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‘Where were you when you were fifteen?’
The question puzzled me. Why should he ask and damn it why should he ask. Fifteen, where was I?…
‘In a school’, I said, ‘In North-East Wales.’
Lars laughed but I didn't mean it as a joke.
‘That's funny the way you divide up Wales. Does anybody else do it but you?’
Emyr Humphreys's lifelong work as a novelist has largely consisted of a resolute expansion of this unintentional geopolitical ‘joke’, at the expense of those of his readers who, like Lars, grow increasingly incredulous. How, they object, can an area of Britain that is itself routinely described and treated as a ‘region’ possibly claim to have regions of its own? Isn't the term ‘region’ (generously upgraded on sensitive occasions to ‘principality’) good enough for it? Doesn't Wales realise that to be recognised as a region is in itself a considerable achievement, a significant concession granted by a notoriously centralist British state? The splitting of the political atom, the supposedly irreducible unit of the British nation-state, has caused trouble enough in itself. It really is preposterous to hear that Wales, the new irreducible unit, the veritable quark of the British political system, now regards itself as internally divided, and diverse.
There are some who will no doubt feel that such remarks are perfectly reasonable, and prominent among them will presumably be those who indignantly regard the word ‘region’ as being an innocent geographical expression, totally above political suspicion.