Monday, 22 August 2016

Toots Thielemans - The Passing of a Jazz Legend

All good things must come to an end.

And so, Belgium is mourning the passing of one of the greatest of Jazz legends, Toots Thielemans.

Toots died in his sleep last night. He wasn't ill, he had just played his heart out, day after day, year after year, and at the age of 94 he just got too tired.

I last heard him play live outside the European Parliament. I don't like crowds, so I wasn't actually there, but I lived virtually next door. I watched it live on TV with the sound off, and opened my terrace doors so I could hear it for real.

As in the USA there is country music, so in Belgium there is Jazz. Toots Thielemans will be much missed here.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Another UKIP MEP being set-up?

History would appear to be repeating itself the the UKIP camp in Brussels.

Welsh MEP Nathan Gill is being investigated for abusing European Parliamentary funds. He was unaware of the investigation into him.

We have seen this at least twice before. Fall foul of the party leadership, and allegations will be made. It happened to Tom Wise, and it happened to Nikki Sinclaire.

Tom Wise unexpectedly changed his plea in court to guilty, thus sparing Nigel Farage from taking the stand and having to answer questions on oath about investigations into his own affairs, something he very much wanted to avoid. To shut down the case completely it was vital that somebody was found guilty.

The official who had investigated Tom's case told me afterwards in Brussels that he, and his superior, were astonished that this had even gone to court, but that he realised when he was called to give evidence that this was a 'stitch-up'.

Nikki Sinclaire had challenged Farage for the party leadership, exposed far-right elements in Farage's political group in Brussels, and most importantly had tabled the petition calling for a referendum on membership of the EU. In order for Farage to take back the political space he had lost, Nikki Sinclaire had to be taken out. And so the police raids and the arrests began.

Nikki was cleared of all charges, after an astonishingly long 'investigation', but the damage to her political career was done.

Now it is Gill's turn.

Why I am not sure, but he has clearly been perceived as a threat to somebody, and we can only speculate as to who that might be. His fellow MEPs will tut tut and say how they support him, but not one of them will actually extend a hand to help him. They will be too scared.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Russians Kicked Out Of Crimea By The British

Of course, history in Russia is presented selectively, and the truth can change depending upon who is in charge, and what his agenda is.

I have been told, often, by those blinded by their love of Putin, that Crimea belongs to Russia because, well, they always thought it did. International law be damned.

On that basis, Crimea belongs to Great Britain and her allies, because in 1856 we ( the British) kicked the Russian army out of the Crimean peninsula.

Of course, this humiliating defeat is airbrushed out of Russian history. This defeat was a precursor to Russia's humiliation in the First World War, and their subsequent disgraceful collaboration with Nazi Germany in the early months of the Second World War.

Some photos here of the memorial in Pall Mall, London, to the British victory over the Russian armies in Crimea.

You won't read about this in any Russian history book, of course. Russian history books contain mostly lies.

Monday, 11 July 2016

When Ducks Behave Badly....

I am not entirely sure what is going on here. I didn't see this before.

Its either a mating ritual or attempted murder. Ducks can be surprising brutal - if one of the flock offends, for example by having any physical contact with another species - they can pay a high price.

This occurred today in Parc Leopold, in the European Quarter of Brussels.

Make of it what you will.

Nikki Sinclaire Cleared Of All Charges

Former MEP Nikki Sinclaire has finally been found 'Not Guilty' of fraud.

This follows a four year investigation, which may have cost the taxpayer some £1.5 million. 

The allegations made against her, by a disgruntled former employee, one John Ison, involve travel claims amounting to around £3000.

Having been present with Nikki at meetings in the European Parliament's finance offices, I can confirm that senior officials told her that there appeared to be some errors, but that they would balance out at the end of the year.

So why did this need a four year investigation, culminating in a failed prosecution? 

West Midlands Plod are, of course, trying to defend the decision to prosecute, but the stories about their incompetence I will leave it for Nikki to decide whether to tell them or not.

But most satisfying for me personally was the exposure of John Ison himself.

Having met him a few times, I have to say that I took an immediate dislike to him. A Walter Mitty type character possesed of neither social skills or political nous was my first impression. This court case has not been his finest hour, and friends who have heard my opinions of him in private have read about his cross-examination, and are saying to me "wow, you weren't kidding!"

But best of all, and I quote from the Express & Star newspaper;

"The jury at Birmingham Crown Court heard there had been an atmosphere of "hostility" between Ms Sinclaire and Ukip leader Nigel Farage, and that Mr Ison had passed information about her to the senior party figure."

"Under cross examination from Sinclaire's barrister Sean Hammond, Mr Ison accepted being a "spy or a mole" in her office, and admitted passing information about the MEP to Nigel Farage in 2009-10.
Mr Ison also accepted making 30-40 hours of covert recordings of Sinclaire, and sending a message to another Ukip colleague claiming he had hacked her laptop."

What is not mentioned is that at around the time that computer files were stolen, and I have seen the evidence personally, Ison was being employed by UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall. I think this story shows us what a sordid little gang the party became under the leadership of Nigel Farage.

The fact that Ison had himself appeared in court some years ago accused of strangling his wife is irrelevant to the case, but just tells us a little more about the man. 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Goodnight Sweetheart to make a return

I was delighted to learn that Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran - often known as 'Lo and Mo' - are reprising their classic comedy 'Goodnight Sweetheart', if only for one episode.

It is a masterpiece of the imagination, combined with a warm nostalgia, created to appeal to viewers of different generations.

The central character is Gary Sparrow, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst (Rodney Trotter in 'Only Fools & Horses')

Sparrow finds himself able to travel back in time to the East End of London during the Blitz. Soon he finds himself with a wife in the 1990s, Yvonne, and a wartime bride, Phoebe, played by Dervla Kirwan, who was to go onto to greater things.

He also has a friend in the 90s, Ron, who is a printer, and who supplies him with forged ration books and wartime currency.

Sparrow charms his friends in the 40s by entertaining them with 'his compositions', all of course Beatles classics, and other oddities familiar to anyone who grew up in post-war Britain.

He fathers children in both eras, and befriends Noel Coward. He meets King George VI, Clement Atlee, even Jack the Ripper gets into one story line. In a bank in 40's London he meets inept staff members who we recognise straight away as the characters from 'Dad's Army'.

As I say, a masterpiece of the imagination.

Lo and Mo have been responsible for some of the most popular sitcoms on British TV, including the superb 'Shine on Harvey Moon', and 'Birds of a Feather', the latter being one of the most successful of all sitcoms, running to 110 episodes.

Interestingly, they also wrote 'Mosley', a four episode drama. This was a brave decision, which raised a lot of eyebrows at the time.

Mosley, once described by Micheal Foot as the 'the brightest star in British politics', and one of the earliest advocates of a unified Europe, was a fascist, and Lo and Mo are Jewish.

That they could produce a historically accurate account of the events that shaped Mosley's political direction was considered unacceptable by many. It was, however, enlightening, disturbing, and challenging.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Pétanque in the park. Just perfect!

And so, if there were one thing that the French have given us (apart from great wine, cheese, cider, countryside, etc) then that would be Pétanque. It is French bowls - or 'Boules'. Its great.

One of the pleasures of Brussels is that I get to play this wonderful game against members of the Indian ex-pat community (and we English know how good Indians are at bowling), as well as occasionally going up against elderly Belgian chaps who are just brilliant. Especially after half a bottle of Pastis.

George and I play together sometimes - he loves all sports. But we have now reached that point in our respective lives where he always beats me. He is, simply, overtaking me. 

Today, it was 2 games to 1. Having won the first 2 with ease, he relaxed a bit towards the end and was more focussed on lunch than he was on winning an unnecessary third round. 

Pétanque is the most relaxing way of spending some hours in the sunshine, and I strongly recommend it. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

A Chance Encounter With A Moggie......

What a delight to see this absolutely pristine Morris Minor, a 'Moggie', as we used to call them, parked just a few yards from my home.

This model, with the wooden trim, was actually known as a 'Traveler'.

My uncle had one, I remember it well. In the early 70's my father had a dark blue Moggie van, which he fitted out with two London bus benches in the rear. I have fond memories of driving to the seaside at the weekend with my brother and cousins, it was before my sister was even born, in the back of that classic old car. I loved it, and I used to clean it every Saturday morning.

After all these years I can even remember the registration number - 219 HLE. This  dates the car as being originally registered before 1963.

The Moggie was designed by Alex Issigonis, who also designed the Mini. The car was conceived in 1941, when Morris were concerned with war production. However, thinking ahead and knowing that they had massive production capacity due to military requirements, they wanted a 'ready to go' design for a civilian vehicle to go into production as soon as the war ended. And so Issigonis, who was a junior designer, was given the job of designing a car that could be built without requiring too much retooling of the existing production lines.

This particular car, which has Belgian plates, is a Minor 1000, which entered into production in 1956. It is so perfect that it looks like it has just come out of the factory. Even in my childhood I didn't such a perfect example as this, and it sent a shiver up my spine just to touch it. It brought back many memories.

The interior of the car is as perfect as is the exterior, and the tyres are the original crossplies. Somebody has invested a huge amount of time, money, and love into this car. Note the British tax disc on the windscreen - the car was clearly registered in the UK until at least 2014.

George was very impressed, it was the first time he had seen one of these in real life. The tiny chrome windscreen wipers he was particularly impressed with.

The Moggie was never the safest of vehicles. It had a rigid construction, and did not absorb impact well. It was only in the mid-60s that modifications were made to the design to allow for the fitting of seat belts.

More than 1.3 million Moggies were produced as far as we know, but there was also some production in India, and total production there is somewhat uncertain.

Fings ain't wot they used to be.........

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Global Warming Spoils My Plans For The Weekend

Climate change brings with it an increase in extreme weather events. The recent flooding in Paris attracted a great deal of media attention, but how many people are aware of the flooding of homes in the provincial areas of Holland just one week earlier?

But now it has become really serious.

Climate change has landed on my doorstep. My local Petanque pitch is flooded.

I must admit that the reflection of the moon and the trees in the water at 9.30 this morning was rather pleasing, but my son and I were planning on a few games at the weekend. This is a ritual that involves the odd tipple, some snacks, and a small wager (which I always seem to lose).

I appreciate that the increased precipitation in Belgium as a direct result of increased temperatures is nothing compared to a Tsunami, or a hurricane, but it does illustrate how changing weather patterns are now affecting even the little details of our everyday lives.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

I was really pleased to meet recently with Evgeny Afineevsky, producer and director of the Oscar nominated documentary movie Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom, when he presented his work at the Ukrainian embassy in Brussels

This is an account of the events of the Euromaidan protests of 2013 -14, when student led protests called for an end to the Russian backed regime of Viktor Yanukovich, and for a Ukrainian future as part of the European family of free and democratic nations.

Evgeny filmed the resulting tragedy as it unfolded before his eyes.

This is a somewhat hard film to watch: some of the scenes are extremely harrowing, and interviews with some of the peaceful protesters are shown alongside footage of those same innocent people being taken down by snipers.

The file is brutally honest, and Evgeny spoke openly about his feelings after the event. Such sights and sounds cannot help but traumatise those who witness them. I know that only too well.

The movie is available on Netflix, where it has attracted huge attention.

These things should not happen in 21st century Europe, but they do. We must not turn our eyes away.

Farage Aide Exposed As Irish Republican Sympathiser

UKIP Press Officer Hermann Kelly Exposed As Republican Sympathiser
A key aide to Nigel Farage is a hardline Irish Republican who was caught spending a boozy night in a Brussels bar as other drinkers sang pro-IRA songs, the Daily Mirror has reported.
Londonderry-born Hermann Kelly was pictured sitting among a 10-strong party in the Ketje pub just moments from the European Parliament, where he is the UKIP leader’s most senior political adviser.

During a near 45-minute rendition the group belted out openly inflammatory songs, including one written after a bid to blow up the RUC, which called on England to “take your murderers out of Ireland”.
When quizzed about the gathering by the Sunday Mirror, Kelly insisted he had been drinking with three UKIP party employees. But he finally admitted sitting at the same table as the pro-IRA group – who he described as a visiting delegation – adding: “I know two of these people. I’m sitting here having a drink”.
Kelly, UKIP ’s Director of Communications in Brussels, was introduced to a Daily Mirror reporter by a political pal who joked: “Meet Hermann, the only Irish Republican on Nigel Farage’s payroll. Now that’s a story!”
Confirming that he did hold Republican beliefs, Kelly said this stemmed from his roots in Northern Ireland’s second largest city and asked: “What else do you expect from a man from Derry?” Insisting his views represented “Irish Catholic nationalism” he likened the Irish cause to that of the Brexit campaign in next month’s EU referendum, saying: “Self-determination is what it’s all about.”
Kelly claimed that Farage was aware of his sympathies.
Like Farage, Kelly has blamed “the horrific act of terrorism” in Brussels which killed 34 people on EU migration rules.
Kelly is a former editor of The Irish Catholic, a newspaper founded by Timothy Daniel Sullivan, who was convicted and jailed for crimes relating to his Republican activities.
This article was originally published by EU Today. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Anderlecht 2 - SV Zulte Waregem 0

George is a bit crazy about Soccer... So it was with great delight that we were invited sit in a private box today and watch Anderlecht take second place in the Belgian Premier League, and thus go through to the first round of the Champions League.

It was a heck of a game.

The match was suspended after the first few minutes as flares filled the stadium with smoke and flame, and the players were taken off the field.

It was a heated game indeed, with two yellow cards, and one red.

The second Anderlecht goal was the ultimate nail-biter.... The first shot was saved, but not held. The second shot hit the left post.... the third shot went in!

The SVZW supporters were magnanimous in defeat, and stole the show. Around 100 of them drowned out all other noise in the stadium, and their noisy but good natured antics kept us well amused - well done chaps!