Once I Met Dame Celia Johnson – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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During the mid 70s, my late brother-in-law, Richard Griffith, started having furniture auctions, to complement his Watlington estate agency, and to get a bit of local publicity. A bit old fashioned by today’s standards, it involved a lot of adverts in the local newspapers, and since it was early days for Richard, it also involved a great deal of fussing. I was the dog’s body, and destined to be the auction porter, who said – “Showing over here Sir.”

Together with general carrying duties, during the preceding day, I was also roped in for the constantly changing  village hall display arrangements. This virtual game of musical chairs went on until early morning – everything having been moved twice and then reinstated to their original position – when I was finally able to collapse onto a camp bed, thoughtfully installed in the village hall by Richard, for my final job as night watchman.

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And so the great day arrived, and the Lewknor village hall became packed with locals, the inquisitive, the occasional antique dealer, and a few well known faces too. One of these faces was Dame Celia Johnson. Accompanied by a ratty little man, who I thought to be her husband at the time – but by then Peter Fleming had been dead for some five years – he trundled the great lady around the preview, mumbling knowledgeably about each item, so perhaps he was a neighbour.

Dame Celia lived in some style in nearby Nettlebed,  had been a friendly addition to the Oxfordshire community for years, and was known for her fun loving good humour. By then, in her mid 60s, she was still seen as a great star; her somewhat guilt strewn angst, familiar to most of her fans as she finally waved goodbye to the redoubtable Trevor Howard, on some forlorn British Rail platform. But on this particular day, she chose to be Lady Bracknell – to be seen and most definitely, to be heard – which everyone absolutely adored.

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When the auction was over, my job was to help sort out the lots, and to make sure they were in the right hands. I remember that Dame Celia bought a small Victorian mirror with drawers under, and it was my job to carry this item to her car, past the fussy little man who she had arrived with, who scowled at me without offering the customary tip.

I must add that by now I was fully in character, and playing the part of a half witted local, who was enormously servile. But I was also particularly resentful about the unpaid token for my servility and helpfulness! On my way back to the auction hall, I came across Dame Celia nattering to Richard Griffith the auctioneer, and so I interrupted, in my assumed servile manner, and said –

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“Excuse me, ma’am, I put your mirror in the motor, so it is quite safe,” and then looked at Richard Griffith – “Quite a turn out today, Guv, but not as good as last time. Eh?” Richard was obviously enjoying being the centre of attention, as well as a pillar of the local community, so I went on-

“You should have been here last time, Ma’am, when Mr. Griffif’ here, sold a Canaletto, and a Stradivari.” Dame Celia looked at Richard with considerable surprise, and mounting respect–

“Mind you, he didn’t get much for them, I said,” the great lady giving our intrepid auctioneer a  inquiring, but surprised look, so in my best Oxfordshire accent, I explained-

“But, that was because Stradivari was a terrible painter, and Canaletto made rotten violins.”

This made me feel much better, and escaping as fast as I could, I left Richard looking like a hugely embarrassed Uriah Heep, and profusely apologizing for my terrible behaviour. A few minutes later, whilst mingling in the crowd, I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder – Oh God, I thought, now I’m for it – but, it was the ratty little man again. “I’ve been asked to give you this,” he said, handing over a fiver, and then, swiftly disappearing from sight.

That was a lot of dosh in the 70s, so perhaps it was true? That Dame Celia Johnson did have a great sense of humour, one for which I will always be grateful, and what a wonderful brief encounter?

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Brexit & The Poison Chalice – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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We all know what Brexit means, and that on the 29th March 2017, the famous Article 50 was signed on behalf of the British Government, by Prime Minister Theresa May. We all know how it came about, the players involved, the poor explanations, the misinformation, and the insane promises. Having signed the exit document, recent history and subsequent events mean nothing much, because it is too late, and in any case there is little point in crying over spilt milk. What is more interesting, is what other members of the European Union think, what they predict will happen, and how they see their future relationship with Great Britain.

The Brussels view is typically laid back, remembering that much of the EU is devouted to the collection and redistribution of money and resources. There are no visible panic attacks in progress, and one can hear an almost monotonous, monselabic  drone, coming from EU technocrats as they reveal the present and future present facts. One such person is Siegfried Mugason, who was interviewed recently by Dan Alexe, on behalf of New Europe. Dan says –

After the European Parliament’s adopted its priorities for the next year’s EU Budget, or “The Report on the General Guidelines for the preparation of the 2018 EU Budget,” New Europe has asked the Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan – chief negotiator of the EU Parliament for the 2018 budget of approximately 160 billion euros, as well as spokesman for the EPP and vice president of the Committee for budgetary affairs in the Parliament, if Brexit – Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, is having any impact on the EU’s budget as a whole? Also. asked if HRM Queen Elizabeth’s – Britain’s reigning monarch –  farms would continue to receive EU subsidies? Our gallant Romanian MEP replied-

“Yes, during the whole period of the Brexit negotiations, the UK remains an EU member with total rights, paying its contributions and benefitting from EU structural and cohesion funds. Although the UK is a performing economy, there are British regions that are less developed than others, so they qualify for EU funds, including in agriculture. It is interesting and revealing that such regions, that plainly benefit from EU funds, have voted in favour of Brexit, and leaving the EU. This shows us that the benefits of belonging to the EU were not convincingly communicated by the political forces. Populists won, by trafficking the truth, and by using the wrong figures in their pamphlets. That explains why people from poorer UK zones voted in favour of leaving the EU, against their own interests.”

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The Brexiteers Rock Group

Asked what lessons should be drawn from Brexit, his reply was very clear- “That populists have to be confronted. We have to be able to explain to the population the benefits of staying in Europe, but this has to be done there, not by speaking out from the Brussels bubble. If your name is David Cameron and you have built your whole career in the last ten years in Europe bashing, you cannot be credible if, for the last six weeks of your campaign, you switch your discourse, and start saying that in the end, staying in the EU is not such a bad idea after all. The EU needs politicians with a clear message, that can confront the populists.”

Well, you could not be much clearer than that, and that is the general consensus of most EU countries, but each has its little addition to such cold techno -thinking. Some said au revoir and good riddance, while others were more supportive. In France, following the historic Brexit vote, and according to ‘The Local,’ a French English language news magazine-

“France has shown a divided response to the news, that the UK has voted to leave the EU, although a vocal majority – online at least – appear to have been pleased. A survey of newspaper Le Figaro’s readers found recently, that most respondents in France were satisfied with the result of the vote. And this majority was the most vocal on Twitter, as many French people vented their anger – as well as predictable digs at “Les Anglais, over the Brexit vote.”

The hashtag #BonDebarras – Good Riddance – spoke for itself, and one user sniped – ‘Les Anglais are beginning to realise that most Europeans are delighted that they are splitting.”

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A virtually unread document

Other snarky tweets recalled that Britain had always had an arm’s-length relationship with the European Union, having opted out of the euro, the visa-free Schengen zone and the Common Agricultural Policy. “Have they ever really been a part of the EU?” one asked. Another said – “They were a pain in the ass when they wanted in, now they’re a pain in the ass going out: The English are the cats of Europe!”

But, let’s now see how the UK fared in Germany?Jan Henrik Schimkus, writing for ‘The Smarter German Magazine,’ had this to say- “When the votes were finally cast, we were shocked, to say the least; some maybe even angry. European economic experts and scientists had stated that the United Kingdom would suffer terribly under Brexit, while the EU would be damaged, though not severely. European Parliament officials were quick to stand together and pledge the unity of the EU’s remaining members.

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As for Britain, I was wondering about the social and political atmosphere, it took to allow the referendum to go out the way it did. And, to be honest, I was wondering about the outright stupidity and falseness of some of the claims made by UKIP and other pro-Brexit organizations and individuals; as well as the way they ran the campaigns. Of course, some people were well informed and had made up their mind. Nevertheless, the viral videos of individuals who had no clue whatsoever what they were voting for, or even what the EU was, was heartbreaking. As somebody not living in the UK, I cannot assert that I would know what actually happened.

But taking the British people and the British media into account, that inhabit my social bubble, I feel a bit scared because I cannot exclude something like this happening in Germany. Germany is one of the very few countries which would most likely survive a collapse of the European Union relatively unharmed.”

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And finally from Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe Magazine. He asks the big question– “What can the UK offer, to secure Italian continued goodwill?

One interesting answer he received was that Italy sees the Brexit negotiations as an opportunity to relaunch the broader discussion about the future direction of EU integration – along the lines of the two-circle Europe model – laid out by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni with his then UK counterpart Philip Hammond. This was concerning the preservation, and the cohesion of the EU-27 as an absolute priority for Rome. He says –

“From Italy’s standpoint, it would be helpful if the UK made it clear from the very beginning of their negotiations that, although it is leaving, it wants the EU-27 to be united and successful in the years and decades to come. A fragmented EU-27, I was told in Rome, would ultimately be more likely to give the UK a bad deal. In other words, playing ‘divide and rule’ in their negotiations, would not be in the UK’s best interest.”

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Balkans, political map

Denisa Kostovicova, from the London School of Economics, speaking up for the Balkans – in Europe’s World Magazine – makes the position quite clear, by reflecting the downside of Brexit, and UK’s withdrawal of immediate influence–

The related risk of Brexit for the Western Balkans, is the ascendance of geopolitics. European integration as a political project is based on the idea of inter-connectivity, and the conception of power as cooperation. Europeanisation of the Western Balkans, entails forging political, economic and cultural connections with the EU, as well as between Balkan states. But the geopolitical outlook is its antithesis; all about going it alone, and the conception of power as a threat.”

“The Balkans has been a geopolitical battleground throughout history, and its position as a non-EU enclave within the EU makes it particularly conducive to the logic of competition and protection. Russia and Turkey have each stamped their mark on the region, while the EU tries to exercise its magic power of attraction and transformation. But unlike the EU’s vision, which is future orientated, Russia and Turkey have drawn on certain historic links, reinforced by religious affinities. Russia appeals to the idea of Slavic brotherhood – a notion that resonates with large sections of the Christian population in the Orthodox world, and Turkey is seen as a natural guardian of fellow Muslims.”

So clearly, there is a lot more going on, than a couple of friends might think, discussing Brexit down the pub in terms of foreigners taking jobs away from UK workers, and stories of foreigners damaging our English society. Muslims planting bombs everywhere, is simply extremist rubbish, and blatant lies are nearly always propagated, by well known Brexiteer zealots, on the unwary and the ignorant.

Finally, apart from French angst, it seems that most of EU member countries are level headed and practical, but nevertheless the general view is that by leaving, Great Britain might somehow cause a populist uprising, clearly based on further lies and alternative facts! There is talk of possible war in the Balkans, the breakdown of trust amongst the EU membership, and a return to European chaos, or even a new Cold War, although in my view, this is most unlikely to happen.

Balkan Democracy & Political Corruption – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Geert Wilders Dutch MHR

It is 2017 and the whole of Europe is talking politics. Each country is either looking over its shoulder at France, Germany or even Great Britain, having experienced a somewhat unexpected result in the Dutch election. The Netherlands has proved that ‘middle of the road’ is best, despite the machinations of Geert Wilders and the extreme right wing views of the Peoples Party for Freedom & Democracy, of which he is the leader. During this period, the Balkans has also had profound right wing views expressed, in the various countries of South Eastern Europe, where elections are shortly due, notwithstanding the ranting, and raving of President Erdogan of Turkey.

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Turkish President Erdogan

Last year Bulgaria elected a Socialist President, and General Rumen Radev – having already had an outstanding  career in the Bulgarian Air Force and NATO – has now turned his attention to overseeing Sundays forthcoming Bulgarian parliamentary elections. Despite the fact that the election result looks like ‘more of the same,’ it seems that Bulgaria now has a strong man as president. Instead of some waffling academic, disenfranchised lawyer, or one of the usual brand of ineffectual and harmless party hacks – destined to agree with everything placed before them – Radev, although it is early days yet, looks like a hand’s on country President.

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Bulgarian President Rumen Radev

But is this the beginning? Because, twenty five years on, we can now see the gradual disappearance of secretive and grey faced Soviet style politico’s, who have engendered Balkan politics since the alleged arrival of democracy in the Balkan region. After twenty  five years of political and financial corruption, is it now time for the citizens of SE Europe, to put put their faith in their respective parliaments, and elected members who supposedly represent their interests?

Well, no! I am afraid that the exception proves the rule, and although we can happily endorse people like President Rumen Radev of Bulgaria and Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania, there are clear doubts about the existence of viable democracy, in places like Moldova, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and FROM. That, and the constant political meddling in the region by old allies, Russia and Serbia – during the most recent election in Montenegro – cause one to wonder about the Balkan political class’s, and their true objectives. This is because most seem to act, and even appear like a bunch of spivs – ‘Baldy’s with BMW’s’ – out for what they can get, which is usually money.

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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama & John Kerry

When one talks about the ex communist countries of South Eastern Europe, we forget how close they were, in the past, to Turkey, and even to Greece during the post WW2, Soviet period. This meant that both of these countries must certainly have had some influence on their democratized neighbours, when their newly spun democracy appeared in the Balkans. But change was also a time for the ‘old brigade’ to mark its territory, and to decide what it was they personally wanted from the remnants of communism.

I was there before and after these changes, and I can assure you that there were few surprises from survivors of the old regimes that I came across, who knew exactly what they wanted, and how to get it. What they were unsure of, was how to present themselves to their electorate – whilst all this was going on – public relations being virtually an unknown profession at the time.

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Nevertheless, there remained good old fashioned propaganda, bare faced denials, and frequent claims of political witch hunts, which continues to this day. By pandering to the many idealistic and often naive Westerners, who descended on the many Balkan capitals – replete with their countless MBA’s and endless platitudes – there was little else to do, but to keep their mouths shut.

What the ‘Denizens’ of the old regime were really up to, was another matter, confirming that in twenty five years, very little has changed at all.  Although, Bulgaria and Romania, seem finally to be edging towards the true EU norms, lets hope Sundays Bulgarian election will not be blighted by vote-rigging.

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European Turkey is about one man. President Erdogan has stopped being Mr Nice Guy – if he ever was – and is in the process of developing a tyrannical dictatorship. One cannot imagine Turkey ever truly being a full member of the EU, not in the next 100 years at least, nor can it coalesce with other Balkan countries, especially since illegal immigration has affected them so much. Migrant presence in the South East of Europe is, and has always been, the result of Turkish non intervention and criminal collusion.

Erdogan, by suppressing the media, and locking up most of the competent managerial classes,  citizens in Turkey – who will in future be able to look forward to regular four hour rants from this horrible man – will watch their country fall into decline. As to whether the level of corruption in Turkey will decrease, is another matter, although Erdogan himself – rather like Auther Daily – might claim some legitimate expenses, and vast palaces in which to live.

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Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras

Greece is the enigma. Undoubtedly corrupt in the past, it is now so under the control of Brussels, it is hard to see how any substantial fraud could occur-  perhaps just the occasional cash on contract deal – with Europe wide scrutiny being so intense. In any case, Greece’s Byzantine ways have largely been eradicated by austerity, leaving Greece impoverished but intact, a nation which seems to be climbing out of the precipice. Having said this, why is corruption such a major obstacle to democracy in the rest of Eastern Europe?

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We have all got to remember what Communism really was, so put ‘Dr, Zhivago,’ and Bolshevism  out of the discussion. Communism by the late 20th Century was about graft, lying, stealing and improving one’s lot, by climbing the tall greasy pole of communist society. Arriving at either the ‘Ministry of The Interior,’ or at least heading some government owned enterprise, the rest of communist society was left in the doldrums. There was once a Balkan saying  – ‘The government pretended to pay you, you pretended to work, and everyone stole the rest.’

So, it is hardly surprising when Balkan headlines announce a major fraud, that a politician – or even a Prime Minister – is under arrest. Nor is the announcement of vast amounts of cash, disappearing into the City of London banking system, and then being turned into posh houses next door to Bucking Palace. Or, is it?

Moldova the EU Enigma? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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After seven months in custody, former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat was sentenced to nine years in prison on corruption charges in a billion-dollar case that shook the nation’s economy. The theft from three banks amounted to about 13 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product.

The case, however, is far from over; both Filat’s lawyer and the case prosecutor vowed to appeal the court’s decision. Last year the Moldova Parliament  lifted Filat’s immunity, so that he could be investigated in a case involving the disappearance of more than US$ 1 billion from three Moldovan banks. A total of 79 lawmakers out of 101 voted to lift the immunity and Filat was duly arrested by the National Anti-Corruption Center.

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Moldovan Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat

Recently, a court in the capital city Chisinau, found Filat guilty of abuse of office and corruption, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. He denied any wrongdoing, and claimed the case was politically motivated.

The court – somewhat academically – banned Filat from holding public office for five years, and ruled to withdraw his Order of the Republic state distinction, and to confiscate his assets. The judges also determined that he has to pay a fine of $3,027 USD

Filat’s lawyer, Igor Popa, said that the case sought to remove Filat from the political stage. “No true fight against corruption has been made in this case. The cause has nothing in common with bank fraud, and the decision will be appealed at the Court of Appeal and also the European Court of Human Rights. We are sure that we will win the case at ECHR.”

Prosecutor Adriana Betisor, on the other hand, maintained that the punishment was too mild, and that none of the evidence presented by the prosecutor in court had been contested. “No counterargument to the unveiled evidence has been brought,” Betisor said. “We demanded 19 years imprisonment. Nine years is too little for the damage caused by Mr. Vlad Filat to the state.”

A leaked report compiled by the corporate investigation and risk consulting firm Kroll, found that the banks involved in the case loaned the money to unidentified parties, and  The National Bank of Moldova was forced to issue the three banks in question some $ 870 million USD in emergency loans, to keep the economy from collapsing. Filat was Moldova’s Prime Minister between 2009 and 2013.

Filat was just a pawn in a complicated Russian game of financial chess, much of this cash ending up in established western high street banks, ultimately finding its way back to Russian businessmen who own groups of companies involved in construction, engineering, information technology, and banking.

Famous for their UK spending sprees, on fancy autos, public school education, furs, electronics; but particularly London property, law enforcement in Moldova, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and Russia, continues to investigate this massive Russian Laundromat. Although attempts to bring those responsible to justice and to recover the money have been hampered in part by the reluctance of Russian officials to cooperate, this, and well established human trafficking, is the legacy over which Moldova has to redeem itself, should they ever be invited to join the European Union. But, what is Moldova?

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According to the World Bank, Moldova is a small lower-middle-income European economy. Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, has made superb progress in reducing poverty and promoting inclusive growth since the early 2000s. The economy has expanded by an average of 5 percent a year and was driven by consumption, and supported by remittances from abroad. Remittances account for a quarter of GDP, among the highest shares in the world.

European integration has anchored the government’s policy reform agenda. Negotiations between Moldova and the European Union (EU) on an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) began in 2010 and were concluded on June 27, 2014, with the signing of both documents.

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Against a background of political instability, a polarized society, and an adverse external environment, Moldova faces big economic challenges. After the loss of an eighth of GDP – to a massive fraud in the banking sector – transparency, accountability, and corruption have emerged as crucial concerns. With higher public debt and damaged business confidence, the macroeconomic framework was severely damaged, while external budget support were halted till an IMF agreement is achieved. On the back of a prolonged recession in Russia, and uncertainty in Europe, macroeconomic and fiscal stabilization is an important short-term challenge.

While corruption and governance issues are set at the centre stage, Moldova has other important challenges to face. Large-scale emigration, combined with decreasing fertility rates, has hastened the pace of aging in Moldova, making the pension system fiscally and socially unsustainable. Additional challenges stem from an inefficient and large public sector and the unresolved status of Transnistria, a frozen conflict.

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Moldova is a small country surrounded by Romania and Ukraine. This former Soviet republic was known for its agricultural production, as part of the breadbasket of the USSR. Today, Moldova is regarded as the poorest country in Europe. Moldova is primarily a source country for victims of human trafficking, who are frequently forced to become sex workers in the Middle East.

The region that is currently the Republic of Moldova has had a tumultuous history. For centuries, Moldova has experienced constant invasion and occupation by the Romans, Huns, Tatars, Ottomans, Mongols, Turks and Hungarians to name a few. Throughout hundreds of years of changing rule, human trafficking was a regular practice. Captives from this region were carted to far off lands in Europe and the Middle East, bought and sold as sex and labour slaves.

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Girls from Eastern Europe have been coveted for their beauty and sold to Turkey in large-scale sex trades since the early 1800s. Moldova spent its more recent history controlled by neighbouring Russia, and later, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Until it declared independence in 1991, shifting identity and oppression, have characterised Moldovan history, and culture.

During the era of the USSR, human trafficking by crime groups was low. However, human trafficking occurred on a massive scale at the hands of the state. In the 1940s and 1950s, more than 250,000 Moldovans were deported to labour camps in Siberia. The state simultaneously denied the existence of prostitution in the USSR and supported it.

Prostitutes were granted special “yellow cards,” essentially a license to practice. Prostitution and sex slavery proliferated behind the Iron Curtain. Towards the end years of the USSR, prostitution and other deviant activities moved into the hands of large organized crime groups. As the USSR neared social and economic collapse in its final years, human trafficking became an increasingly profitable enterprise. Widespread corruption did little to curb the rise in sexual exploitation of women from the Eastern Bloc.

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Igor Dodan President of Moldova

Back to the EU drawing board, it would take a great leap of faith to discount in any meaningful way Moldova, both past and present. Regrettable as it may be that this little country was so abused in the past – due to its size and position in Eastern Europe – that the possibilities for change might not be so dramatic as the citizens of Moldova may think, for the very same reasons. Despite the current Russia leaning President  Igor Dodan, once the Ukraine has settled its differences with the Russian Federation, its little next door neighbour could easily be earmarked as a permanent tax haven, and not just one for Russians oligarchs either!

Throw Away News or Mindless Drivel? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

Let’s put aside the Trumpisms and denials for a moment, and concentrate on the facts, before the whole media apparatus is infected by fools, opportunists, and political bandits. Why? Because if we don’t, in the future we will never know what the truth is, and worse still, we will stop believing in good honest journalism. In fact, we might stop believing in anything at all!

Most of the infection has been introduced via the social pages, and mainly via blogs which rely on page visits to pay advertising revenue – or is it the Russians? The Balkan news Magazine is no exception, although, so far we have not tried to convince our readers that Donald Trump is a Moldavian transvestite, and that Theresa May is the love child of Joseph Stalin. It is simply not true, but were I to pretend that it was, then I am sure that my pension would go a lot further than it presently does.

Newspapers and magazines are different. These days the news goes dry in minutes, and so a quick apology on page ten – next to an advert for second hand grommets– is usually quite enough to keep the litigious at bay. But with a magazine things are quite different, which is why one has to research the facts, no matter how disturbing they may be. This is due to the long levity of magazine content, especially if it is a monthly, and partly due to the mentality of its readers.

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With some blogs and social media, there is often no story to speak of, because it is what we used to call gossip, or even scandal. It was once explained to me in terms of writing down some scandal on a piece of paper, then ripping the evidence into tiny pieces, and letting the little bits blow away in the wind. The outcome might seem irrelevant to most of us, but is it? And where does it leave our imaginary plaintiff, having been successfully sued for millions by an aggrieved litigant?

What if a judge might say that they do not have to pay their fine, if they go and collect all the little pieces of paper, and convey the evidence back to court, will all  be forgiven? Well, what do you think might happen, because surely, the damage by then would have been done?

The question is, is false news funny? Most of the false news scandal mongers claim it is all a joke, but many clearly have a very odd sense of humour. When their drivel occupies the headlines, causing constant denial from government spokesmen, or emotional rebukes from embittered stars of stage, screen, or even from Rupert Murdoch himself, is that all a bit of a laugh?

In the UK, most thick skinned politicians are wise enough to appear to laugh at themselves, the extent and degree of their victimization, being at the total discretion of various news editors and writers. But with social media there is very little restraint, and because it is pernicious and can be distributed – either purposely or in error – this is mainly how it succeeds to enter our lives. Let’s take your average punter on Facebook, for example.

If you receive what FB calls news, it does not only come from people you know, because it may be a paid insertion, or even something you inadvertently liked or responded to in the past. Also, if you decide to share, you might be sharing, not only with your intended recipient, but with the rest of the Facebook world . Very often, FB’s are not so savvy about who they pick and choose to read their stuff, because they truly believe that it is destined exclusively for their ‘real friends,’ but, not so dear readers! This is also increasingly becoming the case with Twitter, and of course to some extent with Google, Yahoo and the rest. By searching the web, you might pick up some false news – or even worse, one of DJT’s tweets or rants – and so wherever you go on the internet, traps have been set for you.

A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed logos of social networks in this illustration in Zenica

On the side of reality, the internet does rule our lives – even dinosaurs might agree – and most of us oldies have become used to using a computer to fulfil many of our needs This is especially so in the Balkans, where many of our requirements are somewhat specialized – buying Marmite, Branston Pickle, or Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers, just to name a few – but also our need for information and especially news.

I read lots of newspapers each day – those that don’t want any money, that is – many of which are becoming vastly under resourced, and – rather like The Balkan News Magazine itself – they ask for donations in order to keep their journalists happy. But, what you are hopefully paying for, is not only good journalism, but also for the journalist’s personal integrity.

What if we all decided to take the ‘False News’ commercial route, and fill the blogosphere with total crap. What would you do then? Well, you might have to become a philosopher, because there would be no other way of discovering what the truth is!

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This is the Balkans & Not a Place for Fooling Around – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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By Spyridon N. Litsas & World Policy Blog

After the end of the Cold War, Europe enjoyed the fruits of democratic stability and economic prosperity—except in the Balkans. Yugoslavia experienced a catastrophic civil war, Albania faced major domestic uprisings, Bulgaria and Romania witnessed many failed efforts to establish the rule of law, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* and Kosovo attempted nation-building processes on unstable foundations. The only stable state able to offer political solutions to preserve the Balkan balance of power was Greece, a NATO and European Union member. Athens granted economic and political assistance to Bulgaria and Romania, allowing both countries to hold their first free, post-Cold War elections. It also offered employment to hundreds of thousands of Albanians after the collapse of Tirana’s communist regime. Even now, Greece maintains a military force in Kosovo under NATO command, and its grand strategy is oriented toward the preservation of the regional status quo. With the failure of the Greek state, however, a new power gap is appearing in the Balkans, poised to bring chaos to the region and beyond.

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When the Greek crisis began in 2010, only a few analysts understood that the state was buying a non-stop ticket to the land of dystopia. Now, at 23.1 percent, unemployment is the highest in the Eurozone, brain drain is damaging the prospects of eventual normalization, the sovereign debt is growing larger day by day and therefore cannot be served by Athens, and Greece has to face daily Turkish provocations in the Aegean Sea as well as Albanian nationalism, which manifests in Tirana’s hard-line policies toward Albania’s Greek community and its claims to territory in northwestern Greece. On top of that, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Greece and Italy became the main gathering spots for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees seeking a safer future in the West.

When the Greek Civil War ended in 1949, Greece became a pivotal Balkan actor. It became a NATO member in 1952; its economy boomed with U.S. assistance under the Truman Doctrine and, later, the Marshall Plan; and after the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1974, its political system was the strongest in the region. For a long period of time, Greece was a source of stability and a role model for other Balkan states. Furthermore, it was an indispensable NATO partner in every regional crisis in the early years after the Cold War. The Vance-Owen peace plan to end the Bosnian War was signed in 1993 in Athens, and it was Greece’s decisive role that blocked the outbreak of civil war between the Slavic majority and the Albanian minority in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001.

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When the Greek crisis began, the Balkans witnessed an extended period of political and economic destabilization. Greece is no longer in a position to meaningfully contribute to regional security. In the spring of 2016, clashes erupted between the border police forces of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and migrants leaving Greek refugee camps for Germany or other Western European states. The Greek government’s inability to deal with the migration problem and the Turkish government’s unwillingness to efficiently patrol the Aegean Sea opened the door for various European states such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany to impose border controls for a considerable period of time. This decision temporarily eradicated a key structure of the European Union—the Schengen Agreement, which abolishes internal border checks—giving euro sceptics an opportunity to cheer on the demise of the Union. This development was critical for the Balkans, as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Serbia built fences in order to halt the arrival of migrants, in the process isolating Greece from the rest of the European Union and augmenting the feeling among Greeks that they were left alone to face this crisis.

The Balkan region additionally faces gloomy economic prospects because of the Greek sovereign debt. Aside from the fact that Greece’s ruined economy cannot absorb more unskilled workers from neighbouring countries, a possible Grexit would result in a general collapse of the Balkan economy, mainly due to the long process of Greece regaining its footing, as well as the protectionist policies that Athens would adopt after reverting to a national currency. Economic interdependency makes the Greek problem a Balkan problem, if not a wider Western one—a risky situation in a region where economic frailty is coupled with political instability.

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The power gap in the Balkans after the Greek failure can be seen in the following cases. First is Montenegro’s failed coup of 2016 against the pro-Western government, which threatened to destabilize the whole region and, according to the Montenegrin authorities, was orchestrated by the Kremlin. The second is in the emerging crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is facing the grim prospect of a civil war between Slavic and the Albanian factions due to the structural weaknesses of the state and the friction produced by competing Slavic and Albanian nationalisms. If Greece were in better circumstances, then it would be possible for Athens to implement efficient crisis management policies, as it knows how to navigate the region’s delicate sociopolitical conditions. In addition, after last July’s failed coup attempt in Turkey and Ankara’s open flirtation with the Kremlin, the Greek crisis opens a vacuum for Western interests in the region.

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Russia has been re-issuing its Pan-Slavic agenda in the Balkans, mainly through a new version of soft power called Russkiy Mir (Russian World). This new soft power policy is already bearing fruit for the Kremlin in its strong influence on many Christian Orthodox churches in the region, as was revealed during the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church in Crete last June. Together with Moscow, the Arab speaking Patriarchate of Antioch in Syria, the Bulgarian Church, and the Georgian Church did not attend the event. The West has to find a viable response to Russian influence, and the collapse of Greece—a state that formerly had Western-oriented soft power at its disposal—disrupts this effort.

 

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A violent change in the Balkans’ balance of power could precipitate a wider geostrategic crisis in Europe, too, with the renewed popularity of nationalism and populism and with the regional stabilizer, Greece, focused on reversing its domestic stagnation. Europe and the rest of the Western world must remember the popular Balkan saying that describes the volatile nature of the region: “This is the Balkans, not a place for fooling around.”

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*The term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the U.N. designation) is used at the request of the author.

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Spyridon N. Litsas is an associate professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki. Follow him on Twitter at @Spyros_Litsas.

Who Guards the Guards? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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 ‘Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodies?’ In this article, Patrick Brigham attempt’s to unravel the Iraq Historic Allegations Team or IHAT mystery, of legacy investigation, but in juxtaposition to Northern Ireland,  Stormont and ‘The Good Friday Agreement.’

It seems that British military personnel, during the course of their duty, are often damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, and since many retired service men and women live here in the Balkans, I will attempt to keep them up to date.  But firstly, what is IHAT?

The general view by military personnel at least, is that IHAT has very little to do with the realities of war. For them, it is another branch of the UK’s over stretched and self serving civil service, which believes that soldiers of all ranks, should act more like social workers than well trained combat troops. Many unpleasant things happen in wartime, and although a soldier should be accountable for his actions, it is never totally possible, in the heat of battle. The unfairness of IHAT, has been likened to that of The Spanish Inquisition, and with powers which touch on persecution, and intimidation, it has caused great hardship to battle weary veterans and their family’s.

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Blatantly open to abuse, many lawyers have taken advantage of the loose requirements regarding evidence, that IHAT needed before instigating a case against a soldier or ex-soldier; the worst culprit being a Solicitor called Philip Shiner. With 250 cases to his credit, Shiner was recently charged, before a tribunal of the Solicitors Regulations Authority.

Shiner has subsequently admitted to eight allegations, and of acting without integrity, including that he made “unsolicited direct approaches to potential clients’, and  one other allegation of acting recklessly.. Andrew Tabachnik, prosecuting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said that Shiner’s defence to the dishonesty charges, was effectively to say that – “I was not in full control of my mental faculties at this time, and I didn’t know right from wrong, or what I was doing.”

The tribunal found him guilty of multiple professional misconduct charges, including dishonesty and lack of integrity, and.twenty two misconduct charges, were proved to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. Two other charges were left to lie on the file, and by February 2017, the tribunal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority had him struck off as a solicitor, and also ordered him to pay for the full costs of the prosecution, starting with an interim down payment of £250,000.

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By the time he was struck off in February 2017,  IHAT had fewer than 250 active investigations, and  so a week later, Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that IHAT would soon be shut down, largely due to the exposing of Shiner’s dishonesty.

When welcoming the decision to strike him off, the chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Paul Philip, stated – “His misconduct has caused real distress to soldiers, their families and to the families of Iraqi people who thought that their loved ones had been murdered or tortured. More than £30m of public funds were spent on investigating what proved to be false and dishonest allegations.”

In remarks made by the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, chairman of the defence sub-committee meeting in the UK Parliament, he made it clear that IHAT had never really worked nor would it do so.

Here follows his summary of that meeting –

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Dr Julian Lewis MP

“The UK’s military must be equally subject to the law as any civilian, whether in barracks or on operations. The UK military rightly demands that those who fall short of these standards should pay the full penalty for doing so. However, just as in civilian life, investigations into wrongdoing must be fair and be seen to be fair.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was set up in 2010 to investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi civilians against UK armed forces personnel, that were said to have occurred between 2003 and 2009. It was expected to take two years to complete its work. Exploited by two law firms in particular, caseloads rose from 165 to over 3,000 over subsequent years. It is now expected to complete its work in 2019 and will have cost the taxpayer nearly £60 million.

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A large number of those claims were taken up by IHAT despite a lack of credible evidence and the investigations have taken years to complete. As a result, those under investigation have suffered unacceptable stress, have had their lives put on hold and their careers damaged. They have been, and in some cases continue to be, treated in an unacceptable manner as a result of serving the United Kingdom.

The catalogue of serious failings in the conduct of IHAT’s investigations points to a loss of control in its management. Service personnel and veterans have been contacted unannounced – sometimes years after service – despite assurances that this would not happen. Covert surveillance appears to have been used on serving and retired members of the armed forces. IHAT investigators have impersonated police officers in order to gain access to military establishments or threaten arrest. Investigations, which had previously been closed down were re-opened on the back of dubious evidence.

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Perhaps the most telling failure of IHAT is the absence of a single prosecution against the UK military. It has been an unmitigated failure for both ‘victims’ and military personnel alike. Of the total number of cases investigated by IHAT – more than 3,500 – most have or will shortly be, dismissed. The Secretary of State for Defence told us that he hoped that the number would be reduced to 60 by summer 2017. Once the number of cases outstanding reaches that target, it is our view that IHAT must be closed down, with the remaining cases passed to the service police, with support from civilian police.

Throughout this process, there has been an almost total disregard of the welfare of current and former service personnel and their families. Soldiers have had to fund their own defence and have been left in the dark by a chain of command which has appeared to be unable or unwilling to interfere with the process.

IHAT has operated without any regard to its impact on the UK military, which has directly harmed their reputation across the world, and negatively affected the way this country conducts military operations and defends itself.

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The MoD must take its share of responsibility for this. Both the MoD and IHAT have focused too much on satisfying the accusers and too little on defending those under investigation. Ministers must take the lead in ensuring that this is rectified.
The MoD is now reforming its package of support for servicemen and women. In October 2016, it announced that it would now cover the legal costs for all of those under investigation by IHAT. It has also started work on how the UK can derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights so that claims through the European Court of Human Rights cannot be made for future conflicts.

The manner in which the armed forces are investigated requires fundamental reform. The focus has been on satisfying perceived international obligations and outside bodies, with far too little regard for those who have fought under the UK’s flag. Our report contains a set of principles to which the MoD and any future investigatory body should adhere. The armed forces deserve to be held in the highest esteem and a repeat of IHAT must never be allowed to happen again.

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The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was an organisation set up to review and investigate allegations of abuse by Iraqi civilians by UK armed forces personnel in Iraq during the period of 2003 to July 2009.

The alleged offences ranged from murder to low-level violence and the time period covers the start of the military campaign in Iraq, in March 2003, through the major combat operations of April 2003 and the following years spent maintaining security as part of the Multinational Force and mentoring and training Iraqi security forces.

Because the MOD and Service Police do not have sufficiently experienced professional investigators, the unit is led by retired senior civilian police detective, Mark Warwick, and comprises some 145 employees, including Royal Navy Police personnel, civilian investigators and civil servants. The MOD funds the IHAT, consistent with its obligations to ensure that allegations are investigated in compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).”

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The Stormont Parliament Northern Ireland

Well, IHAT seems by now to be dead in the water, and so I now go on to Northern Ireland, where military personnel – although sent these on peacekeeping duty, ultimately became front line troops, in their own country. In the presence of three eminent Law professors from London, Lancaster, and Belfast Universities, a case was also put by various members of the committee, whereby legacy investigation, should include UK military activities worldwide, and it was agreed that there should be one law for all.

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That and any investigation should be carried out by Service Police, and by using the same resources as the civilian authorities, they should do so with direct assistance from the civilian Police Force. They also recommended a ‘Statute of Limitations,’ or amnesty period, which would affect both the military and the civilian sides. As a point of fairness, there should also be a strong emphasis on ‘A Truth Commission,’ whereby a party once forgiven or absolved, should be encouraged to ‘spill the beans.’

At this point, a twenty year period cut off point was recommended, and it was further said that a Bill could shortly be presented to Parliament, although – as far as Northern Ireland was concerned – it would still be subject to ratification by the Stormont Parliament, and under The Good Friday Agreement. This is also subject to Stormont having an elected government, which it presently does not, suggesting  direct rule from London, and all that this implies.

The Jewel of India 70 Years On – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently, at God’s great Judgment Seat.’

Rudyard Kipling – The Ballad of East & West. 

Seventy years on, and the great continent of India no longer has that taste of colonialism lingering on the palette, except for those very few who can still remember the events of August 15th 1947, and then most likely their palette is residing in a glass of water beside their bed.

When we recount the events of WW1; a bloodbath which involved far too many virtually ignored, un-remarked upon, and brave colonial soldiers, we forget that many came from the then Indian sub-continent. As the TV presenters serve up great swathes of nostalgia, much emphasis is put on the Western forces – Australians, South Africans, Canadians and New Zealanders – who died during the Great War. The hero’s of the Verdun and other horrific WW1 battle scenes, are always presented as being white and European, although this is far from the truth.

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Mountbatten with Ghandi  

Moving forward in time to the 17th August 1947, and on this 70th anniversary, we now see sepia films showing the final salutes of men and women – often in enormously baggy and dated military uniforms – who are wondering if leaving India is the right thing to do, and worrying about what life might have in store for them back in a war damaged Britain. A country that is also trying to re-emerge into an equally uncertain future, together with the rest of poor decimated Europe.

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For over three hundred years Britain had been the policeman of India, what was soon to become the State of Pakistan and ultimately, an emerging Bangladesh. Did the politicians of the day eulogize over these brave and ignominiously forgotten Indian soldiers, who fought for a foreign mother country, some thirty years before? We shall never know it was all too long ago, but I doubt it!

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Most of us see the post war years in rather theatrical terms, and in the shires and the home counties of England – especially in the 50s and 60s – one often came across slightly dotty relatives who talked incessantly about their time in India as being the best time of their life.

Surrounded in their new homes, by reminders of years spent on the equator – the pith helmets, the Indian swords and engraved matchlocks – the many sided tables with ivory, and mother of pearl marquetry, would often support a well brewed cup of Darjeeling tea. Then there were the photographs of ferocious looking Colonels – their foot on the head of an equally ferocious looking, but somewhat dead tiger – at a family get-together, where as a child I was introduced to the wonders of cold curry, tales of the Berkshire Regiment, and the redoubtable Uncle John.

Back then, in the sometimes jaded reality of back street Brighton, in a world of seaside boarding houses – the subject of plays by Terrence Rattigan or John Osborne – the fifties and sixties seemed to be populated by hopeless people; old majors or retired district commissioners, all of whom found it difficult to adapt to their new home environment. Dear old Col. Hillary Hook couldn’t even boil an egg boil a kettle, let alone switch on a light.

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Often born to parents who had lived all their lives in India, there were families who’d lived and survived there, for generations. Lives, occasionally interspersed with the odd visit to an English public school, the very occasional university, or generally to Sandhurst, it was then back to India to work in some colonial capacity.

In their minds eye, India came to be as much theirs as the indigenous population itself, because British blood had been spilt on the ground of this their chosen home, and as simple as that.

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But they were also obnoxious, they were snobs, they were xenophobic, and they were unquestionably spoilt by their Indian hosts, and nevertheless – even to this day – they remain severely misunderstood.

Emanating from the newly found and emerging middle classes of the early nineteenth century, the sons and daughters of successful traders and manufacturers, these newly found colonialists, had often been precluded from gentile society in their British homeland – trade was a nasty word up until the 1950’s – and India proved to be the perfect alternative.

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Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, the Maharajas paid lip service to their so called protectors, but they too indulged in the imported social snobbery, and anglicised their views, often by adopting the public school, and elitist attitudes of their colonial cousins, into the bargain. Eton, Harrow, and smart Indian Regiments were all the rage, and a kind of effete Indian aristocracy emerged on the racecourses of Ascot and Epsom and the polo-grounds of Hurlingham and Windsor; but not for long. By going forward in time, once more, we now know why.

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The scratched and distressed sepia films show the lines of people, but not their thoughts. Tears and smiles must have mingled with nostalgia, and although some were sorry that they were leaving, others were not. Gandhi’s salt march had done the trick, Mountbatten had handed India back with as much dignity as he could muster and India was left to denude its own reality, and make the railways run on time.

Back in the UK sports masters were called Major this, the school bursar was called Colonel that, and the grounds man was called Sergeant something or other too, which was certainly the case when I first went to school.

As I write in the present day, I can still recall my aging aunts and uncles, small carved ivory elephants in glass cases, the aroma and sounds of an India still lingering in a photograph album, and a nameless dog, obediently sitting on the veranda of some long forgotten bungalow. And, although the shadow of this much loved past still hides behind the glossy brochure of a new modern and thriving India, I am afraid, that what I remember really doesn’t matter anymore.

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Gandhi with Tagore 

Today the talk is of computer technology, and India’s high profile nuclear tests, none of which are approved of by the great powers. Now medium range rockets wobble on their launching pads and die – with disappointed looks from ambitious Indian onlookers – and young Indians, once the scourge of immigration officers in the UK, are now the invited guests of a burgeoning electronics industry; short of manpower.

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No longer destined for the sweat shops of Huddersfield or Leeds, nor selling assorted silks from a market stall in Brick Lane or Southall, these young Indians now represent a new well educated middle class, destined for the wine bars of Dover Street and trendy Covent Garden. Oh, how the world has changed.

We find the India of today simultaneously seething with the extremes of poverty and great wealth, with – one must admit – a strong European demeanour. Gone are the cliches of the past – the Star of India Restaurant and the Bombay Brasserie, are now in the Michelin Guide – and pandering to the spoilt, the overpaid, and the trenchermen of a high cholesterol multicultural London.

Most of us have completely forgotten how it all began, although during recent time spent in India, I met many who were happy to attest to an amicable colonial past. But how did young Indians feel about their most recent past? Well, they seemed to have forgotten about it too!

The Compulsive Disorder of Humphry Bore – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

 

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Mr. Humphrey Bore LLB – Barrister at Law 

Humphrey Bore has lived in Reading Berkshire, for many years. Often interesting to talk to, but always regarded as somewhat eccentric, he has suffered for many years from an extremely noticeable compulsive disorder.

He was born near Cowley in Oxfordshire, to a well to-do family of engineers and manufacturers. His father and brothers – all keen amateur sports car racing drivers – were known locally as the Crashing Bores. At an early age, after finishing his schooling at Abingdon and then having come down from Oxford, he left his comfortable middle class existence in the home counties to pursue a profession. After some years, he finally became a practicing Barrister and found himself in chambers attached to the Court of the Admiralty. But having taken silk, he also took with him his family secret; an inherited compulsion, which was to cause him much unhappiness during his short but notable career.

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London during the sixties was a time of change, and Humphrey Bore was no exception to all the other young people who had escaped the post-war restrictions and the innate conservatism of their provincial life. He had no interest in country pursuits, or his family’s preoccupation with motor cars.

For him, London was all that that he needed; money, parties, pretty girls, and the promiscuous intermingling of pop stars, fashion photographers, models, footballers, the outrageous aristocracy – occasional recalcitrant royalty – and the odd transvestite. One might say that he had everything that life could offer, were it not for his fast developing compulsion. And it all happened so abruptly. He remembered it well.

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‘I remember it well. A spring morning in Notting Hill and then a sprightly Sunday walk to a local supermarket in Westbourne Grove; a casual request for a small cardboard box to put my groceries in, and then it happened! I couldn’t help myself!’

But, what was this indomitable force which drove the young Humphrey Bore to put this cardboard box on his head? He remembered that well.

‘I remember it well. I was stumbling around the supermarket bumping into things when this girl shouted over the phone to her boss – “Mr. Patel, Mr. Patel, there’s a bloke in the shop with a cardboard box on his head, and he’s just knocked over all the tins of peas and beans,  you’d better come over here quick, before he does any more damage.”

After which there a silence, and then he overheard her say, “what do you mean what sort of box is it?,” she hissed, “it doesn’t bloody matter does it?” It was as simple as that.

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‘It was an empty box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, if I remember rightly.’ A bewildered shadow covered his sallow face, as he recounted this first shocking incident, a distant look; as he relived the pain of the past. Then it was back to reality, and the saloon bar of The Ship Hotel in Reading. But what had made him come to live in Reading? What had driven him to leave London, the city he so loved? The story gradually emerged as glasses of Guinness were emptied.

He had laughed off this first incident, but after a number of similar experiences, a few weeks later Mr. Patel finally asked him to shop somewhere else, and soon Humphrey Bore felt it wise to move to some other part of London. But whilst his odd compulsion was developing, his career flourished at the Inns of Court and his reputation as a witty, elegant, and successful barrister often brought him into the public gaze, as he did battle with the rhetoric and banter of the central criminal courts, where he now found himself gainfully occupied, and getting richer by the day.

‘It was Mr. Al Fayed, who finally caused my downfall.’ Humphrey Bore wiped the froth of the Irish stout from his trembling upper lip.

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‘I was stumbling through the Harrods food hall – with an empty box of gentleman’s relish on my head – when I inadvertently knocked over about half a ton of Beluga Caviar, and then crashed into a special presentation of vintage wines and Pate de Foie Gras, from the Bergerac region of France. After that I don’t remember very much!’

The court transcript said it all, but worse than that, the whole incident had been caught on camera, because, Mr. Al Fayed – who was being interviewed by a TV company concerning his relationship with the Sultan of Brunei – witnessed the whole incident, and immediately called the police. At this point the tears began to trickle down Humphrey Bores face, mingling with the froth on his chin.

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‘When I came too, all I can remember was this man’s voice saying – “You’re nicked, and you better come quietly.”- I couldn’t believe it; it had happened all so quickly. I shouted you can’t arrest me, you don’t know who I am, and then the same voice saying – “I know that, sir, but that is because you have got a cardboard box on your head.”- It was then that I realised that my whole life would never be the same again.’

When the special police group had initially arrived at the incident, they had watched the strange goings on of the erratic and stumbling figure, and very soon realized that – in the hallowed precinct of Harrods Food Hall – decorum and tact would be required to restrain this particular miscreant.

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Producing what appeared to be an oversized fisherman’s landing net, a highly trained Metropolitan Police Constable furtively crept up behind the meandering figure of Humphrey Bore, as he collided with yet another expensive rack of delectable and expensive tinned food. And raising the net high above his head, he swiftly brought it down, trapping Humphrey Bore in the net, and bringing him swiftly to the ground.

Reading him his rights the policeman in question was heard by some astonished bystanders to caution the recumbent Humphrey Bore. With considerable pride in his capture he announced, ‘I arrest you in the name of Constable Sidney Perkins, and anything you say will be written down in evidence, and probably spelt all wrong.’

This evidence was duly presented in the magistrate’s court the following day, and together with a copy of the CTV recording, he had no defence. He was properly fined and the magistrate ordered him to have a course of advanced psychotherapy.

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It didn’t help him at all, but worse, his career now came to a sudden halt. Banished from the limelight of the Old Bailey, he was forced to return once more to his family home; to the Crashing Bores of Oxfordshire, and the inevitable truth.

‘It’s not your fault Humphrey,’ his ageing father had been more than understanding, ‘You see my boy, it’s hereditary. Your grandfather was thrown out of Boodles for having a coal scuttle on his head and you sister Clarissa, when she came out, was presented to the Queen with a plastic bucket on her head. It’s a family problem, don’t you see?’

He didn’t, and so he slunk away into obscurity, whilst carrying his peculiar physiological burden with him. Trying hard to find peace and anonymity anywhere in the world, it was many years before he finally discovered Reading.

Now you can occasionally see him shopping in Tesco’s – often with a very nervous store manager standing by – and sometimes in the  market place by  the Old Town Hall in the town centre. In spring and summer, he can often be seen with a fedora hat pulled well down over his head and in the winter, he is usually seen wearing his beloved balaclava.

But wherever he goes, in winter or summer, Humphrey Bore is always observed to be carrying a small cardboard box!

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Mumbo & The Animals – Patrick Brigham’s fictional story about South Sudan – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Today was just like yesterday, because there was a red dawn. As usual the sun appeared from behind the mountain and eclipsed the foggy night time world of the waste-high grasslands. It was here that they met the thin beginnings of the equatorial jungle. It brought to life the day and dispelled the silent predators of the night, by adding the searing heat which blew from the flatlands of the Sudan. This morning it was mixed with a very strange quietness too.

It was a silence which had only recently occurred. The clouds of locusts that daily swarmed out of the heavens had quickly eaten their way through what little the world had left, for this poor forgotten region in East Africa.

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Staring at the ominously red sky, the two monkeys sat high in the branches of a Tamarind tree and spoke to each other in restrained calls, as they brushed off the big yellow insects that were caught in their light brown fur. What had happened? Why was their life – once so full off laughter and fun – now becoming so dull, and just a little bit frightening?

The red dawn also awakened the humans. And now a new dimension of sound ricocheted through the jungle quietness from the hill where they lived. Immerging from a simple hut – made from grass reeds and strange blue plastic bags –a painfully thin figure started to pound some corn into a thin white powder with two stones.

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The song she sang was mournful, and told the story of marauding Janjaweed Arab horsemen, how they had burnt her village and taken the young men and women away.

Bashee had grabbed her son Mumbo and somehow they had escaped the gunfire and screams, by running into the bush and hiding. Now they lived here alone in the wilderness.

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Afterwards, they had both been very brave. A few days later they quietly returned to the village to inspect their home; only to find that very little was left. All the grass huts had been burnt, and even less remained as evidence of the small closely-knit community that had once been their world. In the corner of the village compound there were signs of a newly dug pit, but that was all.

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Bashee went into the hut they had once called home, and removing some debris from the floor, she started to dig away the earth from a corner of the hut with her bare hands. Half a meter down she found what she was looking for; it was a large stone reservoir containing corn. Removing the round flat stone from the top, she took all the corn they could carry.

Wrapped and knotted in cloth, she strung these bags around her waist and over both shoulders. What little water they had for the journey ahead, they kept in a leather goatskin and a small clay pot. Bashee knew that there would be a long uncertain painful trip before them, and Mumbo was only five years old.

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They had first traveled southwest – initially at night and under the stars – but as the jungle began to approach, they also walked during the early morning, through the cooling mists. When the sun rose they found water in the larger leaves, although very little. By chewing roots and young shoots, they also managed to get some moisture, and a little nourishment. There were many secrets that the forest kept to itself, but Bashee knew many of them in their hunt for food.

They were becoming thinner by the day, and finally stopped walking when they were both completely exhausted, and could go on no further. It was fortuitous that their final destination was green and fertile – and more than that – it also seemed comparatively safe.

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During their trip they had seen no other humans, only some Hyenas which had stalked them for a while, and some Vultures which circled in the sky overhead, riding the thermals, and watching for carrion and small rodents. In the distance they saw a lone Giraffe, and a small herd of Elephants with huge wide feet, the ones which can easily walk on sand. Now everything from the past seemed so far away, as they became forgotten by the world they knew.

From the top of their small and newly discovered hill they could easily see the valley which now spread before them, thickly strewn with trees and bushes, and full of the calls and sounds of Africa. In the distance there was a water hole, into which flowed a small stream that ran through the jungle valley. The waterhole was the exclusive domain of the wild animals, but the stream itself seemed safe enough for them and where they were able to get fresh water each day.

Life now took on a different complexion. Although not altogether safe from the more dangerous animals, it was peaceful being away from the fearful Arab militia and the terrible uncertainty they presented. Soon the days turned into the inevitable routine that surrounds everyday survival, and the resumption of some sort of domestic life. Bashee made breakfast for them both, at the start to each day. Her name for the porridge that she made from the ground corn was Melimeli.

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Now that the trip to the stream proved relatively safe, Mumbo’s job each morning was to get fresh water, so his mother could cook, they might wash themselves, and water the plants. She had planted some of the corn, and it now grew in a small garden next to the hut. The blue plastic bags which fluttered in the breeze – which also frightened away the birds – and from which their hut was partly built said on the front in English – ‘Milk Powder from UN.’ If in the past there had been other people living in this area, there was little evidence, for they were now long gone. There was just Mumbo, his mother and of course the animals.

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The two monkeys listened carefully through the buzz of locusts and heard a muffled roar, immediately followed by a little whimper. Jumping from tree to tree, they finally found the source of this sound. Lying next to the stream was the lion cub they called Tiky. He was licking his paw, with tears running down his face from his deep brown and pained eyes. The two monkeys were called Herman and Hermione, and they were brother and sister. Their parents were not very cleaver, and could only think of one name which they now shared.

The humans had lived in the area now for some weeks, and the animals –who were used to seeing him – were the nearest that Mumbo had to being friends. He knew the monkeys were silly, but they were very kind in their own silly way. Carrying the goatskin and the empty water pot, Mumbo walked trough the beginnings of the forest towards the stream. Herman and Hermione squeaked and chattered to him, pointing to Tiky who lay by the stream. ‘What is the problem?’ asked Mumbo, but the two monkeys simply continued chattering, and swung off the branches.

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Mumbo had only seen Tiky from a distance, usually with his extended family of brothers and sisters and the females of the pride. He had always kept well away from this family of Lions, and his mother warned him to stay well away too. But now it was different, and Tiky the Lion cub needed his help. ‘What is wrong with you?’ Mumbo asked as he came closer to Tiky. ‘I have got a thorn in my paw, and I cannot get it out’ – said Tiky.

Quietly, Mumbo picked up the cub’s paw, and examined it very thoughtfully. ‘That is a nasty thorn, but I am only little and I don’t know what to do, so I had better ask my Mummy.’

Out of the blue the two monkeys had a better idea. Although both of them couldn’t do anything at all, they were never the less extremely good at handing out advice. ‘Why don’t you stand on your head,’ said Herman. ‘Why don’t you eat a banana?’ said Hermione.

Having said which, they both skipped away. The thought of bananas, had suddenly made them both feel very hungry. So Tiky and Mumbo sat there by the stream wondering what to do.

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Suddenly there was some movement in the bush, and Wiggle the snake appeared. He was a five-meter long Python, and frightened of nobody. ‘What is wrong with Tiky,, hisssss,’ he said, looking cross eyed at a locust which had just landed on his nose!

Mumbo stroked the lion cub’s head, and told Wiggle the story about the thorn. ‘Perhaps, if Tiky licks his paw it might get better, hisssss,’ said Wiggle.

‘Perhaps we could sing a song,’ piped up a little voice. Sticky the frog had jumped out of the water and landed on the bank of the stream. ‘I know singing always makes me feel better,’ he said as his tongue shot out, removing the locust from Wiggle’s head, which he swallowed in one.

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Sticky’s eyes disappeared for a moment and sank into his eye sockets. ‘I know a song about something called Spam; I think I can remember the words,’ which he then started to sing in a very high squeaky voice.

‘Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam,

Let’s eat lots of Spam,

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam,

You buy it in a can.’

‘That is the most stupid song, I have ever heard,’ hissed Wiggle, ‘and if you don’t stop singing it I will eat you, man!’ At which point Sticky the frog let out a frightened gasp, leapt in the air and jumped back into the water. ‘What a plonker,’ said the snake, as he curled himself around a branch in the nearest tree. Then looking puzzled he remarked, ‘spam, hisssss, I’ve never heard of it!’

Mumbo sprinkled some cold clean water on the paw, which was now very sore and hot, when suddenly this huge head appeared through the bushes. ‘Did somebody mention thorns? I love them, and I can eat them all day long. Delicious!’ Shorty the Giraffe was standing on the other side of the stream, but his neck was so long, that he could lean over and talk to them.

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‘That’s why I have got a long neck,’ he said in his slow ponderous voice, ‘So I can reach up high into the trees, and eat lots of thorns and incredibly tasty prickly things!’ As he considered the epicurean merits of jungle life, a little dollop of dribble fell off his wobbly lower lip, and splashed into the stream.

‘I think he is very lucky having a thorn,’ he said, ‘nothing wrong with that!’ And as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone leaving only the sound of munching high in the trees. ‘Hmmm, delicious,’ he said.

Wiggle the snake was in a pensive mood. ‘Right! Eating and living in a tree. That’s cool, especially if you want to go to sssssssssleep. Wow!’

It was all right for him to hiss, but it didn’t really help Tiky – as the Python dozed off – and it didn’t help Mumbo sort out the problem of the thorn either. Why couldn’t any of them be more sensible?

‘Mud is the answer,’ said a very gurgly voice. ‘Glorious mud will solve the problem. I know that for certain!’ Porky the Warthog had spent the whole night at the water hole, rolling in the mud with his family. With his familiar snort – often mistaken for haughtiness and self-importance – he rolled onto his back, and stuck his legs in the air. ‘As the World’s leading expert on mud, I would say – all things being equal, and the greater being the lesser – that life is solely about mud, and more mud. That’s what he wants; lots of mud!’

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Then in a very gurgly voice he continued, ‘well that’s my advice to you all, but – take it or leave it – I can’t hang around here all day long chatting, because it is time for me to get back to my mud hole. Good morning everyone!’ Then he was gone, and both Mumbo and Tiky were none the wiser.

‘Did you know that the two middle letters of the word life spell if,’ mused Wiggle in his semi conscious state? ‘Wow! What a cool thought! It makes you really wonder about why we are here, doesn’t it?’

Mumbo thought that he too must be asleep and dreaming, because the things occurring around him seemed so strange. ‘I know that I talk to the animals, and I am sure that they occasionally understand me, but I don’t remember them talking back to me before!’ Mumbo continued to wonder at such unusual happenings, as he sat holding Tiky’s paw, and as they sat by the stream.

Quite suddenly, he felt a nasty painful sting on his leg. His immediate reaction was to rub his leg, but from nowhere he heard a very loud voice cry out. ‘Don’t squash me please, I came here to help you.’ Mumbo looked around but he could see nothing except Tiky and the sleeping snake. ‘Where are you, I can’t see you, and who are you,’ Mumbo demanded?

‘I am here, sitting on your leg. I am one of Tiky’s fleas, and I am fed up with all of you! You are all so thick.’

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Looking very carefully at his left knee, Mumbo saw this very tiny flea who was jumping up and down and rubbing his head. ‘It’s not much fun being a flea you know, what with all that scratching and smacking and now I have got an awful headache; you also knocked my glasses off.’ Mumbo was dumbfounded, but at the same time he was fascinated. ‘How come you voice is so loud,’ he said, ‘I mean, for someone so small, it is very loud.’

The flea sat down and folded all four of his arms. ‘It is quite simple; I have been taking elocution and singing lessons from the frog. Although,’ he continued, ‘I have no idea what Spam is either!’

Rising to his feet, the flea declared in an almost Shakespearian manner, ‘by the way we have not been properly introduced. How do you do? My name is Itchy the flea and I live on Tiky’s head.’

After a few minutes it was clear that Itchy the flea was most unusual. Apart from being noisy he also seemed to be very clever. ‘I don’t know if you noticed, but I am extremely clever,’ announced the flea in a very self assured way, ‘and I know exactly how to pull the thorn out of Tiky’s paw if you are interested.’

‘That’s cool man,’ Wiggle opened one eye and stuck his forked tongue out, to see what was going on in the world, ‘yeh, really cool!’But Itchy the flea was more concerned with good manners and the social protocols and decorum of a civilized society.

‘I’m sorry but I don’t believe we have been properly introduced,’ he announced to Wiggle the African Python. ‘My name is Itchy the flea, and I live on Tiky’s head.

‘My name is Wiggle, and I live where I like,’ came the sleepy reply, ‘and right now I live in this tree, you know? It’s where it’s at, man!’

‘Well Mr. Wiggle, I don’t know many snakes because I am a flea, but you do seem to be a very cleaver one to me. And how long have you been a philosopher?’

The snake closed one eye, and then opened the other, ‘about five meters up until now, but I expect I will get longer man!’

‘How interesting,’ said the flea, ‘yes that is er a very long time indeed.’

But by now the sound of hissing had turned to snoring, which entirely interrupted the conversation. However, with a little roar from Tiky, it announced the fact that the pain had returned, and something had to be done about it quickly.

‘I don’t suppose you three could stop nattering, and give me a hand to get rid of this thorn, do you?’ Tiky was getting tired of the jungle babble. ‘And by the way, how come you never spoke to me before, Itchy,’ Tiky definitely sounded a little hurt?

‘Because we were not properly introduced for a start, and you were always too busy scratching which kept me jumping about all the time! It’s not much fun being a flea, sometimes!’

As far as Mumbo could see, Itchy was quite upset because being very clever also meant that Itchy was rather vain. But he went on, ‘so let me tell how to remove the thorn!’

In the end it mainly involved finding two very small sharp stones. The stream was not very fast, and the water was clear. No humans had been living close, and so the environment was natural and clean. Free from the pollution of modern living and away from the belching factories of the developed world, Mumbo got on his knees and looked deeply into the clear clean cool running water.

The early morning sun was filtering through the trees, and a ray of sunlight shone into the shimmering water before him. Most of the little stones in the stream were round and black, and old as the hills themselves. But suddenly he noticed two glittering stones, which at first sight he thought might have been glass, or even part of a broken mirror.

‘Will these two do Itchy?’ Mumbo presented his find to the bespectacled flea. Sounding exceedingly pompous – as very small people often do – the flea removed his glasses, and wobbled his head from side to side in approval. ‘Yes, they look eminently suitable, and now I will tell you what to do.’

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‘Firstly Tiky, you must lie on your side, so that Mumbo can put a little pressure on your paw. You must keep your paw on the ground palm up, so we can all see everything.’ Mumbo picked up a large green leaf, which had suddenly floated down from on high.

‘Put that under his paw,’ said a slow ponderous voice from above, ‘it will keep Tiky’s paw clean and off the ground.’ A dollop of dribble, landed in the water.

Itchy continued, ‘now you have to press the two sharp sides of the stones either side of the base of the thorn, and press down so it is visible and sticking up a bit!’ Itchy said in a didactic and scholarly way. ‘And then, you have to press the two stones together so they grip the stem of the thorn.’

Mumbo was being as gentle as he could, but poor Tiky – although he was being very brave – squealed in pain. ‘Now, you must slowly pull the torn out with the two stones pressed together.’ Gradually the thorn started to come out of the paw.

‘Not too quickly please, or it will break off and then we will be in real trouble,’ said Itchy in a nervous voice.

When it had been removed from the paw, everyone stared in awe at the black thorn and wondered how such a long and ugly spike had managed to get into Tiky’s little paw. Whilst Mumbo bandaged it with another leaf which had mysteriously floated down from the heavens, he was certain that Tiky would be all right and would get better soon.

It was a familiar jungle story and it could really have happened to any one of them, including Wiggle. ‘I was running after this big blue butterfly when I crashed into this prickly Acacia bush, and then it happened,’ Tiky said tearfully, ‘but thanks to Mumbo and Itchy I can now go home to my mummy!

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Everybody thanked Itchy for his good advice, although he pompously stated, ‘it is a great pleasure for me to be indubitably and pre-eminently helpful under the circumstances, by using my skilled and tenacious mind and extensively developed lateral thinking process to help a fellow creature, thus confirming our mutual respect and fraternal felicitations!’ But, it didn’t matter if he was a pompous twit, because he had helped Tiky; someone on whom he lived after all.

‘Cool dude,’ hissed Wiggle.

Sitting by the stream that morning, they had all become firm friends, which people generally do when they help each other. Putting the two stones in a little leather pouch which hung around his waist, Mumbo sat and looked happily at the flickering water and thought of his new life with the animals. Porky the Warthog then appeared dripping with mud, Herman and Hermione swung into sight, and Sticky the frog jumped out of the water once more. As he started to sing, they all joined in together.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam,

Let’s eat lots of Spam,

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam,

You buy it in a can.

Entwined within his tree, Wiggle hissed, ‘yeah, that’s cool man!’

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It was later than Mumbo realized – because he never wore a watch or had even seen one before – and it had started to rain. Having filled the leather goatskin and the clay pot with water, he said goodbye to his new friends and made his way back to his mother and their little hut. Mr. Thompson the Gazelle was – as usual – very nervous.

‘It is not right, not right,’ he repeated, ‘the rain is not right, not right at all, it makes you cough, you cough.’ He jumped around, wagging his tail in the excitement. ‘It’s a funny color too, color too.’ And he was right, as he ran in different directions constantly repeating himself.

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The acrid smell of chemicals made Mumbo’s eyes water, and he also started to cough as his throat contracted from breathing in the strange pungent fumes. As he walked he could see the locusts falling from the trees and bushes in their thousands. Piling up under the trees in great mounds, they lay on their backs and waved their legs around, until they were finally still.

In the distance Mumbo could hear the sound of an engine – roaring, stopping, and then roaring again – and still the yellow rain fell all about him choking him and making him feel dizzy. In his panic he started to run, and in the distance he heard the crump of something crashing to the ground, followed by an explosion.

Mumbo was very frightened, but he kept on running towards home, even though his lungs were bursting with the horrible fumes he was forced to breathe in.

Mr. Thompson was leading the way, and kept muttering to himself ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! What can we do, can we do,’ as he galloped in all directions? And then as quickly as the yellow rains had started, they stopped. Suddenly he heard a shout, but it was too late! Blackness was followed by excruciating pain, and then finally nothing at all.

When he woke up he was in his mothers arms. She was sitting by a tree holding him tight, and staring at a huge white man with a large black mustache. Towering over them both, he was wrapping up a large green silk canapé. Carefully folding it and pushing it into a large canvas bag which he had removed from his back, he casually undid the harness into which he was tightly strapped.

‘My God,’ he said in English, ‘that was a very close call! Bloody Russian flying deathtrap.’

He sat on the ground, and lit a cigarette which he took from a shiny chrome case. He unzipped his leather jacket and undid the red scarf around his neck. Mopping his forehead with one end he laughed. ‘Welcome to Uganda Marik. What a place to end up in!’

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Looking at the boy, he smiled, and then reaching into his pocket he produced a bar of chocolate. ‘Here’ he said ‘this was going to be my breakfast but you can have it now!’

More frightened than badly hurt, it was the parachute which had suddenly enveloped Mumbo. The blackness had only lasted a few seconds. He stared at the first white man he had ever seen and hesitantly took the bar of Cadbury’s chocolate and broke off a piece. It was a very new taste and he wondered if it was called Spam.

‘Are you all right boy,’ the pilot patted his head and smiled? Mumbo was rubbing his eyes and sniffing, but he could see the boy would be OK soon.

‘Nasty stuff that DDT 25, but it certainly gets rid of locusts doesn’t it?’ The boy nodded, then not understanding what had been said, he handed the rest of the chocolate bar to his mother.

Bashee had only met one white man before, and that had been many years before. A UN official had visited them in Darfur when she was a girl. He had said he was an American, and he chewed a funny rubber substance, all the time. ‘Where are you from,’ she asked?

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‘Most recently I am from that rubbishy Russian helicopter, but originally I am from Poland,’ he laughed again at his own black joke; the one which had most recently nearly killed him. Looking at the emaciated woman he smiled.

‘How far is Pakwash from here,’ he said?

‘Are we not still in the Sudan,’ Bashee asked by way of a reply? ‘We have just escaped from the Janjaweed.’

Marik looked at them both in disbelief. ‘You must have traveled over a thousand miles to get here. How long did you both walk for?’

She looked vaguely at the distant plains and then gazing at her feet and said, ‘Forever.’

‘You are both very brave people,’ Marik said removing a satellite telephone from his outer pocket. Pressing a button, the light in the window came to life and then quite suddenly it started to ring. The Polish pilot became stern and angry.

‘Yes I’m OK, but no thanks to your bloody helicopter,’ his face showed how annoyed he really was, his bottom jaw extended and his teeth clenched, ‘so you had better send another helicopter to pick me up, and make sure it isn’t a bloody Russian one. Oh, and by the way, there will be two extra passengers coming with me, and don’t bloody argue!’

***

On an island called Namaluso, which is on Lake Victoria, CBRE the builders had just finished constructing Marik’s new house. It was a large bungalow with verandas all around, overlooking the sea, complete with a special annex for the housekeeper.

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The reason that there was no housekeeper was because of Marik’s precarious profession, which of course meant that there was no wife either. The UN was not just about food and politics, and sometimes crop spraying, and aeronautical biology was just as important. Being a pilot, Marik could fly anywhere in Africa, and he had therefore chosen to finally live on Lake Victoria. It was his first proper home in years.

Mumbo kept the two stones. They were not just a memento of that special day many years before – when he had helped to make Tiky better – because they also reminded him of the many animal friends he had made when life had been so cruel to him and his mother Bashee. One day he showed his secret stones to Marik, who seemed very surprised.

‘These are not stones Mumbo, they are diamonds; didn’t you know? Now you and your mother will never have to worry about anything ever again!’

And, they never did!