Does anyone remember Comex 2?

SPECIAL Announcement

There is to be a memorial service in Durham (Cathedral) at 5pm on the 30th Sept to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic crash. There will also be a reception and then some form of informal gathering.

Sorry I have no formal contact details.

 

Comex Two

A cursory search (yes, jokes already!) on Google produces no reference to Comex 2 on the first five pages, which is about as far as I generally go. We find numerous commodity exchanges and obscure global corporations; even a young man, according to a report in Forbes Magazine, who has twice succeeded in hacking Apple’s supposedly unhackable iPhone operating system, and goes by the name of Comex, which I guess stands modestly for ‘computer expert’? They are not the Comex I am looking for.

Forty-five years ago this month*, nine coaches were racing miles apart through southern Europe near the end of a three-months-long expedition overland to India. “Comex” was an acronym of Commonwealth Youth Expedition, a project run virtually singlehandedly by a former colonel in the Gurkhas’ regiment, Lionel Gregory. Though he gave off an air of soldierly distinction, Gregory had merely been in charge of a transport division, hence in retirement his dedication to the pursuit and logistics of large-scale adventuring.

As you might guess, Comex II was the second such expedition, larger and more ambitious than the previous year’s. Each of the nine coaches was allocated to a British university, thence to be driven over vertiginous mountain passes on twisting and unguarded rubble roads littered with the upturned skeletons of burned-out vehicles, by newly licensed undergraduate students. Each carried up to forty young people, who organised themselves into performing groups and put on shows of British culture and displays of friendly solidarity at other universities along the 4,164-mile route between London and New Delhi. I know this because, aged 17, a seat had been wangled for me on the Oxford coach by my step-aunt, Jeannine Scott, who rented office space to Col Gregory and was a patron of his charity. Having just left school without confirmation of a university place, I was being packed off ready to see the world.

It was not entirely a happy expedition. We set off in July, at a time when the government was enduring one of its perennial financial crises and had limited every British traveller abroad to just £25 spending money. Mine lasted all the way to Germany, about four days, after which I was forced to sponge off students who had been more careful with theirs. Living mostly on yoghurt, chapattis and cucumbers, sleeping rough in the desert, we wound our way across the Bosphorus, over terrible mountain roads through Anatolia and into Iran, Afghanistan (between wars), through the infamous Khyber Pass and, under sheets of monsoon rain, into Pakistan. By the time we reached Delhi I had contracted amoebic dysentery and spent ten days in the university there, unable to afford medicine, shaking with fever, drizzling blood into a grimy toilet. The back of the door was the most I saw of India, until we drove up to the former British hill station of Simla, where in the cool mountain air and with cleaner water I soon recovered.

Our return was rushed, as we were far behind schedule. In Bulgaria, we were bombing along a dual carriageway when, with a terrible crash, we hit a cart driven by an elderly farmer who had pulled out onto the road without looking. Shattered glass and timber and dying horses lay everywhere amid scattered corncobs — I don’t know how our driver survived. The farmer himself stood in the midst of it, stunned and babbling, but otherwise miraculously unscathed. In local law, it had been his right of way. After the various police formalities had been completed we were allowed to carry on our way, now two days late, in a vehicle crippled by the loss of most of its front-end — only to learn, as we entered then-Yugoslavia, of a far worse event that had occurred while we were perhaps fortunately detained.

The party from Durham university had been travelling at speed along a perfectly straight stretch of road, when the unsecured jib of a mobile crane mounted on a lorry heading the other way swung out across their path, slicing the top off the coach. Fourteen students were decapitated. The student driver was arrested, put on trial and automatically sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, although the accident had not been his fault. Limping on through Austria and southern Germany, we shivered in silence as the snowflakes blew in through the missing windshield. Somewhere along the autobahn, we naughty boys at the back were persuaded by the coach captain, Vipin Suri (how funny that we recall so many names from the past, yet none from five minutes ago)  to ditch the kilo cake of Afghan black hash we’d been hoping to smuggle back to Britain. To a casual passer-by, it must have looked like a cowpat. Indeed, it probably was.

***

The media nowadays goes into paroxysms of intrusive, speculative reporting for days and weeks over such incidents. Police, social workers, counsellors, coroners, politicians are involved, public enquiries demanded… . In 1967, however, we lived in a less emotive age. I returned from Dover to my home in London, gaunt and two stone lighter than when I had left, was passed fit by our elderly, no-nonsense GP, and nothing more was ever said or heard about it.

Somewhere surely are survivors, the elderly parents, sisters and brothers of the dead, the driver (who, I seem to remember, was released on appeal); but we do not hear a word from them. The incident slipped rapidly out of public notice into history, significant anniversaries ignored. The mark it has left on me, assuming that my long cycles of depression and digestive sensitivities have nothing to do with it, is that I still sink gibbering to my knees, or have to slow the car to a terrified crawl, at the prospect of a sheer drop of more than a few feet. I didn’t manage to get a place at university, that year or any other. Instead I was sent to film school, before drunk-walking into a decade of improbable jobs in the media for which I had not the slightest qualification.

Within days of our return, the bluff and soldierly Col Gregory, seemingly untouched by any responsibility, was already planning Comex III.

Note: I have Posted a later article reflecting on this topic, if it is of interest. Comex Two: of Time and Memory (July 2014).

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Great Balls of Fire

Today brings news from Libya that the Benghazi mob is back on the streets, driving out the armed pro-Islamist militias that had set up camp in the city in the hope of gaining influence in the partial vacuum created by the destruction of the Gadaffi regime. Remarkably, because it was just a week ago that the same crowd was rioting over a supposed Western-backed insult to the prophet Mohammed, while men of one of the militias either fought their way in, or slipped unnoticed into the US consulate and assassinated the ambassador and three of his colleagues.

The question then is, has the mob today recognised that it was duped? Or are rival intelligence services playing a deadly game of manipulation, exploiting the credulity and restlessness of the Arab working-class for their own ends and driving the handy mob from pillar to post while they carry on their skulduggery undercover? It wouldn’t be the first time.

The anti-Islam “film”, for instance, was nothing more than a crude mashup, typical of hundreds of similar amateur efforts shot on home video or even mobile phones, that you can find posted on YouTube. No-one has been unduly exercised about them before. Much of the internet is a safety valve for dimly educated teenage baboons with risible opinions. Would anyone even have noticed this video was there, unless someone with evil intent pointed it out to them? And might not that person have themselves had something to do with its production?

The “insults” slung at the Prophet were, in my small opinion, precisely the sort of childish, mixed-up, half-hearted cliches you would expect to get, if you pressed a devout Muslim to tell you (in confidence) what would be the worst things anyone could say to antagonise tender Islamic sensibilities? The language content clearly points to an author raised in a middle eastern tradition and Islamic religious culture — not to a western-educated, pro-US, pro-Christian extremist. This was a put-up job. The “director” is said to be in hiding: one imagines he is back at Intelligence HQ in Teheran, job done.

By a strange coincidence, the author Salmaan Rushdie published, this week, his autobiography; a part of which concerns his years in hiding after he was the subject of a fatwa calling for his death, issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Rushdie was accused of defaming the Prophet in an otherwise tedious novel which daringly quoted some deleted passages from the Quran, known as The Satanic Verses. Midweek, another preposterous village mullah popped-up in the news, reportedly vowing that he would increase the bounty on Rushdie’s head by half a million dollars. Was he for real, or was it a PR stunt?

Also this week, came news that a female Biblical scholar in America has reinterpreted some early Coptic writings to suggest that Jesus had a wife. If accurate, this fact alone would completely undermine almost two thousand years of Catholic doctrine on the essential nature of celibacy in the priesthood. Not long ago, the “scholar” would have been broken on the rack, disembowelled and burned at the stake for this, the most shocking heresy imaginable in the Christian canon. The announcement has created barely a ripple.  The Church in Christ is too busy worrying about yet another report of endemic child abuse, this time in Australia.

Finally, on Friday night, hundreds of people witnessed huge green fireballs in the sky over northern Britain. Was this the opening ceremony for the Mayan Prophecy? In the immortal words of Private Fraser, “We’re all doomed!”

The perfect match

Have you ever tried to find something or do something on a website where they demand to know exactly WHERE you want to find or do said thing before they will let you look for it?

Isn’t it the most certifiably stupid question imaginable?

There you are in Boglington-on-Sea: you need to find a job, a new used car, a recycled council house, money, love, and you go on a website and you’re told you have to key in your postcode and it tells you, sorry, there’s nothing there. And you want to scream, I already KNOW there’s nothing here, that’s why I’m brunching on the interweb. I don’t give a toasted testicle WHERE the thing is, I just want the THING!

But there’s nothing you can do, you just have to try again. And again, until you power down and go to bed, where sleep does not come easily.

Worse, is the dreaded drop-down menu, from which you have to select WHERE you think the thing might be, that you want, from a list that is not guaranteed to be a list of places where the thing might actually BE… . Guess wrong, and sure enough you are told to try again. What self-perfected cretin designs these websites? Someone, I imagine, who was National Junior Champion several years running at Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Take Match.com, a dating website owned by the beanbag brigade who bring you Yahoo! Curious, I followed various links off the page where their annoying pop-up ad refuses to be blocked by my ad-blocker, until I arrived at the dreaded WHERE? question. From the drop-down menu, I selected Wales – a small, quasi-autonomous principality in the west of Britain with a population of 2.5 million, where I have lived for the past twelve years. Yes, but exactly WHERE in Wales? came the next question, obliging me to open a second drop-down menu giving a list of “towns” where I could expect to find ladies of all ages with ripped bodices and heaving bosoms, panting at the prospect of viewing my Profile.

There were hundreds, just beginning with the ‘Aber-‘ prefix alone. They had listed every place name in the country! You could spend a lifetime, hopping about on one leg trying to find a “Match” in Abermad or Abersoch, Abermawr or Aberfach… More than 95 per cent of the places listed, to my certain knowledge, having driven through them at speeds well in excess of 30 mph, have populations of fewer than ten people, and they’re all first cousins. When they need to find a soulmate, they hang their knickers out upside-down — “on-line” dating, country-style…. The chance of finding someone registered on Match.com in one of those places is about the same as that of finding King Richard the Third under a car park. Yet you have no choice but to start sticking in pins. Or find something better to do.

Whoever designed this website is destined for great things as Baboon Enclosure‘s “Inhabitant of the Year”. What a complete waste of everyone’s time, that the parents of this dribbling nincompoop ever managed to find one another in the dark.

Spam queue very much

Today, Comments in the Spam queue are up to 13, a new record. Most are complimentary, however a few continue to presume to give me advice, supposing that all I desire in life is to have more optimistic Gargle rankins. One criticises my inability to write interesting and exciting headings, citing a heading that has nothing whatever to do with my Posts! They even go so far as to suggest that “themindbogls” itself is a limp and uninspiring effort, undeserving of Gargle’s mighty favour. I am minded to tell this impudent baboon to fuck off. Fuck off, impudent baboon. Stay off the fermented fruit!

Then I notice two things about these deliberate provocations. From the address details kindly provided by Mr Arkansas, the WordPress Spam organiser, I observe that some of you appear to be sending your messages in disguise. They purport to come from web sites in proper countries like America, that are represented at the Olympics, not from your rutted feudal demesne somewhere in the Carpathians, that could manage only a bronze medal in the puddle-jumping. I take it you have the real owners’  permission? I guess this relates to a message I had recently, offering me a poxy server. I had wondered what a poxy server was, envisioning a tired Moldovan waitress in a North London trattoria. Now I know, it is the digital equivalent of a false moustache and glasses.

Secondly, you are not at all interested in what I have to say, you naughty little bloggers! You are a Viagra salesman or woman! Well, I don’t need your little blue pills to perk up my headings, I have given up sex purely in order to write this bogl, save money and to live more closely with Nature, in the shapes of my lovely cat Scat and dog, Hunzi. So, unless you supply the women to go with the pills, they can play Scrabble and make proper hot cocoa, you can fuck off as well, in this case literally! (My little joke, no offence!)

Good, keep ’em coming!

Uncle Bogler

The lethal vacuity of the surrendered mind

Humorously (as I thought) defending irrationality, I wrote in another Post recently that “a belief in gods and divine agency helps to fill the gaps in our scientific understanding.” I’m sorry I wrote that. It isn’t true.

Unfortunately, the American ambassador to Libya has just been murdered by the credulous Benghazi mob*, incited to riot over a rumoured report of a slight to the Prophet, peace be upon him. The insult is allegedly contained in some obscure, independently made film, that the poor man would never even have heard of. But it was made in America, so someone’s husband and father had to pay with their life. That’s the Ambassador’s job, to represent his country.

Meanwhile, over in Pakistan, a family is cowering under police protection while villagers try to burn them alive, after their illiterate nine-year-old daughter was accused by a local Imam of setting fire to some pages from a schoolbook. These allegedly contained words about the Prophet, peace be also upon him, if upon no-one else.  The Imam was subsequently arrested and charged with planting false evidence, but the villagers are having none of it. Someone must pay for the insult!

Between 1480 and 1750, an estimated 40-60,000 people in Europe were executed for witchcraft. The crime of witchcraft was eventually abolished in England in 1735, where no witches had been executed since 1682. It is still a hanging matter today in Saudi Arabia. The key provision of the 1735 Witchcraft Act was that it now became a criminal offence to accuse someone of witchcraft, or indeed to claim that any human being had magical powers (that might, for instance, enable a man to fly up to Heaven off the roof of a church). The Enlightenment had arrived.

In 1612, Edward Wightman was the last person in England to be burned at the stake for religious heresy. His “crime” was to insist that the soul does not go to heaven, but dies with the body and is resurrected on the Day of Judgement. Almost exactly four hundred years later, Salmaan Taseer, a Pakistani state governor, made public statements defending a Christian woman under sentence of death for allegedly refusing to give a Muslim woman a drink of water on a Sunday, and was murdered by his own bodyguard, who is now (although himself under sentence of death) being hailed as a national religious hero.

The 1735 Witchcraft Act remained on the statute book for over 200 years, until in 1944 a spirit medium, Helen Duncan, became the last person to be convicted under it, after apparently predicting the sinking of a British warship, HMS Barham. The trial established that her prediction was so vague, it could not be attributed to any supernatural agency. She was however fined £10 for fraudulent mediumship, as when arrested on stage the “ectoplasm” her spirit had manifested was found to be nothing other than herself, dressed in a flimsy nightgown. An appropriate metaphor, in my view, for the entire bogus construction of religious thought and belief.

I am grateful to Wikipedia for much of the above. But it does not end there. From a BBC report of April 2002, into the alleged practice of “muti” by witch-doctors, we learn that: “Conservative estimates are that at least 300 people have been murdered for their body parts in the past decade in South Africa.” While in enlightened, modernising China, traditional belief in the restorative powers of body parts has brought several globally important species to the brink of extinction.

Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that even in the 21st century, the light of reason is anything more than a guttering candle flame. The fissures in the human brain run deep and dark. The lethal vacuity of the “surrendered” mind, the willingness of otherwise intelligent individuals to accede to the dangerous power of myth, to the ultimate abandonment of their humanity, are Mankind’s eternal shame.

* Later reports indicate that the assassination took place under cover of the mob riot but may have been the work of a pro-Islamist militia with links to al-Q’aeda, on the anniversary of 9/11.

The Olympics: what next?

The many denigrators of the O-word Games have been put to shame by the brilliant events taking place in the city of L. during the past five weeks of the year 20–. (Note: these terms were all copyrighted by the organisers!)

Looking back at my earlier bogls, I must admit I have to count myself chief among the disparagers, now thoroughly routed. I never thought my old school chum, Lord Coe would pull it off. The resounding achievements this past fortnight of little Lara-this and Kenny-that, whizzing about effortlessly in their molybdenum Sir James Savile memorial NHS wheelchairs, have dwarfed even the Herculean efforts of our so-called able-bodied Olympiads. Records have tumbled. Millions of spectators who once grimped and grimed at paying £1200 for a ticket to watch Burkina Faso lose to Lower Nepal at tag-team wrestling have gone away thrilling to the sheer brilliance of the organisation, the warm words and friendly chuckles of seventy-thousand dedicated volunteers ringing in their ears.

Now, sadly, it is all over for at least the next hundred years, and a sense of anticlimax is beginning once more to remind the nation of our ever-present economic woes. What can compare with the sheer genius of organisation, the good British spunk, the noisy and incomprehensible but somehow uplifting ceremonial, the vast haul of precious metals with which the nation’s coffers can be replenished, once they are exchanged for Prime Ministerial honours by the bucketload? As Old King Cole put it, “Knights and dames, you are the One!”

We need something quickly to replace the feelings of elation, to exploit the legacy, to ‘maintain the momentum’, and I have the perfect suggestion: the Dog Olympics.

With Crufts Show coming up, held appropriately at Olympia, the successful trials of British canines are the perfect antidote with which to lift a sports-hungry nation off their sofas. Are we not a nation of dog-lovers? Would British dogs not vastly outperform, say, Korean challengers, if any could be found? Wrestling Pit Bull terriers; little Yorkies and Scotties chasing rats down holes; Border collies shedding sheep; Lakelands and Bedlingtons frightening burglars; a parade of Dulux dogs all painted in pastel Bathroom shades, prancing Poodles in their topiary… what a spectacular and colourful show it would be, even before our plucky trained sniffer-dogs and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet greyhounds were put through their paces, nose-to-tail with their competitors: Mexican Chihuahuas and suchlike. And to follow, orienteering for guide dogs?

I can hear the happy woofing of the medalwinners, and the cheers of the London pack, already!

Little Hunzi guards the baton at the start of the 5-metres’ beach relay race.

London games

Hundsie and I press ourselves deferentially against the parapet of the footbridge and tug instinctively at our forelocks, as two gaily coloured demigods sweep past on expensive-looking racing bikes. But they are not newly ennobled knights of the realm as we suppose, merely an attractive couple in their early thirties. They are well-spoken, as are their wheels (a joke! So soon!), so one assumes they must not be from around here. Cyclists!

I blame Sir Chris Hoy and the other olympiads for this new cult of couples road-racing everywhere on our footpaths. They do it in our exurban space because it is easy: there are no hills, the valley bottom is completely flat. Your Uncle Bogler took up cycling after the Beijing games, but it was dark and raining, everywhere seemed to be uphill and my trouser bottoms kept getting caught between the chain and the sprocket thing, so that I was always falling off and turning up for meetings embarrassingly with my trousers tucked-in to my socks.

The point of it is surely not the healthy exercise, but the chance to dress shamelessly! You are there, in Summit Cycles or somewhere, driving the poor assistant back and forth to the stockroom. No, more purple! More orange! More fluorescent lime green! Half the fun must be rolling on, and then later peeling off, one another’s impossibly tight-fitting Lycra suits, like skin from sunburned shoulders. It’s not something I can imagine doing on one’s own.

Or, indeed, with anyone else.