The Catalan Referendum

IMG_3956

…the ballot papers – in three languages, Spanish, Catalan and Occitan.

George Orwell said of the Catalans, “I defy anyone… not to be struck by the essential decency, above all their straightforwardness and generosity.”

What he saw in 1935 is still present today.

Straightforward decent people want the right to vote on the most important issue- the issue of how they should govern themselves. Yet the Spanish government does not want to engage in the debate – rather it prefers to deploy the Guardia Civil, whose faces are hidden behind perspex shields to kick and punch peaceful protesters and to attack and beat with truncheons ordinary citizens and old ladies in a crude attempt to dissuade them from congregating and voting. It seems they have learned nothing. The power of the masses will not be thwarted by a few policemen, however belligerent.

Continue reading “The Catalan Referendum”

Advertisements

Letters from Kolentawezi Jail

air mail letter

‘More than kisses, letters mingle souls’ ~J Donne

It was hot. It was always hot near the equator. Watson paused over the paper before deciding how to start the letter. The crude pen felt slippery in his sticky hand. He dipped it in the bottle of black sludge, supposedly ink. Would this be his last chance? Would it solve his problem? With a bold stroke from a hand powered by a hopeful heart, the squeaky nib wrote:

‘Dear President Olanta,’ he had always started with ‘Dear’ even though sometimes people were not necessarily ‘Dear’.

‘Sir, I am not guilty of the murder of Honest Nyrere. I plead with you to take a look at the case. I have never used a gun and so my fingerprints could not have been on the weapon found at the scene of the crime as the prosecution claimed. I was sleeping in my apartment two miles away at the time of the murder. The police arrested me on the evidence of a man, Alfred Chimbonza, who owes me money, a lot of money, 40,000 licugi although he’ll deny it of course. He is lying.

I am a too-easy target. Please help me.

Yours truly, Peter Watson.

Kolentawezi Jail’ Continue reading “Letters from Kolentawezi Jail”

Embarrassing

 

Embarrasing Branch 2

Pointing his crooked finger at the old sandstone building..

I’ll always remember that day in ’66 when I walked alongside Granddad past Enrico’s flashy new restaurant on Lexington Avenue. Pointing his crooked finger at the old sandstone building that looked like a former bank – large sandstone blocks and high windows capped by semi-circular tops, he said, ‘That was the National Bank, years ago.’

At that moment a yellow cab drew to a screeching halt and a smartly dressed lady in a furry hat carrying at least three of Bloomingdale’s new designer bags pushed past us and lowered her head as she opened the back door of the taxi without any excuse or anything. ‘Bloody rude,’ I remember Granddad said.

‘It was different then, years ago,’ Granddad continued, ‘none of your flashy colours, flared trousers or fur hats in October. It was all grey and caps or bowler hats for men and cloche hats for women. And trams.’ Continue reading “Embarrassing”

Keith & Thelma

keith & thelma 001

Keith West was an unstoppable muscular battleship, inches taller and wider than any boy.

A handwritten letter dropped through the letterbox and I knew it would be interesting. Bills, circulars and spurious junk mail are always typed. Eagerly, I tore open the white envelope and, as I read, I was transported back, back, back to my childhood…

Hillbury Road had twenty one elegant Edwardian houses – bay windows on either side of the half-glassed front door, a low iron balcony partway across the first floor, and second floor windows below a fine gable – facing Tooting Bec Common. Continue reading “Keith & Thelma”

The Night I’ll Never Forget

Flugzeug Junkers Ju 88

Then I saw a single Junkers, an angel of death in the sky…

Along with my older sisters Peggy and Joan, I lived with Mum and Dad in a two-room cottage at number 11, India Row, Monkton. We lived, ate and cooked in one one room and slept in the other. The living room had a table and five wooden chairs. Over the black range for warmth and cooking on the mantelshelf stood two photos and a clock. On the table, we kept the valuables tin with the money, the rent book and insurance documents and a bottle of whisky for emergencies.

I’ll never forget one night just after my fifth birthday. It was a bright night. The moon’s milk white disc loomed large over Pembroke castle and the flooded river looked like a lake of silver below the crumbling walls of the west tower. My father had just come home from working at Simonds moaning about something. Straightaway, as he changed into his Home Guard uniform for the evening, the siren at the police station went. Made by a machine that looked like a short, mediaeval siege gun, it droned that ascending atonal sound. It’s wailing output warned everyone for miles around jarring bones and fraying nerves. Continue reading “The Night I’ll Never Forget”

Fat Wallets and Young Hopes

IMG_3391…he withdraws from a rucksack a royal blue Sri-Lankan cricket shirt

The bicycle has an iron frame. It is sturdy, and typical of old-fashioned, reliable Ceylon. We will travel a few kilometres along a gentle path by the river. We are sixteen, well-heeled British seniors on a holiday excursion. After brakes have been tested, saddle heights adjusted, and the most rudimentary instruction on the gears given, we are ready to depart. Tentatively the pedals are pressed down and it all comes flooding back in waves of nostalgia from the days of cycling to and from school long ago on traffic-free roads. It is true you never forget how to ride a bicycle.

Most people selected a helmet. Most, but I hear one comment: ‘I haven’t done this in years,’ and pointing to the helmet, ‘Are these things necessary? I’m not wearing one of those.’ Continue reading “Fat Wallets and Young Hopes”

A History Without a Geography

a-history-without-geography_2

The clock had not moved since; it showed 5:17…

 I looked out of the car window as my Bulgarian colleague, Vasko, drove from Sofia towards the Macedonian border. We had been invited to demonstrate our company’s capabilities to a potential agent in Skopje.

In October 1994, I was busy across eastern Europe helping our organisation develop its business in the banking sector as the shrouds of communism dissolved and the free market alluringly beckoned. Yet, apart from Sarajevo and Gavrilo Princip, I was not aware of the region’s history nor the disputes which had surfaced as a result of the country’s creation phoenix-like out of the ashes of Yugoslavia two years earlier.

The fall of communism had a dramatic effect on eastern Europe in the early nineties. A friend playfully commented that the USSR (formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was no longer any of the aforementioned!

Yugoslavia, the kingdom of the southern Slavs, for long ruled by the dictator Tito became increasingly weak under a succession of effeminate rulers and it started to disintegrate step by step from June 1991 onwards. Continue reading “A History Without a Geography”