Friday, October 31, 2008

Les Six

In overdue reponse to Gyppo Byard's invitation, here are six random Boyo facts:

1. Dodgy Slovene semioticians and rock gods Laibach slept on the floor of my flat.

Not really my flat, but rather the People's Flat, this being a council block in Ted Knight's Lambeth Socialist Paradise. I was sharing with one chap who went on to feature aomg the Liberal Democrats' least successful general election candidates before joining the diplomatic corps and a housing officer.

Laibach were very jolly and not at all sinister. The comically-misnamed Socialist Workers Party didn't appreciate their totalitarian imagery, which can only be called a virtuoso lack of self-awareness, and its claque booed them offstage at their gig. We still exchange Christmas cards.

2. I was the only sixth-former at Ysgol Y Gader secondary school, Dolgellau, not to be made a prefect.

I thought The Man knew I was down with the kids, and would let them shelter in the classrooms during the constant rain.

Reigning School Bully 1976-1980 Paul Humphreys told me it was because the teachers thought I was "a twat".

Paul was literally in a position to know, as he spent considerable time and effort on impregnating successive gym mistresses and any girls who looked like they might become gym mistresses.

Paul never bullied me, on the grounds that we were cousins. As far as I can tell this was not true, but I kept the information to myself. We still exchange Christmas cards.

3. I was engaged to marry a Belarussian ballet dancer.

During an enjoyable career cul-de-sac as a ballet impressario in 1991 I proposed to a charming lady from Minsk, the idea being that if the Soviets suddenly turned nasty and reversed perestroika we could whisk her away on the wings of my British passport.

The Soviet Union collapsed quietly and she, having visited our Tulse Hill flat, decided to stay in the irradiated swamp that is Belarus. It was good while it lasted.

4. I have a double.

Some fellow with the same name as mine lazily stalked me around Britain from about 1983. It wasn't all bad: he won the University of Wales Russian-to-Welsh translation prize, and I garnered the credit due to our identical names and interests. The real me came third.

Various people would denounce me as an imposter, having sworn that they had met the real Boyo. He's gone quiet since the early '90s, and I still wonder who he was and why. And whether he was real and I'm the fake.

5. My party piece:

is to sing the Hungarian folk song "Erdő erdő de magos a teteje" while Cossack dancing.

Like writing poetry in Esperanto, this has been a real hit with the ladies.

6. I am Wales's foreign correspondent.

The role of explaining Kosovo, Iraq and the Isle of Man to Welsh-speaking news junkies via Radio Cymru and S4C is passed from one Cambrian hack to another in an arcane ceremony each St Trisant's Day.

Like the transmission of the Torah from Moses to the rabbis via the Prophets and the Men of the Great Assembly, this is a hallowed affair. I received the ceremonial dictionary, nasal-hair clippers and pack of mints from "Bedroom" Jones, who himself had been handed them by Sioba Siencyn.

The highlight of my tenure was calling on the people of Wales to hoist the banner of Glyndŵr in support of our Chechen mountain brethren in a Radio Cymru interview that turned out to be going out live.

No one in Carmarthenshire seemed to mind, and I got a street named after me in Duba-Yurt, so fair play.

I'm meant to pass this tag on, but can't be fagged. Just write droll stuff about yourself and let us all rejoice in the anarchy of it all.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mountain Language

A lunchtime conversation down The Tethered Goat:

Boyo: So, The K-Man, when Barack Obama turns out to be yet another American president and not the Messiah Son of David (for whom we wait although he tarries), what will you do with your "Obama 2008" baseball cap?

The K-Man:
(Draws moodily on roll-up)

The Dog of Deceit (and Hypocrisy):
Burn it?

The K-Man:
(pause) I may raffle it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Was a Teenage Esperanter

Ĉu ti vere povas leĝi pensojn,
Mia karulin'?
Porcelane, nun sidante,
Ĉu ti povas kredi sin?

Believe me, that was not the worst of my schoolboy Esperanto poems. Another, called "La Numenio", included the horrific line:

"fluĝis sub la stelajn lampojn".

Sweet Lethe has washed away all other traces.

Esperanters have been dragging their Frankenstein idiom around this and other web blogs ever since I made a passing reference to Incubus, the only major goat-themed film shot in something approaching that language.

If Marcel Proust managed, through bad luck and indolence, to end up in Hell, each crumb of his madeleine would dredge up memories of shambling terror such as I have endured and will now inflict upon the rest of you.

I had drowned all recollections of Esperanto through a combination of alcohol, drugs and acquiring a life. But the selective candour with which Wales commends itself to the nations demands that I retrace the steps of shame that brought me into its bucktoothed penumbra.

As a 14-year-old Welsh nationalist I had drawn the melancholy conclusion that other peoples were never going to learn my vowel-shunning native tongue, meaning that I would have to learn every other language or use English. Then my German teacher introduced me to Esperanto.

You would think that someone whose livelihood depends on persuading 1970s British youth to learn a genuine, difficult language generally associated with beastly behaviour and lumpy women would want to keep Esperanto a secret. But then my German teacher was not only Dutch, but a Quaker.

Quakers, of course, have turned lack of self-interest into a religion. The Dutch, however, are aggressive landgrabbers who conceal their plans to colonise the North Sea bed by pretending to be irritating, hash-mashed peaceniks.

If people learn German they will realise that the Hun, for all his faults, is willing to buy a round of drinks and has something approaching a national cuisine. The Dutch will then be exposed as grubby polder-dodgers and get schlepped back to the marshes from which they never fully emerged.

So Mevrouw Niederlage inducted me into the Zamenhof Cult. She herself had joined the Esperanters while being brainwashed at a volunteer work camp in Communist Czechoslovakia.

Stalin had stamped out all Esperantovian tendencies in the 1930s, understanding that the colossal struggle with the Nazis meant there was room for only one kind of internationalism. But by the 1950s the Soviets realised that feckless Western youngsters could be lulled into fellow-travelling through an appeal to their idealism and dislike of all things American - apart from the music, singers, films, actors, clothes, food and Marshall Aid.

Luckily for the cause of freedom, the Communists thought the best way of bundling bourgeois youth into Bolshevism was by sticking them in a logging camp with a bunch of thyroid-deficient Slovaks, no soap and singsongs in Esper-bloody-ranto.

The only teens who enjoyed this were Communists from the Rhondda, for whom near-starvation in the singing Tatras was like a fond memory of holidays in Snowdownia. And the Quakers, of course.

For me, as a louche Cambrian Gaullist, Esperanto appealed as an easy way to conjugate with French girls rather than their verbs. I learned it fast and convinced my Byronic self that young women swoon over speeches about the Battle of Morfa Rhuddlan, detailed accounts of my political programme and, of course, poems written just for them. In a language only Belgian peace-studies teachers can understand.

My first and last school exchange was educational in showing me that French girls liked cigarettes, singing English pop songs, discos, mopeds and non-spoddish boys several years their senior. Among their major turn-offs were all things Welsh, poetry, and total bollocks like Esperanto.

I've stuck by being Welsh over the years, and just can't shake off poetry, but Teach Yourself Esperanto went straight down the Red Cross Shop once the bus got back from Guérande.

So, if your teenage son starts saying things like "Verb declensions are pointless, but the accusative case and noun-adjective agreement are a must", this is what you do:

Slip into his bedroom when he's out, and check under the sports bag in his cupboard. There you may find grainy mimeographs adorned with Lovecraftian symbols like "Ĉ" and "ĝ" and group photographs of squirrely people in windcheaters.

These are the fetishes of the Esperanto Cult. Replace them, along with any pamphlets on the Baha'i faith, vegetarianism and the United Nations, with some decent porn, a hairdresser's appointment and Top Gear magazine. Then get him laid by one of your divorced ladyfriends fast. He will thank you for it in years to come, and most likely immediately.

I know I did. Thanks, Mam.

And thanks, Aunty Meryl.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ross & Brand & Guildenstern

All day random people (parents; the still, small voice of calm, etc) have been throwing stones through my window wrapped in paper. Moreover, they've been ringing me up and saying "Boyo, you work in the media, what do you think about the BBC/Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand/Andew Sachs ansaphone/granddaughter scandal?"

To which I reply:

  • No good scandal has such a long name;
  • I don't work in the media, I am a medium; and
  • I refer you to the strapline of my web blog.

However, I do have some unsolicited advice. The BBC handles these matters badly. The Queen, Gilligan, Barbara & Yasser 4 Eva, phones-in, boycotting Gary Numan, you name it - the BBC always follows the same pattern:

  • Managers stoutly defend integrity of initial broadcast.
  • Managers actually watch initial broadcast.
  • Managers abjectly apologise for initial broadcast.
  • Someone called Jonty is sacked.
  • All BBC staff go on a "don't lie or be a bastard/don't say ffyc" course, run by an independent consultancy recently set up by Jonty.

This is not good enough. I advocate the No Good Boyo Damage Limitation Plan:

  • Emasculate.
  • Denigrate.
  • Escalate.

Applying these precepts would produce not the lukewarm brew the BBC has served up today, but rather a cracked mug of brick-red steaming bulldog defiance.

I donate this draft letter to the Governor-General of the BBC, Sir Lew Grade. He can use it gratis. If it works, I ask only a commission and the wiping clean of my personnel file.

From the Governor-General of the BBC,

My Fellow Britons,
I am flying in my private Zeppelin high above this Great Britain of ours. A catsuited minion - probably Oriental, certainly female - has brought to my attention various complaints about a broadcast on the Light Programme by the jesters Ross and Brand.

Their capers have long amused you, so I must admit to some annoyance at your red-nostrilled mewlings. Where is your patriotism? Having fun at innocent people's expense is an essential component of our national character, judging by the tele-visual programmes before which you eat your meagre suppers.

Has something changed since we slipped anchor at Ravello (that, and so much else)?

I taught Churchill all he knew, including his favourite slogan "Action Now". And so I am obliged by the yoke of history not merely to reply but also to respond:
  1. The radio programme of Ross & Brand is immediately to be transmitted live on BBC1 from 1800 hours until further notice.
  2. It is to be broadcast through the emergency services public address system in all market towns where sales of The Daily Mail outstrip those of Razzle.
  3. The programme itself is to be renamed "You Bleedin' Kant".
  4. Agaton Sax and his family will have a programme of their own, on which they will be welcome to accuse Mssrs Ross and Brand of regular church attendance, admiration for musicals such as "Miss Saigon", and use of hair-buffing products.
  5. I am the Queen of the Divan.
Yours, lighting a suspiciously moist Cohiba with more of your licence fees,

Lord Sir Lew of the Grade.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

New Goat Dream

The BBC spends a fortune sending lipless Canadian women around the dustier parts of the world to report the wrongdoings of bourgeois imperialists like us. And yet the most popular story on its website is usually about some leathery pervert in Sudan who married a goat.

TV in Crete has found the golden section of goat coverage. It runs none of the salacious stuff that the BBC struts, nor does it openly advocate traditional Greek goat worship - simply solid updates on who's grazing what, how the latest bells sound and stuff about creepy horizontal pupils. When on holiday there I felt fully informed and yet not patronised.

William Shatner was ever the pioneer, not least in the field of goat promotion. His literally seminal film Incubus stars a goat who plays the Devil. The whole business is acted in the international language Esperanto on the endearing premise that the goat and his relatives in the audience might understand it.

Sadly the film cursed its cast with murder, suicide and French subtitles. The goat's career went nowhere, while that dog in the Beethoven films lived in a Conran kennel and dated an Avon lady.

Let us recall for a moment how William Shatner has trailed many a blaze:
  • He launched the US civil rights movement with the film The Intruder, and kept it going in the dark days after the assassination of Martin Luther King by kissing Lt Uhura on Star Trek;

  • He denounced science fiction as "pants" on Saturday Night Live despite the great personal risk to himself from thwarted mummy's boys and, possibly, alien beings; and

  • He proved that Pulp's Common People didn't depend entirely on having Sadie Frost wander around Asda in the video, while at the same time giving Joe Jackson a break from his job at the Ramada Inn, Reading ("Your bossa favourites in a bontempi tempo").
When Shatner spoke on these matters, the world listened. Then he addressed the dignity of Man, the need to date girls and read proper books, and generally to rock out. Now he calls on us to confront the pathetic fallacy.

Animals, unlike people, do not smoke pipes or operate heavy machinery. They wander around rutting and having long naps, finding food where they may. These roles may be reversed in Wales and some parts of Bulgaria, but the truth remains that our activities bore most beasts.

God put animals on this Earthly disc to be eaten by me or filmed by various Attenboroughs, not to indulge the Neronic excess of Nubians or upstage terrorists. Let us follow Shatner's example and accord animals the respect they are due.

The BBC could take the first steps by screening Incubus, perhaps with an introduction by the late Welsh naturalist Johnny Morris, and scheduling a run of Chania Kydon TV's "Η Ώρα της αίγας" goat-focused chatshow and cookery programme.

We owe much to goats, especially Val Doonican. Let's give a little something back.

NB This web blog is openminded in every sense, but does not tolerate crude national stereotyping. Anyone who posts comments about sheep and lonely Carmarthenshire hill-farmers will have his car painted green and his house burnt down.

Monday, October 13, 2008


The nationalisation of British banks has persuaded Madame Boyo that revolution is once again just around the corner.

This, and the return of rainy weather, has prompted us to head off to Crete for a week.

From our headquarters in the village of Keratahori Madame B will prepare for government. I will continue to plant evidence of early Welsh settlement at archaeological sites off the coast.

Our daughter Arianrhod is looking forward to visiting a leper colony.

Please feel free to join the Cymru Rouge now that we teeter on the cwm of power. We especially welcome opportunists and slogan-chanting child soldiers.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Anti-Danube: L'Avenir Dure Longtemps

For readers new to Anti-Danube, East-Central Europe's second most intense and significant novel of the 1990s, here are links to the previous chapters in petit-bourgeois order:

Anti-Danube: Introduction

Chapter I: In which I ascertain the source of my own Danube

Chapter II: In which I add to my enemies

Chapter III: In which I have a Proustian moment, caused by loukoum

Chapter IV: In which I appreciate the virtues of heavy drinking

Chapter V: In which I attack the Secret Police with my lunch

Chapter VI: In Which I Encounter the League of the Wives of Dr Bohdan Naxajlo

Chapter VII: In Which Mountains Vanish as My Troubles Do Not

Chapter VIII: In which I learn not to rely on geography

Anti-Danube: Chapter IX

In which Agent Kafka and I differ on popular culture

"Slezynka plunged deep down the orphanage well
To smother her shame wrought by Szekler lords fell.
But "crack!" went her bones on a rocky outcrop -
The Szeklers had stolen the water as well.

"Poor Slezynka knew that to stifle her sob
And drown out her heart like a leper boy's bell
She would weep booming tears that droplet by drop
Filled the well and her lungs from bottom to top."

The audience at Zhakhiv Cultural Agitational Facility No.17 in the Name of Bragg was struck dumb and, in a few happy cases, deaf, by "Szkeklers Shamed Slezynka", the latest in a long series of poems about violated orphans of the monarchy era read by the author herself, Symona "Shmonka" Cheshetsya - Deputy Minister of Peasantry and retired People's Popular Folk Bard (1952).

Agent Kafka and I applauded as freely as our NAKRO-issued civilian suits allowed. These garments came in two sizes - too large and too small - and were fashioned from the clothes cut off the pulped bodies of CIA infiltrators at the Comrade Samantha Smith Memorial Execution Ground and Timber Mill.

As no bourgeois spy ring had bothered with Ruthenia since the notorious Yankee Incursion of 1947, this left the Ruthenokex State Textile and Haberdashery Trust with a small selection of brown shorts, green arms patches and a whistle (minus nutritious pea) from which to kit us out.

According to the History of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia (Medium Course), CIA agents masquarading as a group of so-called Hungarian Boy Scouts had crossed the border in 1947 using the cover of an invitation from the Ruthenian Scouting Association.

They were immediately intercepted by a detail of the Internal Retentive Border Coordination Guards. Their private possessions were redistributed along collectivist principles among various individual commanders, and the alleged scouts themselves were given the fraternal opportunity to dance with Bodjo the Largely-Tamed Bear - a gift from the Moldavian Socialist League for Animal Cruelty - while the Guards put on a reciprocal display of virtuoso slyvovytz drinking.

The Guards then retired to consume a festive meal of mamalygha and papanasz, leaving Bodjo to forage for himself among the Scouts.

Provocative questions from the wholly-compromised Hungarian "government" led to an urgent NAKRO investigation of the incident. This concluded that the Border Guards had acted correctly in disarming the insurgent unit of "American-trained paramilitary dwarves", and rewarded Bodjo with the title of Progressive Woodland Ranger, a peasant ration book (grade IX) and several conjugal visits to the infirmary at Political Prison No.49 in Szeumas-on-Myłn - at least once at an inmate's request.

NAKRO later arranged a visit for the leaders of the Ruthenian Scouting Association to the scene of the incident, where the Internal Retentive Border Coordination Guards and Ranger Bodjo were happy to re-enact the events of that day with them.

For Kafka and myself, this meant that the clothes allowed me to raise my right hand to an almost horizontal position, while Kafka struck his with knee-length lapels.

We squinted at full attention as the crowd shuffled in the pews and pulpits of what had once been The Cathedral of The Interrupted Ascencion, and prepared for the main event of the evening - the Battle of the Bands.

Socialist Ruthenia had fought a stern rearguard action against the advance of music throughout the postwar period, prompted by Comrade General Secretary Yütz's displeasure at a performance of Symphony No 5 in G# Minor ("The Bastard") by People's Popular Composer Uzz Kalnis.

Massed timpani had hammered out the Morse Code for "Starve The Comprador Latifundistas!" a few metres from the General Secretary's box, while a chorus of Fishwives for Peace chanted "Fist Up, Fist Up, Comrade Yütz!" during the 20-minute ondes Martenot improvisation in the scherzone.

The Central Committee's decision was swift. Kalnis was called up for a "lap of honour" second stint of military service, this time in the 8th Experimental Submarine Parachute-Launching Brigade, despite his advanced years and inability to breath underwater.

The new principles were cascaded more broadly across the portfolio of the Ministry of Applied Culture. All music had to accord with the 1949 Yütz Theses:

  • It must accord with the Will of the People, as expressed through the mood of the General Secretary.
  • It must be played on instruments whittled, ground or stolen by workers, peasants and ill-nourished soldiers, and at a distance of not less than one county from all members present and future of the Præsidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Acting Organs of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia.
  • It must not exceed five minutes in length (considerable debate followed as to whether this referred to individual pieces of music or all music composed in the People's Democratic and Popular Republic. Much of this debate was conducted in prison).
  • All public performances in the capital must feature young Gypsy women in bodices a size too small.
For 30 years music in Ruthenia consisted of crones tapping out Lehár waltzes on sacks of flour as gravy-streaked college girls jumped up and down in oily lingerie liberated from ex-Queen Sylja's bath house.

Then came Beatlemania, and the country was flooded with six reels-to-reel of songs by what turned out to be The Scaffold. By 1981, the authorities felt they had to intervene - especially as Lily the Pink was taken to be an attack on Comrade First (General-)Secretary Novak's wife Liljljanja and her allegedly Polish tendencies.

The Ministry of Cultural Reassignation therefore empowered itself to create two singing ensembles in order to stem the "rising tide of subjective melody and crypto-Francoist rhythm" ("Sotsjalystychna Muzsyqa", editorial, 4 March 1983).

These two "bands", as they came to be known ,were recruited by the People's Self-Defence Army Penal Battalion from a group of conscripts found trying to mount an accordion in the backyard of a distillery. They were joined by four prostitutes and a drummer who, on medical examination, proved to be a barbary ape donated to Zhakhiv Zoo by the government of Algeria.

The ape was shaved carefully and emerged as the leading songwriter of Kava Break, the marginally faster of the two groups. The other band, Izotop, played up to its fondly-imagined "bad boy" image with single-entendre song-titles like "(Swing From) My Girder Of Love" and "(Politically-Engaged Miners) Slide Down My Shaft".

They alternated as winners of the annual Battle of the Bands, filmed live and shown five months later by Ruthenian State Television on lignite-powered sets in many interrogation centres of the less mountainous parts of the republic's maritime territory.

This pattern was briefly interrupted in 1987, when the Party decided to show solidarity with the Progressive Palestinian People by adding the category "Least Zionist Ensemble" to the competition criteria. That year's winners, Izotop, pointed out that this objectively made Kava Break the Most Zionist band in the country and therefore liable for re-education and confiscation of their possessions.

NAKRO and at least two other security organs, one of them subsequently believed to be Izotop dressed in Bulgarian marching-band uniforms, turned up, turned over and turned in Kava Break. They got 15 years hard labour: five for lack of Semitic awareness, five for not understanding the charges, and five for each year they had failed to reveal their Zionism.
The ape got off with a suspended sentence after convincing the judges that he was a member of Neturei Karta. He then joined Izotop, making it Ruthenia's first super-group.

Izotop enjoyed its three-year run as default winner before successfully petitioning the Supreme Higher Party Council of Organs (Verxvysszstrankradorh) to pardon Kava Break on the condition that the freed musicians should undertake Izotop's solidarity tour of South Yemen.

Izotop generously relinquished the ape as well - rumour had it because lead singer Lev Basar resented his sidelocks and college-girl following.

Kava Break scored a commanding musical and ideological comeback with the ape's drum-led single "Golda Meir Stole My House" [translator's note: the song later enjoyed a copyright-free afterlife as a remixed trance track on the Tel Aviv dance scene.]

Now, the two bands mounted the stage to compete once again for Ruthenia's highest popular music award - the continued waiver of their military service. In keeping with the the Party's drive to economise on power, time and individualism, both bands performed their latest hits simultaneously and on the same instruments.

This policy was dubbed "Creative Lamarckism" and promoted the adaptation of a citizen's limbs to the eventual ideal of Socialist multitasking in gunfire, forgery and the seduction of West German Embassy clerks.

As the bands tussled over their dulcimers, Kafka nodded towards the bar as vigorously as his crumbling garments would permit. We crabbed our way through the throng, with Kafka rather undermining our cover by brandishing his Laika pistol and NAKRO club card at anyone who stood between him and 500 grammes of slyvovytz.

"What do you think of this competitive element in popular music, Agent Kafka?" I inquired as he crunched the cap off another bottle with his eye socket. "I mean, surely it's an inherently capitalist approach to what ought to be a collaborative effort?"

He downed the spirits thoughtfully, pausing to belch a blue flame of satisfaction around his Karbin filtertip, and said: "I void myself on them, on their music, on the nuns that bore them, and on the Slovak who comforts the pig that sired them. And then on that pig, too. But most of all, Zhatko, I crack open my codpiece and..."

His words were drowned by the bitonal, overamplified version of the banned royalist anthem "Hey Ruteni, masluy mi sztifli!" (O Ruthenians, Oil My Boots!") being blasted out of the sound system. Kava Break and Izotop gestured in vain that they were not playing their lyres, hornpipes and gamelans as the local militia and music-lovers seized the opportunity and backing vocalists and stormed over the footlights, truncheons and skinning belts aloft.

Banners strung across the stage proclaimed that all concerned would Put The Resolutions of the XIIIth Congress of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia Into Life. They suddenly fizzed and sparked into life, leaving behind the stench of sulphur and these letters stencilled into the proscenium - ZHIJE NAXAJLO! - Naxajlo Lives!

"He focked us," Kafka concluded. Not for the first time, Agent Kafka was understating the matter. As gouts of slyvovytz-scented khaki ichor erupted from our every accessible orifice, we turned to the barman. He was gone.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Protocols of the Elders of Capel Seion

University types and Guardian commentators have, with typical bourgeois boorishness, robbed the stevedore and Thuringian infantryman of their sole remaining pleasure - anti-Semitism.

Whereas they were once damned for running department stores and undermining the Ludendorff Offensive, Jews are now accused of controlling the British Liberal Democratic Party and their own country, not to mention the world.

Nonsense, of course. A Jewish world would be neater, better-fed and more musical than this lot, although there's only a certain amount of Diet Coke one can take.

Middle class extremists are obsessed with political influence. They skip over the boring stuff Marx wrote about the economy and go straight to Lenin's cut-out-and-keep guide to taking over useless countries. All they think they need is a newspaper and the willingness to get up early in the morning.

It is all the more surprising, then, that they've failed to condemn the one nation that has spent a millennium systematically wrecking political parties. I speak of us Welsh, and here is the charge sheet.

1. The British Liberal Party. In 1906 the Liberals all but wiped out the Tories, leaving the latter in the hands of porcelain pansy Arthur Balfour and Canadian mute Bonar Law with only Ulstermen for comfort. The Liberals invented pensions, built Dreadnoughts and bullied their betters in the House of Lords. They led us in defence of gallant Belgium. Their leader was a Classicist.

Then they dropped Asquith in favour of David Lloyd George, who strapped the Liberals onto the scabby flanks of the Conservative Party and spurred his gullible colleagues on into electoral oblivion.

The Liberals showed some signs of revival during the Second World War under their Scottish leader Archibald Sinclair, but Montgomery's Clement Davies took over just to time to drag them back to six MPs representing escaped convicts on exposed moors.

Another Scot, Jo Grimond, began their rehabilitation, and the Liberals perked up considerably under the vulpine dandy Jeremy Thorpe - and who wouldn't? But the leader was lost when he found himself accused alongside a pair of Welsh businessmen, John Le Mesurier and George Deakin, of conspiracy to murder.

The plucky Libs rallied again to the Braveheart banner of Scotsman David Steel (can you see the pattern here, people?), only to have it dragged through the bog-snorkelling ditch of despond by Taffmesiter Dr David "Llywellyn" Owen and his Alliance of Evil.

The Liberal Democrats have not been doing badly of late, but that's largely because we've transferred our Silurian attentions to the major parties. Watch out for adopted Welsh Lembit Öpik, though. He's bidding to be President of the party, and owes us one after the way he treated the lovely Siân Lloyd.

2. The Conservative Party. This has been a tougher nut to crack. The Tories are often called the Stupid Party by people who win far fewer elections than they do, but if there's one thing a Tory can spot it's a Welsh in his midst.

For this reason we have had to use guile. Selwyn Lloyd did what he could to wreck both the Eden and Macmillan governments from within, but Supermac gave him the Supersack in 1962. In revenge we activated Mandy Rice-Davies, and the Profumo Affair pretty much did for the Tories.

We can't claim credit for the shark-toothed disaster that was Edward Heath, and dropped the ball badly over Mrs Thatcher. It took over ten years to get her in our triangulation of fire from North West Clwyd MP Sir Anthony Meyer, Portalbot baronet Sir Geoffrey Howe and Welsh Guardsman Michael Heseltine.

Since then we've found the odd easy lob - Ffion Hague, Michael Howard - has kept the Tories hors de combat. Once again, however, we face a Scottish challenger in the form of Young Cameron, and are working fast to get Monmouthshire MP and prize buffoon David "Top Cat" Davies into a position where he can cause real damage.

3. The Labour Party. Long insulated by its thick layer of Scots, Labour suffered few direct hits in its early decades:
  • It got over Aberavon MP Ramsay MacDonald.
  • Colonial Secretary Jimmy Thomas failed to detonate until well after the 1929-1931 Labour Government had fallen.
  • Aneurin Bevan backfired on us too.
Indeed, it wasn't until the 1980s that we got into our stride against Labour. Sacrificing the pawn of a Welsh parliament in the 1979 referendum was a stunning start to a campaign that involved planting Ebbw Vale MP Michael Foot and Neil "Bloody" Kinnock as party leaders in succession. Labour's subsequent loss of the 1992 election to Kaspar Hauser impersonator John Major remains our finest hour.

Labour under neo-Scotsman Tony Blair proved impervious to our efforts. He identified and neutralised our sleeper, Prestatyn-born John Prescott, early on, and took the premature explosion of Martyr Ron Davies in his stride.

As for Gordon Brown, we're genuinely baffled. Our best genealogists have found no Welsh blood in his ancestry. For the time being we're happy to leave him to it, while we concentrate on:

4. Plaid Cymru. That's right. Not since the doomed Social Democratic Party (Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Welsh-in-law Shirley Williams, anyone?) has any political group been so farshtopt mit Walizers.

Spoilt for choice, we've unleashed some of our finest saboteurs on our own national party. Dafydd Elis Thomas, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Helen Mary Jones should be enough to teach party chairmen the Lloyd George Rule - They've Got Three Names: You're Out of the Game.


Evelyn Waugh once wrote "We can trace almost all the disasters of English history to the influence of Wales". And England is still making lots of history for us to trample over with our loping, lupine tread.

Bear in mind too that "Waugh" as a surname is cognate with "Welsh". Do I have to draw you a map?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I danced with the Tsar

Fellow-sufferers Gyppo Byard and Gadjo Dilo have recounted the horrors that mothers-in-law can always surprise you with, and I'm sure they have far more in store. I will recall the first meeting with my own mother-in-law, Bela, at a later date. Here I present the true story of Mikhas', quondam editor of Belarus magazine.

I spent a delightful couple of years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union shuttling between London and Minsk in a quest to make money out of Belarus. "Guid tank country" was my Caledonian colleague "Shuggy" MacLeod's laconic account of that country, a radioactive swamp dotted with dazed peasants who bumble about in ill-fitting clothes and gas-fuelled buses waiting for the Russians to come back and make them miss the Poles all over again.

I frittered away the funds of my then employers while enjoying the company of ballerinas, models, artists and war veterans. Among the many random people whose homes I cuckooed in at uncertain hours of the evening was Mikhas'.

Soviet-era Belarus was as much of an enigma wrapped up in a waste of time as it is now. My then boss still gasps at the Belarusian Tourism Board's plan to market not their own malarial parade-ground but rather 1980s Cambodia as a holiday destination, with flights via Minsk's impenetrable airport. "Sun, sea and genocide?!?" he had yelled at the officials as I translated. "So, but perhaps not the last element," responded a turtle-faced berry-picker in a cardboard suit.

One evening we had dinner at home with Mikhas'. His wife Lyuda was an official interpreter, and between them they made up the entire Belarusian pro-Gorbachev camp. Most other intellectuals did nothing to counter one historian's remark that the entire Belarusian national movement in 1920 could have fitted on one modest sofa. The only change since that was that the latest generation of patriots could barely stay upright on any item of furniture for long enough to make their point.

Mikhas' edited Belarus, a magazine doomed from the start by being published in Belarusian - the cheeriest but least-spoken tongue in the whole country. It's difficult not to love a language that calls the railways "chyhunka", birds "ptushki" and your good lady wife a "zhonka".

The magazine was twice cursed by trying to promote the Third Way of Soviet reform in a country that either liked being kicked in the head while being lectured about The (Second) Great Patriotic War or else wanted to be an independent mini-Poland and top of the European Rickets League.

Mikhas' had just come back from a conference in Moscow, during which he had been received at the Kremlin by President Gorbachev himself. The Heir to Lenin was clearly a micro-manager, as he had found time to assure Mikhas' that his 60 unread monthly pages of articles about bison grass and how all the famous Poles were really just shy Belarusians was the key to promoting prudent financial management, local democracy and general sobriety on the western borders of the Unbreakable Union of Free Republics.

Our host was recounting this to our general bemusement when his mother-in-law walked in. She had been ferrying bowls of cabbage from the stove for half-an-hour with the eerie glide that old ladies perfect. Mikhas' decided she ought not to miss out on his good news, and declared "Did you hear that, Mama? I met the president yesterday!"

"That's very nice, Misha," she replied, bearing a tureen of spent offal back into the kitchen. "But then I danced with the Tsar."

We spent a good 10 minutes watching Mikhas's crest fall before the good lady rejoined us with a tray of traditional gunpowder nuts and turpentine schapps. She sat down and told us the story.

"I was a debutante in Mogilev in 1916, and we were all excited that the Tsar was coming to our New Year Ball. His military train had been based nearby for much of the War. He arrived, as promised, and I nearly fainted when he cut in and asked me to dance. I remember that his eyes were pale blue, watery and kind, and his beard smelled very strongly of tobacco. " He said nothing. At the end of the dance he bowed with a smile, and walked off."

Into history. Within weeks the February Revolution had cost Tsar Nicholas his throne, and in little over a year he and his family were murdered by their Bolshevik captors.

Mikhas's mother-in-law had kept her genteel origins quiet, and somehow survived civil war, Stalin, starvation and Hitler. Mikhas' may have felt upstaged, but her readiness to tell the story that evening was a tribute to the efforts that he and other Gorbachevians had made to let some light into the dank cellar of Soviet society.

And, like all mothers-in-law, she had the last word.