Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Like God, I am regularly disappointed by the people of the Near and Middle East.
It comes as no surprise that people who want to enjoy themselves are the region's chief export, and that it attracts a pretty glum type of tourist. The only foreigners you see wandering around at their leisure are bumfaced women with short grey hair, their stooped and willowy husbands in sleeveless jackets and tweed hats, the occasional heretic-hunter, and members of the European Parliament.
This is a shame, as the Levant and its sandy hinterland preserve one of the chief joys now denied to most Europeans - two-fisted, bat-lunged smoking. If I were the tourism ministry of Syria, for example, I would ditch the posters of stylites, waterwheels and poetry-reading in favour of a large bucket of cigarettes with the words "And They're Cheaper Than A Basingstoke Bunk-Up" engraved thereon.
A poster campaign could follow, showing cheery moustachioed dads celebrating the birth of their masculine children with a smoke-in at the local maternity clinic.
Readers of this web blog will be familiar with both my enthusiasm for smoking and my admiration for the Turk - a square-headed pragmatist in a region of rat-eared madmen.
It is true that not even a Maoist can approve of everything the Turks have done along the pointy lance of their history, but on balance they've managed to dispense with religion, random hats, curly alphabets and tyrants with a higher degree of success than any of their neighbours to the south-east.
In the meantime they have given us ciggies, the assisted bath as a means of relaxation, and a prison system generous enough to accommodate all the whining druggies the West can spare.
I hope the broad-trousered Turk will defend his right to shroud the wine-dark
For next comes membership of the European Union, which would oblige the erstwhile Ottomans to hyphenate their moustaches and drink watery coffee from bowls.
One of my formative smoking experiences happened in
A literally purple passage in Patrick Leigh Fermor's Mani once launched my drunken barque in the general direction of Stamboul. I've always been jealous of people whom Dirk Bogarde represented on screen, and none more so than Paddy.
In the great man's tsikoudia-laced reverie, as I recalled it, the Patriarch of Constantinople leads a restored Byzantine fleet up the
Vibrant and diverse, but not in a Whitechapel way.
In fact, Leigh Fermor wrote nothing of the sort, and his mild imagining of
My cherished copy of the oft-banned "Discerning Gentleman's Guide to The
Some enquiries among the tabacs maudits of
Little troubled the hush but the rush of bubbles through water jars, the thrub of thoroughbred hooves from the televised racetrack, and an occasional click of tongue on teeth as a favourite fell behind.
The smokers sat on a bench that ran around the room, leaving a carpeted expanse to fill with their fumes. I perched, and a boy scurried to my side with hookah, apple tobacco and a light. The recumbent Turks flicked glances my way, and were as reassured as I when the coals started to smoulder and heavenly vapours invaded my head.
Carpet-toters, sheep-shavers, wood-carvers and copper-rattlers plied the route from hookah to bookmaker and back, backgammon sets unfolded like odalisques in state rooms, back vowels brushed against labials, and everyone was very male.
The tea boy would poke his cropped skull through the door every 20 minutes and chirrup "çay?" He'd count the barely-arched eyebrows and return with a matching tally of steaming tulip glasses.
Except in my case. He'd make a special journey across the kiosk to me, and ask in elaborate Ottoman whether I would honour his urn with the slaking of my thirst. "Er, gosh, thanks, a pleasure - no sugar!" I'd stammer, turning all Joyce Grenfell as Brits do when confronted with Levantine flummery.
An hour passed pleasantly, then in came a group of students from the university across the square. Two young men in what a cad would call "Balkan preppy", and a couple of blondes who must have been among the city's avid Harpers readers. They ordered hookahs and began a loud conversation. Within 15 minutes the nargiles lay neglected, their plates serving as ashtrays for the Crusader's Malboro Lights.
There's a moment in Billy Wilder films when the character achieves self-awareness - rather like the machines in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Comade Garbo trying on the fancy hat in Ninotchka is my favourite.
Something similar happened in that Bosphorus fumidor. The artisans cast a cold eye at the Young Turks, with their pastel shades, pashminas, filter tips and chit-chat, then considered the taciturn Frank in their midst. I toked the smoke, drank the tea and firmly did not talk any talk.
The sign that I had been accepted in a conditional way came from the teaboy, the Mini-Mabuse of this Expressionist mime. He strolled over to the students and asked whether they would like anything else. Then he turned in the doorway and gave the rest of the room a casual "çay?"
Although I boast two eyebrows, this time one of them was among the silent chosen. Never ask me which.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
You will all be familiar with the joke about the first Jewish President of the United States. He invites his retired mother up from Florida for the grand tour of the White House and Capitol Hill.
She's reluctant at first, what with shifty Miami taxi drivers, the likely impact of the flight on her ready reckoner of ailments, general concerns about humidity, shvartsers, etc. Mr President reassures her that it'll be Air Force One and limos all the way, and she'll be back home for bridge on Thursday.
The trip passes with less kvetching than expected by either party, and the First Mother is serenely seated at the green baize as Mrs Mandel deals the cards.
"Where did you go, Golda? We haven't seen you all week!" asks the hostess amid the rustling of perms.
"I stayed with my son," replied the Matriarch.
"Your son the optometrist?"
"No, the other one."
We've all been there. When my mother announces to the Cerigrafu branch of Merched Y Wawr (Provisionals) that she's spent a few days ironing wallpaper at her son's house, they always gasp "Your son, the War Mongrel?". Instead she dismisses her weekend at Casa Boyo with a "No, the English one".
I was brought up in the shadow of my younger brother, Steffan ap Morthwyl fab Boyo, years before he was born. There were omens on the witch-gaunt hills, you see - goats jabbered Psalms at passing Land Rovers, a girl in Rhydymain was delivered of a five-fingered child - that sort of thing.
Morthwyl, as we call him, was born smoking a roll-up in 1969, and again in 1970 by popular demand of the midwives.
Readers of Mrs Pouncer's diary will know that he has since acquired a "van, a chainsaw, a doberman and a selection of self-crafted tattoos in no known language", and that "his favourite words are 'Duw, fuck, aye, but', in that order. They are also about the only thing he's said for 35 years".
At some point in the 1980s he joined the Army. When asked why, he simply replied "Dykes, mun" and winked. Whatever discomfort Europe might have been planning for itself in that dayglo decade, Morthwyl was always there to make it worse.
On his occasional visits home he would appear in Emma's nightclub, stuff his kitbag under a table and go to sleep - on the understanding that all the VG Stores checkout girls, district nurses and gym teachers would have found some edible underwear and formed a queue in ascending order of volubility by the time he'd woken up.
I never stood a chance, especially after I disgraced the family by moving to England by bus and not armoured personnel carrier. Morthwyl has never entered a sovereign state without challenging its armed forces to at least an arm-wrestling match. Turkmenistan declared eternal neutrality in the early 1990s just in case.
But Morthwyl's finest moment came on 9th November 1989. A continent realised that Communism was doomed when East Germany showed it could not even disembowel itself efficiently. Sagging Stalinist Günter Schabowski told the half-nation that they could cross the borders in search of stone-washed jeans and decent beer whenever they liked.
His leering chief Egon Krenz had planned the Great Leap Over for the following morning, so that he and his lovely wife Erika could snap up the bargains in West Berlin that very evening, but failed to pass this detail on to Schabowski.
Within hours The Wall was no more, Germany got bigger without killing anyone for once, and John Le Carré began his entertaining descent into student politics.
It could have been very different. Morthwyl was on guard duty with the Royal Welch that evening, walking the line near Checkpoint Charlie. He loved patrolling The Wall, for it was as close as he could get to East Berlin - a city that reminded him of what Wales might one day become.
He saw crowds surging towards the barriers on the Eastern side and remembered his training - the Warsaw Pact will probably start the invasion by creating an incident. And suddenly here were masses of poorly-coiffed youths in drop-shoulder sweaters milling around like touts at a Bonnie Tyler gig.
One word formed in his mind - "fuck", by which he meant an "obvious smokescreen, behind which the close-shaven ranks of the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guards Regiment will shortly march into the barracks and nationalise my boombox. Fucking Frenchies!"
By 1989 the Soviet Union was in no shape to conquer a waitress at the Mumbles Pavilion Café, let along West Germany, but international relations were something that passed Morthwyl by without stopping to check their trouser pockets.
He was fixing his bayonet - to what exactly the court martial never revealed - when an officer tapped his shoulder and ordered him down to the checkpoint. There he spent the night handing out cups of coffee to ecstatic Ossies, who in return plied him with East German cigarettes. "What were those like?" I once asked. "Fuck," he replied.
I often wonder what might have been if my brother had carried out his one-man infantry charge into the ranks of distracted Volkspolizei. Would the hitherto disappointing Cold War have flared up around his ammo boots, taking the West by surprise and leaving the Ostblock in charge of the cinders from Bristol to the Baltic?
The poverty, grime and poor dentistry of the German Democratic Republic are largely forgotten by pigeon-chested progressives, but less talk and more action from Morthwyl might have brought its benefits to the New Statesman's subscribers in a way they'd still be thanking him for today, on this 20th anniversary celebration of his rise to power.
Comrade Chief of the People's General Staff Generalissimo Field Marshal S.M.Boyo would modesty acknowledge the stormy and protacted applause, rising to an ovation, from work collectives across the continent with a wise and watchful "aye".
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Snoopy the Goon (not one of the Ludlow Goon-Squads, I'm glad to say), has presented me with a mimetic challenge. Thus:
- Write one superpower you would like to have and what you would do with it.
- Write why you chose that super power over everything else.
- Tag and link lots of people and write why you think they will have an interesting meme.
- Fix your broken links.
And as for links, Madame Boyo keeps my chains well-oiled and secure, thanks.
True, the USA would be a more pleasant entity with which to share your life, and therefore one that needs little guidance from me. Apart from giving up The Philippines and failing to flood Cuba with cheap TVs, it's hardly put a foot wrong.
Soviet Russia, on the other boot, missed chance after chance to make the world a cheerier place during its 70-year drunken lurch from feudal demense to oligarch's doormat, and now it's gone.
We Welsh have never let mere dimensions of time and space bother us before, so here's what I'd have done with the USSR and why:
1. Got Poland to Invade Germany. I may have made it up, but I'm sure I read somewhere that in 1933 Marszałek Piłsudski proposed to send some uhlans to Berlin and hang Hitler by his mono orchid, no questions asked, as long as Britain and France promised to go fishing that weekend. He got no answer, and the moment passed.
If he'd contacted me, Comrade General-Secretary Premier Boyovich in Moscow, I'd have applauded this initiative, offered him the rest of his homeland Lithuania, and thrown in a brace of Belarussian bison swamps as a gesture of Slavonic socialist solidarity.
A Europe without Herr Hitler would have been a more elegant and populous place, and my kind of Soviets could have made it happen. Also, there would be something deliciously kinky about the Poles marching Unter die Linden.
2. Banned The Beatles. And Oasis too, if they and the Soviets had been mutually unlucky enough to overlap. Why? I like The Beatles, but they made string arrangements, bad poetry, sitars and Lord Paul of the McCartneys acceptable to generations of Russians. The ensuing descent into Pink Floyd cultism was inevitable.
Pale loiterers sat around in frumpy housecoats pondering the meaning of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" while picking lice out of their Buryat girlfriends' matted hair. The Kremlin happily let Beatles albums through customs once in a while, because this epic, Armenian bang-fuelled self-indulgence left the Young Guard with little time to organise counter-revolution.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
- Classical Colossus Ralph Vaughan-Williams said he never had any conscience about cribbing intermissions and riffs from other composers;
- An entire suburb of Chester woke up in Flintshire not so long ago; and
- The list of warlords, public gatherings and geographical features claimed by Cambria includes Marshal Timoshenko, Johann Sebastian Bach (but not the other Bäche), the Mandan tribesmen of Missouri and England itself.
It is therefore quite in keeping with our national sacra for Iolo to have shared the wealth of his imagination with the pinched world of Primrose Hill. Mr Kafetz might call him a "bankrupt and a forger. A bloody criminal", but Iolo dealt in a currency more choice than the Hanoverian ha'penny, and what he forged was not merely a sheaf of sprung rhythms but a complete Celtic cosmology. All Welsh, all ours, and all made up.
HP Lovecraft wrote that slobbering sacks of brackish bile created our world just for jolly, and would tramp through a crack in the firmament one day to stamp us back into the brine. So did Iolo Morganwg dream that our own Druidic Elders had outlasted the Roman and his troubles, weaving our own era into the oak garlands of theirs as if Marcher Lords and monks had been a passing parson's fancy.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Dolphin-herder Gyppo Byard has tagged me to come up with a list of things I regret doing. Such is my innate poise that there's nothing I really wish I hadn't done, or else my as-standard Memory Hole has excised it.
I got invited to Labour fundraisers as the warm-up act. I'd do some of his classics - "I am a peace-monger", "The Guilty Men", "A seraglio of eunuchs" - and sign off with "This Great Party of Ours" to the anachronistic strains of Shaky's "This Ole House". The workers, peasants and progressive studentry loved it.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Inkspot's mother-in-law is a Bessarabian Warshawski, not to be confused with the frightful Ludlow Warshawskis.
"Bessarabia" set me thinking about names that linger after the places that once claimed them have moved on. For those of you who weren't condemned by a rash choice of university course to study the meanderings of East European borders, Bessarabia was a province of Wallachia and the Empires both Ottoman and Russian that played a walk-on role in Greater Romania before vanishing back into the Soviet wings in 1940.
It lurched onto the international stage as an independent country in 1991 only to topple over the footlights into the orchestra pit, where most of it remains today. One county - Bolgrad - is still touring with Ukraine, and another has struck out on a solo career as the proudly rogue state of Transdniestria, of which more later.
Still never heard of it? That's not surprising, as the Bessarabians decided to ditch their good old name and opt to call themselves "Moldova" instead.
I can understand why "Bessarabia" no longer appealed:
But there are problems with "Moldova" too. Not only is it already the name of the adjacent province in Romania, but Bessarabia/Moldova was part of that very same province in 1918-1940. Doesn't strike me as a sign of self-confidence or imagination if you borrow the name of the next parish along. Nor has the fancy new name brought the Moldovans much luck.
What it has done, however, is give the Romanian province of Moldova the chance to reclaim the far superior monicker of "Moldavia". This is what the Soviets called Bessarabia/Moldova from 1940 to 1991, when the name came up for grabs again. "Moldavia" sounds like a real country, as it has the tell-tale "ia" ending that marks out exotic lands ruled by princelings with caddish uniforms.
It also sounds like "Moravia", a real place that you might actually want to visit, and this gives the low Romanians a chance to lure yet more tourists to their twilit land of roadkill cuisine.
">Transdniestria", a dangling bacon rind of Russian arms dumps, war criminals and lumpy women in knitted berets, lacks the audacity to call itself "The Soviet Union", as it dearly would love to, and missed the chance to claim "Bessarabia".
Instead it has chosen a name that emphasises where it is not, not what it is. "So who are you lot then?" sighs the weary UN admissions mandarin. "Can't say, but I'll tell you where we're not - we're not in the River Dniester. We're beyond it!"
"Jolly good," says Sir Tarquin, steering the Representative from Tiraspol towards the Sub-Carpathian Ruthenians, Cisalpinians and Sahrawis of the West, all playing with glitter and spittle at the special-needs table.
"Jordan" dropped the "Trans" as soon as it became a kingdom, and Transylania only won the endorsement of demented Nipponese squirrels when it rebranded itself “
You will find "Transnistria", "Trans-Dniester", "Dniester Republic", "Pridnestrovie" or - my favourite – "Unităţile Administrativ-Teritoriale din Stînga Nistrului". The gang of onion-breathed spivs who run the place prefer Pridnestrovie or Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republicto be posh. These people are not doing themselves any favours.
Africa, the continent that gave us the Nigerian bank scam, shows these blunt-fingered Slavs how it should be done. Newly-independent colonies were eager to shake off the dreadful titles various moody explorers had given them. Rhodesia was named after an ill-favoured invert, the Gold Coast practically screamed "Come and despoil us, please!", and you somehow feel that the malarial Haut Commissaire who came up with "The French Territory of Afars and Issas" wasn't putting his heart into it.
So the plucky young kleptocrats gave notice of their relaxed, marimba-influenced attitude to the property of others by appropriating the names of more edifying countries located some distance away in either space or time. Most daring of all was Comrade Nkrumah of the Gold Coast.
The historical Ghana Empire was much further north than his new state, but so generous was Nkrumah's pan-African spirit that he even managed to become president of an entirely different country - Guinea - once he'd spent all of Ghana's gelt.
A prime example of a country that got it wrong was Persia. A cloddish Cossack colonel ousted the agreeably sybaritic Qajar dynasty in the 1920s and decided that racialism was the next big thing, so he renamed that perfumed land "Iran", as in "Aryan". Reza Shah seemed not to know or care that the neighbouring country was already called "Iraq", thereby sowing confusion among sub-editors at the BBC house magazine Ariel for some time to come.
Iraq itself, of course, once gloried in the title "Mesopotamia", but that didn’t really work in Arabic and Wise King Feisal wasn’t an Oxford man. Saddam Hussein, George Galloway, the godly but unlettered President Bush and thousands of bearded maniacs have ensured that the name "Iraq" is now almost exclusively associated with beastly behaviour, so I suggest that Mr Talabani and his chums in Baghdad should simply relaunch the country as "Persia".
Bingo! They persuade Notting Hill types to buy their carpets and annoy the haughty Tehranis with one stroke of the legislative scimitar.
In the same over-amplified soundbox of ancient grievances, those silver-tongued charmers in Israel just can't stop their neighbours wishing violent death upon them. I propose that they should drop not only the name but all geographical denominators and simply appropriate the title "Nelson Mandela".
Let's face it, the old boy won't be needing it for much longer, and Friday Prayers won't go down so well with Tristram and Jocasta Trustafarian when they echo to the Federation of Conservative Students' chant of "Death to Nelson Mandela!" C'mon Mr Netanyahu, it's not as if you've got any bright ideas of your own, is it?
And it doesn't stop there. No one takes Poland seriously.Polnische Wirtschaft,"Dude, Where's Your Country?", worst alphabet in Europe, noblemen with no underpants, pickled cabbage, charging down Panzers on horseback, madder-than-average women - it's not a good image. So why not take the long-vacant name of "Prussia"?
After all, Poland at the time of writing (1051 gmt, 16 September 2009) is located on much of historic Prussia. And say what you like about that Millwall of the German Empire, no one found it in the slightest bit amusing when the Junkers came a-calling.
Last and as usual least comes our own beloved Wales. "Wales? is dat the big fish or dem singing bastards?", as a New York cabbie once asked Sir Geraint Evans en route to the Met. I tell you now that we are going nowhere fast if we continue to call ourselves "Nancy Latinate foreigners" in Old High German and risk being confused with Moby Dick - by which I mean the marine leviathan, not the Cornish porn star.
We could insist that everyone calls us “Cymru”, but that would put us back on the blunt-scissors table with Myanmar and places with names that just don't work in other languages. We could go all Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and resurrect "Cambria" and "Gwalia",but my preference is for a stunning bit of thievery.
Just as that gobshite Bono reclaimed Helter Skelter from Charles Manson, when it had belonged to The Beatles all along, I propose that we rename Wales "Britain". The United Kingdom doesn't use the title much since Lady Thatcher was gently steered off to the Whisky Transfusion Clinic, and the English seem to have dropped it in favour of the original Beserker "Ingerland".
For one thing, it'll be difficult for Unionist Tories and Kinnockites to refuse to be "Backing Britain", and since when did anyone "Brit" on a bet? Lovely.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
"Lithuania, my Fatherland!" ("Litwo! Ojczyzno moja!") is the stirring phrase that both launches the Polish national epic, Pan Tadeusz, and neatly sums up the problem Lithuanians have with it. They could always counter by writing an epos called Uncle Andrius that begins "Warszaw is my parking space", but I suspect that it would lose them the moral high ground.
Interwar Lithuania was unlucky enough to be governed by a pair of feuding college professors called Voldemaras and Smetona, whose verbal felicity proved no match for the sabre-gnashing cavalry of Poland's Marshal Piłsudski - a man who escaped German captivity in the Great War by feigning insanity with the greatest of ease.
He was that most elusive of creatures, a cunning Belarussian. He hired us a Chaika limo and liveried driver. "Sit in the back of this baby and it's a brave border guard who stands in your way," he grinned, fondling the fins of the regional Communist Party's favourite ride. And he was right. Our driver maintained the correct speed of measured authority as we trundled past emaciated conscripts in the dank forests of Aschemynne.
His pace faltered through the speckled hills of Vilnius, however, and we realised that he'd never been to the city and had no idea where the ballet theatre might be. "Drive into the centre, my good man, and leave the rest to me," I drawled.
I cast a basilisk eye over the tracksuited trolls on the swollen sidewalks until the ideal couple glided into view. A pair of distinguished pensioners, his silver hair capped with a beret and hers with a pillbox hat, their stately gait spoke of hardback books, antique pianos and a non-predatory interest in the performing arts.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Another year, another notch of recognition on the bedstead of glory. The Welsh people as one have promoted me from Tenth Welshest Blog Ever to 47th Most Currently Cambrian Chatterato. Thank you all.
How the bell curve can that be progress, you ask? The number of Welsh web bloggers has increased exponentially in the past 13 months, as unemployment makes hunching over your computer in a Hong Kong Phooey dressing gown (minus bandana) a credible career option.
To be 47th in this teeming pool of opinions, lists of random things and ineptly-embedded video clips is both more intense and more significant an achievement than, as Madame Boyo put it, gaining plaudits from a baker's dozen of slackers who are probably related to me anyway.
On receiving my last award, I set out the following Two-Year Plan:
- My ambitions for the next two years of blogging? Well, first up, I don't want the celebrity to ruin me. No tabloid rumours about Duffy seen leaving my shed in the early hours, no freebasing Brains and cockles in John Malkovich's hotel.
- I'm happy with Mrs Boyo and her threats of unnecessary surgical procedures.
- Otherwise, I want to clamber up the Wikio Top Ten like a bandwith-drooling zombie until I reign supreme over the deleted comments of mine enemies.
So far so good. With 11 months still to go I've not had any quality time with the Nefyn Nightingale or Big Bad John, or even Charlotte Church for that matter.
Mrs Boyo and I have rubbed along well enough to grace Wales with a masculine child, thereby ensuring that the Line of Boyo will continue the work of Glyndŵr, Mabon and Shakin' Stevens.
And I have no enemies, merely friends I haven't yet annoyed.
So what does the future hold for the Boyo Media Foundation?
I'm not one for senseless dreams, but it's fair to say that my Olympian public profile makes a Senedd, or indeed Westminster, seat on the Cymru Rouge (Round Table - Fuck England) ticket pretty much inevitable.
A busy parliamentary career as the sole true opposition to Bernsteinian ameliorationists, bourgeois nationalists, Tory ponces and that Estonian sex-maniac in Montgomery will not distract me from blogging.
The new emerging media are confounding their critics by playing a pivotal role in the struggle for human dignity, from the live-bloggers of Rangoon to the Twitter protests of Tehran.
As these innovations reach maturity and come to supplement and stimulate the established media, it is more important than ever that there are still some of us out there letting the side down.
I pledge to the people of Wales that I shall not cease from recounting my abuse of Soviet hospitality, fatal cocktail recipes, inaccurate film reviews, scorn for the public-spirited and desire to mate with various fading, and in some cases deceased, 1960s celebrities.
In a very real sense, it is the least I can do.
Monday, August 24, 2009
- Our Boys are facing the Mahdi of Qandahar with nought but Italian rifles and licquorice bootlaces;
- Scotchmen are trying to trump the Cymru Rouge in the terrorist-friendly stakes; and
- Bankruptcy threatens millions of gamblers as England win the Ashes.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
No gentleman flies in any aeroplane smaller than a jumbo or larger than a Learjet, unless it's armed and the Hun is up to his tricks again. Only the national carriers of monarchies are to be trusted - except the Dutch, of course.
So I turned up at Minsk-1 Airport, eager for the flight back to Sodom-on-the Dnieper. After all, the flight to Minsk from Kiev had been a display of one-upmanship on the part of Belavia, the Belarussian national carrier.
In this way President-for-Life Lukashenko was telling his louche Ukrainian neighbours "Yes, we have no coastline or proper shoes, but we can send giant flying machines into the skies above your fancy capital with its street lights and shops! Flying machines empty but for the rustle of stockings on upholstery - stockings made by the Svitanak Underwear and Tank Parts Plant of Hero-City Brest! Behold the wealth and might of Belarus and think about it, you drunken Cossack bastards!"
But that's not the best of it. We were airborne for about an hour. In that time we each received three vodka apéritifs, a reasonable cooked meal, and a choice of wine. "I'll have the white," I told the flight crew as she pretended two bottles of Moldovan plonk were her ear-rings in a performance of disturbing coquetry. She unscrewed the chablis with her teeth, winked, rubbed the merlot against her blouse "to warm it up" and gave me that too. I felt reassured that the other three passengers got both bottles as well.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Grey clouds scudded across the foam of Champion's Freckled Johnson. I raised the pint to eager lips, and then to my own.
The K-Man was building an Antifaschistische Schutzgrenze of ashtrays between himself, the Dog and Fuelrod. It was lunchtime down the Tethered Goat.
Dazza disentangled his moustaches from a sandwich and sighed. "The latest Iranian Revolution is all over."
"Why?" we chorused.
"U2 are supporting the Tehran protesters. It's all over."
We knew what Dazza meant. The Iranian Propaganda Ministry television documentary would write itself:
[Five minutes of Bono gobbing on, green flag in hand atop a giant speaker, while a crowd of Fanta-crazed Irish teens wonder whether the video backdrop of militant Iranian youth is the new single.]
[Dead-eyed TV announcer] Dear viewers, this ill-informed Nazarene dwarf is the foreign leader of those who would criticize our God-ordained system. We asked Professor Margbarian of Tehran's University of Occlusion to explain why...
Meanwhile, in garrets, salons and cafés throughout Iran, stormy petrels of democracy see support seep away:
"Maryam, Reza, you coming to the demo today? We've got the nutters on the run. One more push, know what I'm saying?"
"Well, I think I'll give it a miss this morning. Got a lot on, y'know."
"Whaddyou mean? Oh..., hang on. It's because of Bono, isn't it?"
"Sorry. Freedom's all very well, but I've got my rep to think of. U2, for The Hidden Imam's sake! Even my little brother was laughing at me, and he likes Steps!"
"Maryam's right. It's over, man. Bono dropped the big one."
The Revolution That Died of Shame.
The success of any political movement depends a great deal on celebrity backing, or the prevention thereof. Musicians, novelists and lingerie models are as fickle and brittle as butterflies, and must be netted gently with bright colours and primary flavours.
Take Cuba, for example. Nasty, nasty government. Doesn't like gay people, trade unions and other good things. On the other hand, also dislikes America and mobile phones. This, coupled with a good climate, memorable flag, hip-gyratin' indigenous music and a positive attitude to drinking and smoking, attracts all sorts of blues-tinged endorsements.
And learn from Nicaragua's mistakes. The Sandinistas were doing so well. They worked their way through the Cuban checklist, racked up The Clash and Billy Bragg, but then - disaster. They got the unbidden endorsement of Glenys "Bloody" Kinnock, and were swiftly ousted.
The price of power is ceaseless cultivation of your public image. One Kinnock can undo the work of a thousand Bianca Jaggers.
I witnessed a neat display of chaos deflection in Ukraine, during the Glorious Orange Revolution of 2004. Mr Yushchenko and his band of well-dentured Westernisers were set for victory:
- The outgoing government were a bunch of malodorous Morlocks being ridden through sewers of corruption by President Putin;
- Ukraine's decent singing stars - Talita Kum, Vopli Vidopliassova, Ruslana - were all Orange, while Ukraine's singing dinosaurs - Taisia Povaliy, Iozif Kobzon, Natasha Mogilevskaya - were for the evil old Commies; and
- The Orangemen had a snappy anthem, decent PA systems and wives who didn't look like they'd service you in a pedestrian underpass for a fistful of dried fish.
I was having a drink one evening with an influential pro-Orange music producer (yes, I both rock and roll) when he received a worrying phone call:
"Bono and Sting want to big up the Orange Revolution on MTV."
"Oh God, can you stop them?"
"No, but I can divert them."
There followed some spectacular telephonic ego-massages, which amounted to persuading the publicists of the Leather-Trousered Ones that they did have an important role to play in Ukraine. But that role didn't mean endorsing one side or the other in a "difficult, nay explosive situation", but rather in issuing a sober call to calm.
Only one thing is more attractive to pop singers than being La Pasionaria, and that's being Secretary-General of the UN. Understated, measured, classic, like a good suit.
Sure enough, these absurd minstrels gazed solemnly into the MTV cameras and said they hoped the people of Ukraine, both black and white, would resolve their differences through over-amplified jangly guitar riffs and cod-jazz sung in a vaguely insulting Jamaican accent.
We had gazed into the abyss, but its denizens had put their shades back on and splashed off in pursuit of shinier prey.
This is a lesson that we in the Cymru Rouge have learned well. In the event of a British Socialist Revolution, this is the advice we shall offer to our struggling comrades in Bragggrad (formerly London):
At first world opinion will be with you. The break-up of the big estates, the expulsion of the Windsors (apart from Prince Andrew's fun-loving daughters), the closure of US air bases, the adoption of the bass-line of "The Guns of Brixton" as the national anthem - everyone loves this sort of stuff.
But then things will get trickier. The reconquest of Ireland, the jailing of all Guardian and Independent journalists under the repressive "Git Laws", the numerus clausus on Scotchmen in the National Assembly and BBC, compulsory independence for Wales - these will trouble bien-pensants and editorial writers throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
That's when you carry out your masterstroke. Bono and Sting will declare their support for the Revolution, and fly into Aneurin Bevan (formerly Heathrow) International Airport, possibly in aeroplanes, to do their bit for the People. You will have them summarily shot on the runway, and send their Amazonian tribal singers back home to tell the tale.
Cut to plush apartments in Le Marais, Manhattan, and Malmo:
"There's a demo outside the British Embassy this afternoon. Free Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, that sort of thing. You coming?"
"What! The imperialists are stealing the Revolution! It's like Cromwell all over again. We've got to stop them through the deployment of placards, and we've got to do it NOW!"
"Yeah, I know they're bastards and everything, but they did shoot Bono and Sting, didn't they."
"Yeah, they did do that... Maybe they need a little time to let things settle down."
"Some breathing space."
"...I heard Bob Geldof's off to London soon."