Saturday, 26 September 2009


I am a Fenman now. Although it is a land without scape and, as Bill Bryson said, if you stand on a chair in Cambridgeshire you can see Suffolk, it has been a grand place in which to be old. The “Fennie” may be seen by outsiders as phlegmatic, even aboriginal. That is not true.
When in another life I was Welsh, it annoyed me that the Welsh were seen as narrow- minded chapel-goers, in suits made from the battered covers of old prayer books. The enmity between North and South is virulent. Gwyn Thomas, a South Walian, said of the Northerners: “Their idea of gaiety is a purple spotted shroud.”
That is neither true nor kind. Rene Cutforth was nearer the mark: “Mediterranean in the rain.” Certainly that is true of the 'gwerin', the working men and women I knew when I lived on Anglesey. It was the faux middle class who invented nationalism, largely to ring fence the good jobs on offer.
The working class are witty, funny, generous and respect scholarship. It would never occur to them to think of creative writing, as the English do, as a hobby. The Welsh peasants are quick witted and wildly generous. An eminent psychiatrist Dafydd Alun Jones once pointed out to me that 'spree' is a Welsh word (sbri in Welsh). It describes the actions of God-fearing farmers who disappear for days of revelry. Only getting home in time for Sunday chapel.
He said the reason his countrymen had so many religious revivals was that their eagerness to debauch was forever leading them to the edge of the Pit, from which the revivals dragged them back.
My mates were people like Hughie Bugail who was our village policeman. Well, that is what the Chief Constable thought. Bugail means shepherd and Hughie's main occupation was policing the flock of pedigree sheep he kept on Malltraeth Marshes, breeding and training sheepdogs, and the only crooks he collared were shepherds' crooks that were works of art.
Bob Ty Lawr lived in a barn with his long dog Fly. When he was refused a drink in a posh coastal pub, the Mermaid, he picked up a the goldfish bowl, drank it, ate the fish, stamped out of the pub, jumped into the Menai Strait and swam to Caernarfon where he had four pints in The Castle and then swam back. Eddie Pont Dic was part cap, an oily plate that grew like a fungus from the top of his head. He observed of caravanners who rented his orchard: “Funny people the Sais (English). They eats in the garden and shits in the house.”
Owen Thief was a brilliant footballer. He had the talent of a young George Best. He was the only boy to be capped twice for the Welsh Schoolboys. Everton snatched him up as soon as he left school. An Anglesey boy who had barely crossed the Menai Bridge except to pay football, the bright lights of Liverpool dazzled him. On his first night he fell into bad company and discovered drink. Subsequently he was sent to prison where he shared a cell with Harry McVicar.
I once gave it as my opinion that Gwyn the Lift was the perfect name for the village taxi driver. I was deafened by snorts of disbelief. ”Don't leave anything lying about,“ I was warned.
Gwyn shared the wife of a farm labourer by whom he had a son. He blamed it on the black out. Both he and his wife took a great interest in the boy's welfare and visited him weekly. The labourer explained to me: “I don't like what is going on but what can I do? I have got to have my shirts washed.”
The wife of an oyster farmer, Terry Barrack, moved in with the landlord of the local inn, The Groeslon. “It's terrible,” Terry told me,“I have to go all the way to Menai Bridge for a pint.”
Our councillor's husband Glyn Brownson, who was half Indian, was “Glyndustani”. An Indian pedlar who came to his door was met with a torrent of Indian. “ Go easy,” said the pedlar nervously in a broad Welsh accent, “I'm from Cardiff.”
After dining with the script writer John Stephenson, I realised that I kept swerving to the wrong side of the road. I stopped the car at the nearest phone box.
“Who you ringing?” asked John. “The police,” I told him. ”I need a lift home.”

Horrified, he insisted on taking the wheel. I told Gwyn, our other bobby, about it and it was his turn to be horrified. “He had no right stopping you ringing me,” he said. ”That is how accidents are caused.”

My wife and I were under the protective wing of the village family of black sheep, called cruelly the 'cacau'. The eldest,Trevor, asked me if I had any gardening jobs. Since it was December, I had none. So he went to the Groeslon, snatched the till and ran away with it. He got about five yards and two years in prison.

His brother Raymond came to us every year for his Xmas dinner (we subsequently discovered he went to five other houses). Trefor had told me it was my fault he stole the till because I wouldn't give him any gardening. The logic was faulty but I still felt guilty. Raymond told me that because of a warders' strike his brother was being held in a police station cell in Wrexham. I had many friends there so I rang the custody sergeant to ask him to put Trevor on the phone so we could wish him a Merry Xmas.

The sergeant quivered with indignation: “You should know better, Skiddy.” “Aw, come on,” I said, “who is going to know?” “It's not a matter of that. He's not had his pudding yet. You'll have to ring back in half an hour.”

* * * * * * * * * *
The United States is governed by fewer than six hundred senators and congressmen. Our tiny disunited kingdom has more peers than that. We also have six hundred and twenty-five MPs, three devolved governments and a plethora of Metropolitan councils. Since most of our governance emanates in Brussels, this would seem over generous. I believe we would be better governed by an Oligarchy with Cable as Chancellor, assisted by Major, a banker, who never gets the credit he deserves for bringing peace to Northern Ireland, Haig as Foreign Secretary, Field, assisted by Duncan Smith, as Home Secretary and Colonel Tootal, late of 3 Para, as Minister for Defence. It would be difficult for them to make a worse fist of it than the current incompetents. Cabinet talent is so scarce that one minister was confirmed in her job as Attorney General after being fined £5,000 for breaking her own law. She described it as no worse than a parking offence, which to her it probably isn't. She has allegedly wrongly claimed £170,000 expenses.

They are not all bad. As it happens I had lunch this week with one of the new baronesses. I explained I have given up tonic water because it is the reason I am putting on weight and all wine tastes of jam. She understood perfectly and put a bottle of gin by my plate. Her noblesse clearly in full oblige.