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On Thursday each week my column appears in the Euro Weekly News. My opinion is just that, an opinion. Feel free to put your oar in but in a constructive way if you please. Thanks so much. - Michael

31 October 2013


Mike Walsh


A number of amusing statements have been attributed to Winston Churchill. These have earned him applause but the handclapping is often undeserved.  When confronted by Bessie Braddock MP who admonished the wartime leader for being drunk he replied. “And you are ugly but I will be sober in the morning and you will still be ugly.”

Churchill was copying an English quip of some lineage.  It was old when W. C. Fields used the jibe in the 1930s movie It‘s a Gift.  This one-liner has been around for 130 years. 

Public life has always been a rich source of colourful language.  Lord Sandwich spoke plainly when he addressed the editor of The North Briton. “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of the pox.“ 

The journalist swiftly replied. “That depends, sir, on whether I embrace your politics or your mistress.” This exchange has wrongly been attributed to Gladstone and Disraeli.

Insults must include Clarence Darrow’s: “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”

One wretched author received a memo from Moses Hadas. “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it.”

Then as now, people loved the sound of their own voice. The quick-witted U.S. President Abraham Lincoln during a debate remarked, “It is better to keep one‘s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Fellow American, Mark Twain once wrote. “I didn’t attend the funeral but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw detested Winston Churchill. Knowing the politician had more toadies than friends he wrote.  “I enclose two tickets to the first night of my new play.  Bring a friend, if you have one.” Churchill replied, “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second, if there is one.”

Those in a poor relationship may take heart from Stephen Bishop’s remark: “I feel so miserable without you. It is almost like having you here.”  Equally mocking the opinion of Irvin S. Cobb: “I have just heard about his illness. Let us hope it is nothing trivial“. 

This brings us to the subject of the afterlife.  This prompted Jack E. Leonard to surmise; “There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.”

A young violinist after trying to impress George Bernard Shaw asked the playwright what he should play next. “Dominoes” was the curt reply.  The acclaimed conductor Sir Thomas Beecham on boarding his aircraft after a tour was asked by a luckless newspaper reporter when he would be returning to Australia. “Does anyone return to Australia?”

The American filmmaker Billy Wilder spoke for many who despair at modern music.  “He has van Gogh’s ear for music.”

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24 October 2013


Mike Walsh


Throughout the Costas live some of the era’s greatest entertainers.  Such artistes visit Mediterranean Spain whilst others chose to drop anchor in our safe haven harbours.

Entertainers work tirelessly during the hours when the rest of us are taking a break.  Most are paid far less than their true worth and the younger ones have tiring day jobs.  I am reminded of a true story.

As a social experiment, a newspaper invited Joshua Bell, one of the 20th Century’s great violinists to perform as a busker in a Washington DC railway station. Few passers-by took notice as he played pieces that had earlier played to sell-out audiences.

Many artistes entertain us simply because they enjoy doing so.  It certainly isn’t for the pittance many receive.  A bungling lawyer wouldn’t pick up the phone for that. Many think entertainers are free of charge, like the climate. We do not clap the sun either.

As I browse the Costa communities’ media, I see advertised entertainers who have rocked the world.  Some were cruise liner entertainers or once backed world famous bands. Many were household name stars who once saw their names in lights.  Fans paid over the odds for tickets to see idols who went on world tours and entertained the world‘s elite.  Time took its toll on these entertainers as it took its toll on us. No, stop right there.

Not all are quite as equal as at first it appears. Practice makes perfect, like the best of wines many artistes improve with age.  They became better at doing what they do best. Furthermore, without fanfares most perform free of charge for charities, many of which are very profitable concerns.

Where does the fault lie?  Like Joshua Bell, these outstanding artistes play not to sell-out audiences but to a table or two populated by family, friends and passers-by looking for a diversion.

Such artistes have already proved their worth.  Could the fault lie with local media?  No. One cannot turn a page without seeing a galaxy of stars.  Does the blame lie with venue managers?

Many venues are good at using quality entertainers to lure clients to their dining tables.  It is a rewarding experience.  I know restaurants where even off season booking a table is a necessity.  It is not because they are cheap or in the right location as many are virtually inaccessible. It is because they give value for money and outstanding entertainment is on the menu too.  That is their art.

If you experience a truly talented artiste or ensemble playing to empty tables the chances are it is due to sloppy or complacent management. Perhaps we too could shake off inertia.  My wife and I are often tired but when we make the effort we are rarely are we disappointed.  I will clap to that.

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17 October 2013

After more years than I care to remember, I still recall the elbow in the ribs. “Get up, son. Give the lady your seat.” When I became less a callow youth I would volunteer my bus seat without a poke in the ribs. It was and still is my second nature to keep open a door for an approaching lady.

I help elderly people on or off public transport or I take their bags whilst they alight. I am not sure who gets the warmest glow, them or me. Civility towards others was drummed into me but I confess there have been lapses.

Etiquette might have been the first French word I learnt. As I helped a new member of the staff with her coat, I sensed her body ‘blushing.’ The same happened when I held the car door open for her. She afterwards told me that no one had ever done that for her before. Jayne was in her late twenties.

A little before my time true gentlemen got to their feet when a woman entered a room. I do recall that when passing a woman a man might doff his cap or at least touch its brim.

Conversational good manners have disappeared. It seems that everyone agrees with the principle, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Do not expect it to be other than fine words.

Today there seems to be a streak of almost medieval intolerance shown towards those of conflicting view. Unwillingness to simply accept an opinion often leads to a verbal brawl.

During the 1930s and earlier mining villages with their working class communities had their debating societies. Each speaker was accorded civility and debaters’ opinions were respected. One suspects that fear of a punch-up or a visit from Plod would discourage such freedom of expression these days.

According to one survey, many young people have never written a handwritten letter. It is inconceivable that they might pen a few expressions of gratitude to someone who had given them a gift, shown a kindness, attended a function or perhaps accommodated them for a few days.

Recently our group was disappointed to find a Sunday dinner restaurant fully booked. Stuff happens but given the discourteous brush-off we will not be visiting a second time. Many in public service are sadly lacking in people skills. Ironically, it is not the youngsters who tend to be well mannered; the worst offenders are those old enough to know better.

There are of course many exceptions to the rule but the incivilities of an intolerant or rude minority spoil everyone’s day. Perhaps it is our fault for tolerating the intolerance of others. I no longer do so.

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10 October 2013


Mike Walsh


The disintegration of the Soviet Union liberated Europe or did it? It seemed that Europe was united for the first time since the overthrow of Tsarist Russia and capture of Europe by Bolsheviks. Sadly, the concept of a united Europe is still a distant dream.

The liberation of Europe in 1945 was a cruel self-deception. For millions of Europeans the victors’ oppression was to last a further 45 years. In 1989 - 1991, we sat glued to our television sets as their war ended; the watchtowers and sentry posts, the Berlin Wall collapsed and millions partied.

Today the European Union is made up of 28 nations. However, there are 50 countries in continental Europe. Travel between them up to 1917 was far easier than it is now. Many of these nations are historically and culturally more European than their Western neighbours.

Yet today half the peoples of one Europe wishing to legitimately visit the other half are obliged to negotiate an expensive soul-destroying paper chase application as fearsome as was the Berlin Wall. Doing so is a dreadful venture: Only the illegal, the wealthy, the corrupt and well connected can do so.

One day I will tell you just what an ordinary European living on the other side of the railroad track has to do to do what Americans take for granted, to choose the state of their choice. You will be shocked. In return for residency rights, Del Boy Spain flogs parcels of land at €500,000.

I was taken aback when years ago a German friend told me he welcomed the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Germany. He explained that eventually the Soviet regime would collapse. Held in a time warp and unaffected by non-European immigration much of the liberal West would by then have diluted its own culture.

What my friend could not foresee is that with the fall of the Berlin Wall the West changed places with the Soviet Bloc. Back then, the USSR was a near bankrupt gathering of disparate countries run by a self-elected leadership. Tell me, can you give me a better description of the European Union?

Twenty-seven unelected commissioners (commissars) make the European Union’s important decisions. Jose Manuel Barroso is the unelected President of the European Commission. He loftily declares that ‘nation states are dangerous if they are excessively democratic.’ The president of the European Council is unelected Herman van Rompuy.

Everyone in Brussels and Strasburg knows that if the European Union (EU) applied to join itself it would be turned down flat because of it being undemocratic.

Who could have foreseen Russia and a score of independent Eastern countries being based on democratic principles whilst the EU morphs into a debt-burdened banker’s plantation? Does that remind you of anywhere else? The former USSR perhaps.

If despite the enormous costs involved the reunification of Germany can create Europe’s most powerful nation imagine what can a truly united democratic Europe could do.

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05 October 2013


Answering my door to a young Polish woman she told me she desperately needed internet access. Having no idea where the nearest wifi location was she asked if she could use mine. I was happy to oblige.

I was reminded of the many times I have asked locals for assistance when in their countries. Their generosity of spirit has taught me some great life lessons.

Arriving late at Italy’s Bergamo airport and having picked up the hire car it dawned on me that budget airlines tell lies. The ‘nearby hotel’ I had booked was a perplexing few spaghetti junctions distant. At night, faced by a bewildering series of meaningless signs and caught up in a maelstrom of fast moving traffic my son and I were soon out of our depth.

“I will ask this couple,” I said. I had spotted Romeo and Juliette whispering sweet nothings to each other by their Vespa scooter. My son could not get over it when, without a qualm the youngster kissed his girlfriend Ciao and invited us to follow him. It was a difficult route but we reached our hotel. The teenager refused the well deserved €10 I offered.

As a youngster, I had on several occasions used my old car to tour Europe. Looking for an address in Munich I asked a young soldier for directions. Realising he was not making much sense he jumped in our car and guided us there. Munich is about the same size as Greater Manchester, the journey took nearly half an hour. He was happy to oblige without payment.

When in Latvia both Russians and Latvians couldn’t do enough to help when I needed advice. It sometimes seems to me that by helping others we too become happier.

I could never fault the native Africans. No matter how much my request inconvenienced those I asked assistance of their reward seemed to be their satisfaction at having helped a stranger in trouble.

In Japan, a cinema manager realised that we young sailors could not afford the entrance fee. He invited us to take our seats free of charge. We couldn’t understand the movie but we understood the lesson.

I found the Germans the friendliest of all. In a remote part of Bavaria, we were horrified when steam issued from under the car’s bonnet. Coming to our assistance a youngster got us to a garage where, free of charge the thermostat was dumped, the gasket replaced and all was well.

Again, I offered payment, which was refused. He did give me a little advice: “Pay me by offering assistance to any foreigner who needs you in your country.” It was a lesson I have never forgotten. I have paid for that car repair and other acts of kindness many times by assisting others in need of a kindly gesture.


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