Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Thoughts. Exactly.

Pretty much every conversation with someone new, and quite a few existing friends, in the last few weeks has involved, at some point, a single subject. As sure as night follows day, I have been asked a variation on the following question:
Do you think Scotland will become independent?
It is a subject which has taxed many a grey cell in my cranium for the last couple of years, whilst being alternatively relieved/pissed off that the powers that be have deemed the opinions of expats irrelevant to this momentous decision.

Throughout much of the campaign I have felt like King Agrippa, faced with the arguments of Saint Paul and responding:
Almost you persuade me to become a Christian, but not quite.
Neither the "Yes" nor the "Better Together" campaigns have presented a definitive argument as to why to agree with them.

The "Yes" campaign has far too many vague claims that everything will be fine, for my liking. They claim that an independent Scotland will keep the same head of state, and the same currency as the United Kingdom, which begs the question, why bother? They claim that the European Union will welcome an independent Scotland with open arms, which inherently means that EU law will trump Scots Law, and decisions made in Edinburgh can be overturned in Brussels or Strasbourg, which again begs the question, why bother?

On the other hand, "Better Together" seem to appeal to sepia tinged visions of the British Empire's faded glory, with yet more vague promises of greater powers for the existing Scottish Parliament.

I don't want to get into the failings of both campaigns, though many a "Yes" supporters' hard and loose approach to historical facts has pissed me off several times (I have seen several claims that the Union was a result of an English invasion...British history 101 was clearly failed), I want to clearly state how, and why, I would vote on Thursday, if I could.

I would vote 'yes'.

Not for any blinkered nationalistic reasons, not to give the Tories a kicking, not out of some anti-English bias (which would be ridiculous anyway as, in common with all my brothers, I am half English and half Scottish), and most certainly not because I believe Scotland to be some oppressed nation in need of liberation - a sentiment shared, interestingly enough by one Alex Salmond, when he wrote:
Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated. Independence matters because we do not have the powers to reach our potential.
It is clear to me, admittedly from a distance given that I have lived outside the UK since 1999, that the Union, and the parties supporting it, as it currently stands is not fit for purpose. That, however, is not reason enough to throw the baby out with the bath water. In an ideal world I would want to see a fully devolved United Kingdom, with parliaments for all the nations that make up the Union - Scots, English, Welsh, Irish, and Cornish. Those parliaments would have the power to legislate fully within their nation, tax rates, spending plans, the works, with a pan-British senate to oversee matters of common concern, defense and foreign relations for example. A fully federal union would move decision making powers closer to the people that government is supposed to serve.

It is in the absence of this option, one which having spoken to many of my friends at home would likely win far greater support than the binary choice of independence vs status quo, that I would be casting a yes vote. Reluctantly, and with a heavy heart, but with the hope that the finest progressive achievements of the Union, the NHS for example, might continue, and be built upon to create a fairer society for all the people of Scotland.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Investing not Buying

Even though I don't currently live in Britain, I am very glad that by an accident of birth I was born British. I like being British, I like my British passport and have no ambition to ever give it up or take citizenship of another country. Eventually, I want to go home, once I am done with my wandering around the world and all that stuff. I am sure that sounds a little strange considering Mrs V and I have just bought a house but in my family buying a house is no barrier to picking up and moving on - my elder brother did so to move to Australia and my parents did it in order to move to France.

Before I wander too far though from the topic of this post, let me come back on theme, yes I am proud to be British, though not in some boorish sense that Britain is the best thing since sliced bread, but more an understated appreciation to have been born there. Two of the things that make most proud to have come from Britain are the National Health Service and the British Broadcasting Corporation. I am not really in a position to benefit from the awesomeness that is the NHS, but I listen to the BBC World Service practically every day, and yesterday they really pissed me off.

On my drive home from work I was listening to a show called "London Calling", which reviews the Olympics currently happening in London. What's that you say? You were on the Mars Rover and were not aware that the greatest sporting event in the world is taking place in London at the moment? Well, tsk, tsk is all I have to say about that. Anyway, on the show they were asking the question if Britain had "bought" all these gold medals because of all the money spent by the government on sporting facilities and training since the abject failure of the British team in Atlanta?

I found myself yelling at the radio, admit it, you do too! What kind of ridiculous notion is it that a country should invest over a 16 year period in sports facilities and training, and then when that investment bears fruit somehow the gold medals have been "bought"? I wish the British government would take a similar strategy of investment in things like the NHS, science education, inner city schools, the list goes on, but I digress.

These gold, silver and bronze medals are the culmination of years of investment, both financial and in terms of time, and to claim they have somehow been bought is disgraceful and does a great disservice to the Olympians who won them. After all, it is not as though an oil rich magnate from Russia or the Middle East has lavished riches on a mediocre athletics program, bought in the best athletes from around the world and had them don a Team GB shirt.

I for one think every medalist deserves immense praise for their achievement, and every time I see another Brit on the podium I smile broadly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Move Along, Move Along

I am 35 years old. In those 35 years I have lived in 3 of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom as well as Germany, the Czech Republic, the United States and, briefly, Belarus. In my 10 years living in the Czech Republic, I lived in a small town called Mlada Boleslav as well as Prague, in total though I lived at 8 addresses in 10 years. I have spent my life moving around, and can happily say that I enjoy it. My little brother, only 1 year my junior, took a different path to adult life, settling down in the Highlands and pretty much staying put, though even he has moved house within the same town a few times.

I often think that Mrs Velkyal has had a calming influence on me, I can watch football without apoplexy these days for a start. In the 6 years we have been together I have only lived at 3 addresses, and 2 of those cover 5.5 years. Even so, I find it nearly impossible to not think about the other places in the world which pique my interest. Perhaps growing up in the British Army gives you a taste for going somewhere new, a taste for always being an expat. I get the sense at times that if we were to move to the UK, I would probably feel like an expat even there, after all I left just after I graduated and haven't spent an extended period of time in my own country since.

I keep a mental list of places that I would love to live in, just in case my numbers come up on the lottery and I am suddenly flush with cash. Near the top of that list would be a return to Germany, mainly to put my Germanophilia into full swing, I love the German language (no I don't think it is "too brutal for singing"), German efficiency, German food and German beer, I like Germans and find their sense of humour funny, yes they have one. If we were to move to Germany there are a couple of places I would most like to live in, Berlin and Celle.

Mrs V and I went to Berlin a couple of years back and absolutely loved it, had Obama failed to win the election in 2008 there was a very good chance that we would have moved there rather than here. Celle is a smallish town near Hannover, and the place we lived in as children, it is also etched in my memory as one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. My attraction there is simple, I would love to experience the town as an adult, it is also entirely possible from research my great uncle Bill did, that my father's family originally came from that neck of the woods.

One thing is for certain, I don't feel as though I am done with travelling and seeing places new and intriguing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Recovered Memories

I enjoy taking photos, indeed at my parents' place in France there are boxes of photos I took in the dim and distant past before I got a digital camera. It is only in the last few months that I have been able to retrieve a lot of my photos because they were on the hard drive of my old laptop that died.

Normally this wouldn't have been a major issue, but the laptop in question had Windows XP in Czech rather than English. While my Czech is OK, dealing with technical language is a completely different ball game. So once I had my wireless router set up I set about re-installing Windows and getting all the files on to an external hard drive. With that process done, I have slowly been sorting and organising all the various bits and pieces that I managed to recover. So I thought I would post a few of my favourite pictures which have never before seen the light of this blog.

When we lived in Prague, I would walk home from work quite often and crossing the Nusle bridge was part of the walk. The bridge has high sided fences as it is a popular place to commit suicide. There is no river under the bridge, just a cobbled street and houses, I can't imagine how it must feel to live there and have people leaping to their deaths on the street outside.

Just round the corner from our flat was this tower and church, and we would walk by them several times a day.

I have always loved railway stations, the potential of all those places to visit. This one is the oldest railway station in Prague, Masarykovo nádraží and was literally opposite the building we lived in.

The other station we lived close to was Prague's main station, Hlavní Nádraží, from where we would get the train to České Budějovice and then on to our favourite getaway town for a weekend, Český Krumlov. This picture was taken from the window of the penzion we always stayed in.

In the final months we lived in Prague, Mrs Velkyal and I made a point of going to the various places in the city we had either loved or neglected to go to. One such place was the Estates Theatre, where Mozart received great acclaim for Don Giovanni, and I took this picture of the seats.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge - Days 28, 29 and 30

Having skipped several days, I have decided to merge the last three themes into a single post and only have a single track for each theme.

Day 28 - a song that makes you feel guilty

"Summertime" by Billie Holiday

I can honestly say that there is nothing that I feel guilty about, and certainly no song that makes me feel guilty for anything I have done. The track above though makes me feel guilty for liking it, because I can think of no good reason to like it beyond the fact that I just enjoy listening to it - pure hedonism.

Day 29 - a song from your childhood

"Shoplifters of the World Unite" by The Smiths

This song always reminds me of two people, my eldest brother, and my best friend from primary school, who I haven't see since I was about 13. The Smiths were one of the first bands I liked, and still like to this day.

Day 30 - you favourite song this time last year

"Sleepyhead" by Passion Pit

Something of an unusual choice for me I am sure, but this time last year, having had my driving license for but a few months, I would drive around town listening to this song and generally being happy with life.

So there we go. All done.

Monday, May 09, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge - Day 27

Given that I can't play any musical instrument, today's theme of "a song you wish you could play" is pretty pointless. However, I wish I could play some form of bagpipe, so these tracks showcase a form of pipe.

Track 1 - "The Dreaming of the Bones" by Davy Spillane, featuring Sinead O'Connor

Davy Spillane is one of the world's leading uillean pipe players, a master of the ethereal wail which is so haunting.

Track 2 - "Gabriel's Oboe" performed by Carlos Nunez

Originally composed by Ennio Morricone for the film The Mission, this version is played on the gaita - a form of bagpipe from Galicia in Spain.

Track 3 - "The Three Pipers" by Carlos Nunez

Another Carlos Nunez track, in which he blends the sounds of the Breton pipes, Great Pipes from Scotland and the Uillean pipe.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge - Day 26

Sorry, sorry, I was working in a brewery yesterday and was wiped out before watching Doctor Who. Today's theme is exceedingly easy, "songs I can play on an instrument". The reason it is so easy for me is that I don't play any musical instrument, unless you include strumming mindless chords on a guitar.

So, I can't give you any songs for today's theme, so I'll just put three clips from an artist song I have been listening to a lot lately - Cecile Corbel

Track 1 - "La Fille Damnee"

Track 2 - "Je Vous Pleure

Track 3 - "Corpus Christi Carol"