Gorchfygu’r Wyddfa

No one should fight their battles on Snowdon’s peaceful slopes. Battles of language are best confined to ivory towers and books, not here.

(The slopes do not seem peaceful in the height of summer as a babble of voices crowd to the summit from the Llanberis Path or the Cheats’ Railway, but away from there and then, it is a haven of peace I have long enjoyed as a favourite retreat.)

There is no popular campaign to rename Snowdon, whatever the BBC may have been led to believe: just a loud one by a tiny pressure group named Cymuned. Somehow they have managed to get the Snowdonia National Park Authority to take them seriously – this tells us a great deal about the National Park Authority. If it is ‘national’ it surely belongs to all the British nation, not to driven politicians.

It comes down to a name. Much has been said about names, all of it wrong but it is about romantic dreams, is it not?

The name ‘Snowdon’ is not as old in the written record as Yr Wyddfa is, but is close: it is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1095, and it must have been used long centuries before then. The activists would cast it off as if it were one of those modern inventions which do dot the Welsh coast, but it has a millennium of establishment behind it. Neither is ‘Snowdon’ a purely English name, as its key element ‘dun‘ is Welsh, far older Welsh indeed than the modern, Latin-derived ‘mynydd‘, so perhaps in its suffix the name ‘Snowdon’ can claim seniority in time and genuine Welshness.

I have read arguments about it, from the scholarly to the deranged, and would not dismiss any out of hand. I have read that Yr Wyddfa has preference as the language of the mountain itself, but the villages around speak English as readily as they do Welsh, and the voices spoken on the mountainside and mostly in English, or frequently a gaggle of European tongues – all are welcome. If by this one means the language not of the folk about or upon the mountain but that of the mountain itself, well, in all my time on Snowdon I have never heard it speak a word. If it did, it would speak in a tongue more ancient that mankind itself.

There is no “true name”. Neither, as has been asserted, is ‘Yr Wyddfa’ the original name of this mountain – man has made his home here since those who chipped flints to hunt mammoths here, and Snowdon has cast his long, perhaps cynical, gaze over men, these antlike creatures, for countless ages – a timeless mountain standing for aeons since it burst with lava plumes from the young Earth, and wore into its shape over uncounted ages, and when man arrived late, these creatures living but the blink of a geological eye beneath its slopes, have been in many tribes and tongues, of which even Welsh is but a youngster, a newcomer, and English not too longer after it. Yr Wyddfa the original name? Not even close, not by millennia.

I must ask then where this attempt to banish English comes from, and can only find it not in timeworn local culture but a very recent sub-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide and accuse. There is no enmity between the concepts of Welsh and English: we are all one race, one people of one descent, and both languages are aspects of our common culture. To suppress or insult on one language is to assault the whole of our being and culture.

That there are two languages and two names is part of the wonderous diversity of our land, and long may it continue. The Welsh language is embedded in the names of the landscape, and should endure in the tongues of its people – now we have the technology, it must be harnessed to allow this equal diversity. It has a richness to it, where one tongue shall not dominate or obliterate the other. The authorities are commanded to respect diversity, and here they should indeed: the National Park Authority must give equal respect to Welsh and English, and not treat English as a language to be destroyed. It has as much of a right to be in these hills as its neighbour.

Different languages have different names. When I speak English I call the mountain ‘Snowdon’ and when I am speaking Welsh I call it ‘Yr Wyddfa’, because those are the correct forms of those languages. If we deny that different languages have different names, we deny reality and attack the culture bound up in that language. If we decree from on high that Snowdon may bear one name only, and that the Welsh name because it is in Welsh-speaking Wales, then it follows that a man speaking Welsh may not call London ‘Llundain’, and that if Anglesey in a generation or so becomes majority English-speaking, then the ancient name of Môn must be banished. This is wrong, and would be an insult to the most beautiful language in the world. Likewise banishing ‘Snowdon’ insults the second-most beautiful.

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You dirty, double-crossing chatty rat

What are they playing at? What is the insane psychology going on behind this? It is bad enough that Labour can make play with innuendo about cosy deals to slurp on taxpayers’ money (which turned out to be untrue) then to find gossip, leaks, internal accusations and all sort falling out of Number 10 just as major elections are about to be held. Whose side are they on?

There may be nothing to the gossip, but it just has to sound bad, and down tumble the approval ratings, and they are tumbling.

It is a matter of trust. The public do not trust politicians without good reason to do so, and when that trust is shattered, then all the false narrative stereotypes about greedy Tories and snouts in the trough, they come out in force, liberated from their den. The Red Wall rises again.

So, who was in Number 10 when Boris started bawling at his advisers for being too ready to lockdown again? Unless the cleaner was walking by, it can only have been civil servants, ministers and SPADs. Civil servants are oath-bound not to interfere with politics, and ministers and SPADs are Conservatives, so they should be doing their damnedest to protect the reputation of a Conservative Government.

Instead, the SPADs have been gossiping and telling tales like a girls’ fifth form.

Did anything go through their heads? Did they not know that every bad story knocks points of the polls, and pushes the awful Keir Starmer towards Downing Street, and boosts Nicola?

There are said to be deadly rivalries and with such a bunch of supercharged political egos personality clashes and feuds are inevitable. Some may convince themselves that a word in the right ear will topple a rival, or dethrone Carrie. Some may seek to influence Boris. Most likely, they are just immature extroverts who want to boast about their own importance to their ‘friends; in the media, and see their words in print. They might self-rationalise that as duty to country, but it comes down to being schoolgirl gossips. Whatever thoughts they have about what hey do, it just weakens Boris, maybe fatally, and without Boris there will be no Conservative government in a couple of years. The papers have already latched on to the similarities with late-Major.

All this damage is done by chatty rats who are meant to be working for the Conservatives. It’s like sending an army into battle to defend the life of the nation, only to find the Green Howards instead attacking their rivals in the Scots Guards.

The Last Emperor of China lost his throne because of incurable rivalries and corruption amongst the eunuchs in his court. Eventually, when his kingdom was shrunk to the walls of the Forbidden City, he drove them out. The SPADs in a sensible world would be driven out in ignominy too (whether as eunuchs is up to Boris). Then again, we have found a SPAD spurned can be even more dangerous. You have to ask whether the worst are kept on just out of fear.

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Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars

There is not a field of human strife in which Shakespeare did not dip his pen to enrich our understanding of ourselves and to beautify the harsh or the common. His patrons were amongst the greatest in the kingdom and ultimately he received patronage of the King himself, but Shakespeare’s subject was mankind, the individual, who in the most ordinary state are of such beautiful complexity that any drama of princes and generals is just a reflection of the politics which is played out over the milking-stool, and worldly greatness is but a surface show which will not endure beyond the span of a man’s life and fortune may end at a moment, but whatever gold leaf titles there may be, the man or woman beneath is the reality.

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:
Then happy I, that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed.

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It’s a funny old game, politics

The government says it will do ‘all in its power’ to stop a breakaway football “Superleague”. What power, and why? All the power of the state falls upon cartels and monopolies, but for football a monopoly cartel must be enforced.

I am waiting for FIFA to claim a breakaway league is ‘unethical’, as would be the most hilarious hypocrisy. Tonight though the ‘Superleague’ seems to be falling apart, to great rejoicing from fans: it has been a strange couple of days.

Of all the subjects to address, football is not a natural one for me: I do not follow the game and could not even name any players. I can see the grip it has on real fans though, deeply, emotionally bound up with their teams, and for a great portion of the population them a rumpus about the organisation of football competitions is of real importance. To an outsider, it look weird: these teams are multi-billion pound public limited companies: I might as well wear a team shirt for British American Tobacco or wave a rattle (do they still have football rattles?) yelling ‘Rio Tinto forever!’ It’s not my thing.

It is different though: football is big business, but it is the entertainment business: just like the film industry, it is all about mass emotional engagement. Football is a game which can exploit that better than any other: it is man against man without equipment apart from the ball, constant, unpredictable movement (unlike the regulated positions of cricket), and sudden bursts of activity and charges towards goal-scoring, will-he, won’t-he, that mirror the natural rhythms of the emotional drive. It is worth the millions poured in by fans and sponsors.

In all this, it has nothing to do with government. The PM does not turn up to intervene if a film studio decides to pull out of the BAFTAs and set up their own awards ceremony, or if the producers of Bake-Off move the show to Channel 4. (I hope he does not, anyway.)

Laws have intruded on occasion: when we were within the European Union it was ruled that rules could not keep teams all of one nationality, and MEPs keep trying to interfere with football player transfers – selling a player’s contract has been described as a modern day form of slavery, which is not just insensitive to those actually kept in slavery today and throughout history, but is profoundly stupid: what slave earns a millionaire salary and can behave like a libertine brat with impunity?

What the Superleague thing was about is not entirely clear, but the fans did not like it, or some of them did, but I do not know if they knew what they were protesting against either.

Then in stepped Boris. Currying favour maybe with football fans in the northern towns, he was going to give the new League ‘the red card’. Why? On what basis?

The greatest thing about football is that it can be played by a dozen friends in the park with jackets for goalposts, or by players employed by a billion pound corporation, and whichever it is they do so on their own, not licenced by bureaucrats. It is so profoundly unrelated to government concerns that in an over-politicised world it is liberating. If government starts interfering, it is ruined.

There is a place for law in terms of the commercial structure. Monopolies are restrained to ensure open competition on prices and quality. If teams meet together to raise ticket prices or to suppress salaries, there can be intervention. A rule that the teams must play in a particular competition or be barred from all professional competition would be a terrible restraint of trade, but that looks very like the FIFA rules our PM is trying to keep imposed. A breakaway league would be fair competition, and could improve the game overall, as competition does. Yet instead of cheering this competition, it has to be given the red card, acting not as a government, but as FIFA’s hired boot-boys. There is no sense in this. It is embarrassing.

Tonight, the clubs that were forming the breakaway league away are withdrawing. The fans demanded it, and that is a proper reason. Pressure from impotent ministers though: that should have been laughed to scorn.

Mourning – a mystery

I have found it hard to write about mourning and grief. Even Hobbes barely mentions it, perhaps because it was too painful, which in my own circumstance I understand. The late national mourning is sincere but of a different quality from genuine, gnawing, personal grief.

Grief and mourning are connected but distinct. Grief is internal, a stabbing at the heart – mourning is best described as a public act. It is an outward expression of grief, or of what should, socially, be required as grief. Perhaps it helps in the grieving process by letting out a pent-up tension within. Perhaps instead it makes the grief worse by serving as a reminder of things put out of mind, and because of the expectation that it will come to an end, when the grief never will.

The only reference to mourning in Leviathan is in an examination of the distortions used to justify the unscriptural Romanist doctrine of Purgatory: that the act of mourning is directed at a soul not placed yet in Heaven or Hell, which is a nonsense: “And thus with hard straining, hee has wrested those places to the proofe of a Purgatory”

whereas it is manifest, that the ceremonies of Mourning, and Fasting, when they are used for the death of men, whose life was not profitable to the Mourners, they are used for honours sake to their persons; and when tis done for the death of them by whose life the Mourners had benefit, it proceeds from their particular dammage: And so David honoured Saul, and Abner, with his Fasting; and in the death of his owne child, recomforted himselfe, by receiving his ordinary food.

No more does he say. As his life drew to a close, Hobbes wrote a Latin poem, later translated, telling the story of his own life. It is not a jewel of poetry, but shows the writer’s own priorities. At no point does he mention the death of his mother or of his father. Nowhere does he pity himself for having never married and produced progeny, so intense was his work. This does not mean that he did not grief or that he did not mourn. When his mother died we do not know – she is mentioned only in relation to giving birth at the shock of the approach of the Armada. There are things one does not write of, which are too painful. In those things there may be no outward morning, but grief, real grief there is indeed.

Why we mourn is individual. Every society has its rituals. They began as ways to rationalise grief and alleviate it perhaps in celebration of the achievements of the departed. In each culture they grow though to mocking versions of the original, into elaborate ceremonies of obligation that increase the pressure on the family, and impliedly condemn those who do not follow the prescribed form. Just as you want t crawl into a corner and hide from the world, you are dragged into what is effectively a tortuous party. Several cultures have the concept of professional mourners, which is a horrid mockery.

Perhaps the current restriction on funerals, to thirty people, is actually a blessing, as it tears away the social obligation to gather a hundred strangers with a hundred personal animosities together for a shadow-play, when you want to go and weep alone.