Friday, 2 September 2011

Lilly the Propinquir

For the thick end of half a century, drunk and sober, I have played to an audience and am therefore an enemy of proximity. Propinquity is another matter. Nothing propinks like propinquity.

That is why I find it sad that, according to a recent survey, comparatively few of us older people use the internet. I have just downloaded the Heart Sutra and a film of a Zen Master teaching students about Nirvana. Yesterday I received and passed on a 35 minute film by one of the princes of our trade which records the most important media happening of my lifetime. Nothing less than an attempt to hijack Britain by my old boss Cecil King.

I shop by internet, read by it and, thanks to it. I am in daily commune with my family and a group of dearly loved friends I have not seen since my golden youth in the inky trade. Safe in the knowledge that they will not grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. They are forever bathed in the dazzling glow of memory. Proximity? I think not.

Now, fittingly, on this violent day, September 3, I am roused by email Letters of Fire and Sword. The Pipes are playing the Black Bear, the Fiery Cross has gone out.

I received the following email from former Radio Wales presenter Mike Flynn and a number of chums, including the equally legendary Dai Woosnam, the folk musicologist whose website Daigressing you should all try.

Hi Ian,

Daily Mail scribe Roger Lewis has started a row with his review of a book on Wales.

The opening paragraph says it all…

"Not many people in full possession of their faculties would find it appealing or necessary to try to turn themselves into a ‘real Welshman’. Nevertheless, this has been the ambition of Old Harrovian Jasper Rees in his new book Bred of Heaven."

I'm sure you will agree, Ian, that Roger's take on the politics of the Welsh language is pretty spot on. Plaid MP Jonathon Edwards was so incensed by his slur on Welsh as "an appalling and moribund monkey language, which hasn't had a new noun since the Middle Ages", that he wrote to Theresa May demanding that the Home Secretary "remove this sickness from society". He has referred the article to the Press Complaints Commission and to the police.

The full story is in today's Independent

As it happens, I have form in these matters. Indeed a dotty Welsh extremist website once honoured me with the title of Traitor of the Week. I shared it rather puzzlingly with Ryan Griggs, S4C, Radio Cymru, The Welsh Language Society, The Welsh Language Board and a very nice man called Jonesy who was a Radio Cymru presenter.
It was followed by a number of hilarious death threats which I offered to go round personally to receive. Silence followed. Gentle reader, if it still exists do look up the Welsh extremist website:
It is a revelation.

My view on nationalism can be quickly stated: Nationalism is a road which ends at the gates of Auschwitz and we have had a lot of trouble with it in our family. My Auntie Jeannie was the widow of Uncle Tommy, a Scottish Nationalist so incandescent that ten years after his death she was still afraid to visit England.

Her son-in-law Jackie, who looked after the boats of the Emir of Kuwait, invited Auntie Jeannie to visit.

"It's no in England, is it?" she inquired fearfully.

In the event, she had a great time, including supper with the
Emir in his palace. She was not impressed.

"Does he aye get his dinner on tin plates?" she asked Jackie.

"They're no tin," whispered Jackie, "they're real gold."

"Maks nae difference," said my Auntie Jeannie. "Puir man,
ye cannae keep food hot on tin plates."

The day she got home she went to an Edinburgh market
and bought the Emir a six-piece china dinner service.
Alas, we have lost the charming letter of thanks the Emir

My Auntie Jeannie was the Great Imperturbable.

The nearest thing we had in our family to a tradition was the
Hogmanay Fight. My father emigrated to Manchester but
always returned home to Edinburgh on 30 December. He went a day
early to get in training for the whisky drinking marathon which was the
family New Year.

By tea time on Old Year's Night, whisky had washed away any
seasonal goodwill. By 9 pm naked hostility had replaced it.
My father invariably ignited it by taking out a provocative cigar.

"Bloody Englishman," growled Uncle Tommy, socialist
principles enflamed at the sight of such a capitalist

"That makes bliddy two of us," my father would reply every

Uncle Tommy's darkest secret was that he, the
most passionately Scottish of the family, had been born
during a brief visit by his mother to Lancashire.

Blows were exchanged. Three step-brothers, Jimmy and Matty
and Alec, who tried to join the row were rebuffed by Uncle
Tommy on the grounds they weren't family. This made Jimmy and Matty and Alec madder than anyone.

Whilst five brothers fought in the middle of the room, the
wives moved their chairs to the wall and continued their

Auntie Jeannie served tea.

At 11.45 pm she would say, "Tommy, have you seen the time?"
The fight ended at once and quarter of an hour later the brothers had their arms round each other and were singing Auld Lang Syne. They don't make Hogmanays like that anymore. Or Auntie Jeannies.

I tell a lie.

There was the Lovely Rose the Hoover of Radio Brynsiencyn. The North Wales newspapers were full of her success this week. The Daily Post reported:

“A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER has fulfilled her lifelong ambition of becoming a television actress – at the age of 85. Rose Roberts, who appears in the new S4C comedy Dim Byd, said the role had given her ‘a new lease of life’. Mrs Roberts said filming her surreal sketches, in which she reminisces about the ‘good old days’ of Facebook, texting and Xbox, had made her feel ‘years younger’. ‘I’ve always wanted to be an actress – it’s been on my mind since I was very young,’ said Mrs Roberts, of Brynsiencyn, Anglesey.”

Rose was the reason Wales was invented. She looked after Celia and me when we lived on Anglesey at Virgin and Child Cottage. When we wrote and presented Radio Brynsiencyn for BBC Wales we couldn’t leave her out. The stars were her, Aled Jones and Angus McDermott, the legendary BBC foreign correspondent who was a Bangor lad.

Rose had a voice which frequently stopped passing ferries. Once she was queuing up for a drink at the bar of the Palladium in the West End of London with another member of our cast Goronwy Generator. She gave tongue and a complete cockney stranger said, “Blimey, it’s Rose the Hoover.”

Never happened to me or Angus, perhaps not even Aled. Oh, we loved that woman.

My friend Ken Ashton is a fellow sufferer. He writes:

“Hell hath no fury like an abused Welshman.
When I was elected mayor of Prestatyn in 1986, someone asked why - 'He's not Welsh.'

There was a good line yesterday in an interview with the lass from Aberystwyth who was in the Python film 'The Life of Brian' - 'My mother was from south Wales and my father from North Wales, which in Wales equals a mixed marriage.'

Another reader has sent me the Wales and West Railway timetable.
London becomes LLundain, Hereford Henffordd, Chester Caer, Manchester Manceinion, Liverpool Lerpwl, but Shrewsbury, Crewe, Birmingham and Wolverhampton appear to have defeated them.
Odd though that they make such a fuss about places like Beaumaris having English names.




We are a Hexapod. Thanks to the generosity of Jane, my wife’s hairdresser, I am now the bemused owner of a turbo-charged, open- topped, one previous careful owner Zimmer Frame GT. Given to me, I should add, in consequence of an alarming tendency to topple over at the drop of a body, which was in turn a consequence of a head-on collision with a wayward virus.

So now I’m a Happy Hexapod, a six-legged animal with a startling turn of speed. “WHOOSH, it’s Zimmerman!”


They gathered round the microphone, the vocal vultures in their unbecoming dirndl skirts, draped in depressing denim.

They came not to bury Bob Robinson, that charismatic broadcaster, but to patronise him.

Much of the programme, described as a tribute to him, was devoted to sneering at his lower middle class origins.

“I am upper middle class,” bragged Ann Leslie, who made an international laughing stock of the hooped earring. “I am part of the Raj!”
Some "Rajians" boast of alma mater schools unfamiliar to the wider world. Even Parnassus has its mezzanine. What a friend of mine describes as "residential grammar schools".

I have a recurring naughty nightmare in which Ms Leslie breeds with Stephen Fry with Dr Starkey in attendance.

In my time I, a working class jester, have mixed with a number of "Rajians". Indeed I am very fond of them.

An army friend called Villiers had a nice turn of phrase. While cricket captain at Lancing he wrote for a fixture with Eton. In reply the Etonian captain asked: "What is Lancing?" My friend wrote back: "Lancing is what Eton was - a school for gentlemen."

As it happens, Ms Leslie and a sprinkling of Italian princesses were taught in the same convent as my wife.

Ms Leslie took against Bob when he described her editor David English by asking: “Couldn’t he get a higher job, like stealing cats for vivisectionists?”

Fortunately there was enough of Bob’s wit and kindness in the programme for him to survive these deadly embraces but it is sad that among the happy memories it was possible to detect the rents that envious Casca made.

I love the Raj. I number a round dozen among my friends. One, Bill Higgin, a descendant of a Pendle witch and a major in the Indian army, told me, eyeing some Indian doctors as he lay dying in hospital: “The service here is appalling. I have been shouting 'Kwa Hai' and none of those buggers take the slight notice.”

Another friend Fergusson Warren, a jungly Marine also dying in hospital, greeted me when I paid my last visit: “Have you been offered something to drink?”

A third, Lord Langford, as a young man went in to Fortnum and Masons to complain. A frock coated walker shimmied over. "And who might you be?" asked his Lordship. "I am in charge of this floor," he was told loftily. "Then I suggest you sweep it. It’s filthy."

A fourth, Tom Firbank, joined the Coldstreams as a private and rose to lead the Airborne Cavalry as a Colonel, winning the only two MCs awarded in the field in the invasion of Italy.

They would all four have venerated Robinson. His “friends” mocked the way at his dinner parties the ladies left the gentlemen to their port, apparently unaware this was to enable both sexes a moment to seek post-prandial relief. We have in our dining room a superbly constructed 18th century ‘tower cupboard’ which held the chamber pots the gentlemen used.

When I gave luncheon parties at the Chester Country Club the head waiter always set a separate table to which ladies adjourned at the coffee stage. But then they certainly don’t make the likes of “Jimmy the God” any more who boasted he learned his trade at a coffee shop called Claridges.

Mind you, “our betters” go blithely on. Thousands of pounds of taxpayers' cash was spent teaching Foreign Office officials how to play drums, it has emerged.

The cash went on team-building away-days when Labour was still in power. In the two-hour sessions officials kept the beat using dustbins, broom handles, plastic tubs and African tribal drums.

From 2006 to 2010 the Foreign Office paid more than £38,000 to events organisers Poisson Rouge. The highest annual spend was £26,245.79 in 2008/09, when David Miliband was Foreign Secretary. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also used the company's services.


The BBC is currently telling us it will be a long job to bring essential services back to Tripoli.

I wonder why? In 1917 at the head of an Arab Army Lawrence of Arabia (whatever my Australian friends are going to say) captured Damascus. Once inside the Town Hall with his men, Lawrence deposed the two Algerian collaborators whom the Turks had installed as governors before they evacuated the city. Lawrence then took over as Acting Governor. He wired General Allenby to this effect and received confirmation that he should be in charge of Damascus.

In a four day period, during which he had only three hours sleep, Lawrence organised a new administration, set up a police force, installed sanitation, electrical power, street-lighting, a water supply, a fire brigade, arranged for the distribution of food, the re-opening of the railway, introduced a new currency, and procured forage for the 40,000 horses of the British and French forces now entering the city. He also started a newspaper.

When Lawrence left Damascus four days later, the Syrians had a government that lasted for two years without foreign interference. But then the Past is another country.


Kevin Myers: I was wrong about Ahern, he served only at the altar of his ego for political power.
Kevin Myers: I was wrong about Ahern, he served only at the altar of his ego for political power
One of the problems about writing columns for a living is that, like an imprudent sexual encounter many years ago, it can come back to haunt you in terrible ways. A reader has reminded me of what I wrote just over three years ago.