Archive for the ‘Diary’ Category


February 17, 2015

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I was in Dresden last weekend for a deeply cathartic commemoration of the 70th  anniversary of the British bombing which destroyed the beautiful historical centre of Dresden and killed up to 25,000 in a firestorm. Seeing the pictures of the utter devastation of the burning ruins, and listening to stories of survivors, it is hard to believe that a people and a city could ever rise again. The sheer scope of the catastrophe makes our troubles today seem trivial.

I was there as Vice-Chairman of The Dresden Trust, which dedicated to reconciliation and raised £1 million to help rebuild the city’s main church. The Trust’s Royal Patron, the Duke of Kent, was honoured with a Dresden Peace Prize, which has previously been awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev and Daniel Barenboim. DSC07969 Reconciliation is possible for one reason – the recognition by all German leaders for the past 30 years that the German people as a whole were responsible for bringing Hitler to power and following him willingly into a war of genocide. The     Dresden Trust awarded its Medal of Honour to Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz, who declared that Dresden was bombed because Germans first bombed Coventry, London, Rotterdam and Warsaw. German President Joachim Gauck said: “We know who began this murderous war.”

These German leaders are brave, since they risk unpopularity with their voters. But it is the only way Germany can take its place in the community of nations. Still. I find this frank admission of guilt quite exceptional, and the key to the peaceful European order of the past 30 years. “We have to keep saying it, because not all Germans acknowledge it,” says Helma Orosz. Three days later 4,000 right-wing “Pegida” demonstrators were out in the main square chanting slogans against Islam and immigrants.

Dresdeners no longer hold animosity towards the British for a raid which was controversial from the start. Now they welcome Britons for the more stable, tolerant values they hope we will share with them. They look to us to counter the malevolent influence of the neo-Nazi fringe. I did my bit by joining 10,000 Dresdeners in a human chain formed around the historical centre. We held hands for a few minutes in a gesture of peace – but also symbolically to keep out the neo-Nazis.

Everybody I met had their stories. A Coventry woman remembered a relative was killed on the last day of the war bombing U-boats in Norway. A Dresdener whose hand I was holding in the human chain told me of an uncle bomber pilot who was shot down over England and then invited in for a cup of tea by the locals.

Dresden is now an expanding young city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Germany. From the smouldering ruins it has risen again, demonstrating how resilient the human spirit can be. I was proud to show a bit of solidarity they have finally earned.

British classroom question: who is to blame for World War I? (Clue: it’s the Germans.)

January 11, 2014

The British Education Minister has said that the British fought World War I as a just war to prevent Germany’s aggressive bid to dominate Europe. The Prime Minister’s office says it sees nothing wrong with this.

Of course, there is another view, propagated by British and other historians, that Serbia started it by stirring up trouble in countries with Serb minorities, egged on by its Slav brother, Russia, in response to Austria’s greedy annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, unwisely supported by Germany, which wanted to be a great power and felt hostile to both Russia and France, all hardly helped on the eve of war by the British Foreign Secretary going off fishing while German troops mobilised, possibly hoping that Germany would be drawn into a war against both France and Russia which it was bound to lose.

But that’s a bit long, and as you have only 15 minutes, keep to the first version. And remember, this counts for the grades for your university place, which we might otherwise sell off for much more money to the Chinese.

Next week: why the European Union is wrong for Britain? (Clue: it’s the French.)

Mohammed is the third most popular name for newborns in Oxfordshire

January 10, 2014

Oxfordshire may be the essence of Englishness, but in November Mohammed was the third most popular name for newborns in the county.

I gleaned this nugget of information on a visit to register my mother’s death. Her array of German names was also a little out of the ordinary, I must admit.

Oxford’s royalist traditions are not yet dead however. William came top and Harry level-pegged with Mohammed.

My mother died this Christmas Eve

December 24, 2013

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My mother died in the early hours of this morning. She passed away peacefully at the age of 101.

This is a picture my father took when they married in 1938.


December 22, 2013

Like many males at this time of the year, I feel compelled to address the great issues of the world. Fortunately there are only five:

1. Ensuring a properly functioning economy
2. Avoiding war
3. Creating good governance
4. Keeping balance in the environment
5. Managing migrations

There is some linkage. Economic achievement for example will be affected by success in avoiding war.

What about population growth? Important, yes, but it is likely to be regulated automatically by advances in prosperity. That in turn will be influenced by better governance, as is already happening in Africa.

Migration may not seem a top priority. However statistics indicate Africa’s population will probably rise to four billion. How will they interact with the richer but much smaller and declining population of Europe? If just one per cent decide to move to Europe, that’s forty million. If ten per cent come, that’s more than Europe’s whole present population. What are the implications?

I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a nice short list to work on. All the rest is media chatter, including the question whether Arsenal will win the English soccer Premiership, which I must confess does sometimes clutter my mind.

I trust some of the rest of you are working on the same list. If so, we can doubtless look forward to a better 2014. Good luck and Happy New Year.

Actors should be heard – rule number 1

October 19, 2013

Saw Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” at the Oxford Playhouse last night. Saw, not heard, because those of us in the Circle could catch only around half the words spoken by actors of the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS).

The OUDS is a prestigious launching pad for professional acting careers. But perhaps they should first learn elocution. The Playhouse is also a venerable institution, but it should not charge full prices for wanna-be amateurs.

Was the play good? Dunno.

A Drawing at 101

September 18, 2013

18.9.2013 picture at 101

My mother drew this picture a few days ago. She is 101 and suffers from dementia. She copied something the carer in her home had drawn.

“Do I just do the same?” my mother asked.


And she did.

I Skype .. and my PC suffers serious damage

July 30, 2013

Half-way through a Skype video call with my daughter, the video froze. At the end of our talk, neither of us could exit Skype. My whole PC froze too, and I could not restart.

The IT guy who took it into care says the PC and its systems were seriously damaged.

Skype, he says, it a relatively open system and it is not difficult for a malevolent person to penetrate into your PC during a conversation. I must say, I did not know that.

After 48 hours of cleaning and repairs, he got it back up again to where it was.

My daughter says her Mac froze too, but she could restart it after turning the power off and nothing was amiss.

Macs, says my IT guy, are more resistant to such attacks. My creative arts daughter kindly rubbed it home with another lecture about my Neanderthal computing choices.

Leveson media inquiry: the offenders are against legislation. How surprising!

December 4, 2012

The Leveson inquiry into UK media malpractices has recommended legislation to curb excesses. One of the objections raised was that government and media cosy up too much together. So it is hardly surprising that neither of these accused now want a new law.

But surreptitious connivance between government and media does no good to anyone. In particular, it is cold comfort to the many victims of media malpractice who testified at the inquiry.

I used to be a journalist myself, so I ought to be against laws restricting the press. But the perpetrators now sound insincere in pleading the age-old principle of freedom of press (which is in any case rightly confined by all sorts of other laws).

The UK press should take this on the chin and pay a price. Having reported as a foreign correspondent in countries with repressive regimes, I doubt whether the mild restrictions called for by Leveson would suppress inconvenient news. Truth will out.

Most likely, however, nothing much will change. That’s what I predicted in my blog of 23rd November 2011 and I stand by it. Not great, but journalism has never been a totally clean business. If journalists would at least obey existing laws, that would be a start – and perhaps all we can hope for.

I am trying to decide whether I like anarchy – please help

October 25, 2012

Travelling for a month on the roads of India and Nepal gave me a good taste of anarchy – and I found it rather nice. Nobody obeys rules. Outside Delhi there are hardly any traffic lights or traffic police. Motor cycles roar out of side streets right in front of your bonnet. The driver has a wife in a sari on the back, with two children wedged in between and a third up against the handlebars. Crash helmets? Don’t ask.

In conglomerations, traffic is a slow-moving snarl. It seems like gridlock, but when a chink appears, at least three vehicles, small and large, hurl themselves towards it. The rule of anarchy says the first one in is right. The others give way gracefully, waiting for anarchy to offer them a new chance, which it does. There are scarcely any collisions. Pedestrians develop great skills in hopping, skipping and dashing. They too go where they like.

On four-lane highways, you meet donkeys, cyclists, steam-rollers and 40-ton juggernauts proceeding the wrong way down the carriage-way. If it’s a bit shorter to the next turning that way, why let any highway code deter you?

There is no road rage, unlike in the ordered societies of western Europe. Hooting is good-tempered – it just announces you are competing for a space. If you all break the rules, why complain? Anarchy offers a certain serenity.

Mind you, there are challenges. Our Indian driver found himself on the wrong side of a road as a juggernaut surged at us round a bend, also on the wrong side. Both were overtaking, and the near sides were occupied by slower vehicles. In the middle was a vast pothole all were determined to avoid. Tricky, but nothing to get shaken up about, and I live to tell the tale.

The pleasures of anarchy did begin to pale after a bit however. Behind the spirit of “anything goes”is a selfish indifference to the interests of others. Everybody is taken up with individual concerns, and makes no effort to consider others. There are no synergies from cooperation, since nobody places faith in it. Influenced by a belief that the cosmic order is permanent, few people aspire to change things.

Thus, traffic never moves fast. On the national scale, India’s economic growth is slowing and reforms have largely ground to a halt. Nepal is in disorder. Inertia and low expectations slowly restore the hold they established over people in primitive times. That is the price to pay for anarchy. Not so sure I like it any more.

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