Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween, Everybody!

Tonight it is Holloween... and I must confess to a fondness for these Pagan festivals.

For those of us who live in the "European Quarter" of Etterbeek, one of the central communes of Brussels (and it was called that long before the EU appeared on the scene), that means we get a parade. And it is a heck of a parade! Imagine 500 Orangemen strolling down the Shankhill Road, accompanied by flutes and drums, but all dressed as ghosts and witches, and you are pretty close.

It seems to be more of a Flemish thing than French, which may support the Orange analogy a wee bit, but it is always a lovely evening. Strolling along whilst being showered from the windows and balconies with goodies is great fun, and it is so funny to watch the Belgian kids ransacking the sweets whilst young George examines the offerings before taking just one carefully selected sweet and announcing "Thank you very much!" - he is so English!

But that last remark should not take anything away from the fact that in some parts of Brussels we can still find a sense of community that seems to have vanished at home - even in the east end of London, although it pains me to say that.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Caucasian Chamber Orchestra

There are three words that send chills of panic through my body - "contemporary classical music". I have another name for it, of course.

But this week we were treated to another of those occasional concerts in the parliament that cheer us up so much.

We were treated to a performance by the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble of mostly Georgian and Armenian musicians conducted by a hugely talented German, Uwe Berkemer.

The first piece did fall into the dreaded contemporary genre, and I felt the will to live begin to sap a little, but it was short. The rest of the concert could only be described as superb. One can always tell when the musicians are enjoying themselves, and that was very much the case here. The works were all totally unknown to me, as were the names of their composers, which added to the pleasure.

Berkemer turned out to be not only a talented composer and conductor, but also an impressive baritone.

If you ever get the chance to see this orchestra, I strongly recommend that you do so.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A humbling experience.....

I devoted a lot of my life to campaigning for the UK Independence Party. However, not being a dogmatic and closed-minded yes-man, I subsequently fell out with the then leader of the party and so found myself the subject of some pretty vile attacks and accusations. He really is a dreadful little oik, and he surrounds himself with even worse specimens.

But it amused me when one of his acolytes suggested, via a blog that seems to specialise in attacking me and my boss - a lovely lady, with more commitment and drive in her little finger than the oik has in his whole apology for a body - that I earn my living as a "Shakin' Stevens lookalike".I am a big fan of Shakey, so I took that as a compliment. But these days I am a bit more "Gene Vincent" than "Shakey", as I have picked up a gammy left leg, just like the Black Leather Rebel himself.

After 7 weeks of limping, I eventually went into one of those nuclear/magnetic things that produces images of the inside of one's body. It was a brilliant experience, somewhat akin to being on the set of a 1950s Sci-Fi movie.

It turns out that I have been limping around with a broken knee-cap these last 7 weeks! Of course, being a rough, tough Bermondsey Boy I laugh in the face of pain, so it never really bothered me so much.

And so now I have a brace on my left leg. When the surgeon produced that brace, that was a hell of a wake-up call for me, I can tell you. I was always blessed with good health, and I never guessed I would be living through such a moment.

I guess I am lucky, I will have this for 4 weeks, and then it will be over. Some folks are not so lucky, and have to spend their lives coping with disability. And so I will take this as a humbling experience, and will try to take on board and remember these somewhat awkward times. One thing is for sure - I will never take good health for granted again.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

National Self-Determination - Not Just The Kashmiris Who Are Struggling

I was very lucky this week. On Tuesday I dined - for the second time this year - with Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry. He is a lovely gentleman, who amongst his many accomplishments is a former Prime Minister of Kashmir. He is now a leading light in the Kashmiri fight for national self-determination.

The Kashmiri people were promised a referendum on self-determination way back in the 1940s - and they are still waiting. That  sounds familiar to we Brits, who of course have been promised referenda on the Constitution & the Lisbon Treaty. I don't want to make light of this in any way, as I am aware that the Kashmiris are suffering massacres at the hands of the Indian occupiers, which somewhat puts our plight into perspective.

The point is, however, that national self-determination should be a basic human right, and here at the beginning of the 21st century not all of our fellow human beings are enjoying this right.

It makes me ponder on the long-term implications of surrendering our own sovereignty to the EU.

It also makes me realise how imortant is the campaign for a referendum on our continued EU membership is. I urge you to support it. Elsewhere in the world people are dying in the struggle to have their voices heard. We don't have to do that - yet - but if we allow ourselves to become complacent, who knows what the future may bring.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Belgacom: The Pain Continues...

Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, Belgacom has excelled itself!

Belgacom, as you may know if you read this blog, is not my favourite provider of TV services. Actually, I consider Belgacom to give crap a bad name. They cut back on the few channels that may have been of passing interest to me, replacing them with Al Jazeera and others of that ilk, without even consulting me, the person who has to pay for it. But then customer service was never high on the Belgian agenda.

Now they developed a new trick.

Now we have "Belgacom previews". Channels that were once filled with dubious content have now been replaced with new ones that simply advertise what is on other (pay per view) channels. So I have 3 channels telling me about the crap on the 4th, that I wouldn't want to watch anyway, even if it was covered by the 100 euros a month I already pay for this state-controlled shite.

So I now have a choice between adverts, Al-Jazeera, and pure shite. Of course, if I am really unlucky, I may get a back episode of Eastenders, or possibly even Inspector Morse dubbed into Flemish - oh what joy!

You Think That Paying Money Gets You Off The Hook? Think Again!

This was a very important day, although it was barely mentioned by the media. It was the day on which Germany finally discharged its obligations under the Versailles Treaty, by making its final reparation payment.

That is that, then. Its over. Millions dead - and for what? - debts paid, and so I guess we can forget all about it. Well, I won't forget about my Great-Grandfather who perished on the Somme in 1916. And I won't let my children forget him either. So don't feel you are let off that easy, Frau Merkel, or your war-mongering nation.

I am often aware of how sensitive the Germans are about World War 2. They cannot stop being sensitive about it, and for a very good reason - THEY LOST!  They hate this fact, and they particularly hate the fact that they were beaten twice by us Brits! If they could turn back time and start again, I think they would. They might change a few details, but I suspect the bit about exterminating folks they don't like would not be such a problem for them. Maybe they would keep that one in the plan.

And if you think, by the way, that such obscenities are now consigned to history, then look at Sarkozy's forced deportations of Gypsies (pre-empted by the Belgians, by the way) Look at Belgian and Dutch laws on euthanasia of "undesirable" children. This is all happening now.

We are often told that WW2 was nothing to do with the Germans - it was the "Nazis" that did it. Where did the "Nazis" come from? Mars?

Well, f*ck you Kaiser Wilhelm, f*ck you Adolf Hitler and f*ck all your mates too.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest!