Thursday, 30 May 2013

Headline of the Week!

JC Penney kettle looks like Nazi leader', read the headline. Now this was just irresistable, and I had to click on it. Bloody hell, they are right! I doubt if this was a deliberate cock-up, and I would'nt like to be the guy who passed the artwork right at this moment, but it made me, and I suspect a lot of people, grin widely.                  
 I also suspect a lot of people will be popping down to their local JC Penney to pick up their very own Hitler kettle. I imagine that they will sell particularly well in Alabama.

As cock-ups go, this is on a par with a recent one by the Conservative Party, which is widely suspected of leaking to the press a photo of a UKIP candidate in a somewhat compromising pose. Of course, we understand why they sought to discredit UKIP, but this one backfired seriously.                                                                     You see, the BNP vote has all but collapsed, and their supporters in many areas would have been looking for an alternative party to back at the polling booth. Congratulations Tory chappies, as distasteful as this sounds, you just handed UKIP possibly thousands of voters who would have previously voted BNP.
Of course, UKIP's 'them and us' approach to the question of immigration would have made this an easy transition for people with tattoos of bulldogs on their throats, and pitbuls named Tyson.
UKIP will, I am sure, say in public that they do not want to attract such attention, but the fact that the candidate in question came second will not be lost on them.

The face of UKIP, apparently!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Where Do They Come From?

I must admit I had never heard of Demetri Marchessini, a donor to UKIP, until I read some rather odd comments attributed to him in yesterday's Daily Mail (20 May). This can't be real, I thought, so I checked his blog out. It appears, indeed, to be true. He does actually appear to believe that single mothers are 'naughty girls' who need to be 'smacked'. Given the dynamics that hold certain elements of the upper e´chelons of UKIP together, he may well find kindred spirits there.

His blog is amusing enough, albeit for unintended reasons, and might be worth a quick scan if you buy into contrarianism, which I personally do not.

One thing I will pick him up on, however, is his comment  "But if it is true that the Conservatives will offer a Referendum (which is not entirely certain,) the only reason they will have done so is because UKIP forced them to."

Actually, it was a cross party group of MEPs and others led by Nikki Sinclaire who presented a petition of over 100,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street calling for a referendum on continued membership of the EU that led to the Backbench Committee debate on a referendum that forced Mr Cameron's hand. Nigel Farage didn't even sign the petition until the day of the debate. In fact, UKIP has always been opposed to a referendum, but they can always spot a good bandwagon when he sees one, and so other people's work became, overnight,their "greatest acheivement".

Subsequent to posting this, I learn that media attention has driven Mr Marchessini away from UKIP. He will no longer be providing the party with financial assistance.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Drones: The Way Forward.

Last night marked the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. The loss of life - 617 squadron lost 53 airmen on the raid - was high, but as well as the effects on German industry the morale boost given to the British public was hugely important, and to this day Guy Gibson and his flyers remain an iconic reminder of the courage and tenacity of RAF Bomber Command. Canadian and Australian airmen were also lost on the operation, and we should never forget the contribution that they and other Commonwealth flyers  made to RAF operations during WW2. We should also acknowledge the fact the 53 young men who were lost on that raid, and the rest of the 55,573 Bomber Command crewmen who were lost during the war, were the finest our country had. We lost the best of the best - 44% of those who served in Bomber Command lost their lives -  and we have paid the price ever since as a result. 

Fast forward to 2013.

A few days ago, the US Navy conducted the first carrier launch of an X-47B umanned drone from the USS George H.W. Bush.
The X-47B is rather large, as drones go, and will eventually have full combat capabilities.

I'm rather fond of drones. I would rather see our future combat aircraft controlled by young men in bunkers in England, then flying over hostile territory with crewmen onboard.

At the moment, RAF drones have only surveillance roles, but I hope that this situation changes quickly. Unfortunately, due to the incompetence of the Eton Rifles, our new carriers will lack catapults, and so will not be able to launch the X-47B.

I am aware of certain British politicians who are campaigning against the use of drones, particularly 'killer' drones. Their opposition has nothing to do with their personal religious beliefs, of course, nor their anti-Americanism.

I just wish that we had drones in Northern Ireland during the 'troubles'!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Local Elections: Update

Since I last posted, Labour have pulled back a little of the lost ground, and UKIP are now relegated to 5th place, although I am sure they will try to spin this as a major victory.

In 4th place we actually see Independent candidates, a remarkable acheivement. I believe passionately in the value of independent politicians, and so I am thrilled by this. When the final tally comes in, I hope it remains this way.

The BNP have yet to get off the ground, as has their alter ego the English Democrats. The Greens will certainly not be celebrating tonight.

The Idle Toad Party have lost their only seat, the the Official Monster Raving Loony Party has maintained it's consistency, and won nothing. Its another Loony Landslide!!

Local Elections - It All Seems To Be Going As Expected.

As I write, the local election results are looking pretty much as predicted. David Cameron won't be too hurt by this, it could have been much worse for the Tories, in fact I thought it would be. Labour has held South Shields in yesterday's parliamentary by-election, as everybody assumed they would - they have had this seat since 1935 - but in the locals they are doing far worse than an opposition party should expect in mid-term.

The BNP appear to have bombed, confirming the general feeling that the party is on its last legs. A wipe-out in next year's Euro elections will be the death of the BNP. I predict that the party will end up like the National Front, which fielded over 300 candidates in the 1979 General Election, but now consists of a handful of people who wish they were in the UVF.

UKIP's performance has also been exactly as expected. A good share of the vote - as much as 26% according to the BBC - but not so many seats. This is not the big breakthrough that was being sold to the press, but for Nigel Farage that might be a bit of a relief. Success always fractures UKIP. It is a weakly led and dysfunctional party, and any political scientist will point to the inherent dangers there. In fact, going back to the BNP, their greatest success was to have 2 MEPs elected in 2009, and it was not long before one of them split off to form his own party, and for the BNP to enter into terminal decline. For UKIP to really emerge as a force, the breakthrough needs to come under new leadership. Having one of your candidates Heiling Hitler on the front page of the Daily Mirror was probably not a good idea either, but the smear campaign came too late to make a difference. Such tactics should be deployed 2-3 weeks before the election in order to have any impact. I am starting to wonder if David Cameron employs advisers at all.... The spectacle of the British Prime Minister reacting to the antics of a company of clowns has not done the image of our country any good at all. Give Vauxhall Cross a call, Mr Cameron, you are the Prime Minister, you know.

The Greens also appear to have fared badly. Caroline Lucas' appalling performance on Sunday Politics last weekend gave us an insight into how fey the party has become, which is a shame, but all part of evolution. The Greens forced environmental issues onto centre stage, and the three main parties ignore the green lobby at their peril. But the Greens have done their job - it is time for them to either find a new constituency, as Ms. Lucas has done in Brighton, or to disperse and join other parties where they can broaden and deepen the issues.

So down here at the bottom with the far-right and the far-gone, it is appropriate to mention the Lib-Dems, who at least some of us remember. Please e-mail me if you can see the point of the Lib Dems, because I'm sure that I can't.

British politics are in a state of flux at the moment, and it is an interesting time. However, when the sands stop shifting and the dust settles, the landscape will be as it always was - as every Englishman knows, change is good, but no change is better.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Parc du Bruxelles

Rather oddly, so engrossed was I in my thoughts, I missed my stop on the Metro this morning. In fact, I missed it by two. Alighting at Parc, instead of crossing the platform and going back, I decided to walk to work through the Parc du Bruxelles. And very nice it was too.

This park is actually only about 10 minutes walk from my home, but I rarely pass through it. I love parks, (and of course in London we some of the best - St. James and Southwark Parks being my own favourites) but for some reason I just never took to the Park here in Brussels. It is quite small, but pretty enough, and is surrounded by some impressive architecture, but it does not engage. I noticed today a shabby café, closed of course - why would a café be open at breakfast time? - which reminded me of a similar place in Minsk, close to the botanical gardens. A similar place, in similar surroundings, but how different they are. I remember sitting there on a summer evening with a friend, eating far too much shashlik, and drinking something Belorussian that appeared to be distilled from rocket fuel. There atmosphere was unforgettable, and that is what is missing from the Brussels Park - atmosphere. Actually, its the only thing missing, but what a difference it makes.

Maybe I will get out at the Parc station more often and see if I can find something there to change my opinion....

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Value of Friendship

Second only to my children, my friends are the greatest pleasure of my life, and I have been gifted with some wonderful friends.

Life as an expat can be difficult, and remember that I have been in Brussels for almost 9 years. There is no place like home, as Judy Garland knew so well, and there is no home like London. And I get very homesick sometimes.

And so, from left to right, in this picture we have Norman (ex-Royal Navy) Randall (ex-Irish army) and myself (ex-RAF) posing by a piano in the ambassador's residence. You will notice a pattern developing here. We have a wonderful ex-services community here in Brussels, and I often stop to think about how important that is to me, and to others.

Amongst our little team of friends, we include two Belgian navy veterans, two former members of the Red Army (one of who was on guard duty the night the Berlin Wall came down), and a 99 year old D-Day veteran. I also count amongst my friends a former Congolese soldier, and a former Rwandan army medic who was badly injured during the ghastly troubles there some years ago, and who is now homeless, and with whom I look forward to playing pétanque and sharing lunch with should the Summer ever arrive. He is actually one of the happiest men I know, and my 8 year old son adores him. One of my closest and most valued friends here is an ex-Royal Naval Reserve chap who was once done for mutiny on a minesweeper (he got off, by the way, he always does!). We are a mixed bag, but we all know who our friends are.

So what does it mean?

Why is it that we gravitate towards one another? Is it shared values? Is it shared experience?
What is it?

It is the knowledge that regardless of any personal differences, there are people in this world who are prepared to stand together, and to stand up for one another. It is the knowledge that when the black dog visits, unconditional friendship is only a phone call away.

Here in Brussels we have a large and thriving branch of the Royal British Legion. Not all veterans are members, but all are part of the wider community. I always urge all ex-service folks to join the Legion, as even if we do not need help ourselves, others do, and there is strength in numbers.

Even if you never served, associate membership is open to all, so please, consider joining.