Tag Archives: Wales

Nationalism : can it ever be a force for good?

Simon Schama

Yesterday evening I joined 10,000 others in a ‘virtual’ audience for a talk by Simon Schama at the Hay Digital Festival. The talk was titled Return of the Tribes : nationalism in the age of global disaster. It was a fascinating insight into the way that international crises have impacted on feelings of nationalism through history. Schama noted that one would expect that something as all-embracing as a pandemic (the very word implies something that respects no borders) would be a force for bringing people together rather than driving them apart. And yet in reality, it has exactly the opposite effect as countries have closed borders and (in some cases) actively withdrawn from co-operation in international endeavours to control the virus or its consequences. Thus, the UK (in a flush of post-Brexit nationalist fervour, declined the opportunity to join EU initiatives to procure ventilators and PPE; while the US had withdrawn funding support from the World Health Organisation at the very point when the virus was spreading exponentially from across the country.

Nationalism as us against the other

This behaviour is a form of nationalist exceptionalism – a concept that conceives of nationalism as us against the other. It is an exclusionary, narrowly drawn version of nationalism that reached its peak manifestation in the fascism of Mussolini’s Italy and the Nazi Party in Germany. Defined in this way, nationalism has been conflated with extreme right wing politics, and is used as an argument against independence in places like Wales and Scotland. Even within the last two months, Mark Drakeford, the Labour First Minister at the Welsh Parliament, said in an interview on the BBC that : “[nationalism] is an inherently right-wing creed that operates by persuading people that they are because they are against what somebody else is.” In pursuing this line, Drakeford is simply the latest in a long line of Welsh Labour politicians who believe that it is only through uniting working class interests across the United Kingdom, that those interests can be advanced to fullest effect. You can read more about the debate around Welsh nationalism and whether or not it is consistent with socialism in a fascinating blogpost from Nye Davies for the Wales Governance Centre here.

Schama’s views on the possibilities for progressive nationalism are more nuanced than Drakeford’s. In acknowledging that nationalism is often viewed through lenses that seek to distinguish on the basis of history, language, music, geography or topography, it need not be the case that the undoubted differences between nations should mean that they cannot work collaboratively together. There is no conflict inherent in the statement that a liberal, pluralist democracy can also retain a nationalist identity. The United States itself was formed through the patriotism of immigrants!

Schama opened and closed his talk in typically positive fashion. At the outset, he reminded us that infectiousness is not exclusively a bad thing. We can enjoy infectious enthusiasm, laughter or excitement. Similarly, there must be some hope that a longer term outcome from the current pandemic might be greater international co-operation to improve the health of the planet and that of all the people who live on it.

That is a vision of progressive nations joining together to pursue an internationalist agenda that has real appeal.

If Carlsberg did Saturdays

“Saying is one thing and doing is another”. A quote from de Montaigne. The father of the Enlightenment and a resident of Bordeaux. I don’t know how much de Montaigne Chris Coleman has read (I don’t think it’s on the UEFA ‘A’ License curriculum), but his team executed the ‘doing’ in simply wonderful fashion.

There are defining moments in modern history : the declaration of war in 1939; the moon landings; the shooting of John F. Kennedy; the attack on the Twin Towers. People remember where they were at the exact moment that these things happened. To that list must now be added the moment when Hal Robson Kanu beautifully, exquisitely, agonisingly, scuffed a left footed shot into the corner of the Slovakian net 84 minutes into Wales’ opening game in the European Championships in France, 2016.

Hal Robson Kanu : as Welsh as a zebra, but he’ll f*****g do. My new favourite football song ever.

I can’t do justice here to the events of a day that started in a restaurant in the main square in Bordeaux with the kind of burger and chips that only happens in France (“How would you like the burger cooked, sir?”); and ended at 3am on Sunday morning outside a bar in the same square, singing with Slovakian fans as the local police stood, watched, smoked, and eventually went home bored.

In between, there was the journey to the stadium on the outskirts of Bordeaux in a bus designed for 60 but easily accommodating 200 Welsh fans and a French family on their way home who started off a little concerned, but ended up singing “Watch out Europe, the Welsh boys are back” by the time their stop came around. I still don’t think they quite knew what to make of the 18 stone Valleys lad who plucked their anxious six year old up into his arms and clear of the crush so that the boy was safe and out of harm’s way. But it was that sort of day.

The Slovakian anthem was observed with impeccable silence and polite applause. And then Mae hen wlad fy nhadau rang out around the stadium with an intensity, volume and passion that must have been heard in Paris. When Ben Davies cleared a goal-bound shot off the Welsh line in the opening 5 minutes, we began to think that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be our day. And then Gareth Bale did what only Gareth Bale can. We were stood right behind that free kick at the other end of the ground. I swear that new laws of physics were written as the flight of the ball changed direction three times in the 25 metres that it flew from foot to net.

The Slovakian equaliser after half time was inevitable. We are Wales, for gods’ sake – this was never going to be easy. And then came the moment. Robson Kanu introduced to the fray to replace the excellent Johnny Williams. Hal Robson, Hal Robson Kanu. The chant went up. We knew. Hal knew. 84 minutes. Ramsay rocks and rolls to the edge of the Slovakian area – never quite in control of himself or the ball. Toe ends it past the despairing challenge of Skrtel (good with his elbows – not so good with his feet here). Time stands still. There is a moment of stillness. Peace. And then Hal. Not the best strike ever. A scuff really. And the ball rolling in slow motion over the goal line and nestling gently in the back of the net. Pandemonium in the stadium. 30,000 Welsh fans looking at each other in disbelief – can this really be happening? Grown men in tears, hugging the bloke next to them. Cheering, singing, and – in at least one case – dislocating a shoulder in the sheer joy of the moment (it’s ok – it popped back in and no analgesia was required!).

Back in the fan zone later in the evening, watching Russia v England on the big screen. Drink in hand. England winning one nil and into the final minute of added time at the end of the ninety. The equaliser. At least five thousand Welsh fans devastated for our English neighbours…

If Carlsberg did Saturdays…

Bordeaux Saturday 011Bordeaux Saturday 012

Bordeaux Saturday 020Bordeaux Saturday 019

Bordeaux or Bust!

So – it’s finally arrived. That moment that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. Wales playing in a major football tournament. A real one. Not the Home Internationals. Not even the Nations Cup (remember that one?!). This is the real thing. The European Championships, for heavens’ sake. And to make things even better, it’s in France. The best place in the world to host a major sports event. The most beautiful people, cuisine to die for, wine which is the very nectar of the gods – and you can drive there from Wales!

Oh! And Dan and me have got tickets for Wales’ opening game against Slovakia on Saturday night.

So it was that we set out from Cardiff at 7.30pm on Thursday to catch the midnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. Brittany Ferries MV Normandie had the honour of delivering more Welshmen to the French coast in a single crossing than at any time in the last 72 years! You knew that something special was happening when the strains of Calon Lan were intermingled with that bloody awful “Football’s coming home” (I refuse to include a link – you’ll have to search for it yourself!) as we waited to board the ferry. Yes – there were one or two English supporters making the same crossing on their way to Marseille for their opener against Russia.

One of the things that being a Welsh football supporter teaches you is resilience. Resilience in the face of decades of near misses and crushing disappointment (Joe Jordan’s ‘hand of god’ moment, anybody?). But that resilience also converts in limitless optimism. This was exemplified in Portsmouth by the 30 year old VW Camper Van packed with six burly, north Walian football supporters, five of whom were already well on their way to alcohol-fuelled unconsciousness by the time we rolled onto the ferry. I genuinely hope for their sakes that that van was only for transport purposes. I dread to think what it would be like if they were planning to sleep in it too!

Arriving in Caen on a cloudy Friday morning, we set out on the 500km drive to the south west of France and Bordeaux. It took a long time on very straight roads and we didn’t see anything very interesting on the way. That’s all that needs to be said about that.

Having checked-in to our hotel, we set off for a walk along the river bank in the general direction of Bordeaux’s European Championships Fan Zone. Stopping off for some food on the way, we arrived at the fan zone in plenty of time for the local pre-match warm up entertainment on a stage in front of the biggest, sharpest giant television screen that I have ever seen.

In truth, the opening match between France and Romania wasn’t a classic. It did however, provide further evidence of the truth that football is like modern jazz. Long periods of formless cacophany punctuated by moments of the most exquisite harmony. Last night, the harmony was provided by Dimitri Payet with a goal worthy of winning the Championship, never mind the opening group game. To say that the French fans in Bordeaux were pleased would be a severe understatement!

I hope that we Wales fans get to savour a similar moment against Slovakia later today.


Pre-opening match dinner – the French recognise that beer drinkers can’t be trusted with glass!

From Barafundle to Bosherston – some R&R from blogging101

I consider myself to be amongst the most fortunate people on the planet – those who live in Wales. And when occasionally I have any cause to doubt my good luck, a day like yesterday comes along and I am once again reassured that this is truly a little slice of heaven on earth!

Saturday 8th August was one of those increasingly rare days when Charlotte and I had no commitments in the diary, and the weather forecast was set fair (light south westerly winds, and temperatures due to peak at about 23 degrees C). As a result, we were up early and on our way to south Pembrokeshire by 8.30am. We were heading for Stackpole with a plan to complete a six mile circular walk from Stackpole Quay along the coast via Barafundle Bay and Broadhaven, then inland alongside Bosherston Lily Ponds and back to our starting point.

The Stackpole Estate sits on a peninsula to the south west of Pembroke and is now in the ownership of the National Trust. The whole area is, in turn, part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and is a truly spectacular mix of rugged coastline, secluded bays, sandy beaches and unspoilt countryside.

We arrived just outside Stackpole in good time and decided to change our plans slightly by parking at Stackpole Court. The friendly and really helpful National Trust volunteer manning the car park at the Court provided us with a great map of the area and we set off on the walk.

We decided to head across towards Barafundle Bay while it was still relatively cool, knowing that the walk across the fields and headland to access the beach was likely to be the hottest part of the journey.

The first glimpse of the sea above Stackpole Quay

The first glimpse of the sea above Stackpole Quay

I get a tremendous buzz of excitement from my first glimpse of the sea even now, and this trip was no exception. The deep blue of the Atlantic on this occasion was set off perfectly by the dark mass of the cliffs rising from it, and the tourquoise of the sky above.

As we made our way across the path towards the main car park at the Quay, we realised our good fortune in having decided to leave our car at the Court. It was very busy!

The plaque at the entrance to the Bay

The plaque at the entrance to the Bay

We turned right and continued our walk along the cliff top towards Barafundle Bay; a great name for a beach, and evocative of pirates and smuggling (although there’s no historical connection to the area of either). The beach here regularly features in ‘Top Ten‘ lists of beaches in the UK, and on a day like yesterday it’s easy to see why. The sand is fine and white; the sea is crystal clear and almost draws you into its refreshing saltiness; and the seemingly limitless view towards the horizon reminds us that however big our individual problems or stresses may appear, they are really pretty insignificant in the bigger scheme of things. Having made our way onto the sand and set up camp, we decided that the call of the water could be ignored no longer and headed down for a swim (which was admittedly brief – it was very cold – but nonetheless gorgeous!).

After a lay in the sun, a bite to eat, and a snooze, it was time to get our walking boots back on and continue our route along the cliff top from Barafundle towards Broadhaven South. The views along this stretch of the coastline are stunning, and my photos can only hint at the beauty and majesty of the scenery.

Clifftop view 4

Cut in the cliffs

The final section of our walk led us down alongside Broadhaven South and inland along the valley past Bosherston Lily Ponds. The dappled shade provided by the trees growing up the steep sides of the valley was very welcome on what was becoming a warm afternoon, and the peace and seclusion of the lily ponds was incredibly relaxing.Bosherston

Finally, some five hours after setting off, we came back to the eight arch bridge across the water that links the headland above Stackpole Quay to the driveway to Stackpole Court and it was time to wend our way home.

It was a lovely walk, in surely one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and I’d highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to do it.

The eight arch bridge

The eight arch bridge