A Taste of Italy

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The biggest thing that struck me having just returned from a holiday to Rome, Italy was the food. I’ve been eating the best pasta, pizzas and probably far too much ice cream, the ice cream was amazing, so many interesting flavours to try. I’ve also been noticing a completely different cultural attitude to food. I did go to Rome and wanted to see the sights, which meant being in very touristy areas much of the time, yet feel i was still able to have a brief glimpse into a very different world. Italians love food in a way that the British don’t. The difference seems to be finding out where is good, rather than the British attitude of where is okay.

I think there is a  hugely different general mindset at play. The Welsh are sometimes described as people who don’t like to make a fuss, whereas the Italian understands the importance of making a fuss, of not tolerating avoidable crap. Generally, we don’t eat out very often in Wales, when we do it’s either out of the necessity of being away from home or to celebrate a special occasion with friends. We kind of accept that food will often not be that great, but have developed ways to not let this spoil our time. We kind of have the attitude that we are sure the cooks are doing their best, but are just not very good and that we shouldn’t blame them for that. We may even go back to the same establishment if it wasn’t too bad. I don’t think the Italian would do this, they would make it clear that the food was not up to standard and never go back. Essentially in Britain we have fewer ways of maintaining standards of good food.

Even in the supermarkets though the food is good. There are only small sections of crap processed food, whereas in Wales our supermarkets are mainly full of crap and finding the good stuff is more of a challenge.

Coffee is of course a big thing in Italy. It is difficult to find anywhere that does bad coffee. It’s also reasonable priced: 90c for an espresso or €1.50 for a cappuccino, provided you take it at the bar and not pay double for ‘table service’, compared to £1.50 for an espresso and around £2.30 for a cappuccino. Britain is just crazy, yet the interesting thing is the absence of the big international coffee chain cafes in Italy. The reason being that the chains could not compete with the independents or Italian chains.

I think that this is because of a different attitude in the countries. I get the impression that Italians take a pride in providing a service, of providing good food and drink to make their customers happy, rather than purely driven by profit. whereas in Britain there often isn’t this pride and the food sector is viewed purely as financial interactions. So if a business can get away with lower quality and hence reduced costs, then they will.

I love independent shops, they are more interesting and provide greater diversity. However so often in Britain some independents don’t care about service, whilst others do. Local people will support a good independent business, however some people and often seems to be the majority, don’t care about quality and will use poorer local businesses if more convenient. In Britain we seem to prefer convenience to quality. The difficulty for independents is that visitors have no idea which independents are good and which are not. The good independents will generally not be on the main shopping street as they can’t afford the high rents, so struggle. Then when the chain coffee shops came they dominated as the visitors like the chains as they know that the product won’t be too bad (better than a bad independent. Basically we are too tolerant of rubbish and we should be more Italian about food and drink.

When I was in Napoli (Naples), where there were a lot fewer tourists I got a lot more of a taste of the real Italy. Food was cheaper and generally better quality. Perhaps the less demanding tourists allow some drop in quality in the touristy parts of central Rome. It may be partly due to the warm climate, but Italians do seem to enjoy going out and eating out when they can. Instead of eating at home and then going out to drink, Italians go out to eat and drink. There seems to be more cultural mixing in Italy, rather than people settling in into their favoured pub, with a clientele similar to themselves, which is what happens in Wales. In Napoli whole families socialise out in the streets and seem to establish long term relations ships with the establishments they particularly like.

 

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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.

 

The Lights that Blind

Often on this blog I’ve highlighted the importance of diversity, that we as humans are all different and we have differing needs, that one size fits all approaches never work. So, I wish to discuss a very disturbing recent development with cars, that has failed to respect diversity.

In recent times there has been a trend towards ever brighter lights on cars. I used to think that it was just a few modders not considering other motorists, but they seem to have become standard on many new cars. I am talking about Xenon and LED lighting.

The idea behind these lights is that they are more energy efficient (which is great) and enable the driver to see more with there headlights (which by itself is also a good thing). However such lights dazzle other road users. Technically this is illegal:

UK Highway Code Rule 114

  • use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders

However this rule is as far as I am aware never enforced and there is no upper brightness limit in law, so dazzle is defined as being subjective. So if I experience dazzle then technically a vehicle with these lights is illegal. Yet nothing is being done about this!

It’s all of the lights on a car thus fitted, which does cause problems:

Headlights

More powerful headlights allow the driver to see more and may decrease some accidents. There has always been the problem of headlights at night causing reduced visibility to on coming drivers and drivers have developed strategies to cope with this. However when the brightness is increased the danger of decreased visibility to other drivers is increased which may increase accidents. There is a balance to be achieved here. However there is no mechanism in place to ensure the safest balance is achieved.

Day Running Lights

What is the point of these, other than to dazzle other drivers? They offer the driver no increased clarity, merely decrease other drivers vision.

Rear Running Lights

These are essential at night so other drivers are can be aware of other active vehicles. However, dazzling the car behind doesn’t help anyone. Most rear running lights are not too bright until brakes are applied

Rear Brake Lights

Perform the vital role of signaling following drivers of braking, that the car is slowing down and that the driver may have spotted a hazard ahead. However id they are too bright, as many of them are now, they dazzle the following drivers, causing them to be able to see less, which has no advantages.

Stationary Brake Lights

When I learnt to drive, the importance of Handbrake – Neutral was drummed into me. This action switches off the rear brake lights, mainly for safety in a collision but also to stop dazzling the driver behind.

Now, sometimes, we are lazy and we hold our cars on the foot brake. This didn’t cause dazzle problems for most people as the lights were not overly bright and on older models of cars the lights were lower down on the car body, more importantly below eye height, so the light wasn’t directly in the centre of the field of vision. This is an increasing problem as most drivers where I live have dropped the Handbrake – Neutral action when stopped temporarily and more worryingly some modern cars which switch the engine off to save fuel when stationary keep the rear brake lights burning holes in following drivers retinas, well give us sun spots anyway. The problem with this is that the following drivers eyes adjust to the bright light, so for a while afterwards their vision is dimmed, which has safety consequences.

So how did we get to a point where new cars are not designed to be safe?

Part of the issue is that we are all different and have different light sensitivity. I raised this issue with friends and colleagues and most people don’t find these brighter lights dazzling or a problem, even though their vision is still dimmed. However I realised that I am not alone, there seems to be a significant minority of people who are more light sensitive, for whom brighter lights are more dangerous.

Remember we are all different and even see the world in different ways. For example, I didn’t realise quite how prevalent various forms of colour-blindness are. So the needs of the light sensitive should be taken into account when designing and regulating cars on the roads.

There doesn’t seem to be any action on this front. I wrote to the government and they are not even looking into this issue. The difficulty is that the car manufacturers lobby governments for minimal regulations, as surely the market will regulate for safety as it is what drivers want.

However, in this case, market forces don’t work. If your car dazzles others it doesn’t affect you as driver, all you see is your slight improvement in visibility, the negative effect is suffered by other road users. But other road users have zero influence on your choice of car and it’s lighting. Having a really bright car that is more noticed may mean that there is a decreased chance of other people running into you, however when all cars are overly bright this advantage is lost and everyone is left with overly bright cars and the roads are overall less safe places.

It is simply dangerous to not consider the needs of others, especially when no wider advantage makes up for the loss of a particular minority. Everyday I witness inconsiderate driving that may cut a few seconds off someones journey only to slow down everyone else. What is more disturbing is when these issues are built into the cars themselves.

There is a potential solution. Driving spectacles have been developed to reduce light glare. Basically they have a yellow tint which filters out the UV/ blue light spectrum which reduces headlight dazzle. I’ll have to check these out!

 

 

 

Anghyffreddin

Mae byd yn anghyffreddin y dyddiau hyn. Mae llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig yn anghyffreddin ar hyn o bryd. Dw i’n anghyffreddin fy hunain. Mae tywydd yn anghyffredin, mae’n rhy poeth, fedra i ddim meddwl, cysgu neu wneud rhywbeth arall, dim ond chwys.

Dw i’n anghyffreddin achos dw i ddim licio tywydd poeth. Fi sy’n bobl y gaeaf. Yn arfer mae’n wych i bod bobl y gaeaf yn Gymru achos dw i’n hapus mwyaf o blwyddyn! Y prynhawn ma wnes i eisiau tu allan a sefyll yn y cysgod i darllen llyfr, ond mae’n anodd achos dw i angen diod, rhywbeth i sefyll arna, hyflif haul,  geiriadur gymraeg, ffon symudol, jyst gormod o stwff i cymryd i bell i barc yn dillad haf heb lawer o bocedi. Felly wnes i aros yn fy nhartre a darllen o blaen peiriant gwynt (fan?). Dywedais i bod dw i’n anghyffreddin.

Mae’n llawer o ethygl ar y flog ma am bod yn anghyffreddin. Mae bobl anghyffreddin yn babl arbennig. Rwan Medra i’n siarad am bod yn anghyfredin yn y gymraeg hefyd!

Llifo

Mee gen i syniad am sut i sgwennu yn Gymraeg yn y flog ma. Clywais i yr gair llifo yn can ar y radio noson. Felly, pam llai ymarfer defnyddio y gair newydd i helpu dysgu fo? Medra i sgwennu am gair newydd bob dydd a dysgu geiriau newydd i fi. Galla i sgwennu barddoniaeth efo’r gair newydd hyd yn oed.  Felly, bant a fi:

Llifo. Mae’r afon yn llifo. Mae’r bobl yn llifo. Mae pobl yn llifo tua’r afon tra yr afon yn llifo heibio’r bobl. Pethau eraill yn llifo hefyd. Mae syniad yn llifo. Mae meddyliau yn llifo. Mae meddyliau yn llifo pan dw i’n treulio amser yn amyl yr afon yn llifo. Llifo i lawr, llifo yn gryf, llifo yn dawel trwy’r tywyll o’r nos. Yn llifo drosto fo.

Beth ydy llifo? Dw i’n meddwl am dwr mwyaf. Ydy meddyliau a syniad fel dwr? Mae breuddwydion yn llifo ac yn debyg dwr hefyd. Mae ymynedd ei amgylchynu gan dwr a fy feddyliau yn teimlo fel ganddyn nhw dwr o gwmpas iddyn nhw hefyd.

Weithiau mae llif yn aros a  rhai amseroedd arall mae llifo yn gadw llifo. Llifo.

Trio meddwl yn Gymraeg

Dw i wedi bod yn meddwl am dechrau defnyddio y flog ma yn y gymraeg. Dw i wedi bod am siarad am lot o gwleidyddiaeth yn diweddara. Mae siarad am gwleidyddiaeth yn anodd iawn am iaith dysgwr achos mae geiriau gwleidyddiaeth yn ymddangos llawer o bethau gwahanol i bobl gwahanol. Felly mae bobl darllenwr hwn fydd yn ddryslud iawn a fi bydd yn ddryslud iawn hefyd.

Dw i ddim yn siwr pam wnes i dechrau efo pwnc gymhleth. Dw i eisiau trio siarad am beth bynnag dw i meddwl. Lle ydy llun hyfryd o cathod i siarad amdani pan dw i eisiau?

Dw i’n eitha newydd i meddwl yn y Gymraeg. Weithiau pan o’n i’n siarad neu sgwennu yn y Gymraeg dw i’n ansicr os wyt i mewn cymraeg neu saesneg neu y ddau! Dw i’n wedi cyrraedd i meddwl am i golwg o geiriau gymraeg mewn cymraeg, na cyfeithiad o saesneg. Ond iawn, dw i’n dal meddwl hanner yn saesneg. Dryslud, mor dryslud.

Dw i’n meddwl os unrhywun yn medru deall beth dywedais i, dw i ddim yn siwr fy hunain! Efallai, dylwn i trio ysgrifennu barddoniaeth, Bydd hi’n haws na hon. dw i ddim gwybod lle i dechrau. Dw i’n teimlo fel myfyrwyr ysgol cynradd yn trio wneud y gwaith cartref saesneg….

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.

 

 

Binary School

Some people get the whole being smart and wearing a shirt and a tie thing and some people don’t. I am one of those who don’t. The best answer I was ever given was that on relevant occasions you should wear a collar and tie for the people who do get it and think it’s important and these people were family, so I learnt the times when it was expected, when you had to.

The other night I was listening to a radio discussion about the old chestnut of school uniforms. What was interesting was that instead of an advocate of no school uniform against  an advocate of school uniform, one of the protagonists argued for a balanced position, the other for strict uniform.

There is very much a middle position on this, a sensible compromise, so i was very much on the side of the gentlemen who argued for the  middle way. The most practical argument for school uniform is that it is cheap for parents to kit out their children in a school uniform. However there are educational arguments too. On the one hand it teaches that there are occasions when you represent an organisation other than yourself that you are required to dress in a particular way. On the other hand it helps children develop style, by which the child can make decisions on how to wear the uniform, which usually involves some rakish way of wearing the tie.

The gentlemen arguing for strict school uniform argued for no adornment, no jewelry, which seems overly harsh. When I was at school you were allowed one earring per ear, one neck adornment and one bracelet per wrist. Many children at my school wanted to wear more than this, but that there was a compromise, enabled compromise. It allows experimentation with style without the onus to take things to an extreme position.

I very rarely wear a suit, but I do see men who do wear suits stylishly. These gentlemen have a tendency to be Italian, it is indeed rare for me to see people in this country pull off a suit well, yet people seem to persist. I always imagined that this suit wearing thing was just old-fashioned and by the time my generation had grown up, the practice would have fallen by the wayside, but it hasn’t. Enough people still expect people to dress a certain way. Really it takes some effort to get away from these stereotypes. For example I have a bright yellow high-vis coat. Whenever I wear it, I can almost disappear in a crowd, I become unnoticed, I’m assumed to be working. rather than being myself.

Yet there continues to be a dark side to all of this. Particularly women for whom the rules are so much more complex, especially if they are in a public facing role. There have been cases of women being asked to go out and buy high heels for roles that involve traipsing up and down stairs. I have been in a situation where a female host was escorting me in high heels, which is daft and I just felt really uncomfortable.

I get the idea that when you are working you are not supposed to be stylish or express yourself. You are there to be the organisation you are working with, so you wear the uniform to blend into the background, so your personality doesn’t distract from what you are doing. However does this really have any meaning in most modern organisations, as surely we are usually trying to attract peoples interest, to be novel rather than bland?

The middle way is interesting, as those with a developed sense of style seem to have a lot of fun, like children with school uniform of doing just enough to blend in and just enough to stand out. These are the skills that a moderate school uniform helps develop. I at least get school uniform now. I am coming around to the idea that style in clothing and fashion in general is about this finding a reaction to recent past styles, to conform to where things are whilst expressing a difference in a new direction. After all being able to express yourself is important for your own well-being. The difficulty with style is that there are those few who are naturally really thoughtful about it and have a well developed sense of style , whilst people like me blunder around shops wondering how on earth to replace my tatty old garments. You have to wear clothes, it’s too cold most of the time, so having some sort of style is unavoidable and people will make judgements about how you look. So, it is really important that as a society we do what we can to help young people explore this and school uniform does seem the best way of doing it.

Boxes on Wheels

At the risk of being the instigator of the classic afeared conversation starter at a party:’What are you driving at the moment?’ This leading to a conversation about cars you are desperate to escape from. A lot of people are interested in cars and I don’t really get it, I am one of those people who view cars as a convenient and often necessary way of getting around. Really, the lines of traffic all going the same way just suggest to me that it would be simpler and more efficient having a comprehensive public transport network. However public transport in the UK at least is rubbish and the solution the world is heading towards is self-driving cars, which isn’t a terrible idea.

Cars have two big advantages, you can go where you are going quickly when you want to and you can choose a car to suit you as an individual. This choice of car has led to massive design efforts, marketing development and driven technological advancement, notably in fuel efficiency.

The thing is, with cars, like most other consumer products, makes me feel like an outsider, rarely do I feel that anything is marketed at me; I’m a white male , this shouldn’t be happening to me! What I require from a car is simply comfort, but I include in that having a semi-decent stereo. It just seems that there is huge amounts of development of unimportant features and comfort is only considered as an afterthought. I’ve about to move to a city again with a new job, so until I find a new place to live, I’m lumbered with up to four hours commuting every day. Anyway, on my car, one I’d picked for comfort, the windscreen wipers broke, so I left it at a local garage to fix and was given a courtesy car. The courtesy car was one of them superminis, just really uncomfortable for a tall chap like me. What I noticed was how much it drank petrol, due to a really low gear ratio. What this made me realise is that I have a preference for medium size cars. I have this preference because beign a rural person most of my journeys are over an hour long, the nine hour drive from Mid Wales to Fife in Scotland was a regular thing when I lived in Scotland. So perhaps this is why I value comfort, ease of driving over long distances and fuel efficiency. However I can see the point of a low gear ratio supermini, they are great for driving around cities: they are nippy (you can change lanes  and turn tight corners quickly and easily), the low gear ratio makes them really efficient  at sub 30mph driving and they are easy to park. Having a medium size car it’s always frustrating driving between 25 and 30mph, not quite fast enough for 4th gear but inefficient in a high revving 3rd gear. So, my courtesy car was great getting out of the city, but hopeless on the 45 to 60mph cross country drive.

I’m not a terrific driver but I do enjoy it, when I’m not stuck behind something (so I only have to worry about my own driving and not the person in front of me) it’s just nice to be able to have the excuse to listen to the radio for extended periods. I do like the idea of self-driving cars, but it will utterly change what we do on journeys and should radically change how cars are designed, once the need for humans to take over from the computer is eradicated. This worries me because, at the moment I can find a car that suits me and how I drive, simply because there is so much subtle diversity in makes and models of cars. However I fear that once the marketeers take over and a possible end to the owner-driver model (I imagine a system where most of us will effectively use driver-less taxis), that cars will become less comfortable and my needs will not be catered for. Us rural types have it bad enough in being ignored in most technological advances, we still don’t rely on 100% mobile phone signal coverage. Indeed rural people need cars to survive in a way town and city dwellers don’t; because urban dwellers have most needs near-by and public transport for medium to long distance journeys. Yet, as I have written in the past, even cities are getting harder to live in as shops become more spaced out, I even read somewhere that housing near supermarkets is more expensive.

It’s just the whole marketing of cars, still seems to be largely at men, about features and image, completely irrelevant things to me. However I have spent my life not being part of the market, always finding the things I like at the fringes, in the small independents. Actually, my new job is really strange, it’s the first time I’ve ever worked in a proper office and I sit in meetings discussing marketing campaigns, I have to rely on doing lots of statistics to discover what customers apparently want, rather than any innate ability to know what the majority of customers want. It’s such a different world as is the world of commuting by car. In the past I’ve always managed to find ways of either using public transport or even walk to work (that was so nice).

‘Starman’ 1947-2016 RIP

Let the children lose it

I was very sad to hear of the passing of David Bowie this morning, an artist I love whom has helped me understand this crazy world that little bit better. Listening to his music helps me feel that it okay to be perturbed by the world, that it is positive to let go and get angry at the world sometimes. Bowie was perhaps the most popular artist for all the outsiders of the world.

Let the children use it

I have also been heartened today by the outpourings of admiration and mourning of Bowie, by so many people. I simply wasn’t aware quite how many people’s lives Bowie has touched with his music. Bowie wasn’t a simple artist, he commented thoughtfully on so many aspects of life and he has helped lots of people use those reflections to make sense of their own lives. Bowie was, for an outsider, immensely popular, because the majority of people are outsiders in many various ways, so people used his music to help them understand that it was okay to be different and more importantly to openly express those differences. Really, it’s been a wonderful where all the fans and appreciate just how many of us there are of his music have been able to share their thoughts

Let all the children boogie

Of course, it wasn’t just the artistic expression of facets of life that made Bowie one of the true greats of rock music, it was the music itself. Bowie’s music whilst innovative still had great tunes, great bass lines and is music one can return to again and again and feel free to dance and fully embrace the music. Like how as people after reflection upon ourselves, confirming that we are ok as people, we can let those troubles go and have a good old boogie.

I was very lucky to see Bowie in concert in Seattle, USA, to dance to the music I grew up with on the other side of the world, in another country where their were many other people who shared in the Bowie magic.