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.

 

The Future – We’re all in it together

This is perhaps the craziest general election the UK has yet had. Never before have we seen such swings in opinion polls during the six week campaign period. Never before has support swung around Labour and the Conservatives, making it seem like a really binary choice again. It has also been another election to decide an internal matter about the EU within the Conservative regime.Yet it is again a negative campaign, stoking a fear of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour against a fear of Theresa May’s Conservatives. The mantra has always been towards me to vote Labour to get the Tories out for the sake of the country, no matter how poor the Labour party is So often British democracy has failed it;’s people and returned woeful UK government.

The difference this time is Corbyn. On one side there is not another slick soundbite machine or voice of a professional PR unit. Corbyn is a genuine principled politician, who only accidentally ended up as leader of his party and that is very rare these days. Yet he is a leader of a party so blinded by the mantra of electioneering that they have not supported their own leader.

In England there is no alternative, so if you live in England, vote Labour.

However we have an alternative in Wales in Plaid Cymru. A party with principles and a good leader. The Labour party in Wales has not delivered for Wales and have not supported Corbyn against the the far greater threat of continued Tory misrule. In Wales we can vote for a united principled party that has the best interests of all of this nation at heart, not just the bits that happen to historically have backed the Labour party. A vote for Plaid Cymru, isn’t a compromise of settling for keeping the harmful Tories out, but a vote for a positive outward looking future.

I know not everyone is convinced yet and in Britain we are so used to this voting for the least bad evil. This needs to change too. We desperately need a proportional voting system, to enable government to get decisions right, to find a working consensus, to not leave minority groups decide on future direction.

This is what the party stands for. Not seeking separation or division for the sake of it [?], but to tackle the systemic problem of why our government always gets things wrong. To seek change that will change the system for good so we get the right decisions for our communities and our economy. That does mean greater autonomy for the Welsh government, but also greater accountability. It means electoral reform. It means a return to looking at how wealth is created by our society, rather than as a product of diminishing society.

In the UK in the last decade there has been growth in GDP of the UK economy. However, the people of the UK (apart from a small capitalised elite) have seen our spending power fall. The proceeds of growth are not being fairly shared. We need to change this. The political system is not delivering for the people of Britain, yet this is precisely the role of the political system.

In a democracy, if you want change, you should vote for it, rather than accept an unhappy compromise of things perhaps not being as bad as they could have been. We need to look for positive change.

TO give a practical example. The health service. The NHS in Wales is not efficient, because it has no spare money to invest for the future. It’s inefficient because it employs agency staff as doctors and nurses at a higher hourly rate than those directly employed within the Health Service. These health care workers travel long distances to get to where they are needed each day.

The solution to this is not to stump up more cash to maintain this system, but to change it. If we can train more Doctors and Nurses in Wales, then the number of potential Doctors and Nurses in Wales will increase. If those workers then find they can live a comfortable existence and raise families, they will stay in the areas where there skills are required. The problem has been that there has been no investment in staff or future staff provision. Importing workers from outside of Wales, at great cost, instead of investing for long term sustainability. Of course trained staff are free to go and work wherever they want to, however we shouldn’t perpetuate a system where such workers feel they have to move elsewhere to work even if they don’t really want to.

 

Regular readers of this blog, they will know how much i write about the perils of seeing things in binary terms. It is just two overly simplified ends of an issue. If the other end exists, then this one end can never be wholly right. The question is always about finding that fluctuating balance point somewhere along the line. Binary political systems where you have to vote a specific way to keep the other lot of extremists out is just wrong. You should always be able to vote for your first preference without doing so risking your worst option getting in.

The level of debate, spin and misinformation at this election has been appalling. As indeed it was for Brexit. Surely, now is the time for some form of proportional voting system, to save the UK from itself. How much longer must we choose between two parties we don’t like.

The recent swing towards Labour in the polls and the big squeeze on support for the other parties has put me for the first time in my voting life in a marginal seat. This time it may make a difference which of the two binary options I vote for or if I choose to vote another way. The other way being a kind of rejection of the choice of a lesser of two evils.

It is a dilemma. Elections should be about building a national consensus, not dividing the country between two extreme visions and leaving one lot of extremists in total control for 5 years, a tyranny of a minority group. What else is this election but a battle between polar opposites for the moderate voter and the non-political voter. Of course neither of these two parties want to discuss proportional voting systems because they’d rather have the opportunity of power, which a big part of the problem and why modern electoral systems strive to prevent one party tyranny.  There is massive support for proportional voting in political circles, it is what the UK needs more than anything, more than Brexit, more than reducing net immigration, because it allows a country to use democracy to make the right decisions, build consensus and start making the right decisions and allowing for real long term investment in the future, to not leave one specific type of people in charge, we need government to work for everybody

The whole UK election process is very disheartening. I do favour Corbyn much more than May, even if only because he does honestly answer questions, rather than avoid them and change their view from one day to the next.  We do need the Tories out of ultimate power based on minority support. It would be nice for someone with principles to lead the country, rather than yet another political careerist. Corbyn  is coming from the right place, broadly he wants to fix the worst aspects of the UK economy, and he does seem to be prepared to compromise on areas where his views are not well supported. So if you do live in England, vote Labour!

Of course we in Wales, as in Scotland, have another choice, other parties to vote for, who believe in the importance of consensus for society in general. So if you are in Wales, vote Plaid Cymru on Thursday.

 

 

Unity, not division

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

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

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

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

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

Strong

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

Stable Government

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

In the National Interest

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

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

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

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

Being British

I survived and indeed thrived in a week doing everything in the Welsh language. Dw i’n wedi blino iawn ac mae fy ymynedd wedi toddi [I am really tired and my brain melted]. The most amazing thing was I now know that it is possible to live in another language, which is incredible for someone who was monolingual for so long. More on this nes ymlaen [later on]. Sorry I’m still thinking of saying things in Welsh before the English! It was also lovely to spend a week away from the UK general election and finally get around to visiting some of Edward I’s castles in North Wales.

Disturbingly, the first thing I noted was an opinion poll putting the Tories on 40%. Huh? . This just makes me feel so sad after a week in a really positive community. Have people really forgot what being Welsh and/or British is?

You don’t really know your connection to your country until you live away from it for some time. Long enough to pine for the things you love about your home. Most of the time it is just the native sweets and chocolate that aren’t available worldwide, but it’s also other things like: church bells, proper chips, cask ale and cider, the incredible naffness of the screech of the wheels of a Pacer train going around a corner, Indian restaurants, the National Health Service, the 2p games at the seaside, afternoon tea, BBC Radio,  the bizarre but lovable traditions that have been maintained and the general sense of what somehow holds British communities together.

Yet, all these cool things about Britain are under threat, not by immigration, not by the EU, but by this continued obsession with right wing corporatist government, placing the interests of a wealthy minority above everyone and everything else. I do think that the vote for Brexit was simply an expression of the frustration of losing the things we love and a sense of helplessness about it which found expression with Brexit. But why oh why oh why are people turning to the Tories, the very people who caused the losses and the people who continue to perpetuate them?

Wales is different to the rest of Great Britain, which is made up of so many diverse communities, but we have so much in common. I am Welsh and Wales has it’s own history and peculiarities, yet so does England and Scotland. We should not get bogged down by what is different, but simply celebrate our diversity and enjoy living amongst so many communities in such a rich and varied island. We should never accept a single definition of beimg British.that there is only one way of being, one economy to prioritise or only one language we should use.

It is time for the people of Wales and the rest of Britian to just wake up and look around at what is happening to our society, to be Indy Curious and seriously think about autonomy for Wales, to be open to new possibilities. Why stick with the Tories? You don’t keep taking things out of communities to give to those already wealthy and put nothing back into the communities that generated the wealth: closing schools, closing hospitals and community groups struggling for resources are signs of failure, not signs of success. To use a farming analogy, you don’t keep growing crops out of a field and put nothing back into the soil and then wonder why your yields get worse every year, you nurture the soil, you put fertilisers back into the soil, you put back into the soil what it needs to enable it to produce food. It’s exactly the same thing with communities, you plough back in investment, you improve services for the future, to enable those communities and their economies to thrive. This is what Wales badly needs as do communities all across Wales, Britain and indeed the whole world.

Yet, Theresa May rabbits on how much she says she cares about unity and the United Kingdom, when in reality her policies will continue to cause harm to the things she claims to care about and then has the gall to attack those groups who are fighting for their communities.

To advocate an independent Wales is not about seeking separation or  being somehow anti-English. I seek autonomy for Wales because what Wales needs is simply not being provided by UK government and there is nothing to suggest that this will change anytime soon. I love Wales and I love Britain. I want Wales to be able to look after itself to survive and thrive, just as I want other communities in Britain to thrive. With autonomy Wales would be empowered to work together with communities across Britain, to share ideas and re-build British communities. Seeking Welsh independence is the most pro-British thing that there is. I want every community to succeed and to achieve that means helping your own community first. Supporting the Conservative party is about division, taking away power from communities and giving it to the rich multinationals. There is nothing wrong with large corporations, but they just have an unfair advantage at the moment. A large supermarket chain can force out local butchers and other local businesses, whom are often more efficient than the big corporations.

So, lets wake up Wales and the rest of Britain, let’s take on the spirit of Owain Glyndwr, who rose up against the oppression British communities by the English establishment. It’s time to really take back control and stop voting for this lot of corrupt Tories. It’s time to work together to preserve the traditions of Britain and embrace the future with open hearts.

1280px-Glyndwr's_Banner.svg

The Flag of Glyndwr

Coal not Dole

Sometimes you just want to scream. In Britain the media is awash with various talk of competing Nationalisms, stoked by the issues of Brexit and Scottish independence. Public figures make announcements that we should be more or less European, more or less British or more or less Welsh. This is further complicated by each of these nationalisms can be either of two things, civic nationalism and imperialist nationalism. More often than not, the debate centres around distorting what each of these things is, to confuse and blur the issue, to distract from working out what will actually make things better. Perhaps the truth is that is is simply wrong to try and change your identity or who you are, there is no sense in it and there are never purely binary things and we are all different soups of various identities anyway.  Lets get on with something more useful.

Brexit, Scottish, or indeed Welsh independence represent choices. In recent times such choices have been subject to referenda. The problem I have with all the argument and political horse play is that the supposed public discourse has centred around national identity. Really such discourse is not about identity at all, such choices should be made on a rational weighing up of complex economics to choose which is the best option.

If Brexit is the better option than remaining in the EU, great,  I do hope that it is as this seems to be what is happening, the result will be that things get better rather than the worse. However I am not assured at all by what has happened since the vote, because hardly anyone is talking about how it will makes things better. It’s the same with Scottish independence, if it makes things better, then great, do it, if maintaining the UK is the better option then we should do that and make it better.

Then there is the two nationalisms thing. This has really complicated many of the farcical debates we see in our media. Actually I think this is just a manifestation of the old left right divide, the two political wings view patriotism is radically different ways.

On the left is Civic Nationalism, where a nation is defined as all the people who live in a society, with all their various diversity. Civic nationalism argues for equality to give everyone in that society an equal chance and to make things better for everyone.

On the right is Imperialist Nationalism. Here there is a predominant sub-culture with the society and everyone should have an equal opportunity to join that sub-culture, which then expands and thrives at the expense of those who refuse or are unable to join. The pre-dominant sub-culture declares that it’s view of the world is patriotic and if you don’t subscribe to those views you are a traitor.

Hence the left always argue for more support for those that do less well than the majority. If that group thus supported  does as well as any other then no increased support is required. Whereas the right argue that they these minority groups should just join the dominant group and should have no special favours for being different.

coalnotdole

So, why the title, ‘Coal not Dole’. I was up in Ebbw Vale this morning and decided that as I was nearby, to finally get around to visiting the Big-Pit museum. It is a really good museum. The museum is a preserved working deep-pit coal mine, such mines were very common in the South Wales Valleys when I was growing up, so I was keen to have a look inside. The highlight of the visit is a trip down the mine in the company of a former miner to the coalface. The guides both explain how the mines worked and give an insight into what working down the mines was like with great humour and wit. If you visit Wales, I highly recommend a visit and it is in a crazily beautiful part of Wales, well apart from the modern open cast coal mines near by!

Being down in the pit, in the dark, seeing the cramped conditions where people used to spend all day working in dusty conditions, makes you realise what a horrible job working down the pits was. However it also makes clear how mining communities, really were communities, fostering really strong companionships between the miners and their families. My family traditionally were farmers and the farming community, pales into comparison as farming is often a lonely job  and traditionally the only time for socialising was on market day. Farming requires dependence on yourself as you are often miles from the nearest person, whereas mining requires reliance on others for your safety. This is a large part of the reason why farmers tend to be conservatives and miners socialists.

My point is we have national identities as part of our individual identity make-up and identities are stronger where there is a sense of comradeship, solidarity and working together for a common cause.  The mining communities built fantastic civic structures, such as libraries, male voice choirs, brass bands and chapels. Hence the mining communities had a very strong sense of their identity as miners, being a miner was their primary identity.

In the 1980s, the UK government decided to close down the mines. To the miners, this was an attack on their primary identity, so of course they were incredibly angry about it. A massive series of strikes were held, under the banner of the National Union of Mineworkers, which produced the ‘Coal not Dole’ badges; or it is better to work, even deep down in a coal mine than be looked after by the welfare state, which was the effect of the government policy. Today, Blaenau Gwent has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, the effect of that decision is still felt over thirty years later. The miners knew about mining so they should have been listened to, rather than those in their Ivory towers in London.

I can understand how people do feel passionate when their identities are attacked. However with Brexit and Independence, identities are not actually under threat in the same way. I know some people do feel that their British identity is threatened by Scottish independence, or their European identity by Brexit, but I feel that they do not quite understand what exactly identity is. These identities are not being threatened and they are not going to disappear. People in Britain will not be less European after Brexit, nor will Scotland no longer be part of Britain after independence. Britain will still be a set of islands off the North West coast of the European continent and Scotland will still be a part of the British Isles and they will still form part of our identities if they are parts of our identity now.

This is why I don’t get this whole binary argument that you must be for one identity over another. It’s a huge distraction from the difficult task of predicting the future and trying to work out how to make things better. The way to make things better is to make the political institutions better, the Welsh assembly, the UK government or the European Union. All of these institutions could be vastly improved and we need to ensure they do make things better, by being accountable to the communities their decisions affect, rather than winning some pointless argument about identity.

The Olympic Games, #TeamGB and women on the telly

The Olympic Games is on in Rio, they are a wonderful televisual feast of sport. I thought I would document some of the reasons I like them.

TeamGB

Having a Great Britain [and Northern Ireland, so really it’s team UK?] team in itself is odd. For almost every sport, there are separate teams for the nations of Wales, Scotland and England. So the Olympics is even more different to sport as usual for people of the British Isles. Some people don’t like this, one reason is because it can mean the highest ranked sports people in a country may miss out on an Olympic spot as the British Olympic committee only funds so many athletes for each sport and this creates frictions between the sporting bodies, even though I think it’s generally done reasonably fairly. For example in one of the Judo classes, there was a real battle between a Welsh lady and and an English lady for the spot and by a narrow point margin the Welsh lady got the opportunity. A second reason is that there is an intense sporting rivalry between the nations of the UK, so team GB, in say the Rugby 7s, is made up of players from all UK nations, but often mainly drawn from the English team. This was really really odd, because the rugby rivalry is so intense, it just seems wrong to put this aside for the Olympics, I did but there has to be representation from all countries for this to work, which doesn’t necessarily produce the best team.   The team is usually the English team with the odd Scot or Welsh person, who will not be used to playing together and may be used to playing in a different style. The Rugby 7s was particularly odd this time, making it’s debut as an Olympic event.

Generally, I don’t like major, well covered sports being at the Olympics, as they get enough coverage and exposure in the media anyway. the Rugby 7s was hugely enjoyable, The ladies final was a hugely high standard and hugely dramatic and in the gentlemans final, my support for Team GB actually only lasted about 2 minutes, as Fiji were just immense and sometimes you just have to stop and applaud such a display of skill.

However for other sports, it’s simply nice to be able to come together to support fellow British and Irish athletes, to forget for two weeks the politics and rivalries within the UK, to enjoy the sport. Major sports like Golf and Football, I don’t approve of Olympic inclusion, because, they are well supported anyway and I regard the Olympics as a vehicle for the promotion of sports that struggle to become a regular part of mass entertainment.

The sheer niceness of it being Team GB, rather than Team Wales, presents three levels of support. Nonetheless, in each competition, I end up supporting someone. I support Welsh athletes first and foremost then the rest of Team GB, but also competitors from all over the world. I just like the sense of the world coming together to appreciate top level sporting competition and the sense that as supporters we are also part of the team, freed from national affiliation, you can enjoy the sport without nationalistic fervour pulling the heartstrings. I don’t know if this is the same for people from other countries that don’t compete under the banner of a union state. Really it’s simply good to see the Union Jack being waved for a positive unifying reason for a change.

The Sport

It’s great to see sports you have interest in, that you wish were higher up the media agenda some involvement in and the top athletes getting world-wide exposure. It is also super to see other sports getting the exposure too, even if I can’t move beyond finding Dressage rather silly. The Olympics is really good for these sports, encouraging new participation and inspiring people with what dedicated humans can achieve.

There is something special about the broadcasting element of having experts in a sport on the telly explaining what is going on to a largely ignorant public. You can watch sports you take zero interest in for four years. what broadcasters do if is give some back story to the events and the individual competitors, so even if you don’t know the sport, you can get involved in witnessing the emotional journeys.

Women

Generally, I am so pleased that both gentlemen and ladies compete  with equal billing for a change. Womens sport generally plays second fiddle to the men, but there is no real justification for this. Yes, elite men can run faster, jump higher pull harder, throw things further and lift heavier things, but that isn’t really very interesting. There is just as much skill, tactics and drama in sports of both genders and fortunately the broadcasters largely respect this, if only for the Olympics, if only it would happen all the time. It is sad that sometimes, some male broadcasters don’t reveal that they haven’t quite got the equality idea.

Being a heterosexual chap, I actually, much prefer the womens events at the Olympics. So, really, whatever gender you are attracted to you can get behind athletes you are attracted to. The female preference, primarily simple because there are so many really pretty women and I just like athletic competitive women, but also that women suffer a lot less from this ‘don’t show your emotions’ nonsense, that is drilled into us men as children, so as a spectacle, the women show much more how they feel about their performances. Yes, I want the attractive women to do well and feel with them, but it doesn’t stop me appreciating the skill demonstrated.

I know I do find generally seem to find different women attractive to most men. It’s so refreshing for all sorts of women to gain exposure for showing off their skills in the same way as the men. Though it does make me feel frustration that in many other fields it is only ladies who are perceived as attractive by the masses who seem to get to be in the media. We still live in a world where talented television presenters disappear after they reach a certain age, which doesn’t happen to male presenters. Really I just like the message getting out there that you don’t have to be thin, have huge breasts to get exposure.

Welsh and British, but not European

The UK EU referendum didn’t seem to be really about UK membership of the EU. In many ways it should have been a rational assessment of the the benefits and costs of continued membership of this organisation. However it is difficult to isolate a single issue like that from it’s context. I have read about people describing the campaign as about identity politics, about the end of Britishness, the end of the UK; with Scotland, Northern Ireland and indeed Wales, leaving the union. The campaign has left a very divided confused Britain, in part due to the those under my age being strongly for remaining, whereas those older than me being largely for Leave. It is arguable than in a few years as the population ages, such a campaign would never again be won by Leave.

It does seem that people of my age are on the cusp of this generational divide. My parents were the post second world war baby boomer and the younger generation are the millennials. Perhaps the key difference between these two generations is the second world war. I am a member of the last generation who was able to talk to people who lived through the Second World War, to have had conversations with former soldiers who fought in that war with my grandfather. My grandparents retained lingering prejudice and suspicion of Germans, because they were the enemy and they saw the destruction of British towns and cities wrought by German bombs. However my generation and the one behind me, have no negativity towards Germans.

I have always described myself and Welsh first and British second. It does seem that this identity is on the wane. When I was growing up at international football matches, Welsh supporters proudly flew both the Union flag and Y Ddraig Goch, English supporters almost exclusively flew the Union flag. Here we are in footballs Euro 2016 [and Wales are in the semi-finals, WOW! Dewch ymlaen Cymru! Dan ni’n enill yn erbyn Portiwgal!] where the Union flag is very rare amongst Welsh supporters and equally rare amongst England supporters, who now fly the St George’s Cross. My English friends of my age, described themselves as British and didn’t really understand my pride in being Welsh. In Welsh circles it was often discussed that the English didn’t understand their own identity. However these days, there is a sense of the English understanding that they are English or have some other identity, such as British Muslim.

Going back again to my parents and grandparents. Whilst they rooted for Wales in sport, they retained a support for England when England were playing a non-home nation [the Home nations are Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland]. I think it was the sense of unity that came from the war, of working together for the good of the country, which no-one really talks about nowadays. This was the generation that saw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), the Welfare state, had jobs for life, a generation that invested a part of themselves in the nation state.

Now these national institutions are under attack, the sense of identity of being British with the NHS. I have grown up with Thatcher and a generation of politicians that grew up under her influence, which has divided the nation of the UK between North and South, which has encouraged economic individualism. Instead of a uniting identity, my generation and the millennials, generate their own identities, based on who they are. It is this generation that positively identify with being European, in a way my grandparents would never do. There is no sense of identity with the British government, people generally don’t see the Prime Minister as our leader as once people did. My identity is with the people who live on these islands, not with those who govern it.

Personally, I do not identify or feel European. I appreciate that I come from a European culture. However I have been lucky enough to be able to travel around the world. Most of my experiences have been outside Europe. So I identify myself as more a World citizen than as a European citizen. The other issue is language. As the UK is an English speaking nation, we have and continue to grow up heavily influenced by North American culture. Yesterday  the USA celebrated it’s independence day from the British. British and Irish people have this dual outlook that is both towards America and continental Europe, that is not perhaps shared to the same extent by other Europeans. It is sobering to think that the British may soon no longer exist as a socio-political entity. I will always consider myself British, though a long standing attachment to England, Ireland and Scotland and the subtle differences between mine and these nations. However if the UK does indeed break up, this sense of a cultural Britishness may also fade.

This sense of Britishness is actively threatened, as there is a division between those who see non-white British origin people as apart from everyone else. This talk of identities has awakened racist abuse and attacks. Yet in the metropolitan towns and cities particularly, people are aghast at these attitudes. This has come to be symbolised by the animosity over this last week between Bremainers and Brexiters. All this on a day before the publication of the Chilcott report, which will hopefully clear up whether the UK did indeed join the US to invade Iraq in 2003 under false pretences, with no coherent plan. A conflict that was a catalyst for the rise of terrorism from groups like ISIS, hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths and suffering, that did not bring about the peace that allegedly justified that war.

I am sure the Brexit vote aftermath will continue for some time. However at least tomorrow, we can forget about it and be carried away by the excitement of the football!

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?