With the Rugby World Cup upon us, I asked my son what he thought of rugby, which he is currently having to play at school. ‘It’s like one long organised fight’ he replied. That pretty much chimes with my own recollection of this game for thugs played by thugs, which I was also forced to play at school.
In my day, international rugby was all Gareth Edwards and Barry John performing what can only be described as physical opera, as Wales demonstrated that even this extraordinarily brutish game can be a truly beautiful spectacle.
Pity about the modern Welsh team, of course, though they gave the Dublin School for the Blind a good thrashing the other day, so maybe things are looking up. However, I had not realised what the ultimate cause of the tragic decline of Welsh rugby really was until I googled ‘Sospan fach’ (which is pretty much Welsh rugby’s national anthem). This is what the first verse translates to in English:
My sweet Mary Ann’s hurt her finger,
And David the servant’s feeling weak;
And the baby’s crying now in its cradle,
The cat’s scratching Johnny on
Sospan fach is boiling on the fire,
Sospan fawr boils over on
The cat’s scratching Johnny on the cheek.
David’s a soldier,
David’s a soldier.
His shirttail’s hanging out.
Suddenly the union of subtle dialectic and English perfidy was revealed. All that proud Welsh nationalism, fired by so many wonderful humblings of English rugby teams, and which the wicked London Parliament gratified by encouraging the teaching of Welsh in Welsh schools a couple of decades back, has led only to the sudden realisation in the Valleys that this wonderful anthem – blasted out with such passion, drama and sheer musicality, is in fact a lot of tosh. Slightly below the calibre of a bad nursery rhyme. And once they had all learned Welsh at last, they could suddenly see what twaddle they had been singing so proudly for all those years. It is as though the Red Army had adopted Mary Mary Quite Contrary as their battle song.
And ‘Sospan Fach’ itself? It means ‘Little Saucepan’.
Oh dear. How are the mighty fallen.