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It is a truth universally acknowledged that friendship is founded on a communality of thought or of experience; best of all a combination of the two. I recently went camping and hiking in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with a guy I've known since we were at high school together in Scotland. Years ago I slept on the floor of his flat in Edinburgh for several months while looking for job. But I was a little concerned. I think we'd only spoken once on the phone in the past two years and he doesn't give much away in his emails. We're both older than we once were but not much wiser. Was the essential spark of communality of thought and/or experience still there. Fortunately, yes. We were like a well oiled machine. As before, he seemed to be able to read my mind. Years ago I was good friends with one of my flat mates in Newcastle upon Tyne. When he got his girlfriend preggers and they set up home together on the other side of Chillingham Road I thought the friendship would continue. But without the communality of experience we'd shared at old digs, it turned out we had nothing.

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As a child I was once held hostage. Actually, so were my mum and little brother.  I wouldn't say it was birthday nightmare, but it wasn't much fun either. We were living in a village about 10 miles from Hamilton and as a birthday treat we went to a Chinese restaurant in the town. Dollars to doughnuts I had sweet and sour pork followed by lychees in syrup. I wasn't very adventurous when it came to Chinese restaurants. Anyway, when it came time to pay it turned out the restaurant refused the usually widely accepted credit card my dad proffered. He had no cash nor a cheque book. So, my dad made a 20 mile round trip home to get money and the rest of the clan were held hostage at an empty table in the restaurant pending his return. Not, I suspect,  strictly legal. And why not not just one or two hostages? Boring. I have a feeling we never went there again. Overall, the restaurant's loss. 

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I seem to recall that before the collapse of the Soviet Union we in the West were urged to admire a bunch of guys, it was nearly always a man, known as Dissidents. These supposed courageous guardians of human decency were built into heroes by the supposed Free World. Most vanished from the Western consciousness almost immediately after the end of Soviets. Not only were they no longer useful tools in the propaganda Cold War but they turned out to be cranks who hated everyone and everything. Nothing on the post-Soviet globe satisfied them any more than what came before.  In particular they  were not big fans of their boosters west of the old Iron Curtain and their world. It turns out we'd been urged to deify a bunch of cantankerous curmudgeons.

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I heard part of a radio documentary from the Irish state broadcaster RTE recently. It was about fellahs from the Irish Republic serving in Afghanistan with the Royal Irish Regiment. Contrary to what the Australian Broadcasting Corporation declared when it rebroadcast the programme, the regiment is not exclusively recruited in the Irish Republic, far from it. But since 1922 when the Free State was created, everyone from the island has been able to serve in the British armed forces. Lads from Northern Ireland have been equally welcome to serve in the Irish Defence Force. I remember meeting a crowd of them back home on leave in Northern Ireland. They held the IRA in complete contempt. But then the IRA was the main threat to their lives in the early 1980s. Every security van in The Republic needed a army escort and a carload of detectives as escort to foil the IRA's fundraising hold- ups. 

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I finally got to see the controversial Canadian documentary series The Valour and the Horror. The three episodes feature the capture of two battalions of barely trained Canadians at Hong Kong in 1941; Canadians in Bomber Command and finally the mauling of the Black Watch of Canada during an attempt to break out from the Normandy Beachhead in 1944. During the Bomber Command episode two Canadian former bomber crew were brought face to face with two women who survived the horrific firestorm bombing of Hamburg. What were the Canadians supposed to say? It was a cheap trick. The same would have been true if two German airmen had been brought face to face with two survivors of the 1940 destruction of central Coventry. The production crew also tried to bring two Canadians captured at Hong Kong to a gathering of Japanese veterans of the battle. One of the Canadian veterans, a survivor of a hospital massacre, refused to attend. The second one went along and at first it was a case of old soldiers having a lot in common no matter which side they were on. Then the Canadian explained why his buddy had refused to come along. The atmosphere soured immediately. It seemed at least one of the Japanese veterans had been in the area of the hospital at the time of the massacre and may even have taken part. The Japanese veterans seemed to regard the reminder of their dark side as impolite.

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