Monday, May 09, 2016

All those Afghan interpreters, Britain's crucial unarmed forces, merit grateful refuge not dismissive neglect

A young girl brings a letter home from school from her parents. So far, so everyday, anywhere.
Except it’s from the Taliban, vowing execution for her ‘infidel’ father.
His crime? Risking his life – and those of his family and friends – for British forces. Only to find that ‘help for heroes’ only apparently goes so far.
Whether morally – after putting themselves in danger not only as targets but ‘traitors’ – or merely pragmatically – why should any conflict-zone local help help-denying Britain in future? – the Afghan interpreters’ case (raised way back when by Metro) should seem open-and-shut.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

One year on from Nepal quake, the child victims sold as sex slaves - and the thousands still waiting for help

Girls as young as three are being sold by their families into the sex trade for less than £400 after Nepal’s ‘forgotten’ earthquake a year ago this Monday.
The number of children and young people at risk of abuse and slavery is surging amid chaos and desperation caused by the 7.8-magnitude disaster that killed almost 9,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
As many as 20,000 children are feared to have been trafficked since the quake last April 25, dismayed campaigners have told Metro - and they accuse senior politicians and police of being in league with child-abusers and people-smugglers.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Syria crisis, five years on - a nation set back decades

‘If you dare give those to Bashar al-Assad, I swear I’ll find you and beat you up.’
Back then the threat seemed jarringly unlikely and would have been laughable had the situation not been so bleak - in retrospect it reflects somehow a relatively simpler time.
The words were not growled by an AK47-toting militant nor patrolling soldier but a knee-high four-year-old anxious not to be caught in an aid worker’s photos beside Lebanon’s Syrian border.
Fear and even desperate aggression from a child were expressed in the context of bogeyman Bashar al-Assad, the man behind an onslaught by rockets, barrel bombs, chemical weapons and shoot-to-kill street thugs.
Since that encounter in Akkar in September 2013, Syrians’ plight has been exacerbated still further - and more convolutedly - by bloodthirsty emergency and surge of Daesh, Russian air-strikes and chaotic ‘peace talks’.
And still the Arab Spring revolt that became a government crackdown that became a gruelling civil war that become a global crisis displays few signs of hope or progress, only the promise of decades more misery...

"These memories keep coming back - and I'm glad they do": Michael Sheen on Syria's lost generation

They could be kids running carefree in Port Talbot or on the streets of London - or even the teenage offspring of Hollywood stars.
Instead, they are the civil war-scarred, homeless, helpless and forced-old-before-their-time children cast adrift by five years and counting of carnage in Syria and spreading beyond.
Children as young as seven are being forced by armed groups to fight in Syria’s civil war which reaches its five-year anniversary on Tuesday, a Unicef study has found.
And as many as 8.4million children are now thought to have been harmed by the civil war which began in March 2011 with Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Among those confronted by such enveloping despair - and the odd glimmer of hope - has been The Damned United, Frost/Nixon, The Queen and The Passion actor Michael Sheen, also a Unicef UK ambassador who spent last week in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mercy mission: the expats, holidaymakers and actors fishing refugees from the sea

Distraught and bedraggled families are being fished from the Aegean Sea by holidaymakers, retired expats and star actors - while officials look on.
Men Behaving Badly’s Neil Morrissey and The Full Monty’s Hugo Speer have told Metro of their experiences helping desperate refugees arriving off the Greek island of Lesbos.
They found despair among the hundreds fleeing civil war, poverty and persecution back home, defiance from local volunteers - yet some impotence from authorities meant to help and protect.
Razor-wire-surrounded reception centres are often the refugees’ first official sights on European Union land - ‘more like prison camps’, Speer said.
And official agencies have to hang back unless a boat is actually sinking, for fear of being accused of people-smuggling themselves for helping people across international borders.
Other volunteers have felt less constrained, with Morrissey telling: ‘You feel you have to do whatever you can to help - you can’t just stand by and watch.’

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

"Love These Goon Shows!"

‘Take it away, wanna hear you play ‘til the lights go down...’

Ah, RIP Sir George Martin. 

In an uncharacteristic blip of a Queen’s English slip, the Holloway-born, Bromley-schooled producer said in advance of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: ‘It’s going to be a stonching [sic] record.’
They all were. He did so much to make them so.
The Beatles provided the tunes - whatever David Cameron might have, inevitably clunkily, claimed - and the genius flights of fancy, but their producer was necessary to give them studio reality.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

No hope for migrants 'left to rot in new Jungle'

Some bunch around flickering fires amid freezing chill winds, others bunch up trying to protect their shivering babies under flimsy canvas sheets.
What some deem a ‘swarm’ of migrants must now trudge through swamps of mud at a refugee wasteland near Dunkirk dubbed the new ‘Jungle’, after the Calais camp now turning many away.
Parents of young children stuck at Grande-Synthe in northern France told Metro of their desperation to escape - and fears for survival.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"Oh, look out - you rock'n'rollers..."

A pleasure and a privilege as ever to chat to 77-year-old bass maestro Herbie Flowers, who played not only on Bowie’s breakthrough Space Oddity single and album in 1969, but also the Diamond Dogs LP and tour of 1974. Oh, and he also played on the sessions for Lou Reed’s classic Transformer LP of 1972, produced by Bowie - but with Flowers coming up with the defining bass riff to 'Can I Kick It?', sorry, 'Walk On The Wild Side'.

Ah, anyway - felt it best to simply transcribe the insights from the man himself Musician, 77, from Ditchling in East Sussex tells his Bowie tale - ah, a different floral tribute...

"We go way back - even before Space Oddity, to the first BBC sessions which were quite remarkable. I don’t know if records of those could be purchased?

I think he was a total genius and the world will miss him. To me, he’s up there with Shakespeare. Everything David did, he did himself - and everything about his career was what he wanted to do.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015, love...

Damon Albarn and Imelda Staunton may be among the big names on the New Year's honours list, but they'll be doubtless feel even more delighted to feature in this personal rundown of five favourite LPs on 2015 - right...? Oh. Ah, anyway, some lukewarm takes here for scant reason whatsoever...
(Why, see what a similar judgment 12 months ago did for Music Go Music's career: Hm.)

5) Wilco, Star Wars. What, there was another big release this year called Star Wars? Ah, Jeff Tweedy's same-named, under-rated LP puts in a deft stormtrooper stomp...

4) London's Savoy Theatre cast, Gypsy. Imelda Staunton a tour de force monster but rosy laurels too to Lara Pulver and, almost as impressive, an unannoying kid chorus...
(This song was also performed, rather more forlornly, by a Labour leader just after losing a general election he expected to win. That is, on Spitting Image in 1992.)

3) Little Mix, Get Weird. Toppermost of the poppermost, eg. their Ronettes rip-off second single plus a, er, skittish take on a stubbornly long-standing Fifa sponsor - oh... 

2) Blur, The Magic Whip. Party like it's 99 - or, er, "Cry my eyes out, hold close to me". Fun enough upbeat stuff - but far finer sad, woozy, unsettling and/or unsettled ballads...
Hyde Park-life also reviewed here:

1) Father John Misty, I Love You Honeybear. "Oh, and no one ever really knows you and life is brief - so I've heard, but what's that got to do with this black hole in me?" An ex-Fleet Fox, from ethereal whimsy to unholy wit...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Please save little Malak" - mother's plea as four-year-old Syrian refugee faces dying from blood disorder

(Also earlier wrote about her here:

A Syrian refugee girl faces dying of a rare blood disorder in a Lebanese shack after being denied European medical aid - just one among thousands feared at severe risk this winter.
Four-year-old Malak, left desperately weakened by her condition, is just about surviving in a makeshift tent after crossing the border from civil war-torn Homs.
The medication she needs - exjade deferasirox - would cost the NHS upwards of £69 per week but her mother Yasmine has been ordered to hand over $1,200 (£800) by her only local suppliers.
Malak’s cause has now been backed by Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron, who is also pressurising the government to improve their direct help for Syrian refugees in dire need.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Welcome is turning cold: Syrian refugees faces a new crackdown from military ... as temperatures plunge

If life in Lebanon were not tough enough for the 1million-plus Syrian refugees escaping carnage back home, beleaguered officials and suspicious military are now threatening a sterner crackdown.
The influx of refugees into 4million-population Lebanon would be the equivalent of Britain taking in at least 25million newcomers.
Yet while aid workers have sympathy for the burden imposed on Syria’s neighbours, they are also increasingly concerned lives are being put in extra danger by new moves to deter any more arrivals.

The children of war need more help

Some still somehow dream of returning home to Syria, others are resigned to staying as safe as possible for good across the border, while a few do eye making it to Europe - for much-needed medical help at least.
But Syrian refugees continuing to flood into neighbouring Lebanon appear united on one thing: a desperation for the world not to look away, and instead continue putting pressure on both Bashar al-Assad and Daesh - and also keep providing aid.
Britain may have been convulsed lately in disputes over whether to extend military air-strikes against Daesh from Iraq into Syria as well.
But the UK is also among the most generous donors to the international aid effort, both in funding from the government and donations to charities such as Save The Children.
International development secretary Justine Greening told Metro that much more needs to be done better by others - with the plight of people in Syria and surrounding nations showing both the value and necessity of foreign aid.

I found out husband was dead from TV

Mother-of-three Nermine learnt from a TV bulletin her husband had been executed after being caught trying to escape Syria. 
She spent three months being tortured in prison on trumped-up charges. 
And she trekked 30km across mountain ranges, along with her three young daughters, to finally escape into Lebanon.
But she says her more sorrowful suffering came when she emerged from the main prison in Syrian capital Damascus for an emotional reunion with her children - only to find they did not recognise her, before scrutinising how she could have 'abandoned' them.

I still bear scars of shell ... I can never go back home

The dramatic dent sheared into ex-soldier Khaled’s forehead will likely be a permanent reminder of the rocket attack on his Homs home that left him in a coma for a month.
So are the three shards of shrapnel left lodged in his body, as well as the screaming fits that still afflict him even as he has taken refuge in neighbouring Lebanon.
The 24-year-old made it across the border being carried over their heads by friends wading through the chest-height waters of the connecting Nahr al-Kebir river.
He has since been joined, crammed into a basic shack, by his sister Amneh, 22, and her five children - Mohomad, eight, seven-year-old Ahmad, Yamama, four, two-year-old Soud and Abdelhodi, three months.
Khaled’s injuries came when his Homs home was shelled by the Syrian regime, leaving him unconscious and then in a coma for the following month.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

You had me at مع السلامة

Malak is aged four. She and her younger brother Rakan and their mother Yasmine live in a tent in Akkar, just across the Lebanese-Syrian border, having escaped after being bombed out of their home in the Homs district of Baba Amar.

Malak has been diagnosed with thalassemia, a rare blood disorder somehow like a super-anaemia. Bloody hell, eh. Frequent blood transplants needed. Any blood transplants, unavailable. Regular treatment, now running into thousands of unavailable dollars. UNHCR guidance? Others need help better. Oh, okay. Oh.

Every tale's a tragedy, of course. Every journalist ought to remain impassive, bigger picture and everything. This was the second time back in very similar circumstances, back in Lebanon towards Syria, albeit with Assad now exacerbated. And yet, and yet... Everything's dispiriting. Individual things even somehow even more so.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

"Gonna lay down my sword and shield..."

British air strikes on Syria could leave innocent civilians’ lives endangered.
A lack of British air strikes on Syria could leave innocent civilians’ lives endangered.
Either way, whatever our MPs vote on Wednesday evening - and it now looks even more of a foregone conclusion, hence the fact the debate is even happening - there is no idealistic, winner-takes-all option.
As was put, not simply by the headline on this visit to Syrian refugee camps two long years ago, but people much more engaged there at the time and right now even more emphatically: there seem no answers, simply questions.
And more and more questions, all the time, as it has since turned out - with the bombardment of his own people by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad not replaced but critically complemented by the terror-fying rise of Islamic State.

Monday, November 16, 2015

‘Allez les bleus, allez les bleus - allez, allez, allez les bleus...’

‘Allez les bleus, allez les bleus - allez, allez, allez les bleus...’

The dusty streets of Saint-Denis, let alone the cram-packed market square town centre, were a swirling mass of chaos - football fans in their multitudes taken aback by what they had just witnessed.
Though this at least was not the horrified, terrified shock of last Friday, but the frenetic, ecstatic surprise of a Sunday way back when in July 1998.
On both occasions France’s footballers had just beaten the reigning World Cup holders to nil - last week, Germany; last century, Brazil.
But the experience and aftermath could hardly be more divergent - to put it mildly, of course.
Fond memories still linger of not only being among the throng, close to the Stade de France but missing tickets, making gladly do with watching that first French World Cup triumph on an outdoors big screen instead.
The preceding six weeks had tempted many English fans - always among the biggest contingents at a foreign tournament anyway - that short distance across the Channel.
As will next summer’s European Championship in France, with the Welsh and Northern Irish among those guaranteed to come along as well.
That then-newly-built Stade de France had not only stolen the thunder of Paris’s existing Parc des Princes but also attracted the world’s attention to a previously-neglected district to the north of the capital.
And yet Saint-Denis proved not only impressive as a synonym for that gleaming new edifice, but also welcoming in its slightly-down-at-heel enthusiasm - imagine, say, an England-hosted World Cup staging its final in Tottenham. 
Or, well, indeed Wembley...
The following day’s open-top bus parade along the crowd-crammed Champs d’Elysees bristled with not only triumph but wonder, the previous evening’s surprise trouncing of Brazil only adding to the sheer success of hosting for a second time, winning for a first.
Even more admirable, it seemed, was the mixed ethnic identity of a side earlier denounced by far-right mixer Jean-Claude Le Pen - part-Algerian Zinedine Zidane with his two goals in the final, Guadeloupe-born Lilian Thuram with his brace in the semi-final, among many attesting to a happy diversity.
Of course, such golden moments seldom - no, never - last nor remain untainted.
Within three years a fractious France-Algeria ‘friendly’ had to be abandoned following a pitch invasion by ‘away’ fans who had already booed La Marseillaise.
Le Pen defeated Socialist challenger Lionel Jospin to force his way into a too-tight presidential election run-off against Jacques Chirac in 2002.
And his daughter Marine has not only been surging in recent opinion polls compared to the already-beleaguered Hollande, but may well depressingly reap further benefits from an anti-immigrant backlash now.
Oh, and the reigning European and world champions France crashed out in the first round of the 2002 World Cup, failing even to score a goal while star striker Thierry Henry departed in further disgrace, red-carded.
More momentously, riots broke out in northern Parisian districts in November 2005 following the electrocution of two youths pursued by police - while Thuram has been among those condemning his nation’s residual racism.
This year - first the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in January, now the even more gruesome, unbearable atrocities across the same city. 
No wonder the Western world has responded in stricken sympathy. That Tuesday night’s England-France friendly has not only been made to go ahead, albeit with extra armed police patrols aimed at easing - while perhaps also adding to - existing tensions.
All together now: #rechercheParis, #JeSuisParis. All can and will and should mourn and support ... albeit, perhaps, up to a point, and with a feeling of reserve that the non-bereaved might best avoid narcissistic bewailing?
Hollande, captured on camera looking predictably stricken on Friday night, appears to have responded stolidly since - despite subsequent revelations about his security services’ hapless failings.
And the decision to wallop IS capabilities in Syria on Sunday evening - 20 rockets pounding down on Sunday night, albeit meagre against the 100 each day during Iraq’s ‘shock and awe’ - only puts paid even further to all those old ‘cheese-eating surrender monkey’ taunts.
What happens next - or ought to happen next - is, for all the frothing punditry, pretty much anyone’s guess. 
The one and only easy answer may well be that there is no one and only easy answer. If any answers at all.
French insistence their latest raids are precision-targeting only IS stockpiles, arms routes and HQs are to be welcomed - with instinctive misgivings, mind, about civilians being killed as well, even if IS capital Raqqa has been well and truly ransacked already.
The attacks do, however, pose questions of why - if such capabilities were known - they have stayed unhit during previous months, even if the recaptures of key areas such as Sinjar this weekend suggest IS is actually on the defensive as well as sporadic attack.
What little the rest of us without key codes or influence can do is only too limited, whatever our many opinion-forming. 
So: emotions, instead.
Symbolism, solace and whatever might be the French for solidarity can be emotionally important and useful.
Sport, after all, can fire the emotions, soothe the spirits - proving its importance precisely in its relative lack of importance.
And yet, for all the well-wishing of Tuesday’s night’s minute’s silence and unison rendition of La Marseillaise, such fair-enough stuff can only go so far, do so much - despite some papers’ claims that shading your Facebook picture with the tricolore colours would ‘help’.
Ah, if only it were as easy as to intone pretty sentiments, words, tunes - as some Place De La Republique songstrels chorused, ‘Take a sad song and make it better’, or 'Imagine', or else another Beatley track and one not only 'One World' but with a French connection: ‘All you need is love...’
Bleak as it may be, the lyrics that come to mind here are more Nick Lowe’s: ‘As I walk this wicked world, searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I ask myself: is all hope lost, is there only pain and hatred and misery...?’
From a song, that is, plaintively titled ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?’
If only, as a terror-laden 2015 approaches its end, with the promise/threat ahead of another bleak midwinter and beyond.

All together now: 'Never felt more like singing the blues...'

Monday, November 09, 2015

Scrapping the Human Rights Act low priority for Brits, poll shows - while Peep Show's Alan Johnson agrees

Brits have little appetite to scrap the Human Rights Act, new figures suggest - as celebrity campaigners rallied to save the legislation.
Eight out of ten people approve of equality for all, according to a new poll, when asked about government plans to repeal the law.
David Cameron’s desire to abandon the act enshrined in British law since 2000 is only a top priority for three per cent of the public, a new ComRes poll found.
A government consultation on replacing the act is about to begin.
But now TV stars including Game Of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin, Doctor Who and Broadchurch’s Arthur Darvill and Peep Show’s Paterson Joseph are backing an Amnesty International campaign to keep it.