Lost Conversations

An old school friend, who for many years has been a social worker working with the homeless in Australia, directed me to a book coauthored by his wife.   It discusses the relationship between white and black Australians and ways to improve it.  He thought that in present times it might be of interest to those of us living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.Lost Conversations

Wellington’s Victory (or The Fog of War)

Only ‘cos I can’t add a pic to a reply . . .

Royal Horse Artillery in Hyde Park

Royal Horse Artillery in Hyde Park

You know, it just hadn’t occurred to me? Could be a bit embarrassing. After all, a bit like Churchill, the Duke might have been fine for a war, but was a reactionary disaster in peace.

A few years ago, we were driving near the Belgian border, and stopped in a village where we saw a procession of men dressed in early 19th century uniforms, complete with muskets. On a weekend anniversary of 1815. So we stopped and watched. It was clearly Napoleon’s troops v. the English. But after a few minutes, as Napoleon’s lot dragged a cannon to the top of a street for a good field of fire, it suddenly dawned on me this wasn’t working out quite as we were thinking.

I whispered (in French!) “I think we’re on the wrong side here!” There was a girl nearby with an obviously pro (well-worn, expensive zoom lens, bit battered) camera, i.e. journo, I reckoned (been there, done that) so we asked. She was from a local paper, and she explained this was an annual re-enactment of how the villagers, with the help of Napoleon’s troops, ‘rescued’ the statue of the local saint from the church and carried it through the village to hide it, repulsing the attacks of the heathen English who were obviously going to despoil it and lay everything waste.

We didn’t utter a word of English until we were back in the car . . .(I noticed they seemed to be pointing that cannon directly at us . . .perhaps that was just coincidental). We’d just been to the Waterloo memorial (it’s not actually very interesting: Belgian museums have a lot to learn about explanations, graphics and interactivity and so on) so this was a bit of a surprise.

But I did finally understand that the ‘fog of war’ is in fact all too literal. There weren’t that many musketeers (about twenty on each side) and only one cannon; and the musketeers didn’t fire in volleys like the English did. But the amount of smoke was incredible. It was really hard to imagine what it must have been like when you had thousands of muskets and hundreds of cannons going off.

I grasped then what I hadn’t at school, what with neat diagrams of battle lines and historical paintings, how it could be that lines of soldiers could, apparently quite calmly, basically simply walk in step quite slowly towards each other. After the first volley or two, I imagine you simply wouldn’t see what, or who, was in front of you until you were so close it was one man’s bayonet against another man’s sabre, or whatever.

That’s not the only village or town to have that kind of celebration either; there’s at least one other in the Pas de Calais somewhere. And there’s a strain of thought in Belgium that wants the Waterloo memorial (and especially the lion on top) got rid of, on the grounds that it celebrates an invasion (by the English, not Napoleon) and is a symbol of British imperialism. They tend rather to ignore Belgium’s own decidedly worse history in the latter, btw.


[Can’t remember, exactly now, but I think there were no more than half-a-dozen field guns in Hyde Park, and that photo was probably taken after no more than a dozen firings at the most. The other guns are in a line in that smoke somewhere. I remember I ran through a whole roll—remember 35mm film?—in about ten seconds using a motor drive hoping to get a shot of the flame from the muzzle, but I didn’t.]

The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Seems to sum up politics in the U.S. this morning. Also here in the U.K.
This seems to be a partial list of what the worst of ‘em think lie at the root of all evil in America:
Gun control!
State funded communal action of any kind except war and police!
Uppity Women!
Uppity Blacks!
Environmental Regulations!
Cooked up lies about Global heating!
Not enough spying on everybody!
Not enough God!
God Damn it this country is supposed to look like us. Anyone tries to make it look like somebody else, we will fuck them up!*

Take out not enough God, gun control and Abortion, and the list works just as well in the U.K.

We could add a lot of stuff, but this small list is depressing enough already. As a culture we seem to have learned nothing.

*See Comments Below


In March last year, To quote a BBc correspondent in the US: “There have been 4,000 deaths from Ebola in West Africa; one in the USA. From the media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the other way round.”

I see our founder has been battling with the armament of common sense against the growing hysteria, though, I fear, to less effect than might be desired. I’ve been shocked myself, to read some comments. The MSF doctor, and others, are frequently referred to as criminals—for”‘putting the population at risk” of something they are extremely unlikely to catch anyway. Some have called for returning nurses and doctors to be ‘quarantined’ elsewhere: anywhere but in the USA.

I think our founder is perfectly right. the current quarantine restrictions now in place in New York, New Jersey and Illinois are purely political (and, one has to assume, anti-Obama). And, for all the public talk of ‘preparedness’, the picture of the quarantine in which the nurse—who has now twice tested negative for Ebola—is being held looks distinctly ad hoc to me.




Another photo I’ve seen suggests that  what has been described as a ‘dedicated facility’ in which the tent is placed is suspiciously like a car park. This looks to me no more than a stage set designed to impress the unknowledgeable. And in any case, it is hardly necessary for someone who is not yet actually infected, or  infectious; and of virtually no use whatsoever for someone who becomes so.

But I suppose an ordinary quarantine room in an infectious diseases hospital—I once spent a couple of weeks in one until I was finally diagnosed with an illness which wasn’t transmissible—just wouldn’t look superficially so impressive.

Just as the setup for the media would not have looked quite so impressive on the telly without an ambulance flashing its emergency lights, escorted by—was it seven or eight?—police cars . . . .

It appears Cuomo has changed his mind, and the nurse may, after all, ‘self-quarantine’ at home in Maine . . .I suppose, if any airline in the USA would now take her there? Perhaps he needs the tent to house a five-year-old.

Grammer Skool

I thought perhaps we ought to have a more permanent place, even if, in the end, it’s just for me and Madame Max to complain and moan in.

So another in our endless, but scattered, ‘Grammer Skool’ series: a headline from CBS, which made no sense at all to me for several seconds, until I realised someone can’t tell the difference between a singular subject and a plural one, or possibly the difference between subject and object, or possibly both. Take your pick:

“What drops in Netflix, Apple say about the stock market”

(Some years ago, it became fairly obvious to me that website designers—especially— hadn’t heard of sub-editors (Am. Eng. ‘copy editors’?) and worse, didn’t want to. You cannot, I found, explain why you should fix spelling, grammatical and punctuation fuck-ups in English to people who simply cannot see that they’re making any; or that it matters. Or that reading a simple sentence should not be a grammatical Rubik’s Cube in which you have to twist the components around until you can make sense of it. Squ has long, and with increasing despair, thought half his degree in English Literature and Language—a rare beast then and even more rare now—was wasted, really.)

They may not wear Black Shirts, but. . .




Nigel-Farage-leader-of-Uk-001mosley5They won a bye-election on the South East coast of Britain, and came very close to another in the North West. Geographically speaking, neither result is altogether surprising. The Clacton constituency is composed of small towns on the coast that were Music Hall jokes a century ago: dull, dead seaside places where the fossilized white aged retire and find their amusement spending a penny once a week to make the laughing policeman cackle in the arcade.And Rochdale was once a busy cotton town which imported (rather than ‘attracted’) asian immigrants for the mills in the late Fifties and Sixties, but is still, I think, predominantly white and (among at least a substantial part of that population) probably uneasily so.

So we now have a political party, that, rather like the Republicans and the Tea Party, has been manufacturing dog whistles that, by comparison, have a somewhat subdued, but nonetheless penetrating shriek. Its leader wants, among other things, to ban anyone with HIV to enter the country. that’s a code easily grasped by the aged whites in Frinton and the suspicious white northerners of Rochdale. Anyone with HIV is, of course, bound to be either gay or black, or, as they used to say when I was a kid, coloured because there were few if any people of African origin around. Or—as I remember rather bitterly from my early school days, because I have a complexion that’s more Mediterranean than Scandinavian, half-caste or touched with the tar brush, though that sort of thing was only said behind my back. Not that I realised it was being said at all until I was about thirteen and heard about it from a swimming friend whose father was also Italian,  but from Northern Italy, so he was blond and had blue eyes . . .

The real irony, of course, is that UKIP’s Leader, who purports to be yer standard working class no-nonsense guy with a flat ‘at,  ey-oop, was born in the affluent stockbroker belt of the South East the son of a stockbroker; went to a public school; and worked in the City until the Brussels-Strasbourg gravy train looked a more attractive option. All the things that, in fact, while they might attract the retired Colonel Blimps of the retired seaside resorts of the Essex coast, ought to be anathema to the supposedly hard-headed burghers of Rochdale.

It’s just as ironic that both constituencies were gerrymandered to try to make them Tory. before the Conservative Party comprehended that another might arise that was more authentically Right than they were. There’s not much satisfaction, just a little, for people like me, in that there’s now a good possibility that the Tories will lose a large part of the electorate that they thought they were securing only for themselves. And no doubt, will over the next six months try to re-secure with a good half or more of the neo-fascist Tories that have until this year been relatively subdued, coming out into the open with their leather belts, jackboots and shirts they’ve been hiding in their wardrobes.

There are, probably, all sorts of other reasons (and I can think of quite a few) why a neo-Fascist party (for that, despite its veneer, is what it is) has just got, and possibly will get in six months’ time, a lot of votes. One of them is simply that people are rebarbative. I’ve long held that all politics tends in the end to fascism unless the Left constantly combats it. And for twenty years now, the one major party that could and should have done reneged on its origins and abandoned the kind of people who formed it.


Top Left: Leader of United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel  Farage.

Top Right: Leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley.

As they say, all demagogues look the same to me.

Policing or Vigilantism?

We read these things with, I suppose, inevitable fascination.

The officer, who has worked for the St Louis police department for six years, was doing a secondary job for a security company when he approached four men on the street, police said.

As he exited the car, the gentlemen took off running. He was able to follow one of them before he lost him and then found him again as the guy jumped out of some bushes across the street,” said Police Lt Col Alfred Adkins. “The officer approached, they got into a struggle, they ended up into a gangway, at which time the young man pulled a weapon** and shots were fired. The officer returned fire* and unfortunately the young man was killed.

*Seventeen times.

** Reminds you of something, doesn’t it?

There are all sorts of questions, aren’t there?  this police officer was “in uniform’. But what uniform? The security company’s. or his police uniform? He ‘exited the car’. An unmarked car? A security company car? A police car? Who, therefore,  thought they were running away from what?

And why does a single armed policeman think it sensible to pursue four men alone? And do police officers regularly moonlight for security companies—and would that be because they carry guns? And what was he supposed to be ‘securing’ anyway?

Coalitions of the Vaguely Supportive of Something or Other

So, there are forty (or ‘more than’) countries joined together in this anti-IS coalition? Which are, exactly? Anyway, all are obviously united in their deep-seated desire to be rid of the IS fundamentalists. Like Egypt, whose military rulers are no doubt salivating at the idea of getting more US money and guns to ‘degrade and destroy’ . . .er, the Moslem Brotherhood, probably. The Gulf States, who will be equally keen to get their hands on more munitions to ‘degrade and destroy’ . . .er, those awkward democratic protesters. The odd monarchy here and there that hopes to keep going for another fifty years, with its own brand of Islamic fundamentalism . . .

It is hardly surprising that nobody has much idea of who’s in, or what they’re in for. (In both senses of the phrase.) A ‘coalition’ cobbled together like this is simply nonsense; it’s not a plan, nor a strategy, it’s just a recipe for ever-expanding chaos as countries gleefully pick their favoured  enemy and call them “IS-inspired’ just as previously they were ‘Al Quaeda inspired’ or ‘Iran-inspired’ or ‘Libya. . .’ or  ‘Hamas . . ‘. . .well, you get the idea. As though there hasn’t been enough already.

And of course, it’s going to be  a really good start to hand over a half billion dollars’ worth (or whatever) of weapons to a few thousand ‘vetted’ ‘freedom fighters’ in Syria. Who, one supposes will be asked to tick the right boxes on a questionnaire before the airdrops land on the heads of IS occupiers of Syrian and Iraq towns and airbases.

“Tick both of the following: ‘Do you promise to use these guns only against IS and not against other ‘freedom fighters’ you might have a beef with or happen to attack you?’ ‘Do you promise to use these lovely expensive weapons against Assad’s forces at the same time, no matter how likely it’ll be you’ll be decimated between the two?’ ”

And once the 5,000 have done that, off they charge into Iraq brandishing their wonderful weaponry all ready to be greeted with flowers and sweets, instead of tanks and rockets the US (and the Iraqi army) so casually left lying about. And after that, after a quick diversion into Pakistan, the Egyptians will give them a free pass across into Libya, so they can sort out the ‘wrong kind of Muslim’ there; and then nip across the Sahara to tidy up Malawi, northern Nigeria. . .and everybody (especially American soldiers) lives happily ever after.

(Forget about the Kurds, btw. The US is never going to allow anybody to give the Peshmurga any really effective weaponry to do anything more than hold on (just!) to what they’ve got. Turkey, you see. Still pretty unkeen on anything that might ever come to resemble the capacity or possibility of any kind of independent Kurdistan.)

Never mind, it’ll all work out somehow. There’ll be a banner (headline, not on an aircraft carrier this time) probably just before the next US presidential election boasting that “IS has been degraded and destroyed.” Somewhere. (Probably somewhere rather small and ineffectual.) Just like all the others . . .

Oh dear, oh dear. It’s all a bit too late to start asking the Pentagon, the State Department (and, obviously, any members of Congress at all) to learn some history, some theology and some geography. Looking back, forget the Balfour Declaration. Perhaps one of the biggest British blunders in the Middle East was giving Abdul Aziz a bloody kingdom.

Squirrel Nest ‘Open House’ . . .

Just realised it’s the London ‘Open House’ thing this weekend, where all kinds of buildings, houses and flats get opened to anybody and everybody who turns up.

Sadly, the Squirrel Nest is not included this year. (Again.) No-one seemed interested in the description I offered:

“Undistinguished, even casual and mildly inconvenient, 1960’s conversion of the first floor above a shop of a Victorian building of 1870. No original features, apart from half a stuck sash window (re-glazed ca. 1970) and many-times overpainted skirting board, from time to time housing authentic descendants of the original Victorian mice.”

So I shall be free to go buzzing around looking at things I haven’t somehow got around to seeing. (I hope: the Squ. spine’s been in a bad way the last few weeks, but I get a new injection on Wednesday, just in time, if it works as quickly as the last one.) One site I rather fancy is a trip around the roof of Victoria Station, only I doubt somehow it’ll have wheelchair access . . .Or crutch access, for that matter.

Mildly tempted to see what the inside of that horrendous grey concrete Czech Embassy looks like. Will they show us the rooms the Russians were reputed to do all their spying from? (If you don’t know of it, it was notoriously huge—probably about eight or ten times the size of the actual Russian Embassy just along the road—and with an array of aerials on the roof back then that was probably capable of picking up alien reality TV from Tau Ceti.)


What you can see this year is just amazing. Hadn’t realised it had got so big. There are around 20 places I’d really like to get into; going to need at least a full day plotting bus routes, I think. Pity about the Victoria station roof, though. Curiously, one is the chapel at Charing Cross hospital: it’s got stained glass windows by John Piper, apparently. I didn’t know that, and I’ve been going to that hospital three or four times a year for years. I like Piper. Have to look for it on Wednesday when I’m there.

Hacking Shock: Naked Squirrel in Bed Pic!




And be Warned!

“Sharing these images is not the same as making a joke . . .. It’s an act of sexual violation, and it deserves the same social and legal punishment as meted out to stalkers and other sexual predators.

“Under US and other laws, it is illegal to own or share sexual images of another person under 18.” [The Squirrel here was definitely under 18 when this photo was taken. Probably about four.]

Does anyone else feel this is becoming ridiculous?  If you’re going to take nude photos of yourself (or have someone take them for you) and then keep them in the Cloud, why exactly did you do it in the first place?  To keep looking at them yourself, which is absurdly narcissisitic, or to pass them around to others, which has just happened on a rather larger scale. . .There’s something rather warped that nudity amounts to sexual abuse; if that were to be taken at face value, then an awful lot of painters over the last few centuries are criminals, not painters (admittedly, one or two Italian ones actually were!) and anyone who goes into an art gallery or wanders past Michaelangelo’s David in Florence, or the Mannekin Pis in Brussels, will have to be prosecuted.

“Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. Your bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you.”

Wonder what Botticelli’s Venus would think?  (And can we be absolutely sure she’s under 18?) Or Alison Lapper? (Who, btw, was talking on the BBC a week or so ago, along with her son—who’s now 14—who didn’t seem to feel that either.) Or Rembrandts’ Sascha? Or Angela Merkel for that matter?

So, here, is naked, unashamed, Squirrel.