Tag Archives: Celtic

Who are the British? Or are they at all?

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

During last night’s General Election coverage – with the Scottish National Party effectively wiping out the other three parties in Scotland, Labour just-about holding the North of England and the Conservatives (except in London) dominating the South – someone on BBC TV talked about a three-colour layered cake of a nation. Yellow at the top, red in the middle and blue at the bottom.

The line between red and blue is somewhat skewed by Wales being red, but it is a fairly good image.

The result of the 2015 Election

The constituency result of the 2015 Election

I think to people outside the UK – particularly to people who have always referred to the UK as “England” – the extent to which the UK is and always has been a hotchpotch has never been realised.

My blog yesterday headed Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England? was about nationality.

Five years ago – in November 2010 – I wrote a blog headed The British have always been a violent race 

That was about what the people on the island of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales – were arguably like, not about the individual nations.

There were a couple of interesting comments about that November 2010 blog – one made in June 2013 and one made in October 2014 – and, yesterday, an unknown (to me) person called Dean replied to both of those comments. Below I reprint the comments and Dean’s responses as an interesting insight into some people’s thinking, which is perhaps relevant in view of the strong support the UK Independence Party got in yesterday’s election.

I have to say I think some of Dean’s facts are a tad suspect – and I think he confuses “British” with “English” – but his views are interesting.

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it


COMMENT BY RONNIE (June 2013)

I think all Germanic countries are more violent than Southern European countries. It’s strange because they tend to be richer and more successful than the Southern European countries. There is a big drinking culture and that only makes things worse. England is worse than other Germanic countries like Germany and Holland when it comes to violent behaviour. There is a big difference here between working class and middle class people. The working classes are often undereducated and this leads to poverty, child pregnancy, unemployment which in turn leads to frustration and violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

England is not a Germanic country in the very least… England is a pre-Celtic origin country. Germanic invaders had little impact there unlike the myth usually tell us… Germanics like Dutch or German are cold with the outsider but gregarious with their family and close friends…They are direct, can appear rude as being too direct but are in reality very honest and civilized people, who rarely will fight. They have respect for human beings and love to discuss like civilized humans.

Britons like to cheat… They are polite, which means they always will show you fake acceptance… but they do nothing else but backstab you… The Brits are not direct people… and that can grow a big bad enviroment… People don’t really know how to communicate in England… so every frustration comes in form of physical aggression. Brits love to fight and have no sense of human aesthetics or style.

Dutch, Germans, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, etc – true Germanic people – are very civilized people. They can be colder but once you get to know them well they will accept you and they will be honest to you; they have sense of human aesthetics; they like to appreciate human life and love to look good.

Britons are animals. They don’t care about people but only about their own instincts.


COMMENT BY ALAN (October 2014)

Britain is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh are Celtic and the English are Germanic. The Welsh are the native Britons, the Scottish are Gaels and Picts from Ireland and the English are Anglo-Saxons. Britain has always been a violent place, its culture is based on violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

English origins aren’t Germanic. English look the same as Irish or Scottish. The Anglo-Saxon impact in England was tiny. Most English roots (as much as 80%) come from pre-Germanic/pre-Celtic inhabitants, which were of neolithic origin.

That’s why there are so few natural blonde and Nordic/Germanic looking people in England or the UK compared to Scandinavia, Holland or Germany. Most Brits have dark hair, pale skin and hazel eyes and their stature is mediocre at best.

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Gay love hopes of two Celtic comics dashed at Israeli killer’s comedy gig

Daphna Baram providing killer last night

Daphna Baram – killer comic last night

I went to Miss D’s Silver Hammer last night – the weekly London comedy night run by Israeli comic Daphna Baram who tends to successfully deter any potential hecklers by pointing out in advance that she has diabetes and has been trained to kill by the IDF. Not, as I at first thought, the International Diabetes Federation but the Israeli Defence Forces.

Next Monday, she has an entirely Irish group of comedians performing her day-after-St-Patrick’s-Day show, but she did pretty well on the Celtic line-up last night too.

I was there to see Irish podcast supremo Christian Talbot perform and also because he and Daphna Baram had mightily pushed to me the talents of camp-ish Dubliner Al Porter.

Also performing were two Glaswegians – non-gay Gary Sansome (soon to de-camp to Australia) and extremely talented and gay-in-both-senses-of-the-word Larry Dean.

Al Porter - ooh yes, missus, t’be sure

Al Porter last night, ooh missus, t’be sure

Al Porter was, indeed, as good as Christian and Daphna had told me. Both reckon he will become very successful very soon and he well might do, though one can never tell.

Talent is usually never enough but sure Al has the gift of rapid patter in depth, great audience controlling charm and very good clothes sense (never something to underestimate with this sort of act).

He claimed on-stage that the only reason he had accepted the gig was to meet the afore-mentioned gay Glaswegian Larry Dean who tragically, between booking and performance, had become tied-up in a monogamous relationship, thus scuppering Al’s cherished hopes.

In other circumstances, I might have thought this was part of the act.

Sadly, I fear the wreckage of Al’s shattered dreams may have been a reality.

I had been told there was an element of Frankie Howerd in Al’s act. I could see very faint traces, but only because the idea had been planted in my mind. The delivery was so fast, so smooth and so overwhelming that the act was nothing like the blessed Frankie.

Oddly, what last night reminded me of was seeing an early-ish stage performance by Steve Coogan at Manchester University Students’ Union in what, I guess, must have been 1992.

There was something about the self-confidence of the delivery and movements, something about the sharpness of the costume and something of the ambitiousness behind the eyes which reminded me of that 1992 Steve Coogan both on and off stage.

Christian and Daphna may be right.

Al Porter may well be very successful very fast.

But, as I say, you can never tell.

Sometimes talent – and even sharp, driving ambition – are not enough.

On the other hand, if I were being superficial – “perish the thought” as my dead father used to say (before his death) – a flamboyantly gay, brightly dressed, highly-self-confident Irish comedian with strong audience empathy is a good starting point and a good selling point for English and American audiences.

I expect to see him on the David Letterman show within five years.

Or maybe Al will have his own chat show in Ireland or the UK.

But my comic expectations are often dashed.

And, as I oft quote: Nobody Knows Anything (Saying © William Goldman, 1983)

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Guinness Book of Records spurns spaghetti-juggling as “too specialised”

The ghost of late, great godfather of alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee must be turning in his urn.

The Edinburgh Fringe this August will host The Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One but, today, Guinness World Records cruelly dealt a bitter blow to spaghetti-juggling enthusiasts worldwide when they shockingly refused to recognise spaghetti-juggling as a legitimate event.

“While we certainly do not underestimate your proposal,” Guinness World Records write, “we do however think that this item is a little too specialised for a body of reference as general as ours. We receive many thousands of record claims every year and we think you will appreciate that we are bound to favour those which reflect the greatest interest.”

How can people not be fascinated or, indeed, be obsessed by spaghetti-juggling?

I am sure I read somewhere that Nero juggled spaghetti while Rome burned. He later spread the rumour he was playing the violin because he wanted to seem more cultured.

My lifelong hopes and dreams of spaghetti-juggling becoming a recognised, legitimate – perhaps even Olympic – sport may have been dented today, but they will not be so easily crushed.

Spaghetti-juggling may not be in the Olympics next year nor in 2016, but the stupidity and pointlessness of an idea should be no barrier to its acceptance as an event. This is Britain, where stupidity and pointlessness have been widely cherished for centuries. And still are.

Clay pigeon shooting.

Marmite.

I rest my case.

And spaghetti-juggling is an event in which Britain could take a decisive lead this August.

Throwing a javelin is a remarkably pointless thing to do in the 21st century, except possibly at Celtic v Rangers football matches. But people still get gold medals for it. Or arrested.

Spaghetti-juggling has the potential to rival javelin-throwing and curling – an Olympic sport which is basically just polishing ice as quickly as you can.

Spaghetti-juggling is the future for pointless sports. It has its days of glory ahead of it, starting this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Outside The Beehive Inn on 24th and 25th August.

Be there or risk missing the start of a cultural phenomenon.

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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Scots wha hae an aggressive voice and Scots wha dinnae – Rab C Nesbitt versus Gordon Jackson

A few years ago, a Liverpudlian friend of mine who is of Indian descent (by which I mean to explain she has a gentle voice) went to Glasgow for the first time.

When she came back, she told me: “At first, I couldn’t understand why everyone I met was so angry and why they were all so angry with each other. Then, after about forty minutes, I realised it was just their Glasgow accents.”

That was no joke. She genuinely was initially confused.

It came to mind today when I heard Glasgow comedienne Janey Godley discussing Scottish football managers on both BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and on BBC World Service’s lunchtime Newshour. (There are now seven Glasgow-born managers of English Premier League teams.)

“There’s something that’s come through so much today,” Janey said in the Newshour interview, “and it’s that a Scottish accent equals aggression. It’s something that people like me have had to fight for a long time. People don’t say I’m a strong comic; I’m called a tough, aggressive comic because of my accent. But our accent isn’t always synonymous with aggression.”

Janey puts the “don’t mess with us” accent down to “gritty Celtic upbringing” in Glasgow.

But the bizarre other side of the coin is that British telephone call centres are often based in the lowlands of Scotland because a Scottish accent is also found by English people to be comforting and honest.

I am old enough to remember when this started and it was specifically to do with soft-toned Glasgow-born actor Gordon Jackson who, in the early 1970s, appeared in the high-rating ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs as calm, reassuring and authoritative butler Mr Hudson.

To cash in on his TV image, a financial services company had him voice their TV commercials and their business rocketed. He – and other Scots ‘voices’ – became much in demand for financial ads. One bonus was that, unless the words were rasped out in a clearly scummy Rab C Nesbitt type accent, the English were unable to socially place any Scottish accent: they could not label the accent as belonging to any particular ‘class’ or any particular area… the accent was just “Scottish” and came with images of financial probity and Mr Hudson style trustworthiness.

Cliche images, of course, are a fascinating area of illogicality. as with Rab C Nesbitt AND Mr Gordon Jackson both being the epitome of cliche Scottishness.

The Scots have an unusual dichotomy of cliche images. They are seen as both drunken petty criminals and morally-strict Calvinists… as both penniless jack-the-lads and dead-honest people canny with their money.

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United lies sandwiched somewhere between Rab C Nesbitt and Gordon Jackson.

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Britain is full of immigrants

Allegedly, the USA is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ where any immigrant can arrive with nothing and create a new life for himself or herself with unlimited potential. But you cannot become President if you were not born in the USA.

What’s that all about?

I have a British friend whose parents were Indian – they arrived and settled here in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. She told me (and I admit I was surprised) that she had never experienced any racial discrimination in the UK. She never encountered it until she lived in the USA.

It does seem to me – in a vast generalisation – that the US is a land of separated peoples. They define themselves as Irish-American or Swedish-American or African-American and they tend to retain their original nationalities in social clubs and by living together in areas, sometimes ghettos.

In Britain, after a couple of generations, people define themselves as British.

People talk about Britain having a 2,000 year history – since the Romans invaded. But that’s bollocks. The Romans didn’t even control the whole of Great Britain – the main island of the British Isles. They invaded and controlled what is now England, the lower part of Great Britain; for a very brief time they controlled parts of what is now Lowland Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall is south of the current border); they never fully managed to control Wales; and, as many have, they pretty-much gave up at the very thought of controlling Ireland.

Last century, actor Gordon Jackson was the definitive Scotsman. He played the butler Hudson in the original ITV series of Upstairs, Downstairs and, whenever movie-makers wanted a Scotsman in their film, he was their first call. He epitomised Scottishness.

Occasionally I used to work with one of his sons. When he (the son) reached his 40th birthday, he told me that, the older he got, the more Scottish he felt.

“Where were you born?” I asked.

“Hampstead.”

Hampstead is in North London. But then, if you are the son of Gordon Jackson, you are going to feel Scottish. His mother was Scots too and, though brought up in London, they had a holiday home in Pitlochry.

I remember standing in an office in the London Weekend TV tower looking out at a misty, drizzly South Bank and Westminster scene and saying to this Son of Gordon Jackson:

“Now that is dreich.”

“Definitively dreich,” he replied.

Dreich is a Scots Gaelic word which is virtually impossible to define in English. You have to see what it describes if you want to understand it.

There is an interesting theory that the Welsh – or, at least, the people in the middle of Wales, the mountainous parts, the parts that ironically get at bit uppity about being called British and insist on keeping the Welsh language afloat – are actually the only remnants of the original British, pushed back into that western bump of Great Britain by successive invaders from the south, east and north of the island.

The original British were killed-off or bred out of existence perhaps 1,500 years ago.

Basically, everyone in Britain is an immigrant except, possibly, the forefathers of a few Welsh people.

In the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the point is often forgotten that King Arthur was killed. The invaders, in reality, won. The losers possibly fled West.

My surname is Fleming so, at some point, my forebears came from Flanders/Belgium/Holland. But, despite an uncalled-for English accent, I am Scottish. The Scots and Irish are allegedly Celtic but, to my eyes, are clearly Scandinavian – pale skin, light hair, sometimes freckles. I used to have dark brown hair and a ginger beard. That’s Scandinavian.

The Welsh are said, like the Scots and Irish, to be Celtic; but the Welsh are in generalised physical terms nothing like the Scots and Irish – they tend to have dark hair, for one thing.

The Celts, again in very general terms, came from Central Europe. So they are sort-of German though, when I worked in the Czech Republic, the locals reckoned the Celts had actually come from what is now the Czech area of Central Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon English are from what is now Germany – the result of invasions by the Angles and the Saxons.

A Danish TV director I know, who worked with both me and Son of Gordon Jackson, told me he once drove round Yorkshire and recognised most of the names of the towns and villages: they were either recognisable Danish names or bastardisations of Danish names.

Hardly surprising, given that Denmark ruled most of England for so long.

To be a racist, you need to be ignorant of history. To talk of “racial purity” anywhere requires a deep ignorance of history. To talk of “racial purity” in the UK requires a remarkable level of crass stupidity.

I am old enough to remember TV documentaries about the last Yiddish language newspaper closing in the East End of London. Some of the street signs there – around Brick Lane – used to be in Yiddish; now they are in Bengali. Limehouse in East London used to be a Chinese area. Now there’s a little Chinese area in Soho (artificially created, it has to be said, by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone). Everything is constantly changing.

The English language has thrived on constant new inputs from foreign languages; it is constantly changing. The ‘British people’ (whatever that means) have thrived on constant new cultural inputs and there is constant, vibrant change. Britain is constantly being re-born. Unlike the USA, we seem to have integrated and assimilated our immigrants over time. Admittedly we have had longer.

Britain, depending on how you define it, didn’t even exist until 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I of England) or 1707 (when the Act of Union was signed). The flag which the British Army flew at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 in support of their Hanoverian monarch was not the current Union flag. The current so-called ‘Union Jack’ did not exist until 1801 when another Act of Parliament united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland.

If/when either Northern Ireland or Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom and becomes independent, then the flag will have to change again.

No-one in Britain is, when it comes down to it, actually British. We are all immigrants. The British are long-dead, except perhaps for a few distant relatives in Machynlleth.

What “Britain” means is a moveable feast.

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