Tuesday, 21 May 2013
His blog is amusing enough, albeit for unintended reasons, and might be worth a quick scan if you buy into contrarianism, which I personally do not.
One thing I will pick him up on, however, is his comment "But if it is true that the Conservatives will offer a Referendum (which is not entirely certain,) the only reason they will have done so is because UKIP forced them to."
Actually, it was a cross party group of MEPs and others led by Nikki Sinclaire who presented a petition of over 100,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street calling for a referendum on continued membership of the EU that led to the Backbench Committee debate on a referendum that forced Mr Cameron's hand. Nigel Farage didn't even sign the petition until the day of the debate. In fact, UKIP has always been opposed to a referendum, but they can always spot a good bandwagon when he sees one, and so other people's work became, overnight,their "greatest acheivement".
Subsequent to posting this, I learn that media attention has driven Mr Marchessini away from UKIP. He will no longer be providing the party with financial assistance.
Friday, 17 May 2013
Last night marked the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. The loss of life - 617 squadron lost 53 airmen on the raid - was high, but as well as the effects on German industry the morale boost given to the British public was hugely important, and to this day Guy Gibson and his flyers remain an iconic reminder of the courage and tenacity of RAF Bomber Command. Canadian and Australian airmen were also lost on the operation, and we should never forget the contribution that they and other Commonwealth flyers made to RAF operations during WW2. We should also acknowledge the fact the 53 young men who were lost on that raid, and the rest of the 55,573 Bomber Command crewmen who were lost during the war, were the finest our country had. We lost the best of the best - 44% of those who served in Bomber Command lost their lives - and we have paid the price ever since as a result.
Fast forward to 2013.
USS George H.W. Bush.
The X-47B is rather large, as drones go, and will eventually have full combat capabilities.
I'm rather fond of drones. I would rather see our future combat aircraft controlled by young men in bunkers in England, then flying over hostile territory with crewmen onboard.
At the moment, RAF drones have only surveillance roles, but I hope that this situation changes quickly. Unfortunately, due to the incompetence of the Eton Rifles, our new carriers will lack catapults, and so will not be able to launch the X-47B.
I am aware of certain British politicians who are campaigning against the use of drones, particularly 'killer' drones. Their opposition has nothing to do with their personal religious beliefs, of course, nor their anti-Americanism.
I just wish that we had drones in Northern Ireland during the 'troubles'!
Friday, 3 May 2013
In 4th place we actually see Independent candidates, a remarkable acheivement. I believe passionately in the value of independent politicians, and so I am thrilled by this. When the final tally comes in, I hope it remains this way.
The BNP have yet to get off the ground, as has their alter ego the English Democrats. The Greens will certainly not be celebrating tonight.
The Idle Toad Party have lost their only seat, the the Official Monster Raving Loony Party has maintained it's consistency, and won nothing. Its another Loony Landslide!!
The BNP appear to have bombed, confirming the general feeling that the party is on its last legs. A wipe-out in next year's Euro elections will be the death of the BNP. I predict that the party will end up like the National Front, which fielded over 300 candidates in the 1979 General Election, but now consists of a handful of people who wish they were in the UVF.
UKIP's performance has also been exactly as expected. A good share of the vote - as much as 26% according to the BBC - but not so many seats. This is not the big breakthrough that was being sold to the press, but for Nigel Farage that might be a bit of a relief. Success always fractures UKIP. It is a weakly led and dysfunctional party, and any political scientist will point to the inherent dangers there. In fact, going back to the BNP, their greatest success was to have 2 MEPs elected in 2009, and it was not long before one of them split off to form his own party, and for the BNP to enter into terminal decline. For UKIP to really emerge as a force, the breakthrough needs to come under new leadership. Having one of your candidates Heiling Hitler on the front page of the Daily Mirror was probably not a good idea either, but the smear campaign came too late to make a difference. Such tactics should be deployed 2-3 weeks before the election in order to have any impact. I am starting to wonder if David Cameron employs advisers at all.... The spectacle of the British Prime Minister reacting to the antics of a company of clowns has not done the image of our country any good at all. Give Vauxhall Cross a call, Mr Cameron, you are the Prime Minister, you know.
The Greens also appear to have fared badly. Caroline Lucas' appalling performance on Sunday Politics last weekend gave us an insight into how fey the party has become, which is a shame, but all part of evolution. The Greens forced environmental issues onto centre stage, and the three main parties ignore the green lobby at their peril. But the Greens have done their job - it is time for them to either find a new constituency, as Ms. Lucas has done in Brighton, or to disperse and join other parties where they can broaden and deepen the issues.
So down here at the bottom with the far-right and the far-gone, it is appropriate to mention the Lib-Dems, who at least some of us remember. Please e-mail me if you can see the point of the Lib Dems, because I'm sure that I can't.
British politics are in a state of flux at the moment, and it is an interesting time. However, when the sands stop shifting and the dust settles, the landscape will be as it always was - as every Englishman knows, change is good, but no change is better.
Thursday, 2 May 2013
This park is actually only about 10 minutes walk from my home, but I rarely pass through it. I love parks, (and of course in London we some of the best - St. James and Southwark Parks being my own favourites) but for some reason I just never took to the Park here in Brussels. It is quite small, but pretty enough, and is surrounded by some impressive architecture, but it does not engage. I noticed today a shabby café, closed of course - why would a café be open at breakfast time? - which reminded me of a similar place in Minsk, close to the botanical gardens. A similar place, in similar surroundings, but how different they are. I remember sitting there on a summer evening with a friend, eating far too much shashlik, and drinking something Belorussian that appeared to be distilled from rocket fuel. There atmosphere was unforgettable, and that is what is missing from the Brussels Park - atmosphere. Actually, its the only thing missing, but what a difference it makes.
Maybe I will get out at the Parc station more often and see if I can find something there to change my opinion....
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Life as an expat can be difficult, and remember that I have been in Brussels for almost 9 years. There is no place like home, as Judy Garland knew so well, and there is no home like London. And I get very homesick sometimes.
And so, from left to right, in this picture we have Norman (ex-Royal Navy) Randall (ex-Irish army) and myself (ex-RAF) posing by a piano in the ambassador's residence. You will notice a pattern developing here. We have a wonderful ex-services community here in Brussels, and I often stop to think about how important that is to me, and to others.
Amongst our little team of friends, we include two Belgian navy veterans, two former members of the Red Army (one of who was on guard duty the night the Berlin Wall came down), and a 99 year old D-Day veteran. I also count amongst my friends a former Congolese soldier, and a former Rwandan army medic who was badly injured during the ghastly troubles there some years ago, and who is now homeless, and with whom I look forward to playing pétanque and sharing lunch with should the Summer ever arrive. He is actually one of the happiest men I know, and my 8 year old son adores him. One of my closest and most valued friends here is an ex-Royal Naval Reserve chap who was once done for mutiny on a minesweeper (he got off, by the way, he always does!). We are a mixed bag, but we all know who our friends are.
So what does it mean?
Why is it that we gravitate towards one another? Is it shared values? Is it shared experience?
What is it?
It is the knowledge that regardless of any personal differences, there are people in this world who are prepared to stand together, and to stand up for one another. It is the knowledge that when the black dog visits, unconditional friendship is only a phone call away.
Here in Brussels we have a large and thriving branch of the Royal British Legion. Not all veterans are members, but all are part of the wider community. I always urge all ex-service folks to join the Legion, as even if we do not need help ourselves, others do, and there is strength in numbers.
Even if you never served, associate membership is open to all, so please, consider joining.
Friday, 26 April 2013
Globalisation has its downsides, and as a result there are many peoples trying to protect their cultural identies and their languages. And it is not just smaller groups that are in this position. In the context of the EU institutions even the French are becoming concerned about the rapid decline in the use of their language. In Flanders, English has now replaced Dutch as the 2nd most widely spoken language. Arabic is now the 4th language in the region, although it is a long way behind Dutch. Interestingly, whilst use of English is rising dramatically and Dutch has slipped to 3rd place, there has actually been a slight rise in the use of Dutch due to more emphasis on the language at primary school level. It is, again, French that is seeing its primacy challenged. The official 3rd language of Belgium is German, but that is largely confined to a smallish area around Liége, and is not often heard on the streets of Brussels.
Hardly anybody even remembers Backslang, which I used to hear as a boy, mostly from elderly male cockneys. I have a few words and colouful expressions, but it is rarely heard now as the demographics change in London, and cultural influences are more global, (although I have a Welsh friend here in Brussels who lived in London in the late 1930s, and who, much to my pleasure, picked up and retains some words and phrases). Rhyming slang has been integrated to a degree in mainstream English, although to a very limited degree. It also evolves continually, which I hope will ensure that at least some of it will stay with us. It is tragic to realise that a whole culture, within our capital city, could be on the verge of vanishing completely within a couple of generations.
This lunchtime, we can mourn the demise of Backslang with a Top a' Reeb which I am sure will cost me a Vos r'owt!
Friday, 19 April 2013
Driving from Strasbourg to Brussels yesterday I arrived at one of the Péage stations (toll booths) en route. As always, I opted for one of the lanes clearly marked 'Credit Cards' as its always quicker to go through those. In front of me was a Renault with German number plates. I reckon it takes about 30 seconds at most to put in your card, take it and a receipt from the machine, then drive through.
So after about 2 minutes, I realised there was a problem with the Renault, and started to develop an interest in proceedings. The driver was a lady of, I would guess, around 60. I watched in amazement as she was repeatedly trying to insert a €20 note into the slot clearly marked as being for cards. Actually, in frustration, she was trying to stuff it in.
I wondered if I should get out and have a chat with her, but her companion obviously twigged, and handed her a card.
Should such people be allowed to drive?
I have always thought that there should be more restrictions on who gets a driving licence. When we apply there are certain questions. Are you epileptic? Are you blind? I reckon we should also be asking "Are you a f**king idiot"?
To me, it is blindingly obvious that anybody we might class as a f**king idiot should not be allowed on the roads. But the question is, how do we identify them? And so, I have come up with a few questions that might help us.
1. Do you wear a baseball cap the wrong way around?
2. Do you have a pitbull named 'Tyson'?
3. Do you confuse sportswear with casual clothing?
4. When alighting from a train, or passing through a shop doorway, do you ever have an uncontrollable urge to stand still and rummage through your handbag?
5. Have you ever watched the X factor for more than 10 minutes?
6. Do you think it is a good idea to give your children Pot Noodle for dinner?
7. Do you think that life in Britain was better before the war?
Of course, Can you tell the difference between a credit card and a banknote? might also be a good one to ask.
I could go on.
Friday, 12 April 2013
There are two categories of species: r & k.
The former, which includes rodents and insects, are highly adaptable. They have relatively short life-spans, short gestation periods, and produce lots of offspring very quickly. Insects are particularly adaptable, and can produce sub-species to cope with major environmental change in just a few generations. When the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs hit Earth, lice would have had no long term worries.
The dinosaurs, however, being k species stood no chance. k species evolve strictly to cope with their environment. Population levels are always at or very close to carrying capacity. Environmental change poses a major threat to them. They reproduce relatively late in life, have long gestation periods, and have few offspring. They simply have not evolved to cope with environmental change.
Birds are k species. Perhaps this explains what happened to the dawn chorus.
We are also k species by the way. Think about it......
Monday, 8 April 2013
Of course this story has a classic Belgian ingredient: the rise was delayed because the police hadn't updated something or another on their computers.
These fines are issued for stuff like failing to indicate, parking in a disabled bay, crossing the white line, etc (all of which I thought were actually compulsory in Brussels). I got stopped once by a copper in Cornwall for crossing the white line. I hadn't actually done so, but I suppose for a rural plod based in the back of beyond the sight of a youngish guy at the wheel of a Chevy Camaro is too much to resist and so he pulled me over anyway. He must have been really disappointed to discover that all my papers were in order, but I still got points on my licence and a fine anyway. I didn't bother to contest it in court, because you can never win.
And the police wonder why the public have a negative view of them!
On the subject of policing, I turned the news on yesterday to see some sobbing 17 year old girl apologising for offensive tweeting. She is, apparently, a 'youth police commissioner'. My first thought was that this was some sort of late April Fool's joke, but it is actually true.
Are they mad?
What the bloody hell goes on in the minds of those people tasked with running our police forces? She is a 17 year old girl, not a bloody police commissioner. What next? Perhaps we should have a dog in charge. Chief Superintendent Rover, or something. Or perhaps they could take a leaf out the Athenian's book, and let everybody be in charge for one day.
To answer my own question, yes. Those who the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. If anybody seriously thinks that taking a child out of school and pretending that she can be a police commissioner is a good idea, then they should be retired on health grounds.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
But yesterday it all changed. Now, when you are 8 years old and you wake up and look out of your bedroom window and see sunshine, what is the first thing you think of? Cricket, apparently, and it doesn't matter if dad is still sleeping, wake him up and let's get going!
Actually, it was a beautiful morning, and there was a certain amount of pleasure in being the first to play cricket in the local park this year. To George's delight a couple of young Indian guys stopped off to cheer for some minutes. You don't see much cricket in Belgium.
Then there was a wonderful 'Belgian' moment. We took a bit of a drinks break, and retired to a nearby park bench. A family strolled past, and took a huge interest in our stumps, which were about 10 yards away from our seat, and seemingly unattended. The husband and wife walked around the stumps a few times before producing a camera and photographing the children in front of them. Perhaps they had Japanese blood in them, I don't know....
But there is a serious aspect to this bizarre weather pattern. About a week ago in Parc du Cinquantenaire, after a dusting of snow, I came across a dead Bumblebee. These should still be incubating at this point, as it is about this time of the year that the queens should be establishing their colonies and laying eggs. This wasn't a dead queen that I found, but would certainly have been one of a queen's offspring, as her eggs are laid first.
The explanation for this is climate change. In fact, even the ducklings in Parc Leopold and Square Marie Louise came early this year.
With increasing temperatures comes increased precipitation. Whilst the warming is global, the climate change can be local, as in our case. In Brussels it rains pretty much the same as it does in south east England, but it snows far more. The first male Bumblebees, when forced out of the colony, are not equipped to cope with icy winds and snow. On Saturday George and I watched a Canada Goose trying to cover her two chicks with her body as they shivered on the snowy bank. They, of course, are very well suited for this weather, but the indiginous species are not. The new arrivals could, quite reasonably, replace the established species fairly quickly given the current speed of change that we are witnessing.
No bees equals no pollination of flowers. Loss of biodiversity has knock-on effects that are often unpredictable, and can be irreversible.
Whilst nobody knows what is the 'background rate' of species extinction, it is clear that extinctions are above the norm at present.
I wonder if any generation has ever witnessed such a rapid change in the natural world.