European harmony – all the nations of Europe singing to the same tune. It was Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, who, at the 1815 Congress of Vienna,introduced the concept of the Concert of Europe, then in 1955 we got the first Eurovision song Contest. 59 years on, this year’s Eurovison was won by a bearded Austrian drag queen, Conchita Wurst (Wurst meaning sausage) – Ah those Autrians, such a musical lot – Haydn, Mahler, Mozart, Strauss – Austria was also the setting for the film «The Sound of Music.»
However we are not here to dwell on the musical achivements of the Austrain nation, but rather consider European harmony, which is rather lacking at the moment. Ukraine on the verge of civil war, with the Western Ukranians wanting to join the European Union whilst there Eastern counterparts want to cuddle up closer with the bear next door. Turkey and Albania are also making overturres to the European Union, meanwhile, with elections to the European parliament only a couple of weeks away, there are those parties who are campaigning vociferously for their countries to leave the EU. In Great Brtiain there is UKIP – the UK Independence party, headed by the bumbling Nigel Farage. He’s very beer and sausages and perhaps less dangerous than Marine Le Pen, who heads the far right French National Front Party. (Le Font National or FN). Ms Le Pen not only wants to withdraw France from the European Union, but also wants to leave the Euro zone and reintroduce the Franc as the national currency. The FN has a more racist past than UKIP, anti immigration and anti semitic undertones, it’s not so long ago that an FN demonstration had all the appearnace of a Nazi rally, though, Ms Le Pen has succeeded in «softening» the party’s image and turning them from a group of streetfighting French blackshirts into a credible electoral force. Ah yes, she is far more sophisticated than Mr Farage. So, there are those on the outside of the EU, clamouring to leave and those on the outside who are desperate to join, but no one wants Turkey because of the Islamic shift of Mr Erdogan, and Albania can’t join before it cleans up its justice system – under Albanina law, the idea of Vendetta is still legal. The alliances, but also the cracks and strains in the European Union are highlighted no better than at the Eurovision song contest. Eastern bloc and former soviet countries vote for each other. Scandinavian countries stick together as do the Southern European countries. Spain will always give points to Portugal. France will always give points to Italy. The Albaninas, Moldavians, Azebijhanis,Serbs and Bielorussians always stick together and it makes you wonder if we will evet get a true musical consensus – a song that wins because it is actually half decent and not because enogh block voting has been going on.
Here we are marking the anniversary of the outbreak of World War One. Over this last weekend, the City Hall and National Library in Sarajevo finally opened after years of restoration. Remember that during the late twentieth century Bosinian conflict, Sarajevo was beseiged for years by the Bosnian Serbs from 1992 onwards – this, the city where those events that led to the outbreak of the First World War were set into motion, when a Serbian Nationalist assassinated the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand – heir to the Habsburg throne. So, Sarajevo is all geared up and ready to mark this sad anniversary, and all the while, down in Ukraine events are taking a very similar twist to 1914. I think 100 years on, we are back n a similar scenario – without talking in terms of NATO, we have distinct power blocks – The Russians flexining «imperial» muscles. We have Turkey taking a distinct Ottoman turn and we have the European Union, which has no real military might to speak of. War in Europe? I doubt it.
Away from all this specuating though, before (or if) Europe does finally go down the pan, I’d like to talk about the humble toilet flush and my plea for a standard European flushing mechanism. It was on our recent visit to London, that my daughter stood in the toilet of the flat, absolutely dumbstruck by this – a traditional British toilet flush of old with a wall mounted cistern and a chain.
These are pretty rare in France nowadays. So, traditionlly in Britain we have pulled the chain. As a teenager on trips to France, (apart from the obvious) we never pulled anything down in loos, but rather pulled up on a rod located in the top of the cistern. When the tradition chain went in Britain we got push down flushes. Now put yourself in the place of a visitor to foreign climes, confronted by an erronious flush system – do you push or pull down or pull up – or in the case of many Italian toilets (especially those in service stations) simply stand up for the flush to work? Yes, the Italians possibly ave Europe’s most advanced flushing system. It work with a sensor. When you are firmly plonked on the loo seat doing what you do, the sensor senses your bottomly presence, and therfore does not flush. However as soon as you stand up – WHHHHOOOOOOOSH – which is very awkward, if for example you are reading the newspaper or drinking a cup of tea, and have only stood to change your newspaper or place your cup of tea on a shelf or a ledge. I would begin to rebuild European unity with the intrioduction of a universal and standardised EU flush. Not simply a question of pushing or pulling, but also the amount of water involved. Under French norms, the five litre flush is now common as opposed to the old 7 litre. In the UK, some lucky hosuehold stil enjoy a 9 litre flush. I daresay though that both the UKIP and the French FN would find reasons to object, to a standardused flushand I daresay in some countries, short of going to war over the issue, there might be serious street protests and perhaps rioting. Of course, we don’t yet even have standardised toilets.
There are still those places in France, where a trip to the loo can be a traumatic and perilous experience – yes we still have the famous «hole in the ground loo» which the French for some reason call «the Turkish loo», where you crouch over a hole, your feet frimly placed on two footplates near the hole – and there is nothing to hold on to. Many a user of the hole in the ground loo has left with wet feet after flushing. Concert of Vienna – European harmony, yet we can’t all flush the same. Funny how Prince von Metternhci’s European overtures started in the wake of the French defeat at Waterloo.