If you get lost in the woods, leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Don’t stay out after dark. Don’t talk to strangers.
The schoolboy is walking along Warsaw’s ulica Naruszewicza with two friends. It is the afternoon of 22 January 1957. Snow is on the ground.
The three boys are on their way home from St Augustine High School for their dinners. St Augustine is a good private school, one of the very few in Communist Poland. Its students are the sons of important men.
The schoolboy is fifteen-years-old. His dark hair is combed back from his forehead in a pomaded shell. He carries his school books in a brown leather briefcase. He wears a herringbone overcoat and winter boots with white laces.
It is 13:50. At the intersection of Naruszewicza with ulica Wejnerta a tall man with a briefcase approaches the boys.
“Which one of you is Piasecki?”
The schoolboy steps forward. The man takes a piece of paper from his case and shows it to him. The schoolboy silently accompanies the man to a nearby taxi rank on Wejnerta. He does not look back at his friends.
Today we have a guest post from Chris Hennemeyer, a man who knows more about contemporary Africa than anyone else around. Chris has worked in international aid and development for the last few decades. He’s seen the beauty and the violence of the African subcontinent up close. Here is his account of dealing with rebels in Liberia back in the 1990s. The follow up about Nigeria is here.
The Cavally was a thick, rich cafe au lait color and impressively wide for a river I’d never before heard of. I was on the Ivorian side of the border, my shoes deep in the crumbling sand of the river bank, squinting across the broad brown water at Liberia. On our side women chatted as they washed clothes in the shallows, and men sat nearby repairing fishing nets, but on the opposite shore there was no movement, only a dense wall of green, old-growth forest; soaring silk cotton trees, raffia palms, and elaborate weaves of liana vines. It was just past noon and my damp shirt clung to me like a second skin. I loosened my tie, a pointless effort in the oppressive humidity.
In 1991, Liberia was barely a quarter the way through its “first” civil war. Tens of thousands of people, nearly all civilians, had been killed by marauding bands of bizarrely costumed criminals, and many times that number had fled their homes, either for the bush or for neighboring countries. But things would get much worse before they briefly got better. In the meantime, though, they were bad enough.
My post about French mercenary Dominique Borella, who died in Lebanon during the civil war, stirred up some interesting responses. Fans, onlookers, and family members got in touch. Ultimately it all lead to Dominique’s son Gunther heading over to Beirut and meeting his father’s former comrades.
Gunther was 4-years-old when his father died but grew up knowing little about him. Dominique’s wife divorced her mercenary husband when he went to Lebanon to fight. She preferred her son not to know much about his adventurer of a father.
Later on, Gunther’s grandmother (Dominque’s mother) filled in the gaps.
“I remember that her house was like a museum dedicated to the memory of my father,” said Gunther. “Until the end of her life, she expected to see her son knock on the door and return home.”
Photographs and family legends kept Dominique’s memory alive until 2016 when Gunther went hunting on the internet for more information.
The 1988 action picture Die Hard launched Bruce Willis into stardom and gave Alan Rickman his first foothold in the movie business. It’s an action-packed 2 hours and 11 minutes of gunplay and wisecracks as Willis takes on a gang of German terrorists holding an entire office block hostage. An incomparable modern classic according to some; a well-paced slice of 80’s bloodlust to others.
And it almost starred Frank Sinatra.
The producers asked the 73-year-old singer and actor to take the lead role that would go to Bruce Willis. They had no choice thanks to a decent bit of 60s neo-noir called The Detective.
The story began back in 1966 when a New Yorker who’d been a private eye and published a book that didn’t sell much decided to write a detective novel about a man on the verge of losing everything.
If you’ve ever read any Evelyn Waugh then you’ll know the name Basil Seal. He’s the roguish protagonist of Black Mischief (squeezing money out of an impoverished African nation), Put Out More Flags (squeezing money out of WW2), and Basil Seal Rides Again (squeezing money out … no wait, sabotaging his daughter’s wedding). He also makes a brief appearance in the amputated limb of Work Suspended.
Amoral, unclean, and charming, he’s a bit of a fantasy self-portrait for Waugh. But he began as a stinging caricature of Waugh’s real life enemy from Oxford University: Basil Murray.
A dissolute and rich Oxford graduate who found a cause in Liberal politics and anti-fascism, Murray is probably the only man to be murdered by a monkey during the Spanish Civil War.
I‘ve been off the radar for the last month trying to finish my third book . The writing is almost done and looks like it’ll be in the shops around June 2017.
My publishers have already got a provisional title and cover up on Amazon (or Amazon.com). So it’ll probably look a bit like this when it hits the bookshops … . But parts of the title may change and the cover too. Welcome to the wacky world of publishing.
Research for the book has turned up some strange characters among the foreigners who fought for Ethiopia against the Italian invasion: adventurers, drunks, Nazis, fascists, Pan-African visionaries, evangelical medical men, and racists of all races came together to defend an emperor against a dictator. And it also turned up a few surprises about Haile Selassie’s international friends.
On 7 December 1980 Darby Crash, lead singer of Los Angeles punk band The Germs, pumped $400 worth of heroin into his arm. He nodded out in the arms of punk groupie Casey Cola, who thought she was part of a suicide pact.
Casey woke up the next morning in the embrace of a corpse. Darby had prepared both their hits and intended to go out alone. The singer wanted immortality. He wanted, he once said, fans to worship a statue of him after he died. Bad timing messed up that plan. A few hours after Darby was found by paramedics at Casey Cola’s mom’s house, ex-Beatle John Lennon was shot dead in New York City.
The movers and shakers of the LA punk scene paid tribute to the dead Germs vocalist; Rodney Bingenheimer’s Rodney On The Roq radio show alternated Beatles and Germs tracks all night long. Everyone else in America was mourning a much bigger star.
The last of Darby Crash’s plans to lead the people had failed.