Words by: Gareth Lloyd
First day of University. Student halls. Campus bar. A gaggle of bright-eyed freshers huddled together cradling lukewarm lager and acerbic cider. Alcohol has gently eased away the tension of introduction. Everyone is just great. Nobody is quite themselves. The dorm recluses are out in plain sight. The rugby players aren’t drinking out of shoes.
The seasoned backpackers aren’t even acting blasé yet. Everyone’s in the same boat, and for just a few hours, act almost like carbon copies of each other. But there’s a giveaway; and it’s the clash of speckled accents that zip through the air. Some are obvious and familiar. Some are curiously obscure. And when everyone wakes with a fuzzy head the next morning, the endless list of cryptic names and numbers in their phonebook will be no use for remembering and describing who they shared that 4am tequila with. Associating with hundreds of other intoxicated beings is not a good recipe for putting names to faces or faces to names.
As for me; I was “the Welsh guy”.
That was weird to me. I’d never considered myself as “the Welsh guy”. For eighteen years, pretty much everyone else around me had also been “the Welsh guy”. But now it was being used by others to distinguish who I was. Whenever my feint Welsh twang excelled itself in certain phrases, I was astonished to find that it temporarily intrigued people. On that first night of freshers, as I squeezed through to the bar, I met students from all over the UK. “I’m from Wrexham” I told them. This was met with blank faces on almost every single occasion. “Where’s that mate? Never heard of it”. “North Wales”. “Oh right yeah, thought you sounded a bit Welsh. What’s it like?”. Giddy on adrenaline, I rambled on about my hometown. Nobody had ever asked me about Wrexham before. Why would they? Most of the people I knew lived there too.
The more I spoke, the more I realised how well I knew my hometown. The football club, the pubs, the nightlife, the restaurants. I even discovered that Wrexham had its own phrases and colloquialisms. For snippets of each introductory conversation with every new person I met, I was a walking Wrexham Wikipedia page.
It was only when I wandered onto the topic of Wrexham Lager that some links between Wrexham and the rest of the world began to emerge. A look of vague recognition crept across the face of one of the members of our huddle. “Ahh. I remember my dad drinking that” he said. Another girl concurred. I’d never really considered how far and wide Wrexham Lager had been and gone before. Reintroduced in 2011 following an absence of eleven years, it was eased back into the town solely through local pubs in an attempt to aid the flailing business of public houses in a working-class town. It was a drink that had been sipped by British soldiers during the Siege of Kartoum in 1885, and had also been aboard the Titanic. These were just facts that were dotted all over pubs and posters in the town centre – I’d never previously considered their exceptionality. It was a bizarre thing. My local lager had made me realise I was part of a unique town with a fascinating history. Of course, Wrexham ain’t perfect.
It has its own horde of two-teethed swaggering dolers possessing exclusively blue vocabularies.
It has its derelict lanes where tumbleweeds daren’t spin down. It has a few dark corners. But the perfect town is an illusory thing. Wrexham is where I’ve grown up. It’s the place where so many life-altering moments have taken place. Working city life relentlessly sweeps you along in a merciless tide. There’s so much going on in so many places with so many people, there’s barely time to catch your breath, never mind unearthing the details of your origins. But University is incredible for that. In such a youthful multicultural environment you’re made to acknowledge your roots. Your hometown defines you as an individual; it gets into your blood and helps shape who you are. I didn’t always know this. But now, when I nestle into the corner of my local pub; the soft North-Wales accent floating through the air and a bubbly pint of Wrexham Lager by my side; I feel unapologetically smug. I know exactly who I am and where I’m from. That’s a nice feeling.