A British Brexit?

One of the traits that the ‘British’ claim is the ability to wing their way through problems, rather than plan things through, to end up pretty much as things started without much in the way of change. We seem have seen this today with the British government’s further winging of Brexit. I argued on here earlier that what the British wanted from Brexit was simply a loosening of the relationship with the EU, to remain effectively in the EEA Single Market and the Customs Union, but instead of planning this from the outset they seem to have ended up there through a convoluted winging it process through strategy rather than design. So who are the British and what after all is Brexit?

It could all have been plotted in the quiet confines of a Mayfair gentlemen’s club. It was clear from the outset of Brexit that the issue of Northern Ireland and it’s border with the Republic of Ireland and hence the EU presented a myriad of issues for Brexit. So the British governments solution was to say that a solution could be Northern Ireland remaining in the Customs Union, obeying EU rules and regulations whilst outside of the EU. Of course the hard line Unionists of the DUP would cry foul, the Welsh and Scottish governments would demand the same deal as Northern Ireland, everyone would declare an impasse and then the British government plays it’s masterstroke “Okay, let all of the UK remain in the Customs Union and effectively in the Single Market too, problem solved, we’ve resolved Brexit and made our political opponents look even dafter than we made ourselves look, even though they were being sensible at the time, aren’t we so very clever?” It’s almost like a cunning Jeeves solution to a crisis from the ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ stories of P.G.Wodehouse.

So how exactly is this especially a ‘British’ Brexit Solution’? Well, you have to understand what British means in this context. The notion of Britishness is one that even people who like me who have lived all their life on Great Britain often struggle with. Indeed it is a label few are comfortable with, let alone agreeing upon what it means. These days, most inhabitants of Great Britain are Welsh, Cornish, Scots and so on. Only a minority of Britons define themselves as ‘British’ as their primary identity. There are two different versions of Brutishness which sit uncomfortably in this one word, British. Indeed, I pity the foreigner who comes to Britain trying to find an easy word to use to describe the people of this island without offending any Britons. It is a tough challenge, to me the only really safe phrase is ‘the people of the U.K.’, which trips off the tongue delightfully does it not?

A lot of people forget that ‘Great Britain’ is simply the name of the island, the largest island of the British Isles archipelago. When the Romans left in the 3rd century, Great Britain was left to the Britons, the people of the Brythonic Celtic tribes, except for what is now Northern Scotland where the Picts lived, the Picts may have been Celts too, though not enough is known about their history to be certain.

A few centuries later, the Saxon tribes started arriving and settling in Britain, displacing the local Chieftains and assuming positions of political power, replacing the  Brythonic language (which split into Welsh, Cornish , Breton and Cumbric) with the Saxon tongue dominating in what is now England becoming  Old English and later Modern English, after some Viking influence. It is often forgotten that the legendary King Arthur of the Britons, was battling against the invasions of the Saxons. After all this the Britons were left in control of Wales, Cornwall and Scotland, which were ultimately too much effort to conquer completely, as the English crown could easily control the local Vassal Princes when required.

Then by the end of the Middle Ages, the English monarch ruled over all of Great Britain , having effectively annexed Wales and Scotland by political means. Everyone in Britain was ‘British’ again, kind of having rebooted the term back to it’s original meaning of the people of the island of Great Britain.

This British King then sought to increase in wealth and power though conquest and after another few hundred years was the British Empire formed. Again the meaning of ‘British’ changed to mean to ‘Ruling Classes of the British Empire’, the Britons didn’t really notice as it wasn’t really a big issue at the time.

The advent of the two European parts of the World Wars of the last century, dragged the British Empire to it’s knees. The Empire called upon the Britons and indeed the Empire to fight in the war on the promise of bringing Britain together as a nation, where no-one would be left behind, ‘Homes for Heroes’ , the NHS and suchlike. It worked, the Britons fought and died in those wars and afterwards, as a united nation, enjoyed the fastest economic growth they had ever seen and a sense of being a modern national family.

More recently, this sense of the British as the Britons has faded once again, as the Ruling Class / Tory governments have not cared about dividing the Britons in there fervour for capital and international influence for themselves. Ironically the Unionist politicians have done more to break the Union of the UK than anyone else with their neglect of the regions outside the direct influence of London. Britain is now a very divided nation again. The hardcore Brexiteers seem to have hoped that somehow by magic to restore the unity of Britain, when only a tiny minority sought this ‘Hard Brexit’ with a divisive Brexit referendum.

Or perhaps the British ruling class triumph again by being perceived to have played a blinder and won Brexit. The Brexiteers may squeal, but I suspect the Brexieers only really care about power and influence and to be on the winning side and will quietly return to the back room grumbling that is their true love. This is the thing I despise about the Tories, as long as their star stays in the ascendant, they care not a jot about the fate of the Britons or the economy under their rule. As long as you are rich enough to offshore capital, you can keep your family and friends safe from a declining economy and nation state.

I could be completely wrong of course. It is impossible to predict events, but it does seem a very British [read English Ruling Class] way around of solving this Brexit to produce perhaps the ‘Golden Brexit’ [Probably been coined before , every other adjective has been used to prefix ‘Brexit’ at some point.]

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Crossing the Road

If we do something but can’t observe it’s consequences, we feel anxious. This sentence struck me as raising an important facet of anxiety, how it is about fear of the unknown. I have always been troubled by not knowing how other people react to my behaviour, partly because I’m aware that I am unusual, so can’t rely on how I would react as a reliable means of assessing the likely reaction of others. Overcoming anxiety is not overly worrying about how other people react, as long as what you are going is reasonable.

Of course, having largely overcome anxiety I am still sometimes anxious. So I still haven’t quite worked out what is normal everyday anxiety and what is overly worrying, but I just feel that I continue to make progress with this, knowing that a welded down definition is impossible.

The problem in the modern world is that we communicate far less face to face. Face to face communication is much easier because you can assess reactions straight away in real time and instantly modify behaviour. For example realising someone doesn’t want to discuss a particular subject at the moment. Sending a letter an e-mail or a text is difficult as you have no idea how people will react, you don’t know what mood they will be in when the message is received and it is difficult to express your intent without being overly wordy and often your meaning may be misinterpreted.

A good general strategy for for deciding when you shouldn’t be anxious about an action is to ask ‘What is the worst possible outcome?’. If this outcome is very unlikely, which you can usually assess, then you needn’t be anxious. Sometimes that worst possible outcome will happen, low probability events do happen from time to time. However, this doesn’t mean your action was wrong as the alternative is to do nothing, which often means sitting at home not engaging with the world.

I was incredibly unlucky in when I first overcame anxiety, the worst possible outcomes happened. I basically wanted to thank someone for helping me realise that I need not be anxious and the worst possible outcome was that they would be upset. So i was completely shocked when they did seem upset, it made no sense to me, because they didn’t reply and blocked me on social media, so to me they were upset. In my assessment that outcome seemed incredibly unlikely, yet it had happened. This confused me as i was unsure how careful I needed to be when communicating freely and honestly, as this suggested I needed to be incredible careful, even to the point where I shouldn’t initiate communication, ever. Years later I discovered that she wasn’t upset by my communicating, but rather that she had interpreted my being gushy and emotional as seeking a relationship, to black-mail them into being supportive, which was never the case. The fault seemed to be the everyday sexism of male attention to females that to them suggested that 99% of the time my communication would have been manipulative. These 1% unlikely outcomes seem to have a habit of cropping up when they are important, because it is the exceptional case anyway which people try to deal with using everyday assessments. As humans we are kind of programmed to  see exceptional events as unlikely to be true. Yet it is only these rare events when people make great leap forwards.

This all suggests that anxiety assessments are about dealing with probability and in the real world we never have nice large data sets to play with to get towards the truth, we so often get one data point and have to ascertain if it is a rare event  we have stumbled upon or is there somethign unknown to us (such as an aspect of what it is like to be a woman) that we have hit which is completely unrelated to our motive.

I grew up with an highly anxious mother and grandmother and I am also an only child. I became an adult with a much more limited understanding of regular social relations than the majority of people. So instead of naturally building up a database of social interactions to guide behaviour I had to observe the world as an outsider and try and build rule systems that seemed to work. So social interactions seem more like a game than living everyday life. The problem with rule systems is they are not good at exceptionalism and if there is a big factor that has not been included in the model, it can break down frequently until that factor has been quantified. There isn’t always time to study these down to root causes.

There are other areas where there are rule based solutions and more organic, interactive, transactional solutions, such as the simple act of crossing the road in the centres of large towns and cities at zebra crossings. In Britain where there are rules they are strict and if someone is standing by a zebra crossing or is close and looks like they wish to cross, cars must stop and wait until the crossing is finished. So a pedestrian doesn’t have to think they just cross and the cars must wait.

I was in Italy recently and I never looked up the rules, leading to a few anxious moments as the cars do not automatically stop for pedestrians. Nonetheless when walking across a zebra crossing, the cars will stop whilst you are blocking their lane. Sometimes they will toot their horn to suggest you have broken the unwritten rules.

After many crossings, it seemed to me that what Italy has a more social transnational system. If you wait for a gap in the traffic and then cross, cars happily stop. However if it’s busy and there are no gaps you can still cross, but get glared at. However when busy and you wait a few seconds to cross with a group of people the drivers seem happier. Basically, it’s a social and democratic system, everyone has the right to cross if you cause minimum disruption to others. The result is that traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian can move about smoothly, once the system is complex interactions is inherently understood. Such a system appeals to me a lot, that you can do whatever you want provided you try and cause minimal disruption to others. Nonetheless, if you have anxiety you do yearn a little for harder more precise rules.

In another European culture, Germany, it is much more rule based. On a pedestrian crossing where pedestrians have a a green and red ‘man’ signal, it is illegal and finable to cross when the red man is showing. What happens is that on a deserted road at night a pedestrian will wait until a green man signal, effectively wasting their own time to conform to the rule. In Britain, for contrast, we only follow this rule when it is busy, at other times we cross on red men signals. So, in Britain we only apply the strict rules to busy intersections but not universally like in Germany.

I think most people understand that perfection is impossible so there has to be a sliding scale of when rigid rules are obeyed and when not. For example we accept loud music of Friday and Saturday evenings, but expect things to be quieter during the week. Though there is no actual law covering this. However legally, anyone who official complains about noise has the courts on their side, whether the complaint is generally regarded as reasonable or not.

Culture is diverse, not only is our society made up of incomers from other cultures, but all sorts of different kinds of people with different attitudes to rules from within that culture.  For example Italian culture is very rule based, but doesn’t seem so in a town centre where people race down narrow busy streets at night on their mopeds and the scenes can seem quite chaotic.

Social rules do seem better than strict laws, as laws are impossible to get absolutely right. However there are always those who will push the boundaries for personal advantage, and societies need mechanism for to ensure this code breaking doesn’t pay off to general detriment.

A visitor to a culture, such as myself in Italy, who doesn’t know the rules, in some circumstances can raise anxiety levels. Cultural rules, usually give some leeway to visitors because they don’t know the rules, and are not seeking advantage by not knowing them. However cultures tend not to give as much leeway to the anxious or otherwise different. If you don’t know the rules in your own culture you are looked down upon, despite not knowing all the rules isn’t your fault.

I have moved around a lot and broken many cultural rules I do feel a lot less anxious in Wales, as I understand the culture more deeply and am probably have less anxiety about throwing myself into foreign cultures than most people. At home i feel much less anxiety and comfortable, there are less unknowns. However, for work reasons, I have often lived away from my native culture and have to re-learn new subtle changes to the rules every time, to the point where I am less wary of not knowing the consequences of my actions as I know my understanding of these things is poorer anyway.

The other aspect of anxiety is fear of being judged by other people. I suppose I have become hardened to a lot of judgement as it isn’t relevant to me. Perhaps in reaction to that there are other areas where I care a lot more about being judged, yet learning that I am being judged because of the actions of others rather than my own actions just makes me feel less inclined to be bothered by others judgements of me.

Essentially what i am saying is that anything is fine as long as you can justify it to yourself as reasonable, or to a peer group. Yet, I am aware that this is quite a dangerous attitude as there is nothing but my own conscience or people who think in similar ways to me guiding my actions. And if in moving away from anxiety means that i spend less time thinking everything through so deeply then I will do bad things without realising it and be judged even more harshly than I ever used to worry about. This is the thing with living in a city, you never make much progress before there is another big road to cross.

Eisteddfod #2

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I picked up some Czech hitchhikers on their holidays on my way to the Eisteddfod this year and was asked where I was headed: ‘What is the National Eisteddfod?’ It isn’t an easy question to answer, because the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol is so much more than simply a cultural festival. This was my second proper Eisteddfod. So having having learnt about the Eisteddfod last year and done it a little more knowledgeably this year, it’s time I should teach someone else how to do it.

It is important to tell people about the Eisteddfod, as so many people in Wales, previously myself included, don’t go to the Eisteddfod or follow it in the media because of this strange phenomenon of being ‘intimidated by the language [Cymraeg/ Welsh]. I know, my very first Eisteddfod experience was when I was fifteen and got a job as a plate scrubber on the Maes when it came to my area and  I was like ‘I don’t speak Welsh, people will expect me to speak Welsh, arghhh!’ This is really just plain silly, so many people are missing out on quite a wonderful event, which can be enjoyed whether you speak Welsh or not. So, I hope the following guide will help people overcome any feelings of intimidation about going next year.

Cystadlaethau / Competitions

Eisteddfodau are essentially a collection of competitions in various art forms, predominantly cerddoriaeth [Music and poetry, which are essentially the same thing]. The grand poetry prize of the Eisteddfod is the Chair [Eistedd = to sit, on the cadair [chair]] The competitions are the very serious bit  at the National Eisteddfod. Personally I used to have a problem with competition in art, because it’s an oxymoron, you don’t do creative things to win things, that isn’t the point. However after two Eisteddfodau [Eisteddfods] I have been convinced. I have heard so many hugely talented young musicians at the Eisteddfod, who just completely push themselves to give their very best at the Eisteddfod and I have been blown away so many times by their performances. There are so many competitions to enjoy, particularly if you love the sound of the telyn [Harp] as much as I do. You do not need to understand Welsh to appreciate the music.

I’m sure there are many people who have a blissful week, just listening to the competitions, yet there are also people who spend the entire week not listening to a single competition, there is so much else going on.

Gwyl Cerddoriaeth/ Music Festival

Outside the competitions, the Eisteddfod is also a celebration of Welsh language culture. So, the Eisteddfod is also a regular music festival, with the best of Welsh language bands and singers on lots of different stages giving performances throughout the day and into the evening, so you can treat the Eisteddfod as just another music festival. So yes, expensive beer and food stands a plenty! Yet again, there is no need to speak Welsh to enjoy music is there? This is my favourite part of it because I love Welsh popular [?] music, yet, liking classical music as well sometimes a competitive performance will win me over! Yet there is still more.

Theatr / Theatre

There are a couple of theatres at the Eisteddfod giving performances of plays and other things by established Welsh theatre companies. The great thing about theatrical performances is that you can follow the story through actions and tone of voice and can really enjoy a show without understanding a single word, which I’ve often done whilst travelling, which is actually a really good primeval way to watch a drama unfold.

There are also actors who wander around in bizarre costumes looking for members of the public to interact and do silly things with. This year some ladies  with lampshade heads were dancing with me.

Y Babell Len a Pabell Cymdeithas/ The ‘Curtain Tent’? [ I am still learning Welsh I’m not sure of this translation!] and the Societies Tent

I know there are some people who don’t like music. I don’t understand these strange folk, but they do exist, maybe you are one of them? So in these tents there are a host of lectures and discussions about all manner of topics. They are in Welsh of course and even I, after eighteen months of learning Welsh, only understand about half of what is said. So, there is this mini Welsh Hay festival going on too.

It is worth going just to experience simultaneous translation. Basically the translator listens to the Welsh and then instantly translates it into English to you via headphones. These people are amazing, to be able to keep listening in one language, translate and  speak in another language, while continuing to listen in another language, without going completely mad is such a high level skill and so impressive.

Y Stondin / The Stands

All of the above can be overwhelming and far too exciting, so you may need a break,  angen paned o goffi [need a cup of coffee]  and the opportunity to stretch your legs for a bit. So head to the stands. The stands are essentially trade stands , but so much more. There are squillions of book shops to stock up on Welsh language books, because, sadly, most bookshops don’t stock books in Welsh, I understand there are some books in English too, lots of other shops to browse/ buy cakes from, but also the stands of various organisations in Wales, where you can find out about what they do, have a nice chat in whichever language you fancy, a paned and often these stands hold their own musical performances and programmes of discussions too. Sometimes you will stumble on some very strange yet wonderful things:

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‘Classifieds y Farmers Guardian’ gan y Welsh Whisperer

 

Pethau eraill / Other Things

As if all that wasn’t enough there is also an art gallery, a history museum, a science and technology tent (well this tent seems to largely cater to keeping children entertained with fun things to do, but worth a going as an adult too).

If you are Welsh you will also meet random people from your childhood/ earlier life, which is always nice. So there is so much to enjoy and do and I haven’t even mentioned Y Gorsedd, who wear strange robes and perform strange rituals at various points of the week and carry around a very large sword; it’s ok, mae’n heddwch [there is peace]. I have no idea what happens if there isn’t peace…

There is so much to do and enjoy at the Eisteddfod. I went for just three days this year and didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to and wished I could have had more time. And you really don’t need to speak any Welsh at all, a simple  ‘Dw i ddim yn siarad Cymraeg’ / ‘I don’t speak Welsh’ is all that is required if someone seems to be speaking Welsh at you.

Of course if you are learning Welsh, the Eisteddfod is an amazing playground to practice speaking and listening and the more Welsh you know, the more a part of the Eisteddfod you will become. Personally I did indeed enjoy the Eisteddfod even more with another year of Welsh under my belt. However even if you have zero Welsh, timetables and maps are provided in English to help non-Welsh speakers navigate their way around the Eisteddfod, it’s very accessible and very friendly, there is no need to feel intimidated at all.

Just cofio [remember] that Welsh speakers have to speak in English all the time, every day, so really appreciate the Maes as a place where they can speak in Welsh all day yn gyntaf [firstly], yet are happy to speak English with anyone who hasn’t learnt to speak Welsh yet. Speaking in Welsh isn’t being rude and neither is speaking in English rude as long as you are willing to listen and communicate as you can. It’s ridiculous that this non-issue comes up so often. Rant over

Amgylch y Maes / Around the Maes

Y Maes / The Maes / The ‘field’ is where all the action described above takes place. I and others are not sure how this is going to work next year when the Eisteddfod will be in the centre of Cardiff, the Welsh capital, but the concept of the Maes is quite important I think. However there are other ‘Maeses’ which can confuse the uninitiated:

Maes B

Maes B is usually located outside the main Maes. It contains an adult campsite (the cheapest place to stay at the Eisteddfod!) it is generally full of young Welsh speakers. Indeed spending a week at Maes B is regarded as a rite of passage for young Welsh speaking adults, to chill and make new friends. Also, for the last four nights of the Eisteddfod the big names of Welsh rock perform late night concerts on the Maes B stage in front of the aforementioned young and now often quite drunk people. It is quite an experience, though there are usually a few old fogies like me bopping away ar y cefn [at the back]

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Helo Maes B!

Maes C

Maes C ( Maes Carafannau a Campio) isn’t very exciting, it is simply the camp site next to the Maes where families stay, it’s quite pricey and books up early.

Maes D

Confusingly, Maes D, Maes y Dysgwr [Learners Maes] isn’t really a Maes as it’s part of the main Maes itself, it is found next to the Mynedfa (Entrance) and is the Welsh learners tent. I think the  idea is that you pop in to learn some Welsh over a paned to prepare you for entry to the Maes proper.  A place if you lack confidence in your Welsh, or somewhere supportive to ymarfer siarad [practice speaking], want to learn a few phrases or to start the day with a reasonably priced coffee, give Maes D a visit. Maes D also has it’s own stage, for Welsh lessons, discussions and a few musical performances tailored to those not yet rhugl [fluent]

Maes E

There is no Maes E. Well there is the song ‘Maes E‘ by Datblygu about the Eisteddfod experience. Incidentally , the song which I heard them perform at my very first Eisteddfod when I was fifteen! However, there is usually an Eisteddfod ‘fringe’ of competitions, discussions, gigs etc held at venues close to the Maes, but not ‘officially’ part of the Eisteddfod.

So there you are then, a guide to the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol. Just by reading this article you probably have enough Welsh to enjoy the Eisteddfod.

Edrych ymlaen i weli di ar y maes flwyddyn nesaf [Looking forward to seeing you on the Maes next year]!

Welsh Country Rap

Moving back to Wales and finally getting around to learning the Welsh language has made me look again at my native culture in a new light. As a younger man I did wonder why so many people don’t have as ‘eclectic’ or wide ranging musical tastes as I do.

I grew up in rural Wales and like many rural cultures is deeply conservative and that is part of me. The culture promotes self-reliance, because services are usually far away and difficult to access. So there is a tendency to take personal responsibility for your daily needs. For example, I have ingrained the idea of keeping enough food in my kitchen to survive a week, in case of bad weather and inability to access food shops for a period (such as heavy snow or flooding). Rural folk tend to seek support from their family and neighbours should they hit trouble and wider statewide structures are seen as unreliable as they don’t cater for the specific needs of the community.

In contrast, the urban dweller tends to rely on easily accessible services, such as using public transport and tend not to have the space to have all their needs on hand, the need to pool and share resources more widely. Large towns and cities don’t get their electricity cut off for days or the internet going down for extended periods which rural people are more used to. The town person has to be more reliant on public services and hence strangers, than the country person. There is also the issue of space, the country person has more space and in consequence can store tools and supplies to an extent that the urban dweller cannot

Music is about cultures, in particular folk music, describing the trials and tribulations of life within cultures. There is a tendency of different genres of music  to be associated with different cultures. The example that comes to mind is that of Rap music being of the city and Country of the countryside.

I like all genres of music, but sometimes they don’t quite fit in with our surroundings. When listening to some Rap in the countryside it doesn’t fit, the beats do not chime with the wide open spaces, whereas Country does seem to blend in more with the landscape. However even if the music doesn’t fit it can still be enjoyed and appreciated. It is possible to enjoy a song about the hot summers day in the cold and damp of winter.

It’s not merely the music, it’s the lyrics, the words. Songs from rural areas are about life in the country and songs from the urban areas are about life in the town or from the perspective of the town. So, if you listen to a song from an artist from your own culture and locality, then there is a greater likelihood that the song will resonate with your own experience, to touch your soul in a profound way. However music from other cultures and traditions can still be enjoyed, indeed some feelings, such as emotional joy or loss are universal. However, some ways of viewing the world are culturally based, so resonate more deeply.

There is a tendency for people to predominantly listen to music from their own culture, certainly in the case of my parents and grandparents generation. I could never understand why people seemed not to be open to hearing about other cultures and different ways of  being. Perhaps a certain exercise of the imagination is required, to suspend reality to temporarily immerse yourself in another culture to appreciate what they are saying. Or it may simply be that the resonance with our own perspectives of the world, our own culture is such a warm, life-affirming feeling compared to that of the relatively weaker emotions of listening to songs from other places, that many people never make the leap to being able to really appreciate the music for what it is.

Furthermore in a conservative rural culture, that is more physically separated from interactions with other cultures in daily life and one that ascribes value to its own culture, the opportunities for such immersion are rarer. This, to such an extent that a concert by a visiting artist, may simply be an enjoyable experience but not be enough for the music to resonate in daily life.

Rural Wales is still much more limited in it’s exposure to other cultures than for more urban populations. Yet in my experience the rural conservatism of Wales is much more open minded, and less judgemental of other cultures, for example in comparison with the Southern United States, the home of Country music. There is an appreciation that things are different a few miles down the road and more so further afield, that we shouldn’t expect to be able to judge other cultures without understanding them better.

Perhaps the principle reasons for this difference between Welsh rural cultures and those found in England and America, may be due to their relation with the state they are a part of. British and American culture has sprung from the imperialist expansive culture of a world power. Such cultures where preservation of native cultures are not seen as of value or important. For example the scant regard of the British for the Welsh language and culture and historically a lack of respect for Native American culture by the American state.

Whereas Wales has lived beside the giant power of England for all of modern history, yet many in Wales have passionately defended Welsh culture and our language from the ignorance of lack of regard from the centralised British elite. As such there is a tendency for the people of Wales to understand the feelings of oppressed minorities everywhere, for example the people of the deprived projects of America that gave birth to Rap music. Or it may be just that Wales is small and minority groups within our culture are less easily ignored.

As both the power of influence of Britain and America decline, there is perhaps an understandable realisation of the perils of a culture under threat, particularly if it’s built on foundations of dominance. As such we see crises in these cultures and a desire to preserve them. Associated with this is a reduction in valuing cultural diversity as this suggests itself as a way to preserve a culture. We can see evidence for this in Brexit and the language of Donald Trump. These cultures are new to feeling their culture threatened, whereas in Wales we have a very long history of feeling our way of life threatened. You don’t get anywhere by being fearful of diversity or trying to escape your own culture, the best way is to embrace both, embracing who you are as a person and embracing everyone around you.

As I keep harking on, binary choices are a false choice. You can like Country music and Rap music, You can be a conservative and a socialist. Understanding other cultures only deepens your love and connection with your own culture, in music and perhaps everything else. My perception of people ignoring diversity, wasn’t a conscious choice, but merely a example of a the false tendency to fear the unknown, rather than find more out about it. To conserve a culture by defending it through fighting against other cultures doesn’t work. Conserving a culture comes from an appreciation of other cultures and using that energy to enrich and grow our own cultures. You

 

For some examples, listen to some: Welsh Rap, Dafydd Iwan’s anthem”Yma o hyd” [“Still here”], or even Welsh Country. Mwynhewch/ Enjoy.

 

Children’s telly, literature and Brexit

Britain is over a year after the Brexit vote. The rest of Europe appears to be looking on wondering what exactly it is that ‘Britain’ wants. I think that the answer is that we don’t know. The opinion polls over the past year have remained steadfastly around the 50:50 split on the Brexit question, no consensus has been reached, the British media is still awash with uncertainty and many variants of an answer to the Brexit question. The UK seems to have voted for Brexit with no idea about what to do with it. If there was a clear objective, that would be so different to the confused mess we seem to find ourselves in.

Looking back at the arguments for Brexit, they essentially pool around the idea of greater powers for the UK government to enable a reduction of net immigration. I am all for a decentralisation of political power, though I would argue that the UK is the wrong level for this, I argue for bottom-up democracy and more power for local councils and the Welsh government. However the Brexit debate wasn’t really about this dry constitutional stuff. The emotional side of it and much of the rhetoric of the Brexiteers centred around the idea of British sovereignty, to restore a sense of Britishness.

Which is just plain strange. I am British, born and raised, but being British is only a small part of my identity. I just don’t see the point of trying to expand/ restore the prominence of this identity it once had. The identities of the people of Britain are many, varied and complex, so it isn’t clear exactly what this Britishness we are perhaps supposed to support is.

Many associate Britishness with the British Empire period. The period of history where Britain went around trying to control as much of the world as possible, mainly to create markets for British goods and services, to provide ever increasing wealth for the elite. Some good but a lot of harm was produced though this imperialist period. It is now history and is not going to be replicated anytime soon  and it isn’t anything to feel particularly proud of anyway.

Is it the sense of unity, of a united nation of the British people that had suffered together and won after the UK was dragged reluctantly into the two world wars of the last century. Ever since 1945, the forces unifying the country have been in decline. I can quite understand people wishing to restore the sense of a country working together in common cause again. However, it is difficult to see what exactly this common purpose would be. Politically the UK is a very divided society, it is just very hard indeed to imagine unity for common positive purpose.

Or is it just to be British and increase the common bonds between the peoples of these isles? What I have noticed as I have grown up in Britain is that so many of the common cultural ties have been steadily eroded. Partly this was the result of Thatcherite government and the whole concept of ‘there is no such thing as society’; if there is no society that what is being British and supportive of the state? Bizarrely it has seemed as though it has been the Conservatives who most want to restore this sense of Britishness, yet their party has been the one that has allowed this force to decline, through a promotion of market fundamentalism and corporate power running riot over local needs. This is what makes the Brexit debate so very strange to me.

It is only really possible to truly understand your cultural identity when you go away from home, to experience other cultures, where you begin to appreciate some of the peculiarities of your native culture. you discover exactly what are the common bonds between the British.

One of the first things I noticed was that I was more Welsh than British, that I come from a community that cares more about preserving traditions and culture than a typical British person. I am from a genuinely conservative culture. Yet it is meeting other Britons abroad that is the real eye-opener. You realise that you share a hiraeth, a homesickness and start yearning for some quintessentially British things. These British things are quite traditional, but in themselves are mere nostalgia, things such as tackily British brands of sweets and chocolate, ale, proper cider, tea, greasy curries, cake and other foods. Then while seeking these things with a fellow Briton abroad, you end up discussing the children’s television programmes of our youth. Yet apart from childhood comfort food and comfort television, what else is there, that is British?

As an adult, there doesn’t seem to be as much that is shared in common. Delving deeper, I begin a hiraeth for Welsh culture when away from Wales, and I can only share that with Welsh people and it connects me with my roots. I wonder if the millennial generation, who are much more fervently against Brexit than my generation is, perhaps have an even weaker sense of Britishness than my generation of Generation X has.

Arguably children’s television has become more international, less focused on British cultures. Whilst there may be a shared nostalgia, there is little specifically of British culture in it. I grew up with such programmes as the Trumptonshire series and Bagpuss, which took their cultural references from Britain and a culture that was in itself nostalgic, of a culture under attack from government policy, (after all Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a punk song about it, the ‘Trumpton Riots’ !). Yet such programmes gave a snapshot into the essence of the country, albeit a middle class one as if you help children learn about their culture. This seems much less in today’s children’s television, no sense of what Britishness is espoused.

Sweets have changed too, there seem to be fewer uniquely British varieties of sweets available. So, really what common British culture do the millennial generation have? Perhaps it is because everything has to have appeal to international markets, that exposition of the native culture is over-ridden. There just seems s little left of a common British culture.

I have always believed that it is important to understand and support your own culture. In Wales we have this preserving tradition bug with our language, our music. Yet I also feel an urge to experience other cultures, to listen to other musics. I prefer folk music to the more sanitised global music brands. Today, I was listening to the wonderful Canadian folk song ‘Blackfly’ this led to an exploration of other Canadian folk songs, which was wonderful, I get the songs despite not having been lucky enough to visit Canada. I believe that to appreciate other cultures you also need to understand and appreciate your own culture too [I discovered this guy, from my area of my country at the weekend, I just get his songs so much]. I suppose I grew up being taught both the value of preserving traditions whilst being open to other cultures and new ideas.

In appreciating literature something similar happens. You learn to read, usually with stories about your own culture and then open up with experience to the huge breadth of international literature. I really got this with Science Fiction being my favourite genre. In Science Fiction the very basis of the genre is to speculate and imagine living in different cultures and indeed different kinds of society.

So, recently it has been strange to revert to learning to read books again in another language, Welsh. There is a literary tradition in Wales and books continue to be published in Welsh. It’s fascinating to learn to read again, but also interesting because there are so many fewer professional writers in Welsh compared to English! There is no Welsh language Science Fiction for me to read. So I read books in genres I wouldn’t normally read in English, which is exposing me to new ideas on literature, which is fascinating and helps me appreciate literature in English more too.

I seem to be the anti-thesis of the Brexiteer, the person arguing for more of a British identity. I think cherishing native culture is important and being open to understanding and supporting other cultures, other traditions too. The Brexiteers seem to be a group that value a single narrow definition of Britishness, be against any other culture and want people to conform to their narrow view, including native British cultures. I don’t really get it, it just doesn’t seem British to me.

 

Unity, not division

To many of the politically engaged the fact that the Tories are getting over 40% in the opinion polls seems very strange indeed. How on earth can a government this bad be storming to victory in the UK general election? The answer is that democratic elections are never decided by the politically engaged, but by the  larger part of the electorate that isn’t interested in politics. The politicians themselves have learnt this.

So we suffer the mantra of ‘strong and stable government in the national interest’, repeated endlessly in lieu of an answer to any question. It’s seems just mad that the government can simply declare themselves to be strong and stable without any evidence to back these claims. It is repeated and repeated, it’s becomes part of the background hum of everyday life and perhaps to many not engaged with politics then take it on board like a truth.

It is so easy for those of us politically engaged to be surprised at this. It is so easy to forget that for many elections are the time to try and get a feel for which lot, which political party seem less incompetent at running a country. Largely I feel they do this by listening to the media and their own social conversations, largely to assess which political leader seems to have the edge.

In an ideal world, the politicians would present their vision and their policies and argue for them. The media then scrutinise what the politicians say and their policies and present more in depth coverage of the issues. However this happens less and less these days, as a repeated lie until becomes a truth has been found to be far more effective at ‘winning’ elections. A particular problem British democracy has is that the mass media, television and newspapers blatantly support the Tories and skew the scrutiny in their favour. For example, Mr Miliband’s [Labour] energy cap policy derided by the media in 2010 is now championed by the very same media when that policy now comes from the Tories.

I spoke to a lifelong Labour voter last week who felt she couldn’t vote for Mr Corbyn as she didn’t feel she could trust him. Yet she didn’t say the same thing about Mrs May who has no stronger grounds to claim trust. in a personality battle I would suggest Mr Corbyn shades it:

Strong

No-one has actually defined what exactly a strong leader is. I think it’s something like a determined leader, someone who will get things done whatever the opposition. Defined thus, Mrs May has this quality. However not listening is also a weakness and can mean a stubbornness to pursue bad policy. Yet Mr Corbyn also has this quality, the strength and the stubbornness,  having held firm to his beliefs over the decades and been on the right side of history, whilst Mrs May faltered. What perhaps is important is the reasons behind being stubborn, for the sake of your career or to defend a principle.  Mr Corbyn has had to deal with a media and half of his own party determined to undermine him at every opportunity, yet he has continued, that is a strength.

Stable Government

Again a very spurious word to define politicians. Stability can be defined as resistance to change, that the government will endure whatever may happen. With the likelihood of  a supportive party who falter to uphold their own principles to remain in power [I believe the Tories are ditching conservative values], as a government they may be described as stable, but not for any innate properties of themselves, merely their own circumstances. Corbyn on the other hand has been incredibly stable, in his views over the years, it is his party that has been unstable, still recovering from the machinations of Blairism. Unlike May Corbyn appears more willing to listen and find a compromise between not betraying his beliefs and getting things done, such flexibility aids stability in politicians.

In the National Interest

What? This is the Tories who’ve run this country down at every opportunity, selling off the family silver to their pals, only to loan it back at extortionate rates of interest to the people, further crippling us. The streets are full of the homeless, food banks, the NHS are barely coping, housing costs have rocketed, education in decline, a weakened economy and all thanks to thirty years of unchecked right wing government. Whereas Corbyn seems a little more concerned about the country as a whole, his gets things wrong, but the checks and balances will hold Corbyn to a stabel path, more than May and their narrow focus on people such as themselves of the Tories.

I just think that on a clinical assessment of character, Corbyn should be walking this election. Yet he isn’t. The Tories and the media make out Corbyn to be some radical communist who would plunge the UK into some kind of Soviet style planned economy. Whereas to those on the outside he is a mainstream moderate left wing politician and one who would have to dilute his moderate aims in government, to gently start the work of rebuilding this divided broken Britain, rather than continue the work of division and destruction, of us against them, of a minority hegemony always getting it’s own way and blind to the need for balance.

We have had fairly hard right wing governments for 38 years in the UK. The people of Britain have forgotten what a left wing or even centrist government is like. We have had government that have ruled for the minority of right-wing people, now any left wing government would be for the good of our society and everyone within it, a correcting government. The miners dispute which started me thinking about politics is now almost two generations ago and the sense of patriotism and community that connected us all with those communities has largely evaporated. It is the grandchildren of those who said ‘Never trust the Tories’ who are now voting who know no different Britain. The right wing minority has manipulated the people and the economy to maintain a grip on power to the great detriment of the this country and even managed to lay the blame on the EU for its own failings.  So much so have they been successful at this that people are now prepared to vote for the very people who made the mess in the first place, just to resolve the Brexit question which isn’t as important as it has been made out to be. So now we face yet another election, merely to resolve another internal issue in the Tory party. We have no balanced choices anymore, just more extremism or less and we do want less extremism don’t we?

It’s to wake up and say ‘Stop’. The British Isles now needs a radical change in how we do things. Those of you who read my pages here will know that my solution is taking back control, for genuine democracy and self-government. Somehow, we have to get this message through despite the London and Tory centric mass media, despite the Tories illegally throwing vasts amount of money (that they swindled off us in the first place) back at us to secure their continuing hegemony. Wake up Britain!

Fear of Welsh

A lot of people are afraid of the Welsh language. I think that there are a lot of complex reasons for this rather odd fear.

I have just done a whole week in the Welsh language, doing everything in the language, living in a house with fellow Welsh learners under the guidance of our tutor. I remember feeling somewhat scared about the prospect of only speaking in Welsh for a whole week as we sat around the dining room table preparing not to use English.  I was nervous of losing the comfort blanket of my first language for a whole week.

Yet, it was an enormous amount of fun. Perhaps the most important aspect of the no other languages rule for the week was not being able to ask: “What is the word for X in Welsh/ Beth ydy’r gair am X yn Cymraeg?”, not being able to use a dictionary and having to rely on finding ways to describe things with my limited Welsh vocabulary or simply using gestures. This also meant not being able to use the internet for a whole week.

The result of this single rule was to live in the Welsh language, to think in the Welsh language, to enter an entirely different world really. Instead of simply looking for the equivalent English word or expression, I  lived in Welsh, enabling a close personal relationship with the language. It was a very special and unique experience. Indeed it is one most Welsh speakers never experience, as Welsh speakers always encounter someone who can’t speak Welsh in any given week, or simply use an English word for somethign they don’t know how to express in Welsh.

It was very very mentally tiring not being able to use the vast amount of understanding of the English language I have acquired. English almost became a ‘foreign’ language, which meant that sometimes when walking in the street and overhear someone speaking English, it would sound odd and garbled as I was indeed thinking and being in Welsh.

There were a couple of occasions during the week when I would encounter fear of Welsh from English speakers. The first time was when as a group we were laughing and joking  about a Welsh sign. A man approached and asked ‘Are you lost?’ As we couldn;t speak English someone said ‘Dan ni’n iawn diolch [We’re fine thanks]’ and smiled. A smile is almost universal and I’m sure he understood that we needed no help, however he persisted ‘I don’t speak Welsh’. I made an apologetic face ‘Dan ni’n iawn, diolch, rhaid i ni siarad yn Gymraeg yn unig [We have to only speak in Welsh]’. Suddenly he raised his voice ‘ I said that I don’t speak Welsh, you are being very rude’. At which point our tutor, who was allowed to speak English, intervened to try and explain this unique circumstance and an argument proceeded. The thing is this is a fairly unique aspect of Wales and the Welsh language , in that almost every Welsh speaker can speak English too and many monoglot English speakers are troubled by the Welsh language as this man obviously was, he felt threatened by it, that he has encountered a rare situation where he was unable to communicate. The thing is in most of the rest of the world this doesn’t happen, you cannot assume a knowledge of English you encounter people who don’t speak English and you do communicate with gesture and tone of voice and broad feelings are communicated. Having said that there are Welsh speakers who don’t speak English, in Patagonia in South America, a bilingual Welsh-Spanish speaking community and indeed a few Welsh learners from non-English speaking countries. The man had an negative attitude to the Welsh language and was hostile towards it.

I experienced this again after the language immersion experience. For the first day after, i stayed predominantly in Welsh. I visited a local castle and asked for my ticket in Welsh, quite naturally, The lady at the counter responded ‘I don’t speak Welsh’ at which point i reverted to using English and asked politely for a ticket in English, however she shied back from the counter and another lady took over my transaction. Another encounter with fear of the language.

Of course as a learner of Welsh I regularly experience language fear when talking to strangers, particularly first language Welsh speakers, especially when you don’t know their attitude to a Welsh learner. It’s partly a fear of being judged on your ability and risk of appearing to be a simpleton, which in effect you are at the time, and this is coupled with all the incessant language politics we suffer on a daily basis in Wales. My week in Welsh, has helped me grow my confidence in Welsh so much, being in Welsh I don’t have the cloying memories of anxiety I experience in English. It’s like I have a different version of my personality in the Welsh language.

As English speakers, we are just incredibly lucky to be able to travel in so much of the world in our first language, so many British people, never learn another language, never placing themselves in a situation where they have to learn to use another language to communicate. I think that some of these people simply find it threatening when people use non-English languages in Britain, the phrase ‘Why don’t they speak English’ is often heard in the certain circles in English society, lobbied at the Welsh speaking community and other language communities. However, an I have learnt that being able to exist in another language is a truly wonderful experience. As a Welsh speaker, sometimes I want to experience the world in Welsh and sometimes in English. Hiding within only one language and being hostile or fearful of other languages is just a very odd desire, to want everyone else to be as similar to you as possible. As learners we now our fearful feelings are somethign to get over to leave behind, non language learners ar perhaps not ready to take a risk in a new situation and wish to remain fearful?

 

A Sense of Achievement

Towards the end of the year, many people, like myself, reflect on the year that is drawing to it’s close. Often a question asked is what has been achieved?

Conducting this reflection myself I feel I have made substantial progress on the projects I set myself in three areas.

Firstly I had the aim to learn to speak Welsh properly. Whilst I am still a long way off fluency I have passed many milestones and have some competency of the language and feel it is a part of me now.

Secondly, I wanted to make progress in learning and practicing social skills, now that i had overcome anxiety, again i feel I have made substantial progress.

The third thing, was trying to understand why people support right-wing ideas. Whilst a somewhat vague aim, I think I have progressed here too.

I do feel a sense of achievement, a warm fuzzy glow from the realisation that I have exceeded my own expectations. Really, perhaps the main reason why as animals we do things is simply to enjoy these positive feelings.

Another thing people do at the end of the year, is travel home or spend time with their families and do different things, such as watch live TV, which I no longer normally do.

On the telly recently I watched a really interesting documentary about the Waorani tribe in Ecuador. This tribe live in the rainforests of Ecuador, living a basic existence by Western standards. One of the striking things was that the people generally seemed happier than people in Western countries. I wondered what it was that made life somehow better there. Indeed, I experienced this myself when I lived for 3 months in a camp in the forests of Madagascar, a time I was much happier than at home. I think the reason is a lot more than simply living more naturally in some wonderful forest.

It is perhaps to do with this sense of achievement. As humans we essentially do two types of thing. One type of thing is what we have to do to survive (secure food, water and shelter) and things we can do once the survival stuff is done. The non-essential things may involve home improvements, finding way of making our work easier and more efficient and other projects to feel good about being alive, to achieve this sense of achievement, sometimes this sense is heightened when what we have achieved has no effect on surviving, it is done for the pure thrill of doing it.

This men of this Woarani tribe have a ritual where they go out and catch Giant Anacondas. I can understand this, as I loved catching snakes, whilst I was in Madagascar. In the film, the men and indeed the presenter were clearly showing that they felt this sense of achievement. The question then is there a difference in the Woarani experience and Western society?

For the forest tribe, it is clear, where the lines between surviving, improving and fun are, even if many of the things they do combine these elements. It’s the same thing here in Wales, we do a similar mixture of activities, however the lines are not so clear. For example, we play computer games and gain a sense of achievement for finishing a level. Indeed games are designed to give you this sense of achievement. However, at Christmas, a family tradition is to play board games. Arguably this is more fun because it involves the social interactions with other people and in particular people you share long term relationships with.

I know from my experiences in Madagascar that a large part of my own sense of achievement sprang from living in a sealed community of a small number people, where almost all our social interactions were with each other. We were living and working together, suffering problems together, like a tropical monsoon and the river flooding and also sharing our successes. We were emotionally in the same place, most of the time. I imagine life for the Waorani is similar to this. The positivity of the shared success was bolstered because we believed that we were doing something useful. Even though some other people would argue that what we were doing wasn’t useful. The important thing is that we believed in it.

When we play a video game, or go shopping, we do enjoy some sense of achievement. However, this is often not a huge sense as we kind of know that we are not doing anything that benefits anyone else, or indeed ourselves very much. Incidentally, we perhaps enjoy Christmas shopping more as we are doing it for the people we are buying presents for. We don’t really have this big sense of having achieved anything really useful. I believe that doing something useful is a very important part of doing things in general.

I feel a sense of achievement in learning Welsh, not only as a personal accomplishment, but also because I can now contribute to the Welsh speaking community. Similarly with overcoming anxiety, I can now be more helpful to others. Also the same with understanding the right, I feel I can contribute to discussions more usefully when discussing politics. Simply having this sense of usefulness beyond a personal satisfaction is what makes  the sense of achievement feel so much bigger, so much wider.

I often write on this blog about how as a society in Britain, we are not doing well because there is a sense that all our achievements are artificial. It’s a modern curse really,there is rarely a clear link between what we do and a positive outcome. Perhaps too many of our achievements are not useful, not large, not important and this is part of the problem in our society.

The other big change that happened to me this year was taking on what people describe as my first “proper” job. It has been a really fascinating journey so far. I’ve made decisions in my role that have increased the income of the organisation that I work for. It is an organisation that I believe is doing useful things. So I should feel a big sense of achievement. However I only feel the smaller sense, like in a video game, where I receive satisfaction of getting tasks done quickly and finding more efficient ways of doing things. There is a sense that what i do isn’t real, isn’t palpable. I’m not doing my own projects, I’m doing someone elses and I am but a tiny cog in the organisation. I think this disconnect, where the good things resulting from your actions are felt distantly, elsewhere. This sense of an alienation from results affects most modern jobs, especially in offices. In contrast, when i have been doing science and solve a problem or get real results from an experiment i got the big proper sense of achievement. Whilst I am grateful to have a job and be earning a little money above basic need, I feel I should really be getting back to science as soon as I can, even if that means a smaller income.

I think we all want to have moments of feeling a real sense of achievement and it is often better to do those things within our community, with people we interrelate with and share a commonality.

So, this is what I don’t get about, the right and the whole Brexit thing. Across the spectrum of mainstream political thought, is the idea, that most of us relate to, is the idea that we should all contribute to our community, our society. In particular those with more resources should help those who are less able. Like how in the Woarani tribe, when the young men go out to hunt and the old stay in the village to look after the children, similarly we should all have roles in our communities. The right-wing idea that the market, or individual people and organisations should fulfill these roles, by creating wealth, that is then spent charitably, rather than the state is completely understandable, it is one way of getting to this good society that the Western world has struggled to achieve. However, the modern political right in the UK have abandoned the whole community idea, instead to serve a subset of society, or people like ‘us’, people who are conservatives. I just don’t get this and it makes me angry, it’s just so divisive and pits sections of our society against each other, when we should all be working for the good of our communities. I don’t understand why right wing people are not more angry with ‘their’ politicians for dividing society. How can you gain a sense of achievement from making things worse, it’s below the neutrality of a video game, it should be guilt. It is simply harder to gain a full sense of achievement when all you are doing is making a worsening situation just that little bit less bad.

I appreciate that we don’t live in local communities anymore, that we live in our various globally connected niches. However, local communities, where at least geography is shared is so important. It’s why I associate with the Welsh, simply as the people who live in Wales, rather than some weird racial/ religious identity. I think as humanity, we lose a sense of community at our peril. A sense of achievement is greater than hatred of another lot of people.

The Mattress Problem

Having written recently about long commuting, I am looking forward to finding a place to live in the city where I now work. This has propelled me once again into the British housing crisis. I’m resigned to paying over half my pre-tax income to pay someone else’s mortgage to have somewhere basic but reasonable to live in. so once again I have to deal with the mattress problem. The mattress problem is that most rented flats come ‘furnished’ and landlords are often very reluctant to remove their crappy furniture and their disgusting post reasonable use mattresses. The problem is compounded by the housing crisis, where flats are taken within 48 hours of being advertised, so there is no pressure on landlords to make flats reasonably habitable, this has become the tenants responsibility.

In my last rented place, the landlord insisted I stored his mattress in the room,  I then just bought a cheap 12 month life mattress to sleep on and disposed of it in landfill when I left. I even spent the first week or so sleeping on the floor, the mattress was that bad.

This begs the question of how did British housing get into this ridiculous situation? Basically housing has not responded to the changes in the economy. Traditionally we largely lived in the communities we grew up in and secured ‘jobs for life’ locally, so the housing system was built around the idea of homes where people would live long term, if not all their lives. However, the modern economy is built around maximising flexibility in the labour market, where people are expected to move around the world to find roles that suit our inevitable specialisations. Much of the work is by contract, for example I have a 12 month work contract and after that I may move somewhere completely different. We are now expected to move to find work, as globalisation has led to service hubs. Indeed in Powys, where I’m from, the local hospitals have gone and the current debate is over whether our small towns should have high schools. Some studies/ the council suggest that having a hub school is cheaper even with the costs of busing all the children back and forth around the county. Or maybe ultimately the idea isthe transport costs can be passed onto parents rather than the state. My point is that even if you are a doctor, a nurse or a schoolteacher, these days you have to be prepared to move to your specialised hub to work, which compounds the housing pressure at the hubs.

Anyway, I am essentially looking for somewhere temporary to live, which brings me to subject of furniture. Traditionally,  furniture (beds, tables, chairs) were expensive items that stayed with you for life and indeed furniture was often handed down within families; it was well made by craftsmen. Also equipment such as stoves, heating equipment, toilets, baths, fridges and washing facilities for clothes were part of the building or designed into it. So, in rented accommodation these things were often provided and often continue to be so in a very different world. Indeed in student accommodation, which I have a lot of experience of living in, it is convenient not having to lug big bulky furniture in and out of homes and transport across the country every six months.

The thing that has changed is that the cost of producing furniture has plummeted with mass production and furniture is no longer well made, and is no longer expected to last a life time or even a home move. Combined with this is the increase of people in transient temporary homes, leading to a glut of second hand furniture, people buy furniture to suit a home, it won’t fit nicely into the nooks and crannies of a new home so either gets sold cheaply or goes to land-fill dumps. As a society we are a society of consumers, we all have different lifestyles and preferences, so we now expect furniture to suit us, rather than adjust to fit the furniture.  We increasingly live in smaller spaces, so further require furniture that makes use of space efficiently, rather than having little used bulky furniture cluttering up the limited space.

Due to the housing crisis, mattresses represent arguably the thorniest issue in rented accommodation, they are big bulky items that are not easy to transport around the world. A good traditional Western mattress lasts about ten years and provides a comfortable bed to sleep on. However, lugging them around corners, up and down stairs, into vans, in and out of cold storage facilities really reduces their life expectancy. Also reducing their life expectancy is different people sleeping on them. The problem with a good mattress is that they are relatively expensive. A good new mattress is equivalent to a months rent, which for a 12 month let is a significant cost for the landlord and there is no guarantee the tenants will look after it up to a six year expectancy, so landlords provide cheap mattresses that last a year (about a weeks rent), then often they try and persuade tenants to use them beyond their natural life. So landlords do ask people to store unsuitable mattresses, because there is a reasonable chance the next tenant will be more tolerant of a bad mattress, even if the springs have popped out as in my case.

The upshot of this is that lots of cheap mattresses are produced which end up in skips and landfill every year. There is a huge environmental cost to this, as most of the materials are not recyclable and mattresses contain nasty chemicals from their manufacture (particularly the cheap ones). The solution is perhaps to leave tenants provide their own mattresses, yet it is taking a long time for most landlords to accept this solution. However as beds come in all shapes and sizes this often means tenants replacing their mattress every year. The housing ‘market’ hasn’t provided a solution to this problem.

Having browsed the internet for a solution, the answer seems to be futons, the traditional roll-up Japanese mattress, comfortable and easy transportable. I just need to find either an unfurnished flat or a landlord prepared to take away the bed to the tip or store. Why hasn’t this solution been widely accepted? It may be that British people don’t like sleeping on the floor. Traditional British beds are raised above the floor. As children we fear the monsters that live under the bed, and we kind of deal with this by accepting that the monsters won’t come out of their space, the area under the bed is after all only filled with monsters when the lights go out. If there is no space, where do the monsters go? uh oh! Part of the reason for raised beds is to not be troubled by rats at night, as a rat will rarely climb onto a bed with a large mammal sleeping on it. The rats are the monsters, but in most housing these days rat infestations are rare, rather than a part of life.

Of course, these problems also exist for home owners, it costs around £10,000 just to pay all the various costs of moving and then buy new furniture. It is simply not worth the effort of doing this, when transactions take months to complete, that more and more people are looking for 12 month lets in new cities and often letting out their home where they actually want to settle long term, and ahem, finding somewhere to store their furniture, or leave it for the tenants, including the mattresses.

It just seems that the humble mattress, we all need something to sleep on, represents so many of the problems of modern society and Britain has been so slow in developing a work around for the problems of mattresses. My experience of landlords is that they expect tenants to live in conditions they wouldn’t put up with themselves, which is morally wrong; landlords should provide accommodation they would be happy to live in themselves, they are receiving an income from their property after all, even if it is mainly just paying off a mortgage. The problem with this is that we all have different requirements, especially in bedding and furnishings, so such choices should be left to the tenant, who will know their own needs, whenever possible.

Black Sheep and Corbyn

I have written about how I believe that right wing people, conservatives, and left wing people, socialists, think differently. There is scientific evidence backing this theory both genetically and from psychological profiling. I have then argued that society in general should reflect that, economies should be more efficient if they cater for the diversity of people, so people can find their niches to survive and thrive. Yet, the political media  very rarely mention this and thus an impression is created that one ideology is simply better than the other, which I have long argued simply isn’t true. I mean if you accept this theory it becomes absurd to introduce competition or commercial strategies to public institutions like the health service, the railways or the BBC, or expect commercial organisations to fulfil social requirements. ‘Balance in everything’ should perhaps be a universal motto.

The media ignore this is the frenzy of Jeremy Corbyn, being retained as leader of the Labour party today. The left need a political leader  who is left wing. Corbyn became leader simply through being the right person at the right time. It is the weakness of the Labour party that no-one else with a broader appeal is currently available. so, the infighting and a leadership election was a complete waste of time, especially at a time, when an objective assessment of what to do about Brexit is required.

Of course social demographics plays a part, but it is perhaps worth re-considering traditional voting patterns. There used to be much more of families voting the same way and perhaps there is a genetic component to this. So many families will produce the odd person of the opposite persuasion. I grew up in a largely conservative family, however considering genetics, my grandfather, who passed away before I was born was a socialist, so I assumed I had inherited his ‘socialist genes’ rather than been an outlier. Such ‘black sheep’ often chastised for ‘rebelling’ against the family serve such an important role. The black sheep are in a position to argue for balance, to point out that the established way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone, only those who fit in with those traditions.

Broadly, socialists tend to be attracted to public service co-operative roles, whilst conservatives tend to be attracted to market trading competitive roles. I heard a right wing commentator talking about the importance of competition in schools. Yes, competition is important for children, the conservatives benefit from it and it teaches the socialists an understanding of the role of competition. so, it is equally important for children to do cooperative tasks because this benefits the socialist children and teaches the conservative children about the role of cooperation. The point is that neither is better than the other and it si wrong to have one without the other, it’s like the Yin-Yang symbol. Working in public service is as important as working at innovation and producing new products in competitive markets.

I heard on the radio today someone say that ‘Britain will never elect a true socialist’, which begs the question ‘why not?’Britain needs a socialist, a black sheep, to restore some balance to our economy. It is possible that the genetic pool of the British is predominantly right wing, after all the modern British, genetically are a mix of original settlers (which we know little about), Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Vikings. Added to that mix is the diversity of immigration predominantly from specific regions: Africa, the Caribbean Islands, the Indian sub-continent, Poland etc. Essentially a product of the British Empire period and European wars. This is interesting as the genetic mix still varies across Britain, the phenomena of large numbers moving vast distances is only a few generations old, and not long enough to have truly mixed the genes.

Contrast this to France, with a different history and a different Empire (so a distinctly different group of Africans), has tended to be more socialist than Britain. However it is a very interesting question whether the different gene pools do generate different mixes of left or right wing people, or do populations tend to balance out this diversity.

It’s a pertinent question as the party political landscape appears to no longer reflects the diversity of opinion and people. We no longer live in a world where politicians justify their policies in practical terms. Instead arguments centre around ideology, that one ideology is simply better. It’s like saying that blue eyed people are somehow better than brown eyed people, or that dark skinned people are better than light skinned people, it’s nonsense. Yet we live in a world where respect and tolerance of diversity appears to be in decline and there is a rise in tribalism again. Whichever pigeon hole you slot into, your historic identity, seems to have become more important, when there is perhaps little use in creating needless division. Diverse people have generally got on fine, even the black sheep in the family are usually accepted as full members of the family.

Just listen to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and other right wing leaders, look at the deeply saddening scenes in Syria, the Tory regime in Britain. There is a need for Corbyn, because people like Corbyn have been sidelined for too long. I don’t agree with everything Corbyn says, I don’t have to, I just accept the need for someone like him to drag us back to the centre ground, to create a level playing field, where whomever we are, whatever your social or indeed genetic background is, that there is the opportunity for you to find a role to contribute to the economy and society, whilst accepting that other people are different. a world where we can maximise value so we have the resources to deal with disasters and other problems.