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.


R Tyler said...

As erudite and enjoyable as ever

radnorian said...

Thanks for the kind words

Jac o' the North, said...

You disappoint me with your suggestion that the modern tendency to take the piss out of us is due to English nobs having lost their fear of the Welsh working class. The quote below is from Pepys' Diary of 1667 and tells us that there is a long tradition of the English disliking us.

"Having done with him, back again to the office, and in the streets, in Mark Lane, I do observe, it being St. David's day, the picture of a man dressed like a Welchman, hanging by the neck upon one of the poles that stand out at the top of one of the merchants' houses, in full proportion, and very handsomely done; which is one of the oddest sights I have seen a good while, for it was so like a man that one would have thought it was indeed a man."
[From "Poor Robin's Almanack" for 1757 it appears that, in former times in England, a Welshman was burnt in effigy on this anniversary. Mr. W. C. Hazlitt, in his edition of Brand's "Popular Antiquities," adds "The practice to which Pepys refers . . . was very common at one time; and till very lately bakers made gingerbread Welshmen, called taffies, on St. David's day, which were made to represent a man skewered" (vol. i., pp. 60,61).]

Here's another reference to Pepys, and similar practices, from Wikipedia telling us that the English have never really liked us. But whereas at one time we were hated, even feared, now we are just ridiculed. And to react to this treatment makes us 'racist'.

"Saint David's Day was celebrated by Welsh diaspora from the late Middle Ages. Indeed, the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh celebrations in London for Saint David's Day would spark wider countercelebrations amongst their English neighbours: life-sized effigies of Welshmen were symbolically lynched,[4] and by the 18th century the custom had arisen of confectioners producing "taffies"—gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat—on Saint David's Day."

And of course before Pepys there was Shakespeare who, while personally sympathetic due to his Welsh grandmother and his Welsh teacher in Stratford, Thomas Jenkins, still had to give an English audience what it wanted and expected.

radnorian said...

Ah I can see how my clumsy wording confused things here. Of course hatred/dislike of the Welsh has a long history. I'd say it was the nature of the dislike which has changed.

Ridicule can be born of fear, whereas today I'd say it's born of contempt.

Take the English civil war period when anti-Welsh pamphlet's abounded. This was born of the fear of Welsh armies invading England - which they did - causing panic throughout southern England. There were even proto-Protocols of the Elders of Zion claiming to reveal secret plans by the Irish and Welsh to slaughter the English. Also tales of Welsh women armed with knives half a yard long intent on massacre.

The end result of this Cambrophobia, the slaughter or maiming of the Welsh women camp followers after the battle of Naseby.

I doubt if anyone is very afraid of the Welsh today so the present day ridicule must be based on disdain. I didn't notice much of this before the 90s, certainly in the mainstream media or on TV, perhaps others can pull-me up on this though.

I think the gingerbread taffy tradition should be revived, it would provide the English with harmless treets and remind the Welsh of their true status in the happy union

Anonymous said...

re <<.. the gingerbread taffy tradition should be revived, it would provide the English with harmless treets ..>> (a) would be a treat but not chocolatl : , and (b) I'm sure Dragon Pie was banned some while ago , maybe in Presteigne, as the content can't be sourced in reality .... (c) would need a trade-markeable design of biscuit cutter ?

radnorian said...

OK OK..... I was going to pick you up on your spelling of chocolate, but then I realised you're probably an Aztec and I'd fall foul of the internet police

Anyway it was dragon sausages and it was Crickhowell - easy to confuse those two I admit.

Llew Buallt said...

Being a friendly sort?

radnorian said...

Well it was a long time ago