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A place in the sun

The idea that I might seriously kill myself occurred to me briefly this afternoon.

I have perked up a little since. But I’ll come back to that later (all my Posts are going to have to do double-duty from now until 27th February, the 4th anniversary of this, muh bogl, when I plan to post my 500th Post.)

Metrojet flight 9268, a knackered-looking old Airbus A321 with a bad safety record, flown by a budget Russian airline, disappeared off the Egyptian air traffic control radar on Tuesday, 21 minutes after taking off from the international winter sunspot tourism magnet of Sharm-el-Sheik. Not long afterwards, Egyptian forces found a plume of wreckage in the Sinai desert. Two hundred and twenty-four people, mostly tourists from St Petersburg, four Ukrainians and seven aircrew, were all dead.

So-called Islamic State in Sinai claimed responsibility for shooting the aircraft down. The claim was immediately dismissed by everyone as improbable: IS in Sinai doesn’t have the same Russian-made BUK missile system as the Ukrainian rebels who took out Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 with 270 casualties over the war zone in Ukraine in March, probably recklessly. The BUK can hit a target at 31,000 feet. A battered Kalashnikov can’t. But a revenge attack by Holland, who lost 157 citizens in MH17, seems fanciful. And no-one has fingered Ukraine for the crime.

Things then became chaotic, especially on the diplomatic front. Egypt’s current military dictator, an ugly dwarf called Mohammed al-Sisi, was even then in the air, bound for a prestige-boosting summit in London with strangely shiny-pink PM, Dave Cameron. Britain was getting ready to shove its aristocratic nose up the Egyptian arse (how times have changed) for some lucrative defence contracts, when the COBRA emergency committee put out an all-points bulletin: no flying in or out of Sharm-el-Sheik for British airlines.

The order left al-Sisi in a state of complete embarrassment and twenty thousand returning British tourists stranded in the desert.  Why? ‘Security, old boy. Not a word to the wise. Another snifter? Don’t mind if I do.’

The obvious conclusion was that IS proxies had planted a bomb on the plane. Not difficult, as everyone has complained that security at Sharm is – well, dodgy. Especially in the freight compartment. But a security review was carried out last year….The logical motive in selecting a Russian airliner was to attack Russia for its robust recent intervention in the Syrian civil war. The Egyptians have protested: it’s too early to say it was a bomb, beside we pride ourselves on our sloppy security. The Russians have protested: it’s too early to say it was IS, so let’s keep bombing them in Syria. Britain’s response, if there was no immediate threat to blow up a British plane at that same specific airport, seems unusual to say the least.

Now, even knackered 20-year-old Airbuses don’t just disintegrate in mid-air. They’re not Russian Antonovs or Illyushins, both of which take a lot of punishment before their vodka-soaked, ex-military pilots fly them into the ground.  But, like most civil airliners, they are designed not to explode of their own free will. The idea that pilot or crew error might have caused the Airbus to breakup is patently ludicrous. Even if they were drunk, were performing aerobatics or had invited their children into the cockpit to fly the plane to its doom, mid-air disintegration is the least likely result. The weather conditions were perfect.

The Russians immediately issued a statement denying it was a bomb, or an IS missile. They clearly don’t want this associated with Syria, spreading alarm on the home front. But even if it had been, why would the British government issue a flight ban at the highest level? Britain is not active in Syria. Two days before the disaster, a Parliamentary committee had advised the government not to bother seeking an unobtainable vote in the Commons to legitimise airstrikes against IS in Syria. There was simply no motive for IS to attack a UK tourist flight, beyond the general one of hitting the West where it hurts.

Today, however, ministers are calling for a new vote in parliament to sanction the use of RAF strikes on IS in Syria. So now we have a pretext: ‘communications intercepts’ – GCHQ – over the past few days, described as general ‘chatter’, have pointed the finger at a terrorist bomb plot. Words such as ‘probably’ have been flying out of Downing St. How convenient, too, that only days earlier, Parliament was being asked to approve a new bill allowing far greater communications surveillance than ever before, with search engines being forced to store every search term recorded and make it available to the security services. The destruction of flight 9268 has been a godsend for the government.

The logic frankly escapes me. There’ve been no bombs on US civil airliners, or French, or Australian airliners, as a result of them bombing IS from the air for over a year now. Why suddenly a Russian airliner? Isn’t this more likely to be Chechen separatists? And with all those forces flying missions against IS in Syria, why crowd the skies with British planes as well? Any fule kno, you can’t just bomb IS out of existence. The presence of yet another interloper in Syrian airspace only increases the risk of an incident leading to a wider conflict, or a revenge attack on Britain.

British foreign policy is not making sense right now. It is making the security threat worse, not better.

Other national governments have not issued a similar ban, not even the Russians, and the Egyptians are seething. British tourists make up a substantial proportion of the annual Sharm crowd. Without them, the Egypian economy is substantially fucked.

Charitably, we can imagine that after the random gunman operation last summer on the beach at Sirte in Tunisia, that left 30 British tourists dead out of 38 casualties, HMG is pretty sensitive to attacks on British tourists. But is this one?

The next question is: how long does it take to detect traces of explosives on wreckage?

The Russian response to British security concerns has been to argue that it will take ‘months’ to determine what brought down Metrojet flight 9268. Yet scorch marks and semtex or amytol residue on wreckage and corpses are virtually instantaneously detected and must be pretty obvious initial clues to an explosive event that massively depressurised the plane and caused it to break up, even if the fine details are not yet apparent.

The Kremlin is having to cover-up once more, the real issue underlying these parallel disasters; which is that civilians from neutral countries in the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts have again been in the wrong place at the wrong time: ‘collateral damage’ in a wider proxy war between Russia and Iran on one side, Saudi Arabia and NATO on the other. The truth about 9268 will probably never emerge: whatever the reason for the destruction of the aircraft, it is inconvenient to all sides in this worryingly multilateral conflict, but can be spun to provide any further casus belli any of the parties needs, to further their domestic political ends.

There is always a haunting after-image; in this case, it is that of 10-month-old Darina Gromova being carried aboard the doomed plane by her smiling father. Now the residents of St Petersburg know what it is like to have one’s loved ones blown out of the sky in an instant, one hopes ordinary Russians will have a more humanitarian response to the friends and families who died aboard the Malaysian airliner as a result of Russian military intervention in the political schism in Ukraine, and not merely swallow the tropes of sentimental xenophobic nationalism being pumped out by the State-controlled media.

That should go for us too.


An unwanted anniversary

Yes, the idea that I should kill myself occurred to me belatedly this afternoon.

Yet another apparently very keen prospective purchaser of my house has gone straight off after visiting me and my generous tea cupboard, to look at another house in another part of town, and regrettably decided on the spot that they just had to buy it and not mine.

That elusive prospective purchaser who exactly fit my ideal buyer: single woman, retired professional (ex-BBC), late fifties, sixtyish maybe. Slight hearing loss (for the road) and no car (ditto). Has sold her more expensive house in overpriced England, now looking to downsize to a cosy cottage in an agreeable seaside town to be nearer her seventeen children and grandchildren.

She arrived with her very attractive 40-something daughter, who turned out to live just along the road from me. I’d pursue that lead as a consolation, but my urologist Mr A. has given me a stark choice: piss or fuck. Take the pills and piss normally, but you’ll be Mr Floppy – or, keep struggling to piss all night and smell of stale urine all day. (The alternative is surgery and probably spend the rest of my life dribbling in a bag.)

Not a great prospect for an attractive, dark-eyed younger woman with the most perfect full-cream-milk cleavage I’ve ever yearned to lay my head in.

So, they told the agent how much they loved my little house, thanked me for my hospitality (and the two days I’d put in cleaning and dusting and vacuuming, thanks), but they just had to buy this other house instead, in another part of town. I can’t imagine.

They were only the fourth people to even look at my little house in the past ten months. For fifteen months before that, no-one came to look at all. I blame the road with its speeding drivers and thundering 32-tonne Cathedral City cheese lorries. Who would want to live alongside one of these? Why did I?

This month is the third anniversary of my house going on the market, as they say.

Three years without a sale.

You’d kill yourself too.


Sumer is a-cumin in

The date is 6th November. Early winter. I observe the following phenomena:

  • New strawberry fruits appearing on my otherwise half-dead strawberry plants.
  • My rose bush, in bud for the third time this year, although it has dropped all its leaves.
  • Greenfly breeding on the rose buds.
  • Six or seven bluebottles buzzing angrily round the sitting room.
  • Butterflies grazing on the sedum flowers; lots of other wildflowers still in flower.

All very unsettling. And the second warmest November day in history, after 1st November 2015, was in 1946. And we all remember what happened then.

Luckily, I have bought a fur hat from a Canadian fur hat company, ‘Made in Turkey’. My head is sweaty and itching now, but just you wait until Boxing Day.

And I’ve been listening to that little voice in my head that’s been saying: ‘Stock that cupboard you normally use for growing masses of spectral potato shoots with fishpaste jars and tomato soup cans,just in case.’

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