INDIA: THE SERIOUS SIDE OF A SILLY WALK

All this talk about guardsmen falling over reminded me of India – and a visit I once made to the headquarters for the Ministry of Silly Walks.

I was staying in Amritsar and the travel desk at my hotel convinced me that I just could not leave without seeing the flag lowering ceremony at the Wagah border, which was nearby. What was so special about running a flag up and down a pole? But I agreed to go and take a look.

WALK DOMAIN I leave the hotel at five o’clock in the afternoon, with the mercury hovering around forty centigrade – as I step outside the heat sends me reeling like a head butt.

It is half an hour’s drive to Wagah and when we get there, it looks more like a circus than a border post. The car park is full of tourist buses, and there are lines of stalls selling ice cream and Coke and Indian flags. Crowds stream towards the border as if they are off to a football game.

I once went to a soccer cup final at Wembley Stadium in London in a crowd like this, I took my feet off the ground on Wembley Way and let the crush just carry me along, like body surfing a wave. I do the same now, only this wave is a touch clammy and smells vaguely of masala and cloves.

We are channeled through a sort of cattle race. There is a lot of mostly good-natured pushing and shoving, the mood is festive. And why not? The crowd are all looking forward to engaging in their favorite national pastime – Pakky-bashing.

I take my seat in the bleachers to wait.

ESTETIKA

photo: estetika / Peter van Aller

Below us, the border guards are nicely turned out in festive hats with a little red and gold coxcomb, medals and white spats. Without exception they each sport a mustache, from the severe, clipped British major style to fruity San Francisco ball-ticklers the size and shape of a small rodent.

Those in charge of crowd control blow whistles and pretend they are keeping order when in fact they are shamelessly grandstanding.

It is only an hour off sunset but it is so hot inside the stadium my fingertips are wrinkled as if I have just spent three hours soaking in a warm bath. Sweat mixes with the dirt and dust so that my shirt looks like I just washed the car with it. Back home you wouldn’t get out of the swimming pool in heat like this unless you are being evacuated from a bush fire. Here you have five thousand Hindus turning out for a flag ceremony that takes place twice a day every day of the year.

They hate their neighbors that much.

On the other side of the fence the mood is conspicuously more subdued. The sexes are segregated and there seem to be much fewer of them.

I am quite unprepared for this. Every flag raising ceremony I have witnessed, and there have been mercifully few, have been sedate affairs conducted with great dignity and pomp. What happens here has neither.

While the Pakistanis watch sullen from the other side, an Indian boy jumps the fence and starts dancing in the parade ground. Others join in. The crowd loves it. They become almost delirious when a an Israeli, a large boy with colored ribbons in his dreadlocks, starts walking like an Egyptian in front of the main viewing stand. It’s all highly amusing.

I am less sanguine when the Indian flag appears. Two Indian boys run with it towards the border gate. They wave it overhead at the Pakistanis in the bleachers on the other side. The flag is soon taken up by others.

When the two Israelis take a turn at the flag I become uneasy. The crowd bays its approval. The Israelis love it, playing up to the crowd now, moon-walking to laughter and wild applause.

What are these kids doing? Here are two races of people, separated by religion, going out of their way to antagonize each other and constantly veering on the edge of catastrophic war. Has it escaped these kids’ attention that this is no different from what is happening in their own country? Isn’t this what they have run away from?

In short, what the?

photo: Daniel Haupstein

photo: Daniel Haupstein

The Israelis are now orchestrating the chants of ‘Hindustan! Hindustan!’ above me in the viewing stand. They want these Indians to love them, and these Indians do love them, for they love foreigners, any foreigner, who agree with them that they are better than the Pakistanis.

“Do you like?” a young boy screams in my ear. He must be all of fourteen.

I shrug my shoulders.

“You like India better than Pakistan?”

I had read in the paper that day about a Pakistani husband who had thrown acid in his wife’s face because he thought she was having an affair with another man. I had not heard of anything that monstrous happening in India.

But.

“There are good and bad Pakistanis, like there’s good and bad Indians.”

He doesn’t want to hear that.

“Where you from?”

“Australia.”

“India better than Australia.”

“Not at cricket,” I tell him and that really hits the mark. Australia had recently beaten India in a cricket Test match. He goes away to sulk.

photo: Daniel Haupstein

photo: Daniel Haupstein

Someone once said that nationalism is egoism at its most extreme; the belief that your country is better than any other country because you were born in it.

Finally the ceremony gets under way.

There was a comedy program in Britain when I was a kid called Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In it, John Cleese performed a Silly Walk, which involved taking two quick shuffling steps and then throwing the right foot so high in the air so that it reached above the ear. I now see this walk being exactly performed by the Indian sergeant at arms below us.

I gasp in astonishment.

So John Cleese didn’t make it up! He was imitating a British-trained Indian military guard!

The gate between the two countries is thrown open, not with very great dignity, but tossed aside as if it is something that tripped up the sergeant at arms and scraped his shin and who left this fucking thing lying there anyway?

He then holds both hands out in front of him like he is turning on the TV with one hand and banging it with the other to try and get a clearer picture. He rounds on his Pakistani counterpart on the other side of the gate, puts his hands on his hips, and stares him down to wild applause from the Indian side.

Three soldiers from either side now face each other for several minutes in a bizarre ritual of foot-stamping and glowering, posturing and head shaking like roosters shaping up for a cockfight. Every small gesture is met with cheers and foot stamping.

It is at once shocking, hilarious and disturbing.

Finally the flag – you remember the flag? – is lowered. The theater is over. We are done for the day.

The evening’s experience leaves me profoundly depressed. Okay, you say, it’s just theater. Does no harm.

And maybe you’d be right.

But these two countries have nuclear weapons.

And it’s not just India and Pakistan. We have all of us been waving flags at each other for a few millenia now.

What harm has it done?

Well, quite a bit.

And if you think I’m taking any side in particular, you can always read this.

Jerusalem series

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GUARD #FAIL

I was in London six weeks ago during a major guard #fail.

Here’s what happened:

Maybe ten years ago he would have got away with it. But not anymore. He must have known that.

Almost two million people downloaded this clip from YouTube. It made all the papers. This Grenadier Guard soon became an internet sensation … but was not so popular with his commanding officer. He drew 21 days in a military prison.

At least his stuff-up was deliberate. These guard #fails were completely unintentional.

They prove one thing – once you’ve lost your dignity the worst thing you can do is try and get it back.

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HISTORY YOU CAN SEE

History is not about things that happened – it’s about people.

Here’s some great photographs of people who made a little bit of history – or just lived through it.

Because every one of them had a story.

Even if they’re not all human.

NASA, space

This is Ham the chimp in his space suit in the biopack of the Mercury-Redstone 2 prior to his 1961 test flight.

This next amazing photograph was taken in 1925:

Two_athletes_with_artificial_right_legs._Wellcome_L0012015Not only was this a fantastic achievement but neither of them murdered their girlfriends through a bathroom door afterwards.

The photograph is courtesy of Wellcome Images.

Here’s what Baywatch would have looked like that same year.

287px-Lifeguard_1920s Parkway

This photograph of a lifeguard was taken at Parkway in the 1920’s.

While we’re still at the beach, here’s another picture from the good ol’ days. Though I don’t think the good old days were that good for semi-aquatic marine mammals.

Walking_seal_on_beach_(LAPL00066776)We mostly treat animals a little more kindly these days.

Okay, never mind the flapper with the flipper – here’s the Gipper.

364px-Ronald_Reagan_as_Lifeguard_1927

That’s Ronald Reagan as a Lifeguard in Lowell Park in Illinois in 1927.

His face is instantly recognizable. These guys – not so much.

Atabrine_advertisement_in_Guinea_during_WW2

The photograph was taken in New Guinea during World War II. Even Mad Men may have winced at that piece of marketing.

Photograph is from the Otis Historical Archives of “National Museum of Health & Medicine”

Here’s a little girl who lived through that same brutal time in our history – and survived.

The_London_Blitz,_1940_MH26395_2

This little girl is Eileen Dunne, aged three, in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, after being injured during an air raid on London in September 1940. The photograph is from the Cecil Beaton collection.

This week was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Following its construction in the summer of 1961  the mother and aunt of a young bride were separated from the rest of their family. They could not attend the wedding and the best they could do was congratulate the newly weds by calling out to them from the window of a building in Bernauer Strasse.

Heart- rending.

The_Berlin_Wall_1961_-_1989_HU99516

Back to the Roaring Twenties. That was some dumb decade.

This is how they tested bullet proof vests back then.

736px-Testing_bulletproof_vest_1923Blokes were tough in those days.

But the women were even tougher. This is Annie Edson Taylor, preparing to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Annie_Taylor_before_her_trip

Here she is afterwards, the first person to ever to perform the feat and survive.

AnnietaylorwaterA little wet, a little shaken up and though you can’t see it here, she has a small cut on her head.

But not bad, for sixty three years old.

first person to do it and survive

It’s a shame we didn’t have photography much before the middle of the nineteenth century.

If we did, I could show you a picture of the world’s first detective – William Shakespeare.

No, not that one; the other one, his cousin:

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THE HISTORY OF DANCE IN SIX MINUTES

Some awesome dance move’s for Susie Lindau’s next blog party!

Because history is not just about kings and queens …

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the joy of English place names

Don’t you love the English and their place names?

I was in the UK recently and while visiting friends in Essex, I saw this.

Fingringhoe - 2014-07-21 18.41.44Yep, the one top left above Rowhedge.

Is it just me?

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2B OR NOT 2B? ROBIN WILLIAMS DOES SHAKESPEARE

The late Robin Williams with his take on Shakespeare.

Robin, we miss you.

We know Shakespeare was England’s greatest dramatist.

But did you know his cousin was the world’s first gumshoe?

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Brush up your Shakespeare!

Brush up your Shakespeare – from Kiss Me Kate …

If your blonde won't respond when you flatter 'er
Tell her what Tony told Cleopatterer

If she fights when her clothes you are mussing
What are clothes?  Much ado about nussing

Love it.

So what WAS all the fuss about? Oh Hamlet, Ophelia pain.

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BET YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE: HISTORY IN PHOTOGRAPHS

History doesn’t have to be a long time ago. Live past thirty and you can remember history.

We even have photographs of history.

Here are a few startling and varied ones.

Let’s start with a knot unbroken for over three thousand years until this photograph was taken: the seal on Tutakhamen’s tomb.

Tutankhamen

The unbroken seal on Tutankhamun’s tomb, 1922

Take a look at these guys. Prison photograph, you think?

Princeton

Mafia boot camp?

No, 3 Princeton students after a freshmen v sophomores snowball fight in 1893.

Think that’s harsh? Take a look at this:

Carl_AkeleyThis is Carl Akeley, the father of modern taxidermy, after killing a leopard with his bare hands. They don’t make men like that anymore.

This is why:

Mr._Akeley_after_being_mauledYou go round stuffing animals, it will always end in tears. You have to wait till they’re dead, Carl. And this was another bad idea:

Akeley._An_Idea_that_Failed

Revolution can be tiring. So on May 15, 1960, Che Guevara along with boat mate Fidel Catro competed against Ernest Hemingway at the “Hemingway Fishing Contest” in Havana, Cuba.

Che Guevara, Hemingway, catro

I hope he caught a Red Emperor.

Here is a view of the employees of the New York Central Railroad in 1918, with a pyramid of captured German helmets, with Grand Central Terminal in the background.

New York Central StationNot something you see every day. Neither is this.

Ku Klux Klan

Members of the Klu Klux Klan sightseeing at the Capitol, 1925

I doubt that the current incumbent would have asked them in for tea in the Oval Office.

And now a photograph of the world’s first tweet.

computer, twitter, Microsoft

Actually, it’s a Seattle City Light employee working at an analog Enns Power Network Computer, 1968.

He’s putting a picture of his cat on Facebook.

And last, here’s the original Christopher Robin with Pooh Bear. Oh and the guy is AA Milne, the guy who created them.

AA Milne, Winnie the Pooh

 

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SHAKESPEARE OWED IT ALL TO A GOOD EDITOR

Lake Union, the historical imprint of those terrible godless people at Amazon, recently bought world rights to ISABELLA, Braveheart of France.

So I had the great pleasure of working with Tegan Tigani, on the second edit.

She was brilliant.

Now I understand why Shakespeare did so well.

As Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie demonstrate, right here:

Perhaps Bill was distracted. There was a lot going on in his life:

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BOOK LAUNCH 101: THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

The modern book launch: how do you expect to be taken seriously as a writer if you can’t make a video?

RoughJustice(9)

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