Monday, April 27, 2009

Drouthy neibors

The weekend wormwood fumes cleared the shed in time for me to thread the string back through the tin can that links me to my people. At once I was comforted by the chanted nationalist slogans shrilling down the twine from Cymru Rouge cadres the length, breadth and, in one case, depth of Wales.

The fulcrum of today's fury revolved around the axis of one Dr David Starkey, an owlish controversialist who blinks at us from our television screens whenever the Tudor Welsh robber barons are in vogue.

This turbulent chronicler of hose and cannion was recently invited on Question Time, an unpopular television forum that pits three politicians against a jester in a contest to flaunt their dislike of America before an audience of BBC employees' relatives.

He said St George's Day ought not to be a public holiday on the grounds that this would reduce England to the level of a "feeble little country" like its truculent neighbours Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

He gave as examples of alleged Celtic enfeeblement the fondness for sham national costumes in general, and specifically the Scottish enthusiasm for the dialect verse of Hanoverian loyalist Robert Burns and the Highland or "bag" pipes - a bloated form of musette.

It is hard not to like a man who relishes the refined pleasures of life, and none is more exquisite than confusing a Question Time audience:

  • They wanted to applaud him for opposing a St George's Day public holiday, as this chimes with their dislike of patriotism and working people having a good time.

  • On the other hand he criticized Ireland, which jigs alongside diverse South Africa, vibrant Brazil, embattled Syria, plucky little Cuba and oppressed Palestine on the List of Approved Countries.

  • But then Scotland is only a candidate member of the Approved List, thanks to its grim novelists and television presenters, while Wales is a stalwart of the Permitted Pillory along with arrogant America, aggressive Israel, and, er, excessively English England.

The result was the sullen lowing of censorious studio cattle caught between the grid and the prod.

Dr Starkey then won the hearts of telephone receptionists and audience researchers throughout the cost-cutting BBC by keeping the lines busy with complaints from Scottish MPs, the Grand Wizards of various clans and, for all I know, Mel Gibson.

But where are the whines from Wales? What of the ire of Erin?

Well, the nouveaux-pauvres Irish are too busy rediscovering their heritage of ditch-digging and emigration to bother with jibes from some gerbil-cheeked invert, not forgetting that the lights now go out across the country at nine o'clock sharp.

And the fearsome Welsh Lobby has been holding itself in reserve now that AA "Routefinder" Gill is back from his holidays, and St David's Day isn't a public holiday anyway.

So where does the Cymru Rouge stand? Our award-winning racialism (Article II of the Cymru Rouge Covenant reads "We is bigots. And?") forbids us to agree with an English, and yet we find much mercurial merit in Starkey's arguments. We oppose all public holidays on the grounds that those leeks do not harvest themselves, and we shake a defiant, six-fingered fist in the decayed face of Medieval clerical fascists.

The dialectic therefore requires us to reconcile the self-proclaimed opinions of this grandiloquent moleman with the demands of the urgent, insurrectionary Welsh peasantry. This may take some time. Meanwhile, here's a personal observation.

The vagaries of employment and some tedious disagreements with Chechen cutthroats meant I've spent much of the past three decades living abroad in small but discreet British expatriate communities.

While enjoying the vibrant, embattled diversity of various republics, I noticed a tweedy thread that ran through all gatherings of the British abroad - no matter where you are, no matter what the occasion, there will be a man in a kilt and frilly shirt swinging his tasselled codpiece around.

I knew one such Scotchman who skulked around Samarkand asking ladies their gusset preferences on behalf of an underground undergarment manufacturer (the broader the better, in case you were wondering).

Despite the dangers of the job he was calm and engaging company until he received an embossed invitation to mark some public event - the reintroduction of random public execution, for example. Then he would dress up like George Lazenby minus the ladies and insist on drinking whisky with neither ice nor water.

While in this over-excited state he once asked me why the Welsh don't wear kilts, dirks and bogardes like our Caledonian cousins. "Because it's 1997 and trousers are no longer the preserve of our masters," I replied, although I could have suggested he ask the suited, booted Frenchmen, Germans and Spaniards around us why they weren't sporting periwigs, Pickelhauben and tricornes.

He then asked why we had a mere National Assembly, while Scotland glories in a parliament. I said the French were happy with their National Assembly as were we with ours, and asked whether this was the parliament that Burns said was "bought and sold for English gold" in 1707. We continued like this for a while until a drunken Italian sidled over and asked Young Lochinvar whether he'd like to dance. Then an ambulance intervened.

The kilt, like the "soul" beard, can bring people together in a way perhaps unexpected by its owner. A dull reception at the British Embassy in Kiev perked up when a pair of pallid calves cleaved a Tartan path through the cocktail dresses and lounge suits. At once business and boulevardier, diplomat and dipsomaniac, Ukrainian and UKanian were united in amusement.

A ruddy three-piece by my side gestured in the vague direction of the presumed Highlander and declared "Izzat th'cabaret?"

We struck up an immediate friendship, and deepened it in the must of many a bottle down a newly-appointed gentlemen's club on Lesya Ukrayinka Street - a club owned, with a pleasing Schnitzlerian circularity, by the Scotchman who had brought us together. He turned up later in modern attire and bought us all drinks.

National costume, like folk music and incest, is one of the cruellest tricks played by the ruling classes on us turbid proletarians:

  • Romanticism gave Lady Llanover a broad maquette to work from, yet she insisted on dressing Welsh womanhood in "honest Abe" top hats and triangular skirts. Welshmen were allowed to choose their own costume of stone-washed jeans, check short-sleeved shirts, mullets and love-bites.
  • The unappealing nature of the Scottish climate, economy and national character left the country open to exploitation by The Quakers - sinister sword-dodging chocolatiers who amused themselves by adorning their pet weavers in cut-down plaid.

  • I'm not sure who imposed the tracksuit and bavaclava on the irreconcilable Fenians, but he too stands condemned in the Court of Boyo.

The moral seems to be: keep a Scotchman in trousers and keep the world out of trouble. The Welsh and the Irish can look after themselves, and perhaps the rest of you too.


Anonymous said...

As anyone who has seen the documentary The Worm that Turned will know, in Wales we wear trousers.

Francis Sedgemore said...

"Whines from Wales"?

Starkey's nowt but an English tart, and in the Wales we have plenty of our own to be getting on with.

Gareth Williams said...

A stupendous tour d'horizon, Boyo, of Ukania's subject nations and their folkloric foibles.

I would explain the Welsh people's quiescent response to the imprecations of Starkey (or Ravingy Mady as he was known at school) to the fact that merely to be noticed is enough for our little nation.

Whether the form of notice is hostile or friendly is unimportant. After all a reciprocally aggressive response to a hostile party might result in said party not bothering again. A total ignoral is not to be borne.

Gorilla Bananas said...

It's not like the Welsh to be outdone by the Scotch in the silliness of their national costume. I suggest an oversized rugby shirt with a hem-line just above the knees, with a large leek emblem sewn on it.

Gyppo Byard said...

One should always, as I have noted before, perfect the art of being 'the other in the other'. Wales is the only country in which I *wouldn't* wear my replica Welsh national rugger shirt, for instance.

In Indonesia, I was known for lecturing in a three-piece linen suit and bow tie, "accesorized" with a panama hat and a rolled umbrella. In England I play my gamelan clad in a batik shirt of an eye-watering fiddly pattern.

Only expense has deterred me from buying full Highland rig (my great-grandmother was a McGregor. That makes me more Scottish than many who have represented the nation on the sporting field; but Scottish in a strictly ironic, post-modern way.) I am toying with the idea of turning up to an Eisteddffodd (or however you spell the beastly things) in morris-dancing garb decorated with the arms of Edward I. Should I ever feel moved to commit suicide...

No Good Boyo said...

Simon, that brought back happy memories of Diana Dors in an early version of the Tangnefeddwr dress uniform. Diolch.

For those of you still in the dark:

Spot on, Commissar Sedgefwy. Oppression must always begin at home. Carry on!

Welcome, Gaw. I've enjoyed your blog, and our three year old, Arianrhod, is also writing herself into fairy tales etc. She recently substituted two baby spiders for the princess in "The Princess and the Pea". The stormy-night/knock-at-the-castle-door scene was most affecting.

You make Oscar Wilde's point well - the conspiracy of silence might be worth joining.

GB & Gyppo, you underestimate Welsh sartorial brio and tolerance. Morrismen are always welcome at eisteddfodau, first as guests, later as entertainment and eventually as fertiliser.

A favourite moment of mine was one Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in, I think, Kuala Lumpur. The Scottish team marched past with pipes and sporrans widdershins, followed by the Welsh team ambling along in red "Morning Campers!" blazers, the men grinning at the crowd and the women brandishing matching handbags. I know which I preferred.

Ian Plenderleith said...

According to what I can remember of reading Prebble's 'Culloden', the kilt is a practical item of clothing worn by Highlanders who had to cross rivers, lochs and boggy streams several times a day - bare legs dried much quicker than wet trousers (and probably still do). With the invention of handy things like roads, boats and foot bridges, you'd think the mcskirt would have become redundant. The cartoon theory is that the modern Scot still wears a kilt in order to attract curious tourists to its grim and windy havens hoping for a glimpse of the rare ginger haggis with hairy meatballs. Or that it's much easier for inebriated Celts to simply lift the front fringe and water the gray gutters, rather than waste good drinking time fiddling with zips and belts. That you never see Scottish women in skirts is a merciful irony - High Tea is now code for a crate of Glenalcopops (a concoction of Heavy, Aldi's German blend whisky and guava juice), making Morag the kind of fearsome native that once terrified the Romans into building a 70-mile, solid stone security zone.

M C Ward said...

A veritable tour de force Boyo. Once again,I salute you with my six fingers. Politics is easy really, innit?

No Good Boyo said...

Ah, Hadrians Antischottische Schutzgrenze, Pop. In Newport the locals relieve themselves without wasting good drinking time fiddling with zips and belts too, but keep their trousers on all the same.

As for politics, MC, we Rouges proudly count ourselves among Isaiah Berlin's "terrible simplifiers". And Irving Berlin's putters-on of the Ritz.

xerxes said...

Good god, all this time I've thought rouge was welsh for rugger.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Superb stuff, Boyo. "Bag" pipes are indeed a bloated (and piss-easy) form of musette. "Dr" David Starkey is a tart, surely the reincarnation of Gilbert Harding, or possibly Gilbert out of Gilbert and George.

I assembled a full second-hand highland outfit over the course of one dedicated year on eBay, have worn in precisely twice, looked like a twat, but have never felt so horny since, (a sensation I can only attribute to wearing the sporran on the inside).

No Good Boyo said...

So, Gadjo, you have discovered the Scotchman's secret - the Oban Tickler has kept Highlanders amused for the century or so since the invention of the kilt by some Quaker pervert.

Ms Scarlet said...

It's true what you say about gussets. When I'm alone I wear frilly long-johns. No draughts.
Btw, long-johns are superior to leggings.
Where is Mr Gyppo? Is he coming back?

No Good Boyo said...

Thanks Scarlet, on balance I prefer long-johns too. Were they named after "Long" John Holmes, by chance. I gather that Mormons and Sikhs wear special undergarments. There's potential for blasphemous porn there somewhere.

As for Gyppo, I think he's joined some sort of cult. Poor show, as a gentleman should set one up but never join.

Ms Scarlet said...

Probably some kind of fossil cult. Probably a cult of esprontists and fossil collectors... who sing really badly and take photographs of innocent guinnea pigs...

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Talking of Schnitzlerian circularity, the conversation will always turn to underwear whenever you've got a Sikh or a Zoroastrian at the table - which as good luck would have it, we had one of each at the last Brussels bloggers Christmas party.

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