Friday, 24 January 2014

St Dwynwen, Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers

Dwynwen                                                                                                      a story by  -   alanindyfed

David Price was a loner. Ever since he could remember he had felt himself to be different from the rest of the herd. That is not to say that he felt in any way superior to his contemporaries but only that he liked to go his own way and stand apart from those who preferred to indulge in more exuberant pursuits. He was more introspective than his colleagues and obtained his satisfaction from simple pleasures, taking his exercise through individual sports rather than team games.

He grew up in a small town in the heart of the country, far from the grimy industrial cities where his parents had lived throughout the war. He had a fairly normal childhood except that he was an only child and sought companionship with neighbours and the few real friends he made at school. He was an avid reader and excelled in literature and the arts and succeeded in being admitted to university college where he eventually received a degree in architecture.

Later he moved to Cardiff where he found a apartment to rent overlooking a park near the centre. In mid-January, on one of his customary visits to the library where he regularly logged on to the internet to search various avenues for employment his eye was caught by a comely dark-haired woman dressed simply but elegantly who occupied the seat across the table. She was casually leafing through a fashion magazine, occasionally glancing up at the clock on the wall. Then she stood up, propped the magazine on the rack from whence it came and stepped into the elevator. As the doors closed and before she disappeared from view it seemed to David that she flashed a brief smile in his direction.

A week later David was on his way to the library and as he approached the main door of the building he observed a slightly familiar figure ahead of him. He quickened his footsteps and caught the door as it swung back behind her. She stood in front of the elevator as he pushed the red buttons and they waited as the lift whirred towards them. The doors opened and they both stepped in and David breathed in the fragrant aroma of her perfume as she stood demurely at his side.

Without speaking they reached the second floor and emerged into the hushed silence if the spacious room, the rows of computers to the right and to the left the tables where newspapers and a few magazines lay in desultory abandon. David made his way purposefully to the computer section while his intriguing acquaintance scanned the magazine racks. Having selected a magazine of her choice she settled down and was soon engrossed in an article on love-spoons. She was particularly interested in this topic as her name was Dwynwen, the Welsh equivalent to St. Valentine.

Love-spoons happen to be a traditional Welsh gift which a girl's suitor would lovingly carve from a branch of ash or sycamore wood and fashion into an intricate object resembling a spoon, the handle of which is carved into a unique pattern and sometimes included the lovers' initials or a monogram. These spoons would be presented to the object of desire as an offering and statement of the feelings which the youth would have for his chosen bride. Dwynwen was jolted from her musings by the vibrant and familiar sound of her mobile phone which she had forgotten to switch off on entering the library, She fumbled in her bag and hurried out of the building, this time using the stairs to descend to the ground floor.

avid watched her rapid exit and waited a while but she did not return. He quickly attended to a couple of email messages, then moved towards the escalator. As he passed the table he glanced down and saw the magazine open at the page which Dwynwen had been reading. He sat down and as he did so he noticed a business card lying by her chair on the floor. On it was printed: Dwynwen Griffiths – Property Consultant and gave her phone number. He slipped it into his pocket and read the magazine feature for himself, and as he did so an idea began to germinate in his mind.

A week passed and being a creature of habit she duly arrived at the library on the same day that David made his weekly appearance. This time he approached her and produced the business card saying: “Is this yours? I found it here on the floor after you left last week.” She turned her dark eyes towards him and replied: “Oh did you? But there was really no need to go to the trouble of returning it!”
I was intrigued by your name,” David murmured. “Would you like to tell me about it? It's quite unusual.”
We can't talk here,”Dwynwen said,”let's go and have a coffee and I'll tell you how I got it.”

Over coffee she explained that Dwynwen was a Welsh princess of the 5th Century A.D., the daughter of a king, Brychan Brycheiniog from whom the town of Brecon was named.
Dwynwen had been in love with a nobleman named Maelon but the king had prevented the affair from flourishing by having Maelon turned into a block of ice. Dwynwen became a nun and developed a guide for lovers. Her day, January 25th, became St. Dwynwen's Day and was celebrated by Welsh lovers from then on. Later people across the world began to observe a different day, 14th February as the day when lovers exchange gifts and proclaim their undying devotion, but St Dwynwen's Day remained in Welsh folk tradition to this day. Their conversation turned to other folk traditions and David suggested that they meet next Saturday at the Welsh folk museum at St Ffagan's which surprisingly he had never visited. She readily agreed and they went their separate ways.

That afternoon he made a trip into the countryside and cut a short branch from a sycamore tree. That night he started whittling away at this piece of wood and continued working at it for the next few nights. By the end of the week he had created an exquisite love-spoon which he polished with beeswax until it glowed with a satin sheen. He wrapped it in tissue paper and placed it in a small box with an intention of giving it to the woman of his dreams.

The following Saturday it was cold but sunny. Arriving at St Ffagan's at the appointed time he saw her, standing beneath a sign that read: AMGUEDDFA WERIN CYMRU. He realised how much he liked her. She was not at all skittish like many of the girls he had known. She was wrapped up in a warm woollen coat, wearing black leather gloves, a black beret and sporting a tartan scarf draped loosely around her neck. She turned and smiled as he approached and unselfconsciously slipped her hand beneath his arm, and they proceeded through the museum gazing at the traditional houses, tools and artifacts from a previous age, long gone. Later they entered the warmth of an onsite restaurant and sat near a blazing fire. David took out the box from beneath his coat and laid it on the table. “it's for you,” he said, “ and I'm sorry that I missed your day, the 25th of January, but today is Valentine's Day and you are my Valentine.” Slowly she opened the box, unwrapped the tissue paper to reveal his handiwork, smiled in total acquiescence, leaned over the table to plant a kiss on his fore-head, and thus heralded the start of a long and happy relationship that persists to this day.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

History of Scotland

'We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization'
When one imagines Scotland in a historic sense, a certain image is often invoked; of Baronial and gothic castles emerging from the fog of a lush highland landscape, of proud clan chieftains, romanticised notions of identity and clan feuds as well as the unique dress that remains in ceremonial use, albeit in a popularised form, and especially of the wars of Scottish independence which saw the medieval kingdom of Scotland retain its sovereignty despite repeated invasion by her neighbours. This, somewhat popularised imagining of Scottish history tends to obscure a richer heritage which included a periods of intellectual; artistic and philosophical innovation, especially during 18th century in a period now known as the Scottish enlightenment, important industrial and economic developments in the 18th century as well as a literary tradition that helped develop Scotland's distinct national identity which had its foundations in the poetry of Allan Ramsay to James Macpherson whose epics led to foundation of the romantic movement in Europe.
The earliest surviving records of Scotland remain the accounts of the Greek Pytheas of Massalia who ventured into Scotland in 325 BC. The geographical entity of Scotland was inhabited at least 8,500 years before written history of the Scottish people. The earliest distinguishable culture seems to be that of the Brythonic Celts, whose language eventually spread into Scotland after the 8th century. As a result of this cultural assimilation, various iron-age kingdoms emerged although the surviving hill forts and brochs paint the image of competing tribes rather than fully fledged sovereign powers.
The Roman invasion and occupation of Caledonia, the Latin name given to the northern province of Roman Britannia remains one of the more significant events in ancient Scottish history. The invasion began in AD 43 by Julius Agricola and was met with fierce resistance by the local Caledonians. Despite the roman victory over the local tribes at the Battle of Mons Graupius in 84, the Romans failed to completely conquer Caledonia and were forced to withdraw due to the costly consequences of maintaining garrisons in Caledonia. Till this day, evidence of the Roman occupation can still be found in the form of the roads that were constructed in order to maintain control over the region.
Post-Roman Scotland saw the foundations develop for the transition from antiquity to the medieval era where a united political entity was first conceived. Following the departure of the empire, the modern day boundaries of Scotland were roughly divided among four groups; the Picts, the Kingdom of Fortriu, the Gaelic speaking people of Dal Riata and the Brythonic descendants of the Roman influenced kingdoms in the south. Among the more important cultural and social developments of this period was the conversion of the region's population to Christianity by Irish Scots missionaries. The missions that were often associated with St Columba developed several monastic churches and theological institutions, and eventually resulted in the development of a distinctive form of Celtic Christianity which maintained significant theological and structural differences from the Roman form of the religion.
It didn't take long for the linguistic and cultural gaelicisation of the Pictish kingdoms to follow, as well the merger of the Gaelic and Pictish Crowns. The House of Alpin was brought to power by Kenneth MacAlpin, who is considered the mythological first King of Scots. Following his death, Donald II rose to the throne of a kingdom encircled by the Viking conquests and summed the title King of Alba which signalled the first time the term Scotia would be used to describe the kingdom between North of the Forth and Clyde, and eventually all of Scotland. Following the political turmoil that came as a result of William the conqueror's invasion of Scotland, David I assumed the throne and oversaw a period known as the Davidian revolution, by which native institutions were replaced with French and English ones, signalling an important transition to the medieval era whereby members of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy took up residence in the Scottish kingdoms and introduced a feudal model of land tenure and knight service.
The transition to medieval society coincided with a particularly famous era of the Scottish history known as the Wars of Independence. The crisis resulted from the death of King Alexander III in 1286, which left 14 potential rivals for succession. In order to avoid a civil war and the breakup of the Kingdom, Scottish magnates asked Edward I of England to arbitrate in which he brought Scotland under feudal dependency before choosing Job Balliol to rule. Edward I used the concessions he gained to undermine Scottish authority which prompted John to enter the Auld Alliance with the kingdom of France. In 1296, Edward invaded Scotland and deposed King John. A rebellion was organised under Andrew de Moray and William Wallace to resist the occupation, where the English forces were defeated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Wallace briefly took over Scotland in the name of John Balliol, before Edward I personally led a campaign which accumulated in the battle of Falkirk, where Wallace was exiled but eventually caught and met his demise in 1305. The rebellion continued under Robert the Bruce who was crowned King in 1306 and despite defeat at the hands of Edward at the Battle of Methven and excommunication by the Pope, eventually garnered enough support to take back all but Stirling Castle, which fell during the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1320, a major political effort symbolised by the Declaration of Arbroath helped reverse excommunication from the Vatican and nullified various acts of submission by Scottish kings to the English, reviving the legitimacy of an independent Scottish Kingdom in medieval Europe. In 1326, the first parliament of Scotland met, evolving from an earlier council of nobility and clergy, and representatives of the burghs.
The late medieval-renaissance period largely proceeded under the authority of the House of Stuart which came to the throne in 1371 following the accession of Robert II to the throne. The last acquisition of Scottish territory occurred during this period when James III married Margaret of Denmark receiving the Orkney and Shetland Islands in payment of her dowry. His successor, James IV ended the quasi-independent rule of the Lord of the Isles; bring the western isles under Scottish rule. The foundations of the 17th century Union of the Crowns whereby Scotland and England would be under one monarchical authority were in this period when James IV married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England. Of more cultural significance, Scotland's educational system improved dramatically with the passing of the Education act 1496 which decreed that all sons of barons and freeholders of substance should attend grammar schools. This led to the subsequent founding of the University of St Andrews in 1413, the University of Glasgow in 1450 and the University of Aberdeen in 1495.
Of significance cultural and social note was the influence of the protestant reformation that Scotland underwent during the 16th Century. The teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin began influencing Scotland during which a number of Lutheran preachers were executed for heresy. The reformation ignited a brief civil war which saw the English intervene on the protestant side, ending the relationship of the Scottish church with the papacy. The influential Scottish theologian, John Knox, who was a disciple of Calvin and Wishart, founded the Church of Scotland in the 16th century. Until the late 20th century, Presbyterian variety of the faith became a central value of Scots, coupled with the major industrial and economic growth in the 19th century led to the likes of Max Weber to develop his theory of the spirit of Capitalism and the protestant ethic.
The Union of Crowns, whereby the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England came under one monarch, in a personal or dynastic union occurred in 1603 when James VI King of Scots inherited the throne of England and became King James I of England. Both crowns, however, remained distinct and separate despite efforts by James to create an "Imperial" throne. Various theological differences between the two Kingdoms largely defined the atmosphere that existed during King James VI reign. The glorious revolution put an end to James II of England's rule, in favour of William and Mary. The late 17th century was largely a dark period in Scottish history with many regions experiencing famine, as well as the failure of the Darien scheme which attempted to establish the Kingdom of Scotland as a world tradition nation by establishing a colony on the Isthmus of Panama. The bankruptcy of the Scottish nobility played a large part in convincing the Scottish elite to back a union with England. In 1707, the Scottish parliament passed the Acts of the Union which saw the creation of Great Britain and the replacement of Scottish systems of taxations, currency, laws and trade with those made in London.
If Scotland was to be described as a largely poor, agrarian nation, under constant threat of famine and invasion in the late 17th century, then its fortunes were certainly changed in the 18th century with the blossoming of colonial America and the subsequent rise in trade with the colonies. Glasgow became a major industrial and economic centre, due to its strategic position and access to the Atlantic. The Glasgow Tobacco lords owned the fastest ships on route to Virginia and until the American war of Independence; Glasgow remained the world's premier tobacco port. Divisions in Scottish society, however, still remained and were exasperated with the growing wealth of the new merchant class and the old clans of the highlands. The deposed Jacobite Stuart claimants were popular in the highlands, especially among non-Presbyterians, which eventually resulted in a failed rebellion to remove the house of Hanover from the British throne. This defeat paved the way for a period in Scottish history known as the clearances, whereby the indigenous populations of the highlands and islands were forcibly removed and relocated.
Despite the massive disruption of Scottish society which came about as a result of the clearances, Scotland's continued economic growth led to a period often dubbed, "The Scottish Enlightenment". Scottish intellectuals benefited from a highly developed university system, as well as tradition ties with France which had undergone its own enlightenment. Out of this tradition, emerged a uniquely humanist ideology and alternative philosophies to the arguably dominant classical realism of Hobbes. In particular, Utilitarian and consequentialist principles were developed and refined under the likes of David Hume. Literature was also revitalised, especially under Allan Ramsay who reignited an interest in Scotland's literary heritage as well as leading the trend for pastoral poetry. James Macpherson translated poetry written by Ossian and were proclaimed as the Celtic equivalent to epics. Robert Burns and Walter Scott continued the poetic Ossian tradition, making original compositions as well as adapting folk songs. Burns is still largely considered Scotland's national poet.
Various Scottish enlightenment figures such as James Burnett, Adam Ferguson and William Robertson merged a study of human behaviour, culture and the determining forces of modernity, largely contributing towards the development of modern Sociology. The first work of modern economics, The Wealth of Nations, was written by Adam Smith which had an immediate impact of British economic policy. Scotland also became known across the world as a centre of engineering, as evident by the ships built in the Clyde and locomotives constructed in Glasgow.
The First World War had a devastating effect on Scotland, which provided manpower, ships, machinery and food supplies to the British army. Half a million men were sent to war, over whom a quarter died and 150,000 returning seriously wounded. The combination of a devastating world war, major industrialisation and large working class comprised of Irish catholic workers resulted in the emergence of radical political sentiments among segments of the Scottish population, especially the trade unionists which gravitated between the Labour Party and more radical Socialist and Communist organisations. The depression hit the economy hard in 1922 and never fully recovered until 1939. Growing ill health, bad housing, and long term unemployment necessitated a major rethinking of socio-economic policy.
Following the Second World War, Scotland's economic situation descended into a downward spiral due to overseas competition, inefficient industry and industrial disputes. The discovery of North Sea oil and gas in the 1970s, as well as the transition from an industrial to a service based economy, however, reversed this trend. This period also marked the rise of Scottish independence and devolution, with increasing demand that domestic affairs should return to direct Scottish control. Following a referendum on devolution proposals in 1997, the Scotland Act 1998 was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament to establish a devolved Scottish parliament and Scottish government with responsibility to enact and enforce most laws specific to Scotland.

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