Monday, 7th March
On the first leg of my first trip abroad in two years - to Amsterdam. I find I am the only person in my (UK) train carriage wearing a mask. What's the point I ask myself? If it's something for the good of society, but isn't legally mandated, why bother? It's a good job driving on the left is mandated. But even then there a few who don't seem to care. There’s a slightly better performance on the buses in London where it’s meant to be mandatory. Here half the passengers seem to have been able to read the notices which tell them mask wearing is mandatory on the buses. I will soon find out if the Dutch are similarly affected by this unfortunate apathy. Perhaps in the UK it's a Brexit thing.
Let's pass the tin around for Lord (Greg) Barker, who has (I bet with a huge degree of reluctance), resigned from his chairmanship of a Russian metal business. The former Tory MP, who sat on the Environmental Audit Committee was a buddy of Cameron, hence the ermine. I don't think his elevation could have been for his green credentials. He it was who fronted up the Tories’ Green Home scheme, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Hopefully the Russians thought they were getting value for money. Making sure that Western green initiatives don't work, perhaps. I learned of Barker's departure in the Evening Standard. This paper now seems wafer thin. I think it is making a loss for its owner, Boris's friend Lord Lebedev. I wonder when it will go under. Another triumphant legacy of former 'editor' George Osborne? When's he getting his peerage?
I have a pleasant evening with my old friend Aubrey Meyer whose lifelong work promoting an effective climate change framework - Contraction and Convergence - has been universally praised but ignored. The great problem with C&C is that it imposes discipline and that is anathema to politicians. I organized a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Aubrey with cross party support (MPs are allowed to nominate) but whilst he deserved it there was very little chance of success. I think someone called Obama got it instead - that remains one of today's unsolved mysteries.
Later I have a brief chat with a chap in the army. Inevitably we discuss what's happening in Ukraine. He says the Ukrainians are not attacking Russian tanks as much as they are attacking Russian tankers. Their tanks probably only do two or three miles per gallon. Why attack the armour when you can blow up their fuel? My source suggested that Putin might use a dummy nuclear missile to warn off NATO. The trouble with that theory is that we'd have no way of knowing if it actually was a dummy. The way things are we may know the answer by the time I upload this diary at the end of the week. (n.b. thankfully it didn't happen)
Tuesday, 8th March
On Eurostar. At St Pancras the French passport people stamp my passport. The first time in 45 years or so. Ahh, the joys of Brexit, we can look forward to getting all those empty passport pages nicely stamped! Eurostar insist that passengers wear face masks. Most passengers don’t, even though on the other side of tunnel it’s the law. I am pleased to discover that in the Netherlands, where it is also the law to wear face masks on public transport, the law is universally observed. Occasionally I forget to put mine on, and discover it’s a good way to ensure that nobody sits next to you.
Wednesday, 9th March
I am on the look out for what’s changed over here after an absence of two years. Some shops have closed down, and Amsterdam is slightly more subdued than usual with fewer tourists around. There’s a few Ukrainian flags fluttering from buildings but no other signs of the crisis unfolding on this continent. RT (Russia Today) is not available on the hotel’s TV service, but then neither is any British channel. Al Jazzera is one of the English language channels still accessible, and their coverage seems to be treading a fine line of neutrality – they report the explosion at a children’s hospital but steer clear of saying whose fault it was. Of course, the bombing wouldn’t have happened if the Russians hadn’t invaded Ukraine, so it’s not difficult to understand where the ultimate blame lies.
After a fruitless search in Amsterdam Centraal for the direct train from Holland’s largest city to its capital, The Hague, a service I have often used, I discover it no longer exists. Unfortunately this information is not relayed in any of the printed timetables on display on the platforms, which are misleadingly suggesting the service still runs. Should you want to follow in my footsteps, please change at Leiden. This little sign of a system slightly losing its way is replicated with some of Amsterdam’s trams, which can only be described as phantom trams. Their arrival is indicated on the electronic signs at each stop, but sometimes no tram appears. Very frustrating. I ask a couple of passers-by if they know what’s happened, but neither of them speaks Dutch and can’t translate what the signs say.
Thursday, 10th March
Minor travails apart, this journey has been relatively hassle free, Brexit and Covid notwithstanding. I return to London with a slight sense of liberation.
Friday, 11th March
The war becomes less and less explicable. It confirms my conviction that the human species still lives in the Medieval period. If humans survive another millennium that’s how they’ll look back on us. What needs to happen right now seems very unlikely. That is, a) Russia should immediately withdraw from Ukraine; b) Putin and his cronies should face prosecution for war crimes and c) Russia should pay for the damage it has caused (I hesitate to use the word reparations). Actually, whilst the first two things are unlikely, whatever the outcome Russia would have to dig deep to repair the damage whether as victor or loser. Has Putin actually considered this, or has he simply taken a leaf out of the West’s playbook in Iraq (i.e. leave them to it, there is no post-war plan). The fact that Putin calls this war a ’Special Military Operation’ signals that he hasn’t given any thought to the aftermath.
My trips to art galleries in Amsterdam and the Hague brought the usual pleasures, and I hope as ever to post my Perambulations under that heading on this website—and this time, with films! Once I figure out how to do it, all over again.