Saturday, 26 June 2010


On 18th June, 1940 the Germans marched into Ste. Maire Eglise, where they stayed until 6th June 1944, when the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne descended from the skies and drove them out. 

70 years later, we came into town in the Japanese van with German plates of my sister and brother-in-law, Americans who now live right near the French border in Germany.

 How life changes.

The airborne museum is extremely well done, and of course Hollywood has played its part in immortalising the young men who parachuted down or descended in the flimsiest of gliders.
There are many vivid stories, such as that of John Steele, who landed on the church, was shot along with his comrade who suffered the same fate but was killed. John played dead, was captured, escaped, and eventually survived, to return many years later to strike up an unbreakable bond with the town and the people he helped save.

Well worth the trip, and the perfect casting off point for visiting the Normandy D-Day beaches, as it tracks the actual invasion which was kicked off by paratroopers in the early morning hours.






The law against swastikas. It apparently is a French law now which prohibits selling anything with a swastika on it. This is PC gone mad. Surely a Messerschmitt in a dogfight doesn't offend anyone, but the Museum staff had helpfully placed little pieces of tape over the offending symbol.








Monday, 21 June 2010


Valognes, Normandy
June 2010

The Anonymity of Glory: The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer

Glory is rarely anonymous; and anonymity is rarely glorious.

As I walked through rows and rows of perfectly aligned graves, the birds singing, the leaves rustling in the heaving and salty sea air, and the crash of waves in the distance the only sounds keeping counterpoint to the peace and stillness of this ground, the words above came to me.

The men beneath my feet, or boys who quickly became men, were anonymous. Most had names and states; a few were unknown; but none of them had an age. The only dates written on the crosses were the dates they died; their birth dates a long forgotten statistic. None of them had the chance to become the people they could have become. None of them had a face. Were they muscular or thin? Did they have a shock of red hair or a balding pate? Were they ready with a smile or brooding and introspective? Did they have any idea of what they were getting into? Did death come silently and swiftly, or was it painful and protracted? Were they like my father, from a large family, or the only son of a mother who would always grieve. Were they husbands, or fathers, or brothers, or uncles?

This piece of land is sacred. You can feel it. You can feel it in the respect it commands, in the wonder. Each blade of grass has been lovingly grown and cared for. A great deal of thought has been put into every detail, but the main feeling is one of an inestimable silence of glory, of an anonymous group of men who are all our brothers.

I felt waves of emotion wash over me, my eyes stinging as I thought of my father, who only spoke to me of his part in the war once (his unit came ashore 50 days after D-Day), who died without ever telling me he won a Bronze Star. In the blood and thunder of a few days which passed a long time ago, men like him came to their end, far from home, the long rows of graves silent testament to their glory. Yes glory. The glory of an anonymity which is ageless and timeless, and very human.






Don't ever forget. It is a cliche, but it is only because of these men that we can enjoy the freedom we enjoy. The respect we can give them is the smallest of efforts for a sacrifice which for them was eternal.

Monday, 14 June 2010


My mate Nadia kindly invited me to the circus show( Madame Pain's Boudoir Circus) where she, an enthusiastic amateur trapeze artist, was performing. 

I had no idea just how much I underestimated her talent, dedication, and let's face it, bravery.

Madame Pain's Boudoir Circus is a performance by the Aircraft Circus, held down in Charlton in an industrial estate. We went to the matinee on a Sunday. It took a while to get there from West London, but it was eminently worth it. It was a combination aerial show, light show, and as the name implies, pain-fest (you know...walking on nails, knife up the nose, stapling yourself, as one does). That was a sideshow really to the music and bodies flying around (literally) right above you as the stage blended in where the crowd was standing.

It taught me something we constantly need to be reminded. Humans are amazing. Like my mate Nadia.



(This is Nadia and her partner, by the way)








Thursday, 3 June 2010


Zed's dead, Baby. We gotta get out of town.

Otherwise put , change of plans. Whatever you thought you were going to do, forget it. Bruce Willis put it pretty succinctly in Pulp Fiction.  The original script immediately followed this with a quick Fade To Black. Game over.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture you can't interpret ain't worth squat. If you don't know what looks right, how are you supposed to know what looks wrong? Take this X-ray. Of my own hip.

A doctor can see clearly however. The first guy (an anonymous radiologist I never actually met) who had a look at this said and I quote: " a moderately severe osteoarthritis involving the left hip joint with joint space loss, particularly superiorly and osteophyte formation." He wrote it down. Black and white.

This did not inspire confidence, but I went to a consultant. He basically shook his head and said quite a lot: "bio-mechanically unsound," "not remediable without a replacement," "no range of motion" blah blah blah. What I heard was: Zed's dead.

Forget tennis and golf. This for me is like someone coming up to the stool where I am perched and kicking away two of the legs.

When? "When the pain is too great. They don't last forever, probably 10-15 years max, so put it off as long as possible."

I am thinking. Zed's dead, baby, we gotta get out of town. 

The news that truly shocks, said Peter Gabriel, is the empty empty page. 

It is what happens when someone tells you something that you thought only happened to someone else. Things which have happened to me at one point or another in my life.  You are at risk of redundancy. Check. You have cancer. Check. Malignant. Check. You have to fire everybody. Check. 

Equally hard to take, perhaps, is something along the lines that: Your normal life is going to be put on hold. Maybe only for a while. Maybe permanently, but in any case you are going to have to start with a blank piece of paper. Start over. If you work at it and are lucky, you may get a part of it back, but basically, the chapters you have already written are history. Interesting, perhaps, but history.

The empty page.

After a short while ( a good night's sleep, even), you can come to terms with that. OK, so the 18 year old living inside your 54 year old body was a pure figment of your imagination. 

Oh well. There will be some other new beginning. There will be a new challenge. Some other part of my body or mind will have to take up the slack. What about that guy I saw who was born without any limbs? The guy who made me cry just watching the sheer exuberance with which he attacked life? What about my son's friend, a champion tennis player, who has MS at 25? 

Moving parts wearing out? Ain't no thang. One door shuts and another opens.

Zed's dead, baby. 

If you can force your heart, and nerve, and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on, when there is nothing left within you, except the Will which says to them: Hold on.

Gripping words, Mr. Kipling,  but not the modern way. Not with titanium and ceramic.

It hurts when the cartilage goes, pretty much all the time, so I am going to get a second opinion, and when I find the correct simpatico surgeon, start writing afresh.