In honour of St David’s Day, we got proud Welsh woman Ruth Jones to tell us what it means to her. Here she shares the Jones’s family controversy of Sosban Fach and several delicious family recipes. Not to mention what happened with the leeks…
So yes, this Sunday, March 1, is St David’s Day
All through my time at Nottage Primary School, Porthcawl, South Wales, March 1 was special. Midday, March 1, 1971, and I am one of hordes of children leaving school at lunch-time because we have a HALF DAY! Remember this is a world before the invention of inset days. In Wales in the 1970s the only time you didn’t have to go to school for the whole day was once a year in celebration of our patron saint.
St David’s day was lush. Not just because of the aforementioned early finish, but because we got to dress up in traditional Welsh costume. At least you did if you were a girl. The boys got the bum deal: they just got to wear a leek – which they usually gnawed on in some great act of bravado before breathing leek breath all over you. They were probably just bitter – the boys not the leeks – because they didn’t have a costume, whereas if you were a girl, you got to wear: red and black checked skirts, aprons, checked shawls, and the obligatory tall black hat finished off with the flourish of a daffodil – our other Welsh emblem – introduced by Lloyd George because it, well, it looked nicer. And smelled nicer.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
Now, I just called it “traditional” Welsh costume. I’ve got a feeling the ‘costume’ itself was invented by some rich Victorian women. They might have been having a bit of a laugh at the time – as you can see, it’s not the greatest of looks…
However, when you’re five and have a propensity like me for showing off, dressing up in ANY kind of costume is bound to appeal. We weren’t fussy. There’s a cine clip of me and my brothers on St David’s day in 1971 working the trad Welsh look (I also have a handbag – my own addition) and my brother has gone for the more civilised option of daff not leek.
I asked my sister about her girls dressing up for St David’s Day this year. She said the youngest, Florence (who takes after her auntie in the showing off stakes and love of handbags), will go down the traditional route, whereas Anousha her 10-year-old is excited because she gets to wear a Welsh rugby jersey to school for the day. Oh how times have changed! Will she also be gnawing on a leek, I wonder?
Now, let’s be honest, St David doesn’t get as good a press as the other patron saints. He’s no way as cool as St Patrick. Patrick’s the dude. He’s like the popular kid at school whom everyone wanted to be friends with. He gets a proper party every March 17 with pubs advertising the fact and covering everything in green and advertising great deals on Guinness. Even St George and St Andrew are better known than poor old St David – he’s very much the poor cousin, which is such a shame. He was actually pretty cool. Here are a few things you might like to know about him:
– born on a cliff top around 485 AD
– performed several miracles apparently, including restoring the sight of his tutor St Paulinus
– advised Welsh soldiers fighting against the Saxons to wear leeks in their hats so they could be easily identified, hence the advent of our sexy Welsh emblem
– a veggie who drank a lot of water
– sometimes when he was feeling guilty about something and wanted to do a bit of penance, he’d stand up to his neck in a lake and recite the scriptures (harsh!)
– founded 12 monasteries across Britain, including Glastonbury (cool!)
– died on March 1, 589 – aged, allegedly, over 100 years old (not surprising with all that water, no meat and long walks)
The Sosban Fach controversy
If you ever get the chance to watch Wales play rugby you’re likely to hear several songs being sung by the crowd. I’ve got to say, that’s a time to feel really proud to be Welsh, because, quite frankly, our repertoire of songs far surpasses any of the other Six Nations: sorry England, but all you seem to sing is Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Over and over and over again. Whereas the Welsh? We got I Bob Un Sydd Fyddlon, Calon Lan, Hymns And Arias, Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and of course the infamous Sosban Fach. The tune of Sosban Fach is fierce. The lyrics… um, maybe not so much. However, in honour of St David’s Day, here are the lyrics and translation to one of Wales’s most famous songs:
Mae bys Meri Ann wedi brifo
Maryann has hurt her finger
A Dafydd y gwas ddim yn iach
And David the servant isn’t well
Mae’r baban yn y crud yn crio
The baby is crying in the crib
A’r gath wedi scrappo Johnny Fach
And the cat has scratched little Johnny
Sosban Fach yn berwi ar y tan
Little saucepan boiling on the fire
Sosban Fawr yn berwi ar y llawr
Big saucepan boiling on the floor
A’r gath wedi scrappo Johnny Fach.
And (yes you guessed it) the cat has scratched little Johnny. (Again. Let’s hope Johnny’s had his tetanus booster.)
Anyway, turns out – and THIS was a shocker – my grandfather’s cousin Talog Williams (isn’t that a brilliant Welsh name?) actually wrote Sosban Fach. Yes I know! Not only is Mary Hopkin (“Those Were the Days My Friend…”) my third cousin (down on the family tree as ‘Mary Hopkin – pop star’), we’ve gone one better than that in the family: we are related to THE composer of Sosban Fach.
Though there were a few others who claimed to have done it, Talog is officially acknowledged as the composer. Now he was obviously a sombre chap, an accountant from Dowlais, who was actually a bit embarrassed by his achievement, saying, “I am ashamed of it – it is the jolly foolishness of my youth.” And he didn’t come forward and own up to writing it until 1915 when the Rev D M Davies a congregational minister from Swansea also made out HE’D written the lines. Fight fight fight!
Bet he wouldn’t be embarrassed hearing 75,000 rugby fans (or half of them at least ie the Welsh supporters) blasting out the song on the hallowed ground of the Millenium Stadium at a Six Nations game.
My suggestions for the perfect St David’s Day
If you want to be cultured you could nip to Cardiff and visit the brilliant St Fagan’s Welsh Folk Museum. It’s mostly outdoors and you can learn loads about Wales while strolling round its beautiful grounds. It’s also free to get in.
Or if you fancy a longer walk you can pretty much walk all the way round the coast of Wales now thanks to the National Trust’s coastal path. My favourite places to visit would be my home town of Porthcawl especially Golf Bay, Llangennith (Llangennydd in Welsh) on the Gower peninsula – it has the most spectacular beach. Or Port Meirion in North Wales, the most weird, wonderful and beautiful place.
Ruth’s nieces Anousha and Florence in ‘traditional’ costume
It is of course fine to just veg out at home, get an old Max Boyce album on the turntable and laugh along to jokes you don’t really understand (we grew up listening to Max Boyce and my parents always seemed to ‘get’ the joke, so we just pretended we did). Or read How Green Was My Valley on the Kindle or watch Twin Town on the telly – or there’s always that edgy, and controversial series Stella set in the Welsh Valleys…
As you veg out, stuff your face with some traditional Welsh food. Below are my mother’s recipe for Bara Brith (speckled bread), my sister’s recipe for Welsh cakes, and my 10-year-old niece’s recipe for Cawl Cenin (lamb broth).
Finally, learn a bit of Welsh. Here you go:
Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus – Happy St David’s Day (pronounced deethe (rhymes with ‘teethe’) goyul dare-we hapis)
Spigoglys – meaning spinach (pronounced spigogliss)
Cariad – meaning love (pronounced carryad)
And finally Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which means St Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the fierce whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave. Not even gonna begin telling you how to pronounce that one. You’re on your own kids.
My Mum’s Bara Brith:
Grease and line with greaseproof paper two x 1lb loaf tins or one x 2lb loaf tin.
Mix together in a bowl:
1 breakfast cup of brown sugar
2 breakfast cups of flour (I use half and half of plain and self raising)
3/4 cup milk. Add the last two items together gradually so that mixture does not curdle or have lumps.
Add 1 breakfast cup of sultanas and some candied peel and about 8 glacé cherries cut in half.
Pour the mixture into the tin/s and spread evenly.
Cook at gas 4 for just over an hour but check that it is cooked in the middle before you take it out of oven.
Serve in thick slices, slathered with butter.
My niece Anousha’s Cawl Dydd Gŵyl Dewi
2 litres of lamb stock
1kg lamb pieces (neck of lamb on the bone)
1. Chop all the vegetables to the size you prefer.
2. Put 4 lamb stock cubes into a pan then add 2 litres of boiled water to the pan – this should dissolve.
3. Chop the lamb into small pieces then put in the pan and simmer for 1 hour.
4. Add the prepared vegetables and simmer for 1 hour again
5. Serve with crusty bread and Caerphilly cheese – and enjoy!
My sister Maria’s Welsh Cakes
1lb self raising flour
2tsp mixed spice
Rub the butter into the flour
Add spice, sugar and currants.
Form a sticky dough by adding the eggs.
Roll out on a floured surface to half an inch thick, cut out rounds and cook on a lightly buttered griddle pan (if you haven’t got one, a frying pan works), on a low heat for five mins then turn over and do the other side.
Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus i chi Pawb!
Happy St David’s Day everyone!
The fourth series of Stella is on Sky1
Welsh comprehensive girl turned Warwick graduate turned drama student turned office temp turned waitress turned failed actress turned failed solicitor turned successful actress turned writer.