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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The gleanings of thy harvest

Some readers will have surmised that charity in every sense of the word is a rare visitor to the House of Boyo. This would be a mistake. Our commitment to the Laws of Moses shines through in weekly acts of tsedakah:

  • Big Issue sellers know Madame Boyo as the lady who hands out pocket editions of Trotsky and points them in the direction of the nearest gunsmith;
  • My blog posts are feats of endurance in the spirit of Edith Cavell, both to read and to write; and

  • Jehovah's Witnesses and Labour canvassers alike have often enjoyed our hospitality in the outbuilding that we simply call "The Bell Jar".
Readers would be right, however, to conclude that we have little time for the current crop of charitable organisations. I tend to agree with a colleague who favours only two petitioners with his largesse, these being the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and The Salvation Army.

There's something comforting about knowing there's a big boat full of big men somewhere out there, and the Sally Army is a sort of insurance policy for any keen drinker with an impatient wife.

We feel that the task of the blogger is not to jeer at more socially-attuned people but rather to drag them down to our level, and so here is the No Good Boyo wishlist of charities:

1. Oxfemme. This organisation seeks to guide Oxbridge gals like Gail Trimble out of their blue stockings and into garments at once more complicated and yet much flimsier. Chief Executive Officer: Mrs Pouncer.

2. Dr St Bernardos. Teams of burly dogs bearing barrels of brandy enrich and deepen the lives of orphans.

3. Waugh on Want. Dyspeptic High Tories rove the wretched places of the Earth - The Levant, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Scotland - telling the slovenly locals to shut up, leave the livestock alone, read some hardback books and restock their wine cellars with decent but affordable claret.

4. Scopes. A group that campaigns to put the word "monkey" in front of most nouns on the grounds that this makes them instantly funny to the student community. For example: monkey tennis, monkey priest of Killybashangel, monkey nut, monkey puzzle and monkey man - low-hung or otherwise.

5. The Society of St Lynsey de Paul. A schismatic Catholic sect that venerates rather than condemns The Blessed Lynsey's 1970s recording career as one of the Seven Dolours of the Modern World. They run an Internet radio station that pledges to play "Won't Somebody Dance With Me?" over and over until The Vatican gives Cricklewood the same pilgrim status as Santiago de Compostela.

6. The Alex Higgins Trust. "The Hurricanes", as its members are known, are a band of Irishmen who seek to teach bookish homosexuals the virtues of drinking, smoking, billiards and the Ulster Fry.

7. Shelter-Skelter. Traps homeless people in cellars and makes them listen to rants about the secret meaning of Beatles songs.

8. Human Kites Watch. A dinner-party campaign to return Iraq and Afghanistan to the kite-adorned contentment that they enjoyed under Saddam and the Taleban. Patron: Michael Moore.

9. Interpal. Worldwide association of the "nice" halves of the "nice copper/nasty copper" partnership. Offers cigarettes and friendly advice to people who've just been thrown down a police station staircase in a sack.

I am happy to gather any contributions readers might want to make to these charities pending their establishment. Cheques and postal orders can be made out to "NGB" and sent to Banco Boiano, Skomer Island, Wales.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Eighth of Thermidor of No Good Boyo

An acquaintance of unpalatable right-wing views once asked me with studied nonchalance whether I thought he would enjoy Gregor von Rezzori's "Memoirs of an Anti-Semite". "Only as a suppository," I replied.

It is one of my favourite books, although two aspects of it make me flinch. One is that Von Rezzori himself translated the middle section into better English than I can speak, and the other is a scene where the author encounters some unpleasantness with Bucharest roughs at a suburban circus. It involves his mistress, a bear and vigorous expressions of class resentment.

Collisions with Blood and Soil types distress us, the deracinated of the world, and that passage reminds me painfully of my own dealings with a stuffed squirrel in Soviet Moscow.

The reputation of taxidermy has never recovered from the shoddy work of Messrs "Ed" Gein and Alfred Hitchcock, neither of whom frankly had the skill to match their enthusiasm for the art as practitioner and propagandist respectively. Once was a time when one's aunts were safely shuttered away behind a screen of stuffed cats, dogs, canaries and boy scouts, but now nephews have no defence from their plump, probing fingers, rouged lips and madeira-soaked mutterings.

Where the West led, Soviet Russia firmly refused to follow. As Europe and America embraced deodorants, natural fibres, dentistry and not ramming sawdust up the arses of dead monkeys, the gamey trolls of Muscovy marched past shops full of stuffed rodents, their polyvinyl uniforms crackling in the permafrost, whistling songs of Socialism through mouths full of blackened stumps.

I came across one such shop at Patriarch's Ponds in Moscow one hazy summer day in 1988. I, along with my colleagues Max Braddel, Tubby Johnson, Swanny and a Scotchman called Duncan, had spent Library Day afternoon down the Panjab Indian Restaurant, as usual.

Every Wednesday was Library Day in the Soviet state. Colleges closed early so that students could rush off to the archives to carry out their own research, footnote their essays and order learned journals. This they resolved to do after extrapolating the modalities at various beer halls, kebab cellars and fish barrels. Eager to learn from our progressive counterparts, we did likewise. The Panjab soon became our symposium of choice.

The restaurant was set up in the 1970s glow of Soviet-Indian friendship. Mrs Gandhi had just suspended the rule of law and started sterilising people, so the Kremlin, reassured that Asia's best democracy was heading in the right direction at last, started shipping vodka, combustible television sets and plastic suits to Delhi.

The Indians promptly ousted Indira, restored civil rights and doled out transistor radios to the recently emasculated. As a belated gesture, the foreign minister sent some chefs over to Moscow to set up a few decent eateries so that he wouldn't have to live on Kit-Kats and condensed milk on his next official visit.

The Panjab was one such eatery, and was swiftly heading down the path to putrescence followed by all previous attempts to stimulate the Soviet palate. The pattern was familiar:

  • Foreign chef arrives in joint-venture restaurant. Brings fine herbs and spices, authentic recipes, trains local staff.
  • Restaurant is a hit, chef returns home with the Order of Laika the Space Dog (Third Class) and a moody blonde wife called Natasha who leaves him for an English backpacker called Josh whose father owns Hampshire.
  • Soviet staff junk menu, add exotic spices to the usual stodge in order to mask elderly ingredients, steal light fittings, flood toilets.
  • The restaurant critic of the KGB in-house magazine drops by, staff are executed, eatery closes "for technical reasons".
  • Six months later it reopens as a Stuffed Animal Shop.

We had caught the Panjab halfway through the first stage. It served oily red soup ("What flavour is this soup, comrade waiter?" "Red.") Russian salads (meat in mayonnaise), and a sort of pudding that might once have been a rice-based condiment but was now a hideous rite of passage for the unwitting diner.

It had many advantages, nonetheless, chief among them being its abundant supply of alcohol. Mr Gorbachev's prohibition law was already being widely flouted, but nowhere with such baroque ebullience as down the Panjab.

Not only could you enjoy a relatively fresh bottle of Moscow's finest bottom-watering Zhiguli beer, but it was also the exclusive Moscow supplier of a tarry Moldavian wine called Joc. A brief tasting, courtesy of our tame waiter, confirmed our collective view that it was near-undrinkable liver rot. On a good day we would have a bottle each.

It was after such an expansive lunch that we wandered through the 19th century lanes of Patriarch's Ponds, one of the few parts of central Moscow not to have been turned into a cross between a 1980s after-the-bomb B movie set and the Seven Elms Market toilets by Soviet town planners. A cosy gun shop glinted in the bloodshots of our eyes, and we strolled in.

It was odd that lazily pro-Soviet British students were shocked by the ease with which Russians could buy rifles. First, because a fleeting glance at Soviet and Russian history revealed an epic story of beastly behaviour at home and abroad. The national symbols of icon, axe, hammer and sickle were also a give-away.

Second, if they had such faith in the poise and harmony of Soviet society, why would they worry about those long, shiny guns being used for anything other than pest control and holding back the Polish revanche?

Exposure to Muscovite militarism was a sort of Billy Wilder moment for these students, a small tug at the sleeve of their received opinions that would eventually hoist them aloft by their drainpipe trousers and send their Red Wedge and ANC badges tumbling about their pierced ears. The next step tended to be a casual leaf through last month's Daily Telegraph at the Consulate, during which they found themselves nodding slowly at the letters page.

The gun shop was empty of customers despite being stocked with everything the modern Russian might need - big guns, much ammo, evil knives, gumboots, bundles of twine and a stuffed squirrel. I spotted it first.

"Squirrel," I slurred to myself, describing a slow arc across an upper shelf with an outstreched finger. "Ha ha ha ha," I added. The others, being town boys, were entranced by the big guns, and saw nothing. The squirrel had been stuffed by a committee of blind Gypsy violinists, and seemed to have died from ritual Chechen disembowelment before being mounted on a tree stump with a couple of nuts in his paws. Then we ambled off to ogle the lady policewomen on The Arbat.

A few weeks later there dawned Duncan's birthday, and my mind returned to the squirrel. "What a semiotic amuse-gueule of a gift that would be," I told Max. "It meets all the requirements of 1980s Moscow expat postgraduate life - it's ironic, authentic, portable and useless. I'll pick it up this afternoon."

Having committed myself to the purchase, I set off for Patriarch's Ponds with a few hours to spare. The gun shop, however, was now packed with horny-browed anglers buying buckets of worms, gun-toting werewolves filling their pockets with shot, and silent giants trying out the latest blades on their own forearms.

They all turned sullenly as I inched past their steaming flanks up to the counter, where I extended an etiolated hand towards the upper shelf and lisped "Can I have the thquirrew pleathe?"

The shopkeeper took some time to scan the premises for my little stuffed chum, then enlisted the help of a pair of knife-swallowers to hoist it down. He asked whether I wanted it wrapped all nice. "Yeth," I whimpered as he carefully crated and bound the beast in "23 Years of Soviet/South-Yemenite Friendship" bunting. I handed over 12 roubles 15 kopecks and shuffled off with my new companion under my arm amid a collective simmering of gruff pity.

Duncan liked the squirrel, it reminded him of happy afternoon strolls by the Ponds. It presided over the room he shared with Swanny, playing the odd hand of poker and looking after everyone's hats. But, every time I looked into Comrade Nutkinich's feral eyes, the painted mask of a gamin bound for a gigue with Madame Guillotine gurned back.

Some men have nightmares about finding themselves naked in public, or having to run a gauntlet of picketing miners while dressed in evening wear. In my dark places I teeter through a throng of armed stevedores with a tufty-tailed wig on my head.

When the Welsh state publishing house Taffizdat comes to print my official autobiography in years ahead, the anonymous author may have cause to return to that shop on Patriarch's Ponds. There he will try to recapture the moment when I came to full maturity as a Marxist political leader. He may write:

"Boyo had never had time for the dictum 'That which does not kill me makes me stronger', noting that the leaders of the various former opposition parties in Wales were still alive but certainly not flourishing in the Martyr Michael Owen Underwater Cockle Plantation off Bardsey Island.

"Nonetheless, L'Affaire Nutkin did bring him to an awareness that Lenin, Robespierre and Kinnock had reached by less pathetically fallacious means - namely that the working classes cannot be beaten or joined, except in some elementary experiments in Madame Boyo's father's Carpathian laboratory. But they can be led."

["Boyo: Triumph and Tragedy"; pp245-246, Taffizdat, Morgangrad]

Friday, April 03, 2009

Eсть такая партия!

The most intense, significant event of the past two weeks has been the situationist spectacle groyned high on the roof of some plutocrat's house in Berkshire.

The parents of drinks-cabinet virtuoso and tyro toff Rory McInnes were so relieved that he hadn't hosted a Facebook party or bequeathed their patio to Irish tinkers that they failed to notice the mighty male member he had ordered their Filipino maids to chalk on the ancestral tiles in a mixture of bat guano and the tears of homesickness.

At our McInnes Festschrift down the Tethered Goat, the Dog of Deceit (and Hypocrisy) pointed out that young Rory had revealed his objectively bourgeois origins by omitting the three droplets that ought to arch from the tip of the glans towards infinity. These are the mark of the true proletarian artiste du lavabo, as seen on the walls of gents' toilets throughout these United Kingdoms.

As ever, I wondered how this anarcho-syndicalist indulgence could be put to raising true class consciousness among the workers, scythe-making peasants and progressively-inclinded graphic artists of Britain, once they've come back from entertaining London tourists during the G20 summit this week.

And the reply was soon in coming. The Cymru Rouge has been planning to field candidates in England at the next Westminster elections. We have gradually come to realize that Welsh independence, slate-based autarky and compulsory leek-docking for the English among the Pembrokeshire paddy fields are policies unlikely to put us much further ahead than the Liberal Democrats.

And so I have distilled our entire England manifesto into one, poll-storming pledge:

Yeomen of England!

If you vote Rouge, our government will act swiftly to carve three droplets of finest, hop-green piss flying out of the eye of the Cerne Abbas Giant's morning glory.

This will literally cement Saxon workers' hegemony over the cultural sacra of the Norman feudal elite.

We shall then disband, our work here done. Next week, Scotland.


Ta Moq, Brawd Rhiff Un, etc

You know it makes sense.