Mike Parker’s name will be familiar to lovers of his TV series Coast to Coast and Great Welsh Roads, and to anyone who has read the Rough Guide to Wales. Here again he expresses his deep love of his adopted country a love that goes beyond surface infatuation and, coming from a place of genuine respect, seeks to understand. Parker wants ‘English people moving to Wales, or who have been here a long time, to realise that to live here successfully is to commit one’s self to this fierce and fantastic little country. And to remember that it is a different country.’ In a sense, this is a guidebook and critique for the English in Wales and I would recommend it both as an introduction to English people considering moving to Wales for the first time and as a reminder to longstanding incomers. Wales is a different country and deserves to be respected as such.
Reflecting upon his experience as both a journalist and a comic, Parker’s writing is accessible, witty and intelligent and he makes use of a broad range of quotations, photographs and cartoons to illustrate the text. He draws on an extensive knowledge of Welsh history, culture and politics as well as his own observations of modern-day life to analyse the ever-difficult relationship between the English and the Welsh. It makes for some troubling reading and will encourage would-be or existing English incomers to examine their motivations and attitudes.
The key words here are attitude and respect. As we already know and Parker amply demonstrates, the English have failed again and again to respect boundaries and behave with a respectful attitude, both in Wales and further afield. With the legacy of an aggressive colonial past, English incomers in Wales are walking a tightrope and need to learn how to be a part of their new community whilst recognising that they are necessarily apart from it. This book is both thought-provoking and inspirational.
Suzy Ceulan Hughes
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Mike Parker is a prolific author and has written many editions of The Rough Guide to Wales. An ex-standup comedian and a current broadcaster of travel documentaries, he has learned the Welsh language and lives near Machynlleth in mid Wales. Hailing from Worcestershire and not quite gone native, he describes his book as "not a lengthy apology for being English."
From the Act of Union to Anne Robinson, Neighbours from Hell?' looks at English attitudes to the Welsh.
Drawing on the author’s experience of the comedy circuit, cartoons; the popular press and postcards; from Tours of the Picturesque to the novels of Niall Griffiths, the range of reference is as broad as the writing style is witty. Stereotypes explored include the Welsh character (shifty, oversexed or verbose); the Welsh language (dead, ugly or secret code for extremists), and the landscape.
Mike Parker examines treacherous policy decisions sacrificing communities to reservoirs, forestry and military ranges. And he warns of future loss through blinkered tourist and property marketing. This is fine and funny polemic with a purpose, by the author of The Rough Guide to Wales.
"When I finally decided to move to rural Wales from the English West Midlands, acquaintances of the most right-on variety trotted out every in-breeding, sheep-shagging, language-switching, house-burning cliché in the book. These are people who’ve signed petitions for downtrodden folk in… whichever part of our petulant little planet was kicking off at the time… But somehow one people escapes their gimlet gaze of well-meaning solidarity… the Welsh are fair game."
Fascinating... a great read.
Richard Madely, Richard and Judy
Polemical, angry, outrageous and funny.
Interestingly I’d never heard the character [stereotypes]. My initial reaction to the idea that the English think the Welsh are oversexed was “in their dreams!”. Did [Mike Parker] make this us as some kind of Welsh Fantasy Wish Fulfillment?
Sarah, Campaign for an English Parliament Blog
A trenchant and extremely witty account.
A great book, that would be a very sad book if it weren't written so
Informed and informative, hilarious, enraging, and, ultimately, moving. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone thinking of crossing Offa's Dyke. It's what England has been waiting for, although it doesn't know that, yet. But it will.
Very colourful, very strange and sometimes, dare I say, too near the truth for comfort”
Roy Noble, BBC Wales
Neighbours from Hell? English Attitudes to the Welsh by the author of The Rough Guide to Wales looks in depth at precisely this relationship. It draws widely on the comedy circuit, cartoons; the popular press and postcards; from Tours of the Picturesque to the novels of Niall Griffiths in a fully illustrated exploration of cultural one-way traffic. In hilarious, pithy and occasionally scathing prose, Mike looks at some of England’s slightly dodgier attitudes to its closest neighbour. Stereotypes explored include the Welsh character (shifty, oversexed or verbose); the Welsh language (dead, ugly or secret code for extremists), and the landscape. He examines political decisions, misguided tourism campaigns and market forces which over the years have sacrificed Welsh communities and landscape to reservoirs, forestry, military ranges and the latest property boom. His contemporary bête noir is Sunday supplement property marketing and he includes the Welsh themselves among his criticism of blinkered, bland tourist campaigns.
Mike, travel writer, broadcaster and former stand-up comedian, has also written guides to the gay scenes of Scotland, Ireland and northern England. He wrote and presented the ITV Wales travel series Coast to Coast and Great Welsh Roads, journeys in the company of a boat, his dog Patsy and a camper van. Now settled in Machynlleth, mid Wales with his partner, Peredur, he says,
“Growing up in Worcestershire, the Welsh hills were my western horizon; I got hooked age eleven on the country and even bought myself a Teach Yourself Welsh book. I love walking in Wales; I’m even a bit of an evangelist for people’s sense of place. I reckon that’s why so many people are unhappy: they feel disattached from the beautiful places on their doorstep. Welsh people’s sense of place is just so strong.”
So while Neighbours from Hell? may not exactly be a conventional love letter from Wales to England, psychobabble has it that boundaries are crucial to a healthy loving relationship. Mike Parker’s book may, in the spirit of Robert Frost, insist on the importance of mending those fences that have got a bit trampled on over the centuries in our neighbourly relationship. But the re-alignment of power which he proposes between the cultures and countries of these islands is in the spirit of reconciliation. The potential, he concludes, is tantalisingly close – for both Wales and England – to end the period of our being each others’ neighbours from hell.
Neighbours from Hell? is endorsed by major nonfiction writer Byron Rogers, author of RS Thomas’ official biography.
Neighbours from Hell? contains over twenty colour illustrations of cartoons, historical postcards and contemporary photography.