Bydded i’r Hen Iaith Barhau

Llongyfarchiadau i di, Boris: the Conservative Manifesto repeats and re-enforces the pledge from 2017, and in 2019 we are promised:

We will support Welsh institutions such as S4C, the National Library and Museum, the Urdd and the National Eisteddfod.

This time the pledge is not in the Welsh local manifesto but the national, UK-wide manifesto.

I pause with the thought that yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (what happened to ‘Brenhinol‘ in the name?) and yr Urdd, even before we get to y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru and yr Amgueddfa Cymru are devolved matters on which Westminster has little influence. Sprinkling a little star-dust, or money anyway, goes down well, and the richness found in the Welsh language should not be confined to the narrow bounds of the Principality: let the bards speak over the world.

Welsh, yr Hen Iaith, is the most beautiful tongue in the world and need not stay hidden in the western parts. It is not just a part of British culture and identity, but the oldest, most evocative expression of our nation – it was not always called ‘Welsh’ but used to be called ‘British’, and British it is, found in the place-names of the island far beyond the thirteen counties of Wales: the great cities of London, Winchester, Manchester, Leeds, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and others have their names from the old British language, from which Welsh of today has little changed. It suffuses the island and gives it a shape and a name. In the days of Rome, all those native tongues vanished in Italy, Gaul and Hispania, but the Britons did not give up our tongue, and it is spoke still, as Welsh.

It would be worth treasuring for that resilience alone, but there is far more, for it is not for nothing that the song praises Wales as ‘Gwlad beirdd a chantorion‘ (‘Land of poets and singers’): Welsh is peculiarly suited to poetry. You might not see this from the clumpy “Committee Welsh” painted on road-signs, but spoken in the free air it is such that you cannot speak it without singing.

Politics should not interfere, but if it does then at least let it do so with love. Labour’s manifesto says nothing of the Welsh language, nor does the Liberal Democrats’. (Plaid Cymru do, as you would expect, but only in an odd context: they have forgotten that we are out of the EU in weeks.) The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto adds on another project t supporting the institutions: “We will support the ambition for one million people in Wales to be able to speak Welsh by 2050”.

(It’s not like farming and building up a flock, you know – these are people, who can choose what to speak, my wife’s family among them.)

There is a richness to be found from understanding the Welsh language. A million speakers does not mean those who speak it at home, but understanding it is a worth though wearisome endeavour. I can suggest another angle though: do not confine it to Wales. The first Gorsedd and Eisteddfod were held in London, and they have met in Liverpool. Britons outside those western counties might care to recall that once Wales was all Britain, and maybe their ancestors spoke the language, which is therefore a route to our own heritage.

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Berlin – 30 years

The wall fell 30 years ago today; the most monumental event of an extraordinary year of freedom – 1989. The news should be wall-to-wall wall, but somehow it is as if the world has moved on. The sudden burst of freedom the year brought to many, many millions cannot be an ‘and finally’ on the news. We must never, never forget what lay behind the Berlin Wall and the thousand miles of barbed wire and minefields that snaked across the continent to stop the slave subjects of Communism from slipping their bonds into freedom.

The joy of escape that those imprisoned Germans felt as they entered West Berlin reverberated across the world, and although they were only escaping into a small bubble city itself trapped within the east, it was an escape into freedom that they could know at once, and at the same time, the border all across Germany was opened, but it was the wall, the horrible wall, which symbolised it all. That night men went out with pickaxes and began to take their revenge upon it, to open it physically. Once this would have been greeted with gunfire, but now with cheers.

There was no sense that the East Berliners were unwilling to accept an unaccustomed freedom, not knowing what it was – they and their parents had not lived in freedom for fifty-six years, not since Hitler snuffed it out, and Stalin followed him. They knew freedom though when they breathed it – it is the instinct of mankind.

I was in Berlin a few years later, and picked up a chunk of the wall. That piece, in its condition smashed off by that hand of a free Berliner was a symbol both of freedom, and of the slavery which preceded it. The dark days should never be sanitised, nor our accustomed freedom be treated lightly.

Dark times and better times

Treason is never far from us. It may come with an explosive blast – we have seen too many of those in latter years – or it may come with a whisper in dark corners. It may be in the actions of a murderous man intent of terrifying and tyrannising, or in the words of a useful idiot. Ambition, arrogance, malice, or a naïve hope to make things better out of the destruction and weeping – all these are with us.

How many politicians and activists agree that a “desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy”, and justifies thereby what is really an exercise in personal power for a personal thrill? Guy Fawkes and Catesby are not history but a tragedy of humanity.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
‘Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.

The cynics have called Guy Fawkes the only man to enter the Houses of Parliament with honest intent, but there are many men and women of selfless service there and long have been, and I trust that after the election there will be some there again, amongst the bulk of timer-servers and egotists.

Even now there are plots and plotters, and traitors. Times have been worse though, and the fact that we celebrate our national deliverance on the Fifth of November every year still after all the wars and calamities of the age tells us something. It was not wiped out even by the wars.

During the Second World War and the blackout, P L Travers, the authoress of Mary Poppins wrote:

From 1605 till 1939 every village green in the shires had a bonfire on Guy Fawkes’ Day. … Since 1939, however, there have been no bonfires on the village greens. No fireworks gleam in the blackened parks and the streets are dark and silent. But this darkness will not last forever. There will some day come a Fifth of November — or another date, it doesn’t matter — when fires will burn in a chain of brightness from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. The children will dance and leap about them as they did in the times before. They will take each other by the hand and watch the rockets breaking, and afterwards they will go home singing to the houses full of light…

So we do, and long may we do so.


Eschatological Rebellion

What makes a respectable, wealthy, middle class, middle-aged woman climb up and try to smash a window in a government ministry? What brings more white, middle class academics and children of professionals on to the street to block the traffic, vandalise buildings and run countercultural camps in the streets? It is not the environment.

The end of the world! There were once eccentric men walking the streets with placards announcing “The End of the World is Nigh!“, and how we chuckled at them; now they wear beads and flypost ominous stickers on the Tube. I would laugh, but they are scaring children half to death with their unhinged eschatology.

If your stomach was turned by some of the displays available on YouTube it may be the sight of people dressed up as hippies or students doing ‘interpretive dance’ in the street or tents with signs for mindfulness sessions. That tells you more about us outside, really. It is a culture-clash: these are the people we do not want to be like, and we are the people they do not like because we do not appreciate their way of thinking.

(There is nothing wrong with interpretive dance on the street – in fact it is positive as it identifies the people I can ignore.)

Extinction Rebellion is wrong in just about everything they stand for. Having made that point, I have to look at the attraction they have for many, and why there is anger when I every doubt them.

The cause they claim is saving the world; every comic-book hero’s quest, and who can doubt that? It is what we are brought up with. We try to ignore the incongruity when Batman destroys a city just to save a girl, because he is just a comic fantasy, and so is Extinction Rebellion’s rhetoric.

So what makes a respectable, wealthy, middle class, middle-aged woman climb up and try to smash a window in a government ministry? That answers itself – the stifling social constraints of respectability. Bursting out of the constraints, liberation like a fly escaping from a bottle – that is what it is all about. There are hammers and spraypaint and free-form dance, and at least the latter harms no one. That ever-present voice inside says ‘settle down, be good, do your homework;, but then a new ideology is available that says ‘all those things you never dared to do – do them!’

The rest of us look askance at the chaos that denies our learnt, ordered pattern of the world, but maybe with a hint of jealousy.

The odd thing is though that this gathering of thousands of likeminded or easily misled souls is itself a quest for respectability.

There are other. There are grannies suddenly finding a purpose for their time. There are junior clergymen losing their purpose. There are academics from ex-polytechnics with books and little imagination, resigned never rise to the height that demands actual intellect. They are powerless, and here they find some semblance of power. Their works will never be cited at Oxford, but here their voice can be heard for a moment, whatever unscientific nonsense they speak, and if they can persuade the government to act, as they sincerely desire, then that is power indeed. No wonder they respond so viciously when doubted: we are stealing their last chance for power.

For the rest of us, who may be doing more for the benefit of mankind and his environment than the whole parcel of the ‘XR’ mob, this is an annoyance to be cleared up like any other. What to do about it – that must be another article.

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Bishops to mend a broken Britain?

Those misfiring bishops!  I want to believe I am being too harsh.

Assuredly the nation is in fine spiritual health, in spite of all we have heard and seen on the streets, for the bishops of the Church of England have stayed silent on spiritual matters and now they have spoken, they have addressed Brexit instead.  We must assume that there is no need for their input in spiritual matters, or they would surely have made that a priority.

The open letter from 25 diocesan bishops published this week begins on the issue of a No-Deal Brexit, which they assert (against the prevailing evidence) will have a “massive impact” on the poorest (with not a word for the entrepreneurs).  It is not certain whether they mean “no withdrawal agreement”, which is the immediate political issue, or “no free trade agreement”, or whether all those who signed appreciate the distinction between the two. The admonition in the letter is directed at the Government, which again is puzzling, because the government is trying to do a deal:  it would be better addressed to those who have pledged to oppose any deal which the government brings back from Brussels.

Is it any wonder that this studiously politically balanced letter comes out, to some eyes, as anything but that?

The main issue for the bishops, surely, is the second issue, thrown into the bullet points at the end, namely the quality of public discourse. That is a spiritual matter.

“Political polarisation and language that appears to sanction hate crime: the reframing of the language of political discourse is urgent”:  there no Brexiteer will differ for we have for the last three years been constantly insulted, shouted down, belittled, slandered, threatened and in some cases even been pursued by vexatious law-suits. Remainiacs have been targeted too where they have stepped beyond decent behaviour. That is a moral failing. They have not suffered anything like the relentless campaign suffered by even moderate Leave-voters.  Do the signatories mean the local, personal persecution of Leave voters equally with Remoaners, or are they just looking from a distance, without dirtying their hands, at depersonalised social media?

The worse threat is not electronic words but real-world confrontation. The face of screaming self-justified hatred is horrifying.

There is a spiritual sickness in the idea a man may conceive that his ideas and only his are valid and acceptable or intelligent, and all others are dehumanised crud.  Bishops are right to address this. That is their proper role. Regrettably, some of their number (not necessarily those who signed the letter, though certainly one of them) have fallen victim to the malady themselves.

“The ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged: leaders must be honest about the costs of political choices, especially for those most vulnerable.”  You should not argue in favour of lies and misrepresentations, but then it is yoked to honesty about the costs of political choices, which in the context of the no-deal Brexit concerns is zinged at the current Cabinet. Is that wise? The belters in this post-referendum period have emerged from the LibDem machine. They deserve at least a mention.

Are the signatory bishops then accusing Boris Johnson of lying in this matter?  He has a history in his personal and professional lives of exaggerating, through his teeth on occasion, but in this context there is no falsity, only interpretation.  It is a moral failing to lie; it is also a moral failing to accuse others unjustly of lying.

There follow platitudes.  This is as expected.  I am though puzzled by the last: “Attention must be paid not only to the Union, but also to the meaning of Englishness”.  The meaning of Englishness is a mystery to me.  It ceased to have a meaning centuries ago as the nation discovered its completeness as we became Britons.  The Church of England is left alone caring for a snippet of the wider nation.  Once the church had a worldwide vision, now too localised.  Perhaps a world-spanning vision from a Brexit born through such unexpected struggle.

In this then we have a letter which is right in its words but wrong somehow in its conception or giving the impression of being so.

When at last we can get Brexit over the line, the vision of healing a fractured society for which the bishops plead may be able to take a step forward. Achieving that break must be a priority for the healing of the nation. Then churchmen and laymen can together work to diagnose the sickness and cast it out. We must bring the nation to its knees, in prayer.

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