Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Be an Ambler Gambler – By Patrick Brigham

In my last three murder mystery novels, certain critics have noted a similarity between my writing style and that of one of Britain’s most successful spy thriller writers, the modest but famous wartime novelist, Eric Clifford Ambler OBE.

Born in 1909, it made him a natural contemporary of my parents and therefore it is little wonder that his books were crammed into my home bookshelves when, as a boy, I took up reading as an escape from UK post WW2 austerity, and provincial boredom. So now, you know the reason why!

Orson Wells

Eric Ambler was the writer’s writer, and even Graham Greene and Ian Fleming admired his style and of course his Hollywood success, with films starring such wartime greats as Orson Wells and Joseph Cotton. He was also famous for writing many of the post war film blockbusters, including: The Cruel Sea, A Night to Remember, Topkapi - a film starring Peter Ustinov - and my favourite story, Journey Into Fear.
Sam Waterston

The latter has been made and remade - originally with Joseph Cotton and Orson Wells, in 1943 - and later with Sam Waterston, and Donald Pleasance in 1973. A great film, because it also has in its cast, cockney Stanley Holloway, the wonderful Zero Mostel, and a rather dodgy Romanian killer, played by Ian McShane.

But it was the book which first caught my eye, and a story which opened up all sorts of wonder at the mysterious goings on in wartime South Eastern Europe, and the very secret, Turkish Levant. Now of course, this mysterious place is next door to where I live, and the secrets of the Turkish Levant are no longer a matter for conjecture. But this implies that Eric Amblers pedigree was rather similar to John Le Carre, and that he understood the profession of spying rather well.

In his 2010 Amazon review of Journey Into Fear, which incidentally is now a ‘Penguin Modern Classic,’ Mike Collins said-
‘I recently asked a colleague if he could recommend any lunchtime reading - something not too heavy, exciting, and with a dash of intelligence thrown in to stimulate my ageing brain cells. "Ambler's your man," he replied and lent me a battered old seventies paperback copy of 'Journey into Fear'. Wow! What a choice. This is top edge-of-the-seat stuff, Graham Greene (who admired Ambler) pared down to a pacy plot and without all the Catholic angst gubbins that spoils GG for me. To the critic here who says it is "old-fashioned" because it's pre-mobile phone, email, internet and so on I say 'Yah boo sucks', you won't find any of those things in Shakespeare either and what we get with him is none the worse for it. Ambler deserves his elevation into Penguin Modern Classics because, first and foremost, he's a great writer who knows how to entertain. Go on - become an Ambler gambler and see if you can spot the villains in this great title. You'll be reading the rest of his books soon after, believe me.’

This rather confirms my personal view, that despite the passing years, people still have a taste for adventure and the mystery of old time deception, together with stories about people who know how to keep secrets. Standing next to this towering talent, as a fellow novelist, one necessarily feels quite humble, and I regard any similarity between my writing and his, as a great tribute.

In many ways, and as a man, Ambler appears to have been a typical ‘Anti Fascist,’ as many of his contemporaries were at the rime, and even viewed The Soviet Union as the only real counterweight to Nazi aggression. During WW2, Ambler entered the British army as a private soldier, was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1941, and soon reassigned to photographic units worldwide. He ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel and assistant director of the army film unit.

After the war, he worked in the civilian film industry as a screenwriter, receiving an Academy Award nomination in 1953 for his work on the film The Cruel Sea, which he adapted from the novel by Nicholas Monsarrat. He did not resume writing under his own name until 1951, entering the second of the two distinct periods in his writing, and five of his six early works are now regarded by Penguin as classic thrillers.


The two books for which I have received good reviews, are firstly Abduction: An Angel over Rimini - which received a 2014 award in the US from The Authors Show, and
The Dance of Dimitrios, which has received five stars from Amazon, and Goodreads reviewers, all the way. Both Abduction: An Angel over Rimini, and The Dance of Dimitrios are set in The Balkans, and both deal with the duplicity of modern day human trafficking, murder mystery, money laundering, and spying.

In both of these books, I write about the realities of the present day Balkans and the way that Greece and Bulgaria have become, to some extent, victims of an ongoing Turkish conspiracy. This is clear by the way they have fooled the West into believing that they actively care for their fellow NATO members - which they obviously do not - which their porous and profitable borders, have easily disproved.

Laced with conspiracy and the sordid remnants of Communism, in both books, I have tried to show how easy it was for some to redirect their skills into human trafficking, a modern day scourge, where the helpless peoples of Arabia have been turned into a basic commodity. Traded like slaves across Europe, whilst making their masters' vast fortunes - leaving a trail of despondent victims, and corpses behind them – Al Qaeda and ISIS, are slowly throttling Western Europe, with further atrocities to come! As the inheritor of the flame, my books have a simple message, and are available on my website www.authorpatrickbrigham.com

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Will Britons, Ever Be Slaves? – By Patrick Brigham

When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."
By James Thompson 1745

The Past.

As Great Britain battled its way into the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution was just the vain hope of a few, but In 1770, when Captain James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia, it sets a precedent for later expansion during the Victorian era. In 1783, after the American War of Independence - in which 13 American territories were lost – Great Britain, finally turned her attention to other countries, in order to establish more permanent colonies, which it so successfully did. During the long reign of Queen Victoria, this meant that Britania - not only ruled the waves - but also one third of the planet.
William Gladstone 1809 – 1898

William Gladstone was a man not known for his good humour. He did however have a strong Christian belief, and the archetypal Victorian views on morality, which dominated the Victorian period. And, sitting as a Liberal Prime Minister, he became known for two things. Firstly, he was lumbered with the sobriquet ‘The Peoples, William,’ because he undertook so many drastically needed social reforms - in a black and blighted industrial Britain - which was choking on its own success.

He even opposed Turkey's bloody reaction to the Bulgarian April Uprising, not only gave vocal support in the UK parliament for the Bulgarians, but he sent military equipment as well. This earned him recognition, and by the naming a Sofia street after him - which is just off Slaveikov Square – their undying respect.

David Lloyd George 1863-1945

Invariably considered the quintessential Welshman, Lloyd George was in fact born in Manchester on 17 January 1863, the son of a schoolmaster. From 1905 to 8, and as a Liberal, he was appointed to serve in the Campbell-Bannerman government as President of the Board of Trade. During this time he oversaw the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act in1906, and the formation of the Port of London Authority in 1908.

In the Asquith administration of 1908 to 15, Lloyd George served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and devised the controversial "People's Budget" of 1909. The budget promoted higher land taxes and the introduction of a super tax on incomes over £3,000, so as to fund social reform programmes, and rearmament of the Royal Navy.

His budget was rejected by the House of Lords - bringing about a constitutional crisis - with the Lords opposing, for the first time, a government budget. Lloyd George relished the opportunity of attacking the Lords, which had impeded a number of the Liberal's social justice bills. Consequently the Parliament Act of 1911 severely cut back the powers of the House of Lords, restricting the ability of the upper chamber, in opposing finance bills, passed by the Commons, something which is often ignored.

Sir Winston Churchill 1874 to 1965

Out of office, and politically in the wilderness, during the 1930s - because of his opposition to increased home rule for India and his resistance to the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII, Churchill took the lead in warning about Nazi Germany and in campaigning for rearmament. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, and following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain on 10 May 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister. His speeches and radio broadcasts helped inspire British resistance, especially during the difficult days of 1940–41 when the British Commonwealth and Empire stood almost alone in its active opposition to Adolf Hitler. He led Britain as Prime Minister until victory over Nazi Germany had been secured, despite his great age.

The Present

Mr Nigel Farage MEP Born 1964

Mr Michael Gove MP Born 1967

The Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP Born 1964

The remarkable thing about these three leading Brexiteers, is their obvious lack of any statesmanlike qualities, because, the way they purport themselves on the public stage is neither elegant, nor stylish.

But, are these erstwhile politico’s, the sort of people to whom the British voters should have unquestionably offered their allegiance and respect as economic guru’s? Have they – rather like the aforementioned political luminaries from the past – steered our great nation, on a dependable patriotic cause, to a political nirvana we British all so justly crave?

Well, they would have you believe that, wouldn't they; all three men being of such great moral character and intrinsic honesty? The mind boggles! How was it that an entire nation could be backed into such a disastrous cul-de-sac, with no way out?

We Can Dream

Deep inside the catacombs below number 10 Downing Street, and unbeknown to many honest London citizens, there lies a bleak and forlorn torture chamber, from which – very late at night - hideous screams can be heard. This is where Theresa May spends her evenings, and where she extracts the truth, from her erring cabinet ministers. Dressed in her familiar net stockings, horizontal striped sweater, with French beret, and carrying her trademark horsewhip, she often entertains Boris Johnson, who recently likes to be referred to as Mr. Bun the Baker.

‘Please hit me again,’ an almost manic look of gratitude sweeps across the face of Mr. Bun, as he enjoys the masochistic pleasures, of a friendly chat with the recently elected British Prime Minister.

‘No, Mr. Bun, I will not indulge you in any further ludicrous and pleasurable bouts of punishment, until you have learned your lesson.’ She puts down her horsewhip and lights up a small cheroot. Swigging down a quadruple measure of neat Grouse scotch whiskey, she looks at her grovelling Foreign Secretary, with contempt.

‘Unless, of course, you wish to give up the day job, Mr. Bun, and go back to scribbling for a living, I suggest you put up with French jibes, German sneers, and bad Italian jokes. It may not have crossed your mind, Mr. Bun, but you, and the other two wally’s, have caused me a great deal of grief.’ She gives him one last kick with her Doc Martins, before allowing him to get up from his semi recumbent position, on the sawdust strewn and blood soaked floor.

‘And another thing, Mr. Bun,’ Theresa, by now, was beginning to lose her cool altogether, ‘you can tell that two timing treacherous twat Michael Gove, that I wouldn’t give him a job cleaning the bogs, in the Houses of Parliament, he is such a useless git!’

Back to Reality

Oh dear, is it really irreversible? Are we now stuck with unraveling forty years of EU negotiations – from Charles De Gaulle’s veto in 1963 to our final accession in 1973 – and all those in between years, when we were told that things were on the up and up. And they were, for the most part, barring the odd property crash – 1969, 1974 and 1989 – and of course a total worldwide financial crash in 2008 - almost papered over by now - and all thanks to some unprincipled and greedy Wall Street bankers.

To say that it has been a 40 year roller coaster ride, may be a bit rich for some, but at least being in the EU has helped to stop Europe descending into chaos – like the aftermath of the Great Depression in 1930 – and of course into unnecessary conflict. Whilst the petty bourgeois count their penny’s, claiming that the Brexit will be better for all, what they really mean in fact, is better for them.

Oh, and lets not forget all those British pensioners living abroad, who either voted or were not allowed to vote in the referendum. When the British pound crashed, did you happen to notice how your monthly payment also crashed by some 20%.

That is democracy in action for you; you should be pleased to be part of this great social experiment, and thank you, once again - Nigel, Michael and Boris - and all your thoughtful supporters!

Friday, 19 August 2016

No Man is An Island – By Patrick Brigham

>“ "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is, the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
― John Donne

During my childhood, Sir Antony Hurd MP - father of the more famous son; the formidable Lord Douglas Hurd - was the local Conservative MP for Newbury. During every successive election – 1945 to 1964 – he always visited our little farmhouse in Burghfield, asking if he could rely on my widowed mothers vote in the forthcoming election.The answer she gave was always the same.

‘Yes, Antony, I will vote for you, but as a lifelong Liberal, I only do so because there is no suitable Liberal candidate.’ At which point, sherry was usually served, local pleasantries exchanged – had we had a visit from the new local police constable – and of course, the weather.

How riveting – I am sure you are thinking right now – but I am using this as an illustration; not only of how things were in the past, but to underline the total indifference of the majority of British MPs today towards their voters, and in particular, the apathy displayed by the many mysterious MEPs who have inhabited the Brussels parliament, for the last 40 years.

Do you know the name of your MEP? Have they ever visited you in order to solicit your opinions on European Union matters, or are they as unconcerned towards their electorate, as the voters are in them. Presupposing that the answer is no, is it any surprise that the Brexit vote went the way that it did, submerged in gratuitous swathes of ignorance, and very clearly, total contempt.

More than 100 Tory MPs want to stop Brexit, says Ken Clarke

It may be too late to stop a 100% Brexit because as a democratic country the UK stands by its electorate, and their wishes. It is also easy to blame the shoddy way the referendum was organized – more like a public school lark, than a reasoned university debate, you might say – but that goes a long way in describing the present day media. The Brexit was regarded as light entertainment - and not the good old propaganda of yore - as was the case in most of post WW2 Europe, when crusty, pompous and austere politicians had their half hour on the TV.

Treated so lightly, and so flippantly, it is no wonder that the Brexit became a reality. Perhaps the viewing public thought they were watching a version of The Muppits or perhaps Spitting Image; imagining that the outcome was not very serious, and just a big joke. But, as Nigel Farage so inelegantly put it to the European Union Parliament – ‘You are not laughing at me now!’

Saturday, 6 August 2016

20 Years on, Michael Kapoustin and Life Choice - By Patrick Brigham

‘Letters to My Son,’ is an autobiographical account of Michael Kapoustins life in Bulgaria. In it, he describes his time spent in solitary confinement in a Bulgarian prison as brutal. He reveals how - although he was allowed to write letters – the letters he wrote to his son Nick, were somehow never sent. Kept on remand for five years, it was not until his trial that these letters were finally released to his family. Arrested in 1996, he did not appear in Sofia City Court, until 2001.

Michael Kapoustin with his son Nick

The reason for such a prolonged delay in his trial remains unexplained; even to this day. But he seems sanguine, and almost forgiving for the treatment he received at the hands of the Bulgarian authorities; the shortcomings of which, he puts down to a totally floored Bulgarian legal system, a catastrophic banking system, and clearly, to protracted xenophobia. Michael Kapoustin, born in Yugoslavia, is a Canadian national, and holds a Canadian passport.

That he should have been sentenced so harshly - for his misappropriation of some $4 million USD - to a term of 23 years in a primitive post communist Bulgarian jail, also seems absurd by todays standards. In the late 90s, when certain home grown Sofia bankers - having stolen vastly greater sums from their investors – freely walked the streets of the Bulgarian capital, with a smile on their face, it must have been extremely galling for Kapoustin, as he faced another day in prison. But, why did he become such a forgotten man?

The hypocrisy, double standards, and the resulting chaos in the Bulgarian banking world was the reason. The mid 90s banking crisis successfully served to mask the relatively minor appropriation of funds from Life Choice International - his pyramid organization - which for some time dominated Sofia life. Regarded by many as a magical way of saving and making money, like all pyramid schemes, it was doomed to fail.

Treating Life Choice International as a private finance house, proved to be Kapoustins undoing. Displaying signs of naivety, he began by investing in tropical pharmaceuticals and research - thus giving Life Choice International a sense of respectability – which was good. But, investing in a rather odd mobile crude oil waste petrochemical plant, designed to be used to dispose of huge black and grey water lagoons, proved to be a big mistake.

Although, it had obvious potential - like many of Kapoustins projects - it came up against serendipity, stupidity, and alas, the Bulgarian mentality itself. But, who knows if his investments would have succeeded, had he been given a little more time?

In the then virgin Bulgarian financial marketplace, he was regrettably bound to fail, and this and other unorthodox projects ultimately contributed to his downfall. But, why did people invest in Life Choice International in the first place? Clearly they simply did not trust the Bulgarian government, or their banks in particular. I lost my money on three occasions, with dodgy Bulgarian banks, so I will personally vouch for this fact!

In a report produced for The University of Michigan by the William Davidson Institute, they made the situation in Bulgaria quite clear -“Chronologically, the first wave of the crisis came from the banking system when at the end of May 1996 BNB [The Bulgarian Central Bank] took 5 commercial banks, 3 of which were private, under conservatorship. The attack on the banks was triggered by depositors’ expectations that their foreign deposits would be confiscated or frozen by the government in order to allow it to meet its interest payments on the external debt due in July (there were several indications that the government could do so). The fact that Bulgaria had no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1996, reinforced this fear. The deposits from the bankrupt banks were transferred to the sound ones and at the same time a Law for Bank Deposit Guarantee passed the Parliament. According to this law, the government had to repay the full amount of individuals' deposits with bankrupt banks, and 50 percent of enterprises’ deposits. At first, individuals were allowed to draw their deposits in BGN [the domestic money] before the court declared its decision on closed banks (withdrawals of foreign currency deposits were in portions). The money withdrawn was quickly directed to the foreign currency market where BGN got under pressure. Later on, this permission was abolished and BGN deposits were also blocked. Altogether, throughout 1996 depositors lost more than 50 percent of their savings.”

In the end Michael Kapoustin was released, but not until a ransom was paid. After 12 years of imprisonment and numerous beatings, he was finally freed from prison, but then transferred to a holding centre for illegal immigrants, where he was held until a sizable civil debt was settled.

Following the news of Kapoustin's release in 2008, CBC News published an interview with his Toronto-based lawyer, Dean Petroff, who said that the Bulgarian government wouldn’t let Kapoustin leave the country, until he payed what was described as a civil debt, of between $17 000 and $30 000.

Petroff said – “We are in negotiations for his ultimate freedom. He has to pay what he calls a bogus payment. We fear for his freedom and his life, just as we did in the past. He feels completely under duress, because he can't get home to his family unless he negotiates this ransom money." But, in the end it was paid somehow, the Canadian Government intervened, and he was finally freed.

Michael Kapoustin, the illegal immigrant.

I don’t expect you to feel sorry for Michael Kapoustin, however you view him – he is a born survivor, and happily takes his own council - but I do expect you to reflect on his trauma; that he was held in solitary confinement for many years – allegedly for his own safety - on death row, in a prison cell next to the onetime place of execution, and the hangman’s noose.

I do, however, expect you to understand how he feels, his memories, and how his autobiography ‘Letters to My Son’- although it might have had a profound cathartic effect on him - might also have encouraged him to reveal some of the hidden truths, bitter memories of his accusers, and finally, the politicians and the corrupt officials, all of whom helped to serve in his downfall.

Letters to My Son, by Michael Kapoustin, will be published by Amazon Kindle, during spring 2017.


Something for A Quiet Time- by Patrick Brigham

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