Today is St David’s Day, St David being the patron saint of Wales, in commemoration of the day he died – in 589. Of course, all this means that I really should have taken the day off, and many days off before it. (The promise of the creation of a long-overdue public holiday is surely not another reason for people in Wales to vote Conservative? Yeah, right. As if.)
A land of poetry and song, Wales, apparently. It does have a fair list of poets and singers, it has to be said; literary giants such as Dylan Thomas, R.S. Thomas, Roald Dahl and W.H. Davies, the latter responsible for the contemplative ‘Leisure’:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows;
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass;
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night;
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance;
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
One of my Welsh heroes is philosopher Bertrand Russell, largely for his political and social activism, although he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Decreed “morally unfit to teach” at New York’s City College due to his books being “filled with immoral and salacious doctrines,” he became a spokesman for the growing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and ended up in prison. Brilliant.
In music, aside from the obvious which I will leave to somebody else to mention, there’s John Cale of the Velvet Underground, Andy Fairweather-Low, originally of Amen Corner, and Phil Campbell, lead guitarist with Motörhead. There are many good bands, some of them bi-lingual, both recording currently and of yesteryear, such as Badfinger and Budgie, or The Alarm, led by singer Mike Peters, whose dedication to his fanbase is nothing short of remarkable.
We mustn’t forget the multi-talented entertainer, Ivor Novello, whose name now adorns one of the most prestigious awards David has won to date – his Lifetime Achievement award from 2008.
Wales may well claim the finest actor of his generation in Richard Burton. My favourite, though, is Anthony Hopkins who hails from the same town as Burton. (Incidentally, has anyone seen him in The Rite yet? Oh, it looks good.)
There are the comedians Griff Rhys Jones, who you’ll remember from Three Men in a Boat if not his successful partnership with Mel Smith; David’s favourite, Tommy Cooper; The Goon Show’s Harry Secombe, The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse.
Other more obvious ‘artists’ include Sir Kyffin Williams and Thomas Jones, whose rural landscapes are among the most beautiful things I ever laid my eyes upon.
Welshmen, you may not know, gave the world the equals sign (Robert Recorde), lawn tennis (Walter Clopton Wingfield) and the carbon microphone (David E. Hughes), as well as several important firsts: the first wearable electronic hearing aid (Edwin Stevens); the first photographs of an extra-galactic body (Isaac Roberts: the Great Andromeda Nebula, photographed in 1887); the first basic fuel cell, or “gas voltaic battery” as it was then known (Sir William Grove). A Welshman gave world-famous Yale College its name (15th century philanthropist, Elihu Yale, whose family estate in Plas yn Iâl near Llangollen translates as ‘Yale House’).
The Welsh also stamped upon the world some key moral code, for which I remain fiercely proud.
Robert Owen, social reformer and founder of the co-operative movement, shortened the working day, increased the minimum working age and generally made it his life’s mission to improve the living conditions of workers.
David Lloyd George, Liberal Prime Minister, whose revolutionary measures included the introduction of financial support by the state for sickness and invalidism (in 1911) and the extension of National Insurance to cover almost the entire labour force (in 1920), created the modern welfare state.
Aneurin Bevan, perhaps the Labour party’s most inspirational figure, built on Lloyd George’s work with the creation of a National Health Service. He then resigned from government in 1951 in disgust over proposals to introduce prescription charges. How wonderfully refreshing it would be to see a politician today with just an ounce of Bevan’s courage and moral fortitude.
Turning to sport, there’s recently-retired boxing champion, Joe Calzaghe, and footballer, John Charles. Nicknamed Il Gigante Buono (The Gentle Giant) in recognition of 155 appearances for Juventus during which he never received so much as a caution. More than 30 years after his last appearance in Italy, he was voted Serie A’s greatest foreign player ahead of so many talented and respected contenders, which is an extraordinary tribute. Simultaneously, he was arguably the world’s finest centre-half and centre-forward.
It would be foolish to ignore Wales’ national sport – rugby – and three tremendous players: winger John James Williams, better known as J.J., full-back John Peter Rhys Williams, better known as J.P.R., and scrum-half and scorer of quite possibly the best try you will ever see (in 1973, for the Barbarians against the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park), Gareth Owen Edwards. I hope some of you enjoy reliving the glory years of Welsh rugby in this rousing video compilation. Said try included.
So, enjoy your cawl and let us know your favourite Welsh people, places, and whatever else tickles your fancy. This list of 100 Welsh Heroes might help you remember some, or could just take the blame for an hour of what I like to consider ‘educational idling’. I admit, I’ve lost more than one hour today reading about the Newport Rising of 1839 and another looking at oil paintings of Snowdonia.
Thank you for indulging me.
The chatroom is closed today but will open tomorrow at 1pm (UK).