In 2008, I attended a conference in Iceland titled The Arctic Convoys: A Lifeline Across the Atlantic. I came because my father was a Navy photomate in Iceland during WWII and a number of his photos were on display. At the time, I was finishing up a novel inspired by my father’s experiences in Iceland during the war. Veterans, diplomats, historians, academics, and writers from seven different countries assembled in Reykjavik that summer. It was an incredible experience. One gentleman who made a deep impression on me was a veteran from Wales named Donald. Donald came to Iceland with his son, Ian, and granddaughter, Claire. I kept up a correspondence with Donald until his death. Claire and I reconnected on Facebook. Since her dad, Ian, is Welsh and currently lives there, I contacted him for this blog. His responses and photos follow.
Ian lives in Chepstow, Wales. Wales is separated from England by two very long rivers — the Wye and the Severn — and by a twelve-hundred-year-old earthen bank called Offa’s Dyke. Ian is the director of several companies (chemical blending, water treatment, and a golf leisure resort), and spends most days working in his home office or traveling. He takes daily walks with his dogs around Chepstow, which boasts an 11th century Norman castle and was the first area in Great Britain to be designated of outstanding national interest.
My Conversation with Ian
Please look out a window and describe what you see.
I see the first Severn Bridge which was built in the early 1960s. It is a smaller version of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. At present it has NATO helicopters flying over it and NATO policemen stationed on it as President Obama and all the NATO leaders are having a conference in the Celtic Manor Resort, ten miles from Chepstow. It is very unusual to see policemen with guns in this very quiet area.
What is unique or unusual about where you live?
The two rivers separating England and Wales and the Wye Valley.
Describe your favorite time of year in Wales.
Summer is my favorite with long evenings and fantastic early mornings. If I am walking with my dogs, I think I am the luckiest person in the world.
Dispel a myth or stereotype about Welsh people.
Because of coal and steel developments in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Welsh people were, and indeed are, often thought to all be from mining or steel working families. In fact, agriculture has always been a major industry in Wales and there are no longer any major mines in Wales and only three steelworks. Wales is now also a high tech development area with the U.S., Germany, Japan, Korea, and other major countries heavily invested in Wales.
What would you like Americans to understand about Wales?
Wales is a very scenic country. It offers the leisure traveller fantastic opportunities to experience mountains, rolling countryside, wonderful beaches, fishing villages, and cosmopolitan university cities such as Cardiff Swansea. From riding holidays to surfing holidays to spending time on working farms, Wales is a very beautiful country made greener by the frequent rain we are famous for. Wales also has its own Celtic-based language (my daughter’s first language) and a wonderful cultural heritage of song, music, and poetry epitomized in the many Eisteddfods (festivals) held all over Wales, which attract artists from all over the world. Rugby is better than American football! I am a friend of the Welsh National Opera Company in Cardiff which is a world class company.
What is your opinion of the United States?
As a nineteen-year-old student, I answered an advertisement in the Times newspaper “Is the American Child a monster? Find out by becoming a Camp Counselor”. I was successful and duly spent 14 weeks in the U.S.A. from the Poconos to Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Chesapeake Bay. The experience gave me a great love of America and the many different states, which I have subsequently visited and worked in.
This was in 1974 — when Nixon was impeached — so there was huge turmoil in the country at that time. Still, I have a fantastic memory of celebrating July 4th, 1974 in Camp Shohola in the Poconos because there was such optimism in all the people I was with in that post-Vietnam but Watergate era.
My eventual conclusion was that the American child can indeed be a monster but with a heart of gold and a great ‘can do spirit’. My interest in the U.S.A. was also nurtured by an interest in William Randolph Hearst who owned St. Donats Castle in South Wales during the 1930’s and whose life was epitomized in the movie Citizen Kane. I visited Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California in 2012. It was fantastic. Overall, my opinion of the United States is that it is a very misunderstood country but a land of huge opportunity where immigrants can become real Americans rather than foreign residents.
What is your greatest fear?
Peace will be broken by terrorists. The world seems to be in as much turmoil now as ever in history and it’s happening very close to Wales, in Ukraine and the Middle East. My other great fear is that the world will not be able to feed itself with current birth rates.
What gives you hope?
Every time I see the sun, I think of life and how good it can be if only everyone could be at peace with others and themselves.
Please share a favorite quote of your choosing.
“It is not the cleverest of species who survive but those most adaptable to change,” Charles Darwin.
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