By the time you pick up this newspaper, I am confidently expecting the First Minister of Wales, my old ‘Carmarthen Gram’ schoolmate, ‘Mister’ Mark Drakeford, to have started the legal processes for the new ‘Cwtsh Law’.
On the other hand, my throw of the dice may have fallen off the table and his latest ministerial coronavirus announcements may include zero references to ‘cwtshing’.
Either way, I will not be too disappointed as I know the topic of ‘the cwtsh’ has been occupying the minds of our ministers in the Senedd. It is only a matter of time before a ‘cwtsh’ gets enshrined in law.
For one thing, I am expecting some ‘Judgement of Solomon’ verdict on the true spelling of the word – is it ‘Cwtsh’ or is it ‘Cwtch’? (More on this a little later).
In England, where they use the less glamorous word ‘hug’ instead of ‘cwtsh’, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that people from different households will be able to meet up and hug from Monday as part of the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
Wales’ chief medical officer Frank Atherton is taking a cautious approach – even adopting the English term ‘hug’, which can only serve to confuse some of us in Wales!
Dr Atherton said: “Prevalence rates (of coronavirus) are really quite low at the moment, and being close to a member of your family is less risk now – but with strangers, I would be very cautious still.
“I think there are other ways to greet people than to give everybody a hug, so there are ways to do that and to do it safely – don’t spend too long making face-to-face contact, make it a brief hug.
“But to be honest, I think it is quite right – I understand that grandparents want to hug their grandkids, of course they do, and that’s only natural.
“But we have learned over the last year that there are other ways to interact socially, and perhaps . . . hug cautiously.”
With some help from well-placed marketeers and a little tweak of the words, I am sure Dr Atherton’s words will soon by appearing on mugs and T-shirts in Welsh souvenir shops – ‘Cwtsh cautiously!’
It’s sensible advice from the good doctor, who has done an amazing job helping to guide Wales through the pandemic.
It’s our own responsibility to do our own ‘risk assessments’ on who we ‘cwtsh’. Members of ‘The Bubble’? Probably, yes. Other fringe family and friends? Probably not, just yet.
And, so much may depend on the timing and direction of the ‘cwtsh’ in helping to keep the virus at bay –
- No face-to-face cwtshing. Go for the slightly side-on approach.
- Don’t linger. Dive in and dive out, couple of seconds, tops.
- Adopt the diving pool approach – take a breath before moving in and breath out afterwards.
- Use the light touch approach. This is not a squeezing contest. Imagine your Nana is an eggshell.
- Practice beforehand using a cushion. You’ll be surprised how you’ve lost your touch through not using your ‘cwtsh’ muscles. Check your cushion prop after your trial run. If you leave a dent in the cushion, you need to relax a bit more.
My fellow columnist, the comedian Phil Evans, has been exercising his ‘cwtsh’ muscles in readiness for the lifting of restrictions on physical contact.
He’s also been continuing his battle to promote the correct spelling of ‘cwtsh’.
Back in 2017, he got very irate when the Swansea Bay City of Culture bid was launched.
The fanfare events launching the bid included a giant sand sculpture with ‘Cwtch The Bid’ written into the sands of Swansea’s Beach.
Phil quickly pointed out the slogan’s glaring spelling mistake – ‘Cwtch’ rather than ‘Cwtsh’.
Evans said at the time: “It’s a question as big as ‘To be, or not to be?’ in Wales: should the favourite Welsh word for a hug be a ‘Cwtsh’ or a ‘Cwtch?’ – that is the question.”
Evans, who is often billed as the resident comic ‘Hug-meister’ of Wales, is convinced the correct spelling of the word is ‘Cwtsh’.
He explained: “I am sure there will be plenty of Welsh scholars out there willing to say different, but in my book it should always end in ‘sh’ rather than ‘ch’.
“The explanation is simple. The Welsh CH is like the Scottish CH in loch, the sort of sound you make when you’re clearing your throat and used in words like ‘bach’ (small).
“I’ve always been adamant that the correct version is ‘Cwtsh’, so it has been interesting to follow the debate on social media sites when the argument kicks off every now and again.”
Look around various shops and cafes and you’ll see some disagreement, with some using the word ‘Cwtch’.
The Gwendraeth Valley – ‘home’ to the Welsh language soap opera Pobol y Cwm – has its Caffi Cwtsh, Cwtsh Gloyn and Y Cwtsh and nearby Ammanford has Cwtsh Chwarae.
The Ffwrnes theatre in Llanelli boasts a Bar Caffi Cwtsh.
But, across Wales, for every two ‘Cwtshes’ there is probably one ‘Cwtch’.
Which is probably why some legal judgement is needed on the matter from the newly-installed members of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
I am currently preparing my ‘We want a big cwtsh’ banner (white letters on red background in the style of ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’) for the first official ‘demo’ at Cardiff Bay (rules on social distancing and public gatherings allowing, of course).
In the meantime, I leave you with a poetic observation on that old ‘Cwtch The Bid’ row. This is from one of Phil Evans’s biggest fans, Nicci Brayley –
And God looked down on Swansea Bay
And cried out from the heavens
“Some silly person’s spelt that wrong!”
It’s “S” – go ask Phil Evans!”
A mighty clap of thunder
God reached down with his hand
To scribble out the error
That was etched there in the sand
“If you think Cwtsh is spelt like that”
“You need to step aside”
So he clicked his mighty fingers
And quickly turned the tide
The waves came crashing up the beach
To smooth the sandy mess
The tide went out and all was calm
The C was now an S
So Evening Post and all my friends
(and man on beach with rake)
I hope you read this poem
And have spotted your mistake!
Popular West Wales tenor Aled Hall is sporting the biggest of smiles this week after making his first ‘stage’ appearance in seven months.
The pandemic has decimated Aled’s concert diary, but the ‘have suitcase, will travel’ operatic tenor was back on the road at the weekend to appear in Pagliacci in London.
“It was great to get that buzz back again,” said Aled, 52, who has spent most of the pandemic in rural isolation in the lovely setting of the family smallholding in Dolgran, Pencader.
“Seven months down the line, you wonder have you still got it? Have you still got the voice? Thankfully, it is it still there! I love live performance and this version of Pagliacci was a joy to do.
“It was excellent, working with a great bunch of people – singers and production staff who really know their stuff.”
The performance featured Elin Pritchard and Robert Hayward, with Aled Hall playing the role of Beppe in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Italian opera.
It was staged at St James’ Church in Islington.
The Stage magazine review of the production said: “Director Christopher Luscombe manages to create lust and longing among the cast at two metres’ distance, and virus-carrying props are reduced to Nedda’s belt, with which she beats off Tonio’s advances.
“Aled Hall excels as Beppe – needing no more than a reversed baseball cap to support his comic persona.”
Aled revealed the Pagliacci performance had started as a discussion with operatic friends over what to do in the ‘new normal’ world of Covid-19.
He said: “Basically, we were trying to think outside the box and put something on. Everyone is out of work, so we thought it best to try something ourselves. Something that didn’t involve too many people.
“Pagliacci is perfect – it’s an hour and 20 minutes, no interval and you can do it with a small cast.
“We had six singers, a conductor, a director, a pianist, cellist and a violinist – and an eight-strong chorus (two of each voice) from British Youth Opera, who were socially distanced down the side of the church.
“We put it together in a short space of time, keeping all the social distance rules in the production. If we sang to each other, for example, we made sure we were at least three metres away to stay within the rules and advice.
“It was a big challenge to put a production on.
“We were allowed 70 in the audience, but just to be sure we kept it to 50 just to make sure everyone was safe. And we sold out.
“The audience went crazy at the end because they hadn’t heard live music for seven months. A few of the national theatre critics even paid for their own tickets as well.
“It was a very slick production exercise. Basically, I took the train up early Thursday morning and went straight into rehearsal. More rehearsals on Friday and a dress rehearsal at 4pm. And then the show at 8pm on Saturday.
“It was great fun. It was a huge challenge because we are so accustomed to being up close and personal with each other on stage.
“It was an absolute joy to hear music again and hear singing again. I have been here in my bubble (near Pencader) and haven’t heard any other singers. It was great being back ‘in the room’ with great friends and great singers.
“Hopefully, this may start something. People will have seen this little troupe has put on a show.
“Pagliacci is about a small group of entertainers, so it was a perfect story for us to put on. The audience were delighted and there was a standing ovation at the end.
“We are setting up a little company called Opera Ensemble. The plan is to launch this week and the idea is to target smaller venues.
“For example, if somewhere like St Peter’s Church in Carmarthen wanted us – and if the social distancing rules can be followed – it would be a case of seeing if we could do the date, checking the singers are available. And then we all turn up a day before to rehearse and the stage the show.
“Hopefully, people will hear about what we have just done and people will want us to do it again. Islington was very much an experiment. The vicar of St James’ Church offered us the venue for nothing and we did it all ‘at cost’, so to speak, just for expenses.
“Hopefully, in setting up Opera Ensemble, we can get some sponsorship or arts funding to make the project get lift-off.”
You can follow Opera Ensemble on Twitter @OperaEnsembleUK
Aled, who is one part of Tri Tenor Cymru (The Welsh Three Tenors), is now widely recognised as a ‘go-to guy’ for the character tenor repertoire in opera, both in the UK and abroad.
Aled’s lengthy CV reads like a guide to top flight opera.
Highlights, both in the UK and abroad, have included the following roles: Valzacchi, Der Rosenkavalier (Royal Swedish Opera); Pang, Turandot, Spoletta, Tosca, the Dancing Master, Manon Lescaut (Royal Opera House); Don Curzio, Le nozze di Figaro (Aix-en-Provence, Tokyo, Baden Baden); Mr Upfold, Albert Herring (Salzburger Landestheater) Valzacchi, Der Rosenkavalier, Maintop, Billy Budd, and Gherardo, Gianni Schicchi (Opera North).
- During the coronavirus crisis, this column will not be featuring events, but will be putting the spotlight on west Wales singers and choirs. If you have news of cancelled and postponed events, email email@example.com
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