Mad Year 2003 2003 contained even more insanity than 2002.  The Highs and Lows Large parts of Britain started the year under water, but by the end of the year water supply reservoirs were dangerously low. (Water rationing in next year?) (Something distinctly fishy about this picture. Surely some mistake? - Ed.)    Winning Friends and Influencing People The Bush Administration continued to alienate the rest of the world, demonstrating how not to win friends and influence people by pulling out of international treaties, relaxing environmental regulations, imposing unlawful trade sanctions, and most spectacularly by taking the country to war against Iraq, pulling Britain along on its coat tails.   Between Iraq and a Hard Place The military might of the United States was unleashed against Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction which the UN Weapons Inspectors had failed to find. America and Britain set about proving they existed by using intelligence reports, including one thesis on Iraq written by an American undergraduate twelve years ago, and a document from Africa that turned out to be a forgery. Bush linked Saddam Hussein with Bin Laden and the Al-Quaeda terrorist group and therefore military action was a “direct and proper response” to the terrible events of September 11th, 2001 - although of course Bin Laden and his cronies were mainly connected with Saudi Arabia and considered Saddam's secular State as an enemy of their distorted Islamic cause. Still, that was a minor consideration and easily overlooked. Thus, in March, America and Britain went in with guns blazing, (sometimes at each other). A British helicopter pilot came under fire from the Americans. He landed his craft near the American unit and had a punch-up with a US Marine, saying, "When was the last time you saw a fucking Iraqi in a helicopter?!"  Within a few weeks Iraq imploded in a riot of chaos and looting. Saddam Hussein's  regime evaporated and he himself disappeared (until the end of the year when he was found cultivating a long beard in his final palace - a hole in the ground). No weapons of any serious significance were used against the Coalition forces, nor were "WMD" subsequently found. Indeed for "WMD" read "Weapons of Mis-Description". But, weapons or no weapons, we had successfully liberated Iraq from a tyrannical dictator, and a grateful population celebrated their new-found freedom by blowing up our soldiers and each other for the rest of the year. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was heralded in the US  as a hero for committing Britain to the American cause (supported by the Conservative Opposition) and The Toxic Texan showed his appreciation by assigning the tendering process for the reconstruction of Iraq  exclusively to American companies, and by imposing punitive tariffs against European steel producers. At home, Blair fell off his pedestal consequent upon not only committing our troops to the war but also for sending many of them into battle with incomplete or malfunctioning equipment. We all thought, however, that the British soldiers, sailors and airmen did a superb job in difficult circumstances.   If you're not with us you're against us Many other countries bitterly opposed the action against Iraq, none more so than France & Germany (see left for one of the Germans' own WMD discovered by my son some years ago!) who promptly became pariah states in the eyes of America. They were lucky to escape joining The Texan's famous "Axis of Evil" States. The opinions of these and many other major European countries counted for nothing. One of the "I'm-an-Idiot-and-Proud-of-It" fraternity in the American Administration declared that Government Department restaurants should no longer offer "French Fries" on the menu. In future the serving of "Freedom Fries" would become de rigueur (though the use of that phrase would not be!) I have no idea whether Champagne was taken off the wine list and poured down the drain, but I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had thought about it. (Perhaps they just re- labelled the bottles - "Naturally Carbonated Wine from Outside the United States.")   Sexy Intelligence The row in Britain over the WMD intelligence reports trundled on right through to Christmas and beyond. A government scientific officer had suggested to a BBC reporter that the intelligence dossiers had been "sexed up" in order to justify Blair's decision to back The Texan. Somehow, the officer's name was released to the public, and amidst all the attendant publicity he committed suicide, leading to a Public Inquiry into the whole affair - to report early in 2004.   The Quiet Man didn't stay long Tony Blair's discomfort throughout 2003 did absolutely nothing for the fortunes of Her Majesty's Opposition, the Conservative Party. Their leader, sometimes known as Iain Duncan Smith (for that was indeed his name) by those who could remember who or what he was, stood up in front of his Party's Autumn Conference and declared, "The Quiet Man is here to stay and he is turning up the volume" (Ooooh … scary!). After a well-orchestrated standing ovation and a short period of time, he was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by one Michael Howard who thus became the third leader of the Conservative Party in six years. Howard was hailed as the man who would at last lead the Tories back to the Promised Land of Perpetual Government, but many of us remembered him as a pretty unimpressive Home Secretary under the disintegrating John Major government that preceded Tony Blair's  elevation to the sainthood in 1997. (One of Howard's side-kicks at the time, Ann Widdecombe, famously declared that he had "something of the night about him") Selective Blindness There was also evidence during the year that North Korea was stepping up its nuclear weaponry programme but this failed to elicit a military response from the Pentagon. Another cause of persistent despair and terrorism that was totally ignored was the continued belligerent actions of another nuclear- armed State, namely Israel. Their continued development of settlements on occupied land, and the building of a new "Berlin Wall" between Israel and the Palestinians, just carried on totally unchecked. Terrorists continued to blow people up in various places around the world, demonstrating how much safer the world had become as a result of the Iraq invasion. The Texan rides into town to see the Queen Towards the end of the year the Texan visited Britain on a formal State Visit. He didn't get much opportunity to "meet the people", being well protected from the great unwashed, some of whom took the opportunity to burn the US flag - totally missing the point that in so doing they were insulting the whole of the American people, when all they needed to do was express their dislike of the current US Administration. There was a huge security operation involving thousands of police, (many armed), hundreds of American Security personnel, "moving" road blocks, streets sealed off - indeed a complete security bubble surrounding the president - in spite of which a Daily Mirror journalist managed to gain employment as a Royal Footman by using false references. He had access to the Queen's apartments, the room that Bush would be using, the Queen's breakfast room, and had taken photos of all these. He had been involved in laying out tables, so the food could have been tampered with (in which case Bush junior might have followed in Bush senior's footsteps - throwing up at a State Banquet.) The Palace confirmed that the journalist had been checked against the Criminal Records Bureau and found he was "clean". That's all right, then, because obviously Al-Quaeda wouldn't think of using someone without a criminal record if they wanted to infiltrate Buckingham Palace. I like to think that President Bush visited the UK as a reciprocal gesture following Mr & Mrs Collosus Linoleum's visit to the USA a few weeks earlier. (Oh, it wasn't?)  Start of serious bit … We made our first ever transatlantic flight to find out what Americans were really like in the flesh. This was one of the best things we had ever done. Everyone we met reinforced our developing experience that Americans are in general some of the kindest, most polite, generous, hospitable people you could wish to meet. (I know that most of this article is a load of tongue-in-cheek cods-wallop, but this paragraph at least has to be taken seriously - please.) We had the opportunity of meeting up with three "internet friends" and were not disappointed. I won't hear a word said against the American people, and we felt that they deserved better than The Texan as their Commander in Chief. We also visited Canada, taking in Toronto (great city) and Niagara Falls (impressively wet). A few weeks later some idiot dived over the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara, in his normal clothes. He survived. Most other crazy attempts like this have been inside barrels and the like. It's a 180 ft drop. The combined discharge of the three Niagara Falls amounts to some 150,000 gallons per second!  ... end of serious bit.  The Train now standing  … Britain's privatised railway system (which was either John Major's testosterone-driven attempt to do something even the Great She-Elephant had not dared to do, or just the wild thrashing about of a disintegrating government) continued to fall apart at the seams. Trains were late (or not there at all) but government policy announcements and reviews did come along quite frequently and with some regularity. New electric units purchased for the London area commuter services could not be used because they were discovered to use more power than was actually available. (Golly, we didn't see that one coming!) New high-speed Virgin trains for the west coast main line between London and Scotland only travelled at moderate speed because of late track improvements. The government continued to use our taxes to subsidise ailing train companies, and fares continued to be the most expensive in Europe, so we might just as well have kept the old publicly owned British Rail. (Different coloured trains, same money). My own experience of a journey by GNER from York to London was pleasant enough in itself but became ridiculous on a visit to the buffet car. A comprehensive menu of food and drink displayed in the buffet car included a wide range of coffees. I was impressed, so I ordered an espresso for me and a cappuccino for my wife, which elicited the response, "I'm sorry, sir, we have no coffee machine on this train." I settled for hot water poured into two cups of instant coffee and offered a £20 note. "Do you have anything smaller", asks the steward, and I reply, "You have no coffee machine, I have no small change - it seems a fair swap."  It's the Votes that Count! At the end of the year The Texan lifted his illegal steel tariffs, bowing to international pressure, though partly recognising, no doubt, that for every vote he gained in Pittsburgh he could lose one in Detroit, since steel users were finding home grown steel more pricey than the stuff they used to import.   The Game played by those Magnificent Men with Funny Shaped Balls The England Rugby Team beat the Australians in the World Cup Final and came home with the Cup. According to one Australian sports commentator, they played "like Australians". They returned to London to a heroes' welcome, and for a few unusual weeks in this soccer mad country the media paid more attention to the Hooligans' Game played by Gentlemen, than the Gentlemen's Game played by Hooligans.   The Disunited States of Europe The European Union decided to admit more members from the old East European ex-Communist territories, bringing the total membership up to 23 countries. Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers met in Brussels  to thrash out a new European Constitution fit for enlarged membership, and it all ended in tears, breaking up without agreement. My wife and I were in Brussels the same week-end, but nobody asked us to help them out. Shame. American Legal Black Hole I end with a note about Guantanemo Bay and the hundreds of prisoners who have been kept there without charge, trial, or access to the normal channels of Law. I learned from someone via the Internet that the earliest known piece of Law dates back to 2350 BC … apparently it was called Urukagina's Code, and consolidated a series of even earlier Mesopotamian statutes. It accorded the accused some rights: for example, notification of why they were being punished. So it is nice to know that, at the very least, Urukagina's Code has been applied to the Guantanemo Bay prisoners. They do at least know why they are being punished … it is because Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has decided they are all guilty of terrorist acts.  Don't get me wrong, dear reader … if they are indeed guilty, then throw away the key … but please don't ask me to accept their guilt on the say-so of the Pentagon. (Is it true that the iguanas on this piece of US leased territory have more rights and protection than the human beings in the cages? Surely some mistake.) I bid you a "Colossal" farewell. © Lionel Beck, North Yorkshire, England US flag UK flag British Troops in Basra, Iraq Click to enlarge German "Weapon of Mass Destruction" Tony Blair UK Prime Minister 2003 Iain Duncan Smith - transient leader of Conservative Party Michael Howard - another transient leader of the Conservatives Bush sees nothing (and understands nothing) Return to Top Royal Standard Buckingham Palace Sentries Click to enlarge Return to Top Return to Top The American Falls at Niagara Click to enlarge Return to Top Return to Top European Union Flag © Lionel Beck - North Yorkshire - UK