The hot air balloon crash in Egypt was more than just another tragic news story

These sudden-death shocks come out of nowhere and put you on your guard. Plus: Riding for Team Lukashenko

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There were two reasons why the balloon accident near Luxor was a bit more for me than just another tragic news story. The first was that four years ago, on my first visit to Egypt, early mornings in Luxor were ushered in by the far-off sound of the Call to Prayer and the fairy-tale spectacle of coloured hot-air balloons suspended over the Nile. I wasn’t brave enough to take a balloon trip myself (though I did pluck up the courage to ride a camel a year later).

The second, and sadder, reason was that the photos of Joe Bampton and his Hungarian girlfriend, Suzanna Gyetvai, looked familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place them. It turned out that they had both worked at the Lots Road auction rooms in west London where I have bid, and even struck lucky, from time to time. It’s not a swanky metropolitan auction house where they take phone bids in millions for Monets, more a family operation where you might hunt down a good rug or a mid-century modern settee. It must have been at Lots Road that our paths crossed. At least, I thought, they liked their jobs and were doing something exotic when they died.

The same cannot, alas, be said of someone else I sort of knew whose recent death also made the news. Variously described as “a grand-dad from Fulham” and “a father-of-two”, Joseph Griffiths was fatally stabbed after apparently disturbing an intruder at his home. The photograph and some of the details seemed familiar. Mr Griffiths, the reports said, had set up his own car repair business near his home and continued to work there past retirement age; he employed one of his sons along with two of his grown-up grandchildren.

I recognised his garage as the place where I’d taken my old Subaru a few times to be serviced, after once limping in to his yard with a puncture – and not being ripped off for the new tyre. It’s only because I found somewhere more convenient than the New King’s Road that I went anywhere else. A long-time customer was quoted as saying that he “took a real pride in his work and a real interest in his customers”; you can’t really say fairer than that. Someone was arrested for his murder soon afterwards. But being stabbed in your own front hall is no way to go.

Riding for Team Lukashenko

Did you follow the latest chapter of the Great British cycling fest, with our fellow-countrymen and -women reaping another crop of medals at the recent World Track Championships? Commentators had sought to play down expectations, talking about just a preliminary stage of the “road to Rio” – and still our riders won medals.

I wonder, though, whether you noticed the sign-off at the end of the reports. This competition was held in Minsk, capital of Belarus – a country led by Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed Europe’s last dictator. His thuggish police have a habit of duffing up their boss’s political opponents rather brutally before hauling them before travesties of courts and thence to prison. I heard not a mention of this.

The question is whether more of a fuss would have been made if the event had not been cycling – which we’re rather good at – but, say, wrestling or even a film festival? Might someone have asked about the ethics of our participation? Might there even have been pressure to boycott an event likely to lend kudos to a dodgy regime? I tend to think that the answer in both cases would have been yes.