Thursday, 12 December 2013

Is Britain Becoming Less British?

Following the news during the last few weeks, you could certainly be forgiven to think so. Once we'd got used to the fact that sipping "Glu-wein" on one of the many many German Christmas markets now scattered all over the UK ( I believe there's even one in Belfast) is now the thing to do, the next hammer blow was falling. Apparently "Stollen" is now more popular in Britain than the once ubiquitous mince pie. Food for thought, indeed.

Apologies to my Atheist readers but have never heard "stollen" referred to other than "Christ-Stollen". (Stollen on its own meaning a mineshaft.) But is the abbreviated version also an indication of culinary shortcomings? Christstollen is a yeasty sort of cake with plenty of dried fruit and (regionally )a dollop of marzipan in it. At its best it tastes like wonderful Italian panettone, at its worst, it could double up as a self-defense tool.

Plus, I saw a picture of a British Christmas tree. Had the description not included its origin, I would have assumed it was the real continental thing. Tastefully decked out with traditional wooden ornaments (rocking horse, trumpet, drum) and real candles, I was thoroughly perplexed. What about the plastic tree that would open up like an umbrella? What about the multi-coloured fairy lights that blink omnichromatically in 3-second intervals so that your eyesight becomes disturbed? What about the pink fluffy tinsel?

And apparently it's not just the Christmas spirit that makes Britons borrow heavily from their Continental neighbours. An article in The Guardian suggested that on top of those Christmas Markets, The UK could also benefit from a less centralised, more federal governmental structure. You can read the article here

Whatever next I wonder. No more bare legs on January evenings out? Winter coats instead of fleeces? Mixer taps in a bathroom which is no longer carpeted? It's all beginning to sound very scary.....

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Great British Interculturalist Has Died in Germany

A radio presenter has died. No, I didn't know him. But in the deepest recesses of my brain his name produced a faint echo: Chris Howland.

The interesting thing is he was a British radio journalist whose career happened exclusively (apart from one unsuccessful stint at home which only lasted a year) in Germany. He was born in London in 1928, became a professional beekeeper, and in 1946 started as a radio presenter for the British army in occupied Hamburg, working for BFBS.

Soon his radio show became the preferred listening for German youths fed up with the staid and pompous way German radio was then presented. And apparently Chris Howland's show was just what they were looking for - all the great new music (rather than some outdated operetta tunes that German radio would have served up) presented in a laid-back and funny way. Apparently once he told his audience: "Don't worry about the lyrics [of an English song] I don't understand them myself". Just the sort of witty, uplifting remark people needed in those days.

In the 60s Chris Howland got his first show with a German radio station and  again managed to turn it into a great success, thereby even saving the almost defunct broadcasting station from ruin  by being so popular. Later on, when TV became the more important mass medium, Chris Howland got a show called "Hidden Camera" which must have been hilarious, especially given the uptight, head-down German post-war era. It involved putting people in awkward or absurd social situations and filming  their reactions. Ethnographers of today, take note! So for example, traffic lights were set up in a forest (absolutely no traffic!) and the good Germans were filmed standing there obeying the red lights 'til the cows came home (or until they were being told it had been a joke.)

Without making a big song and dance about it, Chris Howland who made his strong British accent his trade mark, managed to alert Germans to their post-war weaknesses - a strong allegiance to aurhority, humourlessness, and an unquerying mind.

Chris Howland died last Saturday near Cologne. He'd made Germany his home, and did radio shows right to the end. I think he deserves to be remembered as one of the first post-war interculturalist who was not afraid of going against the grain. I wonder for example what his BFBS colleaagues made of his decision to stay on in "enemy territory"? He also calmly sailed through the storm when a German politician complained that his "Hidden Camera" was irreverent and impolite.

I think we need more Chris Howlands - unafraid, humorous and bridging cultures!