Mary Dejevsky: Happiness is rediscovering nationhood

Share
Related Topics

A long time ago, 20 years at least, we decided to visit parts of Britain we did not know. We started with a trip to the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales, dreaming of mountains and seascapes and lava bread with dinner.

Needless to say, it turned out differently. Of scenery there was none; the clouds were well and truly down. And the further we drove, the fiercer and more encompassing the rain. Where we stayed, the sole source of youth entertainment was the telephone kiosk below our window, while scampi-in-a-basket (remember?) was the reality that replaced lava bread.

For me, that trip had an additional purpose. It was intended by way of a catharsis for the dismal summer treks to Snowdonia I had endured in childhood, which involved an hour or more between trains at Crewe and, if you were unlucky, a missed connection at Caernarvon. I can't imagine what it must have been like for my mother, shepherding four children under 10 and distributing packed lunch for everyone that included home-made trifles in individual plastic beakers. Wales couldn't really be that awful, could it?

Well, the Lleyn Peninsular inoculated us against any more familiarisation trips to Wales – until a recent weekend, when we went to Cardiff and drove around the Brecon Beacons, defying an inclement weather forecast that turned out to be wrong. But even if weather makes a difference, so – I think – does something else. Wales, now it is "devolved", seems to have a sense of itself that is clearer, more positive and more modern than before.

There always were the costume dolls with their tall black hats, the model spinning-wheels and the dragons, but they seemed to represent a Welshness frozen in a clichéd past. Now, there are more dragons than ever, but they are bright, newly gilded and somehow livelier. Signs are bilingual. All right, most people aren't native Welsh speakers. But the public display of language fosters a sense of legitimate nationhood in place of the subdued rebelliousness before. In Cardiff, the Assembly and the civic complex around it – all Welsh materials, Welsh character, Welsh pride – say that this is a nation in a way that goes beyond the rugby and the choirs.

In Scotland, the process of assertion is more advanced, making itself felt in social attitudes and policy. There is a renaissance in art and crafts; and something similar is afoot in Wales. Devolution, for all its constitutional roughness, seems to have bestowed something akin to contentment, if not happiness. And, for me, this echoes something else.

No one – well, let's say almost no one – would liken British rule in Scotland and Wales to Soviet repression of the Baltic states, or even Spanish rule over Catalonia. But another's suzerainty, however benign, still seems to be a state that leaves much to be desired. The palpable delight of the Baltic states after regaining independence – the revival of identity, the flags, the restored buildings, the life breathed into ossified culture – made the streets of Riga, for instance, a pleasure to walk – and still does, for all the exigencies of recession. If Scotland and Wales in time become separate countries – why not? There are smaller countries in Europe than these.

As we drove home from Wales, it was impossible not to contrast the well-groomed dragon bidding us a bilingual farewell with the scuffed and faded lion, announcing our return. Come on, England, it's beyond time to get your act together. Those pesky Celts are showing how.

Could all this condescension be 'cos he's...?

My sympathy for the disgraced golfer, as you might imagine, has been limited. How could one big spoilt kid mess up his near-perfect life so comprehensively? Even at his "re-launch" earlier this week, his minders wrapped him in cotton-wool to dull any probing questions. But yesterday I revised my opinion – and not because Tiger was back earning his keep on the golf course. It was because of what the chairman of the Augusta National Club said on the eve of the US Masters.

"As he ascended in our rankings of the world's great golfers," said Billy Payne, "he became an example to our kids that success is directly attributable to hard work and effort." But, he went on, "our hero did not live up to his expectations of the role model we saw for our children". And there was more: "Certainly, his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change."

Now it might be a bit politically incorrect to mention this, but I wonder whether anyone in authority would have said anything so patronising of a white sportsman? It seems particularly insensitive coming from a white official in the US Deep South, where segregation is not so long gone. There are white golfers whose prolific personal flaws have routinely escaped public criticism. Why should Tiger be uniquely vilified as a fallen role model?

Freed from the farce of your 5-a-day

Little gave me more pleasure this week than the finding that eating more fruit and vegetable has a negligible effect in preventing cancer. I have long found that phrase "5-a-day" intensely irritating, never more so than when prefaced with "your". It didn't even really mean what it said. One of "your 5-a-day", it turned out, could be a glass of fruit juice; a "smoothie" counts for more. No wonder it didn't work.

Even if you did treat the five items seriously, though, as the half-million in the survey seem to have done, it still didn't make a great difference. In the best-case scenario, the study found, an extra two portions of fruit and veg a day might prevent 2.6 per cent of cancers in men and 2.3 per cent in women. Or, as Professor Walter Willet of Harvard summed it up, "any association of intake of fruits and vegetables with risk of cancer is weak at best". Bravo!

So now we can go back to nibbling our fruit and veg for their taste and texture rather than out of duty. We won't have to count them any more, either; they'll return to being part of that elusive balanced diet, which was always the most sensible way.

Alas, though, we're not out of the woods yet. The same researchers now want to establish whether some fruit and veg might do more good than others. Down the line, that means more hype about "super-foods", a price premium on the "useful" stuff, and more tasteless, farmed berries mouldering on the supermarket shelves out of season.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine