Friday, 29 December 2017

Did Gerry Adams Set Up His Own Men For Ambush?

Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams was rumoured to have set up a notorious terrorist gang for ambush, according to newly released files from Irish National Archives.
Eight members of the Provisional IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade were shot dead in May 1987 after they loaded a 200lb bomb on to a stolen digger and smashed through the gates of police barracks in Loughgall, Co Armagh.
The resulting explosion destroyed half the building. The gang had also planned to murder three off-duty police officers who were due to leave the station at that time.
British Army Special Forces were lying in wait and killed them all: in terms of the number of terrorists neutralised this was the most successful operation of its kind to be carried out by the security services during ‘the Troubles’.
Declassified documents released through the National Archives in Dublin revealed that ballistic tests on weapons found on the dead were used in 40-50 murders.
Three civilian contractors had been murdered in the counties that year along with officers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army's Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).
The rumour about Mr Adams was passed on to Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs by respected priest Fr Denis Faul about three months after the Loughgall operation, who had attended school in Dungannon with Padraig McKearney, one of the IRA gang, said the theory doing the rounds was that 'the IRA team were set up by Gerry Adams himself'.
Fr Faul, a school teacher and chaplain in Long Kesh prison, where terrorists were incarcerated during the Troubles, said the rumour was that two of the gang - Jim Lynagh, a councillor in Monaghan, and McKearney - 'had threatened to execute Adams shortly before the Loughgall event'.
It was being claimed that Lynagh and McKearney 'disliked Adams' political policy' and that they were leaning towards Republican Sinn Fein.
Three days after the operation, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King urging him not to triumph over the killings.
Mr King wrote back over a week later and revealed: 'My advice is that that group had at least 40-50 murders to their score over the years.'
Notes from briefings by the British Government to Irish officials in London revealed the security forces claimed the IRA fired first; that the gun battle lasted two to three minutes; that the SAS fired 'no more rounds than were necessary' and that every IRA weapon had been fired.
This particular operation has long been associated with speculation about an informer having tipped off the RUC and British Army. 
The 1987 archives offer some indication as to why such suspicions might fall on Adams, generally accepted to have been head of the Army Council of the Provisional IRA.  Files also suggest that Adam privately believed the IRA's campaign would not succeed, and that terrorism was hampering his own personal ambitions and attempts to win support for the party at the ballot box.
The revelation was passed on to a diplomat by senior Catholic cleric Bishop Cahal Daly who commented on Mr Adams' 'deviousness and fundamental untrustworthiness’.
The report said: 'The Bishop has picked up a rumour that Gerry Adams is currently trying to put together a set of proposals which would enable the Provisional IRA to call a halt to their paramilitary campaign. 'He has reached the view that the 'armed struggle' is getting nowhere, that it has become a political liability to Sinn Fein both North and South and that, as long as it continues there is little chance that he will be able to realise his own political ambitions.' 
If the suggestions do in fact have a basis in fact, Adams would not be the first IRA leader to fall under suspicion. In July 2015, the Belfast Telegraph reported on claims made by a former British Army agent that Adams confidant and fellow IRA Army Council member Martin McGuinness was himself an informer with the codename ‘J118’.
McGuiness is believed to have fired the first shots, with a Thompson sub-machine gun, that sparked off violence at a demonstration in Londonderry on January 30th 1972 that led to 14 deaths.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A Look Over A Phantom!

This is XV424 - "I-India" - a Phantom FGR2 of 56 squadron. I was rather pleased to take a look inside the cockpit recently, for the first time since 1983.

My responsibilities were few, and consisted of taking photographic equipment off the crew as soon as they landed, not a particularly demanding task, but an enjoyable one as I loved being around these aircraft, and in those days the noisier they were the better, which might go some way to explaining why my hearing is not quite what it should be. It was either that or all those Rockabilly gigs.....

The Phantom had a 16mm camera - the G90 - that basically filmed the aircraft's attack radar, allowing the crew to analyse their performance after an exercise, or occasionally, after a QRA intercept on a Russian aircraft over the North Sea.

QRA involved the use of a hand-held camera - a bulky but reliable 35mm Canon F1 - the film from which had to be processed (by hand) and printed (also by hand) very quickly. At weekends there would only be one of us on duty on the photo section, so it was quite an intense hour or so before getting two sets of prints - one for the squadron and one for JARIC (Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre) - out as quickly as possible. The prints had to be of the highest quality.

It was a great joy to see the image appear in the developing tray - often the Russian aircrew could be seen waving at the camera - one of the better parts of the job in a section where, over the years, the avoidance of tiresome duties had been perfected to an art form. The only things that really did any work there were the old B&W TV set and the kettle.

The beauty of RAF Wattisham, however, was that we got heaps of overseas detachments that were never boring.

There were two Phantom squadrons at Wattisham, 23 being the second.

XV424 is now housed in a museum, just another part of the global conspiracy to make me feel old.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Tony Booth 1931-2017

I was saddened to learn today of the passing of an old acquaintance: the actor, comedian, and political activist, Tony Booth. 

He was 85 years old, not such a bad age, but had suffered from Alzheimers.

Our paths first crossed in 1975, if memory serves correct, in Leeming Road, Borehamwood. I was walking home from school, and he was taking a break from filming, and sheltering from the rain in a shop doorway. At that time he was famous for being Alf Garnett's son-in-law, the 'Randy Scouse Git', so I strolled over to wind him up. He told me to "fuck off home".

Tony's character was highly politicised, and reflected his own political views. He was, to put it bluntly, a Marxist-Leninist.

We maybe met half a dozen times, and it was always a great pleasure. I particularly enjoyed explaining to him in the Red Lion in Whitehall in the late 90's that the only half decent economic manifesto that his beloved Labour Party ever produced was the one written by Sir Oswald Mosley. He didn't take that so well - the Labour Party prefers to forget that the facist leader Mosley was once one of their MPs.

I once threw a firework at Tony, at a demo, again in Whitehall. I missed.... He told me to "fuck off" again.

The last time we met was when we both addressed the National Pensioners Convention, I believe in 2002. Bill Morris, the trade union leader, and Jack Jones - a former Communist Party commissar during the Spanish Civil War - were also on the bill. I was in seriously dodgy company that afternoon.

I think my speech went down well, but Tony gave a great one. Having taken his chair about 1 minute before he was due to speak, and despite being totally pissed, he got a standing ovation.

A lot of people suspected that Tony had a drink problem, but he would have strongly disagreed: for him it was no problem at all.

Tony will of course be best remembered for being the father-in-law of Tony Blair, something that will really piss him off. There was a love-hate relationship between the two.

There could not be two people more ideologically opposed than Tony Booth and myself, but he was a great character, and a lovely chap to be around. There are far too few people like Tony Booth in this world.

Rest In Peace, Tony.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Long Ago And Far Away....

Me and the lads at RAF Luqa, August 1977. Behind us is a Nimrod MR2 of 203 Squadron.

The MR2 was state of the art in its day, and I remember being impressed when a crew member told us that its computer was so sophisticated that you could actually play chess against it!

There were also photo recce Canberras - which I was later to work close to on  Armament Practice Camps in Cyprus just a few years later - as well as Vulcans that had been converted for a maritime radar reconnaissance role.

The same cameras I saw for the first time on the Canberra flight line I was to be training on myself just 15 months later.

Officer's Mess, Hal Far
It was a very busy base, but we were billeted in the old officer's mess at RAF Hal Far, a WW2 fighter base, and home to 'Faith', 'Hope', and 'Charity', three ageing Gladiator biplanes that held the Italian air force back in 1940. Being at Hal Far was liking stepping back in time to a colonial past, and I loved every single second of it.

We also discovered the existence of 1151 Marine Craft Unit (MCU)  - hadn't even known that the RAF possessed such things - and enjoyed a run at sea clinging to the deck of an  unbelievably fast launch.

The Cold War had its downsides, but it did mean we got some great toys to play with!

This was one of two Air Training Corps summer camps I enjoyed that year, spending the following week with 617 Squadron - The Dambusters - with their wonderful Vulcan 'V' bombers. The RAF guys looked after us cadets brilliantly.

The Nimrods and Vulcans and the MCUs are long gone now.

203 Squadron disbanded in December 1977 as we pulled out of Malta, and a disastrous decision by the Conservative government means we have no ariel anti-submarine capability at all. Russian submarines are currently able to lurk off the coast by Faslane with impunity, monitoring our missile subs as they go out on patrol.

617 is in the process of reforming, and is due to 'stand-up' in January 2018 when it will be the first to operate the new f-35 Lightning.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

June 6th - "The Longest Day"

Today, June 6th, marks the 73rd anniversary of the allied invasion, and subsequent liberation, of occupied Europe - D Day.

It was a Tuesday, like today, and the weather was miserable, just as it is in south-eastern England again today. 

England was on lock-down in the weeks leading up to the invasion - the largest seaborne assault in history, but everybody knew something was coming. People who lived through those days witnessed American and Canadian troops camped out everywhere, with tanks and other armoured vehicles streaming towards the coastal towns and harbours. Even by the standards of austere war-time Britain food became harder than ever to obtain, and train stations were often out of bounds to all but essential personnel. 

I well remember my grandmother telling me about the morning. Her memories of the war years were most profound; my father was nursed in an air raid shelter, with the sound of anti-aircraft fire a backdrop to everyday life.

In the early hours of June 6th, as she recalled, there were no air raid sirens, but the deafening noise of heavy aircraft overhead. As dawn broke the sky was black with aircraft heading east, and especially she remembered the strange sight of hundreds of gliders being towed by bombers (she was probably looking at Dakotas, not bombers).

The noise of aircraft did not let up until nightfall, and even then was punctuated by the familiar sound of the bombers on their way to wreak havoc on the enemy.

The landings began shortly after midnight. Official figures state that 75,216 British and Canadian troops, and 57,000 Americans landed by sea
HMS Belfast: The guns behind George fired the very first shots on D-Day.
that day, with 7,900 British and 15,500 Americans arriving from the air. Eventually, over one million troops were to be landed.

Casualties were horrendous; some 4,400 troops died in the initial onslaught, but by the end of the day the beachhead had been established, and the armies were moving inland.

French civilian casualties - and this is rarely discussed - were very high. As the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pounded the coastal defences, entire villages were obliterated. 

The French city of Caen was bombed on the day, with the loss of at least 2,000 civilians.

But to warn the French would have been to betray the entire operation. De Gaulle et al had proven that they could not be trusted, and so the French were kept in the dark until the last minute - there was some time to mobilise the small number of resistance fighters in the area, but tragically no time to evacuate the civil population. 

The German forces were under strength, with very low morale. Many were low quality 'volunteers' from conquered territories, mainly from Russia, and, somewhat bizarrely, Mongolia.

The Battle of Normandy raged on until mid-July: Over 425,000 from both sides were to be killed, wounded, or went missing. 

And we moan about how we may have had a hard day.....  

HMS Belfast can be visited in the Pool of London, she is moored between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, on the south bank of the Thames.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Love Thy Neighbour?

The strangest of things give me great pleasure. I am something of an aficionado of London's 'Blue Plaques', which tell us who lived where. In London, of course, you are never far away from the former home of somebody who either made or changed history.

And so I was delighted to find these two in Tavistock Place. The author Jerome K. Jerome lived at No. 32, whilst Vladimir Lenin, who not only founded the USSR, but also started a fashion for short Russian leaders that continues to this day, lived at 36.

Sadly their tenures did not collide, Jerome moved out in 1885, whilst Lenin arrived in 1908 and was only to stay for a year. One wonders what Jerome, whose circle of friends included H.G Wells, Israel Zangwill, and Arthur Conan Doyle, would have made of the shifty little Russian...

Tavistock Place was then an extremely affluent street, Bolsheviks never inflicted the hard struggle towards Communism upon themselves, of course.

A few years ago there was an attempt to install a blue plaque at another of the little man's London addresses, in Camden. This was blocked by local residents, something that surprised me at the time as I always perceived the locals there as being somewhat left of centre.

Interesting to note also that Karl Marx's former home above the Red Lion pub in Soho now bears absolutely no reference to his presence there. This was where he completed Das Kapital - his pal, the fabulously wealthy Engels, lived just around the corner.

The Red Lion was renamed Marx's for a time, I passed by last month and the latest name did not register with me. Such a shame, it was a pub much frequented by actors and boxers, with the photos of famous clients adorning the walls. Now it just looks ghastly.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Remembering Manchester Atrocity - RAF Style!

Its nice to know that even in times such as these the RAF has not lost its collective sense of humour - nor indeed its sense of justice.

This Paveway IV bomb was loaded onto a Reaper drone earlier this week, on its way to spoil the day for Islamic State terrorists in Syria.

An RAF spokesman confirmed that the photo is genuine, stating that "It is unlikely that the individual responsible will be disciplined."

This is how a Paveway IV works.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Today, the world is a cleaner place.

I have always hated Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. The children they murdered so brutally were of my generation, just a few years older than me.

I was absolutely delighted when Hindley died in prison just days before she was due to be released - there is true justice indeed. A life sentence no longer means 'life', but for Hindley it did.

Brady was ill for a long time, and we can but hope that he suffered agony and loneliness as he waited to go to Hell, strapped to a stretcher and force fed adulterated food. In a way it is a shame that his agonies did not go on for longer.

We all hoped that on his deathbed he would reveal the whereabouts of young Keith Bennett's body: the young lad was murdered in June 1964, and his body is believed to be on Saddleworth Moor in Yorkshire, a bleak and vast place. It was not be be, and our generation will always be haunted by the black and white image of a young child tortured and murdered

Brady and Hindley, both sexual perverts of the most disgusting kind, tormented Keith Bennett's family until the end. The young man's mother went to her grave heartbroken that she could not give her son a proper Christian burial.

It is quite probable that the reason the disgusting pair did not want the body found was that they did not want the world to know what they did to the poor boy.

One should not mock the afflicted, and Brady was a mentally ill cripple and Hindley was little more. However, their capacity for evil and the nature of their crimes exempt them from any human sympathy.

They recorded on tape the final moments of at least one of their victims, Lesley Ann Downey, aged 10.

"At their trial in 1966, all-male jurors fell silent for 16 minutes as the tape recording of Lesley Ann Downey’s terrified last moments was played to the court.
The tape was played at full volume and the chilling sounds of screaming echoed through the court before only the footsteps and soft voices in the background could be heard.
Harrowing passages could be heard including “Don’t undress me, will you?” and “I want to see mummy”. The haunting sound of the 10-year-old’s throat being slit was also played to the court."
I do not advocate capital punishment, but given the fact that pedophiles and murderers are the two groups of offenders most likely to commit further crimes after their release, and the fact that no dead man ever re-offended, we might want to consider how we, as a society, deal with scum like Brady and Hindley in the future.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Teddy Boys Will Never Die

To be frank, if I had to choose the three worst places in the world as I have seen it, they would be the Falls Road in Belfast in the late 70s-early 80s, Beirut in 1982, and Harlow in Essex at anytime.

But how delighted I was to bump into this guy in Harlow town centre yesterday.

Black Teddy Boys are few and far between, but they are out there. I remember so well the guy who was always at the Royalty in Southgate, North London, in the late 70s and early 80s, who was totally deaf. He danced like a maniac to the beat of the music. I don't recall his name, but he was just great.

I tried to talk to this guy in Harlow, but nothing would stop him bopping.

The track, by the way, is 'Shake your money maker', by Elmore James (1961).

Friday, 5 May 2017

If it's 2500 bc it must be Cornwall.

Just a stone's throw from my brother's home on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall this gem can be found. It is a late-Neolithic burial chamber, and is in remarkably good condition considering that it is at least 4,500 years old.

There are actually lots of sub-chambers underneath where the more important members of Stone Age society were interred. The proletariat of the day were simply laid out on the big stone on the top (which weighs around 20 tons) and left for the birds, after which their bones were put underground via a chute.

This is pretty impressive stuff for people who had only access to the most primitive technology of all.

There are countless such constructions on Bodmin, along with simple stone circles, and early Christian monuments, usually dedicated to local chieftains. The latter are fairly recent additions to the Cornish landscape, being a mere thousand years old or so.

If you find yourself exploring this area, take care. There are many long-forgotten disused tin mines, some dating back to the Roman era, and people do occasionally stumble upon overgrown shafts.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Exploring Antwerp's Nazi Bunkers

George and I like to explore, with both of us displaying equally childish enthusiasm, albeit yours truly with somewhat less energy.

And so, how could we possibly resist Second World War Nazi bunkers?

In Antwerp's City Park there are three bunkers, part of a network that made up the headquarters of the 89th Corps of the German Army.

The two rather large and ominous looking ones are 'ST 608' battle headquarters bunkers. Sadly, for us, they are sealed up. The remains of the third, an 'ST 622' twin group bunker, which I would assume was used for accommodation of troops, are accessible.

There are some interesting brick works here; I may be wrong, but I suspect that there may be the remains of what was a platform for an anti aircraft gun.

The 622 was on two levels, and a number of the underground rooms remain accessible, as long as one is prepared to overlook the somewhat murky legal area that is known as 'trespassing'.

Anybody looking to investigate this slice of history should look for a derelict cafe on the west side of the park.

Behind this there is an overgrown area which is fenced off, but the intrepid amongst us will overcome that little obstacle in moments and with little effort. There you will see some stairs leading underground - beware, the steps are very slippery and if you get into trouble down there, you are on your own.

Its a mess down there, and very dark and damp. In more recent times it appears that heating and water pipes have been routed through the bunker, presumably for the cafe.

The two 608s are also worth close inspection: the central bunker clearly took some heavy fire from the west side at some point, judging from the size of the shell marks and the grouping, clearly in threes, I would guess a .50 cal HMG.

The British 2nd Army, with the help of the Belgian resistance, liberated Antwerp on September 4th 1944, and these are certainly scars from that time. These bunkers are minutes from the centre of the city, so this would likely have been towards the end of the action.

The City Park itself is worth a visit. Small, and it has seen better days, but very peaceful, with a small lake. Its about 10 minutes walk from the Central Station, which is something of a Mecca for railway buffs.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Rockin' At The 2 i's

It is, quite possibly, one of the most iconic spots in Soho, if not in the whole of London. At least it is if you are a Teddy Boy. 

This is the very place where a young Tommy Hicks (better known to the world as Tommy Steele) took to the stage in 1956 and introduced England to a genre of music he had picked up whilst working as a cabin boy on an ocean liner plying its trade between London and the USA. It was called Rock n Roll. The rest is history.

Old Compton Street has changed a lot since those halcyon days, but I was delighted to note that the site of the 2 i's coffee bar again displays the old neon sign (a replica, of course, but a very good one).

Inside, the music is retro, but of course not as it was in those early days. Rock n Roll is probably not so commercial, and this is a high rent district now, and today's teenage audience has a collective memory that goes back no further than breakfast time.

It is now, as before, a theatre district, full of music and quality entertainment. It was lovely to see this little Rock n Roll footprint in such a great place.

This great track is by Wee Willie Harris, one of the first English Rock n Roll stars, and like Tommy Steele a Bermondsey boy. Willie still lives in the area, and can sometimes be tempted out of retirement. I remember him performing in Southwark Park a few years ago, and an audience of thousands would not let him off the stage. Great man, Wee Willie....

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Marine 'A' still behind bars despite his conviction being overturned. Why?

Sgt Alexander Blackman, often referred to as 'Marine A', was expected to be released from jail last week following the overturning of his scandalous murder conviction, appears to still be in the cells.

We are now told that he can expect to be released within the next two weeks.

Why was his release delayed?

Was it because of last week's attack in Westminster by an Islamist terrorist?

Perhaps it was thought that the release of Sgt Alexander, who - quite rightly in my opinion - sent another Islamist terrorist off to paradise on the battlefield of Afghanistan - might upset Muslims?

How spineless our country has become.

Monday, 27 March 2017

"No Motive" for London Terror attack. Really...?

So let us get this right: six weeks ago so-called 'Islamic State' outlined, via mobile phone messages to their supporters, a list of possible victims and 'perfect targets' in Britain including politicians. 

In the post was an illustration - titled 'Fight Them' -  of an ISIS terrorist dressed like Jihadi John holding a sword in front of Big Ben, as a fireball engulfed the background with a tattered Union Flag flying in the wind.

Six weeks after this call to arms was posted via Telegram, terrorist Khalid Masood, who converted to Islam and was radicalised in prison, like many of them, launched his  attack on the Houses of Parliament, in the shadow of Big Ben, killing four people and injuring many more.

(Despite the fact that Masood was implicated in a plot, as recently as 2010, involving a planned bomb attack on a Territorial Army base in Luton, and despite the fact that he had visited Saudi Arabia twice, "after carrying out a risk assessment and looking into his background, it was decided he did not pose a terror threat." - the police and the Home Office will be working frantically behind closed doors to cover their politically correct backs even as I write).

Telegram was also used by fanatics before the attacks on Nice in July 2016 and Berlin in December last year.

And the Metropolitan Police are saying that they may "never find out" the motive for this mass murder.

Are they stupid?

Apart from the background of Masood, who ticks just about every box as far as Jihadists go, can I offer the Metropolitan Police another clue as to his motive?

The website al-Islam proclaims that "Jihad (Holy Struggle) is an Obligatory Duty". They justify this by referring to their holy book “O Prophet! Strive hard agaunt the infidels and the hypocrites, and be firm against them, and their abode is hell, and evil is their resort.” Holy Qur'an (66:9)

Just to simplify this for their more simple readers, they go on to say that "Muslims should defend themselves if being attacked in order to preserve their faith, spread Islam, and stand against tyrants and oppressors. Allah made jihad obligatory, in all its forms, whether it is the jihad of society or self, speaking a word for the sake of preserving Islamic call Da'wah, or defending the sanctuaries of the Muslim nation. Jihad is considered among the best forms of worship with Allah, the Most High... The martyr who sacrifices himself and dies for the sake of his faith finds his place in Paradise."

Al-Islam describes itself as being the "official website of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community - an Islamic organization, international in its scope, with branches in over 200 countries".

This is quite an old group, founded in India in the 19th century. It teachings all assume that Islam is practiced in the context of a Caliphate. The stated aim of Islamic State is the creation of a new Caliphate.

I could go into far more detail, but should Scotland Yard's finest read this, they might find the clue they are looking for regarding a motive for Wednesday's attack.

Its really not that hard, Sherlock.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Legacy of Martin McGuinness

I would not ordinarily wish death upon even my enemies, but in the case of Martin McGuinness I have long made an exception. 

I took great pleasure in writing his obituary yesterday, it is a shame it took so long. I look forward to doing the same for Gerry Adams.

I wish for his surviving family members, and his close friends, the same fate that he inflicted upon his victims, many of them children.

The front page of today's Daily Mail sums up what this piece of uneducated shit brought to the world.

McGuinness claimed to be a practicing Roman Catholic. If so, I hope that in accordance with his superstitions he is now learning just how hot the fires of hell can be.

Read: Martin McGuinness Dead

Monday, 20 March 2017

Hieronymous Bosch at Eurantica

The gentleman in the picture with me is Rob Camp-Vos, a Belgian art dealer with a passion for Early Modern prints, and with a particular penchant for, and a great knowledge of, the Dutch masters.

We met him at Eurantica, an annual fine arts fair in Belgium just a few days ago.

The print he is holding is a 17th century Hieronymous Bosch. So it is rather late, but in superb condition, and very rare.

He was not only happy to talk about this extremely rare print, he even took it out of its frame and allowed us to touch it. If it was mine, I wouldn't let anybody else even look at it.

To describe Rob as passionate about his subject is really an understatement, and it is no surprise that having gone from start-up to where he is now as an art dealer has taken just 14 years. The collection he casually offers to buyers is superb, and he knows the story behind every single print.

This particular print has stood the test of time well, but has undergone some slight restoration on one corner, but I certainly couldn't see it. Therefore it is for sale at what is a very reasonable price for a Bosch print of that era - €25,000.

You can contact Rob through:

Learn more about Eurantica at:

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Meeting a Living Legend

Very lucky to get to meet and talk with Ivan Marchuk a couple of days ago in Bruges. 

He is one of Ukraine's most famous artists, and in 2007 was named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the top 100 geniuses of our time.

During the Soviet era he was banned from painting - his work was considered to be 'too patriotic', in that it was highly evocative of Ukrainian traditions, and folk culture. The Kremlin had a history, of course, of stifling Ukrainian culture, and tradition it continues to this day.

The exhibition 'Looking into infinity' was held to mark 25 years of Ukrainian diplomacy in the EU.

Marchuk in Bruges: Art Expo Marks 25 Years Of Ukrainian Diplomacy In EU

Monday, 13 March 2017

Today Is Commonwealth Day!

Today, March 13th, marks Commonwealth Day. When I was at primary school in the 1960s this was a great event - we would write letters in advance of the day to schools in Australia, NZ, Rhodesia, Canada, India, etc,etc,etc.... and we would receive their news by post as well.

Then we sold the Commonwealth out big time by joining what was then the Common Market, abandoning our traditional partners, causing economic problems for them, and leaving them to find their own way out of the mess. NZ in particular, with its vital sheep farming sector, lost its biggest market almost overnight, despite promises to the contrary.

I had always assumed that there would be no way back from that betrayal. I was wrong.

The British Commonwealth survived by re-inventing itself as the Commonwealth of Nations, always receiving the greatest attention from Queen Elizabeth II, whose enthusiasm for the Commonwealth has never diminished in the slightest.

Following the Brexit vote, the first countries to come knocking on the door of 10 Downing Street (figuratively, and in at least one case, literally) were the Commonwealth nations - the big ones!

52 countries, 2.2 billion people, almost all of them young and rapidly developing economies.

And as was once said of the British Empire - The Sun never sets on the Commonwealth!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Sweet Gene Vincent

George and I went to the theatre tonight to see High School Musical. It was great. Full of energy, and the mostly teenaged cast gave a superb performance.

And I found a little gem......

In the foyer and bar of the Rhodes Arts Centre in Bishop's Stortford there is a collection of memorabilia, mainly old posters of some of the acts who have performed there over the years - some big names.

But this one really caught me, as I am a big fan of Gene Vincent.

This poster dates from 1964, when Gene was recording for Columbia records. It was a difficult time for him.

He had been seriously disabled in an accident during his service with the US Navy. His left leg was in a brace, and was in constant pain. Performing onstage was an agony for him. He was also still suffering emotionally from the death, in 1960, of his close friend, the Rock n Roll legend Eddie Cochran. They were involved in a car crash near Chippenham, in England, in which Eddie sustained injuries from which it was impossible to recover. He was just 21 years old.

Gene never recovered from this incident psychologically, and his physical condition deteriorated.

However, England and France loved him, and although his career waned in his home country, the USA, he played to packed houses in Europe until the end.

He died in 1971, a broken, but much loved, man.

I love the line at the bottom of the poster that states the first 50 girls will be admitted to the concert free of charge. Gene had a bit of a reputation in that department, but 50....?

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Gathered Leaves - Alec Soth

American photographer Alec Roth is attracting a lot of attention with his expo 'Gathered Leaves', a set of four collections on his work, 'Sleeping by the Mississipi' (2004), 'Niagara' (2005), 'Broken Manual' (2006), and 'Songbook' (2014).

He is currently exhibiting at FOMU (foto museum) in Antwerp, his first showing in Belgium.

His work depicts ordinary Americans in their natural surroundings, and often emphasizes the sheer scale of the North American landscape in his work.

I found Broken Leaves particularly interesting.
This looks at some rather eccentric, and sometimes disturbed, people who don't quite fit the the mold, and have tried to break away. Many of his subjects have withdrawn from mainstream life and are living outside society, including in remote areas of the desert.

An excellent documentary is also showing alongside the Expo, in which he talks to some of his subjects about their lives. It is well worth seeing.

FOMU always has expos on each of its three floors; I have spent many an hour there and never once have I come away disappointed. This one I certainly recommend.

An Afternoon With Picasso

As one who has, shall we say, conservative tastes, I have always been somewhat skeptical as to the merits of Picasso.  I always assumed that when he studied art he must have skipped the 'how to draw faces' module.

So I approached the Picasso Sculptures expo at Bozar, in Brussels, with mixed thoughts. I was only ever even vaguely aware that he sculpted at all. Was I in for a lesson!

In fact, his paintings were very often of his own sculptures. He created his own models, first from paper, and then, often, from scrap metal, and occasionally concrete.

He used to use bicycle saddles a lot. I have a wonderful image in my mind of the Paris police in the 1930s investigating a spate of saddle thefts in Montemarte. 

I am reliably informed that he also used to steal items from the Louvre, and take them home to study them.

Try to steal from the Louvre now and see what happens to you!
The sculptures themselves are fascinating: from every angle you see something completely different.

But above all, they are fun. 

Almost as much fun as watching the devotees who search endlessly for the true meaning of Picasso's work. One lady even brought her own chair and spoke briefly to one work before sitting down and staring intently at it. What was going through her mind we can only imagine. She may even be still sitting there now.

Due to incredible demand, the expo was extended, but draws to a close this weekend.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A good hair day....

Spotted in Hertford recently. Now this is how a barber shop should look :)

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

London Underground: Service As Usual

I switched on the BBC news this morning in the somewhat vain hope that there might be something of substance, rather than the endless 'heartwarming' pieces about children's charities and dogs surviving diabetes, but alas, it was service as usual.

It is service as usual on London's public transport as well, apparently.

Of the 14 lines (underground and overground) that make up the central system, no less than 4 go from 'severe delays', through 'partially suspended' to 'totally suspended'. 

This is totally normal, and it is totally unacceptable. The London Underground is one of the most expensive metro systems in the world, literally millions of people depend on it every day, and it doesn't work.

I understand that it is very old, some of the tunnels date from the reign of Queen Victoria (the Metropolitan line first opened in 1863), and they require a great deal of attention. But that is not the real problem, is it?

The real problem is privatisation, or rather, the legacy of a failed privatisation that should never have happened in the first place.

This left much of the infrastructure in a dire state, due to the inevitable under investment by the carpetbaggers  who moved in to slash costs, and to strip out all the profit they could, paying themselves and their shareholders mega-bucks, before going bankrupt and leaving the taxpayer to clear up the mess.

Also high on my own private hit list is the RMT, the trades union that many transport workers belong to. It is their decision to hold yet another 24 hour strike that has led to today's misery. Former RMT leader, the late Bob Crow, famously had a bust of Lenin on his desk; so you get the picture as to their position.

The fact that most lines are working today confirms the fact that the unions are losing their grip - in the 1970s it would have been "one out, all out", and the brothers would all retire to the pub to spend their strike pay and to prepare for the arrival of the worker's paradise.

My own experience is that the system becomes even worse with every tranche of staff cuts. Ticket offices are largely closed now, so forget about asking travel directions there, and if the ticket machines are out of order, you ain't going nowhere, mate.

Of course, if you have an Oyster card you can always top it up with cash at a newsagent or a corner shop. Mr Patel will respond to any gap in the market almost instantly - guess why Asian small businesses are so successful!

But the big disgrace is the lack of staff manning exit barriers. After the horrific 1987 fire at King's Cross, in which 31 people died and more than 100 were injured, it was revealed that when the fire took hold passengers were unable to escape through the barriers to safety quickly enough, meaning that many were blocked in with the flames and the smoke.

As a result it was made a legal requirement that all exit barriers should be manned at all times so they could all be opened immediately in the event of an emergency.

That requirement seems to have been quietly forgotten, and in the event of such a catastrophe occurring again in the future, the guy who would have opened the gates to let everybody out will at home filling in job applications.

The current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who I have a lot of time for, clearly understands the plight of travelling Londoners, and has moved to cap fares.

The problem with the underground, however, is that fixing it will require many years, decades even. Governments think in terms of electoral cycles, and so the foremost question in their minds is always "can we fix this before the next general election, and buy votes with the glory?" So its unlikely to be fixed any time soon, if at all.

My prediction is that it will be allowed to rumble on as it is until every penny of revenue has been milked out of it, then we will start to see some of the older lines being closed and abandoned.

(Caution: Video, whilst hilarious and a very accurate depiction of the commuter's life, does contain language that some may find highly offensive)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Little Corner Of Hertfordshire...

 I occasionally find myself in Hertford, a lovely little town in east Hertfordshire.

Taking a different route into the town centre yesterday I came across this little gem. It is the Church of the Immaculate Conception & St Joseph, in St John's Street. It is built on the site of Hertford Benedictine Priory, which itself dated from 1087, and which was destroyed by King Henry VIII in 1539.

With its cloister and garden, complete with fountain, it is absolutely beautiful - an oasis of peace and tranquility.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Louis Hayes - Jazz Legend

'Tis true that there are some jazz musicians that simply get better with each passing year, and so it is with Louis Hayes.

I won't re-publish his biography here, suffice to say that Louis has drummed alongside some of the greatest names in the genre, Oscar Peterson to name just one.

Louis is just some weeks short of his 80th birthday, and so he is on tour to mark that fact.

 And such a tour it is.

Playing some of the great European cities, he rocked up, with his band, in what can only be described as an insignificant  Belgian village, and I wondered why the Hell he was there. I wondered why until he started to play.

Belgians love jazz, and Louis was welcomed in such a way that I realised why he was there. He was playing to the people who love his music, regardless of where they are. There was no pretension here, this was a jazz legend playing to, and for, the people who matter to him. His fans.

I have witnessed some great performances over the years, but this was special. I rather suspect that when I enter into my mid 60s I might be attending Louis' 90th birthday celebrations. I look forward to it, it will be great!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Feb 3rd: The Day The Music Died

On this day in 1959, Buddy Holly, J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, and 17 year old Richie Valens died, along with pilot Roger Peterson when their Beechcraft Bonanza came down in bad weather conditions on farmland near to Clear Lake, Iowa.

This was the tour Holly did not want to take part in - it meant leaving his pregnant wife, Maria Elena - at home in their newly acquired New York apartment. But having trouble being paid by his manipulative manager, Norman Petty, he had little choice. He needed the money.

The rest is history.

Given the astonishing amount of music he left behind him, and the influence he had over musicians from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Eric Clapton and Don McLean, it is difficult to believe that he was just 22 years old when he died.

In the late 1970s a 'definitive' album set of what was supposedly every recording appeared to a great

However, even now, some 40 years later, obscure recordings on reel-to-reel still occasionally appear.

Some are mere curiosities, others are real gems that give us a great insight of how he played with every song until he got it exactly right. Some, which never saw the light of day for decades, have assumed great popularity among aficionados, such as myself, in their own right,

I'm particularly fond of this, which was recorded in his home in January 1959, just days before he died.

The great appeal for me personally is that this is unadulterated Buddy. Many of his most famous records were actually released after his death, and the aforementioned Norman Petty took the liberty of adding vocal backing tracks that were totally out of place.

His music is still played widely on the radio, and is constantly being reissued. Although overshadowed by Elvis Presley as a stage performer, his contribution to Rock n Roll was much greater.

Friday, 27 January 2017

One for the ladies, Dick?

I just love Dick Clark's intro "this is a song, I guess, written for women..." I always admire a chap who is unafraid to flaunt his politically incorrect credentials, although I suspect that if he made a remark like that now, what was to become one of the longest careers in showbiz would have been terminated very quickly.

The song is actually brilliant, and you don't have to be a woman to realise that.

Despite the forgetfulness that comes with being 55 years and 2 months old, I have incredible recall when it comes to the music. I can remember when I first heard this one - it was in 1979, on Mike Allen's excellent Saturday night show 'The American Dream', back in the days when Capital Radio was broadcasting on medium wave. He played the show out with it, and it really grabbed me. This is Doo-Wop at its very best.

At the risk of drifting into Dick Clark territory, I assumed that the Passions were a black group (the management at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem made the same mistake with Buddy Holly and the Crickets in August 1957, which is how they came to be the first white act to play there).

Just to emphasize the sheer greatness of this song, and its importance in Rock n Roll history, before it was given to the Passions, the original demo was recorded by none other than Carole King and Paul Simon.

Paul Simon himself performed on a number of early RnR tracks, but under an assumed name. I know exactly where to find him, of course, and perhaps I will share one or two of his early, and largely unknown, gems in a future post.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Ilya Yashin: A True Human Rights Defender.

Its not every day that I get to meet and interview a chap like Ilya Yashin.

Ilya is a prominent Russian politician, who just happens to be a major opponent of Vladimir Putin.

After Boris Nemtsov was so brutally murdered outside the walls of the Kremlin, in 2015, it was Ilya who picked up the torch, and has been a thorn in the side of the Russian dictator ever since.

Of course, he has paid for this, with the occasional spell behind bars, and worse, and has been declared by Amnesty International to be a 'Prisoner of Conscience'.

Nice to see that there are, even in Russia, still men who are prepared to stand for freedom and democracy.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Look out, Mr Putin; Rock n Roll is coming to Moscow!

The Evil Empire, aka the Soviet Union, really hated western popular culture.

There was a real fear in the Kremlin that if Russian youth (note: 'Russian' - the Kremlin didn't care less about any of the other 'Soviet Republics') were exposed to western culture than they might realise that they were living in a socio-economic hell-hole.

In the 1950s there was a particular fear about Rock 'n' Roll. The Politburo really did not get this at all. The idea that working class people could really lead a cultural revolution really spooked the geriatrics in charge in the Kremlin.

The  official line was that Rock 'n' Roll was an American plan to subvert the minds of the youth - and God forbid that black people could be involved!

Tommy Steele (right) with actor Richard Todd  (left)
It all started to go wrong for the Evil Empire when a young chap named Tommy Steele turned up in Russia. One of Britain's greatest recording stars of the 1950s, (and a major showbiz star to this day), he defied the KGB and managed to be photographed in Red Square.

Russians have their own take on everything.

Their church, which professes to be Christian, but which is in the hands of the security services, does not even recognise other churches as being Christian.

I remember, after 9/11, attending a lunch at the Russian Orthodox Church in Gunnersbury, West London, presided over by a priest who was later demoted after being exposed as a sexual predator, and being shocked by the statement by said priest that "Russians should not pray for the victims as they (the victims) were not Orthodox". 

Actually, a number of victims of the 9/11 attacks were members of the Orthodox Church.

But back to the music.

I am therefore delighted to learn that there is, currently, a terrific Rock 'n' Roll station broadcasting out of Moscow. are playing great R'n'R, with a mix of western classics and Russian and other European versions.

To be truthful, there is no original R'n'R coming out of Russia, nor is there likely to be in the forseeable future (although Russia is particularly strong on Neo-Nazi skinhead music).

Otherwise, Russian popular music is about 50 shades below Dire. It's awful. It has not one single saving grace.

If you don't believe me, then listen to this garbage:

The perpetrator of this atrocity is Alla Pugacheva, (pictured right) one of Russia's most popular singers. I tried to watch this, and lost interest after 10 seconds. 'Nuff said.'

This, believe it or not, is about as good as Russian popular music gets.

But have the balance just right... R'n'R, Rockabilly, DooWop, R'n'B... great tracks, some cover versions and some original, from all across Europe and beyond. This is serious R'n'R, and the chaps at 101 should be commended for this.

Perhaps, like before, proper western culture will awaken the proles to their fate...

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Deja Vu for the residents of Brussels....

 You see some strange things in Brussels - and how many times have I used that line?

I recently came across this interesting scene nearby St Katherine's, the old fish market.

As soon as I started to take photographs I was accosted by security guards demanding that I stop, as "taking photographs is not allowed - it is forbidden!"

"Forbidden by whom?" I asked.

"Forbidden by my boss", came the reply.

"Didn't he die in a bunker in Berlin in 1945?" I asked.

My sense of humour, combined with my total lack of respect for authority have often gotten me into trouble, and this was looking like becoming one of those moments. So I took my pics and faded into the background.

Although I really cannot say it for sure, I believe this was, in fact, a film set. Belgians, however, are very sensitive about Nazi imagery. Its a guilt thing.

Little history lesson: During WW2, a young Catholic politician, Leon Degrelle, realised that the only way Belgium could survive the occupation was to make itself useful to the Germans. He founded what was to become the Waloonian Division of the Waffen SS (although in reality it was no more than a single battalion), and went on to achieve great things on the Russian front.

Adolf Hitler once said of him "if I had a son, I would want him to be like Leon."  

I know a bit about this, as many years I wrote a paper on the subject.

So, this leads us to the real reason for Belgian's extreme sensitivity over this chapter in their history.

After the war Degrelle was given sanctuary by Franco in Spain. He was Europe's most wanted man for a while, but he actually offered to give himself up to the Allied authorities, albeit with one condition. He would only surrender himself if he was guaranteed a fair and open trial in Brussels.

Degrelle knew he was on safe ground as the last thing that the Belgian royal family wanted was an open debate on collaboration, and one being led by the man who knew exactly where the bodies were buried. That simply would not be allowed to happen.

It is worth mentioning that fact even today, whilst I can write this in London with impunity, to publish it in Belgium could cause me serious problems.