Category Archives: travel

European consolidation and disintegration, past and future

hadrianswall

I spent last week walking along the line of Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England, the fortification built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian to mark the Empire’s northern boundary. I took it as an opportunity to reflect on a united Europe and a fractured Britain (then and now).

For a bit of fun, here is a map of the Roman Empire at around the time the wall was built and a map of the European Union as it might look a few years from now. Spot the key differences on the north-western periphery!

RomanEmpire

Roman Empire c 120AD

eu-map-2016

European Union c 2020AD

Katie Low wrote about the eerie parallels between ancient Roman and modern British politics on this blog a couple of months ago. Spotting parallels and patterns is one of the reasons we find history so fascinating. At its peak, Rome delivered a period of prosperity, stability, and security unrivalled in Europe’s history until the mid-20th century. It did so through a complex political structure which delivered effective administration and the rule of law throughout its diverse territory made up of many nations, all of whom enjoyed (from 212 AD) Roman citizenship.

Political consolidation might not appeal to nationalists but it makes a lot of sense for anyone in search of peace and prosperity. What’s more, it is inevitable. Take a look at this map of conflicts throughout recorded history. Note how concentrated they are in Europe compared to, say, China with its much longer history of political consolidation.

battles

4,500 years of human conflict

Rome’s period of peak success was relatively short-lived, just under a hundred years from the succession of Nerva to the death of Marcus Aurelius. The EU has had around sixty years. Its citizens have enjoyed a period of high quality of life which we now take for granted. Again and again we hear from anti-EU nationalists the argument that we don’t need the EU any more, that any success it has had in resolving centuries-old conflict among European states is now baked in and irreversible. Any student of history should know better.

(Some more photos of my walk along Hadrian’s Wall are in this Flickr album.)

Architecture and islamophobia

The UK far right’s indignation at the imagined encroachment of Islam into British life has given us some great comedy moments, including this week’s snafu by UKIP berating the BBC’s liberal bias for staging a vox pop in front of a mosque in central London, better known as the gorgeous Westminster Cathedral in Victoria. And who can forget this priceless EDL rant against the Muslamics for building a huge mosque near the sea front in Brighton?

Westminster Cathedral

#ThingsThatAreNotMosques

The fact is, Islamic civilisation has given us some stunning architecture, a source of inspiration to Western architects and artists for centuries. The Brighton Pavilion is one such building, but there are countless others. The inspiration flows in the other direction too; I doubt there’s a major city anywhere in the Islamic world which isn’t chock full of western-influenced buildings, from gothic to neo-classical to post-modern. I wonder if pilgrims to Mecca post angry Facebook rants about the Puginesque Clock Tower overshadowing the Ka’aba?

Clock Tower Mecca

Big Bennish

Our cultures have mixed and mingled throughout their illustrious histories, much to our mutual benefit. There are mosques that have become churches; and churches that have become mosques; and they are all the more interesting for it.

Hagia Sofia Istanbul

Church that became a Mosque

Cordoba Cathedral

Mosque that became a Church

So what exactly is it that the far right find so threatening? Is it the foreign architectural style which seems so out of place in frigid England? Then let’s say goodbye to Winchester Cathedral and York Minster, which use exotic imports from Islamic architecture such as the pointed arch and the rose window. What happens when British Moslems build their places of worship in the local architectural vernacular? Is that OK with the kippers and Britain First?

Tahir Mosque, Catford

Is this OK, UKIP?

When challenged on the Daily Politics, Nigel Farage made the excuse that his party’s activists “are not wholly trained”. Wholly trained in what? Architecture? Let’s call this spade a spade: this UKIP activist’s reaction betrayed her islamophobia, and the only training she lacks is how to hide it from public view. In this, she is not an exception, she is absolutely typical of every kipper I’ve ever encountered. UKIP is an islamophobic party. Who can doubt it?

(Postscript – if you’re interested in learning more about Islamic architecture, you might enjoy The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron and In Xanadu by William Dalrymple. Non-Amazon link.)

2014: the Text Adventure

Here it is – 2014, the Text Adventure!

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW.
What do you do?

> Go W

You find yourself confronted by a heavily armed policeman
shouting at you to lie on the floor. What do you do?

> Put hands up

You have been shot. You are dead.
GAME OVER

Would you like to go back to your last saved game?

> Y

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent 
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners 
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW. 
What do you do?

> Go N

You have fallen into a giant supervolcano. You are dead. 
GAME OVER

Would you like to go back to your last saved game?

> Y

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent 
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners 
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW. 
What do you do?

> Go E

You find yourself in a war zone. All around you are shattered 
buildings and piles of rubble. You see a convoy of white lorries. 
What do you do?

> ask for help

The lorries had Spetsnaz special forces inside them! You have been 
shot. You are dead.
GAME OVER

Would you like to go back to your last saved game?

> Y

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent 
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners 
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW. 
What do you do?

> Go SE

You find yourself in a city without electricity or water. 
There seem to be a lot of ruins. There are explosions
all around you. Next to you is a school run by the UN. 
What do you do?

> Enter school

You find yourself with a group of women and children. 
A tank shell blasts through the classroom wall. 
You are all roasted in a fireball. You are dead. 
GAME OVER

Would you like to go back to your last saved game?

> Y

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent 
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners 
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW. 
What do you do?

> Go S

You have been kidnapped by a group of men dressed 
entirely in black, but they are not ninjas. 
One of them has a videocamera. He speaks to you in an 
East End accent. What do you do?

> Ask for help

The man with the East End accent makes a speech to the 
camera and cuts off your head. You are dead. 
GAME OVER

Would you like to go back to your last saved game?

> Y

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent 
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners 
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW. 
What do you do?

> Go SW

You catch Ebola. You are dead.
GAME OVER

Would you like to go back to your last saved game?

> Y

You are in the EU. Your quality of life is decent 
but you are irritated with the number of foreigners 
and the level of taxation. Exits are W, N, E, SE, S, SW. 
What do you do?

> wait

You are still in the EU. Your Prime Minister calls a 
referendum. You can vote YES to leave or NO to stay. 
What do you vote?

> NO

You are in a minority. Your country leaves the EU. 
GAME OVER


(Inspired by Rob Fahey)

Snow! Two things:

Again it has snowed; again, the crowded bits of north-west Europe have ground to a halt.  I’m hearing the usual complaints: where were the gritters? Where were the emergency services? Why was I stuck in a blizzard? This doesn’t happen in other countries!

Well, two quick thoughts:

(1)  Snow clearance does not come cheap. This site says that snow removal costs the Canadian taxpayer over C$50,000 per centimetre (that’s £33k/€37k)! The city of Montreal spends around C$128 million a year on clearing roads of snow. That’s over £83 million.  To put that into context, the annual snow clearance budget of Greater Manchester Councils is around £5 or 6 million (source).  Yes, Montreal gets more (a LOT more!) snow; but much of these costs are fixed overheads – you need to invest in infrastructure if you want it there when you need it.  Canadian taxpayers pony up because they know they need it.  Would British taxpayers be happy ditching a couple of hospitals, or closing a few libraries, to pay for more/better snow clearance equipment which might – MIGHT – get used once a year?

(2)  Even in countries where they get plenty of snow, these things take time.  I hear Canadians, Swedes, Poles, interviewed on the news saying how their countries don’t grind to a halt after a little bit of snow.  OK, but you Canadians, Swedes, Poles, etc are not so daft as to go out driving in the middle of a blizzard!  When I was living in Canada, I got used to seeing the major arteries cleared overnight after a big fall, with the sides streets cleared within the next two to three days; but not even Canadians expect to be able to keep driving as normal through the middle of a blizzard!  Use your noggins and wait.  I saw the images of irate motorists stuck on British motorways on Monday evening; if those motorists had lived in a country where big dumps of snow are regular occurrences, they would not have been out in their cars.