Gerry’s Diary 170: Tysilio, April 23rd, dry stone wall, singing for ladies (25th March, 2016)
Hi, this is Gerry and this is my Diary for Friday 25th March 2016, but it’s actually going out on Thursday 24th March. Why? Well, it’s because it’s Easter, of course. It’s Good Friday this year on the 25th, so my colleagues will upload this podcast a day early. Easter is a traditional time to celebrate – with chocolate eggs and bunnies. (Bunny’s another word for a rabbit. We talk about Easter bunnies here, but perhaps we should talk about Easter hares . It was the hare not the rabbit that was popular in early Church art. And in German they talk about the Easter hare, “Osterhasen”. We don’t have the idea here that the Easter bunny brings eggs. That’s a German idea. Welsh people understand that eggs come from birds and not rabbits!) On Good Friday we eat hot cross buns . These are like little sweet rolls  or small cakes, and they are marked with a cross. I’ll put a photo on the website.
So what’s on today’s show? Well, I’ve got the story of our local saint – a very old story. Then there’s some news from my garden, and then my cultural highlight this month – it involves  a group of ladies called not the ladies of the night , but the ladies of the dawn ! But let’s start with my last pub quiz question.
My question last time got a lot of answers. So thank you everybody for writing to me. More of you than usual sent me messages on Twitter, so thanks to Daniel, Armin, Claudia, Madeleine and Georges. And then there were messages from Michele, Käthi and Ruth on the website. Great to hear from you all! So let me remind you. I wanted an answer to this question: What special thing are we going to celebrate on April 23rd this year? Why is April 23rd an extra-special date this year? The answer, of course, is that we’re going to celebrate Lulu’s second birthday! (Lulu is my granddaughter, as perhaps you remember). Nobody got that answer!
But don’t worry. I’m just kidding  you. I’m pulling your leg . The real answer is Shakespeare died 400 years ago on April 23rd. So this is the day when we celebrate the greatest writer in the English language. We don’t know exactly when he was born. He was baptised  on April 26th. So some people think that he was born on April 23rd. This means that he died on his 50th birthday. Anyway this year there’ll be a lot of Shakespeare in our theatres, on our television, and in the media generally. That was the answer that I was looking for, but you sent me other good answers, too. It’s St George’s Day – England’s national day. It’s interesting that England’s most important writer was born and died on the national day. Then there were some other interesting answers. Somebody told me that April 23rd is part of the Jewish Passover  festival this year. And somebody else told me April 23rd is German Beer Day. And my Spanish colleague Alicia reminded me that Cervantes, the greatest Spanish writer, author of Don Quixote, the first novel in the world, died on the same day as Shakespeare. So lots of things to celebrate that day! But I know where I’ll be: I’ll be at Lulu’s birthday party!
I’ve told you before about what we call, in English, Church Island or, in Welsh, Ynys Tysilio. It’s a little island with a tiny old church and a cemetery near where I live. The first church there was built by Saint Tysilio, who was one of the early saints of the Welsh church. During the winter I read a short book about our Saint Tysilio. Saint Tysilio was born in Wales but people think that he died in Brittany (La Bretagne) in France. But did he really go to France? That was the question that this little book tried to answer. But let me first tell you the traditional story. Tysilio was the oldest son of a Welsh king, called Brochwel or Brochfael in Mid-Wales. Wales had a lot of kings at that time. The country was divided into small kingdoms . So Tysilio was probably born between 530 and 550. His real name was probably Sulio – and the name means that he was born on a Sunday: Dydd Sul in Welsh. The “Ty-” bit at the beginning is a bit like the “-li” bit in German Swiss names, like Vreneli.
Tysilio was the oldest son and so he was going to be the next king, but he met a religious leader and decided that he didn’t want to become king. He wanted to become a monk . He started his new religious life near his father’s home but then he moved north and came to live near where I live now. The early Welsh saints were teachers. They often chose to go and live alone on small islands, and then people came to them there. So Saint Tysilio built a little church and a simple place to live on the little island that we call today Church Island or, in Welsh Tysilio Island (Ynys Tysilio). Why did he come here? Well, one story is that it was because of a woman. There was a woman who fancied  him, a woman who wanted to marry him. So Tysilio left his home region and came north. But then the woman followed him, and so Tysilio had to move on . He went to other places in Wales but in the end he left the country and went to live in Brittany. And that’s where he died, not far from Saint-Malo. The Breton village is called Saint-Suliac. And Suliac is the Breton version of Tysilio’s name.
Is the story true? Probably not. It’s true that a lot of people from Britain went to live in Brittany at that time. That’s why it’s called Brittany or Bretagne. They went there to escape  from the Anglo-Saxons who came to live in England after the Romans left. But Tysilio probably didn’t go. That’s what I read in my book. But the Bretons liked to say that their local saints came from Wales. Wales was like the mother country for Brittany. Anyway, today we in our little Welsh town have good relations with our Breton friends in Saint-Suliac, and I hope to visit them there soon.
March this year was a calm month. No more winter storms. Very little rain. We enjoyed sunshine and cold nights. It was a good time to start getting the garden ready for the summer. In one of the winter storms the wind and rain were so strong that they broke down part of a dry stone wall in the garden. A dry stone wall is a wall made with big stones but no cement . In North Wales we have a lot of stones and rock, and so farmers build walls with the stone to divide their fields. Our house stands on old farmland, and so we have this old stone wall going through the garden. I’m now waiting for a specialist dry stone waller  to come and repair  it for me. I’ve put a picture of the broken wall on the website.
My cultural highlight this month was a concert with my Welsh learners’ choir. We went to sing for an organisation with the name of “Merched y Wawr”, which means the women or daughters of the dawn. Dawn is the time of day when the sun comes up. In my News Digest 167 in May last year I spoke a bit about the Women’s Institutes. They form the biggest women’s organisation in Britain. It’s a social organisation, a sort of club for women, but it’s also political. It fights for  women’s rights and so on. There are Women’s Institutes in Wales, but here we also have the Merched y Wawr. The reason for this is the Welsh language. In 1967 the Federation of Women’s Institutes decided that English was the only official language in the organisation. Some of the Welsh members didn’t like this and so they started another organisation with Welsh as the only official language. This is the Merched y Wawr. Today, the Women’s Institutes now recognise Welsh but the Merched y Wawr is strictly Welsh only, and the Welsh language and culture is very important to them.
Our choir had an invitation from the Merched y Wawr in that village with the long name that starts Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. The ladies there meet in a big hall in one of the chapels in the village. We arrived there for the beginning of their meeting. It started with the ladies standing up to sing their anthem , which is called “My Language, My Country”. Then we had to sit down for the business part of the meeting. The chairwoman had information to give us about different events, and there was news about some of the members. And then it was time for us to sing our songs. I think we sang nine songs in total. Before each song, one member of the choir had to introduce the song – in Welsh – and also say something about themselves. It was a chance to explain where we came from and why we were learning Welsh. There are some very interesting people in our choir, and from different countries: England of course, but also Poland, Germany and Japan. It was good to hear the different stories, but everybody was very nervous about speaking! Singing is easier!
After our concert we had soup and then a cup of tea with Welsh cakes. These are small cakes, a bit like a scone, or a small thick pancake. You eat them with butter. (You can google them if you like, if you want to know more.) Before the concert, one member of the choir asked our conductor, Elwyn: Will there be beer? Elwyn said: “Mmm. Merched y Wawr? In a chapel ? Beer? Probably not! But we can always go to the pub afterwards!”
Just time to give you your new pub quiz question. It’s a question about sport, so I know that some of you won’t be so happy. In fact, I’ve got two questions and they are related. The first question is this: When we talk about a local derby (or derby, as the Americans say) in sports such as football, what do we mean? What’s special about a local derby? And the second question is this. Which local football derby involves the Old Firm? Who or what is the Old Firm in football? Send your answers to the website www.podclub.ch or you can use Twitter. My Twitter address is @gerrypod. Don’t forget the Vocabulary Trainer on the Podclub app. And until the next time, thanks for listening and take care!
 hare: This animal is bigger than an ordinary rabbit. It has longer legs. It doesn’t make holes in the ground, and it has its babies in the middle of a field.
 bun: a very small and (usually) sweet loaf of something like bread
 roll: a very small loaf of bread
 to involve: here: to concern, to have to do with
 ladies of the night: an old expression to describe prostitutes
 dawn: the time of day when the sun rises (appears, comes up)
 to kid (someone): to say something (to someone) that’s not true (as a joke)
 to pull (someone’s) leg: to tell (someone) something that’s not true (as a joke!)
 to baptise: to take (someone) into the Christian religion by touching or covering them with water (NB Traditionally, it’s also the ceremony when somebody is given their name.)
 Passover: the Jewish festival, called Pesach in Hebrew, when the Jews celebrate their escape from Egypt
 kingdom: a country or area which is governed by a king (or queen)
 monk: a man who leaves his family to go and live in a religious community with other men. A woman who chooses this way of life is called a nun. In Tysilio’s case he started his religious life in a community like this but then went to live more like a hermit (alone).
 to fancy: (British English) to like someone in a romantic or sexual way
 to move on: to go to somewhere new
 to escape: to get away, to become free (from something dangerous or bad)
 cement: a grey powder that you can mix with sand and water and use to join stones or bricks together (NB When it is dry the mixture is very hard.)
 waller: a man or woman who builds (or repairs) walls
 to repair: to mend, to make good again, to make something work well again
 to fight for (something): to try very hard to achieve or to get (something), for example a change in government policy
 anthem: here: the official song of a country (e.g. God Save the Queen) or organisation (here: My Language, My Country), which people sing on special occasions
 chapel: here: a Nonconformist Protestant church (e.g. Methodist, Baptist, etc.) (NB Members of Welsh chapels traditionally do not drink alcohol, although this has changed in recent years. But even today, you won’t see any alcohol in the chapel itself or its rooms.)