Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Musical Interlude

Turn the map of Europe on it's side and the importance of the ancient Atlantic seaways becomes apparent.  A mare-nostrum of stateless nations, the Scots, the Welsh, the Cornish, the Bretons, the Basques, the Galicians and in North Africa, the Berber peoples.  Choose your angle carefully and the expansionist polities - the English, the French, the Spanish and the Arabs almost disappear from view.

Here a young girl sings a composition by the Berber poet Lounés Matoub - a secularist, a democrat, and an opponent of the enforced arabisation of his people, he was assassinated in 1998.

I like the normality of the scene, the passers-by, the cat in the background ....

Kenza my daughter
don't weep
we die as a sacrifice
for the Algeria of tomorrow

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Grid Walk

Motor sport loves iffy politicians with money to burn, real money.  Wales might qualify on one count but without the moolah you can forget any thoughts of a Welsh Grand Prix.  It's never going to happen.  Like HS2 it's a couple of generations too late.  Maybe back in the 1930s we could have closed a  public highway and done something to rival the great continental road circuits of the period.  Of course we were part of the United Kingdom and parliament didn't approve of that sort of thing, although the Llandrindod Chamber of Trade were still flogging this particular dead horse as late as the 1960s.

Welsh F1 drivers?  It's a funny thing but some of the names that get trotted out as being Welsh, just weren't.  Stuart Lewis Evans, Bernie Eccleston's pal who died as the result of a crash in the 1958 Morocco GP sounds Welsh.  I looked-up his family tree once and he was about as Welsh as Kate Middleton.  Not a trace of any Welsh connection in generations.

In the early 1960s there was an F1 team called Ecurie Gallois run by a very tidy young driver called Jack Lewis.  He had married a Pembrokeshire girl and moved to a farm between Llanwrtyd and Llanymddyfri.   Must have been Welsh?  No, he was Gloucestershire born and bred and so was his father, a Stroud garage owner.  The Welsh thing was really just a marketing exercise - like I said a very fast driver but maybe a bit optimistic in the PR stakes.  Lewis purchased a brand new BRM from the factory in 1962 but they sold him a pup and it was enough to disillusion the lad with the racing game, he quit to raise horses on his Carmarthenshire farm.

Shane Summers and Gary Hocking were two 1960s Welsh F1 drivers who were killed before they troubled the record books - these compendiums seem to believe that GP racing began in 1950 and studiously ignore the prestigious non-Championship races of the 50s and 60s.  Hocking, from Caerleon by way of Rhodesia, was particularly fast and a potential world champion. Here's Gary's complete four-wheel record

The real golden age of Welsh racing drivers was the 1930s.  We tend to forget that the South Wales coalfield was the Persian Gulf of its day and that great fortunes had been made there.  By the 1930s there were plenty of bright young things well-heeled enough to squander those inherited fortunes at Brooklands and the racing circuits of Europe.

Clifton Penn-Hughes was the son of a Llanelli industrialist, the Eccles brothers, Lindsey and Roy were heirs to the Briton Ferry Steel Company, Charles Martin's grandfather was vice-chairman of GKN, Dudley Folland from a Glanaman tinplate family - he played rugby for Swansea and London Welsh and was a Cambridge soccer blue - raced as Tim D Davies. Tim Rose-Richards and Owen Saunders-Davies were third in the 1930 Le Mans race.  These were all well-known names to followers of  motor racing in the 1930s.

One of the most successful Welsh racers of that period is little remembered, perhaps because he raced under so many names:  R.Wilson, J. Taylor, S. Bird, J. Sinclair, J. Philip.  He retired in second place in the big Brooklands 500 race of 1931, finished second as J Philip in 1932, and third, under his real name of Philip Turner in 1933.  As a matter of fact he'd been born Joshua Tanchan, a member of a Jewish family who migrated to Wales in the 19C.  The bankruptcy courts soon put an end to his motoring exploits, which had been pursued with other people's money.

Two of the Bentley boys had mid-Wales connections, Glen Kidston, who won Le Mans in 1930 was brought-up in Glasbury  - his widow remarried and is Samantha Cameron's grandmother.  Beris Harcourt-Wood's forename gives a clue to his birthplace - Caerberis in Builth Wells, which was also later the home of the Rose-Richards family.

Verdun Edwards from Brynna took part in the 1957 Aintree F1 race in one of the cars sold off to a certain B C Eccleston by the troubled Connaught F1 team.  Tony David - a well-heeled Cardi bought a Lotus 22 and was soon killed in the 1965 Formula Libre race at Dunboyne.

Wales also had it's manufacturers, Swansea's Cyril Kieft could have had an F1 world beater in the 1950s, until Coventry-Climax abandoned their FPE-V8 engine.  The company believed that it was under-powered compared to the Continental manufacturers - in reality the published performance figures for the European engines were a load of hooey.  Kieft sold his motor sport interests to sports-car racer Berwyn Baxter who many think was a Welshman - he wasn't.  Before the war the Margam born fascist and all-round bad guy Donald Marendaz built and raced some well-regarded sports cars.  Jack Turner from Abergavenney was building racing and sports cars in the early 50s, but like all our manufacturers found workers with the necessary engineering skills in England rather than back home in Wales.

Innes Ireland was living at Downton House, New Radnor when he won the United States Grand Prix in 1961, indeed he lived there throughout his frontline career, but the leading Radnorshire-born racer was the 1960s Mini-Cooper driver and rallyist Liz Jones from Newbridge-on-Wye.

The greats,  Tom Pryce and Parry Thomas, are too well-known to describe in our little grid walk, so let's finish on the very first circuit race of all, the 1902 Circuit des Ardennes (before this races were town to town) won by Charles Jarrott.  The records say Jarrott was born in London, but his mother was Welsh and the family lived for a long-time in Newbridge, Monmouthshire.  The best thing about Jarrott - he was born the son of a blacksmith's labourer and he married the wife of an earl.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

No change here

A few weeks ago an insider was asking on twitter (which by the way I've decided is not for me) what would be a suitable name for a Ceredigion/Radnor/Montgomeryshire local authority.  Seems they were having a brain-storming session down in Cardiff.  I suggested Elenid but, thankfully, that particular re-organisation must have missed the cut.  It seems that Powys, yet again, has survived to manage the population transfers in this particular corner of paradise.

In Radnorshire you get used to small mercies and at least no-one has suggested that we should link up with Herefordshire.  That was certainly the Boundary Commission's first option in the immediate post-war years.  So things could be worse and we are allowed some continuity; while officialdom will have to work pretty hard to justify the Friday pay-offs/Monday re-appointments associated with previous re-organisations.

Some, who clearly find variety unappealing, complain that Powys is too small to have a council. Heaven knows how Radnorshire survived in the 1960s with a population of less than 20K.  Yet it did.  We had schools, roads, old folks homes, social services, smallholdings, libraries, even the occasional policeman.  The Council's Barber Green travelled around the county laying asphalt on the highway and roadmen kept the ditches clear.  Nowadays you spend your time avoiding potholes and floods, although no doubt there is a small army of white-collar workers brain-storming the problem as I write.  Our even smaller Rural and Urban District Councils somehow managed to build council houses in nearly every village in the county, they even had electric light and flushing toilets.

One North Wales blogger describes Independent councillors as gombeen men.  I know what he means and there was a time when I would have said thank heavens for that.  At least those old stalwarts had the economic interests of the county and its communities at heart and if they over-stepped the mark might even find themselves opposed at election time.  The present generation don't measure-up of course and perhaps their demise is to be welcomed, although the artificial tribalism of British party politics doesn't appeal.

Emily Hobhouse - a Great Nuisance

Let's be honest all sides in the Syrian conflict are capable of starving, torturing and killing their opponents.  It's also no surprise to find a big atrocity story surfacing on the eve of the Geneva conference - a conference that, with the exclusion of the Iranians, the West must think are negotiations aimed at Syrian government surrender rather than finding a lasting peace.

Listening to this lunchtime's BBC reporting of the Syrian atrocity photographs the casual observer might be impressed with the Corporations's impartiality.  Seemingly hard questions were asked - were the photographs photo-shopped or faked, did the fact that the project was funded by the Qatari government mean that the forensic experts had been bought off?  Of course these were meaningless questions, no doubt the pictures are genuine and the experts completely professional and unbiased in their work.  The most important questions weren't asked though  - who were the victims shown in the photographs and who abused them?

It's the type of question the Cornishwoman Emily Hobhouse would probably have asked.  Largely remembered for exposing the British Boer War concentration camps - responsible for the death of 24000 Boer children -  her Wikipedia entry doesn't really do Hobhouse justice.  For example it doesn't mention her role in the creation of the Save the Children charity (neither does the charity's website) and it ignores her journey to occupied Belgium in the First World War to ascertain the truth of the atrocity stories being used to rally young men to the colours.

Today Emily Hobhouse is something of a hero in South Africa with streets and even a town named after her.  Anglophone historians criticise Hobhouse because she only visited Boer camps and not the black concentration camps also established by the British.  In reality she was only allowed to visit a handful of camps and that was curtailed as soon as the authorities realised what a great nuisance she had become.  Revisionists, relying on British government reports, even claim that the deaths of the Boer women and children were the result of their inate ignorance and lack of hygiene rather than the scorched earth policies of an Empire humiliated by the successes of the Boer fighters.  It smacks of the Blue Books familiar to us in Wales.

Unlike those Malthusian ancestors of today's politically correct elite Hobhouse spoke plainly of the need for black rights.  Her speech at the dedication of the memorial to the Boer women and children victims of the British Empire was recalled by Thablo Mbeki in a 2004 speech:

"At an earlier time, 90 years ago, the speech of an English woman, Emily Hobhouse, who opposed the cruel war waged by her country against the people of South Africa was read at the ceremony to unveil the Women's Monument in Bloemfontein. On that occasion, she said: 

'The old watchword 'Liberty, Fraternity, Equality' cries from the tomb; what these women, so simple that they did not know they were heroines, valued and died for, all other human beings desire with equal fervour. Should not the justice and liberties you love so well, extend to all within your borders?'

She went on to say: 'We too, the great civilised nations of the world, are still but barbarians in our degree, so long as we continue to spend vast sums in killing or planning to kill each other for greed of land and gold. Does not justice bid us remember today how many thousands of the dark race perished also in Concentration Camps in a quarrel that was not theirs? Did they not redeem their past? Was it not an instance of that community of interest, which bonding all in one, roots out racial animosity? And may it not come about that the associations linked with this day will change, merging into nobler thoughts as year by year you celebrate the more inspiring Vrouewen-Dag we now inaugurate?'

It is a tragedy for the Afrikaner people - for a majority of those speaking the language as a mother tongue are not categorised as white - that her plea was ignored.

It seems to me that unlike so many present-day human rights activists Hobhouse was not motivated by support for one side against another.  She campaigned against the concentration camps because of the disgraceful conditions pertaining there, not because she supported the Boer war effort.  In 1916 Hobhouse crossed the Swiss border into Germany and went on to visit the Belgian city of Louvain and the German camp for British internees at Ruhleben even meeting with the German foreign minister. Again not because she supported Germany but because she wanted to see for herself if the atrocity stories in the British press were true and investigate avenues for peace.  Hobhouse reported what she saw while making clear the restrictions placed upon her visit by the German authorities.  Like Gareth Jones in 1930s Ukraine she was that rare thing, an honest reporter.

For her troubles Hobhouse was condemned as a traitor and the law quickly changed to make such future visits illegal.  Emily replied to her critics in a letter to the Times:

"I went to Germany quite simply and openly, contravening no law: I went under my own name with a 'humanitarian pass' in the interests of truth, peace and humanity; and I am proud and thankful to have done so."

The British state has seen fit to celebrate Kitchener - architect of the scorched-earth policy that saw some 30000 Boer farms destroyed, the women and children placed in concentration camps and the men shipped off to the more remote corners of the Empire - by placing his portrait on the £2 coin.  It's said that a new coin will be produced each year to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, perhaps Hobhouse might be a suitable candidate for 2016?

After all as one historian states "in the entire course of the deadliest conflict the world had ever seen, she was the sole person from any of the warring countries who actually journeyed to the other side in search of peace."  It's worth remembering.

Friday, January 03, 2014

As we do call it

I recently had to admit that I know next to nothing about the history of the Welsh language in the Shropshire Hundred of Clun, other than that the bard Hywel ap Syr Mathew, who died in 1581, was a native of the district.

Help seems to be at hand though as some Aberystwyth academics are beavering away to produce a book on the Welsh place names of Shropshire.  The book - we'll have to wait until the end of 2016 - promises:

" ..... an an introductory chapter, examining the history of the Welsh language in Shropshire (and its neighbours)"

Reading about the project I discovered that one post-graduate has been examining field-names in north eastern Radnorshire from the period 1600 to 1900, in the hope that it will  "reveal information about the linguistic geography of the Welsh language in the border area."  Fascinating stuff.  I guess this may be along the lines of how placenames like llwyn, llyn and llain ended-up as llan as everyday knowledge of Welsh died out.

Anyway that's the Christmas present for 2016 sorted .....  hopefully.

Update:  Interesting comments about identity from some young Clun people at around the 59 minute mark here.  Seemingly they are considered to be Welsh by other YFC clubs in Shropshire and suffer from some low-level ethnic prejudice as a result.  They don't think of themselves as Welsh though, the Welsh consider them to be English while the English consider them to be Welsh, they're happy to be Clun people.