On her first night at university, a boy called Giles asked Bethan, “What do you call a sheep nailed to a lamppost in Llanelli?” But, of course, he mangled the pronunciation of her rugby mad town.
“The recreation center,” he brayed, and then when she didn’t respond, “Don’t you get it?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” Bethan replied, feeling her cheeks flushing. In her flared jeans, she was feeling very provincial; all the other girls wore corduroy dirndl-like skirts, jewel-colored jumpers with discreet turned-up collars peeking out like little mice ears. Virginia, the girl who lived opposite her in Halls, was even wearing a pearl necklace.
Bethan had only ever heard people who spoke like Giles and Virginia on the television. Their clipped tones reminded her of Margo and Jerry Leadbetter from the sitcom The Good Life. Virginia even had the close-set eyes, a ski slope nose, and imperious bearing like the actress who played Margo. If Giles and Virginia were the posh Leadbetters, Bethan knew she was their rumpled, more impoverished neighbor. ‘They probably think I keep chickens under the bed,’ Bethan thought to herself as she chugged back her gin and tonic.
“Sheep shagging…..Wales,” Giles continued as Bethan realized she didn’t actually like this somewhat bitter drink. Next time she thought she’d order half a larger even if all the others were sipping on this over-priced ‘ice and a slice’ cocktail. Giles looked at her expectantly; she fished the lemon out of her drink and sucked on it in reply.
Without another word, Giles burrowed away into the foggy pub.
That was the first of many such encounters. The full English boys she met at Exeter didn’t seem to realize or care that nobody told jokes like that where she came from.
Later, she learned to retort, “We might shag them, but you eat them!”
It never got a laugh from any of the old Etonians or Wellies (so nicknamed because they wore Hunter wellington boots even when it wasn’t raining), yet somehow it made her feel better.