It’s Not Unusual by Chris Green
Because of my vertigo, crossing the Severn Bridge has always been a problem for me. On account of my phobia, as I live in the south of England, I don’t tend to visit Wales. I don’t even know any Welsh people. I once worked with a Dewi Davies who came from Merthyr Tydfil. We used to call him Davies the Dark Side on account of his half-empty outlook on life. And at college, I had a friend called Rhys who came from Plwmp. But, this was a long time ago. Admittedly, I used to fancy Catherine Zeta Jones when she was younger and I went to see Manic Street Preachers a couple of years back. But on the whole, Wales is a foreign country to me.
I went to bed last night at ten, read a few pages of my Ian McEwan novel and put out the light, thinking normally in English. It came over me in the night. Everything changed. Wales came flooding in. This morning, I appear to be thinking in Welsh. It’s all leeks and lava bread, St David’s Day and daffodils. I am thinking in familiar terms of Llandindrod Wells and Bets y Coed and places with strange sounding names I’d never heard of. I feel the impulse to greet people with Alright or Wha? I want to address them as bach, start each statement with What it is or I’m only saying and end sentences with look you or see. And raise glasses and say Iechyd Da. We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides.
It’s disconcerting that I can’t run this past my partner, Lorelei. She is at a psychotherapists’ conference somewhere up north. She specifically said she couldn’t be contacted. Back-to-back meetings and seminars, she said. If I were of a suspicious nature, I might suspect she was having an affair.
I must try to see the whole episode as an overblown dream and move on. There’s no time to dwell on it. No time even for a shower. I need to get to work. I have to pick up my colleague, Barry Sadler on the way. We car-share and it is my turn to drive him in this week. I haven’t noticed it before but I see the road signs at the Scott McKenzie roundabout are now displayed in English and Welsh. The Town Centre sign at the Macmillan Street junction also says Canol y Dref. And how long has that statue of Owen Glendower been outside the entrance to the Churchill Street park, I wonder?
Lorelei probably didn’t mean she couldn’t be contacted at all. After all, it is a little early for her to be in conference. On the basis she’ll probably still be in the breakfast room of the hotel reading The Guardian and sipping her Macchiato, I phone her. It goes straight to voicemail. I leave a garbled message about missing her.
When I arrive at Barry’s, he is waiting by the kerb. He seems agitated. He looks at his watch. Perhaps I am a few minutes late. He goes to get into the car but I step out. He looks at me disapprovingly. I can see he wants to get going but feels something might be wrong.
‘Are you OK, Dan?’ he says. ‘You look a bit …… dazed.’
‘Just a strange start to the day, Barry,’ I say ‘Nothing to worry about though, butty bach. I’ll be fine.’
‘As long as you’re OK. Shall we get going? It’s nearly eight-thirty.’
‘What it is, mate, have you noticed anything, h’mm …… different on the streets lately?’ I say once we are on our way.
‘No. Same as it ever was,’ he says.
‘Nothing, say, more Welsh?’
‘Ah, I see,’ he says. ‘That’s where the butty bach came from, is it? Well, no I can’t say I have, old buddy. In fact, I was only saying to Sharon just now that nothing ever seems to change around here. It’s so boring. The same old, day in, day out. We’re thinking of a holiday to get us out of the daily grind. A bit of a break. We’re thinking Mexico or somewhere exotic.’
‘Look you!’ I say. ‘Isn’t that Anthony Hopkins? Over by there. Walking the Welsh Terrier.’
‘It looks nothing like him,’ Barry says. ‘What’s wrong with you today, man?’
‘Sorry. Not Anthony Hopkins. I meant the other fellow. Richard Burton.’
‘Richard Burton’s dead.’
‘Are you sure, mate? Well, if it’s not him, he’s the spitting image of him.’
‘He’s been dead for over thirty years. Look. I’m getting worried about you. Something’s wrong, isn’t it?’
I manage to blag it until we get to the office. I don’t mention Wales being the new favourites to win the Rugby World Cup or draw attention to the billboard we pass advertising the Tom Jones concert at the football ground.
My co-workers seem to be worried about me. My line manager, Harvey Golfer wonders why I have sent him an email about the Ffestiniog railway. I tell him it wasn’t intentional, it must be a glitch in the software. He gives me a strange look and is about to express his disbelief when his phone rings. Back at my desk, Lee Cooper who sits opposite asks me to stop humming Delilah. I tell him I wasn’t aware I was. I find myself humming I’ll Never Fall in Love Again instead. Lee draws my attention to this straight away.
‘And don’t you dare start on The Green Green Grass of Home,’ he says.
Susie Dee tells me I’ve just printed off twenty four copies of the Welsh flag. I laugh it off and tell her there is nothing to worry about. I had a bad night but I will be OK after a strong cup of coffee. Susie doesn’t want to let it go.
‘You’ve been acting strangely all week,’ she says. ‘Is there anything I might be able to do to help?’
‘No really, Susie, I’m fine,’ I say, trying to ignore the fact that she is now leaning over my desk in her low-cut plunge top.
‘It’s all right, Dan,’ she says. ‘You can stop the pretence. I know exactly what’s been bothering you. It’s not unusual, you know. It happens all the time.’
‘What?’ I say. ‘What’s not unusual?’
‘Well, a little bird told me Lorelei has left,’ Susie says. ‘She has gone off with an esoteric book publisher from Swansea Bay. People break up with one another every day, Dan. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. My Greg ran off with Twinkle, a glove designer from Saffron Weldon. I know it can be hard at first and can make you crazy ……’
‘But I …… you ….. what? …..’
‘I can see you are upset, Dan. It’s only natural. What you need is some female company. So I wondered if you would like to come round for a bite to eat later. Perhaps we can share a glass or two of wine to celebrate, I mean commiserate.’
© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved