Queerly not quite Queer

Am I queer? It’s not a question that I spent any time on as a younger person because I identify as male and am attracted to women. So why I am even asking this question?

I’m unconventional. Being male especially as a teenager I was often in social situations which became exclusively male and conversation turned to which of the females in the social group did people think were the hottest. Whilst everyone did have different opinion on these sojourns I came to realise my personal preferences were more different than most of the rest of these groups. When people have asked me what sort of women am I attracted to, I’ve always struggled to come up with an answer, there is simply too much diversity, I’m simply attracted to who I’m attracted to.

Is it more than this? I used to play field hockey in a mixed group and one day I was with a fellow hockey player where one of the female players was dressed up, make-up, posh dress and so on and he said to me “I didn’t realise that X was really attractive, I’ve only seen her in sportswear”. I was stunned, how on Earth had he not noticed that this woman was really attractive before. The answer was that he doesn’t find women dressed for sport attractive, but does find women dressed up in what our culture deems ‘feminine’ attractive. I realised that I’m the opposite, I find women in sportswear attractive and being dressed up does nothing special for me. He asked me “What do you like women to wear, what turns you on?” My answer was “Jeans, DMs and a nice wooley jumper”, I never realised how much of a minority I was in for this preference.

On another occasion I was asked about liking women with short hair, the “women who look like boys” accusation, I do not see that, I just see an attractive woman. However a consequence of this is that I am have found myself to be disproportionatly attracted to lesbians. It isn’t a fetish for lesbianism (though I acknowledge that this exists), it’s simply that I just see women I am attracted to. Also my gaydar is terrible as all the social cues as to someones sexuality I am fairly blind to.

Whilst I am perhaps an untypical person, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am queer. For queer is an identifier for people who have suffered abuse due to their sexuality. I have suffered abuse from those idiots whom make the assumption that I’m gay, such as being shoulder charged in the street or more general social exclusion. However it is rare enough that I haven’t really suffered from this as a continual persistent abuse that would count as suffering from homophobia or other things such as racism or sexism.

There is however an aspect of me that does push me into something like that. I consider myself to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum. This means that some of the unwritten social rules I don’t get and I have had to actively learn them, espeically those social rules around how men and women interact socially. This has happened enough to be caused me to suffer. I like women, most of my friends are women and sometimes I find myself somewhere such as in the pub talking with a woman. Someties there are two things going on, a conversation that is underlayed by an undercurrent concerning whether there is also a mutual attraction. What has frequently happened is the point that the woman decides that they are not interested in me, however the actual conversation is interesting enough to not bring the interaction to a close. To me the conversation was as important as the assessment. I’ve yet to find a way, if such a way exists, of naturally bringing such a conversation to an end without a sense of awkwardness that I ‘haven’t taken no for an answer’ being there. I suffer from there being so many heterosexual men who persist, I’m not part of that, yet I suffer from it. It’s trying to comply with a set of social rules that exist for people not in my social group. It is maddening, it’s made me not express an interest in a woman for fear of the social awkwardness that seems to inevitably ensues, even in situations where the woman is expressing an interest, but I’m enjoying the conversation too much. This may not make any sense to you kind reader.

I’m not technically queer, but perhaps I should be able to identify myself as so. However I also acknowledge that we are all as individuals a morass of personality traits that society has labelled male and female, yet none of us have a set of entirely male or female traits, we are all mixed bags of craziness trying to make sense of ourselves and the world. Our genes and our societies in general push us towards particular preferences or expressing of certain traits, but sometimes this doesn’t serve us well as individuals, society doesn’t tolerate such diversity. Sometimes individuals are different enough to push them past a point where they become wierdos, queers, misfits, even though such individuals are actively striving not to cause others harm. Sometimes your sexuality pushes you across that boundary, sometimes it’s something else. Sometimes your differences give you automatic membership to a defined social group and sometimes it doesn’t.

Pulp-Misfits

I’m a middle aged hetersexual, but still put this record on and turn the volume up and go ‘Yeah!”

Bye Bye Boris?

Today, it has finally looked like the political end for one Boris Johnson, his own supporters apparently having had enough of his bluster and lies. The media are eagerly swarming awaiting his tearful moment behind the lectern at 10 Downing Street, with his partner behind him and the removal vans awaiting around the back. A day of crazy British political theatre that isn’t over at time of writing.

Some have mentioned that he might not resign after the months and months of calls for him to do so. One option is just calling a General Election and losing it. It seems unlikely, but in terms of long term Tory strategy has a logic.

The UK is heading into an economic crisis, in a world of increasingly higher inflation, recession, a cost of living crisis, an ongoing European war, independence referendums in Scotland, maybe Wales and a broder poll in Northern Ireland and the potential re-emergence of the Covid pandemic. It actually just early enough for them to go and subsequently be able to blame the Labour party for the mess. Electorates have notoriously short memories and this stategy did work in 2010 after the 2008 global bankign crisis.

This would allow a new Tory leader to emerge before a 2026 election, clean of the stain of the Johnson administration able to blame Labour for everything that happened and beign able to claim th ebreak-up of the UK didn’t happen on their watch. Of course npo-one will publically say this, but I’ll wager these conversations are happening in private.

STAR Interviews

Another week another failed job interview, cursed as I am to be applying for public sector roles in the UK. This one was really annoying as it was, in my sector, I have a ton of relevent expereince, I have a number of value added skills to take the role forward. I should have at least made the shortlist, but I failed the interview.

I failed as it was another scored interview of Behavioural Interview questions, in the format of “Talk about a time when…” which was assessed using the STAR system (Situation, Task, Action, Result), which I only found out about afterwards. As there are so many interview types, should I ask for the system they use prior to the interview? Do people do this?

I really struggle with these blasted behavioural style questions for a number of reasons. However I cna understand the why, to enable an objective scoring system for interviews, albeit heavily bias towards those that suit this style of questioning.

I was dismayed by this, but I am slowly getting used to them and using strastegies to deal with them, though not perfected yet. The feedback I recieved was that I had given one or more ‘weak’ answers. I think you need to score at least a 3/5 for each question and there were 6 questions.

It seems almost like having to do something similar to university exam prep’ for job interviews, but you usually can’t dedicate several weeks of your life to doing so.

If I had a three hour exam with three essay questions for a course with ten topics, my approach was, prepare 4 excellent, in depth, researched essays, 3 excellent essays with only one or two recent academic articles to embellish the basic argument and three basic essays to cover the final three topics. Of course in the exams the quesrtions would almost never fit neatly these essays, but I had them in mind to draw information from to form an argument to answer the three exam questions. So in such exams I usually could create two good essays and one that wasn’t great but had enough in it to pass. The end result of this was that almost half th etime I woudl get a 1st, mainly 2.1s and the occasional 2.2 when things didn;t work out.

You may wonder why I didn’t simply create ten excellent essays in exam prep’. One there wasn’t enough time and secondly, remembering 10 key articles was about my limit of memory re-call under examp conditions. I tried, but my brain turned to sludge in the exam, so this strategy didn’t work. I suspect I spent far more time on exam preparation than my peers to compensate fo the fact that I perform poorly in exams, espically that third hour, when all I want to do is streetch my legs and punch something with no thought capacity left. I woudl leave the easiest answer, the one I had really well prepared for to last and then have forgotten the key points. Actually I found a way around this: At th ebeginning of the exams I would write out a list of 10 things in the back of the exam paper, with two trigger words to jog my memory, thus assured I wouldn’t be wracking my non-functioning head to remember this information.

I hope, kindest reader, you understand that I really really hate exams and was so relieved to have worked out how to do them and get a good B.Sc.

Anyway, job interviews are kind of like exams are they not. Forstly they put you in an uncomfortable sitaution, usually on an uncomfortable chair, in a room with three strangers and you are somehow expected to perform at your ‘best’ by creating the ‘worst’ circumstances? I digress. so it seems that you have to do somethign like exam prep’ for interviews. From the say 16 points of the Person Specification and Job Description, you need to work out an example to use for Behavioural Interview Questions, that is a story, that highlights relevent skills and demonstrates understand of what the role requires. 16, I can manage about 7 in such a stressful situation! Perhaps what I should do is just have the 16 examples with two key words on ‘Post-it’ notes positions behind the Webcam for Zoom interviews.

It sound slike form the feedback I’ve had in that I perform at interviews liek exams, I will ace parts of it and then struggle with other parts and end up with an ok result. However with the scoring system as I understadn it, failing one element means you fail the whole thing (unless all the other interviewees, also fail to deliver at least one good enough example presumably). It probabaly is just me, my university exam marks were very scattergun, some good 1sts down to just scraping a third on one module with an absolute car crash exam. My peers seemed to be far more consistent than I. Fortuntaly, universities allow for this and UK ones actually marginally reward more scattergun students like myself; they have made allowances for knowing that exams are a very imperfect system for judging understanding of topics. However it seems no dispensatory systems exist for job interviews, my Autism isn’t that strong unfortunatly!

Apologies for the rant, it helps me to write it down. It’s just so frustating to be three years without a proper job, to merely exist and survive on a part time minimum wage job. I really really need a proper holiday and this job would have allowed me to save up enough to have one this autumn. So I am super annoyed. I’ll probably get back to the politics as usual next time.

Patriotism, A Game of Two Halves

Winston Churchill addresses the nation following defeat of Germans (1945)

I don’t think there has been a week where the difference between my two national identities has been so pronounced. National identity is the sense of feeling part of a nation, that you as an individual ascribe some ownership of a nation to yourself. In the UK we all have more than one national identity. For me I am Welsh and British.

Firstly British. This was the week of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for over 70 years. When she was crowned Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, the great war Prime Minister, who presided over a nation at war and a just war. The sense of Britishness was never stronger and the One Nation ideas Mr Churchill talks about in this well crafted speech just after the end of hostilities with the Nazis are those of ordinary people, concerns about working together as one nation to rebuild, to improve housing, jobs for all, healthcare with such a united war effort to continue.

In 2022, some 70 years later with Europe once again at war, we see on our screens every day the destruction of housing and normality in Ukraine. Yet in Britain we are have lost that post-war spirit, the post-war Social Democratic consensus has gone and we’ve become divided by our choices of and the choices of our politicians. Yet the Jubilee offered Britain a brief chance to forget all that for a few days, to give thanks to Queen Elizabeth for her service to the UK and have a party and revel in our shared British identity.

The Queen and the British Royal Family is a very British institution, a contitutional monarch as Head of State and figurehead and for some a rallying point for a sense of Britishness, however we identify with this particular establishment sense of Britishness, that was celebrated this week.

There are those, particularly on the hard Right of politics whom only or a very predominantly identify as British or strongly British first, for whom the pomp and pageantry are of great importance and there is the rest of us, who do see it all as something we are fond of but regard as a bit silly and find our own way of identifying with it.

This dichotomy was brought into focus by the service of Thanksgiving for the Queen, held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was a good service with a very on-point Sermon, however the musical choices dissapointed me, they were very safe. When I visit London I do make the effort to visit St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey or, my personal favourite, Southwark Cathedral for a service of Choral Evensong, and you are usually guaranteed services of excellent music better than that provided for this Thanskgiving service. However, I am a fan of Choral Evensong and Episcopalian church music in general, I was not the audience. So some safe, perhaps dull choices fitted the occasion for the millions who don’t regularly attend choral services, such as the Royal Family, who chatted amongst themselves during the singing, which they would know not to do if they regularly attended such services.

The Service itself was not the big draw for television audiences. It was not what filled the commentary of both the mass media and social media, that was the arrival of the dignitaries at the Cathedral. Normally at such things as Royal Weddings are worth tuning in forthe great amusement of hearing established serious news presenters suddenly finding themselves talking about the dress or hat princess such and such is wearing. This time the amusement was a popularity contest of who got the biggest cheers and the loudest boos from the eager crowds of Royalists standing outside the Cathedral. Prince Harry and Meghan got the biggest cheer and Boris Johnson the biggest boos, all very British. All of which was fairly predictable if you don’t believe the UK’s gutter press. It’s this gossip about who the British as a polity approve of and who is in disgrace and we so rarely get to express these views in public.

So roll on to the “Party at the Palace” on Saturday night. A concert featuring the tired has-beens of British popular music, belting out their hits that everyone knows; and who doesn’t love such cheesy celebrations? This demonstrated that the whole Jubilee was not the Olympics, not a Britain trying to impress a global audience with it’s dynamism or modernity, it was much more about a nostalgic remininse for the British public about the last 70 years and times when Britishness were more keenly and more widely felt. To reverie in the eccentrities that come from the UKs unique history. However again the media commentary was not mainly about the music or the speeches but on the “Royal Box”. Here the Royal Family sat, knowing the cameras were on them, trying to appear as a normal family. The younger members helped enourmously, notably the youngest, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, being bored by the whole affair as any children in such a situation would be and the cameras foccussed on Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cambridge’s attempts to persuade them to behave and learn how to pretend to enjoy something.This craft of trying to appear normal and enjoy things they would rather not be attending of course being evidenced by the politicians who had for some bizarre reason been invited along to this Royal event.

The Jubilee was all good fun and for some a rare chance to experience this sense of a shared, stiff upper lipped, wacky, crass, nostalgic Britishness and perhaps a final chance.

And then came 5pm on Sunday afternoon. Time for my Welshness to take centre stage. Wales were playing Ukraine for the final spot at this years football World Cup. Perhaps the game a revitalised international football setup in Wales had dreamed of which had began under the late manager, Gary Speed and been a work of many years to produce a team that increasing numbers of fans have warmed to to form ‘The Red Wall’. Wales had not qualified the World Cup finals since 1958 (5 years into Elizabeth II’s reign) and Wales had suffered the abuse of years of suggestions that Wales would never qualify for such a competition again. It was a big game. It was made a bigger game by the opponents being a nation at war, a nation the world has sympathy for. If I wasn’t Welsh I would have been supporting Ukraine myself, it was kind of Wales against the world.

And what a game of football is was, intense, end to end football, played with real passion and commitment by both sides at a level rarely seen in the professional game, with goal mouth incidents galore, my nerves were completely shot by the end. However, someway, somehow, when the Ref’ blew the final whistle, Wales had won. Wales are going to the World Cup! [it’s still simply wonderful to be able to write this]. Our wonderful TV commentators could barely get a sentence out as overcome as I was, as were Welsh fans watching on screens across the world were and in the stadium itself, tears of joy were flowing.

Then the Welsh team made the highly unusual move in football, of going across to join the Ukraine team in applauding the fans of Ukraine in the stadium. Not only that, but the Wales fans in the stadium joined in with the appluading of Ukraine [that we had painfully put aside for two hours or so]. The tears of joy suddenly turned hot with love, friendship and solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they fight for their country against the unprovoked aggression of Putin. It was quite a moment.

A moment where my Welshness felt strong, not the wry cool cynicism of my Britishness, but a more gutteral pride in being a member of a small, long repressed nation that could overcome the odds to achieve something with a sense of togetherness, with a relevence to current world events that the nostaligic reminisce over 70 years of Britishness could not hope to match. #StrongerTogether, Yma o hyd [We’re Still Here]

Imperial Measures

I think there was some sort of annoucement this week about Imperial measures by the UK government as one of them so-called ‘Brexit benefits’ and there has been the usual fuss on Social Media. ‘Brexit benefits’ like blue passports or crown symbols on pint glasses, changes that have zero effect on the economy or our everyday lives. They further stoke the division between the hard right empire nostalgia Nationalists and the younger generation scorning another weird set of odd peculiarities of the white old Gammons. The really bizarre bit of all this is that all these things could have been done whilst the UK was an EU member, the UK simply chose not to, they are not Brexit benefits at all, but things the UK could have done anyway without leaving the Single Market.

Yet, in a way it isn’t in this case. I am actually an advocate of Imperial Measurements, I grew up with them, I still cook using Imperial Measures and still think in Imperial in domestic matters. However I can quite see the point that Imperial isn’t of any use until that is you learn it and I understand why it is lumped in with criticism of blue passports, crown symbols, deporting black people, or whatever it is these right wing nutters actually want.

I was very privileged to have grown up with the Imperial system and also to be taught the Metric system at school (albeit using old Maths books written in Imperial) and we had a mathematician as Headmaster who thought it useful for us to learn maths using different base systems and so not restricted in our thinking to only using base 10. I’m a dual system perosn. To me the two systems are just that, two different systems. One works better for some things and vice versa. My generation learned both well, as we had to convert everything back into Imperial for when we talked with our uncles and nans.

The issue really comes down to trade, trade requires regulation, for both parties to accept a common weights and measures system, so traded goods can be verified to be the length or weight that the seller claims tham to be. The Metric system works really well for this as it is really easy as everything can be split into thousands, hundreds and tens. It is used in Science as science looks at tiny picolitre samples and then oceans at the ecosystem scale. The Metric system is great for this, no conversions are necessary.

However, once a product reaches a shop and an individual consumer wants to buy a piece of say, cheese, it becomes clumsy. One gram of cheese is a tiny mouthful and a kilogram is a huge piece of cheese, neither useful quantities for buying cheese for a family, pounds and ounces come into their own, whether you buy 6 or 7 ounces of cheese makes a difference. one ounce is 28.3495 grams and far too precise for domestic recipes, so you often see 25g or 30g used in recipes, which is a little fussy. In older recipe books you will see things like ‘a good ounce of butter’ or just over an ounce, or measure an ounce but be generous. For baking this makes much more sense, it is numbers at a more human scale.

This is how the Imperial system developed over centuries of human existence, horses height is measured in hands (4″, 4 inches, about 10cm) because a human hand is roughly 4″ wide. This measure is just used for horses. Fathoms measure depth, One fathom is 6′, 6 feet (180cm) because depth was measured by dropping a weighted rope off the side of the boat and rope was gathered by men who when gathering rope around outstreched arms is roughly 6′ or a fathom, so you could guesstimate depth if you didn’t have a specially knotted rope to hand. Basically in imperial you use the measuring system specifically designed for the job you do, you don’t have to learn all the obscure units at once, just the ones you use. A mile (1.6km) is comprised of 1760 yards (the distance you walk in a leisurely 20 minutes) A yard (just under a metre) is comprised of 6 feet (30cm) each made up of 12 inches (2.5cm). “A metre measures 3 foot 3 [inches], it’s longer than a yard you see” I remember hearing older members of my family uttering this under their breaths as they tried to understand Metric labelling!

So if you are looking at small things all you need be concerned with is inches, things in your room, you think about feet, then when you leave the house you start with yards but then move onto miles. You use the scale that fits the job. You never have to think about how much fuel it would take to drive your car across your kitchen. Well you could convert miles per gallon into inches per gallon, but now we’re talking about comparing big things with small things and no longer at a human scale and Metric is so better for that, well provided you are careful to count your zeros carefully.

Dual systems, having a choice of tool is to me a good thing. It’s the same with languages, being able to speak two languages is better than one. I speak Welsh and English and bi-lingual speakers will often say things like ‘Ymddiheuro fydd o’n hawddach i esbonio yn yr Saesneg’ [Apologies it will be easier to explain in English] , and sometimes the other way around. Two systems are better than one, they make life easier, but and it is a big but, if and only if both parties have learned to speak the language of both systems.

However I think almost everyone a few years younger than I will only have been taught the Metric system at school and they live perfectally fine lives with it and are not really prevented from doing anything. The UK government chose amost sole use of the Metric system some generations ago now (although blamed the EC for it at the time), all the EC said was that machines need to display Metric quantities and prices must be displayed in Metric, they never said the UK couldn’t continue to dual system, the UK chose that. It is personally annoying, when I pop into the cheese shop, I still ask for “8oz [ounces] of your lovely Swaledale please” [Swaledale is possibly my favourite cheese] and in recent years younger staff have been clueless “No problem, just over 200 grams” and we’ve been fine. For me I can look at a piece of cheese and see how many ounces it is, I can’t do that with grams, they are not at a human scale.

I don’t know what Boris Johnson’s mad crazy government intends exactly with the Imperial system change. Teaching the system isn’t such a bad idea: Learn that there are more than one way of measuring things, the history of weights and measures (including why we have months and why we find bones marked 30 times, think about it if you don’t know the answer), Doing sums not in base 10 [I suspect not many computer programmers use binary these days, but useful nonetheless]. A couple of fun interesting valuable lessons I would imagine, but please, please not what I had to do at school: Convert the quantities in the textbook into Metric [which was often the hard bit], now do the sum that you’ve been taught how to do today, then to check you’ve done it right, convert the answer back into Imperial, so you can check it against the answers in the back of the book; I think I had a fairly unique experience with maths at school and yes we did wonder if it wouldn’t have just been easier to do the whole sum in Imperial!

Sorry for the rant, I just see so much criticism of the Imperial system by people who don’t understand it or have ever used it. It’s annoying as this is exactly the same argument they often use against the Brexiteers. I also get criticism of the Welsh language from monoglot English speakers who don’t understand the advantages of speaking two languages. Basically I just despise people expressing strong opinions on things people don’t understand. It is perhaps the disease of the 21st century.

The Queen’s Jubilee 2022

When I was growing up, I would on occasion see pictures of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977, of street parties, Red White and Blue bunting and people across Britain coming together for a party. The impression I have is there was great excitement about the event marking the Queen’s 25 years on the throne. I do not sense this excitement about the forthcoming Jubille next weekend to celebrate the rare event of a sitting Monarch’s 70 years on the throne. What has changed in Britian since the 1970s?

Events that unite nations are rare, partly because we all have different views and opinions on everything. Yet as individuals we often join in with celebrations that are not of significance to us as individuals partly out of a sense of obligation, but mainly because we all enjoy a good party.

The last event that bought the nations of Britain together as a unifying force was the London Olympic Games of 2012, now some ten years ago. It has perhaps been these last ten years that has seen so little to unite Great Britain and scant little to celebrate. The UK has not really recovered from the Banking crisis of 2008, Individual living standards have fallen year on year, we had the divisive Brexit referendum in 2016, the Covid pandemic of 2019 onwards and now the Cost of Living crisis exacerbated by war in Europe. All of which presided over by the Tory party which has increasingly taken an Authoritarian bent that grates harshly against the Lefts view of the British social contract.

This contract runs something like this: Having a Constiutional Monarch and maintaining vast palaces at tax payers expense and the pomp and pageantry associated with such an institution is fine if the British people get something in return for this. Much of these institutions are supported with a big healthy dollop of British irony. They are supported because there is value in having a non-political Head of State, as someone that everyone can rally behind regardless of political views, provided the Monarch keeps completely away from politics, and in general we are happy with the monarchy in spite of some of the cruelties associated with such an aristocracy, in particular the lives of the Queen’s sons and grandsons; Prince Charles tragic marriage with Lady Di, the more recent sexual deviancy of Prince Andrew and the failure of the Palace to keep Prince Harry and Meghan in the Royal Family Firm. However there is also a strong sense of not liking the idea of an elected president as the head of state, an appreciation of the soft power the monarchy gives the UK internationally and that tourists to the UK in general seem to love all the bizarre ceremonies linked with the UK being a monarchy.

There is also the heavy irony of the UK national anthem, God Save the Queen. It’s an odd anthem about how the UK wishes for the person of the Monarch to be saved by God and wished to live forever. Yet as Britons it has been a unifying anthem in the past, partly because it’s almost impossible to sing it without a sense of irony. Because the purpose of the anthem is not to celebrate the monarchy or the individual King or Queen but to simply be an anthem that unites people without saying anything at all about the UK and Britain is perhaps united in it’s appreciation of deep irony. It’s the celebration itself that is important rather than the words of the song itself. For are we not in Britain not like these Nationalists in other countries who bizarrely think their nation is more important than anythign else?

However I do sense a desire for a big celebration, we have suffered Covid and now the Cost of Living Crisis and do need to let out hair down. Yet there is some discomfort about this Jubilee. I think this discomfort comprises of two main elements. Firstly there is a growing confusion of what the UK is for, what it’s purpose is? Why maintain a divisive centralised unitary government of a multi-national state in a continent where other such states have divided into their constituent nations, such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, in a world where nation-states have waning power compared to large multi-national companies, is there any advantage anymore in being a relatively large unhomogenous nation state, especially one with the trappings of having been a major world power. A nation State determined to keep hold of an arcane electoral system when the evidence from continental Europe is that more democratic systems do produce stronger economies and determined to keep it solely because it keeps the current lot in power, it has lost the democratic argument. Secondly that the Jubilee is being promoted by the Hard Right (who like the institutions of the Monarchy much more than the Left do) and in a context of a UK government determined to pass divisive authoritarian laws without majority consent, taking away the freedoms valued at least by the Left that were very much part of the Social Contract [we tolerate the Monarchy and paying taxes to support it as long as the State defends our individual freedoms and this hazy concept of “British Values”] And getting rid of or threatening the British instiutions and freedoms the Left cherish a lot pushes us away from support of the Union itself. It is this promotion of division by the government and our generally Right wing popular media whom are then promoting the Jubilee as ‘unifying distraction’ that just grates. It creates the impression that this is their party and the rest of us are not invited.

Nation states are unified when everyone gets something out of the arrangement. The UK had the divisive Brexit referendum and has left the EU. Brexit was very much a project of the Hard Right. Fine, it won the vote, but there was an expectation that an olive branch would be offered to the Left as was promised ‘Take Back Control” was very quickly dumped and forgotten about wasn’t it, for a way to be found to make Brexit work for everyone, this has not happened.

I think the main disincentive to celebrate the Jubilee is entrenched privilege. The cost of living crisis, where ordinary folk have less to spend and much less with war raging, many are struggling to pay taxes, essential bills and put food on the table despite working full-time jobs, whilst those with capital assets are profiteering from the situation, those who rent out their second homes and from investments turning out increased profits. Unfortunatly the Royal Family are very much viewed as part of this landed class, the people increasingly viewed as the problem to what ails Britain in 2022. So even though it’s just an excuse to party, the ostensible reason for the celebration is problematic. Either the jubilee is about Her Majesty or about the UK and it can’t be both at the moment whilst the UK is still divided.

The UK is very divided, but I feel there is a deep desire for normalcy to return, it’s been a while, to just have a party to forget our troubles. However I’m not sensing that this Jubilee will be it. I may be wrong, I do live in a Left leaning, Remain in the EU voting Welsh town where there are no events planned and just a small amount of Jubilee tat available in the major retailers. There is a sense of not wanting to spend the little disposable income we have on such a frippery when there are deep problems with the economy to find solutions for, war in Europe and we simply have other more pressing concerns right now.

Electoral Reform

I have long been an advocate of electoral reform. I believe a lot of the problems we have with bad governance and corruption, especially in the UK are due to poor democratic accountability. Surely the way to improve that is to improve how we elect representatives. The purpose being to make it easier to get rid of incompetent and corrupt politicians and vote in those who geninely represent ordinary human beings in our nations.

So, I was initially enthusiastic as a political geek about this weeks proposed reforms of how Wales elects Senedd members, though not perfect are at least an improvement and any improvement should be supported. However is it actually an improvement?

The Current System

Wales elects 60 Senedd members (ASs) every elections. 40 of these are by FPTP (First Past The Post) for the same constituencies we have for UK elections. There is then a proportional element, in five regions, with each region electioning 4 additional members on party lists using a D’Hondt system; whereby parties regional vote is divided by 1+ the number of ASs already elected by FPTP and again after each additional member is elected. It’s quite a complex system. as we have two votes, an FPTP constituency vote and a proportional regional party vote and it encourages tactical voting (by predicting 8 FPTP results) on the regional list vote. It’s not a terrible system, but it has the great weakness of not allowing you to choose your first choice party, often even on the regional list.

The Proposal

The idea is to split Wales into 16 new regions with each region electing 6 members off a list via the d’Hondt system. This increases representation form 60 to 96. Note that the UK is currently going through a long delayed boundary review, the likely result is that Wales’ Uk representation is to be reduced from 40 to 32 (because the population of England has risen faster than that of Wales). Each of the 32 new constituencies are then paired with another constituency to create the new 16 regions.

Advantages of the Proposal

Firstly it makes voting simpler, we would just have a list of parties and you choose one party.

It would be more proportional having a depth of 6, so any party getting more than around 15% of the vote will get at least a representative of their 1st choice party to represent where they live.

Disadvantages of the Proposal

Smaller parties and independents will still struggle to get elected. The issue is perhaps the Green party. Historically they get 6-7% of the popular vote but never gain any representation. Arguably once a party starts to represent around 1 in 15 of the electorate that leaves a lot of people not represented in the Senedd at all. The proposal doesn’t really change this as in the current system a 15% party will usually pick up a regional Senedd spot. anyway

Parties choose the party list, so as electors we have no say in who is on the lists only party members have an input into this, which doesn’t seem democratic to me. They could put an unpopular person (but popular in the party) as no.1 on a list and they will get elected because we elect people by the party they represent. It’s a risky strategy, but if you make the 2nd choice a really popular candidate it may encourage voting to at least get the 2nd candidate in. So we’re perhaps already re-introducing the tactical voting the system is supposed to get rid of.

These 16 regions are a bit unwieldy:

A proposed 16 regions of Wales

To someone not from Wales this may look reasonable each region will have roughly the same population. However Welsh demographics are not evenly spread. So any proposal will put lots of radically different areas paired together such as rural areas mixed with urban areas, wealthy areas mixed with poorer ones, Welsh speaking areas with English speaking areas. It’s hard to avoid as Wales has a large central region with a relatively low density population (where I am incidentally from). For example look at the ‘West Coast’ region, it’s huge, consisting of 3.5 historic counties which takes 5 to 6 hours to drive from one end to the other.

Basically whilst I’m in favour of reform I’m not entirely convinced this is any better than the current system. Some number crunching suggests the new proposal is marginally more proportional and makes it slightly easier for small parties to get elected. As such it’s a marginal improvement. The current system is entirely party list based in any case. The FPTP elemen tin the current system gives you a choice of individuals but one of each party. The majority of people don’t vote for th ewinner and are unrepresented locally, so rely on the regional vote for representation. The proposal is better as there is less of a scrabble for the more democractic top-up AMs. So what would I like to see?

To achieve more proportionality and that everyone can vote for their first choice (something we haven’t traditionally done in the UK) would be to have fewer regions and more depth to the list. Go a stage further and have 8 regions each electing 12 members. Then a party getting 7-8% has a good chance of electing one member and a popular party of 40% getting 4 or 5 members elected. The second thing I’d like to see is STV (Single Transferable Vote) so electors can rank candidates. This means that within our preferred party we can choose people form the left, centre or right of the party. It even allows people to split votes, choosing candidates from multiple parties that are closer to their personal view than the party as a whole.

The problem with this is complexity. Each party could put up at least 12 candidates, we have 4 major parties in Wales, so that’s 48 and then assuming a batch of smaller parties and independents you could easily have 60 or even 70 candidates to choose from. Whilst more choice is good, that’s a lot of people to rank and counting the votes would be incredibly arduous. For political geeks liek myself it would be interesting but most of the electorate would struggle with such a long list. Having said that with STV you can stop ranking whenever you like, so you may only choose those of your party and maybe a few others.

Perhaps a way to simplify it would be to have two votes, one choice of your 1st choice party and then your preferred candidate. Then the party that had the most votes and elects the first AS for a region, then also electes the individual with the most preferences and so on. It would then make the process much simpler for the voter and enable voting for a first choice party and an individual candidate without ranking everyone.

The other question then is 8 regions right, would they be too big to reflect local issues and diversity? Possibly. The current 5 regions: North, Central and West, South-West, South-Central and South-East, aren’t too bad. Over half of the people of Wales live in the South East of the country which is why there are three ‘South’ regions. These could be split into 5 new regions and the rest of Wales (North Central and West)split into 3, with maybe some overlaps to get the balance right? And yes this woudl probably mean an enormous Powys, Ceredigion, Caerfyrddin, Penfro, Meirionydd and possibly Gwynedd region [the 4 most central regions on the above map), but are not the concerns of rural Wales similar whichever bit of it you live in?

It’s also likely that 12 AMs per region may be higher than it needs to be to allow 7-8% parties representation. So perhaps increasing the number of regions to perhaps 10 or more would be better, with maybe 8 or 9 AMs per region. The idea of seekign to keep Welsh regions aligned with UK regions does I think have a sense to it, but in the long-term it may not be worth maintaining as regions with numbers of AMs are less easy to re-draw on the map.

It’s interesting, I suspect much more debate on this to come and probably some counter proposals. However we are still very much stuck with the antiquated FPTP for UK elections and all their well known problems of unrepresentative government that they entail. The other issue is that those making these decisions, political parties have a vested interest in not seeking the emost democratic solution but rather advocating a system that serves their party well. However it does seem to be at least little steps in the right direction.

International Sausages

Once upon a time, not so long ago, two Austrian ladies came to live in the North of England. The pet gripe of these two ladies was to bemoan the lack of decent sausages to be found in England. Such was their wailing and moaning about such sparcity of good sausages that some felt they were becoming British in their love of complaining about the state of things.

One evening these two ladies were at a party and were wittering on to all and sundry about their sausage woes. Until one gentlemen, encouraged perhaps by the drink, piped up to say “My dear ladies, there is nothing finer on this Earth than the British sausage!”. After much tittering, the Austrians decided to call out the gentlemen’s bloated patriotism and issued a wager, they would host an international sausage evening and challenged the man and all his friends to come to their garden with their fatty offal tubes to a sausage sizzle against the sausages of Austria. There, supremely confident in the superiority of the Austrian sausage they would prove that not one British sausage could beat their sausages in a taste test.

And so, came the night of the international sausage evening. Their fridge was filled to it’s very brim with specially ordered sausages that had asked friends and family to deliver to them all the way from Austria. The rain could not dampen their confidence, nor the sausages, because the Austrians had come to know the British summer and prepared gazebos to keep the rain off the grills erected in their garden.

Their smugness quickly turned to shock, then despair and finally to joy, for their burning desire to win the contest was trumped only by their love of excellent sausages, every British sausage they tasted was indeed superior to their sausages from back home. And everybody lived happily ever after.

All the best stories are true. I think many other Europeans coming to Britain are shocked and surprised by British food. If you visit a British supermarket [well perhaps unless you are lucky enough to go to a Booth’s] you will find aisle after aisle of over-processed, poor quality foods, that it seems the British have come to love. They may also moan about the ‘toast’ [the sliced “bread” in plastic bags only good for toast]. Yet outside the supermarkets, in the little back streets of British towns and cities, on market stalls and in small farm shops, you can still find fantastic butchers, bakers and fine cheeses, maintaining the tradition of producing basics like bread, cheese and indeed sausages to a decent standard using local ingredients from small producers as many had for centuries before them. Whilst the majority of the country spurns them to spend their cash in the bright lights of the supermarket for so ‘modern’ are they. It was from these little shops that the gentleman and his friends had acquired the winning sausages and certainly not from the supermarkets. For many Britons have acquired the local knowledge of where the good stuff is and we will go out of our way to visit these places when nearby and stock up, but they are not always easy to find. Such foodyism is largely a middle-class preserve, but such a class division does not exist in the rest of Europe to anything like this extent.

Travelling on ‘the continent’ is always a a food journey. There is good food seemingly everywhere, available to all. Even in the glitzy city centres and indeed the supermarkets, fine food can be purchased and enjoyed, even in the supermarkets! It seems to be only Britain and her cousins in the United States that have lost their food traditions to be slaves to intensive, industrialised food systems, where shelf-life and price is more important that giving people the simple pleasure of eating good food. It’s not really such a surprise that obesity is such a problem in the UK and the US. It is much harder to splash out on luxury food when it isn’t there, instead you have to binge on sugar and fat to satisfy cravings. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the US and the UK were the early adopters and champions of corporate capitalism, we don’t even understand what it is we’ve largely lost from our culture.

The supermarkets have been ruthless, they used to have in-store bakeries and butcher counters offering a comparable quality to the high street, but at a lower price, until they succeded in almost completely killling off local food shops. Then the supermarkets started lowering the quality, until today and most Britons don’t even notice how bad the cheese they buy from the supermarket is. It’s so easy to do, replace 10% of your favourite coffee blend with a cheaper alternative and 99% of people won’t notice. Then you take away another 10% and so over years people think they are drinking good coffee when it no longer is. This has happened to the entire British food culture. The British, in general are just too good at not wanting to make a fuss for their own good.

Note:

The International Sausage Evening was not a fair competition. The English gentlemen used local knowledge networks from across Britain to source the very best British sausages, whilst the Austrians sourced their sausages from their local shop in austria, very good sausages but perhaps not the very best to be found in Austria. Saying this above would have perhaps ruined the story.

Wales and Ukraine

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is now in it’s third month and Putin’s forces have switched focus to the Donbas. Yet this horrific war continues and Putin’s propaganda machine keeps belting out it’s misinformation on Russian media. I had a look at what is being said last night and the narrative that Russian speakers have been subject to a vicious ethnic campaign authorised by the Ukraine regime and that this terrible war is justified on the basis on this supposed persecution. It’s scarcely credible, after the annexation of Crimea, ethnic tensions appeared in the Donbas, supported and perhaps fomented by Putin. It is far more credible that Putin created this situation to breate the justification for this war. i.e That Putin had to invade Ukraine to resolve the problem created by Putin himself. It seems Putin really doesn’t like Ukraine.

Back in February a Welsh politician was expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine. In short he was saying that Wales and Ukraine have a lot in common and as such our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine. However he was then attacked by members of the current UK regime, trying to make some political point scoring out of how it is crass to compare a nation at peace with one at war, all part of the UK regimes muscular unionism agenda.

Whilst war rages in Europe tensions within the UK should not be at the forefront of our minds. However I think this is worth exploring as an attempt to understand the mindset of Putin and how his propoganda is being successful with those Russians who do not actively seek alternative media and get all their news via state broadcasters in Russia as indeed most Britons do.

If you take a look back into Welsh history over the last thousand years or so you will find a Wales largely dominated and exploited by it’s vastly bigger neighbour, England, militarily, cultually, economically and linguistically. Yet as in the words of Dafydd Iwan’s most famous song: “Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth, Rwy ni’n yma o hyd” [In spite of everyone and everything, we are still here]: Wales is still proud of itself, of it’s culture, it’s heritage, it’s language and having a red dragon on it’s flag.

When the Welsh see on our screens another culture being dominated and attacked by it’s bigger neighbour, we almost instinctively reach out to the people of Ukraine, we just get it, we know what being ignored and devalued feels like. Wales and Ukraine both have rich traditions of folk choirs for example. I’ve recently discovered the beauty of Banduka choirs, which stir the soul much like Cerdd Dant does here in Wales.

Cerdd Dant

A Banduka Choir

Throughout our history there have been those in England, especially those with hard right views, that view Welsh culture and it’s language as having no value, which has similarities to suppression of cultural traditions in the Soviet Union. Keeping such traditions alive has and continues to be a struggle and they would benefit hugely without intereference from outside from people who don’t understand the culture and interfere first rather than take an interest in it. The issue is really with the right wing UK ruling class, the Tories, because there worldview is all about being on the winning side. To them it is absurd to support something like Welsh culture when it has clearly lost the battle across history with the Anglo-Saxon culture, the English, so why would the Welsh seek to be themselves when they could simply join the winning side. It’s a fundamentally different worldview, that clashes with a more inclusive sense of Welshness.

Cultures become integrated over time, for most of us in the UK we have at least two identities, a Welshness and a Britishness, or an Englishness and a Britishness. Many Welsh people find lives for themselves living in England and many English people come to Wales to live, we work together, sing songs together, marry each other and other wise are two nations at peace who are not bothered by any cultural quirks of the other country and are generally supportive because we share things in common. People adopt their own personal identity forged by their personal and family history, England, or the UK ruling class has long stopped trying to eradicate our language yet largely remains dismisive of the Welsh language. Perhaps very much like the situation was between Ukraine and Russia, where Ukraine has it’s own language that is closely related to the Russian language. Why would anyone hate their neighbours when they are our brothers and sisters?

It is surprisingly easy to break this freindly relationship. There is a whole rhetorical technique for doing so. You focus attention on and magnify any discord. In Wales on an almost daily basis face trolling by those who say that teaching the children of Wales both our languages, Welsh and English is somehow wrong or that the Welsh are very rude because ‘they all switched to speaking Welsh when we came into the pub’. There is no logic to these arguments, they are and have been long refuted, yet those on the far right keep bringing them up amd we keep trying to ignore such trolling. Yet we’ve also seen how the media has allowed refuted arguments and downright lies to be repeated on our screens until they are believed. Hitler acheived it in Germany in the 1930s and we saw it again in the UK’s Brexit campaign and in the election of Trump in the USA. Truth and freindship towards our fellow human beings is quite easily undone.

Is it a credible idea that a regime in England could decide to start a campaign suggesting that there is a percieved bias against English only speakers in Wales [there are those who tout this idea frequently], leading to perhaps an annexation of a part of Wales which has come to have a significantly ‘English’ population, say Monmouthshire, which then leads on to a full blown invasion of Wales citing tensions created in Wales by the UK regimes anti-Welsh policy, leading to a ban on use of the Welsh langauge and Welsh cultural traditions again and install a pro right wing, pro-England regime to administer Wales. A few months ago this idea would have been laughable, but this is exactly what we’ve seen happening in Ukraine.

The idea that something like hatred exists from one culture to another is largely completely non-existent aside from perhaps soem light-hearted jokes on match days in the football or rugby: Canada does not hate the US, the English do not hate the French, New Zealanders do not hate Australians, the Welsh do not hate the English and Ukrainians do not hate Russians. However there is always a tiny tiny minority of nutty ethno-nationalists who desperately find some grievance, perhaps based on a misinterpretation of something that happened say 700 years ago that is focussed upon. This is then fed into the media until it is believed as it is all everyone is talking about, all they see in their screens. It may simply the case that one regrettable murder from one of these deluded nutters can make people believe that those of another culture actually hate them can then be a justification for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. We had all hoped that such things were consigned to European history books and not played out in Europe in 2022.

Why does the UK have four national football teams?

Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau [The Old Country of my Fathers]

A columnist from the right-wing newspaper The Times, suggested that Wales and Scotland should withdraw from the football World Cup play-offs to give Ukraine the uncontested spot and switch to an all UK football team. Which begs the question, if you want to give Ukraine a world cup spot (whether they would want it or not in such circumstances), then would you not give your own countries spot, i.e. England rather than someone else’s? What is going on here?

The context for this is Wales won a match against Austria last week to reach the play-off final for the final World Cup spot. The thing is is that the other team in the final will be the winners of Scotland against Ukraine. For obvious reasons, the Scotland versus Ukraine fixture has been postponed for now with a plan for the match to hopefully take place in June or July. In any case it’s an odd situation to be in whether your countries team is involved or not.

The short answer to the question in the title is that it was ever thus. The national football associations of the UK and indeed the first ever international football fixtures took place within the UK, before international football developed. Hence they pre-date FIFA, even though FIFA rules are that no new football association can regisiter with FIFA if they are from a country which already has a football association registered. It’s kind of the same with Eurovision, each nation-state has one slot, so the UK is represented as the UK by the dire excuse of a Eurovision song that the UK enters into the competition, rather than three separate entries.

The other aspect is that there is no desire to change this set up. It only becomes an issue for the Olympic games for which there is no UK football team. When the UK hosts the Olympics a special GB team can be created only because, as hosts, it doesn’t have to qualify [ther eis no Team GB football team to play qualification games /earn ranking points]. It’s a bit of an interesting anomoly and non-football fans bemoan this lack of representation at the Olympics. Football fans in the Uk get enough football and we much prefer our own national teams to there being some ‘UK team’, which makes no sense to us.

However there is a marked and interesting variance in attitudes to the other teams within Britain. Wales and Scotland view England as their rivals. For many Welsh people we support two teams: Wales and whomever is playing against England. However there is a view in England that Wales, Scotland should be supported as ‘representing the UK’ when England are knocked out or not playing. Such a view seems to regard England as the main representatives of the UK and the other teams are but curious parochial lesser teams.

Such relationships are arguably a direct result of the geography of Britain, England is a much larger country, with roughly 85% of the British population [Wales 5% and Scotland 10%] and it is dominant and holds most of the trappings of a nation state within it.

The idea of Britishness comes largely from this dominant 85% of the population and control over the economy, the media and politics. An Englishman doesn’t really have to give a second thought to what parts of his identity are English and which are British. As a Welshman my Welsh identity is the prime one with a sense of Britishness a secondary concern. In a sense a Welsh person has two identites, Welsh and British, before they even start whereas the English person starts with one. This doesn’t create any problems in itself until issues stemming from centralisation are regarded.

The UK is a very centralised state, it has one major international city, the UKs capital city, London, which dominates, supported by the hinterland of South East England. So the lions share of investment and opportunity centre on London. Whereas a German could move to Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich etc.

If a young British person is ambitious and wants a leadership role in any industry there will generally head to London to work their way up. Unlike many other countries there is no other major city of a similar standing. There is perhaps nothing wrong with this set-up as such until you consider the issues of cultural identity and equity.

A yong person from South East England isn’t going to find it a huge issue to work in London, they speak the same way as most of the people they will be working with and understand the culture and can get home easily. A young person from Wales, will likely have what is known as a ‘regional accent’ and finds themselves several hours travel away from their culture and home. Many Welsh people do make this transition easily, others find it difficult, some years later come to regret losing a part of their Welsh identity. My point is that there isn’t a level playing field, it’s easier if you are from London and the South East of England.

Some people choose not to make this transition to London life, they wonder whether they can find a similar role in Cardiff or Swansea. It raises the question of why does the UK have to be so centralised?

Such a question is even more pertinent in light of the developed world’s housing cost hyper-inflation crisis. I lived in London in the 1990s, it is/was a great place to live, but it was financially tough then. Today it’s far worse, a young person on an entry level salary will be paying 60% of their earnings on housing, 60 per cent for a small room in a shared flat. It’s a major disincentive from moving to London. Once was a time when middle and upper-management level staff were expected to move to the London head office as their career progressed, this no longer happens as many simply refuse on housing cost grounds and work from home. Furthur to that those who got lucky and bought housing around London priot to hyper-inflation can now bank the value of their home and buy second homes in Wales, causing hyper-inflation here and pricing out of young people, who now have nowhere cheaper to move to.

There has always been a mild resentment towards the British establishment based around London in Wales and a reciprical neglect of Wales from the British establishment. However in recent times that has ratcheted up and we are increasingly asking why are we putting up with the inequality and lowering living standards and some of the dafter things about living in the UK and simply govern ourselves, gain independence for Wales? When the UK was a major power and Wales kind of did ok on the coat-tails of the British establishment and empire it was perhaps less of an issue. However there seems little incentive from the UK establishment to address the centralisation of the UK and regional inequality, or rather they’ve blown the money on hand-outs to their own class and instead rely on a rhetorical ‘muscular unionism’.

Such resentments are brought into focus on the sports field, particularly when Wales play England, yet we remain friends afterwards. The idea of a UK football team makes no sense when it would likely be the current England team, maybe + Gareth Bale. It would not represent Wales. The England [and Wales] cricket team do nothing to represent Wales apart from an occasional guilt trip and playing a match at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, but that’s it. I don’t support the ‘England’ cricket team and I wouldn’t support a ‘UK football team’.

So when a Times columnist suggests that Wales give up a potential World Cup spot we’ve been working hard for for years, when England wouldn’t, hits this idea that only England is important, Wales is a parochial team and not a team of equal status to England in the UK. With over a century of football history and it is only those who are not football fans that would even countenance the idea of a UK football team.