Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Column, June 4, 2007

WE are a third world nation, according to Sir Paul McCartney.
And if Macca calls you a third world country, you really ought to sit up and take note. He does know a thing or two about social deprivation, lawlessness and poverty – he’s from Liverpool.
But the rather predictable splutters of outrage at his off-the-cuff remarks to Kaiser Chiefs’ member Ricky Wilson, miss one important point – we are.
The Kaiser Chiefs are, as The Beatles were in their time, a popular beat combo, but I digress.
Let’s measure ourselves up to whether we are global superpower or international minnow shall we?
Well, one of the primary measures of whether you’re third world or first world is economic. Does the economy of Wales deserve such a tag?
Well, the third world nations are characterised as having weak economies, overly-reliant on agriculture and foreign aid and with high levels of unemployment.
Here we are a nation of near-bankrupt sheep farmers and my how we celebrate when we get Objective One status unlocking the Euro aid for our flagging economy. Objective One, in case you’ve forgotten, means you’re an area in Europe which the Eurocrats have decided is on its uppers to such an extent that billions need to be lavished on it to give it a chance of getting up to the standard of living that the rest of Europe enjoys.
Over on Anglesey they’re discussing how to get the one in four of the working population who are unemployed, back into work. Yes, one in four.
Third World nations often have their mineral wealth exploited by the developed world, having it extracted and carted off where they make more money for it.
Coal ring a bell anyone? And water still, it rains on us and its piped away to our ‘developed’ neighbour.
Now let’s consider transport. Third World nations have poor transport links that hinder their economic development.
If you’ve spent a day sitting in the jams on the A55 you might well form the conclusion that getting to Rhyl for the day was about as easy as getting to Timbuktu.
As for travelling from North to South by road or rail, all I can say is pack plenty of sandwiches, and drinks, and a tent – you’re going to be travelling for some time.
Third World nations suffer from poor health, where reasonably common ailments that are treatable in the developed world result in higher mortality.
How often does Wales plumb the depths of whatever league table there is relating to health? If a heart attack, stroke or lung disease is going to carry you off, chances are you’re living in Wales.
And Third World nations suffer as their people leave to try to find a better life elsewhere.
How many of Wales’s young people move to Manchester, Liverpool, London, or any English town where the chances of finding a decent job are hugely better than they would be if they stayed in their homeland?
Of course none of this will come as news to anyone who follows Welsh teams in England. If you’ve travelled to support Wrexham, it’s never very long before the opposition fans strike up a chant to the Latin-American rhythms of ‘Juantanamera’, shouting ‘Third world nation, you’re from a third world nation.’
It has to be said that the Wrexham fans, often sons of miners (now gone) or steelworkers (now gone) usually just shrugged and accepted the statement of the obvious.
Instead of outrage at a crass comment by an old Beatle, perhaps we would do better to examine the attitudes which prevail that still dismiss us as a third world nation, and whether there is any truth in them.

WHAT has happened to the singing of anthems?
There was a time when they were just belted out by the massed ranks of fans assembled to the accompaniment of some military band or other.
And the anthems usually, when sung properly kind of ambled along to a descending note and then we got on with the business of the rugby or football.
Now, however, we increasingly see the use of famous singers to ‘lead’ the anthems.
This has two effects, firstly the delay in the sound of the singer getting to the back of the stands means that the crowd is singing a good second or so behind their leader, which produces a most disconcerting echo.
Secondly, the singers, wanting to finish big, have taken to singing a counter-harmony of their final line. So when the voices of the crowd are going down, the singer is going up through the scales.
They’ve been doing it for a while now with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau on the line ‘collasant’ where the singer holds a high note as the rest of the crowd descend.
But the worst examples recently were in the FA Cup when the two singers leading Abide With Me started the vocal gymnastics on the final line, and God Save the Queen was given the same treatment.
Abide With Me is what the band played on the Titanic as it sank beneath the icy waves, its finale should slip slowly to the depths, not a soaring vocal extravaganza.
It’s time for CAMPA, the Campaign for Proper Anthems, calling for:
· A halt to the practice of using sopranos to lead a crowd of predominantly dodgy tenors and baritones*
· Sing it the way it’s always been sung – stick to the original tune and forget the vocal gymnastics
· Pointing out to the Ruperts who follow English rugby that singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, a spiritual written by a former slave has just the teensiest bit of irony to it
* The exception to this rule is Katherine Jenkins when wearing a Wales shirt two sizes too small, she can carry on, but they can just turn off the microphone.

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