Friday, November 03, 2006

Coast, the Mabinogion and keeping up with the Joneses.

We had a bit of a TV quandary in our house last night. There's very little on the box that either of us get that excited about but last night we had one of those nightmarish clashes that wreak havoc with your televisual enjoyment. Our old VCR died a while back and we've never bothered to replace it. We've got a DVD player for films so it didn't really seem that pressing. On evenings like last night however you realise the folly of discarding 80s technology so quickly.
Coast was on BBC 2 and the the new Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall series on Channel 4. Hugh was edging it, until we realised that Coast was going to be exploring the North Wales coast all the way to Liverpool, Rach's alma mater and a place where I spent a year dodging scallies whilst attempting find things to write about. I'm a committed Cambrophile these days and I'm finding anything Welsh really fascinating. I'd not really had much to do with Wales for absolutely ages, other than following the career of the best situationist rock band to come out of Blackwood ever. Then knowing that we were off there on our hols I thought I'd reacquaint myself with a bit of the history of the place. I read quite a few books on the country including the excellent Wales : Epic Views Of A Small Country by Jan Morris, which led me onto the Medieval Welsh canon parts of which I'm now working my way through in translation. This coincided with my annual Big Brother addiction which this year featured two Welsh speakers who frequently chatted with each other in their native tongue. This seemed like quite a cool thing to be able to do and in a sublime moment of unlikely neural fusion, low and high culture came together in giving birth to a new project. "I know" I thought, "I'll learn Welsh and then I'll be able to read the Mabinogion in the original language". Which is a nice idea.
This chimes in with an earlier idea of mine following a series of articles I wrote about the Russian voluntary sector : "Let's learn Russian so I can read Dostoyevsky in the original".
Sadly, I'd still be unable to read Janet & John in Russian, never mind Crime & Punishment. I stuck with Russian for all of three weeks but Welsh has been a bit more of a success. I've managed to force myself to sit down and work at it a few hours a week. Then last night when a couple of Welsh speakers spoke on Coast I knew what they were on about. I literally punched the air as a mark of my achievement.
"What ?" asked Rach.
"She said she works in the office at the nuclear power station !"
Onwards and upwards ;-)
During boring moments on Coast when they were doing unspeakable things to shellfish, we quickly turned over to check out what Hugh was up to. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is something of a spiritual icon in our house and we try to live by his teachings so not watching the start of his new series left us feeling a bit like a devout Catholic who'd missed Sunday Mass. Apparently he was attempting to wean chicken nugget addicts off their habit with some success. What I like about Hugh is that he's not puritanical and censorious where food is concerned. His food is rich in cream, cheese, red meat and alcohol and food for him is a sensual thing. He is the anti-McKeith. What he does argue though is that we have cheapened a lot of our food in the search ever lower prices, pushing family farms out of business in the process and ending up with over-processed crap as a result. To cap it all he's a bit mad, which is no bad thing in itself.
But back to the Welsh. I heard this morning that there is to be a world record attempt at the Millenium centre in Cardiff to try to assemble the largest gathering of people with the same surname. Joneses from across the globe are gathering to watch a variety concert by people with the surname. Grace Jones will be there as will Dame Gwyneth Jones the opera singer.
Earlier in the year I had a look at the 1901 census to try and find out who was living in our house at the time, just three years after it was built. It turned out it was a family and the lady of the house went by the name Mary-Anne. What really got me interested was the fact that she was born in Carmarthen. The town at the time was majority Welsh speaking, so it was likely that she at least had some knowledge of the language. There can't have been many Welsh speakers in Edwardian York and finding out that one once lived here seemed serendipitous.
I then had the idea that I'd trace the Carmarthen family of Mary-Anne for a feature article or two. I thought it might be a nice take on the "Who Do You Think You Are" fascination at present. Turning to the 1881 census I found the newlywed couple who would later find themselves living in our house. From that I was able to locate their wedding date and find Mary-Anne's maiden name. It was Jones.
1881 Census for Carmarthen turned up hundreds and hundreds of Joneses so my search got put on the backburner. I like to think that a Welsh speaking Jones from Carmarthenshire will be showing their passport to prove their surname at the Millenium Centre later today. I'm sure they have no idea that their great-great-great Auntie Mary-Anne once lived in my house and is providing inspiration in my crusade to get my head around those consonant mutations.


Carla said...

Did you hear the geneticist Steve Jones on the Today programme this morning, explaining to Ed Stourton that not all the Joneses are related to each other because the name simply meant "son of John"? His analogy was that therefore two Joneses were no more likely to be related to one another than the son of John Major to the son of John Travolta.
He also explained that Evans, Bevan and Jenkins are also variants of Jones, the first two derive from the Welsh name Ieuan (Welsh for John, he said, although I'd thought that was 'Sion' - you probably know more about this than I do) and the last one is a diminutive "little son of John." I didn't know that last one.

Martyn said...

Hi Carla

I did hear that discussion. I knew about Ieuan being John but wasn't aware that Evans, Bevan or Jenkins were derived from it.

It would be a thankless task attempting to find the family of my Jones I reckon. Presumably plenty of Joneses and Thomases research their family trees so their must be ways and means if you're really committed. I tried to find her birth in the registers but located lots of Mary-Anne Joneses born in Carmarthen in the same year so came to a dead end.

Diane said...

Welcome back, Martyn. I'm going to have to go change my template, aren't I?

Hugh won in our house last night. Then Pete Burns talking about cosmetic surgery nightmares. I liked this because he opened with his own story.

Bailey Stewart said...

Carla's right. And Jones is a very hard name to do genealogy on.

I've always wanted to learn Gaelic. Even bought a book on the subject. All those consonants threw me. Oh well, some day.

Martyn said...

Diane - good to be back and thanks very much :-) I didn't see the Pete Burns thing but I had meant to watch it. He's a great character. If he doesn't like you, he doesn't like you, no messing about. He's painfully honest at times.

Bailey - Having looked at Gaelic as well I think Welsh is marginally easier, possibly because of the extra exposure it had to latin which does at least give you a few hooks to hang some recognition on. I'm presuming with a surname like Stewart you've got some Scottish heritage somewhere ? All the best people have :-)