Saturday, 6 March 2010


Alan Hughes, a driving instructor I knew in Pentrefoelas, was a driven man and the road he chose had more potholes than smooth surfaces. From a poor family and suffering from TB, he was in a sanatorium until he was ten. With little schooling he worked as a semi-literate farmhand. His only asset was an ability to drive. Gradually, from helping his fellow farmhands to drive, he became an instructor and discovered a second gift. He was a natural teacher.

To improve his role as a driving instructor, he took a course in teaching for a City and Guilds Certificate. Spotting his eagerness to learn, one of his instructors helped him apply for a two-year course in General Studies at Harlech College.

Hughes told me: “There was a very good grant but it was still hard to make ends meet. Luckily I had very good parents and they helped. Harlech was brilliant. The instructors cared about you and the diploma the college awarded was the back door to the University of Wales.”

He did a three-year course in English Language and Literature and a year's post graduate course to qualify as a teacher. He was awarded a BA and an M Phil on Allegory in Medieval Literature. All would have been well if he hadn't met Geoffrey Chaucer. Reading Henry 1V, he recognised a couplet by the father of our literature.

“I wondered why Shakespeare used a fictional tale to help him write an historical play. Perhaps there was more fact in Chaucer than I had thought.”

In David Copperfield Dickens wrote of Uncle Dick's obsession with King Charles's head. With Hughes, it was a crowd of pilgrims.

He realised it would be unfair on the children he would teach if most of his mind was filled with his search for the histories hidden in Chaucer. So he went back to instructing learner drivers. The study occupied the next sixteen years. A chance discovery of an article by an American scholar Leslie Hotson which discussed the allegorical content of the Nun's Priest's Tale was his only encouragement. In the story of the pursuit by flattery of a sexy cock by a sycophantic fox, Hotson suggested the fox was the future Henry 1V, the cock was Richard 11 and the hen, after whom he lusted, Queen Isabel.

Scraping together the fare, Hughes flew to the States and cold called Hotson shortly before he died. Hotson encouraged him to go on with his research.

I met Hughes twenty years ago and much of the detail he told me in support of his theory has been lost. But it made sense that the whole purpose of the Tales was to warn Richard that he was damaging the Crown because of his obsession with Isabel, the seven-year-old daughter of the king of France.

He explained: “First I read everything Chaucer had read to try to get into his mind. Then I read his works to unravel the allegory. Only then did I turn to the histories of the period. Had I read the histories first I might have been tempted to bend the explanation to fit the facts.”

This is where the Victorian Prime Minister Gladstone entered the fray.

One of the glories of Wales in my day was the collection of his books. Gladstone, who owned the finest library in Europe, left his books to St Deiniol's library in Hawarden, which he also endowed. Genuine scholars could live in the library whilst they researched their chosen subject. I stayed there whilst researching my “Owain Glyndwr”. It was run like an Oxford College. There was even a High Table for the librarian and his staff of two. It was as near heaven as one can get without wings and a harp.

At the time I met Hughes a team of Chaucerian scholars was feeding 300,000 words from 58 manuscripts into computers using techniques from evolutionary biology in order to prove that the Wife of Bath wasn't the old boot we all thought she was.

I suggested to Hughes that he should contact them with his own research. He already had. He told me: “Although some important scholars support me, my theory has been the object of academic derision.”

In Academe, as everywhere else in life, it's not what you know..................................


Bully Brown reassures us that Britain is not a broken society but he fears we may have a hung parliament. My own view is that hanging is far too good for many of our MPs. We ARE a broken society and our only chance of a safe future would be a coalition. Coalitions are summoned in wartime and we are presently fighting for our lives.

And losing...

The Emperor Elagabalus raised the ire of Gibbon by unsettling the Roman economy in popularising the effeminate wearing of silk by men. His coronation “the richest wines, the most extraordinary victims and the rarest aromatics.” His reign...”the confused multitude of women, the studied variety of attitudes and sauces served to revive his languid appetites.”

How much worse would have been his reputation if, having bankrupted the Roman Empire, he had spent millions of borrowed money on an international games which involved building a stadium twice the size of Imperial Rome.

The reluctant Lord Ashcroft apart, we do not know the identity of other members of the House of Lords who make our laws but do not pay tax on the bulk of their considerable fortunes. Ashcroft obfuscated for ten years to remain anonymous. Ten years, during which he accepted a peerage and the vice chairmanship of his political party. Unelected himself, the thirty pieces of silver he has hurled at marginal constituencies could well affect the next General Election. He provides an aeroplane and a staff for overseas jaunts by cabinet members whom he accompanies on visits to world leaders.

Disgraced MPs are consoled with a rise of £1000 a year and life membership of the Houses of Parliament with its subsidised bars and restaurants,improving their chances of jobs with high paying Lobby Groups. Thus, disgraced MPs not fit to sit in parliament are being helped into jobs where they can alter laws, plead special cases and do many other things that would not be legal in any decently run legislation.

We hold the all Europe record for pregnant schoolgirls, our armed forces are giving their lives to support a corrupt government in Afghanistan and those who survive return to rat infested crumbling accommodation that shames us all. Charities pay for equipment that is the right of the wounded,yet every employee of the Ministry of Defence will take home bonuses. As will the bankers filling their pockets with the money we gave them to get themselves out of the mess their incompetence brought about. The Government are frightened by their threat that if we don't bribe them they will go abroad. We should be paying their fares

Defence Chiefs are sanguine about our casualties in the most recent putsch, yet deeply worried about injured Afghans. They complain that the Prime Minister was disengenuous when he claimed they had all the funds they needed for war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The truth is they were underfunded. Yet the Generals still sent our inadequately funded teen agers to their deaths. Not a single general resigned.

Children are leaving school , barely able to read or write. Those few that can are unlikely to get into universities because the Govt cannot afford the fees There has been a flood of immigrants, the direct result of secret and wildly anti-social government policy. In fact this has been our saviour because highly qualified immigrants are happy to take on lowly jobs our own highly benefited workers scorn to do.Which, perhaps, is what the Government had in mind when it create its race f Helots

We used to sing about a Britain “That always shall be free” Now we live in a country where a new law is passed – without proper parliamentary scrutiny- every quarter of an hour. The only feet in modern times that walk over England's pleasant mountains green belong to erectors of giant turbines that will make very little difference to our power supply but assist Global Warming Gore and his gory chums to make even more than the 7 billion he has already made from investment in the global warming heist.

Our police force is a joke,our judiciary a disgrace. One of Britain's top policemen is serving four years in gaol. The secret service is accused of benefiting from torture.

Perhaps worst of all. The greed of Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles End All Peace Treaty has stirred up the Muslim world against us. Nor do I think the Chinese who will presently own both us and the USA have particularly good memories of the time our soldiers looted and destroyed the legendary miles of landscaped Magic Gardens of Yuan Min Yang near Peking with its countless palaces,pavilions and covered walks between man made mountans. An observer described “The whole incomprehensible glory of nature and of the wonderland built in it by th hand of man”
It took only a few days to destroy what it has taken many centuries to create. In assisting the Emperor to crush the Taiping rebellion we contributed to the death or made homeless six million Chinese. We fight to destroy the poppy fields of the Afghan. Our troops were in China who quelled the rebellion in the 19th century to force the Emperor to allow the import of opium from British India.

The cause of this rant? It is the small things that irritate most.That give the final proof of decline In this case a few paragraphs in the Daily Mail telling how a security officer at Heathrow ordered a former Royal Marine Commando to cover a tattoo of his regimental dagger crest
“It will offend other passengers” he was told

From the Greek Anthology

Thou who passest on this path,
If haply thou dost mark this monument,
Laugh not, I pray thee, though it is a dog's grave.
Tears fell for me, and the dust was heaped above me
By a master's hand.