This weekend I’ve been busy. I’ve somehow found the time for;
- Watching Wrecsam FC,
- Watching Liverpool (on the telly),
- Watching Sherlock (also on the telly),
- Going to see my mam (twice),
- Doing a bit of vacuuming,
- Cleaning out the hamster,
- Playing FIFA,
- Planning some lessons and
- Reading the entirety of a really good book.
Yet this blog is as much a plea for a pat on the back for my accomplishments as it is a review of the fantastic book I read…. in that, essentially, it is neither.
I’ve wanted to read George Orwell’s 1949 novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four‘ for quite some time. I’d heard how its spooky similarities with today’s society are worth spending the time to read. My reservation always came in that I presumed I’d lose interest in the book as a personal promise to read, say, a chapter per night would eventually become overwhelmed by the requirements of being a teacher.
After reading the first page, I knew I’d have completed it by Monday morning.
Throughout the book I found myself taking pictures of passages and paragraphs, quotations and, sometimes, whole pages.
Winston’s first entry in his personal book – his first steps into personal enlightenment. His description of the coral paperweight as being less than æsthetically pleasing, but possessing a nature “belonging to an age quite different to the present one,” – much like the ancient stones with which I’ve recently become so amazed. In another case, a simple line (referring to the ‘proles’) stated “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” Cool!
But it was towards the end of the book, during Winston’s torture to ‘correct’ his heretic thoughts, where humans are described as “frail cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves.” The passage continues that “the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better.”
It was this remark that struck me most and referred my memory back to a time in the university where I was explaining to a fellow student how I was learning the Irish language. Unfortunately, I cannot quote the conversation as vividly as I can refer to the book that is currently sat upside-down on my bedside table, but I remember the other student’s subsequent comparison of Ireland and Wales (and their native languages). He mentioned how, where the Irish had fought for their freedom they had lost their language, and that Wales had done the opposite – putting their efforts towards preserving the language whilst remaining vastly loyal to their foreign overlords.
In my comparison, whereas Orwell’s freedom still represented freedom, happiness represented culture and heritage which are ultimately preserved, in the case of any peoples, through their native language.
I thought of nationless states like Cornwall and despaired that they had lost both their language and their freedom. I then thought of Catalunya who, whilst maintaining their diverse language, are as close to independent as a nation can be – let’s just say we’re just waiting for the paperwork in their case!
Thinking back to Orwell’s choice between happiness and freedom, I pondered two very different eventualities and choices for Wales:
1. A Wales free of the shackles of the neo-British union but with no recollection of her language. At first it seemed pleasing to think of an outward-looking Wales – friends among the independent nations of the world working towards equality and fraternity. But the other side of the coin loomed – a Wales where, for all intents and purposes, our language did not exist. Welsh names would be forgotten with each generation and our place-names would simply become anglicised. Caernarfon would become Carnarvon and the books on the origin of its etymology would simply read ‘unknown.’ With this loss of language, Eisteddfodau would not exist. Ways of thinking and of acting – highly dependant on the language in which they were first performed – would be nothing. They would never have existed.
2. A Wales wholly bilingual but is subsequently at the political whim of another nation. Where our language continues to endure and flow freer than the rivers and winds that are ravaged from our grasp. Where our towns and villages offer views unavailable to many an Englishman (so long as their children become Welsh speakers through schooling) and where our NHS offer free prescriptions (so long as the medical information is written in Welsh before English).
It’s seems the choice, however it has been decided, has been made for us. The status quo states that we must endure the shackles of our Stockholm Syndrome…. but we’re welcome to bid each other a ‘bore da‘ should we, however rarely, feel the urge. Our arts and culture are, in somewhat of a feeble way, preserved in books and texts deciphered by those whose grasp on the language is sufficiently fluent. Retirees still come here but are forced to endure the sight of signposts and council tax bills in two languages rather than one. They might even hear someone thank someone with ‘diolch‘!
It seems, as a people, the Welsh are unfortunately closer to the situation of Cornwall than they are to Catalunya. But should we be given the choice (or we become awake enough to earn that choice) which would we choose? Language or independence? Happiness or freedom? Both or neither?
Wrecsam won, by the way.