Thursday, 26 November 2015

Thanksgiving Day

It is just conceivable - indeed, it is highly probable - that what I am about to commit, first, to the screen and, later, to the world at large through the good offices of Blogger and the Intertubes (as Buck was wont to call it) will cause offence.  All I can say is, if it does cause offence to you, you need to grow up and get over it.  I am just as much entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.

So, here goes.

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  At least, it is in what were at one time the colonies and also in the wider lands that joined with them to become the US of A.  But over here in Merrie Olde England I am giving thanks as well.  I am giving thanks that I am not a citizen of that vast country across the ocean.  And since I am not, I don't have to rush around like a demented something or other just to spend the day with members of my family and eat turkey and pumpkin pie.

Now don't get me wrong; I am more than happy to spend time with my family.  I just don't fancy having to travel several hundred miles to do so, and then travel the same distance back again after a few hours.  And I have nothing against roast turkey, which I will be eating with my family (or some members of it) on Christmas Day.  But I have an intense dislike of pumpkin pie - or any other dishes made from pumpkins.

And then there is this obligation to go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving (always assuming one is not back at work that day).  We seem to have imported Black Friday into England, I am sorry to say, although I fail to understand quite why that should be.

Actually, the one thing I have in favour of Thanksgiving Day is that once it is over we can start thinking about Christmas; although, in truth, we have been thinking about Christmas for quite a while now.  Father Christmas arrived in his grotto at the garden centre last weekend, duly assisted by members of Brighton and Adur East Lions Clubs.  The invitations to Brighton Lions pre-Christmas party for elderly folk were distributed two weeks ago.  And I received my first Christmas card on 10th November!

One of the great things about Christmas in England is that the holiday (remember, that's a corruption of holy day) last two days - Christmas Day and Boxing Day - even though Boxing Day is becoming more and more like Black Friday year by year.

Hey!  How about that?  When Boxing Day falls on a Friday we could have two Black Fridays in one year!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


Troops patrol an empty city (Photo:
I really can't make up my mind whether the action of the Belgian government is right or wrong.

Brussels is in Day 3 of lockdown.  Schools are closed, the metro is not running, armed troops patrol almost deserted streets and people have been advised not to congregate and - preferably - to stay indoors.  All this follows "intelligence" that the murderous Isil thugs planned attacks in Brussels similar to those in Paris.

Of course, one can't expect the Belgian government to tell the world exactly what intelligence they have received or how they obtained it, but I remember our government claiming to have intelligence that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction.  I hope this latest intelligence is more accurate that was that!

But doesn't locking down the city play into the hands of the terrorists?  Is it not part of their planning to instill fear everywhere?  It seems to me that by closing schools and offices and shutting down the metro, the Belgian authorities have been spreading alarm and despondency among the population.

On the other hand, if the authorities had not taken this action but simply put more police and armed troops on the streets, they would have been blamed if there had been terrorist attacks.  A clear case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

It was, perhaps, not on the same scale, but I recall the days, weeks and months when we expected the IRA to plant bombs in London - in addition to the ones they did plant.  People went about their daily lives as usual, albeit with a little more care about potential suspect packages and litter bins were taken off the streets.

It's easy for me to say it, safe as I am in Brighton, but I do tend to think that it would have been better for the Belgians to say simply, "Keep calm and carry on".

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Explaining the Middle East

I stumbled across this Pulitzer-Prize-worthy piece on the dreaded  It's (apparently) by someone called Hassan Ali, who obviously knows how many beans make four.  Anyway, by the time you have read it you will be better informed than any of the BBC's Middle East correspondents.

"President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the rebels (who are good) started winning (Hurrah!).  But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State (who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good).

"So the Americans ( who are good ) started bombing Islamic State ( who are bad ) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) so they could fight Assad ( who is still bad ) which was good.
By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.
"Getting back to Syria.
"So President Putin ( who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium poisoned sushi ) has decided to back Assad ( who is still bad ) by attacking IS ( who are also bad ) which is sort of a good thing?
"But Putin ( still bad ) thinks the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans ( who are good ) who are busy backing and arming the rebels ( who are also good).
"Now Iran ( who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good ) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad ( still bad ) as are the Russians ( bad ) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.
"So a Coalition of Assad ( still bad ) Putin ( extra bad ) and the Iranians ( good, but in a bad sort of way ) are going to attack IS ( who are bad ) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) which is bad.
"Now the British ( obviously good, except that nice Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad ) and the Americans ( also good ) cannot attack Assad ( still bad ) for fear of upsetting Putin ( bad ) and Iran ( good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS ( who are super bad).
"So Assad ( bad ) is now probably good, being better than IS ( but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS so no real choice there ) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good. America ( still Good ) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin ( now good ) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran ( also Good ) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS ( still the only constantly bad group).
"To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims ( Assad and Iran ) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good ( Doh!.)
"Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal ( mmm - might have a point) and hence we will be seen as Bad.
"So now we have America ( now bad ) and Britain ( also bad ) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels ( bad ) many of whom are looking to IS ( Good / bad ) for support against Assad ( now good ) who, along with Iran ( also Good) and Putin ( also, now, unbelievably, Good ) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?
"So, now you fully understand everything, all your questions are answered!!!"

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A bit of a Barney

A couple of days ago we were warned to batten down the hatches in preparation for storm force winds and possible flooding.  Mind you, this wasn't so much for people living in what is sometimes referred to as the 'soft' south-east and was mainly directed at the south-west and north-west of England, Wales and Scotland.  Along the south coast we were supposedly less likely to receive the heavy rain, although winds gusting up to 80mph were predicted.

This was Storm Barney.

For some reason I have not heard, the British and Irish meteorological offices have decided to 'honour' certain winter storms with names, just like hurricanes.  Quite what criteria storms have to display in order to be so honoured is another thing I have failed to take in, although I suspect nobody has bothered to tell we huddled masses.  Anyway, Abigal arrived last week - and the next one will be named Clodagh (a sop to the Met Éireann I presume).

So we did get strong winds and lashings of rain.  Then it cleared up - only for the wind and rain to come back again.  And again.

Waves crash into the lighthouse at Newhaven, East Sussex

 (borrowed from The Argus)

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What happened to the stiff upper lip?

It used to be the case that Englishmen were proud of the fact that in any adversity they would demonstrate a stiff upper lip.  I have to wonder what happened to our sang froid as it seems we no longer possess it.  These past few days demonstrate that fact.

Tower Bridge and the arch at Wembley Stadium have been floodlit in the colours of the tricolore.  Many of us have changed our Facebook images, even if only temporarily.  Yesterday, we English joined with the rest of Europe in holding a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the atrocities in Paris.  Even banks and shops stopped work to join in.

There was a time when, faced with any sort of tragedy or disaster, Englishmen would have, perhaps, paused for a moment and then gone about their business.

This did not mean a lack of care or empathy.  It was exactly the same if the disaster was personal.  It was simply considered 'bad form', selfish exhibitionism even, to show grief or pain in front of others who, possibly, did not share one's pain.  Men would do no more than wear a black armband in the event of the death of a relative, although women - the gentler sex - were expected to don mourning dress, 'widow's weeds'.  Nowadays we are expected to wail and gnash our teeth - just like hysterical Frenchmen.  And as for the flowers and toys left at the scene of a death...

It seems to me that it all started with the death of Princess Diana.  It was in 2007 that Jonathan Freedland, wrote in The Guardian, "The conventional wisdom [now] holds that Diana week was an outburst of mass hysteria, an episode when the British public lost its characteristic cool and engaged in seven days of bogus sentimentality, whipped up by the media."

It appears that we are still enthralled by mass hysteria.

Monday, 16 November 2015

An object of derision

Yep, that's me.  The innocent cause of much merriment.

All because of my mobile phone.

Contrary to popular belief, I do have one.  My children...  Not that they are children any longer, so I will instead refer to them as my two sons and, to a lesser extent, my daughter find it most amusing that I have a mobile phone.

"But," they exclaim, "you never switch it on!"

That is so untrue.  I do switch it on when we are in France.  In fact, over there I switch it on when I get up and it stays switched on until we go out to eat in the evening.  But I see no point having it switched on while I am in England.  It is there, in my pocket, in case I need it in an emergency.  Otherwise, I use the landline.  Phone calls through the landline - to UK geographic numbers and landlines in 35 other countries as well as most UK mobiles - cost me nothing.  My children sons and daughter all use mobile phones constantly.  Their landlines are solely for Internet usage.  I think.

But I see no need to pay, what, £35 a month or thereabouts? just to carry around a phone larger than the one I have.  Slimmer, perhaps, but definitely larger in other dimensions.  And so, when my son's partner saw my mobile phone on Saturday she fell about laughing - and insisted on taking a photo of it.  A photo that is now on F/b with comments poking fun at yours truly.

But let them deride who must.  My mobile phone costs me nothing, unless I actually use it, and it works.  It's not all-singing and all-dancing, I grant you.  But I don't need that.  I just need a phone that I can use occasionally - as a phone.

As it's not broke, I have no intention of fixing it.

My trusty old Nokia

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris, nous sommes l'un avec vous

I have been there just three or four times but I can't say that Paris is my favourite city.  Paris in the springtime means nothing to me, and the idea that strolling along the banks of the Seine is romantic just seems to me plain daft.

But it's not only Paris.  I may well have been born and bred a townie, but cities are not really my thing.  I worked in central London, barely outside the boundary of the City, for fourteen years and in that time I did discover parts of the city that were not unattractive, but I was always very pleased to breath clean air again when I alighted from the train in the evenings.

I have never visited quite a few cities in my time, both English, Scottish and 'abroad', although there are many that have, so far, eluded me.  I have never visited Rome, Vienna or Berlin, but I have been to Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen (which almost fails to qualify as a city), Venice and Florence, as well as New York, Washington and San Francisco.  But my favourite by far is Amsterdam, which I deem more romantic than either Paris or Venice.

So Paris may not be my 'thing' - but I am one with all those Parisians who declare they will not be cowed by terrorist atrocities such as those that were perpetrated this weekend.