Rhodri Marsden: In which Rhodri is moved by an ancestral tape recording

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The Independent Online

I don't sound Welsh enough for my liking. My name might suggest a sonorous voice suited to performing at the Eisteddfod or auctioning cattle in Abergavenny, but I've got a nondescript southern accent that could come from anywhere within a 70-mile radius of London. It actually comes from within a seven-mile radius of Luton: the dialectological equivalent of magnolia paint. I suppose I could affect a Welsh accent, but that would make me look even more desperate for attention that I already do, and I'd probably sound like Nick Clegg doing a bad impression of Gandhi.

If I'd grown up in Bridgend rather than Bedfordshire I might have inherited my Welsh mother's accent, except she doesn't have one either. I asked her about this glaring anomaly over Christmas; it transpired that in the early 1950s her grandfather sent all his grandchildren to elocution lessons with a woman in Swansea called Mabel Tait, who proceeded to neutralise any sing-song tendencies. He bought a tape recorder and proudly recorded their progress; my mother fetched the tapes from upstairs and played me one of her delivering a recitation. "Mm. Not very Welsh, is it," I said. "It's educated Welsh," she laughed. "You know, like Huw Edwards."

This new-fangled tape recorder led my great-grandfather to unwittingly complete a post-war Welsh anthropological study by recording the musings of any visitors to the house. My favourite is "Mr Jones" who, after exploring issues pertaining to his health ("I suffered a little bit from want of blood the other day"), is asked by my great-grandmother to tell a fairy story. He sighs, and says in the Welshest voice imaginable: "They say, you know, that when the first babies smiled in this world, they all went dancing around the room, and that was the beginning of fairies... Of course, how much truth is in it, I can't say. But I wouldn't deny it. No, certainly not." I listened to this magnificent load of bollocks and felt a colossal Yuletide glow, which says something about my weakness for the accent and why I want one. Someone from Swansea could tell me that I'm fat, I'm standing on their foot, and I may harm my defence if I do not mention when questioned something that I later rely on in court, and I'd still think, ah, there's pretty.