Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Great Men

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."

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?"

"Not sure."

"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."


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All We Want Is You

Mrs Boyo was griddling the laver bread on the flagstones of our Ferryside cottage, so I ambled up the cliff to rustle our dinner.

As I came within range of the Llansteffan semaphore tower the mobile trilled deep in my smock.

"Ah Boyo, you deign to join us." I recognised the toxic, patrician drawl of Alun Ffred Jones, Minister of Heritage, Slate Maintenance and Demographic Realignment of All Wales.

"Good evening, Minister. How can I be of assistance?" Ffred commands, you follow.

"Rodders [First Minister of All Wales and Man Mountain Rhodri Morgan] is back from communing with his brain at that caravan in Mwnt and is convinced that Wales needs more English visitors.

"This runs against every Welsh instinct, so I naturally turn to you. I know you relish such delicious dilemmas."

I heard the chink of absinthe spoon on bevilled glass.

"The First Collier of The Nation believes that capitalism's latest crisis presents Wales with an opportunity to extend cultural hegemony over The Flatlands.

"The German and Dutch tourists we attract to our hollow hills are well-educated, affluent and altruistic. In short, fodder for our twin cannonade of rural decrepitude and twilit moodiness.

"The English, on the other hand, either eschew areas where we Welsh live, or else they actually settle here - not what we want at all. And the latter tend to be larcenous Liverpudlians, Midlanders with an aversion to our Commonwealth cousins, or barber-dodgers with an uninformed liking for all aspects of Celtic culture except that pertaining to Wales.

"Our Shepherd-in-Chief wants owlish English liberals to spend their pounds sterling in our seaweed emporia, wool mills and slate carveries, now that they can't afford to visit Cuba ('before the Americans ruin it'), Tuscany or picturesque satrapies in the Gulf.

"And so we want you to list some of the enticements Wales might extend to these pursed bourgeois."

"Why me, sir?"
I stammered.

"You are not only one of Wales's leading web bloggers, but also have reliable access to electric power and real paper. You live among English media types, you know their flaccid ways. And, of course, Esmwyth and Enfys - the Annwn Sisters - are still looking for you. Their memories are as long as their teeth."

His laugh echoed off the witching peaks, then all was silence - save for the shuffle of his henna'ed fingers through lamb fleece.

"You'll get your list. Sir." I switched off the phone, tucked a goat under my arm, and headed home.


Coming up with good reasons for Guardian readers to visit Wales has been long and hard, but not in a good way, as these wan worthies are averse to contact sports, the white working classes, signs of ethnicity that you can't eat or wear, and late-evening beatings administered by anyone other than masked rentboys in Baker St dungeons.

The effort has taken up most of the last two weeks. Any other suggestions would be most welcome, as the Chwiorydd Annwn recently got their HGV and artillery licences back.

Why Visit Wales? Because Where Else Would You Find:

1. Big Black Birds. Woken each morning by wood pigeons sounding the brown note on your bedroom windowsill? Does their field-grey disturb the Feng Shui of your patio? Do they shit on your dreamcatchers?

Then join us in Wales. Our glorious biodiversity extends to massive, filthy-beaked crows, jackdaws and ravens. Yes, real ravens. Have you seen a raven close up? Imagine a flying Doberman that hates everything. Now imagine what happened to the one and only wood pigeon that idly drifted across the Severn.

2. Real Women. The collective noun for English ladies is either a "disapproval" or a "police cell", depending on their social class. Welsh women are measured by the pot, because they are so full of sauce.

Welsh women are like the Mounties. They love boots, can ride anything, and always get their man.

Homosexuals! Tired of following fashion and not being able to join the Army? Unconvinced by Evangelicals, psychiatrists and people who say they can straighten you out by hanging weights off your pods?

Then try the Cinders Challenge. Spend one evening down Cinderella's night club in The Mumbles and the only way you'll leave still gay is if you go lesbian.

3. Historic Cakes. A visit to the high street of any small Welsh town (there are no large ones) will prove that the 1950s bakery is alive and well. Forget about leeks, the custard slice is the national symbol of Wales. In place of the rotating kebab signs of the England, the Welsh urban night is alight with nine-foot neon eclairs.

The Wales Cake Board (Bwrdd Teisen Cymru) guarantees to cure your teenage daughters of whatever eating disorder they are modelling this month. For a small fee it will also find them a mutton-chopped Young Farmer with a Lampeter smallholding and his own Land Rover (collie and floor optional).

4. Friendly Gravity. Constant rainfall has left the soil of Wales a moist soufflé, unlike the dusty baked flan that is England. One benefit is that we have evolved much lighter gravity, or else our yeomen would sink in the loam as they hoe.

This means, ladies, that you can not only have your cake and eat it, but also wash it down with a pint of Babycham and still cut an elegant rug down the South Wales Police Benefit Ball at the Top Rank Club, Swansea.

5. Not Giving a Fuck. Take the Super Furry Animals song and apply it to an entire nation. Don't be fooled by the grievance-mongers in the newspaper letters pages or on your electric-powered television sets, for they are often bards of the Cwyniad.

Yes, complaining is a respected art form in Wales, and as such is no more representative of the general public than Cockneys are of England.

The Welsh are gregarious, informal and anarchic. Get on any local train and fill your ears. The 0705 from Amersham it ain't.

The main reason for this was our Medieval princes' wise decision to scorn sophisticated Feudalism, and leap straight from subsistence farming to Norman occupation. As a result we are all peasants, cwtching together in the rain.

As for our few noblemen, we packed them off to England: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Michael Heseltine. No please, don't thank us.

5. Two National Anthems. You all know Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, except for Reluctant Viceroy John Redwood.

What is less well-known is that it ought to be played at waltz tempo, as it was written for Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn's cotillion, and is only the anthem of Transmontane Wales.

The anthem of the Valleys and Vale of Glamorgan is the synthesizer break from "We Live So Fast" by Heaven 17, with a male-voice choir intoning the word "Wales" in unison and very slowly, rather like that Mongolian mouth music.

The break starts at 02'09" on this clip. Provide the chant yourselves, and become part of Welsh culture:

6. Best Celts There Are. We Welsh are easily the best Celts out there, and we define our superiority through modest negatives.

We lack the Catholicism and civil wars of the Irish, the querelous ambition of the Scotchmen and the cider affliction of the Bretons. And unlike the Manx we are not all sexual perverts. The Cornish we regard as our dippy rural cousins, which is really saying something.

7. Dragon's Tongue. Need I say more?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cwsg y Cryman

I've not written a word here during my holidays and yet have acquired five new followers - welcome to you all. That's an increase of 13 per cent per week, so if I write nothing more all month I'll be up 37 per cent or something. Excellent.

On reflection I've just blown that, or "choked my duck" as I believe the cricket-fancying English have it.

Ha, so now you must play also your so-called national summer game in unser glorious kapital of Welschlichkeit along with your sogenannte Winterspiel of football, eh Tommy Atkins?!

For you, the humiliation is complete!

I'm having to babysit Bendigeidfran while Mrs Boyo is over in Switzerland having her annual blood transfusion, so blogging has to fit in the gaps between curry, ales and Ukrainian pop videos. But here's a preview of this month's coming attractions:

1. Ten reasons for living in Wales.

2. Turks taught me to be a man.

3. The next chapter of Anti-Danube, the thinking man's Metropole.

Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.