Hiraeth & digital story telling

September 16, 2006

I checked my daily watchlist on Wikipedia before settling down for an early night. This was intended as a brief final act before having an early night and hitting the ground running on work early tomorrow. However, Wikipedia’s front page was enticing and exciting, so I spent more time than planned. In part, I became homesick, in part inspired, but this is the story. You can just skip to the end for the real meat.

I first discovered that the featured article was on the critical subject of Caffeine. This made me realise that I am missing my Expresso machine badly. A plunger seems to produce mud, in contrast. My third place, and yes, I have fallen for the marketing hype, is Starbucks for coffee, wireless and panini. Visitors to my Study back in Lockeridge know that one wall is entirely of science fiction, 1.5 walls full of academic books and one half of one wall is gradually occupied by my growing collection of their City Mugs, which I now search down on my travels. The remaining wall is a window and a bookshelf, but just around the corner of the house and across the lane is one of the most interestingly named pubs in the UK. The website has some great pictures of the areas and links to our local new-age tourist attractions (we are a world centre for crop circles). I am now feeling nostalgic for my regular pint of 6X.

So, the two hedonistic things I am missing are coffee and beer, so I had better add a bit of national culture for good measure. It was nice to be reminded (again by Wikipedia) that on this day in 1400,  Owain Glyndŵr was proclaimed Prince of Wales in rebellion against Richard II of England. It took the English over a decade to defeat him; he was never captured and, as a result, entered Welsh legend and is seen as the father of Welsh nationalism. Now I am getting homesick, especially as the Rugby season has started.

It all brought me back neatly to the title of this post: hiraeth, a Welsh word of great profundity, meaning a deep longing to return to one’s roots. It’s often linked to hwyl, which loosely translates as passion and pride. Searching for a web reference, I was taken to a record on the BBC’s digital storytelling project in Wales. This is a lovely example of the use of narrative. Over the years, the BBC has taken its skills and technologies into the communities of Wales and enabled people to make stories of themselves, their hopes, cares, and passions. They cover all subjects, but the one titled hiraeth explains the word better than a definition. I spent some time a few years ago with the BBC looking at this project, but I needed help to persuade IBM to get more involved, and it was not forthcoming. I remember, but cannot now find, a profound piece about doors and a brilliant story of a young girl who wanted to play rugby but had to overcome male prejudice to be allowed to do so. They cover tragedies: one, weaving family history of a ten-year-old drowning in a lake with Welsh legends. There is also self-deprecating humour and social history. You can spend hours on this site, and I have! So it’s late to bed, but I’m refreshed by the authenticity of stories told in their native voice.

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