Blog Archive

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

D-Day Landings, Goodbye Rik you B’Stard, The World Cup, Cam Clash, Reflections on the Euro Vote, Appreciate what you have.

The 6th of June was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings an event that had been in preparation for nearly two years and I had never realised the amount of planning that went into it.  On August 19th 1942 the Allies made a raid on Dieppe which was a total disaster.  Over 1,000 men were killed and many more wounded and captured.  Only 40% of the Allied troops involved got away in one piece when they started their retreat at 10.50am just a few hours after the attack had begun.  An unmitigated disaster. However the lessons learned were very much incorporated into the D-Day Landings, or the Normandy Landings (Operation Neptune) nearly two years later.  The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.  Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.  But what I had not realised, was that the entire operation was a supreme mastermind of technology.  15 miles of floating bridges and pontoons were carried across the channel and put in place in the hours preceding sunrise to create an artificial port.  Just stop and think: 15 miles of bridges! That port was required to receive all the troops, tanks and equipment that would be arriving and needed to be transported onto shore.  These bridges and pontoons were all specially designed for the day and this had never been done before.  Most of them now reside on the seabed.  Special tanks had been designed and adapted that could roll off the artificial port, onto the beach and then breach the beach defences and anti-tank mines.  Otherwise the equipment and the troops would just have been destroyed after the first few metres.  Then there were the landing craft designed to deliver men onto the beach and then go back immediately and get more. 
D-Day Landing Craft
They were designed specially with sloping bottoms and fast turnaround motors to get the next batch of men waiting on their ships.  And a whole series of diversionary tactics including false radio clues, foil to confuse radar and so on were carefully planned and executed in alignment with the landings.  French Resistance accomplishments including destroying railway lines and other strategic targets with messages delivered by radio in poetry!  By any standard this was an absolutely extraordinary event made spectacular by the vast numbers of people with different skills who dedicated their lives to making this a success.  And they even managed to keep it secret from the Nazis who were expecting a landing elsewhere!  I take my hat off to everyone involved in the planning and the activity.  Thank You!

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery

Goodbye Rik, you B’Stard.  Rik Mayall the actor and comedian died unexpectedly at his home in Barnes on Friday June 9th at the age of just 56.  Rik first came to my attention in the 1980s when he played Kevin Turvey, a reporter with a strong Birmingham accent who never had anything to say but boy he could talk.  
Mayall as Rik in The Young Ones
Rik was fresh out of Manchester University (my Uni) where he had met Ade Edmondson, Ben Elton and others who were all graduating just as I was starting there. He went on to co-write (with Lise Meyer also part of the Manchester crowd) and star in The Young Ones about student life which like Marmite you love or hate.  
But it was original comedy, something quite different.  And I could relate to it just having come out of low rent student accommodation myself.  He also appeared in Blackadder for just a few minutes in the role of Lord Flashheart.  So impressive was his short appearance that many people will tell you he was in all four series!

Lord Flashheart: Enter the man who has no underwear. Ask me why.
Lieutenant George: Why do you have no underwear, Lord Flash?
Lord Flashheart: Because the pants haven't been built yet that'll take the job on! 

We went to see him in The Government Inspector in the West End, a play by Gogol and his stage presence was just as big as his screen presence.  Unfortunately I never made it to his version of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot that he played with Ade Edmondson.  Later he had success in Bottom and of course as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman.  Among those who attended his funeral were Dawn FrenchJennifer SaundersAlan Rickman and Mayall's Young Ones co-stars Ade EdmondsonNigel PlanerAlexei Sayle, and Young Ones co-writer Ben Elton. Edmondson helped carry Mayall's coffin.  Go watch some of his old shows and I guarantee you will laugh.  I would like to end this short article about Rik Mayall with the only tweet he ever wrote:

“Opening my very own Twitter to stop another b****** from doing it. So f*** off & don't expect to hear from me any time soon. Love Rik x”.  

Thanks for making me laugh since the 80s Rik and RIP.
As Lord Flash in Blackadder

Few people will have failed to notice that The World Cup has been taking place this summer in various venues across Brazil.  It opened with a large concert with Jennifer Lopez (a singer) and an Olympic style ceremony.  At the same time about 300 people were demonstrating outside against the large amounts of money used to construct the new stadiums rather than to alleviate poverty and build schools.  They were dealt with harshly by the local police with teargas and rubber bullets as they clearly wanted to avoid any escalation and minimise negative press in front of the world media.  The opening ceremony continued inside as FIFA (the football association) held a conference explaining how their aim is to establish world peace.  Apparently a journalist who managed to keep a straight face asked if they expected to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  FIFA reflected and answered “This goes beyond football and beyond FIFA” whatever that means.  Pythonesque.  I usually listen to BBC Radio 4 as I drive to work and they had been getting complaints that their World Cup coverage was weak so they were taking measures to address this.  This consisted of introducing Evan Davis’ dog Mr Whippy the whippet.  Evan is one of their journalists and his dog has a talent for being able to predict the outcome of each match. Using a carrot.  He got every match wrong until England got knocked out by Uruguay.  That one he predicted accurately.  Why is it that some football fans get whipped up into something resembling a fundamentalist religious fervour?  I won’t get started again on how footballers are revered by the media whilst politicians and business men and mostly reviled.  Who is more likely to solve our problems?  Who should we be encouraging our children to aspire to?
Mr Whippy accurately forecasts Uruguay

Private Eye as the England Team arrived in Brazil

During a recent trip to France I stumbled across a TV programme on France 4 called “Cam Clash”.  I believe it may be inspired by a US programme called “What would you do?”.  In Cam Clash they think up controversial situations and act them out in public to see how passers-by behave.  It is a very interesting study on human nature and makes you ask yourself what you would have done if you had been there.  Cameras have been hidden by the crew beforehand so everything is easy to view.  The first one I saw was a very overweight lady (an actress, part of the team) who orders a lot of food and chips in a cafe and sits down to eat it.  Not far away are two young men (also part of the team) who start to comment on her and get increasingly loud and increasingly rude.  They laugh at how this whale can stuff her face with so much food and even start to steal chips from her dish.  The lady looks increasingly uncomfortable and then starts to cry.  In this scenario, the other customers in the restaurant get increasingly agitated until one or two of them start to shout at the two young men, telling them to stop, to shut up. Later one man gets very angry and an elderly lady says she will hit them if they don’t stop.  At the end, the crew reveals itself and interviews the other customers about their behaviour. 
Large Lady eating
Another sketch is a pregnant woman in the metro who asks a man to let her sit down.  He refuses.  An elderly woman in the cinema who jumps the queue and goes straight to the front saying her age entitles her to do this.  Another is a gay couple in a cafe minding their own business; the waiter starts to make rude comments out loud in front of everyone.  I find all of these behaviours very interesting and I think what strikes me most is that customers are reluctant to get involved but as soon as a first person says something, others usually join in.  In the cinema sketch, nobody said anything so they planted another actress who criticised the old lady; others then joined in the criticism.  This is unsurprising Human Behaviour and explains a lot of history.

My Reflections on the Euro Vote remain inconclusive and I am frustrated on the subject.  Was this just the kick up the backside that mainstream leaders need to change the EU into an organisation that is fit for purpose in 2015 and beyond?  Or are they going to say that 70% of the electorate voted for the status-quo so let’s just carry on as if nothing has changed?  Well with all but Cameron and Orban (Hungary) backing Junkers (the ex Luxembourg PM and long established EU federalist) to replace Barroso as EU President, this certainly looks like a vote from 26 out of 28 of Europe’s leaders for more of the same. 
Jean-Claude Junkers
Let’s just bury our heads in the sand and pretend all is rosy and carry on with ‘ever closer union’.  I believe this policy, if adopted, would be suicide for the EU.  Some key member states such as UK and even France could potentially leave.  The EU could possible survive one major departure but not two.  And these departures would be accompanied by a number of smaller states leaving too. It is time for Europe to reflect, review and reform.  And win back those disillusioned voters.  But why the big lurch to the right?  Who is voting for the extreme right wing parties? Parochialism, Older, Whiter, Poorer, fear of the unknown, Cities going left, rural communities going right.  Familiar themes.  Just as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia celebrate closer links with the EU: “Ukraine's president has hailed a "historic" trade pact with the European Union, calling it the "most important day" since independence in 1991”.  I couldn’t make it up.  Those who haven’t got it would do nearly anything (including provoking a war with Russia) to get it.  Those who have already had it for decades scarcely value it any more.
A majority of Ukrainians are pro-EU

Appreciate what you have because you have no idea what’s around the corner” is how Victoria Milligan finished her first radio interview since the incident that changed her life just over a year earlier. Victoria and her husband Nick with their four beautiful children Amber, twelve, Olivia, ten, Emily, eight and Kit, four were at their dream holiday home they had built in Cornwall enjoying a glorious sunny bank holiday weekend.  They were out on their £60,000 speed boat ‘Milly’ when a tragic accident took place.  Despite their long experience and training certificates in handling the craft, they lost control of it and were all tipped out into the sea.  The boat then circled over them killing Nick and their youngest daughter Emily and very seriously injuring the others.  Victoria has just mastered her artificial leg but will never fully recover from what happened.  She now campaigns for charity to raise money for the Cornish lifeguards and other services that helped them.  Nick was Managing Director of Sky Media and was very popular with staff. What a difference a few moments can make.  As Victoria said, appreciate what you have now.

"The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy" Abraham Lincoln, 1864

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