Throughout our digital Winter Weekend, we're remembering Jan Morris, the writer and pioneer who has been a huge part of our Festival over the years, with written and filmed tributes. Here author and journalist Simon Jenkins shares his thoughts...
The Jan I knew was a journalist and historian, magically corrupted by romanticism, a romanticism always expressed with a sceptical smile. This was notably towards her adopted homeland of Wales, of which she brooked no criticism. She once told me she 'truly' believed Glyndower was still alive and waiting in the hills to return. I had chided her for blessing the consecration of Glyndower's so-called 'chapel royal of the Princes of Wales' in the village of Pennal, the invention of an eccentric local vicar. It was not even a legend, I said. It is now, she replied.
Jan's Machynlleth Triad, written with her son Twm, was a glorious fantasy, including a hilarious invention of a new Welsh nation of the future, established by Hitler in Gwynedd after his conquest of Britain. The head of Oxford's once Welsh Jesus college was king and his domain included an international airport in the Dovey estuary and a foreign press club in the local pub.
Visits to Jan were once to the Pen-y-Gwryd pub in Snowdonia, where the Snowdon team used to re-gather for years afterwards. She was proud of the year that the group photograph suddenly included a woman. Every conversation became a sort of pep-talk. Jan's most severe scoldings were of people like me who wrote about politics, to her a pointless and tedious waste of time and words. Her most adamant belief - wholly romantic and wholly sincere - was in the power of kindness. It was a cause for which she intended to found a political party. I agreed to be the official opposition, putting courtesy first. When I last saw her, I asked how the party was going. It's over to you, she said with a smile.