Saturday, 26 June 2010
As England managed to scrape through the group stages to reach the final 16, and the first round of the knockout stages of the World Cup, we now have to play our old sporting rivals, Germany, on Sunday. This, of course, has been reported in the British press with all the usual xenophopic vitriol we have all come to admire from the tabloids. However, I've noticed, living in Germany as I do, that even the equivalent rags such as the Bild are slightly milder in their take on the upcoming match (although I did enjoy Bild's article 'Our 11 Young Men against the English Hooligans', which compares each German player to their English counterpart, listing off the various granny-shagging, cheating, and recent divorcing of each England player, and how the German players are all perfectly moral, upstanding citizens).
The Germans, on the whole, refer to a match against England as 'der Klassiker', or 'The Classic' because of our sporting history, rather than our political history. This seems more reasonable than the front page of the Daily Star, which proclaimed 'Job Done, Now For The Hun' in it's own typically disgusting manner, trying to cash in on something that the people of Germany have done their very best to put behind them. The hate of these newspapers has translated, as we all know, into hooliganism and problems for real football fans abroad and at home. Who could forget the thugs who murdered a (non-football supporting) Russian student in Brigton after England crashed out of Euro '96 because they thought that he had a German accent? Or the fact that even this week, I have heard reports circulating among my German friends that they 'wouldn't feel safe' going into the English pubs in their cities on Sunday, regardless of who wins the match. Frankly, I'm disgusted by the way that the very small minority of thugs who call themselves fans have ruined the enjoyment of international sport for so many. No one person I know in Heidelberg would ever hold a personal grudge against a German person if England lose, let alone even think of causing any violence.
That being said, I am looking forward to Sunday's match, because I think that there will be a great atmosphere in the town, especialy with all the public viewings available. There is a sizeable English/British population in Heidelberg, so I think that there is the chance to have some fun and some harmless banter and mess around with the German fans. I'm sure that if Germany win us Brits will be ribbed endlessly, especially as we are so outnumbered. The atmosphere in Germany would be electric, and wonderful to experience if they manage to progress to the very late rounds, even at the expense of England. Yet...if we manage to pull off a win, then it would be incredible, and there would then be the chance for the British contingent to tease our German friends while restoring our pride after the hit-and-miss tension of the group stages.
I cannot wait to experience a football match between England and Germany where neither team is portrayed as the 'baddie', and where the history of Germany is not used to try and instill feelings of being on the moral highground, when actually, using the awful events around WWII to create this feeling puts the British press at a far lower place than the German nation in modern times. I hope that England win this weekend because I am from England, and they are the team that it would make me the happiest to see win the tournament. This does not, however, mean that if England do fail to progress, I won't be out with everyone else, cheering on the 'Schland and making the most of my last few weeks here in Germany.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Across Europe, intersting new ‘packages’ age being unwrapped and the contents inspected. However, unlike in the past decade or so, we aren’t ripping off the paper to uncover expensive, extravagant gifts – we have instead been handed our lump of coal reserved for naughty children the world over.These are the austerity packages of 2010 Europe.
However, is this huge and sudden drop in expenditure within our nations acceptable, or even helpful? If you look to countries such as Spain, Greece and Germany, where the outlined cuts are huge, the answer from the people is a resounding NO. The Spanish and Greek are striking, while the Germans will remain at work (because they are German, and such hot-blooded reaction is not in the nature of out Teutonic brothers), but they will grumble VERY loudly. The breakdown of each fiscal plan varies, with Spanish cuts falling heavily of public sector jobs, and German on social welfare, while Greece is going all-out, with pay cuts, increased retirement ages and a crackdown on tax evasion. Other European countries are similarly trying to reduce their defecit problems, but it is these three countries which appear to be the current hotspots. Greece and Spain both have huge debt which is spiralling out of control, while the German situation is considerably better; a deficit of 3.1%of the country’s GDP, projected to rise to 5%, against Spain and Greece’s 11%+ and 13.6% respectively.
So why such harsh measures? Clearly, in countries with the largest budget defecits (the U.K included, at over 11%) huge cuts and possibly tax increases need to be made, and it seems that even with the strikes and protests, these plans will go ahead. Theofficial EU limit for budget deficits for member states is 3%, and given the number of countries with debt far beyond this level, things can clearly not continue in the same manner as always. The projected 5% public sector Spanish pay cut IS harsh, and it WILL cause problems for all kinds of people, but a situation in which firefighters and ambulance workers are going on strike is both dangerous and iresponsible. While the defecit problem may be that of the Government of each individual country, can we not also see how this unrestrained spending has been a feature of our economic life for some time now, in our own individual households? How many people across the EU are suffering because they haveoverspent on credit cards? How many people take expensive holidays or buy luxury electronics equiptment that they cannot afford because they have been conditioned and encouraged by credit companies the world over that it is their RIGHT to have those things? These personal and international debt crises are too similar to avoid comparison, and while measures should have been taken earlier to prevent the need for what is now happening, they weren’t. There is nothing we can do about that. By all means, we should air our grievances now and demonstrate our anger at the polling booths in elections, but when vital services begin to strike, nothing helpful can be achieved. I feel badly for the Spanish and Greek people who will have to deal with undeniably huge reductions in salaries, investment and pensions, but I really do believe that the next few years of thrift will set us on a better path for the future.
Of course, not everyone lives beyond their means, and the austerity packages will mean that there is a hard slog ahead for everyone in order to put things right. This is the reason why many German people are furious at the measures that are going to be taken to reduce their national debt. Germany was one of the first European countries to emerge from recession, and while I have been living in the country I have seen the pride of those who never stopped trying to save and work hard as their country led the way for the rest of Europe. The bailout plans for Greece were seen largely as unfair; a punishment for economic sense. Now, the plans laid out for massive savings by Angela Merkel’s coalition government have caused even more outspoken anger. Ulrich Schneider of the social justice organisation Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband said that the package showed “unbelievable cold-heartedness”, as it would hit the poorest citizens, especially young single mothers, the hardest. Merkel explained the cuts by emphasising Germany’s potential to be a great role model for those countries that have larger debt problems, and to demonstrate that borrowing on a large scale in not necessary in order to successfully run a country. This idea worked when Germany came out of recession, so why not now in reducing debts? It is a nice idea, but what about those unemployed people who cannot get a job because of the very financial crisis we are trying to mend? They will have less money than ever, and no chance of employment. Unlike Spain, where the main issue is pay cuts for those lucky few who are still in their jobs, the German plan targets the weakest, and is undeniably unfair. By all means, focus on removing people who do not need it from the benefit system, postpone the building of the Stadtschloss palace in Berlin, and tax nuclear power, but heavily cutting child benefits to people on a single wage? Somehow it just seems to me that this reaction is too much.
Germany is not in crisis in the same way as Spain, Greece, the UK or Ireland. So why are the cuts some of the most significant in Europe?
Sunday, 6 June 2010
I went to watch SATC2 last night with a couple of friends, after finding a cinema in Mannheim that had English-language screenings. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't overly excited about it. I enjoy the series, the first film wasn't great, and I had a feeling that this one would be just a step too far in trying to milk the franchise for all it is worth.
Thr film opens with the 'gay wedding' of Anthony and Stanford, and is genuinely funny, with Liza Minelli officiating the wedding, laughing about her own bad marriage choices, and finally performing a hip-replacement shaking version of Beyonce's Single Ladies. The male choir in silver top hats, the swans, and the excess of white, with a few good lines thrown in all help to get the film off to a promising start. However, from there on in, the problems start to take over.
We all know that Carrie, in her own words, is more 'Coco Chanel than Coq au Vin', but her nagging demands that Big take her for dinner every night and not try to cook, order food in, or sit watching T.V (like most normal blokes after a day at the office) soon become grating, and I found myself on Big's side pretty quickly. Similarly, Charlotte is not coping well with the demands of motherhood, even with a full-time nanny, and she is also paranoid that said nanny will want to sleep with her husband. Miranda's sexist boss won't give her a voice in the office, causing her to quit, and Samantha is popping pills to keep herself from feeling the effects of the menapause. High time for an all-expenses paid trip to Abu-Dhabi, don't you think?
The fashion in the desert is quite overpoweringly full of 'eastern' influences, with turbans and harem pants a go-go. Aside from this, most of the clothes are gorgeous, and I have no problem with the way the women look as they age - who really expects them to look the same as they were in the nineties? Similarly, I don't think that they are mutton dressed as lamb, even if some of the wardrobe choices of stylist Patricia Field are misguided. Clearly, the focus is on luxe living, with a large section of the film devoted to showing off just how wonderful the decedence of the Middle East is, and how our four girls absolutely cannot countenance the possibility of flying coach. Alongside the decadence comes the product placement. Oh my, the product placement! Alongside the allowable fashion names, are Rolex, various electronics companies, HP Computers (yes...Carrie's Apple has been replaced by a lower-grade type of laptop because HP had the money to do it), and most bizarrely, Pingles. Yes, PRINGLES. As if any of those women eat Pringles.
I also found the way Abu Dhabi was depicted to be really quite strange. At times, it was as though the Abu Dhabi Tourism Bord had bankrolled the film, but in truth, it was filmed in Morocco as the Abu Dhabi authorites didn't want the filming to be done in their country. There are lush, lingering tracking shots over the desert, and a huge demonstration of luxury, with turbaned butlers and individual private cars, as well as impressing on the audience the honesty of most of the local people, with a lost passport being held on to (rather than sold for a decent amount, it being an American one) and returned by a poor market stall holder. Miranda's research and cultural factoids dispensed throughout the film are meant so show a willingness to learn about other cultures, but really just serve to make the women look like idiots with no sense of cultural awareness. I mean, who doesn't know what a niqab is? Even tabloid readers know what they are due to the hate-mongering from that particular outlet.
The cultural issues are what really annoyed me about this film. Although no-one ever comes out and clearly says it, there is the idea that men are opressing women, that the way Muslim women dress is wrong, and that everyone should wear what Carrie and the girls do, and act the same way as they do. This is shown most in two adjacent scenes, where Samantha, suffering from a hot flash in the middle of the call to prayer, has her handbag ripped and spills the contents (mainly condoms) all over the street. She shouts about not being ashamed, and about how the men are pigs, culminating in a screeched "I have SEX", thrusting violently at the men around her. There is no sense of what Samantha has just done being vastly insensitive and offensive, even when Miranda tells her so. We are too busy being fed the 'empowerment' line. This outburst may be funny to watch, but it is also painful in its non-caring, stereotypically 'American' offensiveness. And as if this wasn't enough, the following scene has the girls among veiled Arab women, who then strip off to show current-season New York fashion - JUST like our heroines! I sat in the cinema in disbelief at the cheesy, cloying nature of the scene, thinking that the film was playing a dangerous game with the Arab world.
All in all, I think that as a piece of fun, light, pretty froth to go and watch with a gaggle of girlfriends, the film is fine. There are a few great one-liners, with Samantha's "Lawrence of my labia" being one of the best, and the film feels more in line with the series in terms of the humour than the first film. We get relationship drama, a stolen kiss from Carrie, some great humour from a drunk Charlotte and Miranda, and Samantha on top form. I just wish that it had embraced what it is, and managed to cut out the subliminal political conditioning that jarrs so badly. I understand the benefits of promoting empowerment. I understand that many people feel that Muslim women are opressed my men. I don't understand why anyone would think that a Sex and the City film was the right place to go about adressing that. The tone of the film does not match the tone required to deal with issues of that depth. Even if Carrie does place her latest book next to one of hers on her bookshelf, Carrie is not, and never will be, a Susan Sonntag.
Don't get me wrong, I love Penny markt for it's low, low prices and the fact that there is a branch two minutes from my flat, but it does manage to anger me in ways I had previously never thought possible. First of all, there are the general problems with all supermarkets in Germany - very few healthy/low fat options, fruit and veg on sale that is clearly past it's best, utterly, utterly random items for sale...the list goes on. Secondly, a problem that is especially true of my local Penny, is that they will not open a second till, even if the schlange is halfway round the shop and people are looking distinctly mutinous. No, instead of just halving the queue by putting an extra person on the tills, the staff of Penny markt will continue to potter about, ordering the meat in the fridges and generally just looking a little bit vacant and soulless.
This is all fine, and sometimes really quite funny, except for the fact that occasionally, you are in a hurry. Occasionally, you don't want to stand in a queue for half an hour to buy the eggs, milk and bread you 'just popped out' to get. Going to Penny at any normal hour of the day, or indeed, in the hour before closing time (10pm) often requires the precision planning of a military operation. You speedily traverse the drinks aisle, skip ice-cream and frozen pizza altogether, swing through dairy products, grab a bag of frozen veg ('frisch' is not the word for much of the the produce sold there) and barrel down the bread section into the queue. Always try to get ahead of those doing a big shop. Avoid trolly clashes in the ridiculously thin aisles. Do not get between a man and his Milka.
If ever you decide to visit/live in Germany for a while (and I would highly recommend that you do), save some time to visit Penny. Take in the atmosphere of borderline chaos...and then go to Rewe. It's my supermarket of choice when the madness of Penny is too much, and when I want some quality ingredients. Or beef.
P.S, here are some pictures of the madness of the German Supermarkt...
From the top...Bizarre advertising. Exeptionally useful 'Easter Grass', Black Power Chocolate. Sweetcorn-flavour yoghurt, and a miniature wheelie bin. Utterly inexplicable.
Well, it's been an interesting few days.
The other day, I received a message on facebook from one of my ex-housemates in Leeds about a post I had made on a group called 'Leeds Landlord Blacklist'. The page just lets you discuss experiences you've had with the notoriously bad student landlords in Leeds, and warn others before they sign contracts with some of the worst shysters in the city. My post was in regards to my landlady from last year, and the things I had to put up with in one of her houses. It was very long and deatailed, with a 10-point list of things that had gone wrong, such as a hole in the roof for 3 months in winter before it was fixed; damp blamed on me not opening my bedroom windows, which I had open for as long as I could every day, bearing in mind that it was December; and the landlady forcing me to collect the rent owed by someone who decided to drop out of our house, rather than sorting it herself. Her excuse? 'He's your friend, I can't be bothered dealing with this any more'. Lovely. So I had to call and e-mail and eventually pick up a receipt of transferred money in Manchester, because she didn't believe me when I called and told her that he had paid. These are just a couple of examples, and I've left out some of the worst (theft at times when the only person in the house other than us tenants was her handyman, for one, and verbal abuse from the landladyfor another.).
When writing this post, I made sure that nothing I wrote could be said to be libellious. Everything was true, and I made no personal attack on her or her handyman, who I explicitly avoided accusing of any possible thefts. This was all written up around last September. Obviously, she has now seen the facebook group and my post, hence the message from my friend. This message informed me that the landlady was now blackmailing my ex-housemates, who are still living in the house. Currently, their washing machine is broken, as is a window pane in an upstairs bathroom. They were then told that until I took my post down there would be no repairs made, and if I still refused after that, then she would withold the deposits of £250 each paid by my 6 ex-housemates. Clearly, she has no legal grounding for making me remove the post, so she's resorting to means that are fitting for the level of humanity that she possesses.
As much as I hate the idea of giving in to this kind of threat, I felt that I couldn't refuse, as the money and sanitation of very good friends of mine were at stake. I removed the post, and I felt awful doing it. That's why I'm not going to write her name here, as I don't want them to get in any more trouble. However, you Leedsians might be able to figure out who it is if I give you some clues...
1)Drives around Hyde Park trying to steal customers from other agencies
2)Acts like she has no idea what is happening and is very disorganised (I think this is an act to throw you off guard and make you as agitated as she seems to be)
3)Her name sounds like Ribena.
4)She has a certain Spanish handyman to do all her dirty work for her
Now, I am going to go and make a cup of tea and calm down, because I've worked up a little bit of rage going over this again...
There has been a storm brewing for the shiny new lib-con coalition in the UK over the last couple of days. The Russell Group, which is representative of the top 20 UK universities (and which my own university is a member of) has handed in recommendations to increase student loans and adopt a more US-style system, where the most sought-after degree courses at the best universities could cost the student more than £20,000. Currently, they are saying that the fees should be raised to £9,000, and the interest rate on loans (mercifully fixed at a low point for those in higher education at the moment) be increased to allow the government to still be able to provide full grants for the poorest students.
Great. So our students will be leaving university with debt in excess of £40,000, with added interest on top. A mortgage for your brain. That is EXACTLY what we need right now, with unemployment running wild, and our country teetering on the edge of economic meltdown.
I don't even think I'd be as bothered as I am, if I hadn't read this delightful sentence on the website of The Telegraph today..."[The Russell Group] said that...middle-class graduates should make bigger contributions to fund bursary programmes for the poorest undergraduates".Seriously? I mean, I know everyone hates the middle-class. Hell, I'M middle-class, and even I hate them! The thing is, most of us ARE now middle-class, like it or loathe it, and most of us are likely to remain middle-class when we enter our post-graduate careers in teaching, scientific research, and whatever other job we manage to scramble our way into. That means that we will have to save every last penny for at least eighteen years if we have children and can afford to even put money away in the first place (which will be nearly impossible what with paying our own student debt, followed by mortages and all the other financial trappings of becoming a grown-up). What this proposal will achieve, if it is put into practice, will be to disenfranchise a generation of people on mid-level income. In a country where the aim had been publicly stated to get 50% of school pupils studying at university, this seems incredibly short-sighted and reductive.
About the only thing I did agree with in the entire proposal was that students taking different subjects should pay different levels of fees. For example, the report says that a chemistry undergraduate's course costs £14,190 to comlplete, and at the moment, the university will only receive £10,570 from that student in fees. Clearly, there is a shortfall that needs adressing. However, I study English, and I also pay £10,570 per year. Nowhere in any of the articles about this report that I have read does it state the overall cost of an English degree. Given that I buy all my own equiptment and books, have less than 10 hours of contact with a tutor per week, and that my university library has, on average, 2-3 copies of any given critical text for the use of up to 400 single and joint-honours English students, I suspect that I am being rather over-charged.
I, and my fellow arts and humanities students also have a far less certain chance of employment than, say, a medicine student, an engineer, a nurse or, indeed, the aforementioned chemist. The Russell Group report says that we should pay for our improved job prospects, so surely by that logic, those with more secure job prospects who also use far more equiptment and have far more contact hours should pay more? It seems fair, if perhaps a little distasteful.
I hope the Liberal Democrats will stick to their guns in regard to not raising the fees that sudents pay, rather than just abstaining from the vote. I would expect nothing from the Conservatives other than increase after increase, seeing as they and many of those who support them have enough cash (possibly in offshore bank accounts) to pay the fees whatever the price.
Now, back to bean-counting and scraping the last few miseable euro-cents from the bottom of my sad and empty purse...
So, I have decided, after being oh-so behind the times, to start a little blogchen. I think that it'll be a good way to organise my thoughts about everything in life from the important to the trivial. Traditional paper-based journals draw me to them like a moth to the flame, but, unfortunately, once I've bought the £20+ handmade, leather-bound thing of beauty, I cannot bring myself to defile it with my awful leftie handwriting. And on the rare occasion that I do write in them, I feel a sense of utter shame as my wonky, higgledy-piggledy lettering spiders it's way across the virgin page...urgh.
Here on the internet, it's far easier. I can make the page look pretty, and no-one has to decipher my scrawl. Lovely.
Who are you? I hear the vast and empty space of the internet calling out. Well, I am an undergraduate at university in England, studying English Literature. Currently I'm on an ERASMUS exchange placement in beautiful Heidelberg, Germany, where I am attempting to struggle along, improving my pidgin German and having a total drunk year abroad blast. I've been in Germany since last summer and, were I a sensible person, should have started a blog then. But I didn't. So there.
A note on the name of the blog...it's an anagram of my name. Other interesting/amusing (to me at least...and let's face it...who the hell else is ever going to actually read this?) anagrams of my name that I found are as follows:
canary corn mile
a real cynic morn
cynical are norm
my cannier coral
clean racy minor
icy roman lancer
manic carny lore
manic racy loner
normalcy can ire
Here's to me managing to maintain a journal-type thing with the positive thought that comes from never, ever having to witness my handwriting ruining some nice thick handmade paper ever again.