Drumbeat

The night before is near sleepless for a couple of reasons. Firstly the pillow beneath my head was uncomfortable thanks to it having feather quills sticking out of it- I eventually solved this problem at 3:00 AM by covering it with a sweater and sleeping on that. Secondly, my head is swimming with thoughts of the future and what I might do and where I might be going with my life. I know I have to move on, away from ‘hell’ and the idea to return to Bangor full time is exceedingly tempting. But sleep I do, eventually, and thank goodness as for the day ahead I will need all of it. For I am going to climb… A mountain!!!!

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The Mystery Of The Croes Naid

The Croes Naid, also known as the Cross of Neath- The chances are that you’ve never heard of it but if you have you’ll know that somewhere in the last seven hundred years it disappeared without a trace. It was a part of the Welsh Crown Jewels and more specifically it belonged to the House of Aberffraw, rulers of Gwynedd. Supposedly it was an ornate cross which incorporated what was said to have been a part of the true cross and was said to have wielded its protection over the House of Aberffraw.

Christ Crucified by Giotto (courtesy of Wikimedia)

Whether or not it really did contain a piece of the true cross, gather all the supposed pieces of the true cross together and you’ll discover that Jesus was crucified thirty feet up in the air, I can’t say but the Croes Naid itself was certainly real. The story goes that the great Welsh King Hywell Dda brought the fragment back from Rome in 929 and from that had it made into the Croes Naid. It’s certainly plausible. Hywell Dda definitely did go on a pilgrimage to Rome at this time and it wasn’t unheard of for people to bring holy relics back from their travels (the toenails of John the Baptist, for example.) Being a man of some importance Hywell may well have been given a high status relic to return to Wales with and there aren’t many that are more high status than a piece of the true cross. At some point the cross ended up with the house of Aberffraw and it stayed there until the conquest of 1282.

At the conquest Llywelyn ap Gruffudd deposited it with the monks of Cymer Abbey (near Dolgellau) for its protection and after his humiliating final defeat at Orewin Bridge Edward Longshanks, King of England, appropriated it, along with the other Crown Jewels of Wales- The Coronet of Llywellyn, the Matrix of the Seal, the Crown of Arthur and the Jewels of Arthur. All of these were paraded through the streets of London in a kind of triumphal march before being deposited with the English Crown Jewels, the most important bits of which were kept with the king himself or, and the less important bits, like say, loot taken from Wales, in one of the crypts Westminster Abbey.

What happened to the Croes Naid and the other Welsh Crown Jewels after that is a complete mystery. The only thing we know for certain is that they were already absent when that well known anti-royalist Oliver Cromwell came to do an inventory of the Crown Jewels in 1649. They had, all of them, gone. But where? And how?

Several possibilities present themselves. The first is that they had been destroyed during the Reformation, seen as examples of Catholic idolatry perhaps. Whilst I can certainly see this being true of the Croes Naid, I can’t see why it would be the case with the much more secular crowns, coronets, jewels or the matrix. A second possibility is that someone destroyed them to prevent them from being used as symbol of Wales, a symbol of how they were subservient to the English, how the English had imprisoned the Welsh. The most likely candidate for this is Henry IV, he who resembled Ming the Merciless, during the Glyndwr rebellion of 1404-10.

Edward Longshanks (Looking like Voldemort? -Courtesy of Wikimedia)

The third possibility is the most interesting. In the early 1300’s there were numerous attempts at stealing the crown jewels and the one in 1303 was the most successful for the fact that it nearly succeeded. The chief orchestrator was Richard of Pudlicott, though it’s likely that the whole of Westminster Abbey and the remaining staff of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster (The king off in Scotland at the time) were in on it. It was only when some of the culprits tried to hide their ill gotten loot that the crime was discovered- Pieces were found hidden in hedgerows, behind tombstones, one pulled from the Thames. One London prostitute even boasted of a ring given to her by the Sacrist of the abbey. The subsequent investigation recovered most of the stolen booty but, if they were stolen at this time, perhaps not the Welsh Crown Jewels.

If they were not recovered, if they were even stolen, then the likelihood is that they were probably sold abroad, somewhere in Flanders perhaps.  Wherever they went after this, without any records or even a single clue as to where they might have ended up, we cannot even begin to guess. It leaves open, however, the slight chance that they are still out there, somewhere on the continent- Not recognised for what they are. Perhaps they are on display in a museum, mislabelled as the jewels of some Germanic prince. Perhaps they sit in a Swiss bank account belonging to some ancient, once noble but now forgotten family. They could be anywhere, if they still exist.

There might be an addendum to this theft- Owain Glyndwr. In 1404, at Machynlleth, Glyndwr was crowned Prince of Wales. What he was crowned with is a matter of some debate- A new crown, made for the occasion; the Crown of Elise (royal crown of Powys) OR one of the Aberffraw crowns/coronets taken by Longshanks. The first is the most rational explanation. The second should lead us to ask as to why that wasn’t procured along with all the other Welsh Crown Jewels. Where was it and why did it suddenly reappear? As to the third… Is it conceivable that after the theft in 1303 the Crown Jewels ended up back in Wales and were subsequently used by Glyndwr? It is a stretch, in my honest opinion. And as to what would have happened to them then, or to the crown that Glyndwr used, is again a mystery. Glyndwr could have taken them with him when he disappeared into the mountains but then again maybe he didn’t. He was on the run at the time and lugging around the Welsh Crown Jewels would have been a burden.

The Croes Naid and the rest of the Crown Jewels certainly aren’t going to be hidden in an Indiana Jones style crypt somewhere, guarded by booby traps. The closest possibilty is a Swiss bank vault somewhere. The most likely explanation, whatever happened after they were taken to London, however they disappeared, is that they were destroyed and lost to history a long time ago.

Whatever Happened To The Statesmen?

Virtually all great statesmen transcend politics. Whilst in office they may be divisive, they may irritate people, their policies may sometimes be second or even third rate, they may make catastrophic mistakes, but through the strength of their personalities and force of character and convictions, as well as much more, that is forgotten and they are remembered by history as outstanding individuals. Their names are well known- In the UK we have William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill. Yes, they all had their faults (Churchill liked to strut around in the nud and was more than a bit of a warmonger, Lloyd George was both a womaniser and financially corrupt) but nobody can deny that they are amongst the greatest polticians Britain (and the world) has produced.

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The Coffee House Interviews | A Lady Of Class

For the third in my now series of fictional character interviews, I have selected a character who it has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to write. Whenever she turns up she takes over the spotlight and I thought it would be fun to write up an interview with her. So here, I present, the former Princess Anna of Ardeluta, a lady of absolute class.

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Scenes From A Static Caravan

It was a passing thought- ‘I wonder if I could find the place again? Is it even still there?’ It has been a minimum of twenty years since I last saw it but it is still clear in my memory: a caravan site somewhere to the north, set on the side of a steep hill, somewhere in deepest, darkest Witch country, in the Ribble Valley. There’s a pub out front. The name of it I couldn’t possibly tell you for I can’t remember and I probably never took any notice of it in the first place. What I can recall about the pub, and this is a weird thing to remember, is that the main bar was upstairs and the staircase up to it was narrow, enclosed, and as much as I always wanted to go and see what was up there I was never allowed. I feel that if I saw the place again I would almost certainly recognise it. In my mind it seems like a pretty large chunk of my early childhood took place there.

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Charlie Chaplin’s Shadow

Think of silent film and you’ll probably immediately come up with an image of Charlie Chaplin and his little tramp character- Bowler hat, toothbrush moustache, raggedy clothes, maybe a silly walk… But there was a lot more to silent film than just Chaplin and his little tramp. There was a lot more to Chaplin than just his little Tramp. Take for instance the score for Modern Times (a film that today is just as funny as it was when released) Chaplin wrote it himself and twenty years later John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics and turned it into one of the twentieth century’s greatest ballads- Smile. He was also a very clever man (despite not having much in the way of a conventional education) and he knew his business like few have since. Though silent comedy is a limited form of comedy (limited mainly to slapstick and farce) Chaplin was a master of it and without his mastery the modern movie industry would not exist as we know it.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

This, however, is a double edged sword. Whilst nobody is doubting Chaplin’s considerable impact or his undisputed mastery of the comic arts, his presence does cast a very long shadow over the early days of film. He overshadows even the other great silent comedians- Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon etc. When attempting to break into watching silent films most people will inevitably go for Chaplin because of this. There’s nothing wrong with him, my own first silent movie was The Kid, one of the Chaplin classics, but it can give people the impression that all silent comedy was this way. Other comic actors were very different to Chaplin and sometimes, and this may come as a shock, they were funnier. Keaton, for instance, was much more nuanced than Chaplin, more subtle in his performance, which makes some of the farce and absurdities in his films come across as being more comical. Chaplin also had an edge of sentimentality that often puts people off, something which other film comedians of the time lacked. It is possible to absolutely hate Chaplin but love someone like Keaton, though because of Chaplin’s shadow people often don’t get that far.

Then there are the drama films of the era. Some are quite rightly praised amongst film buffs for their artistic and technical quality but for much of the general public, raised on a diet of Spielberg and Die Hard, they can come across as being exceptionally dull. D.W Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation may be remembered for being one of the most racist films ever made, but it is also a dull racist film. At over three hours long it would be a tough sit through even if it were made today but the fact that it is silent makes it a whole lot harder to get through. Watching a silent film is a radically different experience to watching a talking picture and as a result even the films that are actually good and not boring (like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) can be tough to sit through if you don’t have the right mindset. My point is that they haven’t aged as well as the comedy. Time and huge advances in technology and film making techniques, most prominently the introduction of talking, have rendered many of them near unwatchable to a lot of people.

I think however that even if these films were in some way still able to catch the imagination of the general public, and this is not implausible, they would still be under Chaplin’s huge shadow. The trouble lies in that Chaplin is the perfect embodiment of something that occurs across all form of art, namely that one person or piece comes to dominate over all else. It happens on an individual basis, say a certain movie or role will come to dominate an actor’s oeuvre (For example, Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia or Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho.) The James Bond franchise provides a double example. The films dominate over the books and the films are dominated, overall, by Goldfinger– Personally I prefer From Russia With Love but that’s just a personal opinion. With Chaplin we have an extreme example where he dominates an entire era and art form, not merely his own niche. I don’t think anybody else in the history of film can claim to be to so ubiquitous or to have had such an impact. George Lucas and Star Wars perhaps comes closest but neither embodies an entire era in the same way that Chaplin does.

The problem is that he is just too ubiquitous, too symbolic of the silent era and that is unlikely to change. What we need to remember is that as good as he might be and as much as he dominates the era of silent film he is only really representative of a small portion of it. Silent drama is very different and more challenging to watch. It has not aged as well. Amongst his niche other people produced films that were sometimes much funnier than his output. This is not to deny that he is not an important figure, he was one of the first movie megastars after all, but sometimes we need to push him backwards in order to appreciate that which lies in his shadow.

‘The Khyber’ | Extract

This is something I’ve started only this week and it is… Well, a bit different to what I usually do. I’ve had the idea for the story floating around for a while and whilst this isn’t my first stab at it, it’s certainly the furthest I’ve got. Even if I end up starting again (which I do sometimes) this is a story I definitely want to get out one day. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it for this is the start, the first preview, if you will, of THE KHYBER. 

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