Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Rhodri Marsden: Conversations in the pub aren't what they used to be

Life on Marsden: Even when a bloke at the bar sings beautifully, his politics can still be dodgy

The other day, a few of us were having a drink in a Welsh village pub, discussing such burning issues as the precise number of reasons for the First World War and whether women ever accidentally fart when they're pole-dancing. No consensus was reached on either of these issues, which is the way it should be. Too often these days, pub conversations that traditionally would have kept us entertained for an hour or more are now shut down in seconds when someone consults Wikipedia and reels off the names of Jupiter's moons, or tells you who drove the Arkansas Chuggabug in Wacky Races. Where's the fun in that? I can't find it, and believe me, I've looked.

During a lull in the discussion, a local chap was persuaded to get up from his chair and sing a rousing version of "Calon Lâ*". This kind of impromptu hymn-singing doesn't happen in England. If someone got up in my local Wetherspoons and started getting all "Onward, Christian Soldiers" on us, he'd be ushered out of the nearest exit by a fat security guard with a Bluetooth headset. But here, friends, family and colleagues joined with him in a harmonious expression of friendship and community. "Dim ond calon lâ* all ganu, Canu'r dydd a chanu'r nos," they sang. It was a beautiful experience worth savouring. Then he sat down and started telling me how much he hates the French.

It was a weird moment. I asked him why, and he said, "I dunno, I just don't like 'em." I had to recalibrate my feelings for the man; a minute ago, his singing had transformed him in my mind into some kind of local folk hero, but he'd just unintentionally alienated me with his politics. It was tricky. I revel in the beautiful cadences of Tristan und Isolde despite Wagner's murky associations with anti-Semitism; surely I could still appreciate the rich tenor of a bloke with an irrational dislike of anyone from Toulouse? But conversationally, it meant shutdown. Whatever topic we'd have chosen, I'd have imagined him spitting with fury at a plate of boeuf bourguignon or an Edith Piaf CD. So instead I turned to the woman next to me, who confided in me that she was "the least most person I know".

I didn't know what to say to that, either, so I got up and got a round in.