Monday, 3 July 2017

“Into the wind: the life of of Carwyn James" by Alun Gibbard

Alan Gibbard`s new book “Into the wind: the life of of Carwyn James" is a complex, many layered work. It can be read on all sorts of levels and in all sorts of ways. Its many layered approach, psychological, cultural and reflective continually touches the multi faceted and the many roles and outlooks of Carwyn`s character. The key to understanding the nature of the book is the following quote “ In every man, there is one part which concerns only himself and his contingent existence, is properly unknown to anybody but himself, and dies with him. And there is another part through which he holds to an idea, which is expressed through him with an eminent clarity and of which he is a symbol” . So stated Wilhelm von Humboldt autobiographical fragments 1816  

Carwyn took part in protests outside Ministry of Defence facilities throughout Wales. He refused to watch his much loved team when they played apartheid South Africa, he stood for parliament. In Llanelli in 1970. He was an intellectual , he appreciated the critical weakness of the monolithic English state. He read Dostoyevsky, he taught about how the media worked and how television was changing our society. He was truly a renaissance man and stood on the cusp of post modernism> he was a symbol and support of a new paradigm now finally springing into life some 35 years after his death.

And yet Alun shows us how Carwyn was an outsider, how the conservative forces within the Welsh Rugby Union could keep him at arms length and as I read the book I speculated on how perhaps it was the south Labour establishmentfearing Plaids rapid growth in the late sixties afraid that a figure like Carwyn James could threaten their hold on South Wales. They had experienced Gwynfor Evans`, victory in Carmarthen, the horror that was Aberfan and close by elections both in the Rhondda and Caerphilly. Carwyn was a step to far .

Carwyn was a radical, he understood how centralisation was sucking the life blood out of Welsh culture identity and language.. One is tempted at times to discern behind the scenes the figure of a former Speaker of the House of Commons keeping Carwyn as the outsider, calling in favours and keeping a cordon sanitaire against him. 

Alun Gibbard has produced an English version of the book and a Welsh one, and as I read the opening chapter Alun is clear he simply does not want to prove anything about Carwyn identity . He simplty wants to explain that his multi faceted identity did not fit into the simplistic binary opposition of the neo conservatives on both sides . Sexuality, masculinity, political meaning and activity are never simple or easily fitted into conservative pigeon holes

Had Carwyn been alive today his identity would be more understood, more accepted , more easily perceived. Often the hypocrisy of the Chapel Culture , of the fear of what the neighbour thinks can be oppressive and controlling. It is gossip and prejudice that is most oppressive and deliberating and not sustaining. Alun captures this spirit in the book and explains how Carwyn was made a permanent outsider by both sets of conservatives. At times I am reminded in Alun`s writing of Caradog Evans work “My People" at others a psychological portrait worthy of the best in existential awareness. Alun indirectly states the nature of Welsh society at this period and cleverly helps the reader reach their own conclusions.

Despite all of this Carwyn roots went deep into the society he grew and lived in it was an abjection that he both understood, loved and loathed at others. Yet it is true that being a professional outsider, watching through a number of different lens allowed him to discuss ideas, raise challenges and provide critiques that would be more appreciated and understood in 2017. There are a significant numbers of people like Carwyn James born in the wrong time that have planted seeds that have grown into fruition a generation or two after their own time. Devolution, a growing Welsh identity and a critique of centralising government were anticipated, written about and expressed by Carwyn James. “ What virtue has a tree without roots? Asks the poet B T Hopkins. Carwyn roots spread from generation to generation and from identity to identity. The price he paid was exclusion and yet the fruit of his tree have now grown to fruition.

This book has something for everyone both the sportsperson, the general reader and those who wish to read the complex psychological portrait of a brilliant and troubled man. It shows us all the crack where the light gets in. It flows easily and eloquently. It talks of loneliness, suffering and redemption.

Within his life time Carwyn James was kept from the recognition and appreciation that he deserved. . His friend the writer Alun Richards said simply “ Merlin waited for his nation to call him, but the nation never did “. Alun Gibbard`s book walks the tight rope of factual events and implied suggestion. It asks questions sensitively and leads the reader to the answers if they take the time to explore.

This mammoth book is Aluns crowning achievement, Alun has a quick, creative mind that is able to see profound truths and awareness and yet is able to appreciate how us all like Carwyn suffer troubles and challenges.

On February 5 1983 there was a memorial service held for Carwyn James at Broadcasting House in Llandaff in Cardiff. At the bottom of the the order of service a sentence read as follows “ the qualities of of honour, courage, and pride in performance “ Alun Gibbard`s book describes in detail the life of Carwyn James in just these terms.

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