Very Top Five... Twin Cities

Monday, 23 November 2009
Twinned city agreements (also called sister cities) are designed to foster international cooperation, by which I mean give town officials a pleasant place to play golf and relax for a week whilst on their yearly ‘culture mission’. And you can’t do culture without margaritas.

Most cities will have one or more sisters. The will to foster international links with as many cities as possible is as strong as the desire to have more than one yearly free holiday courtesy of public funds. Also, you get to make signs with your city's name on them in big writing, and 'twinned with some other city' in smaller writing underneath, showing what a cosmopolitan hub you are.

Most cities have realised that these are the essential points of the sister city agreement (Fancy sign, golf holiday), and keep quiet about it in case anyone notices. However, some five cities dared to stand out from the crowd. It may be that they have an unusually large number of twins, or twins in strange places, or have totally missed the point of twinning altogether, but all of them stand out in such a way that makes them as great a twin as Romulus was to Remus. (i.e. quite willing to beat your brother to death with a shovel if it means that it's your name that gets to go on the sign.)

Let’s tee off…

5. London, UK

There are 46 places named after London. This is because in the past the British investigated new lands with nothing but a map, a pink marker pen to illustrate which parts of the map now belonged to the Empire, and several thousand cannons just to make sure that the surviving natives agreed with the man with the marker pen.

Despite this, nowhere called ‘London’ is also twinned with the real London. This is not because these lil’ Londons have never suggested to their eponymous big bro’ that twinning would be a jolly good idea, but because London has always refused these twinning requests.

However, London has to be seen to be making foreign friends these days, to make Britain look less insanely imperial. People look to London to set the British example due to its tremendous influence, particularly in the UK, since one in five people in Britain would say that they live in the Greater London area. (Actually they wouldn’t. They’d say “Why the fack d’you care where I’m facking from? Fack off.”)

Anyway, London has twinning agreements with New York, Moscow, Berlin, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur and Kuwait city. This seems like a good number, but London has also got so called ‘friendship agreements’ with 18 more cities. Friendship agreements are awarded to places with which, although London wants to be associated with them, it doesn’t want to go all the way. This is similar to when someone breaks up with you and says “Hey, I still want to hang out with you, but let’s be friends, yeah? Cool? Cool, I’ll ring you. Don’t ring me; I’ll ring you. I promise.”

4. Keighley, Yorkshire, England

Keighley is a medium sized town whose claim to fame is that they started the whole twinning thing back in 1905 with Suresnes in France. They didn’t really get the hang of things straight away though, and in 1920 claimed to have ‘adopted’ Poix-Du-Nord. This talk of adopting another town sounds vaguely patronising, and if there is anything the French hate it is being patronised (Probably because they are annoyed that they didn’t get the chance to do it first).

3. Coventry, England

Gosh, these English towns are getting a lot of mentions, aren’t they? They seem to have a problem with just picking a couple of nice places to play golf. Coventry bucked convention by not only picking a flamboyantly ostentatious twenty six twins to twin with but also has a strange understanding of the word ‘nice,’ believing it to being synonymous with ‘had the shit bombed out of it.’

Coventry itself was bombed quite severely during the Second World War, so it feels some empathy with its brothers-in-bombing. Among its twins are Dresden (Razed in 1945 by 4000 tons of allied bombs), Sarajevo (besieged for 4 years in the 1990s and smashed by surrounding tanks) and Stalingrad (Twinned with Conventry in 1943 a few months after the Battle of Stalingrad, where 2 million Soviet and 800,000 Axis soldiers died in a massive campaign to seize the city, which ended with the city being mostly destroyed.)

Coventry has developed a kind of deranged solidarity with its woebegone fellows (probably because they got brain damage from all of those bombs). It does bill itself as the city of peace and reconciliation, but maybe it’s all a ploy so that no one can say the arrangement is just for the benefit of a few officials’golfing holidays. And besides, these bombed cities are among the most interesting places to play golf. They’ll certainly have a lot of new bunkers.

2. Baghdad

Poor Baghdad; Although nine cities are listed as twins for Baghdad on Wikipedia, none of these are reciprocated on the apparent twins’ own pages. These supposed twins include London, who doesn’t even include Baghdad as one of its many ‘friends.’

This is surely rather disappointing for a city which, for hundreds of years, was the largest in the world and was also once the centre of science, culture, and medicine (But not golf, tellingly). Throughout its history angry men have repeatedly turned up and set fire to it, from the Turks and Mongols at the start of the last millennium through to the most recent incursions at the start of this one.

On the plus side, it can surely only be a matter of time before Coventry extends a cheerful invitation of twinning on some bomb-scarred notepaper.

1. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Until recently, Dubai was a few shacks and some hardy farmers traipsing around in the desert. Then one of them pointed out that while farming sand is still as hard as ever, it may be easier to encourage other countries to take this sticky black stuff that just pours out of the ground off our hands. Then whoomph, insta-propserity.

For Dubai, bigger is better. Bigger buildings, bigger hotels (with bigger bills), and a much bigger list of twins than any one else. Dubai has thirty one twin cities, and has amassed them in a timescale quicker than it takes Coventry to say “Excellent, Baghdad is on fire. Fetch the official humourous novelty bomb-shaped invitation envelopes.”

Dubai's twins include loads of global big-hitters, such as Moscow and Geneva, but also some rather curiously small places like Dundee in Scotland, which does rather suggest that the Dubai planning authority used a strange technique to pick its new twin; looking up the index of an atlas and picking the town next on the list after Dubai.

Dubai is a relatively new face on the world stage, and is quick to make new friends. That’s the spirit! Except, I expect that it’s spirits that might be the problem, because as soon as the other cities’ mayors actually visit and realise that Dubai is an alcohol free emirate, they’ll rapidly cool on the whole idea. What fun is a round of golf on your free holiday if there aren’t any mojitos in the clubhouse afterwards?


Polly said...

I live in Greater London and I can confirm that that's exactly what we say. Every day.

And about Dubai, I agree that it makes absolutely no sense for it to be twin city and a golf mecca. I, for example, would only consider playing golf after many, many mojitos/margaritas/caprioscas and that's clearly never going to happen in Dubai.

Ewan said...

Your dry subjects are always the funniest dude. I was giggling to myself all the way through, the bomb-shaped invitations nearly made me spill my mojito. Loving it! Very Douglas Adamsy.

Tomurai said...

Another brilliant and eloquently written post.

Here, have an award :)

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stanleygoodspeed said...

I also live in London. You'd be lucky to get an answer out of someone if you were prising out their fingernails, let alone asking them an open-ended question.

Very funny writings, nice one.

Very Top Five said...

Thanks Ewan. Dry? That's hopefully as in wit and not as in vicar.

Cheers Tomurai! I'll come over to your blog and investigate. Hurrah, an award!

I'm glad to hear I'm your friend, denysmac01, twice. Thanks for taking the time to personalise your spam so magnificently.

And by the way Polly and stanleygoodspeed, I don't really hate Londoners. Don't tell 'em I said I hated 'em, or they'll come and do me in.

Pilland said...

Your report made me remember my teacher of English language 20 years ago. Once he said: "In some parts of England they say 'to coventrate', deriving from the bombs suffered in Coventry, to mean 'make total distruction'".
I did almost forget this lesson, but now I am remembering suddenly.
Best wishes from an Estonian living in Italy