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.


Sauti Ndogo said...

I once saw a prostitute in a Nairobi bar open a bottle of beer with her teeth. Made me think.

Your reference to a Cape Malay reminds us that the formal Swahili word for "prostitute" is "malaya". This caused no end of embarrassment for East African radio newsreaders during the Malayan Emergency of the 1950s.

Anonymous said...

Or Natasha in Turkish. Let joy be unconfined as I was in Gwynedd yesterday for the first time in 5 years. Plod at Holyhead were too busy gossiping about their kebebs at lunch break to pay attention to the George Clooney lookalike from Belfast with the suspicious documents from Tel Aviv.

No Good Boyo said...

Gentlemen, your comments are a credit to my box. I like the way we're already off on the tangets of bottle-opening techniques and frightful radio faux pas.

I knew a Latvian, called Aldis the Latvian, who could and did open beer bottles with his eye socket. He also had the happy knack of being able to enter any type of shop in the Soviet Union - electrical goods, big posters, you name it - and emerge with two bottles of vodka and a sausage. I believe he's head of the secret police in Transnistria or something nowadays. Good luck to him.

As for the "Malaya" red faces in East Africa, I'm reminded of the story that newsreaders were queuing around the block at the BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe Romanian sections to be first to announce the election to the Labour Party leadership of Michael Fut. You either know your Vulgar Latin or you don't.

Glad to hear Holyhead is still the Mossad entrepôt of choice, Joe. Mrs Jenkins's gefilte fish is to die for, and one day the truth about Glenys "Bloody" Kinnock will out.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I don't see Marx, Engels and Lenin actively opposing the idea of a BJ. It is just that being too busy with building the happy future of proletariat they didn't have time to attend to this issue.

Come to think of it, should they have done so the history of the world would have looked quite differently.

No Good Boyo said...

History suggests those three handled such matters with aplomb, Snoopy. Radek intimated that Stalin was more in the Uncle Voltaire league, but a fast learner.

If only they'd spoken out instead of leaving such matters to Krupskaya and other purse-lipped drabs. Rhondda Council meetings would have been much jollier affairs, as would the Cold War.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I don't believe a man could enjoy a blowjob as Nature intended if the political climate of the day required him to have a picture of Comrade Stalin in his bedroom.

No Good Boyo said...

The key was to inhabit the central part of a communal room. No walls, no worries.

Off to Luton Airport to stare down chavs for a week. Catch you all in the New Year.

Ms Scarlet said...

Merry Christmas, Mr Boyo!
Mr Nielsen did some fine beaver jokes. He will be missed.

No Good Boyo said...

And a happy new year to you and your favourite mammals, Scarlet.

Ian Plenderleith said...

So 'What Is To Be Done?' wasn't Lenin speculating in prose which women were to be subject to the gentle brush of his twirly 'tache?