Wednesday, 23 December 2009

BUST A MOVE

You may have noticed I've been taking a long sojourn away from the blogosphere. It wasn't intentional, honest, it's just I've regretfully been without internet access for a while due to the fact I've recently moved house. As a result, blogging hasn't exactly been on top of my to-do list. Instead, I've been extremely busy assembling furniture and unpacking all my shizzle, as Snoop Dogg would say.


Everything seems to be OK with my new home, apart from a temperamental boiler, a faulty letterbox which I've had to cellotape up and stick together with blue tac, and a leaky sink. Oh, and a dodgy plughole in the bathroom. Still, you can't have everything right? I know that moving house at Christmas time can be a rather foolhardy venture, so it was never destined to be easy, was it, eh?

In fact, in the process of moving house, I skirted the borders of disaster last week. I can well and truly say I discovered the depths to which some people sink, a cruel side to human nature which never ceases to surprise me. I mean, I'd love to wholeheartedly embrace the Christmas spirit – the season of goodwill 'n' all that – and I do, to some degree, but after last week, my balloon of festive cheer was well and truly popped and was replaced with a peppermint hard candy sweet. That's right, a humbug.

You see, we loaded up a van we'd borrowed from our relatives with Tescos bags full of CDs, DVDs, Books, PS3 games, wooden furniture (bookshelves, a dinner chair, other bits of assorted furniture), etc. Trouble is, nobody informed us that the boot of the van is faulty, meaning that it doesn't shut very easily. Even when you think it's locked, it isn't, it's just pretending. As car boots go, it's a bona fide confidence trickster. And nobody warned us about this.

Unfortunately, we found that out the hard way. There I was, driving along, when suddenly the boot of the van swung open and all of our belongings clattered along the road with a mighty crash; CD cases smashed to bits, discs scattered loosely along the road, all items strewn messily 20 metres behind us. The glass on our picture frames – including the frame containing the certificates for our university degrees, sniff sniff – was smashed to bits too. I hope that wasn't a metaphor for something.

Needless to say, what ensued was a rushed panic by myself and my fellow passenger to throw all the items back in the van quickly, but holding up the traffic was unavoidable. The drivers behind us didn't have much sympathy either; one obese lady laughed maniacally as she drove past, clearly finding something amusing; and somebody purposefully drove over a bit of our furniture out of clear spite. It's probably not fit for firewood now.

But what of the pedestrians, you ask? They did nothing. Some people stood by and watched, but not one person offered to help us. It was only until we'd finished throwing everything back in the van that a lady told us that somebody had stolen some of our items and ran off with them. At which point, I pretty much lost all faith in humanity.

I've since discovered that the thieving git has made off with a bag full of books. Not exactly the most glittering bounty in the world admittedly, some of the literature contained therein was more sentimental in value than anything else. A Roald Dahl omnibus book was nicked – a gift given to me as a child – and my girlfriend's Enid Blyton book (Faraway Tree Stories) given to her by her grandmother was also half-inched.

Ironically, another missing book just so happens to be The Prince by Machiavelli, so it's probably fair to assume that the thieving git is probably halfway to becoming an evil genius already. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts has also gone AWOL, which just so happens to be about a convicted bank robber and a heroin addict. Hmm, could this end up being the path this filthy tea leaf ends up travelling down? I wouldn't be surprised if that fate awaits him (or her); after all, the incident did happen on the cusp of Northdown Road, a veritable shanty town of drugs, crime, alcohol and debauchery.

Nonetheless, it's appalling that someone just scavenges someone else's goods from under their noses like bloody vermin. I don't why I'm surprised really, but maybe it's because it never occurs to me that other people can be so devoid of morals, so lacking a sense of human decency, that they can't think of nothing but selfishness. They must live pretty hollow lives. If I had been walking along the road and it happened to somebody else, I would have gladly offered to help. And, I can guarantee you, I wouldn't have stooped so low to steal from them and done a bunk.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd like to think I'm a nice bloke, and I try my best to treat others like I myself would expect to be treated. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the scumbags who either stood by and did nothing, laughed at us, or stole from us. As much as it pains me to say it, those people are beneath my contempt at the moment, if only because the whole incident has made me so angry that I'm beginning to doubt whether anyone has a decent bone in their body at all. Still, I should at least be thankful it was only small (and relatively affordable) items, and not our HD TV, Sony sound system and our laptops, eh? That would've been truly devastating...

I guess if this whole thing teaches me anything, it's that nice people – even at Christmas time – are few and far between. The people I encountered that day appeared to be selfish, primal, despicable creatures (or shrinking violet types who stood by and did nothing) to whom life is comparable to a TV show which they can passively detach themselves from, without thought or consideration for anyone else's wellbeing other than their own. I hope that these people get what's coming to them – what comes around goes around, after all. In conclusion, clearly, some people are scum. Except the people who read this blog, of course. Well, at least I'd hope so anyway.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

DO THE CONGO

Do you remember that old Um Bongo tropical fruit juice advert? "Way down deep in the middle of the Congo, a hippo took an apricot, a guava and a mango." Well, it seems like those Norwegian fruits Tjostolv Moland and former Margate resident Joshua French have got more than their fair share of apricots and mangos thrown at 'em after being sentenced to death by firing squad by the Congolese authorities.

Joshua French was raised in Margate, but emigrated to Norway as a child, so his connection to Thanet is tenuous at best, but that hasn't stopped BBC News launching a big media fanfare and getting other local newspapers into a tizzy about it. We should remind ourselves that Amnesty International announced in a report that most death penalties in the Congo were usually executed in secret so the peculiarly un-secretive and high level of media exposure this story has been getting should ring alarm bells to anyone with a modicum of sense.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights also noted that despite the Congolese government lifting "the moratorium on the death penalty on the 23rd September 2002, it should be noted that in fact, capital executions have not taken place for more than a decade except under the military courts." Therefore, in the end, all we can do is hope that the big media buzz this story is generating will put pressure on the Supreme Court to ensure that Moland and French's plight won't have a grisly ending.

I know it's easy to focus upon the injustice of capital punishment and rightly complain how Moland and French have not received a fair trial, but I can't help but wonder if there's more to this story than meets the eye. I'm going to begin by saying that I have no idea whether Moland and French are innocent or guilty, but the fact is they're both former soldiers for the Norwegian Army and according to The Guardian "military ID cards, counterfeit UN hats and employee ID badges with both correct and false names were found by police at an apartment shared by the two men in Uganda." So the initial thing that springs to my mind is why, oh why, did Moland and French have false identity cards – with the names John Hunt and Mike Callan – in their possession?


Let's face it, not everybody has fake ID under an assumed identity hidden away in their wallets, so that's automatically arousing my suspicions. The second thing is that the 'employee ID' was for a security firm called Special Interventions Group (SIG) and a source for the company commented saying: "We were supposed to have a partnership with these guys a year ago but it didn't happen. They decided to try it for themselves and start their own company. Unfortunately they chose our name and used our ID cards." In other words, they were carrying false ID cards with fake names for a company they didn't even work for.

I recommend that you take a good look at the Free French and Moland website in which Joshua outlines his side of the story. It makes interesting reading, particularly the point where he protests his innocence saying "we were primarily there as tourists, but we were also considering the future possibilities for Tjostolv's company" [a security firm]. This reinforced my suspicions, especially since The Guardian noted that "former soldiers are frequently taken on by private security companies who have stepped up interest in the region due to oil discoveries under Lake Albert, which lies on the border between Congo and Uganda." What makes matters worse is the fact that French and Moland had previously worked as security guards in Africa before, when they worked guarding against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

On the Norwegian blog, Me and My Mouth, the blogger Norwonk wrote that: "I find it difficult to believe that they were really on an innocent vacation. Given the nature of their work, they would have to be pretty naive to think that Congolese authorities would consider them as ordinary tourists. I doubt foreign mercenaries often travel in this area simply for pleasure." Personally, I suspect their trip to the Congo was perhaps more of a misguided business venture by Moland and French than a casual holiday, and I feel they're probably being held up to the Western media as scapegoats to send out a signal to other mercenaries working on the Congo-Uganda border as security guards for oil companies.

Despite the suspicious nature of their visit, this has little relevance to the fact that they may, of course, be innocent, in which case I sincerely hope justice will out. But in any case, it's worth reminding people of other aspects of the case which may have a danger of being drowned out in the media hubbub. It's an appalling miscarriage of justice, perhaps, but we shouldn't lose sight of the more questionable aspects of their presence in the Congo. There needs to be far more room for debate on this subject.