I worked down in Wales for about 18 months with a firm of Consultant Engineers on water and sewage projects. The lads were great company, and the work was interesting, demanding and absorbing, but try as I might, I could not ignore the statues and pictures, all totally invisible to the untutored eye, which were spattered in every office, on every level, and in just about everyone else’s mind. The statues, pictures and other objects were of course all to do with the true Welsh Religion, namely Rugby. I was of course a triple outsider, a true interloper: I was English, I didn’t speak or understand Welsh, and worst of all, I had absolutely no interest in, or understanding of; the aforementioned National Religion; or any other sport, for that matter. For the part of the Welsh men whom I sat besides and worked with on the Projects we were given, there was a sort of puzzled incredulity about my very existence, but they eventually decided I was just an eccentric Englishman who didn’t understand the Welsh, possibly because a virus had crept into my brain at the time of my birth, and blanked off the ’Rugby Loving & Understanding’ synapses which are fully developed in all Welshmen even before the time of their birth.
I was speaking with this bloke who was trying, without much success, to interest me in his bringing a range of fibre-glass enclosures onto our office car-park, so that interested parties might see and glory in the inspired engineering design (alright, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but he was trying to get onto our ‘approved’ list of suppliers). As I said, he wasn’t getting much traction with me, so in a last gasp to grab my attention, he said; “and of course my other claim to fame is that I am brother in-law to Xxxxx Yyyyyyy (the actual name escapes me). As I honestly did not know who he was talking about, I asked “Who is Xxxxx Yyyyy?”. The entire corner of my office fell silent, with everyone actually staring at me, as though I had spoken against everything held sacred in Wales, from leeks upwards. The bloke on the other end of the phone was equally amazed. He said, ”you have got to be joking! You honestly don’t know who Xxxxx Yyyyyy is, how he has played for Wales; how he is known the length and breadth of the land you are working in?”
When I replied that, as I had no interest in any sporting activity at all, including games played with odd-shaped balls, this bloke said that, as far as he was aware, I was damn near unique amongst the people he knew or had ever spoken too. When I finished the phone call, I looked up, and everyone was staring at me as though I had just sprung fully formed out of a breach in the space-time continuum.
My best mate, a bloke called Gwynne Jones, who sat across the aisle, spoke up. “You know, boys, we have probably the only honest Englishman in the whole of Great Britain. The rest say how they know this, and play that, and watch the other, and appreciate that about every sport under the sun, which of course is complete bollocks; but Mike not only doesn’t know, he doesn’t want to know!”