Saturday, July 23, 2016

Allez les gars!

I well remember the 2001 duel on l'Alpe d'Huez between Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich when the American throw his German rival 'the look' when he charged ahead after feigning fatigue. But there was Tour de France sportsmanship, too. When Ullrich overshot the corner and went straight over the safety barriers on the descent of the Col du Peyresourde on Stage 13, Armstrong slowed down and waited for his opponent to recover.

That summer I was unemployed and had plenty of time to follow the Tour on television. Fifteen years later as a pensioner I am a man of leisure and need have no bad conscience about my afternoons spent viewing the contest on the roads and mountains of the country which looks from the air fully deserving of being termed 'la belle France'.

Tomorrow will be over for another year. Then in 2017 the Grand Départ will take place in Düsseldorf.

Allez les gars!

Uncomfortably close...

from The Guardian
"The lone gunman who killed nine people and wounded a further 21 at a shopping center in Munich before shooting himself was an 18-year-old German of Iranian descent, police have said. In the third attack on civilians in Europe in eight days, Germany’s third largest city went into lockdown after the teenager opened fire on diners in a McDonald’s restaurant before moving to a nearby shopping mall.Police stopped trains, buses and trams, closed highways to private cars and ordered citizens to stay in their homes as they searched for suspected killers, as false rumours of fresh attacks sent panic through the city. While the city was in lockdown and armed elite police poised on rooftops at locations around Munich, some older Germans were forced to recall the days when the country was terrorised by urban guerilla movement the Baader-Meinhof gang or Red Army Faction (RAF), and the terror attack on the 1972 Olympic Games."

The first I knew of the incident was when I returned from an early evening shopping outing and found a Skype message timed at 19:38hrs from Jessi. She was on a bus, on her way from Berlin for a weekend in Frankfurt.
I felt no compunction to turn on any rolling news channel. Am I inured to this kind of thing? I fear we will all begin to see such events as belonging to a 'new normal', with the constant sense of foreboding amplified by the hysterics of social media.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tempus fu**it!

Production of the last videocassette recorder to be made in Japan will cease by the end of the month. Last year Funai Electric sold just 750,000 units, down from a peak of 15 million a year and has been finding it difficult to source the necessary parts. VCRs were introduced in the 1970s but were superseded by DVD technology.
Some vintage technologies, such as vinyl, have enjoyed a renaissance. However, Tania Loeffler, an analyst at IHS Technology, does not think the same nostalgia will ever be felt for VCR-playable formats."I don't see VCR becoming like vinyl, where a lot of people appreciated the warmness of how something sounds on vinyl," she told the BBC. "The quality on VHS is not something I think anyone would want to go back to."

Perhaps not, but damn it those VHS tapes of mine were inseparable from both my professional and personal life for so very long. Sic transit... and so forth!

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Efforts to map the personality of the perpetrator of the horror on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice are ongoing. In the final analysis we’re obliged to take our choice from among all the theories on offer. In today’s issue of The Observer I note points which seem to me persuasive and well worth thinking about.
“Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel matches the classic profile of French violent Islamic extremist in many ways. He was a young, male petty criminal. He was also not devout, all witnesses so far agree. He did not fast during Ramadan, ate pork, drank, and was never seen at any local mosque. This lack of piety among militants may seem confusing. It is, however, the rule rather than the exception. It was true of the dozen or so French and Belgian young men involved in bombings and shootings earlier this year. Olivier Roy, a well-known French scholar, suggests those drawn into violent activism are already ‘in nihilist, generational revolt’. This is why so many are criminals, or marginal. Extremist Islam gives them a cause and frames anger and alienation in the way extremist left-wing ideologies did for some in the sixties and the seventies. The new militants are thus not victims of brainwashing by cynical and fanatical recruiters. This is the Islamisation of radicalism, Roy says, not the radicalisation of Islam.

Were the Nice tragedy not sufficiently worrying, we were then in short order confronted with the coup in Turkey. In this instance no psychogram of the perpetrators, whether those in military uniforms or members of the judiciary… the roughly five thousand men detained in the aftermath… can be helpful. However the simple question ‘cui bono’ is must surely be posed. Turkey’s president stands to gain in ways which were hitherto almost unimaginable. After the uprising (which appears in many ways to have been an amateurish folly) there is now the perfect opportunity for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to consolidate his power and stifle any remaining dissent. Yesterday The Independent had room for an alarming interpretation of the situation.

“Conspiracy theorists are saying the attempted military coup in Turkey was faked, after President Erdoğan reportedly called it ‘a gift from Allah'. Social media users have compared the coup attempt in which more than 160 people are thought to have died to the Reichstag fire, the 1933 arson attack on the German parliament building which Hitler used as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and order mass arrests of his opponents.”

Following the failed coup, American military flights out of Turkey’s giant Incirlik Air Base… critical in the ongoing campaign against Dai’esh… came to a halt Saturday afternoon as the Turkish military closed the airspace around the base and suspended all US-led operations, mostly targeting the so-called Islamic State. It is estimated that Incirlik's vaults currently hold fifty B61 nuclear weapons.

Repeat after me… “Oh shit!”

Friday, July 15, 2016

Absurdities abound

The Tour de France is the world's most famous cycling road race and for the past few days the leader's yellow jersey has been worn by the British rider, Chris Froome. But not even this quintessentially French sporting event is immune from the current madness afflicting denizens of the United Kingdom.

We have, on the one hand, Froome obliged to take to his heels and run sans bike for several hundred metres on the way to the finish lines of the day's stage. This is distinctly odd and indeed without precedent.

And yet this bizzare quiddity I found echoed on the very same day when Mrs May appointed as Foreign Secretary in her new cabinet a man singularly sans gravitas, seen by many as a buffoon who cannot be trusted.

Oh well, at least Boris might have come to Froome's aid with a spare bicycle.

The above post was composed before the news of the horrfic attack in Nice broke.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Look at Life

How optimistic we were! For the film makers the TransEurop Express trains were a compelling metaphor. For me, too, they were the perfect symbol of an exciting future, and in the late seventies it was always a joy to commute between Paris and Zurich using the first-class-only TEE Arbalète.

Yesterday Mrs May appointed David Davis to oversee the upcoming Brexit negotiations. If I'm allowed to stay with my metaphor a bit longer, he's the man charged with diverting the European express so that it no longer connects in any way to the United Kingdom, sending it effectively to smash into the buffers.

I find it all unspeakably sad.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A new broom sweeps clean.

Yesterday there was good reason for Brits to celebrate. In their respective sporting disciplines Murray, Hamilton and Froome excelled and inspired. Today on the BBC there are pundits discussing this and other noteworthy victories, speaking of talented young men and women who are… they hope… exemplars for a rising generation.

This comes at a time when role models are in short supply in the United Kingdom, particularly in the political arena. In fact, were the bad tempered individuals contesting the leadership of the parliamentary parties riding racing bikes, they would be less vying for the coveted Maillot Jaune than trying to avoid the ignominy their pathetic and often dishonest performances merits.  

Introduced to the Tour de France in 1910, the year the race first went into the mountains, the voiture balai or broom wagon follows the last riders on the road. If the balai’ catches struggling riders they must climb off and retire, handing in their race numbers. The van literally sweeps the remnants of the peloton off the road.

A metaphorical political broom wagon would have to be big enough to accommodate all those who should today be swept aside, those seemingly intent on proving that parliamentary democracy in a Great Britain, now obliged to implement Brexit, is on a shaky basis; a democracy in a post-factual state. Truth and evidence are replaced by robust narratives, opportune political agendas and impracticable political promises trotted out to maximize voter support.

A new broom sweeps clean. We can only hope…

Thursday, July 07, 2016

le Tour

I’ll be watching again, thrilling less to the sporting prowess than revelling in the tour of ‘la belle France’, particularly when the images come from the airborne cameras. Next Wednesday, the 13th of July, the cyclists will ride the 162.5 kilometres from Carcassonne to Montpellier, passing so very close to where I had for so long dreamed of retiring. There’ll be a sprint at Pézenas. Somewhere between where in the mid-seventeenth century Molière guested with his Illustre Théâtre and the sunny coast I could have been, I remain convinced, very happy.

As a retirement alternative I’ve considered Scotland. The idea of a return to the family roots is doubtless a romantic folly. Less so, maybe, since the reopening of the Waverley Line last year. I could settle close to where my great-great-grandfather made his home in the nineteenth century (story here). But in fact it’s more likely that it will be my sister, Pippa, who will turn the clock back in this manner.

In the Borders she’ll be close enough to Edinburgh and able to play grandmother to wee Sebastian, Sergeant-Major Marie having been posted by the MoD to the Scots capital! And so alternatives to Munich are for me simply fond notions. I doubt if I have the energy required to start from scratch dealing with a ‘foreign’ pension-and-benefits regime. I shall nevertheless permit myself a what-might-have-been sigh when I watch the 11th stage of this year’s Tour. 

Geetings, Sandlanders!