Tuesday 22 November 2016

Thinking outside of the box with our cousins on the mainland

If we think “they” are peculiar, “they” must think we are. But if “they’re” doing things differently it’s worth a look, isn’t it?
Here are a few interesting anecdotes:
When there was a shortage of petrol in the Republic of Ireland they insisted that motorists purchased a minimum amount of fuel not a maximum. It reduced the panic buying.

The Dutch will carry cash around and leave it so it can be easily found in a house. This stops the would-be robbers / burglars destroying you / your home.

We use drinking chocolate as a bed-time drink.  In France it’s used to wake you up in the morning.

We try to eat “five a day”. The French try to eat “ten a day.”

On German public transport it is customary to give up seats to children – they’re less able to stand on swaying trams than adults.

In Holland you are rarely invited to eat at someone’s house. Maybe for coffee and cake, or perhaps beers and snacks.  For a full meal you’re invited to a restaurant.   

The Spanish rarely capitulate and speak to you in English. The use a lot of gesture and a bloody-minded intent that you should understand. Magically, it works.  

There are probably many more examples. If you know of any, add them to the comments.

And an aside. Lord Kerr of Kinlochard has claimed that we need immigrants because Britons are “bloody stupid”. That’s a tad harsh. After all, I’m not stupid and neither are you if you’re reading this even if you don’t agree with me. However, when Martin and I went out for afternoon tea – one of the gifts from my colleagues when I retired – every single worker except one at the 5* hotel was from another EU state. We had excellent service.  The one British worker was fine. Nevertheless, that hasn’t always been my experience, even in 5* venues and I’ve often found myself thinking “They need to take a trip to the continent to see how it’s done.”

Let’s learn from each other.  Remember my guy who replaced his spear with a bow and arrow?     

Thursday 10 November 2016

Peace in our time?

What a curious few hours and days. On Tuesday evening I was doing that which gives me the most hope; singing with my choir. We worked hard. We are taking part in an event on Saturday with Honour Choir. I sing with them too. We got through all of the songs we’ll do then and also of the Christmas songs we’ll do at the Ideal Home Exhibition the next day. Hard work but exhilarating. We could stop worrying for a little while about what we might find out the next day.    
My friend / colleague (I’ve published him twice and we sing tenor together in two choirs tough I’m tenor 1 and he’s tenor 2) Chris Bowles  has written some words that reflect the lives of woman during World War 1. These will be in our In Remembrance concert. In my Schellberg cycle I look at the lives of German women during both world wars.
My protagonist, Clara Lehrs, book two, spoiler alert, constantly says; “Things are going to get better soon. They wouldn’t do that would they? People are too good.” No, Clara, people are not that good. They would do that. They did. Things got worse not better. She was murdered at Treblinka, after beint tranported to Theresienstadt on 22 August 1942.

Do you recognise a pattern? They surely won’t vote to leave? They surely won’t vote Trump in? They did on both counts.
A big aim of the Common Market was to secure peace within Europe. It sort of worked. Yes, we bitch and squabble, and naughtily flout the rules when it suits us, but come the bomb, chaos in the USA, and terrorism escalating we would have pulled together. We still could. We are, whether we like it or not, family.
So even more puzzling that Fareham and Basingstoke voted leave. They have strong twinning ties and one of the joys of these have been joint concerts. Each group brings its own repertoire and rehearse as well together. So, some of us, some of them, and some of us together.  I’ve been involved with such activities in both towns and their French and German twins. It works so well. It feels now as if they’re slapping some of my good friends in the face.
Good old Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, London, Northern Ireland, Scotland and some pockets of Wales.              
Can we sustain that peace if we’re out of the union? And doesn’t the world, Europe and we ourselves need us in Europe even more firmly in view of what has just happened in the States? The timing of it too, just as we remember what has happened in major conflicts throughout the world and in particular on mainland Europe.       

Friday 4 November 2016

The British People – who are they?

So, the legal challenge has been successful. Parliament must be consulted as Brexit is triggered. There has of course been a reaction and again and again the phrase “the will of the British people” is used.

There are several points to be made here:
1.      The “British people” are actually a bunch of mongrels. We’re more European than most people living on the mainland in that we are more mixed than they. Fascinating island syndrome.   
2.      48% of the people who “voted” in the referendum do not want Brexit. So how is it the will of the British people?  And incidentally, learn your Latin. A referendum is not an election. There’s a whole debate to be had there but perhaps not on this blog.
3.      Not everyone who was eligible to “vote” voted.  
4.      What about the ex-pats? They’re still British people.
5.      As are the young people who weren’t quite old enough to have their say this time. I’m a baby-boomer. Please don’t shout at me. I have a T-shirt that says “Don’t blame me, I voted Remain.”  I apologise for the behaviour of my peers. Forgive them. They didn’t enjoy the education in matters global that some of us offered you.   
6.      And here’s a controversial point. What about those other EU nationals who pay taxes and live here but who can’t vote or have their say in referendums? Maybe the EU doesn’t go far enough. What about the principle of no taxation without representation?  

It all comes down to compromise and that more or less works in a normal election process. It doesn’t really in a one-topic referendum.

I’m a bit of a Buddhist and I’d say let’s go for a third way and suggest that that might be creating an EU that works even better. Let’s keep what works well and let’s find out what the Brexiteers don’t like and see if we can put it right. Let’s stay friends.            

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Becoming more European via The Netherlands

We were privileged to live in the Netherlands for almost two years 1988 – 1989. We were in an expat situation – which also had its merits – but I’ll concentrate here on the European experiences we had.  

Although our children, aged six and eight at the time, went to a British school and socialised with a lot of other English speakers, including going for sleepovers, because we lived a long way out they also mixed with the Dutch children in the neighbourhood. At first the Dutch children tried to help them be speaking English. Our children did have Dutch lessons at school but the Dutch have a slightly strange attitude to their own language. Why should they expect anyone else to speak it? So, they use English as a lingua franca and their own language as a secret one. Not so much the children though – before long the Dutch kids were speaking only Dutch and so were ours though they didn’t realise it.

“Why can’t the kids at school speak the extra English like we can?” asked my son soon after we returned to the UK and he’d tried to speak Dutch to his friends at school.

Great excitement, too, when both of my children heard a little girl counting in Dutch in the English playground as she skipped.

It wasn’t just the language, though. It was other things we learnt as well. We were able to look at a different but equally valid way of life. I’ve written here the first ten examples that spring to mind. There are many, many more!

1.      The Dutch royal family go out on their bikes at the weekend. Could you imagine ours doing that?
2.      Bikes anyway. All those cycle paths. The bike is a little like the holy cow. The flat land helps, of course. But it has been made really safe there and is certainly extremely healthy.
3.      The cycling proficiency test is very strict.
4.      Swimming is taken very seriously and is part of the national curriculum. Children are taught to fear and respect water and deal with it effectively. Not a bad idea with all of those canals …
5.      Banking was years ahead. We’ve just about caught up to where they were then.  
6.      Great ways to create birthday treats for the kids. Again, we do it now but we didn’t then.
7.      Four day evening walking events for young people in the summer.
8.      If you invite friends round for the evening you’re only expected to provide coffee and cake followed by drinks and snacks later.
9.      Always have cash on you and visible in your home if you’re away. This can stop you being robbed violently.
10.  You can have a garden delivered on a tuck in the summer and no one will think you’re a slacker.  

All of those things, and the many others* changed us forever, even though we were there for such a short time. We could never be exactly the same as before. We cherish our right to call ourselves European.      

*I’ve thought of three others as I’ve written that last paragraph but I could go on forever.