Lockdown

Cat with bomb beltBrussels has been undergoing what the press are calling a “lockdown”. One of the terrorists from the Friday 13th Paris attack – the one who failed to blow himself up – comes from Brussels and had reportedly returned here. Possibly with a suicide belt of explosives still attached to his body. The city filled up with military, the metro and all tram routes that go underground were closed, public buildings where people congregate (schools, libraries, sports facilities) were shut.

Cat scouts on paradeSome workplaces allowed staff to work from home and the authorities encouraged Brussels residents to stay and not congregate in groups. In one announcement I saw and think I translated correctly Scouts were encouraged not to get together in groups of more than 100 individuals. (Why is 100 a critical mass of Scouts? Well, I suppose you have to set a limit somewhere, but, still, I’m puzzled.)

Magritte cat in bowler hatThe Belgian authorities also asked people not to share on social media information about the whereabouts of police and military as this might help terrorists. The response was phenomenal with Belgians and others sharing instead a deluge of cat and kitten pictures hashtagged #BrusselsLockdown. The idea (I think) is that any “serious” information with this hashtag would be drowned. Fair enough (and some of the photos and GIFs are very funny), but other hashtags (for example #Brussels) were carrying quite a lot of information undisturbed by cats. Still, if you’ve not seen them, do take a look. Search on Twitter, Facebook or Google for #BrusselsLockdown or “Brussels Lockdown cats meme”.

Brussels lockdown cats setThe object of the military and police hunt, Salah Abdeslam, still hasn’t been caught at the time of writing. I’m guessing he is being hunted not only by the military but also by his terrorist masters. Suicide bombers are supposed to commit suicide, not run away with a live bomb vest. A bunch of people said to be terrorists or terrorist sympathisers have been arrested in different Brussels districts. We are being told there was an attack planned that has been thwarted. Hopefully thwarted. Also that there is a further terrorist from Paris on the loose here. Maybe.

After a three days cooped up at home, yesterday morning I decided to take a walk through town just to see what I could see. Foolishly, I didn’t take my real camera, but relied on the “camera” built into my tablet. The light was poor and the wind was strong and that’s my excuse for the quality of the illustrations this week.

Cats at the windowBreakfast at a café at Ma Campagne on the Waterloo Road seemed a good place to start. Not busy, but not by any means empty. Hot chocolate was a good choice this morning as it was a nast chilly day. It wasn’t till I was leaving that I realised I was the only person sitting by the window. Everyone else (about 10 other customers) remembered and followed advice to stay away from the windows. I see no point in photographing meals, so no pictures of my steaming hot mug of chocolate. You’ll just have to imaging it.

Halle Port/Port de HalI walked down to Halle Port/Port de Hal – the only remaining Brussels city gate from when the old town was surrounded by its medieval wall. From here, I took photos more or less every 150 paces. (Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to all of them.)

Rubbish in the street waiting to be collectedBrussels was quiet this morning, not deserted, not by any means, but not its usual bustling self. In particular there were a lot of city workers out and about. I don’t mean “city types”, but men and women in heavy clothes and bright vests doing essential work like street sweeping and rubbish collection. The people of Brussels clearly expect their rubbish to be taken care of lockdown or no. There was every sign their faith was justified.

Wrapped Christmas treesThe city workers were also busy erecting Christmas trees.

I walked along the Rue de la Chapelle which is usually a pretty busy thoroughfare, but not so much yesterday morning. At Bozar (the Palaise des Beaux-art) – the art centre of Brussels – I crossed downhill and walked to the Central Station and then through the Agora market to the Grand-Place.

German news reporterThe Agora was the only place I saw any sign of the military – a couple of trucks and handful of soldiers and police. A German news reporter and his cameraman had also found them and were setting up a shot and recording a report.

Christmas tree in the Grand-PlaceThere were very few tourists, so the Grand-Place was spookily empty. At the same time it was busy with people putting up huts for the forthcoming Christmas market. The tree was already up and decorated.

Tourists and Christmas tree in Grand-PlaceOne group of Japanese or Korean tourists appeared while I was there and seemed very happy to have found the market and the tree. They gathered in an excited, laughing, v-signing group for photos and selfies. Generally, though it seemed as though tourists were staying away and many of the tourist shops and restaurants were closed. Those places that were open were rather empty.

Christmas lights in the galleryIn the galleries the Christmas lights were already up and the shop windows decorated, but customers were noticeably absent. The “lockdown” is hurting the tourist trade – if not already, then soon, the longer it drags on. In the meantime, it’s certainly easier to take yourself around the centre of Brussels now. Who knows – it might even mean you will experience quicker than usual service if you visit before the crowds come back. (A touch of sarcasm there. Anyone who has ever tried to order something in a Brussels pub or restaurant – or pay – will understand.)

DesoléAlthough public transport on the city was in operation above ground, not all the bus lines were running. On Saturday, the first day of the “lockdown”, signs at all the bus stops promised that all the bus lines were operating normally. They weren’t. But it’s a consolation that buses out of service are all Desolé about it. Desolé sounds so much more unhappy than Sorry, don’t you think?


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Most of the cat pictures circulating on Twitter and FB seem to have been ripped off from other sites. The cat in the bomb belt, and the mosaic of cats in “Moslem” garb, seem to come from all over the place, so I can’t credit their creators. The Cat Scouts though is a postcard by Swiss artist Eugene Hertung for the publisher Alfred Mainzer. The cat in a hat is by Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. [Edit Nov 28th – Sadly I now suspect the cat in the hat is inspired by but not actually by Magritte.] The cats at the window seems to be a genuine photo shared on Twitter by Matteo Albania @M_Albania, to whom all kudos.

Paris

Regardless of what I had thought to write this week, recent events prompt me to publish some photos instead. My wife and I visited Paris in May and though I’ve posted a few of these pictures earlier on Facebook and Ello, I hadn’t got Stops and Stories up to speed then, so they are new here.

From Place de la Concord to the Eiffel Tower

Paris is an iconic city, with iconic buildings. It’s hardly surprising it should be a target for people who have demonstrated a hatred of icons other than their own black flag and the book they interpret at will.

Blue light in Paris 2

Paris is a city of light and colour, of freedom and dreams. Those who attacked Paris last Friday hate the light. For them, colour is an enemy. Their flag is black. For them, freedom is enfeeblement. They cannot allow any dream but their own, and they dream of death.

Outside La Dauphine - a Paris bistro

Paris is a city filled with the vibrancy of people from different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs meeting in both love and debate (and the love of debate). Those who attacked Paris last Friday hate these things. They hate difference, discussion, debate.

Facade of the Arab World Institute

They probably hate the portrait of early Islam painted in the Arab World Institute. At least six of the people murdered on Friday were from the Moslem community of France (and by far the majority of all victims of this terrorism world-wide are Moslems).

Old and new at the Louvre

It’s only 70 years since another group of people threatened Paris. People who also worshipped the dark, who dressed in black, who dreamed of death. They planned to destroy the city, all its buildings, all its icons, all its art and, if necessary, all its people. They failed.

Notre Dame in evening light

Why are we afraid that a handful of fanatics might succeed where the German army of occupation, with all its resources, with all the will of Nazi ideology, yet failed? These recent events, terrible though they are to all caught up in them directly or indirectly, heartrending though we may find them, are insignificant in the stream of history. They make a little splash in the flowing waters of time, and then the waters close over them and flow on.

Pont Marie from Pont Louise-Phillipe in the dark

This morning on the radio I listened to an interview with Phillipe Sands and Niklas Frank. The one is not only a Professor of International law, he is also the grandchild of a Jewish family murdered in the holocaust in Poland. The other is the son of Hans Frank, the Nazi Governor-General of occupied Poland during World War II. The two have recently collaborated on a documentary What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy. Phillipe Sands made the point, how, 70 years down the line, who can say whether a child of Friday’s victims and a child of Friday’s murderers may not also sit with one another in friendship?

Pont Marie from Pont Louise-Phillipe in daylight

Now is a time to mourn, but not a time to despair. And, if you can, save some pity for the miserable men and women who committed this atrocity. What tortured, distorted, dull and infected minds they must have lived with to bring them to a situation where murdering their brothers and sisters seemed like a good idea.

Cain - How can I undo the damage I've done


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Antiques

We’re still in Brighton.

Walk down from the Brighton Clock Tower towards the sea and take the first left. You are on Duke Street and entering the older part of Brighton. Not quite the oldest part, that is in the Lanes, but this is the first extension of the old fishing village that developed in the late 1700s.

The 'Victory'Walk on down Duke Street, noticing there is still one second-hand bookshop left – there used to be at least four, but it’s somehow comforting to see that one has hung on. You can see the “Victory” pub on the corner of Middle Street.

Duke of Duke's LaneTurn right down Middle Street, ignore the entrance to Duke’s Lane. It’s just the same tourist trap it always used to be. (Though, if you like, take a photo of the figure of the Duke on the first floor balcony. Someone has a sense of humour.)

The HippodromeMiddle Street has a kink in it as you pass the back wall of the infant school’s playground. Observe how the old Hippodrome is boarded up now and looks in need of serious redevelopment. Once an entertainment Mecca, now it’s just a waste of space. It probably has a preservation order on it but no one with the money who’s prepared to try a restoration. (Mind you, forty years ago it was still only a ghost of its former self. Bingo once weekly is all I remember.)

Friese-Greene's plaqueHere on the right is the narrow terraced house with the plaque to William Friese-Greene “the inventor of cinematography”. (The plaque lies.) Opposite is, now, the Coach House Restaurant. If they are open, go in and have a cup of coffee. If you can, sit in the front room, on the street, looking out onto Middle Street with Friese-Greene’s plaque in front of you and you’ll be in roughly the same place I occupied for a year during working hours between the summers of 1975 and 1976. If there’s no business in the restaurant (as there wasn’t the day I visited) you can engage the bored but patient young man who serves you with a story about what used to go on here, once upon a time.

The antique shop that wasWhen I left school and before I went off to university I took a year out. Nowadays I’m told this is standard practice and young people taking their gap year travel around the world, go on extreme journeys, get drunk (or high, or laid… or all three) in every continent they can and generally get all the adventurousness out of their systems before settling down to three, four or more years of serious academic study. At the tail end of the 70s it was more unusual, but I did know people who went to work on a kibbutz or spent a year teaching for Voluntary Service Overseas. Two years after me, my sister did voluntary work in Belfast with an organisation trying to bridge the gap between the warring communities there.

What I did was get a job.

It wasn’t entirely my own doing. My mother’s former boss, Mr Oliver, dabbled in antiques. Especially, he bought and occasionally sold antique clocks, and he’d previously given me a commission to research and write up an essay about the earliest clockmakers in Britain. Now he recommended me to one of his suppliers. Which was how I ended up working in an antiques shop on Middle Street.

The antique shop that was 2Capewell Antiques was owned and operated by an unlikely business partnership. One partner was Nicholas Mann who specialised in grandfather clocks, Properly called longcase clocks, they are floor-standing clocks operated by weights and a pendulum. It was Nick who was Mr Oliver’s supplier. Nick was a stocky, cheerful, curly-haired man. He had an easy smile and calculating eyes. I guess now he was in his early thirties, though I’ve always been a poor judge of age.

Nick lived in Wales where he had storage and a workshop, and drove around the country buying longcase clocks and taking them home to fix up. He dealt in other clocks and some pieces of furniture as well, but longcase clocks were his main interest. Every so often he would load up a van in Wales and drive all the way down to Brighton with new stock. Brighton was a magnet for European and American dealers and collectors.

There were usually about 30 of Nick’s clocks in the shop at any one time and one of my jobs every morning was to do the rounds, winding them up and setting them working. Usually I then went around and stopped them all, because – take it from me – 30 longcase clocks all chiming at more or less the same time on the hour every hour (not to mention the ones that also chimed on the quarters) is enough to drive you insane.

The other partner was the eponymous Phillip Capewell.

I don’t know for sure how he came into possession of the shop that had his name on it. I can’t believe it was by his own efforts. I’ve a vague memory of someone telling me his mother bought it for him. Or perhaps he’d once been more successful. By the time I came on the scene though, he was certainly not doing enough business on his own to keep the shop stocked and open. We always carried more of Nick’s stock than Phil’s. Phil needed his partner.

I think Phil must have been about the same age as Nick and like Nick, he was short and stocky, but where you could sense Nick was muscled under his skin, Phil was just dough all the way to the bone. He had a round puffy face with small blue eyes and straight blond hair. His small, pudgy hands were adorned with antique gold rings. He always wore at least two and one was a seal ring, a ring inset with a red intaglio that would once have been pressed into hot wax to create a raised image.

I’d never before ‒ and never since ‒ come across anyone with Phil’s body language. He used gestures almost as if he’d learned them consciously, but then in the middle of use he would seem to get tired of them and abruptly do something unexpected. For example, he would sometimes hold his chin in one hand in an attitude of thought, but then he would suddenly and quite savagely use his fingers to pinch the corners of his mouth together so his lips pursed out. Other times he would hold the palm of his hand against his cheek, again as if thinking, then sharply wipe the hand down and flick the fingers off his chin. Sometimes he would rub his hands together as if in glee, but I never got the impression he was doing it because he actually felt pleasure, it always seemed as if he was putting it on.

I thought of Phil as, basically, a knocker boy with pretensions. He certainly had the gift of the gab. I never saw him actually knocking on the door to talk people into selling him things. By this stage in his life he was buying from the real knocker boys. But he always had a story about anything he was trying to sell – usually a story about the previous owner. “He was a colonel in the Royal Sussex,” he’d say (though I knew the object was something he’d picked up in a flea market a week before). Sometimes he liked to present himself as a go-between. He was selling for the owner: “She’s a lovely old lady who’s fallen on hard times, poor soul.”

His story-telling overflowed into the rest of his life too. Whatever happened to him got inflated into a story, and he was the hero who came out on top. After I’d worked in the shop a few weeks and witnessed some of the incidents that Phil then turned into stories, I got to the point of taking anything that he said had happened to him with a very large pinch of salt.

If Phil had been the only person putting goods into the shop it would not only have been rather bare, it would also not have been an antiques shop, except maybe six or eight weeks out of the year. Most of the stuff he had on sale was better described as second-hand or, if I’m being generous, “vintage”. According to some of his friends, who dropped into the shop looking for Phil but stayed to chat with me if he wasn’t there, any really valuable pieces he bought he’d store in his flat rather than bring to the shop. I suspect he wasn’t getting them quite legally.

Phil didn’t come from Brighton. I’m fairly sure he came from the West Midlands, but he worked on trying to get people to think he came from London, preferably the East End. He couldn’t do the accent, but he loved trying out rhyming slang and new expressions. Especially, he loved to use slang expressions to talk about the value of things that he bought and sold, and the money that he made.

Except he didn’t talk about money, he talked about dosh. Most of his dosh he kept in readies, in rolls of notes in his pocket.
“It cost me a monkey,” he’d say, “but it’s worth a grubby hand.” (Meaning he paid £500 for something he thought he could sell for £1000.)
“I can get a grand for that but I only paid a string of ponies.” (£1000 but he only paid £250 – which is 10 ponies, 10 times £25.)
“He said it was worth a long ’un but it wasn’t even nifty.” (Worth £100 but not worth £50.)

It was from Phil I learned that there are only five types of wood.
“There’s oak, oak is good. There’s beech, beech is good too, but not as good as oak. There’s pine, pine is crap. And there’s mahogany, mahogany’s good.” Anything else was “fruit wood”.

I got more nuanced information from Nick when he was in the shop.
“This is sycamore, American. Not maple, it’s too light. Lovely wood. Look how dense the grain is. See these flecks? Sort of freckles? That’s typical sycamore.”
Then I would tease Phil by asking him “What wood is this?”
“Beech,” he’d say.
“Nick says it’s sycamore.”
And he’d wipe his hand down his cheek and flick his fingers and say, “Could be,” and change the subject or tell me to make him some tea.

I wonder where they are now, forty years on. I can’t see Nick as a pensioner. I imagine him still buying and selling his clocks. Whenever I catch an episode of one of those British reality TV shows about antiques, I half expect Nick to turn up as a dealer or even – why not – an expert. But Phil I can easily picture on a golf course somewhere in Spain, betting on the next putt. I wonder if he’s still using the same half-cockney slang for money or if he’s picked up some new words. Does he call a euro a “eurinal”?

I fear it’s likely.

Coda
I had written the above when I decided to go on line and see if I could track down Nick Mann or Phil Capewell, just to see if they’re still around and what became of them. I couldn’t find Nick. There are a surprisingly large number of people called Nicholas Mann, which is odd as it’s a schoolyard joke ‒ “Nicholas Mann’s a nickerless man!” You’d think parents would be more careful about the names they give their kids. However, Phillip Capewell was a different story.

Phil Capewell may or may not be playing golf in Spanish retirement just now, but in 2008 he was sent to prison for 5 years for receiving stolen antiques, at least according to this blog article that reproduces a report from the Brighton Argus. That photo, there at the top ‒ a Sussex police mugshot ‒ that’s definitely Phil. A receiver of stolen goods and the beneficiary of violent crime. Although I can remember Phill passing at least one unsavoury comment about sex, I don’t know how much credence to give to the accusations of paedophilia in the follow-up information below the news report. Still, what a pitiful excuse for a life.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

In the Soundcloud audio recording, the background sounds at the beginning and very end are ambient sounds of Duke Street and Middle Street that I recorded during my visit there in October 2015.

The West Pier across shingle

West Pier across shingle

What is left of the West Pier across shingle.

The Channel's leaden line

The Channel’s leaden line.

The West Pier with lense flare

The West Pier with lens flare.

Three photos I didn’t manage to include in last week’s post from Brighton. I’m on holiday once again – a new blog entry will follow just as soon as I have the time to write it!

For some truely spectacular photographs from Brighton and Sussex that are far superior to my efforts, follow this link to Brighton Photography.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.