Monday, 30 December 2013

Society Needs Dissent: The Police Disagree.

I don't know Andy Blackwell well, but when I am in Cornwall I always go to his place, 'Blackies', to get my hair cut.

Mr Blackwell is my kind of bloke. We are as near as damn it the same age, he is delightfully eccentric, a businessman, and a Royal Navy veteran. There is a lovely atmosphere in Blackie's, its a nice place to be.

Like many business folk in Liskeard, he is very concerned about parking costs and restrictions that drive potential clients away from the town centre. Liskeard is not an obvious tourist destination, but seasonal and passing trade are very important in that neck of the woods.

Andy Blackwell is not a person you would describe as 'timid'.

In August of this year, he was in the process of cutting my barnet when he broke off to go outside the shop with his megaphone and announce "Danger, parking wardens in the area. Revenue collection in progress. Danger!"

Cornwall is one of those counties that generates massive profits from parking. Moscow has Gazprom, Cornwall has parking wardens.

Andy Blackwell says what most people think.

And so he had to be silenced.

The local council found three parking wardens to come forward and state that they felt 'intimidated' by his behaviour. I am ashamed to say that one of these specimens identified himself as an "ex-RAF officer" who was so traumatised by the experience that he had to go and sit down and have a cup of tea to get over it.

And here we get to the meat of the story.....

The police, who not only feel that they are above the law, but now know that they are indeed above the law, hate it when anybody questions authority. And so they took Mr Blackwood in, turned the screws, and forced him to accept a police caution for quite a serious allegation. They were no doubt pleased to do the bidding of the local authority. I worked in politics long enough to know an orchestrated operation when I see one.

A good man has now been silenced. He now has a police record that will stay with him for life, and he has been subjected to unpleasant press coverage in what is a small and close-knit community.

The British police were politicised during the miner's strike of the 1980s, and the damage has never been undone. Just ask Andrew Mitchell MP.

I do not want to appear flippant, but a police force that does the bidding of its political masters, and whose officers are above the law, is bad for our democracy. In fact, it is more than that; it is a major threat to our democracy. Just ask Andy Blackwell. This decent armed forces veteran, a family man and a taxpayer, has lost his right to speak out in the way that he sees fit about a situation that threatens his livelihood, and that of many other small businessmen and women.

I am never shy in voicing my opinions about London's serial killers and purveyors of fine perjury, the Metropolitan Police. I would argue that rather than promoting the likes of Cressida Dick, who oversaw the murder of an innocent man, and who does not seem to be on record as condemning the subsequent police cover up, we should be sacking these people. The political decapitation of the Met is the only way to return it to its originally intended purpose.

Apparently the problem is spreading. Democracy is in peril: perhaps we should give a lot of thought to what our police forces have become, and how we should deal with the problem.

Blackie's Barbershop
1 Pondbridge Hill
Cornwall  PL14 3AB

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Stay Away From Scabby Whores.

Now you may think that this is a deliberately provocative headline, intended to attract you in much the same way as one might use tags like 'Monica Bellucci Naked' to draw attention to an article about horse riding in Huntingdonshire, for example. But there is a genuine reason for it.
The Belgian press is carrying a couple of interesting stories today concerning health. There are two areas of concern - STDs are on the rise (especially Chlamydia), and there is also a bit of a problem with scabies, particularly in Flanders.

This comes in the same week that I learn of a drastic rise in Rickets in Southwark. This is associated with vitamin D deficiency, and as many as 40% of children in the borough may be potentially affected. Is that the result of a poor diet as a result of poverty, or an inability by some parents to understand that chips are not a breakfast cereal? I suspect its a bit of both.

Southwark has always been an area with acute health problems, and it would have been even worse if it were not for the work of health reformer Dr Alfred Salter, one of my greatest heroes. Salter transformed Bermondsey and its surrounds, but as time moves on, the area is becoming a problem again.

A wee extract here from what is now becoming the longest research project in the history of the galaxy, but which I hope to publish this side of my 80th birthday...

"The National Health Service tells us that even now, at the beginning of the 21st century, child mortality rates in Southwark remain higher than the average for England and Wales. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, published in August 1997, showed that Bethnal Green also remains blighted by high, indeed rising, mortality rates. Interestingly, the same report also highlights the fact that men between the ages of 15-44 are still twice as likely to die in Southwark as the national average for their age group. In 2001, four academics from Bristol and Leeds universities, in a critical paper on health inequalities, cited Southwark, and Bermondsey in particular, as being amongst the very worst places in the UK for premature deaths. Indeed, in June 2011, the Southwark News reported that "There have been more cot deaths in Southwark in the last five years than anywhere else in London".

Figures also suggested that teenage mothers are four times more likely to have a cot death than older mums, leading experts to link the terrifying record to the borough’s high rates of teen pregnancy."
What am I saying here? In Flanders, and in Southwark, we are seeing frightening rises in instances of health issues related to poverty (as well as to poor education).
The Southwark News also reports an increase in the number of women turning to prostitution in order to pay their bills. Will we also see STD rates rise in the borough, as in Flanders, as a result?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Making A Monkey Of The Law!

Just A Bunch Of Regular Guys?
Plato once wrote about rights and equality that matters would go so far the "even domestic pets will rise on their hind legs and demand equality".

A few years ago I was reminded of his words when I read of a move to ban the docking of dog's tails. Quite right too, in my opinion, as this is a cruel practice. But this was not a decision based on the cruelty involved, but on the basis that as dogs show happiness by wagging their tails, docking infringes upon their right to freedom of expression. Domestic pets now enjoy the right to freedom of expression. I am not actually saying that this is wrong, I am simply pointing out that Plato got it right. I wonder what else he will be proven right about..... That's a thought that makes me shudder.

Today I learn from the BBC that a New York court has been asked to give 'legal person' status to a chimpanzee. The Nonhuman Rights Project wants a chimp named Tommy to be granted "legal personhood" and thus to be entitled to the "fundamental right of bodily liberty". The group wants Tommy, and 3 other chimps to be released from captivity. Again, I'm right behind them on the motive, but because keeping animals in captivity is generally a cruel thing, not because they are really chaps like us.

I am going to put Plato's hat on now, and make a prediction.

There are often difficult issues when a person passes away and leaves money to a pet. It happens, and relatives sometimes dispute the will. I think I know where we are going with this.

I predict that in the not so distant future, there will exist a form of civil partnership that one can enter into with a pet, thus giving a legal status which ensures that the pet can inherit.

If that sounds crazy, then how about a New York court being asked to grant 'person status' to a chimp? It is crazy, but it is happening now.

Friday, 29 November 2013

If You Have Time To Remember......

RAF Swinderby, 1978, when I was still innocent.

I just want to give this website a bit of a push.

Obviously I have a personal interest in all of this, I talk and write often enough about this chapter in our history, and indeed a very important chapter in my own life.

Please do us a favour, and if nothing else, please
don't forget us. And do not try to airbrush us out of history.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Let There Be Beer!

Its really nice when we get folks from home come over to talk to us. Especially when the folks concerned are brewers from the South West of England, and they bring some of their finest ales with them.

And so, last night the Brewers of Europe put on show no less than 57 different beers from the West Country.

I'll declare an interest here, I used to work for Fuller's, the London brewery, and I do own shares in more than one brewery, so I am also very keen to promote the art.

Last night we learned of a campaign to encourage people to drink beer with food. Of course, you wouldn't want a pint of Skol with your belly of pork, but we are talking about something a bit more classy here.

I didn't try all 57 beers, as much as I tried to justify an attempt, because I quickly identified a few that clearly warranted a full half pint. But there was one that really stood out, and I like to give credit where credit is due.

1913 Stout is made by Walter Hick's famous brewery in St Austell, Cornwall. Lighter and easier to drink than Guiness, but with all the flavour. Bloody marvellous, and I must admit that something slightly over a half pint may have been consumed.

I have family a little more than a stone's throw from St Austell, and I plan to be there at Christmas, so I suspect that my brother and I may well seek out Mr Hick's excellent brewery at some point over the festive season. Cheers!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Violence Against Women - When Does It Stop?

I was delighted to be able to speak on behalf of Nikki Sinclaire MEP at a conference in the European Parliament yesterday to discuss the elimination of violence against women in conflict zones. Nikki has emerged as a leading defender of human rights during her first term as an MEP, and I am very proud to be a part of that.

According to Dutch soldier Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo, and who is internationally renowned for his experience and his commitment in the area of peacekeeping. “You destroy communities. You punish the men, and you punish the women, by doing it in front of the men. It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”
I find that heartbreaking. I abhor violence completely. I have experienced active service, including in a situation where civilians were targeted, by the IRA, and it sickens me.
No one person can change the world, but together we can at least have an influence on events, and on the future our children will live in.
I was reassured by the turnout at last night's conference, and by the passion of the human rights activists - people from all backgrounds and all walks of life - who had come along to support the event.

Many thanks to our friends at  the Global Network for Rights & Development for making it happen.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Let the Train Take the Strain? Yeah, Right.....

Armed soldiers patrolling the station... Hundreds of people boarding a decrepit train with no food or water on board... A slow grind through a snowy landscape... The train breaks down at a previously unheard of village station... Passsengers thrown off the train and forced to wait in sub-zero temperatures without knowing when they will see their homes again...

Is it Yuri's epic journey from Dr Zhivago?

No, it is the train from Strasbourg to Brussels.

All that was missing was Anton Diffring and a bunch of armed Chekists demanding to see our papers, followed by a 12 hour shift in the salt mines on arrival, and then it would have been the perfect European nostalgia trip.

But this is normal. I well remember a trip from Strasbourg to Brussels in February 2005 in serious sub-zero temperatures. The train moved at walking pace, and the heating had broken down. There were icicles inside the carriages, and we literally had to go into survival mode. It was sort of worth it to see my colleague unpack her suitcase and wrap woolen tights around her head, but probably not an experience one would like to repeat.

I didn't take the train to Strasbourg for a couple of years, but as the panzer has developed a glitch, I thought I make take advantage and get in some reading time. I didn't bank on getting quite so much reading time though - even the train east arrived in Strasbourg over an hour late - and I only took 2 books and a newspaper with me. I ran out of reading material just after the train departed from Metz.

The service was, as always, totally useless, and for this I had to pay €168. Nice!

Friday, 15 November 2013

All I Want For Christmas.....

Eight year old boys are great fun.

On the way to school this morning, George told me that he had finally decided on what he wants for Christmas. (I had previously told him that "no", he could not have a Grand Theft Auto Playstation game).

So he has whittled his wish list down, and he now knows exactly what he needs.

A Bazooka.

Not a toy one, mind you, but the real thing.

He had his pitch ready. He would be careful with it, and he would not let his sister near it.

How can you be careful with a Bazooka? "Its alright Dad, I'll only take out one bus full of innocent people", or maybe "don't worry Dad, I'll make sure I only hit the policemen."

Of course, it is still only mid-November, so he will change his mind dozens of times between now and when Santa pops in for a glass of Armagnac (I know its supposed to be Sherry, but like myself Santa is not so keen on that).

George still has plenty of time to discover the existence of nuclear weapons!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Beauty Of Ukraine...

I am having a bit of a 'proud dad' moment. This is actually not the first time that my daughter has been published (although she is only 17 years old), but this one is really nice.

I know Alena, the subject of the article reasonably well, and you could not meet a nicer young lady. She is totally commited to preserving her national culture, as this picture shows.

It is so important, in an increasingly globalised world, that we keep local, regional,  and national traditions alive like this.
That two such young women could collaborate on such a project and present our traditional Christian culture in such a nice, non-confrontational way, gives me hope for the future.

The article is here

Monday, 4 November 2013

European Union (Referendum) Bill comes up for review.

It was, I seem to recall, a Tuesday evening and I was sat at my desk in the EP. Nikki Sinclaire was in the adjoining office. Some time earlier we had been talking about the government's offer to debate matters in parliament if 100,000 citizens would present a request by petition. There was no mechanism in place at that time, nor did there appear to be any real hurry to put one in place. Nikki had identified this as an opportunity to call for a referendum on our country's continued membership of the EU.

Nikki suggested some words, I put them down and sent them through to her, she e-mailed me back some changes, I finished it off. It didn't look bad at all....

"We the undersigned call for a binding national referendum to decide whether Her Majesty's Government should invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to negociate the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union...."

The campaign was launched at a meeting in Torquay on September 3rd 2010, and so we set out to find 100,000 signatures.

There was uncertainty as to whether 10 Downing Street would accept the petition. They accepted it, in fact they took in over 200,000 signatures.

There was uncertainty as to whether the Commons Backbench Business Committee would debate the matter. They debated it, and we saw the biggest backbench revolt the government had experienced up to that point.

The idea of a referendum was voted down, but the matter would not go away. Nikki's polling proved that the people wanted to have their say.

This coming Friday, Nov 8th, we will see the Commons review the European Union (Referendum) Bill.

What impressed me was the level of cross-party support for the petition. Only UKIP failed to support us. Indeed, a UKIP member who had asked if he should support the petition kindly forwarded to me a letter he had received from the UKIP leader's office. Here is a short extract: "Petitions, I may say, are useful for publicising issues and recruiting activists; but, where such a fundamental policy as rejecting the EU is concerned, there is no prospect whatever of a pro-EU government's acceding to a petition."
However, once it became clear that we were winning the battle, the referendum suddenly became UKIP's 'greatest achievement'.
As recently as last month, a journalist in Strasbourg reported to me that two UKIP MEPs had told him that they were opposed to a referendum on this matter.
Of course, this is not an isolated case. During the 2010 General Election campaign, HS2 was the main issue on the doorstep. This is a project that will have serious implications for West Midlanders and indeed many people in the UK.
UKIP's manifesto for that election included the party's desire to: 'introduce three high-speed lines linking London to the Midlands, northern England and Birmingham.' That reads to me like an approval of HS2!
Now that opposition to HS2 has become a major dynamic, guess what? UKIP is now 'the only party that has consistently opposed HS2'.
There have been attempts to airbrush the 2010 manifesto out of existence, but you can find all you need to know here. 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Simon Hughes, and that taxi....

I am going to put my hand up here and confess to having adorned the back of Simon Hughes' taxi with a 'Maloney 4 Mayor' sticker when I found it parked outside my home. It was 2004, and I was working with Frank Maloney, who was running for mayor of London. Hughes was the Lib Dem candidate. It was one of the most enjoyable campaigns I have ever worked on, and you couldn't meet a nicer bloke than Frank.

As much as Hughes has always irritated me - he was my MP for many years - I do think however that these guys might have gone a wee bit too far. There was also an attack on Hughes' office. There is a fine line between protest and intimidation, and an even finer one between intimidation and violence.

Some years ago I was working on what we generally call 'Gulf War Syndrome'. The Ministry of Defence were pulling out all the stops to shut us up, and to discredit the campaign. One aquaintance, a very sick ex-Para, was actually physically threatened by what we assume to have been MoD police - Mod Plod.

There came a point when we realised that depleted uranium poisoning was a major factor, thanks to the US Veteran's Administration and a leaked document from Porton Down. One veteran had been diagnosed in the US, and shortly afterwards Mod Plod raided his home, and took away all his medical records and his computers. HMG can play dirty when it wants to cover something up. The longer they could string it out, the more people would die, and then they would have less to pay out.

Before we went live with all this, I asked Hughes, who was then the Lib Dem health spokesman, for his opinion. He clearly did not have one, and simply repeated the official MoD whitewash line. His office also claimed, through the Southwark News, that I was an extremist, and that I myself had never served. This was grossly offensive to me. I did get my revenge a few years later through the Sun newspaper. Revenge is truly a dish savoured cold!

On one memorable night, the Porton Down document was faxed to as many relevant people as possible. I received 15-20 copies that night from people across the country as we broke through the wall of silence. They could hardly arrest every recipient!

There are many politicians who talk a lot, but actually do very little of any substance. I put Hughes into that category. I do not, however, condone attacks such as those that he has been subjected to, no more than I condone the vile campaign his party conducted against Peter Tatchell during the Bermondsey by election of 1983. People who live in glass houses......

How not to park a car...............

Friday, 25 October 2013

Remembering John G. Magee - the Pilot Poet

J. G. Magee 1922-1941
 Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Rockin' at the 2 'Is

Strolling through Old Compton Street the other day and I noticed the the old 2 I's premises is up for lease......


Friday, 18 October 2013

When Things Start To Go Wrong.....

You wouldn't have thought that too much could go wrong with the burial of a pet Guinea Pig, would you?

It did for me, last night.

All was going well, and with mission accomplished I decided to hop over a smallish fence on the way home. This is where it all started to go wrong. I misjudged, and impaled my right hand on the wire. I mean seriously impaled it.

On the way down, other wire posts ripped the backside out of my jeans, and my boxer shorts.

All this hurt quite a bit, and as I tried to recover my composure something else happened - I'm not quite sure what - and there was a further sound of ripping denim from behind me. I'm pleased to report that throughout this Chaplinesque debacle the Stetson hat remained firmly in place. At least there are some things a man can rely on.

There was an alarming amount of claret pouring out of my hand at this point, and my left buttock, exposed to the world, was attracting some attention from the promenaders around the lake. Actually, to be quiet honest, the whole scene probably looked pretty f****ng weird.

If you ever get the chance to drive a 2mm diameter wire through your hand, give it a go. You will be amazed at how much blood comes out.

By morning my hand was swollen to about twice its usual size, and my middle finger appears to be somewhat paralyzed. I cleaned it up as best I could, and a bit of my hand fell off into the sink. It was about the size of a small boiled sweet, and appeared to be made up of skin and gristle. I wasn't too sure what do to about it, so I just threw it away.

Anyway, a nice fresh bandage, a Tetanus jab, and an overdose of Codeine, and all is well again. Sadly for me, I have absolutely no coordination in my left hand. But I expect that I shall soon get  the hang of typing with my right thumb, the only remaining functional digit on that hand.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Its Never Too Late To Learn.....

A wee bit of advice to a certain Brussels based press officer - he will know who he is.

1. If you write an angry e-mail to the editor of a newspaper, take the trouble to find out his or her name first. As a press officer - sorry 'Director of Communications' - one would have thought you would know that as a matter of course, but apparently you don't.

2. If one votes against a motion to reject a legislative proposal, one is effectively voting for that proposal. I really do not know how I can simplify that, sorry. It is actually very easy to understand, at least for most people.

3. Switch on the spellcheck function on your computer - you do need a little help in that department.

4. When sending out a press release, do try to get it right first time. Sending out an 'amendment' to a press release 20 minutes after it has gone out is not very professional, although it does give the press corps a good laugh!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Remembrance Starts Here.

At Arlington, November 2012.
November 11th, a special day for all of us, is little more than a month away. For me, I am starting to think about where I will spend the day - it falls on a Monday this year, by the way.

I may visit my Great Grandfather's last resting place, he fell at the Somme in 1916. I may go the the Brussels service at the tomb of the unknown soldier, or I may watch the Whitehall service on TV, and then go for a beer or two with some of my many ex-service pals hereabouts. I will certainly call the parents of a close friend who I did my basic training with way back in 1978, and who was to die shortly afterwards, just to touch base and share some memories, smiles, and tears.

The important thing is that we are approaching the 100th anniversary of the start of the appallingly named 'Great War', which swallowed up a generation of our finest. That is what we should really be thinking about.

In a few weeks we will be pinning poppies to our lapels. But this year, and especially next year, we need to think what more we, each and every one of us, can do.

We might start here....

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Euthanasia in Belgium: Shhh... Don't Talk About It.....

I have blogged before, and been published elsewhere, on my deep concerns about the spread of Euthanasia in Europe, and in Belgium in particular.

In 2012, euthanasia accounted for a staggering 2% of all deaths in Belgium. Earlier this year, the Belgian parliament debated extending the right to euthanasia to minors. In the Netherlands, doctors can actually take the decision to end the life of a child without reference to the parents. I find that deeply disturbing, although I understand that there already are precedents here. There is a reason why you will very rarely have seen a Thalidomide victim in Belgium. Need I say more?

Am I the only one who can see where this is going?

This week there have been reports of an incident of Euthanasia involving a transexual who suffered 3 failed operations, and who in any case had some serious issues due to rejection by his parents. It is a sad case indeed, but it has drawn attention to the situation. Sadly, whilst the BBC and other British media have covered the issue, there has been very little comment in the Belgian press.

I find it desperately sad that as many as 2% of those who died last year did so because they wanted to. I understand that many of those folk were older cancer patients who were surely suffering great pain. But it is nonetheless a tragic statistic, and I cannot help linking it in my own mind to the fact that Belgium has the 2nd highest suicide rate per capita in the EU. Is there a connection between the two, I wonder?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Is It Just Me, Or Is Everybody Going Mad?

I see some interesting stuff in my line of work. At the moment, (since I know you are all fascinated by this), I am looking at the rules surrounding the movement of dogs from Ireland to the UK. There are some outdated oddities in the existing legislation, and so it has been drawn to my attention by an animal welfare activist at home. Another project  gets off the starting block...

I took a look at HMG's website that deals with this. It is great.

The fun starts with the very first sentence.  When travelling with your pet dog, cat or ferret, the rules you must follow depend on the country you’re going to or coming from.

Pet ferret?

Perhaps they may do things differently in some of the more remote parts of the UK, but pet ferrets? Please tell me it is not so.

It gets better. Much better.

 There are no restrictions on bringing pet invertebrates to the UK from other EU countries.

How in God's name can you have a pet invertebrate? If you tried to cuddle the bloody thing it would ooze through your fingers.

Sponges, I am told, are also invertebrates, so I guess they would at least serve some useful purpose. But how do you do all those things you would usually do with a pet, like talk to it or groom it? I suppose the advantages to having a pet sponge is that they don't eat much, and you dont have that painful moment when you have to explain to your child that a much loved pet has died.

Another advantage to bringing a pet sponge into the country, as confirmed by HMG, is that you don't have to get them micro-chipped or vaccinated against rabies!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Monday, 23 September 2013

Reunited! Germany's Nationalists & Socialists.

Its just a thought, but with the Free Liberal Democrats failing to make it into the German parliament, (Liberal Democrats seem to be struggling across Europe) Merkel, who failed to win an outright majority, will have to cut some deals with the socialists.

Why is it that the idea of a sort of Nationalist & Socialist coalition in Germany sends a chill down my spine?

Friday, 20 September 2013

Goodbye To A White Elephant!

That's it then. It has been announced that the Elephant & Castle shopping centre is going to be bulldozed.

I shall shed no tears for it, I always regarded it as a carbunkle.

Having said that, the small street market outside has a vibrance all of its own, and I am sure that many locals will miss that. But with the ancient & exciting East Street market just a few minutes walk away I think they will get over it.

The appalling Heygate Estate, which sat alongside the centre, was emptied a long time ago. It really was the ugliest of places, and I felt sorry for the people who had to live there. It was also the home of every type of social problem one could imagine, and quite a few that caught the rest of us by surprise.

The area actually has an interesting past. It was home to Newington Butts, where many years ago archers would practice. There is actually some controversey about this, as there is no definitive record of the area being used for this purpose, but references to it go back to the 18th century. I personally do not doubt that it is true.

If you are in the area, its worth a stroll around. Charlie Chaplin and Michael Faraday were born in the area, Michael Caine grew up there (although he was born at St Olaves in Rotherhithe). Until recently, Mad Frankie Fraser could often be seen strolling around the area. I understand he lives in a nursing home in nearby Peckham now.

Opposite the Imperial War Museum a blue plaque marks the former home of Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. The Lambeth Walk is a mess now, its hard to imagine that it was once the centre of a bustling cockney community.

An interesting anecdote that I will share with you now.....

About 15 years ago I was coming out of St George's Cathedral, having been to a wedding there. Crossing the road, heading towards the IWM, out of the corner of my eye I saw a trolley bus bearing down on me. To say I leapt out of my skin is an understatement. I never moved so fast.

But there are no trolley buses in London any more.

A little while later, I learned something very interesting. St George's circus, where I was crossing the road, used to be the turning round point for trolley buses. I never knew that.

I have often wondered what I saw. Spooky......

Thursday, 19 September 2013

They Do It Just To Annoy Me....

So, there I was, on the ground floor, waiting for a lift (my office is on the 4th floor). Nobody around at all. The lift arrived, and as I stepped in, 3 people appeared from nowhere and pressed the buttons for floors 1, 2, and 3.


These little things should not annoy me, but they do. Greatly.

We shouldn't stereotype people, but since I am already irritated and it is only 9am, I think that I will indulge myself a little.

Germans in lifts. Fat Germans, to be precise.

If you are a fat bastard, and the lift doors open, and nobody wants to get in, and you do not want to get out, its a pretty safe bet that somebody else in the lift wants to get out, so don't stand there with your back to everybody ignorantly blocking the doors. This happens all the time. Always Germans.

Here is another German trait. Stand outside the lift chatting away to your komrad, then when the lift doors start to close, put your hand/leg/clipboard between the doors to keep them open. Ignore the glares of the 6 people who are actually inside the lift and who might want to get to f***ing work at some point. Then repeat this 2 or 3 times before walking away without even getting in the lift at all.

Glad I got that off my chest!

Mac Curtis Has Left The Building

I just learned that Mac Curtis passed away two days ago. I understand that he was involved in a car crash.

I met Mac in the late 70s, just once, but he made a hell of an impression on me. I was in awe of him. He was one of the fathers of that really harsh rockabilly sound that we loved so much. When the needle hit the groove, within moments we were jumping around.

Rest in peace, Mac.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Bermondsey - The Birthplace of British Rock 'n' Roll

Just to make the point.... Bermondsey is where British Rock 'n' Roll began....

And if you doubt it, check this out!

Bermondsey Boys!

Really lovely tonight to spend some time in Brussels with my old friend Chris who originates from the smoke. We are old Chinas, but I didn't see him for a while, so I had assumed that he either he had been locked up, or kidnapped by Mexican bandits. If you knew him as well as I do, you would know that neither of these scenarios would be totally implausable.

He was born there, and being 1 or 2 years older than me (!) he was there as a nipper during the Blitz.                                                                                      

Now, he has been in Brussels even longer than me. He raised his family here, and his wife has been one of my son's teachers. His own son, Nick, is a lovely chap, whose company I enjoy very much.

We spend some time in London together from time to time, and we might have sunk the odd one or two in places as diverse as private clubs in St James, and East End boozers that are still run by certain families that we might rather not mention here.

I could tell a great story about a certain amount of confusion between Bermondsey and Bethnal Green (they both begin with the letter 'B'). Anyway, he still made it to my old local, The Boatman in Jamaica Road, before I did :)

We certainly had a pint or three together in Bermondsey!!

Tommy Steele - The Bermondsey Boy

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Bugging Belgium?

Do you remember the bad old days when the GPO ran out telephone services? OK, the technology was old, but let's be honest, it was crap. Now, try to imagine the GPO stripped of all concepts of customer service and iffeciency, and you have Belgacom, the mainly state-owned service that is inflicted on us.

I am somewhat bemused by speculation that the NSA or one of its clients is suspected of spying on Belgacom. Apparently this has been going on for two years. There is a certain anti-Americanism here in Belgium, so this is quite a popular story as it gives them something to blame somebody else for, which is an instinctive reaction here whenever anything goes wrong, which it often does.

To be fair, Belgacom is not alone in its inadequacy, the phone provider Mobistar is equally bad.

For those who have never seen this, just enjoy (captions in English)....

Friday, 13 September 2013

British Defences Probed by Syrian Jets.

A little over a week ago 6 RAF Typhoons were deployed to Akrotiri in Cyprus. Within days a pair were scrambled to see off Syrian Air Force Su-24s that were picked up behaving suspiciously close to Cypriot airspace.

Such probing is normal in the run-up to hostilities. The elderly Syrian jets are formidable attack aircraft, and could be able to launch a strike on Akrotiri, or indeed any of the British military assets on the island, within 15 minutes of leaving Syrian airspace.

They would, however, be no match for the Typhoon, as they are relatively slow, and carry only short-range infrared guided air-air missiles that would would pose the British fighters no problems at all.


This probing of our defences, like everything else that is unfolding in Syria at the moment, will be choreographed by Russia.

Russia is seeking to pursue a Middle-East policy symmetrical to that of the US in the region. In this,
Syria is to be to Russia what Israel is to the US. The Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia have been dredged and widened to make them suitable for heavy warships. The location of these bases gives Russia control over the receiving end of the BTC oil pipeline, which is, apparently, a 'guarantee' of security of supply for the EU.

In my book Putin's Legacy: Russian Policy and the New Arms Race (2009) I discussed plans by the Russian Defence Ministry to deploy the missile cruiser Moskva to the Med on a permanent basis. The ship remains, to date, based in Sevastapol, as the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet.

 As I write, the Moskva is leading a significant Russian naval force into the Med, heading for the Syrian coast. The Moskva is a modern equivalent of the battleships of old, with the capability to take out capital warships from a considerable distance.

In Putin's Legacy I also referred to plans to supply S300 surface to air missiles to Syria, to be manned by Russian troops. The first batteries were delivered to Syria in 2011.

This missile is superb. It has similar capabilities to the US built Patriot, and can take out not only aircraft, but incoming cruise, and even ballistic missiles.

Vladimir Putin is not in the strongest of positions, domestically speaking, at the moment. Some sabre-rattling would go down well at the moment, and he knows this.
The Kremlin is brilliant at choreographing events such as those we are seeing unfold in Syria, and we can see that they remain one major step ahead of the US at thepresent time. Kerry's gaffe, in which he went 'off-script' and suggested that the US would pull back if Syria handed its chemical weapons over to the international community, allowed Russia to take the diplomatic high ground, which they did within little more than an hour. (It is worth mentioning here that neither the US or Russia have fulfilled their own obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Both still hold large stcks, and there are strong suggestions that Russia was the source of Syria's stockpile).
I saw unedited footage of a British politician being interviewed in his office this week stating that Putin was handling things "very well". This stupid and naive comment was based not on any real understanding of the situation, but was just an opportunistic attack on William Hague and British policy in the region.
US assets already in theatre could overwhelm Russian and Syrian forces, with or without our help, but the cost would be significant. Escalation would also be a major threat, although the loss of personnel and equipment would not matter to Putin, as he would use the resultant destablisation and diplomatic furore to his advantage. The massive increase in the price of oil that would follow any military action would also make him very happy, and very popular at home.
The fear is, that western diplomatic ineptness could make military intervention inevitable. Let us hope not.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Happy Birthday Buddy....

I was very young when I started to become aware of pop music. My mother told me that when I was a toddler, and the Swinging Blue Jeans came on the radio, I would go crazy. Well, I have to admit, more than 40 years later, I still do!

Today is a special day for those millions of us who love Rock n Roll. Today is Buddy Holly's birthday.

Buddy died in a plane crash in 1959, along with Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper).

Today I thought I might write about Buddy, and his music, but I decided that it was not necessary. Those of us who love him, know everything that we need to know. We hear his influence everywhere, he was truly the great innovator. His songs, his arrangements, and the way he played with the recording studios, always challenging his producers. There were no limits to Buddy's imagination, but always, everything had to be perfect. And it always was.

I think that even after all these years, his music speaks for itself. No comment from me is neccessary.

Happy Birthday Buddy!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Brussels Tale.....

Brussels is the only capital city I have ever come across where at rush hour people commute out of the centre. I never saw that before. I share this experience daily, as I take my son to school on the metro, and his school is on the outskirts. Its never enjoyable, but the trip back into the centre is more peaceful, and I can always get a seat.

This morning we piled onto the metro, which was absolutely packed. Getting on board was made even more difficult as some stupid cow had her pushbike in the aisle. Bikes are actually banned on public transport during rush hour, but in Belgium, rules only apply to other people. If somebody else had tried to get a bike on the train, I am sure she would have been seething with indignation at this breech of the rules.

There is no air conditioning on board, and the trains are prone to making emergency stops in the tunnel. This happens often, sometimes 2 or 3 times on our journey, which involves passing through just 5 stations.

I noticed a sign today, as we sweltered in a tunnel for a few minutes, telling us that the carriage could carry 183 people. That is 98 standing, and 40 seated.

I am no Einstein, but even I know that 98 + 40 = 138. Not 183. No way could that carriage take 183 people (and a bike).

A simple transposition of numbers, obviously, but how could someone make such a mistake unless theywere stupid?

I tried to do a head count based on the number of people in each section of the carriage, I reckon there were about 160 people +, and it was clearly way above capacity. It is very uncomfortable for the smaller children, of whom there are always many on the metro at that time of the morning.


On Tuesday, children went back to school. As we arrived on the platform in the morning, it was clear that something was wrong. A train was half in the station and half out, and the lights went out in the carriages. Everybody was sitting there in the dark looking bewildered. I should say here that this is Brussels, and so nobody bats an eyelid. Everything is done in a strange way here, seemingly with no reason at all.

An announcement told us that service was suspended due to an incident on the track. Again, this is not unusual, and so as the platform filled, George and I sat chatting for maybe 5 minutes. Little did we know that just feet from us some poor soul was under the train.

Eventually, a chap with a yellow jacket turned up and asked us to leave the station. This became a farce, as he appeared to speak only Flemish, a language spoken only by the Flemish, and so he had little impact on the hundred or so would-be passengers on the platform. Ours is a mainly English speaking district, with Arabic and French vying for 2nd place.

Eventually we got it and left, still oblivious to what had taken place.

I later learned that we missed the incident by just some moments. Apparently the chap had thrown himself in front of the train. It is very selfish of me, but my first thought was, thank God my son didn't have to see that.

I have no idea what desperation or madness would lead a person to commit such an act, and of course it is tragic that a person could be driven to such a thing. Until that moment it was a lovely summer morning, full of optimism and excitement about the coming school year.

But there is an old saying in the forces 'You can never know how tight the other man's boots are!' 

I have every sympathy for the poor chap, but I wish he hadn't done that on a platform crowded with schoolchildren.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A Corny Start To The Day

Its not something one sees every day, a dozen people dressed up as ears of corn, chanting in the street.

They are protesting about the use of food in the production of biofuels. With hundreds of millions of starving people in the world, for whom a corn on the cob would be a rare luxury, they have a good point.

Another consquence of a shift towards biofuels is deforestation.

We thought we had that problem under control, but the vast subsidies that accompany biofuel production make it attractive to the developing nations to tear down the rainforests and grow corn, etc.

Now I am a great believer in a move towards renewable energy sources, and I understand that this involves subsidies. Goodness knows, we pour enough subsidies into nuclear power, even now.

But the price for the production of biofuels and the development of the technologies seems to come at a high price. As is generally the case, these costs are borne by those at the lowest end of the economic ladder, which means those in the developing nations, especially the women and children. They will bear the brunt of the environmental degradation, and it is they who will go hungry.

Nothing changes, only the victims.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

R&R in Cornwall

Some 20 + years ago, my folks relocated to Cornwall, a very wise move on their part, I would say. And so I get to spend a fair bit of time down there.

Thanks to the hot weather and a swell tide, the surfing was great over the last couple of weeks, and my son got to try it for the first time. Having said that, Fistral Beach is overcrowded and over regulated now. The RNLI Baywatch wannabees get more intrusive with each year, although to their credit there are far fewer unfortunate incidents now than there were in the 70s and 80s. But Fistral is not the only beach in town.....

I was also very pleased to speak to a couple of UKIP branches during this month's stay. It's always a pleasure to meet  with old friends.

The people are still there, and still as politically aware as ever before, but their relationship with the party is changing. At least two of them had received communications advising them not to sign the petition for a referendum on membership of the EU, and wanted to know why, if the party was against it, UKIP then claimed credit for the announcement of a referendum.

I was very happy to fill them in on that one.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Fracking ugly.....

Fracking is in the news almost every day now. Opposition is growing, as the public become more aware of what is involved, although the scientific evidence is still not that strong either way.

It is an ugly process, involving ripping up the landscape, and damaging the ground beneath us.

One thing I note, however, is that the usual suspects who can normally be relied upon to attack wind turbines as being ugly - I happen to think they are rather majestic, harbingers of of a new, cleaner future - are strangely silent. Why might that be?

Might it be something to do with oil and gas industry largesse? The said sector is known for its generousity towards pseudo  'think-tanks', and 'useful idiot' politicians who delight in spreading doubt over scientific evidence of global warming, and the anthropogenic input therein.

One of these idiots told me once that there could not possibly be any such thing as global warming, because it snowed rather a lot in one of his fields the previous year. I explained, in words of as few syllables as possible, how increased temperature brings with it increased precipitation, and so his evidence undermined his own argument. He got a bit mad, telling me that as I don't keep livestock, I know nothing. Oh well, 2 years studying environmental policy was wasted then, I should have just bought a lamb or something.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The World's Worst TV Game Show.

I have some bad habits, but watching TV is not one of them. I occasionally watch the BBC news in the morning whilst trying to work out how to drink a cup of coffee, but with the exception of Rugby and the Olympics, there is not much else that persuades me to switch the thing on.

Last night, however, was a real experience. Having twisted my knee - the one that I didn't manage to break yet -  I am not in the mood to move about too much, so I decided to dip into some prime-time Saturday night TV.

I turned on in time to see a game show called 'I Love My Country'. Sounds interesting, I thought, so I stayed tuned.

Whoever produced this must love his country in the same way that Lord Haw-Haw did, as the whole thing, including the guests, was a slur on the integrity and intelligence of the British people. I was initially reassured by the presence of Frank Skinner, who in terms of personality and professionalism is definitely 'A' list in my opinion. The other guests incuded a "singing legend" I had never heard of, a couple of thick girls, one of whom smiled a lot, and the other who was apparently asleep through the whole show, and some others I can't remember. There was a pretty black girl who could sing - the show's only nod towards the employment of talent - and Gaby Logan, who would probably make a good newsreader, but who is definitely not God's gift to light entertainment.

The first 'game' involved using a plastic pork pie to identify on a large map the location of Aberdeen. I don't think any further comment is necessary at this point.

I don't think that a second series will be necessary, and I suspect that in about 30 years time when the documentary 'Crap Games Shows Of The Early 21st Century' is made, this one will be greeted by the audience with total disbelief.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

London's Finest....

On the subject of emergency services, I learn that amongst the many strange reasons folk find to call out the Fire Brigade, there is included a chap who recently got his genitals caught in a toaster.

Now let us just stop and think about this.

I have often wondered, what makes a chap get up in the morning and think to himself "I know, I'm going to wear a cravate today!". Why would you do that?

But this person, at some point, thought to himself "I know, I'll stick the old todger into the toaster for a bit..." What was he doing? Was there bread in there? Was the toaster switched on? How exactly did he explain his situation when he made the 999 call? I would so love to hear the recording of that one.

But how wonderful for the Fireman who found him. Would you not have liked to have been a fly on the wall as that one unfolded?

Boris Johnson does not share the average Londoner's admiration and affection for the Fire Brigade, apparently, as he wants to make still further cuts. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) is fighting for additional funding in order to prevent more cuts in the service. Boris Johnson stated last week in a letter to London Fire Brigade commissioner Sir Ron Dobson  that  “I am not minded to provide additional funding to LFEPA for 2014/15.  My budget guidance for that year has recently been issued and sets out my current understanding of the level of financial resources available and how they are best to be deployed. I have done this against a backdrop of reductions in government grant."

Don't blame the government, mate, its your party that is in power. Well, sort of.

Does the government not have any idea of the importance of maintaining strategic services, and keeping them under public control? OK, that was a stupid question, I know. The Tories would sell the Brigade of Guards to the Taliban if they could get the right price.

Boris enjoys a certain popularity amongst Londoners for two reasons. Firstly because he is not Ken Livingstone, and secondly because he looks funny. Cuts to the Fire Brigade will affect Londoners very badly. I doubt if there will be too many appliances lost around Kensington and Chelsea of course, but proper Londoners will not take this too kindly.

You Can Never Find One When You Need One....

So, we reach the second anniversary of the London riots of August 2011.

Its interesting to note that since then, Tower Hamlets has lost 66 police officers and 54 PCSOs. Bethnal Green and Bow were badly hit by the riots, of course.

Across the capital, some 2,500 police jobs have gone since the riots.

Now, here I will admit that I might not be the greatest admirer of London's serial killers, or the Met as they prefer to be called, but this can't be right, surely? Perhaps they have all retired sick after not deliberately killing a newspaper vendor or something, but 2,500 seems like rather a lot to me.

I note that crime figures for the Met area as a whole dropped 7% in the 6 months leading up to June 2013, as against the previous year. Possibly that might actually be a reflection of the fact that in most parts of London you can't report a bloody crime, because the nicks are all closed down!

But sadly, I note that despite this backdrop of falling crime figures - there are small drops in most categories - there is a bit of an anomaly. 'Islamophobic' crimes have risen by a startling 53.1%. This is a huge leap, and so what does it mean? It may mean an increase in the number of offences committed, it may mean an increase in the number of offences reported, or it may mean that the Met are prioritising the category.

However, I note that generally, hate crimes have fallen by percentages that reflect the overall trend.

I do not feel, as a Londoner who spends much of my time at home in the East End, including areas such as Bethnal Green and Whitechapel, any sense of tension. In fact, in those areas, and in parts of London that have traditionally had problems, and Streatham and Brixton come to mind, I feel that things are a lot more relaxed than they were maybe 10-15 years ago. An impressive drop in gun crime is testimony to how SE London has calmed down.

I really thought that as a society, and as a community, we had grown out of all of this nonsense, but this statistic of 53.1% might suggest otherwise. Perhaps we need more policemen on the beat.....

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bermondsey Pubs Under Threat!

St James' Tavern
A bit distressed to learn today of the likely closure of two of my old locals - the Grange, and St James' Tavern, both in Bermondsey.

Apparently the current owners, Enterprise Inns, want to sell the pubs, and there is no restriction on future use of the land. So we are talking about more flats, I guess.

The Grange has been thrown a lifeline as it has been listed as a 'community asset', and so has a certain degree of protection. It is St James', which has been there since 1884, that is more of a worry. Too many pubs in the area have vanished in the last couple of decades.

St James' is a great pub, just outside South Bermondsey station, which is the point of arrival for many visitors to the Den, home of Millwall FC. It is a real breath of the old East End, complete with a seafood stall outside, and the food inside is pretty good as well.

These pubs should be protected - Bermondsey is one of the last strongholds of the traditional London community, a community with a long and proud history. 

So successful was the area in economic terms that at one time the City of London actually attempted to ban the sale of goods produced in Bermondsey within three miles of the City.

The docks and warehouses were a hub of Britain's maritime trade, and were bombed to buggery during the war. The first German bomb fell on Surrey Docks on September 7th 1940, and bombs continued to fall for 57 consecutive nights. (During that first bombing raid, the front was blown out of the Cock and Monkey in Neptune Street, which was turned into flats in 2003). There was a Neptune Pub, by the Rotherhithe roundabout, but that deserved to close when it did back in the 90s, it was a bit of a dump. Apparently you had to be a manic depressive with ME to get a job there. Guess what... they knocked it down and built flats on the land.

The Collen Bawn in Southwark Park Road, just opposite the Blue Market, was turned into solicitors offices in about 1995. My great aunt Doris loved it there, because they had a piano, and when the sirens sounded it only took a minute or so to get under the railway arches. Many nights they used to sleep there for safety, but that practice stopped after the Stainer Streeet arches, near London Bridge, took a direct hit on February 17th 1941. 68 people were killed, and 175 injured. Most were women and children, with some bodies never being recovered. They remain buried in the rubble beneath the surface to this day.

The area also has a surprising literary history. Chaucer began his pilgrimages to Canterbury nearby, and Shakespeare of course put on his plays at the Globe theatre just up the road in Southwark. Samuel Pepys admitted getting a tad merry from time to time by the Cherry Gardens, and Dickens is associated with the area. In fact, my own daughter attended primary school at St Josephs' in George Row, which once marked the eastern boundary of Jacob's Island, of oliver twist fame. (It really did exist, and was even worse than Dickens described). Tommy Steele was a previous pupil, and writes about the school in his autobiography, Bermondsey Boy.

The poet John Betjeman was associated with the area, and in fact is remembered for his work in saving St James' Chuch, one of the famous Waterloo Churches, built to commemerate that great victory. If you visit the church you will note that the gravestones have all been moved and propped up aginst the churchyard wall. This was done at the beginning of the last century at the behest of Dr Alfred Salter, who was desperate to create some space for children to play. Salter, who was to become an MP, is remembered as one of the greatest of health and social reformers. Bermondsey underground station (Jubilee line) sits on the site of Salter's surgery. There is a children's playground in St James' Church to this day.

Even Swift depicted his character Gulliver as being born at Redriff - an old name for Rotherhithe. I used to be a governor at Redriff Primary School, a splendid establishment.

Walk along the foreshore by the aforementioned Cherry Gardens when the tide is out and you will find the remains of some interesting wooden constructions, and you don't have to dig too deep to find heaps of rusty nails. This is where ships used to be broken up. In fact, Turner painted the classic Fighting Temeraire from the waterfront at Rotherhithe, on her way to Beatson's Yard to be broken up.

Now the sunset breezes shiver
Temeraire! Temeraire!
And she's fading down the river.
Temeraire! Temeraire!
Now the sunset Breezes shiver
And she's fading down the river,
But in England's song for ever
She's the Fighting Temeraire.

A lot happens in our neck of the woods, and so I reckon that we deserve the right to at least keep our old pubs.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Silver Y - Loving The Sunshine!

My love of nature and environmentalism always baffles my close friends. I'm not a person who would automatically be associated with, for example, butterflies.

But I was delighted to learn of the resurgence of the Silver Y, here in Flanders.

The Silver Y is actually a moth, not a butterfly, but it is a wee bit unique in that it comes out during the day, unlike its moth cousins that prefer the nightime.

Its not actually a species indigenous to the UK, but we can find it at home all year round. Its not the most beautiful of critters, but it is an important part of our ecosystem, and even if you are not much into environmental issues, please trust me on this one: its growing numbers are good news indeed. It loves the sunlight, and the warm summer is contributing to this.

As Shaw Taylor (if you are old enough or British enough to remember him) used to say - "Keep em peeled..." and I bet you will spot one in your garden over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Some moments from last Thursday.....

Many thanks to Randall Calvin, who took the time and trouble to document these last months, and to record Glynne's words for us.

Friday, 2 August 2013


Yesterday was the funeral of our dear friend Glynne Davies.

In my life I never before experienced such a thing as a 'happy' funeral, but yesterday was the exception.

When a loved one leaves us, we are apt to say such things as "I never knew how much I loved him", or "I never realised how much we would miss him..." With Glynne it was different, because we all knew how much we loved him, and how much we valued him, his humour, his advice, and his classical mind.

 We also knew, as it became apparent that the end was drawing closer - he was 99 years of age - how much poorer our lives would be without him. We were all aware that he would be irreplaceable in our lives.

When we entered the chapel we saw Glynne, with a lovely framed photograph taken in the 1940s, and his medals displayed by his coffin. Our eyes were drawn to his Normandy Star - Glynne was a D-Day veteran. Glynne could be melancholic at times, and he often spoke to me about his friends who were left behind on those beaches. It was an honour for me to hear those stories at first-hand.

There were around 30 family and friends  - aged 16 to 80+ - and I counted 7 different nationalities there present. The service, Anglican, was informal and very appropriate. There was much music, Welsh of course, and poetry. There was also a certain amount of discussion about Welsh rugby, which always aroused Glynne's passions!

Jean-Claude Hamel, a French Army officer from Normandy who is a former student of Glynne's, gave a poetry recital that was so right for the occasion. I was delighted to sit opposite him at tea, and to hear about his own experiences. It was a great privilege.

We also met members of Glynne's family who had travelled from the UK. It was nice to meet people we had only ever heard about before.

Glynne's good friend Norman Henry, an ex Royal Navy man from Belfast, who works in the European Parliament and who cared for Glynne so well, gave a brief but emotional speech. I myself was proud to be able to say a few words, but it was Glynne's love of literature that shone through. My daughter Odette read the final passage of Llewelyn's 'How Green Was My Valley', and Pat Robbins, who along with her sister Anne, cared for Glynne so tenderly in his final years, read a poem that she had found written by Glynne in his own notebook.

Glynne adored poetry. Somebody remarked yesterday that you only had to speak the first two words of any poem written in the English language, and he would be able to recite the whole thing from memory.

Glynne's ashes were scattered in the same place as those of his beloved wife. We will not really miss him, because he will always live in our hearts and our minds.
And we, his friends, will remember him and love him forever.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Passing Of A Great Friend....

Our dear friend Glynne Davies, a long standing stalwart of the expat community here in Brussels, passed away in his sleep last week, at the grand age of 99.

Born in Wales in 1914, a year of great significance of course, he spent much of the 1930s in London, before joining the London Welsh some months before the outbreak of the Second World war. Having taken part in the shooting down of his own commanding officer during an air raid at RAF Wattisham (where I myself served from 1979-1983, but sadly never had the opportunity to repeat Glynne's acheivement, as much as I may have wanted to...) he went on to take part in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, and was a part of the British force, serving under Montgomery, that liberated Brussels from the Germans in September 1944. He liked to keep busy....

He stayed in Brussels after the cessation of hostilities, where he married,  and raised his family. A highly cultured man, he loved literature (which he taught to a high level), music, and rugby. He was also quite partial to a glass of the amber nectar, and loved his fish n chips on a Friday lunchtime. I think that half the cod I have eaten in my lifetime has been in Glynne's company.
To the end, Glynne never lost his singing voice. He loved to sing, and would do so at the drop of a hat. He also loved to recite poetry. I discussed with Glynne the writings of Richard Llewellyn and Dylan Thomas, and the poems of Rupert Brooke and John McGee endlessly. The years were kind to Glynne, and although he could become melancholic sometimes, his mind remained very sharp, as did his sense of humour. He was very unhappy when he fell and hurt himself, and had to celebrate his 98th birthday in hospital. He hated hospitals, but it was a lovely afternoon, involving champagne and welshcakes (and rather too much chocolate cake!)

I will miss him very much.

Glynne survived both his wife and daughter, and he loved them dearly until his final day.

The funeral will take place at 12.30 on Thursday August 1st at Uccle. If any of Glynne's friends from the European Parliament or Place Lux need details, you will know how to contact me.

Many thanks to Randall Calvin for the photos, and if you want to hear about the Normandy landings from a man who was actually there, you can find Randall's interview with Glynn here....

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Brussels: To Get Even Uglier?

The Brussels administration appears to have given up on Place Jean Rey.

The fountains are not working - in the summer the local kids like to play in the fountains and goodness knows a bit of cool spray would be welcome at the moment. The drinking fountains have not worked for about 3 years, and the square is overgrown with weeds.

Its a shame. Its not the prettiest of public spaces, but there is so little of those in the district that it is a welcome diversion from all the high rise apartment blocks and expensive hotels that are going up in the area.

Ahhh.... of course!

And so I expect that we will see work start soon on the little square. Incidentally, the car park you can see at the top left of the picture is gone. In its place stands a ghastly looking high rise that is nearing completion. The small green space to the right of the red brick building is home to apartments and shops that are also nearing completion.

Brussels is effectively a giant building site floating on a sea of public subsidy. Given that the country is technically bankrupt, one has to wonder which public we are talking about here.

Isn't the EU wonderful?