January 25, 2009

The Importance of Names

Filed under: George Byron Lenin, Patents, Royal Family, Skinny Latte, Splott, Welsh History — ditchdweller @ 12:42 pm

Sunday. To Cardiff to collect some sheeting for the market stall. I drop in at my favourite soup kitchen. The coffee here is much better than the slops served out by the majority of commercial outlets like Daglocks or Coffee Incubus. The rough-sleepers, homeless and unemployed of Cathays are buggers for a skinny latte so I’m into the queue as soon as I arrive and soon occupying a table with three regular, all called – as is the local fashion – But.

Over the years, I have noticed that most men in Cardiff and Newport share this name and I have often wondered why. The explanation is confined to one of the most shameful chapters of Anglo-Welsh history, namely, Name-Stealing.

During the 11th and 12th centuries when the northern rimmers or perhaps reevers (I forget) and their Scottish neighbours were wasting their time stealing each other’s cattle, the Norman Marcher Barons were raiding Welsh settlements and stealing names. Rich and poor, young and old; no one was spared this monstrous atrocity. At the end of a hard day’s raiding, saddle bags filled to the brim with surnames, pet names, patronyms, nick- and christian names, the Marcher Barons would wash, dry, and sort their prizes before packing them ready for export to the nameless wastes beyond the Urals.

Being weaker militarily, there was little the Welsh could do to prevent what would nowadays be a classed as a criminal activity – punishable by a severe slap on the wrist or a weekend for two in a reasonable beach hotel on Mustique – whichever was the most convenient.

After two hundred years, names became closely guarded possessions amongst the Welsh and families that had not been deprived of their names rose to social prominence. Evans, Jenkins, Davis, Davies, Jones, Thomas and Sorabji are all fine examples. These families have done well for themselves down the decades and risen to high office. The evidence is still all about us. Did you know that the House of Commons currently has 34 MP’s called David Davis or Davies. As But (1), one of the soup kitchen pundits opined whistfully,

‘A single Parliament’s expense claims more than makes up for the nominal loss suffered by generations of their antecedents.’

Sitting next to him, But (2) explained a more recent disaster associated with the Great Welsh Name Famine. Everyone must have seen the classic Michael Caine film Zulu in which the 19 Jones’s of the 24th Regiment of Foot The South Wales Borderers cooped up in Rorke’s Drift are known by their army number to prevent confusion. Well by 1945, there were some many Joneses in the British Army that communication was starting to break down with tragic consequences. ‘Look out Jones 942731426589!’ lacked the urgency of ‘Look out Featherstonehaugh-Browne!’ with the disastrous results in terms of Welsh casualties. After the war, George Byron Lenin crystallised the problem in his best-selling pamphlet ‘What is to be done?” . He did not have to wait long for an answer.

But(3) claimed that it was a distant cousin of his from Betws-y-Coed who might have come up with a timely and profitable solution to the problem – although he has also claimed that his family has been responsible for inter alia the discovery of the Holy Grail (in the Cardiff suburb of Splott, apparently), evolution by natural selection (beating Darwin by a good 2 years and Wallace by a clear two decades) and luminous, edible (3 flavours) genital paint for swinger’s parties. This last claim is frankly risible as this particular item was patented by Thomas Edison in 1907.

Anyway, regardless of who actually instigated this, in 1952 the Welsh entrepreneur in question decided to end Wales’ centuries old name poverty by taking the radical step of importing new names into the country and selling them. Research was conducted and a supplier from the newly independent Pakistan seemed to be offering the best value for money. The deal was struck and the Cardiff dockside of 1952 was abuzz with expectation (sorry, I can’t read my notes, it might be expectoration). In the pubs of Tiger Bay, the talk was of nothing else.

On that fateful January morning, a crane hoisted the first crate of names from the hold of the merchantman SS Follow-Through ex-Karachi and placed it upon the wharf with all the delicacy and care for which freight forwarding industry has been justly celebrated down the years. It was only when the lid of 40 foot crate had been removed that the reason for the competitive price became apparent. Oh Calamity! Instead of 80,000 mixed Welsh names in a range of commercial sizes, the crate contained 80,000 copies of just one name and a local Karachi one at that – ‘Bhat’.

Of course, the venture was a disaster. Bankruptcy followed. For many years, these names were sold in wholesale lots through a network of pubs, church sales and Liberal Party bring-and-buy sales and Monday Club coffee mornings. Familiarity breeds contempt and soon local accents had modulated ‘Bhat’ (as in Simpson) to But (as in, er,…. but).

Eventually, the Cardiff and Newport area reached saturation point. Far from exterminating the curse of Welsh name poverty, But(3)’s cousin had made it worse by introducing a new, non-Welsh, super-name that – like Japanese knotweed – wiped all other names from the land. A good intension is often the midwife to a cruel disaster.

Not surprising then that names remain a favourite topic of discussion in South Wales. But(2) is an avid follower of the royal press stories. He laments the sad parting of the ways for Prince Harry and Chelsea although he adds, blowing the froth from the top of his second skinny latte, it was inevitable. Names are such powerful things and King Harry and Queen Chelsea doesn’t quite cut it as far as he is concerned.

‘In fact, But.’ he adds definitively, ‘I’m against anyone being named after a football team regardless of whether it’s owned by a Russian plutocrat or not!’

Admittedly, this whole thing is a bit of slap in the face for the hordes of Queen Wannabes in Europe. What possessed the claimant to the Piedmontese throne to name his daughter Princess A.C. Milan? The poor girl will never get a throne with a name like that. And what about the sion of the House of Romanov, Prince Spartak. The there’s Princess Halib of Orange? An interest in Islamic literature is one thing but what was her father thinking of? Personally, my heart goes out to Prince Atletico in Madrid, the current Carlist claimant to the Spanish throne. How cruel that his name should mock his gallant yet unsuccessful fight against obesity.

As the Siamese twin managers of Arsenal, Arse & Wenger once conjointly commented:

‘Some you win, some you lose.’

Prince Harry, of course, is now fully occupied with army flight training but being a young man, come Spring, his mind may turn to romance. I fear that he will have to cast his net ever wider. I’m a great supporter of royal families in the Far East and feel that we could do worse than import some new blue blood. One contender must be the divinely talented, beautiful Princess Amil Ton Haq A’ Demi Qals from the little-known Himalayan Kingdom of Phatang. Roedean, Oxford and Harvard means that she would be a whizz at the post-prandial Christmas Trivial Pursuits at Sandringham. But(1) was also impressed that she had worked as a slaughterman in an abbatoir near Carmarthen during the ‘long vac’; although he later added sagely that ‘boning out is no job for a woman’ and admitted that he might have got her confused with someone else.

January 22, 2009

An Infestation

Filed under: Bankers, Game Fairs — ditchdweller @ 7:15 pm

My attempts to get organised for the coming game fair season are thwarted at every turn. Just yesterday, on my way to check the tent sheets for holes chewed by mice over the winter, my attention was diverted by the terrier going ballistic in one of the bedrooms.

For many weeks now, things of value around the household have been going missing. I rather impetuously blamed the kids but they denied it. I even wondered whether the wife’s Jimmy Choo habit had returned after a decade and that she was pawning stuff to satisfy the craving.

It was the terrier that discovered the cause of the problem. I found him barking wildly and trying to claw his way into an upstairs corner cupboard. As I opened the door, he dived in. After half a minute of mixed snarls and yelps, imagine my surprise when he emerged from the darkness with a dead investment banker in his mouth which he shook incessantly! The banker was tiny but perfect in every detail, apart from his head which the terrier had torn off in the melee.

Despite the snot, splother and blood, the superior cut of the banker’s Savile Row suit was evident. Around the stump of the neck the Jermyn Street cutaway collar was intact as was the woven silk tie with its bra and panty motif (anything for notoriety, these little fellows). His miniscule handmade shoes still gleamed.

As the saying goes, you’re never more than 5 feet away from an investment banker. The terrier’s victim was unlikely to be alone. I got a torch and shone it inside the cupboard and there in the gloom were all our missing possessions and a malfeasance ( which I believe is the correct collective noun) of investment bankers all huddled together presumably to maximise their capital assets. Dazzled by the bright light of the torch, they also cowered before the glass cupboard doors. Any form of transparency is like kryptonite to these vermin.

Meanwhile, the terrier could no longer be restrained. He was ready for some pretty hardline ‘regulation’ and would not be denied. I almost felt sorry for the bankers as they gathered, ties awry and snarling, in front of their ill-gotten gains protecting them from their attacker. But there could only be one result. Soon the corner cupboard resembled a currency trading floor on Black Wednesday.

Whilst cleaning up the carnage, rather worryingly, I only counted 13 bodies. It’s a well known fact that investment bankers move around in pairs. They leave such a bad taste in the mouth that not even the terrier would eat one. So we can only assume that one escaped. Bad news. All that a single investment banker needs is access to someone else’s funds – a child’s money box or a purse left carelessly on a kitchen worktop – and (thanks to their asexual reproductive system) the whole problem can flare up over again.

Apparently, we had a lucky escape. If left untreated, an infestation of this type can result in serious problems. An acquaintance in Wiltshire came back from a ski-ing trip to discover that a malfeasance of investment bankers had gained access to his property and caused such structural damage to the house that it had to be nationalised! He and his family now live in a tent just outside Calne. A stern lesson to us all.

January 15, 2009

One of Nature’s Miracles

Filed under: Uncategorized — ditchdweller @ 9:03 am

It’s January; it’s freezing. Yet in a few short weeks, the UK will see one of Nature’s most majestic phenomenons. Across the land, traders, undeterred by the parlous state of the economy, are awaking from their long winter slumbers. Slowly, at first, but then with a greater sense of urgency they are cutting themselves out of their winter thermals. Club hammers left idle for so long now coax reluctant van engines into life. Backs so recently recumbent on festive sofas are now bent in labour dusting the winter smattering of rat shit out of caravans.

Vans and lorries groan as they are loaded with goods to the maximum axle weight. Some goods are stacked and organised to the point of anal retention. Others are just chucked in higgledy-piggledy. Vehicles shed their winter dust sheets and add a dash of colour to the traditional springtime motorway traffic jams, raising the spirits of other road users with a jaunty graffito here and a bad taste bumper sticker there. Also available in white is finger-scribbled on a particularly dirty white van. How’s my driving? Ring 0800 555 EAT SHIT defines the high esteem in which these modern-day Marco Polos hold their fellow road users. And who could forget the classics. Lukie is gay and Marcie is a slag remain firm favourites. And then there are the inscriptions which are just plainly the product of a diseased mind. Carry On Dr Shipman! Where the fuck did that come from?

They gather in one’s and two’s at first and then in larger groups at motorway service stations across the land. Overpriced breakfast buffet queues echo to their early morning coughing. Service station loos provide an ambient venue for their farts often saved up for many hours of uncomfortable road travel. Bars fill with their complaints about fuel prices and VAT payments. Their terriers pollute any vertical structure.

The signs are unmistakeable. The traders, as Sam Neill so memorably put it in Jurassic Park, are moving ‘in herds’. The long migration to the West Country has begun. Another Game Fair Season beckons!

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