All entries for December 2006

December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Ok, I’ve been up for 31 hours now and th room is gently rocking… which is nice, at least it’s not violently spinning.

Anyway, Christmas Day in Japan is nothing like it is in Britain which is why I heartily recommend it to everyone. Hoo-and-indeed-ray!

As they say over here…

Merry Christmas!

Easy language.

December 22, 2006

Holly's Musical Charts 2006 – Albums

Well, it’s not been a year rammed full of earth shatteringly amazing albums, but it has been quite good, and there were at least two albums which really should be heard by everyone as they pushed the limits of what can be sneaked into the charts these days. If nothing else this list shows three things:

  1. Indie is not dead. It is still diverse, still interesting, still relevant and still good.
  2. Girls. One good thing to arise this year has been a wave of female fronted (indeed, some female only) bands who have brought something new to the table.
  3. Dance and electronic music is no longer dead. Rap however isn’t looking too good and is capable of much better. Gnarls Barkley aren’t rap. Nor is Lily Allen.

Top Twenty Albums

1. Muse – Black Holes And Revelations

At first it seemed like Muse had dropped the ball, gone too far and not far enough at the same time, that their fourth album was a little lacking. But these were the sort of songs which didn’t go away, which stayed in your head until you had to accept that they were up there with Muse’s best, and up there with the best of the year. From the adventurous madness which fuelled ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ and ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ to the heaviness of ‘Assassin’ to the Depeche Mode gone gigantic of ‘Map Of The Problematique’, it was all beautifully put together, and worked better and better with each listen. It also deserves credit for bringing the trumpet back into music without utilising it for ska purposes.
Best moment – “No one’s going to take me alive!” from ‘Knights Of Cydonia’.

2. The Knife – Silent Shout

The sort of album which could easily get lost in this modern age and its microscopic attention span, Silent Shout at first listen sounds like someone throwing a pile of synths down the stairs and then allowing a girly voiced mad woman to screech over the top. Not good in other words. But after five listens it sounded like someone throwing a pile of synths straight at your soul and then allowing a girly voiced mad woman to conjour up inspired and sometimes cuttingly intense lyrics. Anyone able to give it the time was well rewarded by a dense but rewarding album which took all the tricks electronic music possess and turned them to new purposes.
Best moment – ‘Forest Families’s twinkly first verse and the line “They said there’s a communist in the family/I had to wear a mask”.

3. Delays – You See Colours

Swirling indie sounds with a shot of disco bass and synths, Delays took a leap forward with their second album. Rather than rehashing the swooning sounds of their debut they beefed them up taking their harmonies and chiming guitars to that most unlikely of places – the dancefloor. The more chilled out tracks still manage to be a step up from the normal jangly indie offering thanks to the passion they are performed with.
Best bit – The moment the digitised bassline kicks in at the start of ‘Valentine’.

4. CSSCansei De Ser Sexy

Bonkers Brazilian pop coming across like the result of a bizarre attempt to crossbreed Girls Aloud with Le Tigre and a huge bucket of assertive smut. Unashamedly flirty, flighty and possessed of better lyrics than a lot of bands singing in their first language (like the gloriously foul mouthed and silly ‘Meeting Paris Hilton’) it may not have been an album to change the world, but it didn’t want to be. This was a party album you actually could put on at a party and have no one wanting to skip a single track.
Best bit – The seductive and saucy sneer of ‘Alala’s first refrain.

5. Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home

Long awaited and worth it when it arrived, this is what could have happened if Britpop’s two best bands – Elastica and Pulp – had had children. Intelligent pop music, played out with a thrift store glamour which informs a lot of the best music to come from Britain. They make the small things, singing about A roads (‘Sperated By Motorways’), 1960s actresses (‘Lust In The Movies’), and bedsit evenings in (‘Giddy Stratospheres’), sound like major issues, and in Kate Jackson have a truly charismatic and distinctive vocalist unafraid to be a bit of a star.
Best bit – The sexually ambiguous lyrical sting in the tail of ‘Once And Never Again’.

6. Brand New – The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me

Whilst the music world seemed entranced by My Chemical Romance’s move away from identikit emo, it was once more Brand New who pushed the boundaries of American rock. Often lumped in with the emo movement as they don’t seem to fit anywhere else, Brand New are a considerably more complex proposition, contrasting passages of almost inaudible quiet with roaring guitars and vocals. Lyrically brooding and atmospheric, it’s late release means it will be unfairly overlooked by a lot of end of years surveys.
_Best bit -

7. Ladyfuzz – Kerfuffle

Mates with Bloc Party and displaying the same level of inventiveness across an entire, debut, album, Ladyfuzz were the surprise package of the year. Unexpectedly good at churning out mind invading hooks, both musical and lyrical, they were unjustly overlooked despite being able to conjour up little gems like ‘Bouncy Ball’ and ‘Oh Marie’. Never likely to set the world alight but they make their little corner of it more fun. They also managed to write the best German language love song I’ve ever heard.
Best bit – ‘Bouncy Ball’s lyrics. And bounce.

8. Seafood – Paper Crown King

Back to the noisy indie rock after a chilled out last album, Seafood continued to entertain indie kids and have no impact on the mainstream. All this despite more of the same in the best possible way, more melodic noise, more angst battling with optimism in the vocals, more big songs exploding through the speakers. They called one of their tracks ‘Between The Noise pt.2’. Part 1 being their entire career before then, of course.
_Best bit – When ‘Between The Noise, pt.2’ roars into life.

9. The Gossip – Standing In The Way Of Control

When the NME went for the unexpected and declared Beth Ditto the coolest person in rock they were looking for a response more than anything else. The music might not yet be chart topping but at least their confrontational disco punk was more coherent and interesting than some of the ‘cool’ crap which was found elsewhere in the poll. Bush baiting from the heart of Bush country, it’s message was delivered to the dancefloor.
Best bit – The staccato chorus of the title track.

10. The Organ – Grab That Gun

Possibly the most indie record in the list, sad women singing sad songs about empty lives. Derivative – stealing tricks from the Smiths, the Cure, Interpol and a load of other post punk bands – but the quavering voice of Katy Sketch came across as so honest, so emotionally raw, that it cuts through any thoughts of other bands, if only for the duration of the album. ‘Basement Band Song’ is a rare example of a band describing themselves perfectly. And then they split this month. Typical.
Best bit – Identifies itself, the line in ‘Brother’ where Sketch laments “Here’s the best part of the song/Where I admit/That I am wrong”.

11. The Futureheads – News And Tributes

Edging forward from their debut, The Futureheads continued to plough their own route through indie. Although most of the album stuck close to their jerky indie template, but they ventured into heavier stuff (‘The Beserker’) and more reflective stuff (the heartbreaking Munich 1958 eulogy which is the title track). No great advance, but in field of one The Futureheads succeeded by not stagnating.
Best bit – The harmonies in the chorus to ‘News And Tributes’.

12. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I Am Not

Too obvious? Well sometimes there’s good reason for the hype, sometimes the hysteria has good cause. I’m not the only person I know who doesn’t listen to this album as much as others from this year, but when it does go on, or tracks from it appear on random play on my computer, the inventiveness and lyrical brilliance come across perfectly. More than anyone else they are creating a portrait of Sheffield in 2006 using monsterous riffs to fool people in wanting to dance to it.
Best bit – The lyrics. Pretty much all of them.

13. Howling Bells – Howling Bells

Dusty desert rock sounding like it was played by a bunch of vampires, what is it with Australians, like this lot and Nick Cave, and their gothic imaginings? Less terrifying than Cave’s serial killer schtick, Juanita Stein sounds like she’s stood on the porch of her outback house watching the listener arrive on her patch, fresh meat for her surreal twilight land.
Best bit – The guitar work on ‘Setting Sun’.

14. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones

The two halves of Karen O continued their adventure in sound. Brash, confident Karen strutted through tracks like ‘Gold Lion’ and ‘Phenomenon’ elbowing aside her rivals for the spotlight, each whoop and squeal as articulate as the expanded musical palette her bandmates had brought to the table. But this was bettered by sensitive Karen who managed to match the magisterial beauty of ‘Maps’ on the equally vital ‘Cheated Hearts’.
Best bit – “Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound”, ‘Cheated Hearts’.

15. Pendulum – Hold Your Colour

Drum and bass came back with a vengence this year, and Pendulum were at the forefront. They pissed off purists by going for the most populist, obvious sort of drum and bass, which as we all know is the type that can be enjoyed by anyone, not just people off their faces on pills. Epic and heavy, sometimes playing to the crowd is the best plan. The fact they were also responsible for the best Prodigy song in a decade. Nuff said.
Best bit – Any of the drops.

16. Metric – Live It Out

A more intelligent take on wiry indie, Metric didn’t always go for the safe otion of verse-chorus-verse. Showing one of the best uses of quietLOUDquiet dynamics this year, they managed to sound both sweet and menacing at the same time which is no mean feat. And then, just to prove they could, they would throw in the occasional uncomplicated pop song. Like any generous band would.
Best bit – “Stop for the love of God!” ‘Monster Hospital’, sounding genuinely imploring.

17. Hope Of The States – Left

Still taking the epic stylings of post rock, but this time using them in a more indie, more accessible way, no five minute epic instrumentals to open up (this one was just over two) and no more enormous codas, but HOTS would still throw in every instrument and the kitchen sink. The sound of desperation on record, not an easy listen, but rewarding enough if you try. They’ve split now, dammit.
Best bit – Hard to pick just one from the melee, but any which involve the violin kicking in the beef things up were good.

18. Nicky Wire – I Killed The Zeitgeist

The non singing bassist from a band who had gone a little off the boil… it was never really going to work was it? Nicky Wire’s solo album couldn’t have been anything other than a disaster, could it? So why was it the shock of the year? Why di he completely ditch the bass guitar? How did Wire manage to find the top guitar riff from ‘The Shining Path’, and the rather sweet bounce of ‘You Will Always Be My Home’? And he did all of this without losing his occasionally tortured, often impressive lyrical streak. The biggest shock of the year.
Best bit – When the guitars and drums in ‘The Shining Path’ lock in together.

19. Forward Russia – Give Me A Wall

The drummer thought she was in a funk funk band. The guitarist thought he was in an art metal band. The bassist thought he was in heavy rock band. The singer wasn’t entirely sure where he was but he had some At The Drive In records and they seemed like as good an idea as any. This really should not have worked (on some tracks it didn’t) but there were a fair few awesome tunes on here which made up for the filler they were carrying with them. Unfortunately a few were lessened by being produced differently (i.e. slower) than the demo versions.
Best bit – The squiggly synth halfway through ‘Thirteen’.

20. The Dears – Gang Of Losers

Stripping back their lavish orchestration in favour of a more direct indie rock may have sounded like a bad idea but The Dears had more to them than that – incisive, sometimes bitter, lyrics and a new found sense of urgency, this was a surprisingly in your face record which tackled racism and heartbreak with equal panache. Less in thrall to their inspirations too which was a good thing.
Best bit – ‘Death Or Life We Want You’s ghostly middle eight.

21. Stellastarr* - Harmonies For The Haunted

I ranted about this earlier in the year when the NME gave this album a shockingly bad review on the basis it wasn’t by the Arctic Monkeys. It was a stupid decision by them then and it remains such as this still sounds like a bloody god example of American indie rock, unambitious but interesting. It was still a matter of how much you could stand the singer’s voice, but I liked it, and the wall of sound behind him was always good.
Best bit – The start of the album, woozy paino and guitars all building up to a crescendo.

22. Hot Chip – The Warning

If dance music was dead (and let’s face it, it wasn’t looking its best) then few could have imagined that sensitive indie geeks would be the ones to drag people back to the dancefloor. Hot Chip located the emotion in electro and pushed it forward, bolting on inventive beats and some unstoppable hooks along the way. They told no lies either, with them repetition was good.
Best bit – “Every year, about this time of year”, the vocal in ‘Careful’ kicks in.

23. Datarock – Datarock Datarock

Lewd indie dance shuffling from the Scandanavians. Anyone who calls a song ‘Nightflight To Uranus’ is not taking anything seriously. Anyone who does that and then uses their opening track to announce “BMX is better than sex” is really really taking the piss and the only response is to smile and go along with it. It’s uncomplicated fun which will not change anyone’s life but will make you want to move your feet a bit.
Best bit – “BMX is better than sex!”, ‘Bulldozer’.

24. The Young Knives – Voices Of Animals And Men

Packed with potential, like Maximo Park two years ago, The Young Knives have made an album which should make any record label want to nourish them and give them all the time they need to develop. What shows through are songs which sometimes reach giddy heights of brilliance – ‘She’s Attracted To’, ‘Here Comes The Rumour Mill’ – and showcase an acute lyrical sense as well as some wonderfully taut riffs.
Best bit – The almost literal lyrical punchline to ‘She’s Attracted To’.

25. Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis

He’s back and it suddenly seems like the end of Pulp was one of the worst things to hit the music industry in a long time. Less glam and more brooding musically, but the old wit was perfectly intact and he produced the usual blend of the amusing but relevant (‘Fat Children’) with the timeless but pertinent (‘Big Julie’). Like stepping into a world of kitchen sink dramas.
Best bit – The hidden track. Wait for it.

December 21, 2006

Holly's 2006 Musical Charts – Tracks

The 25 Best Tracks Of The Year… In My Opinion!

1. The Knife – ‘Marble House’
Impossibly beautiful slice of electronic magnificence, turning cold synths into captivating rush of emotion.
“When we are both alone/Then we do both agree/We have a thing in common/This was meant to be”

2. Muse – ‘Knights Of Cydonia’
Over the top, insane, and completely brilliant, how can extravagence be a criticism in Muse’s case?
“No one’s going to take me alive/The time has come to make things right”

3. Delays – ‘Valentine’
Euphoric disco meets melodic indie in a bittersweet rush.
“I heard the last night on earth is for living”

4. Voxtrot – ‘Mother, Sisters, Daughters And Wives’
Twinkly but powerful track which explodes into allsorts of unexpected lush shapes.
“With our hands, and our fists, muscles, skin, thumb, and bone/We never grew up, we were cut from the stone/That holds your body and soul”

5. Nelly Furtado – ‘Maneater’
It didn’t sound like the old Nelly Furtado, but it did sound like the perfect dancefloor song.
“She’s a maneater/Make you work hard/Make you spend hard”

6. Ladyfuzz – ‘Bouncy Ball’
Best lyrics of the year, and a jerky, danceable indie bounce.
“The ball has changed her social status/She lunch, she brunches/And nobody hates her”

7. CSS – ‘Meeting Paris Hilton’
Second best lyrics of the year, bolted on to a thunderous tune made for singing along to.
“I said do you like the beach bitch?”

8. Forward Russia – ‘Thirteen (single mix)’
Faster and more thrilling than the album version, it could so easily have been a mess, instead it’s urgent and vital.
“The politburos will expect their free lunches/And all the prison guards rely on their hunches”

9. The Young Knives – ‘She’s Attracted To’
Driving guitars and an amusing story encapsulated in a song which leads to the best middle eight in ages.
“You were screaming at your mum and I was punching your dad”

10. Gnarls Barkley – ‘Crazy’
There’s a good reason this was ubiquitous this year, epic yet simple and expertly done.
“Come on now/Who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are?/Hahaha, bless you soul”

11. Justice vs Simian – ‘We Are Your Friends’
Simple but brutally effective invitation to the dancefloor.
“We/Are/Your Friends/You’ll/Never/Be/Alone again/So come on!”

12. Snow Patrol – ‘Make This Last Forever’
The album wasn’t amazing, but on this track they managed to combine their old edge with their new stadium ambitions successfully.
“The weight of water, the way you told me to look past everything I had ever learned “

13. Hope Of The States – ‘Sing It Out’
Their most pop song, it was still a vast and experimental track in comparison with most pop.
“The signs above my head are clear to all/An underachiever but a true believer/Who never had a hope in hell”

14. The Organ – ‘Brother’
Atmospheric and over before it started, but still it managed to make an impact.
“Here’s the best part of the song/Where I admit/That I was wrong”

15. Klaxons – ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’
More indie you can dance to, this time with unselfconscious falsettos and moments of arms-in-the-air fun.
“Come with me, come with me/We’ll travel to infinity”

16. Howling Bells – ‘Setting Sun’
Dusty highways, endless skylines and a wonderful feeling of twilight… and somehow they managed this with just guitars, bass and drums!
“One more day is not enough to change the world”

17. The Long Blondes – ‘Giddy Stratosphere’
A shifting song, more complex than it seemed on first listen, which showcased one of the best voices of the year.
“Is she a femme fatale/That’s what she wants you to think”

18. Paul Oakenfold ft Brittany Murphy – ‘Faster Kill Pussycat’
Crunchy, sleazy dance music, miles away from the formula in every department, and all the better for it.
“Heaven knows I tried to let you go/I cant help myself you know I’m out of control”

19. Justin Timberlake – ‘SexyBack’
Once more something interesting and unusual comes from a slightly unexpected source, like asking a robot to sing a pop song, but awesome.
“Go ahead be done with it”

20. Stellstarr* - ‘Sweet Troubled Soul’
Overlooked unfairly, a whirl of guitars and slightly ambiguous lyrics.
“But there’s another side that I’m trying to crack/If you open your mind and let me take a stab”

21. Jarvis Cocker – ‘Fat Children’
Travelling at 100mph Jarvis offers another cutting, and funny, insight into modern life.
“Fat children took my life”

22. Pendulum – ‘Hold Your Colour’
Slamming drum and bass with decent vocals and a killer hook.
“The circle is complete”

23. Nicky Wire – ‘The Shining Path’
Who’d have thought the Manic Street Preachers’ bassist would have one of the best guitar lines of the year on his side?
“Felt the shining path/Breaking bones and shaking hands”

24. ‘Arctic Monkeys – ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
Come on, you’ve heard it! Irresistible fun packed with wry observations.
“Oh, there ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets”

25. Metric – ‘Monster Hospital’
One small steal from The Clash, one sense of urgency, one brilliant plea, one top song.
“I fought the war/I fought the war and the war won/Stop for the love of God!”

And those that almost made it: Men, Women And Children – ‘Dance In My Blood’, The Automatic – ‘Raoul’, The Zutons – ‘Valerie’, Girls Aloud – ‘Something Kind Of Ooh’, The Longcut – ‘Last Act Of A Desperate Man’

December 20, 2006

Holly's Musical Year 2006

Has it been a good year for music? Such a hard question considering how subjective the whole thing is but then again some years are regarded as, at the very least, producing a slightly higher than average number of highly regarded albums. A bad year could be one which saw an unusually high number of good acts split up or become shit.

What 2006 has seen is the continued strength of indie music in the charts and media, but it’s position seems to be becoming a little more precarious. If we consider the music industry to be essentially split between those acts which appear from bedrooms and garages (in all genres, this could equally apply to rap or dance acts as to indie and rock) and those which are constructed by other forces, then what you have is a battle. Crudely speaking, one side wants to make music, the other side makes music to make money. This does not say anything of the quality of the music, more that the former is more likely to push boundaries and the latter is more clever. When indie music started its resurgence in the early 2000s the pop industry’s response was to put itself in touch with the people via a host of TV shows, both to choose the performers, and to see them in action (e.g. the Sugababes’ TV show). It also had to think of something a bit better than drippy boybands on stools, hence the Sugababes and Girls Aloud, both of whom benefitted from excellent song writers.

And yet the internet is bringing the bedrooms and garages nearer to the audience, and bringing the independent sector to more prominence than it has had in the past. It has brought us The Arctic Monkeys and Panic! At The Disco (with Enter Shikari looking like doing the same next year). It doesn’t always work though, The Long Blondes, despite amounts of praise which many bands would die for, had to wait a very long time to get signed. Only a relatively small number of bands has broken through thanks to the internet, yet it is the media’s current obsession. It’s just the way of the media, I guess, to become fascinated by new things.

So has 2006 been a good year? Yes and no. It really does look like we’ll need a little space before we can get a good measure on this. For all the praise and, sometimes reluctant, indie acclaim for Girls Aloud and Sugababes, both have released Best Ofs this year, often a sign of impending death for any pop act. Admittedly neither group has seen other signs of imminent splitting – claiming dubious lyrical cowrites on album tracks, guesting on dance producers’ tracks as individuals, more bitch fighting than usual – from current members. GA seem to know they have fluked their way to success via a TV show, and the ease at which the Sugababes get replaced would be enough to squash most egos. But it’s hard to say at the moment if they will split. Even if they do they might come back from the dead anyway.

Acts getting back together can work (Pixies) and it can fail (The Libertines) but pop groups? Older, surely wiser? I suspect Take That’s success is a fluke, none of their revived contemporaries (which include East 17, B*Witched, All Saints) have had as much success. It’s not unfair to say that probably only the Spice Girls could sell out as many arenas. But it’s all money from record companies which could be spent signing decent new acts, or even making a decent new act should we lose Girls Aloud one of the good current pop acts. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but most of it comes with its own publicity, the Rolling Stones keep going on and on, although their seminal place in music history helps, as it does with Madonna, Cliff and others. Reviving the Vengaboys is not the same thing.

This year had a lot of potential. There were a lot of albums by bands and acts who could well get better and matter more in years to come. But with a band as high profile as The Futureheads getting dropped, it is also an uncertain time, will these groups with potential (Howling Bells, Ladyfuzz, iLiKETRAiNS, The Yougn Knives) get their chance? Or is the key to survival now to go mainstream as possible, like Snow Patrol did by smoothing almost all their quirks and releasing ‘Chasing Cars’, the most anondyne song they’ve ever been associated with?

2006 has once more watched as the NME managed to work itself into a lather about a completely stupid creation of a scene, the absurdity which is ‘New Rave’. With its best band, the actually rather wonderful Klaxons, turning out to be just a high quality indie band with a few sound effects, you have to wonder if the NME is just desperate to seem like it can come up with something new, especially as everyone else in the world is now finally bored of Pete Doherty. New Rave isn’t it. Datarock are quite good, Shitdisco have a hell of a lot to prove, and Pull Tiger Tail are very much like Klaxons in being indie not rave. This is before we even note that this year seems to have seen a major return for drum and bass, i.e. proper rave music. The purists may not like them, but this is Pendulum’s doing and they do it pretty bloody well.

It’s not been a vintage year, but there’s been good music and possibly the chance of a good 2007.

December 13, 2006

Speak English, Get Married, Vote

Follow-up to Brits Abroad from Hollyzone

Anyone see the report on the BBC last night/this morning about the cost of translations for British residents who don’t speak English? It came on the same day as criticism and critiques of the Tories latest study which seems to suggest that marriage is the cure for poverty. How can these two issues possibly be related? How can they possibly be related to my post from a couple of days ago? All three issues individually are not really earth shattering, neither all that new (the Tories and marriage), all that unexpected (lots of Brits abroad), or that surprising in context (the cost of translation). But all three are political issues and got me thinking – why are certain issues viewed as belonging to certain political ideologies?

For the most part marriage and language are seen as the intellectual obsessions, and therefore property, of the Right. Marriage is rather obviously construed as a part of the Right’s emphasis on traditional family values, whilst the emphasis on the learning of English by immigrants is portrayed as a Rightist desire to assert the traditional culture and possibly get rid of/deter some of those immigrants who might come by blocking them on language grounds. The Guardian article by Polly Toynbee, linked to above, contains amongst its comments one person who writes “Why is the left so anti-marriage?”. Admittedly this person clearly hasn’t read the article properly (it’s not anti-marriage at all) but the view they articulate is not all that uncommon. Marriage is a rightwing issue.

But none of these things should be party politics. Or rather, they should not be associated with party politics. Just because the Left is more willing to try and help single parents does not mean it opposes marriage. Most leftists would be happy to admit that they believe a family with two parents is the best way to raise children, albeit the Left is less likely to be so insistent on the parents being different genders. Somehow the public mind has concluded that because the Left is willing to help rather than demonise single parents that it is some way celebrating them. I don’t believe there is any emotional valuation here. Helping someone who must raise a child alone is not an act of judging them, it’s an act of basic human decency along leftwing principles, i.e. helping those members of the community who need help using the state. Those who believe the Left is anti-marriage must have blinkers on.

Then there’s the study on the cost (£100m+) of translation for non-English speakers in Britain. The rights and wrongs of this are more complicated than they seem but the fact that people are not learning English because they don’t have to is undeniable. The 10 o’clock News had a couple of examples last night, and all concerned felt that the translations were preventing people from learning the language. Now I support a mandatory English test for immigrants into this country. I support it for the same reason I feel annoyed by Brits who go to live abroad and refuse to learn the local language. It’s been partially hijacked as a political issue, but knowing the language of the country you live in shouldn’t be. It’s a matter of necessity, it increases access to services, it helps with interacting with the community. Most Welsh speakers, despite living in a country which is (rightly) geared to accommodate speakers of its traditional language, still learn English so they can get by in the rest of the UK.

Portraying certain issue as being particularly “Left” or “Right” is nto always helpful and can cloud common sense when some things should be obvious. Whilst it takes some intellectual contortions to show, for instance, that capitalists should abhor private schools (ask me about this some time), the effectivness of marriage and the need to know the local language are surely no-brainers. Let’s reclaim these issues and take them away from the petty politicos who will probably only break them anyway.

December 11, 2006

Brits Abroad

Writing about web page

A truly fascinating article on the BBC News website this morning – a report which puts a figure to the number of Brits living abroad. In an age when hysteria about immigration into this country seems to be drowning out any hope of a reasonable debate on the matter, it turns out that 10% of British citizens are living somewhere else in the world. In the main these are the supposed worst sort of migrants, economic migrants, who face no persecution or hardship in their home country (unless you count the weather which is absolutely horrible as I write this) and have merely chosen to go and live somewhere else, either taking a job or merely using the host nation’s health services and taking housing from natives. Well, that’s one way of looking at it anyway.

Buried amongst the stats on the subject is a common and reasonable pattern – most British move to English speaking countries. This is entirely understandable, it’s easier for the emigrants, and places like Australia, New Zealand and the USA hold a special fascination for many Brits. My own mother is a big fan of the idea of moving the New Zealand even if the likelihood of this happening is extremely low. It’s a not uncommon pattern of emigration, France absorbes immigrants from French speaking places like Algeria and various African countries. Perhaps if we hadn’t spread ourselves and our language so far around the world we wouldn’t have as many immigrants trying to enter Britain today?

But then there are the 761,000 Brits in Spain. The Brits in Spain have always fascinated and mildly appalled those of us who aren’t completely allergic to the thought of any foreigner entering Britain. The complaints of the anti-immigration brigades here are wel known – the immigrants come over, take job and homes, have a ghetto mentality, and don’t learn the language. Many immgrants in Britain don’t do this, they try to integrate and be useful members of society (it’s easier to do when you’re not being threatened with government approved torture, I guess) although some do fit this profile. But the majority of Brits in Spain fit this profile. The masses settled in English speaking communities, language extended as far as “dos cervezas por favor”, and interacting with locals only when they are bar staff or cleaners, are not a good reflection of Britishness abroad. The popularity of anti-immigrant rag The Sun amongst the ex-pats makes it hard not to think of blatant hypocrisy when you think about them.

Obviously this does not apply to the thousands of Brits who go to foreign countries and try their hardest to learn the language and integrate with the locals. These are the best examples of Brits abroad, and go a long way to dispelling many stereotypes. I know there are a few people who fit that category who read this blog. I am always impressed by anyone who can do that.

The two final things which caught my eye came from the BBC’s statistics on the subject. First was the 291,000 Brits who have essentially committed a historical reversal and settled in Ireland! Baring in mind the massive emigration fuelled depopulation of Ireland from 1850 to 1990 (a population drop from 7 to 3.5 million post famine is almost entirely due to emigration) and the fact there are hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens (and presumably a couple of million half Irish) living in Britain, this flow to the Republic will probably raise a smile for many Irish.

Also the BBC has a lovely map which shows where the British have settled. Apart from doing a cool flowing animation to show proportions (click the link above and play!) it shows there are a few countries which lack figures for the number of resident Brits. The map is not labelled but it seems to be countries like Eritrea and Western Sahara… and a little north Atlantic island… called Britain.

Good to see we have no idea who’s here.

December 05, 2006

Erase And Rewind?

I have a question – if we removed history, if we destroyed all the history books and banned any mention, any reference, any thought of the past, what would be the outcome? Would we be freed from the prejudices which have grown over time, the historical enmities and hatreds, the rounds of “your family killed my family”? Or would we have lost so many lessons that it would cause a mass repetition of all the worst things to have happened?

I wonder…

December 2006

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