No rest even on a Sunday. Today was supposed to be a lie-in followed by an hour drive to Philadelphia Airport to catch a plane to Boston. However, whilst on the train from Washington I explained to Charlie that I was pleased to be paired with a Congressman from Pennsylvania due to the strong Welsh links with the state mentioning in particular the emigrants who left Wales for Pennsylvania to work in the coal and slate industries.
The mention of the slate industry resulted in Charlie informing me that his district included the Pennsylvanian Slate Belt centred on the town of Bangor! Now for an MP with both parents brought-up in Bangor, North Wales, this was interesting and also for Charlie who was almost immediately on the telephone with the Mayor of Bangor to see whether a meeting could be organised. Suffice to say by Friday the St. David’s Welsh Society of the Slate Belt and the Mayor had lined-up a breakfast meeting at 7.30am in order to ensure that I was back in good time to travel to the Airport.
Having been collected at 6.30am we were soon heading towards the Slate Belt. The main towns in the area were Windy Gap, populated by immigrants from England, Roseto, which was populated by the Italians and Pen Argyl which had been populated by engineers from the Cornish Tin Industry. The Welsh had settled in Bangor developing the further towns of Bangor East and Bangor West. Any resident of North Wales driving into the Slate Belt in Pennsylvania would feel immediately at home since the slate tips that surround Bethesda, Dolwyddelan, parts of Betws y Coed, Blaenau Ffestiniog, the Nantlle Valley are replicated in their rugged beauty within the Slate Belt. Arriving at the coffee stop for the breakfast meeting I was met by some thirty residents with Welsh and US flags accompanied by the Mayor and State Representative for the area.
We had a great morning with a very warm welcome by a crowd of people who had all visited North Wales at least once. Most of the members of the St. David’s Society could trace their families back to Bethesda, Dolwyddelan, Nantlle or Blaenau Ffestiniog but what was even more interesting was the fact that the Slate Belt school board marching band had visited Llandudno and Conwy during a visit to North Wales back in 2007 – what a small world.
The morning finished with the worst duet you will ever hear. John Williams who left Bangor for the US in 1948 was delighted to be able to use his Welsh and insisted that all Welsh men could sing. Despite my protests that even in the school choir I had been asked to ‘lip sync’ rather than sing I was forced to join-in since I was told that every Welsh man could managed Calon Lan. Much to the amusement of Charlie I managed Calon Lan to the applause of the Welsh contingent and the surprise of the other customers who had probably turned out for their usual quiet Sunday brunch. It was a memorable event.
I managed to get back to the Hotel in time to be met by Sheridan Bell from the United Stated Department of State who got me down to the Airport in pretty quick time. As we were pushing the speed limit this mild mannered gentleman turned to me and said that he should ask for the Purple Heart registration plate since this is a sure fire way to ensure that the State Police do not book you for breaking speed limits. I asked him whether I had heard correctly that he had a Purple Heart to his name to which he replied that he had “a couple”. I’m glad to say that his efforts were not in vain and I caught the flight to Boston.
The first free session of the visit was in Boston that afternoon and evening since all my colleagues were flying in from different parts of the US. Since I had packed a pair of shorts I decided to use them and once checked into the Hotel I embarked on the freedom trail, a walk around the sights of the American War of Independence, for which Boston in clearly very proud. The mixture of the old and the new is as striking in Boston as any part of London and the walk is a great way of getting to know this superb city.
I was also quite amused by the statue of General Hooker, a senior military leader during the American Civil War which was located outside the magnificent Massachusetts State House at the top end of Boston Common. General Hooker, who was routed at the Battle of Chancellorsville by the Confederate Army of Robert E Lee, was apparently famed for allowing women of dubious morality to follow his armies thus giving rise to the American work ‘hookers’ to describe prostitutes. There appears to be doubts as to whether this is true or not but since Boston is the centre of Irish America I will simply resort to a wonderful old Irish saying – “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”!
Boston is a great city and feels as safe as any city in the UK. It was a pleasure to play the tourist for a few hours and having eaten in an Irish Bar I went to bed looking forward to our two days of meetings in Boston aimed at introducing the State system to us at ground level coupled with meetings with some very interesting think tanks.