Thursday, 30 September 2010

Battle of Britain - 70 Years On.

The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was marked in the European Parliament this week. I took it upon myself to invite a group of colleagues from the Royal British Legion and the RAF Association, and was truly rewarded by such auspicious company.

The highlight of a lovely afternoon was an anecdote from a 96 year old gentleman who had once shot down his own Commanding Officer with a 3 1/2 inch anti-aircraft gun. "He had a few holes in his respirator case" he explained, "but otherwise nothing for him to complain about".

I spend a lot of my time with older veterans, and I know that such comments are usually accompanied by a wink, a chuckle, and a tear in the corner of the eye.

Our elderly friend often sits quietly in O'Farrels bar, outside the European Parliament, whilst MEPs and apparatchiks, bursting with self-importance, bustle around spending freely and laughing at their own jokes. They may impress themselves - and possibly (although not very likely) they may even impress one another. They rarely impress me, unlike our friend, who impresses me greatly.

When he finished causing havoc with his own side - his CO had chosen to fly into RAF Wattisham whilst an air raid was in progress, so only had himself to blame - our friend then took part in the liberation of Belgium.

Last month, his Belgian wife, who he married after the war, passed away, leaving him completely alone.

There are thousands of such men, with thousands of such wonderful stories to tell. So if you want to enrich two lives in one go, next time you see an elderly man sitting alone with his thoughts in a pub, go and say "Hello", but most importantly, remember to say "Thank You!"

Friday, 17 September 2010

Place Jean Rey - No More Eruptions

Jean Rey was the second President of the European Commission, and there is a small and rather odd square named after him near my home. It has 12 underground fountains that are supposed to erupt in the glare of coloured lights, but neither fountains or lights have worked for about two years now, so the whole thing looks a little sad.

On the edge of the square a new hotel has sprung up, and so I decided to take a seat and spend some time looking at it in order to find something to complain about. Actually, it is not an unattractive building as hotels go, although it does rather look as if it belongs on a Spanish seafront.

Then I saw something really ghastly: to my left was a seriously ugly building I simply never noticed before in the six years I lived in the neighbourhood. Seven stories high, very long, and almost as ugly as Brixton Town Hall, which is one of my least favourite eyesores, it is a harrendous looking edifice.

Then I realised I was looking at the European Council. How the hell do you not notice the Council? I now wonder how possible it is to block out that which we do not like - does this explain why I never heard rap music for years? Have I simply blocked it out?

Actually, this week there has been a summit at the Council. I dislike these events as the police block off lots of roads, and always park their massive water cannon vehicles at the end of my street. What really disturbs me most, however, is the way that road  lanes are cordoned off and reserved for the elite. Whilst mere mortals sit and fume in the Brussels traffic jams, the Second Junior Deputy Minister for Paperclips from the Grand Duchy of Fenwick is thus able to speed through the city with his motorcycle escort.

Friday, 10 September 2010

My Second Childhood, by Gary Cartwright, aged 48 and a big bit.

At the age of 42, the good Lord blessed me with a son. Thanks to George I am now reliving my own childhood, and do you know what? Its even better second time around.

We recently built our first model aircraft together - a Spitfire of course - and I was reminded of sitting at the table with my own father way back in the mid-60s, making our first model kit together. I am also getting to know, somewhat late in life, rather a lot about Thomas the Tank Engine. Its nice to sit here and think that I can look forward to rediscovering skateboarding and air rifles. My levels of optimism and enthusiasm have soared thanks to George. (And I get to play with train sets and nobody laughs).

Brussels is proving to be a good place to bring up children. As a school governor in a pretty rough part of East London, I remember being told "Think of them as younger citizens, not just as children". that is, of course, complete nonsense.

A tragic lack of social cohesion in Britain has led to a certain amount of confusion amongst families as to exactly what the heirarchy should be. Belgians, particularly the Flemish ones, seem to be far more comfortable with traditional family roles than we are. The result is that children understand their place in the family, and in society. Everybody is happier for it.

Scouting is still a big thing here, and it is normal to see large groups of youngsters in uniform touring the city, heading for the mountains, or just sitting and talking together. It is also normal that during holidays youngsters undertake activities ranging from working on farms, residential language courses, and sports training. In British cities it is different, of course. They "slob out" in front of the TV, or they hang about the streets spitting on the pavements or, very often, on passers by. You don't have to be a doctor to notice the difference in physical build between continental and British teenagers.

I helped organise an event some years ago at a youth project in SE London. We arranged a couple of 4x4s loaded with mountain bikes, with a view to taking some youngsters up into the Chilterns for an afternoon. They turned up in their hooded sweat shirts, gobbed on the floor and said "innit" a lot, and then dispersed. I think 3 kids took up the offer; the rest knew they would be unable to cope, and were afraid of failure. So they simply rolled a joint and retreated to their comfort zones.

We don't need to show these kids "respect". What we need to do is to find ways to give them back their childhood. I know what I am talking about - I got mine back!

Me and the Champ! Meeting Winston McKenzie

Party conferences can be depressing, and I stopped inflicting that particular pain on myself some years ago. This year is different, however, as Nikki Sinclaire is holding a number of fringe meetings to promote her petition for a parliamentary debate on Britain's membership of the EU.

So I found myself in Torquay last week, which is always a pleasure, not least because I have some family connections there, helping out with what proved to be a hugely successful meeting. More successful, I understand, than the main UKIP meeting which took place across the road.

An unexpected pleasure was the chance to meet and chat with former middleweight boxing champion, Winston McKenzie. Winston is a terrific guy, and is very politically aware. His stance on immigration challenges all the left-wing dogma on the issue, and he is probably better placed to speak about inner city youth issues than most politicians.

He appears to have thrown his hat in the ring for the UKIP leadership, following the resignation of the utterly ineffectual Lord Pearson.

Pearson is the kind of politician you could only find in UKIP - he calls EU subsidies "a vast swindle", and yet he claims heaps of them for himself. He was (de jure) leader of UKIP, and yet in the last general election he urged people to vote for the Conservatives.

Some UKIP members wonder why the party bombed in the election....