For years I’ve been plagued by internal conflict. Born in Rugby but swiftly removed, I’m English on paper, but my heart belongs to the Welsh. The South Wales Valleys have reawoken a love and a fight in me I thought I’d lost.
Am I merely a pretender who doesn’t belong, attempting to appropriate a culture I don’t know enough about? Or am I a welcome convert, brought into the fold and graced with what Cymru has to offer, hiraeth and all? Am I just in the Valleys, or of them?
What little of my young life in England I remember boils down to poverty, council estates, concrete, and overcast skies. I was moved from city to city, living in Rugby, then Coventry, then Telford – not places known for natural beauty, opulent wealth, or excellent weather. These concrete jungles were all I really knew for most of my young life. My family didn’t drive, and public transport wasn’t always economically viable; not for a romp in nature, anyway.
This changed when I was told, aged ten, that we’d be packing up, leaving everyone we knew, and moving to South Wales. To Magor with Undy, to be precise.
Undy (and Magor) is a small village surrounded by nature, close to the sea wall. Considering it now, aged 27, it’s a place of supreme beauty. But I used to hate it. I spent most of my teens there, acclimatising to the slower life away from cities, a growing appreciation for the land blossoming within me.
I could feel love and adoration for Wales as a nation growing within me too, a form of patriotism I’d never experienced. But I was also told I didn’t belong for the first time. “You’re not Welsh, you don’t belong here, stop pretending you do”; such a slap in the face.
That comment and others like it plagued my thoughts throughout my teens, years in which I’d default to ‘That English Guy’ as a form of protection. At least I couldn’t be accused of appropriating English culture or pretending to be English, I thought. I moved to Newport with my family after secondary school. The connection I felt with the area around me dwindled, being back in a city environment. And my passion for Wales dwindled alongside it.
The purgatory years
At that point I began to fall deeply into depression. With little to care about outside the walls of my home, and frankly a volatile situation within those walls, I had little to keep the darkness away. Turning mostly to online games to keep reality at bay, I withdrew inward, very little of what was once Farrell Perks remaining.
I call that time of my life ‘the purgatory years’. Though I did achieve some things personally, beginning to write online and gathering a core group of friends, I always felt I was floating somewhere off to the side of reality. I wasn’t ready to re-enter society; not as a functioning member of it, anyhow.
There was a major silver lining in that period. I met my partner, and somehow convinced her to move from her home country of Denmark to a small nation too often referred to as “That little place in England, right?” I’m so glad I did. Though despite that ray of sunshine, I was still wading through the abyss of depression.
That all changed when we decided to up sticks from our dinky Newport flat and move to Aberdare in the South Wales Valleys. It’s a place I now find myself unwilling to leave. Everything about the nature of Wales – rolling hills, valleys, streams – seems crafted specifically to create one neat, breathtaking package.
The majority of my life thus far has been spent navigating that pit of depression, perpetuated by many factors. I’ve carried a cloud of anguish for as long as I can remember. It has many symptoms, social anxiety chief among them. At my worst I was unable to leave the house, to speak to others in person or even over the phone. Not a reality I’d wish on anyone.
Valleys can be peaks
The Valleys, though, changed me. It was small things at first: a stranger’s greeting, heartfelt gratitude, lack of buildings everywhere. I soon picked up the mood of the Valleys. Where a stranger will trust you with his dog. Where parks have people smiling, laughing, speaking with the most beautiful of accents.
I’m painting a rosy picture, but the change for me was profound. This place, these people, motivated me like no others to better myself, to fight the omnipresent depression. I wanted to be part of this organism, this living, breathing community. These are my people.
But with this return and elation came the echo of an accusation thrown years ago. Could I be one of them, or am I still ‘That English Guy’?
I’ve come to realise this question may never be answered. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be, and I’m at peace with that. I’ve resolved to set aside that concern and move forward, with a newfound love and respect for both Wales and the Welsh. I hope to one day have the pleasure of representing them on the world stage through politics, spreading the culture I’ve grown to love and a landscape that’s made me its own, as I attempt to forge my own path alongside and inside it.
I believe strongly in the independence movement. It’s not an easy path by any stretch. Time will tell where I’ll land in the fertile political ground of an independent Wales. I’d be lying if I said I don’t still ask myself, “Am I a lion in sheep’s clothing?” But thanks to the Valleys, I can work to become the dragon I’ve long hoped to be.