Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Wrong Type Of Curtains

I've been a little quiet recently blogwise, as I am coming to the end of an incredibly turbulent month. Moving home, career change, and my daughter going away to university. All in the same month!

Since arriving in Brussels in 2004, I have always lived in what is known as the 'European Quarter'. I decided to move out a mile or so to a quieter area, Woluwe St Pierre. The problem with the European Quarter is that its in a state of constant development, its like living in a building site.

Where we are now is very 'Belgian', and I stick out like a sore thumb. But the people are very nice here.

And there is already a problem. Apparently my curtains are not in keeping with the spirit of the building. They are not white. One of the neighbours has curtains that are not white also, but mine are patterned, so that makes them worse. They are very heavy, custom made, and designed to last a lifetime. Belgian homes tend to have very high ceilings, and the whole front of the apartment is glass, so I guess they do tend to stand out a bit. But I will stand my ground!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish.

I understand that Gerry Conlon, who was one of the Guildford bombers, according to former workmates who I would trust far more than I would trust Tony Blair and others of his ilk, has died. He died after an illness, presumably peacefully in his bed, unlike his innocent victims who were slaughtered publically and horrifically.

Conlan was absolved of his crimes, and I have nothing more to say on this subject, other than that miscarriages of justice can work both ways.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Hideous Little Dictatorship...

That is how Brussels was described to me last night by a friend, as we sat with a glass of wine before the Belgian match last night.

About 30 minutes before kick-off, armed police entered Place du Luxembourg, outside the European Parliament. They were serving papers on the bar owners, in quite an aggressive manner. You see, the World Cup is not the big community event you might expect this time round. The local mayor has decreed that only the 3 Belgian group games can be watched outdoors.

The police were ordering the bar owners to switch off the big screens on their terraces the instant the game finished.

Now I don't want to think badly of my Belgian hosts - I have lived here for 10 years - but as a political scientist I have to tell you that Belgium does display distinct characteristics that we would normally associate with a fascist state.

This policy is clearly discriminatory, but that would not worry fascists. Let us hope that common sense kicks in, and we foreigners will be allowed to watch our national sides play outdoors.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Breakfast in Bloomsbury

Cartwright Gardens - slightly before my time!
To start with a whinge.... £50 for a return ticket from Birmingham to London with Virgin trains. There was standing room only - I found myself squeezed against the wall outside a toilet which was 'out of service'.The train left 10 minutes late, arriving at Euston 25 minutes late. Rubbish service you provide, Virgin bloody trains!

I arrived in London in time to meet crowds of celebrating Arsenal fans - a really good atmosphere, with Hull fans good naturedly joining in the fun. Well done chaps!

As I often do, I ensconced myself in Cartwright Gardens, my bedroom looking out over the statue of my esteemed ancestor and great inspiration, Major John Cartwright. After quite an intense week, it was just perfect to wake up listening to the birds, and to pore over the Sunday papers in the Gardens after a slightly too large breakfast.

There is something inspirational about Bloomsbury, in a bohemian sort of way. It has been, of course, the home to many literary greats over the years, Virginia Woolf to name but one.

The spot where the Major lived, and where he passed away in 182, having just received a final, ironically melancholic letter from his friend Thomas Jefferson, is now occupied by the University of London. I hope they get the same inspiration that I find in these gentile surroundings.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

A Bit Of Perspective Is Called For...

I am not going to glorify killing. I personally know what it looks like, I know what it sounds like, and I know what it smells like. (The latter being the worst).

But my hackles rise when I hear criticism of our armed forces - the best and most honourable  armed forces in the world.

If these allegations are true, then they indicate immature and insensitive behaviour. I hope that the officers responsible will act upon this, and I am sure that they will. It is not correct behaviour at all, and it does not befit our military, or our country, as I am sure that even our detractors will agree. Let us hear the story of the chap in the picture, who is highly likely to have been under attack, outnumbered, and in territory where even the most innocent of civilians would have been likely to turn on him with a butcher's knife if he were to go down injured.

However, compared with the beheading of innocent civilians by Al Queeda and the Taliban, (the alleged victims here), recorded for posterity, and broadcast with pride through social media, this really does pale into insignificance.

A lapse in military discipline does not compare with the barbaric behaviour of the Taliban.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Now There Is Beautiful....

My love of Wales, and all things Welsh (especially the rugby), is well known. And so what a pleasure to hit the road this morning and head for Snowdonia. Sunday lunch in Bala, where I picked up a Welsh rugby shirt for George, coffee in Dolgellau, and dinner in Borth with the most charming company.

Back to work tomorrow....

Well Done Nuneaton Town FC!!

And well done to Lewis Moult, who managed to score a hat-trick, in Nuneaton's 3-1 victory over Dartford in the final game of the season.

I was lucky to be able to enjoy the game along with Nikki Sinclaire MEP, who sponsored the match, and the rest of the team. It was my first visit to the ground, and a very entertaining afternoon we had.

Bloody marvelous!

Friday, 11 April 2014

I've a feeling we're not in Kansas....

I went for a stroll after lunch today, as is my habit.

I am so glad that I am not in Brussels this week. George is up on the glacier taking ski lessons - he does not ski, so much as hurtle. He does not do that going from side to side thing as he heads down the slopes, he just heads straight down at top speed, and finds sticks cumbersome.

I don't like skiing, I am not all that keen on snow anymore, to be honest. It is nice to look at, but you wouldn't want it in your boots. And so I am spending my time walking in the Tyrolean mountains, and very nice it is too.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

I'm With Tebbit On This One!

With Norman Tebbit at the House of Lords, 2002

"There's always the possibility that a member of the Real IRA will be so outraged by Mr McGuinness bowing to the Queen that they might shoot him in the back for it. We can but hope." 

Lord Tebbit has received quite some criticism today for this comment. Let me just put on record my absolute support for him. No qualifications. No justification. Absolute support for this great Englishman.

I remember meeting with him in the House of Lords, where I was interviewing him for an ex-services newspaper. A nicer, and more gentle man you could never meet. 

We are both ex-RAF, and I was delighted to learn that he had flown the Gloster Javelin. I had done some ground training on the Javelin, a beautiful looking aircraft, but with an alarming tendency to burst into flames around the undercarriage legs on engine start-up.  Hence the big asbestos gloves we were given...

Totally unnecessary training, as the Javelin was taken out of service many years before my time, but like God, the Royal Air Force moves in mysterious ways.

But I digress....

Norman Tebbitt has very strong thoughts about the cowardly scum that came close to murdering him in cold blood, and who inflicted grievous injuries on his beloved wife. I understand, and share, his thoughts.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Vote Farage - Get Putin!

I referred in my last post to a comment from a journalist about Nigel Farage "tossing off" on the Kremlin sponsored 'news' channel RT.

How interesting it was to see, following his most recent debate with Nick Clegg, the following report on RT.

On the day when 'pro-Russian' forces tear down the Ukrainian flag in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, I think my point is now well made - useful idiot indeed!

With Putin taking us to the brink in possibly the biggest crisis since Cuba in 1962, perhaps it is time to bring back Defence Regulation 18B?

Incidentally, for the benefit of the swivel-eyed loons, Ukraine has never applied for EU membership. The EU has never offered Ukraine membership.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

An Unexpected Change Of Direction....

With Former President Viktor Yushchenko
A lot of my spare time and energy is spent on my support for the Ukrainian people, who are going through worrying times. The removal of the despicable Yanukovych puppet-regime was always going to have dire repercussions. Corrupt regimes always struggle until the last, as they try to cover their tracks and get away with as much as they can. Yanukovych was actually quite lucky to get away with his life: more than 100 Ukrainian civilians who faced the security forces in the final days of the regime were not so lucky.

Nobody is in any doubt as to who pulled Yanukovych's strings. The Kremlin is very adept at pulling strings.

But to the surprise of many, a new apologist for Russia has emerged. And it all began during the LBC debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg.


The Kremlin is hostile to the concept of renewable energy.
The Kremlin's Trojan Horses in the EU oppose individually and collectively any proposal on energy policy - unbundling, for example -  as they are opposed to any common energy policy.
The Kremlin did not want either the proposed constitution or the Lisbon Treaty.
It was the Kremlin that first issued the infamous statement saying that "The EU has blood on its hands".

And Nigel Farage's policies are....? The first three are justifiable, of course, from the UKIP perspective, but the last one?

A Brussels journalist recently commented to me that Farage can be seen "tossing off on RT most weeks". RT, a Kremlin backed media platform has shown its true colours during the recent crisis, leading to at least two presenters criticising the station's policy live on air. Some amongst us are old enough to remember Наши кино - 'our cinema' - a Soviet era propaganda tv channel (actually, the last time I was in Belarus, it was still broadcasting there!) RT has become the modern equivilent of this, and will interview any western politician who will be critical to camera of his or her own country. ("Useful idiots" was the phrase that Stalin used.)

Farage says that he "respects" Putin.  "The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant." he is reported as saying. Putin has, of course, been choreographing events in Syria for some time, as Russia seeks to pursue a Middle East policy symmetrical to that of the US. Bashar Al-Assad has been pleased to host a strong Russian presence in Syria, as this limits the military options potentially available to Israel. This is the regime, of course, that used chemical weapons against its own civilian population. Putin's intervention following the atrocity was to suggest that actually the regime was not to blame, but that 'rebels' may have been responsible.

On July 5th 2006, the Russian State Duma passed a law - actually a set of amendments to existing legislation - known as 153-FZ. I won't bore you all with the details, but one passage leapt out at me straight away. "The special assignment units of the Federal Security Service bodies may be used, by a decision of the of President of the Russian Federation, against the terrorists and (or) their bases located beyong the territory of the Russian Federation, in order to destroy a threat to the security of the Russian Federation." Within 153-FZ 'extremists' are considered to be 'terrorists'. The definition of such people is broadened within the legislation to include anybody making "libellous statements" about the president or his regime. Note the words "may be used, by a decision of the of President..."

In November 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen, was murdered in London. The British authorities have stated they have sufficient evidence to secure the conviction of Andrei Lugovoi, a former officer of the KGB's 9th Directorate. This was the organisation tasked with protecting senior government officials. Note again the words "may be used, by a decision of the of President..."

This is the man whose foreign policy Nigel Farage admires so much. This surprises me very much, based on my knowledge of him, and on conversations I may have had with him in the past.

But interestingly, it is not just the UKIP leader who is spouting pro-Kremlin rhetoric. Russia has been courting the western far-right, and parties such as Jobbick and Golden Dawn are increasingly going in the same direction. Marine Le Pen is also no stranger to Moscow - her party wants the replace NATO and the EU with a group of independent nations - including Russia! Putin is using the far-right now in exactly the way his Soviet predecessors used the far-left. To justify his actions, and to support his intentions.

Incidentally, I happen to agree with the argument that says that the EU's approach to Ukraine is flawed, and has been since 2004. The failure of the Orange Revolution came about for a number of reasons, but whereas Putin feared being rembered as the man who lost Ukraine, that title instead went to Barosso. Now we see the results. But it is for the Ukrainian people to decide, through democratic means, their future. Western Ukrainians see themselves as European, and they now seek to assert that identity. However, in the context of the early 21st century, and with the demise of the Westphalian Order, it is hard to see how that desire can be fulfilled at this time other than by EU membership. Of course the EU will welcome them with open arms, but I think a little caution on all sides might be wise here.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Jeramiah Denton Knew Who His Enemies Were.

"Former Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton, who survived 7½ years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and alerted the U.S. military to conditions there when he blinked the word "torture" in Morse code during a television interview, has died. He was 89 years of age.

Denton's grandson, Edward Denton, says he died about 8 a.m. Friday at a hospice facility surrounded by family. Edward Denton says his grandfather had been in declining health for the past year and died from heart problems.

Denton, a Republican who served a single term in the U.S. Senate, was a strong advocate of conservative causes and backer of the Reagan administration. But the iron will that served him in such good stead in captivity gave rise to criticism that he was too rigid as a politician."
(Associated Press)
I remember as a very young child seeing those terrible images from the Vietnam War that have now become so iconic. They were beamed into our homes with every news bulletin.
Vietnam was, of course, a cold war era proxy war.
Of course, we still fight proxy wars, but as one who served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces during the final years of the cold war, I sort of took comfort in the fact that in those days we knew who our enemies were. Our main enemy was what was officially called the Soviet Union, but what we all knew was the Russian Empire. Or as one former Baltic Prime Minister called it recently, "The Second Mongol Occupation".
Then it changed. That change reached its pinnacle on 9/11. The enemy became an unknown force, operating within our own borders.
Now, in a loose interpretation of Marxist vernacular, we see the negation of the negation.
It has changed again. It has reverted back to where we were some decades ago. Russia is on the move again.
A very senior military advisor to NATO told me two days ago "This is the start of World War 3".
Let us hope he is wrong.