JFDI

Textbook disaster relief response from the UK. You can read more about the Royal Navy's part here.

Textbook disaster relief response from the UK. You can read more about the Royal Navy's part here.

The UK government attracted unfair criticism in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with suggestions from a number of quarters that the UK had not done enough and lacked urgency in it’s relief efforts. Most of the criticisms came from people who know little to nothing about disaster relief. The UK’s response has in fact been text book. You can read more at the excellent Thin Pinstriped Line blog here and here

Are we though, when sequential hurricanes are removing entire postcodes from the map in the West Indies, acting at the political level with appropriate imagination and verve? I do not believe we are. It would not take much though, to turn this around. Here are two simple ideas which would create a change of basis for the Islanders.

What are we even thinking about? Let's just get the kids the hell out of there.

What are we even thinking about? Let's just get the kids the hell out of there.

First and as a priority, all children of school age from the affected islands should be evacuated to the UK, should their families so wish, housed with local families for a term and found places at schools for the duration. This will enable their Mum’s and Dad’s to focus on rebuilding their communities while the children continue their education in a safe environment free of disease and of course, further hurricanes. All the Government need do is ask and good people will step forward. Any critics should remember that we have form here. If we managed to evacuate 827,000 children of school age and 524,000 mothers and young children (under 5) in the first three days of September in 1939 we can certainly look after a few youngsters from the Caribbean until Christmas.

Cometh the hour.......

Cometh the hour.......

Second, having Royal Marines, sailors and soldiers on station is good but for the rebuild many, many more builders and craftsmen than we have in uniform will be needed. The Government therefore should immediately recruit 2,000 builders, plasterers, decorators, plumbers, electricians from across the UK. For administrative reasons they should be temporarily enlisted in the Reserve with the rank and pay of Corporal. They will undertake to spend 4 months rebuilding infrastructure and housing with an entitlement of one flight home and 5 days Rest & Recuperation during the period. While doing so they will use local paid labour and services and undertake to train young apprentices while working. Normal entry requirements of fitness, age and nationality will be suspended under ‘special measures.’ Normal daily military discipline will not apply but civil law obviously will. Military medical, insurance and repatriation rights will apply. The craftsmen will be discharged on their return. In addition, each island will be twinned with a major UK city who on request, will augment town planning, surveying, architectural, drainage and other infrastructure expertise as requested.

So, action with imagination and verve. The technical term for the next step is JFDI.

Fire & Forget

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Ronald and Penelope Jones, the couple who have fostered at least 268 children over the years, a number which unfortunately includes the Parsons Green bomber, are obviously good and decent people. The very best of citizens in fact. They strike me though, through these unfortunate circumstances, to be a metaphor for the well meaning but soft and naive media and London elite led calls two years ago to throw open our doors to so called refugees. I wrote this at the time,

(from the original piece)

(from the original piece)

So the UK is to accept thousands of Syrian refugees.

The media frenzy has leveraged up the emotional blackmail leaving the Prime Minister with no where to turn. He should have turned to the citizens who will again bear the brunt of the influx. If the Government chooses to act on whatever happens to be the latest issue trending on Twitter then good luck to them but it’s hardly statesman like. The dead child on a Turkish beach seems to have been the tipping point. That was the dead child on a Turkish beach proving Stalin’s dictum that ‘one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.’ The boy drowned after getting on board a Turkish boat run by Turkish smugglers in Turkish waters under the eyes of the Turkish coastguard. How does that become the problem for citizens in our towns and cities who already are swamped with previous waves of immigration creating overcrowded schools, GP’s and housing lists. Moreover, why get in the boat in the first place? If the family were fleeing war they had succeeded in doing that by being in Turkey. If the father had acted as recklessly in the UK he’d now be in jail awaiting trial.

I have read a number of pieces on the web from locals suggesting that many of these refugees are not Syrian, Afghani or Iraqi but include Palestinians and others. Have you noticed incidentally, just how many apparent refugees are young men aged between 10 and 30 carrying the latest smartphones and wearing spic and span Nike trainers? One could say that anyone living in the Middle East could have refugee status, I wouldn’t want to live there but the line, a line, must be drawn.

That we were lucky that the Parsons Green device was unstable and failed to properly detonate doesn't really do justice to 'lucky.' It seems pretty apparent to me that local councils responsible for farming these 'refugees,' out to the community are simply not equipped to do so. These young men can't be integrated before they have had a period of cultural decompression, orientation and education. To do anything else is breathtakingly stupid and irresponsible. Ignore it and it is not a large step to get to a situation as they are enduring in Sweden with a monumental rise in crimes against women or to harvest more victims here from their bomb-making. Whatever the Commissioner and Home Secretary say, this problem isn't going away anytime soon and we don't appear to have much of a plan to fix it. You'd think the very obvious place to start would be to ban buckets on public transport. 

It is typical that our political class react to a Twitter led media waves of angst and fury with an immediate quick-fix fire and forget solution as they did in 2015. The problem is, that is exactly what the terrorist does as he walks away. Funny how we haven't heard from Geldorf on the subject by the way.... or any of his cheerleaders. 

 

Sport for All

At Inverness City Basketball Club they don't just talk about Sport for All, they practise it. Just great to see the coaches and players of their U14's Lion's team include my young nephew Matthew in their trip to Aberdeen yesterday. They get what community sport is all about. Of course, Matthew only went and scored which made his mother and the rest of us very proud. I think I am right in saying he is the first boy in the family ever to play in a basketball team and definitely the first to score. I must have stood on hundreds of touchlines over the years but I don't think any try or goal in any match has made my heart soar as much as the one in the clip above. 

I love Down's Syndrome kids. I often think they give us a window on our own souls. That is, unfettered by convention and having freedom by not being in the least self conscious, their exuberance, angst, happiness and sorrow are a wide open book, the way most of us often feel inside but are afraid to be as demonstrable as are they. 

Go Matthew!

 

Simon

I see that Cat Stevens, or Yusaf Islam as he chose to call himself when he abandoned music in 1979, auctioned his guitars and decided to devote himself to philanthropic and educational causes in the Muslim community, is back with a new album. While not his first since he returned to music ten years ago or so one track 'Blackness of the Night,' on the new album, 'The Laughing Apple,' is destined to join so many others from his pen as music of our time.

While listening to it earlier, the events of late last Sunday evening came flooding back. I was standing on a damp pavement outside a hotel in Doncaster with a friend, catching some fresh air after drinking 'just one more.' We were heading to a young persons funeral the next morning and Sunday evening was a time to seek emotional catharsis or sanctuary, or perhaps both, before what would be a very tough day ahead.

Alcohol though can both suppress and amplify emotion and we were both feeling pretty maudlin when we met Simon who shuffled toward us through the light drizzle. He asked if we could help with some 'spare change.' Happy to take our minds of other matters we made some enquiries of Simon, not least because he had two massive black eyes. It transpired he had taken quite a kicking a day or two before. He was he said, walking to Gainsbourgh. Gainsbourgh is a long way from Doncaster. Simon, was in a bit of a mess. A discreet enquiry about room availability at the hotel brought the night manager out who, as a boxer in his spare time, said, 'No way, he looks concussed,' and called an ambulance, which was absolutely the right thing to do.  

While we were waiting for the ambulance I slipped Simon a couple of notes for breakfast and a bus fare and we chatted on. "Why are you helping me,' he asked. 'Because we're ex soldiers and we don't leave people behind,' I said which was a touch theatrical. The truth is we were helping ourselves feel better about life. Simon burst into tears. I didn't expect that. We forget sometimes, how far a little kindness can go and what a rare commodity it is for many. 

When We Were Young

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In a 180 degree turn in the near forty year drive to produce a better educated officer corps, the Commandant of Sandhurst, General Nanson recently suggested that many 18-year-olds feel that they should go to university because it is the “done” thing, and often have not considered alternative options. He said that when he was at Sandhurst, it was evenly split between university graduates and school-leavers, but now the vast majority, around four fifths, of Officer Cadets arrive with a degree. “You want to try and get youngsters in early and develop them yourself rather than [choosing from] an ever increasing pond of graduates.” 

That isn’t quite the whole story he was telling. He went on to explain in interviews that school-leavers who have been accepted for officer training at Sandhurst will be able to register for a BSc in Leadership and Strategic Studies. Once they have completed the undergraduate degree,  developed in partnership with the University of Reading, they can go on to complete a Masters. Officers will build up credits during their 12-month officer training course at Sandhurst, which will make up a third of the degree. They can complete the remaining two thirds over a four year period while they are a serving officer.

This approach falls into step with what is becoming a fashion among major employers such as Deloittes to hire 18 year olds and train them in-house. It is hardly a vindication of the university system which as we know from bountiful anecdotal evidence, is a hit and miss affair for most students with no quality control on delivery to speak of outside the sciences and engineering. 

General Nanson is obviously becoming like the rest of us in looking back with fond affection on the impossibly barking mad individuals with whom we trained and served. The intellectual level of Officer Cadet in New College, (the non graduate college at the time), was, shall we say, variable. The reasons for being there were just as diverse although most, simply wanted to serve and I don’t believe it to be any different with today’s cadets. The average age of cadets today is higher at 23 and I am certain they too have many characters in their ranks. The Army attracts them like a magnet. I do feel though, as every intake does, that my time was special. 

This became most evident after commissioning when cadets go on to complete training specific to their Arms. The Infantry go to Brecon to dig more holes in the ground, the Cavalry to Bovington, the Gunners to Larkhill and so on before all are finally posted for regimental duty. As a Gunner I went to Larkhill to join Royal Artillery Young Officers Course 108. I’m not sure if nearly 400 years of Gunner history had prepared the regiment for YO’s 108. For sure and for certain, nothing prepared me for my mess bills on YO’s 108 which every month seemed to include an improbable figure for ‘damages,’  which made the ‘wines,’ column look like a rounding error. I was reminiscing just the other day with a fellow 108 alumini. We joked that given the number of ‘interviews without coffee,’ that we amassed how extraordinary it was that many of the course went on to achieve reasonably high rank, serve in special forces and even today continue to challenge orthodoxy and dullness. Happy days. Although I didn’t think so when I found myself one night clinging to a brick wall while standing on a third floor window ledge of the YO’s Annex. The YO standing next to me was nonchalantly chatting away while sipping his beer. He was speculating on the survivability of jumping and making it across the concrete below to the grass verge some yards distant. The police officers wandering up and down the corridor inside narrowed our optionality somewhat bringing immediate and fresh meaning to the phrase, ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ It seemed to us that the constabulary was overreacting a bit to finding a university officer tied naked to a sign post on the impact area but they probably hadn’t taken into consideration that he was earlier, being a bit too full of himself. Some people just can’t take a joke. I wasn’t involved in the ‘damage resulting from racing around the polished Mess tables in spurs,' incident nor was I involved in the ‘poaching of Colonel Jasper’s pheasants,' incident. I was there when we reassembled one officers entire bedroom on the flat roof with him still fast asleep in bed and I saw, and survived, ’the ‘bangers and rockets,’ incident. A story so far fetched that it can only be retold between those who were present but remains in the junior league when compared to the officer in 50 Missile Regiment who stuck a nuclear simulator up a chimney-breast and detonated it during a dinner night destroying not only the chimney but a considerable portion of the Mess and all of his career.

RA Mess, Larkhill

RA Mess, Larkhill

In fact, and on reflection, the YO’s course was something of a nursery preparing us for some very senior practical jokes and ‘incidents,’ that one witnessed in the regiments. I was reminded just last weekend of one such night. At a May Ball in Kirton-in-Lindsey the Mess Sergeant was faced with a problem which he solved with quick thinking ingenuity. It was a huge Ball and the Mess staff needed to gather all the starter plates, all 500 hundred of them, wash and dry them and have them ready for the Eton mess or whatever was being served for pudding. Then, a bad thing happened. “Sir, can I have a word please. The waters stopped working, we don’t have any water for the washing up Sir.’ ‘Well sort it out Sergeant M, find some bloody water,’ said my host who had organised the thing. So Sergeant M did. Two minutes later two Mess staff ambled through the dining room unfurling a dirty great fire hose behind them and disappeared through the door into the kitchen. They came back into the dining room seconds later just after the call went out, ‘Water On!’ “Water On,’ echoed from down the corridor. The hose filled and suddenly all hell broke loose in the kitchen as a Mess waiter was flung from pillar to post around the kitchen hanging on for dear life to the end of the powerful hose. Someone hadn’t remembered his fire drills. The fun really started when the hose, with Mess waiter attached, appeared in the dining room flying around like an unguided missile until someone had the sense to shut the water off. Not much of the crockery or indeed the Eton mess survived. Oddly, I had quite forgotten that incident and recalled the night more for the moment the CO’s wife put her stiletto heel through the bouncy castle. Odd the things you remember really.

Black Mafia

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While en route to Kings Cross in a Black Cab today we happened to pass Warren Street tube station. I shivered. A bad thing once happened to me at Warren Street tube station. Nothing dark and ominous but a moment of betrayal that is unforgotten. Somewhat unusually, the betrayal had nothing to do with the girlfriend whose flat I was looking for.

Way back, in fact all the way back to 1979, I walked out of the tube station on a dark Autumn night and asked a cabbie the way to an address. I knew it was near. So did he. ‘Hop in he said, I’ll take you there.’ I did and alighted 10 minutes later but only 400 yards away and £5 poorer. Robbing sod; I hope he is suffering a plague of boils and hemoroids in retirement. 

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It was, an unusual experience. The only time in fact that a cabbie has ripped me off in all the years since. Admittedly my naivety was in those days, boundless. I had after all, earlier spent 15 minutes on a tube platform waiting for a train to come my way without realising that each line had two platforms, East and West or North and South.

 I mentioned the experience to my cabbie today, ‘you must have had a wrong un Guv,’ he said. There aren’t many. Times are changing though. It is sad for example that with the growing headwinds that cabbies face, and I’m the first to admit that they haven’t helped themselves over the years, that the old fashioned courtesy between drivers themselves is in steep decline. Their world has become one of dog eat dog with for example, fewer letting others out of junctions and not stealing each other’s fares. Interestingly, and in favour of cabs, my daughter (and she says most of her friends), refuse to use Uber. Too many bad stories.

I meanwhile in common with many  others, have reverted to the Tube this last year or two for most journeys after serial idiot policies by London mayors have made it impossible to do even the briefest of journeys in reasonable time and at reasonable cost by cab. To be fair, paying on entry and exit in the tube with the wavy debit card thing has made it super easy and I did learn the other day that all cabs now do the wavy debit card thing too. Interestingly, I actually find the tube while busier, is much less threatening than was the case years ago. There is no way anyone would have sat on the tube with headphones on holding an £800 tablet in the 1970’s or 80s. It would have been like holding a sign saying ‘come and rob me.’

But, you don’t get to talk to anyone in the tube and I miss the daily chat with the cabbie (unless they have those annoying football phone-in radio shows blaring away). I remember once, while standing at the Gunner Memorial at Hyde Park Corner on Rememberance Sunday, the police stopped the traffic for the two minutes silence. An older cab driver opened his door, stepped out, took his flat cap off and stood to attention with the rest of us. I thought it a haunting evocation of what must have happened all around the streets in the 1920’s and 30’s. 

It’s all changing. Some good, some bad. I welcome some of the new, but miss some of the old. 

On to Doncaster then. Wonder which side of the ‘old or new’ awaits me there...

By Sea, By Land

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Where is that boy off to now? Some people will do anything to get attention.............. Weird to finally see the kayak for real and odd to think they did 2,000 miles in that wee thing last year, right through the current path of Hurricane Irma. The boys are in fact off to the Base Camp Festival give a talk on the expedition. Thoughts of course, are with everyone on the Islands. Hope the Royal Navy arrive soonest and that we fly out Royal Engineers and all other help to them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Good Neighbours

When the people of America flex their muscles the resources that they can collectively muster are simply awesome. The clip above shows a convoy of the fabled Lineman crews of the Oklahoma Gas & Electric company heading down I-35 to bring relief to their Texan neighbours. Similar convoys from all over the United States are converging on the Lone Star State to offer help and sustenance as the hat and cattle folk recover from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. 

God speed and good luck to all from your friends in the UK. Stay safe!

KJ

She's a chesty wee thing and she can certainly sing.

I ticked the ‘I’ve been to a pop concert,’ box a few years ago when I sat on the grass at Wisley with a chum, (front row), and a bottle of Tattinger to jolly things along, while we bathed in the sunshine and smiles that Katherine Jenkins brings to tired old bodies. In fact, I liked it so much I went back the next year to see her at Hampton Court. She can certainly throw out a tune or two. So, I’m pleased to see that she has been named the number one classical music artist of the last 25 years by Classic FM, (can you believe it’s 25 years since Classic FM was launched?). I think I had something to do with that… the two certainties of a Crumble Christmas are that every year I will receive socks and a Katherine Jenkins CD. I now have a few. 

Joy

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In common with most, I have enjoyed seeing pictures and reading about the adventures and interesting journeys and holidays of friends over the past couple of months. The pictures, video links and stories have poured in from all over the world. You know what I mean. While I celebrate and enjoy such tales I have enjoyed no such adventures and was beginning to feel a wee bit left out so I seized the moment over the Bank Holiday Weekend and declared it Crumble Time. I went then, without any hesitation or debate, all the way to Whitsbury in the New Forest and then Churt in Surrey.

Now, to some global travellers, Whitsbury and Churt may not seem very adventurous. They aren't. Here though is the thing. 

My kind hosts in the New Forest threw just a fabulous evening party which had the magnetic appeal of being characterised with a guest list full of old Army chums and others, who I had not met before, but all of whom were interesting people doing interesting things. Equally, my very kind hosts the next day, in Churt, threw a super lunchtime party which was joyful in that it transcended the generations. While I met many old friends, I also met new folk both old and young. Chatting with some of the newly qualified doctors at the party confirmed a consistent theme in my experience and on this blog. Disregard everything you hear about this generation which is disparaging. They are smarter, more worldly and more interesting than ever we fossils were. I rejoice in that. We can celebrate that whatever else we mucked up we got one thing right. Obviously, they don't know everything.... as one old boss once said to me.... 'I taught you everything you know.... but not everything I know.'

The takeaway here, for me at least, was a reminder that it isn't what you do or where you do it; it's who you do it with which remains etched on the memory.

How special indeed are friends?

 

 

 

 

 

Shock News - 4G Reception in Joe Allens

They took the bar.....

he grew up quickly then....

he grew up quickly then....

The world has finally turned on it’s end – you can now get 4G reception in Joe Allens restaurant. This would have been helpful twenty two years ago when I emerged from the basement restaurant in Exeter Street after dinner with a friend to see nineteen missed calls on my phone. Apparently, I was about to become a father for the second time and if I could have jumped onto a magic time machine I might just have made it to St Peters in Chertsey to witness the event. South West Trains ain’t no magic time machine. I missed the moment. I did though, have form here. I also missed the first and indeed the third births in the family. I’ve never seen childbirth as either a spectator or participant sport and have persistantly believed that the safest place for the father, and indeed everyone else involved, is for him to be firmly on the other side of the closed door.

Of course, the reason that you can now get 4G reception is that Joe Allens, the iconic Theatreland bucket-list restaurant, has moved around the corner to Burleigh Street after 40 years in it’s old anonymous backstreet location. Always one with a keen eye for a bargain my daughter called and said, ‘Bad news and good news Dad…. Joe Allens has closed but reopened around the corner. They are doing a soft launch this week and food is half price….. I’ve booked a table.’ Broadly translated that means ‘You’re taking me out for dinner but it won’t be as hurty as it otherwise could be.’ I’m pleased she did.

new book cover but the story, thankfully, remains the same

new book cover but the story, thankfully, remains the same

Jimmy Hardwick; until his death in 2014 he was the best known and best loved man in WC2

Jimmy Hardwick; until his death in 2014 he was the best known and best loved man in WC2

Walking into the new place felt odd at first but actually, very little has changed. It looks as if they just moved every picture and stick of furniture a hundred yards and put a sign up saying ‘business as usual.’ I wouldn’t even bother reading any new reviews, they are completely surplus to requirements. Just read an old one from five, ten or twenty years ago and it will read the same. The waiters are just as camp, rushed and friendly. The piano still plays, (but no longer with the legend that was Jimmy Hardwick at the keyboard who sadly passed away in 2014 having played there for 37 years). There is no cloakroom at the new place which may be an issue for ladies who lunch and the bar has shrunk to a third or a quarter of it’s old length which is a shame, (I spent many hours at the old bar waiting for a table or a date and sometimes both). Otherwise, it is how it should be.

Still the best.....

Still the best.....

Joe Allens quickly became synonymous with Theatreland after opening in 1977 and it was the first New York grill style restaurant of merit in London. At the time, it wasn’t easy to find a restaurant serving salads of substance or indeed Joe Allens signature dish, the Hamburger, (and it’s still not on the menu).  Now both can be found in a thousand imitators across the capital but few have the easy confidence and casual elegance of JA’s. The menu then is just fine with no major shocks for those, (like me), who are deeply suspicious of change. 

I liked it before. I like it now. Perhaps the world hasn’t quite yet turned on it’s end.