Ave Atque Vale, Beauty, Britishness, Culture, History, Literature, Loss

For the Beacons: A Lament

File:Flag of Wales.svgDateline, the Daily Telegraph, April 16: “Brecon Beacons to be renamed over links to climate change: National Park says the symbol of a ‘carbon burning beacon’ is incompatible with its ‘push to net zero.’”

I can’t even.

For first (channeling Christopher Smart, because I am an unregenerate Boomer Bluestocking who still has a connection to her past and who really doesn’t care what you think about that), how in the wide-world-of-sports do the “Brecon Beacons” have anything to do with climate change?

They. Don’t.

Deep breath, RWKJ.  (Not for the first time.)  Settle.  And perhaps a little background for those whose personal story isn’t as involved in this matter as your own.  For convenience, this comes from Wikipedia, although I believe–in despite of same–that it’s accurate:

The Brecon Beacons are a mountain range in South Wales. In a narrow sense, the name refers to the range of Old Red Sandstone peaks which lie to the south of Brecon.

…There is no specific evidence that the Brecon Beacons were named after the ancient practice of lighting signal fires (beacons) to warn of attacks by invaders.

Please take to heart that last bit. It’s referring to the ‘ancient practice’ of using fires lit at high altitudes and therefore visible over miles, to communicate important or emergency information across wide distances, hundreds–and perhaps even thousands–of years before modern technological and physical communication marvels such as British Telecom and jokes such as  Scotland’s CalMac Ferries came into being.

To quote Wikipedia for the umpteenth time (I saw it on the Internet so it must be true):

There is no specific evidence that the Brecon Beacons were named after the ancient practice of lighting signal fires (beacons) to warn of attacks by invaders.

I’ve read this in a few other places too.  It really–in spite of Wikipedia–appears to be true that the “Brecon Beacons” never had anything to do with the ‘ancient practice’ of wood-burning, carbon-wastefully-assisted, inflammatory, anti-net-zero attempts to wreck the planet.

The Brecon Beacons are totally blameless in any of these respects.

So what’s going on?

Virtue signaling and wasteful expense by some dim-witted bureaucratic ninny.  What else? (There’s a government minister in charge of this.  I saw her name somewhere.  I can’t be bothered to go looking it up.)

I’ve been to the Brecon Beacons.  Last in 1984, with my late mother-in-law and my stepdaughter.  It’s a beautiful part of the world, one which I now understand is to be renamed “Bannau Brycheiniog” the (perhaps) ancestral Welsh name for the area.  Helpful pronunciation, if you’re considering visiting anytime soon and are worried that you might be denied visiting rights if you can’t master it, is also included on Wikipedia, thus: Bannau Brycheiniog

Now, let’s be clear:  I love the Welsh.  I love the language, although I still chuckle over the week that the late Mr. Right and I spent in a self-catering cottage at the foot of Mount Snowdon (Welsh name: Yr Wyddfa), and the moment at which I turned my back on the tiny black-and-white television while I was chopping the sausage and chives for dinner, thinking, “Oh, how charming, this is the Welsh channel,” only to turn around and discover that it was an early episode of Star Trek and that the cast were all speaking across each other in Klingon.

But much as I love the Welsh, I love the Beacons more.  Even the not-so-blameless ones.

The Worcestershire Beacon, and the Herefordshire Beacon, were an integral part of my childhood. And unlike the poor old Brecon Beacons, they actually were ‘beacons’ in the historically understood sense, in that–at their height (see what I did there)–fires were lit at important historical times in order to pass the message on. When it comes to the Worcestershire Beacon, the (rather bad) poet Lord McCaulay had this to say:

And on, and on, without a pause, untired they bounded still
All night from tower to tower they sprang; they sprang from hill to hill
Till the proud Peak unfurled the flag o’er Darwin’s rocky dales
Till like volcanoes flared to heaven the stormy hills of Wales,
Till twelve fair counties saw the blaze on Malvern’s lonely height,

A bit further down the road is the Herefordshire Beacon, also within the Malvern Hills range, and site of the Iron Age British Camp. I remember it well. Seven-mile runs on Saturday afternoons from the Abbey School. I was twelve years old.

But I digress. Or, at least, I’m about to.

Eighty-seven years ago this month, on April 30, 1936, one of my favorite poets died.

Alfred Edward Housman was born on March 26, 1859, and grew up in Bromsgrove, just down the road from me. (Well, I wasn’t actually alive then.  It’s something of a poetic conceit, K?) His oeuvre was small but mighty, most famously known through his volumes of poetry A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems.  The first is by far the more widely known.

He can be a bit flighty, and–IMHO–if you study him at all, you’ll soon spot some of the same contradictions you can discover in another of my favorites, Rudyard Kipling.  Men who were, at some point  (in Irving Kristol’s phrase) mugged by reality, and whose perspective changed as a result.

Here, in its entirety, from “A Shropshire Lad”  is Housman’s poem about the Beacons.  TBC, the Clee Hills are, unsurprisingly, in Shropshire:

From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because ’tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we’ll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn’s dead.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

“God save the Queen” we living sing,
From height to height ’tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

Clever.  Sounds like a  monarchical paean.  One which–written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne–might be just that.

But perhaps it’s a little more subversive than it first appears.

Perhaps Housman–who was born only three years after the (last major) war in Crimea ended (thank you, Great Great Uncle Tim) was eulogizing not the Queen, or even God, but the young men of this world who’d kept that same Queen on the throne.  Those who’d “shared their work with God,” the saviors of their country who “come not home tonight” because “themselves they could not save.”

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn’s dead.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

I know that land. Those farms.  Those towns. That Severn.  That Shropshire.  That Nile.  Those beacons.  And–ever so slightly–that Asia.  And, perhaps–even–one or two of those men.

What I don’t know is whether such thoughts, such sentiments, such reminiscences as my own, can possibly survive the blithering idiocy of the current mindset.  One in which perfectly lovely things are pointlessly renamed or cancelled because of things they don’t even represent, in order to placate an imaginary cohort of people who don’t even exist.  How can we “remember” actual happenings, when all signposts, all markers, all indicators that such things ever took place or existed are gone? When history is obliterated, and all the past is rolled into one single “thing that must not be mentioned?”  When anecdotal evidence (trust me, I have plenty) no longer counts?

Who will dig her heels in–because She knows–and speak up when I am gone?

I’m not really a “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” sort of gal.  But I’m smart enough (or perhaps I have lived long enough amongst the deplorables) to know that mountains, trees, and fire are–like the poor–always with us.

Lord.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.

4 thoughts on “For the Beacons: A Lament”

  1. Enjoyed reading your thoughts. It is certainly a beautiful part of the world, and that is one thing that thankfully won’t be changing.

  2. This week’s London Calling podcast (link to it from Ricochet right here; otherwise, look it up on Apple or other podcast aggregators as it pleases you), covers this matter in some detail. While I generally find myself on “Team Toby,” because his co-presenter’s habit of occasionally going a little further off the rails than I find supportable, I think James is totally correct in this instance. “That bloody woman’s” (borrowing the late Labor Party Chancellor of the Exchequer’s description of Lady Thatcher) who has perpetrated this idiocy envisions a broader future for the park which includes onshore (that is, in the park,) wind turbines and “reduced sheep numbers” in the park. (All in the effort to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2035). In addition, she asks potential park visitors to “feel a bit more sense of responsibility about visiting the park” at its busiest times, in an apparent effort to stave of enthusiastic tourism at what are now regarded as the most populous times, and most likely when such visitors are needed to insure the economic health of surrounding areas which rely on tourism for any sort of wealth creation and economic stability at all.

    I think James is right to find all this very suspicious and destabilizing. Glory be.

  3. It is stories like these that again and again put me in mind of CS Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”, where the so called “enlightened” go around smashing and undoing whatever was old and strong in favor of some new (and quite demonic) world. I’ve not seen such a madness in the West for Day-Zeroism since perhaps the French Revolution (thankfully much of its madness didn’t stick, like their metric system for keeping time, but much was indeed destroyed too). This will not end well, something will snap, and what follows will be hideous indeed.

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