This Is Not A
A Guiding Light Goes Out
I'm not sure if I really had any feeling of belonging to any
country back in my childhood. Living in an almost totally Anglicised
village scarcely an hour's leisurely walk from the border with England,
the notion of 'Wales' was one which hardly impinged upon my
consciousness. Oh, we had about an hour a week of Welsh lessons in
junior school, and we knew a bit about St David and the flag, but that
was about all. For the most part we couldn't even get television from
Wales, due to one of those interesting 'oversights' or sets of
'technical difficulties' which have always been the excuse given by the
authorities for such deficiencies. I suppose we counted ourselves as British,
that nebulous state of feeling that you were it without actually being
able satisfactorily to define what it was.
I suppose the same lack of awareness continued into my teens, and I
don't really remember the point at which it changed.
It could have been a fortuitous by-product of one of the
absurdities of our education system at that time. At the age of
fourteen, with one's entire class having taken virtually every lesson
together for the first three years in secondary school, now choices had
to be made. These decisions were far-reaching ones, in as much as they
determined what you would study forever thereafter.
Some decisions were easy to make: Physical Education? Sod all that
running about, I chose Music. Woodwork? No talent there at all, let's
try History instead.
There was one choice which caused me some unease, though. In what
disordered mind did the resolution formulate itself that, at that age,
a child should have to choose between studying his or her own nation's
language or studying one of the major languages of the world? Why was I
forced to choose between Welsh and French?
Truth be told, the decision was made for me. Although my marks in
Welsh the previous year were very good, I had somehow managed that year
to get a scarcely-believable ninety-six per cent in the French exam.
So, I chose Welsh.
This was not merely the early sproutings of a tendency towards
perverse decisions which was to go on to enrich my life whilst
simultaneously impoverishing my finances. You see, in my third year,
the French teacher had been a maniacal Parisian woman who was largely
incapable of dealing with a class of twenty-odd hormonal explosions.
Lessons frequently descended into farce (or even grand guignol),
the bolder boys nicked exercise books from the cupboards and, for the
more swotty of us, it became no joy at all. That this same woman gave
me ninety-six per cent for a paper which included an essay about Wales
beating France in a rugby international indicates either that she too
had a perverse personality, or that she knew she was leaving the school
that summer to start a family and was beyond caring. I suspect the
So, I chose Welsh. This turned out to be wise in another way. La
Parisienne's successor was, by all accounts, a fearsome harpy whose
reputation caused her to be known universally simply as 'The Dragon',
and whose methods probably led her charges to a deep Francophobia of Sun-like
I can't say I was that enthusiastic in my studies of Cymraeg
in the subsequent two years. All that I am sure of is that it made my
choice of A-level subjects easier when they came along.
Certainly by that time I had developed a firmer consciousness of
what my identity was. I watched with impotent fury as I saw first-class
arseholes such as Neil Kinnock stomping around the country campaigning
against their own party's policy to provide some faint semblance of
democracy to the way we were governed, leaving no smear unspread, no
myth unmediated, in their desperation. And they succeeded, of course.
Through this period, there was one figure in our national life who
seemed to stand head-and-shoulders above the dirt:
Gwynfor Evans had been leader of Plaid Cymru for over thirty years
by that time. He had been the party's first MP after winning a
by-election in Carmarthen on Bastille Day, 1966. He had been active on
behalf of our nation and language since the late 1930s. He had led
campaigns to stop the English War Ministry from stealing hundreds of
square miles of farming land for bombing ranges. He had been a major
figure in the attempts to stop a thriving Welsh-speaking community near
Y Bala from being wiped out to build a dam
to provide water for factories in Liverpool.
Through all this, he faced powerful and hateful enemies,
particularly from the Labour Party, who ruled what amounted to a
one-party state in many parts of our land. From the thuggish behaviour
of his fellow councillors in Carmarthenshire, via the boorish arrogance
of the Labour rulers of Liverpool Corporation at the time of Tryweryn,
to his very first day as an MP, when an egregious Labour minister
remarked how refreshing it was to see a 'fascist' in the House of
Commons; right up to the end of his electoral career, when he had to
suffer the infernal squeakings of a ninth-rate Labour candidate called
Dr Alan Williams, the personification of Hobbes' description of human
existence ("nasty, brutish [...] and short").
Throughout, Gwynfor Evans remained firmly committed to his beliefs
and worked in whatever constructive and dedicated way he could find to
advance them. His promise to fast to death unless the Thatcher regime
kept its promise of a Welsh-language TV channel forced the so-called
'Iron Lady' into an embarrassing climbdown.
It was this towering integrity which made a patriot out of me. If
someone could work so hard, be willing to sacrifice so much, for the
cause of our nation's liberation, and without ever yielding to the
temptation of intemperate words or conduct, then the least I could do
was to lend my shoulder, however weak, to the wheel. Plaid is the only
party to which I ever belonged (albeit briefly; I'm no more a party
animal politically than I am socially).
I disagreed with him on some points, most notably regarding his
outright, uncompromising pacifism, regarding it as naïve. But
Gwynfor Evans was an example to me as to many others, and his
leadership was crucial in gaining recognition by the imperial
authorities of our rights as a nation; indeed, recognition that we were
a nation at all.
Gwynfor Evans died this week at the age of 92, after a long period
of ill-health and incapacity which was an unjust fate for one who gave
so much. At least now he is beyond all pain, and he remains our
inspiration as we seek to gain that sovereignty which is rightfully
Gwynfor, diolch o'r galon a phob hedd i chi.