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(Tea… with Dave R)

When Elska did its first shoots a year ago in Lviv, Ukraine, I believed a tradition had started. For that first shoot week we rented an apartment right in the city centre. And since we’d be self-catering rather than in a hotel, I brought loads of tea bags (English Breakfast and Earl Grey) along. Well, actually I stole them from the airport lounge in Heathrow (sorry)! Oh, and I also brought boxes of traditional shortbread biscuits for each of the boys, plus some for the apartment.

The plan was that all the boys we shot would come to the flat first for a chat and then we’d go out to take the pics. We ended up have a cup of tea (with milk as is the English way, which they all wanted to try) and a biscuit before the shoot, and sometimes more after the shoot. It was a cute custom that helped us bond with each of the lads. And I hoped it would become a tradition for future Elska shoot weeks. ​

For Berlin I also procured a load of tea bags before arriving, but the city was just so huge that it wasn’t convenient for each guy to come to our apartment. But even those who did meet us at our place seemed to not be keen on hanging around. Maybe it’s the hustle and well, unfriendliness, of a large city, but it was nothing like Lviv.And what was worse was that even when we went to other guys’ homes to shoot, nobody offered us tea. Maybe it’s not a German custom to offer a drink to visitors, or maybe they just considered the Elska experience more of a “strictly business” situation. The only person who was truly hospitable was Roman T, who even made us dinner and offered not just tea but Sekt! But then, Roman isn’t a born-and-bred German – he’s originally from Russia. And even if it’s not politically correct to compare Ukrainians to Russians, they do share a knack for hospitality in common.​​

In Reykjavík, Lisbon, Taipei, and Istanbul too, tea was rarely offered. But I thought that in Cardiff it might be different. I’d never been to Wales but in every home I’d ever been to in England, I was offered tea before I even took my shoes off! So when I went to Dave’s place I was disappointed that he didn’t offer us a brew. Maybe it’s not a Welsh thing, I don’t know, but my hopes were dashed.And then only ten minutes after I left I got a text from Dave. He was apologising profusely for not offering a cuppa. It was the nervousness of being shot nude for the first time that distracted him. His apology made my day, and it renewed my faith in British hospitality. There would be lots more tea after that, and hopefully in more Elska cities to come.

See more of Dave R and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff.

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(Accents – Too Welsh… with Orrie M)

Years ago when I was at uni during a linguistics class, the lecturer played a series of recordings where scripts were read out in various accents of Britain. At a most basic level it showed how vast and numerous are the different accents on this little island, but also how unsubtle their differences are. After the class, a bunch of us hung around to compare which accents we liked most and least.

Some, like the Brummie (Birmingham) and Black Country accents were universally derided. Others like all those from Scotland and Ireland were loved. Then a few stirred very much Marmite-like feelings, with people taking ‘hate it’ or ‘love it’ positions… Cockney (East London), Scouse (Liverpool), and Geordie (Newcastle) were the three most commonly fought about. But my favourite was one overlooked by most – the Welsh accent. 

To my ear, there was just one Welsh accent, but after spending time in Cardiff to make this Elska issue, I realised that there were at least different levels, or strengths, to it. In Cardiff the accent was as lovely as I expected, and the one I was most used to (having relations from Cardiff) but once you get deeper into the valleys that surround the city, the accent gets thicker, almost too Welsh. Perhaps in the north and west it’s another story, or level, again.

Orrie was the first valley boy I shot for the issue. He lived in the Rhondda Valley, the most famous valley of them all. When we met, his accent was so thick that I could hardly make out a word he said. Yes, he also mumbled a bit, but even so I had to ask him to repeat himself constantly. 

But perhaps his accent was extra Welsh because he’s a fluent Welsh speaker. Indeed when you hear someone speak Welsh, the accent makes total sense. It fits so perfectly with the vowels and cadence of the language; when you then transfer that accent to speaking English, the Welsh sing-songyness moved along too. I was mimicking it the entire time I was in Wales and for a week after I got home, not out of mockery but out of infatuation. The Welsh accent is such a lovely thing. Absolutely lush.

See more of Orrie M and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff

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(My Cardiff Crush… with Radek P from Cardiff)

For the past two issues I’ve done a “My Crush” blog post, so I figured I should do one for Cardiff too. The trouble was that in Cardiff I liked everyone (well, maybe not every single person), so it was hard to single out anyone in particular. But since I gave myself the challenge to make a tradition of the “My Crush” post, I decided to give the “honour” to Radek.  ​​

It was actually a bit difficult to crush on Radek since his partner was there with us during the shoot, and well, mine was there as well assisting. But perhaps in a way this fact made it easier to feel at ease with him, because there was no tension, no awkwardness, and indeed I felt really comfortable with him. I even stayed on after the shoot for a coffee, something that’s actually quite rare.We also had a lot of things in common. First of all, he’s rather overeducated, particularly with regard to foreign languages, which meant we could talk about stuff that most people roll their eyes at in boredom. He demonstrated his Welsh knowledge, I blurted out my rudimentary Portuguese, he spoke a bit of Polish, and I taught him how to write his name in Georgian. Oh, and he also had a Polish poster on his wall which impressed me no end (if you haven’t ever checked out Polish movie poster art, you’re really in for a treat).​​

And then there was something more personal we had in common. He knew it what it was like to arrive in a new country, feel very at home and then suddenly feel uncertain of his place there. For someone who calls Britain home but wasn’t born in Britain, the Brexit vote had a profoundly depressing and confusing effect. We both thought we lived in a progressive, inclusive, and open country, and we were proud to be part of that. Brexit shattered that and forced a division in society whereby we’d need to discover who’s who, i.e who is for Remain, and who wants us to get the hell out of the country. Such divisions are of course not ideal, but at best they bring some of us together, fortunate to find each other and take solace in our shared points of view.

See more of Radek and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff.

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(Ég elska velsku…with Ceri V)

‘Velska’ – that’s the Icelandic word for Welsh, which is coincidentally so close to the name ‘elska’, which is the Icelandic word for ‘love’.  And I do love Welsh. The accent has always been my favourite of the accents of Britain, but when I got to Wales and actually heard people speak Welsh, I was truly smitten.

Ceri V was the first guy I met during the search for Cardiff boys who was a native Welsh speaker. I secretly hoped I’d find at least one guy for the Cardiff issue who spoke Welsh and would write their story in Welsh, but of course I wouldn’t force it. It’s important to me that Elska be spontaneous rather than curated, so I wasn’t going to do a “Welsh Speakers Wanted” advert no matter how cool I thought it would be to have an issue full of Welsh stories.  

In South Wales, English is by far the main language and you rarely hear Welsh spoken on the streets. In Cardiff only around 20% speak Welsh. Still, even at those levels, that adds up tens of thousands of Welsh speakers in Cardiff plus more in the rest of the country, particularly in the north and west of the country. That makes the Welsh language the strongest of all the Celtic languages. Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Cornish… these aren’t doing so well at all. While some of those languages indeed have many speakers, only Welsh and Breton have a very high number of NATIVE speakers. Even if over a million people can speak Irish, only around 50,000 were raised with it as their mother tongue. For Welsh, the number of native speakers is over half a million. 

Anyway, when I arrived at Ceri’s place, he was actually sitting in the living room writing his story on paper. He apologised for not having written it yet, and quickly scrawled it down as I set up for the shoot. When he finished he tore off the paper and handed it to me. Later when I got home I tried to type it up it but I couldn’t make out his writing at all, especially difficult because the Welsh words just looked like jumbles of random consonants. So I got one of our Twitter followers, Jack Murphy, to help out. He deciphered the writing, fixed the spelling mistakes (sorry, Ceri, you’re not the best speller), and did a translation. Thanks Jack!

In the end we got three guys who wrote in Welsh. Out of sixteen guys, that represents almost 20%, so the statistics about Welsh in Cardiff are correct, at least in our Elska ‘research’. By the way, if anyone in London fancies giving me some private Welsh lessons, let me know. I’m up for it. I just love how it sounds.

See more of Ceri V and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff.