Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some corner of a foreign field

We visited Flanders this weekend, staying in Brugge.

Whenever I am in northern France or western Belgium I am always drawn to the many war cemeteries of WWI that are scattered over the countryside.
I visited a few with my own Father and I find them moving yet peaceful at the same time. The peace is in great contrast to the horrific events that occured around them.

This time was no exception and I was delighted for the first time be able to hear the last post played in Ypres (Leper being the Belgian name) at the Menem Gate memorial. This is something that has happened every single day since 1928, as a sign of remembrance for the vast allied casualties suffered in the area.

It is one of life's coincidences that this weekend when we visited Ypres and a couple of nearby cemeteries, saw the passing of the last British survivor of the trenches, Harry Patch. That he and Henry Allingham who died a week before should have lived well past 110 seems like a special gift that in recent years has served to strengthen the memory of what is probably the greatest calamity to be suffered by Britain. With almost a million deaths there is no single event that has caused so many British deaths than WWI.

It is sad that the last of the WWI veterans have now passed on but remarkable that it should be 2009 before the last veteran from a war that ended in 1918 has died.

The many cemeteries in Flanders are worth visiting. This was my first visit with my two year old son and probably one of the reasons why I forgot to take a map. I was looking for the vast cemetery at Passchendale but we ended up at the Polygon Wood and Buttes New British Cemeteries close to Ypres. The photo below was taken yesterday, the day when the last veteran passed away.

Here the remains of a trench can be seen. What was once open battleground is now a mature forest.

WWI in many ways seems the most pointless of wars. The powers fighting each other were in many respects similar. This was no titanic struggle for freedom like WWII. Yet due to the terrible mistakes that have been so widely documented, millions of men died in a tiny area of Europe.

The words of Rupert Brooke capture the feeling that a part of Flanders will be for ever England:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts a peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Arrested for taking a photo in Chatham High Street

Here is another example of the erosion of liberty.

It is not just the Met Police who seem to have lost sight of what their true role is . Here it occurred in Chatham, a town some 30 miles from London.

The photograher's own account described how he was arrested for taking photographs of an old flyover being demolished and of a fish and chip shop !

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Swine flu in the office

Swine flu seems to have created two tribes. First there is probably a majority of people outwardly blahsay about the whole business, pointing out that normal flu is just as bad if not worse and we should all keep things in perspective. Second there is another group who are actually quite alarmed, refer to history that viruses can mutate and get worse and think we are not out of the woods yesterday.

If anything I am slightly embarrassed to say I sit in the second group. Not that I feel in mortal danger this minute but I remember cases of normal flu that were quite bad enough for my liking. The last time I got the flu was just after Christmas 2007. We visited Bluewater shopping centre on Boxing Day so perhaps I deserved some divine punishment. I remember my legs starting to ache while waiting with my son in his pram outside Boots. After that it was downhill pretty quickly and I was sent into quarantine in the spare room only emerging to visit the bathroom while covering my nose and mouth in an old sock soaked in tee tree oil. Such precautions worked as despite being in the same house my wife and son (then 6 months old) never caught that flu.

I hadn't felt so ill in a long while and remember time passing both very fast and then very slow. I moved from sweats to cold and couldn't keep any food down for a couple of days. Almost delerious, I watched David Dimbleby driving about in a Landrover talking about the history of Britain and multiple episodes of "Who do you think you are ?" including Bill Oddie and Ian Hislop (almost delerious is probably one of the few reasonable excuses for watching such programmes !!!) Anyway I survived and the recovery once it came was quite fast. Nonetheless I remember that normal flu can be a nasty business and I do not dismiss Swine Flu.

Britain is now number 3 in the swine flu charts (behind the US and Mexico) and London is a hot spot within Britain. Therefore I am really in the wrong place. My office now has its first cases of swine flu, although there also seem to be a growing number of "suspected" or "possible" swine flu cases. The real picture is a bit unclear but with a week of sick leave more or less guaranteed I can see some room for abuse.

The alcohol gel dispensers going up around the place are the only real outward sign of something happening.

Meanwhile many Londoners have to travel in packed public transport full of sneezing and coughing fellow passengers. When you sit on a packed train in London you realise that London is really a rather unhealthy place. I cannot imagine that many people permenantly have coughs and colds in the Alps or by the ocean. In packed cities with not enough fresh air we stuggle to avoid the next bug whatever it may be.

This year it is swine flu and the makers of "hand sanitizers" must be making a fortune.....