Thursday, 31 January 2013

DH Chipmunk - The Best Toy I Ever Played With!

Summer 1975. As a rather young air cadet I had my first flight in a De Havilland Chipmunk. This is an aircraft that first flew in 1946, and which was designed to be the replacement for the Tiger Moth. We are talking seriously old technology, even by 1970s standards. Prince Phillip learned to fly in Chipmunks.

No. 5 Air Experience Flight (AEF) was an RAF(VR) unit that operated out of Marshalls airfield, a civilian establishment near Cambridge, at that time. For us cadets, a Chipmunk flight was just about the best thing in the world. We had about 15 minutes of instruction on how to jump out of the thing in an emergency, (we were supposed to climb out of the cockpit, then crawl across the wing, and launch ourselves into thin air with one hand on the ripcord). We then strapped on a parachute and climbed into the front seat. Like in the Tiger Moth, the instructor sat in the rear seat. I don't imagine that health & safety laws would allow 14 year olds to do stuff like that now.

But the most delicious moment was when the instructor declared over the r/t "You have control"! You cannot imagine how that felt. A real Royal Air Force plane - albeit World war 2 technology - and I, a 14 year old in a leather flying helmet, was in control of it. Banking, climbing, resisting the urge to try dive bombing, calling out height and airspeed as we were told to do. I was ready to set an easterly course and take on the whole Soviet Union. For 30 minutes, I was Douglas Bader.The instructor landed it of course, but if he had let me then I would have willingly given it a go. 14 year old boys are immortal, you see.

I did more flights in Chippies over the next couple of years, but if I live to be 100 I will remember to my dying day every moment of that first flight.

There are still loads of Chippies in the air. 5 AEF still exists, but it is based at RAF Wyton now. During my service, Canberras operated out of Wyton, (the Rugby player Rory Underwood flew out of there in the 90s). Canberras were part of my life because they had two uses in my time: photo recce (and air cameras were my main job), and target towing out of Akrotiri in Cyprus, on armament practice camp. The Canberra was a beauty, and another Cold War warrior.

Great days indeed. And I was there....

Another Cameron Promise Melts Away.....

No British boots on the ground, Mr Cameron?
Does David Cameron mean anything that he says?

Sorry to keep bringing up the infamous 'cast-iron guarantee' of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but that was one of the most bare-faced deceits in recent political history. In my personal opinion, it was nothing less than a lie. As the words were coming out of his mouth we all knew that the referendum could not happen. Now we have another vague promise of an in/out referendum on our continued membership of the EU. I am interested to see how, assuming he gets a second term, he wriggles out of that one.

And so onto the promise that there would be no British 'boots on the ground' in Mali.

There was in fact an RAF team in place in Mali even as that statement was made.

Now we are told that 330 British troops are on their way to West Africa.

Mr Cameron could certainly never be called 'a man of his words', could he?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bringing a Bit of Culture into the Place....

Superb video by Randall Calvin. Randall, Dmytro, Anna and Norman, and of course the lovely Olga are amongst my closest friends over here in Brussels. We do a lot of work trying to promote classical music here, and this lovely informal video really sums up the atmosphere that we are trying to create.

UKIP Don't Even Know What Year It Is!

This is an absolute howler!

It is the ballot paper for this year's elections to UKIP's National Executive Committee. Note the slight mistake - they cannot even get the date right!

This is the party that, at last year's London Mayoral election, failed to put the party's name on the ballot paper. That led to some pretty implausible excuses, but the candidate, Lawrence Webb, blew the whistle on what was a series of total screw-ups. The whole campaign was a litany of incompetence, and I felt sorry for Lawrence.

It appears that UKIP has accepted it's limitations, and is now reduced to claiming credit for initiatives it has had absolutely nothing to do with. Even then, it offers no way forward, it simply criticises the status quo.
Totally useless, its collective incompetence a monument to one man's vanity.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

We Demand A Referendum: In or Out?

Talking to a couple of Commission officials on the train this morning, one British and one German. Neither of them believes that Cameron will hold a referendum. In fact, neither of them believes that Cameron will win a majority in the next general election, a prediction that I am inclined to agree with.
Of course the promised referendum is somewhat dependent upon that happening, as it is dependent on so many other factors, any of which could give the Prime Minister an escape route.

A referendum is, of course, the last thing that he wants.

If a 'cast-iron guarantee' was so easily reneged on, then what value is there in a vague promise?

This is a fascinating situation in which we find ourselves. In order to buy himself time, Mr Cameron has made his promise. Does he not realise that of the 27 member states, the UK sits isolated.  There is a call for a new treaty, but this will surely reflect the wishes of the other 26 - increased integration, and the further federalisation of the EU. So what happens when he has to go to the country empty handed? He will try to renege on the referendum, that is almost a certainty.

But we are not going away. We Demand A Referendum will be standing a full list of candidates across the country.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Raise your hands, this is a cock-up!

There appears to have been a major diamond heist in Antwerp. Or perhaps there wasn't, nobody is really sure.

The incident involves the sale of 600 fake diamonds that were apparently so good that even experienced traders could not tell the difference. Police were called in, and the stones were seized, and this is where it gets somewhat confusing. The police seized genuine diamonds.

So where are the fakes? Where did the genuine diamonds come from?

This is either a massive screw up, or a brilliant scam.

"We are left with a riddle..." said a spokeswoman for Antwerp police.

Its pure Clouseau....

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

English Electric Lightning

I think I first saw a Lightning take off at RAF Scampton in 1977. It was the home of the Vulcans, of course (I am so old!). I was first there on ATC summer camp with 1372 Squadron.

I subsequently saw a lot of Lightning take-offs over the next few years. It was a dinosaur, but a truly formidable one.

This is a lovely bit of footege, watch the take-off and see what happens 20 seconds in.... this is actually a restrained take-off, the Lightning could go vertical as soon as the Dunlops were up. Its why we admired her so much.

One oddity, the standard Air-Air missiles of the Cold war era were Sidewinder and Sparrow. US built, and NATO standard. But the Lightning had Red Top, and then Firestreak. These were bolted onto the front of the fuselage. It was a brutal looking aircraft, but it could really move. The name 'Lightning' was well chosen.

Jimmy Goldsmith's Legacy!

In 1997, Jimmy Goldsmith asked UKIP not to stand in the General Election against his Referendum Party. UKIP, he was told, did not support the idea of a referendum, and so the party stood.

Not so long ago, a constituent forwarded to me an e-mail he had received from the party leadership office rubbishing the idea of a call for a referendum. He had asked if he should support Nikki Sinclaire's petition calling for a referendum. He was, to say the least, surprised by this result.

Two UKIP MEPs told me that they had been instructed not to sign, although the party leader did sign it after it had been presented to 10 Downing Streeet. Better late than never, I suppose.

Today Mr Cameron has promised us a referendum, and guess what? I see one UKIP member boasting that this is their 'greatest achievement'.

Hypocrisy is not a rare commodity in politics, and the level of spin too often borders on downright lying.

I remember one politician telling the press that he remembered being on a flight from Strasbourg with Chris Huhne when it was apparent that the latter was in some trouble. He had to withdraw that one pretty quickly when questioned about the details.

Its actually little more than a year since the petition was presented to 10 Downing Street. We had the debate on it in the House of Commons shortly afterwards, and the government found itself facing a back-bench revolt.

Winning the referendum, if and when it comes (we've heard Cameron's guarantee on a referendum before, and that never happened) will be tricky. There are so many stunts and deceptions that can be pulled out of the hat.

'We Demand A Referendum 'will be fielding candidates in all regions in the 2014 European elections..

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

We Demand A Referendum - We Had A Bit Of A Get Together!

Welcome Home Prince Harry!

Prince Harry, who I think is a great bloke, has just finished his stint as an Apache pilot in Afghanistan. Well done!

This young man is a credit to his family, and to his country.

For what it is worth, I strongly advise him to concentrate now on the naked billiards thing.

Now I know that he got a lot of criticism for that, from certain quarters that we might refer to as assholes, but I am so with him on this one.  Harry, if you are reading this, I have only two suggestions. Next time take their cameras off them, and secondly, if possible, could you please pass on my phone number as I am planning to be in that neck of the woods before the end of the year. I was particularly keen on the one in the blue bikini (did you find out if she is also a good cook?)

I'll take my own cue though, if you don't mind. Camaraderie only goes so far......

Monday, 21 January 2013

Santander - Totally Useless!

The rules changed, and my pension fund was suddenly  no longer bound by their legal obligations (which they had voluntarily entered into with me - see what happens when you hand control of the economy to Tories!), and so I had to liquidate it. It was a Whitbread pension, since you ask.

I transferred the money to my mother's UK bank account while I found a suitable account for my daughter, as I had decided to give the money to her, as she will be going to university soon.

And so, I found myself in Liskeard in Cornwall trying to open a savings account for my daughter.

Santander, since you ask.

I don't know if this is a special needs project, but the advice I received was less than useless, and after an hour we walked out none the wiser. We were given a website address where we could open an account online, but the link didn't work. Apparently, I might be a terrorist, and so it is really hard to open an account in the UK now. Or perhaps it is just hard to open an account in Santander. You never met such inept people in all your life. They tried to be helpful, they really did, they were nice people but they clearly had no training, they had no interest in the 'products' they were offering (which is understandable), and most importantly they had absolutely no discretionary powers, which made them less than useless to me and my family. I suspect that they were possibly bussed in from a job agency that morning.

I subsequently returned to Belgium and opened an account for my daughter at KBC in Brussels. It was so easy, it took 10 minutes, and the service was great. I told them what I wanted, and they tailored the account for me. I am thrilled, and my daughter is thrilled. I am one happy customer.

Now I want to transfer the money from Santander to KBC. It appears that Santander want to charge my mother £25 just to make a transfer.

Are they crooks? £25 just to make a transfer? Fuck me, at least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a fucking mask! I have to pay these shites 25 fucking Sovs just to get my own money back?

My mum is a pensioner in her 70s - I can afford £25, and actually so can she (quite easily, in fact, thanks to the provisions of my late father) - but is it right to levy a charge like that on a pensioner who wants to transfer money from her own account to that of her 16 year old grandaughter? Put that - £25 - in the context of a state pension. When she questioned this she asked if she would have to pay this charge if she transferred, for example, £20. The answer was "Yes", apparently that is what it costs to get your own money back from these people.. Now this is just speculation, but if I do a transfer at this end it is in the recipients account instantly - do you reckon that will happen with the £25 transfer from the UK bank account? No freaking way. They will sit on it for days, I would guess.

Useless, incompetent, assholes, and in my opinion crooks to boot. I never had such awful customer service before, but I will tell you now that I will never expose myself to such useless service again.

Santander, Liskeard, Cornwall, and yes I will send this link to their customer services department, where they may (or may not - given what I have seen) know the alphabet, and if so there may be a staff member who gives a fuck and who might answer my complaints. But I am not holding my breath.

In my opinion, Santander are useless, I would question their ethics, and I would strongly advise you not to trust them with your money. I do not consider them to be honest businessmen.


I remember when this beautiful beast - XV424 - a Phantom FGR2, turned up at RAF Wattisham in 1979. She was a 56 Squadron aircraft then (she did get around a bit, and belonged to various squadrons and OCUs at different times) , and I worked with 56 and 23 - possibly the two most famous fighter squadrons in the history of our great air force. Squadron Leader Alcock was the pilot, he was one of our more popular officers, and he was also related to the great John Alcock who made that first trans-Atlantic flight (along with Arthur Brown) back in 1919 which made him a special sort of a dude in our eyes.

XV424 was a pleasure to touch, but she had a sticky G90 - which worried me a great deal, as it was my job to deal with it. The G90 was a gunsight camera, but it was effectively just a training aid in real life. The only time it was ever really used properly was on Armament Practice Camp (APC) at Akkers (RAF Akrotiri) in Cyprus. The power cable just never sat right. It used to cause me a certain amount of stress. We used to process the film on something called an ML16. That was a pain in the arse as well, especially at Akkers, because the heat and humidity could cause static electricity flashes that could effectively wipe out the film. Try explaining that to the aircrew. Having just done a mock dogfight over the Mediterranean they never quite understood the subtle technical aspects of that f***ing disaster no matter how hard we tried to spin it. Squadron Leader Alcock probably does not remember me as fondly as I remember him!

But XV424 looked lovely. And this was at the time when the Tombs were being repainted from the traditional camouflage  to the 'ghost' grey. XV424 was the first one I saw painted this way. Beautiful, and on full afterburner she sounded magnificent!

XV424 is a museum exhibit now, and you can see her at the RAF museum at Hendon. She is in the ghost livery. When I visit, if the staff are not close by, I must admit that I like to cloae my eyes and touch her - it all comes back. TACEVALs (Tactical evaluation exercises) at Wattisham, gas masks and secondary duties with the station EOD (bomb disposal) team, APCs at Akkers. Great days.

Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I do miss the Cold War sometimes. At least we knew who our enemies were back then!

Now Who Would Fall For That One....?

This week has got off to a good start, with no less than 4 widows of African politicians offering to share untold millions with me. All I have to do is give them my bank account details.This scam must work, or they wouldn't do it, I suppose.

I saw a chap being interviewed on TV once. He had received an e-mail telling him that he had won millions in the Canadian lottery, and he just had to send $10000 to free the money up. He thought it was odd, as he hadn't actually entered the Canadian lottery, but he sent the money off anyway. Then there was further demand for another fee, and so he paid that too. Eventually, having remortgaged his home, he realised he had been taken for a jerk. But the best was yet to come....

"Its happened to you before, hasn't it?" asked Richard Madeley.

It was true, this clown had actually fallen for exactly the same scam twice! I'd love to get hold of his e-mail address...

Saturday, 19 January 2013


Had a conversation today with a Belgian police officer whose Great Grandfather, like mine, perished on the Somme in 1916. We owe so much to that generation....

Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,

Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
Well, I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

And I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame

The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

UKIP: The Last Dictatorship?

I don't know Olly Neville, the chap who was fired from UKIP for legitimately stating his personal opinion on gay marriage, but his article in the Huffington Post held no surprises for me. We appear to have  some shared experiences.

According to the UKIP rulebook, he was entitled to express his personal opinion, even where it is contrary to perty policy (which is basically whatever Nigel farage says it is.)

The only thing that surprises me in all this is the number of chumps who are still taken in by this messianic scam.

The majority of people support the concept of equal marriage, at least in principle. This means, of course, that UKIP must oppose it. You do not have to be a political scientist to realise that you cannot win a majority from a minority constituency, but that is not what it is all about, is it? It is about tomorrow's headlines, and media profile. Not for the party, but for the Vozhd.

Olly Neville, judging by his article and from speaking to one or two UKIP members who have met him, appears to be intelligent and articulate, which means he had to be taken out. Too much of a threat, you see. Can't have a chap expressing his own ideas like that (although apparently it ok for some to do so).

I am told that UKIP is Britain's third party. I don't quite understand the math there. Lib Dems, the Tories, Labour, the Greens, SNP, DUP, Ulster Unionists, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, all have MPs in Westminster. UKIP has none. So how does that put them in third place?

Of course there was Bob Spink MP, who took the UKIP whip for about 10 minutes until he realised what the game was and bailed out pronto.

The party is clearly undemocratic, and therefore there should be no place for it in British politics.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Belgian Drivers....!

When walking in Brussels, never make eye contact with anybody, as they will then stop you and ask directions. I think that asking directions is the Belgian equivalent of  "Do you come here often?". My favourite, however, was about 5 years ago when a car pulled up by the side of the road. The driver wound down and asked me "Which way is it to Germany?".

If you are going to another country, surely you at least find out which motorway to head for before setting out.

So this story does not really surprise me....

"The daily Het Nieuwsblad reports the unlikely tale of a lady from Hainaut Province in Wallonia (Belgium), who wanted to drive to Brussels but ended up in Zagreb in Croatia after using her GPS satellite guidance system.

The woman identified by Het Nieuwsblad as the 67-year-old Sabine Moureau told the paper: "I was absent-minded so I kept on putting my foot down."

Sabine started her journey in Erquelinnes on the morning of last Saturday week. "I was going to pick up my friend in the Brussels North Station" she told the paper.

The journey should have taken just over an hour, but she ended up 1,450km from her starting point.

Sabine continues her tale: "I switched on the GPS and punched in the address. Then I started out. My GPS seemed a bit wonky. It sent me on several diversions and that's where it must have gone wrong."

"I saw tons of different signposts, first in French, later in German, but I kept on driving."

Sabine had to fill up twice and slept a few hours by the wayside, but claims she never really caught on to the fact that she might be on the wrong track.

"It was only when I ended up in Zagreb that I realised I was no longer in Belgium."

Meanwhile Sabine's friend had arrived at her home under her own steam. Her son too was dead worried. They were only reunited two days later after Sabine made the same journey in reverse. Her son has now made her promise never to rely only on her GPS!"

Monday, 7 January 2013

Northern Ireland: Worrying Developments.

My first arrival in Northern Ireland, in November 1979, was subject to a few days delay because of an appointment with a magistrate - I was not always the best behaved of teenagers - but it was the beginning of a series of events and incidents that were to help shape and define the person I am today.

I also met some fantastic people. I not only worked with a great team, but I have to say that off-camp not one person, even in nationalist areas, was anything other than polite to me personally.
Rember, Irish Republicans were as much a bane to ordinary catholics as they were to us. Sinn Fein/IRA, INLA, and the rest killed more catholics than the security forces and the loyalists put together.

DH Beaver in Army Air Corps livery.
The Reconnaissance & Intelligence Centre (RICNI) at RAF Aldergrove was one of the highlights of my service. It was the base for a mixture of Army Air Corps Beavers and assorted Army and RAF helicopters - Wessex, Puma, Lynx, and my own favourite, the Gazelle, which always felt a bit like being on a fairground ride to me. Our 'crewroom' was also a stopping off point for those who were best kept away from public gaze, and we met some interesting people there. We also had our own bar, and Friday evening darts matches against  the RUC were always something to look forward to.

The Army Air Corps Beavers were the best, as they could carry a particular type of camera that required some attention in the air, which meant that as one of 4 airmen working in the camera bay I got quite a lot of flying time. I found the Army aircrews less stuffy and formal than our own 'Rodneys', and liked working with them. Flying under power cables in a Gazelle, filming culverts under roads and dodging traffic was just great. We had a camera we nicknamed 'Super Snoopy', which was actually a converted F96 high-level recce camera that was mostly used in Canberras, fitted with a 48 inch lens and with a home made sight welded on the end. We used this big beast to photograph large crowds at demonstrations and funerals. It was mounted in the doorway of a Puma, and from a safe height we could photograph all the faces we wanted in very high definition. To be honest, it was excitement of the type that I really could do without now, but at the time I loved every moment of it.

F96 with 48" lens.
I suppose I did come out of the forces quite politicised, and it was the NI experience that did that to me.

To me, and others like me, the Good Friday Agreement was like a kick in the teeth. My feelings about the PIRA and others of their ilk will never diminish, although I have promised myself that I will not pass this hatred onto my children. But on a recent trip to Ulster and Eire I came to realise that anything that stopped what was going on had to be for the best in the end. To sit in Starbucks in Arthur Square - which was always a flashpoint - with colleagues on a nice warm afternoon made me realise that nobody should have to bring up their children in the atmosphere that we experienced there in the late 70s and early 80s.At times though I wondered if it had all simply been forgotten, what we did. But I tell myself that the peace and prosperity the province enjoys today could not have happened without us, and in any case why should today's children have to confront the hatred and prejudices of past generations?

The drive south was interesting for me. To see the names of towns and villages that in my mind were only associated with death and carnage was an experience. What we called 'Bandit Country' was best experienced in a very fast helicopter. I never realised how pretty it is.

But I find recent events in East Belfast very disturbing.

Deja vu........
Ulster was always a maelstrom of unfathomable dynamics. If I were to put myself in the place of Protestant community now, I would be both offended and worried about the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag above government buildings. I think this is a foolish decision indeed. And of course, as well as 'soft' unionists, there is still the 'hard' loyalist community. Add to the equation opportunist politicians and street thugs with their own criminal agendas, and don't be surprised if the petrol bombs start flying.

The most significant factor here is that the unionist/loyalist community is turning against the security forces - the UVF in perticular has been named as being behind a lot of the trouble, although reading between the lines I suspect it is individuals rather the organisation itself. This is highly regretable, and Sinn Fein/IRA will be rubbing their hands with glee.

The relationship between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries has come under the spotight recently. I fear that we may in the near future see ex-Army intelligence personnel facing charges for simply doing the job they were sent out to do. David Cameron's recent comments following the Finucane review have not helped either. Is he stupid, poorly briefed, or is he just happy to throw good people to the wolves in the name of political expediency?

Friday, 4 January 2013

Police stop drunken traffic safety volunteer!

My favourite New Year headline so far!   

There a little street café near St Katherine in the Centre of Brussels called Mer du Nord. It serves seafood and wine, and at weekends it is very popular. Customers have to stand at the tables, and it is a bit chilly at this time of the year, but if you are visiting Brussels, I recommend it. The food is good, and the atmosphere is unique.

Its also very popular with the Brussels police, who can often be seen eating oysters and enjoying a glass of wine, on duty, in uniform, and armed. But it seems to work. The police here do seem to be more a part of the community than the Met are in London. I would never trust a Met officer with a gun, drunk or sober.

I have a friend who was stopped at a police checkpoint a few years ago. No problem with his driving, just a routine control as they sometimes do over here. His papers were in order, but he admitted he'd had a couple of beers...

He was told to park his car up, hand over his keys, and collect them from the station the next day, where was kept waiting for 2 hours and then given a hell of a bollocking. No way is he going to make that mistake again.

In the UK he would have lost his licence, and his job as well, as he needs to be mobile. This would cause huge financial problems, possibly relationship and family difficulties, and when he got his licence back the cost of insurance would be prohibitive. For a first offence?

I'm not condoning drinking and driving, far from it, but I know the difference between appropriate policing and the Met.

A traffic safety volunteer stopped for drinking and driving though, that's just priceless!