Thursday, 31 January 2013
I was feeling knackered as my plane came into land. I had been working all night then driven straight from my workplace down to East Midlands Airport and caught a flight to Limoges, France. I hadn't slept in over 30 hours.
I was in Northern France to help one of my oldest and greatest friends who had bought a derelict French farmhouse and I was going to spend a couple of days helping him with the renovation.
He met me at the airport and as I slung my bag in the car he told me that there was something nearby that he wanted to show me before we drove to the farmhouse and as we were in the region this was the best chance to see it.
So we drove to the ghost town of Oradour-sur-Glane.
Let me tell you what happened there on Saturday the 10th of June 1944.
A group of German soldiers of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich surrounded the village and informed the Mayor, Jean Desourteaux that there was to be an identity check and rounded up everyone in the village.
They then told the assembled people that the troops needed to search the village for weapons and explosives and marched the women and children into the church and the men into a nearby barn.
After the inhabitants had been secured the Germans threw a gas bomb into the church. This failed to ignite so they opened up with their machine guns and hand grenades on the women and children. Then they piled wood on the bodies, many of them still alive, poured on petrol and set fire to them.
Only one person made it out alive, a woman who saw her child machine gunned in front of her but managed to escape by climbing a step ladder and jumping through a high window, despite being shot five times. She described seeing a woman with a baby try to follow her through the window but they were caught and thrown into the flames.
The soldiers then shot all the men of the village in their legs and while they lay wounded, poured petrol on them and burnt them alive. They then looted the village and came across a number of villagers hiding in their houses. One old man, an invalid and bed ridden was burnt alive in his bed and a baby found in it's cot was baked alive in the bakery oven.
The soldiers then set fire to the rest of the village and left. Six hundred and forty two people died that day.
To this date there has not been an official reason given for this massacre, there was talk of a German general being kidnapped and held in a village in the area but it was not in Oradour and there was no Resistance activity in the village. They say the soldiers had just returned from the horrors of fighting on the Russian Front and had been brutalised by their experiences.
Today the ruins of the Oradour-sur-Glane still stand and the French left the village as it was left by the soldiers as a memorial to the dead. The rusting hulks of burned out cars and farm trucks are on the cobbled street. Through holes in the collapsed walls of houses I could see rusting frying pans in the remains of kitchens and a decaying sewing machine next to a hearth in what used to be a living room.
There is a nearby memorial and a museum where the personal effects of the dead are on display. Piles of spectacles, wallets and handbags. Sepia photographs of smiling families.
I am not a spiritual person, I don't believe in gods or ghosts but that empty village did not feel empty, the air felt somehow heavy despite the shining sun and singing birds. Perhaps it was my lack of sleep and the unsettling feeling of being at the scene of a Nazi atrocity, but to me the whole place felt haunted.
I heard on the news yesterday that Germany is re-opening an investigation into the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane. A little late in the day as many of the soldiers involved are long dead.
Last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day in which we remember the millions killed in the concentration camps and tell ourselves that atrocities must never happen again.
But atrocities happen every day. In the Middle East and Afghanistan hundreds are killed by extremists in bomb attacks so frequently that instead of shock and horror when we hear about it on the news it has become almost a background noise.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90's the Serbians and Bosnians celebrated their new found freedom from Communism by reverting back to their old tribal conflicts and slaughtering the very people that they had lived alongside for years.
In the African Congo the civil wars go on and on and rape and mutilation are seen as acceptable forms of warfare. In fact it is considered a boys rite of passage into manhood to rape a woman.
In Pakistan a grown man shoots a fourteen year old girl in the head, just because she wants to go to school.
We talk about history allowing us to learn from our past mistakes but what we seem to be learning the wrong things
Anyway, have a nice weekend.
Friday, 25 January 2013
Who likes cheese? Stupid question, most people like cheese. Even though it is really just milk that has gone manky we eat it by the bucket load. I had a health check this week and the nurse told me my cholesterol was slightly high, nothing to worry about but maybe I should cut down on my cheese intake a little. As she put it 'cheese is the devil'.
When I was growing up I would happily eat any old processed cheese, Dairylea cheese triangles, Kraft cheese slices stuck between two slices of white bread and cheap supermarket brand cheese spread lathered on cream crackers.
When I worked as a labourer in my teens we would finish work on Friday and go to the pub every Friday for a few pints before going home. The pub was called The Union Cross and they would put bowls pickled onions, peanuts and cubes of cheddar cheese on the bar for the drinkers to help themselves.
We would pick these out of the bowls and eat them while we talked and drank, never once thinking about all the people going to the toilet, not bothering to wash their hands and then eating more of the bar snacks. They must have been crawling with germs.
These days I am no longer a labourer and instead of going to the pub after work I like a nice bottle of wine now and again and get invited to dinner parties thrown by friends. At these the hosts prepare all their own food and very nice it is too.
Usually after dessert the hosts will serve up cheese and crackers with coffee. There are never Dairylea triangles or bright orange processed cheese slices served. There is usually a local cheese like Wensleydale along with Stilton and a soft Brie.
And there is always blue cheese. It sits on the board, festering away like something you would find under a wet log. It stinks to high heaven yet people smear great lumps of it onto crackers and talk about its piquancy and tanginess.
I always end up trying some even though I hate it. It’s covered in mould for goodness sake, you wouldn’t eat mouldy bread so why is this stuff considered a food. Yet I always try some. I tell myself that I am doing so just to reacquaint myself with how bad it is, as though I can’t believe that people have been duped into eating it.
But the real reason is that I have become a middle class snob. Bog standard Cheddar and processed cheese slices are now considered cheap and fattening. Now I must embrace the exotic and sophisticated world of really smelly cheese, because the class system demands that we strive for the better things in life.
There is nothing wrong with striving to better myself, it is our instinct to make ourselves as successful as we can be. But when I find myself looking down my nose at cheese I realise how ridiculous I am being.
I don't like blue cheese and I'm not going to waste my time trying to educate my palate into tolerating the horrible sweaty stuff. I was much happier eating the cheap, processed cheddar in the pub with my work mates, even though it had piss on it.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Quentin Tarantino was being interviewed on the telly the other day. I presume he was talking about his new film but to be honest I wasn't listening to a word he said. I was too busy staring at his hat.
What was he wearing it for? He was inside a TV studio under spotlights, he must have been sweating litres so why the need for a hat?
It looked like the sort of hat that kids selling newspapers on New York streets wore in black and white films from the 1930's. Maybe he was wearing the hat to try and look like Samuel L Jackson who has been known to sport similar headgear. The big difference is that Samuel L Jackson would still look cool wearing a paisley dressing gown and fluffy bunny slippers whereas Quentin Tarantino sort of looks like a banana.
I own three hats. One is a woolly, double lined one that keeps my head warm when hiking in the mountains, another is woolly hat that I bought at a Diamond Head concert years ago that I wear when running in cold weather and my third is one that my friend bought for me on my birthday and my wife hates.
This is a sort of camouflage baseball cap with a camouflage mesh that hangs under the peak and is supposed to hide my face when hunting. As I don't go hunting I wear this back to front when hiking in summer to keep the sun off my neck. My wife says it makes me look as though I should be driving a pick up truck around Alabama while throwing beer cans out of the window and shooting critters.
My argument in my defence is that my three hats serve a purpose, they are protection against the elements.
Whereas celebrities seem to wear hats for hat's sake. They are a fashion accessory much like carrying a ratty little dog in a handbag or giving their children stupid names.
There seems to come a point when celebrities common sense just switches off and they start looking at hats and thinking how cool and cutting edge they would look in them. and because they are surrounded by sycophants feeding off their success there is no-one to tell them how stupid they look.
Or maybe I am just a cantankerous, intolerant bastard who looks rubbish in a hat.
I have also put two pictures in my post rather than the usual one as it is a whole new year and I decided to make some changes. I'm spoiling you lot.
Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Do you remember when the Beastie Boys got famous back in the '80s? Licensed to Ill was released and suddenly Volkswagen owners where having their car badges stolen by Beastie fans so they could wear them as necklaces.
The media went into one of it's moral hand wringing sessions over the use of women in cages dancing in their underwear in the live shows and the usual blather about the world's youth being corrupted by music was brought out of the cupboard and used as a news item by lazy arsed newspapers who know this sort of thing gets a knee jerk, burn-the-witch response from the masses.
Today the Beastie Boys are seen as accomplished musicians and when Adam Yauch died it was world news and the media outlets that had expressed all the fake moral outrage were publishing respectful obituaries. If you watch the video for Fight for Your Right it is so childish and good natured it is hard to understand why people got so wound up about it in the first place.
But the change in the public's perception of Ozzy Osbourne is the greatest of all. When I was a teenager Ozzy had just left Black Sabbath and formed his own band with the legendary (and unfortunately dead) Randy Rhoads. Ozzy was in his full on Prince of Darkness mode back in the '80s and doing ridiculous amounts of booze and drugs.
I saw him live 3 or 4 times and his shows were always brilliant and the media hated him. Every time they mentioned him they always started with 'Ozzy Osbourne, the rock and roll singer who bites the heads off bats on stage...'
His ludicrous exploits got him banned from many towns and the press had a field day warning us all about the perils of Ozzy.
These days Ozzy is treated like a national treasure. He is on TV advertising Utterly Butterly, his wife has advertised the Asda supermarket chain though I very much doubt she has ever set foot in one to by some Smart Price beans for Ozzy's tea. Now there is talk of re-naming Birmingham International Airport Ozzy Osbourne Airport. This was reported on the BBC with an apparently straight face. There was even a documentary on the BBC over Christmas called 'God Bless Ozzy Osbourne'.
So all these media scares about music tainting youth don't hold much water. Rock music has been around for a good 50 years or more while people have been acting like dickheads toward each other for centuries without needing music to tell them what to do.
If we are going to blame music for having a bad influence on people then we might as well say that Adolf Hitler would have remained a harmless painter if he hadn't fallen under the insidious seduction of oompah music.
Friday, 4 January 2013
It's a whole new year and the world hasn't ended yet, isn't life grand? With the new year brings all the weight loss TV shows and fitness DVD's with various celebrities donning lycra and jumping up and down while shouting us into better health.
My favourite is The Biggest Loser USA. We are a season behind the US over here and I think this is season 11 but I don't care, it's great. I've watched the British and Australian versions of the show but they can't match the US show. Bigger budget, better production values, total commitment from the contestants and the trainers make it essential viewing. And being America there is loads of crying.
Over here we have the Hairy Bikers Dieting show. These are two Geordie blokes who have had a cooking show on TV for years. They drove up and down the country on motorbikes and where ever they stopped they would cook up some local food. Unfortunately this combination of loads of food and sitting on their arses on motorbikes has made them both fat.
After their wives pointed out that they were taking blood pressure tablets which were just helping them to maintain a lifestyle that had got them into this poor shape in the first place, they decided to join a weight loss group and make healthy food as tasty as possible.
Anyway, my contribution to the new year fitness festivities is to enter the Pain Barrier race. This is a 10km run through woodland which includes such obstacles as cargo nets, trenches full of chest-deep mud, concrete tunnels half full of freezing water that have to be crawled through and people firing paint balls at the racers.
The fun all happens at the beginning of March so I have two months to get my shit together. See you in the pain zone.