Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, April 8, 2008

SOME people clearly have far too much time on their hands.
How else can you explain the complaints about a pub in Caernarfon called The Black Boy.
The complainants apparently believe it is racist. They’re almost right.
It was racist, when it was named, but that was 250 years ago, people held some pretty obnoxious views back then. Not just opinions though, slavery was yet to be abolished and we were enthusiastically shipping off black boys, girls, women and men to the colonies to work on plantations.
It is all very shameful, but it is also history. We don’t do it now, nor would we, and we shouldn’t apologise for what we didn’t do ourselves. Nor should we expunge it from our public buildings.
A week ago I was holidaying in the Peak District and pitched up in a town called Ashbourne, were a hotel rejoices in the name ‘The Blacks Head’, and across the street. Did I read that right I wondered as we passed, but there to confirm my suspicions of the racism of our forefathers, was a cast iron archway topped by a crude depiction of a black man’s head.
It did look rather odd in these days when we are fortunately more enlightened about equality. But should we tear down symbols that were put up centuries ago simply because we would not put them up now?
There are lots of episodes from history that we are not particularly proud of, but ou cannot pretend they did not happen. That doesn’t mean you are in any way celebrating them, but nor are you denying their existence.
It’s true that if you built a new pub and you were sitting down with a focus group brainstorming what to call you new hostelry, ‘The Black Boy’ wouldn’t be top of your list would it?
That’s not to say some new names can’t offend. A landlady in the West Country got into trouble recently when she renamed her pub ‘Hawkins Meeting House’ after a heroic sailor who assisted Drake in fighting the Armada. Trouble is he was also a slave trader and her pub was opposite the local race equality council building.
But if we start tearing down pub names simply because they offend modern sensibilities then where are we going to stop?
Are we going to do away with the Fox and Hounds, Hare and Hounds, Anything being pursued by Hounds because the animal rights brigade take offence at these glorifications of hunting? Are White Lions offensive to differently-coloured Lions?
Is it the end of the line for the Duke of Wellington, the Admiral Nelson and The Trafalgar for fear of offending our friends across the Channel?
No, leave them where they are and be thankful that the attitudes that informed their names do not prevail today.
And let’s be particularly penitent when we sup in that inn whose name must be a thorn in the side of every wife who enters its portals – The Nag’s Head.

ANYONE who watched the documentary about Josie Russell on BBC last week cannot help but be hugely impressed by both her and her father.
I think what struck me is their refusal to conform to the stereotype that so much of the media tried to pen them into – tragic victims, struggling against adversity.
Instead they seem to have returned to a community that Mr Russell knew would be supportive and then got on with living.
One thing I did notice though was that Josie’s school, Ysgol Baladeulyn, is one of those earmarked for closure under Gywnedd’s proposals for reform.
It was obvious in the programme just how much this little school had helped Josie in the immediate months and years after the attack.
Of course, one cannot argue that a school should be kept open on the off chance that a child should suffer the sort of attack that Josie did. But given what the school was able to do for her, how much do you think it could help children with other challenges?
Keeping small schools open is difficult, but undoubtedly worth it, as this programme proved once again.

THE progress of the Olympic torch through London was an unmitigated disaster, but whether it will advance the cause of a free Tibet is another matter entirely.
I somehow doubt that a beardy bloke shouting at Paula Radcliffe is going to melt the hearts of the men in Beijing and lead to a withdrawal of troops, but it makes for a nice photo opportunity.
I can’t say I’m much moved by the disruption of the torch’s progress though, as a spectacle it doesn’t amount to much and it is a tradition that dates back to the Olympics in berlin in 1936 when the Nazis were lionised in the film by Leni Riefenstahl. Not a tradition with its roots in ancient Greece then.
If you are moved to support the Free Tibet cause though, restrain yourself from shouting a some poor sportsperson or minor celeb (and just how did Denise Van Outen get in on this particular act?) carrying the torch.
Instead inspect your underwear for the tell-tale signs of collusion with the forces of oppression. In there you will, in all probability find a little label reading ‘Made in China’. If not there, you’ll find it one many of your child’s toys.
So, are you prepared to buy your clothes and toys from more ethical, and expensive, sources? Until we are then the protests in London will not amount to any more than empty gestures.

MILLIONS of pounds of public money and many lives disrupted and we reach the conclusion that anyone who lived there could have told you years ago for free – that turning the A494 in Deeside into a seven-lane super highway was stupid idea.
The noise and pollution it would create would be bad enough, but all it would achieve would be to shift the bottleneck a few more miles down the A55.
Still, the abandonment of the scheme is a good thing and we’ll probably end up getting what we should have had all along, a crawler lane up the hill for slow moving traffic.

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