We have a few people round for lunch today. Included in the nominal role are three Gunners, (incl 2 x 29 Commando Regt), 1 x Para and 1 x Scots Guards. Oh and the Mother-in-Law is coming too. What could possibly go wrong?
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
When President Trump was elected, to the surprise and shock of the prevailing wisdom of the Washington elite and New York media, I thought that he had a glancing opportunity to do something meaningful. I wrote at the time that he should focus his energy on getting something done such as an infrastructure bill which would have cross party and national support rather than become subsumed in the Washington political morass. He hasn’t become subsumed, he is drowning. Unfortunately for our friends across the sea, and in fact the rest of the world, he is proving to be completely inadequate on every level. While we could suggest that the world is a more stable place because Trump will more readily project US power than did Obama there is growing nervousness about his personal capacity to exercise good judgement. The events of this week in respect of the race row are especially troubling.
We must be cautious ourselves in the UK about being too vocal on the subject given we have our own significant domestic race issues to contend with. The resignation of a shadow minister this week because she vocalised widely held concerns about the exploitation and grooming of young girls by a very specific racial segment is an example of our own inability to confront tensions within. The United States though continues to struggle to come to terms with it’s own heritage. Racism is never far below the surface wherever you travel. Once, while working for a Mid Western company of some size, I asked a board member why we didn’t employ any black people. “Not here,” was the simple and straight reply.
The President though, should stand above these arguments. He, like our Queen, represents all citizens. That Trump has failed to put a stake in the high moral ground in this regard has probably damaged him beyond repair. I would not be surprised to see a new president in office by the end of the year. Any president who is seen or perceived to be on one or other side of the racial divide in the United States is holed below the waterline. A pity he did not action his earlier rhetoric to bring safe streets to the worst of America’s inner cities such as Chicago. He has now blown what little credibilty that has survived serial screw-ups over the past eight months.
A friend reminded me with a Facebook post of what is expected of an American president. In 1989 a reporter asked President H W Bush, who was only a month into his presidency, “What does the party do about David Duke?” the former Klu Klux Klan leader who was standing for state office in Louisiana. (It is usually regarded as highly improper for a president to cross the line and involve himself in State politics). Bush senior said,
"Maybe there was some feeling in Metairie, Louisiana, that the president of the United States involving himself in a state legislative election was improper or overkill. I've read that, and I can't deny that. But what I can affirm is: I did what I did because of principle.”
Later, in 1991 he was asked if he regretted his actions. This was his reply,
"When someone asserts that the Holocaust never took place, then I don't believe that person ever deserves one iota of public trust. And when someone has so recently endorsed nazism, it is inconceivable that such a person can legitimately aspire to leadership — in a leadership role in a free society. And when someone has a long record, an ugly record, of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign. So, I believe that David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he is attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana, and I believe that he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”
Encouraging voters to vote against his own party was a stand-out, stand-up thing to do. Duke lost and Democrat Edwin Edwards was elected. The stand did not later help Bush senior’s re-election bid with voters in that area but he would have slept more easily. Some issues are more important than party politics. A lesson the current incumbent would do well to absorb.
Trump could have been the Messiah to cauterise the economic wounds wrought on ordinary decent Americans over the past ten years and he could, should have been the person to bring their nation closer together. That the opposite is happening is nothing short of criminally tragic. What we are looking at though is a mirror. We have many of the same issues at hand in this country and our own politicians, of every hue, are equally ill equipped to confront them. There is, I am afraid, an absence of moral courage and leadership on the international stage the like of which has probably never been seen before in our history. It is all really rather a worry.
Unbelievably, today is the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death at the age of 42. I heard the news while passing through North Yorkshire where I had bigger problems to deal with. On the homeward leg of my round Britain hitch-hiking tour I found myself with only very limited funds after a too enthusiastic night in a North Yorkshire pub discovering the joys of under-age drinking. 75p, five teabags and half a ham roll with home in Inverness a long way away was a more immediate problem than was a pop singer falling off his perch. I'm sure the inter-web will be awash with tributes, (to Elvis, not my reusable teabags). I'm far from an Elvis nut but I have always enjoyed occasionally dipping into his music. I certainly believe that he was a more honourable man than we ever got to know but of course, he wasn't without his flaws. A musical genius though, exploited by many around him but enjoyed by millions more. What a legacy. One of my favourite tunes is in the clip above. Kate Moss is rather easy on the eye too.
Tomorrow is the biggest day for the Royal Navy since the Fleet returned from the Falklands War. HMS Elizabeth will enter Portsmouth for the first time tomorrow at the currently scheduled time of 07:10hrs. Six tugs will bring her in with a flypast of Merlin and Wildcat helicopters and Hawk jets from 736 Naval Air Squadron. The wind limit for safe entry for this huge ship is 15 knots. It is in the DNA of the people of Portsmouth to support the Navy and large crowds are expected.
The ship has been completing Phase 1 (machinery) trials since the 26th June which have apparently gone well apart from some propeller shaft issues which were attended to in Invergordon in a planned stop for refuelling and replenishment. Apparently the Captain and crew are happy with progress, not that we would know if they weren’t, but of course the ship is not yet commissioned into the Royal Navy. It is currently the property of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance until commissioning at which point the White rather than Blue Ensign will fly. Until then, (expected mid 2018), while the ship is the responsibility of it’s captain he must operate under direction of the sea trials manager.
When HMS Elizabeth is operational, and her soon to follow sister ship the Prince of Wales, the perception and reality of the United Kingdom as a meaningful strategic power will undergo a significant change, both within the country and beyond. These ships will give the United Kingdom the ability to conduct operations with flexibility at arms reach from home waters, quickly, (relative to deploying an Army Division), and efficiently. They will provide a platform to support ground operations overseas, they will exercise a demonstration of political will and force if required, they will provide air cover to Naval Task Forces and of course operate in support of humanitarian missions and as intelligence gathering platforms.
The bigger problem of course is that we don’t have many people in Westminster equipped either emotionally or intellectually to think strategically. Then we have the nagging concern that once they have new shiny toys in their play-pen they might be tempted to use them without judicious planning and forethought but that is a discussion for another day. For now, let Portsmouth and the ‘Andrew,’ celebrate.
I arrived home last night after a hum drum day to a quiet house. It’s that time of the month. The Coven was gathering for their alleged monthly ‘Book Club,’ get-together which was surprising because the skies were quiet and subdued. On the evening of last month’s Circle we witnessed the biggest lightening storm in the south for years which was much more aligned with my deep seated suspicions. There was a note, ‘food in the fridge.’ She left me a mackerel. I wish she hadn’t. Now I would be the first to agree that mackerel are a fine and unfairly underrated fish but sometimes a man just needs more than a mackerel and some salad. A glass of wine cheered things along but a quick look at the television soon dampened the moment. My televisual tastes tend to be eclectic so I watched ten minutes of Australian Masterchef for inspiration before returning to my mackerel. Boy those young Aussie’s can knock together some decent scran. Their Asian-fusion-cooking-thing was way above my pay grade; impressive but why do they get so emotional? What is happening to that country? It’s only food, not a cure for cancer. In the end I gently fried my fish in butter, ate it with the pre-prepared salad and mused over the old days. What wouldn’t I give for a waltz down the old hotplate in the cookhouse?
In my time the jokes about Army catering, which were anyway a hangover from National Service days, were misplaced. I always though the Catering Corps worked miracles with the modest budgets they had to work with and on operations what they produced from the smallest of facilities was nothing short of brilliant. As a young soldier I had no complaints and as a young officer life just got better. Except when on duty as Orderly Officer. One of our duties for the day was to attend meals in the Cookhouse with the Orderly Sergeant, check the food was of a good standard and take any complaints from the boys. It was an arcane task probably left over from the Crimea or the Haldane Reforms, who knows? I found it a bit embarrassing and intrusive standing watching the lads eat and rarely were there any complaints. Except if there were no chips; that could cause a riot. No chips and no tea and the British Army ceases to function. I wish I could break the habit even now but I don’t think I ever will. In Food Top Trumps, chips beat salad every day of the week. If only Mrs Flashbang could grasp the concept….
Army cooks themselves were a resilient bunch who took and gave stick and banter across the hotplate all day long. Oh and they could shift a trolley load of beer and perform with the rest of them in their down time. And didn’t they just. The night when on guard duty as a young Jock L/Cpl, when we caught a drunk cook rogering the Officers Mess Christmas turkey, still gives me episodes. You couldn’t make it up….. Anyway, here’s the Crumble tribute to Army cooks, bless ‘em..
The occasional observer on the river bank may be unaware that migratory Atlantic Salmon native to these islands, who have never had it easy as they flog over to their Icelandic feeding grounds and back again to their home rivers, face increasing threats to their well-being which are becoming beyond worrisome.
The last few years have seen numbers returning to their home rivers in decline from Canada all the way over to Norway. Salmon fishermen and those who study migratory salmon have so far been unable to identify any single reason for the decline. Similarly, the pattern of behaviour which we have seen in salmon since the early sixties appears, in some rivers at least, to be changing with returning fish coming back in large pods at different times of year than has been the way for at least a generation. It is likely that a combination of factors are responsible and probably include their feeding grounds being pushed some 250 miles further north because of sea warming, unrestricted growth in predation in native coastal waters because no one wants to kill seals and many local factors such as agricultural pollution and sea lice from salmon farms on the West Coast. Not forgetting of course the invasive American Signal Crayfish which has decimated some rivers in South West Scotland and the demented introduction of beavers in some areas.
Part of the fishing community, having consulted the dusty records of the past, believe we are simply going through one of natures down-cycles and a natural reversal of the trend will come in good time. At best though, only 5% of smolts survive the sea journey, (it was 30% in the 1960's), and now, after that long trip, a new threat awaits.
Some new folk are moving in. Pink, or Humpback salmon as they are also known, are ugly brutes and are not native to our waters. About a month ago a couple were caught on the Ness and since then they've been appearing in rivers up and down the Scottish East Coast from the Helmsdale to the Tweed. They have occasionally appeared in the past, just not in the numbers being seen this year. Although native to waters off Canada and Alaska the travellers we are seeing have probably come from the Barents Sea where they were introduced in 1956. I wish they would bloody stay there.
Broadly speaking, no-one in the fishing world is getting too animated about it. We're a stoic lot and lord knows there's enough to worry about without sweating over a few illegal immigrants. The clip released today though by the Ness Fisheries Board of two Pink's spawning won't help. The last thing we need is for these buggers to take hold and potentially squeeze out our native salmon for its not exactly something that the poor fish get a vote on.
An update posted on 15th August from Fisheries Management Scotland may be found here.
How dare these Looney Tunes white supremacists wander around carrying swastikas and in doing so with their reprehensible rhetoric dishonour the memory of the brave GI's and Aircrew who gave their lives to free the world of fascism. They are not fit to lick the boots of the decent and courageous Americans who went before them. Utterly shameful.
Former Officer Cadet His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan represented the Queen and was the Reviewing Officer at the Sovereign's Parade on Friday. He gave as good an address as any you will hear at a pass out parade. Good advice there..... for all young men and women, military or not.
Ask a soldier of my era what new development had the biggest impact on their daily lives and they will bore you to tears for hours and all will have a different answer. Some will say it was the switch from DMS boots and puttees to 'Boots, High Combat.' Others may say the introduction of Clansman radios from the antiquated A41's while others will simply say, "Mrs Thatcher." Some contrary souls will allude to the BATCO battlefield code rather than the old Slidex while others may point to the SUIT rifle sight for use in Ireland. The wits amongst them however will probably say either 'promotion,' or 'leaving!.'
The item though that had the biggest and most meaningful impact on my daily life was the invention and sale in 1980 of the Sony Walkman. Obviously, life as a soldier involves living in close proximity to other men; travelling, sleeping, working, relaxing. Sometimes, life can get very 'cosy,' indeed. Accommodation in most Security Force bases in Ireland for example tended to be cramped and rudimentary with triple bunk beds crammed end to end. I was lucky on one tour, sharing a small attic space of an old rural police station with three others, 'at least we'll be first to know when the mortars hit,' we used to joke. Travelling by truck, train or t'plane as a unit was never much fun. For reasons best known to itself, it seemed to take the Army five times as long to move anywhere than it takes anyone else. That could mean 12, 18 or even 24 hours on troop trains moving from one part of Germany to an exercise in another part.
Everyone has their own stories but the Walkman, well it was a godsend. Suddenly, despite being in the (usually very smoky), confines of tight places with the unique combined smell of wet leather and '58 webbing, rifle oil, brews, beer and bodies one could put the headphones on, close the eyes, and drift away to another place listening to a tape that the girlfriend had put together and given to you on your last leave. It gave me, and our generation, a first taste of temporal escapism and I promise you, what is now taken for granted was first greeted with sheer, deep and meaningful joy. That is apart from one commissioned ex RSM who I shared a tent with at an American training area called Grafenwohr in Germany. Although we were non-tactical he didn't take well to this instrument of the devil. He started by accusing me of being a 'mongrel punk rocker,' who would, 'have your brained fried into mush, if there was anything in there,' and who would end up being 'bayoneted by a charging enemy through the flaps of the tent because I had my head up my arse.' 'Thank you for the advice, David,' I said, 'Shall we go to the Mess Tent for a beer where you can tell me more about all my shortcomings?' Funny isn't it.... all anyone says afterward is, 'I made lifelong friends.'
I haven't lost the habit of listening to music through earphones so it came as something of an unwelcome shock to discover that Apple are to stop production of the iPod Nano and whatever the wee small thing the size of a stamp is called. This is an unwise and calamitous move by Apple, if not for them then certainly for me. How do they expect me to listen to music on my telephone when after only six months the wretched things have a battery life of about four and half minutes? Size, shape, usability it's all wrong, wrong, wrong. I simply can't see me fishing, standing in a river listening to the 79th Farewell to Gibraltar on my phone... too risky if it goes in the drink. And falling asleep to music? Well, there are a whole different set of consequences for Mrs Flashbang to my tossing and turning while attached to an iPod than there is to a clunky iPhone. It's not going to end well. This is what happens when you sell your soul to a single manufacturer..... they all let you down eventually..... bastards. I'll say that again, utter bastards.
Of course, those egg-head Geeks in Cupertino may think it's very smart and clever doing away with the trusty iPod but what about the lads stagging-on in outposts far away or on or deep under the ocean in ships and submarines. There's not much use for a mobile telephone on a submarine. Of course, mobile phones give an easy give away electronic signature to the enemy... especially in identifiable clusters. Question.... exactly who's side are Apple on?
'So, enjoy it while you can Crumble,' I hear you shout. I intend to but I am going to go one better. Just for all you three loyal readers I'm going to share part of my current sleepy-bye, night-night play list. I have a few. This week I'm passing through the Sixties and while I rarely get through the first five or six tracks before nodding off there are some absolute beauties here. As they say on the Upper East Side, 'Enjoy!'
If you have ever suffered from abandonment issues worry not. You are neither unique nor are you alone. I’ve been scraping by for the last five days myself. She left with a cheery wave last week to spend a week with her sister detoxing, (whatever that is), and promising to return, ‘glowing.’ ‘You could get out of a hot bath glowing,’ I muttered as she disappeared in a cloud of dust down the track.
So, it’s been just myself and the boys, (the dogs that is for the Crumble boys are well off and away doing their own thing). So we’ve been here on a boys-will-be-boys self-catering hell-raising week at the homestead. In a manner of speaking that is. Hell-raising in this instance is outrageous behaviour such as leaving the washing-up until the morning, leaving loo seats up all over the house all the time and listening to Radio 4 until I fall asleep.
As Mrs Flashbang was leaving she said, ‘I’ve left some things in the fridge for you.” That was a nice touch. Unfortunately, when I arrived home this evening I realised that all the ‘things,’ had been either eaten or binned because they were either unsuitably healthy or just morbidly tasteless. I had though, forgotten to go to the supermarket today. The resulting rummage around the cupboards and freezer was somewhat disheartening. Given there were things in the freezer labelled before the Internet was invented that was a big no-no. The cupboards revealed things previously unknown to me although I should be absolutely honest and say the last time I looked in there was around 1995. Really though, what in the flying fuck are Cannellini Beans, Bijoux Verts Lentils and Aduki Beans? Is she secretly trying to finish me off by covertly feeding me cat food? I can’t tell you how much my heart soared when I spotted a good old fashioned and honest tin of baked beans at the back. There it was, almost hidden in shame in the darkness when all of us boys know it should be at the front, gleaming with pride and shouting, ‘I’m a tin of baked beans and I’m proud of it.’
Then, the dilemma. Do I go for the failsafe backstop of beans-on-toast or do I risk the out of date chicken fillets in the fridge? “Well,’ I thought to myself, “I have two boys. They do scary, boy stuff all the time. I’m not going to let two chicken fillets that are two days after their sell-buy date turn me into a big Jessie. I need to look my boys in the eye.’ I did what every Dad on his own would do. I made the all time best ever-chicken sandwich, (or ‘stack,’ as us cool Dad’s know them).
Whilst I was chopping and cutting it took me back a wee bit to the days when I got seriously into cooking. When I was on my own it became slightly obsessive. I even did a couple of cookery courses and delighted in entertaining in what I like to think, became a culinary hotspot in Islington for good wine and food and all done from the smallest of kitchens. My flatmate at the time and I used to argue and bicker like two old queens over important matters like sauce consistency and the crispiness of our crunchy roast potatoes, (I’m a Delia man as far as they are concerned). The passion for cooking dissipated in time though, mostly because I married a better cook.
I do think, men tend to focus on single issue challenges, climb that particular mountain and then move on to the next. When for example, I rediscovered fly-fishing, which I had not done since my younger days I tore into it with passion, commitment and unrestrained enthusiasm. Having drained the bank balance somewhat, and having achieved a modicum of success I drifted away from fishing for trout in the chalk-streams and took on the bigger and more industrial challenge of salmon fishing. That had a whole lot more deleterious effect on the bank balance but the reward for success was commensurate with the challenge the Atlantic salmon present. Salmon fishing is just special and really, you do not have to catch a fish to benefit from the joy of chilling while standing in a river casting a fly, even badly, while embracing the peace and unending theatre of nature that surrounds you. It is so very cathartic.
Another example of a rabid obsession was the Annual Airfix Modelling competition at the boy’s prep school. I don’t think the Crumble boys had a losing year. They did the modelling but it was a great excuse for me to go and buy all the bits I wasn’t able to have as a kid. Front and centre was a paint spray gun. Oh how we all wanted one of those when I was young. You get a very nice effect with a spray gun rather than brushes. Your helicopter landing to pick up wounded soldiers on an LZ with flashing helicopter lights, a starlit sky and sound effects really comes to life with the spray painted cam work and the desert floor moulded out of plasticast. Not that I took it seriously or anything.
So, what will be my next challenge? Do you know, I am not so very sure. I started the year with a whole bunch of resolutions, none of which are even close to being started never mind completed. We are at the time of year when I start to feel the old familiar tight knot in my stomach, when my mind begins to wander and I find it difficult to concentrate. Those same feelings you feel when you fall in love. I can sense those big salmon are coming to the end of their long journey from the feeding grounds and are heading to the Tweed. I find myself watching clips on YouTube and checking out salmon fly retailers, (not that, like all fisherman, I need any more flies), yet I have nothing booked.
Is this the year I break the dependency and move on? It is, with such weighty matters as these, that we gentleman must grapple whilst our wives disappear to apparently, detox. I fear I have no answer at present but at the very minimum, this rambling post has allowed me a break from my more weighty posts which I’ve been playing with about Dunkirk and St Valery and I do want to get those right, if not this.
That was a weekend of mixed emotions.
The Lions series ended yesterday leaving many of us with something of a forlorn and empty outlook on life. As one friend said as we watched the post match interviews, ‘what am I going to do now?’ It has been a fantastic six weeks of exhilarating, tense and good-to-watch rugby played by some of the Jedi Masters of the sport. As a shop window for sport in general and rugby in particular, nothing else comes close. The very idea of throwing together a squad from four nations and with only a few days training, packing them off to play the world champions in a three match series on the other side of the earth sound like Mission Impossible from the get-go. Many thought it would be. Perhaps they didn’t give enough credit to Warren Gatland’s mystical ways with coaching, or the manner in which players grow six inches when they put on that red shirt but the thrilling series that we have just enjoyed will live very long indeed in the memory. The downside of the hard fought drawn series is of course that there are some big and useful takeaways for the All Blacks in terms of their preparatory work for the World Cup in two years time from the perspective of competing against the Northern Hemisphere teams who have measurably improved since 2015.
There has though been some critical background noise about Lion’s tours, mostly coming from English clubs. The sounding off is less about the efficacy of the Lions from a sporting perspective but more a cynical and manipulative attempt to grab more money from the funds that the Lion’s tours generate. They can mostly bugger off. They have no support from rugby supporters of any hue and precious little from players, for whom being a Lion is a crowning sporting achievement beyond pounds, pence, PR and advertising. If the English clubs, and World Rugby for that matter, want to take us on then they are welcome to try. They will be disabused of their greedy and selfish motives pretty damm quickly.
The rest of the weekend has been a bit hum-drum, mostly spent staring into the black rugby void with a bit of Test cricket on the box to jolly things along. With Mrs Flashbang away cycling Hadrian’s Wall and the kids all off doing what grown up kids do, it has also been a self-catering event. Yet again I met my nemesis and my nemesis yet again won. I hate dish-washers. There must be a smart engineer somewhere who can design a dishwasher that is easy to use, easy to load with controls that have some logic to them and one that doesn’t turn what’s left of our wedding presents into crystal dust. Having made a best-efforts go at loading the wretched thing I get to play hide-and -seek with wherever she’s hidden the little bloody washy things that go in the little slot. I gave up, emptied the machine and washed everything by hand which I much prefer to do anyway. I’ll master it one day though….. I will.
We end the weekend however with a bit of trauma. Actually, quite a lot of trauma. I loved my Costa del Mar sunglasses. I really did. They have been everywhere with me for the best part of fifteen years. I’ve travelled with them, fished, driven, danced, watched cricket, barbecued, walked, worked, sailed, slept………….. everything. Just a moments inattention and they’ve been trashed. I swear I will swing for that bloody dog. I am not usually one for getting attached to, ‘stuff,’ but I’m genuinely a bit upset about my Costa’s. They’ve become part of me. Or they were. I think they are the best sunnies in the world. I don’t suppose they could be repaired? In the darkness, there is always light. I’ll be on the phone to Florida first thing; right about the same time I'll be registering my interest for the next Lions tour in South Africa in four years time..... 8,000 folk already have!