Blues in Bandit Country

I have been living in South East England for the last eighteen months. I have decided to leave the area as I’ve been increasingly unhappy here. It’s strange as I’ve lived in various places, often hating them initially but have always warmed to them and found a way of being happy living there. Basically I find lots of negatives about living here and struggle to find positives.

It’s not there aren’t nice people here. I was talking at a party recently and described my struggle to find people on my wavelength here and this chap told me that people like myself tend to leave the area. I asked why he stayed and he said that he grew up around here and have family and friends nearby and have learned to live with it. I think this is my reason for leaving, I simply don’t want to learn to live with it.

There are all sorts of reasons. One of which is that this is a dormitory town. The town basically serves as a place that is close to London, it serves as a place for London commuters to live, but not in London. It’s advantage is that you can take to train and be in London in just over an hour, which is great. However purely using this for a social life (evenings and weekends) is quite tiring and really I’d rather actually be in London than near London with no advantages personally of not being in London. Dormitory towns are relatively large towns, yet have very little going on culturally for their size and suffer the daily hassle of places taking time, because large British towns are poorly organised for getting around, restrictions on travel due to poor local public transport and traffic congestion at certain times of the day. for example, it takes me a 15 minute drive to get to the ‘local’ supermarket, but that can be over an hour if you go during rush hour. To me the hassles of living here have no justification. My view is that dormitory towns have neither the advantages of a self-contained city nor those of a small town/rural location; they seem to be the worst of both. Maybe some people like that, but not me.

Whilst I appreciate that I’m being paid to be here, the fact that everything is much more expensive than at home in Wales, means I have to accept this bizarre concept that ‘it’s not real money’. Basically because the cost of living here is as high as London, due to high rents, which is why a pint of beer or a cinema ticket is almost double the price, curtails the enjoyment really, I feel ripped off, so don’t go to the cinema and it’s a faceless chain anyway. I just hate the idea of subsidising asset rich landowners with every purchase. I was in Germany a few weeks ago and everything was so much cheaper, even in the big cities, why is Britain so rubbish at this? By living here, i feel part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, ‘market forces’ are telling me I shouldn’t be here. Also the lack of/cost of space has made it less efficient for me to do my work, I could do it more efficiently elsewhere.

Then there is the accommodation. I’m paying more than double what I would do for the equivalent in Wales, for something that is half as good. Everyday I hate having to shower with a shower that has no water pressure and only extends up to my neck. a modern building which roasts in summer (we actually have a summer in Surrey, I don’t quite know what to do, surely I’m on holiday somewhere?) I live in a shared house, have an okay room and share a kitchen and bathroom, whilst my friend in Germany for the same money has his own flat, with his own living room in a good location in a large city.

I am Welsh,  South East England is probably the complete polar opposite, culturally, within the UK. It has been fascinating to learn about the Southern English culture, but I don’t fit into it and everyday I feel more and more of an outsider (which I’m used to), rather than feel I am becoming part of the community. Britain is divided, but the South East is divided too. In socioeconomic terms it seems to have an hour glass structure. There are large numbers of wealthy people and large numbers of poor people, but few in the middle (which is, I suppose what I am). They even speak differently, the poor speak with a Surrey version of the London accent, the rich with a ‘posh’ estuary accent. The worse thing is that these two communities don’t seem to mix socially. There is a ‘class divide’, people actually look down their noses at people, which is horrible. I’ve never noticed how Welsh I am, until I came here. I’ve lived in Northern England, Scotland and Bristol without these issues arising.

People say that there is nice countryside nearby, which isn’t really true for someone like myself who grew up in the  rugged countryside of Wales. I genuinely miss the wind and near constant rain.  There are no normal shops, there is no butcher or decent baker in the town. I know I could make my own bread sometimes and order stuff on the internet, but I miss the convenience of being able to pop by a local shop and get things straight away. The high rents make the economics of everyday shops economically unfeasible here, unless you want to buy expensive stuff.

The Southern English sense of humour is different too. Essentially it’s very similar in form, yet the vibe is completely different, it’s a different kind of self-deprecation? There is this sense that the people here don’t really get why the Welsh don’t support England in sporting events and that there is no malice or hostility in it. Using humour in getting to know people from different cultures is usually lots of fun, perhaps the difficulty with Southern England is that it’s so close, yet so different that makes it harder?

I do want a girlfriend. Dating is something of a numbers game, so living somewhere where the sort of people I generally like tend not to live is perhaps a good reason to leave.

I am an easy going chap. I’ve lived in a tropical forest, cooking on an open fire and washing in the river. Whilst there I did miss being dry, had crazy food cravings, but I was okay . I was okay because I knew that such home comforts were unavailable. Living in the forest was tough but obviously had it’s compensations. to me living in Surrey doesn’t have much in the way of compensations as somewhere to live and I know that I could live somewhere nicer.

I was aware before i moved here, that this may be somewhere I don’t like. But I felt positive that there would be compensations (such as access to London) and that I would find a way to be happy here, having not found this, I feel it is time to leave and move back home for a while. It is important to be happy.

 We’ll Keep a Welcome

Wales

i mean these songs don’t usually bring me to tears!

Advertisements

Narratives and ‘Corbynmania’

As human beings it often helps us understand new concepts via narratives we can relate to. Indeed, finding a narrative that fits as an explanation for a phenomena is insightful and helps us discover truth. However any explanation based in a specific narrative can be bias and cause misunderstandings.

For example, an issue in a relationship may make sense when explained from such a narrative as ‘all males interactions with females are influenced by sexual desire’. I would suggest that whilst this narrative does always have and influence, it is not true that is the only influence, other narratives are involved. Such a narrative is overly simplistic as everyone’s sexuality is slightly different. The narrative may coherently explain a situation in a relationship, but could still be false. Statistically, many correlations exist where there is no causal relationship. It is important to test hypothesis vigorously, especially when they concern our relationships to other people, as our data sets are often very small.

It seems to me that in the popular media, standards of journalism have declined.Often current affairs are reported in terms of a current trendy narrative, this introduces so much bias into popular understandings of world affairs. Recent examples being terrorism, immigrants and national debts, none of these narratives is sufficient for a full understanding of world phenomena.

I am somewhat surprised by the recent ‘Corbynmania’ concerning Jeremy Corbyn, one of the four candidates standing to be the next leader of the Labour party in Britain. Corbyn is being portrayed as some radical left wing figure, which actually he isn’t. Corbyn’s politics are to the left of my own, I find it refreshing to heat views from the other side of where I am. He is a moderate left person and if he were to become British Prime Minister, the political process of compromise would temper his more radical ideas. Corbyn only seems like a radical because the UK has had over 30 years of right wing governments and in more recent times the centre right faction of the Labour party has been dominant. My poijnt being that the popular media in Britain has been accustomed and grown used to a right wing narrative.

I have stated my view in earlier posts that often ideological political dogmas are often bad for the economy and that pragmatic politics generally offers the best solutions to problems. Having ideas from ideological narratives is useful, sometimes the left has good ideas and sometimes the right has good ideas. Neither narrative is in itself useful for explaining the wider political picture. Politics should be about public debate, where all feasible solutions to issues are debated and hopefully the best solution triumphs.

The problem is that this debate has been lost. No-one really tries to win arguments anymore. The political parties and the mass media control the narrative by which popular opinion is garnered. Politicians never reveal how they really think or their real motives, it all becomes spin and specific narratives.

This is why the Corbyn is a phenomenon, a politician from the old school, who says it as he sees it and makes the case for his ideas, how refreshing! I can understand his popularity. I hope that by at least having some sort of debate between more than one narrative can only lead to better decisions and improvements to the economy. It’s not as if, with 30 years of right wing government, we finally have achieved an utopia: Poverty, poor education, a housing crisis, stagnant productivity, a huge national debt and deficit. The world needs some balance back,  more objectivity and less ideological dogma.

Of course, I could be wrong, my own narratives are limited and bias themselves. However I keep trying to see things from other perspectives. So any comments are, as always welcome!

German Mice

I have recently returned from a week in Germany. I haven’t travelled much in Europe as an adult. It was fascinating to see the culture which is often described as being most similar to the British. So, I will share my thoughts on German culture from a Welshmans perspective.

My first impression was crossing a road in the evening. There was the usual red and green ‘men’ of a British pedestrian crossing. however even with no traffic many Germans wait for green. In Wales we just cross when it’s clear and only use pedestrian crossings in busy places, regarding the crossing as ‘for the tourists’. I learnt that crossing on red in Germany is a prosecutable offense, which explains the behaviour. What this highlights is that Germans are different, but not so different, the British have this in-built desire to accept and follow rules too, but to a lesser extent. Also generally, in some ways the Germans are more conservative than the British, yet in other ways more liberal, it is difficult to see any guiding principles for the differences.

I was very pleased to discover that I am attracted to German women, not that they are inherently more beautiful than women in other countries, I just love their attitude, they are generally more practical. German women wear trousers most of the time and only wear dresses when it is hot and sunny, they are also unafraid to have short hair, both of these traits I find attractive.

Having said that the Germans lack style. It is odd to be in a country where people are less stylish than the British. Germans generally only wear dark colours, patterned clothing is rare, although stripes seem a current trend. I mean, come on, ‘stripes’ as ‘stylish clothing’ ? A guy purposely ran into me in the street, apparently because I was wearing a floral shirt and I might have been gay? Perhaps this is a difference, whilst Germans are generally more sensible, open and liberal, underneath this are possibly currents of homophobia and racism, that as a culture that haven’t had to deal with yet. As opposed to a more multi-cultural Britain.

Germany, as a visitor, isn’t as easy a place to be vegetarian. The cuisine I found odd in lacking sauces and lacking spices. The Indian restaurant i was taken too served very mild dishes, even though my host asked them to increase the heat for the British palate.

I appreciate that Germany doesn’t have the long relationship with India than Britain has, but currywurst was amusing to discover. Basically this is just a sausage with turmeric or other mild spices, but to imply that it has anything to do with what the British regard as  curry is amusing.

Germany is a loss less densely populated than the UK. There is much more of a seperation of town and country. People don’t aspire to live in the country in Germany as the country is seen as dull and lifeless. Perhaps because German cities work so much better, the housing is better and the public transportation systems are better, not to mention the bike lanes used everywhere.

To me, Germany is a much more attractive society to live in than most of England. There is less of this divisive ‘class’ thing you often find in Southern England. The systems generally work, rather than the individual having to make them work, getting around the cities is much less of a headache.

The beer is cheaper and generally quite pleasant, much better than the crappy lagers I am occasionally forced to endure in Britian. British beer is sorely missed by my friend living in Germany. The Germans find Britain odd. when told that you can get good beer, good bread and even good sausages in the UK, but you have to know where to get it, rather than it being generally available. This is perhaps the big difference, generally things are better in Germany, good things are shared rather than hidden. What I’m getting at as that as a more cohesive conformist society, politically the Germans refuse to give up things that work well.

I think it all comes down to politics, the fact that Germany has a proportional voting system. unlike in the UK where ideological Thatcherism destroyed British society without any meaningful opposition. Hence Britain lost a lot of the glue that holds a culture together and we have become used to division in a way the Germans have yet to experience.

Basically, I had a lovely week and i feel I should visit Europe more, instead of far flung exotic places.

Town mice and Country mice

When I was a little boy my grandmother helped me learn to read with the Beatrix Potter books. in one of these tales “The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse” concerns how a country mouse visits the city and struggles to cope and escapes back to the country. The country mouse then invites the town mouse they be-friended to the country, the town mouse also struggles and escapes back to the city. This is true for me, the longer I spend in town the more I yearn to escape back to the country.

20140607_144831

It always takes time to mentally adapt to new places, change patterns of thought and new ways of living. Living organisms are hugely adaptable and find ways of surviving in new habitats. Human beings often have the choice about where they live, and will make compromises about living places they don’t particularly like for the sake of their career or their partner.

Generally there is a trend towards urban living as the worlds population expands. However, at least in the UK, they’re is a significant shift of people moving away from the cities to the countryside. These movers are generally relatively wealthy and highly skilled so the transition is possible without a drop in living standards. So, whilst much of humanity has or is undergoing adaptation to urban living there are also ‘town mice trying to live in the country’.

Having looked through various message boards and read about some of the issues city folk have with living in the country, it seems as though country folk have often the opposite attitude to issues with city living. It is perhaps that country folk grew up with the countryside and have found a sense of comfort and belonging with it and it is these very things that city folk struggle with and vice versa. To put it another way, it seems as though the things the country person misses about the country are the very things the city person struggles with in the country (again and vice versa).

Some examples:

Isolation and everybody knowing your business is a country issue, with the city opposite of too many big crowds and a sense of anonymity when walking down the street. Country folk being at ease with the former and uncomfortable with the latter (and vice versa).

Having to take the car everywhere and only walking for pleasure in the country, compared with having facilities close by and accessible via public transportation.

Having to talk to the locals, compared with only ever speaking to people in my social circle. As a country person I like and think it’s a good thing to talk to everyone, rather than just people we find interesting or similar to ourselves.

Feeling the need to be able to escape back the country/city.

Power cuts and bad weather, compared with  the opportunity  being forced to share wonderful candlelit evenings and get the board games out!

As a country lad myself, after having having lived in big towns and cities, I have learned and adapted, but never quite achieving the sense of becoming a city person. Cities are places I tolerate rather than derive energy from. It is a mental adjustment that people have to give up things they learnt strongly in childhood, they are hard and seem scary to shift.

I don’t get the City dwellers perception of distances. For example, I can say, I don’t miss out culturally in the countryside as I can drive to the city in two hours, an 80 odd mile journey. However it seems that City dwellers express shock at an 160 mile round trip just to go to a concert. However the City dweller may spend the same two hours travelling to a concert, that is perhaps 15 miles away, but the other side of the city. It’s still two hours, perhaps the city dweller has the expectation that things are close at hand and not far away. I wrote recently about where I grew up having to drive 8 miles to the supermarket. Well I’m currently in a large town, where it takes the same time to get to the supermarket, progress is slower due to the traffic.

Perhaps this is the issue. When I was a child i imagined cities to be these wonderful places, where everything was much more efficient, you had access to more wonderful experiences. I have grown up to discover that this isn’t true. It seems that as cities become more crowded, they become even less efficient, whilst things are getting easier in the countryside (we’ve even got broadband too now in most places). Perhaps this is partly the reason for these movement or aspiration of people moving back to the countryside?

When I was at school I went on work experience, during this the boss was describing why he’s rather be a big fish in a small pool, than a small fish in a big pool (i.e he preferred being responsible for his decisions in a Welsh backwater, rather than be at the centre of the company by working at the head office. This is analogous of the big cultural difference between the Country and the City.

City dwellers seem to argue that they have the concerts by the great artists on their doorstep, whilst in the country we attend concerts by local artists or put on concerts ourselves. The Country way seems better as they is a greater sense of involvement, a greater intimacy with other people and greater insight because of it. Rather than begin a mere passive observer of a great artist at a distance. Another example of this is food, city dwellers have easier access to more exotic foods and a wider range, whilst in the Country there is more time to cook things ourselves or be handmade locally.

Actually, objectively, perhaps neither is superior to the other, it’s just what people are used to and i think they’re is a human need for a bit of familiarity from time to time, so we can appreciate the joy of different experiences.

Proper Milk and Happy Farmers!

Cows-skipping

At last, an opportunity to celebrate and promote good news! I may come across as some weirdo milk obsessive (not that this isn’t entirely untrue), my grandfather did grow up on a dairy farm in Carmarthenshire, so I have a connection to dairy farming, (milk is in my blood <sic>).  I have despaired about modern society rejecting the value of good quality produce. A new dairy initiative has been set up to promote and distribute traditionally produced milk from cows that graze on grass (as indeed they should), check out  and look out for freerangedairy.org.

So, why am I so excited about this? I have been saddened as small dairy producers have fallen by the wayside as the supermarkets demand lower and lower unsustainable farm gate prices for milk. The mega-dairies have arose with cows never seeing the light of day in giant factory farms. I have found this particularly annoying, as such production methods are not as sustainable, or even efficient as pasture based systems. Basically more labour is involved in looking after the cows and harvesting grasses (or worse grain) to bring in to feed the cows, this system is really inefficient though economically cheaper only because of a distorted market.

I only buy organic milk. Well almost… not all of the cheese I buy contains organic milk, I love cheese and I wish I had better access to decent cheese made with sustainable milk,  cheese it the one compromise I make in ethically sourcing food. I digress, like intensive chicken meat, organic milk makes up 2-3% of the market in the UK currently. It has always puzzled me why free-range eggs make up >50% of the market and not chicken. I remember seeing in the supermarket a ready meal containing intensive chicken, and the label was promoting the fact that the sauce contained free-range eggs, did no-one else see the irony?

Perhaps the reason for this is simply price. People will happily pay a few pennies more for ethically sourced eggs, but not a few pounds more for a free-range chicken. Conscience, it seems, does have a price for the majority of people. So, I’m excited by this new scheme as without having to jump through the expensive hoops to certify as organic, free-range milk will only be a few pennies more than intensive milk, it can win, our environment need not be blighted by ugly smelly mega dairies.

Another thing that has frustrated me is that the family farms of upland Wales, the area where I grew up and the area I call home, are relatively poorer than farmers elsewhere in the UK. Basically because the land is less productive, however they produce a superior product in free range lamb, yet have often been unable to command a superior price for their superior product. I may be bias but i think it is true that Welsh lamb is sweeter and more flavoursome than lowland English or New Zealand lamb. Actually, the best lamb I have ever tasted came from Scotland (and it does pain my Welsh heart to say that).

Also recently, I’ve discovered a way to describe my food requirements in a way that doesn’t offend people but makes clear what to offer me. I am ‘mostly vegetarian’. The phrase is apparently widely used in India to describe Hindus who aren’t entirely strict with their vegetarian diet, yet haven’t entirely abandoned the traditional Hindu diet. The phrase ‘mostly vegetarian’ works to describe people like me who only eat free-range, traditionally produced meat products as an occasional treat (due to pricing). No longer will I have to explain myself in restaurants for taking the veggie option, then chomping through a rare steak of lovely Welsh beef at home. Basically I have often had a hard time explaining to people that I don’t eat intensive meat and some homes I’ve visited have been offended by this, so I’ve longed for a way to describe it.

I wish this scheme every success, and hopefully someone will read this and buy a pint of proper free-range milk?