting at RAI to withdraw their funding. I didn’t hang about for too long, because there was just so much anger. Present-day Italy is still relatively new to Eurovision – before it re-joined in 2011 it hadn’t competed for 14 years. So had I been born Italian in 1986, I wouldn’t have grown up with Eurovision – It was 1997 when they last took part before withdrawing. And it’s taken a few years for it to gain any proper momentum there. I remember the Italian coverage in 2011, which for someone used to the BBC’s broadcast, was terrible. They were coming from a studio in Rome! Since then the commentators have mostly been Italian radio presenters, with mixed results. This year was a game changer though. The chance Italy had to win created a new enthusiasm for the event, with the first semi final gaining a 45% increase in viewers compared to last year. The ratings for the grand final don’t seem to be out yet, but I’m very interested in seeing how it did, especially against a massively popular talent show.
There’s one thing I should mention though, which was something horrifying I heard when listening to an Italian radio show yesterday afternoon. There was a phone conversation with a music journalist, Chiara di Giambattista, who was one of the members of the Italian jury. With Eurovision being much less popular and generally less understood in Italy, she started off her spiel briefly explaining how the countries who had got to the final had qualified. When she got to naming the Big Five, that dreaded word came out of her mouth – Inghilterra. England. She said that one of the countries in the Big Five was England. Now, as we know, as a Welsh person who lived in Italy for many years, this is a very sensitive subject for me. I was furious, and spent far too much time during the show pointing out her ignorance. (Me, petty? Never.) The public in Italy will probably get it wrong until the day I die, because unfortunately that’s just how it is; but someone who was on the country’s professional jury in Eurovision? It’s just shocking to not have a basic grasp of European geography, and well, just to not understand who exactly the countries taking part and you’re supposed to be voting for are. It’s also insulting, especially seeing as the UK was represented by a Welsh woman this year. Unsurprisingly, the UK didn’t get any votes from Italy, probably because they all didn’t have a clue who that strange country was on the voting sheet…
And as for the UK’s performance? Lucie did us proud. As with every year, the general British public went into Eurovision knowing that we didn’t stand a chance (something that Italy very likely will never do…), even more so this year with Brexit. But we did surprisingly well! I was honestly expecting a nul points disaster, but we were on the left hand side of the scoreboard for so long!
And congratulations Portugal! From the very first jury vote result I knew from that moment that they were going to win, their 12 points and Italy’s six set the tone for the rest of votes. It was my second favourite song after Italy’s, even though I never usually go for such soppy romantic ballads. But it’s just beautiful. It may not be my beloved Italian entry, but in my opinion it’s still very much a worthy winner.

Italy and the non-existence of Wales

When I first found out that the Champions League final was going be held in Wales, my initial reaction was ‘Italy is going to be so confused’. That might sound harsh, but for many years I lived in a country that uses England (Inghilterra) and United Kingdom (Regno Unito) interchangeably, often in the same sentence or paragraph. And for a Welsh speaker who’d grown up in a Welsh speaking family, it was a, let’s just say, very trying experience.

I could count the amount of people I met during my time there who genuinely understood that being Welsh was different to being English on one hand. Outside of work (where the team I worked with was mostly British), it was like my cultural identity had been erased. I was no longer Welsh, but English, no matter how many times I tried to explain. Very few people understood where I was really from, or that my first language wasn’t actually English. It’s honestly something I’m still coming to terms with, the erasure of my Welsh identity, and the difficulties that Italy in general has with British geography.

I lost count of the amount of times that people told me ‘It’s the same to us’, or ‘When we say England we mean the UK, it’s just a question of semantics’ or ‘But you’re from up there, aren’t you?’. It wasn’t malicious, they were good people, they had just never had an explanation of how and why the nations that make up the (by now not very) United Kingdom were different. My reply of ‘But I’m Welsh!’ became somewhat of a joke with some, as they anticipated that same protest when they called the UK ‘Inghilterra’ out of habit. ‘Yes, we know you’re Welsh. I meant the UK, it’s the same thing’.

I’ll never forget that time when I was watching the RAI 2 lunchtime news one day, when I heard them say that Cardiff, the capital of Wales, was in England. That was a couple of years ago by now; but when even the state broadcaster can’t get it right, can you really expect the general population to?

Even now, listening to an Italian radio show every weekend, I hear the UK referred to as England by a collaborator on the show. She’s been corrected by the presenter (who I had the pleasure of meeting many times over my years in Italy) several times, but still inevitably returns to Inghilterra, even seconds later. In this case I’ve learned not to waste my breath any further. There are some people who, no matter how many times I’ve tried to explain it, can’t or don’t want to understand.

Not being in Italy anymore, it’s difficult to judge exactly what effect Juventus reaching the Champions League final has had increasing awareness of my country’s existence. Twitter has been mostly positive, from what I’ve seen. Surprisingly so, I have to say. Some people finally realising that yes, Wales isn’t England, and actually correcting others on it. There have, of course, been some insensitive comments. Such as this one which I retweeted – ‘So Wales is useful for something’. I can see that maybe it came from a desire to be sarcastic, but I don’t think Italy would take very kindly to me tweeting that I was eating a plate of pasta, saying that at least Italy was useful for something. There was one tweet last night which claimed that we have the ‘England [sic] £’ in Wales; and there was the classic ‘But then, where the hell is Cardiff?’ tweet. Highly amusing, I’m sure. I’ve seen blog posts covering how to reach Cardiff, the information might not be 100% accurate (someone claimed that there are no direct flights to Wales from Italy, which is no longer true), but it’s a strong start. The issue at the moment is that between the Champions League final, and the Euros last year, the awareness of the existence of Wales is restricted to the world of football. Which is sad in itself, for a country with such a rich cultural identity and traditions. But that will take time, a lot of time from my experience. The good thing now is that the ball’s rolling. It’s a start, which is much better than nothing.

Llansteffan

Llansteffan

When I was growing up in the deepest, darkest countryside of north Carmarthenshire, I didn’t really appreciate how close I was to the coast. I was surrounded by hills and green fields, nothing that remotely made you even think about the sea. I was MUCH closer to both the Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion border than the Carmarthenshire coast. Now, actually living in Carmarthen, I’m much more aware of how close I am to the sea. Those seagulls are everywhere! It’s actually quite strange hearing them, or seeing one perched on a chimney on a house across the street, when I’m in a place that isn’t actually on the coast.

Green

Yesterday (May 10th) I visited the beach for the first time this year. Llansteffan is a short 20 minute drive from where I now live, out of the south-western end of the town, through some scenic countryside and villages, out towards where the Towy river (which flows through the town of Carmarthen) meets the sea.

Beach

It was an especially glorious day considering it was only May. There was only a slight breeze coming in from the sea, and beautiful sunshine. Perfect for having a walk on the beach and a picnic on the grass.

Castle

And there’s an actual castle on the hill! Disclaimer, this photo is from around this time last year – we didn’t make it up that far yesterday. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit of a trek up to it, but it’s well worth the effort. The castle itself is impressive – much more intact than Carmarthen’s castle – and there are some beautiful views out to sea.

Water

The one thing I should mention is the water. It’s not actually the sea, it’s the Towy estuary. That’s the unfortunate downfall of living near this part of the Carmarthenshire coast – no swimming!

In case anyone’s wondering, Llansteffan is the Welsh name for the village, and it modern Welsh it means ‘the church of Saint Stephen’. There’s a lot of history to the prefix ‘Llan’ in Welsh, it originally referred to an enclosed piece of land, but with the introduction of Christianity it was the piece of land occupied by a particular church, and then later to the church itself. So all of those Welsh places which start with Llan? Yup, they’re all the churches of one or more saints. Llanpumsaint in my home county is the church of five saints. The more you know, eh?

Carmarthen Castle

Carmarthen Castle

Any self-respecting Welsh town or city has a castle, and Carmarthen is no different!

Castle

To give a brief overview, the history of Castell Caerfyrddin, as it’s known in Welsh, goes back to when it was first built in the 1100s by the Sheriff of Gloucester. Over the years, decades, and centuries following this, it was captured by Owain Glyndwr (the last Welsh Prince of Wales), captured by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War of 1642-1651, and was also the place where Henry VII’s father died in 1456. So it saw its fair share of action, until the castle was burned by Oliver Cromwell during a Royalist rising in south Wales in 1648. From 1789 to the 1920s it then became the site of the county gaol.

Carmarthen port

The castle is on one of the highest points in the town, overlooking the Towy river. Getting to it from the town centre below involves walking up an incline towards Notts Square, where there’s an entrance. It’s nestled in between the rather majestic council offices, and a commercial shopping area, providing a refreshing break from the noise and bustle of the town. This unusual modern setting also means that it’s not as spectacular as the many other castles dotted around the county, but it still makes for an interesting visit, and a glimpse into the town’s rich history.

Castle 2

It was only in 2003 that areas of the castle were opened to the public, back when I was 17. That was around the time that I got my first permanent job, as a sales assistant in the town, and I have fond memories of sitting on one of the benches just below the castle on my lunch breaks; looking over towards the river and watching the traffic go by.

View

Yesterday I decided to go for a walk after lunch as the weather was so nice, and I wanted to go outside and get some fresh air and a change of scenery. I headed up towards the castle, because it was an area I hadn’t really explored since moving back to Carmarthen. It was interesting playing tourist in my hometown, as it’s often the case that you don’t really appreciate the attractions in the area that you grew up. There were a few real tourists enjoying the view from the castle, which I was glad to see.