The World Cup groups have been drawn

World Cup Draw

The group stage draw for the World Cup took place this afternoon – and it includes a tantalising draw for England.

The only home nation heading to Russia in the summer have been drawn in Group G, with an opening game against Tunisia. They will then play Panama and finish the group facing off against fellow Europeans Belgium.

If England progress pass the group stage – which shouldn’t be impossible with this draw – they could end up playing Poland, Senegal, Colombia or Japan in the first knockout round.

The European Champions Portugal will play their first game against former European and World Champions – and their close neighbours – Spain, while current World Champions Germany start their World Cup campaign against Mexico.

The full draw is below, and will be updated with the dates and times of each group stage tie shortly.

Continue reading

#CC17 – Countdown to Christmas 2017

12 days. 12 videos. But only one Countdown to Christmas!

It’s that time of year again when I bring you the best of YouTube to countdown to the most wonderful day of the year.

As always, the Countdown will start on 13 December, so check back then for some festive treats in English, Catalan and more!

For now, as the season is well and truly upon us, I’ll leave you with this gem from last year’s Countdown.

We should be defending the fundamental rights of the people of Catalonia

Catalan Parliament

An illegal vote. State police censoring political websites. Paramilitary police using violence against peaceful protesters. Calls from Amnesty International to release imprisoned political campaigners. The right-wing preparing to seize control of a democratically-elected government.

You might think that I’m talking about a backward dictatorship in a far-flung corner of the world. Rather depressingly, I’m not. Instead, these events are happening right now in one of our fellow EU countries.

By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of events in Catalonia. You may not be aware that this is not a sudden constitutional crisis, but the culmination of centuries of repression from Madrid and, more recently, a failure of the right-wing national government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the wealthy north-east region’s autonomous government.

Spain’s transition from the brutal dictatorship of General Franco to democracy has often been admired by foreign observers. 40 years on from the horrors of Franco’s Spain, the country is now regarded as a respected liberal democracy.

Let me be frank and shatter those illusions for you:

There is nothing liberal about national leaders refusing to engage with political problems (instead passing that responsibility to the courts and ensuring that, rather than progress reflecting changes to the political reality, the status quo is maintained at all costs).

There is nothing democratic about sending riot police in to beat peaceful demonstrators and elderly citizens to stop them from exercising the most fundamental democratic right: the right to vote.

Of course, Madrid is correct in asserting that the referendum on 1 October was illegal (well, contrary to the nation’s constitution), but instead of negotiating a legal referendum in which the “no” camp would likely have won (whilst opinion on independence is almost evenly split, official polls commissioned by the Catalan government suggest a small majority for “no”), they have acted with all the brutality of the European dictatorships of old.

Instead of immediately declaring independence on the strength of the referendum result, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont suspended that declaration and called for dialogue with Spain. As expected, Madrid refused. After all, why would they accept dialogue now, when they had refused 18 times in the past.

Now, Mariano Rajoyís government are preparing to invoke Article 155 of the constitution – allowing them to take control of the democratically-elected regional government. If they do, the regional government will immediately declare independence.

It is a frightening stand-off which, on its present trajectory, will not end well.

As liberals, we should be championing the Catalans’ freedom to protest peacefully, free from fear of arrest, censorship or police violence. As democrats, we should be condemning the use of courts to solve political problems, and calling for Madrid to enter the meaningful dialogue Barcelona is calling for.

It is not our place to dictate whether Catalonia becomes independent or not – clearly that is their decision alone. But as Liberal Democrats and Europeans, we should be unequivocal in our condemnation of the Spanish government’s iron-fisted approach and support of the Catalans’ fundamental democratic and human rights.

This post was originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice.

An open letter to my Spanish teacher

Spanish flag

This is an open letter to my former GCSE and A-level Spanish teacher, indeed the only Spanish teacher I’ve ever had, during the four brief years I spent studying the language, and who, for the sake of this article, I will call Sr. Torro*.

Querida Señor Torro,

In the words of Nick Clegg (as imagined by The Poke – feel free to sing along): I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. There’s no easy way to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Before I get hit with a copyright infringement claim, let me explain.

You were a great teacher. A fantastic teacher. An inspirational teacher. You took someone with almost zero knowledge of the Spanish language and, in two years, turned them into an A* GCSE student. You took an infatuation with a country and its language and turned it into a love. A passion.

And I fucked it up.

I remember with fondness sitting in your classroom in ‘C’ block (C4 if I recall correctly), staring blankly out of the window while you played Juanes (La Camisa Negra) and Julieta Venegas (Limón y Sal), trying in vain to work out the missing words and their meanings.

I remember with fondness the first Spanish idiom you taught me, “todos tenemos nuestro grano de arena”, literally translated as “we all have our grain of sand” but meaning we all have our part to play.

I remember with somewhat less fondness sitting across from you in the music block, stumbling my way through an embarrassing attempt at an oral examination question on the environment.

I remember with less fondness still my mobile phone alarm ringing part-way through a written examination – and the subsequent awkward discussion with the invigilators as to how an alarm can sound even if the phone is switched off!

You were, without a doubt, my favourite teacher, and I just wish I’d paid attention to you more. I’ve always wished I’d paid more attention to you, but never more so than now, when I attempt hopelessly to converse with my new family.

I’d like to meet you one last time to thank you for everything you did and to say sorry for what I didn’t do.

Sorry that I didn’t pay attention as much as I should have. Sorry that I didn’t fulfill the potential I showed when I first stepped foot in your classroom. Sorry that I went from being a promising A*-grade GCSE student to a mediocre C-grade A-level student.

But there’s one thing I will never forgive you for: saying, all those years ago, that Catalan was a regional dialect of Spanish. That made me think learning my wife’s mother tongue would be easier because of my intermediate level of Spanish. It’s not. It’s really not. And in case another of your students grows up to wed a beautiful bride from Barcelona, I’d urge you never to suggest this to your students again.

In seriousness, though, I honestly don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest my life wouldn’t be where it is today without you. The chain of events that led up to my marriage to my Catalan bride two weeks ago started in your classroom at the age of 14, so thank you.

If you ever read this, thank you.

I just wish I’d listened to you more!

Your (most?) frustrating student,

Alan Collins Pérez de Baños
(formerly Alan Collins)

Disclaimer: My Spanish teacher was not actually called “Sr. Torro” (at least not officially). He wasn’t Spanish. He wasn’t even English. He was Welsh, but could speak four languages – a fact about which I will forever be envious.