Saturday, October 10, 2009

Plant y Cerrig

"Nid yw hi'n amhosib yn yr oes sydd ohoni i ailddarganfod hen ysbryd meddylgar y derwydd a'r dderwyddes. Ie wir, mae'n hanfodol".

Some fireside Phalangists have complained about a plaque recently unveiled on Primrose Hill, London, in honour of Welsh poet, antiquarian and geezer Iolo Morganwg.

In a touching display, Mr Malcolm Kafetz of the Friends of Regents Park feat. Primrose Hill blustered that a crook and forger like Iolo deserved no such memorial on his manor. In our Welsh world it is precisely because he crooked and forged with such panache that Iolo deserves to be remembered.

The Welsh language lacks native words for "private", "honest" and "locked car-door", so the narrow Saxon mind takes this as a Sapir-Whorf sign of our leanings towards larceny. On the contrary, it indicates our 360º altruism - not only are we generous with our own goods, but we are also ready to share the credit of others:

  • Classical Colossus Ralph Vaughan-Williams said he never had any conscience about cribbing intermissions and riffs from other composers;
  • An entire suburb of Chester woke up in Flintshire not so long ago; and
  • The list of warlords, public gatherings and geographical features claimed by Cambria includes Marshal Timoshenko, Johann Sebastian Bach (but not the other Bäche), the Mandan tribesmen of Missouri and England itself.

It is therefore quite in keeping with our national sacra for Iolo to have shared the wealth of his imagination with the pinched world of Primrose Hill. Mr Kafetz might call him a "bankrupt and a forger. A bloody criminal", but Iolo dealt in a currency more choice than the Hanoverian ha'penny, and what he forged was not merely a sheaf of sprung rhythms but a complete Celtic cosmology. All Welsh, all ours, and all made up.

HP Lovecraft wrote that slobbering sacks of brackish bile created our world just for jolly, and would tramp through a crack in the firmament one day to stamp us back into the brine. So did Iolo Morganwg dream that our own Druidic Elders had outlasted the Roman and his troubles, weaving our own era into the oak garlands of theirs as if Marcher Lords and monks had been a passing parson's fancy.

This web blog is more Gerry than Benedict Anderson, but the latter got it right with his "Imagined Communities". Iolo could have sliced a swathe through the Silurian sludge by concocting Owain Glyndŵr's last Will and Testament, or claiming a Tudor lineage for some clubable drone with a couple of hundred arces near Harlech.

But instead he had the class to base our national story on the Druids - skirted dope-fiends who organised military resistance to Caesar by getting naked and talking tactics with a space badger they met while chomping their way through a field of fly agaric.

Many modern nationalisms are built on the exterminatory ecstasies of paper-lipped professors, so an epos propped up by a few pagan porkies is all right by me. While some celebrate invasions, conversions, displacements and defenestrations, we have an annual toga party and give one another big wooden chairs for the best poem.

All this was thanks to Iolo and his Fitzrovia drinking pals, and they first tried it out on domed Primrose Hill.

As Danny Abse said of his fellow bard, "He was a great, great scholar, and he fooled everybody. I don't know if he was a drug addict, but he was certainly the best poet that went to Cardiff jail."

And that's a worthy plaque inscription if I ever heard one.

(Pointy black hat doffed to The Dog of Deceit (and Hypocrisy), who found the copy of the Camden News Journal in the Dutch Window public house and brought it to the Cymru Rouge Historical Grievances Department that I may get a better look at it.)


Anonymous said...

Clywch clywch.

Another term not found in our native vernacular is consensus reality, another strange Anglo-Saxon invention of no worth to us broad-minded Cambrians.

Dewi Harries said...

Iolo's truth is a truth amongst many - and good enough for me..Y gwir yn erbyn y byd..

Gareth Williams said...

I couldn't agree more Boyo. Rather a lovely flowing white gown for the more sensitive to put on once a year than a plaid man-skirt that it's compulsory to wear at weddings. And then there's the awful example of Morris dancing to contemplate...

Got off lightly really.

Nic said...

I propose we turn this into a game of competitive philistinism. If the Primrose Hill mob are successful, we start campaigning to rid our pure Welsh villages and towns of memorials to culturally significant Englishfolk.

I've got my eye on a plaque to Eddie Elgar, down the road in Llangrannog, on the grounds that "came here once on holidays" is even less deserving of a memorial than "invented a whole cultural mythos".

Gyppo Byard said...

The more I learn of Wales, the more I am impressed with my ancestors'wisdom in leaving it.

On the other hand, "from a long way away" is by far the best way of appreciating one's own culture, just as "making large parts of it up for oneself" is the best way of respecting it.

I recently bumped into an old student of mine and confessed to her frank astonishment that much of what I had taught her in "British Studies" was sort of made up, or at least presented in a more organized way than the reality would bear. Good old Iolo clearly had the same broad idea.

I lived in Indonesia, wore a panama hat and a floppy bow tie and pointed at people with my rolled umbrella. Morgannwg dressed up in a bedsheet and dealt with his inferiority complex vis-a-vis English culture by making up a better one. Can't blame a chap for that...

Gadjo Dilo said...

Highly informative, Boyo, thanks for the introduction to this chap. It seems perfrcetly reasonable to me: the Scots had Ossian and even we English had that faux Native American Grey Owl character who we celebrate now as a conservationist (and have, I learn, erected a plaque at his birthplace).

No Good Boyo said...

Simon, Dewi, our mercurial compatriot Aneurin Bevan once said "This is my truth, tell me yours", thereby confirming our talent for deceptively hollow aphorisms.

It's a shame he wasted his life on the NHS instead of founding an Eastern religion.

Gaw, the Druids of the Gorsedd get it right again by being happy to dress in their nain's winding sheet without expecting the rest of us to shed our traditional stone-washed jeans, loafers and lovebites.

How unlike those of our neighbours who still toy with the horrors of national costume:

The world may be a stage, but there's no need to put on a drag act.

I disagree, Nic. Rather than expunging English memorials in our slate-slick land, we ought to appropriate them. If we can claim Bach on the basis of his surname, Elgar's ass most surely can belong to us.

Wise words as ever, Gyppo. I don't think Iolo had an inferiority complex about English culture. He lived in Primrose Hill, after all. But he certainly acted as an astute salesman for Wales, as all those Welsh Americans who turn up at Cardiff Airport in truncated witches hats testify.

Indeed, Gadjo. and you forgot Jeffrey Archer.

Dewi Harries said...

OK I give up - Timoshenko???

No Good Boyo said...

The late Sioba Siencyn once told me that around Llanishen it was widely believed that Marshal Timoshenko was descended from a Welshman called Timothy Jenkins.

The Marshal was from Yuzovka, a town in eastern Ukraine named after its founder, a Welsh coal magnate called John Hughes, and the legend has it that his babushka had a taste for Glamorgan sausage.

Yuzovka is now called Donetsk, home of the rather fine Shakhtar (Collier) football team.

I gather that the Irish think he's actually descended from a Timothy O'Shea, but that's just silly.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Sorry NGB - but I have sent a meme your way.

Cheer up, it could have been worse...

No Good Boyo said...

Intriguing, Snoop. I shall consult Madame Boyo and respond.

Gorilla Bananas said...

So where are his remains then? They should be taken to Rome and hung up on a cross beside the Via Appia. I can't believe how ungrateful the Welsh are to the Romans for ridding them of the druidian yoke.

No Good Boyo said...

Iolo is buried in his birthplace of Flemington, but I'll pass the GPS reference on to the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

But for every bard the Senate and People of Rome crucify, we Welsh will dispatch an Italian pop singer by the antient Celtick method of scrotal inflation.

As they drift off over Cardigan Bay, we shoot them down with longbows from our coracles.

Dewi Harries said...

He were'nt from Hughesyoskva (my great great grandad actually moved from Abercarn to live there - gospel honest!!) - Timoshenko was from your favourite place Bessarabia...anyway forget it - there's 1.5 kilos of gold in a Brum museum that I reckon is Llywarch Hen's...we need it back.

Ian Plenderleith said...

You might also have boasted that your country stole demi-Welsh Ryan Giggs to play in its makeshift team of hoofers and hackers, depriving the best British player of the past 20 years of the chance of appearing at the World Cup. Nice one!

No Good Boyo said...

I believe he chose The Wales as part of a family spat. The idea that we would have been clued-up enough to sign him is absurd. There's a story that Michael Owen only qualified to play for England because his mam went into labour in the early hours, so he was delivered in Chester hospital not Wrexham. Ah, what if...

Dewi Harries said...

On a pedantic Ryan Giggs point he actually had no choice (thank God). He was born in Wales as was his Dad, Mam and Grandparents on both sides - at the time residency didn't come into it....zzzz

Anonymous said...

Actually "unter" causes "die" to become the accusative "den", so "Unter den Linden" is accusative whether or not it has a "marschieren" stuck in front of it. Just try googling "marschieren unter die Linden" and then compare it to a google search of "marschieren unter den Linden".

Mrs Boyo said...

Die Linde - nominative singular.

Die Linden - nominative/accusative plural.

Den Linden - dative plural.

Live by Google, die by Google.

Plus wrong thread.

Boyo is also wrong, of course, as Unter Den Linden is a placename not a descriptive phrase, and as such does not change. But then I suspect he probably knew that.

Anonymous said...

Woah, how did I end up on this thread? Twilight Zone alert!

Anonymous said...

Mixing my adjectives with my definite articles again. I was still right though.

Mrs Boyo getting Dative on my ass - tongues will wag!

No Good Boyo said...

So this is what goes on among my elder threads.

Not that there's much I can do about it. Not even maître chez moi.

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