As I write this, I’m sitting within the walls of a typical English house in the southern county of Hampshire, with a faint breeze outside and the sun beaming down. The flowers are in full bloom, and the bumblebees are buzzing away. Yes, there’s much to like about England, but there’s also some bits that are baffling – and some that are just a downright offence to common sense. One of most famous individuals to be influenced by the sights and sounds of England was the great poet George Chapman, who many in this country consider the rival poet of Shakespeare. He said this of his fellow countrymen in 1636,
I know an Englishman. Being flattered, is a lamb; threatened, a lion.
Much the same can be said about contemporary English folk – they shy from praise, but will squirm and sulk at the first sign of critique or self-reflection. So this post today will combine a bit of both – the peculiar and bizarre of all things English I have observed, firmly from the perspective of an inquisitive Aussie. I find it eternally fascinating what aspects of culture, mannerisms, ideology and lifestyle have managed to make it all the way to Australia – and conversely, what hasn’t.
I’ve briefly been to England a few times in the past, and this time around I’m attempting to live and work here. However, my travels here have never been very exploratory, only ever in the winter, and never any further north than Luton. So to say my comprehension of this complex and multifaceted nation is limited would be an understatement. But nor is it an attempt to be so, and these are just my initial understandings of this country. So here they are – as an Aussie these are the things that really stand out for me, divided up into five key sections – Mannerisms, Society, Food, Alcohol & Gambling, and Transport.
There is a Civil War brewing. No I’m not referring to Yemen, Ukraine, the U.S or even the upcoming antics of Captain America. I’m referring to a Civil War over a quantitative expression of a plan for a defined period of time – better known as a budget.
Federal budgets are those funny things in politics that have the power to destroy – or further solidify – the career of the Chosen One that hands it down. A memorable budget is usually characterised by an image, a particular event, or a symbol. Take the example of the Abbott Government’s much-maligned 2014 budget, personified so eloquently in the grainy footage of then-Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann huffing down Cuban cigars. He was henceforth disparagingly referred to as ‘Smokin’ Joe‘, and his career prospects tanked along with the budget. The man many thought might be our future Prime Minister was undid by a shitty budget (more…)
Maybe we should be asking ourselves if we ever had any privacy to begin with – maybe, just maybe, we started being a surveillance society a while ago. ‘Why bother [fighting it]?’ was the question posed by Richard Thomas, the UK government’s Information Commissioner who believes the surveillance society is already ‘a reality’… and that was back in 2006.
So on the one hand, Ludlum is saying we risk becoming a ‘surveillance society’, but experts are adamant we’re already there. What gives?
And even if we are already a so-called ‘surveillance society’ – where the government and big business can check our every move – is it really that big a deal? (more…)
Although one can scarcely believe how the years have flown, it is indeed time for another general election in your founding nation. The last four years have raced by in a flurry of social media faux pas and Boris-baiting, and we once again settle in comfortably to watch the poshest toffs of Britain battle it out for a rather underwhelming island in the North Sea.
Our contenders this year are unsurprisingly the same poor old buggers from the last bout. In the blue corner, dressed head to toe in the tears of unwed mothers is the current big dog, David Cameron. Not content with a mere four years as the overlord of British politics, he’s back for another stab at the top job. This time though, I imagine he’ll attempt to shake off that ineffectual Clegg (who?) and run the gig solo. He’s taken a hell of a bashing in his first term but has impressed with his rubber-like facade and determination to convince us ‘we’re all in this together’. A man so convinced by his ability to connect with the working class, he was even seen wearing jeans in late 2013. His right hand man, George Osbourne, was given a smart phone in 2011 which immediately turned him into the next Cara Delvigne in terms of posting crap pictures no one gives a shit about. His attempts at being ‘down with the kids meets working dad’ saw him post a pic of his working-lunch burger; although at over 15 bucks for the bap (roll in English speak), was met with more snarky remarks than Joe Hockey’s ‘the poor don’t drive’ blasphemy.
In the red corner, weighing in with no discernible opinion whatsoever (more…)
A few days ago the Spanish government closed a Spanish-language school in Gibraltar (a British territory at the arse-end of Spain) because, according to them, ‘everyone [in Gibraltar] speaks Spanish except for the apes’. Now, this can be read two ways – he could be referring to the native monkeys that live on the rock, or he could be referring to the British. He’s most likely referring to both. You see, Gibraltar couldn’t be anymore geographically Spanish even if it was smack-bang in the Puerta Del Sol in Madrid, but the British classify it as their overseas territory and solely their territory. British border guards, British pubs… even British phone boxes, double-decker buses, little red post boxes, pictures of the Queen and crooked smiles galore! It’s nearly British in every respect, except there’s sun. As you could imagine the proud people of Spain see this as an historic injustice and therefore every now and again Spain makes life difficult for England and little Gibraltar, just to let them know they consider it their territory. To demonstrate that it really pisses the Spanish off, they sometimes just close the only land border into the country, for no reason at all… for days on end. So to help explain this bizarre situation I’m gunna have a look at a very influential navy seaman (lolz… seamen) and strategist called Alfred Mahan and see how his ideas’ from over a century ago might make some sense out of why the Spanish are referring to the British as monkeys.
The other day I came back to work with a nice tan, a subtle spring in my step and a relaxed physique. I hadn’t been into work for over a week and so naturally the question my colleagues asked of me was ‘Where had you gone?’. I let them try and guess – ‘Vanuatu?’, ‘Fiji?’, ‘Bali’ – nope, closer to home. ‘Byron Bay, the Gold Coast?’ – Wrong Again. Try Canberra. They collectively screwed up their faces and said in unison, ‘What the fuck is in Canberra?’
A fair lot, to be honest, but that isn’t the reason for this post. The reason for this post is something far more important than the ease of navigating Canberra’s overly large roundabouts – it is about beer. That bitter, bubbly nectar that brings me so much joy (and hangovers in equal amount). Across the road from the apartment we were staying in Canberra was a 1st Choice Liquor store. My girlfriend’s father, being the decent man that he is, went out and bought me a 6-pack of boutique pale-ale beer for the evening. I’d been trying to convince him that Fosters was actually Australia’s joke on the world, and that we don’t drink it – mainly because we have so many other better beers over here. He came back with a six-pack of SteamRail Craft Beer – The Ghost of Eyre Pale Ale, for me to have with dinner that evening. It was quite a title for a beer and I’d never seen it before, but being from hipster Newtown it fitted the caricature of a local craft beer. Quirky labeling, flowery descriptives, funky colours, and the obligatory suave artwork (in this particular case it had two burly men with trendy beards/moustaches, tattoo’s and a Colonial themed type font) were all found on this epitomization of a craft boutique beer. With a title like The Ghost of Eyre Pale Ale I confess I briefly dreamt it may have been created by a small brewery on the Eyre Peninsula, brewed in the basking heat of the Australian desert and chilled beneath ground in a rock-chiselled cellar in Coober Pedy. But alas, further research showed this to be pretty far from the mark. Despite it’s website stating that SteamRail is ‘Craft Beer’, it’s actually a beer mass produced by Coles. Well this finding flies in the face of what a craft beer is. According to the Australian Craft Beer Industry Association, craft beer is independent, traditional and 100% Australian owned, with no ownership or control by a major brewer.
You’ve probably all heard that the 19th century was the ‘British century’ and the 20th was the ‘American century’ – but who gets to call dibs on the 21st century? China is the front-runner, but I’m here to explain why you don’t have to start learning Mandarin in anticipation of your eastern overlords juuuust yet. With the Chinese economy expected to eclipse that of the world’s sole superpower – America – possibly as early as next year, China seems like a safe bet at the moment to kick arse this century. But to equate current bullish economic growth and substantial international political sway with a direct association to a ‘Chinese Century’ would mean you’re ignoring a key proponent of their current position in the world – resources. So unlike the British Empire of the 19th century and the American domination of the 20th century, I’m willing to argue that the 21st century will not belong to China. That’s right – you’ve heard it here first ladies and gentlemen! I believe the battle of resources in a world of dwindling supplies will be China’s ‘Achilles heel’ and will eventually lead to them conceding that not only does this century not belong to them – but that it won’t really belong to anybody. To prove my point, I’m going to look at China’s heavy reliance on non-renewable resources such as coal, oil and uranium. I’m also going to argue that China’s ability to manage human ‘resources’ and geopolitical relations in an increasingly hostile region of the world is probably all going to go to shit sometime soonish. China’s capacity to deal with the natural resources of water and food will also be explored in this era of climate change, pollution and decreasing biodiversity. Lastly, I’m going to show my lovely readers (that’s you… yes you!) that all these issues presented will lead to China – the world’s largest exporter of goods – decreasing their output to the rest of the world, thereby reinforcing a vicious feedback loop of diminishing returns and turmoil at home. This will inevitably result in a decrease in relative economic and political power and thus cut the balls off any argument that this is truly China’s century.
Over the last few years, China’s economy has been growing at eight percent or more per year; that means it is more than doubling in size every eight years. That’s pretty damn impressive. In stark contrast, the economies of Europe and America have seen stagnation, contractions and patchy economic growth – particularly since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8. If there was ever a chance for China (more…)
So I sat in front of my computer at work about 9 in the morning on Monday the 15th, mulling over what to write for my third blog. I knew the government’s MYEFO was to be released at about midday, and a lot had already been leaked to the press – I assume as a way of softening the blow of such a massive budget blow-out. It was big news (I thought) and would most likely dominate the headlines for the rest of the week. How wrong I was…
At exactly 10:19, I received an email from my girlfriend into my work inbox. It was short, succinct and at that stage, confusing. It simply read: ‘Office in lock down :/’
Below this rather vague one-liner with a ridiculous emoticon in tow was a link to ABC News – whose information at this stage was also limited. “Police operation under way. It is believed a police officer has his gun drawn in Martin Place. More to come.” I looked up to the TV screen at work – the news-cast on the box also knew very little. For whatever reason, terrorism did not cross my mind. I questioned the intelligence of the man (or men) who decided it would be a good idea to hold up a cafe specialising in round little chocolate balls. Sure, they might have a few hundred dollars in the till, but an escape route from such a busy, central locale was near on impossible. Then I saw the flag planted – live – on the window of the cafe. He’s not planning on escaping – whoever has done this is right where he wants to be.
I was soon speaking to my girlfriend via mobile, who at this stage was worried. She works directly opposite the Lindt cafe and could see right inside the store. Their faces, the flag, the police with their weapons drawn – everything. Then the panic really set in. Rumours of the airspace shut down, reports of explosives inside the cafe and also strategically (more…)