PhD upgrade done

Have done little here for ages except tweaks to the bibliography because I have been engulfed in prep for my PhD upgrade. As a part time researcher on MARes. status I’ve been on probation for PhD and this goes through a submission of work and a viva interview to get upgraded. Much diary fuss to get three professors and me together: my two supervisors and an external prof. to check we’re not on the fiddle.
I dreaded my PhD upgrade meeting! I’d not had to face an interview or exam in many many years and I resented being judged, and feared the raw inferiority of my position. I feared most of all I would receive “advice” to do things that interfered with MY WORK.
Fears unfounded. I was treated with courtesy, told my work was commendable, and received some excellently helpful advice. Moreover the session was fascinating and galloped along at a whizzing pace. The external prof. actually had to haul us up with seconds to spare out of the hour, for ‘last points.’
Advice focused on focus. Liz McAvoy advised me to top and tail my chapters with ‘This chapter will do X’ and ‘This chap has done X.’ Super stuff – bang on practical – and focused advice!
I came away buzzing with stimulation. My poor family having been promised I would return to the real world after 3 months away in Rhiannon’s world, suffered a further week of absorption as I reorganised the Contents, rewrote my synopsis, and drafted a new chapter of 4,000 words. All of which I was quite pleased with.
Oh yes … I passed.
So I won another four years of slog. Hurray!

Terry Pratchett

Today my son wept and we were shaken by the death of Pratchett. We have loved and admired him since his first books. Only just this last week I read his non-fiction anthology and he gave me yet another gift. For I sometimes question the value of my Mabinogi work, important though it is to British and Welsh literature, and a key component of our hertage: the first … Not least my lady Rhiannon orders me.

But so much of my life has been about campaigning, fighting for freedom. Measured against that, the Mabinogi stories can seem frivolous, at least as a major life project. But TP writes eloquently on how fantasy is the seedbed of intelligence, so my uneasy conscience is satisfied. I also remember what I myself told him when I met him, which is so very relevant to the issue.

When I met Terry over 20 years ago I was keen to compliment his unique talent as a writer. So I told him how the only thing which got my beloved husband through the agony of supporting my awful miscarriage, was reading Pratchett by my bed. It kept him sane, and even in that gory time, it made him laugh. I was too preoccupied to share it as we so often did, but I was glad for him and very thankful to TP in a new way.

By the time I recounted this tale to Terry we two had recovered from the worst of the experience so I completely underestimated what a harsh tale it was. Terry’s face went slack with shock, and I saw how very gentle and human he was. Many years later now just, he was to write in a book of his non fiction, that he grew used to people telling him the awful situations his books helped them survive. But way back then, he was far from used to it.
Wee some would read Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha or Robin Morgan to hold on in the crux of pain. My man chose Pratchett and that was right too.

We met Terry because I had invited him as a speaker to my annual Pagan Halloween Festival in London, about 1991. My husband and I were both passionate admirers of his, and neither wanted to miss his talk. But one of us had to stay on duty to organise the festival. I gracefully conceded as I felt my beloved was just a bit more of a devotee. But I conceded only on condition my man filmed Terry’s talk for me to see later.
Well he tried. But within five minutes everyone was laughing so much it was almost impossible to hear much that Terry said. My beloved said he himself also went into serious acute gut pain from non-stop laughter. The worst was when half way through he needed to change the video tape, but he simply couldn’t because he was laughing paralytically and still in pain, sliding on to the floor.
So I never did see more than fragments of this lovely man talking at my own festival.

One thing I have noticed is that those speaking about Terry overlook an important aspect of his mind. They tell of his mighty imagination, his wit, his wonderful silliness, his courage in his long illness, generosity in funding research into that illness, and his warrior fight for the right to die by choice. All very true, There is also a book of Philosophy and Pratchett just come out last December. I think he was also a very kind man, a good, strong family male. All true, good stuff.

But what is being overlooked is Pratchett’s astute political grasp of society. He wanted us to look at the dirty side, and do something about it. Let’s hope the coming year is a good memorial to him.

The Royal Bed

“The Royal Bed” Theatr Pena Feb – Mar 2015.
At all major arts centres and theatres across Wales.

see locations list at the bottom of this page.

Siwan, wife to Llywelyn Fawr, Llewelyn the Great, was a pivotal historical figure. Her passionate, intelligent, and highly politicised life offers a thought provoking drama. The play was first staged via Saunders Lewis’ Welsh script in 1956. It now benefits from a sensitive new English language version by Sion Eirian, directed by Erica Eirian of Theatr Pena.

Theatr Pena, already famed for their innovative productions, especially on gender issues, have taken their expertise into Mediaeval Wales with great success.

The play compares to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in its ferocious couple dynamics. But this couple was the ruling power unit of Gwynedd and Wales. Unlike a modern urban marriage, their personal storm ravages the lands of Wales and England, driving thousands into bitter war. It is already being remarked that Theatr Pena’s interpretation makes the politics of the time far clearer than the original version. This is essential to the character of Siwan, who was not just an unfaithful wife: she was a formidable stateswoman.

The performance takes place in an austere but evocative set. A few well chosen furnishings, a brass worked chest, a carved chair with wolfskin, paint the richness of mediaeval castle life. Skilful lighting evokes the candlelit chambers where passions explode. The bed itself shapechanges as in traditional myths into Llywelyn’s war desk, symbolically apt to its political sexuality. One aspect I much enjoyed was the players’ active use of body positions, upright, seated, half lying, lying, and splayed out on bed or floor. This geometry embodied the gamut of dignified masking and gut deep emotion the plot demands.

In a similar symbolic to the bed/ desk symmetry, Siwan and Llywelyn both assume and discard elaborate costumes which represent their royal dominance in diplomacy and war. Each then reveals the humanity beneath in softer fabrics which mould to their vulnerable bodies. Siwan’s lover also appears in peacock fashion, then casts aside his court coat to become a young man in love, seeking kisses and laughter.

As Siwan, Eiry Thomas gives a wrenching performance
, a complex range from playful dancing lover to agonised bereavement, never escaping her position as royal chess mistress of several nations. The play sympathises with her arranged marriage and late life discovery of love. Russell Gomer as Llywelyn demonstrates a suitable gravitas, with leashed passion. My one reservation is I cannot agree with Saunders Lewis’ script making this ruthless warlord so profoundly motivated by romance; for one, his political trajectory was well established before he ever met his much younger wife.

The young lover Gwilym Brewys (Francois Pandolfo) is both brave and adorable, glinting with a joy in love and life so cruelly extinguished at his dawn execution. An important part is played by Siwan’s maid (Hannah O’Leary) who mediates that violence off stage in the classical Greek tradition, so unlike the crude gore of today’s media. She emerges as a young woman of much character, widowed by her soldier husband, extending our grasp of the devastation of war across all who lived in Siwan and Llywelyn’s world. Two musicians deserve note for their powerful music, by voice and harp: Buddug Verona James and Delyth Jenkins.

Honour was the essence of noble mediaeval life, as the famous Mabinogi taught in its stories, and as the court bards declaimed in praise poetry. It was more important than life itself. The play bears out very accurately how it was not Llywelyn’s execution of his rival which was his great mistake. It was his barbarism in subjecting a noble lord to a common felon’s hanging rope, and making it a public spectacle for the crowd. Theatr Pena ensure we can understand this crucial issue of another time, while holding us enthralled by the same human passions which are part of our lives today.

To bridge the mediaeval and the modern as Theatr Pena has done, is no mean feat, deserving of our applause.

PERFORMANCE LOCATIONS (in touring order):
Newport / Casnewydd, The Riverfront / Glan yr Afon.
Milford Haven / Aberdaugleddau, Torch Theatre / Theatr y Torch.
Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Aberystwyth.
Blackwood / Coed Duon, Blackwood Miners Institute / Sefydliad y Glowyr.
Newtown / Y Drenewydd, Hafren.
Abergavenny / Y Fenni, The Borough / Theatr Y Bwrdeistref.
Pontardawe, Pontardawe Arts Centre / Canolfan Celfyddydau Pontardawe.
Denbigh / Dinbych, Theatr Twm o’r Nant.
Cardigan / Aberteifi, Theatr Mwldan.
Church Village / Pentre’r Eglwys, Theatr Gartholwg Theatre.
Builth Wells / Llanfair ym Muallt, Wyeside Arts Centre / Canolfan Gelfyddydau Wyeside.
Caernarfon, Galeri.
Abertillery, Metropole.
Carmarthen / Caerfyrddin, The Lyric / Y Lyric.
Brecon / Aberhonddu, Theatr Brycheiniog.
Llandovery / Llanymyddyfri, Llandovery College / Coleg Llanymyddyfri.
Swansea / Abertawe, Taliesin Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Taliesin.
Felinfach, Theatr Felinfach

MEMO Discussion Feb. 19 Swansea

four quarters-mini

From the Mediaeval Mabinogi to My Research Website: a Tour Guide.
Shan Morgain, postgrad. University of Swansea.
19 February 2015, University of Swansea.

A triadic package designed to prompt discussion in three different directions, to cross fertilise each other (interlace).

THE MABINOGI First I will quickly review the most major context points on the Mabinogi. the oldest prose stories of Britain.
See attached briefing for advance preparation. For those new/ish to the topic only a gist understanding of this will be necessary. It is provided with fuller information in compact form to keep on file longer term. Welsh language version is about to be added.
RHIANNON AS ‘TOUR GUIDE’  Secondly I will explain informally how a certain Rhiannon is acting as my personal ‘Tour Guide’ for my research project.
MY RESEARCH WEBSITE Thirdly I will become your tour guide around my research website, to look at why I find it so vitally useful as a research tool.

DISCUSSION will be welcome on any of the interlaced points of the triad: the Mabinogi opus itself; or Rhiannon as Tour Guide, as key to my personal research approach; or the use of a website as a research tool.

Mabinogi_Briefing_by_Morgain_2015 is attached as advance preparation in pdf format.
It has two packed summary pages, some nice pictures, and useful resource lists for further interest on two levels: introductory or personal interest, and academic research.

MEMO, Swansea University’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Research. Associate Director: Professor Daniel Power.

Please use the Contact page if you would like more information.

Kingsman (film)

A superb film one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. It’s excellent as fantasy fun and also as a serious subtext – which no reviewer and only one comment so far seems to have noticed.

Colin Firth is Colin Firth, perfect.  Action is fast paced well choreographed  – style is pure swizz – special effects used well but not over used (get the fireworks scene yay!) – sexism not so good but at least only one lump of flesh, in this genre it’s not as bad as usual – tech/ internet stuff is nicely presented –  it works as a good spy movie AND as a parody – fast and furious with some actual human relationship in there.

Optional serious track shows the 1% elite and their attitude to US the 99%. We are clutter and should be cleaned up to make way for a brave new future. The method to make us turn on each other is chillingly real – that is what is happening now today.
The pilot project in a fundie church is spiky clever on the values at the core.
Notice how cooperation and kindness gets a look in, though not fully developed.
As some comments have said the housing estate portrait and the makeover trope is dubious. It says a prole can only make it if a privileged master yanks him up even if he does succeed through his own efforts.

Hope this becomes a series – it has three good characters to build with and a good plot container with the Kingsman idea. Develop the girl next time.

Finally – we came away feeling happy and thoughtful. Can’t ask for more than that and few films manage it.

For Christine

It is difficult to find the right way to write down what a heavenly gift Christine is to me. It is indicative that I normally have no trouble beginning to write anything. I might chop out a start passage completely later, or revise it a lot. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get going.

Unusually, to say how beautifully, how superbly this person partners me in my work, has meant a whole series of false starts. So not like me. Do I tell how we met? How a kind mediator put us in contact – and how that first mention of Christine by someone else was a joy in itself? It said Christine would be very interested in discussing my project and invited me to contact her. Gentle words which could have been a mere formality, but somehow conveyed a genuine respect.

Or do I begin with an illustrative anecdote? I have just received an email with a small correction for a reference I used in a paper I wrote … a whole month ago. This meticulous lady felt bothered by a tiny inaccuracy; so she found the time to re-visit, re-read my text, investigate the point which had lingered, and identified this small problem. She ends by saying “You have probably sorted this out already – but I thought I’d note it anyway.”
The care in that, the additional effort, and then the respect for my own carefulness, is remarkable, and characteristic of the whole liaison.

I was scared to death of her at first! This is not only my personal academic supervisor who holds in her hands the power to make or break this crucial area of my life which quite simply means my core happiness, or severe deprivation; this is Christine James, the Archdruid of Wales. So she is at the pinnacle of an elite hierarchy of power I only dimly understand, for I am not a native of Wales; though I have lived here on and off for 25 years and nowadays Wales is without doubt my permanent home. There is no equivalent to the druids of Wales in the country of my birth and early life. Christine heads the largest arts festival in Europe, and an inner network where the Welsh talk to the Welsh, which twines through government, arts and culture esoterically, a world of its own. Since my beloved work sits in that culture, since I am an outsider who dares to examine one of its cherished traditions, I am very aware of her status, although I cannot ever really comprehend it. So she was awesome to me, before I ever spoke with her.

Yet she is not awesome, at least in another way she is not. The woman I met was friendly, down to earth, practical, oh so refreshingly practical. Faultlessly polite yet never condescending in the slightest degree, this grand lady did all that could be done to put me at my ease. It was possible to meet her human to human, and deal with the job in hand, just that.

Then again, she is still awesome for I find myself sheltered by the guardianship of a sure hand which balances strength and gentleness in a lovely synergy. I am guided through bureaucracy, given contacts, reassured, and in all ways mentored. Nothing is too much trouble to help me, from opening up the mighty gateways of academia to fetching me water to drink when I arrived tired off the road. I am accustomed to being the patron, the mistress and guide to others, and it is a marvellous reversal to be able to be less powerful, for once. It is ryuedawt that it is safe to let go of being fully in charge.

Here is another excellence, for it is not at all easy to mentor and guide someone who is powerful and skilled in their own right, not a novice. It is far easier to take on a junior who knows little, and shepherd them through predictable paths of support. For Christine I was an unknown and patchy map, sometimes expert, and suddenly, disconcertingly for both of us, sorely ignorant. She navigates my mountainous geography with grace and care, and the odd kindly chuckle.

There are rebukes, criticisms, challenges. So there should be, and I rise on my mettle to meet them, to grow from them like sharper medicine. Never once do I feel put down, diminished. I can assess what she offers me and absorb it (just occasionally decline it) with my dignity intact. It is deeply reassuring to be so recognised, to stand in a clear gaze. She misses nothing so already I have progressed a long way.

There is that important and all too rare ability she has, to say ‘I don’t know the answer to that,’ or ‘This is not an area I know well.’ Any student quickly finds that many academics are obsessed with being top dog, even to the point where it is so grossly obvious they don’t know whereof they speak so they look like utter nincompoops. There is no hint of that with Christine; instead a grave consideration, reflection, and the calm conclusion that something is not yet acquired. Only the very best can do that.

Then finally there is the joy. I bring her passion, and built up hard work, vibrating with it, and she welcomes it all with great, shining smiles. I spread out my treasures and she laughs, frowns, sharply queries me, ponders, and we dance together in an art form which she exercises with exquisite and ruthless perfection. This is for a certain kind of person, a fierce and wonderful mystery, a place where minds meet across centuries. To sit face to face with a truly fine mind is treasure indeed.

It is only now as the year’s wheel is coming to full circle that I can let go of so much built up distrust from many inferior comparisons, to be able to say, yes, this is real and true. For it has seemed too good to be true, it is so good. Now I can write the closing words in my praise song: thank you Christine.


12 people have been murdered in France by terrorists: most of the dead are journalists, a couple of them bodyguards. The killers were enacting an extreme religious hatred against freedom of speech.
The Daily Mail said:

For millions around the world, the first reaction to the horrific news from Paris can only have been profound shock.
Shock that such a thing could happen in a modern, civilised European capital. Shock at the cold-blooded ruthlessness of the killings. Shock at the medieval motive for the murders.

The tag ‘mediaeval’ implies it was especially characteristic of the Middle Ages for bully boys to attack a group of unarmed people and murder them. motivated by religion. Yet Nazism fostered just this action in the 20thC, and I could find examples in almost any century quite easily. Nor do I think the examples would be more frequent in the mediaeval period.

There were plenty of violent raids which happened with considerable frequency in the Middle Ages, in Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, across Europe. Many were not so violent, more like bar brawls on a Saturday night in a country town today. Often the motive was theft of cows or horses or pigs. But some were very violent, including rape, killing and torture. Not many though were motivated by religion. The more aggressive Vikings did seem to target monasteries, but they were probably focused on the rich pickings of gold and treasure in the (undefended) churches.

The tag “mediaeval” is unjustified, and it is used far too often to mean uncivilised, brutal, inferior, as is Neanderthal with even less eveidence to support the usage.

But I cannot just comment here on the French murders without stating my opinion on the event. That would be dishonest. In 2006 when the cartoons of a naked Mohammed appeared by a Western Danish cartoonist, reproduced by the French editor who has just died for it, I said it was wrong. It was stupid, nasty, crass and immature to publish such pictures.
I would say the same of publishing naked cartoon pictures of the Pope, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, the UK Queen, any President of any country, or indeed any public figure. Some of those people are to me, rubbish; in my eyes they do more harm than good in society.. I’m allowed to discrimate in who I respect and who I do not. That doesn’t give me the right to inflame their devotees because the result could be innocent people getting hurt. Behaviour likely to lead to a breach of the peace is illegal in the UK, and rightly so. Deliberately insulting a beloved leader is likely to lead to breaches of the peace. We can say we detest what they represent, what they teach, what they have done. We could show them perhaps in a silly costume like a clown. But nakedness is peculiarly demeaning is displayed in public in a hostile way.

But behaviour likely to lead to a breach of the peace is punished by fines or a short prison sentence. Not death.

The killers in this case were far more deeply wrong. There is rightly an upwelling of grief and anger and fear at what they did. Massive candlelit vigils are taking place. The perpetrators should pay the price to the full extent of the law.

The outrage I have seen expressed is about the attack on ‘democracy;’ on ‘freedom of speech.’ Rightly so. Other news offices in France have offered free desk space to the remaining staff of the victim magazine, so they can continue publishing. Bless them for that.
Suzanne Moore on the Guardian calls for the killers to be pilloried, humiliated by humour. Many public comments are calling for Western newspapers and media to combine in solidarity, to all together publish the offending cartoons. A symbolic war using humour.

That is unwise. It will trigger more angry immature young people to pick up guns and bombs. We cannot place a ring of high security around all our centres of news media. If we do that, the killers have won.

Instead, concede the cartoons were bad, stupid, wrong – though not illegal and should not be. But something far more important ha snot been said anywhere. This was an attack by armed men on defenceless unarmed men and women. THAT is the atrocity here.

We need to condemn that, utterly, and it has nothing to do with religion or any other ‘reason.’ The same thing has been wrong when Western soldiers kill civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria.

I want to see COWARDS in the biggest capital letters possible on the front oages pf our news – everywhere. Also when any other people do the same.

The Duchess

John and I were now sick of being ripped off by bad places to stay if we dared to go away. Conferences were going to mean we had to stay overnight quite often or it would be too tiring to do the journey. Coupled with an unreliable temporary car since the disability office threw me into crisis and I wrecked my usual car … and the result is our glorious Duchess.

Her true name is Gwenhwyfawr – great lady of whiteness though she is actually pale gold. She soon became the Duchess.

My lovely golden Duchess car

The Duchess, Oct. 22 2014

She’s an estate with lots of room, if we want we can sleep in her.  She’ll get me to Swansea in high style and comfort. She’s big, beautiful, comfy and just SO lovely.

I was intimidated at first as she’s a lot bigger than what I’m used to. It took me 10 days to drive her slowly in a car park. But a few days later I was on the motorway and all was well.

Othering a Guest

Othering a Guest   Shan Morgain.

(The Self and the Other: Swansea, 10 October 2014)

Actually managed to get the pics to work this time. All went well except for having to climb THREE flights of stairs because no one fixed the lift.

Matt Wall chaired my panel and sent me feedback. I won’t give all the detail but here are the main points:

You presented with considerable authority and passion for your subject, you used humour and had a style that was informative, while inviting and informal.

The visuals/slides that you used were informative and nicely designed, while there was a little trouble with the software at the beginning of the talk, you overcame this well.  [groan]

Matt thought I should have made my concept of othering more specific.  The 20 mins time limit is a tyranny! but the criticism is an important one. Perhaps a quick image display next time.

Even more interesting Matt questioned me on whether the othering of Guest was by academic or popular response? I did not know how to answer at first which shows how good the question was.  I returned to it later, and explained that the attitudes I had seen were in the Introduction sections of the Mabinogi books, including popular translations. So although the othering is at its core, academic, there are readers ‘in the wild’ who do read introductions and ould be influenced by them. Also key points like Guest being an English upper class lady are on many websites where the Mabinogi is briefly  introduced.

Thanks Matt for a generous review and thoughtful critique.