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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Column, January 30, 2007

WHAT would make an Englishman jealous of the Welsh?
I ask because that’s the foolhardy promise that Rhodri Morgan has made.
Not only can we aspire to be the equal of our larger neighbours, such will be the quality of services this side of the border, the English will be green with envy, according to Mr Morgan.
You can only applaud his aspirations, but I have to say it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship we have with the English.
For them to ever be in a position where they felt jealous of us, some terrible disaster would need to have befallen them the like of which the world has never seen before.
Maybe, just maybe, if the icecaps melted and the flatlands and hillocks of England sank slowly beneath the globally-warmed waves, they might, just might mind you, cast an envious eye in the direction of Snowdonia and dry land. But even then they’d just move in and call it England, they have, after all, got form for that sort of thing.
No I have spent some considerable time now moving among the English, and have to say that in their dealings with the Welsh, the green-eyed monster rears his head very rarely, if ever.
My scouse-inflected vowels mean that I’m rarely picked out as a Welshman, until I reveal my status – usually while capering about laughing in the aftermath of a successful Six Nations campaign (if we’re unsuccessful, then the Welsh light is hid firmly under a bushel and they can think me scouse for another year for all I care)
But when I do define myself as Welsh it is usually greeted with a nonplussed silence as people try to work out why on earth I would want to do so, after all they say, I don’t sound Welsh. What they’re saying to me is that I could ‘pass for English’ so why don’t I keep my guilty secret to myself and enjoy all the privilege and benefits of being born as one of God’s favoured (English, that is). Just keep schtum about the taffy bit, they won’t tell a soul.
Either that, or they treat me to a rendition of what a Welsh accent should really sound like, which for the record is usually a rather nasal-sounding tenor, with a good dollop of the Hindu Kush thrown in, peppered with a few ‘look you’s, ‘there’s lovely’s and an obligatory reference to sheep.
Jealous? You’ve got a mountain or two to clim before you make them feel that Rhodri.
In the eyes of the many English who have not been here, Wales is a mystery involving hostile and aging locals, firebombers who would burn down your beach windbreak if it started looking a bit like a permanent residence, leeks, daffs and ladies in tall hats.
Those who have been here are, of course, much better informed and can add in beautiful beaches and mountains to the list of hostile locals, firebombers, leeks, daffs, etc, etc.
Of course, most of us care little how we are defined by people who don’t even know us and we quietly get on with our own, Welsh, thing. And long may that continue. But it won’t continue for very long if those who dismiss us as daff-loving choristers realise that actually there’s a better life being had in Wales than there is over in England.
Were Rhodri every to succeed in making the English jealous of us, you can bet that the next day there would be questions in Parliament and whichever Chancellor was in power at the time would come under enormous pressure to cut off the largesse that was being thrown in our direction courtesy of the English taxpayer.
Of course they neatly ignore the fact that an awful lot of English taxpayers are actually, like myself, Welsh taxpayers, in England. All they see is liberties being taken.
Look at the way they moan at the financing of the Scots. Millions are being lavished up there, mostly it has to be said to stop them drinking, smoking and eating themselves into an early grave and who would begrudge them that – the English would, that’s who.
But Scotland always has in its favour that fact that most English people do not want to live there. We don’t have that advantage, as we know, lots of English people want to live here, especially when they retire.
If we succeed in making them jealous then ever more of them will make that journey westward to spend their twilight years taking advantage of the superb services Rhodri is putting in place. And given that the English will have paid for them with their taxes, I can’t see how we can complain (although I’d sure quite a few of us will)
But like Rhodri, I dream of the day that the Welsh inspire something other than sneering condescension in our neighbours, but suspect our days would be numbered after is we ever did.

THE caller wondered is Mrs Banks would be at all interested in the installation of a stairlift at our home.
“Not really,” she replied.
“Oh,” replied the eager young man on the end of the phone, obviously sensing hesitation and a possible sale in her tone, “Are you managing without then.”
It was at this point that Mrs Banks revealed that she had yet to hit 40 and that while we had been renovating our house, a stairlift was not high on the list of priorities, and that, yes, she had been managing without than you very much.
I think she was a little hasty myself. Think about it, you come home from a long, hard day and all you want to do is collapse into bed – what could be easier than sitting yourself down and zipping up courtesy of the stairlift?
And if they could organise a rail for the thing running to the nearest pub, they’d be onto a winner chez Banks and my order would be in post haste.
So if the nice young man would like to call back he’ll get a less frosty reception from the, aging, man of the house.

Column, January 23, 2007

“O would some Power the gift to give us. To see ourselves as others see us.”
Burns night this week, not that I’ll be saluting the haggis, or whatever twee ceremony Yanks who have traced back their family tree to some bloodthirsty clan or other might indulge in.
No, I thought it was apt given the self-flagellation we’ve indulged in after we held the mirror up to ourselves when three deeply stupid women were caught doing a bit of bullying.
Alright, it was a bit of bullying that was watched by millions of people, sparking off a diplomatic incident with India and causing 40,000 people to complain to TV watchdog Ofcom.
So it perhaps transcended the schoolyard, but nonetheless the sackcloth and ashes we’ve donned as a nation as a result is as over the top as the title ‘Celebrity’ that has been put in front of Big Brother (H from Steps, oh deary me, we really are pushing at the envelope of the definition of celebrity this time aren’t we?)
It has to be said that this series, like its non-celebrity counterpart, would have passed me by without even a flicker of interest, unless by some glorious lapse of security one of the housemates had managed to secrete a Kalashnikov in their washbag and had taken out the entire cast and crew before turning the gun on themselves.
Sorry, just need to take a moment to sit back and happily contemplate the idea of a BB bloodbath.
Right, back to the case in hand, is Jade Goody a racist, bigot, anti-Christ and while we’re at it can we blame her for the rise in interest rates and global warming?
Well, no, probably not. Stupid, oh definitely, a bit of a bully, yes that as well. Racist? Well, apart from replacing Shilpa Shetty’s surname with Poppadom, she didn’t actually say anything racist.
If you want to find the housemate planting burning crosses on the lawn, look no further than Jade’s hench-chav Danielle Lloyd who memorably suggested that Shilpa should, ahem, ‘go’ off home, and you can replace the word she used instead of ‘go’ as it can’t be repeated in a family paper. She also suggested that she did not want to have food Shilpa had prepared as she did not know where her fingers had been, wondering out loud whether it was India or China where they ‘fingered their food.’
Check out you local high street dear, you’ll find the burger/kebab/fried chicken emporiums that abound do not furnish their British clientele with much in the way of knives and forks and it’s us that finger our food as much as anybody.
When she entered the house Danielle, a celebrity we had to be told, for being, briefly, Miss UK, said she just wanted the viewing public to get to know ‘the real me.’ Oh my, I think we’ve done just that Danielle, and pretty vile it was too. I’d stick to the fake you if I were you.
But I think it’s a tad unfortunate that the one time this dreadful show which delights in a group of hopeless, no-marks parading their profound ignorance before us, actually does something interesting, there are questions in Parliament, effigies burnt in the streets of India, and Ofcom has to set up a hotline for the time-wasters who have clearly got nothing better to do with their lives than express their righteous indignation at a stupid woman doing something a bit, well, stupid.
As a masterclass in how bullies operate it was fascinating, Jade and her gaggle of cackling backers fulminating against Shetty, who was everything they weren’t – beautiful, talented and a celebrity. How galling she must have been to someone like Jade whose career is based on being a celebrity for wanting to be a celebrity once and not quite winning.
It has to be said though that it’s not unreasonable for Jade to believe this is a sound basis for a caree, given the multitude of shows that abound giving z-list so-called celebrities a crack at doing something they’ve never tried before in the hope they’ll fall flat on their backsides.
Step forward Lisa Scott-Lee (see what I did there ‘step’ forward…suit yourself, pearls before swine) who is currently ‘Dancing On Ice’, or at least she was last time I could be bothered to check. She might have been evicted from the rink by now, or do they just drop them through a hole in the ice to a watery grave? Wishful thinking.
Lisa, her many fans will be pleased to know, is soldiering on and her new album is out in South Africa and the Benelux nations. Fret ye not though, UK fans will be able to buy an import or download it digitally – be still my itching mousefinger. It’s called ‘Never or Now’ to which the correct response is, of course, a resounding never.
Jade is a product of a culture that says you can be famous for basically doing not very much other than turning up and saying something stupid in front of a camera and given the amount of TV producers who seem to be turning that out as a format, she’s not wrong in wanting her slice of the action.
To be confronted by someone who can act, sing and, I’ll wager, chew bubble gum and walk at the same time must have been something of a culture shock for Jade.
It was nothing to do with race, it was a clash of the talented with the talentless. It also has to be said that Ms Shetty, who has carved out a career in front of Bollywood cameras, played the role of victim to absolute perfection and if she was genuinely surprised not to be voted out on Friday, she was the only one in the whole country.
And that’s the other thing we seem to be forgetting. When confronted with a gang of bullies victimising someone, the great British public voted with their premium-rate phone calls and hoiked out the ringleader quick smart. Would that the victims of schoolyard bullies were saved so promptly.
Now that Jade has departed to take her place as the official UK ’s most hated former contestant of a reality show, the house has become rather dull. Danielle Lloyd has taken to playing to her strengths, which don’t involve anything from the neck up, Jo O’Meara (in S-Club Seven apparently, whatever an S-Club is) is morphing into Pat from Eastenders and dull old Jermaine Jackson is trying to keep the peace rather missing the point of the whole thing.
Our one hope of someone going postal is Dirk Bendict, who I trust has a Colt 45 tucked away in his cigar box. One more A-Team jibe and there’ll be blood on the walls. I love it when a plan comes together.