Dying To Get To You


3.10 am in the morning. An ungodly hour, and believe me I wouldn’t be here unless I had to. But there’s an early plane to catch to get to Munich for a business meeting and that means a two hour drive to the airport.

The car heater stretches itself into life and I begin to feel its warmth whispering about me as I come off the slip road and onto the dual carriageway. As expected there is no other traffic about and I gradually power up to a steady seventy-five miles per hour before tripping the cruise control, my headlights pushing the waves of dark night to the side. The road slips beneath me quickly and quietly and only the occasional glare of oncoming lights from the opposite carriageway breaks the isolation. The radio has little to offer. Too much self-interested chattering for my liking, so I switch to my iPod and let Handel soften the blow of an irregular start to what will be a long, long day.

Twenty minutes later and the horizon holds the phosphorous glow of a street lamp constellation coming closer, heralding the approach of a service station. Soon the lights envelop me like a super star’s dressing mirror and I pull over and buy coffee, to go. As I walk into the coffee shop a blonde lady of about my age is leaving. She is struggling to open the door while holding a cardboard cup in one hand and a mobile phone in the other which is clenched to her ear. She smiles, but half-heartedly, her mind obviously on the conversation she is having, which sounds tense, clipped, and precise.

 ‘I told you I had to leave early.’

‘Please, don’t start now.’

 ‘For God’s sake, can’t we talk about this later?’

In the service area a waxen-faced girl with black lipstick serves me, her object seeming to be to take as much money from me as possible while exchanging a minimum of conversation. In a little over five minutes I am back in the car. I have Handel, the occasional sip of super-heated milk and caffeine and about eighty miles to go.

 Minutes later and my screen is filled with a cacophony of red and blue lights that have me slowing to sixty, forty and an eventual stop before a temporary blue metal sign in the road that says, Police STOP. Accident Ahead. Checking my rear-view mirror there is nothing behind me, but I press the hazard warning lights anyway, although their muted flashing is doubtless lost in the greater light show that I am now a part of. I check my watch to see I have time in hand, as long as the wait is not too long. At least I am in pole position, ready to get going again as soon as possible.

 I can see a policeman beyond the sign, picked out in reflective yellow. He is talking on his radio and acknowledges me with a small lift of his arm before turning away. His face is in shadow from the peak of his cap, but he looks young, and very cold.

 I don’t see the lights come up behind me but suddenly I am aware that another car has pulled up to my left. It’s a silver Mercedes, small and sporty. I can see the driver is the blonde I saw leaving the coffee shop. I must have overtaken her without realising, or maybe she lingered in the car park before leaving. She doesn’t look at me but I can see her lips moving, the phone still held to her ear and her dashboard lights casting a luxuriant yet ephemeral glow onto her face. I glance again at the policeman. Has he noticed her? Will he tell her off about the phone?

 When I look again I see her wipe a hand across her face. I realise she is crying. Then she looks to her right, directly into my eyes, but there is no recognition, no animation. They are just eyes, but they are black, chilled and like grit in virgin snow. My polite smile dies before it is born and I look away.

 A tap on my driver’s window makes me jump. It’s the policeman, smiling tightly, waving me through. As I engage the gears and crawl on I see she is still crying, still looking at me, watching me leave her behind.

 Past the sign I come to the source of the blue and red lights. There are two ambulances, a fire engine and two police cars. Emergency workers are huddled around a twisted frieze of kinetically induced statuary. I look but I don’t gawp. In seconds I am past and back up to speed. There is nothing behind me, darkness in front of me and still seventy miles to go. I push the cruise control to eighty and concentrate on getting to the airport.

A little over an hour and a half later I have my boarding pass and stand in a small queue for security. My mind relaxes. I am on time. Only then do I think again about the twisted, ugly wreckage and realise what I saw as a chilled vibration slips up my spine. A silver Mercedes, small and sporty, and the fading lustre of blonde hair framed in the shattered driver’s window.

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What’s in a name? Ask Newt.

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For the last week or so I have been tuning in to Fox News. I find it gives me a greater insight into what is happening in the run up to the US elections, and has the added value of not being the B.B.C.

To boldly report where no BBC reporter has reported before.

However, despite all of this vicariously attained new-found knowledge on the voting habits of Idaho, Ike and Iowa I have been overwhelmed by a constant thought. What an odd collection of names they all have, and are these strange monikers turning the British public off?

I can only presume to speak for England, but here it is almost a national pastime to deride and sneer at any name that is not ‘normal’. Of course this changes with the times and has a foundation in class, but from the earliest days at school through to middle-aged corporate degradation I would say it is a constant.

Just call me Jack

A boy called Leslie? Dodgy. Anyone called Wayne? Oik. And don’t get me started on surnames. In all honesty there was a boy at my school in the 70’s called Longbottom. He consequently suffered at least five years of school boy (and school girl) cruel derision.

Therefore, can we really be bothered to take seriously the Gingrich, Romney, Paul and even Huckabee news articles without the corners of our mouths twitching involuntarily? And how is it that it is the Republicans who seem to have the monopoly on the unusual, except of course for the arch unusual, Barrack.

No, I am not the dad of the ginger one in Harry Potter!

I know we tend to go for the more prosaic names here; Cameron, Clegg, Brown, Milliband (just), but then the beauty of these is that there is not that much to take the mickey out of. Can you imagine the comedic materiel on offer were Cameron’s christian name to be Randy? I am sure that if that was to be the case then some image consultant would have made him change it to Nigel or Steve before he was let anywhere near a blue rosette.

Marion 'John Wayne' Morrison. Point made!

And there is my recommendation to Newt and Mitt. Go and get a straight forward ‘does what it says on the tin’ name and I am sure your electoral fortunes would improve dramatically – at least over here, where it doesn’t really matter. Or don’t, and keep on making me smile.

Why are Americans so needy?

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Have you noticed how Americans seem to need everything?

I’m not talking about big cars, fast food and maudlin soap shows, although of course they do seem to be a part of the national psyche. No. I am talking about their use of language.

 

They seem to have lost the ability to want, to require and quite plainly to ask nicely. Now they ‘need’ a coffee; they ‘need’ you to come over here; they ‘need’ you to get something for them or to them.

 

I am not a prude about language. I know it is an evolving, living thing but I do care about some semblance of politeness and this latest evolution is just a little too far for me. It is plain rudeness.

 

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘need’ as the requirement of something because it is essential or very important rather than desirable. So now coffee, a hamburger, a newspaper are all very important rather than just desirable.

 

The only possible mitigation I can consider is the frenetic rush of modern life which in turn means some people have no time for the normal proprieties of polite and considerate speech. But I’m being too kind.

 

The American ‘need’ to abridge, misspell and generally fleece the English language has always irked, but I learned to live with it. At the same time I have consoled myself in the knowledge  that in some cases their use of words is more genuine than ours.

 

Fall for autumn, Bub for boy and home-spun are just a few words that originate in early 17th Century England. Flap Jack comes from the time of Piers Plowman and the archetypal American term ‘to guess’, as in to suppose, is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry VI:

 

Not all together; better far, I guess,

That we do make our entrance several ways.

 So it’s not all bad, and this is not by any means an anti (or anteye) American rant. It’s just annoyingly rude to my ears, and I don’t like the way it is being adopted in this country.

 

I could now start on the Californian craze to preface every sentence – and usually those of mind-blowing intellectual infantilism – with ‘like’, but I don’t need to do that here, because it’s not essential or very important.

Double Jeopardy – A first in British Law


Mark Weston. Tried twice for the same murder.

 This is the story of the first conviction in the UK under the rules of double jeopardy, and my small part in that historic conviction. The Crime.The 12th August 1995 was a beautifully warm summers day, and in the small Oxfordshire village of Ascott-Under-Wychwood a pretty mother of two took the family dog for a walk along Shipton Lane. This was a popular area for villagers, a rutted country lane skirted on each side by trees and bushes before opening out into a large field with the main railway line running along one edge. No doubt Vikki felt comfortable in her surroundings, despite the relatively remote location. Ascott-Under-Wychwood was then, and remains today a quiet, respectable English village in the classical mould. There is no real cause for passing traffic and she would only have expected to see people that she knew.But then at some point in this short lane she was unfortunate enough to meet Mark Weston, allegedly in the process of carrying out a lewd act in the bushes. Vikki knew Weston, at least by sight, but neither she nor anyone else in this idyllic corner of Oxfordshire could have expected what came next.Shipton Lane, where Vikki Thompson was attacked. Quite why Weston then attacked Vikki is still not known. Perhaps he was embarrassed or angry at being caught in such a manner. Maybe he was so excited by his actions that the opportunity to try to act out his fantasies with a pretty young woman was irresistible. What is known is that he viciously attacked her with a stone and then dragged her across a field and two wire fences before leaving her for dead next to a railway line, most likely in the hope that it would be believed she had been struck by a train. It was only after her dog returned home alone that a search was launched by friends. When Vikki was found she was barely conscious and could not identify her attacker. She was taken to hospital but died six days later on the 18th August, aged just 30 years old.

Shipton Lane, where Vikki Thompson was attacked.

The investigation 1995.
 
On the 12th August 1995 I was a serving police officer with Thames Valley Police and at the time I was working in a unit called the Support Group. The function of the Support Group was primarily to provide armed tactical response to all incidents in the force area involving firearms, but we also supported in major crime investigations and I was paged during the late afternoon to make my way to Ascott-Under-Wychwood as soon as possible. There I met up with the rest of my team and our first task was to carry out detailed searches of the crime scene. At this initial phase this was not being treated as a murder, although as we learned more about the details it was clear to us that this could quite quickly become the case. Off and on my team and I worked in Ascott for some weeks, first searching Shipton Lane, the field it led into and ultimately the rough stony land along the side of the railway. Meanwhile CID were carrying out their investigation and very quickly Weston was identified as a prime suspect. After finishing in the fields and lanes we moved into his council house in the village to commence a search there.

An aerial picture of the scene

The brief was to seize anything that could be proved to belong to Weston, as well as anything else that may prove relevant to the crime.
Searching was our speciality and we went through that house minutely, seizing lots of exhibits that were labelled and bagged at the scene, ready for further analysis. We even searched the large back garden where there were a number of Guinea Fowl and other pets. We then went on to commence house to house enquiries throughout the small village.
During the course of the search a plastic bag was found containing two bras, but these were ultimately to be deemed inadmissible by the judge in the first case as they may have proved prejudicial to the case.
On the 13th September 1995 Weston arrested for the murder of Vikki Thompson. 

Vikki Thompson. The young mother brutally murdered by Weston.

When interviewed by the investigating officers Weston claimed that he had been nowhere near the scene of the murder and had in fact been at home doing some gardening. It was this simplistic alibi that would eventually play a large part in his eventual conviction.

The case came to trial in November 1996 and was heard at Oxford Crown Court. A month later he was acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. It later transpired that after the hearing he was written to by the foreman of the jury, wishing him luck and urging him to sue the police. He was later granted legal aid to do just that.

Over the next years Weston reverted to type, no doubt his arrogance boosted by the acquittal. He was convicted of harassment of the village bobby who had been involved in the investigation and also of a female neighbour. In 1993 his young girlfriend who had been living with him in his parent’s house left him after a violent assault. She claims that Weston admitted to her that he had murdered Vikki Thompson but officers did not take her seriously.

The investigation 2010.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 revolutionised crime investigation when it swept away the old ‘double jeopardy’ law. Before then no person could be tried for the same offence twice, irrespective of the decision at the first trial and the submission of new evidence. With the advances in investigative techniques and procedures, in the most part of a scientific nature, that have come about in the last years there was clearly a need to re-evaluate and where appropriate re-investigate some crimes from the past. Thames Valley Police never closed the murder of Vikki Thompson, and for them this was the time to try to achieve justice for Vikki and her family.

On August 12th 2005, exactly ten years after Vikki had been attacked and left for dead, the police commenced a new investigation. Their first step was the re-examination of all the many items seized at the time of the original investigation. Although scientific techniques have not advanced that much in the intervening years, the processes and procedures used most definitely have, particularly with regards to better and stronger lighting in the laboratories, plus the fact that each scientist’s work is now checked by another scientist.

It was during this re-examination that traces of blood were found on a pair of boots that belonged to Weston and were taken from his home during the initial search. These minute traces were proved to have belonged to Vikki Thompson by means of DNA, and what is more the evidence suggested that the blood had been wet when it transferred to the boot. Bearing in mind Weston’s claim to have been nowhere near the scene at the time, this was indeed very strong evidence of his probable guilt.

Weston’s boot where the blood was found

Next, the police had to apply to the Director of Public Prosecutions for permission to officially re-open the case, based upon the ‘new and compelling evidence’ they now had. This was granted after a separate court hearing where it was adjudged that the new evidence was ‘highly probative of guilt’. His acquittal was quashed and on the 21st October 2009 Weston was re-arrested and charged the very next day.

November 29th 2010 saw a new trial open at Reading Crown Court where the whole case, including the new evidence was presented to the jury. Nerves were taut amongst the police. They knew they had good evidence, but they were also very well aware that if they failed then Weston would walk away a second time, and there would be no third attempt to convict him.
On December 13th 2010 the jury reached a verdict. Weston was finally convicted of the murder of Vikki Thompson in a quiet country lane on a beautiful summers day over fifteen years before. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve at least thirteen years. The first conviction under the old double jeopardy had been a success, for the police, for Vikki and most importantly for her husband and children.
And my final act in this tragedy was to give evidence in court as the officer who had seized the boots, not knowing then how vital they would be in the history of British justice.

A Storm in a Teacup


I slid the blade of the knife across the exposed ribs, marvelling at how easily the short length of honed steel separated the red raw meat from its home.  There was blood on my fingers, and with a small tinge of annoyance I noticed that some of it had found its way onto the floor. I would have to clean that up before Lena came home.

Then the doorbell rang. Cursing, I put the knife down and ran my hands under the kitchen tap. Cold water is best for removing blood and I watched it run from my hands and into the sink where it swiveled and swirled into the drain. There was still some left but I dabbed at it with a tea-towel as I walked down the hall to the door. Who the hell was it? Lena was not due back from work for a good three hours or so.

It was Kevin. Kevin the archetypal, adenoidal, glasses wearing, greasy-haired bloody nosy neighbour. He looked at my hands and spoke to them. He always did that. He could never seem to look me in the eye.

“So sorry to disturb. Thought I would pop around. Knew you were in. Humph”

The ‘humph’ is Kevin’s idea of a friendly laugh. It’s another of his ultra annoying habits, along with breathing. I tried to look hassled, uninterested, bloody busy, which I was.

“Yes, I’m in. So, can I help?”

“Most likely. About the cat, your cat. It’s in the garden again, crapping on the dahlias. Marge wants me to have a word”

Well at least he was trying to look embarrassed. I knew he was Marjorie’s plaything. Ever since she had married him three years ago she had held the winning hand. But then she was ten years younger than him and Daddy owned half of Buckinghamshire, so that is a pretty damn good hand of cards. All the same, I couldn’t help despising him just a little. I would not make it easy for him.

“And you want me to do what?” I asked. “I’m not even sure it’s my cat, and also a cat is a free spirit. It craps where it wants to crap.”

“Oh, it’s, er, definitely your cat. Got the red collar and everything.” He glanced over my shoulder and along the hall behind me. I took a quick look too. I had left the kitchen door open just a little. You could only see the corner of the dishwasher. I decided that I needed to get rid of Kevin. I had things to do.

“OK. Look, thanks for letting me know. I’ll talk to Lena. Really it’s her cat.” I smiled (big effort). “Maybe she can talk sense into the damn animal.”

“Well, um, that may not be good enough. You see Marge is adamant something is done. And,” he spread his hands as if in supplication “you know Marge.”

Christ. It seemed Kevin was growing at least the semblance of a backbone. This was the first time he had ever pushed a point, not counting the pencils he pushes in his no doubt gloriously mundane job. Now he was even daring to look at me, and I could almost smell the adrenaline that was probably right now making his legs shake. He was getting himself into fight or flight mode. What had she done to work him up into this state? Promised him half of Aylesbury as a birthday present? Either way he was really getting on my nerves now. I just wanted him gone, so I tried to force the point. I pointed to the street behind him.

” Kevin, you have to go now. You really have to go.” 

I realised I still had the knife in my hand just one second after his eyes started to pop. I was using a bloody blade to show Kevin the exit. His breathing speeded up and I caught spittle on my face as he pushed words of fear and determination at me.

“There’s no need..why do you have a knife? There’s blood on it.”

Just then I felt a pulling at the bottom of my trousers as something squeezed between my legs and the open door. Looking down I saw a black cat with a red collar going toward the open kitchen door. Shit. If it got in there it could ruin everything, but I couldn’t stop it as Kevin was now trying to get past me. He was almost shouting.

“There’s the bloody cat. See! It still has dirt on its feet. Dirt from Marge’s dahlias. Sort the bloody thing out, because if you don’t then..”

I didn’t get the rest, although he was still going on about something as he pushed past me and went after the cat. I could feel the pressure in my head building and building. I wanted to open my mouth and scream to let the frustration out, but all I cold do was to run after Kevin and the cat as they both disappeared into the kitchen ahead of me. As I got to the door I heard a crash, then what sounded like a scream followed quickly by Kevin saying “Oh Shit!” I knew then that it had all gone wrong. I had planned so carefully. Dreamed about this and imagined every part and now that dream was to be shattered by a cat and an annoying half-man who thought his only reason for existence was to be a pain in the ass. All I had wanted was to spend time with Lena, with us both sharing our favourite meal; a rack of lamb prepared and cooked by my own hand. But it had all gone wrong!

I slid the blade of the knife across the exposed ribs, marvelling at how easily the short length of honed steel separated the red raw meat from its home.  There was blood on my fingers, and with a small tinge of annoyance I noticed that some of it had found its way onto the floor. I would have to clean that up before Lena came home.

 

 

 

The Euro is a Totalitarian Conspiracy


Buddy, can you spare a dime?

 

As Greece stumbles towards yet another bail out at the expense of you and me  it seems that both Spain and Italy are snapping at their heels, seemingly intent upon being the next ‘independent state’ to suffer a similar world-wide indignity.

The euro is a fundamentally false flag operation. It parades itself to the world as a viable economic alternative to the dollar, the yen, and the pound while all the time it is in the critical ward of the local nut house and hooked up to a respirator. Only by the continual manipulation of financial shock paddles by a Franco-German doctor does it continue to breathe.

What is it about this global conspiracy trick that sees some of the most supposedly intelligent men and women (for clarity here I am referring to politicians, albeit somewhat tongue in cheek) aligning themselves to something that is so flawed, so ridiculously without foundation, so wrong? Do they really believe that this experiment is still viable?

The clue is the word experiment.

Peace, Comrade!

 This is clear experimentation of a political idyll; in other words it is an ideological  imposition upon the powerless inhabitants of each country by those who supposedly know best and therefore do not bother to ask us what we want. That is totalitarian.

Consider the following:

 

A contempt for parliamentary democracy.

Non-marxist socialism.

The need to make politics the new gods.

Hostility to individualism.

Am I over-egging the pie? Totalitarianism is a system of government that is centralised, dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state. Now does that sound familiar?

This year each British tax-paying individual will be forced to cough up a substantial portion of their hard-earned lucre in the name of an experiment. We are being hounded into paying for test tubes, mercury and sulphur so latter-day alchemists in sharp suits can keep trying to turn lead into gold. And when Italy defaults next, which it will do unless it can suddenly find 500 billion euros by 2013, we will be forced to pay even more. And we are not even in the bloody euro!

In 2010 our EU budget contributions rose by 74%, and we have recently taken on additional liabilities to the tune of 12.5 billion, which is 500 hard-earned pounds for every family in the country. And just so we can play our part in this shoddy experiment by bailing out Portugal, Ireland and Greece.

"Gis a job!"

Many will say it is not in our interest for the Euro dream to implode, and that the imposition of a series of devalued currencies across Europe will adversely affect our own economic well-being. I say it is not in our interest to be a part of something that is  undemocratic, unfair, unsustainable and unimaginably conceited!

For federalism read totalitarian. For conspiracy read the news and make your own mind up – but in the meantime let’s get the hell out and leave the alchemists to blow themselves to hell.

Tollwood Festival. July 2011


Yesterday was a gloriously hot day with not a cloud in the sky, and I decided that I would visit the Summer Tollwood Festival.

In Munich there are two Tollwoods; one in the summer and one in the winter, and they are both a celebration of arts and culture from around the world.

I caught the tram and in just over five minutes I was at the entrance (which is free) joining the crowds of Muncheners and tourists walking into Olympia Park, a vast open expanse of trees and parkland that stretches all the way up to the old  1972 Munich Olympic village. 

The first thing I saw was a blue tram in a siding. At first I was curious as to why it should be there, but as I got closer I saw that this was a party tram, especially fitted out by Paulaner, the local brewery.

Tollwood's 'party' tram ready for customers

There were  not many people inside, but I guess that was for two reasons. It was too hot to sit inside a tram, plus this was still mid-afternoon and I guessed there would be more customers later in the day as the hot day dissolved into a sultry evening.

I walked on and soon came to a small grassy knoll that gave a great view of the festival. Young families were sat all around as if they were girding their loins to enter the festival fray, and although it has not come out on the photograph I could see a cloud of dust hanging over the tents and umbrellas. The scene fleetingly reminded me of a mediaeval tournament with its colour and bustle.

The view from the grassy knoll

I took a deep breath and plunged into the crowds. As soon as I walked down the hill I was engulfed by people, sound and smell. Everywhere I looked there were food shacks from across the world. I started to try to keep an account of the countries represented but soon gave up. You name it and it was there. Holding it all together were the beer tents so beloved of the Germans. They seemed to outnumber the food stalls by at least two to one, and each was bursting at the seams.
The track was made of a fine grey dust that rose up and took on a visible countenance. There was no getting away from it and very soon I was desperate for a drink so I could clear my throat (and this is as good an excuse as you are going to get). Spying a beer garden with ample shade from the sun and unbelievably some spare seats I dived in and quickly ordered a radler (Shandy to you and me), before perching at a small table where I could perfectly watch the world go by as I made notes and sipped on the cold beer.

Well needed refreshment

I have to admit that I stayed here for at least an hour, almost falling into a trance as I watched and listened to all that was going on about me.
The crowd was without exception good-natured and there were a lot of families, from great-grand parents down to toddlers all sat together. It was a great scene.
 
I spent some time musing on the German language which was enveloping me. To some ears it sounds harsh and abrupt. I think the generally accepted term is guttural, a word that in itself is onomatopoeic to perfection.  But the more you listen there is a rhythm or cadence that can be attractive to the ear. It occurred to me that their language is not unlike their architecture, that is functional, straight, unadorned and sometimes unnecessarily complex. Maybe this is fanciful dross, but these were the notes I jotted down as I sat there!
 
Off again into the throng and I came to a section of stalls selling just about every new age accessory you could hope for (or hope against in my case). Leather necklaces and armbands, flowery dresses, wide-brimmed hats, healing crystals and ornaments made from recycled rubbish. I wasn’t tempted, but it seems that plenty were by the amount of customers I had to force my way through. One stall in particular took my eye. It was shaped like a large Teepee from the American west. On going inside I saw they had shelf upon shelf of American  Indian charms, clothing and jewellery. You could even buy a fully working bow and arrow! Sat in the corner of the teepee was a man telling all who would listen that he was 100% Sioux. It was wholly convincing apart from his faultless German.
 
A sioux camp in Munich!

My final stop was close to where I had made my entrance. Here there was a stage set up and a band called Rivers Crossing were delighting a large crowd of about 500 people, not including all those in the beer tents.

I stood in the beating sun for a good while enjoying their mix of reggae and rock. The best thing was they seemed to be having so much fun themselves, almost as if they were in complete ignorance of their sweating spectators.
 
As I left the festival site and started my walk back out of the park towards my flat in Schwabing I was really glad that I had made the effort to go. Yes, it was incredibly hot and dusty, but it was a great experience. I considered going back later in the evening to join the party that would go on late into the night, but when I arrived home I sat down, stretched out my tired and dusty legs and promptly fell asleep.

Munich Musings


It is midnight and I am stood waiting for a tram.

With the mention of the word tram I am sure your mind has now flown to the european continent, and you would be right. My exact location is Rotkreutplatz, Munich, a trendy yet wealthy suburb full of bijou shops and pavement cafe’s close to the famous Nymphenburg Palace and gardens.

I have enjoyed an evening with German friends in one of the many beer gardens that form the aortic life channel of this city, drinking pure Bavarian hellas beer (lager) and munching on large salty bagels. The weather is mediterranean in its warmth and heavy with moisture.

At the tram stop there is a red LED sign telling me the time to the next tram, the number 12 that will take me on a fifteen minute journey to my small apartment in Schwabing. Five minutes to wait.

I look about me into the streets that are robbed of colour by sodium lights and there are lots of people passing up and down, most of them teenagers or in their early twenties. It’s that kind of area, I guess. They look like teenagers from Britain. Very European, very white, extremely fashion conscious and every other set of ears appears to sport a white plastic lead that feeds the beat of their existence.

But there is something different about them. Something that I cannot quite place. An oddity. I watch them as they pass, envying them their youth, worrying for their future.

Four minutes until the next tram.

Munich is the most southerly of German cities, sitting just north of the borderline Alps yet just a three-hour drive to Milan. But apart from the weather and their love of pavement cafe’s there appears very little else in common with their Milanese neighbours.

Founded in 1158 Munich has been at the centre of the Bavarian constitution since 1818. Their kings were all called Ludwig and in 1918 it was for a short time a socialist enclave. This is also the city where a young Adolf Hitler migrated to after leaving Austria and serving in the first world war. It is where his famous putsch of 1923 failed, yet also where the National Socialists first seized power  in 1933. There is no shortage of history here, recent and ancient, and for those with an interest it is easy to find, to delve into and to digest.

Bavarians are still fiercely proud of their individual status in Germany. There is the famous Oktoberfest which is best described as a Bacchanalia of Beer, and where Lederhosen and Dirndles are common, although you will also see the national costume in everyday life and worn without embarrassment. Imagine a colleague coming to work dressed as a Morris Dancer and you will get my drift.

A munich beer hall during Oktoberfest

Amongst other Germans I do not detect a great love for Bavarians. Whether this is a mundane regional antipathy, such as between the north and south in England is hard to say, but Germans from other parts of the country do tell me that Bavarians can be aloof, distant, rude. I can’t say I have noticed.

There is one characteristic that annoys me, although I cannot say if this is Bavarian or German. They do seem to have an unconscious need to dominate a pavement. Bavarians will not change their course even if that means a direct collision with you. It is your job to step around them. I am told they drive the same way.

Two minutes to go.

I have been joined at the stop by a young couple, a woman on her own of about my age and three lads who are no more than 18 years old. They lounge on the metal seating and talk loudly, but to me incomprehensibly, amongst themselves.

In ten days I shall go back to the UK after six months living and working here. Apart from the obvious downsides of being away from home such as missing my wife, children, friends and yes, English food I have really enjoyed being here. I could live here without complaint.

The city is on the whole attractive, welcoming, interesting and easy on one’s heart. It does not have the softer beauty that I associate with English churchyards and my home-town, though. Munich appears angular and made up of sharp corners with very few gentle curves. There is beauty, but not the kind that strokes you. It is a functional beauty.

Suddenly I am struck by a thought. Now I can clearly name the oddity that occurred to me earlier. It is midnight. I am stood alone in an inner-city street a literal foreigner to my surroundings. There are young men and women all about me and it is clear that they have been drinking. If I were in England now under the same circumstances I would be wary, perhaps apprehensive. I know that there would be an air of loosely bound violence. And even though I am six feet and three inches tall;  I weigh 16 stone and am quite capable of looking after myself I would not be able to ignore the feeling of an unstated threat.

But here I am totally relaxed. It is almost as if I am an actor in a commercial portraying how everyone lives in harmony and understanding. I instinctively know that no matter how many beers have been taken and no matter how loud they talk to each other there is nothing for me to worry about.

I am not daft. I am not naive, and I know shit happens everywhere in the world; but not here. Not now.

I look again to the LED screen and see that the tram is due now. I look to my left and there it is, less than fifty yards away.

One final thought. Worthy or not. Perhaps here is another correlation between Munich and Milan. They certainly know how to make their trains, trams and buses run on time.

A very Modern Addiction


“My name is Mark, and I am addicted to my smart phone.”

I looked at the twelve faces sat around me, searching for something in their eyes that would tell me the level of disgust they must now be feeling for me. Nothing. No reaction. Christ, this must be worse than I thought.

I leaned back into the hard wood of the chair  and closed my eyes before continuing. This was hard. Much harder than I thought it would be, and only by closing my eyes could I properly look into myself and  wrench out the guilt and shame of my affliction before another human being.

“It started about two years ago. Up until then I had a typical cheap contract thingy that was good for calling my wife to tell her I would  be home soon and then receiving a text back listing the shopping I was to pick up on the way. she was always more advanced than me in that respect. I guess I liked that phone, but it was no more than that. It was a tool. Something that I appreciated but didn’t seem to need. Often I would leave it somewhere in the house and forget about it for days before realising it. But then came the promotion. One bright professional day I was elevated into the ranks of the Customer Sales Team and with the additional salary and Marks and Spencer suits came the Smart Phone.”

I paused as I thought I detected movement as people shifted in their seats, but didn’t open my eyes. I was on track and didn’t want to be detoured. A male voice said ‘which model was it?’ and he sounded like a husband asking a nurse if his wife had given birth to a boy or a girl. There were a couple of hushes as he was quieted down, but I took the bait.

“Iphone 3G”

Now there were audible gasps and I heard a soft female voice whisper something like, ‘I had one, too. It was so cool.’

Cool. Yes, I guess that just about described it. Even bloody cool! I remember that I spent two hours just ‘setting it up’, making sure all the apps and associated widgety things that I didn’t really understand worked. That same night I then sat at home with a laptop on my lap (where else?) connecting to iPhones and updating, downloading and synching, ignorant of the TV and my wife’s happy but increasingly irritated questions about the promotion and what it actually meant for me and for her. That was the day I took my first fix. I remember when I went to bed and laid down to sleep I suddenly realised that I had left the phone down stairs and jumped up again to go and get it. Surely an iPhone should be on the bedside table.

“And so the spiral began. Even in those early days I was sure I could handle things, but I had seriously underestimated my enemy. That phone became a part of me. It was an arm, a leg, a head and even a brain that I could not bear to be without. I found that I could no longer stand in a queue, sit in my car, go to dinner with friends or relax in the pub without taking the damned thing out and tapping and swiping at the screen whenever and wherever I could.

And of course what I had not allowed for was email. I clearly remember my boss grinning and saying ‘Just think, you will never be out of touch’, and I had nodded and grinned too, not knowing what the hell I was grinning about. And if I am true to myself and look back without bias I can clearly see that even as he imparted this in apparent glee he was even then checking his phone for email.

A real consequence is that my working week has now extended into seven days. There is no respite, whether it is keeping track of an important contract or wanting to keep on top of work, perhaps even making myself look good to my boss because he can see from my mails that I am so committed.”

I opened my eyes. Now I had to face my audience and see their reaction, gauge their responses. My eyes went first to Roger, the Chair of our little group, but I preferred something like moderator or even leader, Chair was a silly bloody name. Something that meant nothing. His hands were clasped in front of him and he looked at me with real understanding. There was a kindred spirit, I thought.

I looked at the three women in the group and spoke to them directly. For this part I needed their help.

“My wife hates the bloody thing. She hates the time I give to it, time that should be with her. It causes arguments between us. I can’t make her understand.”

The blonde nodded and smiled, but the other two looked at the floor, their hands, even the door as if they could chase my words away so they would not have to be confronted. There was no help to be given. We were all on the same contract, paying monthly with no get-out for two years when you knew you would just go right back and renegotiate another damaging commitment.

Then there was a deep buzz in the room and everyone shifted. People began to pat their clothes and look at each other. It was Roger who reached into his pocket and took a black shiny square that he tapped at before pushing it away, back into his jeans and out of sight. I felt betrayed.

‘Well, that’s time, folks’, he announced to the room. ‘We have to leave the room ready for the French language class that is here next,  so please make sure your chairs are all put away before you leave’.

As the group disintegrated he came to me and placed a hand on my arm. He looked concerned in a smiley way, but I thought this was just another facet to him, another attribute he wielded when the time was right. I now thought of him to be without any real care. Perhaps he was just a chair.

“Thanks, Mark. I think a lot of people connected with you.”

A bubble of anger rose in my throat and I swallowed it back down.

“Not funny, Roger. Not funny at all.”