Thursday, December 22, 2011

Uneasy rolls the head

This week saw the anniversary of the Penmachno Document, by which the True Prince of Wales and Owl of Aberffraw, Madog ap Llywelyn, granted a sod to my crested ancestor Ystlum ap Llewpart Goll, four rods below the forest of Calahir just off Ynys Seiriol.

Because of accretions of mulch and poetry since 1294, it is impossible to dowse our plot's exact location, although each year the local, decayed branch of the House of Boyo proceeds there bearing a kinked Radix Jesse to beat the imagined boundaries around what is now the Trwyn Du lighthouse.

In truth, December is a typically cruel month for Welsh monarchs. Madog had to treat with my leprous forbear on the shortest day, and his stormy predecessor Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was cleaved in two at Cilmeri a week and twelve years earlier.

Llywelyn's grandfather was Llewelyn The Great, a hard act to follow, and the boy had to settle for the dismal title of Llywelyn the Last. Some English types, or possibly their Welsh proto-New Labour hirelings, cut off his head and paraded it around London until its constant arguing and harmonising began to turn the milk sour.

Although there is no evidence to prove this, the royal head was eventually sent to Ludlow's experimental Close-Contact Constabulary College and used to teach Marcher watchmen how to identify a Welshman by palpating his crown.

After catastrophic casualties and a few scandalous elopements, the sheriff reverted to the more reliable method of having watchmen ask the suspect "how are you?". If the answer continues beyond the 20-second mark, pike him.

On the 700th anniversary of Llewelyn's royal rending I was plashing through the wintry rain to an early-evening seminar on the Medieval Body Politic at University College, Swansea. I was in a sombre and thirsty mood, as both the weather and the hour cried out "pub!", where the college branch of the ultra-nationalist League of the Cousins of Rebecca's Daughters was holding its annual wake for Our Last Rudder.

I went to the seminar anyway because of my admiration for the mind, manner and moustache of Professor Sydney Anglo, its chairman. Dr Anglo spoke Cockney Baroque and looked like Napoleon III with Savoy in his pocket. That surname didn't help my excuses to the Cousins, and sharpened suspicions about my Cambritude already half-aroused by my bald cheekbones and filtered cigarettes.

Young scholars paddled into the room, shaking out fringes and flares (we had a lad down from Lampeter). Dr Anglo scattered slabs of Carolingian minuscule about the table and set off on his anabasis about the tripes and tendons of the early European state.

I was gazing out of the window as scrawls of lightning sketched out mountains in the night sky. Suddenly Dr Anglo addressed me: "And what of the head, Mr Boyo? The head?"

"The Prince is the head of the body of state, the 'corps estat'," I managed "As Christ is head of the 'corpus mysticum'. A subject, as a mere digit of the body, must rise at the Prince's command to defend the regnum, just as Christ, via His Vicar, commands the soul."

"So what duties does the Prince, as head, have to the rest of his body?" asked a nearby blue stocking.

Dr Anglo, with a clear nod to Ernst Kantarowicz, noted "Mr Boyo is racing ahead of the lances with his 'corpus mysticum', which Carolingians would have taken to mean The Divine Host, but he has accurately weighted the seesaw of state, Miss Bensberg. As Christ died for the sins of Christendom, so should the Prince be ready to sacrifice himself in battle for the common weal."

"A simple parallel - Christ and the Church, the Prince and the State?" probed Miss Bensberg.

"Not so," I countered. "What if John of Salisbury had been sensitive to pagan passions still pounding through the P-Celtic pustules below the Saxon surface? Perhaps the Prince is a worthy sacrifice, but must that be in battle?"

The rain beat a steady, ever more insistent tattoo on the frail window frames. Dr Anglo gestured to me to continue.

"On this night the Romans marked one of their Agonalia, to Sol Indiges. With Wales crumbling through his twelve fingers, might Llywelyn not have fallen victim, or perhaps submitted, to the call of the Old Religion?

"As the Sun faded in the wintry sky, did a band of Anglesey islanders seek to summon Summer with a more terrible sacrifice?

Was Llywelyn's last vision not that of an uncomprehending Norman sword, as often thought, but rather a sleek Silurian sliver of slate, a dagger dedicated to the gods of the orchards and the fields?" I concluded.

The thunder passed, leaving a static silence. "A most particular interpretation, Mr Boyo," Dr Anglo noted. "Any sources you might want to cite? Of a non-cinematic nature, please?"

The exchange of smiles around the room stopped when our Lampeter visitor opened his notebook and read "'Fight for your patria and suffer even death for her if such should overwhelm you. Death itself is Victory."

To Dr Anglo's raised eyebrow he added "Saint Dubrick of Caerleon, writing some time after Llywelyn's defeat, or should we say with the saint - 'Victory'?"

Dr Anglo cracked his knuckles and snorted towards the skerried skies. "To summarise, my Gwalian gentlemen, you are suggesting that Llywelyn II did not die in an English ambush, but was happily dispatched by his fellow Welshmen so that through his blood sacrifice Wales might live?"

"Still here, aren't we, despite everything?" I muttered.

"Hmm, a thesis indeed, and with your living evidence before our eyes." grinned the professor. "An historian must not of course let himself be led astray by such, ah, 'heady' speculation!"

On that note we set off for our various digs and burrows. I shared an Embassy under the eaves with Bell-Bottom Boy. "What do you think happened to Llywelyn's body, then?" I asked.

"The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that... a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated," he recited.

"Galen?" I ventured.

"Cotton Mather's 'Magnalia Christi Americana', after Borellus," he whispered, before hunching off into the rain.

The following morning I turned on Radio 4's "Today" programme to hear court Welshman John Humphrys relate that, during the previous evening's storm, a fireball had torn down the valley from Cilmeri and skittered out to sea like a wheel of Greek Fire.

"Perhaps a little less saltpetre next time," I noted in my diary, and went back to sleep.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Three Keiths

One of the many serendipitous delights of parenthood is discovering children's television. Not rediscovering - I mean discovering for the first time. There may be North Country funnymen who make a career out of recalling how kids TV "were better in them days", but in my case they are wrong.

In Welsh Wales, children's television consisted of "Miri Mawr" ("Big Fun"), a programme hosted by a yeti farmer, Japanese war criminal and the thing you see at the end of "The Fly II", all cooped up in Osama bin Laden's utility cave. You don't believe me? Then watch:

Apart from a programme about poaching hosted by a cardboard cormorant, that was it.

Nonetheless, there's a lack of role models for children in current cathode fare as well, unless they aspire to be Rastafarians, "mangas" or relentlessly perky Mexican moppets. That's why I've come up with my own proposal for pre-primary entertainment:

"The Three Keiths" are a trio of superheroes, each equipped with special powers to deal out kinetic justice rather than the usual self-righteousness to adults, wrongdoers and those boys in Year 6. And they are all real.

Keith 1 - Keith Richards, alias "Keef". Fashioned entirely from inside-out crocodiles and "Accessorize" tat, Keef is the leader of the pack. His special powers are immortality, demon-summoning riffs and the keys to "The Magic Pharmacy", where he distills potions to ward off squares and help the other Keiths relax - "just take the edge off things with this, man".

He speaks proper English too, not the semi-Canadian nonsense children hear elsewhere.

Keith 2 - Keith Floyd, alias "Floyd". Made out of three old uncles bound together with bow-ties and raffia, Floyd provides the trio with all they need to keep going in the fight against tedium - top tuck, refreshing elixirs from his "secret cellar" ("The steps are a bit steep for you children, and even for Old Floydie of an evening!") and an array of grown-up ladies whom girl viewers can totally identify with.

Floyd's special powers are immunity to weights & measures and indifference to human laws.

Keith 3 - The Right Hon Sir Keith Joseph Bt, CH, PC alias "Sir Keith Joseph". The ganglion that connects the twin synapses of the team, Sir Keith Joseph is often called upon to get Floyd and Keef out of a terrible fix - in all senses of the word. His swivelling gaze can hypnotise reptiles, and he conjures up bad ideas decades ahead of their time to tie up gangs of villains long enough for our heroes to get away in the Bentley.

Sir Keith Joseph also carries a mysterious object loaned to him by the fearsome "Magg Witch". Called simply "The Handbag", it has voodoo economic qualities that keep afloat Floyd's various front organisations for the Three through fire, submersion in lakes and the wretched inflexibility of magistrates.

I chose these three Keiths from a highly competitive field - Chegwin came close - because they alone address the main banes of pre-teen life: bad music, dull food, and inadequate transparency in the management of public finances.

Having got that far during an episode of "Fifi and the Flower Tots" - a sort of nursery take on "The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" - I decided to celebrate with an amphora of Makarios's Revenge, and so have managed to outline only the following pilot:

At their secret Berkshire base - a picturesque inn-cum-recording-studio-cum-monetarist-think-tank - the Keiths prepare themselves for battle through a training regimen of bushido rigour, designed by Keef and featuring feedback, flashbacks and blackjack.

The lady of the manor, Penelope Keith ("The Fourth Keith"), alerts them to various dangers gleaned from sherry-laced parsonage gossip. Keef immediately cranks up the Bentley, which Floyd has left parked either side of an oak tree, then has a bit of a lie down in the barn while Floyd packs a hamper. Sir Keith Joseph bores a hole through the estate gates with his unblinking emerald eyes, and they're off!

This week, jobsworth music teachers Bono & Sting (frequent villains) persuade the village fête to play their listless ditties over the public address system while a mantis-like Mrs Sting from the cooperative Café Ortega doles out quinoa-burgers with "Amazonian chewy grub salad", thereby compounding the misery of parents who've driven children with computer-withdrawal symptoms 20 miles to meet a pregnant goat.

The Three Keiths lope to it. Keef drops some "magic pirate potion, man" in the eco-punch before plugging the PA into his amp and launching a 12-bar open-G rasp through "Rocks Off" that paints the village green a bluesy shade of black.

Meanwhile, Floyd has set out a trestle of truffled turkey and trifles to tempt teen and termagant alike, as the punch works its wonders on the mums and dads. Everyone's having a good time by now, but - oh no! - Bono and the Stings are complaining to Ms Polly Tecnick the Headmistress and Mr Spendthrift the Mayor. This is a job for Sir Keith Joseph!

Quick as a slide-rule, Sir Keith delves into "The Handbag" and whips out a brace of Magg Witch talismans - one in Mrs Sting's name for employing non-unionised Paraguayan waitresses in her cafe, and another in recognition of Mr Spendthrift's discreet acceleration of a council house sale shortly before the local ban.

"And how is your holiday companion Fräulein Proll settling in there?" Sir Keith asked of Ms Tecnick, before handing over a Krugerrand pendant for her elegant redrawing of the school catchment boundary just short of the Reg Varney Estate and that Irish tinkers' site. He then let the Invisible Hand of Recrimination go to work on the gruesome quintet.

The Three Keiths slip away from what is now a seriously happening free festival, their work done for another week as rainbows, brandy butter and sink estates light up the Chilterns - but not before offering the Paraguayan ladies a gallant lift home or somewhere.

I believe "The Three Keiths" will inspire, educate and alarm in the correct proportion, thereby forewarning tots of all the gluten-free golems out there who want to keep them in locked-rhythm serfdom.