Monday, 19 March 2018
And so I was enthralled by the current Pompeii exhibition in Brussels, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
I am often critical about such expos in Belgium, as they have a tendency towards replicas. Replica dinosaur bones, replica terracotta warriors, replica governments, and so on. But this one really delivers.
More than 100 of the artefacts on display are from Pompeii, and how fascinating they are. I had the feeling that I could pick up any of these ancient relics and use them for their intended purpose; and so many of them are very personal - they were actually held and used on a daily basis by the men and women who perished so long ago.
The expo runs until April 15th. https://www.brussels.be/exhibition-pompeii-immortal-city
Sunday, 11 February 2018
I first realised that something was wrong in 2004 or 2005 when I picked up a copy of the Daily Mail and on the front page headline the word "marriage" was spelled incorrectly.
Since then, I have noticed an accelerating decline in the use of the English language in all media. But it is not only a grammatical problem: this is from the Mail on Sunday today (11 Feb).
"Over the past century, photography has emerged as perhaps the most accessible and influential art form, allowing us to bear witness to some of our planet's most formative moments in recent time.
Whether it be the the scenes of devastation on 9/11 or the aftermath of nuclear fallout in Vietnam, many of us are able to instantly recognise the most iconic and controversial photographs ever taken."
Nuclear fallout in Vietnam?
Newspapers now appear to expect journalists to work for nothing. We have a saying "pay peanuts, and you get monkeys”.
Was there not a sub-editor in place to pick this up?
Well, I suspect that I know the answer to that. No, there wasn't. I wonder even if the typesetting (is it still called that now?) is outsourced to a country where English is not the native language, but labour is cheap.
It is not just the Daily Mail, of course. As a publisher myself I follow my competitors carefully.
Tuesday, 6 February 2018
And so I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of John Mahoney, the English-born and highly esteemed actor who played the role of Martin Crane, Frasier's father. Like every character in the show, Martin was indispensable to every plot. This was the most beautifully written and played character.
Interestingly, Mahoney didn't even want to read for the part; he had bad experiences with tv sitcoms in the past. However, when he did read the first script he realised that this role would define his career.
I tend to analyse comedy somewhat, and the beauty of Frasier is that it rewards repeat viewings. There are episodes I have watched at least 3 times, and always I find something new. Funnily, when Frasier Crane first appeared as a character in Cheers I didn't like him at all. The character was somewhat out of place, and I found him an irritating distraction. I would now say that I would consider Frasier to sit alongside Fawlty Towers as one of the greatest comedy series of all time.
The dynamics between Martin, a disabled former police officer, and the other characters were just wonderful. His dog, Eddie, was a prop utilised to perfection. But what I have always enjoyed most of all is the relationship between Martin and his housekeeper, Daphne, played brilliantly by Jane Leeves.
An intensely private man - even his co-stars knew nothing of his personal life - he passed away in a Chicago hospice after a short illness. He will be much missed, but he will continue to make us laugh for decades to come.
Sunday, 5 November 2017
My responsibilities were few, and consisted of taking photographic equipment off the crew as soon as they landed, not a particularly demanding task, but an enjoyable one as I loved being around these aircraft, and in those days the noisier they were the better, which might go some way to explaining why my hearing is not quite what it should be. It was either that or all those Rockabilly gigs.....
The Phantom had a 16mm camera - the G90 - that basically filmed the aircraft's attack radar, allowing the crew to analyse their performance after an exercise, or occasionally, after a QRA intercept on a Russian aircraft over the North Sea.
QRA involved the use of a hand-held camera - a bulky but reliable 35mm Canon F1 - the film from which had to be processed (by hand) and printed (also by hand) very quickly. At weekends there would only be one of us on duty on the photo section, so it was quite an intense hour or so before getting two sets of prints - one for the squadron and one for JARIC (Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre) - out as quickly as possible. The prints had to be of the highest quality.
It was a great joy to see the image appear in the developing tray - often the Russian aircrew could be seen waving at the camera - one of the better parts of the job in a section where, over the years, the avoidance of tiresome duties had been perfected to an art form. The only things that really did any work there were the old B&W TV set and the kettle.
The beauty of RAF Wattisham, however, was that we got heaps of overseas detachments that were never boring.
There were two Phantom squadrons at Wattisham, 23 being the second.
XV424 is now housed in a museum, just another part of the global conspiracy to make me feel old.
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
I was saddened to learn today of the passing of an old acquaintance: the actor, comedian, and political activist, Tony Booth.
He was 85 years old, not such a bad age, but had suffered from Alzheimers.
Our paths first crossed in 1975, if memory serves correct, in Leeming Road, Borehamwood. I was walking home from school, and he was taking a break from filming, and sheltering from the rain in a shop doorway. At that time he was famous for being Alf Garnett's son-in-law, the 'Randy Scouse Git', so I strolled over to wind him up. He told me to "fuck off home".
Tony's character was highly politicised, and reflected his own political views. He was, to put it bluntly, a Marxist-Leninist.
We maybe met half a dozen times, and it was always a great pleasure. I particularly enjoyed explaining to him in the Red Lion in Whitehall in the late 90's that the only half decent economic manifesto that his beloved Labour Party ever produced was the one written by Sir Oswald Mosley. He didn't take that so well - the Labour Party prefers to forget that the facist leader Mosley was once one of their MPs.
I once threw a firework at Tony, at a demo, again in Whitehall. I missed.... He told me to "fuck off" again.
The last time we met was when we both addressed the National Pensioners Convention, I believe in 2002. Bill Morris, the trade union leader, and Jack Jones - a former Communist Party commissar during the Spanish Civil War - were also on the bill. I was in seriously dodgy company that afternoon.
I think my speech went down well, but Tony gave a great one. Having taken his chair about 1 minute before he was due to speak, and despite being totally pissed, he got a standing ovation.
A lot of people suspected that Tony had a drink problem, but he would have strongly disagreed: for him it was no problem at all.
Tony will of course be best remembered for being the father-in-law of Tony Blair, something that will really piss him off. There was a love-hate relationship between the two.
There could not be two people more ideologically opposed than Tony Booth and myself, but he was a great character, and a lovely chap to be around. There are far too few people like Tony Booth in this world.
Rest In Peace, Tony.
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
The MR2 was state of the art in its day, and I remember being impressed when a crew member told us that its computer was so sophisticated that you could actually play chess against it!
There were also photo recce Canberras - which I was later to work close to on Armament Practice Camps in Cyprus just a few years later - as well as Vulcans that had been converted for a maritime radar reconnaissance role.
The same cameras I saw for the first time on the Canberra flight line I was to be training on myself just 15 months later.
|Officer's Mess, Hal Far|
We also discovered the existence of 1151 Marine Craft Unit (MCU) - hadn't even known that the RAF possessed such things - and enjoyed a run at sea clinging to the deck of an unbelievably fast launch.
The Cold War had its downsides, but it did mean we got some great toys to play with!
This was one of two Air Training Corps summer camps I enjoyed that year, spending the following week with 617 Squadron - The Dambusters - with their wonderful Vulcan 'V' bombers. The RAF guys looked after us cadets brilliantly.
The Nimrods and Vulcans and the MCUs are long gone now.
203 Squadron disbanded in December 1977 as we pulled out of Malta, and a disastrous decision by the Conservative government means we have no ariel anti-submarine capability at all. Russian submarines are currently able to lurk off the coast by Faslane with impunity, monitoring our missile subs as they go out on patrol.
617 is in the process of reforming, and is due to 'stand-up' in January 2018 when it will be the first to operate the new f-35 Lightning.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
It was a Tuesday, like today, and the weather was miserable, just as it is in south-eastern England again today.
England was on lock-down in the weeks leading up to the invasion - the largest seaborne assault in history, but everybody knew something was coming. People who lived through those days witnessed American and Canadian troops camped out everywhere, with tanks and other armoured vehicles streaming towards the coastal towns and harbours. Even by the standards of austere war-time Britain food became harder than ever to obtain, and train stations were often out of bounds to all but essential personnel.
I well remember my grandmother telling me about the morning. Her memories of the war years were most profound; my father was nursed in an air raid shelter, with the sound of anti-aircraft fire a backdrop to everyday life.
In the early hours of June 6th, as she recalled, there were no air raid sirens, but the deafening noise of heavy aircraft overhead. As dawn broke the sky was black with aircraft heading east, and especially she remembered the strange sight of hundreds of gliders being towed by bombers (she was probably looking at Dakotas, not bombers).
The noise of aircraft did not let up until nightfall, and even then was punctuated by the familiar sound of the bombers on their way to wreak havoc on the enemy.
The landings began shortly after midnight. Official figures state that 75,216 British and Canadian troops, and 57,000 Americans landed by sea
|HMS Belfast: The guns behind George fired the very first shots on D-Day.|
Casualties were horrendous; some 4,400 troops died in the initial onslaught, but by the end of the day the beachhead had been established, and the armies were moving inland.
French civilian casualties - and this is rarely discussed - were very high. As the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pounded the coastal defences, entire villages were obliterated.
The French city of Caen was bombed on the day, with the loss of at least 2,000 civilians.
But to warn the French would have been to betray the entire operation. De Gaulle et al had proven that they could not be trusted, and so the French were kept in the dark until the last minute - there was some time to mobilise the small number of resistance fighters in the area, but tragically no time to evacuate the civil population.
The German forces were under strength, with very low morale. Many were low quality 'volunteers' from conquered territories, mainly from Russia, and, somewhat bizarrely, Mongolia.
The Battle of Normandy raged on until mid-July: Over 425,000 from both sides were to be killed, wounded, or went missing.
And we moan about how we may have had a hard day.....
HMS Belfast can be visited in the Pool of London, she is moored between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, on the south bank of the Thames. http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast
Saturday, 27 May 2017
And so I was delighted to find these two in Tavistock Place. The author Jerome K. Jerome lived at No. 32, whilst Vladimir Lenin, who not only founded the USSR, but also started a fashion for short Russian leaders that continues to this day, lived at 36.
Sadly their tenures did not collide, Jerome moved out in 1885, whilst Lenin arrived in 1908 and was only to stay for a year. One wonders what Jerome, whose circle of friends included H.G Wells, Israel Zangwill, and Arthur Conan Doyle, would have made of the shifty little Russian...
Tavistock Place was then an extremely affluent street, Bolsheviks never inflicted the hard struggle towards Communism upon themselves, of course.
A few years ago there was an attempt to install a blue plaque at another of the little man's London addresses, in Camden. This was blocked by local residents, something that surprised me at the time as I always perceived the locals there as being somewhat left of centre.
Interesting to note also that Karl Marx's former home above the Red Lion pub in Soho now bears absolutely no reference to his presence there. This was where he completed Das Kapital - his pal, the fabulously wealthy Engels, lived just around the corner.
The Red Lion was renamed Marx's for a time, I passed by last month and the latest name did not register with me. Such a shame, it was a pub much frequented by actors and boxers, with the photos of famous clients adorning the walls. Now it just looks ghastly.
Friday, 26 May 2017
This Paveway IV bomb was loaded onto a Reaper drone earlier this week, on its way to spoil the day for Islamic State terrorists in Syria.
An RAF spokesman confirmed that the photo is genuine, stating that "It is unlikely that the individual responsible will be disciplined."
This is how a Paveway IV works.
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
I was absolutely delighted when Hindley died in prison just days before she was due to be released - there is true justice indeed. A life sentence no longer means 'life', but for Hindley it did.
Brady was ill for a long time, and we can but hope that he suffered agony and loneliness as he waited to go to Hell, strapped to a stretcher and force fed adulterated food. In a way it is a shame that his agonies did not go on for longer.
We all hoped that on his deathbed he would reveal the whereabouts of young Keith Bennett's body: the young lad was murdered in June 1964, and his body is believed to be on Saddleworth Moor in Yorkshire, a bleak and vast place. It was not be be, and our generation will always be haunted by the black and white image of a young child tortured and murdered
Brady and Hindley, both sexual perverts of the most disgusting kind, tormented Keith Bennett's family until the end. The young man's mother went to her grave heartbroken that she could not give her son a proper Christian burial.
It is quite probable that the reason the disgusting pair did not want the body found was that they did not want the world to know what they did to the poor boy.
One should not mock the afflicted, and Brady was a mentally ill cripple and Hindley was little more. However, their capacity for evil and the nature of their crimes exempt them from any human sympathy.
They recorded on tape the final moments of at least one of their victims, Lesley Ann Downey, aged 10.
I do not advocate capital punishment, but given the fact that pedophiles and murderers are the two groups of offenders most likely to commit further crimes after their release, and the fact that no dead man ever re-offended, we might want to consider how we, as a society, deal with scum like Brady and Hindley in the future.