Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Tony Booth 1931-2017


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

Long Ago And Far Away....

Me and the lads at RAF Luqa, August 1977. Behind us is a Nimrod MR2 of 203 Squadron.

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
It was a very busy base, but we were billeted in the old officer's mess at RAF Hal Far, a WW2 fighter base, and home to 'Faith', 'Hope', and 'Charity', three ageing Gladiator biplanes that held the Italian air force back in 1940. Being at Hal Far was liking stepping back in time to a colonial past, and I loved every single second of it.

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

June 6th - "The Longest Day"

Today, June 6th, marks the 73rd anniversary of the allied invasion, and subsequent liberation, of occupied Europe - D Day.

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.
that day, with 7,900 British and 15,500 Americans arriving from the air. Eventually, over one million troops were to be landed.


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

Love Thy Neighbour?

The strangest of things give me great pleasure. I am something of an aficionado of London's 'Blue Plaques', which tell us who lived where. In London, of course, you are never far away from the former home of somebody who either made or changed history.

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

Remembering Manchester Atrocity - RAF Style!


Its nice to know that even in times such as these the RAF has not lost its collective sense of humour - nor indeed its sense of justice.

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

Today, the world is a cleaner place.

I have always hated Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. The children they murdered so brutally were of my generation, just a few years older than me.

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.

"At their trial in 1966, all-male jurors fell silent for 16 minutes as the tape recording of Lesley Ann Downey’s terrified last moments was played to the court.
The tape was played at full volume and the chilling sounds of screaming echoed through the court before only the footsteps and soft voices in the background could be heard.
Harrowing passages could be heard including “Don’t undress me, will you?” and “I want to see mummy”. The haunting sound of the 10-year-old’s throat being slit was also played to the court."
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.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Teddy Boys Will Never Die

To be frank, if I had to choose the three worst places in the world as I have seen it, they would be the Falls Road in Belfast in the late 70s-early 80s, Beirut in 1982, and Harlow in Essex at anytime.

But how delighted I was to bump into this guy in Harlow town centre yesterday.

Black Teddy Boys are few and far between, but they are out there. I remember so well the guy who was always at the Royalty in Southgate, North London, in the late 70s and early 80s, who was totally deaf. He danced like a maniac to the beat of the music. I don't recall his name, but he was just great.

I tried to talk to this guy in Harlow, but nothing would stop him bopping.

The track, by the way, is 'Shake your money maker', by Elmore James (1961).


Friday, 5 May 2017

If it's 2500 bc it must be Cornwall.

Just a stone's throw from my brother's home on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall this gem can be found. It is a late-Neolithic burial chamber, and is in remarkably good condition considering that it is at least 4,500 years old.

There are actually lots of sub-chambers underneath where the more important members of Stone Age society were interred. The proletariat of the day were simply laid out on the big stone on the top (which weighs around 20 tons) and left for the birds, after which their bones were put underground via a chute.

This is pretty impressive stuff for people who had only access to the most primitive technology of all.


There are countless such constructions on Bodmin, along with simple stone circles, and early Christian monuments, usually dedicated to local chieftains. The latter are fairly recent additions to the Cornish landscape, being a mere thousand years old or so.

If you find yourself exploring this area, take care. There are many long-forgotten disused tin mines, some dating back to the Roman era, and people do occasionally stumble upon overgrown shafts.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Exploring Antwerp's Nazi Bunkers

George and I like to explore, with both of us displaying equally childish enthusiasm, albeit yours truly with somewhat less energy.

And so, how could we possibly resist Second World War Nazi bunkers?

In Antwerp's City Park there are three bunkers, part of a network that made up the headquarters of the 89th Corps of the German Army.

The two rather large and ominous looking ones are 'ST 608' battle headquarters bunkers. Sadly, for us, they are sealed up. The remains of the third, an 'ST 622' twin group bunker, which I would assume was used for accommodation of troops, are accessible.

There are some interesting brick works here; I may be wrong, but I suspect that there may be the remains of what was a platform for an anti aircraft gun.

The 622 was on two levels, and a number of the underground rooms remain accessible, as long as one is prepared to overlook the somewhat murky legal area that is known as 'trespassing'.

Anybody looking to investigate this slice of history should look for a derelict cafe on the west side of the park.

Behind this there is an overgrown area which is fenced off, but the intrepid amongst us will overcome that little obstacle in moments and with little effort. There you will see some stairs leading underground - beware, the steps are very slippery and if you get into trouble down there, you are on your own.

Its a mess down there, and very dark and damp. In more recent times it appears that heating and water pipes have been routed through the bunker, presumably for the cafe.

The two 608s are also worth close inspection: the central bunker clearly took some heavy fire from the west side at some point, judging from the size of the shell marks and the grouping, clearly in threes, I would guess a .50 cal HMG.

The British 2nd Army, with the help of the Belgian resistance, liberated Antwerp on September 4th 1944, and these are certainly scars from that time. These bunkers are minutes from the centre of the city, so this would likely have been towards the end of the action.

The City Park itself is worth a visit. Small, and it has seen better days, but very peaceful, with a small lake. Its about 10 minutes walk from the Central Station, which is something of a Mecca for railway buffs.
 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Rockin' At The 2 i's

It is, quite possibly, one of the most iconic spots in Soho, if not in the whole of London. At least it is if you are a Teddy Boy. 

This is the very place where a young Tommy Hicks (better known to the world as Tommy Steele) took to the stage in 1956 and introduced England to a genre of music he had picked up whilst working as a cabin boy on an ocean liner plying its trade between London and the USA. It was called Rock n Roll. The rest is history.

Old Compton Street has changed a lot since those halcyon days, but I was delighted to note that the site of the 2 i's coffee bar again displays the old neon sign (a replica, of course, but a very good one).

Inside, the music is retro, but of course not as it was in those early days. Rock n Roll is probably not so commercial, and this is a high rent district now, and today's teenage audience has a collective memory that goes back no further than breakfast time.

It is now, as before, a theatre district, full of music and quality entertainment. It was lovely to see this little Rock n Roll footprint in such a great place.


This great track is by Wee Willie Harris, one of the first English Rock n Roll stars, and like Tommy Steele a Bermondsey boy. Willie still lives in the area, and can sometimes be tempted out of retirement. I remember him performing in Southwark Park a few years ago, and an audience of thousands would not let him off the stage. Great man, Wee Willie....

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Marine 'A' still behind bars despite his conviction being overturned. Why?

Sgt Alexander Blackman, often referred to as 'Marine A', was expected to be released from jail last week following the overturning of his scandalous murder conviction, appears to still be in the cells.

We are now told that he can expect to be released within the next two weeks.

Why was his release delayed?

Was it because of last week's attack in Westminster by an Islamist terrorist?

Perhaps it was thought that the release of Sgt Alexander, who - quite rightly in my opinion - sent another Islamist terrorist off to paradise on the battlefield of Afghanistan - might upset Muslims?

How spineless our country has become.

Monday, 27 March 2017

"No Motive" for London Terror attack. Really...?

So let us get this right: six weeks ago so-called 'Islamic State' outlined, via mobile phone messages to their supporters, a list of possible victims and 'perfect targets' in Britain including politicians. 

In the post was an illustration - titled 'Fight Them' -  of an ISIS terrorist dressed like Jihadi John holding a sword in front of Big Ben, as a fireball engulfed the background with a tattered Union Flag flying in the wind.

Six weeks after this call to arms was posted via Telegram, terrorist Khalid Masood, who converted to Islam and was radicalised in prison, like many of them, launched his  attack on the Houses of Parliament, in the shadow of Big Ben, killing four people and injuring many more.

(Despite the fact that Masood was implicated in a plot, as recently as 2010, involving a planned bomb attack on a Territorial Army base in Luton, and despite the fact that he had visited Saudi Arabia twice, "after carrying out a risk assessment and looking into his background, it was decided he did not pose a terror threat." - the police and the Home Office will be working frantically behind closed doors to cover their politically correct backs even as I write).

Telegram was also used by fanatics before the attacks on Nice in July 2016 and Berlin in December last year.

And the Metropolitan Police are saying that they may "never find out" the motive for this mass murder.

Are they stupid?

Apart from the background of Masood, who ticks just about every box as far as Jihadists go, can I offer the Metropolitan Police another clue as to his motive?

The website al-Islam proclaims that "Jihad (Holy Struggle) is an Obligatory Duty". They justify this by referring to their holy book “O Prophet! Strive hard agaunt the infidels and the hypocrites, and be firm against them, and their abode is hell, and evil is their resort.” Holy Qur'an (66:9)

Just to simplify this for their more simple readers, they go on to say that "Muslims should defend themselves if being attacked in order to preserve their faith, spread Islam, and stand against tyrants and oppressors. Allah made jihad obligatory, in all its forms, whether it is the jihad of society or self, speaking a word for the sake of preserving Islamic call Da'wah, or defending the sanctuaries of the Muslim nation. Jihad is considered among the best forms of worship with Allah, the Most High... The martyr who sacrifices himself and dies for the sake of his faith finds his place in Paradise."

Al-Islam describes itself as being the "official website of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community - an Islamic organization, international in its scope, with branches in over 200 countries".

This is quite an old group, founded in India in the 19th century. It teachings all assume that Islam is practiced in the context of a Caliphate. The stated aim of Islamic State is the creation of a new Caliphate.

I could go into far more detail, but should Scotland Yard's finest read this, they might find the clue they are looking for regarding a motive for Wednesday's attack.

Its really not that hard, Sherlock.