Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tragic Loss for Wales

The loss of Gary Speed is an utter tragedy. He was a superb footballer and later in his career a fantastic manager. I wish to send my condolences to his family. He will always be remembered as one of the true gentlemen of football, a credit to his country and an invaluable contributor to Welsh sport. I am shocked and devastated by this news.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Comparing stuff with Downton - well, it's the current trend

Did you see the series finale of Downton Abbey? More happened in one hour of television than in decades of popular soap operas.

Finally there was "the kiss" leaving many of us to wonder what the no-doubt feel-good Christmas Special will be about now Matthew and Mary have hooked up (and regretted it miserably all in one episode) AND Mr Bates and Anna married and spent a romatnic conjugal night in a secret suite kindly decorated by the soon-to-quit Cora look-alike who's been snogging old Lord Grantham in side rooms, before old Bates was carted off by police. With the speed in which the plot line moves on, one imagines Matthew and Mary will have a Christmas wedding and spend most of series three tackling marital issues in the changing post war society of the swinging twenties while trying to secure the Grantham lineage in a few steamy scenes.

It was lucky that flu was so voracious though. It worked well to move various narratives and sub-plots along. Although did anybody else think it had the epidemic alacrity of the Ebola virus? One minute Lavinia was wandering down stars to see her betrothed tonsil-deep in Miss Mary, the next she was spluttering her last breaths as Lady Grantham's profuse sweating and nose bleeds persisted over the course of two gripping will-she-or-wont-she nights.

Apparently the actual Spanish Flu lasted from June 1918 to December 1920 spreading to the Arctic and remote Pacific Islands. Between 50 and 100 million died, or more than 3% of the world's population, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. The virus preyed upon the young and strong, turning a healthy immune system into a corporal civil war where the strongest fighters were cuaght up in a battle that turned against their own bodies.

Ok, so how was I planning to draw parallels between this and the EU?

Where there's a will there's a way.

The first cases of influenza were registered in the U.S., just a the collapse of Lehman brothers signalled the start of the global recession. The flu then spread around Europe before getting to Spain. The pandemic received it's nickname "Spanish Flu" because of the severity. Germany, Britain and France all had media blackouts on news of the flu that might be seen to lower morale and did not want to disclose information about disease and the number of deaths to their enemies.

The Euro crisis, first striking Greece, and spreading virulently from Ireland to Portgual has now reached Italy, deemed to large to bail out. Meanwhile Germany and France continue to insist that the Eurozone will be alright in the end, despite the fact that the latter's economy could well be next in line. Huge efforts have been made to cover up the extent of deficit in these major economies, to calm the world's markets and silence the enemies of the Eurozone who hage already called time on the stricken common currency project.

The Greek crisis is small fry compared to what is now looming in the wings and is preparing to sweep over the cast of Europe with the same narrative upheavals as Spanish Flu in Downton. Greece makes up just two per cent of the EU economy compared to Italy who was the eighth largest economy in the world last year, or the fourth largest in Europe.

Indeed so ferocious is the contagion that France and Spain could be the next to suffer. Some might argue that Spain's economic fate was written since Portugal contracted the debt disease bringing it to Iberia.The borrowing costs to France have soared to over 3%, almost half way to the dreaded 7% hypothesised doom that Italy has recently achieved.Perhaps just like the Spanish Flu, by the time contagion hits Spain it will have reached it's most virulent and deadly.

German experts have slammed the European Central Bank for buying Spanish and Italian debt, putting Germany precariously at the head of the pack when it comes to calling the shots and starting to revert to self interest, something which when adopted by a nation with as much economic might as Germany, could be quite hard to counter.It is interesting then to remember the founding goal of the European Union was to prevent another German war with her neighbours after 100 years of devastating conflicts. Even today it would seem the unenviable task of the EU is to again diminish the power of a reunified Germany.

So what for series three of Downton? We all know how history plays out from now, and considering series one started with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and has hurtled in 14 episodes to the Spanish Flu reaching UK shores in 1920 it is conceivable that a new head to head with Germany could be on the cards for the already battered and beleagured cast of the Abbey. And this time, the war really could be brought to the Grantham estate as World War II brought bombing attacks onto UK soil.

As for us? Well it looks as though Germany are getting rather wearied at playing the coy and well meaning big brother role. At the recent crisis summit in Brussels, hoping to secure the one trillion euro rescue package to save her embattled currency, Angela Merkel warned "No one should believe that another half century of peace in Europe is a given - it's not. So I say again; if the euro collapses, Europe collapses"

I would rather take this comment as scaremongering. After all, it's more than likely now that the Euro will collapse, and hopefully the EU along with it. However whether we will all start turning arms on eachother seems to me a rather far fetched concept used to scare member states into jumping to attention.

But then, after all, who knows? If there's one thing we have learned from history, and from Downton Abbey, it's that however predictable the majority of the narrative it, there will always be the unexpected twist in the plot that takes us all by surprise.