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Barti Ddu

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2016 1:40 am    Post subject: Barti Ddu Reply with quote

During an interregnum in our Welsh reading class in Abergavenny, I started touring some classes and conversation groups in Cwmbran and Newport. The class in Newport Library has been working its way through a novel by the late T Llew Jones.

It is called 'Barti Ddu'. The tutor has only just given me a copy to take away, and I've been trying to read it from the beginning. It was originally written for children or young adults.

As it is in high register and slightly old fashioned Welsh, and my dictionaries are all a bit inadequate, I'm not sure I have everything right.

But it looks as if Barti Roberts came from Little Newcastle between Haverfordwest and Fishguard. He was working as a 'towr'. I suppose this means a roofer, maybe a thatcher.

It was the reign of Queen Anne. England - yes it is England according to the novel - is at war with Spain. The press gang is roaming looking for young men to take the queen's shilling.

This is of no interest to Barti. He is in the bedroom over a pub in Pembrokeshire where he is about to consummate his marriage to Megan the barmaid.

It is just getting interesting and - in a restrained way a bit raunchy, like a scene in Poldark - when someone comes up behind him and hits him over the head with a cosh. He wakes up on board ship half way to Barbados or some other outlandish place.

Barti is naturally a bit miffed. I know he takes part in a mutiny.

There are discussions about whether he should be hanged from the yard arm or shot. But he gets away with an appointment with the cat of nine tails.

From looking forward in the novel, it is clear that he either jumps ship or the whole crew is captured by pirates. He agrees to become the pirates' leader on the death of their old chief. He wins the election fair and square.

If you like swashbuckling ripping yarns I would recommend it. It's good clean fun, a really exciting book for schoolboys, and for schoolgirls who are sick of the mopey introspective literature churned out for them.

It's full of bullets whizzing round haciendas and the brandishing of cutlasses. Because it's for kids, it's fairly sanitised.

Even though people do meet violent ends, there is none of the obviously seamy side of life which you can see in the Sharpe novels. It's not hysterically funny in the way that the Flashman novels are.

I think there is some unintentional humour though. When the crew are bombarded by cannon balls, some of the class found it a bit hard to keep their faces straight when translating passages about the balls flying round the deck. That may have been very puerile of us.

But we had another laugh last week, and with more reason. I don't think there is a deliberately sado-masochistic theme in the novel.

Yet one chapter is called 'Y Gath Naw Cynffon' ie 'The Cat o' Nine Tails' followed by 'Halen ar Glwyfau', 'Salt in the Wounds' and later we had 'Dial O'r Diwedd' or Revenge at Last which was more of the same with the aggressor now on the receiving end.

Some traditional novels for boys do have an SM theme which is made to seen totally normal. This is even true of novels set in public schools before the boys even get a chance to go out and fight for the empire.

I am thinking of 'Stalky & Co', 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' and maybe 'Eric or Little by Little.'

This is not quite what you get here. There are no sado masochistic relationships. Barti doesn't appreciate this sort of thing.

Instead he has plebian emotions like anger, vengefulness and wounded pride. It would have been quite different if he had had a public school education.

In the chapter called ''Dial O'r Diwedd', he gets his own back on John Davies, his long term bete noir. Between the noises representing the hiss of the cat, he spits out his grievances, ''For coming into Megan's bedroom on our wedding night'' ...''For purloining my wedding coat'' ...''For being cruel to Captain Dafydd'' ...''For the scars on my back.''

A ripple of laughter went round the class. It sounded rather absurd. And yet it wasn't even covertly about sex.

It was all about revenge being best eaten with two spoons. Captain Abram took Barti aside. He felt the need to express concern that he had become as bad as his enemy.

Did he know what the expression on his face had reminded him of? It was the look on the mate's face when he had been laying into Barti with the cat.

Abrams had never thought that Barti Roberts of Pembrokeshire would sink so low. I wonder how common this sort of counselling really was on pirate vessels?

This is as far as we've gone with the story. Dafydd and I had a slight technical quibble on whether putting salt in the wounds was a good thing.

He thought it would function as a crude disinfectant. That may have been the rationalisation, but we would now think it ineffective.

I doubt it was more than an ostensible reason. It was a bit of added sadism, which made the wound even more agonising.

I do recommend this young adult novel as far as I am acquainted with it. But it will cause some embarrassed sniggering.

Last edited by marianneh on Mon May 29, 2017 7:18 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2016 9:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Marianne,

I hope that you will demonstrate how The Pirates in Wales tie in with Republicanism in Wales : it will not be obvious to the casual reader !

Could you use " SEARCH " to look at the bits which I have written about The Pirates in Wales and The World and the social contracts which turned their ships into floating republics ?


" Bartholomew Roberts, (17 May 1682 – 10 February 1722) born John Roberts, was a Welsh pirate who raided ships off the Americas and West Africa between 1719 and 1722. He was the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy as measured by vessels captured, taking over 400 prizes in his career. He is also known as Black Bart ( Welsh : Barti Ddu ) but this name was never used in his lifetime. He is sometimes confused with Charles Bolles, called the "Black Bart" of the American West. ... "


I listened to this recently and enjoyed Lucinda Lanbton's take on Henry Morgan's life - a brutal man though ...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0076pcb - Great Lives - Captain Henry Morgan

Writer and photographer Lucinda Lambton chooses the supposed pirate Captain Henry Morgan. With Humphrey Carpenter, assisted by David Cordingley. From December 2004.



" Sir Henry Morgan ( Welsh : Harri Morgan, c. 1635 – 25 August 1688 ) was a Welsh pirate, privateer and buccaneer. He made himself famous during activities in the Caribbean, primarily raiding Spanish settlements. He earned a reputation as one of the most notorious and successful privateers in history, and one of the most ruthless among those active along the Spanish Main. ... "



" While piracy was predominantly a male occupation, a minority of pirates were women. Female pirates, like other women in crime, faced gender and discrimination issues in both practicing this occupation and being punished for it. Pirates did not allow women onto their ships very often. Additionally, women were often regarded as bad luck among pirates. It was feared that the male members of the crew would argue and fight over the women. On many ships, women ( as well as young boys ) were prohibited by the ship's contract, which all crew members were required to sign. ... "

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