Sunday, 26 June 2011

The World's Greatest National Anthems...

Music has always had a powerful effect on me. As a fan of classical music, I often find myself listening to the National Anthems of different countries. Without a doubt, when I hear the English national anthem resonating through Twickenham Stadium, I feel a shiver run up my spine.
I judge an Anthem not only on its musical composition, but it's power to move and inspire people.

Còig - Alba
Scotland, like Northern Ireland, is one of the four Home Nations I have never visited. In my mind I picture it as a land of green flowing hills, caked in thistles on the site of glorious battle fields. In reality, I think this is a somewhat misguided perception of the U.K's most northern nation.
Strangely enough, Scotland has no official National Anthem. At Murrayfield, the Scots often sing 'Flower of Scotland'. Yet on other occasions 'Scotland the Brave' is played.
However, I have chosen what I believe to be the most inspiring and jolly Anthem to represent Scots culture.


Paul Robeson's rendition of 'Loch Lomond' has featured in my blog before. It was also one of my Desert Island Discs. I find it a very romantic and compassionate tune. Its also a great song to sing at sporting events.
Although 'Loch Lomond' is beautifully catchy tune, it's not necessarily an inspirational anthem. Which brings me on to number four.

Nummer Vier - Deutschland
My next choice is rather controversial. In fact, this anthem was actually banned for a certain period following the Second World War. Although the German National Anthem has created deep historical and social divisions, it is nonetheless a fantastic Anthem. 'Das Lied der Deutschen' (The Song of the Germans), commonly knows as 'Deutschland Über Alles' as sung by a German male voice choir has a very powerful melody and very inspirational lyrics.

'Das Lied der Deutschen' is without a doubt a very powerful anthem. However, in the past it has divided many people. Ultimately, the historical connotations of this anthem has not served to unite the German people in recent years.
One might ask how music can unite people, Number Three is perhaps the greatest example of this.

Nommer Drie - Suid-Afrika
South Africa
'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica' emerged from a very turbulent time in South African society. The end of Apartheid bought about a more liberal and tolerant South Africa.This anthem represents greater appreciation of diversity by using five of South Africa's many languages in the lyrics. Not only is 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica' the National Anthem of South Africa, but it has been adopted by Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe. See Below for a remarkable fact about the South African National Anthem I only discovered whilst researching for this blog post.

Here it is sung by Francois Pienaar's winning World Cup Squad in 1995...

I was amazed to find that the South African anthem is based on the tune of Parry's Gothic composition 'Aberystwyth', my new found home. This left me rather flabbergasted, yet mostly, impressed.

'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica' represents hope. The powerful melody brings to attention the dreams and aspirations of the South African people in founding a more peaceful and tolerant nation. The diverse ethnicity of the Springbok's squad in recent years represents this progression of more liberal values.

Number Two - Australia
I am going to be slightly cheeky now. However, an unofficial National Anthem has made the second place on my list. I could not dismiss this great patriotic song. It not only provides a beautiful image of Australian culture and heritage, it's an amusing and beautiful Aussie tune.
To be perfectly honest, I could not choose a greater Australian to sing it than the fantastic lady below...

'Waltzing Matilda' is such a jolly tune. It tells the tale of a lone Swag-man (a hobo/traveller) on an exciting adventure thorough the Australian Outback. For me, it provides a beautiful image of the land of OZ, a nation which I one day hope to visit.

Personally, there is one National Anthem for me that is completely flawless. The power of this anthem's language and melody inspires the greatest sense of pride and aspiration. Unfortunately, it is not the English National Anthem. In fact 'God Save the Queen' never made it on to my list. Yet, this Home-Nation's Anthem did...

Rhif Un - Cymru
'Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau' or 'Land of My Fathers' is arguably one of the greatest National Anthems in the world. It has the power to inspire whether it's in a simple music hall, or in the grandiose setting of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It is truly a great anthem (unless sung by John Redwood). It is the only anthem (not in English) that i know fluently (with the help of Hannah Thompson and Mark Cole). Observe the passion that goes in to the words 'Gwlad, Gwald' (Nation, Nation) and you will begin to understand why it is such a marvelous National Anthem.

                    Thank you for reading
Thanks to Joshua McClean for assisting in German translation

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Who Really Wants to Die...

The debate over Euthanasia has once again reemerged after author Terry Pratchett's recent BBC2 Documentary entitled 'Choosing to Die'. The program examines the depressing and debilitating nature of the diseases and illnesses that affect British people and people all over the World today.

Perhaps more importantly, Pratchett considers the morality of assisted suicide and whether it should become a legislated practice in the United Kingdom.

Those of you who saw my Facebook status yesterday evening will know that I have a rather forthright position on the matter of assisted suicide and euthanasia. I support this treatment. I strongly believe that showing someone the compassion and love of relieving them from pain, fear and suffering is the one of the kindest human acts. A person interviewed on the program quite rightly said "You would not let you dog, or your cat suffer in pain, so why do we do it to each other?"
However, there is a reason for why these matters are so controversial. Life after all, is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Life is truly sacred. So why do these people want to die?

I personally have never considered the act of suicide. Yet, I can understand why many people who suffer from these terrible afflictions wish to alleviate themselves from the undignified suffering and upset that comes with their diseases.

It honestly quite upsets me to think that my life, and the lives of my friends and family might end in an ashamed and painful manner, when we have the power to show love and kindness by allowing the people close to us to die in a dignified way.

However, there are those who are not afflicted with any terminal or debilitating illnesses who desire assisted suicide. Depression afflicts 1/3 people in the UK at some point in their lives, yet I strongly believe that it is curable. This is why cases of people desiring assisted suicide should be dealt with individually. Although I am not religious,  I, like many people of faith believe that life is a sacred thing.

However, so is death. Death does not have to be drab and depressing. Death can be an occasion just as joyous as experiences in life. After all, when the curtain falls we all want to go out singing.

Pratchett's documentary provided a formidable insight into the processes and practice of assisted suicide. Pratchett followed the stories of two men, Peter Smedley aged 71 and Andrew Colgan, 42. Both men had travelled to Switzerland to die. Andrew and Peter were afflicted with diseases that affected the nervous systems and that would eventually lead to the shut down of their bodies in a painful and undignified way.

I must say here that I have never been more moved by a television program. Both Andrew and Peter showed the greatest courage and bravery in their personal decisions to terminate their lives.
Some argued that both Peter and Andrew chose to die prematurely. It is true that these gentlemen were still able to communicate well and even enact certain tasks for themselves. However, who is to say that these people did not have the right to die? It is their lives, and in your life you make your own decisions, good and bad. Whether you wish to fight to the bitter end, or to leave this Earth slightly early, it is your right and should be the right of citizens all over the world to make a choice of life, or death.

Perhaps the most moving part of the whole documentary was the moment in which Peter allowed us to witness him consuming the drugs that would save him from fear and suffering. By doing this, Peter showed people that he had made peace with he decision to die. What a brave man.

I was quite literally moved to tears. To see a person liberated from fear is a truly beautiful thing. Peter sat peacefully with his hand in his wife's as he gradually drifted to sleep.
If one considers the manner in which Peter and Andrew would have died had they not gone to 'Dignitas', it draws an emotive contrast into how death does not have to be undignified.

I do wish that someday in the near future we will see legislation in Britain that provides the care and facilities for those calling for assisted suicide. However, any such legislation must means test individual cases. The concerns of many people for elderly relatives choosing assisted suicide to prevent them from 'burdening' family are legitimate.

Pratchett's documentary showed that this is well enforced in Switzerland and it is ensured that the decision of these people to die is their own.

We have the power to alleviate suffering so why do we allow people to continue to live in a shameful and agonizing way? The love and care shown by the people at 'Dignitas' displayed that the alleviation of suffering is a truly beautiful thing.

Peter Smedley 1939 - 2010
Andrew Colgan 1968 - 2010

I'd like to dedicate this great song to Andrew and Peter

You can see the BBC Documentary here: Terry Pratchett - Choosing to Die

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Best Moments of English & Welsh Rugby: The Top 5

"The only trophy we won this day, was the blood and sweat we left on the pitch.... and it was enough" 

From the age of about 11 I have been absolutely infatuated with Rugby Union. As a young Full-back (15) on my middle school side, I built up my loyalty to the game.. 
However, I've never hidden that I was a player with somewhat limited skills and capabilities. Nonetheless, I loved playing Rugby. From middle school through to University, I've played in the Backs and Forwards for various sides.

Although I never was able to fully grasp playing the sport myself, I have always relished in spectating it. It's the key moments of Rugby that make it for me, the moments that make you gasp, the ones that make you laugh, and the ones you simply can't believe.

Number Five
I make no bones about being a staunch England Rugby fan (as my Welsh friends very well know.)
However, I would be totally ignorant to deny the Welsh of some of the greatest Rugby moments in history.
If there was ever one Welshman to put his country on my list it was Gareth Edwards.

But this is not 'That Try' - This is a try that epitomizes that long conflict between Scotland and Wales

The tap of the ball was the most crucial part of this point scorer. I don't think my fellow English fans would let me get away without noting that luck was most possibly on Edwards' side that day. Edwards walks looking a proud, yet modest man. Quite rightly so.

Number Four
A familiar face from England Rugby now. The youthful, pacey and damn right phenomenal Chris Ashton!
A lad criticized for his bolshy and confident attitude on the pitch. I personally think Ashton's a fantastic team player and a true asset to English Rugby Union, and this just proves it...

As Australia were forcing England into the depths of their line, some amazing play from the Backs in White to deliver a truly beautiful try. As the commentator says, "Now it's England making a statement!"

Number Three
Possibly the most inspirational moment I've ever experienced in Rugby. As a Hooker, seeing a man of my position play with such anticipation and class is truly inspiring. One of the true English Bulldogs, Steve Thompson snaps it off Ireland. Watch the effort of Thompson as he paces for the line.

I remember watching this match and just knowing that Ireland had denied England of the Grand Slam they so desired. However, Thompson came on to the pitch and told the Irish "you may have won the day, but we're not going down without a fight." This show of strength and contest by one of the fathers of the England Rugby side conveyed the ever lasting importance of determination and experience on the Rugby pitch.

Number Two
Perhaps the most dramatic and tense moment of Rugby I have ever witnessed. Without a doubt, this match sparked my interest in Rugby. The moment I am referring to is the final moments of Extra Time in the Final of the 2003 World Cup. A young man stood up to the mark and produced arguably one of the most remembered kicks in the history of Rugby. Show 'em Jonno!

The Cup was truly in the balance. Australia 17 - 17 England. The match had to go one way. I remember that glorious moment when Wilkinson drew himself into the pocket and gracefully passed that bruised and battered ball through the tall and ominous uprights. It truly was a moment to remember.

All four of the above moments have had their own unique impact on my perspective of Rug Union. I believe with all sports; Football, Snooker, Cricket - the moments that you truly remember are the ones that made you feel the most moved and empowered. If there ever was a moment that did this best, it was number one on my list.

Number One
I'd like to think that some of Rugby's most powerful moments also occur before and after games. The tension and excitement I feel before an England International tends to be heightened by the singing of the National Anthem. I have always been a strong supporter of our National Anthem. However, I can't help but admit that Wales' 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' simply blows 'God Save the Queen' out of the water. This moment epitomizes that great rivalry between England and Wales on the Rugby pitch. Note the passion as the last note of 'Land of My Father's' resonates through the Millennium Stadium.

Wales V. England will always remain my favorite contest in the game of Rugby. This match is an opportunity for both nations to show their superiority on the Rugby pitch. However, when the game is over, and the stands are cleared, I am always reminded of the strength of the relationship between the Welsh and the English.

These two nations remain arch-rivals on the Rugby field, but they will forever remain good friends.
England and Wales maintain and unbreakable bond of's just a shame for Wales that England are better at Rugby.