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Cutting the faggots with the lawyers – but not cutting crime in Greenwich

Yesterday afternoon, ironically, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.

I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.

It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.

Surely not.

But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).

Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.

At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.

Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”

The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.

According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):

During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”

I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.

According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”

Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.

Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.

Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).

It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.

On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.

What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.

I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.

It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.

Things could be worse, though.

When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.

This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”

Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.

But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.

Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.

I must remember.

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Filed under Crime, Eccentrics, Legal system, Travel, Ukraine

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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Filed under History, Politics, Wales