Saturday, 10 April 2010


Whatever the American Songbook may say it is not Georgia I have on MY mind. It is Bethesda. What Mandalay was to Kipling, the rose red city Petra to the Rev John William Burgon, Xanadu to Coleridge, Samarkand to Flecker...

So to me is Bethesda, Gwynedd.

If I were a stranger on my way to Snowdon I doubt if I would get past the Brittania Inn on the far frontier of that magic town, where, long after decimalization, you paid for your beer in pounds, shilling and pence.

It was an inn whose landlord and lady produced one of the truly great child organ playing prodigies of our day. Where shopkeepers met weekly to discuss philosophy, under the chairmanship of a cobbler. The only cobbler I have ever come across, I may say, who had a classical bookshop in the rooms above his last.

A town with one main street and two secondhand bookshops is unusual, even in this land of scholars. Bethesda had two. The Morrises, who ran the other one, are probably the only antiquarian book dealers who also ran a top West End drinking club for gangsters. They were certainly the only council tax payers in Bethesda who retired there from a Mediterranean villa.

What other small town has had a scholar of international repute and an Oxbridge Emeritus professor of Celtic Studies (Idris Foster and Rachel Bromwich) living in the same terrace of houses?

Where else are all the pubs on the same side of the street because the man who owned the other side was a teetotaller?

Bethesda is not beautiful. It is the colour of slate, living proof of the notion that in Wales beauty is received through the ear and not the eye. A sad symphony in stucco, the Welsh teracotta. Yet it is the home of that great painter of mountains David Woodford, the only artist to sell more than a hundred paintings in an exhibition. One of the few men to scale the Snowdon peaks in a Robin Reliant.

Readers of a literary bent will recall that in David Copperfield there is a character Uncle Dick. Whatever he starts to write about he always ends up writing about the head of King Charles the Martyr.

My King Charles's head is Bethesda. It is another example of a national topography inspired by fundamental Christianity and its child, Christian Zionism. Many towns and villages are named from the Old Testament.

The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who is partly responsible for the mess the world is in today, was a fervent Zionist.

Journalist Christopher Sykes (son of Mark Sykes, co-author of the disastrous Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916), noted in his “Studies in Virtue” that Lloyd George’s political advisers were unable to train his mind on the map of Palestine during negotiations prior to the Treaty of Versailles. He was schooled by fundamentalist Christian parents in churches named by the geography of ancient Israel. Lloyd George admitted that he was far more familiar with the cities and regions of Biblical Israel than with the geography of his native Wales. His family's firm of solicitors had among their farmer clients the Christian Zionists.

Imperial designs were the primary political motivation in drawing influential British politicians to support the Zionist project. Yet they were predisposed to Zionism.

Balfour’s famous speech of 1919 makes the point: “For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country…The four great powers are committed to Zionism, and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

MY KINGDOM FOR A STAGE........................................................

I am puzzled that the newly formed National Theatre of Wales should complain it has no theatre building and produces a running repertory in miners' institutes. In North Wales alone in my day there were six civic theatres and I would have thought either the expensive theatre complex in Mold or the other one in Llandudno would have been perfect.

In Llandudno especially the auditorium acoustics are fine. You can see one of the biggest stages in Europe from every seat in the house. The d├ęcor, admittedly, is brutalist. Battleship grey with state of the art lighting, it so vividly resembles a warship one is irrestibly drawn on entering to salute the quarter deck. But that is fine too.The only thing wrong with it is the name. It should be called the David Sandbach Theatre.

It is over two decades since I stood in his shop amongst his delicious handmade sweets and shared David's dream of a theatre fit for the Welsh National Opera. He worked incessantly to make that dream come true. He conceived an Arts Festival which enjoyed great success. Writing to tell me about theatre weekends he and his wife had organised, he added a cheerful postcript that he was going into hospital but would see me at the first opera production. He saw the theatre, thank God. But I looked for him in vain at the first opera. I only learned from a review that he had died before that opera returned to the town. He never really recovered from a savage mugging outside his shop, a poor reward for his efforts for Llandudno.

It is even poorer reward that his name was not commemorated in the theatre. Happily, after I had campaigned noisily, a plaque appeared on the foyer wall.

After all, the opera house was really his.


In a stark assessment of shootings of locals by US troops at checkpoints in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal said in little-noticed comments last month that during his time as commander there, "We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."
The comments came during a "virtual town hall" with troops in Afghanistan after one asked McChrystal to comment on the "escalation of force" problem. The general responded that, in the nine months he had been in charge, none of the cases in which "we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it."
In many cases, he added, families were in the vehicles that were fired on.
Every two weeks, McChrystal participates in what he calls "a virtual town hall" meeting in which soldiers in Afghanistan submit questions that he answers over streaming audio.

“President Obama’s strategy is a sharp shift from those of his predecessors and seeks to revamp the nation’s nuclear posture for a new age in which rogue states and terrorist organizations are greater threats than traditional powers like Russia and China.” …....New York Times

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