The Best Time To Visit Europe

September and May have always been my favourite time to visit the Mediterranean, as scrambling over Roman ruins, drinking red wine, sunbathing – all the good stuff – are clearly best done without fear of heatstroke.  It’s also well-known that August is the worst time to visit Europe, as many cities such as Paris and Madrid effectively close down.  On top of that, you have the school summer holidays calendar which means just about everywhere with a patch of grass from St Petersburg to Dublin will be mobbed by screaming kids.  Don’t even think about visiting an open-air swimming pool in late July.

Of course, the ski season lasts from mid-December to Late March, but the winter is otherwise a pretty miserable time to visit Europe, where winter means either -40 in the North or grey skies and inadequate central heating in the South.

I’ve just got back from an epic three-week trip down to southern Italy and back in the camper van and I have to say that mid-March is in some ways an ideal time to ‘do Europe’ if you are interested in culture rather than beaches. There were no queues for museums, no reservations necessary at restaurants, easy parking and sleeping wherever we liked in the van.  The coast roads were traffic-free, which is also a huge bonus in places like the French Riviera and the Italy’s Amalfi coast, where there is enough local traffic to cause headaches at the best of times.

The weather was extremely varied, ranging from bright sunshine in Lyon to freezing hail in Naples, to snow in the Alps and April Showers in Belgium.  It really felt like we got a unique insight into a side of Europe we hadn’t seen before.

Most importantly, of course, there were none of those insufferable other tourists ruining our tourism by doing touristy things and being all touristy.  Which was great!

Why We Hate EDM

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Skrillex twiddling his nobs whilst being bummed by a robot

Someone on teh internet once said that ‘Dubstep sounds like robots having sex’. There was a time when that would have been a great thing. We could have worn a tinfoil space outfit from Cyberdog and been all over that robot sex vibe. How times have changed. Nowadays, the idea of ‘quality’ in Dance music has shifted to the warm, classic-sounding stuff: Deep House, New York Disco, Ska, Rock n Roll, Golden Era Hip Hop, anything with analog synths, anything with 909s… All that EDM and Brostep rubbish sounds, well, rubbish. What happened?

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Collecting rave flyers: nostalgia for a future past

Up until a couple of years ago, Dance music only ever looked forward. The rate of progression from Rap to House to Rave to Hardcore to Jungle to DnB took place over the course of just 10 short years (roughly speaking, 1986-1996). Top DJs were expected to play all the latest releases and a track would be jettisoned from your record bag after 18 months, regardless of how good it was. White labels, dubplates and pirate radio all contributed in their own way to the vertiginous turnover of sonic palates, pushing music faster, harder, further. Dance music was the sound of the future and it left most Rock music light years behind in terms of innovation and originality. I remember DJing in the early 2000s and listening to old House and Hardcore records with their ‘primitive’ 909 beats and thinking how dated and badly produced they sounded. Those same records are now the ones we eulogize about with misty-eyed nostalgia. The futuristic robot music of Skrillex or Knife Party just sounds like some kind of aural discharge. The future is over.

The reason we hate EDM is that we are now living in the end times. We are coming to the end of Western civilization. Although the current economic recession appears to be lifting – through such ugly and desperate measures as fracking and selling off the NHS – we are surely witnessing the last death throws of the Anglo-saxon empire. As Russia comes knocking at Europe’s door once again and Latin Americans catch tantalizing glimpses of life beyond America’s stranglehold, it’s fair to say we are entering a new age. It is no surprise, then, that we are also caught up in a collective cultural nostalgia trip.

The warm, cosy world of the 20th Century is a far safer place for us to abide than a 21st Century where China holds the cards and hoverboards are conspicuous only by their absence. It is also no surprise, that the only music ‘we’ judge to be worthy is the good old classic-sounding stuff. The new breed of American Dubstep with its hyper-wobble distorted basslines or glitzy EDM with its catchy choruses and hands-in-the-air Euphoria are deemed to be beyond the pale.

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They probably still believe in progress

We have fallen out of love with the future, because we know deep down that we do not own the future any more. Is this something to be pessimistic about? Hell no! Just as in 1453, as Constantinople fell and Christendom lay in tatters, Italy looked inwards and backwards and came up with the Renaissance, it might be that we need a deep and long recession to remind us of what’s important in life. It’s probably time for the West to take a rest. Once the fracked oil has been bled dry and the locusts have moved on to India or China, maybe we will finally be left in peace to build a sustainable future where we don’t have to keep running blindly forwards in the name of progress. If Skrillex is the future, isn’t it better to stand still? I for one would rather stick on a shellac, pour myself a martini with an olive in it, and get back to the sewing. As long as I can keep my iphone.

LIKED THIS?  NOW READ: WHY ROCK MUSIC CAN’T CHANGE THE WORLD 

The Last Word On… Baracco Barner

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In spite of not knowing how to spell Obama, or that the UK doesn’t have a president, Gemma Worrall knows that Russia is bad. The western media can give itself a collective back pat  for that one. The endless anti-Putin propaganda, starting with the Olympics and ending in the whole Ukraine thing has been so effective that even those who know absolutely nothing about anything at all have been wholeheartedly convinced that RUSSIA IS EVIL.

Thank God our great leader Barraco Barner is here to save us all from these foreign evil dictators who do evil things like not selling us their gas as cheaply as we’d like or invading places they used to own.

The Definitive Top Five European Countries Because I Say So

This is the 100% accurate and definitive list of the best European countries to visit.

The-European-Union

Look! Flags!

A Helpful Note To The American Reader

If you’re planning a trip to Europe, you’re probably wondering which of the 30-odd countries is more worthy of your time.  I have therefore decided to come up with an order of the countries most worth visiting for the first-timer doing some sort of round-Europe trip…

I can’t really be bothered to explain my reasoning at this juncture, for ’tis merely a list of my top 5.  Suffice to say, however, it’s probably quite a good top 5, objectively speaking, if you like art, food, sunshine, music, museums and old stuff.  If you don’t like these things, I hear Milton Keynes is nice.

5. Croatia

Because even nazi sympathising genocidal maniacs can have a fantastic coastline.

4. Spain

Por que me encantan las fiestas, la gente y la cultura.

3. Scotland

Because Mogwai, Buckfast and red squirrels.

2. Loathed as I am to admit it, France

I won’t massage their egos any further, but you’ve got to hand it to them.

1. Italy

Numero uno!  Is that even Italian?

This Weird Little Secret Might Be The Most Mind-blowing Thing You Read All Day About Selfies.

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Do sloths take selfies? Do they even have a concept of self? OMG CUTE.

I’m probably not the first person to point out that we have invented the most powerful mechanism for human interaction and cooperation ever conceived, yet use it to share pictures of kittens. In the spirit of Buzzfeed, Upworthy et al, I will give this article a ridiculously over-egged headline and a picture of a sloth doing something cute, but if you want to understand my drift, you might have to actually be bothered to read a few hundred words. Sorry about that.

I awoke this morning to a Buzzfeed article about an artist called Lindsay Bottos. To cut a long story short, Lindsay found herself at the brunt of cyberbullying for no other reason than being a relatively attractive woman with a Tumblr.  I’m sure that many commentators’ angle on this story will be the failure of feminism: “The male gaze”, that sort of thing. However, there is an underlying tendency behind this whole issue which is, if anything, far more disturbing/interesting in my eyes. When people watched TV, it was called the ‘three-second zapping culture’.

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This is her, apparently

Now we’re in the digital age, it’s this same zapping culture which draws us to Buzzfeed, Tumblr and the rest. If this new century can be characterised by anything, it is the way that visual culture has replaced the written word, and that information is becoming ever more bite-sized. Why watch a 2-hour film when you can watch a one-hour episode of Breaking Bad? Why read an essay about the meaning of art when you can see the idea expressed on canvas? Why read a cookery book when you can watch a youtube video instead? There is no doubt that, for good and for bad, all the information in the universe is slowly being condensed and filtered into manageable chunks. These bitesize pieces are easier to digest and help us to achieve more as human beings. But the flipside of all this is that we are becoming really sucky at thinking for ourselves, of holding complicated ideas in our heads and of seeing things in ways other than black and white.

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The college liberal meme: allowing closet right wingers to express reactionary sentiments since 2012.

To take an arbitrary example, let’s look at internet memes. They are funny because they are able to sum up a ‘type of person’ or a ‘familiar situation’ so well. They play into the same human weakness; the need to stereotype, to condense information, to create a shorthand, to distill a thought to its essence. They are also incredibly cruel for the person who’s been memed: They have had their individuality erased and whatever intentions they had in striking that pose have been completely airbrushed from history. They have become nothing more than a hideous caricature, a shorthand for an idea. Sucks to be them. But what is a selfie, but the creation of one’s own meme about oneself? Every selfie is in all circumstances the same meme: I think I’m hot. Just as College Liberal might not even hold liberal views, you might not think you’re hot. But you don’t control your message. The public controls it. They think that all selfies are the “I think I’m hot” meme. Any reaction to your selfie is a reaction to “I think I’m hot” not to you as a person. Don’t take it personally.

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A Higher Sanskrit Grammar textbook for use in high schools. Must be a bestseller.

In a digital-visual world, there is no room for ambiguity, the marginal, the esoteric. The children of tomorrow will not memorise Shakespeare’s sonnets or Sanskrit grammar. They will not follow trains of argument with logical rigour. They won’t understand the irony of Buzzfeed – the website that specialises in short lists – decrying people who judge artists based on shallow first impressions.

LIKED THIS?  NOW READ: How To Pretend To Be Great At Piano When You’re Not

Best of Netflix: Three European Crime Dramas You Must See

1. Spiral (France 2005-12)

Coming out of the Canal+ stable, a TV station which has become synonymous with good telly (kind of like a French HBO if you will), this gritty French police drama will have you hooked from the opening credits.  Part procedural cop show, part gore-fest, Spiral explores the dark underbelly of Parisian life, where prostitutes and gangsters rub shoulders with bent coppers and dodgy lawyers.

2.  Lilyhammer (Norway 2013)

Lilyhammer is a Norwegian Netflix original and is the highest-rated TV show of all time in Norway, where nearly a quarter of the population went online to watch the story of an American gangster who escapes to Lillehammer as part of the witness protection program.  As well as being a hilarious, innocent-abroad-in-reverse-comedy-drama, Steven Van Zandt speaks in English throughout, meaning less subtitle fatigue.

3. The Bletchley Circle (UK 2012)

But try as you might, you just can’t beat a good British period drama mini-series.  The Bletchley Circle has all the key ingredients:  Sensational period details and great character actresses.  However, it’s the riveting, based-on-a-novel plot revolving around a group of former Bletchley Park code-breakers who put their talents to post-war sleuthing that really gets the heart racing.  More seasons are in the pipeline, apparently, too.

Life Hacks: How To Get An Oxford Education

Getting into Oxford University is, like, really hard. And it’s, like, really expensive, too. But it must be cool, because David Cameron and Mr Bean went there.

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… Let’s Hack it!

Option 1: The Brookes Blag

Oxford has another University. It’s called Oxford Brookes, which sounds a bit like Oxford. Especially to foreign employers. Even more so if you leave out the ‘Brookes’ bit. It’s also a lot easier to get into (though it costs the same amount in fees).

Total Cost: £9,000 per year.

The Pros: Oxford without the geeks. The word ‘Oxford’ in your degree. Life amongst the dreaming spires and all that.

The Cons: That nagging feeling at the back of your mind that whispers “you didn’t really go to Oxford, did you”.

Option 2: An Armchair Approach

http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/

While studying in Oxford is all very well and good, it has a fatal drawback: You have to actually be arsed to live in Oxford.

Why not use the power of the interwebs to watch lectures online? It’s like being in Oxford, except without the spotty geeks, three-legged pub crawl participants, hooray Henries and Cowley crack whores.

Total Cost: £0

The Pros: Learn from the greats at your own pace.

The Cons: It is an internet thing and therefore mostly ephemeral.

Option 3: A Scholarly Scam

It’s a not-very-well-advertised fact that members of the public can attend lectures at Oxford University. At the discretion of the college, you could attend a series of weekly lectures for as little as £60 per term. Basically, peanuts. Then you could buy a year’s subscription to the Bodleian Library, costing the princely sum of £38.

But what about the one-to-one tuition that Oxford is so famous for? Well, you could advertise in the Daily Info for a private tutor. You’ll find a PhD student or junior academic is willing to teach you one-to-one for £25 an hour.

The downside? You won’t get a degree. You’ll have nothing to show for your efforts except, like, actually knowing stuff.

Total Cost: £818 per year.

The Pros: An actual Oxford education, without the stress or the essay deadlines.

The Cons: No degree certificate, but then Oxford don’t give out degree certificates, so you’re fine.

Option 4: The Language School Lie

There are private colleges around Oxford which cash in on the ‘Brookes Effect’. You can spend a few weeks in Oxford doing a short course in anything from beginners’ English to advanced Calculus for a few hundred quid. And the colleges have names like ‘St Cuthberts College, Oxford’ or ‘Marlborough College, Oxford’. You also get to hang out in the Turf Tavern, go punting, pick up some received pronunciation and generally feel like an extra from Brideshead, Downton et al.

Total Cost: £200 for a short course

The Pros: A certificate bearing the words “Studied English at Regency College Oxford” or some such gubbins.

The Cons: ‘Con’ is the definitely the operative word.

Option 5: The Deuchars Deception

Sit in The Eagle and Child or The Lamb and Flag, wear tweeds and talk about Marxism. Soon enough, everyone will assume that you’re a Queen’s Fellow anyway.

Total Cost: £3.80 a pint.

The Pros: Beer

The Cons: Can’t remember. Whose round is it?

LIKED THIS?  NOW READ: How To Pretend To Be Great At Piano When You’re Not.

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