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!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Meeting John Kerry...

Today is a day I looked forward to for some weeks. It is the first day of the Brussels Jazz Marathon, a 3 day spectacle that I love. The Jazz Marathon is the first of a series of Jazz festivals - every major town or city in Belgium has one - and it is always a great opening shot! They do Jazz well in Belgium.

And it started well, with a great act featuring the music of Fats Waller and others of that ilk. I like it very much.

Apparently U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also likes it, because he came and sat down a table but one away from us, and was clearly enjoying the music.

There was  incredible security around him, but I was never one to be intimidated by a bunch of dozy Yanks, so I wandered over to shake his hand and have a wee chat. And what a nice chap he is.

Kerry, of course, is a highly decorated war hero, and it was a great pleasure to exchange some private words with him.

I was impressed, and I cannot believe how young he appears. He must know a better beer than I do....

In Memory Of Heroes

This week, I took a trip out to Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, to deal with some family business.

Whilst there, I came across this stone, in the main shopping area.

It commemorates the heroes of the British 2nd Household Cavalry Division, and also the soldiers of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division who drove out the Germans and liberated the city in September 1944.

I think it is a simple but nice memorial.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Summertime, and the living is easy.........

And so.... George and I took the train out to Genval today to have lunch with our great pal William Stanbury.

And it was a great lunch indeed!

Afterwards, we decided to play Petanque (French bowls) at the local cricket club. Sadly the club was closed, but we never let a locked gate stand in our way - I won't go into too many details -  but we did indeed play 3 games of Petanque at the Cricket Club.

Subsequently we met up with Chris White, former Fleet Street journalist and all round good guy.

Some days are just perfect!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Meeting Olexandr Suraikin - A true hero

A pleasure, and indeed an honour, to shake hands last night with Lieutenant Colonel Olexandr Suraikin, commander of the Helicopter Squadron of Ukraine's 10th Maritime Aviation Brigade.

Following the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, he managed to fly out, under Russian guns, an anti-submarine helicopter that had just been upgraded to the highest level. It was very important that this machine did not fall into Russian hands.

For this incredible feat, Colonel Suraikin is recognised as one of the true heroes of Ukraine.

Last night we met with him at the Ukrainian embassy in Brussels, having seen a screening of the movie  “Crimea: How it was”, created by the Ukrainian film studio Babylon’13, and directed by Konstantin Kljatzkin, who was also present. The film featured Colonel Surakin, and many others who on land, sea, and in the air have resisted the Russian aggression.

Colonel Suraikin is a quiet, modest, and very focussed man, who explains his feats by saying that he is simply doing his duty as an officer of the Ukrainian military.

Having myself served with 23 & 56 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, both amongst the most highly regarded fighter squadrons in the history of the RAF, I would say that the 10th Maritime Aviation Brigade have a top class C.O. in Olexandr Suraikin.

We wish him, and those under his command, safe passage, and ultimate victory!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Dreadful days.....

It has certainly been a difficult couple of days for Brussels.

I saw the news about the airport bombings on Tuesday morning, and decided to walk the couple of miles or so to the Press Club, as I do on most days.

It became apparent that this was something major when I saw the stream of emergency vehicles heading out of the city in the direction of Zaventum. There were also a lot of unmarked cars with flashing lights buzzing around.

Only when I arrived did I learn of the carnage at Maelbeek metro station.

Maelbeek is very busy in the mornings, and it is the station used by European Parliament staff as they make their way to work. Its also the station that I used for many years to take my son to school - I lived virtually next door to the station for 9 years.

I am relieved to learn that those of my friends who use the metro are all accounted for, but I am dreading seeing the list of the casualties - the Brussels bubble is actually quite small, and it is inevitable that we will all know somebody involved. There are problems with identifying many of the victims, such was the ferocity of the blast.

The Brussels Press Club is just a minute or so from Maelbeek, and so I was able to talk to a number of police officers throughout the day. It was a nightmare inside the station I was told, and a lot of the emergency workers were clearly distressed.

I walked again yesterday, and took time along the route to talk to people I know, and one or two strangers as well. Everybody is traumatised, and everything looks different now. Its the attack we were waiting for, but I didn't think it would be this close to home.

Following a high profile arrest of a wanted terrorist in the city on Friday, police officers have been abused and attacked in the street by members of the Muslim community, who regard him as a "hero".

Equally sickening was a statement by a UKIP MEP to the effect that the bombings were "the EU's fault."

And so we have yet another 'emergency summit' at the Council. The rule is that there must be one Council meeting each year, with provision for a second if deemed necessary. However, such is the state of affairs that we have an emergency summit almost every week now.

As I write this there are sirens in the background, and another of the unmarked cars has just passed by at speed.

I think we may have a problem....

Monday, 21 March 2016

Ethnic Cleansing in Europe, 2016

A very poignant moment.

My son is simply mad about soccer. He knows every statistic, every name, and he loves every team (except Chelsea).

And so I passed by this expo at Place St Gery in Brussels - which I visited for the first time earlier this week - with him. It is about Ukrainians who have been displaced following the Russian invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea.

Some 10,000 Crimean Tatars have been made to leave their homeland, and many others are forced to take Russian citizenship against their will. Those who were outside the region at the time of annexation are forbidden to return home to their families.

Their mosques are being closed, politicians are persecuted, and the only Tatar language TV station has been closed down on the orders of the Kremlin.

This is ethnic cleansing - not yet on the scale of what the Nazis did, but it is still early days, and the signs are pointing in that direction.

The gentleman featured in this picture, Roman Podenezhny, is a teacher, and like George, is clearly a football fan.

George would even be able to speak with him in his own tongue (George has better language skills than I do, but you might say that about anybody).

We had talked about the invasion, about war, and what it means to the people who have been caught up in it.

George looked at the picture of this chap and said "He's just like me."

That is the whole point. The dispossessed, the refugees, the dead and the wounded victims of war are just like us. The victims of war are us.

A Glimpse Into The Past......

This is an archaeological dig in the centre of Brussels.

We don't know exactly what this is, it was  recently discovered whilst the ground was being prepared for some hideous development which, whatever it is, will certainly offend my eyes.

I spoke at the site today with an expert on medieval masonry who is certain that what we are looking at is a 15th or 16th century brewery. The location is perfect - very close to the river (now the canal) that runs through the city. Also, there were a number of monasteries in the area, and as we all know, monks liked a tipple. It is exactly where the brewing industry on what was then the outskirts of Brussels developed into what it is today.

The brickwork is superbly preserved. It looks as if these bricks were laid yesterday.

George and I were delighted to see what was clearly a toilet, made out of stone, complete with even a drainage pipe. This predates the inginuity of Thomas Crapper by some 400 years.

Sadly, there may only be another week to explore the site, although representations are being made to the City council to grant an extension until May.

But either way, soon this view of the past will be lost forever.