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.

 

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It shouldn’t be allowed.

You know when you are getting old when the values of your generation are replaced by a different set of values. Over the past few years, student unions at British universities have been banning speakers from speaking. The reasoning for such bans seem to be not to give a platform to non-mainstream views and to protect students from hostile ideas.

I grew up with the highest value given to freedom of speech and protection of the environment. Perhaps the two greatest causes of the times I grew up in. Going back I remember the sheer disbelief that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in apartheid South Africa, members of Sinn Fein were not allowed to speak on broadcast media, having to be dubbed in interviews. Their were endless debates about the rights of the  BNP (British Nationalist Party) to be heard. In can perhaps be said that my generation failed to succeed in it’s two big causes.

The basic idea is that freedom of speech trumps any other consideration. With this freedom there is then the freedom to respond to ideas that people don’t like. Debate is seen as vital to a healthy society, so without it society is unhealthy.

The other issue for my generation was privacy. What you did in your private life had no bearing in your public or working life. There was a sense that you didn’t have to say anything you didn’t want to. There was also a freedom of not to speak. I grew up in a world with grandparents who had vivid memories of the Second World War, fears of a totalitarian Nazi state and a general fear of a manipulative ‘Big Brother’ state as exemplified in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, which was made into a film in 1984!

Of course generational shifts occur. Each generation deals with what it perceives as the great failings of the previous generation. My generation threw off the shackles of appearing respectable and doing what you feel you should do, to have the freedom to be ourselves, pursue our own dreams. Really this was at a time when the establishment itself was becoming less and less respectable anyway, hence the lack of respect for respectability!

If there is any single cause of the shift from Generation X to The Millennial generation it is the internet. My generation grew up with computers evolving into ever more powerful machines, performing ever more amazingly useful functions, my generation love computers. The difference is that Millennials grew up with the internet already there, for Millennials the internet wasn’t a source for wondering what could we do in ten years time. Really computers haven’t developed all that much recently , all that has happened is that bandwidth has increased, enabling streaming video and functions available on portable devices, such as smartphones. How I remember the days of leaving the computer on overnight to download a series of pre-chosen music tracks for listening to the next day. This seems almost laughable now.

Putting these these things together, you have my generation in thrall to the internet, yet hugely paranoid about privacy. So much so that many people my age, spurned social media because of the fear that anyone could then trace our tastes, opinions, location, contacts, etc and use this information against us. So many people, myself included, just gave up on maintaining privacy to make use of new forums. Yet, my generation have this idea that snooping on peoples activities is bad and thus no ‘respectable’ person should use such information, like how you pretend not to hear and forget things you accidentally overhear. Except some unscrupulous people do, privacy is not respected, online presences are scrutinised by employers and security services. I don’t livwe in soviet russia, but I think I’m would be less surprised if at some point I am taken away at night and never heard from again.

Dealing with this creep in increased access to information, working both ways is something society has not really addressed in any meaningful way. Social media, such as Facebook, started off innocently enough. I was introduced to Facebook as a way of keeping in touch with a group of friends once we became geographically separated. Over time, as with most Facebook users, More and more ‘friends’ were added, now several hundred people from various aspects of my life. To the point where my Facebook is full of people with widely different outlooks on life, though the majority generally share my worldview. In many wasy this is bad, any prejudices I have are enforced, people and views outside my social circle are not encountered.

Prejudice is a terrible thing. Back when i was a very young man, I had prejudices, and held ill thought through beliefs. I’m  sure I still do have prejudices, but I strive not to have any. anyway, because I was comfortable to express my opinions, I was questioned and these things were discussed, I listened, reflected, discussed further with other people and eventually overcame some of my major prejudices. Arguably such prejudice removal processses are being less common for two main reasons:

Firstly, that we end up in social circles of similar people to ourselves, made up of people with similar world views, so any prejudice doesn’t seem like a problem.

Secondly, if we do venture to be open about our opinions, instead of being listened to and the ideas discussed, there seems to be a growing tendency for abuse, to be shouted down, to be ‘unfriended’. The problem with this is that if you are shouted at, seemingly unreasonably, you start ignoring what you hear and build a wall between yourself and your opinions with the wider world, it enforces the prejudice rather than dispels it.

An example of this second reason happened this week on Twitter. A man wrote “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon and asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me”  a mealy mouthed reply”.

Okay, lets pretend not to know about what happened after this tweet and give the guy the benefit of the doubt: A man  didn’t understand the Brussels terrorist atrocity of last week. He has heard countless reports from the media about this being an attack by “Islamists”. He has put these two things together simply as ‘Muslims are to blame for acts of terrorism” So, he aired this view to a Muslim woman in his community. So what should have happened is that members of his community discussed the situation with him, he would listen and reflect and modify his beliefs to reality and possibly vice versa . It may be that this man didn’t know any Muslims personally to ask. However instead of this being an episode of freedom of speech working for mutual benefit, instead the situation created increased tension, the man was subjected to endless abuse and probably feels compelled to apologise, for expressing an opinion he knows is probably shared by millions around the world. My point is that by not expressing his opinion, by there not being the freedom to air it and for his concerns to be addressed thoughtfully and sympathetically, he is instead ridiculed and ‘banned’.

So, for a generation Xer, like myself, the world seems to be becoming a worse, more scary place, where instead of being honest, open and ready to listen, we seem to be entering a protectionist world, where we start to hide out  personal thoughts and opinions, this is very bad. where instead of working together to resolve problems and misunderstandings, we pigeon hole the rest of society and keep our opinions to carefully selecte similar people to ourselves.

One of my early prejudices was racism. In a pre-globalised world, where people didn’t travel the globe, it seemed perfectly acceptable to laugh about funny stories about the strange people who lived on the other side of the world. Of course, once people do travel and people learn more about other people and cultures, it is no longer acceptable to ‘point and laugh’ at the different people. Because those other people become part of our communities and ourselves part of theirs. Society adapts to changes in circumstances by speaking and listening. the issues are worked through.

A concern is that this happens less. People used to socialise with all of their local community, rather than a sub -set of it. Any community anywhere in the world is made up of different types of people, with different personalities and opinions. In a local community, if someone airs a controversial opinion that offends others, it is often said that the person who said the offending remark was a decent person, meant no offence and the community would then go to work discussing the issue with the offender, working it through with them. With no such local close-knot community this fails to happen, people prejudices are not addressed.

Of course, local, isolated communities have there own issues, their own prejudices, I know I grew up in one! But at least there is some diversity, rather than the narrow social circles we can easily inhabit through work or social media. Perhaps because there isn’t the wider social support to help people overcome prejudice, that people are physically and mentally attacked fro expressing views that there is a desire to protect, to keep people free from controversial ideas, rather than confront them head on. That if you were to confront the racist, sexist, homophobes in the pub, instead of community support, you would be left to be attacked yourself by that sub-set of society that supports that prejudice, or in cruder terms to be beaten up by their mates.

In local communities humanity has developed systems to regulate these local communities. As individuals or families it is possible to regulate what information is kept private and which shared, we decide who we tell certain things to. With the internet, there has not been this evolution of social systems. We use the internet for private communication between friends and family as well as publicly and we also use it to communicate professionally. sometimes it is not clear who we are broadcasting to. The problem with this is a free open discussion within a group is fine for developing understanding of an issue, it is another thing when things are seemed to be discussed more widely. The problem is that we haven;t developed clear ways of differentiating what is more private and what is public.

Another issue is access to information. The internet is a fantastic resource, it is possible to look up information or opinion on any matter within a few clicks. From this it should not be possible to claim ignorance. However, of course it still is, there is more data available than anyone can sift through. Whilst research is seemingly ever easier, the direction of things is actually more difficult. For example a search engine should speedily take a user to the information they seek, but they don’t, they pigeon hole users, and give results based on geographical location and previous browsing history, so seeking objective information becomes harder, we are still subjected to very bias data. We still haven’t really developed ways to use the internet effectively, we rely on  curated material and the bias of our own communities. so much as this occurred, so used are we too bias data that there is a tendency to no longer look for facts, to build up a full picture of an issue. Rational argument is coming to seem less important than who is saying something, someone’s background is more important than what they actually are saying.

There seems to be a worrying trend of protecting access to opposing opinions, with so much information available, as individuals we do yearn for simplicity, to be able to see the wood for the trees. Hence the wish for protection from the wilds of extremist views as we are increasingly exposed more to extremist views and less of the reasoned consensus views of the community, because there no longer is a community in the traditional sense to buffer and question extreme opinions.

 

 

 

Radio Gaga

Radio has undergone many development in recent decades, however I still have the same love/ hate relationship with radio I have had since my teenage years. The principal development is the move from broadcast media, to on-demand streaming over the internet. Yet, radio still performs the same function of a background noise to other tasks, then your attentions gets drawn into it for a while before returning to the background. Perhaps the major change is that there is so much more choice now, so we are perhaps more inclined to find really good radio, rather than tolerate whatever is available over analogue broadcast.

I love radio because, for me it is a way of keeping abreast of ideas and especially music, without having to actively select music on a track by track basis. I hate radio because it so often fails to provide music or content I want to listen to.

I don’t feel as though I’m asking for much. I simply want to listen to a general selection of the latest music, from a nice mixture of genres, with the occasional old classic thrown in. Ideally with good music coming to the fore, based on popularity with peers. I do also like genre specific radio, but mostly I prefer a little bit of everything.

The idea of personalised internet radio, which throws up a selection of music based on your past preferences, was hugely appealing to me. I am very frustrated that it doesn’t work terribly well. It tries to pigeon hole my preferences and I get stuck in very limited sub genres. I feel I have to actively do whatever I can to maximise the randomness. So I am left with the problem of it no longer being radio as I have to actively control what it plays too much. These problems I have found with services such as LastFM or Spotify.

So, there is perhaps still very much a place for curated content, the traditional DJ (Disc Jockey), selecting the music that they like and that which they think listeners will find interesting. I believe this is true, I was a massive fan of the late John Peel, because he was a true DJ. However the vast majority of radio DJs don’t follow this philosophy, commonly selecting music from a list, someone else has generated, so, really, what is the point of having a DJ?

My major problem with commercial radio and a large chunk of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), or the BBC, in UK terms, is that music is selected for non-musical reasons. Music may be selected to ‘appeal’ to a certain demographic, for example young people or old people. Does anyone really think that their taste in music is determined by where they live, their socio-economic status, their age? No, music is music!

I can understand why commercial radio does this, there role is to maximise the number of listeners all the time to attract the advertising revenue, but this means that no-one is truly happy with such radio. PBS does sometimes do better, because instead it strives to provide content that some people will like and through a wide diversity in content, aiming to provide something that everyone likes at some point. It is this reason why PBS trumps commercial radio, it is something for everyone. however even the BBC don’t do this quite enough, particularly Radio 1 and 2. I struggle to find many DJs I like enough to make a point of regularly listening to them.

Sometimes, great things happen when you are not searching for them. I wrote on this blog recently that I am learning Welsh. To help with my Welsh, I’ve been listening to Welsh language radio, to improve my listening skills and pick up some vocabulary. I found a DJ I really love on the BBC Radio Cymru, in Georgia Ruth Williams, someone who plays an interesting selection of music, old and new, from Wales and around the world. Her programme is fantastic, exactly how radio should be, teh DJ putting some effort in to select a programme of music. Yes there is a focus on Welsh music on this radio show, but there is nothing wrong with that in my view! I just like hearing strange electronic noise, followed by beautiful classical music. Good music over trying to make an appeal to people for non-musical reasons.

I should also plug WFMU here, this New Jersey, USA based radio station is especially wonderful, with several excellent DJs.

 

 

Fear of Ideas

All people fear new ideas to some extent, a fear of change and the unfamiliar.  Such fears are natural, but often embracing new ideas or ways of thinking can be immensely positive. The familiar, the status quo, seems safe, so why even consider change? Well, sometimes the status quo is bad for people as individuals and wider society. sometimes it is easy to forget that everything is a journey, we can take small cautious steps, we can always turn and go back or in a different direction. Such a steady cautious approach is safe, rather than leaping crazily across to another place, a place that is strange and unknown. Accepting new ideas doesn’t change who you are but can make you a better person, just take small firm steps.

I have written much on this blog about my overcoming anxiety. Making such a change was scary, there was a fear of my personality changing, a change in my values, a change in how I think. I think this was why I rejected, like many other anxious people, the calls of people to just let go of yourself or to just not be anxious, this is taking that giant leap into the unknown. Better advice to the anxious is to take cautious steps, allow people to reflect that the direction they are going in is one they are happy with.

This process of change, of alleviating fear, occurs in many areas of life and realising this, has helped me understand why other people are cautious of other ideas. For example, my becoming a Christian.  When I was young, I lived in a traditional Christian community in rural Wales. My generation were highly sceptical of religion, we regarded it as a load of nonsense. We regarded religion as scary irrationality. Growing up there seemed to be this maniacal street preachers, evangelicals waving their arms around as if possessed by spirit, a seemingly very conservative culture that stifled innovative ideas. Then one day i was exposed to the joy and wonderful music of renaissance polyphony and the choral works of J.S. Bach, this music helped me understand some of the core ideas of Christianity, that they were good, open ideas, that the complexity and suffering of human existence, could be understood as a whole, that it was okay to accept this and that doing things to make the world a better place was a righteous thing to do.. This music led me onto a journey of discovery of the Christian faith and along the way I became a Christian. Becoming a Christian was not scary, it didn’t change how I am, or my other beliefs, it simply helped me become a better person. It has helped me appreciate that there are no easy answers, no single mantra to base your life on, that faith, like anything else is a journey.

Another issue, I am passionate about and  often write about is food. I became a vegetarian at the age of 15 because I became aware that many animals reared for the meat I ate were kept in inside with restricted space, this seemed cruel and wrong on animal welfare grounds. I now ethically source meat, I don’t believe it is wrong to rear animals for meat, but in rearing animals there is a contract that the animals should have a reasonable quality of life and be able to express natural behaviours. What I have come to realise is that there is a wonderful synergy that can be achieved with animals welfare, sustainably looking after agricultural land and the wider environment, sound economics, healthy food and a greater enjoyment in eating. Though it seems there is a fear of changing diet and shopping habits, even with such positive outcomes. Though i appreciate I arrived at this synergy by taking slow steps and consideration of each step. I used to fear that having high animal welfare standards may mean that it was not possible to feed all the humans on the planet by farming in such a way and may cause environmental damage. I was so pleased to realise that this isn’t the case, positive change benefits other areas. My message on food is that only eating meat as a treat and not everyday is healthier, cheaper, more sustainable and maintains animal welfare. Meat from animals that can range freely and are fed in a sustainable way, develops muscle, which makes the meat tastier and increases nutrients in the meat, making it healthier for the animals and the consumers. Rearing animals, working with nature, rather than against it, not only seems better, it is also better economically. So, I would encourage people to ethically source meat and save money by cutting out eating low quality meat in every meal, ultimately it’s cheaper and more enjoyable.

I think the idea of being open to new ideas and ways of being is so important, to better ourselves individually and wider society. However it is important to journey slowly and carefully, keeping our feet firmly on the ground as we do so.

This is why I was upset by the words of Donald Trump this week. Often politicians and other orators need to be regarded cautiously, they appeal to core conventional beliefs of a culture, then can take great leaps into the unknown, without questioning, without scrutiny. using Trump as an example, he states that there is a fear in Western societies of terrorism and in this most people will agree. However then Trump leaps onto blaming Muslims moving into the US as part of the problem, when there is no rational basis for this belief, it simply plays on fear and encourages fear, when fear is the actually the enemy. If Trump was a great expert on the history and politics of the Middle-East, then he may be worth listening to, however Trump himself has stated that he knows little of the history or politics of the Muslim world, thus he is not qualified to make meaningful comment. We are perhaps fortunate in Wales to have a significant Muslim population, there are a part of our communities, our workplaces, so it is clear that they are as decent people as any other sub group. The knowledge that the family down the street are ordinary decent people and are not secretly plotting the overthrow of civilisation, to think that they were would be extreme paranoia. However where there isn’t a normal family living in your locale it is much easier to play on the fears of the unknown.

Fighting Extremism

To my eternal shame, when I was a teenager I was somewhat racist. I thought that people from different races and cultures, had different morals and because of this should not integrate into my own culture. I grew up in a community in rural Wales, which back then was exclusively white Caucasian with a Christian background, a monoculture. Racism does exist in this community, even today, because some local people think that the way things are done around here are somehow better than that which occurs in the rest of the world. The media is partly to blame for describing bad news in such a way as to lay blame on a community that locally is not fully understood.

Fortunately, Wales is a multi-cultural society, the capital city, Cardiff, historically a major world port, attracted people from all around the world. All it takes to debunk any notions of that people from other cultures are less moral, it to talk to them, and understand their culture. From this increased understanding comes the realisation that any cultures moral system is no better than any other, every culture attempts to be moral.

People fundamentally are very different, however certain traits are more common in some races and cultures than others. It is these demographic differences that leap out to outsiders. It is crazy though to then immediately judge that culture for these differences, based on only a very partial understanding of that culture.

This craziness, this leaping to generalisations does happen. For example, if say an Afro-Caribbean man comes to the culture and makes a minor social indiscretion, people often then extrapolate from this one instance to blame an entire race for this minor mistake, because they are the only Afro-Carribbean person they have interacted with, so based on their experience, 100% of that race are seen to have this negative trait. Of course, anyone should know not to form conclusions based on one experience. It is sometimes difficult to assert if people are just criticising an individual or an entire community.

This phenomena of judging without understanding happened to me recently in the wake of the Paris attacks. Certain people I know, who are Atheists expressed the opinion that it was religion that was to blame for extremism. I explored what they were saying with them, I conceded that it does happen that some religious people do become extremists, but not all. In any case extremism occurs in atheist cultures too. The point is that these people had leapt to the generalisation that religion in itself caused extremism and they didn’t really understand what faith is, what prayer is. It is people that cause extremism, not religion. Really, the concept of cultural relativism is so important.

People cause extremism by making judgements before having a good understanding of a culture. Groups of extremists then gather together who share these same naive views. Extremism exists everywhere.

The debate in the UK this week is how to tackle the extremist group ISIS. The question is portrayed as should the UK bomb Syria, where ISIS have political control, in addition to bombing ISIS in Iraq. Syria is already beign bombed by various other cultures. It seems a cosmetic change in policy and arguably a distraction from tacking extremism. However governments can’t defeat extremism, people must defeat extremism. How do people fight extremism?

Firstly, we must not be quick to judge.  Acknowledgement that our own and all other cultures are imperfect. To be wary of the easy answers peddled by politicians and the media. To commit to study the other culture in depth to see if there is any truth in these easy accusations.

Secondly, to not tolerate intolerance. To not allow extremist views to propagate, to challenge the views of people in our communities, to not allow extremist views to become acceptable. Really extremism shoudl be tackled worldwide, in every community, globally. Only then will extremism be deafeated.

The war on terror, isn’t really about bombing people or restricting peoples movements. The war on terror is in hearts and minds of those around us. Extremism has to be beaten locally before any community can genuinely help at a wider level. Already, since the Paris attacks, Muslims in the UK have been physically assaulted and abused. The focus should be on talking to these extremists attacking British Muslims. By doing this the cause of extremism can be tackled, rather than the symptom, terrorist organisations.

 

 

 

When to sing the national anthem as a patriot.

When I first left home and lived in England, I had a circle of English friends who stated that they weren’t patriotic and that nationalism was a bad thing. I was initially surprised at this as I’ve always been a patriotic Welshman and regard it as a positive thing. As with any political, religious or cultural creed, patriotism has both positive and negative elements to it. Like anything else, Patriotism, it is about striking a balance, learning how to make use of the good elements and dismissing the bad elements. It is an interesting concept, because whilst every culture is different, there are many common threads to patriotism. Again, like anything else, people should be wary of allowing positive elements of any creed to lead uncritically to bad elements.There have been a few recent events that illustrate my views on patriotism:

The Rugby World Cup

In Wales, rugby is our national sport, and supporting rugby is part of our culture. The established patriotic position is of the ‘local rival’ type, The Welsh patriot supports two teams; Wales and whoever is playing England. This is similar to the New Zealander who supports the All Blacks and whoever plays the Wallabies (Australia). People from countries, such as England, often don’t quite get this as their patriotism is different. I think it’s a positive outward looking stance. It means that at certain times support is lent to the team of any country in the world, enabling increased cultural understanding and new relationships.

The critic may say, that it’s not very nice for the English to be hated. The English are not hated though, the English are our friends and neighbours, there is simply a healthy rivalry with them. It’s the same thing in football, I’m a Manchester City supporter and ‘hate’ Manchester United, nonetheless I have many friends who support Man United,Ii think they are a little ‘misguided’ (have a slightly different set of priorities in how there support manifests itself, but it is essentially the same thing).

There are mild irritations that are experienced by Welsh supporters. The British media extensively covers  the performances of the English teams, any win seems to be  reported as the ‘greatest victory’ and any loss, the ‘greatest crisis’, it is difficult to ignore all this, when it is something you have no interest in. Though, generally the Welsh quite understand why UK wide media would cover it as England has a population of over 50 million, compared to the 3.5 million of Wales.Having said that it is a healthy thing to have a set of media opinion that you ignore, as having a healthy disrespect for the bias opinions of the media, of people with different.  opinions. It encourages one to work things out for yourself.

Perhaps the difference is expectation, England expect to win. I don’t have this, in Wales, we don’t expect to win, so any victory is all the more sweeter, the case in point being Wales’ recent victory over England in the Rugby World Cup! It’s the same with supporting Man City, I still don’t expect the team to win, even now we are a successful top of the league outfit, this generally isn’t the case with supported of Liverpool or Man United.

The problem with expectation of winning it that it implies superiority, which is a bad thing. The easiest bad trap to fall into with patriotism is superiority, the idea that your country is the best, has the best culture and way of doing things. Perhaps the Welsh can be patriotic, much more easily than the English, because as such a small country, on the Western periphery of Europe with a hilly terrain, the  Welsh are not concerned with ‘being the best’, rather being the best we can be.

I am a proud Welshman, it is my favourite country in the world, it is the best for me personally. I love Wales, not for any specific attribute, but simply as it is home, it is my culture and I understand it better than any other.  Good patriotism is very akin to family, it roots us and gives us confidence in belonging to something before we discover who we. Much like families there are aspects we love and aspects we hate, but it is an inescapable part of us, a relationships we don’t choose. As an outsider, i have become aware of many distinct ways i am different to others or the ‘mainstream’, but country, like family grants an automatic membership of a group. It some ways, this sense of being an outsider when the British media carp on about England, is something the Welsh have in common and being an outsider is part of the nationality, a nonconformity, which is useful. It is I believe important to belong, to know you are not crazy, yet able to be yourself and confident not to be in the mainstream.

I am always fascinated by people who come to live and work in Wales. Some people fall in love with Wales, some merely find it interesting and some realise they dislike the place. Everybody is different and value different aspects of life. No-one should take offense that their country or themselves as an individual is disliked, but they should take comfort when they encounter people who love them.

National anthems

The other thing that is a mild annoyance with England national teams is the anthem. England don’t sing an English national anthem, they borrow the British anthem ‘God Save the Queen/King’. Generally, when the British national anthem is played, I stand up and sing along. However I am silent when it is played for the English national team, because whilst I respect them I don’t support them. so, there are occasions when I sing and when I don’t.

Cultures are perhaps differentiated by how the concept of freedom is defined. It is interesting that people of political creeds say the same thing: “I am a socialist/liberal/conservative because I believe in freedom”. Almost everyone believes in freedom, indeed this is often expressed in the words of national anthems. True freedom is I believe impossible for human beings as social animals, there is always a balance of ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. A balance of different elements is sought to maximise individual freedom and each political creed goes about it in a slightly different way.

Sections of the  British right wing media went into a frenzy when Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour party leader, didn’t sing the British national anthem at his first official engagement as party leader, because  he is a republican. In Britain is a widely held view that everyone is free to choose whether or not to sing the national anthem or indeed behave in a patriotic way. Much of the media didn’t respect Corbyn’s choice not to sing as an example of this freedom. It is sad that this man felt obliged to change his stance and sing the national anthem simply because of his status as a national leader and an appeal to mainstream electorate. This doesn’t send a message about the freedom the British value to the world does it?

Morning Mist

I love morning mists, I have missed them so much. There is no better way to start the day than awakening into a cloud, to view the gentle undulations of wisps in the treetops, the tingle of tiny water particles on your skin, to see shafts of sunlight breaking through.

I can’t believe that I’ve written umpteen blog posts without a proper rant about the weather, how very unbritish of me.

It is one of the ways I first noticed that I was an outsider, was as a young child; that I disliked being out in the sunshine, whilst everyone seemed to love it, and that others disliked rain, and I didn’t mind it at all.

To myself, I seem to be the logical one. In summer sunshine:

it’s too bright, you have to squint up your eyes, actively vary the amount of light entering your eyes, which I find a pain the backside. You have this annoying tingle on exposed skin. I sweat, constantly, which is sticky and uncomfortable. You wear light clothing, so can’t carry around equipment, without the carrying spot being a burden of a very sweaty patch. When you seek shelter in the shade or return home, it’s still too warm and sticky, sometimes I have to sleep with a ruddy noisy fan on.Everyone else expects you to feel happy and alive, when you feel the opposite.

Tommorrow, Autumn begins, my favourite season, nine whole months until wretched summer comes around again! I’m mildly claustrophobic, I hate not being able to escape. That is why I’m not a summer fan. In the winter, the wet and cold can be escaped, you can warm and dry yourself by a cosy fire in a way you can’t cool and dry yourself in those very hot summer days. The winter water runs and dances in streams, rather than lurk and stagnate.

Apparently, people’s moods are directly affected by the weather. I’m affected myself, but at different times and direction to the majority of people. I also think that people’s character and personality are influenced by the weather, not directly, but rather in two distinct ways:

1/ Individually, we have an expectation of ‘normal’ weather, the weather we grew up with, what we compare current weather with. For example: When I was in Surrey, parts of my mind kept flagging up that it hadn’t rained recently, or that the ground was always very dry. In Wales I can tell, just by being outside and feeling the atmosphere and glancing at the clouds, generally how long it will be until rain and how heavy it will be. i have learnt how Welsh weather works. Everywhere else in the world I get caught out, unprepared!

2/ Culturally, our root culture is shaped by the prevailing weather. For example: I was working in a small village in Indonesia, everyday was hot and sweaty for all of the people from temperate climes, it started raining, we just carried on working as we would at home, refreshed by the cooling water on our already damp clothes. The local villagers laughed at us! When the rain started, the locals all ran to the nearest rain shelter, every collection of houses had a rain shelter where they would gather and socialise for the twenty minutes or so of rain, then when it stopped, go back to work. Their culture had developed an effective way of dealing with how rain worked there, i.e. usually in short 10-20 minute bursts. In Wales, nothing would ever get done if we stopped doing things when it started raining!

People ask me sometimes: If I hate hot and sunny conditions so much, why it is I absolutely love spending time in the tropics? Partly it’s the sheer wonder of a completely different natural and social environment to explore. Partly it’s the normal state of things and behavior adapts to the sunny state and the monsoon rainy state. It’s actually really refreshing not to have the constant undulations and changes in the weather conditions, a state of constancy which changes the way your mind works, fixing you in place,  a new freedom rather than flecked with concern for  the self-questioning of stuff that may need doing before it gets too wet.

I am different, in terms of the weather at least, I have learnt to live with the differences between myself and my own culture, and enjoy the sense of sharing things with my own culture that I am not different with, I particularly love finding shared things in different cultures.  I am shaped by the world and the weather, yet feel free to be different and able to feel the opposite of the weathers mood direction, which is a good place to be, whatever the weather

The Civilised Game

I have been back home in civilisation in Wales for a week or so. I am so pleased to be home and am a lot more happy and relaxed. I think the reason I was unhappy in Surrey, England as it lost the cilvilised game on almost every count, apart from access to cultural events in London.

So, what is the civilised game? It is a game I’ve often played with friends living in different regions of the UK and the rest of the world. The aim of the game is to establish which of two areas is more ‘civilised’ than the other. Points are scored for a region through the identification of aspects of the society that are more ‘civilised’, or represent things that are relatively better in one place compared to another. When playing the civilised game with friends, the shouting out of the phrase “uncivilised country” has become ensconced when a identifying a facet of lack of civilisation.

The game does become rather silly at times, only wierdos like me want good ice cream in the winter, but as a means of a comparative study of cultures, it is useful. It is also a means of measuring how far a society is from achieving it’s own cultural ideals. The game is also an interesting is  interplay between the two protagonists own cultural ideals and how and where they differ from the other ‘player’.

The basis of playing the civilised game is simply identifying things that you find annoying or positive about another culture. For example, I shall compare two English cities I have lived in, if you are from either city, please don’t take offense, I love both cities!

Bristol versus Manchester (B=Bristol is better, M= Manchester is better)

Access to decent bread B
Relative price and quality of beer M
Percentage of income spent on accommodation M
Liklihood of having a nice chat with a random stranger M
Availability of civilised nightlife B
Quality of food M
Ease of being vegetarian B
General prettiness of local ladies [ahem] =
Quality of local music scene M
Quality of local scenery M
Climate =

In this limited example, Manchester is more civilised than Bristol. Sorry Bristol, you do have rubbish chippies though!  It’s kind of like the game ‘Top Trumps’, each place will have a score for each criteria, civilised places will generally win. Uncivilized places will usually have some aspect of quality of life living there that will trump somewhere else. This is what i personally didn’t get about Surrey, it’s the top trump card you don’t want to have. It is subjective, some people love living in Surrey, this is probably largely determined by your upbringing and what the culture you grew up with values highly.

Obviously, Wales scores fairly highly on most of these example criteria. As i get older it seems that civilisation globally is in decline, even in Wales (the local bread shop sells rather poor bread for example). This seems to be a consequence of laissez-faire economics or globalisation. It is the powers of marketing seeking to homogenise the cultures of the world and increase demand for products that can easily be reproduced globally, rather than allowing established local solutions to continue and develop. it seems that the goal of utility, of seeking ways of making life easier for everyone takes a subsidiary role to the market. It is now the big producers powering demand, rather than the local consumer, the multi-national chain displacing the family run business, even when there is no economic efficiency gain from such a change.

Anyway, I’m at home and spared from playing the civilised game with myself.

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London is Ugly and Annoying, Wales is Barren and Beautiful

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Ugly London, but some cool theatres

London is an amazing wonderful city, however, it is annoying and inefficient for people who live in the rest of the UK. I lived in London for four years, both loving and hating it at different times, it’s a great place to visit,, but generally rubbish and expensive (and increasingly so) to live in it and I shall tell you why.

London has an amazing amount of wonderful theatre and music. There is an abundance of hugely talented artists, performing in London, giving audiences access to great wonders, so much so that there is almost too much choice, It’s what makes living in London worthwhile.

Take last night for example. I had planned to move my stuff back to Wales, but the van hire company messed up and didn’t have a van for me when I turned to collect the van yesterday morning, so an unexpected free day to fill. So, I decided to see what was on in London last night and I found another gem.

I love live theatre and I love opera. A company ‘Opera Up Close‘, puts on slimmed down operas in intimate theatre venues, with the result that you get opera and proper theatre [ It’s not a new idea, as Mid-Wales Opera often do this sort of thing, but I’m not usually so close to the stage]. By proper theatre I mean proper stage acting, where you can clearly see every expression of the performers body, every facial expression and the glory of neck pulsations for the vibrato, the cast were involved in the plot, everyone on stage interacting and reacting to the unfolding drama. This acting is coupled with operatic singing in true ‘surround sound’. By surround sound i mean rather than seeming to come from a fixed point. When I go to big flamboyant operas, I’m usually in the cheap seats, far away from the stage, it’s still wondrous though! It really was having two of my favourite things blended together and accompanied by a talented 4 piece chamber orchestra.On balance a couple of the cast weren’t great theatre actors, and behaved as if they were in a typical opera on a bigger less intimate stage, but if it had been perfect I might well have just died of joy! The show was Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, performed at the Soho theatre, which is incidentally a really nice friendly venue.

Yet, London is really irritating. Here was a great show, with a strong cast on a Saturday night in a small venue and it was only two thirds full, although running for a month, which is quite a long run (well for non-musicals anyway!). Annoying because If this show was put on in a theatre in Wales  the audience would have been much bigger, thus it could have reached a bigger audience. In Wales everyone interested in this sort of thing would have gone to see it, rather than a portion of the London audience, which has this vast choice of other things to attend. This begs the question, Why don’t musicians and theatre companies tour the UK away from London a lot more than they do?

The answer is simple, cost. A touring company has to pay to provide accommodation for all the performers and stage management, which is really expensive, not counting the time required to travel. So ,what happens is that people in Wales (like me when i live in Wales), save up and travel down to London to see the shows, and pay for a nights accommodation in London, I usually slum it in a hostel as the only way of making the trip affordable. So the audience travel to the venue, rather than the venue come to the audience. Maybe this is a fair way of doing things, but London keeps getting more expensive. I suppose shows such as the one I went to last night can tour, because there are fewer people and less set, so if the company read this, come to Wales and beyond!

The other question is why don’t places like Wales produce more ‘home grown’ music and theatre? Well in Wales, I would suggest there is a higher proportion of people involved in local amateur productions, people enjoy art by being participants, rather than observers, in many ways this is superior.

The other issue is that young people who seek careers in the arts move away to London to hone their craft, because it is a centre for arts minded people. Artists are readily available for performance as they live a tube rides away, no need for companies to provide accommodation.

It’s not just the arts that are London-centric. It’s the British media too, the government and the economy. It’s just really inefficient having everything in the same place ion one giant world city, making that place a really rubbish place to live. Now I’m moving,  back to Wales i will really miss the chance to pop into London on the spur of the moment to catch something brilliant. I won’t miss, the faff, the smell, the crowds and the expense of it all. I know where I’d rather be! I will soon be, so I’ll probably stop ranting about how great Wales is.

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Near where I grew up, my idea of Home.

Is there a good chippy around here?

I love fish and chips. So, when visiting a new town I would ask a local ‘Is there a good chippy around here?’. You generally used to get an answer, these days it seems the question is greeted with bafflement.

Well sometimes, you didn’t. I remember visiting a village in Norfolk, which had two chippies and discovered that the village was bitterly divided between the two chip shops! Sometimes, particularly recently, people seem to neglect the ‘good’ word in the question and just direct to a chip shop. It used to be wonderful when you’d ask and be told such things as ‘Yes, but it only opens from 7-9pm, don’t bother with the other one’. Or even , ‘sorry, not in this town, hasn’t been a good one for years now’, giving me the exact local knowledge I needed.

I think that visitors to the UK and people who didn’t grew up with a chip shop culture (urban types mainly) don’t realise, or care that there are vast differences in quality when it comes to chip shops. The town I grew up in had an excellent chip shop, until a new chip shop opened on the high street, which wasn’t nearly as good. Surely,’market forces’ would prevail and the good chippy survive and the poor one fail. But no, I grew up in a somewhat tourist town in Wales and the good chippy was hidden away on a back street, so didn’t pick up the tourist trade. Why didn’t the tourists just ask ‘Is there a ‘good’ chippy around here? The good chippy closed, and left me with a lifelong distrust of ‘market forces’.

There are just too many bad chippies, who didn’t seem to care about the quality of their product and bad consumers, who just wanted the convenience of location even if what they were eating was vile. Bad fish and chips truly are disgusting.

What annoys me, is that there is an art to making fish and chips, but the basics are fairly simple: The oil needs to be hot , the oil needs to be fresh, select potatoes that are good varieties for chips, fish should be fresh, not frozen and ruddy cook fish to order, fish kept warm for more than a few minutes rapidly loses it’s taste and consistency. Oh and be good, only source fish from sustainable fisheries such as MSC certified (Marine Stewardship Council). This isn’t that difficult surely when it’s your livelihood? Locals do notice, and learn such things as not to go for chips on a Thursday as they know the oil will be gone by then and produce horrid pale chips.

When I first discovered that you could put your own pages on the internet, I tried to set up the ‘Good chippy guide’, whereby people could submit reviews of chip shops and establish a database of good chippies throughout Britain. No-one found it or contributed and i’m surprised that no such service exists to this day. There is a good beer guide for pubs though. There should be an app for this? I’m left with my local knowledge of places, near the main roads, where I know good chippies are. For example, if visiting Wales, use the old bridge (M48), pop into Chepstow town and go to Weeks chip shop, they are excellent!

Before anyone comments with such gibberish as ‘Yorkshire chippies are the best’. Obviously, Welsh chip shops are the best! I am something of a purist, generally preferring salt and vinegar as my condiments, though occasionally I have brown sauce. A good chippy should have all possible condiments and not charge extra for them. i do like curry sauce too and even gravy (though as I’m mostly vegetarian I tend to avoid these unless I know they’re really veggie). I can see the point of ketchup and mayonnaise although they only work well, I find, with pub chips as opposed to chippy chips.

So, my advice is ask the question, help the businesses that care about and put the effort into their product thrive. engage with the locals in places you visit, and not just hop to go somewhere convenient. Engage with places, don’t just pass through, this and good chippies make life worth living.