Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nothing Special

A bit of autobiography

Growing-up in Radnorshire in the early 1950s you wouldn't have heard much Welsh.  Indeed I can actually remember the occasion when I became aware of  the existence of the language.  Travelling on a Crosville bus between Llandrindod and Crossgates, my mother plonked me down beside another little lad in order to gossip with the boy's mother on the opposite seat.  Being a friendly sort I tried to make conversation, without any success, prompting the mother to explain that her offspring didn't speak English - which she then proved by launching into an incomprehensible stream of sound to which the previously mute boy happily responded.

A little while after this incident I discovered  that I, too, was a Welsh child of sorts.  Our cottage might not have had electricity or even running water, except for a near-by council standpipe, but we did have a splendid battery powered Ever Ready radio - my family's first step on the road of consumerism.  Wikipedia tells me that the date was 22 October 1955 and my father went crazy when Derek Tapscott scored a goal.  The radio confirmed that Wales had beaten England 2-1 and as a suddenly aware young Welshman I was over the moon.

 Simple Faithful Folk

My mother was born in Abertysswg but moved to Radnorshire, where her mother had relatives, during the swift disaster of 1926.  Later the family moved-on to Harrow - described in 1932 as "largely Cymric" where she and her siblings joined the YCL - for the socials she told me.  The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact didn't prevent her joining the WAAFs, aged just 19, in the summer of 1939 and by 1940 she was serving at RAF Uxbridge.  Churchill and his wife were frequented visitors.  Her opinion of Winston - a drunk, and Clemmie - too interested in the younger officers.  I wish I'd talked to her more about her early life but isn't that always the case.

It's fascinating how as the older generation kick-the-bucket the elites, who now control so much of academia as well as the main stream media, feel able to rewrite the history of the Second World War.  Stalin is painted as worse than Hitler, the role of the Soviet Union diminished to the point where you would think their only contribution was the post-victory rape of every female in Berlin.  Just look at the comments on any Second World War You Tube video for a taster of how these views have entered the mainstream..  Let's forget Anglo-American bombing aimed primarily at the German working class - the main group who actually opposed the rise of Nazidom - and the callous nuclear weapons dropped on an already defeated Japan.

This is a picture of the Ford plant in wartime Cologne.  The factory - at the centre of the snap - remained undamaged while the slave-labour barracks (below it) had been thoroughly bombed.

We're told that this was as the result of the fortunes of war rather than any deliberate plan to preserve the Ford company's property.

Radical Wales seems to be particularly proud of the film Pride, based on a London based lesbian and gay group who raised funds for the mining families of Onllwyn during the great strike of 1984-85.  How safe, how cosy, but then we've always been partial to a pat on the back from our betters.  The main character is an American, which can't have hurt sales to the USA.  Wisely no mention was made of the fact that said hero was General Secretary of the YCL - which even in its revisionist 1980s guise wouldn't have been much of a selling point.

I seem to remember that the miners of Donbas collected millions of pounds for the striking miners, all forgotten now by a radical Wales that can't even be bothered to find out what is happening in present day Ukraine.  Please let's never again mention that Donetsk was founded by a Welshman, it will only serve to remind us of the parochialism and irrelevance of our modern day national movement.  Heaven knows what Gwyn Alf would have made of it all.

Welsh Jokes

I can't remember the Welsh being objects of ridicule in the past, although that certainly seems to be the case today.  Disliked perhaps, but never a joke.  Perhaps it was the influence of Lloyd George and Nye Bevan, seen as being responsible for two of the great social reforms of the 20C - pensions and free health care.  I think it is something different though, and I'm talking about the disregard of the nobs rather than some UKIP bloke from Wolverhampton.  No, I think the old-school-tie brigade have lost their fear of the Welsh working class.  Up until the last great miner's strike there was still a possibility that the established order might topple.  Nowadays that's - perhaps foolishly - not seen as being the case and the Welsh have suffered more than most from Hooray Henry disdain.

The Kurds

When the siege of Kobani started I thought the Americans were engaged in PR bombing to impress the media gathered on the Turkish border overlooking the town. In reality the American action was far more subtle, an average seven bombing runs a day was just enough not to dissuade ISIS reinforcements from reaching the town.  Like wasps attracted to a jam jar they were being lured to their death, pehaps as many as 2000.  Of course this meant that the YPG/YPJ fighters were also being used.  Still treated as terrorists by the US and the EU, they fought the war mainly with AK47s, being largely denied supplies of even anti-tank weapons and night-vision equipment.  Perhaps 500 Kurds died in Kobani, many of them the young women who temporarily became objects of media attention in the West.   Take a look at some of their faces here, they deserve that at least.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Writing the Welsh Out of Popular History

The other night's moon halo occurred exactly 554 years after the battle of Mortimer's Cross, an event marked by the appearance of a similar atmospheric phenomenon, a parhelion.

That battle resulted in the defeat of the Lancastrians and the subsequent execution of their commander Owain Tudur. The majority from what would later became Radnorshire fought on the victorious Yorkist side and their leaders benefited greatly as a result: Ieuan ap Philip was constable of Cefnllys, a fortress which he rebuilt and ruled with the help of a still existing copy of Hywel's laws.  Llywelyn ap Rhys was constable of New Radnor castle and Dafydd Goch - he was from Y Fron close to modern day Crossgates - was granted the small Marcher lordship of Stapleton by Presteigne. In this way the descendants of the old princes of Maelienydd continued to rule their ancestral lands, at least at the local level, maintaining the language, literature, law and traditions of the Welsh.

Check out popular English histories of the War of the Roses and you'll find little about the Welsh just as books on Tudor times rarely mention Wales; and this reminds me of something published the other day on the Daily Wales blogsite.  The article, see here, entertained its readers by including nearly every smidgen of historical balderdash ever dreamt-up about/by the Welsh.  Welsh Israelites - tick; Welsh Indians - tick; the Old British church - tick; Coelbren y Beirdd - tick.

Now what is interesting about this flummery - and  there's nothing new about any of it - is why these legends came about and what effect they had on reality.  Gwyn Alf Williams, for example, wrote a marvellous book about the Welsh Indians, see here although he certainly didn't belive that such a tribe ever existed outside the minds of men.  The Daily Wales article, however, sees the dismissal of these myths as part of some English plot to write the Welsh out of history - their fire may be wildly off target but their heart is in the right place.

Anyone who watches Time Team should play a game and count-up the number of occasions that great leveller Tony Robinson (sorry Sir Tony Robinson) mentions the Anglo-Saxons.  British survivals in Lindsey, Elmet, amongst the Magonsaete and as ancestors of the royal houses of Wessex and Mercia etc. are ignored.  Even when the programme makes a rare foray into Wales you'll more likely hear Baldrick droning-on about Anglo-Saxons.  It's a very one dimensional view of post-Roman Britain.

Then what about King Arthur?  The Matter of Britain is one of the foundation stones of vernacular literature from Germany to Portugal, yet despite obvious Welsh characters and backgrounds any Welsh transmission is downplayed, perhaps the result of lowly tavern minstrels. Never mind that a princess of Deheubarth was rolling around in the bed of the King of England, who by the way was really a Frenchman.

And so it goes on with the BBC the worst offender.  Here's a revealing factoid I've mentioned before in connection with Janina Ramirez' series on the Hundred Years War: Kent was the English shire asked to raise the most men - 280 - for the army that went to Crecy, for many English counties the number was less than 60.  The figure for the cantrefi that went to make up the future county of Radnorshire was 430.  Did the Welsh get a mention, did they hell.  As for Dimbleby's Seven Age's of Britain, who can forget his statement that Britain was pagan until a few Irish monks turned up in Scotland in the mid 500s.  Heaven knows where he thought St Patrick came from.

Fergal Keane's Story of Ireland was little better, the conquest of Ireland being achieved by the English or, at best, the Anglo-Normans. A better term for these half-Welsh conquerors, few of whom would have even been able to speak English, is Cambro-Normans. Frustrated by their failure to make progress in Wales these descendants of Princess Nest turned to a more profitable field of conquest. I suppose Irish pride is better served by blaming the English rather than admitting the role of men like Robert Fitz Stephen who boasted of his Trojan, that is his Welsh blood:

"We derive our descent, originally, in part from the blood of the Trojans, and partly we are of the French race. From the one we have our native courage, from the other the use of armour. Since, then, inheriting such generous blood on both sides, we are not only brave, but well armed."

And so it goes, Ieuan Brydydd Hir got it right some 240 years ago:

The false historians of a polished age
Show that the Saxon has not lost his rage,
Though tamed by arts his rancour still remains:
Beware of Saxons still, ye Cambrian swains.