Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A Memorial To Belgian Occupation Forces

A slightly unusual memorial - to those Belgian soldiers who died whilst serving abroad in the aftermath of the two World Wars, and during the Cold War.

It is very close to Square Marie-Louise, one of my favourite corners of Brussels.

The Square also boasts the memorial to Lt. General Louis Bernheim, the Jewish soldier who fought through the Great War and who died in 1931.

I had a slight mishap myself just here, back in the Summer of 2014. Just to the right of the white van is the spot where I was hit by a car while crossing the road.

Having had my legs swept out from under me, I took most of the force in my face before bouncing off the bonnet, over the car, and landing in the road on my head. There was rather a lot of blood, and nobody was as surprised as me that I was able to get up and walk away with just a broken nose.

I've actually broken my nose so often - 5 times at the last count - that I am getting rather bored with the experience.

The first time was the worst, I copped a roller skate in the face whilst in the Scouts. For about 6 years my nose pointed a bit to the left, but a right hook from a Geordie at RAF Wattisham straightened it out somewhat.

I started to get used to it after that.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

August Sander: People of the 20th Century

I saw today, in Antwerp, August Sander's great portraits 'People of the 20th Century'.

From his early life before the First World War until his death in the 1960s, Sander recorded on film what ordinary German people looked like.

During the Nazi era his work had to be hidden, as it showed people who were not supposed to exist. A lot of his work was destroyed at that time. Fortunately for us, much of it was saved not just from the Nazis, but from the Allied bombings of Cologne which devastated the city.

The expo runs until Feb 14th. Details here: I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Her Time Has Come......

This astonishing Elm tree, reputed to be more than 250 years old, stands just 5 minutes from my front door. It is rare now for Elms to live so long, because of the combined effects of disease and pollution.

This beauty stands in the gardens of Paradis des Enfants, a local school. There was a nice shelter underneath the tree, where I liked to sit and read a book while my son played football on the practice pitches. It's a lovely little corner of Woluwe St Pierre.

The shelter has been taken away, and the tree is now fenced off. The roots are solidified and rotting, and so she has to come down.

So today I took some pictures of this incredible tree. The bark, which looks so gnarled and magnificent, comes away at the touch. Her time has come. But to the end she is beautiful.

You have to get up very close to appreciate this, so I did, and I hope that you enjoy the pictures. The colour and texture speak of centuries of growth.

When this tree first began to grow, the nation of Belgium did not even exist.

Through independence and two world wars it survived. The district in which it stands is where British troops, under the command of Field Marshall Montgomery, who's memorial stands guard over the approach to Brussels to this day, and just 5 minutes walk away, first arrived in September 1944, and were bogged down by the Germans in Auderghem, literally on the other side of the road from Paradis des Enfants.

The great Belgian painter and sculptor Constantin Meunier, who passed away in 1905, and who lived little more than a stone's throw away, had not even been born when this tree was in full growth.

It is about 10 minutes walk away from the studio where Herge created Tin-Tin.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

When the wheels fall off a good story....

Nigel Farage is probably regretting the 'assassination' story a bit right now.

I realised there was something iffy  about this when he said he did not want the police to investigate because he didn't want people to know where he parks his car when he is in Brussels. Errr... how about the MEPs car park underneath the parliament?

Its very secure, and just some moments walk away from Rue Montoyer.

But this has happened before, of course.

In 2011 British police were investigating former MEP Chris Huhne over a traffic offence. The investigation hinged largely on whether Huhne had been on a certain flight from Strasbourg to Stanstead on March 12th 2003, or if he had travelled the next day.

Never one to miss a media opportunity, Farage announced that he remembered being on that flight with Huhne. Then it went a bit wrong.

Essex police called to take a statement. Farage was forced to admit that he didn't really remember at all.

When Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 was shot down over Ukraine on July 17th 2014 with the loss of 298 lives, Farage made a statement. Apparently he was at Schipol airport at the same time that the passengers were embarking on the doomed jet.

This is attention seeking at it's most crass. But I'm sure will hear more of it in the future.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Pop Art in Belgium

A great afternoon at the 'Pop Art in Belgium' expo.

Inna is in front of Discs, a painted composition in which James Rosenquist assembled the front of a car, gramophone discs and a box of Kleenex tissues.

Before entering the art world, Rosenquist earned his living as a billboard painter. The style which he developed in this capacity remained visible in his work and is illustrative of the way in which American Pop artists introduced other painting techniques into the art world.

C'est Moi, with ten works by one of the masters of Pop Art, Roy Lichtenstein.

Ben-Day dots, thick black contours. Large
areas filled with primary colours and simplified compositions are elements that were also embraced in the consumption and comics culture. The landscape was one of the first subjects which Lichtenstein explored after he had broken through with his appropriation of the comics style.

This series contains all the stylistic elements that characterise his work.

It's a great expo, most of the works are from the ING bank collection, some are from private collections.

The expo runs until Feb 14th.

Details at

Friday, 1 January 2016

Goodbye Trapper John.....

Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre alongside Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series M.A.S.H. has passed away in Los Angeles aged 82. 

It often surprises people to learn that Trapper only appeared in the first three of the eleven series, that ran from 1972 to 1983. After his departure, (his character was posted home whilst his friend Hawkeye was on leave and so there was no farewell), he was often referred to.

McIntyre's reason for leaving the show was he felt his character overshadowed by Alda's. Others would feel the same way. Ironically McIntyre was originally asked to audition for the role of Hawkeye, but felt the character too cynical, and asked to audition for Trapper instead.

As a youngster I was an obsessive M.A.S.H. fan. Every Friday evening at 9pm I would be glued to the set, and would absorb every single word. At school on Monday, my pals and I would pick over every single detail of every single show.

The show, based on the movie of a 1968 book by Richard Hooker, was ostensibly about an army medical unit during the Korean War. It combined tragedy and comedy in equal quantities, and gave us such wonderful characters as Radar O'Reilly, Hotlips Houlihan, Henry Blake, Sherman Potter, Frank Burns, and the totally bizarre sometimes transvestite and keen gambler Corporal Max Klinger. There were many others, each unique and there to make a point.

The show was actually about the Vietnam War, but in 1972 it was not possible to trivialise the conflict that had traumatised a nation.

It explored relationships between strangers, brought together in terrible circumstances, and with a difficult job to do in appalling conditions. Talented surgeons putting their careers and lives on hold. The public were introduced to the concept of 'meatball surgery' for the first time.

Hooker drew on personal accounts of army surgeons and nurses who had served in Korea, and many of the incidents portrayed in the book were based on real events. This lent the book, the movie, and the show an air of authenticity, much appreciated by those who had served there, and younger veterans who had returned from Vietnam.

Much loved characters died suddenly and unexpectedly. The much loved commanding officer, Henry Blake, was sent home to his family, with an emotional send off, only for the characters to learn in the final scene that his aircraft had been shot down. There were no survivors. This twist had been kept from the cast during rehearsals, only the director and Gary Burghof, who as Radar O'Reilly delivered the tragic news, knew what was coming. It was so well played that viewers were reduced to tears.

Like everything, M.A.S.H. had to come to an end, The final episode, on February 28th 1983, was watched by 125 million people in the US alone.

Wayne Rogers, prior to a successful acting career had served in the US Navy. He later went on to build a career as an investment strategist, and regularly appeared on TV as an expert in the field.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

From the Front Line to Antwerp

The young chap to the right of the photo is Jan. Last night, at a private meeting in Antwerp, he had an absolutely riveting story to tell.

Jan was extremely tired, but in astonishingly good spirits given the fact that he had just travelled more than 2000 km from the front line in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine without rest.

He is one of a considerable number of Belarusian volunteers fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against the Russian aggression. The heavy weaponry, including Main Battle Tanks, that the volunteers are coming up against are Russian. Many of the forces they are fighting are serving Russian soldiers. Russian casualties have been very high, but in Putin's Russia it is now a criminal offence for even the families to discuss this.

His reason for fighting was simple. He realised after the attacks on Chechnya that Russia intended to swallow up it's neighbours. He was, of course correct, and he is not the only one to voice concerns. President Lukashenko of Belarus recently asked Putin "will we be next?".

In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia on the pretext of protecting the interests of the Russian speaking communities. Russian forces still occupy two Georgian regions.

Failure of the west to react gave the green light to Putin, and in February 2014 he sent his troops into Crimea, illegally annexing Ukrainian territory. Now his troops are in Eastern Ukraine, and as we learned recently, 20 000 more Russian soldiers are currently on their way.

There has also been at least one incursion into Estonia, a NATO member.  

There are also Russian troops in Moldova, an aspiring EU member state.

EU and NATO airspace is being violated by Russian military aircraft.

Russian submarines have been operating in British and Swedish waters.

Our friend shared with us fascinating stories about the tactical situation on the ground, and about his own unit, which obviously cannot be shared publically.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Starry, Starry Night.....

In Munch : Van Gogh, the focus is on the parallels between two iconic artists. Their visions on life and art are closely related, despite the fact that they never met. Their work is colourful, intense, expressive and radical. Their lives are remarkably similar in many ways.

For that reason, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) are often mentioned together.

Today, Inna and I visited this incredible exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

I simply had not realised the extent of the parallels between the Lives of Van Gogh and Munch. This expo illustrates those parallels brilliantly.

"During his short life, Van Gogh did not allow his flame to go out. Fire and embers were his brushes during the few years of his life, whilst he burned out for his art. I have thought, and wished – in the long term, with more money at my disposal than he had – to follow in his footsteps".
Edvard Munch, 23 October 1933.

The exhibition runs until Jan 17th, 2016.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Please Support The Petition For The UK To Recognise Holodomor As An Act Of Genocide

We are petitioning Her Majesty's Government to recognise Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, as an act of genocide.
The Holodomor, was engineered by the Soviet government. Seven and a half million people died of starvation over a period of one year. Twenty Five countries have currently recognised this as an act of genocide, as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

25 countries have formally recognised Holodomor in accordance with Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on Prevention & Prosecution of Genocide, which defines genocide as:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

All British Citizens, and all others who are legally resident in the UK are eligible to sign the petition, which can be found online here:


Holodomor: Made in Russia

“Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” - Josef Stalin
In 1932-33 a politically engineered famine took place in Ukraine. Holodomor, as it was to become known, saw some seven and a half million people, approximately one third of them children, brutally starved to death.
This famine was to take place on the most fertile soil in Europe, and it was to be carried out in secret.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the Russian Empire fell apart, and Ukraine quickly moved to assert it’s own identity, declaring independence in January 1918. During an ensuing period of political instability, Ukraine faced armed incursions by Poles in the west, and Bolsheviks in the east, and Bolshevik rule was soon to replace the fledgling democracy.

During this early period, the Soviet government introduced a policy of indigenisation, under which, over several years, Ukrainian culture flourished. A Ukrainian language based education system saw dramatic increases in literacy levels, and in literature, the theatre, and in public life the Ukrainian language blossomed. During this period of Ukrainisation, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was founded.

However, the policy of Ukrainisation was to be brutally reversed from 1928, starting with the arrest and execution of much of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, destruction of churches, and dispossession of the Kulaks, the most productive and successful of the peasant farmers. Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism was declared to be problematic, and a threat to the Soviet system. The renaissance was over, and in the Kremlin Josef Stalin was planning what was to be, in terms of cruelty and in numbers, one of the most brutal acts of genocide the world has witnessed.

The elimination of the intelligentsia and the Ukrainian elites was to be followed by the collectivisation of the agricultural sector, something that Ukrainian farmers resisted strongly.

Collectivisation brought quotas, imposed in 1932, whereby villages were required to deliver unrealistic quantities of grain. Failure to deliver resulted in seizure of all foodstuffs within the community, and all trade was banned, making it impossible for the peasantry to obtain any food at all.

The desired outcome of these actions was unequivocal. A Politburo resolution, dated November 18, 1932, states: “Comrades Redens and Kosior have until November 23 to develop an efficient plan for exterminating the main counter revolutionary clusters of the Kulaks and Petlura, first of all in Pavlograd, Uman and Bilotservka districts and also in the areas outside the towns of Borzny and Miny…”

As farms and villages failed to meet their totally unrealistic quotas, they were penalised by having those quotas raised. Soon, armed cadres of the Communist Party and the GPU, forerunners of the KGB, were ransacking homes, taking away any and all foodstuffs.
All food was deemed to be the property of the Collectives, and by extension, the property of the state. Possession of food was therefore theft, punishable by imprisonment, or execution by shooting “…with no reduction of the sentence possible”.

“The Communards took everything to the last grain. They sought everywhere in barns, pantries, thrust pitchforks into the ground to check on foodstuffs… A peasant woman, Krupchya (she was 37), was sentenced to five years imprisonment for wheat ears. And she had five children, they wanted to eat”. - Olga Vasylivna Kozlenko, Holodomor survivor, Malyn District.

As the tragedy rapidly unfolded, escape was made impossible. Villages and entire districts were ‘blacklisted’ and surrounded by armed men, those attempting to flee the famine and reach cities were either turned back, or imprisoned. Although the cities were less badly affected by the famine, the street cleaning services in Kyiv collected over 9,000 bodies in 1933. Soon the death rate was to reach 25,000 per day.

“The mortality rate has been so high that numerous village councils have stopped recording deaths”. - Zinovy Borisovich Katsnelson, Head of Kharkiv department, GPU.

One of the more tragic statistics of the time is the fact that 2,500 people were prosecuted for
cannibalism during the period of the Holodomor.

So devastating was the famine, that large areas of Ukraine were effectively de-populated. The Kremlin addressed this problem by sending large numbers of Russian and Belarussian families and workers to the affected areas, beginning in December 1933. This colonisation of Ukraine by Russians was to help sow the seeds for today’s conflict in the region.

The Soviet population census of 1937 showed such a drastic fall in the Ukrainian population that on Stalin’s orders all those who had carried out the census were either sent to the Gulag, or shot. The census results were suppressed.

Indeed, the very fact of Holodomor was suppressed for many years. Any suggestion of famine was down-played, and if there had been a famine, then the official Soviet line was that it had been down to a poor harvest caused by drought in the region. There remains to this day much debate on the matter, and we can see here how the present Moscow regime is attempting to sanitise the past.

Whilst in 2006 the Ukrainian Parliament passed a legislation definiing Holodomor as ‘Genocide’, in April 2010, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former President Viktor Yanukovych told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that “Holodomor was a common tragedy that struck Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples, and that it would be wrong to recognise the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one nation”. Twenty-five countries have recognised the tragic events of 1932-33 as genocide.

“This was the first instance of a peacetime genocide in history. It took the extraordinary form of an artificial famine deliberately created by the ruling powers. The savage combination of words for the designation of a crime - an artificial deliberately planned famine - is still incredible to many people throughout the world, but indicates the uniqueness of the tragedy of 1933, which is unparalleled for a time of peace, in the number of victims it claimed.”
Wasyl Hryshko - Author and Holodomor Survivor.

The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory hosts an exhibition ‘The Holodomor 1932 - 1933 - Genocide Against Ukrainian People’. Open daily from 10a.m. - 6p.m. (except on Mondays) it can be visited at 3 Lavrska Street, Kyiv (nearest metro station Arsenalna).

The Last of the Summer Wine.....

Walking through Felix Hap Park, in the European Quarter of Brussels, on an otherwise dull day, I took this photo, which I rather like.

The sky suddenly cleared, and so I guess we were treated to the last sunburst of the year.

I am not too depressed yet - I love the colours and moods of an Autumn landscape.

Just around the corner, my 12th Brussels winter awaits, and experience tells me that I can reasonably expect to see the sun overhead again sometime in May. A few years ago Brussels endured snow and sludge well into March: It was sad to note that suicide rates in the Brussels Region reached their highest levels since the Second World War that winter.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

You're Under Arrest......

And so.... Today I was apprehended by Brussel's finest.

Walking in to my club this afternoon, I found the whole district sealed off by riot police. This is, of course, nothing new in this part of Brussels; if even the 3rd Junior secretary for irrelevant affairs from Monaco drives the 50 metres from his hotel to the European Commission for a cup of coffee, entire roads are closed down for hours.

But today was a bit different. Today, the Communists were revolting.

Well, some may say that there is nothing new in that, and who am I to disagree? But it is unusual to see the police deploy in such numbers, and carrying gas masks - that I never saw before. And so my interest was aroused.

The mood was generally good. The Greeks were there, protesting against Austerity measures -which means that they are upset that they can no longer retire on full pay at the age of 50 at other country's taxpayer's expense. Lazy bastards.

I took lots of photos.

All was going well until I took a photo at Maelbeek Metro station. Then the riot police moved in. Then there developed a fiasco that only I could create.

The police, who by the way were politeness personified, demanded to see the photo I had taken - who am I to disagree with a couple of guys wielding batons? The problem is, I had taken the photo on my infamous Smartphone, which I have some issues with. 30 minutes later, after much fussing and calling in assistance from others, we eventually got the picture open. No offence was committed.

There then then followed an interesting conversation. I enquired as to why there was such a massive police presence. I was informed that it is "because the far-left are much more violent than the far-right....". I wonder if the Metropolitan Police, or indeed any British police force, would dare to admit to that?