Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy Holiday Folks

The Engineer pulled the throttle, Conductor rang the bell,
The Brakeman hollered "ALL ABOARD" and the banks all went to hell.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Maestro Speaks

Some candid quotes from Stirling Moss in this month's Motor Sport. Of course he's too much of a gentleman to be other than, well, gentlemanly:

"Fangio, to my mind, was the best F1 driver in World" ..... ok if you say so Stirl', although I'm sticking with that guy Moss.

Graham Hill "a driver who attained more success with less ability than most." ...... and really that's quite a compliment.

Phil Hill "he was good in as much as he could drive most cars fairly well" ..... mmmh I can feel some Americans reaching for their word processor.

Hawthorn "he was fast, but one has to say what he did at Le Mans was rather foolhardy." ...... C'mon Stirling don't you know that the default Britisher position is that it was all Levegh's fault, stop being fair.

and so it goes on .........

Oh and Sirling's opinion of Radnorshire based racer Innes Ireland:

"One of the most underrated drivers, he was very fast. If Colin Chapman had been able to control him the way he did Jimmy Clark, I think he would have been up there with him. I don't think Innes got as much assistance from Chapman as he could have had."


Looking at a sample of over a thousand Radnorshire wills from the 17C we find that a majority of folk from across the county are using traditional Welsh patronyms, Rees ap David of Gladestry (1660) for example, or Gwenllian vch Hugh of Aberedw (1671).

The new fangled surnames are certainly making headway, although a subtantial number of these are infact hidden patronyms. For instance it's highly unlikely that John David Bedo Mayn of Llanyre (1640) was actually a Mr Mayn!

Surnames that denote an English ethnic origin are absent from most parishes but in Llanddewi Ystradenni, Llangynllo and Llanbadarn Fynydd they make up between 20% and 25% of the population. Familiar names from in and around these parishes include Mason, Clark, Bufton, Payne, Hamer, Harding, Wilde, Ingram, Worthen and Mantle. These families soon inter-married with the local population and Buftons, Hamers and Ingrams etc are found in the last generation of native speakers of Radnorshire Welsh. At the same time they no doubt introduced a degree of bilingualism into North Radnorshire which would have been sustained by contact with the border towns of Knighton and Presteigne. It is this bilingualism that is the key to the later anglicisation of the county and it is the upper Ithon valley and the hill country of Maelienydd that is the conduit not the Wye valley as supposed by many.

My old chemistry teacher, Ll. Hooson Owen, in his thesis on the Welsh language in Radnorshire seemingly believed that it was a planted Cromwellian soldiery that introduced this English element into the county, but the names cited above are found before the Civil War. Perhaps they were settled on lands confiscated from the monks of Abbey Cwmhir, does anyone know?

Re-Writing History

It's always been a pleasure to point out to the more bumptious Anglo-Saxon that, from the Welsh point of view, the English are themselves fairly recent immigrants to this sceptred isle. Now along comes Stephen Oppenheimer with the claim that the English have been inhabitants of Britain for much longer than previously thought. Indeed his more extreme followers even go as far as to say that parts of Ireland have also been English for 2000 years.

Oppenheimer bases his theory on the belief (dismissed by specialists) that the Belgae of Southern England were a Germanic speaking tribe and, well that's about it, except for the fact that how else to explain that England is, you know, English rather than Welsh.

Of course Oppenheimer's book is manner from heaven for those English folk whose confidence has been shaken by the loss of Empire, immigration, bolshie Scots and rule from Brussels, but is it true?

Firstly the Belgae only occupied a small area of Southern England so, even if they were Germanic speakers, it doesn't explain what happened to all the other Celtic tribes of what became England, the Iceni for example. Secondly how is it possible that so few Latin loan words ended up in Anglo-Saxon, far fewer than in Welsh. After all according to Oppenheimer the "English" lived in the most Romanised part of Britain, Southern England, yet the Romans seem to have had precious little influence on their language, culture or religion.

How then can those of us who find little of value in Oppenheimer's work explain the comparative absence of Welsh placenames and loan-words in England? Well how about the extreme weather events of the 530s and the great plague of the 540s. This all fits in with Gildas and would explain how the Anglo-Saxons were so easily able to move into an under-populated landscape.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Big Cat Myth

It fooled the gentlemen of the Victorian press, it even fooled the perspicacious author of the Radnorian blog, but it seems that the tale of the escaped tiger of Aberedw was a hoax.

Next they'll be saying that the Llandrindod town councillor who once suggested purchasing a breeding pair of gondolas for the town's famous lake never existed either.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thought for the Day

Following on from my Raglan Castle post, I see that Clive Betts - the doyen of Welsh political journalism - has also been exercised by the Anglocentric viewpoints of the Assembly's historical monuments branch. I certainly agree with Betts' comment that "much of Wales's history has been characterised by militant – even military – opposition to England. It’s about time someone reminded Cadw of this."

In the same way Radnorians cannot escape the fact that our area's history is part and parcel of this opposition. It should be a matter of pride that at a time when Norman rule stretched from Limerick to Jerusalem, it failed to progress much beyond Knighton. The princes of what later became Radnorshire stood shoulder to shoulder with Llywelyn and his brother Dafydd until the bitter end, and Glyndwr owed his greatest victory to the actions of the archers of Maelienydd at Bryn Glas. Likewise two of the great works of world literature - the Book of Taliesin, and the Red Book of Hergest - were preserved here and the many scores of surviving bardic poems from the area are testament to its nourishment of traditional culture. Llandrindod's Victorian festival may well ignore the reality of 19C Radnorshire but the issues that dominated the politics of the county - militant opposition to the imposition of fishery laws, the enclosure acts, the disestablishment of the Anglican church and, yes, Home Rule were particularist and Welsh.

Cadw's anglocentricity reflects a larger problem within the Assembly, where paid officials often seem more loyal to the London based civil service, of which they remain a part, rather than to the democratically elected institution which employs them. A good start in combating this colonial mentality would be to end the linkage between Welsh civil servants and London.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"A dice ... perhaps the greatest of all time."

Probably Innes Ireland's greatest victory was in the 1961 Solitude Grand Prix. Here is an extract from Jenkinson's report in Motor Sport.

"On lap 20 Brabham's engine coughed once or twice, and immediately Bonnier and Gurney were past, and then it spluttered again, as if getting low on fuel, or suffering from fuel feed trouble, and McLaren was by. This let the two Porsches attack Ireland and on lap 21 the order was Ireland, Gurney and Bonnier, all in a tight bunch and one felt that the Lotus could not cope with a concerted attack by the two silver cars, especially as Brabham and McLaren had dropped back out of the slip-stream, and could not help anymore.

It seemed impossible that a Lotus could beat the Porsche team on their own doorstep, and the crowd were obviously very partisan and urging on the two silver cars. Fortunately for Ireland the two Porsche drivers were too engrossed in their own personal battle to think of ganging-up on the Lotus, so Ireland still led on lap 22, and again on lap 23, but on the penultimate lap Bonnier got by, and one thought "that's it, Ireland's had it now" for the three cars disappeared up the hill with the green Lotus in the middle of a Porsche sandwich to start their last lap.

Down through the fast swerves Ireland could do nothing to get by and down the long straight he tried to pull out of the slipstream and get by but it was no good, and as they approached the hairpin at the end of the straight the forceful Ireland thought "now or never," but somehow Bonnier's Porsche was using all the road and there just wasn't room for the Lotus to try and get by. A lesser driver would have settled for an honourable second place, played the gentleman and satisfied the crowd by letting the Porsche win, but not Ireland, for his fighting spirit was really up, and gritting his teeth and hoping Chapman wouldn't mind if he crashed, he took to the grass, went by Bonnier on the braking, and then standing on everything scrabbled back round the corner in the lead. From this point back to the finish was all corners and curves, and it did not need much imagination to keep the two Porsches at bay, but there was still the short straight from the last left hand curve over the finishing line. There was a cry of dismay from the crowd as the Lotus appeared in the lead, but a shout of joy from the Lotus pit, and Ireland crossed the line a matter of three feet in front of Bonnier, with Gurney an equal amount behind. Had the chequered flag been at the other end of the of the pits Ireland would never have made it. It was a glorious victory for Team Lotus, and Ireland had surpassed himself. McLaren and Brabham finished fourth and fifth, and nobody had a lap of honour, they were all much too puffed. It had been one of the best motor races for many years."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review

It's a long time since I bought a guidebook to a Welsh historic building, probably back in the time when they were published by the Ministry of Works with blue covers, impenetrable prose, and the occasional fuzzy monochrome snap.

Anyway the Welsh Assembly are to be congratulated on the quality of their present day guidebooks. The Raglan book for example contains 56 pages of excellent colour photography and striking diagrams, and at £3.50 it is a bargain.

Of course I have a quibble and not a minor one either. Nowhere in the guidebook would a visitor learn that Raglan was one of the major centres of bardic patronage, for poets like Guto'r Glyn, Llywelyn ab Y Moel, Lewis Glyn Cothi etc. - the equals of any English language poet. Would a guidebook about Tintern fail to mention that it was the subject of a poem by Wordsworth?

Even worse the guide is quite disparaging of the bards in a couple of asides. It mentions a reference to the Great Tower in the work of Guto'r Glyn but adds "one has to be wary of bardic panegyrics." Why? Now English poetry may well be a solitary onanistic business, but Welsh poetry was composed to be declaimed in the public arena. Guto'r Glyn knew and fought in France alongside William ap Thomas of Raglan, his praise poem would have been sung in the presence of the subject and other great men of the country. There was little place for mere empty flattery in such works and if you actually read Welsh praise poetry of the 15C you'll see how false this widely held belief is.

A couple of paragraphs further on the guide comments on Lewis Glyn Cothi's elergy for William ap Thomas's widow Gwladus vz Dafydd Gam. Glyn Cothi mentions that 3000 people attended her funeral but the guidebook adds "perhaps with some pardonable poetic exaggeration." Why? Gwladus was the mother of five sons, the Herberts of Raglan and Colbrook, and the Vaughans of Tretower, Bredwardine and Hergest. I would have thought that 3000 was a conservative number of mourners for the mother of sons and grandsons who ruled most of South East Wales.

Now all this betrays a wider mentality where only English records can be relied on, while Welsh records are dismissed as exaggerations. Wales needs to put such attitudes behind it and the Assembly's guidebooks to our historic monuments might be a good place to start.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Don't Upset the Sponsors!

"Innes Ireland was fairly hard to control and therefore the people who were sponsoring him would say that ‘this isn’t good for our product.'"

It's a quote from a recent interview with Stirling Moss and a reminder that even in the good old days commercial interests ruled the roost.

Maybe Moss is referring to the Italian Grand Prix of 1961. Of course that was the year of the sharknose Ferrari and by the time Monza came around only Stirling had any chance of upsetting the Maranello bandwagon. Moss's Rob Walker Lotus 18/21 had no chance of matching the red cars on the super-fast Italian track, so Innes Ireland came up with the bright idea of Moss taking over his slightly more competitive works Lotus 21. Chapman was asked and gave his agreement.

In the event Moss retired the works Lotus, suitably painted in Walker's Scottish colours, while Innes saw the older car's chassis fall apart on the bumpy Monza banking. Unfortunately that was not the end of the matter. Moss was a BP driver, while Lotus was sponsored by Esso. Let Innes take over the story:

"I hadn't heard the last of the affair. And really, this is, I think, a sad commentary on the state of motor racing. There was a protest from the Esso petrol company, criticising me for lending my car to a BP driver. It made me most angry. How unnecessary! If Stirling had won the race, they might have had a bit of a niggle, but in the circumstances, I strongly resented being rapped over the knuckles like that. They could easily have forgotten about it, but I presume it was one of the early indications that motor racing was becoming less and less a sport and more a business of high finance."

What Innes didn't mention was that Chapman, who had agreed the swap, now shifted all the blame on to Innes and a few weeks later the team sacked Ireland despite his victory in the United States Grand Prix. The decision according to Cedric Selzer, quoted in Mike Lawrence's Chapman biography, was a joint decision between Colin and Esso's Geoff Murdoch. Indeed Murdoch broke the news to Innes, Chapman lacking the necessary bottle to do so.

Of course the revisionists insist that Ireland was sacked because Jimmy Clark, the team number two, was the superior driver. Probably true, although it would be useful if they could explain the fact that Innes and Jimmy raced together 23 times for Team Lotus in Formula One with Innes winning 4 races with 3 seconds and a third, while Jimmy managed a second place and two thirds. Oh and far from improving with time, in their last seven races together, after Innes returned from his Monaco tunnel crash, Ireland took 3 wins against a best finish of fourth for Clark - this without any team orders.