(Yes, of course Wales is a foreign country. Here is an example. My daughter studied French at Aberystwyth. All the people on her course studied French. But half of them didn't study it with the other half. That's because half of them were learning French in Welsh, and not a word of English was spoken during their French lessons.)
One of the things I enjoyed most about the drive to Aberystwyth and back was the chance to stop for lunch at the Bear in Crickhowell. It isn't often that you find anywhere in Wales that can honestly be called pretty - Wales tends to oscillate between grandeur and scruffiness - but Crickhowell is a pretty little town, and the Bear is one of those inns, friendly, rambling and well-established, that you normally think have vanished from Britain long ago, or been turned by a brewery into some plastic monster which their market research people think the customer wants.
Not the Bear. Nobody had stripped away the old wood, or brightened the curtains, or introduced spotlights so that you could admire the walls more. It was clearly much used by the locals, but birds of passage like us were made welcome as well, in the dark but cheerful bar out of which steps went up to other, mysterious rooms beyond. That's how I remembered it, anyway. It's now four or five years since my daughter left university, so I hadn't been back till about a month ago when, after a week on holiday in west Wales, we stopped at the Bear.
We got the shock of our lives. Nothing had changed at all. It was still one of those inns, friendly and rambling, etc. This time we weren't allowed to sit in the main bar for lunch, because of our five-year-old, which meant that because of the idiotic British licensing laws we had to go through into the family bar beyond. As a rule, family bars are cheerless places, fish-finger-flavoured asylums where undesirables are put in discomfort before being deported, but at the Bear even the family bar is a pleasant place, nice enough to attract people who don't have to go in there if they don't want to - elderly couples, lone bachelors, and so on.
It was while she was studying the lone bachelor that my wife made her perceptive remark. (I don't want to give the impression that my wife is given to studying lone bachelors. She studies everyone. This is a habit she shares with all other women, and very few men. Have you noticed that in a restaurant, or on a bus or train, the women will look at everyone else, while the men get on with reading the menu or paper or something? That is because women are genuinely interested in people, and men are genuinely interested in themselves. And that is why, when a woman says on emerging from a restaurant, 'You know that woman in the corner in the yellow dress who was an the verge of crying the whole time?', her man will say, 'What woman? What on earth are you talking about?')
Anyway, my wife had been covertly studying the lone bachelor at the bar, who was conversing merrily with two young women, and ordering pints for everyone, and restraining a dog on a lead (ah - that's why he was in the family bar - the dog), when she made her perceptive remark.
'It's a wedding,' she said.
'What's a wedding?' I said, startled.
'They've all come for a wedding. It's the only explanation. The place is full of unusually smart, unusually well-spoken middle-class people. Some of them are locals, because they know the staff. Some are out-of-town, because they don't even know where the loos are. But they are all talking to each other. They all have one common purpose. What else could it be but a local wedding? Friends and relatives flocking from London, people with new spouses and babies, men with hired suits staying the night at the Bear . . . .'
I couldn't make out when I started this piece whether it was about Wales or the power of female observation. I now realise that it's about how much nicer other people's weddings are than your own. Unfortunately, it will have to wait till tomorrow now.Reuse content