One Year On

The 15th of July, a day etched in my memory like an inscription on a gravestone. This time last year I was in Milan Malpensa Airport, waiting for my flight to Cardiff.

The way I see it, my time in Italy had ran out. Like sand in an egg timer. It felt like a natural decision, the logical conclusion to a series of events. It wasn’t drastic or rash, even though it had been a hard one. I felt like all the good things in my life, all the reasons I’d had to stay, were being chipped away bit by bit. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made to stay. I actually should’ve left a few months earlier, with how difficult life had become, but I carried on because I thought everything would improve. But I’d come to the end of my journey, like it or not.

It’s been an… Interesting experience coming back to the UK from a country like Italy. This time last year, I got on that plane with my self-esteem and self-confidence in pieces; it had constantly been broken down by the attitudes Italy generally has towards women. To say that the images of beautiful, thin, young women on TV had really got to me is an understatement. Sometimes it feels like a crazy fever dream now, did I really used to see scantily clad women dancing on a desk on a primetime show? Or a woman in a bikini on a gameshow being openly ogled by men? British TV isn’t perfect, I’m not going to pretend that it is, but at least it’s nowhere near as obvious as its Italian counterpart. And after a year, I can definitely feel the positive effects of not being bombarded by such images on a daily basis, even though I’ve still got a lot of healing to do. I’ve also, well, in a way had to get used to being Welsh again. The vast majority of people I met during my years in Italy didn’t get that I was Welsh, and referred to the UK as ‘Inghilterra’ or England. I’ve blogged about it before, how I felt that my Welsh identity was erased when I lived in Italy. I’d also not lived in Wales full-time since I was 18 before last summer, as I’d studied at an English university. For a long time I’d been a kind of ‘other’, a nationality and culture that wasn’t fully understood outside of Wales, and now I’m back among people who are like me, who have the same mother tongue as I do. It’s very comforting, but it also still feels like I don’t quite belong, after having been away for such a long time.

It’s easy to for me to look back and think of only the negative things, but I had a lot of experiences that I wouldn’t have done had I not moved to Italy. I took part in a competition for aspiring radio presenters in 2011, I met people from all over the country and beyond, I saw so much of western Europe as well as Italy, and I could hop on a train and go for a weekend in Rome. I went to Venice several times – twice for Carnevale – Rome about 10 times, I had wonderful weekends in Florence with my friends, Turin, Bologna, a crazy few days on the Adriatic coast in the middle of August… And even though it was only for a brief period of time, I experienced what it was like to have a boyfriend who had been born and had grown up in a different country to me.

I can’t quite believe it’s been a year already. So much in my life hasn’t changed since I made the move back, it’s been a much longer process than I originally imagined. It’s been a frustrating few months, trying to re-build my life and constantly getting knocked back one way or another. It’s a difficult position to be in, when people I grew up with have families, their careers sorted out, and I’m trying to start from scratch in my early 30s. It’s difficult not letting it get me down, but I have to battle on. I’ve gone through a drastic life change that most people won’t come close to, and I don’t give myself enough credit for it. I’m hoping that in a year’s time I’ll be able to write a more positive post, that things will be starting to fall into place. I’ve still got a mountain to climb.

What I’ve Been Reading and Listening to: July 3rd-9th

What I’ve been reading: The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle

I’ve got through a surprising amount of books this week, I’m really pleased with my progress! The Circle was a Kindle book I bought on Amazon last week, when it was on offer for 99p (gotta love those 99p daily Kindle deals!). I’d seen a lot of hype about the book, and also about the film that’s been made of it; and it had been on my ridiculously long to-read list for a while. But I have to admit, I was somewhat disappointed by it. I love speculative fiction, novels which are set in the near-future which have a dark twist to them – like Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series for example, where genetic experimentation is completely normal, and animal-human hybrids exist – but this book let me down. Without spoiling it too much, I felt like it didn’t add anything new to the discussion of technology becoming too invasive, and our dependence on social media. One thing I was also uncomfortable with was what I felt to be an unrealistic portrayal of a young woman. But, one huge surprise was my hometown of Carmarthen being mentioned! I started at my Kindle as if it were some kind of alien artifact, what on Earth was my town’s name doing in a book set in California written by an American author?? I gave it three stars on Goodreads, because I liked the idea of what was explored in the book, but it didn’t go into the depth that I’d expected.

What I’ve been listening to: Eos 10

On Friday, I finished listening to the second season of Eos 10. It was one of the many audio dramas that I’d seen recommended by the Wolf 359 fandom, because well, it’s another enjoyable audio drama set in space so I guess it comes easily to people’s minds. It’s set on a huge space station on the edge of deep space; but what makes it different to your average sci-fi is that the main characters are medical staff. It’s been described as ‘Scrubs in space’, which I think is a brilliant comparison, as it’s very much a sci-fi comedy. It can get pretty NSFW at times, but there’s also a much deeper side to it with the characters’ backstories and struggles. The third season is currently in the works, and I’m looking forward to its return.

Welsh Word of The Week

Siwrnai

siwrnai – journey

Yes, this word has clear English (and French, and Latin…) roots. There’s also the word taith for ‘journey’ as well as ‘trip’; but on Wednesday when I was talking about how long our journey up to North Wales had taken us, it was the word siwrnai I used (or siwrne in dialect, to be precise). The roughly four hour siwrnai way up north was the longest bus journey I’d taken in about five years, and it was quite the experience! It was also the first time I’d been to north Wales for about 15 years, apart from passing through on the train a few times, going to/from university. We saw some beautiful sceneries, especially up and down the hills of Powys, among the pine trees – to an extent it reminded me of the times I went up to the Trentino province of Italy, way up in the north-east towards the border with Austria. As long and tiring as the siwrnai was, it was beautiful to see so much of my home country again.

Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod

Eisteddfod Llangollen

On Wednesday, I went to the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, for the first time. It’s a cultural festival, founded in 1947, featuring singers and dancers from all over the world – competitors come to Wales from as far as the States, South Africa, and Indonesia! I’ve been wanting to go for years and years, fascinated by the competitors visiting from all over the world, and finally this year I managed it!

I was going to the Eisteddfod with some of my family, on a coach all the way up from West Wales to Denbighshire in north-east Wales; altogether it was a journey of about 130 miles. The day started at 4.30, I heard my phone vibrate and it took me a few seconds to realise that it was my alarm ringing in what was still the middle of the night. We then had to drive up from Carmarthen to the bus depot in deepest Ceredigion, which took about 40 minutes. At about 6.45 the bus and us as its first passengers started our long journey. We headed up towards Lampeter, where we picked up the majority of the passengers, towards Cardigan bay, then at Aberystwyth we headed back inwards through Powys and even over the border with England. That’s right, transport links between north and south Wales are so bad, we had to drive through England for about 20 minutes to reach our destination! It was a long journey, and we took a route which I didn’t expect – crossing the border could have been avoided had we headed more north before going east. It was very pretty going through Powys, all the hills and valleys, and evergreens, but it was so, so long…

We finally arrived at the Eisteddfod grounds around 10.40. I was so glad to finally get off the bus and be able to stretch my legs! After paying the £11 admission, our mission to was to find breakfast. I hadn’t had anything since about 6.30, and I was starving! We found a collection of food stalls, and I decided on a crêpe with sugar and lemon, which really hit the spot! Re-fuelled and re-caffeinated, we went for a walk around the stalls on the grounds.

The field was a lot smaller than I expected, from having frequented both the Urdd and National Eisteddfod for many many years; but this eisteddfod had a very different atmosphere, and a different crowd. Competitors were walking around in beautiful traditional dress from all over the world. It was somewhat of a strange experience being at an Eisteddfod and hearing languages other than Welsh. I even heard Italian! Browsing a stall, I heard three schoolgirls talking in Italian and I couldn’t believe it! It was such a strange feeling hearing Italian in Wales. Later on, I passed another group of Italian teenagers, and not realising they were Italian until I got closer, I heard the faint music they were listening to on one of their phones. This sounds familiar, I thought. And indeed it was – Italian rap! There was much more of a focus on the competitions themselves, with less going on around the grounds. Saying that, there were a few outside stages where competitors and singers performed during the day. Around lunchtime we watched performances by two dance groups. The first were Loughgiel Folk Dancers from Northern Ireland; and as someone who spent many years in dawnsio gwerin (Welsh folk dancing) groups, it was interesting to witness first hand folk dancing which had originated in another Celtic nation, to see similarities and differences. It’s certainly more energetic than ours! The second group were Mother Touch Dancers from Zimbabwe. These children were amazing! The dancing was so lively and vibrant, their energy was contagious.

The tiredness hit us mid-afternoon, but luckily there are plenty of places to sit down around the grounds, and listen to the competitions which are broadcast from the pavilion over speakers to the people outside. We went into the pavilion in time for last competition – which was earlier than we’d expected. The pavilion is beautiful, I’d seen it on TV so many times over the years, but all the flowers on stage really are beautiful. I was struck by how open and airy it was too, much more like a big tent than the Urdd and National Eisteddfod’s pavilions. The competition we caught was for classical singers under the age of 16, and I was struck by such talent at such a young age. Two of the singers were Welsh, and one had come all the way from Singapore. Much to the delight of the local crowd, a Welsh lad was awarded the first prize.

By then, it was nearly time to go home. Before we caught the bus back, we went back to a stall that we’d been to earlier in the day, and bought some very sexy Snowdonia cheese! At 5pm we started our long journey back down south, waving to a group of dancers from India (who are very well-known at the Eisteddfod) as we left. It was about 10pm when I finally got back home, exhausted, but happy to have finally experienced Llangollen’s very unique international eisteddfod!

Smalltown Girl

Smalltown

I grew up in an ‘extremely rural’ part of Carmarthenshire, in south west Wales. The nearest town was 10 miles away, the primary school I went to three miles away, and I was surrounded by farmland. For about 10 years before leaving for university, I lived in the countryside. Now that I’m back in the motherland after my years in Italy, I’m no longer living in the middle of nowhere, but in an actual town.

You’d think after a childhood and adolescence in a rural environment, that I’d very much be a country girl. Well, not really. I’d spend most of my time indoors, playing computer games (I have vivid memories of spending an entire summer glued to Civilization II) or reading, and then later on watching TV (bought with my own hard-earned cash, thank you very much). There was one summer, 1999, when I was 13 years old, that I spent a lot of time outside, on a homemade swing listening to Radio 1. But generally speaking, I didn’t appreciate the beauty that surrounded me. I was far away from the town, far away from anything that a teenager found interesting, and even my friends were a good couple of miles away at least.

When I moved back to Wales last summer, I wasn’t moving back to my childhood home, but to the town of Carmarthen. After having lived in a city for most of my 20s, it was the first time I’d actually lived in a town. I’d studied abroad in the beautiful hill town of Urbino in central Italy, but the halls I lived in were a 15 minute walk from the town itself. Now, I’m only a few minutes’ walk from the town centre.

Even after having lived in a city, it’s a strange feeling having neighbours. Last Sunday night I left my window open, as I felt warm even though the temperature had cooled; and the morning after I woke up to two female voices outside, talking in the rich, warm local accent.

It’s wonderful to have everything I need nearby, again. I can go to Tesco on foot, into the town centre if I need to go shopping, and both the train station and bus station are nearby if I want to go further afield. I don’t drive, and when I lived out in the countryside I felt very isolated. This town may be only a tiny fraction of the size Milan is (15,000 compared to 1,500,000!), but I’m very glad that I’ve been able to retain the independence I had in Italy when it comes to transportation.

One thing that still amuses me about living in a small town after nearly a year of living here, is just how often I randomly bump into relatives and people I know. On Tuesday lunchtime I had to go to the bank, and my aunt was standing outside waiting for my uncle to finish running an errand. On Saturday when I went to Tesco, I saw my brother and his family outside. I’ve seen cousins with their babies, served old teachers at my temp job over Christmas, and seen family friends who I hadn’t seen for years at the supermarket. It makes me realise just how alone I was in the big city of Milan all those years.

However, it’s not been a completely smooth ride coming to live in my hometown. The place is full of memories. This is the town where I went to secondary school, where I worked as a weekend/part-time sales assistant from just after my 17th birthday, where I went for nights out with my friends. I sometimes see the bus an old co-worker of mine used to take, and think about how my feelings for him were never reciprocated. I see the nightclub I used to go to with my friends, now closed down and empty; as is what used to be the best bar in town just down the road from it (rip Jolly Tar, we will always miss you). I see the street where I had my first kiss at 18 (hey, don’t judge me); and what used to be the pub where I had my first drink, which is now a very nice continental style bar. So much has changed, a whole new shopping area in the town, businesses which have come and gone, but certain ghosts continue to haunt the old streets.

It’s a strange feeling, a new beginning in an old place. Somewhere which has changed a lot in the time that I’ve been away, but has also remained the same as ever. Somewhere I hadn’t actually lived in before, but had spent a lot of time in. It is nice being back in familiar surroundings, but it’s also nice to have a new aspect of it too. It’s a town which doesn’t have the best reputation within Wales, but it’s mine, and that will never change.

What I’ve Been Reading and Listening To: June 26th-July 2nd

What I’ve Been Reading: The Keys of Babylon by Robert Minhinnick

The Keys of Babylon

If I’m reading a paperback, I’ve found it at the Free Books. This is one I picked up a few weeks ago, the title and cover initially drew me, and then I read the blurb. In my ignorance, I had no idea that the author was Welsh. I didn’t actually open the book until i started reading it a few days ago, and I just about lost my mind when I saw that one of the characters was named Nerys! I don’t ever remember reading a book, not even a Welsh one, where a character had my name. This Nerys, as it turned out, is a Lithuanian man, named after the river Neris that flows through the city of Vilnius; and he describes how he didn’t know ‘Nerys was a girl’s name in this part of the world’. It’s a very interesting book, so far I’ve read seemingly separate stories involving characters from all over the world. The one thing in common is that they have travelled to or from places looking for a better life, which is something I can relate to. The blurb on the back cover says that their stories around migration are all linked, and at one point their narratives will all come together.

What I’ve been listening to: Our Fair City

Between one thing or another, I haven’t listened to many podcast episodes this week. I did, however, finally get up to date on Spirits which I’m very happy about. What I’ve listened to the most this week, as far as the number of episodes is concerned, is Our Fair City. It falls into my favourite genre of fiction – post-apocalyptic! It’s set in the city of Hartford, and the HartLife company runs the city and controls the lives of the ‘policies’ who dwell there. There are mad scientists, mole people, and a very dangerous world outside of the city… It’s a monster of a podcast, having started way back in 2011, and it will shortly be starting its eighth and final season.

 

 

Welsh Word of The Week

nos – night

Much like two weeks ago, I’ve seen much more of the nos this past week than I really should have done. Thanks to Wolf 359 (the sci-fi audio drama that’s taken over my life), I’ve gone to bed in the early hours of the morning twice since Monday night – when the new episode dropped at around 3.15am UK time. Yesterday I was exhausted, I was at the point where I just couldn’t function properly; but last night I had about 10 hours’ sleep and I’m feeling like a new person today!

Welsh belongs to a different language family to English, and to any other language I’ve studied; so it’s not often that I’m able to see similarities between a Welsh word and one in another language. However, there are some loan words from English, and in the case of nos, Latin. There’s the Italian notte; and I also discovered the Polish noc when I started learning it last summer (noc for night also exists in Czech and Slovak, as I’ve discovered). The Welsh for week is wythnos, which is literally ‘eight night’.

What I’ve Been Reading and Listening to: June 19th-25th

What I’ve been reading: The Book of The Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

The Book of The Unnamed Midwife

I love my post-apocalyptic fiction. Yes, I know it’s bleak, but I find it fascinating. In this novel, a pandemic has killed off nearly all of mankind; and not only that, it has affected women more than men. It’s a dangerous world for the few remaining women, such as the unnamed midwife, who decides to try and pass as a man for her own safety. I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic novels, but this story of a disease which killed off much more women is a fresh tale, as dark and scary as parts of it are. I’m about half-way through, and it’s a gripping story.

What I’ve been listening to: Welcome to Night Vale

Anyone who listens to audio dramas will think, you’re only listening to that now?? Night Vale is the podcast which has introduced a lot of people to the world of audio dramas, and more often than not, it’s the starting point for fans of the medium. I’ve had it in my podcast app, waiting for me for weeks, but I finally got round to starting it this week. I’d heard a lot about it, so I had a good idea of what to expect; but I didn’t actually know what the format was, that it’s broadcasts from the town’s radio station. I’m a fan of the magical realism (Murakami ftw!) genre, so this is right up my street. The broadcasts tell the community about the strange things that have been going on in the town, such as a glow cloud floating in the sky, dinosaurs appearing through a portal in time, and mysterious hooded figures… I’m only four episodes in, I haven’t been listening to as many podcasts and episodes this week as I’d normally do, but I completely understand the hype around the show now!

Welsh Word of The Week

Tywydd

Y tywydd – the weather

After a fairly bonkers week metrologically speaking, what else could it be? After a few days of temperatures reaching 26 in my part of south-west Wales, y tywydd has since literally and figuratively chilled (because really, the UK reaching about 30 degrees in June was a case of the summer having zero chill), and at the moment it’s a much more sensible 16 degrees. After having lived in a country where temperatures would reach over 30 degrees for days on end every summer, people going crazy about temperatures in the mid-twenties was very amusing to me. Everyone was saying how hot it was, and I was saying that it was hot for here. As for today, it’s still very humid, and feels warmer than what it actually is. And yes, that’s the grey sky currently sat over my hometown!

Rejection and The Long Term Single Woman

Late last Friday night, I was trying to fall asleep. By then it was around midnight, and I wanted to get up fairly early on Saturday morning. Then a a memory came back to me like a punch in the gut. I have no idea where it came from, other than the general low mood I’d had that day and the couple of days preceding it. The memory was from when I was at university, 10 years ago to this month. Since then, I’ve been sitting on this blog post, wondering what to do with it. I still don’t know if it’s a good idea, and I might delete it later or tomorrow or whatever. But here’s the story. And I think it goes some way to explaining who I am, and the experiences I’ve had in life.

Once upon a time, there was a third year university student who was in love with one of her closest friends. She told him how she felt, and this is where the story ends.

Towards the end of my third year, our third year, I’d decided to tell him how I felt. It was about time, it had gone on long enough. I knew nothing good would come of it, he’d had enough time to ask me out, and I wanted to try and move on. It was the night of the university’s graduation ball (even though we we weren’t in our final year yet, he’d gone with friends); and for whatever reason, my logic in the days running up to it was to tell him late that night when he was at the event. I probably thought that the alcohol he would have consumed would have made it easier for him. I phoned him, ‘I’ve got something I need to tell you’ I told him. I still remember my tone of voice, the feeling of resignation, the dread in the pit of my stomach. He couldn’t hear me. So I sent him a text.

I didn’t hear anything from him that night. Or the following day. Or during the following weeks. It was as if he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. The graduation ball was only a few days away from the end of term, and the end of the academic year. I packed up my stuff, and went back to Wales with a broken heart.

That summer, the one before the start of our final year, we all had to go abroad for a certain amount of time, depending on our degree courses. I had to go to Italy for a month, and had chosen to go to a language school in Pisa. I still remember seeing his Facebook statuses during that summer, and photos of his time in both France and Italy. It was like a stab in the heart, he was no longer telling me these things directly, even though we’d been so close in the past.

One of the clearest memories I have from that month in Pisa, very nearly 10 years on, is seeing this song by an Italian artist, and this song by a British band on MTV and crying my heart out. Even now, looking back to that summer, the memories I have of Pisa and the experiences I had during that month are still tinged with sadness.

In the month and a half I had after coming back home from Pisa before the start of the final year, I went on a diet. Your typical heartbroken reaction, right? I got down to a size 10, the smallest I’d been up to that point, and I was so proud of myself. I remember wearing a new stripey jumper and black jeans on the first day of term at a meeting for all the final year students in the Italian department. I was sat on the end of a row of chairs, and he was somewhere behind me. Before the meeting actually started, he said something to me, that I looked well, or something along those lines. The first words I’d heard from him in over three months. But that was it, things were icy. Communication between us during that first term was minimal, nothing like how inseparable we had been in lectures during our first year. I also purposely distanced myself, hoping that seeing him less would be better for me. I purposely chose language classes he wasn’t in – due to the amount of students in our year, language and translation classes were held at different times – but there was one I couldn’t avoid taking because of other clashes with my timetable. I remember the feeling of some of those lessons, like there was an elephant in the room. We were sat at opposite ends, or far away, not saying a word to each other.

Our friendship had completely changed. Even now, I keep thinking, how much did people notice? When I eventually told some of my closest friends that I’d been in love with someone of our wider group of friends from our year, they said they didn’t know. But I find it difficult to believe that they didn’t have some kind of inkling.

Things only thawed after one Saturday night out at the beginning of December. I texted him asking if we could be friends, and he said that it’d be a ‘good idea’, and we arranged to meet. Even though I’d tried to distance myself from him, I missed him. I missed his company as a friend, I missed talking to him. So we met up, a couple of days later, if I remember correctly. It wasn’t quite as awkward as I thought it would be, but it just wasn’t the same. I could tell he wasn’t comfortable, and I wasn’t either.

After that, my life at university very much changed. In the time I’d distanced myself from him, I’d got to know my other friends better and spent more time with them. I socialised more, I went out more, and even though my finals were looming, I had so much fun. I just wish I’d done it sooner, instead of fixating on someone that could never have been more than a friend to me.

I never asked why he didn’t reply to the text I’d sent him, I just couldn’t face bringing it up; and he didn’t offer any explanation, either. And every time I saw him afterwards it was at the back of my mind. The proof that he wasn’t such a good person, after all. I remember having a certain feeling of wariness when I spent time with him during the last few months of our final year, as if I was waiting for him to snap at me or insult me. But he never did. It was as if it he were a different person to the one who disappeared for months.

That was the most difficult heartbreak I’ve been through, and I’ve been through more than my fair share of harsh rejections in life. It’s difficult to be always optimistic when you’ve spent nearly your entire life single. Right now it feels like I don’t even have the faintest glimmer of hope shining off in the distance. It’s easy to relive past disappointments, and wonder what – if anything – you could’ve done differently, better. To imagine a life in an alternative universe. Yes, it wasn’t meant to be, I can see that. He treated me in such a disrespectful way because I’d dared to develop feelings for him. But still, sometimes I wish that he’d just given me a chance. I was constantly trying to show him my best side, that I was worthy, but it didn’t work. And knowing that has left a scar that might never truly heal. But saying that, it doesn’t hurt anymore, it was 10 years ago, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. But it’s still sad that it happened. It’s sad that, even though we were good friends, my physical appearance or my personality or whatever it was, well, repulsed him, it seems. Experiences like this can have a profound impact on your personality and your way of seeing yourself – if you let them, and especially if you have a string of them. And I let this one.