Sunday, 13 December 2015

From the Front Line to Antwerp

The young chap to the right of the photo is Jan. Last night, at a private meeting in Antwerp, he had an absolutely riveting story to tell.

Jan was extremely tired, but in astonishingly good spirits given the fact that he had just travelled more than 2000 km from the front line in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine without rest.

He is one of a considerable number of Belarusian volunteers fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against the Russian aggression. The heavy weaponry, including Main Battle Tanks, that the volunteers are coming up against are Russian. Many of the forces they are fighting are serving Russian soldiers. Russian casualties have been very high, but in Putin's Russia it is now a criminal offence for even the families to discuss this.

His reason for fighting was simple. He realised after the attacks on Chechnya that Russia intended to swallow up it's neighbours. He was, of course correct, and he is not the only one to voice concerns. President Lukashenko of Belarus recently asked Putin "will we be next?".

In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia on the pretext of protecting the interests of the Russian speaking communities. Russian forces still occupy two Georgian regions.

Failure of the west to react gave the green light to Putin, and in February 2014 he sent his troops into Crimea, illegally annexing Ukrainian territory. Now his troops are in Eastern Ukraine, and as we learned recently, 20 000 more Russian soldiers are currently on their way.

There has also been at least one incursion into Estonia, a NATO member.  

There are also Russian troops in Moldova, an aspiring EU member state.

EU and NATO airspace is being violated by Russian military aircraft.

Russian submarines have been operating in British and Swedish waters.

Our friend shared with us fascinating stories about the tactical situation on the ground, and about his own unit, which obviously cannot be shared publically.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Starry, Starry Night.....

In Munch : Van Gogh, the focus is on the parallels between two iconic artists. Their visions on life and art are closely related, despite the fact that they never met. Their work is colourful, intense, expressive and radical. Their lives are remarkably similar in many ways.

For that reason, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) are often mentioned together.

Today, Inna and I visited this incredible exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

I simply had not realised the extent of the parallels between the Lives of Van Gogh and Munch. This expo illustrates those parallels brilliantly.

"During his short life, Van Gogh did not allow his flame to go out. Fire and embers were his brushes during the few years of his life, whilst he burned out for his art. I have thought, and wished – in the long term, with more money at my disposal than he had – to follow in his footsteps".
Edvard Munch, 23 October 1933.

The exhibition runs until Jan 17th, 2016.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Please Support The Petition For The UK To Recognise Holodomor As An Act Of Genocide

We are petitioning Her Majesty's Government to recognise Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, as an act of genocide.
The Holodomor, was engineered by the Soviet government. Seven and a half million people died of starvation over a period of one year. Twenty Five countries have currently recognised this as an act of genocide, as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

25 countries have formally recognised Holodomor in accordance with Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on Prevention & Prosecution of Genocide, which defines genocide as:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

All British Citizens, and all others who are legally resident in the UK are eligible to sign the petition, which can be found online here:


Holodomor: Made in Russia

“Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” - Josef Stalin
In 1932-33 a politically engineered famine took place in Ukraine. Holodomor, as it was to become known, saw some seven and a half million people, approximately one third of them children, brutally starved to death.
This famine was to take place on the most fertile soil in Europe, and it was to be carried out in secret.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the Russian Empire fell apart, and Ukraine quickly moved to assert it’s own identity, declaring independence in January 1918. During an ensuing period of political instability, Ukraine faced armed incursions by Poles in the west, and Bolsheviks in the east, and Bolshevik rule was soon to replace the fledgling democracy.

During this early period, the Soviet government introduced a policy of indigenisation, under which, over several years, Ukrainian culture flourished. A Ukrainian language based education system saw dramatic increases in literacy levels, and in literature, the theatre, and in public life the Ukrainian language blossomed. During this period of Ukrainisation, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was founded.

However, the policy of Ukrainisation was to be brutally reversed from 1928, starting with the arrest and execution of much of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, destruction of churches, and dispossession of the Kulaks, the most productive and successful of the peasant farmers. Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism was declared to be problematic, and a threat to the Soviet system. The renaissance was over, and in the Kremlin Josef Stalin was planning what was to be, in terms of cruelty and in numbers, one of the most brutal acts of genocide the world has witnessed.

The elimination of the intelligentsia and the Ukrainian elites was to be followed by the collectivisation of the agricultural sector, something that Ukrainian farmers resisted strongly.

Collectivisation brought quotas, imposed in 1932, whereby villages were required to deliver unrealistic quantities of grain. Failure to deliver resulted in seizure of all foodstuffs within the community, and all trade was banned, making it impossible for the peasantry to obtain any food at all.

The desired outcome of these actions was unequivocal. A Politburo resolution, dated November 18, 1932, states: “Comrades Redens and Kosior have until November 23 to develop an efficient plan for exterminating the main counter revolutionary clusters of the Kulaks and Petlura, first of all in Pavlograd, Uman and Bilotservka districts and also in the areas outside the towns of Borzny and Miny…”

As farms and villages failed to meet their totally unrealistic quotas, they were penalised by having those quotas raised. Soon, armed cadres of the Communist Party and the GPU, forerunners of the KGB, were ransacking homes, taking away any and all foodstuffs.
All food was deemed to be the property of the Collectives, and by extension, the property of the state. Possession of food was therefore theft, punishable by imprisonment, or execution by shooting “…with no reduction of the sentence possible”.

“The Communards took everything to the last grain. They sought everywhere in barns, pantries, thrust pitchforks into the ground to check on foodstuffs… A peasant woman, Krupchya (she was 37), was sentenced to five years imprisonment for wheat ears. And she had five children, they wanted to eat”. - Olga Vasylivna Kozlenko, Holodomor survivor, Malyn District.

As the tragedy rapidly unfolded, escape was made impossible. Villages and entire districts were ‘blacklisted’ and surrounded by armed men, those attempting to flee the famine and reach cities were either turned back, or imprisoned. Although the cities were less badly affected by the famine, the street cleaning services in Kyiv collected over 9,000 bodies in 1933. Soon the death rate was to reach 25,000 per day.

“The mortality rate has been so high that numerous village councils have stopped recording deaths”. - Zinovy Borisovich Katsnelson, Head of Kharkiv department, GPU.

One of the more tragic statistics of the time is the fact that 2,500 people were prosecuted for
cannibalism during the period of the Holodomor.

So devastating was the famine, that large areas of Ukraine were effectively de-populated. The Kremlin addressed this problem by sending large numbers of Russian and Belarussian families and workers to the affected areas, beginning in December 1933. This colonisation of Ukraine by Russians was to help sow the seeds for today’s conflict in the region.

The Soviet population census of 1937 showed such a drastic fall in the Ukrainian population that on Stalin’s orders all those who had carried out the census were either sent to the Gulag, or shot. The census results were suppressed.

Indeed, the very fact of Holodomor was suppressed for many years. Any suggestion of famine was down-played, and if there had been a famine, then the official Soviet line was that it had been down to a poor harvest caused by drought in the region. There remains to this day much debate on the matter, and we can see here how the present Moscow regime is attempting to sanitise the past.

Whilst in 2006 the Ukrainian Parliament passed a legislation definiing Holodomor as ‘Genocide’, in April 2010, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former President Viktor Yanukovych told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that “Holodomor was a common tragedy that struck Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples, and that it would be wrong to recognise the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one nation”. Twenty-five countries have recognised the tragic events of 1932-33 as genocide.

“This was the first instance of a peacetime genocide in history. It took the extraordinary form of an artificial famine deliberately created by the ruling powers. The savage combination of words for the designation of a crime - an artificial deliberately planned famine - is still incredible to many people throughout the world, but indicates the uniqueness of the tragedy of 1933, which is unparalleled for a time of peace, in the number of victims it claimed.”
Wasyl Hryshko - Author and Holodomor Survivor.

The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory hosts an exhibition ‘The Holodomor 1932 - 1933 - Genocide Against Ukrainian People’. Open daily from 10a.m. - 6p.m. (except on Mondays) it can be visited at 3 Lavrska Street, Kyiv (nearest metro station Arsenalna).

The Last of the Summer Wine.....

Walking through Felix Hap Park, in the European Quarter of Brussels, on an otherwise dull day, I took this photo, which I rather like.

The sky suddenly cleared, and so I guess we were treated to the last sunburst of the year.

I am not too depressed yet - I love the colours and moods of an Autumn landscape.

Just around the corner, my 12th Brussels winter awaits, and experience tells me that I can reasonably expect to see the sun overhead again sometime in May. A few years ago Brussels endured snow and sludge well into March: It was sad to note that suicide rates in the Brussels Region reached their highest levels since the Second World War that winter.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

You're Under Arrest......

And so.... Today I was apprehended by Brussel's finest.

Walking in to my club this afternoon, I found the whole district sealed off by riot police. This is, of course, nothing new in this part of Brussels; if even the 3rd Junior secretary for irrelevant affairs from Monaco drives the 50 metres from his hotel to the European Commission for a cup of coffee, entire roads are closed down for hours.

But today was a bit different. Today, the Communists were revolting.

Well, some may say that there is nothing new in that, and who am I to disagree? But it is unusual to see the police deploy in such numbers, and carrying gas masks - that I never saw before. And so my interest was aroused.

The mood was generally good. The Greeks were there, protesting against Austerity measures -which means that they are upset that they can no longer retire on full pay at the age of 50 at other country's taxpayer's expense. Lazy bastards.

I took lots of photos.

All was going well until I took a photo at Maelbeek Metro station. Then the riot police moved in. Then there developed a fiasco that only I could create.

The police, who by the way were politeness personified, demanded to see the photo I had taken - who am I to disagree with a couple of guys wielding batons? The problem is, I had taken the photo on my infamous Smartphone, which I have some issues with. 30 minutes later, after much fussing and calling in assistance from others, we eventually got the picture open. No offence was committed.

There then then followed an interesting conversation. I enquired as to why there was such a massive police presence. I was informed that it is "because the far-left are much more violent than the far-right....". I wonder if the Metropolitan Police, or indeed any British police force, would dare to admit to that?

It's Life Jim, But Not As We Know It.........

It came as no surprise to me to learn that one in four UKIP voters think that aliens have made contact with Earth, but that the government has covered it up.

I had a lot of experience of UKIP over the years. I was once a party official indeed, and have worked with their MEPs - mostly really nice folk - in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Most of the MEPs believe that George W. Bush was responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Centre, and that the Bilderbergers are trying to take over the world. I remember a UKIP branch meeting once where a stall had been set up selling DVDs about crop circle conspiracy theories. It was doing a brisk trade.

During a by election campaign I once had to drag a canvasser off of a doorstep as he screamed at a bewildered householder "The EU is illegal - Magna Carta, Magna Carta...."

Today, I was delighted to read that UKIP's London Mayoral candidate, Peter Whittle, has chosen to enlighten us as to the political preferences of homosexuals. His is himself openly homosexual, and I have no problem with that, and so I thought that his views may be enlightening.

According to Mr Whittle, " people... they’re more on the centre-right than on the left,” . However, he adds, “For lesbians, I think it’s slightly different and I think that’s because of the position of women being traditionally treated unequally; that has led to a much more political sense to lesbianism and I can completely understand why that is.”

So, he is saying that "gay people" and "Lesbians" are two different categories. Gays to the right, Lesbians to the left. I don't really understand the semantics of gay culture, but I do know sexual discrimination when I see it, Mr Whittle.

I must declare some interests here. I worked with UKIP's 2004 London Mayoral candidate, Frank Maloney. It was a great campaign, and despite UKIP having never previously registered on the Richter Scale in London, we got a credible 4th place, with 2 members elected to the London Assembly.

At that same time Gerard Batten was elected as an MEP, a position he holds to this day.

Job done!!

UKIP has never come within a whisker of the 2004 result since, by the way, and there are very good reasons for that.

I have also worked for a high profile lesbian politician, Nikki Sinclaire. Given her strong convictions on human rights, and her working class London background, both of which I share, she may be considered by some as leaning towards the left. But a stauncher Thatcherite, or a more proactive Eurosceptic you will never meet. Left wing lesbians, Mr Whittle? You might want to have a chat with Nikki about that. Good Luck!

So, as is my wont, this morning after dropping my son off at school I took a stroll around the lakes near my home to reflect upon those matters that concern me.

And so I came to the conclusion that Mr Whittle is simply a complete idiot with absolutely no political nous whatsoever.

Mr Whittle might find it enlightening to take a look at the history of UKIP, particularly the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the sudden and highly controversial closure of the Broadwick Street head office (only UKIP could have had a Head Office in a Soho backstreet). The UKIP leadership has always sought to keep influence and power away from London. The 2004 London Mayoral result really spooked them, and that is why the leadership will never again allow a credible candidate to stand for that office. Sorry Mr Whittle, you are just a patsy....

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Moscow Calling.......

The garbage and downright lies that are put out in the name of "news" by Russia Today can often be downright sickening. It is at least reassuring to know that in these troubled times, the Kremlin is not as good at propaganda as the Nazis were.

Their spin on the report, issued today, on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is so ridiculous that it would almost be funny if the story did not involve the deaths of 298 innocent people. But then the Kremlin never cared about lives any more than it cares about the truth.

And the Kremlin has form here, of course.

On September 1st 1983, one of their fighters shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 from New York City to Seoul over the Sea of Japan, with the loss of 269 lives.

The Kremlin denied any knowledge of the incident, and it was only in 1992 that Boris Yeltsin handed over vital information about the incident. The Russians then claimed that the aircraft was on a spying mission - perhaps it was the 'Flight 007' that confused them.

Russia Today is very keen to interview western politicians who are critical of their own countries. Quotes from these interviews can then be used to add weight to Kremlin propaganda.

It is interesting that RT in Brussels told me that Nigel Farage is their favourite British politician, although I suspect he may be soon replaced in their favour by Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader. I wonder if he is now regretting his statement on LBC Radio recently that Putin and Assad are "on the same side as us"?

They are not on the same side as me. They are not on the same side as Great Britain. They are not on the same side as Europe, or indeed NATO. So I wonder which "us" Mr Farage was referring to?

I could never have said that, no matter how much you paid me.....

Saturday, 19 September 2015

A young Hero.

The young man in the centre of the picture, between myself and Inna, is Vitaliy Panasjuk, a 26-year-old lad from the Ukrainian city of Lutsk.

When Putin's hordes invaded Ukraine in the spring of 2014, Vitaliy volunteered to defend his country. He is not a professional soldier, he is a volunteer. He fought at Donbass, and has been decorated. Vitaliy is a very softly spoken, modest young man. He is still young enough that he hasn't really decided what to do with his life, but he thinks that he might want to continue to serve his country as a professional soldier.

Vitaliy has suffered from what we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is interesting to
note that this has been picked up very quickly - certainly more quickly than would be the case in the British Armed Forces - and Vitaliy was referred to an art project set up to help soldiers like him to come to terms with their issues.

He enjoyed the experience, and as a result has even sold a painting. And he shared his thoughts with us today, together with his comrade Olexander, another Donbass veteran.

We wish Vitaliy and his fellow fighters the very best, they are on the front line of the defence against the barbarity of the Moscow hordes.

Many thanks to Andriy Kuzmenko, Charge D'Affaires at the Ukrainian Embassy in Brussels for making possible this very special afternoon, with great music, great food, and above all great company.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Henri Cartier-Bresson in Brussels

Having earned my living as a photographer some time ago, I retain an interest in the medium, albeit somewhat limited. I am not really one for the avant garde, (as I am often reminded) and as with other art forms I much prefer classical imagery.

And so it was a great pleasure to visit the Cartier-Bresson expo at the Jewish Museum in Brussels yesterday.

Over 130 images made in various parts of the world, and over a period of some decades. Not only are these images special in themselves, but they touch heavily on my interest in social documentary.

The exhibition runs for another week.

Rue des Minimes 21
1000 Brussels

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Statistics on Cause of Death of Falkland Islands Veterans
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) publishes an annual report into the causes of deaths of veterans of the Falkland Islands War of 1982.

These statistics were first published in May 2013 in response to a high volume of external interest in the cause of death amongst the veterans. In particular there was considerable interest in those that have committed suicide, with various sources quoting that over 200 Falklands veterans had taken their own lives. As a consequence the MOD was repeatedly accused of hiding the true cost of the conflict and of not recognising the difficulties faced by the veterans community.

The figure of 200 has been disputed - MoD officially puts the figure at 95, itself a highly disturbing statistic - but to put these numbers into context, 255 British military personnel lost their lives during the fighting, along with 649 Argentines, and three Falkland Island civilians.

As shocking as the figures may seem, to this number can be added those whose who have subsequently died prematurely through alcohol or drug abuse. Countless others are living with acute mental health issues. Levels of homelessness are also very high among ex-servicemen in the UK; former Army personnel are more affected than veterans of the other services, partly due to the fact that many of their skills have no relevance in the civilian workplace, partly due to high incidences of trauma. In 1983, the British press reported that up to 9,000 former service personnel were homeless, accounting for some 10% of rough sleepers across the UK.

Argentine veterans have experienced similar issues, with Reuters reporting in 2004 that over 300 suicides had been recorded. Argentina does not have the support system that British veterans have, and many wounded veterans are reduced to begging in the streets.

Whilst MoD admits that there are still deaths occurring each year, it is now seeking to report every five years, instead of annually. This, it is stated, is in order to free up resources for other areas of work, particularly the Armed Forces Covenant.

Many veterans, however, have memories of the MoD cover-ups following the first Gulf War of 1991. Soldiers reported symptoms that were widely referred to at the time as ‘Gulf War Syndrome’.

The children of veterans were being born with severe deformities, and in many cases were still-born. Despite evidence to the contrary, MoD refused to lay the blame on the use of Depleted Uranium (DPU) munitions, widely used in anti-tank weapons. It was only after the release of leaked documents from the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down that MoD was forced to admit that it had been investigating the effects of DPU on veterans for some time.

The treatment of the British Nuclear Test Veterans was also appalling: only when most were dead did the government choose to acknowledge their plight.

The youngest Falklands veteran is 49, the oldest is 77.

UK Veterans Agency…
Combat Stress
Soldiers Off The Street

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Memories of Swinderby

This is me and the lads. Royal Air Force Swinderby ('Swinders') September 1978. Thats me in the middle rank, third from right. The chap to the right of me is Peter Orme, from Sheffield, one of the great characters of our intake.

Front rank, far right, is Eric Mayne, from Biggin Hill. Eric was my roomate in the notorious 'spurs'. I actually preferred the spurs to the hideous Gibson Block, with its dormitories. Eric was very quiet, and got on with what had to be done. He was highly intelligent, and one of the older members of the intake, I was one of the youngest. He was the perfect roomate.

Front rank centre, with the pace stick, is Corporal John Weeks, our drill instructor. He scared the hell out of us for six weeks, and once threw my boots through a window because there was a speck of dust on one of them. He actually turned out to be a really nice guy. I met up with him again a few years later when he was posted to Wattisham as the guard room corporal. I remember us getting absolutely hammered together at a British Legion club somewhere on the east coast, after a Remembrance Day parade. I loved parades, and always volunteered for everything.

Rear rank, seventh from right, is Simon Gregg, from Market Harborough. I didn't have so much to do with Simon at Swinderby, but after passing out we went to Cosford together to do our trade training, and over the course of four months we became very close friends. We had similar tastes in music, and both enjoyed the cinema. He had a great sense of humour, and was very easy to talk to. One Sunday, I caught him listening to the The Archers on Radio 4. From that point on he was known as 'Archie' - everybody in the RAF gets a nickname. I was 'Ted', for obvious reasons. John Weeks had a different name for me - several of them, in fact!

At the end of our course at Cosford, we were told one morning "postings are up!", and so the four of us who passed the course ran off to the general office to see where we were to be posted, all hoping that we would not be sent to Scotland.

I got Wattisham, with its Phantoms, Simon got Wittering, with the Harriers. We were both thrilled.

February 2nd, 1979, in a heavy snowfall, we stood on the platform at Birmingham New Street station, shook hands, and went off to see what lay ahead. Simon was killed in a tragic accident shortly afterwards, something that upsets me deeply to this day. You couldn't imagine a nicer lad than Simon.

Swinderby is closed down now. Unless you have experienced it, you cannot conceive of what those six weeks were like. But the feeling you have when you pass out at the end of it makes it all worthwhile.

Well done to Michael Slevin for putting this little video together.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Canal Swimming Club - No Swimming Allowed

It is one of those truly unique 'Belgian' moments.

I love Bruges. If you have never been there, I suggest that you put it on the top of your 'must see' list. As Ralph Fiennes so memorably put it in the 2008 movie In Bruges "its like a f***ing fairytale..."

Well, even Han Christian Anderson couldn't have made this up. A swimming club where no swimming is allowed.

The canals of Bruges are lovely - I am often in the town myself - but to be frank I wouldn't want to swim in them. But what is the point of a swimming club where swimming is prohibited?

To be fair, there is some small print that suggests that swimming might be allowed in certain periods of the year, but only if the water conditions are "good".

Trust me, you do not want swim in those canals, as beautiful as they appear.

Interestingly, having inspected the recently installed waterside decking that is home to the Canal Swimmers Club, a great place for sunbathing, I noticed that there is a bar. However, drinking alcohol is also prohibited by the police.

A little advice - it is worth staying overnight in Bruges, as the town empties of tourists from about 8pm onwards, and becomes very quiet. That is the time for a stroll along the canals. Just don't go for a swim.....

Thursday, 25 June 2015

An angel.....

This is a memorial dedicated to the Glorious Dead of two wars. It is between the lakes by Place Flagey, in Ixelles, Brussels.

I saw it while driving by numerous times, but following a short meeting this week in the vicinity, I decided to go and take a proper look.

It is very beautiful. It is next to the lakes, in the shade, and surrounded by flowers. There are several features, but the dying soldier being tended by an angel I found especially moving.

This is a memorial to local people who died. And as I scanned the many names on the memorial, one sent a shiver down my spine. Miss Cavell. This is, of course, Nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot by the Germans in Brussels in 1915. Her crime was to tend to the wounded on both sides, and to help displaced and injured soldiers to return to their own lines. As I schoolboy I learned about her, she is a national heroine.

At St Martin's Place, near to Charing Cross station in London, there is a fitting memorial to Nurse Cavell. I wonder, is she also the angel depicted on this memorial?


Sunday, 7 June 2015

A bloody mess...

It is very wise in Brussels to avoid making eye contact with people on the street. If you do so, they will inevitably ask for directions.

My two favourites are the lady driver who pulled over in the centre of Brussels and asked me which road she needed to take to get to Germany, and two American ladies who asked me where the Flower Carpet is. When I explained that it can be found in Grand Place for a few days every two years, and this was not one of those years, they got really upset. They had come to Brussels just to see it!

Yesterday I had the unpleasant experience of having a really heavy nose bleed whilst on my way to the local shops. It really gushed, and I found myself struggling to contain it with just a piece of tissue. There were quite a few people around, and a young couple came towards me - my hand and T-shirt were covered with blood at this point.

"Do you speak English?" the lady asked me. "Yes I do," I replied, hoping she might offer some assistance in the form of more tissue paper. "Do you know where the nearest Metro station is?" she asked.....

Possibly 20 or more people around, and so if you need directions you go to the distressed guy covered in blood.

I sometimes think that Brussels is a community of village idiots.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Putin's War....

"Russia is not a threat to NATO", President Vladimir Putin is reported as saying.

"Only an insane person and only in a dream can one imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO," the Russian president has told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Putin was correct in that Russia would never "suddenly" attack NATO. There is nothing ​unpremeditated or sudden about the hybrid war now being conducted by Russia against western Europe, and against Atlantic values ​per se.

In Moscow there has been some discussion, at high levels, of Putin's ​'Legacy War'.

The illegal annexation of Crimea might be seen as a tactical goal, but strategically it was merely a catalyst for a far grander design - the humiliation of the European Union, and a chance to undermine, and possibly even destroy, NATO. The former aim has been achieved, the latter must  now appear tantalisingly close.

The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was rather predictable. After all, Moscow had learned from the western non-response to the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 on September 1st 1983. The west is afraid of conflict. Russia wants conflict.

Article 5 of NATO's Washington Treaty states that "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area".

​When an Estonian intelligence officer was seized from Estonian territory on September 5th 2014 by Russian special forces, the Russians did not need to make excuses. NATO did that for them. Article 5 was not invoked. In fact, the only time Article 5 has ever been invoked was after the attacks on the USA on September 11th 2001. Russia now understands that Article 5 has little meaning beyond the protection of direct US interests. Neither the US, nor western European states, will go to war with Russia over the Baltic nations.

And so, when Putin declares that Russia is no threat to NATO, those of us who might understand the Russian mind-set will assume that this means that the ammunition is being issued....

Saturday, 16 May 2015

London Disappeared (2)... China Walk

China Walk is adjacent to Lambeth Walk, but by London standards it is a relatively new development, with work having begun in the late 1920s. It is just across the Kennington Road from the Imperial War Museum.

I actually have personal memories of China Walk going back to the late 1960s. An old school friend of my father lived there, and we visited on a weekend now and then. I remember playing outside football with the local lads, in exactly the place where I took this photo yesterday. In those days, people actually socialised with their neighbours, and would sit outside chatting endlessly. I remember the shouts of "Oi, keep that bloody ball away from my windows or I'll 'ave yer..!"  But I especially remember the corner shop where the lady who ran it made delicious ice lollies from fresh orange juice - the shop is gone, it is now the 'Latinos Help Centre'.

The China Walk Estate is a style of architecture that is very common in South London, especially the in the boroughs that lay on the south bank of the Thames, Lambeth and Southwark especially. In the latter case, much of what was 'Jacob's Island', as immortalised by Charles Dickens in 'Oliver' looks pretty much like this. (Its true - Jacob's Island really did exist. In fact, my daughter's first primary school was on George Row, the easternmost border of Jacob's Island - Now she studies law in the Netherlands).

Yesterday I passed through China Walk and took time to reflect, and to take a few photos. Its not the same now.

To be frank, I only saw a handful of people that I could identify as being indigenous Londoners. They were all very old, and looked stressed and in ill health. Interestingly, I think that all but one that I saw were using walking sticks.

Demographics change, its a fact, and that is not always a negative thing. Much of the old community has done well, and moved on. They simply left the old days behind.

Karel Reisz's classic documentary 'We Are The Lambeth Boys' (1958) was largely filmed in this neighbourhood, and a little to the south heading down to the Oval cricket ground. The follow-up 'We Were The Lambeth Boys' (1985) is of more interest to those who want to see the story of the changes in the community put into a fuller perspective. It also includes most of the more interesting and entertaining content of Reisz's original.

London Disappeared..... Lambeth Walk

The sign is most poignant. The Lambeth Walk is an iconic symbol of London culture - albeit one totally unknown and unappreciated by the majority of Londoners today.

The fact that the Lambeth Walk pub, which has guarded the entry to the Walk since 1951 is now closed and up for sale really reflects what has happened to the Walk itself. There are a lot of empty properties and hardly any economic activities whatsoever.

Over recent years I have passed through a number of times, and it always strikes me how few people there are on the street. For those unfamiliar with the geography, from parts of the Walk you can actually see the Houses of Parliament across the Thames. Its that central, albeit on the South of the river, an area that has always been neglected.

The street market that flourished since the 1860s is long gone. The shopping precinct that was built in the 1960s to service the local community was largely boarded up and derelict by the mid - 90s.

The old Pelham Mission Hall, pictured right, looks like its seen better days, but at least it is still standing. I doubt that it will ever be used again for its original purpose, but I understand that Morley college has a sculpture studio on the premises.

It was always a poor working class area, but it had a thriving and colourful community.

Now it has nothing.

And of course, I couldn't resist adding the video.....

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Fings ain't wot they used to be!

Returning to Brussels from a week long school trip on Friday, his 10th birthday, George had expressed a particular wish. He wanted to go to a French restaurant and have snails.

And so we did.

Lots of children are a bit fussy about their food at this age, but this is not a problem I have ever had with George.

Today was his birthday party - no girls invited - he just wanted to go bowling with the lads, and then to go and try out the laser shooting thing. I think that they were a bit disappointed that these lasers don't actually cause people to explode, a la Star Wars, etc., but a great time was had by all.

We never had lasers when I was 10, but I knew how to make my own bow and arrows by then - and I could never have imagined that people would actually eat snails!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Gone but not forgotten....

Homelessness is a big issue in Brussels. In fact, for a European capital city, in social terms Brussels is a disgrace. Levels of poverty match the poorest regions of the former Soviet space, such as those in what was until quite recently known as East Germany.

I never spoke to Dumitru, but I saw him around often. He was one of the great characters that Brussels throws up so often. For at least the last 6 or 7 years he lived in what was once a tent, close to St Katherine, in the city centre.

He could often be seen feeding the pigeons with copious amounts of bread - in Brussels it is absolutely normal for shopkeepers to give unsold food to homeless people at the end of the day.

Now he is gone, and on the spot where he lived something of a shrine has appeared.

Yesterday I passed by and I noticed how this was attracting the attention of a number of people who walked over to take a look. I wonder if any of them would have even acknowledged him when he was alive.

It is very touching to see how the community he belonged to has built this little memorial, with flowers and other small tokens. There are a lot of sea shells there - I do not know if this is a reference to his earlier life, or if it has some cultural significance - I believe he was one of the many Roma who live in that district.

There are some fascinating characters around us, it is a shame that so often they are not even spared a glance.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

On the terraces...

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise 1 - Hasselt 0

Which means that USG will be promoted to the second division of the Belgian league.

To be frank, the first half is unlikely to go viral, but the second half was much better. The USG goal looked set to be followed by a quick second, but it was not to happen. Hasselt mounted a spirited last minute attack, with even their goalkeeper in the USG box.

Great game, great atmosphere - well done USG, and well done Hasselt!

Many thank to Brussels journos Andy and Cillian for the invite. George and I will be back......

Monday, 16 February 2015

One Bela or another......

Quite close to Brussels Central Station, in Place d'Espagne, there stands this statue of Béla Bartok, the Hungarian composer. Its a little sinister, but I like it. It was given as a gift by the Hungarian government to mark the 50th anniversary of Bartok's death. I cannot pass it without smiling, however, as it always brings back a priceless memory.

I think it was in 2006. I was walking through Place d'Espagne with a British MEP, a nice chap who is sadly no longer with us, and a group of visitors from Devon. We were all on our way to dinner near Grand Place.

As we passed, he declared to our small group "And over here is a statue of Bela Lugosi..."

Nice one, Graham!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Birth of a Nation

It is nice to have a favourite statue in the local park, but this is something really special. Make your way to Square Marie Louise, just a few minutes walk away from the European Parliament, and you will find this.

This statue won gold at the Paris exhibition of 1937. The LIFE magazine of August 9 headlined: "US art was represented by this old theme The birth of a nation, by an obscure U.S. sculptor named Marius Vos”

It is superb, and I can walk past it most days.....

When my son was 3, he was caught climbing on it.... There was a bit of a scandal....

Friday, 30 January 2015

There is a Corner of Brussels....


I find this very touching...

It is on the corner of what is now a school in Chaussee St Pierre in Etterbeek.

It commemorates the men of the neighbourhood who fell during the First World War. It is quite an impressive memorial given that it appears to have been a local initiative, but then there are rather a lot of names there.

I walk past this little glimpse into history several times a week, as it is on my route to the European Parliament. There are often fresh flowers laying alongside, and I cannot help but wonder if any of the families of those names appear on the plaque still live in the area.


Monday, 19 January 2015

Robert E. Lee

Today, January 19th, marks the 208th anniversary of the birth of arguably one of the greatest of  all American soldiers, Robert E. Lee.

Volumes have been written about his exploits, and it is not possible to condense even a fraction of his achievements into one blog post. Suffice to say that despite facing overwhelming odds, and with poorly equipped Confederate armies, he inflicted painful and humiliating defeats upon the Union forces facing him during the American Civil War (or the Northern Aggression, as many Virginians still like to refer to it).

At various times he saw off the armies of McLellan, Pope, and even the legendary Ulysses S. Grant, despite being outnumbered and outgunned. It was to Grant, however, that he was to surrender, effectively bringing an end to the war. Lee had supported Breckinridge, Johnston, and Beauregard in trying to persuade Jefferson Davis to end the war honourably, and to prevent further loss of life. As such he is recognised today not just in the South, but across the US not only as a great soldier, but as a man of great honour.

I could write on this subject endlessly.....

Incidentally, if you ever visit Arlington National Cemetery, that big white mansion you will see was Lee's home.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Bob Montgomery has passed away....

Bob Montgomery & Buddy Holly
I was saddened to learn of the death of Bob Montgomery, just a few days ago, at the age of 77.

Montgomery was a childhood friend and schoolmate of a certain Charles Hardin Holley - best known to the world as 'Buddy' Holly. A self taught guitarist, and a budding songwriter/composer, he was to establish a partnership with Holly that was to shape popular music for decades, even after  Holly's death in February 1959.

They formed a duo - Buddy and Bob - performing in and around Lubbock Texas, in a then popular style known as 'Western & Bop'. Bass player Larry Welborn soon joined them, and radio appearances followed, with a regular spot on KDAV. It was 'Hi Pockets' Duncan at KDAV who first spotted the potential, and became their manager. . Buddy Holly now had his first trio. In those days, Montgomery general sang lead, but on the few recordings that survive, it is generally Holly we hear. (Possibly that is why they have survived).

Holly went on to form the Crickets, was signed to Decca, and the rest is musical history.

Montgomery did not fade into obscurity however, he continued to write with Holly, and I guess that the songwriter's royalties from tracks such as 'Heartbeat', 'Wishing', and the much covered 'Love's Made A Fool Of You' would run into substantial figures.

He also wrote for many other leading artistes - he penned 'Honey', which was a million seller for Bobby Goldsboro.

He was also a successful businessman, and at one point was vice-President of CBS records.

The album 'Buddy and Bob - Western & Bop' comprising early demos, recorded in Holly's garage in 1954-55, was released, I think in about 1979. I remember buying it at the time, and I still have it to this day. It is primitive, but exciting nonetheless. It also shows that even as a very young man, Holly could write beautiful ballads.

In the late 70's, Rockabilly venues were springing up all over London, and there was one particular track from the Buddy & Bob album that always caused a stir. And I found it on You Tube.

I know - Holly purists prefer undubbed versions, but I genuinely prefer the overdubbed version in this case. Maybe that is because I remember how as a teenager I put this on the turntable, and it was the first track I heard. Enjoy -


Larry Welborn, by the way, is still with us. The last photos I see of him were about 2 years ago, and he looked great. He lives in Oklahama, where for some time he ran his own recording studio, and I believe that he still performs with his own band.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Last Javelin...

I learn today that the world's last surviving Gloster Javelin is to be transferred to an aircraft museum. It is a beautiful looking aircraft.

I should point out here that the Javelin was a bit before my time - well almost....

There was an example at RAF Cosford when I did my training there, rather a long time ago. It was really basic stuff we did with it, like learning how to approach an aircraft on the flight line, basic safety procedures, and stuff like that. We had all sorts of stuff to pore over at Cosford, because as well as being a major training station it is home to a museum. It is always to a major indoor athletics facility.

However, that giant of English politics, Norman Tebbit, now Baron Tebbit of Chingford, actually flew the Javelin. I once spent a lovely afternoon with him in the House of Lords talking politics, Europe, and of course the RAF.

A lot of these old aircraft types survived for many years as 'gate guards' at RAF stations around the world. They were generally little more than shells, exposed to the elements for decades, but lovingly looked after. They cannot survive for ever though, and at least this last Javelin has found a safe home.