Gyppo Byard's heather-hawking Armenian anabasis has reminded me of my long and inglorious association with that fine country.
Although shaped like one of those moulded bed pans men toy with in NHS hospitals, Armenia has everything going for it in terms of attracting a Welsh:
- it, like random chunks of the Amazonian rainforest, is about the size of Wales (see also other fun countries Albania and Israel);
- The Armenian for "good morning" is "Barry Lewis" (բարի լույս);
- Their big neighbours are still a source of annoyance, and they don't let you forget it;
- They used to live on the plains, but are now stuck in some useless mountains;
- They are short and dark, while their history is long and darker - think of The Crow, but with better music;
- Their menfolk are largely engaged in loafing and criminality; and
- Turks killed my great-grandfather at Gallipoli in 1915, the same time as they killed most Armenians' great-grandparents.
There are differences, of course, Armenian women and the weather being the most striking, but these only add to the allure.
As a student at the University of That London in the 80s, I was always on the lookout for ways of funding my Art Pepper way of living (this was the time before lifestyles).
Stints as a ballet impressario and art dealer had brought me deep joy, some cash and the attention of law-enforcement agencies in countries where civil servants wear sunglasses indoors, so male-modelling and sperm donation seemed the next step. Until an academic, whom I shall call Dr Steffan ap Sioncs, advertised for Armenian lessons.
Dr Sioncs was a Welsh, and a specialist on Georgians (the Stalin-boosting wine merchants, not the lynching-prone peanut fanciers or lady-dodging poets) who wanted an insight into the language of their frumpier neighbours. I spoke no Armenian beyond basic greetings, enquiries about alcohol availability and slanders on the Turkic national epic Crazy Dumrul, but possessed guile and a copy of the CIA's marvellous "Spoken Eastern Armenian". We went to work.
I would prepare a lesson the night before my weekly class with Dr Sioncs, and rebuff his polite questions about grammar points and non-spook vocabulary with assurances that he must not harrow his narrow Silurian mind with too much Armenian at this delicate early stage.
I even persuaded him that the Georgians had lifted their spaghetti alphabet from the elegant Mesropian Armenian script rather than from the commonly-received tin of soup. This had the virtue of not being true and of getting him into immense trouble with any Georgians he might want to share it with.
This nonsense went on for months, to the benefit of all. The landlord of the Friend in Hand got his tab paid, Dr Sioncs could order a bottle of prolapse-friendly Zhiguli beer in Yerevan, and any number of distressed young ladies avoided being seeded with frozen shots of Chateau Boyo.
But this was not even the beginning of my dealings with Armenia and its ungrateful denizens. There was a prequel, a sequel, and a tragic coda. Of which more anon.