Wednesday, 23 December 2015


Christmas is a funny time of the year for me and has been for some time.  In the past, I’ve had some pretty shit Christmases and I guess that these experiences have coloured the way in which I see this time of the year.

I think that first of all it’s the time of the year.  I am not a big fan of winter and would much rather have the long days and warm evenings instead of the cold dark ones.  Maybe it would be better if this country didn’t grind to a halt whenever there is a 1/2mm snowfall, but then I only see snow as a cold, wet inconvenience, no matter which country I’m in.

A few years ago, I worked in a Unit that had no outside windows, which meant that during the winter, because we worked twelve-hour shifts, I would arrive in the dark, spend all day under artificial light and travel home in the dark.  We did no more than three long shifts in a row, but this still meant that if I worked a Monday, Tuesday and a Wednesday, I would see daylight on the Sunday and then not until the Thursday.

The other problem that I find with Christmas is that fact that it has definitely become more commercial.  This has meant that rather than all the Christmas adverts on TV and Christmas stuff appearing in the shops in the month before the 25th December, it starts to appear in October, and quite often a lot earlier.  This means that by the time it arrives, most people have had enough of it weeks ago.

I think that the other thing now is that all of my kids are older, the youngest turning eighteen 18 next month, which means that it no longer holds the magic nor the excitement for them.  It’s just another day with crap on the telly and a big roast.

However, I think that Emma is still a bit of a big kid when it comes to Christmas.  Last year I was awoken at about 5am with the words “It’s Christmas!” shouted Noddy Holder style.  Admittedly, I did not leap out of bed, instead choosing to roll over and go back to sleep for a further two hours, but I could happily have slept for longer.

So this year will be hopefully not too early a start, but it will be a busy day as there will be ten of us (my family and Emma’s) sitting down to Christmas lunch, with visitors during the day as well.  We’re lucky that both Emma and I are off, although she has to go to work on the bank Holiday Monday, but after Christmas Eve, I don’t return to work until the New Year.

I wonder what 2016 holds in store.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Old Boys (Former Pupils)

The school that I went to was unusual in that it was a military boarding school.  At the time that I attended, all of the boys in the school (it was single sex then) were the sons of serving or ex-soldiers, as they had been since its foundation.

The school was founded in 1803 as the Royal Military Asylum with the purpose of educating the orphans, both male and female, of soldiers killed during the Napoleonic Wars.  The Royal Military Asylum was the second of the eventual three military schools in the UK.

The first of the schools was the Royal Hibernian Military School, which was founded in Dublin in 1770 and which was organised along similar lines to the Royal Military Asylum from the early nineteenth century.  When Ireland became an independent country in 1922, the school was moved to Shorncliffe, near Folkestone, before being amalgamated with the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in 1924.

The last of the military schools, Queen Victoria School, was founded in 1908 in Dunblane in memory of those who had died during the South African wars of the late-nineteenth century.  It is the only one of the three schools that is still exclusively for the children of service personnel and funded by the Ministry of Defence.

The Royal Military Asylum was initially located in Chelsea, London before it was moved to Dover in 1909, having become the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in 1892, at the same time that it became single sex.  The original school buildings and grounds remained in control of the Ministry of Defence, as the Duke of York’s Headquarters until 2003, when it became part of the Saatchi Gallery.

Once the school arrived in Dover, this is where it has remained, on top of the cliffs and a focus for just about every cold wind in the south-east of England, apart from two short evacuations during the First World War to Hutton in Essex and during the Second World War to Braunton in Devon.

Being the sort of school that it was, there was much emphasis on the military aspect of life.  In fact, when I first started at the school, we were issued with No.1 Dress uniforms and berets and we had ‘Military Training’ lessons timetabled at least three times a week.  In addition, we were expected to master the intricacies of drill, marching-up to meals and participating in ‘Church Parades’ every Sunday.

The two most important parades each year were Remembrance Sunday and Grand Day, the latter being when the school ‘Troop the Colour’ in a similar ceremony to that seen in London.  However, it’s the first of these two parades that I am going to talk about.

Every year on the Remembrance Sunday parade, as well as all of the pupils on parade, there was also an ‘Old Boys’ Contingent’, made up of the guys who had left the school, and in fact the entire weekend was known as Old Boys’ weekend.

I clearly remember my first of these parades as when the order “Fall-in the Old Boys” was given, there was a large number of Old Boys who made their way onto the parade square.  But it was also the manner in which they were dressed.  There were the older Old Boys, in their pin-stripe suits, British Warms and Bowler Hats, their numerous medals pinned to the chests, some First World War (it was 1978, just 60 years since that war had ended), some Second World War, some with both.  Then there were the next generation of Old Boys, again smartly dressed in suits or in their uniforms, some with one or two medals pinned to their chests.  Lastly, there were the ones that had just left the school and were at university, or in some cases polytechnic.  As I have said, it was 1978, so many of these Old Boys shuffled onto the parade square with long hair that would never have been allowed when they were at the school and dressed in ragged jeans, sheepskin jackets and beaten up old plimsolls.

However, when the order to “Quick march” was given, all of these Old Boys, suited, uniformed or ‘jeaned’ stepped off and marched immaculately down to the school war memorial.  But this was the last year that the it was possible to see this, as the School’s Regimental Sergeant Major in my first year retired at the end of that year and was replaced by one who was Grenadier Guards and would only allow Old Boys on parade if they were ‘appropriately dressed’ in a suit and tie or uniform.

After I left the school, I returned a few times for Old Boys’.  As one of the younger ones, it was a case of making our way to Dover on the Saturday, book into a guest house that we would see little of and then make our way to the pub, where we would drink to excess, fall into bed and then get to the school, suited and booted, in time to parade the following morning.

The older Old Boys’ would attend a black-tie dinner in Dover Town Hall before joining us in the pub after the event, usually in time for last orders, before they, too, fell into bed and attended the school the following morning.  I only ever attended one of these in the late-80s with my ex-wife and felt very out of place as I was about twenty years younger than the next in age to me.

However, due to living so far away and then my Reserve commitments, during the 1990s and 2000s I was only able to attend two Old Boys’ weekends, in 2000 when I went to the pub and in 2008, again at the pub (see Remembering).

Since I have been with Emma, and because I no longer have Squadron commitments in Maidstone, we have been to Old Boys’ for the last three years, staying in the hotel that is conveniently located right next to the school and attending the black tie dinner that takes place in the school dining hall.

This year I travelled down with No.1 son, so that I could show him the place that had shaped me during my teenage years, so we headed off to Dover, booked into the hotel and then headed across to Dover Rugby Club where there is a rugby match between (normally) an Old Boys’ under-30 and a select Dover RFC side and an Old Boys’ over-30 side and Dover RFC Veterans.  However, this year, there was only one match as the World Cup had interfered with the fixture list and Dover was unable to produce two sides.

The matches are normally for the Christian Redman Memorial Trophy.  Christian was an Old Boy of the school; in fact he had been there at the same time as me although he was several years younger.  His father was also a teacher at the school.  He had been on a rugby tour with the Singapore Cricket Club’s rugby team.  In October 2002 had been on tour and was in Paddy’s Bar in Bali when a terrorist bomb detonated.  He, along with 201 other people of 23 nationalities were killed. 

This year the weather was miserable and it rained for most of the match.  Although the Old Boys’ got off to a good start, sadly the youth of the Dover side got the better of them and they were soundly beaten.

After a couple of beers in the bar with various friends (the advantage of having No. 1 son drive!) we headed back to the hotel to join Emma who’d driven down after us.

It was then a case of getting ready for the dinner, including my having to help Alec with his bow tie (I wouldn’t allow him to wear a pre-tied one and insisted that he have a self-tie) before jumping in the minibus to the school.

The dinner was pleasant and the company was excellent, the only complaint being that those of us who had decided to have the double-cooked belly of pork each received a piece of pork smaller than a post-it note.  However, the wine flowed, as did the conversation, with the after dinner entertainment being provided by a band consisting of Old Boys’ and named the Hong Kong Streakers Club (in honour of another of Chris Redman’s exploits).

After it was all over, we walked back to the hotel where I slept like a log, even though Emma (vey vey drunk!) woke me up to ask me something that I just couldn’t understand.

After a hearty breakfast, it was back to the school and the parade.  There was a good turn-out of both Old Boys and Old Girls, hence the contingent now being referred to as ‘Former Pupils’.  The weather stayed nice, with no rain, although it was chilly.  However, having elected not to wear uniform this year, I had the opportunity to try out the new overcoat that I had bought the previous week. 

After the parade, rather than attending the chapel service, I showed Emma and Alec around the school a bit before we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed home with plans to do it all again ‘same time next year’.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Memory Of

Private Joseph Watt
S/4206, 1st Bn., Seaforth Highlanders who died on 10 April 1916
Aged 21
Remembered with honour on Panel 37 and 64
Basra Memorial, Iraq
Serjeant Thomas McIvor
S/8909, 9th Bn., Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) who died on 29 April 1916
Aged 30
Remembered with honour on Panel 78 to 83
Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish (at long last!)

Warning!  The following post could, and probably will, turn into a bit of a rant, because finally, at long last, I have finished all dealings with the retarded oxygen-thief wastes of human skin that are the Child Support Agency (CSA) (I warned you!).

My first dealings with these examples of anencephaly occurred in 2005, when my then wife (we were separated but living in the same house) contacted the CSA in an effort to extort more money from me.  However, because we were living in the same house, she was entitled to nothing.

It wasn’t until the following year that I discovered just how brain-dead a person could be and still be employed by the Department for Work and Pensions, as in March 2006 my now ex-wife (decree absolute arrived on 28th February) absconded to Cambridge with her violent and unstable boyfriend and two of my three children, refusing to state where she was and denying me any contact with them.

Once she had left, she contacted the CSA who, in turn, contacted me and told me that as I had no contact with my children in Cambridge that I would have to pay the maximum amount.  The fact that the lack of contact was due to my ex-wife denying me access was beside the point.  There was no contact order, and until I had obtained one, I would be liable to pay.

However, only two of my three children were living with her, so I put in a counter-claim for the third one, a claim that was granted, before commencing the payments that had been calculated by these cretins.

After a couple of months, I noticed that although I was making regular payments, my ex-wife was paying nothing.  I therefore had several very frustrating conversations with these retards where I objected to the fact that I was paying but my ex-wife wasn’t and they didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.  The final straw for me was when I was told that “We’re here to get money from the man, not from the woman”.

I argued that this was discrimination and, after another couple of months of paying but my ex-wife not doing so, I stopped my payments.  I received various threatening letters and finally one threatening court action, which I told them that I would welcome, as it would give me the opportunity to publicise both their discrimination and utter incompetence in open court and ensure that they received the much deserved adverse publicity.

The outcome was that we didn’t go to court, but they did and this resulted in my payments being deducted direct from my wages by Court Order.  Eventually, my ex-wife also had a Deduction from Earnings order granted against her as well and she even began paying, for one month, until she made herself unemployed, meaning that she only had to pay £5.00 per week as she was on benefits.  Even then I struggled to get these brain-dead individuals to obtain even this small amount.

By this stage I had been transferred to have dealings with the office in Belfast.  This office was clearly staffed by the people too stupid to be allowed to work anywhere else.  In fact I suspect that most of them would require an iPod in-situ repeating “breathe in, breathe out” just to keep them alive.  At one point in one of my many letters to the various Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions, all of whom were as equally useless as each other, I suggested that the staff at the CSA in this city should all be sacked and that there be a recruitment drive in the Monkey House at Belfast Zoo, as I firmly believed that the efficiency of the Agency would be greatly improved.  This was not well received by those at risk of primate replacement, but I suspect that this was because all concerned knew that it was actually true. 

Due to the CSA’s overwhelming incompetence, I gave up trying to deal with them directly whenever there was a problem and resorted to writing directly to my local MP and the Secretary of State.  The MP, Greg Clark, has usually been reasonably helpful, but the Secretaries of State have been less so, particularly James Purnell, and Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom could probably get a job in the Belfast office, particularly Purnell.

In moments of clarity, I can understand that the CSA have a difficult job and that there will be mistakes that occur.  However, they need to acknowledge their mistakes.

As mentioned in my post of February 2009 “Same sh1t, different day”, I received a call from one of the imbeciles informing me that the amount that I was paying was less than it should be having been reduced some months earlier.  At the time I had said that as the money was being deducted from my wages, I suspected that either my salaries and wages department (slightly more competent than the CSA) or the CSA themselves had cocked up.  

It turned out to be the latter, as I confirmed in 2009, but rather than admit that it was their mistake, Darren Marner, the imbecile who’d phoned me attempted to make it my fault because I hadn’t informed them that they had made a mistake.  I did tell James Purnell, in my subsequent letter, that if they wanted to pay me to do their job for them, I would be happy to do so, but otherwise I would expect them to do it.  I suppose that in some respects it was my fault as I had expected them to be able to do their jobs competently and without screwing up.

And this level of feeble mindedness has continued for the remainder of the time that I’ve had to deal with them.

In late-2013 I received a telephone call from these simpletons, informing me that they had been trying to get hold of me by post for some time, that I was in arrears, which they had been trying to contact me to recover, and that they wanted me to pay this large sum of arrears immediately.

The first clue that I had that they, again, had cocked-up was when they asked me the security questions.  When it got to my address, I gave the fucktard the one that I had moved into in the April.  There was a confused silence.  He then asked me my previous address, the one that I had moved into in January 2012, which I gave him.  Another confused silence, before he asked me the address before that.  It appeared that these halfwits had the address that I had left almost two years previously.

Of course, despite my informing the dimwit that I had told them of my address changes, he would not have it and suggested that I had deliberately been trying to avoid them and informed me that they had no record of me contacting them in the previous two years and they would be subtracting the arrears from my next wages, which would have left me with no money for the month.  It was only when I went home and copied not only the letters that I had sent to them informing them of my address change, but also letters that I had received from them to each of the two addresses that they claimed that they knew nothing about did they finally concede that there may have been an error on their part.  May?!?  The iceberg that sank the Titanic may have been big.  The likelihood of the CSA making an error is definite!

With the end approaching, I thought that it would be easy, but even that seems to be complicated.  My ex-wife informed these buffoons that my daughter was no longer living with her and they communicated this to me, with the date that she moved out being stated as 18th July this year.  I also received a letter from them informing me of this.  The letter also stated that they would be looking to see if there was any outstanding money due and that they would inform me by letter of the final payment/payment date.  And then I heard nothing, although they took the usual amount from my wages at the end of July.

In an effort to find out what’s happening, I telephoned in early August.  I got through to the Birkenhead office, who informed me that my case was being dealt with by Belfast and that the records show that the case is closed. She also told me what the outstanding amount was (my usual monthly payment) and she finally told me that she would email Belfast to prevent a payment going out in September and my having to fight to recover it.

But when I called back at the end of August having still heard nothing and after what I thought had been the last payment, this time getting through to Dudley, the person whom I spoke with informed me that my account was closed (knew that), told me what the outstanding amount was (a larger sum than two weeks previously) and told me that the majority of that would go out at the end of September (contrary to what I’d been told) and that I would then be contacted by phone to pay the remaining £20-odd by card.

So even now, nine years after dealing with these fuckwits for the first time, they are still as incapable as ever.

Having still heard nothing, I again telephoned at the beginning of October and was again put through to Dudley.  After I’d explained everything, the person I was speaking to told me that there was a “task” that he couldn’t open, which was probably the money that was taken at the end of September.  However, he did confirm that the outstanding amount was the same as the previous person had told me and told me that the outstanding amount, minus the September payment, meant that there was a matter of £20-odd that would need to be paid.  He then informed me that he was putting me through to another person who would take the card payment for the outstanding amount.

But he was wrong.  The lady that I was put through to (still in Dudley, judging by the accent) informed me that as she could not access the “task”, she could not confirm that it was the payment from the end of September.  Apparently, the task was in someone else’s work queue, probably one of the Belfast Brain-dead, and the she would need her supervisor to unlock it and allocate it to her, the problem being that her supervisor was in a meeting so it was unlikely to happen today. 

It was therefore left that she would call me a couple of days later to take the card payment, and she assured me that she would also stop the Deduction from Earnings order before the next payment at the end of October.

Having heard nothing, I called again the day after I should have been called, getting through to someone in Lancashire.  This person was next to useless and could do nothing, advising me to call back the following morning and get put through to the Belfast office as they were dealing with my case.  She also told me that as far as she could see, I’d made an overpayment of just over £7.

Interestingly, she also informed me that the person with whom I’d spoken on the Monday had not mentioned in her notes of the call that she had said that she would call me back, but had stated that she had put my call through to the Belfast office.  Clearly a case of falsification of records.

So, as advised, I called the following morning, was put through to Birmingham (perhaps it was Dudley) and was told that the Belfast office has been closed for a while as the staff were all being trained.  Tempted to ask if they were being trained to be useful fucking human beings as I was, I didn’t.  However, Alison, who I was speaking to, informed me that all of Belfast’s work had been transferred to Birmingham and the person dealing with my case was in the same building as her and she would get them to call me back.

Much to my surprise, I did actually receive a call from Jyoti Dabhi, who told me that she was calling me to take a card payment and then asked me for more than £300!  When I asked her where she’d got that figure from, it was apparently on her screen. 

She then tried to explain this large sum by telling me that my account had actually been closed on 17th July and that when it had been closed, there was an outstanding balance of just over £1000.  When I pointed out to her that I had paid more than £1100 since that date, she tried to tell me that I had had a refund.  Where and who this refund had gone to, I have no idea.  And clearly, neither did she!

But then she informed me that she had three screens in front of her, one showing that I owed over £300, one showing that I owed £23 and one showing that I was owed £7.  She informed me that she was slow (no disagreement there) but thorough and that she would need to look into it further before calling me back.

An hour later, I received the call, but not with the good news I had hoped for. Oh no! This was to inform me that it appeared that she had found a fourth sum, although “to avoid confusion” she didn’t reveal what it was.  What she did say was that she needed to refer my case to some specialist (or should that be special needs) colleagues and that it would take about a week to sort out. This meant that nothing would be done before I got back from Malta, but to ensure that the case was moved on, I wrote another letter to Greg Clark and told Jyoti Dabhi that I would not be available to receive calls until the week commencing the 26th October, after I was back from Malta.

This woman also informed me that she would put a stop to the deductions from earnings order so that I did not pay in October.  When I informed her that this had already been done by her colleague the previous Monday I was told that this hadn’t happened. Not only had the useless incompetent falsified her records, she had also lied to me (Oh! What a complete surprise!)

Despite my telling her not to call, I received one call whilst I was still in Malta (I didn’t answer) and two further calls, one each on 22nd and 23rd October (again not answered).  I’m not sure how really brainless these people have to be to be so incapable of following a simple instruction.  However, during my absence, I received a letter from the CSA informing me that I was owed £7 by them and that I would need to contact them with my bank details in order to receive this refund, which I did on my return to the UK.

On my return to work, the first thing that I discovered (I’d like to say that it was a surprise, but having had the dealings that I have with these fuckwits for as long as I have, it wasn’t) was that my usual monthly payment had been taken from my wages. 

During my conversation with the Dabhi woman prior to my holiday, she had told me that she would send the letter to stop the Deduction from Earnings order the following week.  I had explicitly stated to her that she needed to send it that day, as the following week would miss the cut off for my wages department.  Despite this conversation and her subsequently assuring me that she had sent it on the day that we had last spoken when I called up to ask why another payment had been taken, when I called my wages department, they revealed that they now had the letter, but that the date of it revealed that it had been sent the week after my instruction to Dabhi that she send it out immediately.

She could also not account for the fact that she had called me the week prior to the 26th October, merely stating that she had a reminder in her calendar to call me and so she had.  However, what I found incredible was that, during the conversation, she referred to the fact that ‘someone’ had called me asking for more than £300 card payment.  When I stated ‘Yes. It was you’, she would not admit that it had been her and kept repeating that it had been ‘Someone from our Agency’.  None of these morons are prepared to take responsibility for their actions and seem to be unconcerned that their daily life consists of making one mistake after another.

Later that day, I received a telephone call, again from Jyoti Dabhi, informing me that the payment had all been approved and that it was being passed to the department that would authorise release of the funds. Good, all done and dusted.

But no!  The following morning I received a phone call from this joke of an agency, which I couldn’t take as I was driving.  However, when I called back, I explained that I had been called and that it was probably Jyoti Dabhi.  My heart sank when I was told that it was actually another waste of skin oxygen thief by the name of Heather Ritchie who needed to speak to me about my “alleged” refund.  Unfortunately, the Ritchie woman was unavailable, so the woman I was speaking to was given explicit instructions to get her to call me back the following day.  I also shocked this person by explaining, quite forcefully, that there was nothing alleged about the refund, in exactly the same way that there was nothing alleged about their incompetence that had led to them owing me money in the first place.

Heather Ritchie did indeed call the following day.  The bad news?  She was from that centre of stupidity that is the CSA Belfast office.  She again referred to an alleged refund, and she was told that there was nothing alleged about it.  She then informed me that the agency would have to recover the money from my ex-wife and asked if I was I happy for them to do so.  I explained that of course I was.  It was their incompetence that had led to my ex-wife being paid this sum, so it was down to them to recover it.  I did, however, explain that I would not be waiting for them to recovering the sum from my ex before I received my refund.  I was assured that it would be in my bank account in the next “three to five working days” and I assured her that if it wasn’t that she would be hearing personally from both myself and my MP.  However, much to my surprise, I was actually given some correct information by the CSA and four days later, it was paid and my dealings with the most incompetent organisation in the UK came to an end.

So, now that I finally no longer have to have any dealings with these retards I have a perfect solution as to how they can not only be gainfully employed, but actually be of some use. If the Government really wants a solution to the problem of Islamic State, then they should parachute ALL of the employees of the CSA into IS held territory with a brief that they should take over all the admin tasks.  IS would grind to a halt within days.  And you needn’t worry about these cretins being beheaded as a) It would be no great loss to humanity and b) They don’t need brains to function, or at least they haven’t for the last nine years that I have been unfortunate enough to have to interact with them, so they would be able to continue fucking-up until they died of starvation, like cockroaches.

Saturday, 31 October 2015


It’s now been almost two weeks since Emma and I got back from what was a truly wonderful holiday to Malta, which means that we are both now back at work and the memories of the sunshine and sea are becoming more distant by the day.

Unfortunately, the holiday did not begin in the best way.  Although the flight was uneventful, as was the transfer from Luqa to Sliema, it was when we arrived at our hotel, the Bay View Hotel, that there was a bit of a hiccup.

Having booked into the hotel, we were given directions to our room, which we eventually found down a corridor that had one light that was blinking on and off and another that wasn’t working at all.  The room itself looked like a hostel and the small balcony overlooked, and was overlooked by, several other rooms and our view was an inland one and of a building site.

Emma went straight back to reception, and after about an hour and viewing six other rooms (I was blissfully unaware of her room inspections) she returned to inform me that we would be moving to a different, better, room the following day.  So, without unpacking, we strolled along the harbour front (not that we could see much at 10pm!) and found a small bar for a drink in the very balmy evening.

The following morning, whilst the staff in the hotel transferred all of our bags to the new room, we again walked along the harbour front, able to see much more now, stopping to buy several excursions for our week-long stay.

The new room was much better and provided us with a fabulous view across the bay and to the capital in the near distance. 

We were able to discover after lunch just how close the capital was when we made boarded the small ferry for the five minute trip across the Marsamxett Harbour to Valetta the “new” capital.

We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the narrow streets of Valetta and buying presents for the kids, before getting the ferry back in time for dinner, which was when Emma had her first experience of rabbit, a local delicacy.

On our second day, we embarked on the first of the excursions that we had paid for, which was an open-top bus tour around the southern half of the island.  However, the advantage of this tour was that it was “hop-on/hop-off”, which meant that we could get off the bus at various places and get a bus 30 minutes later.

Our first intended stop was at the Hypogeum, which unfortunately was fully booked until mid-November, so after a coffee we got the next bus and made our way to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, where we stopped for lunch.

Our final stop, prior to returning to Sliema, was to the Ħaġar Qim Temples.  We had intended to stop off at the Blue Grotto, but the sea was quite rough and it seemed there were no excursions on the day that we were there.

The temples were fascinating, although mostly ruins.  It is incredible to think that they had been here for more than 5,000 years.  Sadly, we did not have a lot of time to fully appreciate them, as we only had just over an hour before getting the last bus back to Sliema.

Having had a sore throat for most of the second day, I was unlucky enough to wake up on our third day with a full-blown cold, which meant that the excursion that we’d planned for that day was postponed for a couple of days.  Instead, we did the boat tour around Marsamxett Harbour and the Grand Harbour, which took about 90 minutes and explained a lot of the history of the island as well as the buildings.

After this, we took the ferry across to Valetta again and had a pleasant and leisurely stroll around more of the capital, including going round St John’s Co-Cathedral.  The décor of this building was spectacular, but it still amazes me that at the time that much of this marble and gold was being placed inside the cathedral, much of the population of the island would have been incredibly poor and struggling to survive!

On our return to the hotel, we made our way to dinner, something that we both grew to dread as the week went on.  This evening was the first one in which we decided to treat ourselves to some decent food and made our way to one of the local restaurants, Tre Angeli, where we both had a fabulous meal washed down with a very pleasant bottle of wine.

Day four saw us heading out on the bus-trip around the northern half of the island and our first stop was at the Ta’ Qali Crafts Village.

Although this was my first visit to Malta, Emma had been as a teenager with her parents.  On one of these trips they had visited the glass factory, which Emma told me had been in the middle of nowhere when she had last visited, but is now in a very commercial area, with lots of other crafts shops and factories.  On her first trip, Emma had watched a glass mushroom being made, which she had then bought.  However, in the intervening xx years, it had got lost, so when her back was turned I had managed to buy her a replacement.

After Ta’ Qali, when then made our way to the city of Mdina, which had been the capital of Malta during mediaeval times.  There is no traffic in this city, other than cars belonging to the residents and the horse-drawn carriages that ply for trade outside the main gate.

I found the place fascinating, and one thing that really struck me having played the Assassin’s Creed, particularly the first one, was that the city of Mdina had the feel of one of the cities from the game.  

However, I don’t think that Emma was that struck by the place as there was not an awful lot to see, so after a pleasant lunch, we boarded the bus again and made our way to St Paul’s Bay.

The reason for stopping here was that whilst we were having a lunch before our flight out, I’d noticed that an old school friend had posted that he was in Malta, so I had contacted him and we had arranged to meet with him and his wife at the hotel where they were staying.  After a pleasant hour or so with Sean and Andrea, we made our way back to Sliema.

On Sunday morning, we were up bright and early and made our way down to the harbour for the ninety minute cruise to the island of Gozo.  I have to confess to being somewhat anxious about this trip, as I knew that Emma was not at her best on water (see Trips and Birthday Treats) and we would be going into the open sea for this, which was something that we had only done once so far on this trip when we travelled from Marsamxett Harbour to the Grand Harbour, which had taken about ten minutes each way and made Emma decidedly uncomfortable.  However, I needn’t have worried as the Mediterranean was a lot more calm than the English Channel and the trip was very enjoyable.

Once we arrived on Gozo, we commenced what was, for me, the least enjoyable part of the trip.  I had been looking forward to visiting the island and doing the bus tour, but unlike the two bus tours that we’d already undertaken, this was not a “hop-on/hop-off” service, as we had to stick to a tight schedule to be back at the port to meet the boat.  Consequently, we drove at great speed to a place called Dwejra, where we were able to get off the bus for 30 minutes before driving at great speed to the capital, Victoria, where we were given 90 minutes in which to have lunch, prior to making our way back to the port.

Admittedly, as it was Sunday, everywhere on the island was closed, but I would still have liked to have been able to take it a little more leisurely pace and see a bit more of the island.

Once back on the boat, we made the short crossing to the island of Comino where the boat moored in the Blue Lagoon.  However, prior to setting foot on the island and having a swim, Emma and I decided to have a closer look at the famous caves of Comino, famous due to their use in the film Popeye.  To do this, we transferred from the boat that we’d cruised on to one of the company’s powerboats.  Emma was a little nervous at first, but once the boat got going, she loved it.  Not so one of the other passengers who I was sure was about to have a full-blown panic attack.

Once back on land, we changed into swimming costumes and had our first swim in the crystal clear waters of the Med, Emma providing the comedy moment by seeming surprised that there were fish in the sea.  No doubt these small fish will become enormous, with huge fangs and dangerous red eyes by the time the story is told by Emma, but they were actually only this size:

The cruise back was a little rougher and I don’t think Emma enjoyed it as much as the outward journey.  Having had such a nice day, we decided not to spoil it by eating at the hotel and headed off to Tre Angeli again.

Once we had arrived back in Sliema, and as we were making our way back to the hotel, we passed through one of the cafes that had a TV on, which was showing the World Cup quarter final between Scotland and Australia.  As we passed through, there was about five minutes left and Scotland were winning by two points.  Sadly, by the time we got back to the hotel, the match was all over and the Aussies had won by one point.

The next day was our last full day in Malta and we had now done completed all of the excursions that we’d paid for, so after a leisurely breakfast we caught the bus to Valetta in order to get some last minute bits and pieces.

I have to confess at one point that I did abandon Emma when she got collared by a guy who try to convince her to by some honey-based facial scrub for a mere , so after a leisurely breakfast we caught the bus to Valetta in order to get some last minute bits and pieces.

I have to confess at one point that I did abandon Emma when she got collared by a guy who tried to convince her to by some honey-based facial scrub for a mere €200 (£160)!  We also visited the Mdina Glass shop where Emma was looking for glass dish centrepiece for her kitchen table.  Unfortunately, the shop in the main town didn’t have one, but there was another shop down by the waterfront, so we made our way there.

It was during this trek that Emma came across a place that she actually recognised from her visit with her parents, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, as it apparently hadn't changed, unlike almost all of the rest of the island.  The view from the terrace over the Grand Harbour was fabulous, so we took a few pictures before taking the lift down to the waterfront level and along to the Mdina Glass shop where Emma was able to get her centrepiece.

After a pleasant lunch in Valetta, we got the bus back to the hotel for a power nap before dinner and then, as it was our last night we went down to Tre Angeli to sample some of their cocktails.

On our last day, we explored a bit more of Sliema before making our way back to the hotel and chilling in the lounge (we’d had to check out by 11am) until our transfer picked us up and took us back to the airport to get the flight from the 23° temperature in Malta to the 7° temperature in the UK.

I had always been a bit reluctant to visit Malta as my dad had been stationed there when it was still a British Colony and whenever someone mentioned Malta he would always say “Smells, bells and pregnant women!”  However, have now experienced the island first had, I would thoroughly recommend a visit and would love to go back, albeit staying at a different hotel.  It’s just a pity that there are so many other places that I want to visit, so unless I have a huge lottery win, it may be a while before I do get the opportunity to go back.

Friday, 2 October 2015

It's been a busy couple of weeks!

It’s Friday and the weekend is here (thankfully).  The last twelve days have been both busy and tiring, so it’s nice to think that I now have two days where I can relax completely.

After a full and busy week last week, I then spent the weekend course directing an Advanced Life Support course at the hospital where I work, so it was an early start on both Saturday and Sunday.  However, the good news was that Emma was attending the course as one of the helpers (she has passed the course, last year, and so is a “provider”, but isn’t an instructor).

On the Saturday night, we stayed in a hotel in Tunbridge Wells and had a very pleasant faculty meal before working all day on Sunday.  All but one of the candidates passed and even they only need to re-sit the test paper.

Even on Monday I wasn’t able to lie-in (although I was off) as Emma was working and I had to ensure that her son was up for school before getting myself ready for the long journey up to York, where I was heading to teach on a course for the Army on Tuesday.

Having left at lunchtime, I made reasonably good time, but on the way there remembered that I hadn’t packed a towel.  Normally this would not be a problem, but I wasn’t staying in a hotel, having opted to stay in a service mess for the night, an institution that doesn’t normally supply towels.  I therefore had to take a diversion into York, passing the hotel that Emma and I had stayed at just two months ago, visiting various supermarkets before finally finding one.

It was therefore dark by the time I arrived at RAF Linton-on-Ouse and booked into the Officer’s Mess.  The reason that I had chosen to stay here, rather than the barracks in Strensall was that my friend Barry is living in the mess, although sadly he wasn’t there the night that I was saying.

The room was comfortable and like every other transit room in every other Officer’s Mess in the UK, except that the RAF apparently supply towels.  At least, there was one on the towel rail in the bathroom of my room.

After a couple of pints in the bar (£1.83 per pint!) I had an early night as I had to be up early to get to Strensall the following morning.

Having had a good breakfast, I headed out into the thick fog for the 30-minute drive to the Army Medical Services Training Centre where the Immediate Life Support course was taking place.

At the end of the course, I jumped in the car and headed back to Emma’s, the Tom Tom telling me that the journey would take just over four hours, meaning that I would arrive at about 9pm.

All was going well until just before Gonerby Moor on the A1 in Lincolnshire.  I had clearly just missed an accident as there was a car in the undergrowth at the side of the road, debris all over the carriageway and a little brown dog haring north on the southbound carriageway.

I stopped the car and approached the vehicle, calling for the emergency services as I did so, finding that I was not first on scene, but second.

The driver was a lady in her fifties who was sitting in the car holding a handkerchief to a very deep gash on her head.  The car was completely destroyed, so my first thought was that she was lucky to only have the one gash.

Although the driver was distressed, it was not because of the accident, but because the little brown dog that I’d seen was hers.  Despite my attempting to get her to remain in the car until she had been seen by the ambulance crew, she refused and attempted several times to get out of the vehicle.  However, the first lady on scene had more luck, keeping the driver in the car.

Eventually the Police and Ambulance arrived, but the driver still refused to be treated and was adamant that she was going to go after her dog.  Even the doctor that had arrived with the HEMS could not get this lady to accept treatment.

However, this all changed after the Paramedic reported that she thought that she could smell alcohol on the driver’s breath.  The driver was breathalysed and found to be over the legal limit for driving, was arrested and therefore forced to accept treatment.

Once I had given my details to the Police, it was back in the car, ‘Tom Tom’ telling me that I wouldn’t arrive until 9.45.  Despite this, I made good time and was actually back at Emma’s earlier, which was just as well, as I had to be up early again on Wednesday.

The reason for the early start was that I had to be on a train at about 7 to enable me to get to Kensington Olympia for an expo entitled Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology.  This was an interesting (in parts) day, but probably more appropriate for those working in healthcare management.

So I have now had two days back at work in the hospital, which meant much more catching up than usual as I hadn’t been there for almost a week.  But that’s all done, and as I said earlier, I now have a weekend of relaxing, which I shall do by watching the Rugby World Cup games that are on.

There’s now only a week or so left of the Pool games before the competition moves onto the knockout stage and so far the almost all of the Home Nations are undefeated, the exception being England, who lost to Wales last weekend.  This means that for England to have any chance of progressing to the knock-out stages, they will have to beat Australia tomorrow evening.  If they lose again, it is likely that it will be Australia and Wales that progress, which will mean that this would be the first time that the host nation of the Rugby World Cup has not progressed to the knock-out stages.

However, before that match is, for me as a Scot, the more important game when Scotland (who’ve won both of their games, against Japan and USA, comfortably, gaining a bonus point for scoring four tries in both of the games) play South Africa (who lost to Japan but beat Samoa). The result of this game is likely to decide the 1st a 2nd positions in the group.  In theory, the winner should get the easier game in the quarter final, but as the opponents are likely to be either Australia or Wales, I don’t think that it will be that easy!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Legal or not?

In my post Refugees, Migrants and Terrorists, I talked about the British citizens who have left this country and made their way to Syria to fight alongside the jihadists of ISIS, and now two of them have hit the news having been killed.

It would appear that Reyaad Khan, originally from Cardiff and Ruhul Amin, originally from Aberdeen were hit and killed during a precision airstrike by a Royal Air Force drone near Raqqa in Syria on August 21st.  Both had been raised in the UK and both had then travelled to join ISIS.  There is also no doubt about whether or not they were radicalised and had joined ISIS as both had appeared in a propaganda/recruiting video released by ISIS in June 2014 and entitled “There is No Life Without Jihad”.

However, it would appear that rather than the political response being “two terrorists killed, oh dear, how sad, never mind”, there has been a big outcry by certain politicians about whether their deaths are actually legal or not.

The whole argument seems to rest on whether the killing of these two should be classed as extra-judicial killings or not.  At that time that it was announced in ParliamentDavid Cameron, the British Prime Minister, stated that the reason that this airstrike had been carried out was that British Security Services had discovered that Khan, the target of the attack, was plotting to carry out attacks on British soil, particularly against "high-profile public commemorations” that were taking place during the summer.  Amin was killed as he was in the same vehicle as Khan at the time of the strike.  The fact that Khan was plotting terror attacks in the UK, Mr Cameron argued, made the strike justified on the grounds of self-defence.

However, in 2013, the British Parliament voted against strikes in Syria, and there are many who believe that this action, because it was carried out inside Syria, not only ignores the wishes of parliament but also suggests that the British Government feels that it has the right to carry out killings of British citizens that may pose a threat to the UK, even if they travel abroad.  Furthermore, there has been criticism that this drone strike mirrors the US policy, one which some American officials believe has failed.  On top of this, friends of the Khan family have also come forward to demand the “truth of the incident”.

So where does the Government stand legally?  It would appear that the strike was carried out following advice from the Attorney GeneralJeremy Wright, which stated that the strike was legal.  But the ex-Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, believes that the decision may be open to challenge.  In fact, one person whom I heard on the Radio 4 Today programme last Tuesday (not sure who it was although it may have been Dominic Grieve) stated that he believed that the family may well be able to sue the Government.

The British Government’s justification for the strikes rests on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which provides the right of a country to act in self-defence against an armed attack, which it is claimed that Khan was actively plotting to carry out.  But there has also been a slight distraction from this, which those who feel that the strike was not justified have cited. Matthew Rycroft, the British Ambassador to the United Nations, has written to the United Nations Security Council justifying the strike on the grounds that it was part of the collective defence of Iraq.  This has been approved by Parliament, as in September 2014 British MPs, although voting against strikes in Syria a year earlier, voted to approve air strikes by British Forces against ISIS targets in Iraq.  The detractors have therefore claimed that the Government is altering its legal justification for the strike because the initial justification was not legal.

For most people the fact that these two terrorists, for that is what they were as members of a terrorist organisation, were killed whist thousands of miles away in Syria means nothing.  If it prevents acts of terror being carried out in this country, marvellous. 

I am aware that there will be people who believe that they should have been apprehended and brought back to this country to face a legal trial, but the possibility of that happening was extremely unlikely.  When dealing with ISIS, we are not dealing with rational people; we are dealing with religious zealots who believe that they are justified in cutting the heads off people who don’t follow the same religion as them, or even the same branch of the same religion.  They do not follow the rule of International Law and are certainly not signatories to the Geneva Conventions, so anyone entering Syria to try and apprehend these people can be certain that, if unsuccessful and caught by these barbarians, they will find themselves being publicly murdered in some unspeakable way, as happened with Muath al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot.

The British Government has found itself in a very difficult position.  It is being criticised for killing these two, but what would have happened if this step hadn’t been taken, there had been an atrocity carried out in the UK and it had later emerged that the Government not only knew where the perpetrator was, but had had the opportunity to stop him and hadn’t?  There would, rightly, have been a huge outcry.

As for the family suing, I think that this is ridiculous.  There has been much made by friends of the Khan family about how Reyaad Khan was a “straight A” student who wanted to be the first Asian Prime Minister, but they have said very little about his Twitter boasts of taking part in mass executions.  If they hadn’t wanted him to get killed, perhaps they should have spent more time preventing him from becoming radicalised in the first place. 

One person I know has suggested that rather than the family suing the Government, perhaps it should be the other way round, with the Government recouping the cost of drone fuel, the pilot’s wages and ordnance used etc. from the family.