Monthly Archives: September 2011

Let Palestine into the UN

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Palestinians have suffered a lot since 1948. Yes, there are some Palestinains. A few Palestinains have committed appalling crimes. But that does not make it right to penalise the whole nation. Palestine has most if not all the characteristics of a nation state. One of the things it lacks is full control over its territory and this is because the Israeli Government illegally occupies it.

Let Palestine into the UN. This is decades overdue.

People criticise Palestine for not using peaceful means to resolve its dispute with Israel. But when Palestine tries to use peaceful means she is thwarted or ignored. There is nothing more peaceful than making a speech in the UN or voting. Yet Tel Aviv would deny Palestine the right to do that. There is nothing more legal than a lawsuit. Yet when Palestine won her case against the security fence at the international Court of Justice the judgment was ignored by Israel.

It is predictable but disgraceful that Obama should block Palestine’s admission to the UN. He is in hoc to the Zionist lobby. Israel gives the US little but the enmity of hundreds of millions around the world.

Obama is being sniped at by his opponents for being insufficiently pro-Israeli. Republicans and Democrats have entered a grim loyalty contest to Israel. It is the tail wagging the dog.

Even the most evil regime in the world – whichever it is – is allowed into the UN but not Palestine.
This is a scandal.

Travel writing Morocco.

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My sister had been on honeymoon to Morocco and been unimpressed by it. My parents had made a day trip to Tangier and found it enthralling but menacing.

I came back from Sri Lanka one summer. I began teaching in Midland School. It was great to have plenty of money for once. I had 1 000 spending money a month since all my bills were paid by virtue of my live-in status. I have since been envious of that amount of dosh. Often since I have not had so much money to pay with. In those days my 1 000 was all beer tokens. I turned much of my pay packet into liquid assets.

I decided on a holiday to Morocco. I had been surfing in Sri Lanka and was not good at it. I have a poor sense of balance. Morocco was the nearest place one could surf. It was an intriguing country in its own right. It was the only close by country that had decent weather at the end of October and the start of November.

I befriended a young Chinese colleague. I shall call him Hoby. I am always like this. I am fascinated by foreign lands and by people of different nationalities. I also felt sorry for him. He was a little boy lost. Imagine going to China and being thrown in at the deep end. We spoke about half-term and he found out about my plans to go to Morocco. He asked if he could come to. Without a moment’s consideration I said yes. My German colleague Bjorn was there part of the conversation. Bjorn later told me he inwardly shuddered at this – the idea that I would have to be with Hoby around Morocco.

Hoby was the only child of a high-ranking communist official. Of course China had he one child policy. A communist in good standing would of course obey this edict. Hoby had led a rather sheltered life in China. He attended a good university and had money to travel the world. He spoke very good English. He was a blinkered supporter of the Chinese Government. He said that shooting dead all those students in Tiananmen Square was absolutely the right thing to do.

Lauren was a colleague of mine too. She was half-Chinese and half-British in her ethnicity. Her Chinese side were American citizens. Lauren was Hoby’s boss. She was also the perfect embodiment of Eurasian beauty. I am not into Oriental chapesses but she was the finest specimen of the race. I took her out to dinner but nothing came of it. ”I just don;t have that romantic spark for you” – that is another story.

Lauren disliked Hoby’s closed-minded attitudes. She told him that Mao was as bad as Hitler and Hoby was mortally offended. Hoby got the day off to go over to London and get a tourist visa for Morocco.

The appointed day came. Hoby stood at the door my classroom and tried to get me to cancel a lesson so we could leave earlier. I could not do that and was embarrassed and annoyed that he should ask. At that most inopportune moment my head of department, Mr Napoleon-Complex, walked past. Napoleon-Complex frowned suspiciously. Hoby came in and observed my class.

Later I went to the bus stop to get the bus to town. The bus came and Hoby did not? Should I stay or should I go now asked the Clash? I stayed. Big mistake. 10 minutes later Hoby ran up. He had been slow packing his bags. The second bus came and we got on it. But it was the slow bus. There were two buses and hour to Bigtwon. One took 20 minutes and the other 40. I was effectively delayed by an hour by waiting for Hoby.

We got the train to London. At the main station we descended the escalator to the tube. I heard the door beeping ran for it and jumped up. Just behind me the doors slammed. I turned and Hoby gave a Confucian shrug. The tube shunted me off towards Heathrow. I looked at my watch anxiously.

I got to the Air France check in desk. It was too late for my flight to Paris. I would have to pay 50 pounds and get the next one. I was quite pissed off. because I had waited for Hoby all this had happened. He who had tried to get me to call off a lesson at the last-minute had not been on time. This wa s my holiday and he was tagging along and I should not be inconvenienced.

We got a later flight to Charles de Gaulle. We were hard up and did not go to the airport hotel. We spent the night in the near deserted transit area. I will say this for Charles de Gaulle – it is spotlessly clean. I only remember seeing a 50 ish Russian couple quietly chatting near us. I have passed through Charles de Gaulle many times. I rather like it. It has dated a little but it must have been a bold and innovative design once with all those underground tunnels and all those satellites coming off the main building. I remember the central atrium area and all the enclosed walkways like pipes crisscrossing it diagonally – going up and down.

It was an uncomfortable night. It was not the richest sleep I had. Then I boarded – sorry, we boarded, the flight to Casablanca in the morning. We were not sitting together. I was beside a Moroccan lady a few years older than me. She was pleasant and we spoke in French. She was full-faced and otherwise amply nourished. She wore western clothes including trousers. She asked me a few questions about English. How does one say ”atterisage?”. Then she notice it in English on a sign – landing.

After a couple of hours we set down in Casablanca. It was mid morning and very bright out. We had to walk through many long marble tiled corridors. The halls were airy but not wide. In one queue I spoke to an elderly little Frenchman. ”C’est une jolie pays” (it is a pretty country) he told me of Morocco. He was a very regular visitor. I thought it was agreeable for him to have French-speaking lands to visit. He was surprised to find out that my friend was Chinese. Hoby did not speak French and looked on scintillate but of course mystified. I always told him what had been said.
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OUT INTO CASABLANCA

We got dirhams out at the airport and took the train into town. It was surprisingly decent – better than one would have expected. But I suppose that was a showpiece train. If any train in the whole country needed to make a good first impression it was the airport train. A Moroccan man engaged me in conversation as the train moved along. He too asked about my friend. Like most people in Morocco he was surprised to learn that this East Asian was Chinese. They were used to Japanese tourists. The Japanese had the money to travel since the 1960s. When Hoby went to Morocco the Chinese had struck it rich only very recently.

We did not go right into the centre. Instead we got out at a suburban station. We had taken some advice from passengers on the train. Hoby and I got out and as the train trundled away I began to wonder if we had been ill-advised. There were some buildings around the station – all tatty residential blocks a good way back from the station. We had to walk across several platforms to get to the station building. When I say walk across platforms I mean we also had to walk across railway lines. In Morocco the platforms are not built up to the levels of the train doors. One had to climb up the ladder as it were. For a fit young man this is easy. How about a multipaturous grandmother or a toddler? Not so easy.

We got to the station building and found a taxi driver looking spare. We had picked out Hotel de Volubulis as a place to stay. No reservation of course. The cabbie took us there. It was a good long drive.

I had picked Hotle de Volubulis mainly because of its price. I was used to paying a niggardly amount for accommodation in South Asia. This place must have set me back 5 for a twin room. The hotel was named after the town Volubulis which has Roman ruins. The fat receptionist was a Moroccan man well into his 30s. We did our transaction in French and soon went up the white spiral staircase. The plaster flaked off the walls. Our room was small but otherwise unobjectionable in its plainness. We had a view over the street. That area of Casablanca has many wide but winding streets that seem to be permanently virtually empty. I say virtually because the Moroccan keep odd hours. There are as many people strolling about at 3 am as at 5 in the evening.

We crossed the road and had a good feed at a half-decent restaurant. Having filled my groaning tummy it was time to compensate myself for the horrendous nights sleep in Paris. That done ablutions were badly needed.

It was mid afternoon before we ventured out.

Casablanca is much the largest city in Morocco. However, it is not the capital – that is Rabat. Casablanca is mainly a commercial and industrial city as well as being a transport hub. Bearing in mind that it is so large it offers little to the tourist. Its name is derived from the Spanish words ‘white house’. It is aptly named. Most of the houses are an off-white.

We made our way through the shabby streets. The men almost all wore Western clothes. The ladies wore western clothes and Arab clothes in equal number. I remember a hefty Moroccan girl, quite tall, waddling past. She wore the Moroccan unisex hooded robe. She smiled broadly but did not look at us. I thought this outfit was singularly unflattering to the female form.

We walked around the main square and the morose Parc de la Ligue Arabe. There is little grass and a few stumpy trees.

We found our way to one of the main squares which had some major hotels on it and behind it lay the Casbah. The Casbah is an area found in many North AFRican cities. A casbah is an old part of town that is a veritable labyrinth of narrow alleys, twisting and coming to dead ends. The higgledy piggeldy houses are built very tall but to no plan. Such places are very densely populated and the lanes are far too narrow to let in any cars. One of the advantages of the narrow lanes and tall buildings is that this casts shade across the street at all times of day. One finds the same feature in many Mediterranean cities and indeed in most hot parts of the world.

The square was busy with traffic. We braved the drivers who consider traffic lights to be purely advisory. We had a look around the casbah. The Casablanca Casbah is by no means the largest in the country. Much of its was knocked down by the French colonial authorities to build a new planned city.

We plied the dark byways of the casbah. The buildings were beige, dun and brown. Some were made of mud. Ancient wooden doors fronted every building with rusty nails through them. We saw only Moroccans there. Moroccans seems to see no charm in living in the Casbah. Why would one live these dank lanes in a cramped flat when one could have a spacious house with all the mod cons? We turned down one lane and a man behind us shouted some, not aggressively. I turned and saw him – a little old man with sunken cheeks, a thin beard and few teeth. I asked him to repeat himself, ”c’est une impasse”. ”It is a dead end” he was saying. I thanked him and we took a different route.

We came out of the casbah onto a large open sand space. Beyond it was a major road and beyond that was the sea. We made our way to the sea. We walked by huge boulders put in place to stop the coast wearing away.

We walked along the coast road for a while and came to an enormous mosque. It was probably the only beautiful building I saw in Casablanca. The tower of it soared and the rest of it was more or less a square. Sorry, the minaret. It was a tasteful shade of brown with turquoise facings. It had been built not long before by King Hassan II. Morocco is not a Shariat state but Hassan II built this enormous mosque as a nod to Islamic sentiment. As practically all his subjects are Muslims he had to make some gesture. Many Moroccan Muslims are low-key about their religion but there are also plenty who are not. Rather few are fundamentalists though.

The mosque was not open for visiting at that time. We could have come back another day. We did not which I regret a little.

That evening the city came to life a little bit more. Casablanca resembles a very run down version of a French city. There are boutiques and French banks. There are probably more signs in French than in Arabic. I do not remember where on upon what we supped. We did go to an ice cream parlour though and happened to espy some white chicks though we did not speak to them.

Hoby complained that Morocco was dirty. I later told Lauren. She told me that much of China is filthy but Hoby is kept away from that..

The next day we did a little more looking around.

My paternal grandfather

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I wrote a piece called when I was 17 entitled Ancestral Lore. I wish I could find it again, maybe I shall.

I will write about my father’s father.

Robert Colm Woode was born in April 1905. I do not know the actual day. He was born into a family of 11 children and he was the 4th if I have that right. There were more boys than girls. Robert’s father had the same Christian name. Robert’s father was a railway man. Robert’s father was also named Robert. He too was a railwayman.

My grandfather was born in Maryborough, Queen’s County. This is now called Portlaoise in Co. Laoix. This is not far from where Obama’s ancestors came from. ┬áThe family was a working class Catholic one. Almost everyone who was a working class Catholic was a nationalist of some kind. Most people of this community wanted Home Rule – that is to say for Ireland to be autonomous within the United Kingdom. A few were republicans and wanted total separation. Very few Catholic proletarians wanted full Union with Great Britain. The family does not seem to have been political. Some people had no views on such matters.

The family originated in North Cork. My great-great grandfather built the railways and moved up with the railway from Co Cork to the Midlands of Ireland.

My grandfather was known as Bob. He lived in a railwayman’s cottage in that small town. Bob’s father had to walk up and down and inspect 10 miles of railway each day. Maybe that is why my choldren and I like trains.

The family was apolitical. Bob’s mother’s father was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Bob’s mother had the maiden name Brannock meaning British. This indicates Welsh or English ancestry.

Bob got cast off clothes from his father and brothers. He remembered seeing horses being taken off my train for the Great War.

In 1922 he and a friend named FitzPatrick, with a bike between them, ran away to join the army. The South of Ireland had just become independent. An Irish Army had been founded. Bob enlisted and was in the army during the civil war. My father has always said he would show me my grandfather’s call up papers. He never had. I stopped trusting him long ago. I am not aware that my grandfather was involcved in any fighting. It was a small war and only about 2000 people were killed.

In 1924 the Irish Government cut the army from 60 000 to 20 000 men. The Irish Free State did not need such a huge army. Spending had to be slashed. Bob must have been good because he survived the cull.

He was posted around the country. He was in Donegal for a time.

He boxed for fun. What kind of fun is that being hit in the face. He was an amateur.

In 1927 the Minister of External Affairs, Kevin O’Higgins, was shot dead in Dublin. Kevin O’Higgins was murdered by the IRA as he walked to mass. They killed O’Higgins because he had supported a policy of executing terrorists during the Irish Civil War. Thereafter the Polini Airm were formed. This means armed police seen the Garda Siochana were unarmed, In fact military police is a better translation. One of his duties was to guard government ministers.

He was promoted to sergeant. He was recommended to be promoted to an officer but this never happened.

He did not drink much. He saved his money and lent it to his brothers to buy a farm. They did.

he met my grandmother near her home in the west of Ireland. I later read a newspaper article quoting him. He said ti hiw side whenever they returned there and told her to go down on her knees there in honour of the place where she met him.

He was in the Curragh in the Second World War guarding IRA internees who were trying to start a war against our neighbour.

He married my granny near the beginning of the war. She carried on nursing in England. He left the army in 1943 after 21 years service. He went to Great Britain. People said to him that he was a fine looking man and ought to be in the army. He said that the UK had beaten Hitler without him.

My father was born a year after my grandfather moved to GB. They lived in Kilburn in London. I have seen my father’s birth certificate. It says the address where my grandfather worked. I should like to visit it.

Bob worked in a factory as a clock inspector. He moonlighted as a bouncer at the Irish dance halls.

A daughter was born when my dad was 2. The nurses left her out in the cold. She died a few days old. I would like to find her name and grave. I think it was Susan or Mary.

My uncle was born 4 years after my father.

The family returned to Ireland in the summer of 1952. Up until then they had been back each summer.

My father worked for a semi state agency. He was given a whole county to cover by bicycle.

He got a car after a few years. His wife was down as a cleaner for the society and got money. They lived in a flat down town at first.

After some years they moved to a 3 bedroom house in the suburbs – brand new at the time. One room was officially his office.

He was a very tough man and used his fists when he needed to. Human rights wankers would not like that.

He was handy with his fists even in his 70s.

He was very respectable. He obeyed the law, paid tax, was respectful towards authority. He was fairly religious. He voted Fine Gael. He was a small ‘c’ conservative. He put children with abusive parents into the care of the church. Abuse in those days meant being beaten up. It did not mean a smack. It would not have crossed his mind that the priesthood could sin.

He was not anti English in any way. He admired the British Army.

He took out private health insurance and was financially prudent.

He went around Ireland on hols often to family. He drank a little brandy on special occasions. Unusually for a man of his time he did not smoke.

He was a little dull. There was a sports stadium by the house but he never went there.

He hated having to retire. He worked as a tax collector after being forcibly retired from his main job.

He drove his car in the country when a lorry came round the corner – head on collission. A farmer had been teachi g his son to drive. Bob needed a false knee cap.

He had a stroke in his 70s and one side of his face was paralysed.

He was a kindly old soul. I sat on his lap. There was a distinctive old person smell off him – not a bad one. He told me about Kalabunka land. He pretended to blow up his fist through his thumb. I remember him sitting on a chair in the garden and putting bits of wood into a sack. I suppose it was firewood. My mum told me us children should be helping him. Then we did help him.

He died when I was 6.

My mother was told by my grannt in a phone call. My mother is heartless sometimes. My mum decided not to tell my dad right then – it was mid morning. My father came home from lunch. My mother broke the news. My father sat down on a stool and wept for a minute. Then he composed himself.

He is buried in a cemetery by the sea. My father planned to take us all to the funeral. My mum vetoed this. This was the first time I learnt of death. My mother told me about it. I drew a headstone for him and wrote on it. I heard of military funerals. As he had been a soldier I imagined them playing the last post. They did not. He had left the army decades before.

The IRA in the Twilight Years by Uinseann McEoin mentions him. A newspaper clipping mentioned him when a scumbag attacked my granddad outside his house. Granddad tried to find a house for this homeless man. This is about the only documentary evidence that he existed. There was some dinner for his retirement and an article on that.

Amsterdam: travel writing.

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That February Saturday I emptied the bin from my flat in the main bin downstairs. My flat was in a boarding house of a school. The boys had all left the day before. I was due to go to the airport and fly to Holland that day. The housemaster’s wife came up to my flat for the first time ever. I shall call her by an apposite name: Mrs Ugly. Mrs Ugly berated me for putting my rubbish in the bin downstairs. I suppose I ought to have tipped it onto the floor. ”It is gonna stink.” although I had assumed the slow-witted janitor would empty it. He was not THAT slow-witted, I hoped. ”What is it with you?” she inquired. She lowered her eyes, ”you lazy bastard.” I chortled at that one. No wonder she could not say it right into my face. I wanted to tell her what I thought of her. ”Thank god you are moving out. The sooner you are out of here the better. I hope you fall flat on your face in Edinburgh.” In view of what happened to me over the next few years I think the old bitch’s curse may have had some power to it.

I took the bus to the Big Town. I had to go to a public library to print out my flight details and then I made my way to the airport. It was Heathrow. Heathrow had had tanks around it in recent days because of heightened terrorist threat. Ken Livingstone in his usual repugnant manner dismissed it all as a hoax designed to increase support for the liberation of Iraq. In fact the result could be quite the reverse. People may conclude that an attempt to free the Iraqis would lead to more such attacks. They may have been right.

The only thing I remember about the flight is two people. I sat there and the plane sat there in the dark by the terminal. A South Asian child walked up to me and asked tentatively, ”Do you speak English?” I said yes. He asked me to swap seats so he could sit with my family.

I sat in some other row and a South Asian man a few years older than me broke the ice with the typical British intro, ”you all right mate?” He was small and inclined towards chubbiness. We talked about Amsterdam. I had not been since I was 10 and therefore a tad too young to sample its finest attractions. He had been many times and raved about it. I told him I only wanted to see strippers. I did not intend to fuck any prostitutes. He said everyone said that but in the end they are irresistible.

In a trice the kite put down in Schihpol Airport. Sorry, let me spell airport in Dutch for you – ayerpoort. That is a joke by the way. I had passed through Schipohl so many times. It seemed like home to me. It was always shiningly clean and ultramodern.

Once I was at the airport station I made a call. I picked the first youth hostel in my guide book – the Shleter Jordan. I spoke to a Dutch female who of course spoke outstanding English. That was it I had my booking. There was one pause for thought. It did say that it was a Christian hostel. I was there on a pornathon. Not exactly what Jesus preached from the cross. WOuld they know? WOuld they care?

I boarded the train to city centre. I liked the double decker trains. They have them in France, Germany, Italy, Romania and perhaps other countries. In the British Isles we have double decker buses. Why do we not have double decker trains? I suppose the bridges were built too low and no one thought about it. To make doubel decker trains we would have to redo all the bridges. But double decker trains would solve the overcrowding problems on those London commuter trains. My choo choo was lovely – I am a train spotter, ok I will come out of the closest. My beautiful train whisked me to Centraal STation. No that was not a typo – Centraal.

I walked out of the building onto a huge open space – I cannot quite call it a square. People were walking in and out. It was oddly busy considering it was quite late on a chilly night. I saw buildings a few hundred metres away. I got on the tram to my hostel.

The man selling the tickets came up to me. I handed him a 50 Euro not the smallest I had. He chided me in good English. He was a black Netherlander with a reddish complexion and a woolly grey beard, a shortish man. ”I will let you off this one time.” He wagged his finger. Pretty generous to let me off at all. The poor chap had a tongue too big for his mouth and it stuck out as he talked muffling his words.

I stayed on for several stops. I got off and found I had gone too far. I retraced the tram track. I navigated via a map – well how else can one navigate? I did not look at the stars and this was before Sat nav.

There was the street Rosengracht. That meant Roses Canal. Amsterdam is in effect hundreds upon hundreds of islands. They are separated by canals and connected by countless bridges. Much of the Netherlands was marshland. Over centuries canals were dug to drain the marshes. This meant there was dry land to walk on and channels deep enough for boats to sail through between the myriad islands. It must have been very labour intensive to construct and maintain all this.

The houses were brown brick and exceptionally bland even for the Netherlands. The Low Countries do a fine line in dullness but they seldom manage ugliness – it takes Eastern Europe for that or Birmingham.

I walked into the shelter Jordan. The place was hopping. A good two dozen backpackers sat around the communal area chatting or tucked into food. I sidled up to the reception. I cannot remember who checked me in. The staff were all pleasant and efficient.

I found my way to my dorm upstairs and dumped my paraphernalia. My dorm had ten bunk beds at a guess. The window faced a courtyard. The boys had the first floor and the girls had the second. I have noticed this pattern in other places such as halls of residence. This is to make it more difficult for rapists to break in unless of course they are gay rapists.

The ground floor had some books in English and Dutch. There was a telly and some board games. There were quotations from the Bible painted in English on the walls.

I went for a long walk through Amsterdam. It was one of those evenings when I felt unaccountably happy. There was a spring in my step. The world was at my feet. I was so glad to be heard and I had boundless energy. I only had to hit the main street and turn left and follow that to the centre of town. I passed a large church on my right and the homo monument. The homo monument was to the gays persecuted under the Nazi regime in the Netherlands during the second World War. The Netherlands led the world in gay rights.

I saw many Dutch signs that I could translate. It is easy given the context – what the signs are on. Many restaurants had a ”specialiteit” – a speciality. Fast food joints offered portions that were klein, middel or groot – small, medium or large.

Soon I was staring at the back of Dam Palace – that is the residence of the royal family in Amsterdam. As every schoolboy knows (ok only geography geeks) the official capital of the Netherlands is the Hague which is the main residence of the royal family.

To the right of the rear of the palace was a tiny fast food place staffed by an equally tiny Levantine with tidy hair and half-moon glasses. It was Middle Eastern fast food. This clean-shaven Ishmaelite served with the poise and courtesy. I munched down his nameless fare with gratitude.

I walked around on to Dam Square. I remembered being here about 13 years earlier. We had bumped into some American tourists there – a young couple. They asked us for directions. My father had told them, ”This is Dam Square, I am damn sure of that.” I like his verbal jokes however bleeding obvious.

I looked up at the palace. It was a mid grey colour. Somehow this did not make it seem depressing. All the lights were off. It was several storeys high. It was imposing but not quite handsome. I counted how many windows wide it was. I am into counting. Infantile I know – that’s just me. It was a little smaller than Buckingham Palace but that s to be expected – the Netherlands is smaller than the UK.

I looked towards Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky at the far end of the square. I had breakfasted here when I was about 9. I remembered the raven haired hot waitress telling us about people who had their bags snatched, ”it is crazy” she lamented. It was supposed to be sympathetic. No it is not crazy stealing a bag or having it stolen. It is criminal and unfair – it is nasty to be deprived of one’s possessions but crazy is not the right word. However, I had not corrected her.

I remembered Dam Square pretty well from when I was a child. But then there was a white war memorial. I had not remembered that at all. It is odd how one’s memory can just blank things. There was no reason why I would choose to forget it. That is how unreliable memory is. In fact this monument is the kind of thing that I find fascinating.

I walked to the left – as one looks at the front of Dam Palace. I wandered around by one of the canals. People were spilling out of bars and laughing raucously. I saw some gorgeous wide-eyed Dutch girls cycle along on their way to a night out. Their duffle coats and denim skirts somehow won me. They all favoured rickety black bicycles that looked like they belonged in the 1930s. I saw a couple of doors surrounded by neon lights. Much though I like debauchery I knew the price would be too high.

I walked over some bridges and ended up in a residential area a few islets away. I found a bench by a tiny patch of grass. I studied my tourist map. I sat down and felt elated. It was so wonderful to be in Amsterdam. What a fantastic city. I was almost laughing with joy.

Late that night I sauntered back to the Shelter Jordaan. I tiptoed into my dorm. I saw down on my bunk, a lower bunk. I dozed off with only a little disturbance from the snorers around me. I found that having been to boarding school from the age of 7 it is not difficult to sleep with such background sound. I grew accustomed to it. It was either that or not sleep. That said I have little tolerance of girlfriends who snore. It is unladylike. My girlfriend snoring is likely to be met with a poke in the ribs. At school I learnt from a midget named Craig that steady pressure (not acute) will induce a snorer to turn on their front or side and stop snoring. People only ever snore when they sleep on their back.

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A FULL DAY IN AMSTERDAM.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of people getting up around me. I shut my eyes again and tightened the duvet around me and tried to sleep on. It was to no avail. There was too much noise with all those youths dressing. I looked up and saw a curly-haired fat ugly woman with odd-shaped breasts. Only then did I realise that this person was a male with manboobs. He turned out to be a Brazilian bloke and no transvestite at that. He looked like a young and overweight version of sideshow Bob with dark blond hair.

I came to know some of the staff in the hostel. I cannot remember most of the names so some have been invented.

Davin was 18 – a tall and very slim American. He was a gentle boy and no one could have disliked him even if they had tried.

Michelle was a Canadian brunette. She was good-looking and aged about 20. She had a charming smile. She told us all with excitement that she had been accepted into a Bible college in the UK.

Treasure was an American of about 25. She had jet black hair and the poor thing was very unattractive. She was dumpy and had a monstrous face but was always upbeat. She was a very giving person. They must have been paid a pittance there and someone told me she gave most of her money to charity.

Nwabia was a Nigerian in his early 20s. He was of average height and had a little beard. He was in a good mood and had a great sense of humour.

Willem was a Dutch guy in his 50s. He had grey hair and was a dead ringer for Jack Straw. He was quiet and spoke brilliant English. He was very tidy and a bit on the bland side.

Duco was a Netherlander who was about 30. He had thin, short brown hair. He was lean and tall. He too spoke terrific English.

They were all hardline Christians who worked there. They were very agreeable because hardcore Christians are sometimes disagreeable. There was a prayer room and prayer meetings were at advertised times. There was a book on a table with profiles of the staff. The staff explained how they had become Christian.

I breakfasted in the hostel and headed out. Valentine’s Day had been just before so many Valentine’s couples were still in town. There was a war in the Middle East in the offing. There had been a gigantic anti-war protest the day I arrived. Of course it had broken up hours before I landed because I arrived late at night. All around I saw discarded placards. I read their slogans, ”Geen Oorlag vor Olie”. This translates, ”no war for oil.” I knew the word ”oorlog” meant war because I had read about the First South African War of 1899-1902 which the Afrikaners called ”De Tweede Vreihydes Oorlog” – ”the Second Freedom War.” There were slogans in English, ”to start a war is a crime.” I found it mirthful to say this to myself in a Dutch accent – to shtart a vor is a crime. There were images of Ariel Sharon and the words ”the greatest terrorist.”

I strongly believed and still believe that Iraq should be liberated. Setting Iraq free was justified many times over. The 1991 Gulf War had ended by a truce agreement. Saddam Hussein’s regime repeatedly and flagrantly breached the terms of this. Therefore the truce is over the war continues. Saddam funded terorism in Israel. He aided attacks on Kuwait long after 1991. It was up to him to publicly and verifiably rid himself of Weapons of Mass destruction. Because he did not do so one had to assume that he still had them and to act accordingly. He had murdered thousands of his own people – perhaps tens of thousands. I am not talking about killing rebels in combat. I mean people who were arrested and often horiffically tortured before being killed without any form of trial. He deliberately killed women and children who had taken no action against him.

I walked to Dam Square again. I looked up at the balcony. It seemed only just out of reach. I had seen some footage of Queen Juliana retiring – Dutch monarchs do that when they feel they are too old. Queen Juliana seemed very casual when she did so but the people loved it. She said I now present your new queen – it was Queen Beatrix, the daughter of Juliana. Juliana did an informal little wave, it was almost comical. A cry of approval went up from her adoring subjects. They are so down to earth the Dutch monarchy. The Scandinavian monarchies are similarly approachable. It begs the question what the point of having a monarchy is if they are to be so ordinary. The Netherlands had a queen regnant since 1880 and no king. A queen regnant is one who reigns because she inherits the crown from her own family as opposed to a queen consort who is someone from another family – a queen consort is only queen because she marries the king of the Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina ruled because she had no brothers. Queen Wilhelmina had no sons and only a daughter. Queen Juliana again had a daughter and no sons. However, Beatrix has sons so the next monarch will be a king – Willem Alexander.

The balcony did not seem far above the street. I felt I could almost touch it. I reached up. Of course it was out of reach – 3 m up. It appeared to be deceptively low.

Dam Square – wow., this was it. It was the very heart of the Dutch world. By the Dutch world I mean not just the Netherlands but of all the lands where Dutch or a derivative of it is spoken. The Flemings in Belgian are part of this Dutch world. The Afrikaners in South Africa speak a dialect of Dutch. At one time Indonesia, Sri Lanka and even Brazil were Dutch colonies. This square was the centre of power.

The nineteenth century buildings denoted commerce and stolidity. They were pleasing to look at but not quite gorgeous.

Just off Dam Square there was a large cinema. It boldly advertised the films that it showed – gay pornography. I knew that the Dutch are radically liberal on such matters. Yet I was still surprised and amused that the gay porn should be shown so close to the royal palace. It was not the gay aspect of it but the fact that it is pornography. What is wrong with porn? Everyone has sex so why not show it? SHowing it cannot harm anyone? Doing it can lead to unplanned pregnancy and even fatal diseases. Surely there is less danger and less immorality in watching it than in doing it. I guess the Netherlanders take the view that there is nothing shameful in porn so why not have a gay porno cinema right by the main square.

As it was February is was very cold. I was surprised at just how cold. Amsterdam looks to be well in off the sea connected only by some twisting waterways. However, bone chilling winds somehow gusted across the square. I wore several layers topped off by a big blue jacket – it was only just enough.

When I approached a Netherlander the person would greet me in Dutch. After a moment’s hesitation they would switch into English. I never met someone there who did not speak English. Since about 1990 te Netherlands had a law that any form or any exam could be done in English. They are close to the UK in geography and have alwAYS TRAded a lot with the UK. They had many opportunities to practise their English and their language is similar to English. Many of them were sailors and businessmen leading to even more reasons to get good at English. Their country is so tiny and only two other countries speak Dutch. It was either learn English or never leave the country. It seems to me that everyone but everyone in the Netherlands speaks English and good English at that. Speaking English there is not part of being an educated person it is part of being a person full stop.

I remember visiting the Netherland passing through to Saudi Arabia when I was 8 and 9. I passed through it on the way to Chad aged 11. I remember walking down some back streets and seeing places with naughty T-shirts and signs saying, ”I like the Pope. The Pope smokes dope”. I also saw signs for porn. I was religious then and had little testosterone. i IMAGined coming back as a priest years later and scolding the hookers – they would mock me but I would retain my sacerdotal dignity. How things changed. I had come back to Amsterdam but as a porn addict!

I made a beeline for the Red light district. It is a little way south of Dam SQUARE, beyond a wide canal. It must be half a mile by half a mile. I got to know it very well. My word – what a place. There were porn shops aplenty. There were many girls behind glass doors. Punters walked past and could be invited in for sex. These window booths were very appealing. I saw the sign on them, ”kamer te huur”. I thought that meant, ”chamber the whore.” I found out that it is ”room to rent.” The prostitutes normally wore frilly lingerie often black. Well no surprises there. They mostly conformed to the most popular demographic – 18-25, slender, busty with well-proportioned features. However, every taste was catered for. There were girls of every conceivable size, shape, colour and age. When I say age I mean they varied upwards from 18. My mate Tony who frequents bawdy houses tells me that one of the most important things is to have a diverse stable. Some boys like obese chicks, some like very short ones, some like women over 50. So there must be something for everyone. It was like a human zoo. I notice that some alleyways seemed to be people by girls of certain ethnic groups. Some were for whites, some for Orientals, some for backs and some for Indians. I have read that 95% of these whores are not Dutch. The whites are mostly Eastern European.

Occasionally a prostitute would catch me looking at her. She would open her window and beckon me in but I never succumbed.

There were public pissoirs on the street. These consisted of upright metal almost folded up. This was so one could go in and be out of sight for a minute when taking a leak. It being very cold I had to take a slash often. When it is cold when one goes outside the shock of the temperature change causes one to need to urinate. The smell from these pissoirs was not too bad – being so cold the urine’s smell did not reek that bad. Besides most people have blocked noses at that time of year.

I went into some porno shops. I would choose a film and go into the video cabin and watch it. I was able to control it. I would have a chop. Regain my sperm count. Take a slash into the bin. Then I would wank again. I would hurry out before the guy discovered that I had pissed into his bin. I never went to the same place twice. I always got away with it.

I walked past many coffee shops – mainly between Dam Square and the red light district. These coffee shops gave out cannabis free with the coffee. It is said that cannabis is not legal but just tolerated. Shop keepers are not allowed to sell cannabis they just give it away. I passed some of these. I considered going in and trying some. However, I genuinely dislike the smell of marijuana. I chose not to go in. Maybe that was a shame – perhaps smoking cannabis is part of the Amsterdam experience.

I went into one of the department stores on Dam Square. I saw some English girls there – one of them black. They chatted to the Dutchman at the makeup counter. They were over for the weekend. He made up the black girl’s face for free. Amsterdam is such a friendly city – where Europe goes to let its hair down.

I walked along Dam Rak – meaning Dam Reach. A ‘Reach’ is a stretch of riverbank – an unusual English word that. The sea wind whipped along – it cut through my coat it felt.

The weather got colder while I was there. I always find this. One gets to February as the winter seems to be ending. Then Winter comes back and bites you in the arse. In the morning I found ice in the canals. The ice would melt a little in the daytime but the ice that was shaded never melted.

I considered taking a train to Luxembourg but funds were running low. In the end I decided not it. As it happened I went there three and a half years later. I have noticed this has always happened. There are places I wished to go to but did not. I always got there a few years later. The next one is Cuba.

I like the the broad-minded Dutch attitude. They believe that the twin pillars of freedom are soft drugs and hard porn. However, I have seen the negative side of the drugs policy. People say that cannabis is a gateway drug. It is not only harmful in itself but when people have tried it they are more likely to move on to more harmful substances such as ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. In the red led district I saw a a group of young men who were patently under the influence of some psychotropic drug. Ok I am not quite sure what psychotropic means but it seems to fit. These men were ‘rattling’ as they say in the United Kingdom. They were staggering around, dead eyed, trembling and shouting madly. I suppose they were suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
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IMPRESSIONISTIC MEMOIRS

I normally write chronologically. This is often made easier because I traveled from one town to another. I stayed in Amsterdam for the whole week so it is harder to rememember when things happen. This will not be quite so chronological. I developed a more or less daily pattern.

I often went to a fast food joint just south of Dam Square. A tall Pakistani with a large moustache worked there. He was a smiley soul and we exhanged words of Urdu. There I bought low grade sausages drizzled in cheese. Part of my new healthy lifestyle.

I went to a bit of the university of Amsterdam near the red light district. As I was turning away my jacket caughts on some razor wire attached to the gate – the waterproof layer was badly torn. I had to find a place that did such repairs. I left my coat there. They would not do it for a day. This was quite a loss. The cold was oppressive. The gales seemed to penetrate my jacket but penetrated any other material even more so.

I used to sit around the communal area chatting to people. There was an American guy well over 50 there. I shall dub him Stanley. Stanley was from a Mid Western state and had brown-grey hair and had very pale skin. There was a look of Stephen King about him. He wore large glasses almost rectangular in shape. He appeared to have a mild personality disorder. The very fact that someone so long in the tooth was lodged in a youth hostel was strange. Stanley spent most of the day on the same chair and mouthed off his radical left opinions to anyone whether they were listening or not. He was sardonically amused by George W Bush. Stanley was implacably opposed to the United States taking military action in the Middle East. He would shake his head, snort and smile when he heard something on the news he disliked. It was his way of saying – the right wing, there they go again. Stanley told me of a man who had been very special to him. ”We were lovers for years” he informed me. Since civil partnerships he got himself adopted but his boyfriend. Even though both were adults one was able to legally adopt the other. This gave them some rights in law. One time a Japanese-American guy who worked there came up to Stanley. He said to Stanley that people over 35 were not allowed to stay there and asked, ”you are over 35 aren’t you?” Stanley confirmed that he was. This would have to be his last night.

I chatted to a Vietnamese girl on one occasion. She was pretty and soft-spoken if a trifle dull. I told her of my time in Vietnam and having money stolen. I was tolerably certain that it was the railway staff.

I thumbed through a book in Dutch about the Second World War. I was able to decipher some of the words. I was scintillated by the Nasional Socialist Beweging – the Dutch Nazis. Their views seemed so at odds with the rest of Dutch society. The Vietnamese lady asked me if I could speak Dutch and I told her no, I could only figure out some of it.

There was a tall, lean and serious-minded American there who had recently graduated from Washington STate University. He had trim mid-brown hair, very pale skin and thick-rimmed glasses. He said he had voted for Bush but was not so sure if sending troops into Iraq would be the right decision.

I flicked through trivial pursuit cards – testing myself on the answers, Boys love collecting things. They are stamp collectors, some collect mustard pots and other collect cars. Some of us collect information. A girl sat down to my left. She was tall, medium build and she had chin length blonde hair. She had green eyes with pupils that ran through her irises both up and down to touch the whites of her eyes. I have never seen such eyes. She wore a nondescript top and green combat trousers. She has very fair skin. Being a garrulous sort I turned to her and said, ”hello, what;s your name?” She murmured something demurely. ”Sorry, what’s that?” She mumbled again. ”I am afraid I didn’t quite catach that, could you repeat that please.?” Finally I caught it, ”Judith.” She was a little S-H-Y. It was not a promising start to what was to be the longest relationship of my life.

Judith was a German law student who had been at a students’ conference. She was making the most of the fact that she was in the Netherlands to do a spot of sight-seeing. She was the a year younger than me. I suggested we go out to a bar. She readily accepted.

We walked down the freezing street. I explained my jacket situation. We got to a nearby bar and went in. I had beer and she asked for tea. The barman was a Dutchman who was some way past 50. This ageing rocker had his grey hair tied back in a pony tail. He had a white shirt open to the sternum – revealing his pectoral pubes. He was red of skin and had a hacking smoker’s cough. His crow’s feet indicated a life lived to the full.

Judith ordered tea and sat delicately – enthralled by my conversation. Judith took milk with her tea. There was a very tall and slim Netherlander there. This bloke had long brown hair and a little moustache and was in his 30s. He told us he had an English wife and she always took milk in her tea too.

After a good chinwag there we went back to the hostel. I liked Judith and did most of the talking. I asked her about German history. I threw in the odd German word I happened to now. She found this a little funny. Finally it was time to go to bed. We walked up the stairs together. At my landing I said goodbye to her.

The next morning I had my breakfast and the German girl was not there. I hung around reading those cards until she came down. I made a point of speaking to her again. I fancied her a lot but did not fancy my chances. She had been sociable but had evinced no interest in me romantically.

I visited the Anne Frank house which overlooked a canal halfway between the hostel and Dam Square. I had heard of Anne Frank when I was little. I had seen a low budget British miniseries about it when I was 12. I had dipped into the diaries when I was 17. I took and especial interest in the passages where she described her lesbian proclivities – she desired to fondle the tits of her friend. Nice! So it was not all a sad story.

At the end of the house there was a cinema. They presented various controversial situations. They asked the audience to vote by button whether they thought that in each case freedom of expression should be upheld or some other public interest trumped it. In most cases I voted for freedom of expression.

Later I told Judith I ahd been there. She said it was almost compulsory for every German who visited Amsterdam to go to that house.

I went to the Joods Museum. It was informative and they even had the mikvah baths – ritual baths for women after menstruation. I saw video clips of interviews with Dutch Jews recalling life before the Holocaust.

I went to the ship museum. I saw a resplendent royal barge. I was captivated by royal majesty and pageantry. I was pleased that the Dutch too could put on a good show. I walked around an old wooden warship. In an officer’s cabin at the aft I met a Dutch couple and they pointed to the ceiling – klein, they remarked. They translated in case I had not got it. The ceiling was low.

I went to the porno museum in the red light district. There was all sorts of porn and sex toys. There was even cartoon porn. Someone had drawn cartoons of characters having sex – it was all very unrealisitc, They were not meant to look like real people. I saw a mock up of a hooker’s chamber and chose to listen to the recored voice in French. It said that the girls had no pimp and worked for themselves.

I found the old headquarters of the Vereeinidge Oost Indisch Compagnie – the United East India Company. It is known in the Anglosphere as the Dutch East India Company. There was nothing to see but the VOC log on the wall.

I found West Indisch Huis. It is not that large – a distinguished red brick affair from the 18th century. It had no buildings adjoining it and is near Dam Rak. West Indies House was the headquarters of the Dutch West Indies Company. It is not widely realised that the Netherlands has territory in the Caribbean. Aruba, Barbuda and Curacao are all Dutch territory – known as the ABC islands. Surinam was a Dutch colony. Sint Martin is also Dutch. The Dutch West Indies Company bought slaves from African slave dealers in West Africa. In some cases Dutchmen attacked people and enslaved the Africans themselves rather than relying on other Africans to kidnap people and force them into slavery. These unfortunate people were taken across the Atlantic and set to work in dreadful conditions on plantations. This cruelty generated huge profits for the Dutch West India Company. Some other western European lands were at the same game.

Behind wEST Indisch Huis I saw little children playing in the playground – white and black. I thought the story had a happy ending.

I came to recognise the flag of Amsterdam. It had black and red bars. Three large white X’s are on the black bar that runs down the middle of the flag. It does not seem very dignified. It reminded me of my dad’s rugger shirt.

I got my jacket back once it was mended.

I met Judith again and chatted with her. She opened up to me a little. She was from Bavaria and was the eldest of three. She had a sister four years younger than her and a brother four years younger than that. Judith had spent a year in the US as an au pair. She spoke very good English but not quite fluent. She lived on a famr when not at university. She was very nubile but could make more of her feminimity.

I told her about my day and she toold me about hers. I said I wanted to go to the Van Gogh Museum the next day and I suggested that she come too. She agreed. She looked up her train times and saw that she could delay by a few hours. She had been planning to head out the next morning first thing.

We chatted till we were about the only ones left in the communal area. Again we walked up together and parted on the landing.

The next day I met her at breakfast. We set out for the van Gogh gallery. I had asked a Dutchman how to pronounce van Gogh. I had heard van go, van gog, van jog, van goj, van joj. I cannot spell the proununciation. A ‘g’ in Dutch (unless part of ‘ing’) is prounounced with a strangulatory sound almost like the ‘kh’ sound in some languages or the ‘j’ in Spanish. By the way the ‘v’ in ‘van’ is prounounced as an ‘f’.

We got to the gallery in good time and walked in admiring the art work. We soon realised that it was the wrong gallery. The van Gogh gallery was adjacent to the one that we were in but we did not care. I had eyes only for Judith anyhow.

There was a letter in English from an artist. It mentioned roosters and Judith used the word ‘cock’ in relation to them. I said this could be misinterpreted. She corrected herself and said rooster but was not embarrassed or amused. This was my attempt at flirtation.

We walked back towards the hostel. At a traffic lights we had to stop. A button of mine was undone. She seized her chance. She stepped forward and did it up on my green brown tartan lumberjack’s shirt. Maybe I still have that shirt. I recognsiedf this grooming gesture for what it was – an excuse to come into my personal space. Thank god I left that button undone! I made a move forward – and wavered. I saw her start towards me, then hesitate. We understood each other. In for the kiss. I made is a fairly lingering one. It was quite satisfying. Finally, no more will she won’t she.

I was glad that we had broken the ice. We walked hand in hand. We snogged now and then. We went to an upstairs cafe on our way back to the hostel. I saw a middle-aged slim Dutchman at a nearby table. He was in a formal shirt, tie and smart trousers. On a break from his office. He smoked as he chatted. His two female companions were well made-up though not sexily dressed. They were a few years younger than him. Yes, people could smoke in bars back then. It is ahrd to think now. It was the most normal thing in the world not long ago. Now it just seemes to belong to a different era. I wonder why I remember that threesome – by using tat word I am not implying that they got it on.

We sipped our coffee and chatted. Judith was growing on me. I felt my dick bulging. I wishED I could have sex with her that day. But where? Would she did it so soon? Would I see her again. I made some lustful remark that she did not seem to pick up on.

We walked back the hostel and got her rucksack. I volunteered to carry it. We made our way to the railway station. It was a good long walk. At one street corner we stopped as the traffic went by and had a good long snog. A white van crawled by. The podgy little middle aged man in the driving seat mouthed ‘awww’ at us – in mock disapproval.

We got to Centraal in good time. We found her platform. She had a long journey – about 8 hours. She took a photo of me. She got out her filofax and we exchanged addresses and email addresses. As we sat on a bench canoodling a middle aged Hollander came up to us. This thin ne=er do well addressed us in heavily accented English, ”I am from Amsterdam” and went on to ask for money. Judith gave him short shrift. ”Don’t you think it is rude to distrub people?” She was a lady who was forthright in her views on some occasions. The man went away empty handed. I was impressed with her. I was to be the victim of her tongue lashing sin the future.

Soon she had to board her train. I smooched her farewell. I hoped to see her again but did not bank on it. I was to see her again. It was a splendid and a very difficult relationship. I lament that I am not with her still.

That evening I chatted to a hefty American girl in the hostel. I shall call her Staicey because I do not remember her name. Staicey was from Arkansas and had long brown curly hair. She had graduated from college recently and worked in a doctor’s office. I thought to myself that being a secretary was no fit job for a graduate one should be the doctor. But of course what being a graduate has changed. It no longer marks one out as an intellectual but only as semi-literate. She told me when she was born her mother was 18. I told her when I was born my mother was 36 – double that age. When I did the maths I realised I was a little out – my mum was 35 when I hatched. We agreed to go around a bit together. I was thinking of trying to score with Staicey but never tried in the end. I should have. It cannot have hurt and was not exactly infidelity to Judith.

We went to the church on Dam Square and had a good look around. It was a very historical church an treasure was on display. Signs told us a lot about the place. It was quite bare inside – Cavinistic as one would expect.

Later we went to a cafe where I dined but she chose not to. We went back to the hostel and then our separate ways.

I visited the Oude Kerke which is on the edge of the red light district. It is large and empty inside but very old. It was atmospheric but only plain – it had no beauty to it.

I had seen just about everything in Amsterdam. I walked through a park not far from my hostel. I found the HQ of Amnesty International. I was getting a little bored.

I stayed up all night with Sam. Sam was a red-headed Briton who worked there. He was a Christian and an oceanographer. I had eavesdropped on his argument with Stan the eccentric American. Some of what Sam did had to be kept secret by law said the government. Stanley denounced this as even more state oppression – freedom of expression is important he said. Sam responded, ”National security is also important.” I liked little Sam.

I stayed up all night with Sam. He said the Mormons were not Christians – they had unbiblical beliefs. He showed me a video about their views. It told me how the Mormons believed that before the world was created there was the war in heaven. The devil fought god. Some humans sided with the devil, some with god and some stayed neutral. The ones who took the side of the devil were annihilated. The ones who sided with god were sent to earth and blessed. The ones who had been neutral were sent to earth but were punished for being neutral – by being given black skin. It was a flagrantly racist belief. I was rather shocked.

I was to discover that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) defended slavery. They refused to allow blacks to be priests in their church until the 1970s.

I set out fro Centraal in the wee hours. I got my airport train. I was in adaze as I arrived at Schipohl. I remember seeing a Dutch family coming back from a tropical holiday. They had two children. The mum was about 40 and her age was ctaching up to her. She had flabby cheeks on a face that would once have been pretty. Her full lips were well made up and a tan adorned her body.

I asked for a stamp at passport control. The black haired young immigration officer looked at me from behind his little glasses. ”you are in the European Union so you do not need one.” I requested one. He declined. Ho hum/

Schipohl oh dear Schipohl – large and airy as ever. Tranquil, efficent is a tiny bit banal. I got my plane easy enough,

Later that morning I ran into a boy froms chool named Ormrod on the train. I also got chatting to a teacher on the train – he worked at Fulford Gate near York. I asked him about the battle of Fulford Gate. The man had thin dark hair and thick rimmed black glasses. His goattee suited him. He was a kindly if mundane tupe of person. He was about 10 years my elder. He had been marking papers which was how I clocked him as a teacher. We talked about Ireland in the 1920s. I must have got carried away as a girl my age came and courteously asked me to pipe down.

Back to Midlands school. I jumped into bed and dozed off my staying up all night.

Sir Oswald Mosley reassessed.

Standard

Sir Oswald Mosley was born in 1896. He came from an aristocratic family in the English West Midlands. Mosley’s father was a baronet that is to say that he had the style ‘sir’ in front of his name. Oswald Mosley being the eldest son later inherited the baronetcy.

Oswald Mosley attended Winchester College. Winchester College is a boarding school for boys aged 13-18. Winchester College was founded in the 14th century by King Richard II. Winchester Collge is a very prestigious school and its pupils tend to be upper class. It was and is one of the more intellectually inclined public schools in the United Kingdom. Mosley though was not academically minded. He was intelligent certainly but was not highly so – not a bookish sort of person. Mosley wrote in his autobiography ”My Life” that there was much homosexuality at Winchester but this was not to his taste. Mosley was a sportsman and always urged his followers to have a physically active life.

After leaving school Mosley went to Sandhurst. Sandhurst is the royal military academy. That is to say that it is for training army officers. Mosley worked hard there and did well. He was commissioned as an officer in the British Army just as the Great War broke out. Mosley served with distinction on the Western Front. Later he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps which was the forerunner of the RAF.

Oswald Mosley returned to the United Kingdom as the war was ending. He was elected to Parliament for the Harrow constituency. He was a member of the Conservative Party. However, he said that he was not there to serve a political party but to represent men of his age who had cut their teeth in the war.

Mosley was approached by men who had formerly served under his command. They were Irishmen and complained about the conduct of the Crown Forces in Ireland. The Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary was made up of men from Great Britain as were the so-called Black and Tans. Mosley was shocked by what he heard but trusted his former comrades. He complained bitterly in the House of Commons about misconduct by security forces in Ireland. He advocated giving in to the IRA. Tom Barry in the Guerrilla Days in Ireland said that some Conservatives in Parliament spoke up for the IRA. presumably he was alluding to Mosley.

Mosley married Lord Curzon’s daughter. The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston was the grand old man of British politics. Lord Curzon had been Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary. He was tipped to be Prime Minister but it was felt a lord could no longer serve in that office. Lady Cynthia CUrzon had a Jewish grandmother but this did not seem to bother Mosley at the time.

Mosley soon left the Conservative Party. He sat as an independent until joining the Labour Party.

He lived the high life. He had many affairs but a deferential press kept this secret. He said vote Labour sleep Tory. His mistresses tended to be from upper class families with traditionalist views.

Mosley was restless and had drastic plans to abolish unemployment. He grew frustrated that the Labour Party was over-cautious. He felt they were in hoc to middle class opinion. Despite his left-wing views he did not forgo his mansion and fine cars.

Mosley lost his seat in Parliament. He became bitter at what he saw the establishment – the banks, the press, big business and the ‘old parties’ by which he meant Conservative, Labour and Liberal. He looked with envy to Italy where an authoritarian government got things done. He called them Blackshirts.

Mosley founded the NEW Partt in 1930. He advocated a corporatist state to tackle property. He said that all must serve te nation and none must serve the faction. His party did not seem to be extreme at the beginning. Some Labour and Conservative MPs were briefly members.

The New Party failed to win any seats in parliament. Its support was mainly working class and urban. The voters were mostly former Labour voters. The New Party took an increasingly fascist turn. Its members wore black uniforms and modeled themselves on the fascists in Italy. The New Party advocated a small directory ruling the country with almost dictatorial powers subject to being accountable to parliament.

Mosley turned the New Party into the British Union of Fascists (BUF). The BUF were often called Blackshirts. Mosley was hailed as the leader. The BUF went around in black uniforms and did the Nazi salute. They rewrote Nazi and Italian fascist songs. He visited Italy and met Mussolini whom he admired. His called his newspaper ‘Action’. He believed that he was above all a man of action. The BUF flag had a symbol with a circle to symbolise unity and eternity and a bolt of lighting for action. He was a mesmeric public speaker.

Mosley had support from Lord Harmsworth and the Daily Mail. Mosley was attracted by what Hitler was doing in Germany. Mosley started to make anti-Jewish speeches. He later claimed he was not against Jews as such but only against their misuse of the UK for their own ends. He said that Jews controlled international high finance and had caused the Great Depression.

Mosley tried to start a radio station playing popular music to raise money through advertising. This would then finance his party. It came to little Mosley advocated free trade within the British Empire – he really wanted to preserve the empire. He did not recognise that Canada was moving closer to the US in policy. Mosley made inconsistent speeches depending on his audience.

Mosley’s men clashed with communists. He held some startling rallies at Olympia. The violence in repelling communist hecklers became too much. The Public Order Act banned the wearing of uniform by political parties.

The New Party did not even contest the 1935 election. Mosley changed te name to the British Union of Fascists (BUF).

In the east End of London the British Union of Fascists baited Jews. In 1936 he tried to march through the East End. Jews and communists blocked the way. The police could not clear them. The anti-fascists were guilty of riotous disorder. The police told Mosley to caNCEL the march. He did. This is celebrated as the Battle of Cable Street.

I dislike Mosley and his fascist policies. Parties should not have paramilitary groups. His hate speech was repugnant;. However, he proposed a legal march and this should have been allowed to go ahead. The communists were much crueller than the BUF. Free speech was defeated that day and mob rule won.

The BUF went into decline after 1936. The economy had picked up and the initial interest in the party leached away. The BUF was short on money. The BUF was sympathetic to German and Italy and hostility towards these countries rose in the UK. The BUF extended its name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. Despite this it was still known as the BUF. The BUF can be called Nazi since National Socialist is abbreviated to Nazi.

The Civil War in Spain raged from 1936 to 1939. Mosley wanted to see the communists defeated in Spain but advocated British neutrality. He used Spain as a byword for a feeble state of the sort that he did not want the United Kingdom to become.

Mosley’s power was in London especially East London. There were many Jews in East London and some native Britons there were anti-Semitic. He had support in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. He often spoke of England rather than Britain even in Glasgow.

Many people left the BUF and formed the British People’s Party. William Joyce was one of these. jOYCE later broadcast for Nazi Germany to the UK. After the war Joyce was hanged for treason.

Mosley was a ridiculous figure. His facial expression seems a little demented. Was he knocked on the head in the war?

In 1939 war loomed. Mosley started a peace campaign. He had the slogan – mind Britain’s business. He said what Germany did in Easter Europe was not the UK’s problem. The UK ought to stay out of it. People said the UK needed to repel aggression. Mosley said the UK only needed to repel aggression against the British Empire – not against any other country. Mosley advocated beefing up the British military enormously and then staying out of the war. This was a policy of armed neutrality. He said that peace through strength was easily achievable. The UK could rearm well enough to take on all comers and this would be much cheaper than fighting an actual war. I think Mosley got this one right. He had a slogan – who the heck would fight for Beck? He alluded to Colonel Josef Beck – the Polish Foreign Minister.

The war broke out in September 1939. Mosley said that the UK should never have declared war but not the war had broken out every Briton’s duty was to do all he could for victory.

Mosley was very unpopular. He was assaulted in the street. He was accused of being a traitor.

In May 1940 Churchill became Prime Minister. He was a Conservative. Labour formed a coalition with the Conservatives under Churchill. One of Labour’s conditions was that Mosley be interned. Under Regulation 18B Oswald Mosley was interned in Holloway Prison. His wife Diana gave birth that month and just after that she was interned too. Their children were fostered to friends.

Mosley’s oldest son was an adult when the war broke out and served in the army.

Mosley was allowed to hire other prisoners as servants. Mosley was released on the grounds of ill health in November 1943. This caused a public outctry. It says much fro the British love of liberty that even in the midst of such a war he was let out/

After the war Mosley published my answer. This stated why the war should not have been fought. He acknowleged that many Jews had been killed in the war but said so had many other people. He said that Britiash Jews disliked the Nazis for their mistreatment of German Jews. British Jews tried to get the UK into a war against Germany to rescue the German Jews.

Mosley was not given a passport after the war. He moved to Southern Ireland after the war because he did not need a passport to do so. He was popular in Eire which had been neutral in the war. Mosley was also an advocate of the Irish republican view on Northern Ireland. In Southern Ireland it was possible for aristocrats to live an Edwardian existnece partly for financial reasons.

After some years Mosley was given a passport. He moved to Paris and lived there. His sons from his second marriage went to a French school.

In the mid 1950s Mosley returned to the UK to campaign against non white immigration. he said West Indians preferred to be in the West Indies but were force to move for economic reasons. Mosley wished to make it viable for them to remain in thre Caribbean. HE SAID the UK must only buy Commonwealth prodycts in futute.

Mosley tried to be elected for North Kensington but lost. His son Max campaignedf for him. Oslwad Mosley was assaulted. By 1958 Mosley retired from politics.

His book My Life came out in the 1960s. It was peppered with the phrase Europe a nation. He felt that the world wards had broekn out due to European division. He was a strong beliebver in the EEC and European integration. he wnated American troops out of Europe.

He also called for Africa to be divided with 1/3rd for whites and the rest for blacks. Funny that – whites were about 2% of the population.

Mosley died in Paris in 1980. He was cremated there and his ashes were scattered.

I do not like this man. He was a would be tyrant. I am glad he failed. He was right about the war though.

British nazis today in the BNP are not like him. They disagre with him on Ulster and the EU.

A decade on from the two flaming towers.

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There will be numberless comments in the public domain assessing where we are ten years after the New York atrocities. We all know that a number of planes were hijacked in the US on 11 September 2011. Two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. About 3000 people were killed. One planed crashed into the Pentagon. One plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania and was probably headed for the Whit e House.

The War on Terror was a phrase coined in the immediate shadow of those events.

The war on terror had been going on for some time. Al Qa’eda had been attacking American targets in the US and abroad since at least 1996. This did not start with George W Bush. Al qAEDA Intensified the conflict. As Blair said if they could have killed 30 000 rather than 3000 they would have done it. 9/11 was not supposed to be Al Qa’eda’s last attack on the West. They would have gone on and on and on. The US and the West in general had to respond. Moderate MUSLIms had to respond. We must remember that most of Al Qaeda’s victims are Muslims – in Afghanistan, in Pak, in Indonesia, in Morocco and so on. The number of deaths suffered by the US and her allies was going to go up in the aftermath of 9/11 as the US escalated the fight againt Al Qaeda. Casualties did go up. In the long run they will go down.

Al Qaeda has not been able to pull off a major terrorist attack in the US in 10 years. That is a testament to the good work of the American securtiy services and those of other securtiy services around the world. I am not saying that Al Qaeda will never be able to do one but 10 years without one is a major success. Al Qaeda have tried many times in the interim.

The 9/11 actoricties lead to the liberation of Aghanistan and Iraq. Much though leftists hate to admit it these countries are among the freest in the region. They have the greatest equality for men and women; the most religious tolerance; the mose genuine democracies and so on. This has come at a price. Obama and co were sctahing in denouncing Bush’s poiliucies with regard to these countries but Obama had ploughed the same furrough as Bush. I praise Obama for tacitly acknowledging that Bush was right and he was wrong. Bush’s policies have finally borne fruit,

The Arab Spring may be a dalyed reaction to the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I do not approve of all the anti terrorist legisdlation. Some has gone too far. There have been bad things done by the coaliotion. Guantanmo Bay should have been closed years ago.

I have to admit that wrongdoing by the US Government was partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Of course the attackers themselves were responsible. However, unfair US policies did so much to store up hatred for the US in the Arab and Muslim world. Being blidnly supportive of unjust actions by Israel is the main part of this. I am saying these attacks are understandable not in the sense that understandable is a code word for justifiable. I use the world understandable in the correct sense in that I know why the attackers committed this crime. It was hatred for America’s freedom as Busgh said but it was also an attempt to hit back at the US for assisting Zionists.

Lembit Opik a Liberal Democrat MP opined that there was a war on liberalism after the attacks. He claimed that it was waged by the US Government. A person with more perspective would see that the real enemies of liberalism were Al Qa’eda. Al Qa’eda were a rather bigger threat to Lembit Opik’s politically correct worldview thatthe US Government.

A world run by Al Qaeda would be pretty close to hell on earth. Think of unfreedom. The Koran takes centre stage. No equality for women – not religious freedom, no entertainment, no alcoholo, no pork, no Jews or American alive.

A terrorist movement is almost impossibly to comprehgensively defeat. even if they fire one shot a year they still exist. One can reduce them but nto annihilate them. If one negotated and made peace with Al Qaeda some ultra types within Al Qaeda would still carry on. Terrorism is a crime. Like rape and burglary it can never be weiped out only made more difficult.

Much good work has been done on this.
The crackpot conspiracy theories about the US Government carrying out these attacks show how stupid and bigotted many people are. Why would the US Government risk this? Didn;t the US Government look negligent being surprised by these crimes?

I look forward to the day when Al Qaeda is as far as possible destroyed.

Belgium: travel writing.

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I was a third year undergraduate when my parents decided to take me to Belgium. I took the coach to London and the tube to Waterloo Station. I was in good time for Eurostar. I found a weighing scales that asked me to enter my build and height. It adjudged me to be overweight. I had been on a strict died for 3 months – no beer, no junk food. Still I was overweight. I later told my mum about this nasty weighing scales saying I was overweight. She said I ought to have called myself broad and not medium build, maybe then it would not have classified me as being a bit porky.

I walked down the escalator to the underground Eurostar section. It was like airport check-in but a quick and calm one. I passed on from the baggage X ray and felt a certain lightness in my pocket. I reached down and felt my left pocket. No phone. I hurried back and the smiling customs officer handed it to me.

In a trice I was aboard the gleaming silver train. I was a drizzly March afternoon but I was in high spirits. Waterloo is my station. I have used it a lot since the age of 14. In certain periods in my life I have passed through it an awful lot. Walking out towards the Thames I would look out on London and feel a deep contentment. It was London and freedom. There really was a big world outside boarding school. There would a be a couple of ne’er do wells seated on cardboard in the underpass so the adult world was not all wealth and ease.

That day I settled into smartest and most modern train I have ever seen. It was air conditioned and brand new it seemed. Thanfully it was only half full. I sat beside a gorgeous Dutch blonde of about my age. She was of normal height and perfectly proportioned. She was studying fashion in London. Her pale skin, sensuous curves and tight clothes were winning. Her flawless English purred out of her full lips with that slight Dutch accent that is so sexy. Her tousled hair was semi-tied back – she had on a white blouse and dark close fitting blue jeans. Somehow I got the idea that she did not like me as much as I liked her. Maybe it was the fact that she said she was going to sit somewhere else and moved to the next coach.

We glided into Brussels a couple of hours later. It was all ultra-modern. The railway terminal was grey but somehow not dispiriting. The placed was not too crowded. At the foot of the escalators an electric barrier opened and I was through. So Belgium for the first time. It is one of the nearest countries to Ireland and yet I had never been there. I was glad to finally make it. I walked out through the bland concourse. Some have said that Belgium is the last word in urban banality and in places that is true.
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BRUSSELS

As I exited the building I was approached by a young black man who said something in French, I did not catch what. A moment’s hesitation made him immediately tell me in English. He had a clipboard and was asking me to sign a petition against landmines and make a donation to his charity. I declined. I was to see many black people around. Many are Belgian citizens. Black Belgians generally come from the French-speaking countries of Africa – especially the Democratic Republic of Congo. The D R Congo was a Belgian colony until 1960.

Outside the rain was tumbling freely. I saw some tall dull coloured buildings – it was an accurate first impression of Brussels. What should one think of a city that has lent its name to a universally reviled vegetable.

I was heading to Brugge to meet my parents. I made my way to the metro station. I asked a question in French of a bloke who seemed young in outlook but almost middle-aged in appearance. This chap was tallish and had blond-brown hair, a couple of days stubble, a denim jacket and a brown shirt. His ruddy complexion seemed to mark him out as a horny handed son of toil. I shall call him Luitpold. Lutipold answered my question and we fell into a conversation. We sat together on the metro. I remakred that there were many Congolese there, ”Il y a n’trop” – there are too many. He seemed to take and impish pleasure in making this controversial remark. I know the feeling. Although we conversed in French he was a Fleming. Belgium has two major indigenous ethnicties. The Flemings in the north speak the Flemish language. Flemish is almost identitical to Dutch. The Walloons in the south speak a dialect of French that is almost the same as standard French. The Flemish are in a small minority. Along the German border towns such as Eupen and Malmedy have a population of Belgian citizens of German blood. Brussels, the capital, is netural beteen Flanders (the Flemish-speaking region) and Wallonia (the French-speaking region). Brussels has both languages with equal status.

Aboard the metro train we got speaking to an older bloke. He was spare of build and had light grey hair. His wizened features and hoarse voice marked him out as a nicotine addict. I shall call him Eustace. Eustace spoke French with us and told me that he too was a Fleming. He corrected a point of my French grammar and told me that a certain word was the ”substantif” – the noun.

Ere long I was in the station I needed to be to catch the iron horse to Brugge. I think it was Centraal. I boarded the limpid Belgian train as night fell. I was engrossed in a good tome. I heard some south of England accents. I notice three women some way beyond menopause seated in the next row. Mischievously I asked them in French, ”Mes dames est-ce que vous etes angalises?” – My ladies are you Englishwomen? I knew damn well they were English. ”Pardon?” said a slim on – a look of nervous discomfort was plain on her face. She was not confident about understanding French. I then spoke to them in English.
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BRUGGE

It was not long before I arrived at Brugge. I got out of the station via the underpass. I noticed an ad for a pub named Celtic Ireland ”in the hart of the city”. I felt I should coorrect them about the spelling of hart.

The city was storied and distinctive. It was made of red and brown brick. It was all tidy, compact and very clean. An unmoving canal bifurcated it. I saw some looming towers. I walked by the canal and saw a bearded older man togged out in a navy blue overcoat and a black fedora house. If I had not known better I might have assumed that this grizzled Belgian was doing a spot of cottaging. I asked him for directions in French and he assisted me. Despite this being the Flemish speaking area where they prefer English to French I was determined to use French.

I found my way through the deserted foggy streets to the hotel. The teenaged receptionist smiled at me from behind his geek glasses. He spoke good English. The place was undistinguished but homely. It had an odd Belgian smell to it – not unpleasant. I find it hard to describe. My room was commodious. I awaited the arrival of my parents.

After a couple of hours I grew a little anxious. I went and had a nosh in a local eating house.
They were flying into Charleroi airport. I feared they had had a car crash. They are always damn slow at everything especially my incompetent mother. Finally they pitched up – cheerful and brimming with energy. We had a good chinwag. I hit the hay.

The next morning we had a good mozy around the town. I founde Flemish was deciphrable. One inscription on a house read, ”Hier lieft und werkt …” then the person’s name. It meant ”here lived and worked …” It was c cloudy day but I was happy to be exploring a new city. I had a spring in my step.

We looked at the soaring cathedral and some other buildings that I cannot remember. There were quite a few tourists around considering the time of year. I enjoyed the town but it was not memorable. It seemed to be prosperous in a way that eschewed ostentation.

We dined in a pub and I saw the place mat had a long spiel about Charles V. In French the call him Charles Quint using the Latin word for ‘fifth; which is quint. I translated it for my aged parents.

That evening in the lobby of the hotel we spoke to a 60 something couple of British tourists. I shall call the chap Peter and the chapess Beverly. I have chosen Peter to represent his bog standard deceny. I have chosen Beverly to reflect her snooty pretentiousness and bad taste. Both were northern English. Peter was an amiable person and had short tidy grey hair. He had worked in shipping or something and recommended I consider working in Antartica. I courteously shot down the idea. I later felt bad about that. The poor old guy was trying to be helpful. His lady friend was haughty and distant – laughing in what she assumed was a sophisticated manner. It turned out they were both divorced and in a twilight years liaison. Peter told us that Beverly had been the Liberal candidate for a parliamentary seat. I cannot remember which – some place in northern England. She was good looking for her age.

I later spoke to my mother about Beverly’s Liberal views. My mum was surprised and said that she thought Beverly would be a Conservative, ”she would want to be one of the ladies in the hats.”

It was a rainy day the next morning. We toom Peter’s umbrella. Peter ran out after us and told us with a smile. I was sent back to fetch our one.

I asked my dad if he had ever been to Belgium before. He had – 39 years before. I was amazed. Even being 39 years old seemed being like a dionsaur. He had worked in London as a barman at the age of 19. He and another Irish boy had taken a ferry to Belgium for the weekend just for an adventure. He told me his mate’s name. How did they cope? They had not had a word of French between them. My father looked very stylish in his dark green Aquascutum overcoat but he was beginning to look old. His skin was jaded and had lost his shine. The annular rings surrounded his eyes that were losing their sparkle. The grey hair crowded out the black ones.

We caught the train to Ypres which was not far away. This is another Flemish town but in the English speaking world it is known by the French version of the name. Ypres is pronounced ”EE-pruh”. The Flemish name for it is Ieper. British soldiers used to see Ypres and pronounced it ”Why-perz.”

It was a pleasant journey over as the rain lifted. From the railway station to the town centre was a walk of a mile over a flat surface. Many of the roads are cobblestoned. One sees neat little brown brick houses all about. Belgium is such a tidy country and everything functions so well.

We got to the main square. There stood the cloth hall. It looked about a mile high. This region grew rich on the cloth trade and the cloth hall was the centre of that trade. Although it is gargantuan it is not beautiful. We had a look inside. I studied the exhibition on the First World War carefully. Ypres is mainly known for the fact that from 1914 to 1918 the British Army battled against the German Army just north of the town. Ypres was horrendously bombarded. The town was terribly scarred and many buildings were destroyed. I have seen photos of the city when it was mutiltaed. It is amazing that it was built back in such a fine state.

We met a trio of British tourists and chatted to them. I shall christen them all. Cedric was a tall man of about 60. He had grey hair, very trim like his figure. He had a public school accent. He had been to St Catherine’s College, Oxford to read Geography. He had taught at Starehe School in Nairobi before setting up his own gardening business near Oxford. He played gold with Lord Butler. He told me about the cobble stones in Radcliffe Square in Oxford. I thought it a crime that gaps were filled in with concrete. He told me this council penny pinching was very short sighted. Cobblestone is more expensive but will last for centuries whereas concrete will not even last decades.

Ethelred was an Englishman of about 60 too. He was just below average height and walked with a slight limp. His face sloped down to one side. It was not as though he had had a stroke but was just a tiny bit disabled. He had an odd penguin like gait. He had blood shot eyes, pubic eyebrows and hair that was messy in a posh way. His wife was there and I shall dub her Penelope. Penelope had a plummy voice and was a dumpy woman of 55 or so with dark bushy hair. She was chirpy. All were good company.

They were there to do a battlefield tour like us. Ethelred told us his uncle had been killed there but he was not going to try and find the grave. Ethelred also mentioned that he had lived in County Kerry in the late 1960s. People were decent to him but the only ones he really made friends with were other foreigners. He had dropped out of university. Now his sons were going to university he said he had to – so he enroled on a course with the Open University. He was reading history. He said there had been no conscription of Britons in the Great War. I hated to correct him – there was from January 1916. He did not seem to be bothered.

We found a minibus that would take us on the tour. Two oldish chainsmoking Belgians sat in the front – a woman and a man. They spoke no English and this couple kept themselves to themselves – they were driving the minbus. Fleur was our guide. She was an obese Belgian girl in her 20s – one of those happy fat people. Besides being obese she was still unattractive. Fat girls can still have pretty features and have their fat well distributed. She had a pasty complexion and lank dirty blonde hair poor thing but she did not let it get her down. She told us she had had an Egyptian boyfriend. My mum remarked that it was unsurprising that an Arab should go for a a fat chick. Fleur told us that the couple in front were her parents. Fleur spoke good English. She was eager to tell us about English soldiers who fought at the three battles of Ypres. Then she remembered that three of us were Irish and added Irish soldiers too as an afterthought. She spoke quietly and with poise.

We drove out of town – Ypres is very small. She pointed out many places associated with the Great War. There were cemetries aplenty and trench emplacements. At the top of a hill we stopped and got out. There was a small musesum. It was pleasingly shambolic. In three small rooms they had a treasure trove of memorobilia. I suppose after the war they were awash in this junk – shell cases, bayonets, old guns, helmets and swords. They had it from all sides. I saw the ulhans’ hats. An ulhan was a German cavalryman. Their black felt hats had a human skull on them – not a real one, that should have been obvious. It was a silver coloured image of a skull. A little macabre but I suppose they were being straight about what war involves – none of this ”neutralising assets” bullshit. Who is fooled by such sophistry.

We went out the back of the museum past some artillery pieces which must have been oiled recently as they were not rusting. The damp grown was a little muddy and the trees had only a few leaves in them. We walked through some trenches. Were they left over from the war or replicas? I am not sure. Every time it rained the water washed some mud into trenches gradually filling them up. The war had ended 90 years before.

We turned around and looked back into the town a couple of miles away. We were well above it. This clearly was a vital position. If the Germans had captured this line of trenches they could have shelled Ypres with a direct line of view. In fact they had to shell it from further away and had little idea what they were hitting. The managed to do a lot of damage anyway. However, if they had have held this position then they could have inflicated that harm a lot sooner.

I did not find the place dispirting or exhilirating only interesting.

Later we went to Tyne Cot cemetery. It is called this because many British soldiers from the Tyneside area are buried there. Cot is another word for cottage in the lingo of northern England. For those of you who do not know the Tyne is a river in the north of England – it flows through a city called Newcastle-upon-Tyne. People from around there are called Tynsiders.

The cemetery is on a grassy slope. The main cross and inscriptions are towards the top of the slope with the entrance at the bottom. In a space of a couple of acres 10 000 men are buried. I say men but many were boys. It was a pretty and a poignant site. It is odd to think that somewhere so sad can be beautiful. The cream yellow sandstone headstones are perfectly kept as is the grass. The headstones tell the name and age and unit of the dead – often the date of death too. Some hold the remains of a soldier who was so blown to kingdom come that his dead body could not be identified. ”A soldier for the Great War – known unto God.” Rudyard Kipling came up with that expression.

It was deeply affecting. I tried to ponder their sacrifice. It was impossible to fathom. A school group was there. These British teenagers strode around. They were nonchalant and playful. It was galling that none seemed to appreciate what they were seeing. There was no sense of gratitude.

I read the legend that I have read countless times. ”Their name liveth forevermore.” The saddest thing is how false this claim is. There name does NOT live forevermore. It grieves me but most people are utterly unmindful of these sacrifices. There is no appreciation. One my my schoolmates remarked that he did not wake in the morning and say ‘ -oh thanks guys for the dying in the war.

My mum remarked that it was moving to see the youngsters there. These prancing girls and boys were little younger than some of the soldiers who sleep their last long sleep beneath the trainers of these disrespectful descendants. I do not wish to come across as a young fogey. Who else should they act you may ask. When I was there age – and I wa snot long out of my teens when I visited this place – I was well aware of people dying for their country. I was enormously impressed by such courage – even fixated by it. I acted with decorum in cemeteries.

Later we went back to town and had luncheon. I noticed a Church of Scotland church near the centre and had a look-see in that. It was opened by Field Marshall Douglas Haig. He was a north Briton and presumably a communicant of that church.

We walked back to the station. On the journey home Penelope but her feet on the seat. The bearded little ticket inspector came along and chided her. ”A smacked bottom” she quipped. He turned and in perfect English explained that it was unpleasant for other passengers to have dirty seats. Once the English trio had gone my fatehr told me that he had been displeased to see her feet up like that but had said nothing. We bade farewell to this threesome when they got off at their stop.
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AFTER YPRES

I wonder why Belgium chose French as the language to use in the Congo when one considers that most Belgians have Flemish as their first language. I suppose they recognised that French was much more of a world language that Flemish-Dutch-Afrikaans. The Flemish upper class were fluent in French even in the 19th century and much of the Flemish bourgeoisie spoke good French too.

We went on an outing to another nearby Belgian city the next. I cannot remember which city we visited. Suffice it to say it was a short train journey away and had a soaring cathedral, brown brick buildings and was spotless. My parents and I went out separate ways for an hour or so. I needed to take a dump. I wandered into a cfe with a view to unburdending my bowel – I was nearly touching cloth. I ordered the only thing I could say in Flemish, ”warum melk” – ”warm milk.” The tall, muscular skinhead waiter was very handsome. He seemed like a gay wank fantasy. He gave me a mildly quizzical look and repeated my order, ”warum melk?” I nodded. By the way the w is pronounced v so it came out as varum melk.

I had two housemates – a Chinese Malaysian and a black Zimbabwean. The Zimbabwean had said to me that she trusted that I would be brining them back a present from Belgium. I obliged. I bought dakr chocolate and white chocolate. Dark chocolate is literally black in colour. White chocolate is actually light yellow. When I got back to the United Kingodm I gave the black chocolate to the black girl and the yellow chocolate to the yellow girl. I did not explain my reasoning for dishing out the gifts like this. They did not seem to twig. The Zim girl made hers into a scrumptious pudding of which I partook!

We strolled around town together to another wide open square. We saw a gaggle of youngish men walk by in Flemish folk dress. They wore loose white trousers, open loose jackets (mostly white) and multicoloured shirts. They had wooden clogs on and floppy hats. It made me think of unemployed Flemings from the 1930s. Maybe this was the last time it had been normal to dress like this. Their folk dress is a bit like the way British sailors dressed 200 years ago. I suppose that many Belgians were sailors. Theirs is a small country and one can never be far from the sea. Antwerp, the second largest city, is on the river Scheldt. From Antwerp one can sail to the open sea.

We had tea in an India tea house. It was charmingly furnished in a very Indian style. The place was fragrant and the music added to the ambience. I told my parents about India. They say looking profoundly satisfied and calm..

That evening at the railway station they asked me about my Master’s degree application. I decided that this was the moment to break it to them that my top choice had rejected me. My father tutted in momentary disappointment. He was not upset with me but obviously it was not good news.
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BACK TO BRUSSELS

The next day it was time to split. My parents traveled back to Charleroi to fly back to Eire. I took the choo choo into Brussels. I got myself to Graf van Vlaanderen – a seedy area – to book into the youth hostel at Rue de l’elephant. I spoke in French to the receptionist while making my reservation from the station. I got there and met a receptionist who was a couple of years older than me. He had short hair but a tall stature – he was athletic and gregarious. He responded to my French in English – with a francophone accnet. I booked into my dormitory. Having dumped my junk I headed into town.

On the metro I saw a small ad ”en ceinte? Nerveuse?” – ”pregnant? Nervous?”. It was a pro-Life charity offering support to pregnant women trying to persuade them not to terminate their foetuses. I was pro-Life at that time. It is odd what one remembers. Of all the dozens of ads I saw in the metro that is the only one that I can recall.

I got out somehwere central. The city had many mid grey stone buildings. It was rather like an Irish city. I asked direction of a shortish woman in 30s with glasses and brown hair. She heard my French and responded with a smile, in good English. So many Eurocrats around – they all speak English. I do not know if she was one of these.

Belgium is rather flat – especiallY the northern part of it. I got myself to Le Cour de Cassation. The Court of Cassation is like the suprem court, the court beyind which there is no appeal. This court was on a hill – so Belgium does have hills – even in the middle of it. It was an evening with a blue sky. I looked out over much of the city. The city was tranquil and not ugly. The court was a memorabel edifice. Its grandeur was detracted from by weeds growing out from between the slabs of granite. I saw some war memorials in front of it. Poor Belgians I thought – they had had a ghastly time in both world wars. Would it not have been better for them to have thrown oin the towel as soon as they were invaded in 1914 and spare themselves an awful lot of grief? Of course they did not know the war would last so long. If they had allowed te German Army saffe passage across their territory maybe German would have beaten the French immediately and the war would have been over. Belgium probably would have been annexed despite German promises to the contrary. German rule would not have been THAT bad. It would have been better than 16 000 000 people getting killed.

It was a blithe evening. I did not have a guidebook and so could not hit the main tourist attractions. I enjoyed my leisurely exploration of that noble city. I felt a deep inner sense of calm and happiness. I sometimes get like that.

I went into a porn shop near a railway station. Porn shops often seem to be bear railway stations – dodgy people generally hang out in such places. There was a delightful display of degradation. I probably purchased some filth. The Belgians have a wonderfully broad-minded attitude to such things as obscene material – just like their cousins the Dutch. People talk about Catholic Belgium. What does that mean? Most people call themselves Christians there and Catholic Christians at that. They hardly ever go to church. They practically all use contraception. Catholic Belgium is a bullshit concept.

I headed back to my youth hostel. Nearby I saw a burger takeway joint. I ate something there. I spoke in French to the Moroccan who ran it. He was about 30 – average height and burly. He was kindly and soft-spoken. I used him as a French dictionary and found out the words for ring and handle. He was married. I asked him about getting to the airport the next day. He offered to take me! Too kind.

I went to an internet cafe. On that street I noted that many Muslims live there. There were signs in Arabic, hallal butchers and signs for shops selling produce from Algeria and Tunisia. There was also a Pakistani shop. The people from those former French colonies in North Africa – Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – are Muslim to a man. They all speak French. When they move to Belgium they join the French-speaking community. Some of the indigenous Walloons keep an arm’s length from the North African immigrants. Admittedly the immigrants are sometimes insular especially the very relgious ones. Some of these immigrants become Belgian citizens. The arrival of French-speaking people means that French speakers are coming close to parity of numbers with the Flemish speakers. Many of the Flemings do not like this – seeing their dominance challenged. Belgium has a political party called the Vlaams Belang – it used to be called Vlaams Blok. The Vlaams Belang campaigns for independence for Flanders. It is against immigration especially from Muslim countries for several reasons. It says immigration is bad in itself – adding to unemployment, social costs, crime and social division. It does not like the French-speaking community growing and they regard Islam as illiberal and dangerous.

In my hostel I spoke to my room mates. One was a middle age Oriental man. I greeted him in Chinese, Japanese, English and French. He nodded his head and held out his hands to signal incomprehension. How the hell did he get around? Was he a mute?

There was a black British guy a few years older than me. He was tall, lean and quiesecent. He had a mild West Midlands accent. He did not seem the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was a little mysterious and made veiled references to having lived abroad for a several years and beinf relgious. In the loo I found an abandoned porn mag. I used it for a tug. Later the black bloke found it and told me with mirth.

There were two Israelis of my age there. Both these boys had just finished their compulsory military service. I shall dub them Willard and Julio. Willard was shortish and had black curly hair down to his chin. He was also American as well as Israeli. He had a sharp nose on him and seemed sardonic and mean-spirited. I remarked about speaking French to people and them replying in English. ”Maybe they don;t like your French” he sneered. We talked about the immigrants from North Africa coming here. ”Why do they let them in?”, he asked rancorously. I felt there was a touch of Islamophobia to that question.

Julio was taller and had a beard that made him look rather older. Julio was originally from Venezuela but spoke good English with only a slight accent. He came across as calm and wiser than Willard. I liked Julio but not Willard.

The next day I went into town and dumped my rucksack in left luggage. It was a grey day but I was not letting this get my spirits down. I boarded a train to Waterloo. Waterloo was a battle fought on 18 June 1815. One the one side were the British, the Dutch and many German states (Germany was not an independent and untied country at the time). One the other side was a French army led by Napoleon. There were some Frenchmen who opposed Napoleon as a jumped-up self-appointed emperor and war monger. Belgium did not exist. Even the word Belgium had been forgotten for centuries. What we now called Belgium was then part of the Netherlands. So some of the troops whom we say were Dutch at the battle would not be regarded as Belgians.

The train slided through the mundane suburbs. I got off at the town of Waterloo not half and hour later. I wandered around it. The houses were substantial and coloured beige, dun and yellow. The broad streets were empty. I saw a spectacled black teenage girl and asked her directions. It turned out that the battlefield was not nearest the town of Waterloo nut nearer the next station. I got a bus on. The town at the battlefield was frightfull small.

There was a large old building there – two storeys which may have dated back to the battle. It was adorned with the flags of the countries that had participated in the battle. Perhaps incongruously the German flag fluttered there. Germany as such did not exist at the time. It was a pleasant gesture to have the French Tricolore there. I wondered whether one could even say that France fought at that battle. Napoleon Bonaparte commanded French troops there but Napoleon was not the rightful ruler of France – he was a usurper. The rightful ruler of France at the time was the corpulent King Louis XVIII.

I turned off the road to the right. I saw a huge mound rising suddenly from the grassy plain. The mound was steep – almost pyramid shape. I toiled up the acute incline. The wind was lashing down. I reached the top of the mound. A stone lion crowned the hillock. I tried to film as the wind whipped into my voice and carried my voice away. Almost none of my words were audible on the video I made. I surveyed the battlefield where perhaps 40 000 men had met their doom in a matter of hours. It called to mind the words of the Duke of Wellington, ”the only thing worse than a battle won is a battle lost.” Why did he say this? His message was that even a victory is noisome because of the deaths. I was peurile once and still am a little – looking on war as a sport. A dead enemy is a point scored. That is a horrendous way to look on it. Enemy soldiers are humans too. In total wars most men are conscripts – they never wanted to be soldiers. They all have family and friends who love them. It is hard not to be affected by grieving relatives.

There was nothing to see on the rolling plain. To y right I saw a motorway. I climbed down as the rain tumbled. I pottered about the uninspiring museum at the foot of the hill. I discovered that the hill on which the Duke of Wellington positioned his men was dug out after the battle. The earth was spread out over the land to make it even. What a pointless task. The hillock was to mark the spot where Prince William of the Netherlands was wounded in the battle.

I caught a bus back. A white bearded smiling driver was at the wheel. We listened to French language radio as we bumped along the country lanes of Wallonia.

The next morning I was off to the airport. At the main station a lot of renovation was in progress. It was surprisingly messy and sawdust strewn for just-so little Belgium. I asked for a ticket to the airport. The Walloon chick at the ticket counter smiled and snorted benignly at my French and answered me in English. I say she was a Walloon judging from her accent in English.

Down at the platform I inquired of a youth, ”Excusez-moi monsieur, est-ce que c’est le train pour l’aeroport?” The youth stammered, ”Uh…sorry.. I speak English.”

”Oh me too!” It was the train to the airport. The chap I had asked was an American tourist. We had a good chinwag on the way to the airport.

I got to the large and shiny airport. I boarded my kite of an airline that I cannot recall. I jetted to Dublin without incident. I spent a couple of days with mates there before venturing to the dark and cursed country hamlet where my parents lurked. They were always evil in their house – much more benificent when away from it.

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SCHOOLTRIP.

It was three years later that I went on a school trip back to the land of the Belgians. I had got the job and one of the things in the interview was would I be prepared to go to Belgium in February. I happily signed up for that. We got up about 5 in the am to meet at the school car park. We were missing a couple of days of school. I chided the small number of my pupils who were not going. ”Why are you not going?” I scorned them. I taunted them that I would set them an especially long and tedious homework for not going.

All aboard the coach! There must have been 30 boys aboard. They are too numerous to name nor can I remember them all. Let me tell you about the staff.

Rosie was an Irish bird whom I took for 25 but hadin fact hit the big three-O. She was blonde but not that blonde, she touched it up every month. She was desirable. She was gregarious and I wished I could have gone out with her. I did in fact ask her out some time later and she diplomatically lied about having a boyfriend. How thoughtful – spare my feelings and that. She was from Kerry but was spared that dopey accent by much time spent in Dublin.

Charlie Chuckles was an irascible leftist – bristling with opinions. He suffered from violent migraines and a violent hatred of George W Bush and all his evil works and all his empty promises. Charlie had a pate as bald as my anus and Mr Magoo glasses. I mean to say that my anus is bald – not that Mr Magoo glasses are bald altough they are actually bald. Phew – that cleared that up. Back to Charlie Chuckles. He was gunning for the worst dressed man of all time prize. He was your stereotypical bad taste teacher – nasal voice, caffein breath, shorts and sandals in winter. To cap it all he wore a bum belt with his suit to work. He combined his socialist opinions with a quite legendary miserliness. I should know – I was his housemate.

Steve was the next chap. Steve was the head of department. He was 42 but could pass for 62. His aged look was frightening. The front half of his head was bald but the back was thick with hair. He was hard to read – he seemed phlegmatic but could anger quickly. He was so understated that it was hard to tell when he was urinated off. He had a bucked tooth – tooth mind, not teeth. This was even more comical than having two bucked teeth. He had a paunch and a weary manner. His twin brother had died some months before so I suppose this had knocked the stuffing out of him. The was one of four sons born to an enlisted man in the RAF. He had the pleasure of growing up in Felixstowe which boasts that it is the UK’s largest container port. He worked his way to Oxford. Steve was a man devoid of airs anf graces. He never wore a proper siuot jacket to work – only his puffa.

Then there was me.

There was the short-arsed bus driver Terry. He was a likable sort and had been in the RAF.

I drifted in and out of sleep. The motorway was fairly empty at that time in the morning – that was the whole point of hitting the road at such an hour. We were making good headway – under the Dartford Tunnel, sorry not under the tunnel, through it. Under the tunnel – now that would be difficult.

I debated with Charlie. He treated me to his left wing bile. He was scathing of the Labour Government, of Bush and so on. He admired the Scandiavian countries. I defended many of the things he disliked. He said, ”I don’t want to be a slave do you?” He was said he believed in regulated capitalism but what we have is unregulated capitalism. In my view the economy is far too regulated already. I told him of my parents pushing me towards the bar – not as in a pub as in becoming a barrister. They thought because I had a costly edcuation I ought to do something handsomely remunarted. I wanted to tell them to shove off and Charlie heartily accorded with this. I now realise that my parentals were right. We discussed gay icons. I cannot remember which one he came up with maybe Kylie. He said that gay icons were women who were really beautiful but bereft of sex appeal. A boy named Freeman overheard our conversation and smiled wrily.

We got to Dover in good time. We got to Dover in good time. I have seen the town before. It is a cramped place – walled in by those legendary white chalk cliffs. On a clear day – as it was then – one can see the grey outline of the continent on the horizon.

Our bus crept onto the ferry amid hundreds of other vehicles. We walked up onto the entertainment decks. I wandered about over the swirly black and red carpets such as one finds in working class pubs. I went out onto the open deck and enjoyed the sea gale tossing my hair. I thought about why the wind was so strong on the sea – there are no hills, trees of buildings. It must have been horrendous to be a sailor long ago when they were on small wooden ships and they had to be up on deck even in storms.

One of the boys Daniel, of Italian origin, ribbed Charlie Chuckles asking why he was not wearing sandals and shorts. They knew that Charlie walked aorund like this on winters mornings. He did not feel the cold much. He was a miser though.

After an hour or so we piled onto the bus again and rolled off the roll on roll off ferry. There was quite a jam getting out of the ferry port. Calais is the ugliest town in France and we saw only the warehouse section of it. The land around there is flat and boring.

We stopped at a hypermarket by the motorway. This was the real purpose of the trip – to allow the boss man to stock up on cut price booze. He had been doing this trip every year for 25 years. I wandered around the wide corridors – they were brimming with booze buyers. It did not cross my mind that the boys would take advantage of this but I would be surprised if none did. They were aged 14 and 15. I tried to get some money out the ATM – no joy. The ATM had not given me a penny on the ferry. I was beginning to suspect that something was up. I got letters of drivel from the bank weekly. They were so tedious that I used to bin them unread. I was later to discover that one had been binned by me that I ought to have read – my card had to be changed before the expiry date. Because they sent me so much junk mail I junked the important letter along with the worthless ones.

Charlie Chuckles treated himself to a coffee in a cafe belonging to the sort of multinational that he saw as downright even. It was always Manichean with him. He would always overstate. Things were always ”massive” one way or the other.

We carried on on the coach. The sun went down on the plain plains of Picardy – although is may have been Belgium. Belgium and France areall part of the Schengen Agreeent so border controls ahd been abolished. There must have been a Welkom in Belgie sign but I missed it.

We were headed for the Belgian Riviera. I know it sounds like a pisstake and it sort of is. I say it to take the mick but people do in fact go on beach holidays in Belgium. I suppose only a Belgian would do so and a very poor Belgian at that. There Belgian coast almost faces the English Channel. That stretch of sea gets decent beach whether for – ooh – a good fortnight a year. Saying the Riviera of Belgium is a bit like saying the gay rights commission of Iran or the political dialogue council of North Korea. But there you have it.

The boss kept referring to our destination as New Port. The proper name is Nieuwpoort an de zee. I will translate that for you – new port on the sea.

Nieuwpoort is a mundane town with building a couple of storeys high. Everything functions smoothly. I wish it didn;t, that at least would be something a tad exciting. The place is limip apart from the sand from the beach that is blasted around by the gales off the North Sea.

We got off the bus while it was dark and filed into our hotel. It was not quite as impersonal travel lodge. I like travel lodge by the way. However, characterful is not an adjective I can apply to this place.I was staying in a building behind away from everybody else. I was ushered there to dump my junk.

My top floor room was very welcoming but faced away from the sea. It was not quite a wrist slitting disappointment.

I went back to the main hotel immediately for dinner. I made the boys go in two by two – I feared them overwhelming the place. I need not have. We had tables set aside for us. There was hardly anybody else there. I do not suppose that a beach resort is much of a draw in February. Saul made some smart arse remark about whether they should hold hands so I made him go in last.

We adults all sat together and dined on some traditional Belgian tucker. I cannot remember what the meat dish was. I am sure chips accompanied it – it always does in Flanders, doused generously in mayonnsaie. I like chips a la Flandres. I said to the boss wasn’t there a chance that the boys would sneak into town to piss it up the wall. He said no, ”around about 9 o clock some programmes will come on Dutch television that they will find very interesting indeed.” We all laughed – particularly Rosie. As the only lady amongst 45 males she might have felt uncomfortable on the trip but she did not seem to.

I spoke to the boss about my plan to apply for a permanent job – I might apply to a day school. ”I think you would be better in a boarding school actually” he said. I did not know it at the time but my colleague Eddie was already applying for jobs in Africa. The boss must have know this. He realised that if Eddie went I would apply to stay on. The boss must already have come to the conclusion that he did not want me so was trying to get me to go elsehwere. I had only been there for 6 weeks. Charlie later said to me that this must have been the boss’ way of sensitively discouraging me. Charlie only said this some weeks later when I applied to stay on in that school and was rejected.

We discussed recent happenings. In Iraq a camera crew had filmed some US troops entering a building they had fired on. One American noticed a terrorist wounded ”he is playing dead” – the American shot the man, ”he dead now!” Terry was an ex serviceman and said the condemnation of the American for doing this was wrong – the American soldier was just trying to stay alive. I agreed with Terry. It is a good job that Charlie Chuckles did not hear this or he would have given poor Terry and earful of abuse.

The boss made some announcements. It was about the next day. We would not be going into town that night but we might the next night. He mentioned how it was uncertain how fast we would be able to get to places. ”If we get lucky…” he began one comment. I caught Rosie’s eye and said, ”we might get lucky”. She laughed. She had a fantastic sense of humour. I was slowly trying to build up to making a move on her. I eventually asked her out a few weeks later and was politely declined but I alreADY mentioned that.

That evening I walked around in the building where the boys had their rooms. We were meant to patrol a little to make sure they were quiet. I left soon enough. Why was I wastingmy time? Why did I care? I did not wish to deal with boisterousness anyway.

I went back to my room. It was on the news that Arthur Miller had just died. I saw footage of his coming off a plane with Marilyn Monroe decades ago – they were briefly married. She converted to Judaism for him. The commentary said, ”de links intellectual en de blondes sex bombe” – ” the left wing intellecutal and the blonde sex bomb”.

I managed to detect a difference between Flemish and Dutch. I could tell them apart because Flemish had a French tinge to it and Dutch had a German tinge to it.

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BATTLEFIELDS AGAIN.

Next morning it was off by coach – after breakfast of course. Good old Terry was at the wheel. As the boss had grown up on RAF bases and Terry had been in the Royal Air Force they had much to talk about. It was sunny day especially for February. Belgium’s excellent roads were fairly free of traffic. Before long we arrive in Ypres. I had been there 3 years earlier. I remembered the centre very clearly.

We were allowed to go around on our own for a time. Rosie lent me some Euros because I could not access my cash. She urged me to phone my bank. My previous experiences of phoning banks resulted in half an hour listening to muzak that induced a homicidal rage in me. I took the money that Roosie so generously proferred. I wisely invested most of it in a magazine of hard core porn. Belgian does a fine line in chocolate and in anal fisting.

We sauntered over to Menin Gate. I looked at the many thousands of names carved there. These are the names of men whose bodies could not be recovered or if they were reocvered could not be identified. I climbed up the stairs and stood on the gate house. The gate is shut every evening and a ceremony takes place when the last post is played. I recalled reading Brendan Behan writing of attending this ceremony. Behan was an IRA man with strong anti-English prejudices in his youth. In his 30s he mollified. His uncle served George V here at the battle of Ypres. Brendan Behan’s uncle was one of those killed. From the gate house I could see the canal beyond. Northern Belgium being very flat is criss crossed with hundreds of well maintained canals. They exist more for drainage than they ever did for transport. I chatted to Roise there. The mound by the canal is very wide and covered in grass. It was part of the fortifications from the Earl Modern Era. What we now called Belgium has seen more pan European battles than any other country – so it is said. It was the fulcrum of western Europe. Whoever controleld it dominated the region.

We went to the museum and line of trenches I had visited three years earlier. I did not see Fleur around. There was a plump boy with a big nose and an olive skinned complexion on the trip. I do not call his name so I shall call him BiG Nose. Big Nose’ teacher did not like the boy becaue Big Nose knew a lot and was always asking show off questions. I told that teacher that at least Big Nose knew something and wanted to learn. I did not mind him at all. There were many worse kids than Big Nose. Big Nose asked me some questions about artillery that I could not answer. We wandered around the trench system. The boys enjoyed it somewhat but not in a scholastic sense. Rosie remarked that they were not getting educational value and they should have been given work sheets so they took in information. She said this to me not to the boss.

We went to Tyne cot. The boys seemed unmoved. We went to the island of Ireland peace tower. I hate that phrase – the island of Ireland. What as opposed to the conteient of Ireland? Of course it is a fucking island. But nationalists often misuse the word to mean the Republic of Ireland.

It was one of the prettier sigths I saw on the tour. It is a remidner than nationalists and unionists fought side by side in a common cause in the Great War. There was great unity in Ireland and much scope for reconciliation until republicans came and betrayed Ireland with their terrorism. They had no democratic mandate or mandate of any other kind. They conspired with a government that was an enemy of Ireland. They killed hundreds of people illegally. But they are held up as the good guys – the republicans. The Irishmen who joined the British Army – which was Ireland’s army – have all too often been overlooked or even denigrated.

We watched some videos about the Great War. Some read letters of young men who were about to go into action – expected to die and did. I found many to be depely moving. They were eloquent and cruelly poignant. These poor boys walking slowly towards their deaths. I cry only once every couple of years – I almost cried then. Sadly few boys seeed to even watch.

We had a packed luncheon from the hotel. There was one Jew aboard named Anthony. We could not have pork for him. The hotel said doing one non pork meal was too complicated so we must all be vegetarian. I foolishly told some boys in Anthiny’s presence. They ribbed him and he looked ill at ease.

There was a very short boy in our group called Todd. No one gave him a hard time. Anthony and he were mates.

Then we went to Langemarck. This is a German military cemetery north of Ypres. The German Army held a town called Passchaendaele just north of Ypres. The town’s name is pronounced ”passion dale”. The Germans called the first, second and third battles of Ypres the battles of Passchaendaele.

Langemarck is beside a country road. Trees 3 m tall are spaced out in a grid pattern in this cemetery. The gloom these trees casts adds to the sombre mood of the place. A stone wall surround the graveyard – it is perhaps 100m by 50m. One enters under a stone slab. It is very different from the Allied cemeteries. The Allied cemeteries speak of triumph – the Allies did win although triumph is too strong a word given that this war was a 4 year slogging match. The German cemetery seemed more honest. There is no statement there but grief.

I read some of the German inscriptions on the stonework. I translated as much as I could for the boys. Despite German being an option at the school none of our pupils seemed to speak a word. The German soldiers were buried ten to a grave. All the names would be on a metal plaque on the ground. It seemed impersonal and uncaring. The German military repatriated the corpses of as many of its war dead it could in the Great War and in the Second World War. These men are mostly interred in their parish graveyards. I am not sure why these individuals were buried where they fell. The German policy of sending cadavers back perahps undermined civilain morale. It literally and figuratively brought it home to people how many people were dying. Why did the British not send their dead home? From some battlefields such as in Africa it was impractical. The Germans in Africa could not send their dead home since they did not control the sea. Maybe the British idea was the same treatement for the dead whichever theatre they served in – buried where they died. Moreover, the British Government decided early in the war that the dead would all be buried together in unifrom graves to stress equality and unity of purpose. Some rich families had planned lavish tombs for their dead – they were to be disappointed.

I walked around this lugubrious lawn with Charlei Chuckles. He wore his green jacket and a green woolly hat over his bald head. He said it had been so melancholy to see countless graves of young men, ” who died in an utterly pointless war.” I took issue with this. It was not pointless for Belgium or for those who sought Polish independence – admittedly Polish independence had been the last thing on the minds of the leaders of all countries at the beginning. It saved Serbia. It was not pointless for France. I will admit that it was not worth it. From a British point of view Belgian independence might have been worth 10 000 British lives but it was not worth 800 000. I know there were wider issues. If Germany had won and the UK had stayed out then Germany would have so dominated the Continent that she could have built up her navy so much that she could have dismembered the British Empire. There is a small chance that Germany would not have won. Even if she had the UK could have built up her armed forces massively. Germany might not have attacked. If she had she might have been defeated. Maybe negotiation could have avoided war. I cannot help feeling that it would have been an awful lot better to have stayed out. I think of two Euripean countries with almost no natural resources and many natural disadvantages yet are very rich – Sweden and Switzerland. Why are they so rich? They have not been to war in 200 years. Other countries have beggared themselves with war and these countries have developed peacefully. I envy them. Sweden had iron ore. Apart from that these lands have ntihing going fof rthem. They have bad geographuca positions – mountains and cold. Peace is a large part of the explanation for their prosperity.

We drove back to the hotel.

At dinner the boss told us about his washing up job as a teenager. His colleague was an old man who had been in the Great War. The old soldier showed him a bullet wound in his forearm. It is amazing to think. All the war vetereans are dead now – all of them I mean – all of the, every last one. They were 10 a penny when I was young. I regret I never met one. I saw some at a Remembrance Day parade. I considered going up to them and I rue that I did not.

The boss lived in Cyprus. The Turks invaded and the UK stayed out. My Cypriot friend Iannis told me the deal was that the UK got the soveriegn base area in retrun for defending Cyrpus is she were attacked. Howevere, when Turkey attacked in 1974 the UK did not honour the promise. I felt that was shameful and the UK ought to have fended off the Turks. As the UK did not she sould withdraw. The UK did not honour her side of the bargain so the Cypritos should get their land back. The boss told me their was huge American pressure not to intervene. The US was best buds with the Turks and Turkye was very important to keeping US bases adjacent to the USSR. Greece was pro US but had a large communist party and the Greek colonels seemed doomed to fall – they did just after the invasion fo Cyprus partly due to their failure to save Cyrpus. Turkey was much bigger and more strategically important to the US than Greece. The UK felt that in the light of Suez she could not take military action without American approval.

The boss told the boys there had been abd behaviour. SOmeboud had had sometyhing clepped. sO they were not allowed into town. ”Good decision” said Charlie Chuckles.

Charlie and I walked around the dark streets later. The wind whipped intou our face. He said state secrecy was unnecessary and secrecy was self reinforcing. Bureaucracies kept secrets not for the public interest but in their own interest. I disagreed vigorously.

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THE SOMME

We went off for a day to the Somme. That is in France so does not belong in a chapter on Belgium.

That evening we came home from the Somme. The next day it was back to Calais by coach. We watched some Fast Show comedy videos. They went down pretty well. As befits his name Charlie Chuckles chuckled at some. He described the skits as ”very hit and miss.”

We took the ferry back. On the coach we listened in to some football commentary as we sped up the motorway. I noticed the RAF memorial beside the road. We got back to school that afternoon. The headmaster was there to greet us as well as the parents. I headed for the airport and a plane to Germany.