Posted by Alex | | Posted On Friday, 20 May 2011 at 20:31

As the year starts to wind down, it's only fair that I try to keep up on blogging. So, what have I been up to since we last spoke?

I've spent more time scheduling blogs for the beginning of July on a totally new post-Erasmus blog, so I haven't really been thinking about the here and now. I've just been scribbling thoughts, opinions, guides; anything that means I'll have regular (maybe too regular?) posts for people to read once Erasmus ends. I guess I'm giving myself a buffer to take me up until I'm back on Terra Firma in the UK -- so, July 7th -- but, it's not all gloom and doom and outdated articles. Without 'spoiling' too much, once I get on top of it all, I should have a nicer mix of things for people to read, rather than just "Today, I boiled an egg. That is all."  Just six more weeks before that all comes to fruition!

In other news, my parents visited for the week. They stayed in Tarragona, so I assume most of their time was spent on the beach and in the surrounding area. For the days when I wasn't busy with classes, or with an essay on Sexual Awakening in Erotic Dreams in the Literature of Antonio Ros de Olano, I was playing tour guide, showing them the sights in Lleida, which they seemed to enjoy, and even giving them a guided tour of the older part of Barcelona. Yet again, I missed out on the Parc Guell, and the Camp Nou, but there's plenty of time in my life to see these sort of things.

Beyond those two delightful things, there has been very little going on in the last nine days. Student loan is holding, sort of, and the British Council grant is due to come through sometime within the next few days. All in all, with only one essay, one exam, and one assignment remaining, I think this is going to be a pretty lazy end to my Erasmus year. Hopefully, this blog can go out with a bang in June, rather than a fizzle...but, as they say, Don't count your eggs before they hatch. Perhaps, given the searing heat, I'll have melted by then anyway...


Posted by Alex | | Posted On Wednesday, 11 May 2011 at 12:23

Last night was potentially the best night of my Erasmus life. Or at least a close 2nd to all those nights of 3am pizza in Pavia. It was, essentially, the grand finale of the Festes de Lleida; one big fair and festival ground in the lead up to Sant Anastasi today. It's been going on since Friday, but I wasn't really interested in the lesser-knowns, and only had one (well, two) reasons to go: Manel, and El Guincho.

Manel are, for those of you haven't listened to them (or me rambling on about them), the only Catalan band to top the Spanish charts. They've only been around four years, and play a style of folk-pop that is distinctly Catalan, but also easily enjoyable outside of Catalonia. They are also my favourite Catalan band. El Guincho, on the other hand, is an electronic artist from the Canary Islands. Pitchfork, that dreaded magazine, seemed to like him, especially when his video for Bombay came out and was four-odd minutes of topless ladies jiggling around in strange scenes.

A group of us went along, with the intention of seeing Manel. We turned up around midnight, with 45minutes to spare, and went to the only stage playing music at that time. It was some blues and rock'n'roll cover band. Most of the songs were in English, as was most of the crowd interaction, which I felt was kind of silly. Hey-ho, I'm not Catalan, so I don't know how to appreciate this. Around 20minutes into the set, I pondered walking home to get my camera, but figured I wouldn't have enough time to keep my amazing spot for Manel.

Oh, how wrong I was. The music dragged on, with a 10minute rendition of James Brown's I Feel Good, or perhaps it was Papa's Got a Brand New Bag. They always sound the same to me, especially in a 10-minute feelgood rendition. After, we looked at each other confused. Perhaps Manel was on another stage? Perhaps the one furthest from us. No, that had a list up. Perhaps the one behind us. Well, there's nothing going on, so we could always walk...

And the first notes rang out and I felt like a giddy schoolgirl. Not only was it Manel, it was Manel playing El Miquel i L'Olga Tornen, from their new album, which is my favourite song from that disc. And it just kept getting better and better. When gaps in the crowd emerged, I managed to sneak further and further forward, but never quite close enough to enjoy the fan-crowd at the front, who were really into it. I could probably attempt to write out the setlist, having sung (badly out of tune, and garbling most of the Catalan) to most everything they played. They added stories -- El Canço del Soldadet was built up as being a story told to Arnau, the drummer, two years ago "when he was just 6 years old, and made a wish to grow up; he's now 30." -- and audience participation. They even teased everyone with an encore that started off poorly, with Deixa-la, Toni, Deixa-la, a fairly melancholic tune, but topped it with their cover of Pulp's Common People (La Gent Normal, in Catalan), and finished up with Al Mar! a song I've never been too fond of, but which resulted in me, and the group of young guys behind me shouting it into the ears of the bewildered older ladies in front of us.

All finished, and I was lost. But, you know what? While normally I would panic and spend time trying to seek everyone out, instead I went to  see what else was on, alone. There was some early hours techno thing going on, and El Guincho. However, Manel's encore had made them run on til about 1.15, and my wanderings had left me turning up to El Guincho's set with about 10minutes left -- I got to appreciate his music, slightly, before everything stopped, and I was alone still. But, I was in my element. It was actually nice to wander alone, the sound of Manel fresh in my ears.

Now, the question is, after seeing Manel for free, do I spend €70 (and the train fare to Barcelona) on seeing a lot of bands that I like at Primavera Sound...?

Dormilón, I choose you!

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 9 May 2011 at 06:36

It's rare, very rare given my uncanny penchant for staying up to unreasonably late hours, that I am awake at pre-7am. By British standards, I have been awake since about 5.30 waiting for my alarm to go off, making it now 6.15 (7.15 local time). It's early. Damned early. And I kind of like it. I always like it when I manage what, to some, is a relatively easy feat. In Spanish, they have a word for people like me: dormilón. It sounds like a pokémon, but really it's just a nicer sounding way to say sleepyhead. I enjoy my sleep; and sometimes let it take precedent. It's these rare moments of 7am lucidity that I cherish, as they are so rare. And now, on with the news:

I can finally quit complaining to you that I am the poorest of the churchmice. As of Saturday, I've been granted my final dose of student loan for the year...which I proceeded to spend on a new phone, because, let's face it, 24months tied down to one is too long in this day and age. I have other plans for this cash, including living expenses, getting myself home for the summer, and frivolities including a selecció catalana jersey from the football shop on the corner. Oh the joys of money.

There are exactly eight weeks left of this Erasmus journey. At the moment, with essays and courseworks still due, I can't say that I'm going to miss it. But, who knows; give me eight weeks and I might just change my tune. I might even change my blog -- I know, I've barely hit 100 posts here and already I'm leaving. Well, I feel that VENT was a nice leaping off platform. It was meant to be regular, short, bloggy, about travels and adventures and new experiences. Perhaps it fulfilled this, perhaps it didn't. Since I'm not going to be abroad, and since I'm not going to be journeying into literal terra incognita, I'm of the mindset that, come July I'll switch to another URL, and try to do a better job at this blogging malarky. Don't worry; I'll let you know where you can find me ahead of time!

Finally, in rounding off, I'm less than happy with the outcome of the elections and referendum on Thursday. We didn't get AV, because as ever the British public are more conservative (with a small c) than they'd like to let on. Perhaps that's a little harsh when only 42% of them actually bothered to vote, like the lazy, apolitical asshats they are. We, being the Welsh, also got a shoddy result in our election seeing Labour fall one short of a majority. Where is the humanity? Where are the Plaid Cymru voters? All I can say is that I'm thankful someone got it right and gave Alex Salmond and the SNP a 9 seat majority in Scotland. It's just a shame the rest of the country can't be so forward thinking...

And on that bum note, I hope you have a good rest-of-the-day! I'm off to make some coffee!

Avoid This Blog. It is about Politics.

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 19:21

We're into May, and I'm still sitting on my rent & bills money as, as far as I am aware, the landlady hasn't come round with our little slip where she tallies up the bills and divides it by five. I guess I'm in the clear until Monday then! But, I'm not here to give you another installment of "Alex is poor, so cry me a river!" In fact, I'm here to educate.

As most of you are aware -- if you are reading from the UK anyway -- today, May 5th, was election day in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For those of you who have stumbled on this from another country, or who I have met on my travels, well: now you know. But, the other important thing on this day -- aside from Cinco de Mayo (or Hanko de Mayo) -- is the British referendum on Electoral Reform.

Sounds like a bore, right? Well, I guess most of it is a bore. It's all numbers and sheets of paper, and things that the average man on the street doesn't give two hoots about. Right now, in Britain, the voting system is pretty simple: tick a box, your vote counts; if your guy gets the most votes, he wins, and everyone else is left out in the cold. Simple. The joy of First Past the Post.

What's going on today in Britain, however, is a referendum to see if people want to change that system. In other words, a change towards a more democratic system. I think it was put best in a video about the Canadian elections held this month, that in the last (2008) elections, over 40% of Canadians voted for nobody, meaning only 17% of those entitled to vote actually wanted to have Stephen Harper's Conservatives representing them. The same happens in Britain, where the norm is for the party in power to be in on 36% of the vote (that is 36% of those who voted, which is usually less than 70% of the country), meaning only around 15-17% of people actually want the Prime Minister and his party to be representing us.

That's where today came into play. Owing to a lovely scandal over MPs and money, people wanted a bit more transparency and a lot more accountability. But, how can an MP voted in by a tiny amount of his constituency actually be held accountable? The other people can't moan because they lost or didn't vote; and those who did actually vote him in are in the minority, despite being the so-called majority. What do you do? Overhaul the system.

There are hundreds of potential voting systems out there. Some of my favourites include the Mixed Member system used in Wales, which, though confusing, gives people the best of both worlds. Constituencies are voted in on a First Past the Post (i.e. most votes wins) basis, and the remaining seats are given out proportionally on a Party List.
The other one I love is the French presidential system of dual-round voting. That is, essentially, that when your candidate loses, you go back to the polls two weeks later and vote for the two remaining candidates. You may be unhappy that your candidate lost, but at least you have more of a chance for your voice to be heard the second time as there's a 50:50 chance your man will get in.

So, in Britain, what have we opted to offer? Do we take on the Mixed Member system of Wales? Do we use the Single Transferable Vote found in Australia? How about the good old "Majority vote" found in schools across the land? Nope, the British government chose to offer the Alternative Vote. I won't go into the gory details, but essentially: rank your candidates in preference order, and when they get knocked out your 2nd preference is counted, then your 3rd if they get knocked out. Pretty simple.

What I'm noticing, however, is a split in the country. Those on the Right don't want the system because they think it will change everything. Those on the Left don't want the system because they are scared of minority parties suddenly gaining power. In reality, neither is going to happen. The British public, I'm sorry to say, are too slow-witted to suddenly change their voting habits from Lib-Lab-Con to Green or BNP. Rarely, if I'm honest, have I encountered someone who was willing to put their FPTP vote on the line and vote outside the Big Three -- that is, someone who is willing to throw it all away in the hope that someone else will vote with them. Only those of real conviction for their party seem to do that, while the others just tick the party of their current MP.

Case in point? The Rhondda, where I live (for those not aware), is a Labour heartland. For over 100 years, since the foundation of Labour, there has not been a day when it has not been represented, at a National level, by a Labour MP. Of course, on the devolved levels -- the Welsh Assembly, and the local council -- we see that people are more willing to put up with a Plaid Cymru or Liberal Democrat candidate. On the whole though, nobody says "You know what, I've had enough of that Chris Bryant and I'm voting Plaid!" Instead, they say "I've had enough of that Chris Bryant. But I don't trust anyone else!"

Admittedly, in heartlands and safe seats, the AV will only serve to strengthen the legitimacy of the candidate involved. Those 2nd place votes for Labour in the Rhondda will be added on to the first place tally, meaning we have more of a right to complain when our MP messes up. Where it will really matter is in those few marginals that see switches from Labour to Conservative or Liberal to Labour depending on the mood of the people. Essentially, legitimacy, accountability and, hopefully, some transparency will come out of this.

So, you may ask yourselves, why am I informing you of all of this? Well, the answer is simple: we're looking at a very likely No vote. In writing about this, I just hoped to get it out there that there is more to AV than what the Yes or No campaigns say; there is no massive change, there is no confusing system, there is nothing more than three boxes to tick instead of one. The downside, you use more ink. The upside, accountable MPs. But, hey-ho. As we see, year-in, year-out with elections, the British public are never going to change their ways and we will forever be swapping between Labour and Conservative, in the hope that, eventually, one of them will get it right.

I suppose, once the results are out, I write a status on Facebook and a line on Twitter about it all. Until then, if you read this far, let's have something a little more lighthearted: