Friday, December 31, 2010

A Brack of Brine

As has become a tradition at No Good Boyo, here to usher in the New Year is another Ghost Story of a Welsh Antiquary:

I see you are all settled with your pipes and pints. Prys-Price-Jones-Parry-Williams will set out cockles and fly agaric on the dresser in a moment. So I shall begin.

Now, I spent the Imbolg half-term in the seaside resort of Llwyngwril, in the county of M-shire. My pleasures are solitary, and the blustery coast is little troubled by hoi polloi at that time of year. One can take rubbings of lobster pots or pull the odd mussel undisturbed.

I had a little college business to attend to among the parish records of Llangelynnin Church. This tiny chapel lies half-drowned in the doleful dunes above Llwyngwril beach, a fate that the local Nonconformists attribute to the Romish practices of a former incumbent who, the records show, was in fact no more than scrupulous in matters of personal grooming.

It was while returning the weary notes of the defamed parson's successor to the ledger that I noticed a few yellowed leaves, pressed between a sermon about the wind and a tract against Whitsun dowsing.

These were no more than a fragment, dating from the middle of the last century I would hazard, but intriguing nonetheless, and I shall read them for your entertainment. Ah, Prys-Price-Jones-Parry-Williams has lighted the Calan Cottage, so let me begin. the church of Llangellenen, its pitiful frame sunken in the sands. My goal was to etch the rood screen and trace a few inscriptions, but all thoughts of such trivia were banished by a curious discovery on the very edge of the cliff, where ancient gravestones made their last stand before being dashed on the rocks below.

I wandered among these near-derelict memento mori and fair tripped over what I took to be an oddly isolated clump of ivy. Closer inspection revealed a stump, the remnant of a gravestone. I tugged away at the foliage, only to be confounded by what lay beneath.

The stone was wholly bound in seaweed of a particularly tenacious genus that I had not seen before on these shores, or indeed on any others. It was brown and dessicated in appearance, yet firm, oily and unpleasantly cold to the touch. It smelled of mould, of ferment, and of something that I could not quite identify - something that lingered disagreeably in the back of my throat.

I was trying to make out the crude carving when I sensed a presence at my back. I turned to see the verger, an elderly rustic on whose spare frame a mildewed cassock sagged like rotting oilcloth.

"You were wondering who might lie there, sir?" wheezed the gnarled custodian.

"Yes. The stone rather stands out from its neighbours." We spoke in the local dialect of Welsh until, satisfied that there were no visitors nearby, we switched to English.

He pushed aside the kelp with a bradawl long enough to uncover the inscription:

"Er cof
Am Ogof.
 dial dof."

"In memory of a Cave. I shall bring vengeance?" I essayed.

"Quite so, sir," nodded the verger in defiance of the chill breeze. "None knew his name, if he was ever one person or in truth any person at all," he continued. A sudden shaft of sunlight swept across the graveyard, if only to mock us with the ensuing gloom.

We made our way back to the porch, where my companion continued his tale.

It seems that there was once a flourishing trade in victuals between Cornwall and the local quarrymen of Eryri. "Our district is cursed many-fold," explained the verger. "By uncouth tongue, barbarous weather, mean industry and unpredictable gravity. But worst of all are the meagre offerings of the Welsh kitchen and the sour admonitions of the Chapel.

"A hewer of slate wishes to slake his thirst, soothe his soul and halt his hunger with meat and ale, not the thin flummery and parched tea that his shrewish bedmate delivers.

"So our enterprising Cornish cousins, whom England has tutored longer in the science of commerce, sent schooners laden with pasties, scones, cider and perry to Port-Madock and thence by pit-pony to the quarries at Llech-Wedd, Dinnorwick and yea even unto Nantlley.

"O how the sons of toil rejoiced! And nay, how their wives and the Chapel elders seethed. No one knows how it began, but wreckers lit fires here above Llwyngwril to lure the Cornish cutters onto the rocks.

"As the terrified matelots waded ashore, bearing their battered cargoes, a hellish horde of harridans would set about them with mattocks, stones and sometimes - horribile dictu! - the bones of our departed, wrenched from the rotting sod.

"Those who survived were bundled into their own barrels of cider and rolled from the cliff tops to a dreadful death.

"Those times are long gone, as are the pasties and flagons, but local people tell of a sentinel set to guard these witching peaks from the distractions of solid food and cheery potations. If the Cornishmen should return with their sinful gifts, it shall rise to wreak revenge upon them 'o'r hallt a'r heli' - from salt and brine."

"And that guardian of Cambrian virtue lies beneath this stone?" I asked, but the verger smiled thinly, shook his mottled head and stooped into the dank and darkening vestry. A strange tale, and one that I...

And here our manuscript ends. As you can imagine I was most intrigued, and enquired discreetly among the scant educated men of the parish.

The village scribe, who also dredged the wells and greased the Scold's Girdle, muttered something about a stranger long ago who had poked around on the cliffs and brought half of them down on his head.

The solicitor knew nothing, and the "physick" had lost his predecessor's records. Their silence was eloquent. I walked the cliff-top graveyard myself, and found no trace of this noisome stump and its words of dread. It had probably followed many others onto the rocks below.

It was only a week or so ago that I received a letter from Aberystwyth, from the National Library no less. My anonymous correspondent enclosed cuttings torn, I am sorry to say, from two periodicals of the last century.

One, from the Dydd newspaper of Dolgellau, had reported the death of a Mr Trelawny of Truro:

"The visitor to Llwyngwril had been staying at the Garthangharad Inn, where the landlord had reported him missing three days before the unfortunate's body was found washed up in a cave below the graveyard cliff. The magistrate, on the advice of Dr Myddfai, ruled that Mr Trelawney had lost his footing and fallen to his death."

Scrawled across the back of this clipping were the following remarks. "No one can find that cave. And there has never been a verger at Llangelynnin."

The other cutting came from The West Briton of Truro itself, and was dated some months later. After rehearsing the bare facts printed in Y Dydd, it went on:

"A beachcomber told this reporter that Mr Trelawney's body showed no signs of immersion in water. It was laid out in the cave on a cairn of bones, some of great age, in a manner suggestive of blasphemy. Our countryman's face could not easily be described. The local constable was unable to recall the exact events, as he had been 'at stool' most of the day, and no other notables would make themselves available for conjecture."

Across the back of this clipping was another inscription: "His mouth was stuffed with seaweed, and his pockets full of pies."

Ah, I see no one has touched their cockles. Then let me bid you all a Happy New Year, sure of step and easy of rest!

Friday, December 17, 2010

False teeth consciousness

Leslie Nielsen is mourned on eight continents, including one from Altair IV that ended up in orbit around the Star of Knöchbant. His passing reminded me of another fine but unsung actor, my Uncle Voltaire.

Voltaire was a Communist. Neither a pigeon-chested polytechnician nor a media milquetoast, he was a real, strike-leading, seam-hewing, bailiff-defying, Fascist-bayoneting, book-reading Second-Fronter. A gentle, thoughtful man, he endured decades of disappointment with dignity.

Many tests were thrust upon him - Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Alexei Sayle - but others were objectively infantile deviations of his own, not least his marrying into the House of Boyo.

Voltaire's first name witnessed his family's radical posture - in the Marxist sense of understanding that the root of the matter is Man himself (Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie, 1843), rather than the justification for clerical reaction you may hear today.

It also enshrined his Anglo-Welsh heritage, as ordinary Valleys folk hallow their heroes in forenames - hence the Haydns and Verdis of an earlier age, and the Gavins and Ryans of today.

His marital foray among the Boyos, who bore names like Matholwch, assessed suitors' skull shapes and took out Llanfrothen's sole subscription to Action Française, resembled the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in being either an audacious dialectical gamble or a blunt Stalinist blunder, depending on which issue of the Daily Worker you were consulting.

He bore the endless taunts of his hairy-cheeked in-laws at first with the calm indulgence of one with History on His Side, and later in Stoic silence as the tide of tyranny turned.

A modest man, he would occasionally mention his combat in the Spanish Civil War. "For the Freemasons or General Franco?" Boyo grandpère would invariably inquire with a sickle smile. Voltaire silently switched to Old Holborn when his tormentor took to calling his favourite pipe tobacco "Condor Legion".

Poujadiste popinjay Peter "The Lesser" Hitchens singled out central heating as a wrecker of Albion in his lobe-bolting "Abolition of Britain". This Socialist redistribution of warmth allowed family members to retreat to their own rooms rather than huddle together in Blitz-like bliss before reruns of the Coronation on a black and white TV set, itself the size and shape of the back of the hand of a friendly bobby on the beat.

Hitchens would have loved Casa Boyo, which was never warmed by more than a salty smouldering log from the submerged forest of Borth - apart from a happy decade when we basked in the backdraft of cottage conflagrations, courtesy of Meibion Glyndŵr.

One evening I sat watching Nielsen in Airplane! on our anthracite box. Dad was out tapping badger lungs, Mam was tarring the pantry, and my brother Morthwyl was taunting some Dutch campers about their losing the war (you try telling him). Auntie Esmwyth was asleep, so visiting Uncle Voltaire wandered downstairs "for a bit of company" and casually to cast Communist Youth League pamphlets on the dresser:

"Oh, how about that, I see school enrolment is up in Nicaragua, almost to German levels. Democratic German levels, of course. But then a young fellow like you knows all about the Antifascist Defence Wall, eh? If not, this booklet answers a lot of questions...."

"Ta, Uncle Volt, though but I's after watching the telly, isn't it," I grunted through my fringe.

"Ah yes, the kinema - the most democratic of the art forms, Lenin said. And, and what do we have here, then?"

We had come to the scene where Elaine earnestly fellates the automatic pilot into a state of alertness, after which they share a cigarette. Secondary smoke was of marginal interest in those Reaganite days of sauve qui peut, so Uncle Voltaire asked what exactly the young lady had been doing.

I explained the (literal) gag, larding it with the sort of progressive social references he might appreciate - "and, among the Cape Malays, ladies sometimes remove their front teeth in an act of defiance against the misogynistic anti-contraception policies of Apartheid South Africa, and for ease of access" - but eventually realised that Uncle Voltaire wasn't listening.

As he gazed in silence, his lips slightly parted, the lights and colours of the pulsing screen hollowed and shadowed his haggard cheeks. The eyes alone spoke the thoughts that marched through the drill hall of his mind:

Surprise, incredulity, revulsion, intrigue, the spirit of scientific inquiry, a mental slide rule, confusion, anguish, regret, the shadow of knowing, and the darkness of loss.

All passed in seconds, with not a word uttered or a muscle twitched. Uncle Voltaire nodded good night, mounted the stairs and abandoned the struggle, but not before giving a masterclass in screen acting that Sir Roger Moore himself would have applauded.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tribuni plebis consulari potestate

Jana Bennett has quit as Director of Vision (meaning TV, film and, in Wales, the magic lantern) at the BBC, and Mrs Boyo is thinking of bidding for her place as part of her own long stomp through the institutions.

I've given her my lists of programme ideas (transliterated into Glagolitic), but La Boyo feels that we need to appeal to something slightly above the crone-dunking demographic.

Not wanting to lose the audience my scheduling will have gained the BBC, I propose using some of its established lint-gatherers in settings at once intellectually more challenging yet viscerally satisfying.

My first idea is You're History, in which a modern TV sweatsack will try to repeat the historical actions of a famous namesake.

Now, given that the British public's knowledge of history is restricted to the Nazis, Blackadder Goes Forth and Sunday teatime abdomen-rippers like Khartoum and the gay classic Zulu, this ties us down to re-enacting Great Humiliations in British Imperial History, the Somme and The Holocaust.

Consultations with my legal adviser, the K Man, and a glance at BBC funding have pretty much ruled out trench warfare and genocide, so it looks like a series devoted to men in over-elaborate uniforms getting their moustaches caught in harem portals, and the odd reassuring bayonet charge. So be it.

The pilot programme will feature Eastenders tribute act and No Good Boyo favourite Danny Dyer, who will attempt to follow the clattering spurs of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer.

"Open Fire" Dyer had commanded a massacre of unarmed civilians in the Indian city of Amritsar in 1919, an action for which he never expressed a moment's remorse. Churchill called it a "monstrous event". It marked the beginning of the end of the Raj.

Dyer Junior will not be expected to shoot anyone, as the whole You're History series will be imbued with the BBC's twin commitments to cheering up foreigners and saluting the health and safety flag. And Dyer doesn't look as if he could really handle a .303 Lee-Enfield, to be honest.

No, young Danny will track down some dagger-happy Sikh toughs and, armed only with a volume of Ruskin's "Unto This Last", an Indira Gandhi t-shirt and his stubbly little face, seek to engage with The Other.

It is my conviction, both creative and possibly criminal, that the ensuing documentary will have something for viewers of all tastes at home and abroad, and perhaps the more idle elements of the Animal Kingdom.

We may even want to project it onto the bland face of Venus as part of my campaign to persuade extraterrestrials that we genuinely mean no harm.

And if that's not Speaking Peace Unto Nation, then I'm Lord Reith's sporran fluffer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks - Wales responds

Wales "enjoys" WikiLeaks report of corruption, violence

Text of report by Welsh official Taffinfform news agency

Boyograd [formerly Cardiff] 1 December (Taffinfform): Welsh government spokesman Griff [Gruffydd ap Gruffydd, fab Gruffydd] reacted with customary bemusement to revelations on the WikiLeaks website about levels of corruption and imaginative violence in Welsh official institutions.

"These revulations has totally and utterly come as a surprise to us, and to me, though but," he told punters in an impromptu press conference at the Martyr Dr Phil Williams Memorial Institute of Tantric Studies, Boyograd.

The WikiLeaks publication of tens of thousands of classified US State Department cables included a number of oddly stained pneumatiques from Burlington Arcade III, ambassador [extraordinary and plenipotentiary] to Wales, in which he set out his views on the Cymru Rouge administration and Wales in general.

"Graft is so much a way of life to these people that, after only six months in the post, I find myself slipping the police escort 300 dwris just not to taser me on the can [Welsh currency: 100 tans to the dwri. One dwri = 2 cents or a roofing slate. Can = American toilet].

"Extortion is never nearly enough. It only counts if accompanied by menaces, often of an outré sexual nature.

"I raised the question of kickbacks in military procurements with Defence Minister Anffawd [Iago Anffawd, fab Sieffre Siomedig, fab Gwil Goll]. Have any of you boys at Foggy Bottom ever been keelhauled around a coracle? I guessed not. Item - they're round. It never ends.

"They gave me 30 minutes with a 'fat bird from Carmarthen' then used me as a rudder. We got as far as Lundy [former English island in the Bristol Channel, now used by the Welsh Army as a underwater political prison and weapons testing range] before I agreed to drop the matter."

"We's never heard of this fucker or his so-called, soi-disant America," explained Griff. "We denies these hackersations, and disasorcerates us selves from whatever's going to happen to him in the next week."

"And," he added.

Political analyst John Osmond of the exiled Institute of Welsh Affairs, Chester, said much of the confusion can be attributed to two factors, nomenclature and not really giving a shit [Welsh: malu ffwc ddim].

"The Cymru Rouge manifesto dealt with the traditional Welsh blights of corruption and violence by simply reclassifying them as 'The Economy' and 'Public Relations' respectively. Investment from Eastern Europe and the Middle East seems to have vindicated this policy so far, and complaints from the allegedly late Ambassador Arcade are unlikely to change that," he expanded.

Asked about the current whereabouts of Burlington Arcade III, spokesman Griff feigned indifference to reports of a pair of ambulances bearing the US envoy to the Martyr Shakin' Stevens Cosmodrome, Abergavenny, after a freak accident at the unveiling of the Newport transporter bridge and noyade.

"You might well think that; I couldn't possibly comment," he quipped, "largely because I's monged on 'shrooms, see. But a fiver might get you the audio track of a rocket launch tragedy."

"We didn't eat him," he added.

Source: Taffinfform news agency, Cardiff, in Welsh 0058 gmt 1 Dec 10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Scenes from a Pedantic Hard-Boiled Novel

Exiled pedagogue Matthew Ward once proposed a two-fisted actionfest to the BBC, based on the sort of wish-fulfilment even Robert Fisk enjoys. His synopsis ran thus:

"TEFL teacher in Latin America joins the Cymru Rouge, rises through the ranks and is eventually sent as ambassador to Rutheria with his Ukrainian spouse, where he gets involved in cachaça-induced japes and sinister episodes of physical and mental torture. Maybe Timothy Spall would take the lead? I imagine a twenty-first century Citizen Smith meets Zorra Total."

My response as his agent was to aim higher and sketch out a trailer:

Sod the BBC, that's got Hollywood treatment written all over it:

"(Rumbling Voice, over Rio scenes): Far from the Copacabana (cut to snaggle-toothed peasant riding a goat in a top hat) deep in the forests of Ruthenia, there's monkey juice that needs drinking (close-up of cachaça bottle slamming down on a table surrounded by sweaty men in ill-fitting uniforms).

"And here's the mouth that's going to do it (crash-zoom from across a cellar deep into the throat of a screaming man tied to a Medieval dentist's chair).

"(Clanging noise over smoky screen, with male silhouette slowly emerging) Sean Penn is MC Ward.

"(Unhinged woman, stomping towards camera) Helen Lederer is his made-up scary Ukrainian wife who's nothing at all like Mrs Boyo.

"(Gurning thugs yell in close-up) Keith Allen, Ray Winstone and Ralph Brown are the population of Ruthenia, in..."

I took my 12% and, at Madame Boyo's Hegelian insistence, let The Dialectic do the rest.

Three years later to the day, I've come up with the High Concept.

What makes Matt Ward different to other sheath-rending action heroes?

  • Eastwood is carved from teak
  • Jack Bauer is Dick Cheney in a wig
  • Monk is a mental

So what's Ward? Why, he's a middle-aged English teacher. So let's work his innate pedantry into the script. There's an untapped audience of librarians, Liberal (not Liberal Democrat) Party activists, jazz afficionadoes and mildly autistic teenagers to tap.

So here's some sample dialogue:

(LA police precinct, a uniformed cop hustles the standard pair of remonstrating whores past an office where some sweaty men in bad suits are discussing their new boss)

Detective 1: So, what's this Ward guy like?

Detective 2: Lootenant Ward's the kinda sonofabitch who'll rip off your prick and shove it up your ass.

Detective 1: Holy Shit!

Ward (striding through the door in horn-rims and elbow-patches): Correction, gentlemen. I am indeed the kind of son of a bitch who'll rip off your prick and shove it up your ass. But then I'd notice that the prick in question had become flaccid from loss of blood, and therefore impossible to shove up any ass without assistance. So I'd take a stick, and I'd use it to work your prick up your ass. I'd take a prick-sticking stick to stick your prick up your ass - capeesh?

Detectives: Sir!

Will there be more in the next three years? Like the French Revolution, with me it's always too soon to say.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Honi soit qui mal y ponce

I'm sure that you will join me and all of Wales, man and beast, in conveying our best wishes to HRH Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton on their impending honeymoon in the Rhodri Morgan Memorial Caravan, Mwnt, before they settle down among the Turnipmen of Anglesey.

This is a particularly happy event for me personally. As attentive readers will know, one of my obligations as Cotsengi and Hereditary Ostler to the Court of Senghenydd is to break in prospective royal brides. My predecessor, Sir Dai Llewellyn , had a pop at the grooms too, but that was Sir Dai all over. Big heart, among other organs, and no stranger to the optics.

This time round I can honestly say that I'm looking forward to discharging my duties, and not just because Princess Katherine's pile at Bucklebury is only a 20-minute drive from my place. I could fit her in one lunchtime and still have time for a swift couple of jugs of Champion's Freckled Johnson down the Tethered Goat before heading back to my desk.

The more pressing matter, however, is what title HM The Queen is going to bestow on Prince William once he becomes a real man. Suggestions from my colleagues include Duke of Newport-Gwent, Lord Barry (although I think that's been reserved for Mr John), the Torch of Wood, and The Real Lord Kinnock. The Welsh Assembly might then have to legalise polyandry again so that the prince could add Baroness Kinnock to his harem. Lucky boy.

Myself, I propose a more radical solution. HM The Queen should strip Prince Charles of the title of Prince of Wales and give it to William. The explanation would be simple:

"Sorry, Charles, but William's earned it. He has a normal-shaped head, he chose his own wife first time round - and without her being married to anyone else at the time, either - and he doesn't talk to the foliage. Enjoy Cornwall, it's lovely this time of year. As they say in Benllech, ciao for now."

Can't say fairer than that.

Any respectful suggestions for alternative titles are welcome in the comments box. They must be royal, and Welsh.


Cymru Rouge Royal Protocol Department

Year One, Anno Gwylimae

Friday, November 05, 2010

Gwae y Cayman

A pronunciamento from the Prif Sasiwn of the Cymru Rouge (Commissariat of External Relations and Instant Rebuttal):

So! Once again, the expressed will of literally millions of ordinary, working-class men, women and children, poor-to-middling peasants, discharged policemen and revolutionarily-inclined students has been thwarted by the machinations of International Capital and its ten-fingered hirelings!

The Learned Elders of the Intern Net have spurned the inherent right of all Welsh to have a domain name ending in '.cym'. Instead, they have added insult to ursury by granting this domain name to what we gather is some sort of crocodile.

The Cymru Rouge has long supported the dotCYM campaign, if only as a means of compiling our list of suspiciously-literate Welsh for the slate-quarry pioneer battalions, and would have put the banner on our website if we'd been able to work out the html code.

To put some sort of big fish ahead of Wales is little better than giving preference to the so-called English and their Scotch masters. In light of this farsighted attack on our stealth acquisition of the trappings of statehood, we, the Rouge, hereby proclaim a boycott of the Intern Net, the Web Ring and all forms of the Ram.

This boycott is mandatory for all Cymru Rouge cadres and any other Welsh.

In the spirit of not making things worse for ourselves for once, we have commissioned the University of Central Meirionydd (formerly Compute 'R' Us, Eldon Square, Dolgellau) to carry out a study of Intern Net use with a view to mitigating any economic and social damage the boycott might cause.

The findings of the study are as follows:

"Former Vice-President Al Gore of the United States invented the Internet (sic, passim) as a means of conquering space by environmentally more tedious means than firing rockets full of scientists at it.

"President George W Bush saw little virtue in either pursuit, and so the Internet remained empty until some Dutchmen found it and filled it with porn.

"This was the Golden Age of the Internet. Since then use has decayed, and the current inventory of Internet content is as follows:

  • 89% porn
  • 4% pictures of cats
  • 4% people blaming Israel
  • 2% German cannibals seeking dinner dates
  • 1% the Scaryduck publishing empire
  • 2% creative accounting."

On the basis of this, the Cymru Rouge has devised a reach-around so that any patriotic Welsh can achieve his goals without entering a modem. We have categorised the above categories into three categories:

1. Porn, pictures of cats, and people blaming Israel. A girlfriend from Newport, incontinent aunt and television licence will suffice.

2. German cannibals. We assume that anyone who wants to be stuffed in a Pfälzer Saumagen will have already bought the one-way ticket on the Kürten Express by now.

3. Scaryduck. Media projections suggest that Scaryduck will acquire controlling shares in all British newspapers, commercial radio stations and works of fiction by 2015, so sit still and all will be well.

5. Creative accounting. Over half of all legally employed Welsh are involved in this industry - Wales's second largest - and are therefore exempt from the Intern Net ban in the workplace. Instead they will be expected to undertake an indefinite strike in support of our cause.

For the plutocrats who control the Intern Net, the pressure will be unbearable.

As for dotCYM, we applaud their continuing campaign and suggest that they now demand total and utter control over the domain name '.ll'.


Paul Pot - Brawd Rhif Un
Huw Samphan - Brawd Rhif Dau
Ta Moc Tudor - Brawd Rhif Tri
"H" (out of Steps) - Groyw loyw
Prif Sasiwm y Cymry Rouge.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Weremen of England

Halloween, like much of modern life, works well in America but collapses like a suet soufflé when we try it over here. Escape if you can. I'm at work, having let Arianrhod loose on the neighbours in the company of some friendly Gypsies, and it's the safest place to be. You think you're alright down the pub, but maybe you're not. Maybe it's a werewolf pub.

To live in Wales is to be unaware of Halloween, as it's like that most evenings, and every village pub is a werewolf pub. So I was delighted to find these establishments existed in England too. Perhaps they still do.

When I lived in Oxford I ventured into the Kite Inn, on Mill St. The sort of place that could easily have been called The Spread Eagle, with a graphic, swinging sign to make the spatchcocked point, The Kite was my near local. O how my heart sang when I pushed open that creaking door and every Morlock within stopped talking and looked at me with a combination of mistrust and hunger. It was just like home.

To be Welsh is at various points in your life to meet some onion-breathed bore who once walked into a pub in North Wales - well, it was a friend, actually - no, the friend of a friend, come to mention it - and no, he can't remember where - anyway, they were all talking English and suddenly they switched to Welsh.

To be Welsh is to point out the extreme linguistic improbability of natural-born Anglophones switching to anything but spirits as the evening wears on. What the mythical traveller heard was not Welsh but bat-hooting mockery - they sound similar.

It is true, however, that people in matching shoes and perpendicular teeth still get stared at. That's what made The Kite so special. In a city like Oxford, where soap and vegetables trickle down from the 'Varsity like syrup in a scholar's navel, there are few corners of crabbed and cussed rusticity left.

I'm not sure where The Kite's customers came from, but their's were faces you could imagine on Cromwell's men. You would not ask them for a latte. An eminent historian told me his father once visited The Kite during the War. "Do you do sandwiches?" he asked. "Only fur 'em as wants 'em" he was told with a mahogany finality.

Were they unfriendly? No, it's just that The Kite was a werewolf pub. The Weremen of England once howled and carrolled on All Souls' Eve, now they polish and porter at All Souls College. Always at a disadvantage when it came to edjucation, these hairer handymen retreated to tanneries where they could gnaw at a hidden hide, and supped in backstreet bars where gentlefolk never strayed. Well, never more than once.

The drinkers at The Kite and other werewolf pubs know we could easily occupy their last lines, so they wait with the patience of beasts for us to down our daquiris and head back west before they draw the blinds, bolt the doors and slip scarred boots off their docked claws.

Caversham is too bonny and alice-banded to host a werewolf pub, but lupine youth would sometimes venture into The Travellers Rest.

It's another tasteful, lightwood eaterie where college girls take their parents for lunch these days, but I remember it as a dank crimson mortuary for broken chairs and hacking pensioners, with one corner a shrine to fruit flies. The staff as such huddled behind a partition and never managed to pull a decent pint in a clean glass.

I spent a lot of time there with Sioba Siencyn and the Dog, wondering why it looked like the Overlook Hotel and had a massive Masonic Lodge bolted onto the back like a bustle of spurious cosmology. Indian burial ground, was Siencyn's theory.

Once we saw the werewolves. In they came one early evening, three lads in white sports casuals and baseball caps. Affable but detached, they sat at the bar and took a lava lamp out of its box. After a quick nod to the pink-eyed bargirl, they plugged the '60s geegaw into the mains and gazed as the turquoise ooze undulated for their pleasure.

I stood beside them for the ten minutes it took to order a pint of Johnson, and overheard their conversation.

"His hair was like Dracula's."

"What, black and slicked back?"

"Nah, all grey and up like some fucking wig."

Something about their caps, seen close up, said that the hair concealed beneath was also grey and abundant.

As dusk fell there came a rap at the window. The lads slid off their barstools as one, picked up the lamp and headed for the door. Curious, I made as for the gents to observe their depature.

Outside, in the shadow of an overgrown hedge, an ancient Ford Corsair estate spluttered as the youths piled in the back. It eased out into the car park, then stalled. It bucked and snarled in the yellow murk.

I wandered over to offer my help. One of the lads wound down the window and asked for a shove. I pushed, and the car started easily. I waved as they drove off. And then, in the gauzy streetlight, I saw their ears.

So watch where you drink when the wolfbane blooms. You may wish your fellow-drinkers were speaking Welsh after all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cain Rising

The salons and lavabos of Europe have trilled with talk of riot and revolution in Kyrgyzstan, a country close to the kidney of all Welshmen if only for proving that there is life without consonants.

I once provided readers with a sheath-bursting tour d'horizon of Central Asia, in which I characterised the Kyrgyz thus:

The Kyrgyz are the Welsh of Central Asia. They're jolly, profoundly democratic, and inhabit a beautiful, mountainous country that no one visits and which has no natural resources at all except for some gold and clapped-out mining.

They are divided north and south in lifestyle and geographical orientation, and are widely associated with sheep-related activities.

They still practice droving, and have the worst cuisine in the world. Their southern valleys are home to heroin connoisseurs.

They have never ruled anything, not even Kyrgyzstan, and don't really seem to care. They think their neighbours are soft and that they secretly wish they too were Kyrgyz.

Their neighbours rarely think of them at all, except in a comic context, but if pushed will say they distrust them as sly and two-faced.

Russian spittle-licking suits them just fine, and hey, Ivan, why don't you buy some of our lovely smack while you're here?

Prophetic words, you'll agree, and compassionate too. But not, I'm ashamed to say, entirely truthful. For there is another political factor at play in Kyrgyzstan beyond the Russo-American strategic rivalry, beyond the scheming Uzbeks of the South and the patient Han of the East.

Some chap from Dubai took time out from driving his Mercedes round and round to pen a few hundred cheerily uninformative words for The Guardian's web-based Comment is Free rubric on why the bold ouster of Kyrgyzstan's tawdry Mr Bakiyev was not likely to be repeated with the Arab world's sullen satraps.

It's difficult to read past his endorsement of Noam Chomsky, but Mr Al-Qassemi deserves praise for not indulging any of the conspiracy theories common in his part of the world - for that you'll need to read the remarks on his article by the Jocelyns of the Comment is Free crew.

The fact is that the Assads and Al-Sa'uds can rest their rectangular heads, for they do not have to contend with the most occluded factor in Kyrgyz politics - the Yeti Lobby.

Some background: The Soviet conquest of Central Asia only really took off after the various inept and insane White Generals had been dispatched to the four corners of emigration, execution, incarceration or promotion.

Commander Mikhail Frunze, a native of what is now the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, took the Red Army with him on his trip back home. The corpulent pederast Alim Khan sought to shore up his Bukharan throne by casting gaggles of gap-toothed dancing boys before the advancing Bolshevik hordes, only to see the bacchás shorn, shod and shown how to shoot sodomites.

(The Emir himself fled to Afghanistan, and his pragmatic decision to transfer his affections to young girls prompted peasants to cake their daughters' faces in dung as he passed. A fashion that has not died out entirely in the Zaamin area, I can testify.)

While Frunze was shriving Tajiks at the head of the terrier-shaped tyranny that would soon become Uzbekistan, one of his officers was busy sorting out the Khan of Khiva's troops under its Khwarezmian tail.

Divisional Commander Morgunov's method, in an eerie pre-echo of Comrade Stalin's quondam Nazi allies, was to line up the captured mingbashis and fit their skulls into types of fruit - a round, watermelon match marked the bearer as a subtle urban Sart, while a Mr Punch honeymelon profile meant a Turcoman desert nomad.

The latter were instructed in the ways of Leninism, given fresh horses and sent against the British Dunsterforce on the Caspian. The former were drowned in buckets or something.

This policy of gourd-based divide and kill took on a new, hairier dimension in High Badakhshan, where the questing Bolshevists faced Alim Khan's last line of defence - the sepâhe 'âliye kojâkân (the Noble Host of Abominable Snowmen).

Yetis remain elusive in the Himalayas, as they resent being scalped by monks, tracked by Germans or mounted by lonely sherpas, but they rub along nicely with the chilled Isma'ilis of the Pamirs.

Alim Khan's ancestor, the debased martinet Nasrallah Bahadur Khan, had regimented these loping vegetarians into a fearsome phalanx in return for their exercising droit de seigneur over the monobrowed maidens of Soghd. Frunze's commissars, however, persuaded them through the media of mime and crude surgery that Socialism offered a chance to build a new world, one fit for all bipeds.

The Yetis donned the Red Army budenovka and drove the Last Manghit across the Jaxartes. Stalin granted them regional autonomy, an alphabet, and the right to send delegates to the Grand Soviet in Moscow, but as ever there was a catch.

In order to prevent a powerful Yeti presence in still-volatile Central Asia, the Bolsheviks partitioned their historic uplands between the emerging Kyrgyz republic and Tajikistan.

On the Kyrgyz side of the frontier was the Lower Abominable Snowman Autonomous Region (Нижняя cнежнe-человеческая автономная область), and on the Badakhshani plateau stood the less-developed Upper Abominable Snowman Autonomous District (Верхний cнежнe-человеческий автономный округ).

The result was that the Yeti of Tajikistan were subject to institutional speciesism, and soon embarked on the Great Lollop (Yettish: Tümőnt'z Nyi'ařl) - a mass migration across the cordillera to British India. Their spiritual leader, Yebhamoth the Marmot-Slayer, shaved closely and enlisted in the 5th Baluchi Lancers, with anti-Soviet vengeance on his single-lobed mind.

He quickly rose to the rank of corporal among the mainly Welsh troops, but General Sir Anthony"Bracing" Shower had him court-martialled and shot for sloppy kit. The whereabouts of his grave are unknown, although his manhood was used as the parade-ground flagpole in Quetta until it vanished after a visit by Lady Mountbatten in 1947 (see Maj Gervaise "Neither Know" Nacquere: "The Abominable Snowman - A Frightful Consequence of Miscegenation", HMSO, Quetta, 1947).

Meanwhile, the Yetis of Kyrgyzstan embarked on a long shamble through the institutions of Soviet power. Their position was strengthened during the Great Purges of the 1930s - not through collaboration with Stalin and his henchmen, but because Russian-made bullets merely bounced off the back of their heads. Uncle Joe admired that, and promoted Yetis to all major party and government posts in the republic.

Khrushchev's policy of de-Stalinisation eclipsed the Abominables who, in an exquisite example of Marxian anti-thesis, then became the literal backbone of the dissident movement. On the fall of Soviet power, the ethnic-Kyrgyz and Russian party leaders were swept away by a liberal faction led by a close-shaven Yeti physicist who used the nom de l'homme of Askar Akayev.

The new Yeti elite ran independent Kyrgyzstan better than their human peers managed in the other Central Asian states. As cryptozoological creatures they were able to rise about the seething ethnic, religious and musical divisions of the land, but tensions soon emerged that doomed their hirsute hegemony:

  • The Kyrgyz in their bigoted way thought a country called "Kyrgyzstan" ought to be run by Kyrgyz;

  • Russian men complained that their russet-haired, slatternly wives were discarding their greasy housecoats and running off with sober, upwardly mobile and downwardly endowed Mi-Go;

  • Tajikistan complained that their own downtrodden Yeti were seeking secession in order to create a Great Yetistan astride the Ferghana Valley; and

  • Muslim clerics were appalled at the staunch secularism of the Snowmen and the prospect of anyone having a good time.

This coalition of the insulted and injured toppled Akayev from his eminence, and ushered in the recent Time of Troubles where crowds of men in piss-stained brown flares struggled to find the keys to the presidential drinks cabinet.

The Yetis bided their time. They quietly built alliances, promising Uzbek irredentists, Russian militarists and cosmopolitain drug barons a fair deal. And now they're back.

I shall not speculate on the likely policies of the second Yeti administration, although the abolition of VAT on hair-removal products, nail-clippers and extra-strong mints is a fair bet.

I will only suggest that we cast our eyes southwards. The success of the Snowmen of Bishkek may galvanise the Yetis of Tajikistan - where they largely work as street cleaners - Kashmir and Ladakh.

Above all, we ought to consider Nepal. The fall of the monarchy and the recent outbreak of Maoist syndicalism have created an atmosphere in which the mountain men may decide to intervene. A Yeti-led state literally atop the world and on the borders of nuclear-armed India and Pakistan is not a matter that Russia or China can regard with equanimity.

I leave you with this item that I translated from Vatanparvar, the entertaining organ of the Uzbek Armed Forces (16 September 1995, p 4).

The border-violator was a yeti

An unusual occurrence took place at the M. Strelnikov border outpost. At night, a border patrol saw a two-metre-tall creature, moving ahead on two legs, similar to descriptions of the yeti - the abominable snowman.

Its eyes gleamed in the dark. The leader of the patrol there and then made a report by telephone to the outpost. A search party, sent promptly to the scene, found half-metre-long human-like footprints. A dog caught the trail, which crossed into the border demarcation zone.

And on they lope, like Wells's tripods, towards the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, there to bathe their steaming extremities and comb out their matted hair with the rib-cages of our upstart race.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Old fags and cabbage-stumps

Autumn is upon us like a damp, slightly-aroused setter, and still no word from the BBC about my programme suggestions. Never mind, here are a few more. Channel 4 can have them too, if they like. I'm open to a Dutch auction, or indeed anything else Dutch except their dismal breakfasts. On the subject of which:

1. Danny Dyer's Hard Men: the poignant spam-faced professional Londoner travels to s'Achtengracht to get to know the hardest men in Holland's XXXX gay porn film scene. An interactive feature on digital called 'Danny Dyer's Old Mum' will see mildly-sedated female relatives of the downward-spiral star talked through proceedings, both on set and in traction, by "Backpacking IV" star Bent Vanderpump and a team of proctologists.

2. Your Thought For The Day: Radio 4's team of house-trained clerics on the 'Today' programme are obliged to answer questions from listeners, instead of cramming some twee homily into the day's events. This week Glasgow University's Dr Mona Siddiqui is asked "Have you considered a sabbatical at Riyadh Poly?"

3. Oliver's Army: Following his success in reminding the Americans exactly why they had a Revolution in the first place, galley urchin 'Jamie' Oliver brings his unique blend of matey condescension to feeding hungry squaddies worldwide. This week Jamie tries out his new vegetarian menu on the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Next week Heston Blumenthal devises a basic meal that Jamie can consume through an array of tubes in Moscow's Botkin Infirmary Intensive Care Department.

4. Meidl Madonna: Every orphan's nightmare Madonna Ciccone visits the Jewish mystics of Israel's holy city of Safed and immerses herself in the esoteric depths of Lurianic Kabbalah. Episode One: Madonna has her head shaved and is told to stand behind a wall and shut up, already.

5. Suor Angela: German Federal Chancellor and Theresa May-o-gram Angela Merkel enacts Puccini's opera Suor Angelica in the full habit of a Benedictine nun, albeit one fashioned from latex. Well, I'd watch it. If need be, I'd direct it.

If anyone knows any machers I'd be grateful for a tip-off. No one wants to spend the next few months watching Minnie Driver, except perhaps in a lunar module.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Dearth of the Cool

Gorilla Bananas has catalogued the disappointing career of sunny Swede Ulrika Jonsson. I shuddered - not because I've met Ms Jonsson, but because she cost me my fleeting Cool.

The quest for Cool is futile. Like Celticity, you either have it or you have not. We Welsh are effortless Celts.

Despite living only a few miles from the English and even having a lot of them all over the place back home, we remain relaxed in our sexual license, enthusiasm for herbs, proliferation of dark-haired plump women and speaking of an Xtreme language ("So, you change the endings of your words, do you? Well, we change the endings, middle and beginnings. Ha! let's see your dictionary help you now, Herr learner?").

Our Scotch cousins try too hard, what with the skirling, man-skirts and sheep guts. That work-ethic marks them out as Calvin's Krauts. They even grow kale, although health statistics suggest they don't eat it.

So to Cool. Like the joy of drink, it's easier to describe than to define. If we take the important stuff:

  • Jazz - yes; jazz fans - no.
  • World music - yes; your own folk music - no.
  • Unthinking Left - yes; any sort of Right - no.
  • Tea is cool; coffee is for those who can't cope.

I was once in the happy position of having Cool thrust upon me. On a weekend in London I ambled into HMV on Oxford St to buy some t-shirts. It was uncool to buy records there - that's what small shops in Soho are for. The HMV staff were nonetheless fairly cool, belonging as they did loosely to the class of what Americans call "record-store clerks".

Thrumming through the racks of the usual Pop Art sludge and '68 slogans, I struck medium-sized gold. It was a promotional t-shirt for the "What a Wonderful World" duet by Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan.

It portrayed the two crooners sitting side-by-side and black & white in a public house, arms across one another's shoulders, cradling cigs and glasses of some refreshment.

It was perfect. The Cave/MacGowan version is my favourite song, the artwork was tasteful without being primly minimalist, and a master-stroke had printed all of this on an off-white background - the colour that all credible t-shirts aspire to. And it was the last one in the shop. Indeed, I've never seen one anywhere else, and it remains my most cherished non-human possession.

Elated, I picked up another t-shirt and headed for the till. Record-Store Clerk #1 took one look at Wonderful World and gave me an almost-approving glance. He showed my purchase to the smoky Berlin cadaver at the neighbouring till. Her lip flickered. Indie Cool beckoned.

I saw myself, a few weeks later, deconstructing and rerolling unfiltered Camels in the editorial office/fuckbox of a lower-case fanzine in West Hampstead, muttering "Yeah, but when I say Beefheart I'm thinking Snakefinger" and filing down tenor sax reeds with a straight razor. I'd even pass off my unpalatable right-wing views with a shrugged "Ask Joey Ramone".

It would hardly be worth buying any pants, given the risk of friction burns from having them wrenched off by the rhythm guitarists of Japanese all-girl bands. Possibly twins.

Then #1 came to my second t-shirt. Anything tied to a mainstream television comedy show might have passed through the Irony Mesh, but the self-consciously surreal Reeves & Mortimer meant the instant Death of Cool. On reflection, I ought to have received some credit for audacity in presenting The Clerks not with Vic'n'Bob themselves, but rather their gormless "Ulrika-ka-ka-ka" sidekick, but there's no right of appeal in the Court of Cool.

Mind you, that wasn't my worst encounter with record-store clerks. There's a hardcore faction camped out at Tower Records in Tel Aviv. I rather like Israeli pop music of the 1950s and decided to buy a couple of compilation CDs while on holiday in the White City.

"You're buying this?!" barked the Clerk, brandishing "Our Tiny Country" like a Manx passport. "It's for my Dad," I mumbled, thereby slandering a man who thought music took a wrong turn when it spurned Skiffle for "that Presley boy and his drums". I thought of grabbing some last-minute Aviv Geffen, but rightly decided it would only make matters worse.

I'm glad I've now moved into the post-Cool phase of life. I've two children, a mortgage, car, career, standing orders, and a wife to run it all. I'm expected to dance badly at weddings, and look forward to embarrassing my daughter at school and in all social settings. I visit National Trust properties and enjoy war films in which our side wins. I find Felicity Kendall attractive.

All I have to do before dying is avoid humorous clothing (hats, Simpsons socks, "kipper" ties) and being jail-baited, and Paradise should beckon. Unless the gates are manned by a Recording Clerk Angel, rooting through my après-vinyl purchases with a beady, kohl-framed eye.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Revolution: Televised

The BBC autumn television schedules will shortly sidle up, chalk an ominous "M" on our overcoat and move on unnoticed through the broadcast spam.

It's time to offer some creative solutions to help the BBC counter its critics' most common - in every sense of the word - charge that it is politically correct and consensual, like some sort of gay, Obama-admiring test-tube offspring of Butler & Gaitskell.

So, before the House of Boyo heads back to Wales for a week of mushroom interface and owl baiting, here are my suggestions for some primo programming:

1. Pride or Prejudice. You, a bigot, have a choice. Either set out your views to the audience, possibly armed and made up of the object of your ill-considered scorn, or tell it to a pride of lions.

This week, the Sunday Times's gin-shy food bully A "A" Gill dons a kilt and has a full and frank exchange of bones at the Meibion Glyndŵr annual tombola and fundraiser (pensioners, children, Monmouthshire - half-price), and is then fed to the big cats anyway.

Filmed in Belarus, where this sort of thing is either legal or at least cheap.

2. Boundary Commission Question Time. Like regular Question Time, except that the panel is made up of MPs who will lose their seats through This Glorious Coalition of Ours's planned constituency cut'n'shut. They've been in the Green Room since teatime and don't give a Manxman's elbow for the wet-cheeked "opinions" of the producer's mates' bedfellows in the studio audience, and are ready to say so at great, vivid and drunken length.

3. Vanderpump & Wellbelove: Porn Detectives. Bent Vanderpump and Trixie Wellbelove are a couple of Dutch hardcore stars who incidentally solve crimes by using insights gained from years in the porn industry.

Episode 1: The Whacker Man. Filmed on Anglesey. "We'll be loving the both of you".

4. Shmooks. The BBC's hit spy series "Spooks" goes to the real Middle East, where Alexei Sayle, Tom Paulin, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Lauren Booth are kidnapped from the Beirut Book Festival by al-Qaeda bad hats who nonetheless have a refined sense of irony.

Only Israel's Mossad can save them, and our heroes have to decide whether to boycott their own rescue. May contain scenes of pseudo-liberal angst and some naches.

5. One Man and His Dyke. A Jeremy Clarkson/Littlejohn/rugger bugger tries to persuade a lesbian that it's time to get back on solids. And we mean a real Diesel, not one of those BBC2 costume-drama waifs. May end in the Clarkson type breaking down and confessing to unspeakable urges towards Kelly Jones out of The Stereophonics. He's dreamy.

6. Baboons in a Room. This idea comes courtesy of The Dog of Decei(p)t and Hypocrisy. Just baboons, in a room. This week the baboons' guest is Polly Toynbee.

7. It's My Dream Home, So You Can Fuck Right Off. (Courtesy of Dazza.) The BBC gives a member of the public (Dazza) a wodge to do up a castle/villa in a warm part of Europe where taxes are something that happens to other people.

A year later Dazza sends us a postcard, with his guard dogs and Maltese heavies featuring prominently. We get the picture. Followed by studio discussion about accountability and the Licence Fee.

8. "Long" Jack Lang. The new UN piracy adviser stars in a Mogadishu-based dark comedy, much against his will. Also stars Captain Ahmed's Crazee Bastards. May lead to spin-off series featuring Captain Ahmed and a mermaid fashioned from the remains of Lang.

Over to you, readers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


This is a momentous day for all Welsh and conspiracy theorists, not to mention the free people of Australia. For in that mulleted land on the outer edge of the earthly disc has the fearsome Welsh Lobby faced its sternest task.

Readers of this web blog will be aware of the sheer slate power of the Elders of Capel Seion, the cabal of chapel-goers, eisteddfod adjudicators, thirsty sopranos and plum-faced newsreaders who have screwed up every English political endeavour since the Battle of Morfa Rhuddlan.

No Good Boyo's new friend, the moderate Scotchman Hyperbore, has recently drawn the attention of a world struck mute with horror to Wales's internationalist mission to spread political misery where ever English and other non-Welsh languages are spoken.

He notes that the WikiLeaks revelations that civilians die in wars in Afghanistan just as elsewhere stem from one Bradley Manning. Although a US citizen born to English parents, young Bradley spent his youth in Wales - long enough to be recruited as a sleeper agent.

He joined the US Marines, gathered his documents and, when the moment came to sabotage the Anglo-American plot to impose social democracy on the happy helots of Herat, Bradley unbuckled his belt.

What other evidence is there of Cambrian confusion abroad? Consider the following:

1. The Confederate States of America had everything going for them. Easily defensible territory, a cautious US Congress, excellent military leaders and the tacit support of much of Europe. So who did they choose as their one and only president? Jefferson Davis, whose family hailed from Glamorgan.

The South might as well have burned down Atlanta itself and saved everyone three years of having their balls blown off.

2. Somalia had the makings of a successful state, believe it not. Unlike much of Africa it has an homogeneous population, convenient location on modern trading routes, decent ports, a proper alphabet and a thriving market in the export of glamorous models. The plucky Somalis even managed to oust their dictator Siad Barre all by themselves.

Then along came General Hersi Morgan, who combined the military efficiency of his father-in-law Barre with a devotion to famine and pestilence to rival that of any Horseman of the Apocalypse. The Somalis have not managed to hold a government together since, too preoccupied are they with avoiding al-Qaeda, the Ethiopian Army, pirates, Ridley Scott and one another.

3. Staying in Africa, take a look at Zimbabwe. Comrade Bob is no Welshman, as far as I know, but our ways are more subtle than that. Knowing what it's like, we assumed the International Community would press President Mugabe to cut a deal with the opposition rather than send in the brace of French paratroopers it would take to topple him.

Enter Morgan Tsvangirai and the rather obvious Welshman Ncube. Don't expect Mr Mugabe to be retiring any time soon.

4. Indeed, you could say that Africa's entire ghastly colonial experience came down to a Welsh. Dr Livingstone was as lost as a fisherman in Fortnum's and faced certain death by Mau Mau when he was rescued by Henry Morton Stanley, a hack from Denbigh who specialised in being a literal bastard on three continents.

The ensuing publicity stoked the Scramble for Africa, blighted the place with Bibles, and gave Stanley the chance to resume the career of killing black people that his capture and defection from the Confederate side had cut short during the American Civil War. His sole act of humility was to cede to King Leopold II of the Belgians not only the whole Congo but also the title of Worst White Man of the 19th Century.

Wales has tried to compensate Africa by adopting Lesotho, the only case of one country twinning with another, but we still get Christmas cards addressed to Mr Kurtz.

5. We have not neglected the lesser continents, either. South America seems relatively Waliserrein, apart from the agrarian simpletons of the Chubut Valley in Argentina. These religious pastoralists resented the way science, the telegraph and life-long teeth were ruining their traditional ways in Bala, and so set off for what they thought would be a verdant Eden in the Pampas.

They managed to turn the shrieking rocks and numbing desert that Buenos Ayres had sold them into a fair copy of Cardiganshire, but hopes of autonomy met the same fate as any attempt to rule Latin America that didn't involve ridiculous peaked caps and misuse of the power supply.

The Welsh of the Wladfa, as we call the Chubut colony, avenged themselves on the grim gauchos, though but. The Argentine junta's last gamble was the Falklands grab of 1982, a debacle that led to the election of Raul Alfonsín (a Welsh Foulkes on his mother's side) as president.

Good show, you might say, democracy and all that. Except that Alfonsín, in blazing a trail for the free market and constitutional rule, set up the liberal movements throughout the continent for a fall. Their European sensibility and advocacy of civil society clearly rankled with the Latin soul, as the voters whom they had freed soon ousted them in favour of lunatics, rabble-rousers and mini Castros.

Hell, even the Sandinistas made a comeback.

6. Our impact on Asia seems slight, but consider the heroic work of Agent Anna Leonowens (née Edwards). She encouraged the King of Siam to reform his country to such an extent that he was honoured with a musical, no doubt to the delight of the ladyboys of his elegantly debauched realm.

Again, what's not to like? But Anna's target was not the fragrant Thais, but the neighbouring British and French empires in India and Indochina. A strong Siam frustrated their efforts at expansion. Britain would have ruined their cuisine and the French their womenfolk. Instead they had to make do with Burma and Cambodia, countries renowned for their beastly food, absurd languages and razor-toothed, truculent beldames. In these respects they were a little reminder that Wales is never far away.

7. Even Europe is not immune. Literacy, the Code Napoléon and any sort of plumbing has kept the Welsh out of Charlemagne's patrimony, but the lost lands of Byzantium and the Third Rome are ripe for wrongdoing.

So far we've managed one success. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was always going to be a disappointment, given the mediocrity of President Yushchenko and the mendacity of his prime-ministerial nemesis, Madame Tymoshenko, but its solid achievement of a free press, democratic process and the rule of law ought to have outlived it.

Not with President Viktor Yanukovych in power, I'm afraid. This carp-brained golem would have been nothing without the backing of the colliery oligarchs of Donetsk - a city and industry founded by, and once named for, Welsh coal baron John Hughes. Soon the proud Cossacks will envy their Belarussians neighbours to the north, with their abundant swamps, radiation and carefree inbreeding.

8. Which brings us back to Australia. This model of sturdy democracy and constitutional progress was dragged in and out of war by Billy Hughes, an Antipodean Lloyd George who cast parties and policies in his wake like teeth on a rugby pitch. The only parliamentary group he didn't wreck in his endless political career was the Country Party, which he could count on to continue his cussedness long after he had descended cackling into Annwn.

The Australians are a generous folk, and their Labor Party decided to give Wales another chance when it chose Julia Gillard, a russet Kinnockette from Barry, as its leader all of two months ago.

The result of Saturday's snap election, as Hyperbore further wrote, shows that she turned a ten-point poll lead into a double defeat - not only are Labor in second place behind the Liberal Party, but with no overall majority it looks like Australia will be run, Israeli-style, at the whim of nutjob independents.

Shall we weep, like Alexander, with no more worlds to conquer? Not while Antarctica lies untaffed, and possibly English planets wink in the Welsh sky. Mae'r Anghenfil yn y Lloer.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Friend Highball

"Civilisation is an exercise in self-restraint," intoned Senator William "I hate you, Butler" Yeats, Irish poet and statesman. Wise words, and rich ones too coming from a man who wrote marching song for Franco reject Eoin O'Duffy's Blueshirts and spent his last years having unnecessary surgery, monkeying around with young ladies and dying, predictably enough, in France.

Yeats's ghost was knocking at the door of The Tethered Goat the other day as we sat down to lunch. I offered the Dog of Decei(p)t and Hypocrisy his usual Steppenwolf measure of red wine, but he quietly declined and opted for a Diet Coke.

"That's not even a proper mixer!" complained Dazza. The K Man was lost for printable words.

The Dog mumbled something about "health concerns", also known as being a middle-aged bloke, and pledged to buy his own beverages for the duration.

We've all known the Dog for many years and have grown accustomed to his ways. Indeed, we all have our oddities:

  • The K Man likes French lager;
  • Dazza insists on eating at table;
  • I wear "gay" shirts; and
  • The Dog drives a BMW.

But none of us has ever ordered a soft drink, not even for a girl who specifically asked for one ("Here's a spritzer, love, it even sounds like Sprite."). The next couple of lunchtimes were spent debating whether there were any historical precedents for this behaviour among normal people. We found none.

The closest we came was the case of "Young Young" Magurn, an ex-colleague and epic ale-whalloper, who would switch to Diet Coke and a regime of running around a lot for a fortnight when ever he lost sight of his feet or mistook them for someone else's. Once contact with his loafer tassels was re-established, he would resume his campaign to drain all South Coast breweries by the nearest church festival.

"That wasn't giving up, that was getting in training," I explained to what we thought would be a chastened Dog. "That's what I'm doing," he countered, picking lemon from his teeth. "I need to get into shape for the International Berlin Beer Festival."

It was like that moment in American films when everything you've seen hitherto turns out to have been a pungent red herring, elaborate conspiracy or the dream of a hedgerow mammal. We rushed our apologies - apart from the K Man, who disapproves of festivals that don't involve getting monged in a field in Wiltshire while "some Fenians" try to steal your tent - and considered a new point of philosophy:

What is more manly - the Dog Trend or the Dazza-Boyo Stance? The Dog Trend is:

  1. To drink vats of all sorts of stuff, eat pies, climb onto the roof of your house and hurl night soil at the neighbours' dovecotes.
  2. To cease this activity, substituting soft drinks, omelettes (there is an option without chips, apparently) and a stroll around the garden for a few weeks.
  3. To visit a world shrine of booze, where adepts from all corners of the Earthly disc gather to insist that they don't really want a girlfriend anyway.
  4. To return home with a novelty tankard, the phone number of an ambiguous Belgian and a renewed commitment to The Drink.

The Dazza-Boyo Stance is to drink fairly large amounts of certain stuff, eat things that aren't just brown, and sit on the sofa criticising the telly.

The case for the Dog Trend is that it requires the collective willpower of the Rolling Stones (minus Bill Wyman) to refrain from this life of Neronic excess, only to plunge back in after a fixed period.

The case for the Dazza-Boyo Stance is neo-Yeatsian, in that it involves self-discipline to keep your drinking within the bounds of the just-about unacceptable.

We are genuinely unsure which is the maler, as both approaches have gods on their side:

The Dog Trend reminds me of the Nazarite cult in Judaism, wherein the devout would prepare themselves for pilgrim festivals by not cutting their hair, drinking wine or mucking about with corpses. Rather like promising God that you're not going to be a medical student.

The Dazza-Boyo Stance has elements of Zen, with a hint of Shaolin.

Now the Dog Trend God is the real, Jewish God that everyone recognizes as God. The Dazza-Boyo endorsement may be more obscure, but you get more deities for your sack of butt.

We turned to our independent arbiter, the K Man. He lowered his cigarette, nodded sagely, and pronounced "ye're aw a toosht o' girzies' gairtens". Then he pointed to his empty glass with a bony finger worthy of Knox himself.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I have a sort of dream

The Radio 4 reading of Hellhound on His Tail has brought home to me one of the many differences between myself and the late Martin Luther King.

Dr King's subconscious thoughts, to judge by his "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, were blessed with a Periclean progression and majestic, King James eschatology that mine lack.

I resent this, as dreams are yet another aspect of my life over which I have no control. Teenage months spent sleeping with a picture of Sally James (above) and a sachet of Bird's Custard under my pillow confirm this.

Being married to Mrs Boyo means never having to remind yourself of your own essential shallowness, but History persists in doing so:

  • I read in Michael Balfour's biography of Wilhelm II that the Kaiser frittered away his evenings in witless badinage with drones and poseurs. I do the same pretty much all day;
  • Eisenstein's October suggests that epic loser Alexander Kerensky spent much of 1917 stealing into dowagers' boudoirs in over-elaborate footwear - a college past-time of my own; and
  • Along with the benign Emperor Ferdinand of Austria, I like dumplings.

My devotion to Marxism is in part a calculation, based on the 20th century record, that it might best help me to rewrite this past.

Or else I could go back to Uncle Karl himself and, instead of whining about History like some Silurian Stalin, actually try to change it. Here I'm handicapped by honesty, a character flaw the led to my first expulsion from Wales.

If I tried to emulate Dr King's speech today, for example, it would go something like this:

"I have a dream that I am sitting near the back of the Corris Uchaf to Machynlleth bus, when just about Esgairgeiliog the crypto-Welsh character actor Peter Vaughan sits down next to me.

"I have a dream that Vaughan is in the guise of 'Genial' Harry Grout, Mr Big of Her Majesty's Prison Slade out of the 1970s British crim-com Porridge.

"I have a dream that 'Grouty' begins to sing 'Two Little Boys' to me with sinister suburban sibilance. I have a dream today!

"I have a dream that little Welsh pensioners and little Brummie dole-siphons are sitting all around us, hoping that Bing Crosby might get on at Maespoeth and croon 'The Little Drummer Boy', with or without help from Mr David Bowie.

"I have a dream that, when the ticket inspector boards the bus near the Pennal turning, my fellow-passengers will not be judged by their sentimental musical taste but by the content of their wallets! I have a dream today!

"Free at last! Free at last! They all qualify for the free bus pass!"

It's doubtful whether these powerful images would have inspired the Civil Rights Movement, but Americans of all hues would have gone away a little wiser about British popular culture, mid-Wales topography, and the concessionary fares offered by the Crosville Cymru transport giant.

Have any of you Cymru Rouge cadres had a dream that might have changed history, or at least moved rather than vaguely disturbed the Wretched of the Earth?

And please bear in mind that this web blog officially supports Jung, so none of that mucky Freudian stuff about my wanting Bing Crosby to be my dad. I get enough of that from my mother.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Secret Life of Oxiana

Ukrainian pop diva Natasha Koroleva left her husband, the Russian singer-songwriter Igor Nikolayev, for a male stripper called Tarzan who was largely made up of seaweed and several boar carcasses.

Nikolayev didn't even pause to wipe breakfast off his silvery moustache, but departed at once to take command of the 201st Gatchina Twice Red Banner Motor-Rifle Division of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, stationed at the time in distant Tajikistan.

This Rorschach horror of glaciers and dung pits, wedged sourly between Afghanistan and the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testing Range, was emerging from 70 years of Soviet literacy, pavements and buttons into the awareness that its Afghan neighbours had spent the intervening period cheerily hacking off one another's heads and using them for mountain-top semaphore. It was time to catch up.

The 201st (Gatchina Twice Red Banner) Motor-Rifle Division had spent the 50 years since its glory days in the Second World War watching with dismay as non-Slavs basked in the benefits of Soviet bounty without having their geography, economy and womenfolk repeatedly ransacked, Berlin style. It was time to catch up.

Enter President Boris Yeltsin, who raised his face from a bucket of vodka jellies long enough to send this band of fighting, drinking demolition men down Tajikistan way to teach the sense-starved trainee-Iranian locals some manners.

The Tajik civil war, and the cultural fissures that lay beneath, is a complex matter than can best be summed up thus:

  • The paleo-Communist government of Tajikistan was a bootleg recording of a live Mariah Carey concert.

  • The armed Islamic opposition was a teenage girl singing along to said concert with a fucked Walkman on a hot train, stranded at points near Swindon.

  • The 201st Motor-Rifle Division was a snarl of Cardiff City supporters on said train, returning home from a thrashing at Brentford. And the buffet car's closed.

This was the mess that Igor Nikolayev came to sort out. On arrival in Dushanbe, the country's capital and chief limb repository, he headed for the cunningly-named Hotel Tajikistan, where the 201st had set up an impromptu rest and recreation facility on, and often through, the first and second floors.

Here's a description by a Foreign Office diplomat visiting the British embassy, which then shared the hotel with the 201st:

"Breakfast was served in the basement and sometimes passed without incident, as the men of the 201st generally swung out of their companions at about ten. They descended for a brunch of roast ibex and fermented grain before touching up the décor with their Kalashnikovs. Their involuntary bedmates were perspiring enough by lunchtime to slip their leathren bonds and flee for the entrance, only to find that the 201st were using the central stairwell for heavy artillery practice. I dined elsewhere." (Daniel Thornton, "The Tajik Helix", Callard & Bowser, London, 2004, p.69)

Nikolayev took one look at this scene of double-jointed debauch and ordered the men to assemble in the remains of the central courtyard. He then delivered the following address:

"Men of the 201st! I am Igor Yurievich Nikolayev, the gentleman of Russian pop. I have the moustaches of a fin de siècle hussar on his release from Ottoman captivity, and the mien of the late Tsar as he faced his executioners.

"It is often remarked that I never dwell upon my betrayal by my former wife, the raven-haired rackasaurus Natasha Koroleva, who left me for a caramel-glazed glans called Sergei 'Tarzan' Glushko.

"This is true. And I choose not to waste my time on that stiletto-heeled sump of squalor precisely because of my profound respect for women. This is the basis of my moral code. And from now on, you are all going to do the same.

"These young ladies and their livestock - you are to free them at once! They are somebody's sisters, somebody's daughters, and sometimes both. How can we instill self-respect and respect for others among our Tajik hosts while we ourselves treat their women as meat hammocks?

"A person's individual qualities do not boost or undermine their inalienable rights. My ex-spouse Natasha Koroleva cavorts like a crack whore on late-night TV in ever more explicit music videos with her wax-balled baboon, but for all that I don't wish her ill. The fact that some of these girls may be tuppeny trollops with their own bank accounts makes them in no way less human, less deserving of dignity.

"So, men, recall the words of the French philosopher, Charles Péguy. He said that 'example is not merely the best way to lead, it is the only way'. Free these women from bondage, free yourselves from the Gordian Knot, and let us free Tajikistan from fear! And, yes, the quartermaster-general will pay them off - in local currency."

With that, Igor Nikolayev and the 201st Motor Rifle Division began the slow task of reconciling mullah with Marxist, jihadist with Jew, head with bayonet, and man with yeti. True, much blood was still to clog the tank tracks and roulette wheels, but sweet reason soon swelled from the Soghdian wells and peace returned to toxic Tajikistan.

Many an observer agreed that, although writing hit after hit for such stars of the Soviet and Russian fame factory as Alla Pugacheva and Igor Krutoi had made a man of Nikolayev, it was the slow crucifixion of watching his venal, bewitching Natasha roam the hairless plains of Tarzan's chest like some leopard of lust that stretched and strengthened his mental sinews into noble girders of courage that eventually spanned the chasms of Chorasmian mistrust.

A coalition government was formed - not quite as glorious as our own, but still impressive in its felix conjunctio of anachronism and ambition. Before returning to Moscow and his musical career, Nikolayev was invited to address the Majlisi Oli national assembly. With typical modesty, he spoke a few words of simple wisdom:

"Mr President, honourable members of the Majlis, ambassadors extraordinary and plenipotentiary, ladies and gentlemen, few of us had the faith to foresee the day when we would all be sitting here, in one hall, planning the future of Tajikistan together - not with mortars and mattocks, but with diaries and draft laws.

"You may recall the reason some lost souls gave for joining the French Foreign Legion - 'To Forget'. Some have joked that I came here to forget the trivial and lascivious treason of my former wife, Natasha Koroleva, the top-heavy temptress of Ternopol. They could not be further from the truth, as I try not to lower my gaze to the gutter of TV talk-shows and gossip columns in the yellow press, where she preens and prattles like a cake-crazed cormorant of cupidity over the bronzed balustrade Glushko.

"No, we must never forget. Never forget the widow's tears, the village in flames, the meat-processing plant daubed with discriminatory slogans, or the lecturer in Dialectal Materialism used as a toilet. Those who urge us to forget want to rewrite our history and steal our past. That is why we must remember, remember the camaraderie of battle and the solidarity of adversity, as well as pain at the loss of a loved one - whether to gunfire, exile or some semi-literate mastodon on steroids.

"It is just as important to learn to forgive, of course. Without reconciliation there can be no progress. It is heartening to see how old enemies are already working together in this new dispensation. They have not forgotten who they once were, and what they were capable of, only a few months ago, but have chosen to focus on who they are now, and what they can do for their country.

"At the prayer meeting earlier I shared a rug with a couple of mujahidin commanders who, as was often the case, drew their noms-de-guerre from Indian cinema. Commander Jagi and I discussed the grapes of Samarkand, while Commander Tarzan commended Khorog as a cheap and appealing holiday destination.

"Now, I don't believe I let Commander Tarzan know what unhappy associations his monicker has for me [laughter from the hall] - I see you're shaking your head, Tarzan jaan!

"Well, perhaps I might have let slip a few thoughts on what it's like to see your ex-wife parade the child you were never able to give her in the embrace of an oiled ape - it's like having your entrails wound out through your throat, then salted and left to crack and bleed in the baking sun, if you've ever wondered - but the point is that I never, not even in the tensest standoff in the Surkhandarya Salient, let my subjective emotions overwhelm the strategic need of the hour.

"Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you from my very soul for the gift of a home here in Tajikistan, plus the Tursunzoda Aluminium Works, that you have presented to me, but I must respectfully decline your offer. My work here is done, Tajiks must become masters of their own fate. I would only remind you of the bad old days.

"Someone once said that you can never go home. That's very true, because home is away and somewhere else. My native town of Kholmsk is not the bustling port of my youth any more, but rather an edgy frontier post on the cusp of three worlds. I would not be able to recreate those carefree summer days on the dockside, learning shanties from old sea dogs returned home to harbour.

"Likewise, I never tarry in Kiev after a tour, because it reminds of times spent schooning on the Dnieper alongside a succubus with a Wonderbra fixation and no heart.

"Have faith in your future, Tajikistan! It is important to believe, no matter how unlikely success might seem. Who would have believed two years ago that a turbanned hafiz would be deflecting headers from a KGB colonel down the municipal football pitch? No more than the scant number who thought my Natasha would stay plugged into that mumbling sperm-hose rather than return to explore the life of the mind with me, I reckon.

"I've learned to accept that she was not the woman I thought she was, and live in the hope that one day I might find someone with her grace, beauty and talent, but who appreciates Chekhov and good conversation more than being ploughed up and down like an allotment wheelbarrow.

"And you, dear friends, will accept that your country is never going to be a second-rate Switzerland or Sweden, so work to make it a first-class Tajikistan - a land where men earn their bread through honest labour and appreciate good music, rather than flexing their bare buttocks for the titillation of beldames and pederasts, a land of chaste women who value age and dignity over cologne and dexterity with Chinese love beads! Ladies and gentlemen - Tajikiston zindabod!" [rapturous applause, turning into a standing ovation]

Nikolayev returned to Moscow and won the unreserved admiration of another generation of Russian music-lovers. Now the doyen of the Moscow stage, he still writes and performs. Perhaps you'll catch him after a concert one day, and ask him whether he ever recalls his days as a warrior prince. Perhaps he'll smile gently and walk on, perhaps he'll refer you to his bodyguards, or perhaps he'll take up his guitar and sing:

Either way, you will have shared a moment with Igor Nikolayev, scholar, soldier, a man at peace.