Saturday, 10 October 2009

Keeping Posterity Under Control

Bill Gates suggested once that in the future everything we do will be recorded. Every movement we make, every sentence we write, every word we say. Posterity will be huge. Not that it is all that small today. How much of the Welsh past have we managed to keep?

There are just about any number of recordings of great sporting moments , naturally. There are also reels of royal visit. The Prince and the Queen at Cardiff, Caernarfon, Newport, Aberystwyth, Caerphilly, Harlech, Conwy, the seafront at Barry. Anywhere where there’s a castle. Shots of royal arrivals, flags waving, bouquets being presented. The sun shining. We are also okay for historic film of the Gorsedd standing in fields and for recordings of speeches made by Welsh politicians. Usually when they have things to say – which is most times – or when they die. Nye Bevan in full socialist flight. Lloyd George in his horse drawn casket leaving Tŷ Newydd.

What we have missed out on is literature. Dylan Thomas may well be available in quantity courtesy of the BBC but for most other writers there’s not that much. To be fair technology managed to catch R S Thomas before he went. Sain have issued a three CD set of the poet reading selections from his best. Gillian Clarke, the current National Poet, is well represented in Andrew Motion’s Poetry Archive. And if you are really keen then you should be able to track down videos of interviews with some of the Anglo-Welsh greats (the Glyns, and Gwyns, the Joneses, Thomases and Williams) made in a fit of forward looking by the University of Glamorgan.

But most of the past seems to have just faded from the record. Did anyone record the chest beating encounter between Ned Thomas, Sorley Maclean and R S on stage in Cardiff? Or Ted Hughes live at the Sherman? What about Eugene Ionesco at the Reardon Smith or Margaret Drabble being mobbed at the old Oriel? Harri Webb, John Tripp and Rhydwen Williams debating the use of Welsh as a vehicle for literature. Bob Cobbing in sonic splendour at the Young Farmers Club in Aberaeron. Most of those things have simply been lost. They exist now only in dimming memory.

But the future is bright. Contemporary publishers are keen to exploit our twenty-fist century desire to record absolutely everything. Planet’s brand new web site starts well with the inclusion of a downloadable Raymond Williams lecture. Seren have begun a series of You Tube vids. And at the Academi it is a target to embellish every entry on the Writers of Wales web pages with either a sound or vision sample. Speak softly and away from microphones. If you don’t then, chances are, you’ll be there for posterity.

An earlier version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 10th October, 2009

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