Talking to my father today, I learned he'd flown RAF reconnaissance missions over Holland in 1944-5 - in Mustangs and Spitfires - looking for the V2 rocket sites. Which is the first time I'd ever spoken to him about this. And quite possibly the last, as he's nearing 90 and incapacitated by a stroke of eight years ago. As my father has never committed anything to writing, this means that, in effect, the opportunity to find out more about these awful years has gone for ever.
I was reminded of a conversation that took place in a Jakarta restaurant in 1984. Apart from me and my first wife, there was a visiting cardiologist, his wife and their son, who'd flown up from Australia to see his folks.
Me: So, where did you do your sight-seeing today Dr. X?
Dr. X: Well, I went to Glodok.
Me: Glodok? But that's just a huge shopping centre. Not as good as those nearer your hotel.
Dr. X: Maybe but I wanted to see the place for a particular reason.
Me: What was that, may I ask?
Dr X: Well, I was there for some years during the Second World War. When it was a Japanese prison camp.
The son: What! I didn't know you'd been a Japanese prisoner of war, Dad!
Dr X: No. I've never spoken to anyone about it until today.
Son: But why not?
Dr X: The memories are just too painful.
I can recall the hairs on the back of my neck rising at the significance of this conversation, before we quickly moved on to other matters.
Talking of wars . . . Here's the excellent Simon Jenkins on the prospect of a US attack on Iran. Having lived in Tehran for three years in the 70's, I find it easy to agree with Jenkins' take on things:- Iran is a nation of 70 million people, an ancient and proud civilisation with a developed civil society and a modicum of pluralist democracy. . . . Total war on Iran would be a catastrophe. . . . Every expert report on Iran warns that bombing is the one thing likely to bond the unpopular Ahmadinejad to his people. The idea that they would rise up against him after the Pentagon's reported "shock and awe" three-day blitz of 1,200 targets is demented. Let's hope we don't see it come to pass and some other solution is found to the stand-off.
Finally . . . There've been reports of black rhinos being air-lifted from one place to another in Africa. Which allows me to display my knowledge that 'black' rhinos are so called to differentiate them from 'white' rhinos. But, ironically, 'white' is a mistranslation of the Afrikaans/Dutch word for 'wide' - wijd. Which is a description of the shape of the beast's snout. So there's nothing black about the black rhino. Which really shoud be called the narrow-gobbed rhino. Or something similar.