Out Now!

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Welsh Not

In the C19th Welsh children were discouraged from using their own language in schools by the use of the ‘Welsh Not’. If a child was overheard speaking Welsh in the classroom he or she was given a token that would result in a beating at the end of the day. The luckless child had every incentive to finger another Welsh-speaker for it was the last one holding the ‘not’ who suffered the punishment. Brutal and crass, but no doubt efficient. And a wonderful piece of anti English propaganda that still resonates today, and makes 'interesting' lessons for lazy teachers

In fact the ‘not’ was not widely used, nor a statutory imposition. In 1847 a  Royal Commission investigating the state of Education in Wales said many uncomplimentary things about Welsh education, including a belief that the Welsh language was a regressive factor in holding children back. But, at the same time Inspectors stated very clearly that the Welsh ‘Not’ was ‘arbitrary and cruel’. More significantly the report showed that education was conducted in Welsh in the vast majority of schools. To state it again, the ‘Not’ was never government policy. Where you might find it was in some denominational schools, Anglican as well as Non Conformist,  but attendance at these schools was voluntary so it is likely that parents who sent their children there in a Welsh speaking area largely approved if only to the extent they wanted their child to speak English. 

But why spoil a good myth? Nationalism needs its martyrs and children make good copy. 

In the C21th  these culture wars still resonate. It was reported in several papers that Aberaeron Primary school, amongst others in Ceredigion, reveal a similar albeit reverse intolerance. Children are given a ‘red warning’ if they are caught speaking English once, an amber a second time, and green for a third – resulting in a visit to the Head. One child was refused permission to go to the toilet because he hadn’t asked permission in Welsh. 

These claims are both championed and denied in the febrile world of the Twitterati but the significant point is less the truth of such claims and more the fact that such claims are made. 

The claims may be true. They may not be. I have no way of being sure. You might believe in the adage there’s ‘no smoke without fire’ – unless the smoke proves to be –like the ‘Not’ – little more than Welsh mist and myth.

True or not there are of course the psychological repercussions. A Welsh child may once have associated his language with a sound thrashing. His English equivalent in C21st West Wales may associate his language with bladder ache and wet pants

Friday, 23 November 2012

A shirt is for life, but pullovers?

I have three pullovers that I hate: one is blue, another is grey, the other a hairy black. All three are acrylic with that vaguely plastic-grease feel to them, all three are grossly baggy after years of successive washes. They hang on me like tents. I could have had years of miraculous pregnancies with no one being any the wiser, I could have housed several illegal immigrants in their folds, I could have effected a partial eclipse of the sun. The worst thing about them was their indestructibility. These things were going to outlive me. A sobering thought. 

At last, prodded by my less tolerant wife, I splashed out on three, brand new, very expensive pullovers made from fine English wool. It was O K Corral time for those three acrylic hooligans, bin time. The Tip.

I pulled them out the drawer and laid them on the bed, all three deceptively pristine, all three sartorial must-haves for fashion conscious Sumos. I tried to put them into a black plastic bag but my hands refused. It was like murdering kittens. These pullovers had done nothing wrong. A dog is for life, they say; why exclude pullovers, ones that may have had similar reservations about the body they covered, ones that had never complained but had just been there for me? The jury’s still out. They lurk resentful at the bottom of my drawer, disguised by some equally old shirts, a kind of sartorial death-row, execution still pending.

In case you think I exaggerate my penchant for old clothes – let’s call them ‘vintage’ – I present as evidence, two pictures – both presents from my fondly remembered cousin from Seattle. Both are Christmas presents from 1980 and both are worn on a regular basis – well – perhaps not the coonskin hat.

Note the fresh colour of the shirt - brand new Christmas 1981. The beer is Guinesss. That's gone.

 Same shirt worn and washed over the years. Coonskin hat occasionally dusted. Me, washed and dusted.

 Bowing to pressure, me sans hat; smiling because I reckon that shirt still has a few more years. Thank you, Kathy, Rick, Kirsten and Garrett

Thursday, 15 November 2012

There's more to Lyon than liver cake

Philippe Anthelme Nizier was an apprentice butcher working for his uncle in Lyon. He was also a miracle worker, though this had little effect on his own clumsiness as an apprentice butcher. It did allow him to heal himself however when he cut the tendons of his thumb and index finger whilst preparing a carcass. He put his thumb back in place and prayed and a few moments later all was well.

News of the miracle spread and this latter day Jesus of Lyon was mobbed by the sick and the desperate. So great was his fame he decided to switch from butchering to doctoring, though in some quarters there may have seemed little difference.

His studies proved useful, allowing him to diagnose as well as cure. When an out of breath girl complained of violent pains in her side and difficulty in standing, he not only diagnosed a double pulmonary embolism he healed her by a simple declaration that she was ‘healed’. The woman was duly grateful and trotted out the room pain free.

More significantly he confounded skeptics by cure after cure so that his fame spread. On seeing a patient crying over a leg due to be amputated the following day he assured him he had nothing to worry about. Sure enough the leg underwent a miraculous healing, much to the surprise of the surgeon next day.

A jealous establishment called him a charlatan and banned him from further hospital work for his temerity in curing the sick without a degree. The sick didn’t seem to mind and continued to seek him out, and, because he rarely if ever ‘touched’ a patient the authorities could not accuse him of malpractice or inappropriate behaviour.
His fame spread far beyond Lyon. In 1881 he treated the Bey of Tunis, was granted a doctorate in Medicine by the University of Cincinnati in 1884. Two years later the Royal Academy of Rome made him an honorary Doctor of Medicine, whilst at home he was condemned again and again for medical malpractice. 
This didn’t stop the Russians taking an interest in him. One leading Russian noble recorded how he met Philippe Nizier at Mass in Lyon. In the sermon the priest had advised the congregation that biblical miracles should not be taken literally. Philippe disagreed, and when the priest in a dudgeon declared: “May thunder strike this church if I can believe these things”, Nizier raised his eyes to the sky and gestured. Lightning flashed over the church followed immediately by thunder. 

The Russian noble might have been over doing the vodka or borsch but news of it impressed the Tsar. Members of the Tsar’s household began to visit him in Lyon. And in 1901 Tsar Nicholas invited him to Russia as a favoured guest. More, at the risk of offending the French, he was made a Doctor of Medicine – though he first had to pass an exam. A medical jury was assembled. Nizier asked it for a list of hospital bed numbers, and, without leaving the room, he not only diagnosed the patients but cured them as well. The Russian doctors confirmed the fact and he was duly granted his doctorate.

Some report a letter he wrote to the Tsar warning him of  a revolution that would exterminate the Royal family and thousands of Christians, and for those who believe in reincarnation he also prophesied that he, Philippe, would one day return as a small child ‘…and those who need to recognise me will do so.’
Back in Lyon he locked himself away, working, some said, on an elixir of life. It had little effect. He died in 1905 collapsing silently on the floor.

What's puzzling is why Rasputin is so much more well known than Philippe Nizier. Maybe sex has something to do with it.

Friday, 9 November 2012

My Nemesis - Liver Cake

It was late October, an hour before midnight, and we walked through Lyon without coats. The night was balmy, streets and squares dense with people enjoying the air – and cigarettes…

Cigarettes were not just to be smoked; they were accessories, style statements and carried with the panache of swordsmen. Couples argued using them as debating aids, jabbing the air when making a point, describing large spirals when mulling on more weighty affairs. At dusk it was like wading through a convention of fire-flies. Sometimes the cigarette would be held in midair as the smoker pondered a point. I saw a woman staring at a wall opposite, cigarette poised, as she studied the brickwork, pondering perhaps on its pattern, the molecular balance of brick-dust and mortar, or whether she may have been too hasty in voting for Francoise Hollande.

Everyone smoked: small bull-dogs, terriers and poodles, babies in prams, but especially the young; and all with conviction and style. I loathe the smell of tobacco but here it was street-theatre – when the weather was balmy. Like everywhere else in the civilised world it is strictly forbidden in restaurants and bars, and the display was more muted in rain or cold weather.  

 Lyon is also the home of some very fine restaurants. Exploring Rue Merciere we passed two contrasting restaurants. One was jam-packed with tables over spilling on to the pavement. The adjacent restaurant was empty. Completely empty. A waitress stood at the entrance, not so much gloomy as preoccupied with a cigarette and staring at nothing in particular. I recognised the mode. She was thinking. Possibly about liver-cake.

And perhaps it is as well now to warn you about liver-cake. I love liver – even raw – but liver-cake no! Keep it far from your mouth lest a wayward tongue be tempted. It is an abomination, even with tomato sauce. It looks inoffensive on the plate, a cake-like wedge, quivering and brown. The quivering, you might think, is warning enough. Let me put it on the record. Meaty products, even offal, should not feel like Blancmange on the tongue. It’s confusing. One set of stimuli is suggesting dessert. Your taste buds are screaming out liver. 

Worse was to come. Tripe sausage is something else you might think twice about. I ate it all in the interests of research. The starter, Lyonnais Salad, was fine: poached egg on lettuce, croutons and lardoons of smoked bacon. A meal in itself.  The main course, a sample of Lyonnais specialities (ie offal based) proved harder going. After the liver-cake and tripe sausage I lost the will to live never mind recall what else remained on the plate. Amnesia is a wonderful thing. 

But Lyon is beautiful, worth another post - and exhortations to everyone  go visit.  For those interested in Praline tarte go here!

Friday, 2 November 2012


I was in a French restaurant, unobtrusively I thought, testing a small roll of plumpness between finger and thumb. It was my stomach, I hasten to add, and  I was feeling pleased with myself, having lost two stone and now weighing in at an almost lissom 11 stone 12 lb. 

I squeezed a bit harder estimating the weight I had still to lose. I held it against gravity, in the manner of a master butcher assessing how many sausages it amounted to – three or four pounds perhaps

A sharp voice punctured my dreaming:

“Stop podging. It’s disgusting!”

It was my daughter.



What a wonderful word. And it was new. More grist to the mill for those who dislike our cultural slide into ‘verbing.’

We have the noun Podge: A short fat man or woman, according to the Oxford dictionary. In our neck of the woods it’s a fairly affectionate term for a residual plumpness around the stomach.
But she had it. I was podging. That was it exactly.


I accepted it with pride, even though it meant losing the high ground in linguistic purity. Never again would I be able to decry with authority, bureaucratese like: ‘Let’s conference’ – ‘I’ll signature that’ – ‘statemented’ – ‘actioning’ - ‘tasking’ - ‘impacting’ - ‘We’ll transition.’ But it was worth it. A new word had been born. A Keyton word. Not exactly Shakespeare, but still…

Mind you, as I remarked to Vero a day or to ago not all change is good. My present bĂȘte noire is an increasing tendency to preface every sentence with ‘So.’

It's a plague heard across the airwaves when an expert or politician is being interviewed and responds with: 'So...podging…’  It’s an irritating grammatical tic allowing a) the interviewee time to gather his or her thoughts


b) suggesting a spurious academic air at the same time ie 'so...' sounding so much more considered and thoughtful than a simple 'ummm.'

It’s a new terrifying meme almost as bad as the dreaded upward inflection at the end of a sentence that transforms an otherwise clear statement such at ‘It’s raining,’ into a question.

But now I am rambling. Time for a little surreptitious podging, perhaps, and then bed.