qH reviews Welsh TV: @pobolycwm and @rowndarownd

On April 5, 2016, I started learning Welsh. (I’m not normally so precise, but I have an unbroken Duolingo streak and can count.)

Around that time, I discovered the S4C website and I looked for things that were 1) relatively easy to follow, 2) had English subtitles, and 3) would hold my attention.

So, soap operas! I figured the dialogue would be mostly conversational–the hi, bye, how are you? things you get in language courses…plus bonus vocabulary about who is sleeping with whom. And so it is. But I didn’t reckon on LIKING soap operas, though. There are other shows that I’d count as soaps, but two are the most like daytime soaps American audiences are familiar with (even if they air at night in Wales): Rownd a Rownd  (airs 2/week) and Pobol y Cwm (airs 5/week). Both shows are 20 minutes long and divided into two segments. Rownd a Rownd just celebrated its 21st birthday and Pobol y Cwm has been around for 42 years.

The shows are pretty different from American soaps. For one, the actors look like real people. For another, their professions in the shows are realistic, like farmers or contractors or plumbers or small business owners or mechanics. There’s a lot of what we’d consider blue-collar jobs. No one is independently wealthy (that I can tell; the richest person on Rownd a Rownd seems to have built his business). I love that. The most exalted profession in both is teaching. What might be something worthy of a class-conscious letter to Dear Prudence (“Dear Prudence: Help! I’m a teacher and I’ve fallen in love with a mechanic/climbing instructor/plumber! How can I tell my family and friends? Should I dump him because he can’t discuss Marxist theories of history?”) is no. big. deal. And I love that, too. I don’t know if that’s an across-the-board Welsh TV thing, a Welsh thing in general, or something else, but it’s nice.

Rownd a Rownd is set in North Wales. Pobol y Cwm is set in South Wales. There is a huge difference in how the language sounds from north to south, and there are some vocabulary differences. (The most critical seem to be the words for a cup of tea and now.)

But…it didn’t take long until I realized there were more similarities than differences between the shows. Heck, there probably are more than this, but I’ve only been watching for about six months.

  1. Hair salon: In PyC it’s run by Sheryl, who employs Dani, kinda. I think? In RaR it’s run by [obvs] a different Dani, who employs Jac and Lowri.
  2. Mechanic: In PyC the mechanic is Gethin. In RaR, it’s Rhys. I don’t think Rhys has come across a dead body in his shop yet, though.
  3. Local Shop: It’s like a mini-mart/grocery in both. In PyC it’s owned by Elaine. In RaR it’s slightly more complicated, but it’s run by Philip.
  4. Pub/Restaurant: In PyC, it’s the Deri or Cafe Meic. In RaR it’s Copa.
  5. Teachers: In PyC, Tyler and Ffion are teachers and Gaynor is the head teacher. In RaR, Mathew and Llio are teachers and Jim is the head teacher.
  6. Guys with shady pasts and rhyming names: Gary (PyC) and Barry (RaR).
  7. Pregnancy plots: Sara (PyC) and Carys (RaR).
  8. Juvenile arson of beloved buildings: Chester targeted Bethania, a chapel (PyC). Gareth went after the Parry’s/Sgram/Dani triumvirate (RaR). Consequences: Chester went to Welsh Juvie, and Gareth just disappeared from RaR.
  9. Painkiller addictions: Kath (PyC) and Carys (RaR). (I also watch Gwaith/Cartref, and lo, there is another painkiller addict.)
  10. Gay couple: Tyler and Iolo (PyC), Rhys and still-mostly-closeted David (RaR).
  11. A super annoying old person: Megan (PyC) and Arthur (RaR).
  12. Teenagers learning to drive: Courtney (PyC) and twins Erin and Wil (RaR). It didn’t work out for Courtney.
  13. American-themed clothing:  I find it kind of jarring to see things like a Yankees ball cap or a US university’s sweatshirt (or whatever), but both shows do it.

Both shows, like all soaps, have a ton of characters. Pobol y Cym’s all seem to have slept with each other. Sometimes when one of the old characters shows up for a few episodes, I get completely confused. This happened recently with Angela, the mother of the now-deceased Courtney, and I was left to puzzle out a very complicated family tree knot.

Attempt #1

Not quite right.

Attempt #2

Still not quite right, but it’s the best I can work out.

One thing I like about Rownd a Rownd, or did like about it until Christmas, was the existence of more than one long-term relationship. I can’t think of any (at least nominally) long-term monogamous relationship on Pobol y Cwm, but I’ve missed 41 years of the show.

I tried to work this out, too.

I can’t even. I’m sure half of this is wrong.

I could do the same thing with Rownd a Rownd, but I think at this point my head would blow up. (Also, the Rownd a Rownd website has a really useful guide to the characters, and I have been able to figure a lot out.)

In any case: I get a kick out of these shows, and also get a kick out of summarizing the plots for my husband when we are out. Bonus, of course, is that it’s a great way to learn the language.

A better address: FDR in 1933

I haven’t done a lot of public hang-wringing about the election, although I will be out health coverage when the ACA goes. Before the election, I knew there were a lot of people spewing a lot of hate; now I know there are many millions more. [I am angrier at people on the left and center-left who didn’t vote for Mrs. Clinton (or at all) than I am people on the right who voted for the man who is now president.]

I also know that for every president since Washington, there have been people who thought the sky would fall with the incoming administration. The Democratic-Republicans thought Adams was a disaster (with cause–remember the Alien and Sedition Act?); the Federalists went kaput after the Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. But life went on and gave us some winners (Lincoln, TR, FDR, JFK, LBJ–a corrupt man, LBJ, but the Great Society changed many lives for the better) and some losers (Harding, Hoover, Nixon, Bush II, and choose-your-own).

Four years is a long time to despair, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll keep reading the words of people wiser than I, who value(d) the many above the few. (Why do people want to elect someone they could grab a beer with? I want to elect the smartest and best person possible and I don’t want to go on a pub crawl with them.)  Maybe we should be thinking of a part of FDR’s 1933 address that isn’t commonly quoted:

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

Or this part:

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

(Can you imagine the modern electorate voting for someone who uses the word “evanescent” in an address to the nation? I only wish I could.)

But remember he also said this:

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership.

I live in a bubble in a liberal city. I have an advanced degree. I have liberal, educated friends, a few of whom have been grating on my nerves for months with smug condescension toward the people who voted for the current president. (I don’t know about you, but I never changed my mind about an issue because someone told me I was stupid for having the belief/opinions I did.) Yeah, I’m a bit bewildered by people who vote against their own self-interest, too. But…

We need to remember the current president is the symptom of an advanced disease process. He didn’t fall out of his tower and land at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without help. He’s there for a reason. Until the disease is treated–until the millions of people who were so hopeless that they would believe the rhetoric of an orange creep, who think a guy who brags about not paying his taxes is a role model worthy of electing president–marching and protesting isn’t enough. We need to think about what is going to work, to stop tearing down and start building. It’s going to get worse, probably a lot worse, but telling people they’re stupid because of the person they voted for won’t win any votes in 2020. Caring about what happens to and helping them, regardless of how they voted, might.

TL; DR: Judge not, golden rule, and light a damned candle.



Let it just sn– No. Let it rain again. Please. Forever.

We don’t get a lot of snow in Portland, which is the oft-repeated excuse for why we are perennially unprepared for winter weather as a city. (We have winter storms with increasing frequency, yet we continue to not be prepared for them.)

This is not my patio. This is a mess. 

We have had snow. And snow. And snow. The most recent storm started on Tuesday, and here we are on Sunday and the streets continue to be coated in snow and ice. Because kH only gets paid when he works, all these snow days (yes, the city shut down, the courts shut down, the schools shut down, the places people take kids to when the schools shut down also shut down, and of course his work shut down, too) have meant he’s had maybe one full paycheck since Thanksgiving. (He also doesn’t get holiday pay yet, because the agency he works for is cheap exploitive what it is).

Thankfully I had pH’s holiday gifts purchased ahead of time, and thankfully I believe in having a lot of food stocked in the pantry, and thankfully I still remember how to cook.

This is my beautiful daughter, just before we had a snowball fight.

Today we went out to the library, pH and I, and she said, “I can see how this snow thing can get old.” (An hour later she was fascinated by icicles, so don’t write her off as a snow cynic–yet.)

In a delightful bit of timing, the agency he applied to work for over a year ago has decided that this should be the week to interview across the country; they will reimburse us for his travel/expenses. They kept changing the date, so we couldn’t plan. Now he has a date–Friday.  Monday is a holiday. And did I mention he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t work? So we’re looking at $1K in travel expenses which we would be reimbursed for, but it’s 1K we don’t have because SNOW. Once he’s there, we’re looking at yet another tiny paycheck (if he takes a red eye, and that would seriously suck, he’d only miss one extra day of work).

[This is where I emit a stream of expletives that would make a sailor blush.]

We have to  get kH across the country–by Friday morning. (He tried to get them to do a Skype interview–isn’t that MUCH MORE reasonable?– but apparently no.) If we’d had a week or two of warning, we could have swung it. We didn’t. I’d be appalled by the timeline and assumption of expenses, except this is the government and it’s a job kH really, really wants.

[More expletives.]

Perspective: I mean, we’re not starving. We’re not freezing. It’s not the end of the world. We will catch up sometime in mid-late February. And somehow we will get him across the country, even if it involves a giant slingshot.

If the weather would only just give us rain again…please?


Today, falconry; tomorrow, the world

pH: I want to get into falconry.

me: Um, okay. (I downloaded some falconry library books to pH’s Kindle and requested others through ILL.)

pH, racing into my room, 30 minutes later: I’m really, really, really interested in falconry.

me: Okay. Long before you apprentice (I used my 30 minutes Googling), you have to do some things. First you have to learn how to shoot. That’s fine, we’re planning on that anyway. Second, you have to learn how to hunt. Third, that means you have to get used to killing things.


me (continued): Do you think you’d be okay with killing things? Because if you want a hawk or a kestrel to kill something for you, you have to be willing to do it yourself.

pH: I think I’ll be okay with it. Yeah. I think I can kill things.

me: We’d have to actually eat the stuff you kill. You want to eat game? My grandfather never ate venison after the Depression.

pH: (Whose favored foods are almost exclusively, and in this order: blueberries, ribeye, seaweed, edamame, miso, Ritz crackers and cheese, tamago, and Luna bars). Long pause, then: Yes.

me: You’d kill things and you’d have your bird kill things. You’re sure?

pH, strongly and emphatically: Yes.

me: And…you’re planning a career in politics now?

pH: Yep.


So while I wait for the vegan army to evict us from Portland, the reality is that while I’m not hot on shooting anything, let alone dressing or eating it (I actually don’t like to eat much meat: raw salmon, yes. Cooked halibut and salmon, yes. Occasionally a good steak, yes. Anything else? Ew….) if she really, really wants to do it, I’m fine with it. She’d be able to support us come the zombie apocalypse, and my grandfather did feed the family with venison during the Depression. (kH’s family got by because they had chickens and a cow.) However, pH can’t stand being near an insect, has never killed one to my knowledge, screams at spiders, and hates loud noises. But, pH learning how to shoot is on the 2017 to do list, anyway. We’ll see how it goes; she can’t apprentice until she’s 14.


How @S4C saved 2016 for me (Or, qH on Welsh TV: Part I)

I could post about how 2016 can go suck a bag of dicks, but it’s been done.

I could also post about how my holiday cards were designed and purchased on time but I sent them out late and if you didn’t get one, it was because I lost or never computerized addresses in the last couple of years. THE GUILT IS KILLING ME. (Drop me a line with your address, please!)


In my quest to be smugly obscure helpful, I’ll present a new series on Welsh TV. Yes, that’s random, isn’t it? But I watch more TV in Welsh now than in English.

To get it out of the way, since “I’m learning Welsh” always comes with the same annoying “Why?” that came with “I’m going to law school,” “I’m having a child,” and “I’m homeschooling my child?” The answer is: I want to. I have wanted to learn Welsh since I was bored in church and, having exhausted the good bits of the Bible (I liked Deuteronomy; no wonder I became a lawyer), and the hymns themselves, I read the tune index in the hymnal (having to listen to a parent sermonize every Sunday will drive you to such things) and discovered “Cwm Rhondda.” It just looked cool. (Spoiler: it’s a valley AND a tune AND a dessert topping.)

Also, W as a vowel? SIGN ME UP.

(Sidenote: in my minister’s kid opinion, all the good hymns are Welsh or German, because both can withstand a mediocre organist playing at dirge-tempo. The Welsh hymns still are lovely and the German hymns still sound like drinking songs, albeit really, really drunk drinking songs.)

I tried to learn Welsh as a teenager but had no resources, even in my university’s library. After a couple of years on Duolingo refreshing German, Welsh became available in beta and is now open. Between Duolingo, lots of grammar books,** and Welsh TV (and music), I’m slowly making headway.

Slowly. Grammatically, Welsh is pretty neat. After decades of German, who on earth could imagine a language where the verbs come first most of the time? Verbs! First! You know the sentence tense before you even know the subject! You don’t have to wait until the end to know the main verb. Alas, I am of mixed feelings about mutations. Maybe someday I’ll like them; after all, I’ve reached a place with German where I appreciate adjective endings. For now, though, mutations are just a thing that terrorize me when I want to look something up in a dictionary.

Oh, sure, I don’t have anyone to speak with, and yeah, that slows things down a bit. Fortunately my ferret is non-judgmental and likes to be called Rhys-bach. And I can’t roll my Rs. I’ve tried, and it’s not pretty.

But you’re here for the TV. There are so many good shows; it doesn’t start and end with Y Gwyll/Hinterland.***

Here’s how it happened.

My husband mentioned that when India wanted to increase literacy, the authorities started close-captioning TV. And it worked. It doesn’t get closer to a permission slip than that. So I thought:


I started with soap operas (two: Rownd a Rownd and Pobol y Cwm), which while very different in tone, somehow manage to all center around a cafe, hair salon, a cab company, a mechanic shop, pub, a couple of teachers, and contractors.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

Y Detectif  is hosted by Mali Harries, who plays Mared on Y Gwyll. Then my entire family discovered Fferm Ffactor: Brwydr Y Ffermwr and I found out my husband knew a bunch about farming. All these years together, and that just came out, just like I learned about his “Voltaire phase.” (His words.)

And I discovered Parch and Gwaith/Cartreff and Pen Talar (on DVD). And that’s barely getting going.

Then I discovered that for every show I watched, there was at least one actor (or writer) who was a musician whose work resided on my iPod.  It’s totally cliched and it’s totally true.

And sometimes they retweeted me.

See what I mean? She wrote a brilliant TV show AND LIVES INSIDE MY IPOD AT THE SAME TIME.

In a future post, you won’t be make me to shut up about Parch. My family history: Church? Check. Funerals and funeral homes? Check. Crazy mother? Check. (Although I’d take Myf as a mom in a heartbeat.) Miscreant younger brother who engages in identity theft? Check, check, check.

So, the more 2016 has sucked, the more TV I have watched in another language. (And I have enjoyed it more than I ever liked German TV–Entschuldigung, bitte!)

Thank you, @S4C.

FWIW, though, could someone tell me how to say, “2016 can suck a bag of dicks” yn y Gymraeg? Plîs?

* Dialect-wise, I made a tactical error. I researched where the largest concentration of Welsh speakers reside–the north–and bought instruction books accordingly; courses tend to be divided North/South. The TV is, so far as I can tell, mostly South, since that’s where Cardiff is. Wales, despite being the roughly the size as the county I went to university/got married in, has really distinct dialects. (My husband is convinced people in North Wales are speaking Russian when he can’t see what I’m watching.) But…it wouldn’t be a qH undertaking if I didn’t inadvertently make the entire thing twice as hard as it needed to be. In the future I’ll claim I did it on purpose. You know, for the challenge and well-roundedness. Right now it’s just a PITA.

** If I were to recommend one grammar book…it would be all of them. Seriously. I have all of them, including some random books that are out of print that I found at Powell’s.

I probably spent more money on Welsh books than shoes in 2016.

Ha! Okay, no, I didn’t. I wear Fluevogs. But I did make an investment and I’m glad. Sometimes seeing something the 20th time makes the difference.

***Y Gwyll is filmed twice: once in Welsh, once in English. It airs first in Wales in Welsh with English subtitles, then it airs in the rest of the UK in English with some Welsh, and then the US gets it, but only in English and not in the same form. I was annoyed I was getting a crap version of the show, so I ordered the DVDs from amazon.co.uk in Welsh (warning: it’s Region 2, so you have to have the player, and my second warning is they sell both languages–make sure you’re getting the right one). It is so. much. better.  And you guys, Series 3. SERIES 3. AMAZING. Hopefully Netflix doesn’t mess it up.

Poisonous or venomous or toxic or…something

Despite the  joy of having a gifted child (it’s 2016; where’s my jetpack? My sarcasm fonts?), one benefit is I learn new things all the time. For example…

…last night I was having a pity party and (thank you, Google Earth), I looked at my grandparents’ house in North Florida. Whoever owns it now is doing a bang-up job of keeping it up. Then, at pH’s prompting, I showed her the back of the house and the lake beyond.

And I remembered a story.

It was August in Florida, which is pretty much hell on earth. My aunt and I were, uh, more than slightly inebriated for some reason (besides not a whole lot to do in North Florida), and we were sweaty and dehydrated and exhausted after we’d  liberated (free) windows from a site renovation and took them to the back of the house, to the garage.

But OMG, there was a water moccasin–injured, because my aunt’s terrier had been acting like a terrier and terrorizing it without knowing what the heck it was. (Spoilers: the dog turns out fine.) Now, I have these Southern genes, but there are two things about North Florida that freak me the fuck out: palmetto bugs and poisonous snakes.

The women in my family, though, know how to handle this stuff. On the same visit, I watched my frail grandmother fly–fly!–across a room to whack a palmetto bug with her slipper (it was the day before the exterminator was due). (I screamed. I’m useless in these situations.)

But…back to the garage. My aunt–who was rather more inebriated than I–grabbed a shovel, attacked the water moccasin, and flung it, injured, into a ditch 15 yards away.

End of story. I looked at my daughter.

pH: “It’s not a poisonous snake.”

Me: “Of course it is. You remember the one that swam after your daddy and how they all jumped out of the canoe when it went inside, then when it went out of the canoe they all jumped back in?”*

pH: “Yes, it’s dangerous.” (Rolls eyes.) “But it’s a venomous snake. You see, it injects venom into you. If you just touched it or ate it, that would be poisonous. Since it injects it into you, it’s not technically poisonous, it’s venomous.”**

*I think this should be an Olympic sport.

**So I looked all of this up and she’s mostly right. A venomous creature injects venom, which is poison, into you.