Monthly archives: December 2022

Trains (mostly), Planes and Automobiles Part 4 211

Having entirely unexpected cause to become acquainted with the subject, I learn that all main railway stations in Germany have their own police stations. At Bochum, you have to walk round the outside to find a door with a buzzer, which nobody answers.

Heading back into the station, I approach the first pair of policemen I come across (the visible police presence on German stations is also remarkable). I explained to them I had a bag stolen and they walked me round to the police station which, once inside, is full of policemen, all carefully ignoring the buzzer.

I am ashamed by my lack of German and very impressed by the police language skills. But unlike his colleague in Frankfurt, this policeman made no pretence at all of interest in actually finding the thief.

He laughed nervously at my suggestion I was being targeted, having had two laptops stolen in four days. He looked at me suspecting I was not quite sane, and said it happens all the time. He just shook his head when I suggested the CCTV on Duisburg or Bochum stations might show the thief with the laptop bag.

He very quickly completed the theft report and gave it to me. I think he suspected I was engaged in a repeated insurance fraud he could not be bothered investigating, and just wanted me out of his hair.

We were staying in a particularly barren Mercure Hotel in a high block just opposite the station. I was on the 12th floor. Once checked in I decided that despondency would not help, and that I should turn the situation around by embracing the chance for laptop shopping.

Bochum is a city with dreadful problems. Leaving the next day we passed on the train a vast Opel plant which extended for miles and was in varying stages of decay. It closed down five years ago. Shortly before that Nokia closed a major plant in the city. Before that the mines closed.

If you go back further, three quarters of all the buildings of Bochum were destroyed by allied bombing in the Second World War. This was ironic because the city was predominantly Polish, one of those isolated populations left stranded by the tides of European history.

Large numbers of Poles were sent to the concentration camps alongside the Jewish population (many of whom were also Polish) and the rest put to forced labour. Additional slave labour was brought from Poland by the Nazis to keep the industries going.

As a centre of Ruhr heavy industry, Bochum was largely obliterated by the allies but most of the victims were Polish. With this horrible history, it seems churlish to note that the current shopping centre is just horribly modern and ugly.

I went to a large chain shop called Cyberport near the hotel. It had a great range of laptops but the prices were very inflated. Every laptop was marked not just with its price but with an interest free credit offer and the price of monthly instalments.

This explained the prices – it was a rip off, never never shop for computers. It was also an indicator of Bochum’s economic woes.

I next went to a flashy store called Gravis, where a very keen and polite assistant was all over me, but sadly they only sold Apple. I explained to him politely that I didn’t use Macs and was too old and tired to want to learn new systems. He replied they sold accessories not specific to Macs, like mouses and keyboards. I politely declined this rather random offer, and went in search of my next shop.

The streets of the centre were closed off for the Christmas Market, with little illuminated wooden kiosks everywhere and crowds it was difficult to get through.

These were in every city we visited, and great fun. But they had changed since I first saw them in Germany in the 1990’s, with much less selling of handicrafts and decorations, and a much higher percentage of alcohol and sausage stalls.

Bunches of people stood around in the freezing temperatures for hours eating and drinking. Bochum was a bit rowdier than most. It was snowing, and I was very much regretting that the thieves had got the Gore-tex gloves that had been a Christmas present from my sister.

Call me a grinch, but half an hour below zero with the Gluhwein is enough for me. Give me a nice warm pub.

Anyway I pushed my way through to Saturn, Germany’s big chain computer store. It was a huge shop, but the actual range of product surprisingly limited and customer service almost non-existent.

They had no model like the one just stolen. Then my eyes were drawn to a laptop with a glowing back and illuminated keys which constantly changed colour.

Colour-changing keys! I had to have it! It was a brand I had never heard of – Captiva – and it was half price because you were buying the display model.

Niels had helped me set up the Laptop of the Four Days with massive security, so I couldn’t even start up the damn thing. (The first stolen laptop had once been secured by Julian Assange with a process involving a gold plated USB stick. That too had been totally beyond me to get into, and much of that had to be removed).

Niels was horrified by my choice. It was a gaming laptop, he said. The money had all gone into graphics. It absolutely was not what I required.

If you can imagine somebody saying “Colour changing keys” in the voice of Homer Simpson saying “Donuts”,  that is how I replied. We bargained them down further from a half price 790 euros to 750 euros, and here I am! The keys were a sexy turquoise when I started that sentence and now they are the deepest ocean blue. What bliss.

Orange! They’ve gone orange!

We then had to get a taxi to the cinema, which was right on the semi-rural outskirts of the city, a lovely little independent venue in an old railway station building. It was a joint screening with Amnesty International, the cinema was full and the audience was not only comprised of committed activists.

I was also pleased to meet Bibi, who had been coordinating these events, and with Irmtrud Wojak, a local campaigner who has written a fascinating biography of Fritz Bauer. He was a great prosecutor who went after not just Eichmann, but the “respectable” Nazis and their enablers, particularly in the legal profession. She gave me an English copy which was to make train journeys pass faster.

The only problem with the location was that it was a long walk to the nearest restaurant and very cold and snowy outside. Niels and I had eaten no lunch or dinner so we were keen to eat while the film was showing, and we ordered pizza delivery.

I was just tucking in to my Hawaiian pizza, amid general comments on my bad taste, when my phone started pinging incessantly.  There was a whole stream of codes for two factor identification. They were from my various email accounts, from Facebook, Twitter, my bank, shops – a plethora of accounts.  All coming through almost simultaneously.

This meant that somebody had got past the password and fingerprint protection on one of the two stolen laptops, and then got through the passwords on the individual accounts (which had all been changed after the first theft).

The question was, had they access to my phone?

I will confess this put me in a state of some shock.  I had been trying very hard not to let the laptop thefts get to me. On the first laptop, I had convinced myself some random thief may have just pinched it when I was in the toilet, even though it was obviously outdated, filthy, cracked and in poor condition.

But the theft today was inexplicable. We had changed into that train at Frankfurt airport station, and that first class compartment was absolutely heaving with expensive luggage.

There were many choices to steal that looked much more potentially valuable than my twenty year old, large and very battered laptop bag. The luggage racks right by the exit doors were overflowing with expensive bags of all shapes and sizes.

The risk and technique required to lift my old bag from the overhead rack right above our heads in the middle of the carriage made no sense as a random theft, when many almost risk free thieving options were available.

At the micro level my bag was next to Niels’ camera bag. The contents of that were ten times more valuable and the bag looked like that would be the case. But it was not taken.

When I blew the whistle in 2005 on extraordinary rendition and torture, I was for a time subject to the very close and obvious attentions of the security services. That died down, but at times flared up again, particularly around interactions with Wikileaks.

In the Spanish case against UC Global for spying on Julian, on his lawyers and on others in the Ecuadorean Embassy, which included spying on me and hacking my phone, and following and burgling several people, Julian’s Spanish lawyer Aitor Martinez has told me that the evidence shows the CIA were “obsessed with” me as a target.

So none of this was new to me. Let me put it this way.

I am an admitted whistleblower of Top Secret information (to compare, nothing Chelsea Manning disclosed was above Secret). I collaborate with Wikileaks. I am at the most hardline end of supporters of Scottish Independence. I reject NATO, nuclear weapons, Israel and neo-liberalism. I have high level friends and contacts across the globe. If the security services are not targeting me, what are they doing?

I know the capabilities of the security services, and I have always assumed that they have access to the entire contents of my laptop anyway. Encryption may work for avoiding some mass surveillance, but not for individual targets when the state are prepared to put in the resource.

I also choose openness to my fellow man. I have no desire to view the world through a fug of suspicion. I have read the comments on previous instalments from the wise people who tell me that they never travel without a moneybag around their waist and their laptop bag tied to their legs.

Well, that is simply not who I am. The seven year laptop that was first stolen had been with me everywhere for hundreds of thousands of miles. It had traveled over much of Africa several times. It had been to the United States more than once. It had been simply all over Europe.

I had left it unattended while going to the loo on a train or in an airport lounge, many scores of times. I had left it sitting in hotel rooms in Washington DC. Once or twice I have checked it in to a flight. It had sat at the back of a bar at Doune the Rabbit Hole.  It has hung from restaurant coat racks. It has sat in the back of a pick-up in Ghana.

That was just that one laptop. I have used a succession of laptops for around thirty years and always acted in the way I describe. I have lived in Russia and Poland and Ghana and left my laptop bag on seats when I go dance, or on a table in a conference while I have some lunch. None had ever been stolen.

I could have spent thirty years with my laptop tied between my legs, but that would not be me.

If you choose to live that way, do what makes you feel happy and safe. But let me point out the logical fallacy that because you obsessively tie yourself to your laptop, it does not follow that anybody would have stolen it had you not done so.

Anyway, while two random thefts of laptops in four days was not impossible, I do not believe it was that, particularly given the quite extraordinary circumstances of the second theft.

This was also particularly annoying because of the loss of the other contents. The gloves I have noted. I had also lost my reading glasses, which are very essential, my phone charger, my bank verification machine, all the receipts from my trip and a variiety of other letters and documents.

With all those two factor verification notices coming through, I needed to get back to the hotel, set up my new laptop and change every password I have. But the audience was now waiting to hear me speak.

I am nothing if not an old trouper, so I went on. I believe it went very well. But frankly my mind was so frazzled I do not remember anything that evening after the phone started pinging.

Back at the hotel, Niels started setting up my new laptop with dizzying layers of disc encryption and self-destruct mechanisms.

Everything now had passwords of enormous length and complexity, containing characters I had no idea existed, from an external random generator.

Presumably, like the monkeys, if you kept it going infinitely you would get the complete works of Shakespeare.

It was 2am before I could actually start getting into my accounts.

There was no evidence that anybody had got past the two factor identification and actually been inside anywhere. As I say, I had always assumed they can remotely anyway, and I suspect most likely the whole thing is just an attempt at intimidation.

Most importantly of all, none of Niels’ security installations had stopped the keys from changing colour.

Merry Christmas Everybody.


Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations


Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9
Ethereum/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments

Not a Fit and Proper Person 116

After a two year process, the NUJ Executive have finally rejected the renewal of my NUJ membership based on social media posts I allegedly made which they refuse to show me and of content and subject of which I genuinely have not a clue.

But apparently these social media posts make me not a fit and proper person to be a member of the NUJ.

Murdoch employees are fit and proper persons. The Guardian journalists who produced the front page of lies about Manafort meeting Assange are fit and proper persons.  The security service mouthpieces at the BBC are fit and proper persons.

The NUJ even accepts for membership copywriters for corporations working in PR companies. All these people are fine.

But I am not a fit and proper person because of some things I allegedly said on social media, which I am not allowed to see or to explain.

I am also not a fit and proper person because I published the NUJ’s incredibly deceitful handling of my renewal application, when apparently the NUJ believes it should have been secret (why?).

Finally I have failed to produce evidence of my income from journalism. I provided them with a download from Paypal of my monthly subscription totals. Apparently this was not sufficient, but they refuse to say what would be sufficient.

I have appealed against the decision, but given it is plainly politically motivated I do not expect much joy. There appears to be a universal effort across the political establishment to deplatform and isolate anybody who queries official narratives. Given that mainstream media are such a large part of that, it is perhaps not as surprising as it should be to find the National Union of Journalists an enthusiastic part of the process.

I hardly dare to imagine the long-suffering readers of this blog would support yet another legal case, but in the New Year we may need to try.


Craig Murray


18 December 2022

Thank you for your email of 18 November informing me that my application for renewal of my NUJ membership has been refused, on the grounds that I am not a fit and proper person to be a member, and that I have not provided sufficient evidence of income from journalism.

I wish to appeal this decision.

Point 1 – The Evidence Against Me

The first test of natural justice has been failed by the NUJ. I have no idea at all what are the social media posts and correspondence which you state render me not a fit and proper person to renew my NUJ membership.

I have never seen these. You have never put them to me. I have been given no chance to check if they are genuine nor to explain their context. There are two sides to every story and you have made no attempt at all to hear my side.

I have been very active on social media for 15 years and I have never been suspended nor, to my knowledge, reported for inappropriate content. I genuinely have no idea what you are talking about.

I believe the “fit and proper person test” may here be being used as a tool for an exclusion actually based on difference of political opinion.

I am myself continually subject to unprovoked attacks on social media by mainstream media journalists, many of whom I presume will be members of the NUJ. One that I know is a member is Mr David Leask, because you name him as one of the complainers against me.

Here is a link to just Mr Leask’s latest unprovoked rant against me on twitter, in which he casts aspersions on my linguistic skills for no other reason than to malign me (in fact I passed the FCO’s extremely difficult operational level exams in both Polish and Russian).

I am really not certain why Mr Leask remains a fit and proper person if he attacks my output, but it makes me not a fit and proper person if I attack his? I should be grateful for an explanation on this point. To be plain, I see no reason why sharp disagrrement should bar either of us from the NUJ.

I am equally often subject to unprovoked attack by mainstream media journalists in their publications. Here is a link to one one by Mr Paul Hutcheson of the Daily Record, in which he published a photo of my home next to an article inciting against me, and put me in fear for the safety of my wife and infant children.

It is highly probable that either Mr Hutcheson or some of the editorial chain who approved doing this to me are members of the NUJ. Why does that behaviour not call into question their fit and proper person status, and how is my alleged behaviour – and I still do not know what it is – worse than that?

Again, that is not rhetorical, it is a question to which I should like to see an answer.

Point 2 – Proper Procedure Wilfully Ignored

The NUJ rulebook is perfectly plain that when an application is received, it should be sent to the applicant’s own branch or chapter for comment by members.

This rule was breached in my case. My own branch, Edinburgh Freelance, has still never had sight of my application, plainly contrary to the rulebook. I was a member for three years quite happily, with zero friction or adverse comment.

Instead what happened was that NUJ officials politically hostile to me circulated my application for comment, not to my own branch as the rules dictate, but only to a secret selected cabal of colleagues of similar political persuasion, in order to generate objections.

The chronology is important here – objections were generated before I published the fact of my application.

Point 3 – Publicising My Application

When an organisation is behaving deviously, maliciously and not in accordance with its own rules, it is of the essence of good journalism to publish it – even when that organisation is the NUJ.

I can see no reason at all why a NUJ membership renewal application should be secret if the applicant does not wish it to be. To claim my publicising the NUJ’s extraordinary handling of my application, as in itself evidence I am not a fit and proper person to be an NUJ member, is self-serving nonsense of a particularly devious kind.

Point 4 – Earnings From Journalism

I am really at a loss here. I do get more than 50% of my income from journalism, from subscriptions and donations to my blog. I have provided you with a printout from Paypal showing a year’s monthly subscriptions.

In response your membership department stated that you need to see payment per article, rather than payment by subscription. Is it really the case that journalists in new media who receive their income by subscribers are excluded from NUJ membership? If so, what is the legal basis for excluding this particular method of payment? It is the most common form of new media operation.

My last letter to your membership department specifically asked what further evidence was required, and volunteered to pay my membership fees based on gross subscription income rather than net if that were easier.

I never did receive any reply to my offer to provide whatever proof you need, provided it is also what is asked of others. To simply state I have failed to satisfy, while refusing to advise what would satisfy, is yet further evidence this has been a politically motivated process aimed at justifying refusing renewal.

Point 5 – The Purpose of the NUJ

The NUJ does not exist purely to provide those with comfortable berths in corporate media, the BBC or PR firms with their press cards, It has a particular responsibility to support journalists with views that are disliked by the political establishment, and to uphold their freedom of speech.

The sub-committee agreed that my output of articles does meet the criterion of journalism. I therefore have a right to join the union. The “fit and proper person test” is not meant to exclude people some members dislike or disagree with.

To pretend that I am in any way more aggressive in dialogue with those members objecting than they are with me is a fake made possible only by the outrageous device of the sub-committee never putting the allegations and evidence to me.

Point 6 – Health

It is true that very occasionally I have made social media posts I subsequently regret. I generally apologise very quickly. It is fairly widely known that I have been diagnosed bipolar my whole adult life, and can therefore sometimes be intemperate. That puts me in a class the NUJ should particularly seek to protect. It may well be relevant to the evidence before the committee – I do not know as I was not shown it. Nor was I given the chance to make this, nor any other, point to the sub-committee.

Point 7 – Late Appeal

I hope you will accept this appeal which is just beyond the 28 day cut-off point due entirely to force majeure. My laptop was stolen two weeks ago while on a month long tour of Germany, Austria, Slovenia and France with the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign – a cause the NUJ supports.

I lost my draft reply to you when my laptop was stolen. Astonishingly, five days later my replacement laptop was also stolen in extraordinary circumstances. At that point I also lost access to my email accounts, including your email and the sub-committee report. I only recovered the material on return home this weekend .

May I conclude by wishing all the best to you and yours in this the festive season.


Craig J Murray



Dear Mr Murray,

Further to you application for membership of the NUJ I wish to advise that the application was considered directly by the National Executive Council in accordance with Rule 3 (b) of the union’s rules.

At a meeting on Friday 11th November the NEC accepted the report of the panel set up to consider your application.

The panel found that you do not meet the membership criteria in relation to proven earnings from journalism.

The committee also considers objections to the application based on published material in the public domain and your conduct towards NUJ members.

The NEC accepted the recommendation that:

you should be considered not a fit and proper person to be a member of the NUJ within the context of Rule 3 of the NUJ Rule Book, specifically the NUJ Code of Conduct and the obligation under Membership Responsibilities.

If you wish to appeal the determination to the Appeals Tribunal you may do so in writing within 28 working days of the decision.

Please address your appeal to the General Secretary by email to [email protected]

For reference I attach a copy of the report to the NEC.

Membership Application:  Craig Murray

Background: The NEC appointed a subcommittee to consider the membership application of Craig Murray comprising the Honorary General Treasurer, the Chair of Finance Committee, and the NUJ Vice President. The committee held two meetings and reviewed substantial material relating to the application.

Mr Murray’s previous application, in March 2020 was the subject of a number of objections. It was not processed because the application form was not complete, in accordance with the NUJ Rule Book. 

Context: Mr Murray applied for membership on 5th March 2020. In May 2020, the General Secretary appointed the Assistant General Secretary (AGS) to carry out a preliminary investigation into objections to Mr Murray’s application.

Two objectors confirmed that they wished to proceed with their objection in accordance with the provisions of Rule 3 (iii): Chris Diamond and David Leask.

A third applicant had confirmed that they wished to proceed with their objection but

following the decision of the applicant to publish details of private correspondence between himself and the AGS, and the comments made by the applicant in his post and subsequent comments on his social media blog, the third complainant advised the AGS that he wished to request anonymity due to the perceived risk of social media abuse. 

Two other members sought to raise objections but requested anonymity.

The objectors raised concerns that their objections and personal details could be posted on social media and that they may be the subject of online abuse or harassment.

An NEC panel was established to review the applications and to consider the complaint.

Since the application did not meet the membership criteria the complaints were moot and not considered at that time.

It was recommended that the complaints be noted and, in the event of a future application by Mr Murray would be considered by the NEC. 

New application:  A fresh application by Mr Murray was received in February 2022. The application was referred directly to the NEC.

The NEC established a sub committee comprising of the Vice President, Chair of Finance and Hon Gen Treasurer.

The subcommittee considered a significant volume of correspondence between Mr Murray and the Membership Department relating to his application.

The committee also noted correspondence from third parties relating to the application.

It was also obliged to consider previous objections.

The subcommittee was satisfied that, subject to proof of income, Mr Murray would satisfy the requirement for membership in terms of membership criteria.

Mr Murray did not provide sufficient information regarding his earnings from journalism to satisfy the panel as to his entitlement to full membership. On that basis Mr Murray was deemed ineligible for membership.

The subcommittee then reviewed the objections to the original application and the material cited in the complaints, including social media posts and Mr Murray’s blog.

The committee noted with concern Mr Murray’s behaviour towards NUJ members and office holders.

The subcommittee viewed his behaviour towards NUJ members as being inconsistent with the NUJ Membership Responsibilities and the NUJ Code of Conduct.

The committee felt that those who sought anonymity were justified in doing so, given Mr Murray’s published comments and his decision to publish correspondence relating to the investigation while the process was underway.

The committee recommends to the NEC that Mr Murray is not a fit and proper person to be a member of the NUJ within the context of Rule 3 of the NUJ Rule Book.

November 11, 2022

Yours sincerely

Jackie Clark

Head of Finance and Membership

It perhaps goes without saying that this fight to keep alternative media going in face of universal onslaught really does need your financial support, no matter how small your contribution. My work is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going.

This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations


Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9
Ethereum/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.




View with comments

Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 3 136

It is good to be joined by Niels Ladefoged on this tour. Niels was the Director of Photography on the film Ithaka, and as such a fly on the wall of the Shipton/Assange family for two years. But his commitment to Wikileaks goes back much further. He is a very helpful and calming influence to have around when facing a crisis like a stolen laptop.

It is a crisis. I have much important data stored on a copy hard drive, but that was made some time ago and much else has been lost. I do not maintain sensitive material on the laptop. But the risks of identity theft and the danger to my own access to all kinds of different accounts is very real.

Fortunately Sunday 27 November is a rare day off on the tour. The hotel does not do laundry at the weekend, and Germany allows workers a rest day on Sunday in a way that has been forgotten in the UK – so laundries are shut, and so are laptop shops.

There is another peculiarity. The laptop appears to have been taken out of the laptop bag, but the fairly large sum of cash in the bag was not taken. However what has also vanished is my heart medicines (Apixaban and Digoxin for the medically minded), which were in their boxes and kept in my laptop bag in a ziploc sandwich bag.

By one of life’s peculiar little coincidences, Niels, who arrived on a different train from Erfurt, found his vital prescription medicine had disappeared from his luggage the very same day. So we both need to sort out our prescriptions.

The day is spent in several return trips to the railway lost property office and in making a police report. The lost property office counter alternates between a man in a peaked cap who ignores you, and a woman in a peaked cap who yells at people to go away.

In the police station I am taken upstairs by a very earnest young policeman with a fashionably sparse beard, who speaks excellent English. He takes all the details and determines exactly where I was sitting, which door I exited the train by, what I was wearing and what route I took to the hotel. He says he will look at the station CCTV cameras. There were none on the train.

I tell him I am dubious that a thief would target such an obviously old and cracked laptop. He said he was not at all surprised. Thieves board the train at the station just before Frankfurt and walk up the train. They would take the laptop from its bag in a second, without looking at it.

He said it was not unusual for thieves to take the laptop and not the bag. He smiled at my concern about identity theft, saying that was not their level at all. The policeman seemed genuinely eager to get on to the CCTV footage and start lookiing for the thief.

This left me more open to the idea it was just a random theft, but I had seen nobody moving through the train as he described, and the very few people left in the first class compartment all looked entirely respectable.

In the evening Niels and I went to the old town of Frankfurt, of which there is not a great deal. It is not a good city to spend a Sunday. Everything seemed to be closed. Eventually we found a very local restaurant, where the waitresses wore what looked like football socks over their jeans.

The restaurant was splendidly decorated for advent, with what seemed like half a forest festooned in great boughs all over the place, through which peered the light of big chunky red candles. The place had plainly already survived hundreds of christmases without burning down, but I have no idea how.

I ate roast ham hough with sauerkraut and pan fried potatoes, washed down with a shared litre flagon of local wine. The crackling on the ham hough was superb. We felt a lot better after this, and asked the waitress for a local schnapps. She brought something really sweet and horrible with an alcohol soaked apricot in it. We drank it for research, and even ate the apricots, but I don’t recommend it.

Niels (at this point I shall blame him) then asked if they had a schnapps more like Danish schnapps. They brought us a couple of glasses of Korn. We knocked them back and agreed they did not seem like spirits. No burn and we guessed 20% alcohol. They were only 40ml measures, not 50ml.

So we thought we should have two more. That went quite well so we decided to repeat. After we had knocked back six each, we looked at the bottle and saw it was 32% alcohol. We thought it might be sensible to stop at this stage, but unfortunately the waitresses started to give us free schnapps.

It would have been rude to refuse.

This did not really help with the aim of forgetting my troubles and relaxing. I slept very badly, fretting over my missing laptop. The next morning, I had still lost my laptop and I now had a headache.

I also felt a terrific guilt – which I do most days here – at enjoying myself whilst campaigning for Julian, while he is in terrible conditions in a maximum security prison.

I got up, showered and shaved and went laptop shopping. This was quite fun. It soon was obvious to me I could not afford one as good as the one I had lost.

In the end I chose an Acer Aspire 5, with Intel i5 (the stolen one had i7), 8GB RAM (compared to 16GB) and 512GB SSD (compared to 1TB HDD). Even so this cost me 770 euros. But it is a slim and elegant thing of beauty.

It is a 17 inch, like my old one, but when I slotted it in to my old laptop bag it really came home how radically slimmer it is, taking up far less space. It is also a great deal lighter.

Having got through the dash to Slovenia, I was now hoping for a period of much more sedate rail journeys. Our itinerary today 28 November was just 11:53 ICE 623 Frankfurt to Munich, arriving 15:09.

The train left on time and sped along at great speed. Nothing seemed untoward, until a man in red uniform walked through the train announcing that the cafe was closed due to a power failure in the kitchen.

Then about 20 miles after Wurzburg the train slowed to a crawl, before finally coming to a complete halt, next to a yard full of rusted excavation equipment. There it stayed for about 45 minutes. An announcement was made that the line was blocked.

Fifteen long minutes later came another announcement that we would go back to Wurzburg, before proceeding to Munich by a different route. So we headed backwards, very slowly, for about ten minutes, before stopping in front of a different yard, also full of rusting excavation equipment.

It was like watching Scrapheap Challenge without the contestants.

Eventually we started to crawl along again, through Wurzburg station and out the other side without stopping. We picked up speed, heading away from Munich. Then another halt for ten minutes, then the train started running in its original direction once more.

Reaching Wurzburg for the third time, the train halted in the station and everybody was told to get off. Another Munich train was expected the other side of the same platform in five minutes.

A platform change, to one substantially further away, was announced just as the train pulled in to the station. Everyone went running off down the stairs with their luggage.

The last second platform change is the favourite game of German Railways.

We had come in on a huge train – two ICEs joined – while the one being changed to was a great deal smaller and arrived already full. We therefore decided to let it go, as there were now three more Munich trains showing as queued up over the next twenty minutes. We got on the first of these, which was comfortable, and arrived in Munich about three hours late.

Ithaka was being shown in the quirky little Werkstation Kino in a courtyard basement. The local organisers were very enthusiastic, and all sixty seats were sold out. People were being turned away. I introduced the film with two brief observations.

Firstly, I pointed out that the CIA had the spy videos of Julian’s meetings with his defence lawyers. Secondly they had all his legal papers, seized when he was removed from the Embassy. There are two parties to the extradition proceedings, the USA and Julian Assange. In any genuine legal proceeding, where one party had stolen the legal documents of the other and spied on their legal conferences, the case would be instantly dismissed.

Plainly the so-called judicial process is a farce, a piece of political theatre.

Niels and I then adjourned to dinner in another very local restaurant in the same building. One of the peculiarities of the “cinema” was that the public entrance was sealed by a very heavy steel door. It was completely blank on the outside and could only be opened from within. This is locked shut during performances, to the bemusement of latecomers.

One lady had driven from Austria to see the film but arrived too late. She joined us for a pleasant meal, and absolutely insisted on paying. Niels knew her as a long term supporter.

Niels is Danish and therefore very low maintenance – give him a plate of rotting fish with a couple of raw eggs on top and he will be happy for days. He explains to our chairpersons that you pronounce his surname, Ladefoged, by not sounding the d’s or the g. If you want to try it at home, I suggest you try making the noise of a vacuum cleaner blocked by a sock.

Niels is a compulsive photographer, as a fortunate result of which this narrative is now superbly illustrated.

Talking to activists after the film, we learnt the inevitable cause for the ruination of Germany’s once legendary railways – privatisation.

Privatisation has been carried out on the British model, with the track run by a private entity and different operating companies running their rolling stock on the track. This has been an unmitigated disaster from day one.

In a refinement of exquisite stupidity, the private network company is responsible for rail maintenance, but the government pays for any rail replacement needed – which is an incentive not to maintain. The activists in Munich explained this as the root cause of the increasingly frequent line closures and derailments.

We were staying in the Moma1890 hotel in Munich, which was really pleasant. We had two days there, which gave me a day to set up my new computer, and to go and see a doctor for a new prescription, as did Niels. Unfortunately the hotel did not do laundry, and an unpleasant odour was beginning to emit from my luggage.

We visited a small winter market behind our hotel. It was delightful, with lights twinkling brightly in the bitter cold and little santa clauses on bicycles zipping around on cables stretched between the trees.

The gluhwein was very welcome, sweet and strong and tasting as though the wine was drinkable per se. It was a very resonable 3.5 euros for a 200ml glass, and for just 1 euro more you could add an extra shot of spirits.

Niels has a theory that adding enough shots of rum to his gluhwein would counter the sugars. I have a theory that adding enough shots of brandy to my gluhwein will counter the sobriety. We both test this.

You pay a 3 euro deposit for a delicate frosted glass with an etching of a stag. I would like to keep mine, but the thought of carrying anything else in my luggage dissuades me.

We found a nearby tapas restaurant for dinner, and discovered such a very good wine that it is best to draw a veil over the rest of the day: El Canto de la Alondra, Ribera del Duero. You can’t say that after you drink it. Lots of forward fruit for a Ribera del Duero but still very soft and full.

The next day 30 November was a straightforward journey, EC114 at 13:32 from Munich East to Stuttgart, arriving at 15:59. The train arrived about one hour late in Stuttgart.

All but the facade of Stuttgart station has been demolished and the entire railway area is being “redeveloped”. Currently you leave the station on a snaking elevated runway above the building site, with MDF floors. It is a 800 metres walk along this from platforms to taxis.

As I was trying securely to balance my laptop bag on top of my wheeled luggage, Niels pointed out to me that there was a velcro strap on the back of the bag, specifically for that purpose. I was amazed. I have had that laptop bag for seventeen years and never noticed that strap. It has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with me, all round the world.

The bag was given to me by Alex the Geek, a supporter of my anti-war candidacy against Jack Straw in Blackburn in the Westminster general election of 2005. Alex had a little computer sales and repair store in the town.

The bag was already second hand in 2005. It is very well constructed with industrial strength zips, clasps and fabric. It has about eight separate compartments, and the main area for the laptop is enormously wide, because in those days laptops were enormously wide.

Often on short journeys I use it just as a travel bag. It has an airline luggage label flapping from the handle, which for years has resisted all attempts at removal. It now had my slim little Acer tucked safely inside.

And it has a velcro strap to attach it to my luggage handle!

Niels has taken upon himself the role of Passepartout, having plainly been briefed that I am hapless. Even with his help, having to cart the luggage over the vast redevelopment was a real struggle.

We are very often not seeing the best of the cities on this tour. We arrive at the railway station, usually about dusk, and generally stay close to the station. The cinemas tend to be in the same central area.

Certainly in Stuttgart, from station to hotel to cinema was just horrifyingly ugly. Neither poor nor derelict, quite the opposite. Brash, tasteless. and soulless.

Plainly the railway area buildings just demolished all had to die, as they committed the unforgivable sins of not being of grandiose scale, and of being designed for human use. Nothing else I saw in Stuttgart fits that description.

There was an excellent turnout in Stuttgart and very active hosts in a very good cinema. We were buoyed by the news that five major international media groups, the original publishing partners for the cablegate leaks, had come out strongly calling for an end to the persecution of Assange, in the interest of protecting press freedom.

The real joy of this trip is the people we meet. In every venue there are fantastic local activists, who organise vigils, petitions and other actions for Julian. Many have street stalls on a weekly basis.

I am sorry we will not be visiting Aachen, where a lady held a “Free Craig Murray” banner in the town centre, every Saturday of my own imprisonment. That banner was given to me by German activists at the “Hands around Parliament” event for Julian. But I am meeting hundreds of equally doughty souls.

In Stuttgart the event is hosted by Pax Christi and die AnStifter. They were organising a major human rights festival, “30 days in November”, and this was the closing event.

After the screening and talks we went for drinks and snacks with the organisers. All the events have different local organisers and we do this almost every day. I apologise for not noting and acknowledging every one individually.

The next morning we journeyed on to Wiesbaden. I post this picture of the Stuttgart station departures board to illustrate what I have been saying about German Railways. You can see from the station clock top right the photo is taken at 11:23. So every single train on that board is late – the departure times range from 10:51 to 11:11.

That is absolutely typical of Germany’s privatised railway.

Our itinerary this day, 1 December was 11:37 IC 2312 Stuttgart to Mainz then 13:29 SBA35836 Mainz to Wiesbaden. Hurray! We were on time!.

The train to Mainz was not busy, and very comfortable to write on. Here I am working, with my elegant new laptop and my beloved old laptop bag:

The train from Mainz to Wiesbaden was a little commuter hopper, full of young women and their children, and a great deal of laughter. Wiesbaden appears effectively a suburb of Mainz.

Wiesbaden is very lovely. A spa town, it has natural hot springs bubbling up in various parks and hotels. It is difficult for a British person to criticise German cities for ugliness, the UK having been involved in their destruction, but much of Wiesbaden either survived or has been sympathetically restored.

The facade of my hotel, the Schwarzer Bock, had been restored with studious attention to grim ugliness, but there were some surviving details on the lower two floors from the original hotel, including much of the spa pool area.

Goethe had stayed in this hotel for a cure, and so had Dostoevsky, who had lost all the money for his European tour in the casino. He wrote up the experience as a novel “the Gambler”, in which Wiesbaden in Hesse is called Roulettebad in Hesse.

I am afraid the hotel is now run by Radisson Blu and is pretty prosaic. But Wiesbaden had plenty of evocative architecture,  and is plainly very wealthy. Wilhelmstrasse and the streets off it are full of very expensive shops selling top range products.

There are designer furniture shops, designer curtain shops, designer handbag shops. I saw a shop selling nothing but very expensive garden furniture, and another just selling those kind of stupid and pointless objects interior designers love to shove down next to coffee tables. Driftwood painted gold, peacock feathers in improbably shaped vases, roller skates painted electric blue with crystals round the top.

Plainly Dostoevsky was not the only person in Wiesbaden with more money than sense.

It is not generally recalled that, when Cumberland won at Culloden, most of the cities of Scotland were held down for the English by garrisons of mercenaries from Hesse. Cumberland actually disliked the Hessian officers for treating their adversaries according to the rules of war and refusing to commit atrocities.

Almost certainly, all of the Hessian officers occupying Scotland would have been familiar with Wiesbaden and would have walked around the very streets and buildings I walked around now. Doubtless some of them had stayed at the Schwarzer Bock.

I wondered how seriously Hessian archives had been searched for letters home or diaries on their time in Scotland, or what published memoirs there might be. I made a note on my new laptop to pursue the idea next year.

The cinema was beautiful, an art deco marvel. It was also very large, holding over 500 people, so though around eighty came, they did rattle around a bit. It did get fuller than this picture taken before the start, but not enormously.  Now you get to see what Niels looks like.

There was a dead air around Wiesbaden after the meeting, occasioned I think by Germany being knocked out of the World Cup that evening.

I had bought a new wheeled case at Niels’ suggestion, to replace the rucksack I had been struggling with. I found two wheeled cases much easier to manage, and with my laptop bag now velcroed to the handle of one of them and Niels to assist with lifting when needed, my luggage problems appeared to be over.

2 December we had a comparatively easy itinerary. 12:26 ICE 1651 Wiesbaden to Frankfurt Airport, 13:09 ICE 610 Frankfurt Airport to Bochum arriving 15:09.

Bochum was the first destination on our tour that I had not previously known even existed!

The trains were on time. The change at the airport station went smoothly, but the train from there was very packed. The luggage racks by the door at the carriage ends were overflowing with expensive looking bags and suitcases. We squeezed our luggage into any available bit of vacant floor, and then put my laptop and Niels camera bag into the overhead rack above us.

The rack was made of glass, presumably purposely so that you could look up and see your bags through it. Given recent experience, I repeatedly looked up and saw the comforting sight of the green and white baggage label attached to my laptop bag, pressed against the glass.

And then I didn’t.

Shortly before we arrived at Bochum, I looked up again, and it just was not there. It was gone.

I was stupefied. Niels went running down, collecting together our other bags, then looking for my laptop. I started asking everyone on the coach if they had seen the bag, or seen anybody take the bag.

To be fair, this got a much better response in Germany than it might have done in the UK. Virtually everybody stood up and started rummaging around. One large man was particularly helpful and started moving off and getting people searching in adjacent carriages. But all for naught; nobody could find anything and nobody had seen anything.

We pulled into Bochum. Niels stood preventing the door from reclosing while we searched, which got the railway staff involved. In the end he got off with the luggage while I stayed on the train and continued the search until the next station.

At Dortmund I had to give up. A second laptop in five days had been stolen from me.

I returned on a local train to Bochum. I had lost not just my laptop, but a lot of important tickets, receipts and documents in the bag, plus – and this is crucial to me – my reading glasses.

When the first laptop disappeared, I concede it was possible a thief had quickly taken it from the bag, not noticing how old and beaten up it was.

But I had not removed my new laptop from the bag during the journey, and there was no way of knowing a laptop was in there at all. It was next to Niels’ much more valuable camera bag, which was untouched.

The whole carriage was flooded with luggage, presumably because it came from Frankfurt airport. The racks at the carriage ends were overflowing with expensive luggage, right next to the doors, away from their owners and very easy to steal at a station.

Why would a simple thief instead take my beaten up bag, from right over the head of its owner?

It plainly makes no sense at all.

We headed into Bochum as the night closed in.


Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations


Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9
Ethereum/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments

Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 2 45

When I agreed to do the tour of Germany, I stipulated that I would need to break off to honour a speaking commitment in Maribor, Slovenia. This turned into a crazy epic.

The straight line distance from Berlin to Maribor is 425 miles, not very different from London to Inverness. Unfortunately the entire Alps are in the way and Maribor is much better connected to Eastern than Western Europe. The distance by road is given at exactly 600 miles. I can’t find a distance calculated by rail, but I think it is well over 900 miles. (I can’t find a site which gives rail distances except on a crow flies basis).

My route on for 25 November was 06:01 ICE 1001 Berlin to Munich, 10:17 EC 217 Munich to Graz, 16:27 RE 157 Graz to Spielfeld-Strass, 18:04 RE 4443 Spielfeld=Strass to Maribor.

I should arrive at 18:20 to give a speech immediately. My talk with Stella had finished around 22:30 in Berlin and my talk the next day in Maribor began at 19:00. Then the following day it was back over the Alps and across the German plain again to speak at Frankfurt at 18:00. If my many political adversaries ever needed hard evidence I must be quite nuts, I guess this is it.

But I had said I would go to Maribor, so I did.

I had hung around after the talk in Berlin to chat with those attending – this is important both to motivate and to recruit activists. Because I knew I had a very early start, I had chosen the Intercity hotel, right next to the railway station. This was a mistake. It was very expensive (260 euros the night) and dreadful value for money. The mattresses were very thin, I have had thicker handkerchiefs than the towels and heavier towels than the carpet. There was nothing but water to drink in the room.

After checking in, I walked to the railway station so I would know exactly where to drag all that luggage in the early morning. I am not in general a fan of modern architecture but I simply loved Berlin Hauptbahnhof and spent a rapt half hour wandering around inspecting it closely. St Pancras is always called a cathedral to rail, and this is the modern equivalent. It is breathtaking in both scale and ambition and in quality and detail.

It speaks the same architectural language as some of London’s newer projects like the London Bridge Station rebuilding or some of Crossrail, but with much more assurance and verve. In London the great glass lift columns would have been square not round, because it is cheaper. The multiple levels of trains are dizzying and, reflected in acres of glass, sometimes illusory. There is just so much of it, all designed precisely to function but with an exact role in the aesthetic scheme.

Returning to the mundane, I was very hungry, having eaten nothing since breakfast on a wildly difficult and tiring day (and that breakfast had been mostly champagne). I found the last food outlet open and bought their last cheese baguette, which had reached the stage that sweat fell from the cheese and the bits outside the bread were many shades darker.

And so to bed.

5am; up, shower, shave, off to the station. Finding it difficult simply to lift the luggage. It is very cold. Pass a long queue of homeless people outside the door of a soup kitchen. Get to the platform on the station’s lowest level.

There is a deeply held belief in the UK that German trains are very efficient. I held it myself.

The Munich train arrived seven minutes after it should have departed and left 13 minutes late. First class had the old fashioned system of six seats in a closed compartment, two banks of three against the walls facing each other, with a sliding door and a single corridor running down one side of the train. But it was a very new carriage, and the traditional design was rendered in attractive light wood panelling and with curves in the large glass walls.

I was in the end compartment in the carriage. Germany has re-instituted the compulsory wearing of masks on trains, which specifically have to be heavy PP2 masks. In flying (unwillingly) from Cologne to Berlin I had not had to wear a mask. They are compulsory on trains in Germany but not on planes, which makes no sense whatsoever.

Whether for fear of covid or because I look like a crazed axe killer, the lady who was also in the compartment where I had my reservation plainly was not happy with my being there. She scowled as I came in, made a fuss about moving her luggage (which was in no way needed), and finally demanded I show her my ticket and seat reservation. She then looked daggers at me for 15 minutes.

As I was obviously spoiling her day, I got up, smiled and said goodbye, and went and found another seat.

After a while I went up to the restaurant car to see what could be done about breakfast. I am embarrassed not to speak any German, but the lady there spoke English. I asked her what was available for Breakfast. She told me I had to choose from the menu, and passed me one. There were a range of options from the Kaiser breakfast, including ham, eggs and cheese, to the Wien breakfast, just a pastry and a coffee.

I asked for the Kaiser breakfast. She shook her head, took back the menu, and put a big cross in red biro through the Kaiser breakfast. So I chose the next breakfast down, and she did exactly the same thing. We worked our way down to the Wien breakfast, and finally she crossed that one out too.

So having eliminated all the breakfast options I switched to the other side of the menu and ordered a plate of ham and sausage. The lady said I could not have that either as they had no bread.

I gave up and asked for a latte. She said they had no milk. I went back to my seat clutching a black coffee.

I had been through exactly the same situation in Poland immediately post Communism, where restaurants would not tell you what they had and insisted you order from a menu of non-existent choices, until you chanced upon something available, like a game of culinary battleships.

Apart from that, this was a very pleasant train. The station indicators in the corridor also had a speedometer, and most of the time it hummed along at a highly impressive 260 kph (160 mph). It actually caught up on time before it got to Munich, which was fortunate as it was a short connection to Graz. This change involved humping the luggage quite a way, but I made it.

This also was a train organised in compartments, but the carriage was much older. I shared a compartment with a delightful and friendly lady, traveling with her partner, who was going back home to Salzburg for a break. She is a chef and has her own Michelin listed restaurant in Munich, doing Austrian cuisine. The restaurant only has 23 covers and you currently need to reserve three weeks in advance.

She had survived lockdown by starting to do takeaway food, and in fact had achieved a bigger turnover, and profit, on takeaway than the restaurant ever had before. But she was pleased to be back to normal and stop the takeaway, which was all of the drudgery and none of the pleasure of being a chef.

We had a long and friendly chat about families and life. It made the journey go very quickly.

It is surprising how quickly the Alps came into view after leaving Munich, and you hurtle towards them for a very long time without their seeming to become appreciably closer. Once we reached the Austrian border an announcement was made that we could take off our masks, which we all did.

We were travelling in coach 12. The guard informed us that at Salzburg we had to change from coach 12 to coach 10, as one of the outside carriage doors would not open. This was not a problem in Germany, but meant the coach could not be used in Austria.

The two ladies were only going as far as Salzburg, but once there they insisted on carrying my luggage for me – all of it – and installing it and me safely in coach 10. They instructed the young gentleman sitting in the compartment that he was to look after me.

The line from Salzburg to Graz was extremely beautiful. My new young travelling companion worked for the Austrian rail network and he was very proud of it. He pointed out to me all the landmarks on the way, particularly mountains, castles and waterfalls, of which he had an encyclopaedic knowledge.

He kept telling me to take pictures and was most disappointed with my lack of photographic skills – with some justice. I took lots of pictures of myself reflected in windows and a variety of different passing poles and gantries. Here instead is Interrail’s picture advertising the route.

It is at least this pretty the whole way.

Austria and Italy will shortly be opening a massive tunnel under the Brenner Pass, 34 miles long. The Semmering tunnel, 17 miles long, will complete in three years time. There has been an incredible burst of tunnel building through the Alps which is revolutionising connections between central and western Europe with northern Italy and the Adriatic.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel, 35 miles long – which is longer than the Channel Tunnel – was finished in 2016. The Ceneri Base Tunnel, also in Switzerland, opened in 2018. Further West a major new tunnel under the Alps between France and Italy is nearing completion.

The reason for my companion’s journey was that he was working on a route for a new over 30 mile tunnel that will replace the highest area of the Salzburg to Graz line. This is still in development stage, and even that fact he said is “hot news”.

This day’s journey of 260 kph trains and information of a whole complex of gigantic rail projects, stood in the starkest of contrasts to the impoverished and neglected infrastructure of the UK. We cannot construct even a single and short high speed line; the road between London and Edinburgh is still not fully dual carriageway and parts of Scotland still suffer appalling communications deficits.

Arriving at Graz I again had a change of platforms to negotiate with all that luggage. Fortunately Graz has mid-platform lifts down to the interchange level, and I made it to an adequate little local chugger. I really can’t tell you much about this, except that it was dark outside and I fell asleep more or less immediately.

A friendly man woke me with a shake of the shoulder at Spielfeld-Strass, which is basically countryside with a shed in it. Here we had a remarkable change of trains, all the more peculiar for taking place in the dark.

We descended on to a normal platform and then walked over a footbridge, where I struggled mightily. The other side of the footbridge led not on to another plaform, but down on to the tracks. Half the people were hurrying off to a train in front of us and on our left, which was alongside a conventional train platform, and half of the people to a train front right, which involved crossing the lines and climbing up from a low wooden bench.

Everybody was running. I stopped a bearded man amongst what seemed like a party of young people and asked “Maribor?”. He pointed to the train on the right. I picked up my pile of luggage and ran after the disappearing crowd, again with an aerobic burst I simply would not have thought I could produce. I threw the luggage piece by piece up into the carriage and climbed up after it. The doors closed and off we went.

We had of course just scrambled across the Austrian/Slovenian border and changed from an Austrian to a Slovene local train, although it is astonishing that these two EU states have not devised a more elegant way of doing it by now. The Slovene train was clean and new, one of those low slung designs with three internal steps up to a raised level at each carriage end above the bogies.

We made a couple of small stops on the way to Maribor, at stations – one very illuminated new and steel glass shiny, and one an old weedy unlit platform next to a cowshed. They had in common that neither had a sign saying where it was. A single person hopped on in each instance. Then we came into Maribor, the lights of which appeared very extensive.

Emerging on to Maribor station, which seems made of precisely the same concrete, glass and steel components as Austrian stations, I contemplated wearily that the short train had stopped as far from the exit on an extremely long platform as it was possible to stop. As I prepared for one last battle with the bags, I was delighted to see a huge bearded man stride forward to greet me. They had come to pick me up, and the man, who introduced himself as Matic, lifted my large suitcase as though it had no weight at all.

We drove to the self-declared autonomous zone of the Pekarna Centre, which was hosting me. This is an alternative culture commune which occupies an extensive site stretching over several former military buildings. It is very active in painting, film and the plastic arts, and functions as a very vibrant music venue and youth centre. It also holds a variety of events aimed at social consciousness and well-being. I had been invited in the context of an annual political teach-in to explain the Assange case.

The commune has rehabilitated several of the buildings on the derelict army base, and like many such groups has been through a process of varying relationships with the state. Originally declared by its founders to be self-governing and free from state law, gradually state regulation and state funding for aspects of the commune’s work crept in. This includes subsidies from various state creative arts funds, local council funding for the modernisation of one of the buildings, and eventually the insertion of an “official” NGO and local authority control of the hostel accommodation.

This process has led to the inevitable conclusion – the state now intends to close the centre down entirely and take over the land and buildings for other purposes. There have been two formal attempts to do so in the last few years, and both candidates in the current mayoral election are pledged to shut down the centre. The council always propose ostensible public sector schemes of popular appeal as their aim.

The latest wheeze is to use the site for a dental hospital, although the local university hospital which will purportedly own it has no knowledge of the plan and no funding for it. The commune of course believe this is all fake and the aim is profit making private housing.

A luta continua.

I had been asked in advance what I eat, and had replied pretty well anything. I have to confess I meant Chinese, Italian, Indian etc, and had not expected to be presented with a bowl of rice and lentils. I had eaten nothing since the old cheese sandwich at the midnight before, so I ate my way through it with surprising gusto. It was very nicely cooled and spiced and would have been perfectly fine on the side of a few lamb chops. There was very decent Slovenian wine to wash it down.

After dinner I had a very quick tour of the grounds, mostly very dark but stumbling upon large groups of young people in surprising places. We also went in to the second hand bookshop, which they claim to be the largest in Europe. I doubt this, but it is certainly very large, over two open floors. While they have a great deal of shelving, there are also great rotundas of books simply stacked from the floor, spines outward, though taking out a lower one might be like a game of giant Jenga. This certainly allows a much higher book density than if everything was shelved.

I had a very few minutes but enough to realise there was an extremely productive Slovenian language publishing industry even during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Upstairs included the English language section, most of which was the worst kind of potboiler fiction. Indeed I wondered how on earth these many thousands of light and romantic fiction titles had found their way to Maribor. Sadly I had no time to find out.

I was equally surprised that the upper floor could support what must have been a great many tonnes of books. Passing back downstairs, I could inspect if from below as there was no plaster ceiling and beams and floorboards were exposed. Both were massive – the beams were about 24 inches square.

It was now time for me to give my talk, and we went over to one of the concert halls, which was gratifyingly full. I hope that I will be able to find a video link so you can watch it if you wish. The format was just me speaking for about forty minutes, and then taking questions and inviting discussion. On this tour I am mostly making a short introduction and then taking questions after showing the Ithaka movie. That is very effective, but personally I always prefer giving longer talks where I can expand, explain and explore my views. I felt very at home doing this before the Maribor audience.

You are going to get very bored if I recount to you twenty very similar talks I am giving on this tour. But each has unique aspects, often in response to questions. I recall in Maribor giving the example of the Panama Papers as illustrating what happens when a whistleblower goes the traditional mainstream media route rather than going for full exposure through Wikileaks.

When the papers were leaked of a law firm representing many thousands of people and enterprises hiding their assets in parliament, the western media filtered the information and hid everything connected to prominent western companies and individuals. Instead they deliberately gave the entirely false impression that the bulk of money laundered through Panama is Russian, and made the headlines entirely about Russian and Russian-linked individuals, including a chef with tenuous connections to Putin as an official caterer.

Out of 10 million documents leaked, about 120 were actually made available as documents by the journalists, and about a number 200 had their contents referred to by mainstream media journalists – how fully and how honestly we have no way of knowing.

We live in a world of fake investigative journalism. Access to the Panama Papers was strictly controlled by a Washington-based entity, the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists”. Their funders include

Ford Foundation
Carnegie Endowment
Rockefeller Family Fund
W K Kellogg Foundation
Open Society Foundation

Is it surprising they hid all the evidence about corporate America in the Panama Papers? The contrast to the Wikileaks model of giving the citizen access to unfiltered source material could not be clearer.

I was very warmly received by the audience in Maribor, and afterwards we had a party. The following is what I picked up from many conversations. There may be other contrary or balancing information. I am just reporting the views of those I met.

Maribor was Slovenia’s major industrial centre and the main textile manufacturer for the whole of Yugoslavia, integrated into other Eastern European markets. It went through rapid deindustrialisation in the 1990s and had never really recovered. There remains high unemployment, though things have improved a little since EU membership as there is greater integration with Graz in Austria – a city which has been through similar problems. Graz currently has a Communist Party local administration.

Maribor feels cut off from Ljubljana. It is only 70 miles away but transport infrastructure needs upgrading. The train takes two hours and twenty minutes and the road is poor. There is a strong feeling that money from the EU and other international bodies never gets further than Ljubljana. The capital is booming and has significant funding for renovation, the arts and tourism. I encountered a lot of resentment towards the council.

I was very flattered to meet a couple who had journeyed from Graz just to hear me speak having read my books, and that two others had come with copies of Murder in Samarkand for me to sign (one in the US edition, Dirty Diplomacy).

I also took the opportunity of being in Slovenia to discuss the route they took to Independence, where I believe there are vital lessons for Scotland. I shall be discussing this in a Zoom talk to Alba International on 4 December, which I hope will be made more widely available afterwards.

I spent the night in the hostel, which is not a phrase you will hear from me very often. The next morning it was off to talk in Frankfurt.

The train schedule was 26 November was very slightly more forgiving. 07:19 INT 311 Maribor to Graz, 08:26 RJ 74 Graz to Wien Meidling, 11:22 ICE 26 Wien Meidling to Frankfurt.

This arrived in Frankfurt at 17:36 for a 18:00 talk, so there was no room for error. The big worry was a 4 minute change in Graz, with all the luggage. If I missed that, there was no way to make the talk in Frankfurt.

Matic arrived in a car to get me to a very cold Maribor station in plenty of time. Unfortunately, the train arrived 13 minutes late. It was a Ljubljana to Budapest direct train, which underlined the fact Maribor is very much in Eastern Europe. It consisted of only three rather tired carriages, of which the back one was first class, in which I was the only passenger.

Fortunately this train went straight through the border at Spielfeld-Strass without our having to change trains, but the train did change from a Slovenian to an Austrian crew, which took 15 minutes.

I have no idea how, but leaving the border 15 minutes late it still arrived in Graz bang on time. The next train was straight across the platform, so I made that four minute change with the luggage, in two swift trips.

I was now on the train from Graz to Prague. The carriage was Austrian Railjet and it was my favourite so far. Spacious and light, with plenty of tables, and a really helpful attendant who served at the table from a good menu of food and drink that actually existed. I had Goulash soup and a bottle of beer.

The train journey from Graz to Vienna was even more spectacularly beautiful than that from Salzburg to Graz. Not as high and the valleys were a little gentler, but the villages, castles and valleys were like an ever unfolding stream of picture postcards.

At Wien Meidling I changed to the train to Frankfurt. Here I was in an open first class carriage, mostly airline seating and quite full. Seats were three across, two one side of the corridor and one the other. I was in a single seat.

I slept for a couple of hours, and then I folded down the airline style table in the back of the seat in front. I was just about able to balance my bulky old 17-inch laptop on it and started to type this article.

It is a lovely old laptop of a very high spec. It had been all round the world with me for seven years. It has Intel i7, 16 GB RAM and 1 TB HDD. But it looks like rubbish. Far thicker than a newer version, it made a very significant contribution to the weight I was carrying, was very dirty indeed and the case is cracked.

The train wifi being pretty useless, I was using my phone as a portable hotspot. I was confused to note that the phone was displaying “two devices connected”. I tapped on this and found that one was the pairing name I had set for my laptop, and one was a succession of numbers and symbols. I had never seen this before.

(UPDATE I thought it went without saying, but the portable hotspot was protected by a password – I had not changed the strong random one generated by the phone. That is why I was surprised).

The carriage was about half full. Everybody seemed normal. There was one young man, athletic looking with neat short hair, who had been already on the train when I boarded. He was working concentratedly on a small laptop on the table in front of him, and he continued to do so without a break for the entire six and a half hours from Vienna Meidling to Frankfurt.

He never looked at me and there was nothing strange about him other than his levels of concentration. But he was the only passenger near me who went the whole distance from Vienna to Frankfurt.

Indeed, rather to my surprise by the time we approached Frankfurt the carriage was very nearly empty, as people got out stop by stop. As Frankfurt is a huge place I expected the opposite.

As we neared Frankfurt, I packed up my laptop, disconnected the charger, and put both in my laptop bag which I left on my seat after putting the table back up. I then went quickly to the toilet (in a wooden cabinet actually inside the carriage) for a pee.

I came back just as we pulled in. There were only four of us getting off this first class carriage at this final stop. I got down with the bags, put the rucksack on my back, balanced the laptop bag on the wheeled suitcase, and set off down the platform.

At some stage another ICE train had joined us and I was sixteen carriages from the end of the platform. I was panicking a bit as my talk started in half an hour, although both hotel and venue were close.

Hurrying, I dropped the laptop bag from the top of the wheeled case. In picking it up I noticed the zip was partly undone. It just crossed my mind as strange, as I knew I had not left it that way. But I did it up and hurried on.

The Metropolitan Hotel is right next to the station. I checked in and hurried up to my room. Something was nagging at me and I opened the laptop bag. The laptop was gone.

I raced back to the station, but the train was as gone as the laptop. I went to the information desk, and they directed me to lost property. I went to the lost property desk, where a man in a red peaked hat was studiously unhelpful, and told me to go online and fill in a form.

Niels was filling in at the talk. I joined him and it was a disastrous attendance – only twelve people. They seemed subdued by the simple fact of being such a small gathering. I could not understand what had gone wrong.

It was good to see Niels. Given that we had been meant to travel together ever since London, and had not even managed to set eyes on each other these first three days, it was a happy reunion and he cheered me up.

But you lose a huge amount of information when you lose a laptop – including a lot of research for my book on George Murray. You then start to get into all the perils of identity theft. There was a huge task ahead, in warning people, in blocking and securing, and then recovering accounts.

Then on top of this, the comparative failure of the Frankfurt event (and I say that with due respect to the dozen great people who did show).

Oh well, I said to Niels. Things can only get better.

I was very wrong.


Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations


Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9
Ethereum/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments