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Date: 01/03/15

The First XI - That Came Into Their Heads

The ever-estimable Philip Challinor prods me with the following somewhat mischievous tweet:

Screenshot of a tweet suggesting I had been wrongly missed out of the Telegraph's list of 'Great Welsh Writers'

There was nothing for it then, but to rise to the rascal's bait and check out the Toryglyph's list and see from whose company I had been so disgracefully excluded.

My first thought was that eleven is, in more than one sense, an odd number. Ten is the usual length of a newspaper's list of anything, in honour of the tradition started by the Sun many a dark year ago, which would calmly enumerate the number of ways in which whoever was leader of the Labour Party (in the days when it was still just marginally to the left of centre) could be put to a slow, lingering death, or the 'tell-tale signs' that your kiddies' hamster was a lesbian. Of course, in Dear Old Blighted (still charmingly only semi-decimalised and under-metricated after all these years of Euro-pollution), twelve will also do as a nice round number (round, that is, if you have the requisite number of fingers, so this only still really works in Norfolk and Devon). But eleven?

I perused the list with a certain degree of bemusement as to what criteria the Barclay brothers' remaining tenured serfs could have used to make what passes for their judgment. I had certainly never considered old Bertie Russell to be Welsh, and for the most part I don't suppose he did either to any real degree - I mean, he was from Monmouthshire, a county inhabited to this day by people who only consider themselves Welsh if they can use it to get one over on Gloucestershire; ditto with Ken Follett, whose sole qualification seems to have been that he once wrote a novel about a coal-miner's family; ditto in excelsis with Dick Francis, whose metier was writing stuff about the horsey set which Elizabeth The Queen Blood-line Obsessive was capable of reading; and there was some youth I'd never heard of whose only claim to inclusion seems to have been a paid gig as 'Artist in Residence' for the boys with the odd-shaped balls; as tough a row to hoe, I should imagine, as being Literary Editor for Zoo.

The old saloon-bar bore/boor was in there, of course, the Dreaded Drunk Dylan being the only writer from Wales with whom most Anglophones (even the more educated of them) have ever been acquainted to any measurable degree. Given that I have explained in extenso my appreciation of the wretched sot elsewhere, I shall say no more on that here.

The thought occurred to me as I went from picture to picture that there was a remarkable preponderance of members of this Ordure Of Merit from the south-east, perhaps - with the exception of Maelor or the sea-front flop-houses of Rhyl - the least meaningfully Welsh area of our land. Even R.S. Thomas was from Cardiff, although the description of him goes on about his politics far more than about anything he may have, y'know, written.

My eye was then caught by the actual URL of the page. There, it didn't say 'Welsh writers'; it said "best-writers-from-Wales.html". And the eye which had been caught - along with its counterpart on the other side of the bridge of my nose - had the scales fall from it. Of course! This was nothing to do with being Welsh. It was to do with being 'from Wales', with all that implies for being able to list people of whom Barclaygraph readers - and its hacks, for that matter - might once have heard, irrespective of their relevance - or lack of same - to the land of their birth.

It also gave me a clue as to why they had listed eleven. I strongly suspect that they had only ever intended there to be ten until - having inked it up - the realisation dawned that, in the very paper for which Caradog Prichard had written for twenty-five years, they didn't have a single writer who had toiled in that gibberish that the uppity natives still insist on using despite the fact that they know it's holding them back from the modern world and its exalted culture. And so, they had to get the journalistic equivalent of the shoe-horn out and lever one in.

Only the one, of course, because that is clearly all that was justified; this is Engl..I mean, Britain after all. And so, although Saunders Lewis was a dramatist, poet, essayist and polemicist, and although Dic Jones and Gerallt Lloyd Owen were better poets in all respects than the Lush of Laugharne, the bottle of Valium - once it stopped spinning - alighted upon the scrap of envelope bearing the name of Dr. Kate Roberts. And then there were eleven, and that - clearly - would do, and those rude colonials (so rude, in fact, that they insist on talking in their own made-up language as soon as you walk into the village pub - they do, you know, my brother-in-law's best mate's plumber told me) would have to put up with it.

And so, indeed, we shall; although this has rather more to do with the acknowledgement on our part that the Telegraph is of limited utility to us even in its secondary usage as an emergency replacement for Andrex; and also because we have become resigned and inured to the provincial ignorance of the people who write on literature - and the arts in general - for the self-described 'metropolitan' papers. This may also explain why that great promoter of international cultural awareness which is the Guardian took over a week to publish an obituary of Dr. John Davies - preferring to give its readership death notices of long-since-thought-of-as-having-died-years-ago-anyway actresses, obscure Liberal Democrats (I apologise for the tautology) and Wallachian social theorists - whereas the Independent (sic) got theirs out inside two days; but then, they have Meic Stephens on a retainer to do them.

Besides which, we know that we only have to put up with it for one day a year, the organs [disambiguation needed] in question ignoring us for the rest of the time; not studiously so, but simply because to them - if it doesn't involve rugby, choirs or rock-star sex offenders - we simply do not exist.

So, all in all, how do I feel about being left out? Well, apart from recalling Groucho Marx's famous line about membership of a club, I have to say that I'm having difficulty reining in my indifference.

Update (2021): Somewhere along the line, the Toryglyph decided to add another two writers to their listicle. This doesn't invalidate my comments in the slightest, given that thirteen is just as odd a number (in all senses of the term).