Modern Monarchies

As anyone who knows me could testify from my rants whenever the latest Royal ‘story’ breaks through the news, I’m a bit of a republican, in traditional terms.  Being a republican in the UK, however, is like being sober at a party; nobody listens to you, and you’re forever being considered a pedantic bore.  The monarchy enjoys ever-high levels of popularity here and, while it’ll probably sag when/if Prince Charles becomes King (“I support the monarchy but don’t want Charles to become King” sort of misses the point), Prince William, second in line, is pretty popular.

The dismal chances for republicanism in the UK is one reason why I particularly like looking at this map:

Monarchies
(Blue denotes a generally symbolic monarch; red a monarch with substantial powers).

The UK really is in the majority by keeping its head of state a member of the Royal Family.  If you took us, Canada, Australia and New Zealand off the map, this would be even more so the case.  There is also hope on the international frontier: Australia held a republican referendum in 1999 which narrowly lost – 45.13% voted to remove the monarchy – and Spain’s royal family is becoming ever more unpopular.

This blog is more intended to show off my maps than make a case for abolishing the monarchy, so I’ll finish off with my favourite map.  This one roughly shows countries in the world by the date they got rid of their monarchies.  Republicanism is winning, let there be no doubt!

Monarchies - Copy

 

Travelling The World

I have a confession to make…  I have never in my life left the UK.  This usually is greeted with shock and pity whenever I admit it, but that’s the tragic truth.  In my and my family’s defence, I’ve seen an awful lot of the UK: I’ve at least passed through most major cities, seen a massive amount of the Scottish highlands and made a few ventures into Wales – though I’ve yet to tackle Northern Ireland.  (I suppose that would be another benefit to Scotland becoming independent – these places would suddenly count as ‘abroad’!)  But with respect to all the individual cultures within our country,and I know personally how far these can differ, what I really want is to explore the cultures, landscapes, wildlife and history of other countries.

So I’ve compiled a list of the countries in the world I would like to visit, presented in map form:

Places I Want to Visit

Okay, I appreciate there are problems here…  North Korea and Iran would be challenging to get into, and since I don’t have a death wish countries like Syria, Mali and Afghanistan may have to wait.   I may voluntarily miss out the Vatican.

Joking aside, I really would like the opportunity to visit as many foreign countries as I can, but I have narrowed them down to places which I shall focus on first:

  1. Canada.  Similar culture, same language, less insane than various elements of the USA – should feel fairly at home here!  I’ve been told Vancouver would be a great place to start, and I would also love to explore some of the more far flung northern provinces.
  2. France.  I speak basic French, though would need to seriously brush up on it.  There are so many parts of France worth visiting, from the typical tourist spots in Paris to the cornfields and castles of Provence, from visiting the fields of the First World War to the Alps.
  3. South Africa.  I still can’t put my finger on why, but I have a slight obsession with this country.  I think I’m in awe of the astounding progress which has been made since Apartheid, despite failings the government may currently have.  Feels like an accessible country to start my explorations of Africa with, due to the use of English and my knowledge of the country.  My only concern is that the country could potentially, in a worst case scenario, slide further and further into corruption and intolerance and may not become the safest place for a European to visit.
  4. Egypt.  There’s so much!  The history angle would dominate, obviously, with the pyramids and tombs and ancient cities.  But also more recent history; how fascinating it would be to walk across Tahrir Square and know the victories which had been won there – a symbol for the ongoing battle for freedom.
  5. Japan.  This would be the most difficult by far.  Completely alien language and script, alien culture, alien social norms, alien technology!  These factors make Japan all the more appealing, but I know I would struggle and definitely could not go alone; the culture shock would be enormous.  Yet Japan seems such a beautifully rich and diverse country, I have to visit it at least once in my lifetime.

One other significant plan I have is to look into the various railway deals offered in Europe which travel through a variety of countries, offering a chance to experience a multitude of cultures and scenery without having to plan each journey individually.  I’m not sure these still exist – I hope so!

If – no, when – I travel to these countries, I hope to update this blog accordingly with my experiences.

Thoughts on Argo

Contains Spoilers.

 

Earlier today I went to see the film Argo at the cinema.  I had a vague idea of what it was about, having seen trailers, and thought it would be worth seeing to expand my knowledge of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the following hostage crisis.

So I was therefore disappointed that the film began in the aftermath of the revolution.  I suppose this is down to not researching it enough as any synopsis would have told me this.  I did appreciate a cartoon-style history at the beginning to explain the events leading up to the revolution, however.

Argo begins during anti-American protests outside the US embassy, unnervingly reminiscent of events just a year ago.  This shocking display of senseless violence kicks off the film with a particular tone of chaos and fear.  The image of terrified diplomats watching the mob break into the complex is one of the most striking images from the film.

However, Argo soon loses this tone for a lighter one, as the CIA contemplate how to rescue six diplomats who escaped and are hiding in the Canadian embassy, after being inaccurately turned away by Britain and New Zealand.  Although not to my taste, the comedy scenes during planning the bizarre scheme – involving a fake science fiction film – to rescue these diplomats were done well.

Events regarding the diplomats holed up in Canada’s embassy are portrayed in much detail, if glorifying the role of the CIA, but very little is told of the fifty-six other diplomats being held hostage in the embassy by Islamic students and militants.  The film is interspersed with scenes showing them held at gunpoint in the embassy, and a very chilling scene showing a mock-execution, but very little is explained or mentioned about their predicament – leaving me initially confused.

The use of suspense in Argo  makes this a film to be watched from the edge of a seat – I barely took breath as the car carrying disguised diplomats drove through a demonstration – which really causes the audience to experience their feelings of terror.  There are many points in which characters are faced by an angry and dangerous mob, or security forces are seen plotting, which is made all the more intimidating by not providing subtitles over the Persian language, so we English speakers must infer their intentions from the threatening body language.

Overall, Argo is a great film.  It isn’t what I expected, but is not the worse for that.  It should not be seen solely as entertainment nor as historical education, but a blend which combines elements of both to make a highly watchable film which also teaches the audience bits and pieces of the Iranian Revolution.  Not a ‘must-see’ film, but definitely worth watching!