Monday, 28 March 2011

Evil Dictators Turn Tanks on Jesus

Say it ain't so, Joe! Via Cop in the Hood:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio rolled out the tanks to take down a man suspected of cockfighting.

West Valley residents in the neighborhood are crying foul after armored vehicles, including a tank, rolled into their neighborhood to make the bust.

- KHPO Phoenix.

Action demihero Steven Seagal was riding on top of the tank. The suspect, a lone man named Jesús Llovera with no history of owning weapons, unsurprisingly offered no resistance. The tank drove through a wall, and the steely-eyed guardians of the peace valiantly slew 115 potentially dangerous chickens.

Speaking of chickens, Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt Jesse Spurgin promises to repeat such tactics wherever they fear suspects might be armed. Unless I misunderstand Arizona greatly, I guess this means the tanks will be pretty permanently out on the streets of Maricopa County for the immediate future.

Why am I not surprised?

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Hunting of the Boar

The great boar hunted beneath the green hill, from a 14th century Tacuinum Sanitatis - via Sailko at Wikimedia Commons - public domain
Kateverse folk song from Langdale, very close in time and place to the part of the story I'm working on now. The peasants are revolting, and this time they mean business.

The Hunting of the Boar

Did you hunt the Blue Boar's park
On the night the stars went dark?
Did you fight or did you run,
Jolly John, my lusty son?
"Father, father, don't you fear -
Mine the strength behind the spear
That did make the boar's blood gout
On the night the stars blew out!"

Lizzy Fizz, where did you roam
On the night the cat came home?
Don't you fear what men will say,
Now you've spent the night away?
"Men will say and men will sing,
Mine the stone and mine the sling
That did crack Sir Lionel's crown
When he took the tiger down!"

Beggar Bill, you'll answer none
Questions more beneath the Sun.
On their spears the fairies bring
You in state like any king!
"Shaft that for the Lackland sped,
Freely Bill took in his stead.
Now his soul with skylarks flies -
Sun and Moon weigh down his eyes!"

John and Liz and Beggar Bill
Knocked the hog from off his hill.
Matt and Watkin, Moll and Hugh,
Lent their hands, and so did you!
"Never more to lords we bow!
When they raise their whip-hands now,
Like the grey wolves we will come -
And we'll bring their bacon home!"

Freedom and Feminism

Feminist and anarchist activist Voltairine de Cleyre, c.1900 - via Koroesu at Wikimedia Commons - public domain. Here is an excellent open letter to men from Cluegirl, the blogger of Just a Baker Street Muse at LiveJournal. It advocates strong feminism as a necessary, and even obvious, consequence of liking and respecting men in general.

An open letter to the men of America and the world, on the subject of my feminism.

Most of her arguments can be flipped over to explain my own feminist sympathies. I was brought up to be a gentleman - English working-class variant - in most of the senses Cluegirl expresses in her article. How far I succeed may be questionable: whether I should try is not a question permitted by my code.

The minimum that could possibly require, is that I ought to oppose sexism. The reason I, too, identify as a feminist - in however dissident, wild, and woolly a way - is that when I look at the actual world about me, I simply don't see mere gender-blindness as being much more of a solution to patriarchal oppression than setting up a totally equal Total Equality Commission to rule all the insufficiently equal people's lives for them. For the dirt is ground under the fingernails, the stupidity soaked into the brain... That is the way, with systems of thought and status that run down to the roots of a culture.

To suppose formal equality under the rules would make this kind of oppression vanish, is pie in the sky of the highest order. A State-worshipper has at least the excuse of believing that government has only to say to an abuse "go!", and it goeth. A government-sceptic who believes no such thing - has no such excuse, either. Society doesn't, and shouldn't, just do what it's told to. Society bloody well enacts what the people in it believe. If a lot of us were acting on stupid, cowardly, contemptuous, oppressive beliefs before the laws that expressed them were changed, so will a lot of us be afterwards.

Including, sometimes, those of us who palm ourselves on having rejected the rotten old laws. Yes, even those of us who think of ourselves as thoroughgoing libertarians and non-sexists. Certainly observation doesn't acquit me of dirty fingernails and marinated brain.

So the beliefs themselves have to be attacked, and arguments like Cluegirl's are one fine way to get at them without attacking the believers.

Is attacking the rotten assumptions a libertarian act in itself, though? Libertarianism and feminism don't generally have a good rep for getting along well together. If government isn't enforcing bad assumptions on people, a libertarian might say, why bring politics to bear on them? To which a feminist might retort, with equal incomprehension and suspicion: if libertarianism isn't about breaking dominance hierarchies, it's a rum kind of liberty it believes in!

To me, the feminist challenge is more nearly right. Institutionalized domination and violence don't spring fully-formed from the brow of Leviathan. It was Leviathan that sprang up from all that crap in the first place. And if you leave the crap in place, then you may do all the smiting you like, but you will still end up with Leviathan by some other name. Which is not much of an improvement, even if it ends up being your name. Maybe especially not then!

Roderick Long and Charles 'Rad Geek' Johnson have examined this tension at much greater and more scholarly length here:

Libertarians often conclude that gender roles must not be oppressive since many women accept them; but they do not analogously treat the fact that most citizens accept the legitimacy of governmental compulsion as a reason to question its oppressive character; on the contrary, they see their task as one of consciousness-raising and demystification, or, in the Marxian phrase, plucking the flowers from the chains to expose their character as chains.

- Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?
- Roderick Long & Charles Johnson, 2005.

A great deal to chew on in that one, which the Open letter and subsequent discussion in comments moved me to read and think upon anew.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

For Saint Charity

So I was listening to some table-talk at what is more than nominally a Christian institution, and one guy was complaining to the other that their flock kept trying to weasel out of joining in one of these charity benefit activities the management had thought up. It wasn't very much money to participate, and the funds were going to causes like Japanese earthquake relief, and they'd suggested plainly to their flock that reluctance was really a bit rubbish under the circumstances. Yet the reluctance continued. What was that all about, eh?

It would have been shockingly rude to tell them what popped into my head at once, nor am I convinced my diagnosis was correct. But what I felt like saying was,

"Maybe it's about their being young and naïve, and taking what they hear in Chapel too seriously. Might they have got it into their heads that charitable giving ought to be spontaneous, and liberal, and secret? That they thought that paying a set fee, in obedience to authoritative nagging, to an impersonal bundle of causes, for the privilege of effectively spending all day wearing a cool! whacky! clown suit emblazoned with the words I GAVE SOME STUFF TO CHARITY - wasn't something they ought to do at all? What if this isn't a sign that they're worse meaner people than you thought them? Couldn't it just as well be a sign that they're brighter and fairer and better?"

Of course that would be goatlike rather than sheepish behaviour, and far be it from charity to be associated with anything as random as grace! But I like to think that, for some of the hoof-draggers at least, there is wild lightfoot dancing going on in places the herders aren't looking.

I can't honestly leave this post without admitting that - given how I feel about these things - I don't find my own charitable record over the past year very much to congratulate myself about. Meh!

Privacy Rights Through Police Disappearances?

The media could be prevented from naming people arrested by the police but not yet charged, the attorney general has told the BBC.

The excuse is that newspapers trash innocents' reputations and poison the possibility of fair trials, by their sensationalist coverage of arrests. Anybody who followed the recent treatment of the Joanna Yeates murder - in which her landlord was arrested in the early investigation, and then virtually convicted in the gutter Press of being an obvious murderer, on the self-evident grounds of his being a literate egghead with unfashionable hair - will know exactly what the Attorney General is complaining about. And he is right to do so. (Another man is now awaiting trial for that killing.)

But allowing the police to arrest anybody anyhow, without the public's being allowed to hear who they have snatched and why, until they are quite finished - has certain obvious consequences which Mr Grieve must either not have considered, or have considered all too carefully.

Let's not go there, sunshine!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Mots du Jour: Half Past Arsed

Occasionally I invent a new phrase because I badly need it.

Half past arsed, n. An unspecified small hour of the night, at which it is pointless or undesirable to be conscious. Compare arsed; half-arsed; arsing about.


(1) "I've been up since half past arsed, and I'm sodding well shattered!" (The hour was so ridiculous, I can't be arsed to specify it. And possibly couldn't even be arsed to check it at the time.)

(2) "I rolled in at half past arsed and spent an hour surfing for cat videos." (The hour was so incapacitating, my options were limited to arsing about, or attempting constructive action in a futilely half-arsed fashion.)

And thus, with every humble brush-stroke each diligent artist adds, the great landscape of the English language grows a little more expressive and refined.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Is There a Wanker in the Court?

Sir Fred Goodwin is a man who may - or may not - have been much in the UK news at some time, for doing something or other. It is difficult, or at least legally dangerous, to say whether or what. Indeed, one wonders under these circumstances how much of recent UK political history can be discussed at all without falling in criminal contempt of court. It is especially hard to say, because it may also be criminal to say whether these historical details are criminal, or why, or what about them would be criminal and what not.

What, what, what?

Fortunately, the law of Parliamentary privilege allows all media to report on things said in the House of Commons. John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP:

"In a secret hearing Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker.

"Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there's one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?"

A super-injunction forbids not only the reporting of the matters named in it, but also reporting the terms or the very existence of the injunction itself. No direct scrutiny is possible, and their political propriety can only be discussed in an informed way by special dispensation of the parliamentary classes. Their existence and use by rich people and corporations to make any damn thing pertaining to them de facto state secrets might make any election's democratic credentials somewhat suspect, since nobody has any way of knowing which important people's activities are allowable subjects for discussion, or whether the law is being administered honestly.

A respectable and mostly useless solution is to write very general, very severe letters of complaint to our alleged representatives about them. A dangerous and thoroughly implausible solution is to whip up hundred-thousand strong angry mobs in the streets, demanding to know what unspeakable practices amongst the elite these shut-up-about-everything rent-a-gag rules are currently protecting.

The workable and pleasantly civil solution is to exploit the Streisand Effect. In this direction, Charlie Stross has contributed his personal opinion that Fred Goodwin is a wanker. He wonders if this might grow so popular a view, that Fred Goodwin might become the top Google hit for the word 'wanker' for some time to come. But on the basis of what we are allowed to know, we ought fairly to consider: is he right? Is it fair to call Fred Goodwin a wanker?

Well, a banker who hollowed out a successful bank and stuck the taxpayer with the bill would be, in my opinion, a bit of a wanker. But nobody can call Fred Goodwin a banker, so Eeyore the Law exonerates Fred Goodwin of being a wanker there.

However, somebody who corrupts the few democratic safeguards that really exist by simply removing whole topics from permissible discussion is certainly, to this anti-legalist libertarian, behaving badly. I don't feel well-disposed to the judge or lawyers who assisted at these shenanigans - yet they might, conceivably, be considered as prisoners of their professional duty in this. One person did have an inarguable choice. Therefore I definitely disapprove of Fred Goodwin, because here he meets my definition of a bad citizen. But bad citizenry alone would not make Fred Goodwin a wanker.

However... Fred Goodwin, by his own hand, is seeking to make himself a happier man, in a manner which requires society at large to look pointedly away from him until he is quite finished. Nor will this effort prove fruitful.

So I must join Charlie in his conviction that, in the fullest metaphorical sense, Fred Goodwin is indeed being a complete wanker!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wobbly Social Pyramids

The Wobblies, or Industrial Workers of the World, are one of those movements whose cultural presence mightily outweighs any direct political success they have ever achieved. Wobbly propaganda, especially in song, is often downright brilliant. Here is a classic graphical example, from their newspaper the Industrial Worker in 1911, illustrating the 'Pyramid of the Capitalist System':

The Pyramid of the Capitalist System - from The Industrial Worker, 1911 - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Or, as I might just as well call it, the Pyramid of the State System. (As pretty much anarcho-syndicalists, I doubt the IWW would grudge me that point, however radically we might differ on other matters.) To clarify, here are two conventional visions of the Good Society, with the boundaries of the State marked in red and of private life in blue.

The Right Good Society - a well-ordered civil society, free under the guard of a virtuous small government:

The Pyramid of the Capitalist System, Rightist Improvement - by me, derived from original in Industrial Worker, 1911 - released into public domain.

The Left Good Society - an egalitarian civil society, equitable under the guidance of an inclusive and well-ordered government:

The Pyramid of the Capitalist System, Leftist Improvement - by me, derived from original in Industrial Worker, 1911 - released into public domain

It is easy to see which is freer and which more equal!

And in a spirit of positive political engagement, here is something more like my own social vision:

The sardanes danced at Barcelona - by bernatff at Wikimedia Commons, 2006 - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Where Denial Ain't Just a River

From the violent attacks on the International Women's Day march in Egypt, the voice of reaction speaks a whole worldview with one eloquent demand:

"Women were caught in the middle and groped," witness Ahmad Awadalla said. "When I tried to defend them they said, 'Why are you defending women? Are you queer?'"

My emphasis added.

Back to your mummies' shroud-strings, necro boys!

Monday, 7 March 2011

One Hand Is Not the Other

Boxing gloves - by Ralph Berger, via Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.As a rule, I don't think there's much to choose between the parties of conventional Left and Right that alternate in power within Western democracies like the UK or the USA. Here follows a short reflection on why I usually think that's right - and where I'm coming to think it's systemically wrong.

The 'Left' oligarchic strategy is to use State power to make one's fortune and those of one's corporate cronies, on the pretext of defending the people from wicked domineering plutocrats. Thus, via Social Democracy, is a golden mean steered between the idealistic dreams of the civic temple and the competent selfishness of the market. We then reach a moderate and inclusive compromise between the little pig who went to market and the little pig who lacked roast beef.

The 'Right' oligarchic strategy is to use one's fortune and those of one's corporate cronies to purchase the powers of the State, on the pretext of defending the people from wicked domineering bureaucrats. Thus, via One Nation Conservatism, is a golden mean steered between the chaotic virtue of civil society and the decisive competence of the executive. The two little pigs reach their moderate and inclusive compromise again, only more of the beef gets sold and less of it gets doled out by order.

All this statesmanship is widely admired until somebody notices that both pigs are in either case toes on the same foot, and are frankly taking the piss all the way home. This discovery is technically referred to as extremism, anarchism, nihilism, communist cant, fascist demagoguery, or irresponsible and cynical journalism which cannot stand in a free or civilized country. My own preference is for the shorter term 'DUH!'.

Whenever I begin to be so politically certain that the word 'DUH!' sounds like a telling argument, I also begin to wonder what I am missing. (Well, duh...!) So I ask myself: are the violent partisan feelings between Liebour and ConDem, Dim-o-crats and Rethuglicans, &c., ad naus., really just a combination of public dupery and the genuinely different interests of the faction-fighters' present client groups? Is it only the natural viciousness of Tweedledee and Tweedledum scrapping to be Lord of the Rattle, or could the two factions have predictably, radically different characteristics?

I think they do, and I think I noticed this a long time before this notion finally took coherent shape in my brain. It isn't just that their constituencies have different interests and values - most of those, after all, are going to end up shafted anyway, since the oligarchs' common interests are convergent and much more important. Rather, it's that both the starting endowments of each faction, and the respective natures of their shticks, necessarily twist each into a shape that cannot be superimposed on the other. That is, it isn't just that the left hand is on the left and the right on the right; it is also that a left hand would be a left hand wherever you put it, and vice versa.

Short form: the Left forces people into the tent, the Right forces people out. The Left looks for breadth of domination, the Right for depth. The Left seeks strategic quantity, the Right strategic quality. Each uses methods of the other as far as is possible - which is why, at the very extremes of method and domination, the two power-strategies really can become indistinguishable - but, generally speaking, each is more comfortable and effective with its own speciality.

So, as a general rule, I expect more nannying, hyper-regulation for its own sake, and attempts to sap and destroy unplanned civil society in toto from the Left. Everyone must be in the tent, and subjected in all things to the Ringmaster and his clowns. Only a few criminals and maniacs ought to operate outside the great plan, and the fewer is really the better. And amongst the Masses, at least, equality is truly part of that plan.

From the Right, though, the tactic is very different. One builds up the smallest safe block of supporters, finds the most profitably vulnerable group to attack, and then rallies the rest to drive it from the tent and grab its stuff. It is not really that important whether everybody agrees with you or not. Conflict, and the need it generates for concentrated authority, is most of the point: the spoils of war, and of keeping every minority competing to bribe you not to be the target of the next attack, is the rest of it. So inequality even amongst the Masses is part of that plan: it creates both their division and your strategic opportunities.

So when the Left attain power I fear mostly surveillance, inquisition, and control; when the Right, violence, reaction, and dehumanization. Similar levels of crap, but differently distributed. With the left, ubiquity of oppression, and a real wish to eliminate dissent; with the right, selective intensity of oppression, and a real need for dissenters to destroy. Experience with the relatively very mild forms of oppression prevalent in contemporary Britain informs my instinct that it swings like this. Under Thatcher I was a great deal more worried that my friends would get their heads broken for being specific targets; under Blair, that they would be randomly harassed, shaken down, or denounced for non-crimes by professional sin-sniffers. I think most of us were more oppressed under Blair. But I think the many who were oppressed under Thatcher at all would have generally been stark bloody insane to prefer her. And - the modern UK is not, mostly, a very oppressive polity at all.

Neither the conscription of Leftist power-methods, nor the internecine strife of Rightist ones, are compatible with civilization. You cannot choose one above the other. If you do, and it wins, eventually its masters will grow so powerful that they can deploy all the tactics of both. It does not matter whether they are southpaws or right-handers by nature, once the rest of us are reeling on the ropes!

All you can do is have tactics prepared against both, and civil methods of both Left (solidarity and commonality) and Right (specialization and concentration) ambidextrously at hand to promote the desired alternatives. I have a lot more thinking to do on those points!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Only in Silence the Word

"For a word to be spoken," Ged answered slowly, "there must be silence. Before, and after."

- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin.

As a wordsmith, I think a lot about words: their meanings, their shapes, their combinations and transformations and ambiguities. And I think, too, of all the many things that can be done with nothing more than these small marks and sounds. Or not so small: one single name can have lively instances in billions of minds at once, all across the Terrestrial globe. But the hardest thing of all to read rightly, when it comes to words, is the silence into which they are spoken.

If silence were only the negative space against which the words were defined, it would still be different for every saying. But it is not so. There are ominous silences and relaxed ones, companionable silences and desolate ones, even clear silences and noisy ones. And each one bears on the mood and the meaning of the words spoken into it.

There are the silences we control as audiences: the lives and the stances and the moods we bring to the tale, before we are ready to hear it. There are the silences middlemen control, or may wish to: the production qualities of a book, the restriction of a movie to a sumptuous picture palace, the jailbreaking of a digital work for anybody to experience however they can. There are the silences we control as speakers: the lulls in the action, the things pointedly not said, the details left to the audience's gut or imagination. And behind them all, the endless and incalculable silence of which no clear thing can be said, except that it is as various and lively as the vacuum state of space itself.

Half the power of a word is in the silence it is spoken to. Half the craft of words is creating as much of the right silence as possible, at every moment, to speak the next one into. Yes, you can call it context and a crying positive thing, but in the end, what it sounds like is the silence the word is falling into. Its tacitness is the most important single thing about it.

And so sometimes - I very much doubt that it is often enough - instead of fretting over what the next words I need to write must be, I will only read through a good part of my writing without planning, without searching; only sounding the silence I have come to, until I hear it so clearly that my new words nearly speak themselves into it.

I don't know how many other writers do something like this, or think of it this way if they do. What I do know is that it's a good way for me to stop getting hung up on things that don't really matter, or aren't really true.

That is about as well as I can now explain it, before all the words run out.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Liberty Free Libertarianism: Taxing Yourself Elected

I for one welcome our new minarchist overlords - Flag of the People's Republic of China - milords could not possibly object!Here's a hardy perennial weed in conservative and right-libertarian commentary: disenfranchise net recipients of tax moneys, so as to remove the temptation for everybody to ruin everybody else by trying to vote themselves rich.

The standard arguments against this are obvious, and just as obviously don't convince the arguers. So I want to make an argument I haven't heard before, which must just naturally convince all pro-market anti-government folk as no other argument could. Their proposal is almost guaranteed to entrench monolithic Big Government and collectivized service provision forever, unless one supposes the complete benignity of the government!

Follow the purely political logic, as government-sceptics rightly do in other cases. What sort of government could and would enact such a proposal? Clearly, a government which didn't expect public sector workers to vote in its favour. It will be now pretty much certain of re-election next time around, since in a modern society that makes a very large proportion of the opposition vote thrown into the dustbin. Unless...

...unless the government starts shedding public sector jobs, or doing anything at all that will make room for the discontented and displaced workers in the franchise-bearing private sector. Enemies stuck on benefits or in dead-end make-work public sector jobs are good enemies from this government's point of view! Alas, the evil does not end there.

Popular with workers in Sector X? Legislate non-monetary advantages for that industry, or find ways to nudge or force private persons to use its services. Mandatory electricity-style fees payable by residents towards 'competing, private' security utilities, anybody? (Does the company that battens off my electricity bills either generate or distribute actual electricity? By thunder, it does not!)

Unpopular with workers in Sector Y? Make it impossible to make a legitimate profit in it without the aid of government subsidies to "help Y meet the tough but fair standards of 21st-Century civilization". Proceed by the quickest road to whatever degree of nationalization knocks out the despised ones' franchise. In extreme cases, just kill the industry altogether and import the necessaries.

Always make sure nominal charges and prices are high for people in precarious or low-end jobs, so that they will need in-work benefits exceeding their official tax contributions in order to make ends meet. Indirect taxes on the goods they consume are a good wheeze for this, since the immediate payer is some corporation or other. Sales taxes with onerous rules for proof, tardy payment, and fearsome penalties for mistakes might work nearly as well. The targets still end up paying the money which is later recycled back to them in benefits, but it only shows up on the books to their discredit. Eureka!

Rinse and repeat for a while, and what you have is a self-perpetuating enfranchised aristocracy, to whom everybody else is for accounting and voting purposes beholden. The boundaries of nomenklatura command-and-control and of mere crony capitalism are about as meaningful as they get to be in decadent Marxism-Leninism, and whether the resulting economy is more nearly communist or fascist is a nice question for people who care whether the stick-up artist is dressed more like Superman or Batman.

This is not a prediction of dire doom. This is a description of the direct incentives obtaining for any 'democratic' politician who starts disenfranchising tax-takers.

Of course, not all politicians are rats. They may act nobly, wisely, and against their own selfish interests. They may even do so collectively. Such things are not impossible.

But, "Vote for these shiny policies, since their advocates will surely govern nobly, wisely, and impartially!" is not a libertarian, or even an honestly conservative, position to assume. It is assuming quite another position altogether. So even if disenfranchisement were intellectually coherent or just - which I dispute vehemently - there is nothing at the end of it but a chaotic and forcibly collectivized bag of snakes.

If the unlimited democratic franchise is bad for liberty, any form of government-controlled franchise is inherently going to be a hundred times worse! How this can be hard for any government-sceptic to understand, I have no idea whatsoever.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Baa! A Mission Statement?!

The constellation of Capricorn - early 19th century, source unknown - public domain, via Zana Dark at WikipediaWhat I think of corporate clack is no secret. However, O goats, I've just committed myself to this blog for another year, and I find myself wanting to expand its presence a bit. This requires a short description of What It's All About, of a more helpful nature to prospective readers than, "Hey, whatever I select!"

And now and then it's good to mull over What It's All About, anyway.

This is my first whack at a blurb, manifesto, or what-you-may-call it, for purposes of giving strangers the flavour of my meanderings and a clue as to whether they'll like it:

[Categories: Writing, Politics, Arts]

Fantasy as if common people counted. Freedom as a banquet not a diet. Life as a stream too strong for narrow channels. Humour, curiosity, creativity, pratfalls; the kindly and the sorrowful and the shiny. Playing the goat as the great antidote to sheepishness.

Yes, this is arguably about more than just the blog. Even so.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Land of My Father's

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant! A happy St David's Day to one and all. The daffodils are out here as they ought to be.

My father was a half-Welsh Englishman, whose heart was caught in childhood by the South Welsh countryside of his mother's people. A clever, streetwise, and mind-hungry Londoner for most of his life, he could never forget, nor yet love the buzzing city; and when he got a welcome chance to retire early on good terms, he spent his last decade with my mother in that ancient matrix of Welshness, Ynys Môn that the Norsemen made Anglesey, between the Mountains and the Sea.

And I am English, and of London - but my second tribal affiliation, by birth and choice, is even as his. And as Wales is called the land of song, let this be a day for it!

It must be a small tribe or a rigid nation that has only one true song of it. Wales, like any nation Stated or otherwise, has of course its official anthem. It is called Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, or Land of My Fathers; though, being a full-on anthem, it is a bit too jingo to have been a song of my father's too. It is about splendid patriots and fell traitors, purity and the ancient tongue and the bards who defend their Muse against the long false defeat until their fingers bleed down their harpstrings. Katherine Jenkins sings the song of the Welsh nation and its dauntless champions here.

Then again, there is Sosban Fach, which means but is never called Little Saucepan. My grandmother knew this A Lot, and it would have been a much bigger surprise if she hadn't. It is about saucepans, sickness, kids, cats, and drinking too much 'tea'. Ray Gravell, Wyn Lodwick and the Band sing the song of the Welsh people and their harried homemakers here.

Sosban Fach
is specially associated with the rugby teams around Llanelli, which used not to be behindhand in the manufacture of cheap saucepans. This is the very last singing of it down at their old ground of Stradey Park.

Hey, DJ! Where's the Sosban?

And finally, there is that other quintessentially Welsh Muse, Max Boyce, who I was amazed to discover is actually slightly my father's junior. Dad did not speak Welsh until his last decade, or sing in it ever. When he and I used to go boozing in my much younger days, of a sufficiently merry evening this was the song which would burst forth lustily from the Cymric springs of his soul.

Too-ral-ay addy, until the next time!