Well, yes, it most definitely is. My own ignorance has had more than a couple of sharp metaphorical slaps administered over the last 18 months, particularly here, out on the West Wales coast, where you hear Welsh spoken all the time, where most primary education is in Welsh and the best thing on TV at the moment (Y Gwyll) comes with English subtitles. Yes, it's very clear that we are living in a distinct and separate country.
And if you ever make the mistake of thinking Wales is just a small part of Britain, think again. Just come here when Wales are playing England at the rugby, and you can be in no doubt that you are most definitely in another country.
There are of course, great swathes of rugby playing in England, but here it is religion; and it is national and all encompassing. No moaning rugby widows here, oh no. Rugby seems to define the mood of the nation far more than any other part of Welsh life. Wales is, of course, as diverse as England - areas of wealth and poverty, cities, and villages, mountains and coast - and so naturally there are divisions. People have different politics, different attitudes to Europe, to the issues of the day, but mention the R word, and you will have utter unity.
I find the Welsh love of country fascinating and something to be immensely inspired by. It seems to come from a deep and abiding pride in and love of Wales, rather than hatred of others. The only English people I have seen express similar love of their own country seem to be motivated by hate, and this is not the case in Wales - except, perhaps where the rugby is concerned. Of course, there is still the national passion and pride supporting the Welsh rugby team - but if ever there was a time when a love inspired by hate might become apparent, it is when the boys are playing England at rugby. For days, my Facebook has been full of posts like "I'm supporting Wales in the #RugbyWorldCup - and anyone playing the English". And really, Saturday night, it was just as much about hiding chariots where the sun doesn't shine, about crushing the English as it was about the great game that the Welsh rugby team played. And really, it seemed like the whole of Wales (as evidenced by my Facebook) was watching. A whole country united behind their team.
It's all water off a duck's back to me - born in England and lived there all my life (apart from various sojourns in France) until now, and not particularly interested in the outcome of any sporting competition, I know I have enough Welsh and Scottish blood in me that I don't feel that this hatred of the English is really about ME - although I probably wouldn't argue the toss with one of my Welsh friends. The fact is, that whatever I feel, I'll probably always be 'English' in the eyes of my Welsh friends here. The Husband, well, I think he'd have preferred not to have to go into work this morning, but he took a deep breath and manned up, practising saying "Well, we've got to let you win sometimes" in the least bitter tone he could muster...
Of course, we watched the game. And (don't tell the Husband) I'm glad Wales won. I love the support the team has, the unfettered pride in watching a good team play brilliantly, and of course, the way the victory is celebrated - by the way, have you seen the video of Ioan Gruffudd dancing around in his pants? If anything is worth a Welsh victory, that is...
Welsh mussels cooked in English Cider
We spent the morning on Saturday before the match foraging for mussels. We're in the grip of the most gorgeous weather at the moment, so we took the opportunity to collect a couple of kilos from a local beach.
Our intention was to make something called 'eclade' which we've seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall prepare - you cook the mussels by burning pine needles over the top of them and then stir the pine infused mussels into a concoction of shallots and spinach. So while the mussels soaked in sea water, we spent the afternoon trying to find pine needles.
Easier said than done. We were thwarted, so instead, we cooked the mussels in cider. And very good they were too. We ate them in front of the TV watching the rugby. Welsh mussels cooked in English cider - culinary harmony, if not mirrored on the pitch.
About 2.5 kg mussels - cleaned and debearded
good knob of butter and a splash of olive oil
2 echalion shallots, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 500ml bottle of cider
about 50 ml double cream
freshly ground pepper
You also need a large heavy pan with a lid
Melt the butter in the oil, and gently sweat the shallot and garlic until soft.
Tip in the cider and bring up to the boil before tipping in the cleaned, de-bearded mussels and putting on the lid tightly.
Cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times.
Once the mussels have all opened, stir in the cream, and then leave to sit for a couple of minutes (if you can wait) - apparently this allows any residual grit to sink to the bottom of your pan.
Ladle mussels and the cooking liquid into bowls and serve - they are exceptionally good with skinny fries and decent mayo on the side, belgian style, or if you prefer, crusty bread.