Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Signed Mr Mandela's Condolence Book at South African High Commission 9th Dec '13

Signing the Condolence Book at  South African High Commission
The message I left...
Many thanks Mr Mandela for teaching my how to forgive and have compassion and understanding for my fellow human beings - you were one of the greatest.
Obama gave a powerfull and moving speech at Mr Mandela's memorial service, the lines that struck me were:
It took a man like [sic] Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes.
Obama closed by quoting Mr Mandela
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
There were many floral tributes left outside the High Commission....

Friday, 6 December 2013

When I Encountered Nelson Mandela

The sad, but not unexpected, news of the passing of Nelson Mandela made me recall the time I had the honour of encountering The Great Man.

It was on an early morning flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town in the early 90s.

I was one of the last to board and to my amazement I saw Mr Mandela sitting there literally as large as life - he was a tall, distinguished man - in the middle of a row of seats half way down the aircraft’s cabin. He was involved in conversation with the folk around him, looking just like any other traveller. There  was one small sign of his position as there were two rather tall, even when seated, young men in dark suits and open neck white shirts, sitting either side of him, presumably his body guards, while he talked across them. I tried desperately not to gawp as I filed past to find my seat further down the aircraft.

This scene in itself was remarkable as the leaders I had experienced elsewhere in Africa had a very different style around aircrafts  - always last to board. vast numbers of hangers-on and lackies,  sitting up front in a curtained off area - protected , isolated and elite. Mr Mandela seemed the exact opposite as he sat patiently almost discreetly, in amongst the rest of the passengers on what was a busy flight, that morning. No pomp, No circumstance.

In the arrivals hall at Cape Town I was caught short.  I need to go. As the gap for me personally between needing to go and catastrophe can be quite short I made my way  - very quickly - to the toilet only to have my entrance barred by one of his bodyguards I’d seen on the flight , who told me politely that I had to wait till Mr Mandela had finished. Normally I would have respected the wish but I was heading towards catastrophe. I started hopping from one leg to the other trying to retain  my composure as I tried to explain my desperation. He relented and let me through.

There was Mr Mandela in front of one of the toilet’s  two urinals, I rushed to the vacant one. There was me shoulder to shoulder with the great man - well almost - he was taller and there was a respectful space between us.

Then it all went wrong. I dried up. The urge left me. I couldn’t do it. I just looked up, stared ahead, directly, at the wall. By this time Mr Mandela had finished I went to speak - he smiled  politely - I was speechless,  I was gobsmacked. I just stared  at the wall while he washed and dried his hands, I continued  to stand before the urinal there all ready to to the business but failing completely!

It was just like that scene from the eighties TV satirical program Spitting Image which had Thatcher characterised as a man rushing into the men's room as two of her cabinet - Heseltine and Fowler - are noisily using facilities yet dry up in both speech and flow.

Thatcher noisily joins them, they go quite, as both their conversation and flow dry up in her presence. After she’s left the room Heseltine says to Fowler ‘I never seem to be able to go when she comes in’

I knew exactly how they felt!

Mr Mandela that day, for me, had a presence I could not understand yet I responded to his greatness with what can only be described as reverence such was his command of the space around him - a truly awesome yet engaging human being with grace and greatness in equal measure.

I feel humbled and honoured to have shared that brief, unlikely moment with The Great Man.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Walkie - Scorchie

In August 2013 the building nick named The Walkie-Talkie, melted cars , set fire to carpets, blistered paint and for few days became a tourist attraction in central London. Here are my pictures.

The Walkie-Talkie with its concave glass structure acted like a giant magnify glass focussing the sun's rays down on the street below - Eastcheap.

The Walkie- Talkie

The Walkie-Scorchie

Burnt Carpet!

Blistered paintwork!

Sunshields and Closed Car Parking Spaces

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Why The West Should Overtly Leave Syria Alone

I was saddened to read that the only debate we now seem to be having on Syria is whether or not to bomb Assad’s regime, following the dreadful chemical attacks his regime has reported to have inflicted on his own people.

Right now we need to forget the rhetoric of war with its “lines in the sand” and “steps too far”. The West - UK and US specifically -  needs to think logically and coolly. Regrettably there are no votes in thinking it through, though there are some in being cool. It's holidays cut short, it's  Parliament recalled, it's decisions need to made with seemingly little or no time to think things through.

Some politicians seem keen to make the big bombing decision in the face of public opinion and in many cases (sadly) public indifference. In the UK 2:1 against bombing or believe Syria is of no concern to the West.

I argue that the thinking decision is to do nothing. Look at history: in the 1990s Algeria over 100,000 died in a bloody civil war as Islamist fought the Army for power , in Turkey its Islamic state was overthrown by in a peaceful coup by ‘Young Turks’ leading a secular army to create an equally secular state. Similar  - sometimes peaceful , sometimes violent - things appear to be happening in Egypt and Syria today in the overt struggle between Islamism and Secularism.

I would ask politicians to look at the legacy of Tony Blair and George Bush that  must make some of them think twice. 

If politicians believe they must become involved in Syria then I urge them to puruse a covert electronic war with Assad. The hidden, some say dirty,  war -  the one that goes unpublicised, behind closed doors – a few key strokes on a computer on one side of  world causing  problems the other side of the world.  Internet war , virus spreading and the like can be very effective  eg the Stuxnet virus used against Iran’s nuclear capability.

There are no plaudits or Nobel Peace prizes in a covert war to constrain Assad, no votes to be won. But I would argue this is the most effective solution using the  Internet, to make electronic strikes on Assad and his infrastructure.

If the US or UK do not have a hidden handle or kill switch on Assad's technology I would be surprised, after all they sold Syria a lot of it, so they know how it works, so surely, they know  how to stop it working.

I urge US and UK governments to bring together their covert internet technologists in order to contain Assad's regime – switch off their iPhones, their smartphones, their Kindles, their Blackberrys , switch off their power transformers,  restrain Assad's regime electronically.

Leave Syria alone. Let Syria work out its own destiny - secular or Islamic state - like Egypt is doing now as Algeria and Turkey did in the past, in doing so let history take its course.

Bombing Syria will not work. Bombing a country into a submission has never  worked, except for the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. The West would not do that - would it ?