Monday, 30 September 2013

Imelda... Just The Best!

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.