My Semi-FInal Day
So, living in Aberystwyth I was quite happy when I received an email a week or two before the semi-final informing me that my interview slot would be at 2pm, which would give me enough time to drive down and wake up at a sensible time. I'd spent the last two days going back and forth to Reading with work, so an early slot would've killed me :slight_smile
So I drove down from Aber to Cardiff via the rather scenic A470 route down through Ponterwyd, Builth Wells, Brecon, Merthyr and Pontypridd before parking my car in Cathays (for free..) at about midday. On the way down I managed to get through TEN lessons of SSIW Northern course Level 3 for good measure just to sharpen myself up - and just for extra punishment, they were all going through my phone on 1.8x speed
I grabbed a quick coffee in Costa across the road from Yr Hen Llyfrgell before making my way over. For anyone who knows the layout of the building, the "communal" room where all the semi finalists hung out and where the activities happened throughout the day was on the top level, in what I previously knew as the "Upstairs Function Room", as I had previously visited the place for a Welsh Language Books event.
I was greeted by the friendly Nannon from the Eisteddfod, with whom I'd been in contact with since I entered the competition - so it was good to put a face to the name. I was also greeted by Neil from Parallel.cymru who was also taking part - someone who I again knew very well, but had not met face to face - despite probably knowing each other for about a year or so.
There were activities happening throughout the day in order to keep competitors busy and interested, some of which included a tour of the museum part of the building (which I couldn't do unfortunately as it clashed with my scheduled interview time), a twmpath dance session (which I'll say I couldn't do because it was too early for me....) and there was a sort of textiles session which seemed popular, but again happened long before I arrived.
The nature of the event meant that people sort of dropped in and out a bit all day - the first people to be interviewed would've gone in at about 9am and would've been finished with all of their commitments by about 10am, so there wasn't a great need for them to hang around all day - so I think a lot of people took advantage of that fact and went out and did a bit of shopping, went out for food etc.
So when I arrived it was a bit quiet around the place, which was okay with me - as 25 introductions at the same time sounded like a bit of headwork
Neil, fair play to him, seems to know everyone - so he took on the role of "person introducer" at which point I met a fair few people, including for the first time - @netmouse who was also taking part.
I was 16th on the list - I understand there were 25 scheduled, with 2 pulling out at some point during the day, I arrived later in the day so I wasn't sure whether this happened on the day or prior to the day - so it ended up being 23 people on the day - I also understand that a couple of people had interviews over Skype due to work commitments or not actually being in the country - these interviews were kind of slotted in throughout the day (as is my understanding)
Neil was 15th on the list, so after having an hour or so with him and a few others - he disappeared off downstairs for his interview. 20 minutes or so later he pops back up and so it's my turn.
Again for anyone who knows the building - I've only really taken the lifts around the place before, so I walk downstairs with some of the production crew and I lose track as to where we actually are - so I'm not sure if we did the interview in the basement or on the ground floor level, or wherever - it was a bit of a blur - all I can tell you is that the room is quite big, quite "glassy" and has the feeling of an X-Factor audition (i.e a table in front of you with 3 judges sat behind it - you sat about 10 feet away, with maybe 4/5 cameras all over the room.
I've watched some footage from previous years on YouTube, and I would that this was certainly a much bigger room. I'm terrible at estimating sizes, but it was probably as big as a large classroom in school.
To be honest, the cameras didn't bother me really. As a glasses wearer, I generally have to concentrate on my steps and such - so by the time I walked in and sat myself down in front of the judges I didn't really notice they were there. The only thing I noticed was that "Wales Shark" the Youtube vlogger was actually working behind one of the cameras, and as a big fan of his vlogs - that was the only thing that threw me!
The 3 judges were lovely, they introduced themselves and the chat just seemed to fly by. You got the idea that they had a set list of questions, but they also came back with questions based on my responses.
I think I remarked to a few people that the hardest thing about it was trying to keep your answers concise and getting to the point - Being only 10 minutes in length, there's not a lot of noodling time - which I love doing. In a weird way, an hour interview would've been easier - because you'd have time to really go down to detail. Although it is perhaps only real sadists like me who would welcome an hour long interview
The interview just seemed to be over like that! I made mistakes, nothing massive or glaring - more just like stuff that I forgot to say, rather than any actual massive mistakes. As soon as you leave the interview room, I suppose we've all done in job interviews ourselves - you naturally forget things that you've done, or you undersell them etc.
My biggest worry really was knowing which door to walk out of at the end, because as anyone who also did the interview would tell you, there are two big doors on either side of the judge's table - and I'm thinking "Right, if I came in through one door, do they want me to exit through the other?"
Straight out of the interview, the production team grabbed me and asked me if I'd be happy to have a chat with Nia Parry, of S4C fame - to which I was excited to do so. We had met previously through a mutual friend, funnily enough at the same place last year, so it was nice to see her again.
"O le ydw i'n nabod ti?" She said (From where do I know you?)
I explained our mutual contact and the previous time we met and the chat just flew from there.
So the interview with Nia took place in what I believe was another level further down in the building, in what looked like an exhibit room - with actual centre visitors, so there was a bit of visitor curiosity.
The chat was really nice, she's a lovely person and if anyone gets an opportunity to do anything with her on one of the shows she does, definitely take the opportunity - she is great.
The interview was loosely based on the questions I was asked in the main interview, although without any of the pressure - and the conversation kind of went back and forth - we talked about SSIW a fair bit - I mentioned a bit of project I would be working on in the near future to her quietly before the interview - and she comes out... last question - "we hear you've got an exciting bit of work lined up soon!" hahaha, I was hoping to keep that quiet, but again - all good :D:D
We talked about a load of things - none of which I can remember now as it was all a blur - my cheeky Cardiff City fan side did come out as when she mentioned she was a Swansea fan and I did say "Enjoy the Championship next year" all in jest of course
So after this, I'm free to go back upstairs - to which I make a complete hash out of it, end up in the cafe, end up in the shop, end up in some companies hired office upstairs before 5 minutes later finally finding my way back.
By this point some more people have started returning again as we started approaching 3/4pm, so everyone gets to meet a few new people - and some of the afternoon people start disappearing for an hour or so to grab some food. I don't think there was ever really a moment where all 23 competitors were in the room together, as a few people couldn't stay for the ceremony later on due to time commitments etc - but I'd say at its highest (at least from what I saw), we had about 15-18 of us together just before the results.
I then meet Matt and his fanbase straight after his interview as I believe he was either straight after me, or a person later. It's worth noting that downstairs was a bit of a person juggling act. So Neil before me, would do his real interview while I was upstairs, then when he finished - I'd go and do my real interview, while he did his interview with Nia - and when I finished, I'd move on to Nia - before the next person would come down for their real interview - you get what I mean!
I believe Steve, who also made it through to the final would've been one of the last people to be interviewed - as the first time I saw him at the venue would've been about 4pm, and since he went down for his interview pretty soon after that - the first time I met him was on the stage with me a bit later on!
At about 16.45, the volunteers at the event brought out some cakes, to which I was expecting them to be eaten a lot faster! But they survived for quite a time. I had a Welsh cake, which was lovely.
At about 5pm, it became clear the interviews had all finished and the production crew moved into our room and started actually turning what had been the "common room" into a presentation ceremony, lights were moved in, cameras came from nowhere, walkies talkies came from nowhere, and soundchecks started happening.
Everyone pitched in and put the room back into a presentable state and within about 10 minutes the room looked like a presentation event.
We were given a timetable with the results being announced at 17:30, but this time came and went and soundchecks and preparations were still happening - most of which seemed to be centred around a misbehaving stage light behind the S4C and Eisteddfod advertising banners that seemed to be spoiling the view of a camera or two. They seemed to move it, fixing the problem for one cameraman - only for a different cameraman to say that the change had ruined his view!
I initially sat at the back with Neil and a couple of others on higher chairs to get a good view (I'm 5 "8 on tip toes!) - but we were asked to move closer to the front as the production crew were hoping to put a far-view camera in exactly the spot we were sitting, so I moved into the second row and Neil moved into the row directly in front of me.
I sat with a lady from Pontypridd that I had met that day, I must apologise - as I am terrible with names, and with Ross McFarlane who some learners may also have come across.
At about 6pm, with the light now behaving, the room lights were lowered and the three judges entered the room to applause - after all they had been meeting 25 people for about 10 hours in front of cameras and studio lights and everything - before having to debate with each other for the last hour! I certainly didn't envy their job.
Lowri - who was (in my interview at least) the main interviewer, took on the role of running the ceremony. She gave an incredibly passionate speech for about 10 minutes on the quality of speakers throughout the day, it was clear to see that at time she was taken aback by the quality. As @netmouse commented above, she commented on the high quality of the semi finalists, stating that against some previous years there were cases for every competitor to have made it through.
....and then the announcements started incredibly quickly - I was expecting the other judges to say a word or two, but it did literally start there and then very suddenly.
Yankier was the first name called out - now I had not met Yankier throughout the day, perhaps our times didn't really match - so when he walked upto the stage I had no idea where to look. I had no idea where he was sitting and I was also conscious that there was a camera fixed right on me as he made his way to stage - I hope they don't use that footage as I'm just there gorping around the place trying to work out where he is, I look left, I look right, I swivel my head and I still don't see him - and when I turn back to the stage, he's already there shaking hands with the final judge before taking his place to the side.
All I hear then is "Nicky", and the first thing that comes to my mind is "Was there another Nicky here?" and there's almost like an out of body experience for a second before I sort of raise my right hand as a kind of "Do you mean me?" sort of expression to Lowri, who smiles and I take that as my cue to walk up, I tried tapping Neil on the shoulder to say thanks for his applause but I totally miss and almost slap the man sitting next to him - apologies to that man!
I shake hands with the judges, get to meet Yankier before Steve starts walking onto the stage and before I know it I'm shaking hands with him and congratulating him. Matt is called out and his supporters give him a loud shout. Mihil is also called out but with him having a Skype interview, he isn't available to come on stage.
The next few minutes are a sort of blur - it's very odd, you're stood up there, you can see the faces of people looking up - but your view (especially as a glasses wearer who probably should've gone for another eye test about 2 years ago!) is blurred by the camera lights. Your mind is just going "OK, do I put my hands behind my back, or do I put them in front?" I look at Steve and I see he has his hands behind his back and I think "Ah, that looks pretty cool. I'll try that!" - I don't have the same effect, but there we go
At this point, there are a few rounds of applause and people start to leave before the PR bits start to get set up.
I forgot to mention as well, that unlike some previous years - before the ceremony we were told that the results were not to be shared on social media etc, because the National Eisteddfod were not going to be releasing them until the following morning - so that was a toughy!
We all had our photos taken with the judges and Nia, in various orders - before having photos taken with each other and then having some quick individual photos taken.
Yankier and Steve then took part in a joint interview with Nia before myself and Matt took part in a joint interview with Nia. For the little time I had with him, I enjoyed Matt's company a lot - we had a good chat about football and his new trainers, and when we added each other on Facebook - as always happens in Welsh circles, realised we had about 100 friends in common! We were both asked the same questions, but Matt was asked first - so some of the questions he gave answers I was going to give :D:D so my answers were very much sort of like.. "Yeah, I agree"
As the room sort of emptied out, I stayed to watch Nia give an interview with the judges where they explained a bit more about how they came to their decision, about the high standards and a bit more about those who made it through.
It was nice then to get a bit of time to have a proper relaxed chat with the judges, all of whom were lovely - Lowri Haf-Cooke was great, turned out that she actually lived in the street next to me for a few years and was a Cwps regular of the past, so we shared a few stories. I got the chance to bug my old favourite Youtube vlogger and almost beg him to start making his own videos again.
It was also great to get a bit of time to have a proper chat with some of Matt's supporters - they were all extremely keen Welsh learners, and one of the most touching moments of the day came when one of his supporters went around after the event and shook the hand of every single finalist and judge reading off a small thank you note - I'M NOT CRYING, THERE'S SOMETHING IN MY EYE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And just like that, the day was over - a weird one at the end as everything inside you says to go mental and spread the news, but with the embargo it was a more muted affair. I started the walk back to Cathays, looking like a sweaty substitute teacher by this point (anyone who has seen the pictures can see, my hair was not that flat and lifeless when I turned up 6 hours earlier!)
I phoned my wife and gave her the news, only speaking in my trademark superfast Welsh - in order to help keep the news secret.
I didn't do another 10 lessons of SSIW on the way home, but I did boot some loud music in the car until I got bored of that half way between Pontypridd and Merthyr on the A470 before resorting to the more sensible choice of Elis James and Rhod Gilbert podcasts.
I arrived home at a little after 10pm, where my beautiful wife @LaraRobs was waiting with a congratulations card (in Welsh) and we settled down to watch the Eurovision song contest (that I think I told every single person I met that day about) - keeping off social media was quite easy by that point and we watched the song contest back on Sky+ 2 hours after it happened, so I didn't want to spoil my surprise as to who won.
I woke up this morning, hoping the news would break at 9am - as we thought it would, only for it to not come out until about 10.30am or so. At which point, my phone just went into overdrive - I've had to recharge it twice since this morning due to amount of notifications, pings and messages of congratulations I've received. So thank you all! I promise (and I am a man of my word) that I will reply to each and every single one personally.... in due course.
I've found my face on BBC News, Golwg, Facebook - even on some Dutch news website this morning, so I dread to think what work will be like on Monday! I even found myself in a meme on the satirical website "B****s Cymraeg", where someone noted that the 7 of us on stage could've looked like a reformed S Club 7 :D:D:D:D
After years of making memes, to become one - oh, it's a bitter pill to swallow!
In conclusion: A great day, with some really inspirational stories. The level of love and commitment for the language in that room was immeasurable. If we could harness even a touch of that feeling and emotion and channel it into the language and the general public, there wouldn't be a care or a worry about the future of the language ever again!
I really would encourage people, especially us SSIW-ers, who can often be a bit of an unconfident bunch with these official things, to give it a go in the coming years. It's a great experience and it really gives you something to work towards - something to direct your learning towards, if that makes sense? It really helps put into perspective what you have achieved.
The competition rules state that you have to be more or less fluent - and I wouldn't advise anyone who isn't confident enough and experienced enough to apply, but when you do get there the competition is certainly - in my opinion - not all about your ability to work the mutations, or your perfect handle of the tenses and so forth - it's a lot more to do with your usage of the language, the changes it has had on your life and the things you've been able to do with the language, and having been around these parts for long enough - I can definitely confirm there definitely a fair few people around these parts that meet that sort of job description.
Thanks for all of your lovely messages, both on here and on all of the social media channels - I hope this has sort of helped gain an insight into how the event works, and I hope I haven't spoiled the surprise for anyone who was just hoping to wait and see it on S4C in July.