Archiv für August 2010

It’s not cricket

26.08.2010

How often I heard this phrase, during my youth (many moons ago now). And what does that phrase mean? It means: that’s not fair: not justice; not as it should be; or, as Germans sometimes say, it’s not the English way.

Today, it is seldom heard. Modern English provides countless alternatives.

So what is so special about cricket? you may ask. An immediate response might be that it is very English. Although today, it is played in many parts of the world; especially in countries which were once British colonies, protectorates, etc. Any typical British school boy will tell you that he played football (soccer and/or rugby) in winter, and cricket in summer. Girls played rounders, which has similarities to baseball, however, with a soft ball.

Villages and counties invariably have a cricket team. The perfect picture is of a hot summer’s day with players dressed all in white, on the village green. The group of on-lookers, mostly sitting in deck chairs, would politely applaud an incident of good play, whether by a member of their own team or the rival team. At a convenient break in play the match would stop for tea. Both teams would come into the pavilion where they would be served tea and cakes by the ladies. A polite atmosphere was taken for granted.

But if something unfair did take place there would be an immediate outcry of ‘that’s not cricket’.

All this ‘Englishness’ you might say. Perhaps a closer examination could be interesting. For a start, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have their professional as well as amateur cricket clubs, which makes the game British rather than English, although it’s safe to say that cricket was born in England.

But did you know that Americans were also one time  cricketers? Oh yes. And that baseball was first written about in a diary on Easter Monday in 1755 in the English county of Surrey? And four years earlier a London cricket team had played against a New York team? And that between 1840 and 1855 cricket was the number one ball game in the US? The very first international cricket match was played between the US and Canada.

It has been said that cricket lost its popularity in the US during their Civil War. Other sources say that the typical American didn’t like the then typically snobbish attitude of the English players who were mostly made up of aristocrats and the like. This latter may be, because the original centre of authority was laid down by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

This club was founded by gentlemen of high society and has been seen as the main authority ever since. Although today, the Indian sub-continent contributes greatly to the international cricket board. the MCC is still highly respected.

Although England may still be seen as the original home country of cricket, the foregoing bits of information may question its pure Englishness. I can already hear some conventional Englishman’s reaction to this blog – ‘Hey, Keith Lewis, how dare you! That’s not cricket!’

Glossary
Many moons ago:  a long time in the past.
County:  an administrative area in Great Britain, such as Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, etc. Engand has approximately 40 counties.
Village green: an area of grassy land in a village used for sports and social events.
Deck chair:  a chair made of wood and cloth for use outside, which can fold up for storage.
Taken for granted:  accepted without any question.
Snobbish:  this is how snobs behave. Snobs believe they are better than other people.

The Cup that Cheers!

19.08.2010


My day begins with tea. I sit up in bed and drink three cups of tea. After that, the world seems to be a better place to enter into. The tea must be fresh, very hot and not in teabags, with a little drop of fresh milk and no sugar. During this tea drinking I listen to the latest news on BBC radio.

In my introduction to myself I told you I had lived in Germany for over 40 over years. Did this affect my tea drinking? Not very much. On visits to the UK we always took a plentiful supply of English blend tea back with us. I could also listen to the BBC news on LW, even if it was not always so clear because of the atmospherics. Of course, sometimes, there was only coffee in the office. Ah well!

Today, the UK is the world’s fifth largest tea consumer. It wasn’t always so. Coffee came first. It was introduced into Europe in the early 17th century and England was then one of the leading coffee traders with connections e.g. with Hamburg and other European cities.

LLoyd’s, the famous insurance brokers was started in London in Mr. Lloyd’s coffee house, where merchants and dealers waited to hear news of their ships arriving safely in the harbour while sipping their coffee. Coffee was  then the drink of royalty and the rich.

It was much later that the first cargo of tea was shipped to England from China, and again only available to royalty and a few aristocrats. The lower classes of the population had to be content with beer.

With its developing empire the British soon imported tea from India, which being nearer, reduced shipping costs and risks. Later tea was transferred to East Africa. As with most forms of production, quantity reduced costs and in turn prices, which began to make tea more easily available to the masses.

While in Germany there is the custom of Kaffee und Kuchen in an attractive cafe, in the UK tea rooms became a step up from tea at home. Tea was often served in silver tea pots and inviting cups, etc., with dainty sandwiches and small cakes on 3-tier plates. Clotted cream teas and the like were also served. All in an atmosphere of gentility, where ‘Mrs. Smith’ felt a little like ‘Lady Smith’.

And so tea grew to become the national non-alcoholic drink, resulting in a distinct lowering of coffee consumption. Of course some Brits still prefer coffee. Witness the spread of such as Starbucks, Costa, etc. coffee bars across the country. Stockbrokers and bankers in London and those who like to look cool think coffee much more sophisticated than tea. Yet, I don’t think coffee will replace tea as the UK’s national drink.

I can remember, as a child, when my mother had been shopping in the nearest town, with perhaps a visit to the cinema, coming home and immediately dropping her shopping bags and drinking tea, because she was tired and had a headache. 15 minutes later she was fit and clear-headed again. That lovely, lovely cup of tea!

And Germany? Did you know that Germany is the world’s 3rd largest consumer of coffee? And tea bags were developed in Germany? They were first used by the German army in World War 1.

Historically, our two countries have much in common, but it seems that in modern life we prefer to differ most clearly on the question of the daily beverage.

And now that I have finished this article, I’m just thinking of a lovely, lovely cup of tea. While I’m sure, most of you are thinking of a good strong cup of coffee.

Glossary:

Plentiful: if something is plentiful, there is more than enough of it available.
LW : Long wave: when listening to the radio it is a range of waves which are 1000 metres in length or more.
Insurance brokers: people who sell insurance policies to their clients, either working for themselves or for an insurance company.
Merchants: people who buy and sell products in large quantities, especially in international trade.
Dealers: merchants buy and sell in large quantities;  dealers buy and sell in smaller quantities, e.g. car dealers, antique dealers, drug dealers.
To sip: to drink slowly taking only a very small amount at a time.
Dainty: small and attractive.
3-tier plates: three plates. The first is on the table, the second is held above the first and the third above the second often by a central metal bar.
Clotted cream tea: a traditional light English meal consisting of tea and scones – small round cakes. The scone is sliced in two and eaten with jam and clotted cream. Clotted cream is a thick cream with soft lumps, and a speciality of southwest England.

Energy Yes. But Which Energy?

05.08.2010
My grandfather went to work in a coal mine in South Wales at the age of nine years. As children we went there from Somerset on holidays. What a difference between the two areas! Somerset, dreamy farmland – South Wales, fast moving, with coal mines whichever direction you looked. The water in the streams and rivers was black. Coal dust was everywhere.

Recently, I went back there to visit some relatives. I couldn’t believe my eyes! No sign of coal or coal mines – just green fields and small woods.

There was a time when we older members of society spoke of energy sources (if we ever did!) it was of the basics i.e. (that is) oil and coal. These two produced electricity, heating and power for factories and mills.

In today’s world we have to include nuclear power, wind energy, ocean wave energy, solar  power, vegetable plant extraction, like soya, rape oil, palm oil, sugar extract, etc, etc.

A wonderful choice, you might say. But the devil seems to be in the wide choice. Government choose one source today and change to a different one tomorrow. The world is spoilt for choice and can’t make up its mind on a definite direction.

We want electric cars: but where does the electricity come from? The demand on electricity will become enormous. Let’s build more and more wind farms. Each wind generator produces a relatively small amount of power and is dependant on changing wind force. Britain is surrounded by sea, so more and more generators are being built off-shore. But they are expensive to build and maintain. What about ocean wave power? Ideal again for the British Isles. But very expensive! Hydro-electricity. Fine, if have you enough mountains to have a constant supply of water gushing down them. And oil extracted from plants? We have already seen that many American farmers have changed their crop growth to some of these plants. One result is then, not enough food plants are being grown, leading to high priced food in the retail shops. One of the latest discoveries is energy from soft-wood, fast growing trees. That could be good, also for the air pollution problem.

Let’s not forget nuclear power. the advantages are great, but so many of us are scared by the dangers of ‘radio active fallout’, and how to dispose of used ‘radio active’ materials. Our politicians are really indecisive about this one.

Oil! For all the playing around with electric cars, hybrid fuel, etc, oil is still strongly on the scene. Despite the the experts forecasting the end of oil supplies, new supplies are constantly being found. Especially since deep sea drilling techniques are developing rapidly. The cynics will say that the recent BP disaster in the Golf of Mexico is just another lesson to be learnt for future drilling. Of course, oil will come to an end one day. However, that day seems to be pushed back more and more with every new oil well discovery.

Coal is taboo because to it’s damage to the atmosphere. Don’t write coal off the agenda too soon. Scientists are feverishly working in the background to eliminate the pollution problem, and there are massive (enormous) coal deposits around the world. Yes, of course, coal like oil is a finite source of  energy – but while our democracies encourage and promote indecisiveness in our politicians it may be a long time before younger generations will be able to take the relaxed view of the future of energy, we we ‘oldies’ once did.

Maybe that’s good, but sometimes it almost sounds like the future developing in circles.

Am I too pessimistic? What do you think?

Glossary:

Mine: in this context underground holes and tunnels made for the extraction of coal, metals, e.g. gold, etc.
Mill: a factory where particular substances are produced, e.g. cotton, paper, steel.
Rape: in this context a plant with yellow flowers from which oil and animal food are produced.
Off-shore: the area of land and sea some distance from the coast.
Scared: the same meaning as frightened.
Finite: limited. The opposite of infinite: unlimited.

How communist is Communism? How democratic is Democracy?

05.08.2010

Is there any thinking person in the Western World who isn’t sometimes envious of China’s galloping economic success? Perhaps some of us are also a little frightened of its increasing power. And yet we understand China as a communist country.

Communists are not capitalists – or are they? Perhaps they have the near perfect recipe for a country! There is no doubt that they trade as capitalists, yet their lives are completely controlled by a ruthless hierarchy. They have millions of ‘under-privileged’ peasants who can own nothing. At the same time they have millionaires in industry. Compare with Russia when it was ‘communist’. There were Russian oil magnates at the same time.

Is ideal communism just a myth? When the iron curtain came down in 1989 we discovered that the eastern communist countries were practically broke, (no money left over). So that was a failed doctrine.

Communism in North Korea is very strict and unforgiving to its own people and the world. Can it continue so? We are told that there is total ‘shut down’ on information exchange, e.g. internet, radio, newspapers, etc.

Then we have Cuba. A recent BBC TV programme showed them as being content with life. They are not starving (hungry). $2 is enough to buy food for a whole week. A Cuban can buy an apartment from the government for $200. Should he want to sell it, then only back to the government. That is a good deal if you ask me. Of course they don’t enjoy luxuries. Electrical goods are impossibly expensive. the main export seems to be cigars ($30 each). So what is communism? Can we put it into a pre-determined political category? It would rather seem to be tailored to the individual country’s own concept.

Before we hasten to condemn communism as something indefinable, perhaps we should look at democracy. How free are the so-called “free” countries? In Europe we are happy to see taxes and restrictions that are necessary for the efficient running of freedom. But what about some of the ‘free’ ex-colonial countries of Africa? Take Zimbabwe as a good example. The majority of the population is down-trodden and deprived, while a few at the top are billionaires, skimming off the country’s assets for themselves. That is another kind of democracy.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill – ‘Democracy is not perfect, but is the best we have’. Perhaps we should lay back and just sing Louis Armstrong’s famous song: ‘Oh, What a Wonderful World’! and plan our next holiday abroad.


Glossary:

Envious: having negative feelings about someone because they have something which you do not have but would like to have, e.g. money, success.
Ruthless: describes a person who wants to achieve his/her goals without thinking about other people’s feelings.
Peasants: a traditional name for people who work in agriculture, but who do not own land or animals themselves.
Tailored: a tailor is someone who makes clothes. If something is tailored then it is made specially for someone – in this context for a country.
Condemn: To disagree with something or someone in the strongest way possible.
Skim off: in this context to steal money or assets which you are responsible for, over time, without being caught.

Thoughts in an Oxford Traffic Jam

01.08.2010

I was 2.30 in the afternoon. I was sitting in my car in the middle of Oxford. The traffic was moving very slowly and I was becoming a little impatient since I was coming from one appointment to another with limited time in between them.

Realising that I couldn’t influence the state of the traffic flow, I let my thoughts wander. I got to thinking about the troops in Afghanistan and the everyday arguments as to whether UN troops should be there or not – we all know these differing points of view.

I then began thinking about the individual soldier and how life must be for him, trying to compare it with my own military service in World War II when I was serving in the Grenadier Guards – one of the elite regiments of the Household Brigade, which guard the royal family; (in addition to being among the leaders on the battle field). These thoughts didn’t get me very far, as the differences are too far apart. So I thought about armies as a whole.

All the British armed forces today are made up of volunteers – there is no compulsory military service. This has been the case for over 40 years. I asked myself if that was a good thing or not. A few countries including Germany still have ‘national service’. Although, the latest news is that conscription in Germany has been reduced from 9 months to 6 months service. There is some resistance to this reduction e.g. hospitals, caring for old people, organisations, etc, where the majority of the 90,000 conscripts who opt for community service rather than military service, are usefully employed.

At the cost of Euro 400 m a year and needing 10 – 20,000 professional soldiers to train recruits, the future of conscription in Germany seems to be at risk. But stopping it totally will not be easy, as it is a part of the country’s constitution.

In general it must be very expensive for any country’s national purse. On the other hand it lowers the cost of unemployment and keeps the idle young off the streets. Military routine may help those young people to form good behavioral habits for their future lives. Germany’s community service has a lot to recommend it.

But then, will this country have enough military personnel to fight its battles? This may depend on the employment situation of the country, as a whole. If there is higher unemployment then there will be more volunteers for the military and vice versa. The need for adventure in the young will also provide volunteers.

One must furthermore not ignore the military requirements of the country, e.g. how many wars it involves itself in.

The British talk a lot about the importance of peace, but there has hardly been a month since World War II when they haven’t been involved in some war or another. They have always found it easy to criticise the militaristic attitudes of other countries. Yet, here we are in a country whose every generation has worn a military uniform and still talk about their military past. There are regimental associations which keep alive the old camaraderie as they meet regularly for lunches, dinners and other events.

Yet for all this, it is sometimes difficult to believe that until the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the British soldier was seldom glorified by the rest of the population. ‘Don’t let your daughter marry that man, Mrs. Smith. He is only a common soldier’. Such was typical of the way soldiers were regarded.

Suddenly, we now talk of veterans, heroes, etc, as they come back from Afghanistan. Some come back in a coffin. They are honoured as never before. At last their values are being recognised .

How time changes some of our basic beliefs.

Oh! I notice that I haven’t told you why I was in a hurry to get to my next appointment. At 3 p.m. I was due to stand on a street corner with some 200 other people, just before the entrance to a famous Oxford hospital where the dead bodies of our soldiers from Afghanistan are taken for post mortem examination,

Most of us will be old soldiers with many non-military people who live nearby. We will wear our old medals on our left breast, wear berets with the badges of our previous regiments.

There will be 20 big colours (flags) of military associations, held by old soldiers. As the coffins pass slowly by, draped in the national flag and escorted by police, the colours will be lowered to the ground and we will all salute these young volunteers.

So what were my conclusions as I did, in fact, arrive in time for the ceremony. That the British have always been a militaristic nation – it hasn’t changed. What has drastically changed is the high regard we now show for our soldiers and the high honour we pay the dead.

Have we become a better society? Or have we just become more emotional? At least ‘Mrs. Smith’ may allow her daughter to marry a soldier!

Tell me what you think about these controversial, funny Brits.


Glossary:

Volunteer: someone who joins an organisation such as the military, or takes part in an activity by his/her own choice  - i.e. freely.
Compulsory: something which we have to do – e.g. wearing a seat belt in a car is compulsory.
Conscript: someone who has to join the military during wartime or to do military service. In this context the opposite of a volunteer.
Opt for: to choose something – e.g. I opted for tea rather than coffee = I chose tea rather than coffee.
Idle: usually has the same meaning as lazy. In this context it can also mean unemployed.
A common soldier: the usual meaning of common is ordinary. Here it has a negative meaning, it is used as an insult.
Coffin: a box in which a dead person is transported and buried or cremated in after the funeral service.
Post mortem examination: a procedure carried out by a pathologist to find the cause of a person’s death.