Off to Bavaria or Off His Rocker

What passes for normal conversation at home,

Dad, I'm off to Bavaria next week.

I've been there, bloody nice place. Why are you going there son?

I've just booked myself on a 10 day paragliding course.

Right you are. Paragliding..... why paragliding son?

Because Dad, walking down the mountain is the boring bit.

Indubitably so son, indubitably so.



All Hands To Station

So, Mrs Flashbang has deserted us and is currently somewhere between Cumbria and Northumbria cycling a coast to coast route. That's my girl. Now, that leaves us with something of a change of regime domestically but nothing dramatic, we've been here before and discipline and routine are the order of the day. Stuff gets done. That is, right up until we arrive at this place for food and drink replenishment.

and this is a baby one in comparison to some

For most men, the supermarket trip is an elite participant sport for which they have had little or no training since young childhood, when they were dragged around by their short tempered mothers who never understood the importance of a quick sugar rush at 9am in the morning. Actually, watching badly behaved children is pretty good entertainment up and down the aisles. Take care though not to become obsessively distracted less you be mown down by a pensioner on a high speed mission on his mobility scooter to get to aisle 14 where the girl with the discount sticker gun is busy reducing the price of the tea cakes with raisins. In fact, the supermarket is alive with threats to the unwary. They include, but are not limited to, the wandering Wildebeest I described in Fat Delusional Birds and the unplanned 'just bumped into,' meeting with people you'd rather not stand and talk about nothing to for 20 minutes.

Sorry about the quality but it's a funny clip nonetheless

Then we have the wretched bloody store managers who think it's clever to play grocery hide-and-seek by moving entire rows of condiments and ingredients every six weeks to the nether reaches of the store, the check out assistant who takes the instruction to 'greet the customer,' as a personal lifestyle choice and questions you on 'your day,' as would the Gestapo and of course the moment when you realise that you didn't bring 8 'bags for life,' like the Missus told you to and you're now going to shell out for 8 flimsy plastic bags while attracting looks of contempt and disdain from the queues left and right of you who stare at you as if you're either a complete fool or are personally responsible for the deaths of baby seals and dolphins across the world.

This map becomes inverted though when women shop in supermarkets. Men lose any natural GPS in those places.

Let's face it, rather like childbirth, men are simply not designed for supermarkets. Too much nonsense, distractions, frippery and all out marketing psychological warfare which attempts to get us to do things we don't want to do. That simply reminds most men of their marriages. Most blokes could get by with no more than 30 basic ingredients, and that includes all the home hygiene kit, go home and knock up a pretty spectacular dinner. All of which could all fit in a much smaller retailing space than the modern iteration many of which are built on the scale of American nuclear powered aircraft carriers. We could call it a corner shop. Women though are made for supermarkets. Their normal mode of operations when shopping, say for clothes, becomes inverted when they walk through the doors of a supermarket. They hit the fruit and veg aisle with the sense of purpose of a Russian tank commander storming Berlin and go through the place like a freight train. Woe betide anyone who gets in their way, especially dazed men feeling their way around what for them, is alien space. That I fear, would mostly be me




Nice; No Simple Answers

The events in Nice last night have triggered another unwanted replay of saturation disaster news coverage and waves of dread pulsing through families and friends with loved ones in the South of France. Anyone who has been to Nice has strolled down the Promenade des Anglais and it is familiar to many across the world. This being the third major terrorist event in eighteen months the French could be forgiven for suffering from emotional exhaustion. France though is a mature democracy with broad shoulders and they will get through the trauma. The tragic fact is however, it is unlikely to be the last such event.

We do not yet know for certain that the Nice attack was perpetrated by an Islamic terrorist. The French Tunisian individual identified as the driver may have been mentally ill, high on drugs or hell bent on revenge for some perceived or actual sleight. Perhaps a combination of two or all of those factors may become apparent. Apart from petty crime the perpetrator had not been flagged as a radical and was unknown to security services.

As we are aware, so called ‘Lone Wolves,’ or ‘Stray Dogs,’ present security forces with very specific difficulties. They are often solitary and withdrawn individuals, frequently without ideological motivation, which makes identification through profiling difficult and clearly infiltration of potential targets, because of their singularity, is a non-starter. Given many are mentally ill they often come to the attention of the police and or health professionals prior to major incidents but that is very large haystack for security professionals to trawl through and monitor in order to identify the very few individuals who may then advance to mass murder.

Much will again be made of solitary attackers in the coming days and the threat will remain persistent. I have discussed them before but have avoided listing specific threats lest I unintentionally present some lunatic with a script. The threat however to the well-being of ordinary decent citizens goes beyond the Lone Wolf because the general terror threat is embedded in the EU.

The proximity of North Africa and Turkey to Europe, centuries of trade and colonialisation and waves of immigrants seeking work, education and advancement over generations has resulted in large numbers of Muslims living in Europe. Although some are fourth or even fifth generation immigrants many have not integrated and live in isolated Muslim dominated communities. For example, Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted in a recent Politico article that only eight of the 114 imams in Brussels speak any of Belgium's traditional languages.

The backdrop is not helped by the weak European economy which has impacted the Muslim population disproportionately and while the unemployment rate for young males on the Continent is very high, (ex Germany), the numbers for young Muslims should be a source of alarm. Alienation through economic disenfranchisement and an absence of any kind of mandatory assimilation through benefits-for-work type schemes provide the purveyors of violence rich pickings with which to pollute, twist and control minds. To combat radicalisation all European countries must accept that they must do more than ‘round up the usual suspects,’ and put soldiers on the streets in a show of force after major incidents. They must meet the extreme violence of terror with radical social and economic reengineering in order to drain the pond. Without confronting the worst truths of these societies the outlook will remain at it's bleakest.

The political impact of terrorism in France will gain momentum with an inevitable uplift for the right wing National Front and the centre right Republicans in next April’s elections. Both are critical of Schengen and the demand for greater national control of borders is anyway growing across Europe both because of terrorism and migration. It is also inevitable that the French will reach out for more support in their foreign anti Jihadist operations but are likely to receive a subdued response from other European nations who lack the will, the budgets and the expertise to field expeditionary forces.

They can hope though for renewed efforts in intelligence and information sharing but many countries in Europe are themselves hampered by their own fragmented security and intelligence structures not to mention entrenched privacy laws.

For individuals, the advice remains the same. Forget all that ‘business as usual; our lives will not be affected,’ hogwash from politicians who know no better. We live in an environment of elevated risk from multiple threats and citizens should adopt a poise of situational awareness wherever they are. That doesn’t mean constantly living on edge. It simply means being aware of ones surroundings and events. That is, tune in, never tune out. Always have the basis of an escape and action plan and remember, an air of superior laissez-faire indifference is no defence against 7.62mm rounds and flying glass. You can read more here in Stay Safe.


So, in an elegant example of the dark arts of political craft Theresa May is to be Prime Minister by Wednesday evening. The Tories have always been unsentimental if not brutal in removing and installing their leaders. Not for them the hand wringing and drawn out public debates that beset the Labour Party. No, they remain the finest and best drilled exponents of political assassination on the planet. That is not to suggest for a moment that the best person has not won for she probably has and it is to the good that the uncertainty is at an end. I suspect that very early in the campaign Mrs May was taken to one side and told, "Stay aloof and don't get involved. If the vote goes against us we'll need a unity candidate and you are it." She played the part fantastically well and embarks on her premiership with the "safe and competent," badge. 

Boris was never a serious contender for the majority of MP's, except in his own mind, and they've been telling anyone who would listen so for many months. The demise of Michael Gove is regrettable because despite his earnest and sometimes severe demeanour is a genuine reformer who cares deeply about the very large sections of society who have been left behind. He has more to give. Andrea is well, we don't quite know. After being lauded as a City name people in the City have for weeks been asking each other 'who is this women, have you ever come across her?' and of course none of us had. For spicing up her CV she deserves to have fallen by the wayside rather more than for the 'mothergate,' thing. The CV episode would see a junior grad trainee uncerimoniously booted out of any reasonable firm, never mind a prospective prime minister.

So have was Crumble's choice? Actually, none of the above. I would have ticked the box for this lady, Gisela Stuart. She is of course ineligible given the rather inconvenient fact that she is a Labour MP but she rather impressed me during the campaign and I would very much enjoy the irony of having a Bavarian born prime minister taking on Mrs Merkel in exit negotiations. If the Labour party were struck by a sudden flash of sanity they would install Mrs Stuart as leader tomorrow. Now that really would worry Tory backroom fixers. 


Mrs Flashbang; Trendsetter

So, still just the two of us holding the fort at home with the dogs. The girls are obviously missing us though..........

They sent some balloons. That's nice. Perhaps it will catch on. Perhaps Hollywood megastars when unavoidably denied the opportunity to grace the stage at the Oscars or BAFTA's to collect their shiny awards could send a balloon instead. Julia Roberts would look very fetching on a balloon and think of the nonsense it would save with the new frock and make up thing. Anyway girls, thanks for coming...........

Hi Girls!

So my girls are storming through New York en route to Cuba on a Mother & Daughter trip, (the Foreign Office and National Debt Office have been alerted).

Just in case you are missing me and the dogs girls, here's a playlist just to remind you of home... (and MB, don't dare suggest they've gone over there to get away from my music..).

Happy Birthday To Us

I do miss the toys.... oh I really do

Tomorrow is a rather special birthday for a rather special bunch. The Royal Artillery celebrates it's 300th birthday and will be celebrating the occasion by doing what it does best, making lots of loud bangs in a firepower demonstration, in amongst other events, in front of the Queen down at Larkhill.

My own small part in celebrating the regimental birthday can't wait until tomorrow for this missive dropped into my in-box from a friend a couple of weeks ago,

'in the absence of any invitations to official champagne soirees, Royal receptions or white tie dinners, we will be engaging in our own old boys’ Gunner gathering in the typical manner in an ‘ostelry in Salisbury the evening before, Wednesday 25th; standby for more details……………'

That won't be messy then will it..........?


Rosie, Still Standing

A further update from friend Rosie who records the final part of her treatment for breast cancer with her usual keen observational eye, wit and self deprecating humour.

"Shattered and Battered...but still standing

I wanted to start this, the final update, with some amusingly clever quotation ("Friends, Romans, countrymen... lend me your breasts...") or embed a mechanism into the text that includes the soundtrack "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John playing relentlessly in the background to celebrate the completion of what has to be the world's most challenging medical triathlon. Unfortunately I couldn't come up with the necessary witty rejoinder and neither can I code.... but finally... (drum roll) after 10 months, I am DONE.  'Death by Microwave' finished just over 2 weeks ago.

Big cancer machine thingy

Radiotherapy - whilst being the easiest leg to endure - is probably the most relentlessly boring as it required my presence every day, Monday to Friday, for 4-and-a-half weeks.  It is also the most 'scientifically scary' in terms of equipment and noise, so basically like being on the set of "Alien" (in radiology no-one can hear you scream...) The Linear Accelerator is the most impressive piece of kit I have ever seen : it is huge - consisting of a massive, rotating laser gantry, sizeable retractable panels and a very uncomfortable narrow base unit to lie on complete with complicated arm rest to lock your arms over your head. To compliment the whole 'Sci-Fi' theme, the entire suite is bathed in an ethereal blue glow. 

Positioning is key and before I even got close to being zapped, I spent a happy morning being digitally scanned, drawn all over with felt tip again... and the most painful of all.... being tattooed. Yes - I have "tats" (as opposed to "tits") - a tiny blue freckle under each arm pit and bang slap in the middle of my sternum. All this to ensure I was lying in exactly the same position each time (accurate to within a millimetre apparently).  By comparison, the actual treatment takes but a moment... 45 seconds max.... Once 'aligned', a loud siren sounds and everybody sprints out of the room because, guess what, these rays cause cancer.....  Usually, at this point, feeling very small and vulnerable and staring down the barrel of what is essentially a huge cartoon laser gun firing photons and electrons, my imagination runs completely riot and I envisage ALF bursting forth from my boob à la Alien and sprinting out of the room after them......

Compared to chemo, side effects are minimal : fatigue and what can only be described as sun burn.  Perhaps this is why 'pink' features so prominently as a marketing theme for breast cancer? Pink ribbons, pink cuddly toys, pink T-shirts, pink literature, you name it.  Please don't get me wrong, I am eternally and supremely grateful for each and every organisation working tirelessly to eradicate this vile disease, but quite how breast cancer has come to have such cutesy, almost sexual connotations is completely beyond me?  It is actually a long, brutal, down-and-dirty mud wrestle of nightmarish proportions.  You don't see prostate cancer messing about with a tiny pair of pale blue fluffy pom-poms.... their advertising features a bloody great sledgehammer... Just sayin'.....

So what now? After exhaustive meetings with Supreme Being (aka surgeon) and Oncologist and acknowledging that there are scant options available medically for post Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I have agreed to go on a course of Bisphosphonates - 1 dose every 6 months for the next 3 years administered via IV. Recent extensive trials have been seriously encouraging in helping prevent relapse - specifically in 'dem bones - and has the added benefit of protection against osteoporosis.  I have also considered oral chemotherapy, but I have to confess, the idea of moving the goal posts quite so comprehensively is not appealing. Although not as ghastly as IV chemo, it would mean another 8 cycles / 6 months of feeling shit just when I am feeling bloody brilliant for the first time in living memory. The treatment is very new for this specific application, the trials thus far very small and no guarantees despite the numbers looking encouraging.  Mark and I have been in an agony of indecision, but I think on balance, probably leave it. My lovely Oncologist is of a similar opinion and even went as far as saying he is "cautiously optimistic" about my future. Fingers crossed he's right.....

And so my friends, all that remains for me to say is a massive 'thank you'. I really couldn't have done this without all your support, love and encouragement.  Writing ALF has been most cathartic..... by allowing me to recount the horror and terror and take the piss out of it, somehow makes it so much smaller and manageable .... and there is a lot to manage.  I have been blown away by your emails, letters, flowers, telephone calls, texts and visits.... as I think I mentioned in the very first ALF, when things get really bad, to be able wrap myself in this 'duvet' of support by reading all your responses is brilliant - thank you so much. 

I leave you with the good - my hair is growing at a rate of knots....
The bad - it is so curly it resembles a sheep's fleece....
But I am relieved to inform you I am looking less ugly...! 

With much love xxx"