Good Evening Europe

The excitement gathers once more for this years Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve always been a big fan of the Eurovision, despite its changes through the years.

In a pre-internet age is was one of the highlights of the year . The family would gather around the family television, then the only screen in the house, and settle down to watch and discuss the ‘competition’. The show for those that don’t know, is divided into two parts.

The first part is the performances. A selection of European countries and a few non-European countries that subscribe to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) select and enter a song and these are then performed on the Eurovision stage and broadcast live to the whole of Europe and now the world, when this was a rare and exciting thing. The important thing is that generally the songs are not very good, it isn’t really a song contest in an artisitic sense, actually it is a rather bizarre popularity contest, which is where its interest lies. So during each song the audience discusses the various weaknesses of the performance and occasionally note the odd thing that they actually like. So we used to have musical discussions at a fairly low level with family members who didn’t even like music.

Once everyone is exhausted from sitting though so much truly awful music, the show turns to the voting. Traditionally each country had a jury of people who knew nothing about music but thought themselves that they did to do what everyone at home was doing and decide who they should give points to. Basically, each country awards 12, 10, 8,7,6,5,4,3,2 and 1 point to the entries of other countries. Each country was connected via the once unreliable European telephone networks to the arena and would read out there results. Which was a cue for the start of the political discussions. A lot of the interest was in trying to work out why people had deemed to award high points to the various terrible parodies of music. However further political discussions arose as it often seemed like simply a popularity contest, where countries would award their closest allies with points and not give points to there ‘enemies’ even when they had produced a song with some merit and entertainment value. That Greece awarded ‘Le Chypre, douze points’ [to Cyprus the maximum 12 point score] and Le Chypre, sorry, Cyprus would award ‘Grece douze points’ as well. By this point usually most people were fairly drunk and such discussions were huge amounts of fun.

In times past, a song winning the thing by acquiring the most points meant that your countries state broadcaster had the honour and bore the cost of staging next years competition. Famously there was a period where Ireland won every year, to the point that the Irish Broadcaster was getting into serious financial difficulties. Hence there is an episode of ‘Father Ted’ where Ted and Dougal win ‘Song for Ireland’ (or whatever they call it) by writing a “My Lovely Horse” a song so so bad that Ireland would be all but guaranteed not to win that years Eurovision.

Things changed, the Berlin wall fell and the re-establishing countries of Central and Eastern Europe were keen to join in the fun of the previously Western European club,   technology developed so that the people of Europe could vote over the telephone for their favourite entry, rather than rely on the vagaries of the idiot juries. Which was thought would be an end to the so called ‘political voting’. The major change was that as the number of eligible countries rose, there was the potential for 40 or 50 entries, meaning that the songs would go on for three or four hours, to be followed by several hours of the votes being read out. Personally I would have been happy for the thing to go onto the wee small hours, propping my eyelids open to see who this years winner was.

This was not to be, the EBU decided to hold Semi-finals, whereby hardcore Eurovision audiences would sit through two mini Eurovisions, the select twenty ‘finalists’ to be joined by the scaredy-cat countries, or rather larger contributors to the EBU budget who recieve byes to the final and the host country (whom probably don’t want to win the next year, but host countries tend to get lots of votes for some reason]. Of course with the internet, the songs are all available to listen to before the competition anyway.

The voting has also changed. The ‘televote’ continued to produce ‘political voting’ as neighbouring countries voted for each other. In reality it’s not political, it’s simply that people are more likely to move to a neighbouring country than further away and people tend to vote for their home country for some bizarre form of patriotism perhaps. So the EBU brought back the inept juries in the hope that the different forces of the juries and the televote would balance out the international relations stuff and guarantee no-one would receive the dreaded ‘null points’ (zero points; by not receiving a single point from any country)

Of course the televote raises lots of money so every country runs it, so even with 26 finalists, there is still 40 or 50 countries to vote. So, very very sadly, these days the 1 to 8 points is glossed over in an a flash (which was always fascinating) and some disgraced former celebrity of the country merely flirts with the stage hosts and announces the ‘big ten and twelve points’. Indeed the multi-lingualism has gone too, the hosts used to announce everything first in French, then English and then the main language of their country, which was a great idea as it taught the children the names of the European countries in three languages. I can still recite the names of the European states in French, I with hardly any other French vocabulary. It used to be that almost everyone sang in their native language, which was wonderful, but these days almost everyone sings in English.

There is no English in Can i Gymru (Song for Wales) of course! Wales has it’s own mini-Eurovision show where a ‘Song for Wales’ is ‘selected’, if Wales ever were to get its own proper Eurovision entry in its own right. This show is also lots of fun as the wannabees put out their awful songs and chat about themselves to the hosts, whilst there is a twitterstorm on Social Media as people disparage the performances and the mindless banter of the show. There is this wonderful parody video, where Can i Gymru songs are over-dubbed for comic effect. With the UK Eurovision entries being so dire, maybe it’s time for Wales to enter Eurovision for the first time, we can’t do much worse.

I feel I am not alone that the current voting system isn’t quite right, this part of the show lacks something now and is less fun. The current system is the jury vote is announced, which is fairly random, then the televote is rushed through in the last five minutes, which is the more interesting one as it is interesting to see what things are popular in different countries in what is after all a popularity contest, rather than the views of the hopeless juries. I was angered when a few years ago when I was sure Italy were going to storm Eurovision with ‘Grande Amore‘, something I think people could enjoy outside of the Eurovision world and largely the rest of Europe agreed with me in that they did gain the most points by some way in the televote, but finished second as the crazy juries didn’t really go for it. Surely a popularity contest should be determined by a popular vote, which is the very essence of popularity. Is there any point in pretending  that is is some serious music competition?

Occasionally, there is a classic year, where a genuinely good performance wins and that makes me happy and the other entrants generally provide good entertainment. There was the year when Dana International won with ‘Viva la Diva‘, because it was the best song that year and not because she is a transexual. My favourite year was when Finnish comedy metal band. Lordi performed ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah‘. I was a Lordi fan before Eurovision, they are fantastic musicians and know how to structure a song AND how to put on a show. I was convinced that they would rock Eurovision and I was a little worried that they wouldn’t and I would lose all my faith in humanity. I was confident enough and I crammed about 40 people into my tiny living room for a Eurovision party for that years show and just having that many people screaming ‘Lordi, Finland’ was something to behold. Fortunately they did indeed walk Eurovision that year as country after country gave Finland douze points to my enormous joy and relief. Sometimes, sadly quite rarelyn a genuinely good song that embodies the very essense of Eurovisioness, will not only appear, but also win the thing, such as the year of Denmark’s ‘Teardrops‘ . Those moments when you hear the song and know that feeling of ‘ we have a winner’.

Unfortunately most years, such a song doesn’t emerge, indeed most years I suffer a sense of disappointment that there isn’t one or that the wrong song won. But then without the bad years there wouldn’t be those life affirming good years. It’s probably why so many people like me, support football teams. The years of frustration fall away when, finally our team achieves something, such as when Wales progressed to the semi-finals in the European championships in 2016. So we keep tuning in to Eurovision in the hope of a classic year. Having the semi-finals kind of spoils the fun. they annoy me as so often good acts, strangely don’t make it through.

Often I’ve had the ‘What makes a good Eurovision song?’ Now if anyone has an answer to that , put an entry in. I’m sure this is what someone in Finland thought ‘Put Lordi in Eurovision, they’ll win it easily’. Sadly the UK hasn’t had a clue for decades now. People suggest that it’s bias against Britain for taking part in the calamitous Iraq war or Brexit or whatever, and fail to see the truth that the UK hasn’t entered a passably good entry for a long time. There are some counties that enjoy more success than others, as they have people in the right positions who kind of get what makes a good Eurovision song. Sweden is one of these countries and a couple of years ago the hosts of the show performed the ‘perfect’ Eurovision song ‘Love love, Peace peace

I kind of feel the what a good Eurovision song  needs is simply a bit of originality, a touch of edge, but nothing that will upset a primitive family audience. It also needs to stand out from the pack, so for example a good ballad will struggle in a year where every other song is a ballad, but shine when no-one else brings a ballad. Usually some musicianship helps, and a talented singer, but sadly it seems that having an attractive singer gathers more votes, but currently I feel the stage show has to be right, the costumes and backing singers need to attract interest too to make a complete performance. If you watch the Eurovision Song Contest, you will see entries trying to cover these bases, such as the blatant ‘man in a hamster wheel’ mentioned in ‘Peace Peace Love Love’ [which was Ukraine 2014). The fascinating thing, and why it’s so hard to get right, is that all these different criteria change every year. It is this that makes the competition so fascinating. These days i usually listen to the songs with a pen and paper, awarding points for costumes, dance routines, vocal performance and then a string of bonus points for such things as not singing in English or innovative costuming. However I have never predicted the voting with any accuracy, but the voting patterns change every year in amongst the ‘political voting’ of the UK and Ireland ‘always vote for each other’.

Perhaps I should talk about Eurovision with reference to Brexit, but that can wait for another day. Tomorrow is the annual opportunity to celebrate Europe’s shared love of tacky pop music. I did have a speed flick through the Semi-finals, my pick for this year, (I’m usually very wrong, but have been right once or twice) is Moldova. I think it has all the traditional and modern elements of a good Eurovision song needs and is performed with class. and light entertainment for all?

Let the show begin!

 

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Small is Beautiful

I’ve never liked living in a city and they do seem to be getting worse, in that their livability is falling. Increasingly the way cities function makes less sense, yet generally people are still moving into them. I have lived in probably all the main types of ways of living in Britain: Rural idylls, Small towns, Commuter Towns / Suburbs and Large Cities. Choices about where to live now seem to be a conflict between where people want to live and where work demands that they live. Work has become more demanding so we need more leisure time to re-charge. The problem is that this whole system of living and working at distances is now unsustainable in that not only is it unpleasant and environmentally damaging but also unnecessary.

It seems to me that I and many other people are basically harking back to how things used to be. I still feel that the Brexit vote was largely an expression of frustration with life getting harder in Britain an a yearning for more sensible times. Yet that sensible structure is still available but it is surprising how economic forces are not supporting it, making the UK less and less productive and efficient. To me if society were to realise that small towns are not only my living preference but are the answer to the general problems faced in the UK and possibly globally too. The general problem is that we spend more and more  time and money simply travelling around on ever more congested transport systems to do everyday life, largely because we are able to do fewer functions in our localities. Centralisation is limiting choice and making every more time and money expensive.

Small towns have one of everything someone needs to be able to do what they want and need to do on a daily and weekly basis and be able to walk everywhere to do it. Then longer distance transport is optional, to do once or a couple of times each month: for desirable entertainment, shopping, business meetings or to visit friends or relatives. So a small town has one of everything, a supermarket supported by independent shops for food needs, a medical centre, a school, a sports centre, a pub and an arts centre (which doubles up by being a cinema, venue, nightclub and group meeting space), a work-space and somewhere for young people to get involved with useful projects. This is what all towns used to have and you rarely needed to leave them unless you wanted to.

However most small towns, suburban centres of cities and commuter towns have lost some or all of these facilities, which means travelling to access these services. So people end up travelling to work, travelling to do their shopping, driving the kids to school, driving to the cinema, driving to the gym (largely as they don’t have space to exercise at home), basically driving or catching public transport to do anything outside of the home. So really where your home is isn’t important anymore as you don’t live there by choice (except in the rural idyll). Which is basically living as if in the rural idyll, but instead with pollution, traffic noise, not having enough space to do more things at home and stress and more time to get to the nearest centre to do other functions as they are ever further away without the advantages of the rural idyll (like no internet and getting snowed in in the winter <sic>).

Generally people have been complicit in this. My generation has known that there is an awfully big world out there and been frustrated with how slowly things came to our towns and tradition is great but not if it’s the only thing. So what people did was look forward to going to places where a wider range of things was available and driving to them wasn’t all that horrible or time consuming and was simply a nice change to everyday life. This then took vital money away from the local suppliers to the big centralised chains, we ended up travelling more often,which led to the local services closure. These closures meant that you could no longer do as many daily life functions in the small towns.

I used to think it was just me being different. My local bookshop never had the book I wanted to read, so I had to order it and wait a few days or wait until our next trip to the big city and revel in being able to pick the something I wanted off the shelf, which really was a thrill! I rarely want a “Top 40” record or a latest “Bestseller”, I have oddly shaped feet and the local show shop would rarely have shoes that fitted me or offer zero choice in what kind of shoe to wear.  I became vegetarian at the age of 15 and needed ingredients not available in my town. we would have to wait months for the latest films to make it to our cinema with all the pops and crackles of film run though a projector too many times. People seem to want their urges satisfied now and are not prepared to wait.

I also used to think it was just us lot in deepest darkest Wales, in a very small town (2000 people) a good hour and a bit drive to anywhere significantly bigger,  that people in the bigger small towns at least had some choice, or even something other than going to the pub on Fridays nights to do and then we had to share the pub with all strands of society of every age group [which is very nice really, I really don’t get why people like to go to bars where everyone else is similar to themselves all the time, isn’t it just a little dull?]

Yet, it wasn’t just me, perhaps everyone pined for choice and getting things now, to not just have one option all the time. To be able to see the bands you wanted too and not put up with whomever happened to come our way. However that pining for choice often wasn’t seeking alternatives for other these people, it was seeking the trendy, the latest. Perhaps people didn’t want to put up with the ageing creaky seat of our cinema and they wanted a big hole to put over-priced popcorn in like they do in the U.S. of A we’d seen in the movies,  to be deafened by Dolby Surround Sound on an even bigger screen. Perhaps people wanted what them people in the big towns and cities were having, even when it the same things available in every big town and city with no quirky uniquenesses and not actually any better than what we had, but it was perceived as being better somehow. People maybe lost the appetite for putting up with a strange Eastern European arty film because that was all what was on that night and want to choose the film that everyone else seemed to be viewing at the time. To desire a centralised one size fits all of false choice of fifty shades of grey, when really having the choice of one of two bright colours is a much more enriching choice, say a Bollywood film or a Hollywood film.

However, perhaps this same reaching for standardisation and centralisation has affected the world of work too. Perhaps people are not happy working to serve a local community but rather be a small cog in something more global. Perhaps people don’t want to produce a service in much the same way as the service in the next down down the road, but reap the economies of scale, even if that means paying for the privilege and not actually being better off at all at the end of the day. This has meant that instead of playing a role in decision making in small business, to have a decision making role involves working in the big office in the big city.

The problem with going to work in the big city is that everyone else is also going to work in the big city now and the big city can’t cope with this. The big city quickly runs out of housing and its transport networks clog up with people travelling in and out allday. So the only livable bit of cities is the inner city, with it’s pollution, noise and teeny tiny homes. There have always been commuters, people who wanted to work in the big offices, but not live in the smaller city housing. Such commuters were generally wealthy and happy to spend time commuting in on a train. These though it’s the minimum wage people who commute in from ever further afield as minimum wage will not get you a city home. So everyone arrives to work already tired from an hour or so of stress, yet are expected to be more productive that someone after a bracing twenty minute work into the small town centre. At the moment I look forward to school holidays as then I can get to work in half the time as the roads aren’t as clogged up, so even getting to work is delayed because of people taking their children to school/ doing ordinary daily tasks.

Yet nothing is gained from all this time spent travelling while others travel in the opposite direction. we could all go back to small town living again and travel purely for leisure and it would be leisure on unclogged transport networks, or rather travel in comfort. Living in the suburbs and commuter towns now offers no advantages as the local cinemas in the suburban centres have closed so it’s into town to the overly priced multi-screen cinema showing the same film on different screens. It’s overly priced because it’s in the town centre, which now has to serve everyone, rather than just the inner city residents and it’s visitors. I remember when inner cities were cheap and grotty places to live, but thronged with young people who are the section of society that is exploring themselves and want to go to interesting nightclubs or see the latest bands every night of the week, because it’s was relatively cheap and a twenty minute walk and was rightly their playground. Now the wealthy live in the inner cities who don’t use these facilities and then have the temerity to complain about the noise from the nightclub they have just moved next to! So the nightclub is forced to close as it has less money than the people rich enough to afford city centre flats. They just use their wealth to be the minority that can walk to these facilities and in doing so force them to close. Instead of being poor ghettos, the inner cities have become rich ghettos.

It just seems bonkers to me. Why not go back to the small town system? We have the internet now, so you can order what you want and it arrives in a day or two, just like small town shops once did. You can order the exotic things you need the local shops won’t stock. You can work from home and hold meetings over the internet for the vast majority of office jobs. Even if you work in manufacturing, the costs of the buildings (the land) is much cheaper in a small town, it’s easier to expand, your overheads are much much less and even if you need experienced workers, they will be happy to move as the housing costs won’t be exorbitant and the town will have one of everything just like whenever they were before with merely a little bit of interesting cultural change. You can go the the cinema if you want a cinema experience, or stream a film at home if you want to watch that arty East European film. Lets make the places where we live liveable again! Small towns could be better than they were and we can transform city centres into accessible leisure playgrounds, wouldn’t that be nice!

What do they know of England? Only England knows

I read an interesting article in today’s Irish Times. My summary of the article is that is that Brexit has intensified speculation on what it is to be British or rather English. Indeed the Brexit debate has ostracised the different elements that make up British Society; that in England there is a recent re-awakening of exploring what it is to be a nation, which has long been silent in England. The article makes a point of hardly mentioning Wales, because Wales would make things too complicated and detract from the thrust of the article

I’m also in the middle of reading Gwyn Williams’ ‘When Was Wales?’ This book also explores the concept of nation. It seems that it is quite possible to argue that Wales, England, Scotland and indeed Britain have never really been nations in the modern sense. The concept of Britain was perhaps formed from the union with Scotland and the beginnings of the age of the British empire. Hence Britain has never been a true nation, it hasn’t had the opportunity to gain a sense of itself as it has long been the seat of empire, a global superpower which has been the primary influence on how the state of the UK has operated. Arguably the UK has only been a nation from the early 1950s up to the early 1980s, a scant 30 year generation, a nation formed glowing in the unity brought about by winning a just war, the collapse of empire and an era of discovery of who the Britons were themselves. a fortunate era of  rapid economic growth and living standards from the 50s to the end of the 60s. In the 80s there seemed to be a halt to this process of nation forming.

I left Wales when I was eighteen to go and live in England. Admittedly I ended up surrounding myself with a mainly liberal bunch. what perturbed me was that none of them identified as English and saw any identification with a nation as being a rather divisive thing to do. I found this odd because I am Welsh, I couldn’t get my head around what exactly was supposed to be wrong with being Welsh? For to be Welsh was to believe that the Welsh are anyone’s equals and to be interested in exploring other cultures. In contrast to the the sense of Britishness, formed of the empire, which seemed to regard itself as superior to anyone else. That I could understand as being a nationalism akin to Nazi Germany and something to be opposed to.

I also noticed this when what was the  Fiive nations or international football came up. I support Wales and whoever plays against England, which is a very internationalist thing to do, where everyone can be a friend. This wasn’t understood by my English friends, they saw this as somehow being anti-English and even anti-British. From my perspective England were our local rivals, so I of course support the other team, in exactly the same way as I support anyone who plays against Manchester United as a Manchester City fan.

However having spent time in England I have understood that there is a different attitude in England. Where England  is perceived as the principal representative of the UK, so Welsh folk should support the England team as such, for Wales is but a parochial regional team. Perhaps there is a wider sense that England sees itself as the most important player in the UK, whilst in Wales, we see the UK as a partnership of equals, though we are aware that often this isn’t reciprocated. Yet in any case, there was no sense of an England, England is perhaps only a collection of various regional identities that share a British identity, but little sense of what it is to be English itself.

If you look at footage from England football matches from around twenty years ago, the England supporters wave the Union Jack and not the St George Cross. it seems the supporters were supporting Britian rather than England.  Things have changed, at England games, even the England cricket team, you will see St George Crosses everywhere and only rarely spot a Union Jack. It does seem that Englishness is quite a new thing and you meet more people that identify as Englsh these days.

My perspective on these questions is interesting. I am a child of Thatcher, of a prevailing political culture that proclaimed that ‘there was no such thing as society’, culture and communities are not important, to abandon your family and community to seek work, that identity is not something of any value and is a hindrance to economic growth. So Brexit was interesting as the majority of people younger than myself, with no direct knowledge of life under Thatcher were against Brexit, yet the majority of people older than me of whom many remember life before Thatcher were for Brexit. It makes me feel very middle aged! Perhaps it is only the appeal of Brexit to the ‘English’ in that it seems to offer the opportunity for England to become a true nation, to return to identity and culture being valued, whereas in Wales, perhaps especially in regard to the Welsh language, we kind of have known for a long time that such things have value in themselves. Yet Brexit has occurred at a point of flux, during a period where a sense of English identity is still a relatively new concept. We witness the rage of the far-right English ‘nationalist’ movements spurred by hate of others, yet there is much less sign of a considered mature English nationalism.

But what is England? What separates England from Britain? This remains a difficult question to answer, for many never used to not see any difference and why the question of an English identity is problematic. It’s less of an issue from a Welsh perspective, it is easier to pin down things that are Welsh and which are British and where they overlap. Yet as a Welshman I have a dual perspective on England and Britain. To me England is the mixture of peoples and regional identities all the way up to Scotland, whilst Britain is both the shared culture of the people living across the island of Great Britain as a separate thing to the British establishment.

Ireland occupies a special relationship with Wales. I have always viewed Ireland as being our neighbours across the sea and Ireland is no more foreign than England to me. I only feel slightly foreign in uireland in the same way as I do in England. The idea of no longer being able to arrive in Ireland after Brexit without needing to show a passport just seems incredibly odd.

Having grown up under the shadow of Thatcherism, I do not share the sense of belonging to a British state and the British establishment that my parents and grandparents had that was forged in the post world war period and belittled by Thatcherite policies. Yet I feel a belonging to Wales and a sense of being a Briton. My generation is perhaps the last to have any sense of what it is to feel a belonging to the British state, it’s a force I have seen weakened as I have progressed through life.  Those younger than myself surely have very little sense of a shared belonging with the British state, it may be seen to be a relic of history and hence the notion of taking back control from the EU seems baffling. The inept directionless nature of the process of the UK leaving the EU seems but a bizarre sideshow to the the fundamentals of whatever Brexit is; and whatever it is isn’t what the majority of people who voted for Brexit voted for.

I don’t get why the calls for Welsh independence are not being more widely being taken up. Wales as a partner in the global British Empire and sharing in the  benefits and advances that come with being a part of it, I can kind of get my head around. Yet continued membership of the UK now doesn’t offer anything apart from continued neglect and sheep jokes. A neglect that will likely intensify as England struggles to come to terms with itself and which has no money or resources to invest for the future anymore in any case, that Britian is in decline is palpable every day.  The resources Britain took from Wales have not been repaid. Surely, now is the time for Wales to ‘take back control’ to find it’s own way to develop in the twenty first century. Looking across the water to Ireland we see an independent state that has done fairly well free from the shackles of the British establishment, whilst Wales remains as the poor disregarded relation of the powerful in England.

Yet the fact that ‘Wales voted for Brexit’ does suggest that there is an appetite for change, to no longer accept decline. Wales is very different to Britian as a whole and has a very different set of problems. However neither the EU nor the Britain state offers Wales the chance to develop. It is surely time for independence.

 

The Few – Billy Bragg

Posh Tea

Part of second language learning is re-exploring your first language. Through this re-exploration you come to better understand your first language, in my case English. Furthermore you start to explore how certain words and phrases have a distinctive cultural meaning away from the standard dictionary definition. Sometimes i find it very strange when second language English speakers start to experiment using these cultural expressions, it’s often very funny. I’m sure I am making some very amusing sentences in my Welsh.

A word I commonly use and was a frequent word used within my family when I was growing up was ‘posh’. However i use it slightly differently to the standard definition. My use is widely understood in Wales, but when I travel I have found it isn’t so.

The standard definition is that posh means luxurious, cultured, refined, of the upper class. However my definition is a nuanced version of this definition, with posh as needless, but enjoyable adornment, or affected ostentation.

I was driving a new car last week which had one of those automatic handbrakes, ‘how posh’ I thought. There is no need for an automatic handbrake, when new to using them it is fun to explore how it works, hence posh. Once you have got used to it it is no longer posh [my definition]. However if they remain a feature of ‘luxury cars’, then they become part of posh driving [standard definition].

Perhaps it is better explained with cups. We have a tradition of posh cups which have exquisite patterning and shape to be used with saucers of a Sunday afternoon or when we have guests around for tea. The idea is that these cups are ‘for best’ or to honour special occasions.There is a whole set of rituals involving their use, which is very enjoyable when you enter into the spirit of it. For me it is just wrong to make tea with bags to be put into posh cups. If you are going to the trouble of using the posh cups, you should also make the effort to make the best tea, which involves teapots and loose tea.

I wouldn’t use these cups for everyday as they would lose their special value, they would no longer be posh by my definition, but would remain posh. For me posh is the fun of using a pointless ostentation for the sheer fun of it. for me, the idea of using posh things everyday is just a waste. I regard it as a token of a developing friendship when you can visit someone and not be given the posh cups, but are graced with the everyday, more relaxed cups.

Thinking about it, this posh cultural tradition is dying out, people rarely pop around for tea anymore as friends and family live ever further apart geographically. My parents and grandparents generation were given several posh tea sets when they got married and everyday tea sets by their close friends. They carefully stored these tea sets, away in the attic, but keeping an everyday set and a best/poshest set. As wedding gifts they were highly valued and usually the very best set was stored away, maybe to be got out if the Queen happened to pop around.

A friend of mines mam recently decided to tidy up her attic and got down box after box of tea sets. A tea set being a posh teapot, a posh cake stand, tea plates, cups, saucers and a sugar bowl [though why anyone would befoul tea with sugar is beyond me]. She was minded to get rid of them, however, there are thousands of these tea sets in peoples attics, you can’t even give them away to charity shops for the shops have so many,  they are ‘too good’ [posh] to be thrown away and too posh to use as everyday cups. So she carefully cleaned them, wrapped them up and put them all safely back into boxes and returned them to the attic, ‘you can deal with them when I am gone’ she said. I get this, my fathers attic is also full of various posh tea sets and I remember well how much value was placed on them by my parents and grandparents, they could remember who had bought them each particular tea set even after fifty years. My point is that these posh things have no monetary value, posh is not equivalent to expensive or good quality, as I said, it”s needless adornment for special occasions.

The thing is that people and especially children break tea sets. I have smashed a fair few in my time, this is fine  and they become chipped and worn through use anyway. So when a tea set loses it’s posh value it is thrown away to be replaced by an exciting new tea set from the store of posh tea sets. Some tears are shed for the old tea cups that have faithfully served the family for years. In my family when a tea set was changed it was such an event in the family, to change the vessels of our cups of tea to new colours and new shapes! The trouble is that a posh tea is a rare social even these days, so in the course of life, people get through a lot fewer tea sets.

These traditional Welsh tea ceremonies, with their teisen gri (Welsh cakes), posh tea sets  and unfathomable family tea etiquette are not well known outside my native culture. There have been countless times when I have used the word posh and people haven’t grasped what I was saying. It’s only now, reflecting on my English that I notice such these things.

I haven’t found a standard definition of posh to refer to special occasions. Regular use of posh things, or visiting ‘posh’ places quickly lose their value with over-use and even so, you would miss out on all fun and diversity of everyday things. There are ‘posh people’ who are wealthy enough to use posh things everyday, but they have posher things for their special occasions. There are also those ‘trying to be posh’; who purposely buy and use posh things everyday to create some false mark of class. However these more standard uses are quite removed from my use of posh.

The things have the quality of being posh as a noun, but poshness is relative. When somethign is used on those rare occasions it is posh in use, as a verb. But with overuse, it loses its value as different to the everyday and is no longer posh in use.

It is difficult to understand a language from books. It is through listening to lived experiences of the subtleties and nuances of language that deeper meanings can be appreciated. However, when I looked up the Welsh word for posh in a dictionary, it came out with ‘swanc’ much like the English word ‘swank’.  Swanc just sums up my understanding of posh perfectly. That posh/swanc is a relative term for occasional ostentatious behaviour.

 

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.

 

For some examples, listen to some: Welsh Rap,  Welsh Country or just revel in some strange Welshness. Mwynhewch/ Enjoy.

 

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?