Dope sounds

Just in case you think I only write about national anthems, below are a few things I’ve done recently that couldn’t be more different.

Here’s a piece on my trip to the world’s first government-owned cannabis farm in Uruguay done for the BBC’s amazing From Our Own Correspondent programme:

And here for The Guardian is an interview with the man growing that dope, the CEO of the brilliantly-named Internal Cannabis Corp. It’s a more fun read than it sounds.

“How about some music?” I don’t hear you ask. Well here for the New York Times is a piece on the British musicians who’re remaking the world’s oldest instruments. It contains some amazing sound clips of a 30,000-year-old vulture bone flute and a carnyx, and I highly recommend you click through.

And here, again for The Guardian, is a somewhat odd piece on Radiohead’s business empire, for which the band wouldn’t comment. Which says it all, doesn’t it kids? [“No, it doesn’t. Stop insinuating things about my favourite bands tax affairs”].

There will be some other pieces appearing soon, including one I did on my trip to Antarctica for British Airways’ High Life magazine (how appropriate a name given the cannabis pieces). I’ll try to remember to post those when they appear.

Dumbwalking in Tokyo

Using a smart phone at Shibuya Crossing

Dumbwalking is what you do when you’re staring at a smartphone and end up falling over someone’s bag and knocking your teeth out. It’s also the number one threat to Japanese society as we know it!

Here’s a piece about it I recently recorded for the BBC’s excellent From Our Own Correspondent programme.

You can also read about it on the BBC’s website.

I basically spent a night trying to trip people up at the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Yes, I’m surprised I got paid for it too.

Sorry this has got nothing to do with national anthems – the point of this blog – but I made this on a recent trip to Japan to research the country’s anthem so it’s, sort of, relevant!

One fact I forgot to mention in the piece is that Japanese newspapers publish “death by smartphone” statistics giving running counts of how many people have been run over while updating their Facebook status. Seriously. I’m sure newspapers in other countries will be doing the same soon.

The woman in the photo is NOT a dumbwalker, by the way. She’s just a very nice person I met at Shibuya and was happy to pretend to be one for me!

Hell will freeze over before I stop reporting on the Swiss national anthem contest

Hell frozen over

I know I’ve banged on about Switzerland’s search for a new anthem for what seems like eternity, but what’s one more story between friends?

Here’s a piece I just recorded for the BBC’s amazing From Our Own Correspondent programme.

If you don’t want to click that link for my dulcet tones alone, there’s also a brilliant piece in that episode by the BBC’s North American correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan about her visit to the hamlet of Hell, Michigan. Yes, Hell has literally frozen over!

Partying with the prince of Liechtenstein

National day 2013 in Liechtenstein. Prince Hans-Adam II, Prince Alois and their wives get ready to party!

National day 2013 in Liechtenstein. Prince Hans-Adam II (left), Hereditary Prince Alois (right) and their wives and children get ready to party!

Every August, the tiny Alpine country of Liechtenstein celebrates its national day, with all 36,000 inhabitants – and 50,000 tax avoiding companies – invited up to the prince’s castle to be served beer by the royal family (that’s them in the photo).

I went along to this year’s event and recorded this about it for the BBC focusing on the country’s current, and somewhat bizarre, economic crisis.

It features both the prince and the country’s leading politician: a cross dressing mechanic.

Sorry for the badly pronounced German halfway through; that might have something to do with the amount of beer I’d drunk!

It was recorded for the BBC’s always-great From Our Own Correspondent programme, and you can listen to the full episode here. Alongside my piece, there’s correspondents finding out what’s happened to the Muslim Brotherhood since Egypt’s latest coup, discovering whether Iranians are the most misunderstood people on earth, telling a forgotten whistleblower’s story, and playing the coconut viola in Ho Chi Minh City. See, amazing!

Thanks to everyone I met in Liechtenstein while out there. You were all amazingly helpful and hospitable. To anyone else reading, I thoroughly recommend a visit. Why not even rent the entire country for the weekend?

Here’s looking at you, Rouget de Lisle

I should write something soon about Casablanca, a film that has France’s national anthem, la Marseillaise, running through it from the very first second.

But, until then, here’s a piece I recently recorded for the BBC on the secret – and somewhat naughty – life of Rouget de Lisle, the man who wrote the song.

If you’re in the UK, you can also listen to it on iPlayer until 2099 so no need to rush!

The picture at the top of this post is of Rouget’s statue in his beautiful hometown of Lons-le-Saunier (Instagrammed by @asmarshall). It was sculpted by Frédéric Bartholdi, the man who did the Statue of Liberty. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t get as many visitors as that does. Maybe the town should get it redone twenty times the size!