Friday, November 28, 2008

Arriva Tazio

A pity this song wasn't soundtracking some film of the great Nuvolari at the wheel. Maybe the Pussycat Dolls will do a song about Lewis Hamilton. Who knows, perhaps they already have, wouldn't be the same though. Trio Lescano were three Jewish sisters from the Netherlands who made it big in Italy before the war. In the end the fascists took them off the radio but at least they survived.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Panic!

Back in the Sixties the joke was that when the Free Wales Army talked about a round, they meant Double Diamond and certainly not ballistics. On one occasion, however, the brave lads in forage caps did step out of the tabloid spotlight for a night of genuine armed rebellion. John Humphries tells the tale in Freedom Fighters.

The serious bombmakers of MAC decided to use the FWA to launch an attack on the Elan Valley pipeline in Radnorshire. A bomb consisting of 40 sticks of gelignite attached to a car tyre was to be placed in the pipe itself and exploded. Everything went according to plan, the FWA found the aqueduct manhole cover, broke in and lowered the bomb into the waterway. However in their haste the FWA had forgotten to attach the detonator.

There the bomb remained until discovered by a local farmer Mr Powell of Cefn Penarth, Crossgates. The bomb disposal experts were called and the good citizens of Birmingham continued to enjoy the luxury of running water.

Book of the Month

Although published by the University of Wales Press, this book is not really a history of the post-war physical force element in Wales. In some ways it is autobiographical, tracing the story of the author from his anglicised, somewhat anti-Welsh background, to highly successful editor of the Western Mail, to Secretary of the nationalist Independent Wales Party.

The book starts in 1963, thus largely ignoring the activities of the Welsh Republican Party in the 1950s, even though many of the leading characters in that movement re-emerged as backers of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC) in the 1960s. The book also suggests links between MAC and the holiday home fire-bombings of Meibion Glyndwr in the period 1979-1992. No real evidence is presented for this connection, which is hardly surprising given the fact that no-one was ever convicted for any of the 200 or so attacks during the period.

Despite these reservations this is a highly readable and well-researched account of the time. The author, an insider, places meat on the bones of the anti-Welsh attitudes of the Western Mail. The book is somewhat sympathetic to MAC activists such as Owen Williams and John Jenkins, while at the same time painting the Free Wales Army as the clowns they no doubt were. The Stasi-like attitudes of the Special Branch Shrewsbury Unit and, in particular, its successors are detailed, a reminder that the English human rights industry did precious little to protest against some of the disgraceful infringements of basic rights occurring in Wales. The book also has its fair share of controversial revelations . Did Owen Williams actually convince the IRA of the virtue of the "cell system" of insurgency and was John Summers really a police informer?

This is a worthwhile book, casting light on an important aspect of Welsh history that is too often ignored by historians. It is also interesting that so many of the characters in the physical force movement were English speakers. Mainstream nationalism's inability, understandable as it may be, to fully engage with the English speaking Welsh majority, is surely the great failure of the independence movement to date.


It seems Enzo Ferrari presented Innes Ireland with a watch which has now been stolen. See here.

Update: An amateur sleuth asks "how come" I have a photo of the missing watch. Well Sherlock, I found it here.

Oh and now the BBC are on the case.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Musical Interlude

A regular reader complains that I'm stuck in the Fifteenth Century! While I ponder this point here's a musical interlude. It's 1964, it's Paris and the pride of Pontlottyn, Miss Petula Clark is flirting with the traffic. Fantastique!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Radnorshire and the Far Right

Just two BNP members in dear old Radnorshire then, according to the recently leaked membership list published on the web.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Radnorshire Bardic Poems, 46

This is a translation of the bard Llawdden's elergy to Elen Gethin, presumably he composed it for one of her daughters. The tomb which Elen had made for her and her husband can still be seen in Kington parish church. At the end of the poem Llawdden compares Elen to, amongst others, the Helena - mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine - who recovered the true cross from Jerusalem; the Seven Wise Sages of Rome, and the biblical Susanna.

Llawdden's Elergy for Elen Gethin

Since Monday, for me,
The planet is without light.
Monday the fair one was dark,
A day of weeping, Elen’s demise.
Snatched, like a saint’s ascension,
She was of no great age.
A blessed wife, faith’s vision,
Sought the temple of Tomas’s bed.
The fair one who brought his body home
From the pain of the battlefield of Banbury.
And now he, in Kington church,
Cannot sleep because of his Lady.
She was loved, she and her chieftain,
Let them find heaven from the bed she made.
A great white wall, made of marble,
Like the cloak of Mwrog and Mariaith.
The image of a man and his lover in the church,
In the clay before the Son of God.
A stone curtain, a white mantle
Closed for eternity.

A psalm for Elen Gethin, she shared wine,
I bring for her daughter.
The moon is faint to hold court
After Elen and her two courts.
Teams ploughed her lands,
A fair estate, she wasn’t poor.
Her hall never lacked wines for
The world, anymore than Bath.
There was no wall without light
With candlesticks about her corpse.
Gold and coral on her fingers,
Fair lass, to count the saints.
Pointless in her day to
Rebuke her kinsfolk,
She allowed no perjury
Or poverty amongst her people.

A good woman, with Susanna’s sense,
And wine and candles in her court.
A sister to that woman who fetched the Cross,
Until the end of her life,
Lear’s daughter before the goodmen,
Coel’s daughter, great hearted;
Fair Marsia, many mention
Her law and works of old.
Every word from her was strong,
Elen’s learning was expected.
Seven were next to her in speech,
The eighth, her learned tongue.
She was a Sybil, her language was good,
A second Solomon to her breast.
If David had two sons,
From her two sons will spring goodmen:
Master Watcyn, a pure and pleasant lad,
Is there any more powerful? Master Rhosier!
If holy Mary calls Tomas and Elen
To heaven on high,
We expect, God, without doubt,
A golden halo above their heads.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mike Hawthorn

I can't say I'm a great fan of Mike Hawthorn, doubtless unfairly, he seems to typify, for me, some of the worst aspects of the Fifties. Of course Mike never had the opportunity of moving on from that decade, dying as he did in 1959. Anyway a lot of people do admire Britain's first World Champion and some of them have created this rather wonderful website. There are details there of a splendid book about Hawthorn which has just come out, today infact.

Some film here of Innes Ireland's widow Jean unveiling a plaque commemorating Hawthorn in his birthplace, Mexborough in Yorkshire.

Skating on Thin Ice

Carmarthen's town guide - who appears to be a human being rather than a pamphlet - has written to the Western Mail pointing out a few inaccuracies in a recent article in the paper about Knucklas Castle. Read it here. Well I'm all for historical accuracy, but then the guide spoils it somewhat by bragging up Carmarthen's Arthurian connections at the expense of, well, Knucklas.

The Welsh name for Carmarthen is Caerfyrddin - Myrddin's fortress - or Merlin the Magician as our English friends like to call him. It's also well known that this is etymological nonsense. The name actually derives from the Roman civitas Moridunum (meaning sea fort) - good heavens, there's a wikipedia article explaining the whole process. Well good luck to Carmathen and it's town guide.

Meanwhile that Carmarthenshire bard Lewis Glyn Cothi - and the bard's really are the experts when it comes to this Arthurian business - was quite certain that one of the most note worthy facts about Maelienydd (the district that later made up North East Radnorshire) was that "Yndi'r oedd, hyn adroddir, neithior yr hen Arthur hir." - Herein was, this is reported, the wedding feast of tall Arthur of old.

At the end of the sixteenth century Morgan Meredith of Bryndraenog provided board and lodging to the scholar Sion Dafydd Rhys, who recorded some interesting folk tales linking Arthur and Knucklas Castle. Some giants had captured Gwenhwyfar's brothers and were holding them, north of the River Teme (Tyfediad in Welsh) at Bron Wrgan in the parish of Llanfair Waterdine. Arthur killed the giants and brought the brothers back to Knucklas. In order to cross the Teme he used a giant's skull as a stepping stone, declaring "tyfed yr iad yn yr afon yn lle maen" - meaning that the skull had taken the place of a stepping-stone. Henceforth the river was known as Tyfediad. Complete nonsense of course, just like Carmarthen meaning Merlin's town!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Welshman in New York

Fingers crossed that Joe Calzaghe's career closing fight at the Garden this Saturday will prove more successful than Jimmy Wilde's defeat by Pancho Villa at the Polo Grounds some 85 years ago. Wilde had come out of a nearly three year retirement to take on the Filipino boxer and was a shadow of his former self. Nat Fleischer, who was, of course, at ringside, wrote "Never ... did a champion pass more gloriously than did Wilde that night." By common consent the greatest flyweight of all time, Ring magazine ranked the tiny Welshman pound for pound the third best puncher in boxing history, behind Joe Louis and Sam Langford.

Now it's a fact that most Welsh families with the surname Wilde have their roots in Radnorshire and a little investigation found Wilde's family in the 1901 census, where they were all recorded as speaking no English. An exaggeration no doubt, but interesting light on the strength of the Welsh language in East Glamorgan before the First World War. Unfortunately I could trace the Wilde family no further back than the 1891 census where Jimmy's father was a guest at Treharris police station. In the cells! So the search for a Radnorian connection will have to wait for another day.

UPDATE: Duffy was a no show but Joe Calzaghe got off the canvas in the first round to win the next eleven and the contest. Career ending? Maybe not. Oh and why did the hopeless Western Mail choose to lead its Saturday front page with a no-account Rugby match?