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Monday, 25 July 2016

Why Brits are exceptional

If you want a master class in why Brits are exceptional, go to Bletchley Park where I spent the day on Saturday.

The location of Bletchley Park is equidistant to Cambridge and Oxford universities and there's a reason for that: the brightest minds were 'invited to serve their country' during the war. British eccentricity and brilliance have served this country well and the work conducted at Bletchley Park actually shortened the war by two years and saved thousands of lives. So secretive was the work at Bletchley Park that upon arrival new recruits were warned that if they ever spoke of what went on there, they would be killed. In fact a number of people disappeared during their time at Bletchley Park and were never heard of again. Testament to the resolve of the extraordinary Brits who served their country during the war, the Germans never found out about Bletchley Park.

For more on Bletchley Park, see here: Captain Ridley's Shooting Party

The Mansion House, Bletchley Park.

Photos copyright SvD.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Mick Jagger

Some things never change. Saw this recently in the 'guest room' at Warwick Castle:

Photo copyright SvD.

The curse of our ancestors

In 1983, as a student in France, I lived in an apartment building where two young Lebanese men rented the top floor penthouse flat. I can't recall their names anymore but we exchanged pleasantries almost daily as we would invariably meet entering or leaving the building. The elder of the two men, I think he was twenty-eight, was a very thin, bespectacled, highly strung character prone to unexpected bursts of anger. His flatmate usually appeared more friendly and relaxed and by virtue of being very good-looking would often have a new girlfriend on his arm.  I always felt a sense of unease around these two men and although they would frequently invite me for coffee, I always declined. One day, the younger of the two confided in me that they were refugees from Lebanon. Almost all of their families had been killed in the war (which would last from 1982-1985) and these two, first cousins, had escaped to France. The reason for the unpredictable rages was what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- the result of relentless and merciless pounding of guns and explosions which had decimated their families. He explained that they both suffered with nightmares and anxiety. Here they were in France in limbo hoping to return one day to Lebanon to rebuild their lives but with no living family and Beirut in ruins, they wondered what they would be going back to. Exiled and alone they had lost all hope.

I was barely nineteen and incapable of processing what these two chain-smoking young men could have possibly endured. I came from a middle-class family where nothing terribly exciting ever happened. Nor did anything awful blight the suburbs apart from the occasional scandal of an extra-marital affair, whispered abortion or once when I was six, a good friend of my parents drowned when his pleasure boat capsized in a storm. I also recall a school friend being killed in a car accident and what would be the first time I attended a funeral. Other than the usual drama that living incurs, our parents and most of their peers lived to old age. I still have a friend from my primary school days- we have known each other since we were four years old- and the fabric of our existences has remained pretty much intact in spite of all the real and imagined dramas.

Consider the opposite where everything you know gets destroyed. In Arab tradition, to have no extended family means that you become an outcast. An individual without a palpable beating heart of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and shared community means that you have no history to vouch for you. I recall vividly that although both men dressed as westerners, they were more influenced by Arab culture. They may have looked like they were integrated but in fact, their minds belonged miles away.

This memory of my past is still relevant today- young men with so much promise abandon hope completely. The attack in Nice yesterday by a young disenfranchised man outwardly appearing to embrace Western values but deliberately deceiving everyone including himself. Unlike my former neighbours in 1983, the young man who committed the atrocity in Nice, was not escaping from a war but was trying to create one. His ancestors no doubt came to France to find a better life. Their dream turned sour when they failed to integrate and admire French culture which remains one of the great civilisations in the world. Instead they probably stayed stuck in the ghettoes they created in order to 'protect' their way of life.

No one should believe that these young men- and they are almost all young- are motivated by Allah's Islam. I would bet they are semi-literate losers, straddling the west and the 'homeland' but still believing that everything that is wrong in their lives is not their responsibility. Like the man who beats his wife rather than admit to his own insecurity. But here's the thing: no government owes anyone anything except to create an infrastructure in which people can live their lives. What we make of our lives is entirely of our own doing. To be less than human and to have no humanity is also a personal choice and not some curse we inherit from our ancestors. Hate engenders hate and it is what each generation passes to the next. Someone has to decide to break the cycle. Which is why it is critical that leaders in Muslim communities across Europe make themselves heard to the public and loudly condemn these atrocities. Most importantly these leaders should be working tirelessly to root out the misguided and dangerous members in their midst and I write this at the risk of being very un-PC, and hand them in to the authorities.

Mystical stones in Brittany- some say a druid cemetery.
Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Pilloried, moi?

Photo copyright Some Nice American Gentleman
On the day the Chilcot Report was released some of us were being pilloried for fun. At Warwick Castle today. #TonyBlair #ChilcotReport

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Shock exit of Boris Johnson

How is it that the champion of Brexit is now ejected onto the compost heap? I frequently write about knowing oneself and standing up for one's convictions and it seems absolutely terrifying to me that Mr Gove betrayed the person he was intent on supporting. I find this quite horrifying. Would I trust  a man who is swearing on his mother's life that he would not do one thing only for him to conduct a 'volte face' to suit his own ends? Reading Ms Vine's now ignominious 'email', Julius Caesar comes to mind as it was he who famously declared that 'Caesar's wife must be beyond reproach'. Samantha Cameron was in many ways the perfect political wife, if she had views of her own she kept them private.

As for Theresa May, she was completely silent in the run up to the referendum which leads me to believe that she is also duplicitous. Again, where are those convictions if they are kept hidden?

I feel for Boris because I liked him, mostly because of his intelligence. Anyone who has an extra large vocabulary is to me insanely attractive since the majority appear to be limited to 250 words or less. But Boris had big ideas and convictions he was prepared to shout from the rooftops- that my friends, is a dying breed. If anything, this referendum has shown us that politics has become debased, self-serving, debauched and bordering on corrupt. Aristotle must be turning in his grave.
Photo copyright SvD.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Brexit versus the young and clueless

I wrote about my reasons for wanting to leave the EU in a blog published here well before the referendum. When I went to bed on Thursday night I felt a tremendous sense of dread that the result would either be A) rigged or B) overwhelmingly pro EU. When I woke up on Friday, I honestly sensed that as usual, nothing would ever really change. I immediately burst into tears at seeing the wholly unexpected win for Brexit. My pride at being British is immense- I cannot think of a more exceptional, liberal-minded country in the world. To be British is to love the rain as much as we hate it and therein lies the rub.

Much has been said about white, old bigots who ruined the vote for the younger members of our society. The truth is far different: turnout figures prove that on the contrary, had more young people bothered to vote, Remain would have won. Furthermore, the Londoners protesting in the streets, again young and woefully misinformed, would have us believe that northerners are backward, illiterate racists. That also could not be further from the truth. I live 'up north' and can honestly say that every person I have spoken to in the run-up to the referendum never mentioned 'nasty, horrid free-loading foreigners'. On the contrary, the refrain here and which really gets them foaming at the mouth, is the technocrats in Brussels deciding their future.

I lived in prosperous Surrey and commuted into affluent London for nearly twenty years. I've even lived in France more than thirty years ago as a student and also in recent years (and know all too well their punishing tax regimes). I know therefore from first hand experience that London may as well be on a different planet to the rest of the UK. I have seen the 'embarras de richesses' in London when I worked in mega-rich Kensington, Holland Park and the City. I have dealt with clients who were on the Sunday Times Rich List. I have met innumerable traders and high fliers in the City, many of them young Brits, who live in an almost parallel universe. These city types don't know their GDP from their RPI and Adam Smith means nothing to them. Money is their God and they are intent on making it regardless of whether some poor sod in the grim North will lose his livelihood as a result. This win-at-any-cost mentality is driven by greed. Young people today would rather seek out careers offering the possibility to make a lot of money fast and as a result, eschew traditional, slow learning curve vocations. Who can blame them?

The young today with their improbable first names, mandatory smart phones and addiction to an immediacy in all things, don't in my view, have the capability of differentiating between what is important from what they want. They have grown up in the post-Thatcher era of accessing any and everything at a whim. Their parents eased out of being reviled for their lack of social nous, to sharing neighbourhoods with the great and the good. Britain has become a seamless society where everyone can fulfill their social aspirations if A) they work hard and/or are savvy enough or B) shag a footballer (or C win a daft TV show). Is there any wonder that this clueless generation have no backbone at all? They would wet their pants and wail like a baby if they were faced with real adversity. With everything handed to them, is it any wonder that they're all suffering from peanut-bloody allergy?

Why are the younger generation so intent on being part of the EU? All I've heard so far is that their future has now been messed up by Brexit winning the referendum. What is it that they're so concerned about losing? The chance to go to Magaluf on a whim and behave like degenerates? Are they objecting to the fact they may need to get a visa in future? Oh and no surprises that those young people are almost all entirely in the London and the plentiful South East. Not in the grim north where as much as the salt-of-the-earth types would like to advance in life, they're not exactly spoiled for choice. I used to be an intolerable snob and would denigrate anyone who didn't have a job, pay tax and make their way in life. But I've come to understand that not everyone will excel and not everyone is cut out to make sensible choices that would secure their futures. Ironically, since moving to the Midlands. I have been amazed at the politeness and friendliness of most people. It is customary here to say 'good morning' when you pass each other in the street. And everyone is very matter of fact and direct. Perhaps they're not educated enough to distort the truth for their own gain but it is refreshing to talk to people who call a spade a spade.

So to the young and clueless, I say this: grow some balls and convince me of what your convictions truly are. I think you'll find you really don't have any, at least none that are not self-serving. There's a difference between what you want and what's best for this great country.

 'Headless conviction' (seen in the woods today. Naughty Mr Fox!). Photo copyright SvD.