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‘It’s be awful if the world exploded, it’s so wonderfully splendid’

Seeing Aurora is life affirming

Is any situation not perfect for a Tove Jansson quote…?
The post holiday blues kicked in some time ago and memories of my trip in February to Iceland faded quicker than the unexpected Nordic tan I picked up. I thought I would share a few thoughts on my adventure and coincidentally my renewed love of all things Scandinavian, and how all this fits in with my perceptions right now.

I must just say that my trip to Iceland was not some random spoilt whim I woke up with one day.
It was of great sentimental value because ever since I was a child I had told my parents I would live in Scandinavia (and have little blonde kids, but we won’t dwell on that weirdness)!
Too much interest in Moomin, Roxette, Jostein Gaarder and Astrid Lindgren novels maybe, but they do say that your core belief system is shaped as a young child so I think these things must have influenced me a lot.

After watching a documentary on Iceland Mama said she would one day come with me to meet the elves reported to live there. Alas we never got to do that…..
Reinforcing this view, when I was about 11 I saw a green light in the sky and Papa came into my bedroom and luckily also saw it and said the mothership had come back for me! Harsh….
Later at dinner he told me it was in fact the Aurora Borealis and it was unusual to see them so far South and somewhere so light polluted. After reading up about them I knew I would have to visit somewhere very Northern to investigate one day….

Then of course painfully of all, the very day my boyfriend died in 2012, we were due to go away to Iceland. It had all been booked and we were all packed. So nearly two years since his death I have finally managed to fulfil this great dream, albeit without any of the people I loved so much.
It exceeded all my expectations. And they were pretty high already!

This is not a travel blog nor a review site and if it is that kind of practical stuff about hotels and the  Blue Lagoon you are after, then off you go to read that.
As always, everything I write on here is based on how I personally see the world through culture, politics, philosophy and how people are. I use all my trips to evaluate what is important in life to me, and how different cultures represent those things .
I question how the UK compares and really try to observe and immerse myself as much as is possible on such short trips. Of course I also ponder on what my lost loved ones would have thought and how it might have been if they were there too.

Going on trips shakes up the bad traits in me and my often toxic routine. They break me from the monotony of my problems and issues, like setting the reset button, but often if I go somewhere I do not like or understand or have company of the irritating sort then it exacerbates my hangups.
This was not one of those times and I returned calm, refreshed, and I have to say spiritually invigorated.

So Iceland. Well, I would be hard pressed to find something bad to say about the place or my trip.
Even Icelanders love their country – read the numerous blogs.

In fact let us start with the downside, as it is the only one I can really think of. London seems like Poundland in comparison, in the sense that everything is painfully expensive. Obviously through high import costs and the economic collapse a few years ago, the Krona is slowly calming down but in fact is still as volatile as the volcanic terrain.
However I did hear about that before I went and budgeted what I could manage and in fact I would say that in fact I did not mind as you do get what you pay for. High quality products and service. Very unlike London in that respect. So even my one complaint is kind of justifiable already!
I suppose one might say if of the more patriotic bent, that I come back to the UK even more confused as to what being British really means or what my native country really offers me with my particular set of beliefs or ideals.
It is very draining on a person’s mental and physical health to live in an environment that is so at odds with one’s core beliefs and feelings.
But I mustn’t see it like that. I can’t change some things. And being somewhere I do feel comfortable is a lovely feeling so I must instead cherish that and work on how to achieve more of it.

Only being in Iceland for four days, but packing much in was easy. Iceland has the ‘can do’ attitude of America coupled with  the easy and organised efficiency of Scandinavia. All mixed in with the charming, kind and intelligent nature of Icelandic people.
It really is the place to go to get out your comfort zone, switch off and enjoy a very different way of life in a natural and wonderful way. Going to Iceland will I think, make you feel alive and very connected to the Earth. And really tired out, in a good way!

Watching steam bursting out the earth from a geyser, standing overlooking waterfalls, and riding angelic Icelandic horses over rugged lava fields next to volcanoes, all with the serene backdrop of snowy mountains – it would be difficult not to feel both connected, and in awe to Mother Earth.

People are their country and their country is them. Though I have felt disconnected with my own country since I was 16 I am sure I have many English traits and I would not deny them if people told me of them. While it is often dangerous to assume a collective character of a nation I do think stereotypes are often very telling and in the case of such a little population as Iceland I would say it was safe to do so.
So Icelandic stereotypes?

All stunners?
Well, my banker friend who worked there a lot(until he helped break the banks!) told me the women were stunning, and they really are. You can definitely tell who the tourists are. Maybe it is the homogenous Viking heritage, maybe it is the clean air and environment or maybe it is the healthy outdoorsy life. Even the guy at the car rental desk would not have looked out of place on the pages of Vogue Homme. If it wasn’t for the fantastic scenery I would have spent a great deal of time ogling everyone!

They eat weird things?
Yes there is very odd food on the menus which is perfectly normal to them. Personally I would prefer to observe puffins sitting on rocks by the sea rather than on my plate but then I am a pescatarian anyway so each to their own. I tried a few bits and bobs as I always do in different countries. One of the best parts of travelling I think.

Tastier than it looks maybe!

I liked the Maltextrakt drink a lot – it is a bit like Kvass or Root Beer both of which I enjoy, the plokkfishkur which is like cod and mash together on rye bread was very delicious, thought the Skyr was a  yummy find which I hope to find in Scandinavian delis in UK and the coffee and cakes were of particularly high standard. A very important point for me!
As for the water. Well, just the water in the hotel bathroom tap was crystal clear, cold and pure. As opposed to the hard water where I live meaning I go through expensive Brita filters far too often.
One certainly doesn’t need to be eating Minke whale burgers to get by. My companion, an ardent carnivore was very happy and said the lamb and other meats he had was very delicious, tender and organic. It did tempt me!
I suppose the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables would get on my nerves though if I was there too long, though I hear to combat the high import prices they have started cultivating their own in specially designed greenhouses.

But a stereotype which is very true, is that they are intelligent, and extremely nice people. Now why might that be?
A first class education system? A small population? A youngish republic still in love with their own freedom? Or is it all about the nature reflecting the people?
I think it is a combination of all of these.

As an homogenous small state with under half a million inhabitants, naturally a sense of community is unavoidable.
Community is something that is mentioned by UK politicians a lot, but it is not something you can create out of thin air. It takes years to become a broken and uncaring society which nurtures and feeds loneliness and selfishness, therefore it will take years to mend, if ever.
Community is abundant in Iceland because there are less people and lots of space. People are grateful to see others and at the same time enjoy their own personal space. In England especially, we live in densely populated places surrounded by hoards of strangers, anonymous in our own surroundings.
But community is something else. It is respect and trust.
The low crime rate in Iceland is often held up as a shining example of community where the only crooks are the bankers and theft or violence is not really an issue.
A peaceful nation with no armed forces is a rarity also these days but of course with as many enemies as the UK has that would be a non starter!
Community is something I am constantly trying to find in all my areas of life. Maybe school was the last time this truly existed for me.

I noticed that cars all stop for pedestrians.  Once was nice, twice was a coincidence but they do it all the time, and for everyone. There is no rush, so why not let people cross the street? I thought that a nice thing indeed. Being nice makes you feel nice too.
How many times have you cut someone up on the road or ‘stolen’ a car park space only to feel particularly rubbish afterwards.

Coffee shops were full of people (quietly) chatting and laughing and being with their friends or families. A couple of people were alone on laptops or with a newspaper (I know, some people actually still read these) but they could do so in relative peace and quiet as the shops were invariably peaceful places, maybe some ambient music or  gentle murmur of the people. Even American tourists there sit quietly!
How odd to be served by native people of that country too. When did you last get served in a cafe or restaurant by a native Brit and not a brilliant East European academic wasting their talents? It does make me wonder what all the Brits are busy doing… Must be funny visiting some parts of the UK as a tourist I think.

I often go to a coffee shop in Britain with the puppy and my book or a laptop and cannot hear myself think amongst the noise of the machines behind the counter, yelling of the staff to one another across the shop, all the noisy people sitting talking on their mobiles and if ever I do see families or friends together they are all  busy on their own tablets or phones anyway.

People genuinely seem to like being with other people there. It was really nice.

Trust is big thing. We went to several places unmanned by staff as they were off elsewhere momentarily and there was a box for you to put money in. And you would wouldn’t you? Trust works both ways based on mutual respect. You can totally leave your bag on a table or wherever and it will still be there if you wander off.

One waiter returned our change after a meal and told us that we didn’t need to leave tips in Iceland as service was included. Now okay, the meal was not cheap, maybe more than I would pay in London on some occasions but that kind of honesty, not trying to fleece a tourist is a charming gesture. I asked if it confused the Americans who make tipping a national obsession and he laughed and said they were very put out by the whole thing!
I also bumped into that waiter again when we were in a coffee shop somewhere else one day. I waved and he waved back! Of course I never forget a face but he may just think I am a loony! Either way seeing familiar faces out and about is quite novel and sweet.

I note a very wry and witty sense of humour. I notice this a lot in Northern Europe somehow. Britons do in truth have a great sense of humour and our comedy is some of the best in the world. I think we may not have much in common with Scandinavia nowadays but our humour is on the same latitude.
Germans for instance are much maligned for having no sense of humour but they have a very dark, sarcastic humour which is similar to the Scnadinavian one I think.
Icelanders write funny little comments in their menus, on signs and anywhere really and they make you smile. It is like a gentle mischief that is very endearing.

I think the acceptance of depression has a lot to do with this.
I asked someone if all the houses had fairy lights and candles in as we saw a lot of this. I thought it looked very pretty and remembered how I used to tell Papa to keep my Christmas fairy lights up well after Christmas and he sometimes hung them in my bedroom for a few weeks.
Well apparently in Iceland they do just that after a bishop mentioned that the lights brought a bit of joy into the dark months, so why not keep them up into February.
They naturally suffer from SAD but it is accepted to have these dark moods, and one must simply accept that this is going to happen and do nice wholesome things to counteract it. Be outdoors doing exercise or walking, be with friends, make fires and light candles and eat healthy foods and so on.
I am sure people do pop pills or drink too much as they do in UK but certainly talking about the ‘darkness’ and being upfront is a far healthier attitude in itself.

People joke about the suicide rates in Scandinavia but in reality some of these are the happiest countries. Suicide is not always about deep dark depression but also about peoples’ own particular predicament or issues. Embracing the dark side to life is actually paramount to surviving at all. Only by knowing about it can you know how happy you are when you really feel happy or content.

Moomin should be on the National Curriculum

The education system, which yes is based on horrendously high taxation, is such that all children are educated well and equally, learning about how to be good people, respect nature as well as a deep understanding of their own culture, history and language. This forms well rounded individuals who are a pleasure to chat with.
It is seen as a bit snobby or highbrow in England if people talk about certain things and this is not how it should be. It also genuinely scares me how many Brits can’t read or write properly. This just would not occur in Iceland for sure. Even if a child didn’t learn well at school, their family and community would ensure they learnt things they needed.

All these absurd measures and polices in England concerning education or childrens’ lives merely highlight the shortcomings of most parents to bring up their own children correctly.
The schools are there to teach and the parents do the upbringing. I think some of this has got a bit blurred in Britain where people selfishly have children and then expect the state or others to pick up the reins financially and morally.

Naturally as a literature lover, I was thrilled to see the abundance of charming wonderfully stocked bookshops. I allowed myself to buy a few books at horrendous cost as I haven’t read in a while and need to get back into it. So where better than where I began as a child, with my Scandinavian literature. Not the Scandi crime noir that is prevalent now, but simple elegant novels.
Someone had shown me the house of Halldór Laxness who I had never heard of before. He told me with great pride how he won the Nobel prize for literature and was a famous Icelander. I have begun one of his novels and am enjoying the mischievous humour, darkness and strangeness of it very much.

I am 32 and it just fills me with great happiness I still have so much to learn and discover. New books, trying horse riding and actually being quite good at it, seeing the Aurora Borealis and so much more. I am very grateful to Iceland right now.

I also bought a humorous book about elves. Now, in actual fact this is a very serious matter.
I am not talking about little people with bells on their shoes and green pointy hats.
The Icelandic people genuinely believe, some more openly than others, there are hidden people.  Some myths think these are descended from biblical characters. Why is the concept of Huldufólk any more outlandish than believing in God or Jesus or Mohammed?

Guide to the hidden folk

But this book describes the process in how to see the elf. The ending is key to me as it taps into the psyche of what it would be like to live in such harmony with one’s environment.
It says that ‘if you didn’t see one that’s okay because it was a beautiful moment all the same, everything takes practice and sharing a moment with nature and opening your heart to possibilities is a wonderful thing. Sharing space with hidden people means we are all connected to the earth and equal’.

Yes, yes you think this is all some green, hippy twaddle. But let me just say this.

To feel disconnected and isolated is not a healthy way to live and if opening your mind and heart can make you a better human being and care and respect those around you better, then little elves or not I heartily endorse it.
While church going may be as low as in the UK, Iceland has a spiritual side to it that means the people are lot nicer. Whether that comes from pagan thoughts and love of Mother Earth, Lutheran ones or belief in hidden souls is of no importance. Spirituality is a very important thing for a nation to have in my opinion. Without it, arrogance reigns supreme.

I was in a shop with beautifully crafted wool items and there were these little elf slippers with curled toes and bells on them and I thought how much I would love to buy them for Mama as a funny gift.
When I was little and looking in the under stairs cupboard she would go past and shut the door( don’t worry there was a light and it didn’t lock) and I would come out and tell her off and she would feign ignorance and say the elves did it and how naughty they were. I miss her mischief. Like Papa, they were both incredibly serious with others and many saw them as aloof but at home we were often very silly and they had mischievous streaks which I thought everyone had until I grew up and sadly discovered lots of people are in fact, just very dull.

The politics of a nation also reflect the people
The thing about the Scandinavian model as a sweeping generalisation is it is roughly set out and standardised. People know what is the politics of their country. Prime Ministers may change but the core belief system is set and there is certainty in how the country will operate.
In the UK we chop and change leaders, Premiers and no one is ever really certain what is happening and what the future holds. What is the British model? We can clearly see the Scandinavian model whether we approve or not.
It is an incredibly selfish and uncertain way of leading people. The brain needs certainty, and never more so in hard times.

When Ed Miliband mooted the idea of adopting a more Scandinavian model it was shouted down. Is it that Britian is just a very right wing country? Or is it just that I believe Brits could learn a lot from Germany or Scandinavia, but at the heart of the issue is that Brits are not German or Scandinavian. So the idea falls flat.

And what about the limbo over the EU? In, out , don’t know, don’t care…

When I first arrived in Iceland, because it is in Schengen there is no need to stamp the passport but as I was about to pass the control booth I asked if he would stamp mine anyway and he smiled and did so. I travel a lot in the EU and so it is nice to do this I think.

I passed many ‘Nej Takk EU‘ posters and it is clear that Iceland is remaining firmly out of the EU.
I have to say it did at times question my own thoughts on the matter.
But then I remembered …the UK is not Iceland. We do not have friendly neighbours who we have special trade and cultural bonds with.  We certainly do not have our own power supply and an homogenous nation. Iceland while vehemently against being an EU member realises it needs to function with and within the EU and works on that.
Britian needs Europe to survive else it be even more isolationist than now.
But it also made me wonder why when Britian geographically has more ties with Northern Europe how we are so very far away.
It almost makes me understand the Scotland independence campaign. I can easily see how living in the Orknies you have far more in common with Oslo than London.
Yet Denamrk is in Scandinavia and roughly on same latitude as much of Britian. Is it that much of England and especially the South is so incredibly different? In that case perhaps more in common with those across the channel. Yet that is not true either and Britian’s constant hatred of the French and Germans is stronger than ever.

I genuinely cannot fathom it out anymore.

But for Iceland I think they have made the right choice and being outside of the EU is exactly right for them. The EU, especially at this time dealing with Ukraine needs to remember that the EU is not for everyone.

Iceland also have a great deal of North American ties. Culturally and trade wise. This came as a bit of a shock actually and though Iceland is a bit Scandinavian it is also quite East Coast American. Then of course parts of Iceland look like the Moon. So basically it is like nowhere I have ever been and very unique.

Their take on alcohol is something I also endorse. Now I realise the drink addled middle classes of the UK would be apoplectic if we had state owned off licenses and the government controlled the sale of all alcohol. Admittedly the goal of this is to reduce consumption but what actually happens is it is just really expensive.
But still, the moral objective is there and I do think people treat alcohol less as self medication as they do in the UK.
I recently heard a  British comedian say without wine, parenting would be unmanageable. I really don’t see that as funny and says way more about British society than being a mere joke.

Did you know Norway had a philosopher appointed to manage the nation’s oil profits in the best most moral way? I only read about this recently. Henrik Syse advised the Norwegian central bank using a moral compass and helped them combine good economics with morality. Can you just imagine if the BoE did such a thing?
But why not? Philosophy and politics go hand in hand, and it is high time we put the intelligence back into national politics and international politics.

Amidst my Scandinavian crush of my youth, I discovered two wonderful words which in a recent tv documentary called Scandimania, reminded me of them.
Lagom and Hygge.

Lagom in particular is a superb word with a brilliant moral basis. One needs just enough. For food, for money, for everything.
Critics might say this feeling stunts entrepreneurial spirit or competition, but I would argue it curbs greed and stupidity.
I think moderating certain things leads to a certain form of contentment. Much of Western misery stems from greed and the desire for more and more stuff.
Lagom to me equates with a sense of calmness and tranquility.

Hygge is a Danish word which I take to mean community spirit or togetherness. Again, it is based in a basic human need for socialising and being part of something warm.  Is it a coincidence that Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world.

I came back from Iceland with a sense of calm. I bought a super warm Nordic sweater which just about all the locals seemed to be wearing and has saved me from high heating bills, a special beautifying face serum to make me as stunning as the locals and some delicious sweets and breads which have of course long been eaten…

Nowhere is a perfect utopia but I think the UK could do a lot worse than look to Scandinavia for inspiration on much more than how to decorate our homes.
And I haven’t even touched on their amazing Eurovision prowess!

But if I had known I would have seen the Northern Lights in Essex I could have saved myself a fortune!
In all seriousness to have been blessed to see the Lights is a dream come true and by no means a given. The moment standing on a snowy hilltop in the pitch dark listening to the sea and watching the dazzling display is a moment I will have in my head and heart forever. Whether you believe in God, or elves or you are a die hard atheist, feeling so part of the universe is a truly enriching experience.

In case you feel I have become too soft let me end with one of my favourite philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard reminding us not to be so sentimental.

“People commonly travel the world over to see rivers and mountains, new stars, garish birds, freak fish, grotesque breeds of human; they fall into an animal stupor that gapes at existence and they think they have seen something”

European and British flags.

‘Where there is Unity, there is Victory’

Let us end the debate. Please!

As Syrus once wisely said…

Last week Ofcom decided to start treating UKIP as a major party in terms of the way they are allowed to broadcast and campaign. This is a significant turning point and to me says more about where our political system is now rather than about UKIP per se.

Is it not time for the pro EU lobby to realise that we face a real problem, and all their different agendas; donors and events are entirely irrelevant if Britain is not even in the EU. Never mind reforming anything, we won’t have a say because we won’t be there.

This is a real possibility which the pro EU side seem still to be ignoring.
To think UKIP are a ragbag party capitalising on the discontentment people have with Britain and  with no coherent policies is quite true. But to treat them as such is very wrong.
UKIP is not a solution  - it is a symptom of a broken Britain. So the solution is to offer a remedy for mending it.

The more I have got involved with the pro EU lobby through several organisations the more I see a shocking lack of commitment to the cause. I have witnessed astounding waste of resources and talent in getting the message out to the public who are crying out for information. The only information they really get is from UKIP because they are tailoring it for the average voter to understand.
The Europhiles persist in lengthy and needlessly complex documents and reports which for the average voter is a huge turn off.
Those that read such things already have their opinion and will vote accordingly.

One Europhile hack proudly announced to me at some pointless soiree that the diplomats and MPs present were on side. Well, with respect that is superb, but I would imagine they had not been persuaded by him or changed their thoughts in the slightest. It is real people who will decide and they are the people that need to be informed.
If I can convince one apathetic teenager to go put and vote for a Europhile candidate I will feel I have achieved something good.

Another significant drawback to the Europhile movement is that there are far too many egos involved looking for their slice of the limelight. Too many cooks spoil the broth as they say and while I often hear people ask where is the pro EU Farage what we really need is a strong unified approach based on coherent common sense and reason.
I have lost count of the times that instead of ‘we’ it is ‘I’ who is mentioned when campaign ideas touted.

When I put my concerns to several high profile politicians, they broadly agreed but laid the blame at the media’s door and held their hands up in surrender.
Yet UKIP blame the media for their negative profile. Who then is correct?
From journalists I speak to, they too are crying out for some pro material and spokespeople.
A friend from the BBC told me he was sick of them getting Farage on for every political interview or Question Time but let us face it, the rest of his party cannot do what he does. It is truly a one man party.
Balanced debate is the only way people can make decisions.

Yes, the media mock UKIP but only in the same way they mock all people trying to change politics, for good or bad. That too is divisive but if you cannot beat them join them I think.
By putting a stronger message through all forms of the media, the pro side will get to the people who make the decision.

All parties pray on the vulnerable and their concerns and fears but none of them really put a positive message out with real options. This is a massive failing in our political system and voter turn out will get progressively worse until this is rectified.
It is not acceptable to me that in this age of mediocrity our politics too is mediocre.
Britain does deserve better.

Every day I stumble across yet another pro EU organisation or think tank.  Some are new, some are established but only now finding their voice. Some require paying members, some have rich donors, others are backed by business and some are ultra federalist. There are organisations for students, and think tanks of ex Eurocrats. All with their own agendas. Ironically, some even overlap with shared presidents and board members.

All of them want the UK to be in the EU.
This is the one thing they all agree on yet are too stubborn to cooperate over.

Pro Europa, British Influence, European Movement, BNE are some of the more proactive ones but go out and ask Joe Bloggs who these people are and they have no idea and they definitely do not care.
Just as UKIP voters know few real truths or facts, most people likely to vote Pro also care little for statistics. They just need a reasoned debate explained in a normal manner.
Imagine the amazing result if all the organisations cooperated and campaigned together and we sent the best people to Brussels in the European parliamentary elections…

Maybe the real question here is does Britain need a new party?
Admittedly the SDP did not fare well but times have changed and yet we have a political system which has not changed to keep up with peoples’ needs and desires.
People just want their fears and concerns addressed.
UKIP filled that gap. I cannot blame them for seizing an opportunity.

A few weeks ago I went to a very strange event which was pretty far out my comfort zone – a UKIP meeting. I like many in the pro EU lobby thought I knew what they were all about and felt sure I knew what to expect. Neither a crazy federalist or EU hack, nor a sceptic I feel I have a fairly healthy and balanced view to the EU and Britain’s relationship with it.

But if I have learnt anything over the past few years I have learnt never to get cocky. About anything.  If you think you know something. Think again. Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of that meeting.

The entire experience was unexpectedly depressing, as soon as my friends and I sat down we glanced at each other with vexation. The air in the room was heavy with despair before anything had been said. I have been to many political party gatherings across the spectrum and most have a sort of buzz about them. Even if misplaced!
Apart from a spiteful manner in which most of the discussion took,  I was shocked at the lack of any actual substance to what was said.
Apart form the bizarrely biased migrant discussion, I heard no real policies or answers.
My two personal highlights of that meeting were one woman asking when hanging was coming back and a white middle aged UKIP councillor saying he wasn’t racist and dragging his wife of colour up on her feet to prove so. Awkward doesn’t cover it!

When one is right it is so easy. UKIP candidates often flounce off from interviews, or get flustered. When one is wrong it is hard to answer anything or speak with conviction.
The pro side have it really easy in theory.

To their credit, the UKIP  candidates handled any non UKIP banter with respect. They are clearly getting better media training now. But they still didn’t really answer anything.
Maybe they’ll make good politicians after all!

So ultimately UKIP by their own admission have absolutely no idea on how they would extricate the UK from the EU. They have no time frame, and no knowledge of the logistics.
They also admit , with alarming frequency that they do not yet have policies on key political issues.
The very issues they’re targeting the voter on.
If a party cannot even answer their own mission statement then how can they possibly address the many concerns that Britain faces?

Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford have written a new book on this political phenomenon,  ’Revolt of the Right’.
I have heard Goodwin speak and he sets out a very clear reason why UKIP even exist let alone their success.
From an academic point of view it is interesting to look at this rise and where it comes from and I definitely think the pro EU side ignores this and persists in assuming they are all ‘loons’.
No disrespect to the author but I will answer why UKIP have become popular in one sentence.
In times of despair and crisis, and when no one puts forward an option of a bright new future, people instead look for scapegoats to blame and these are often peddled by the far right.

We live in those times and the EU is painted as the cause of all ills in Britain. The truth  really is that Britain needs to address the severe domestic problems that have been neglected for decades. We have been left far behind compared to other nations.

Sticky plaster politics is the standard model of UK politics when in fact what we need is a clear, far reaching and concise blue print for how Britain and the government should operate. Much like we talk of the Nordic model or the German model. There is an air of certainty within these countries and even though parties and premiers change, people know what is a national standard to expect and can  plan accordingly.
Britain does not have that. The human brain hates uncertainty and it leads to chaos and dperession.
Lack of certainty and reassurance has put the UK where it is now.
Sticky plaster politics just does things ad hoc and neglects the real problems, knowing that every five years it will be someone else’s turn. Thus the cycle continues, going nowhere.

UKIP to their credit offer a very unified clear voice. The pro side does not.

The Lib Dems may be offering up Clegg for sacrifice when he debates with Farage and as they seem to be so unpopular at the moment I am not sure this presents the public with any clear choice or options. Clegg means well but unless he changes his tactics for the debate, some helpful EU facts will not be enough. Scare tactics are the only way. Fight fire with fire.

The Tories and Labour seem to permanently have their head stuck in the sand hiding from the whole mess and unwilling to speak out one way or the other.
Apart from some very divisive backbenchers , the broad consensus is we need to remain in EU and start reforming and getting stronger from the inside, by taking a proactive role.

The public would like to hear that. There will always be a few disgruntled hateful UKIP voters and they are not the target demographic.
Better for the pro  EU side to target the undecided and apathetic voters and offer them some decent opinion. Most people have no opinions of their own and borrow ones from other people anyway!

All this talk of wooing ‘stakeholders’ makes me feel a bit sick actually. I am often in conversation with some EU flunky who uses this term and it is condescending and lacking the wisdom to see that it is people who will decide our future in the EU.
Not the politicians or big business tycoons, though of course they have a duty to lead opinion.
A lot of people quite like being lead too….

An umbrella to protect against UKIP weather

What I would like to see is all these organisations get together, present a unified voice under one umbrella seeking only to see off the Eurosceptics for good and help Britain recover and go on to be strong and involved in the EU and get as much out of it as we are entitled to.
They could offer a panel of key charismatic spokespeople, across party to go out and speak. There are plenty of them.

The EU should not be a discussion point anymore other than normal EU news that any member state involves itself in. The only way for it to stop is get rid of the Sceptics once and for all.

Only when we are able to start addressing the concerns of the nation and rid ourselves of the divisive force that UKIP is then the country can heal.

But really it is the three parties who should be unified in their approach. UKIP seeks to take votes from all three parties after all and it is in their best interests to do so. But many of them do not live in the world that I do and because of that they really have no idea how real a problems it is.

All this bitterness, resentment and confusion either pushes people to vote for UKIP or not vote at all. Either option is bad for the UK and what is needed now is some common sense so UK can act like a gown up member of the EU rather than a petulant child making demands and turning nasty.

Ultimately the pro EU side is not a party and it is the job of the three main parties to ensure that people do not vote for Sceptics.

Voters are bewildered because UKIP are a clear NO to EU side but there is no clear choice on the ballot paper for the YES to EU side.

Unless someone starts a new party right now there are only two options.

1 – Pro Eu side put aside all their different agendas to campaign solely on maintaing Britain’s membership in the EU.  When that debate has been won, the EU election returns only pro EU  candidates and any referenda is decided then they can all disband again and return to fighting for their relevant EU agenda.

2- All three parties need to put a united view out for the voters to see there is a clear choice.
If sceptics among those parties dislike it then now would be a good time to cull the system once and for all. As one MP said, UKIP has cleansed his party of extremists.

And I would add this caveat.
Focus on Britian. UKIP repeatedly tell everyone how patriotic they are but suggesting Britian becomes isolated and adrift is not patriotic. Remind people that they can have St George’s Day, play Elgar to their hearts content and do as many English things as they wish. The EU have not outlawed any of the above! Being in the EU and being British are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately hatred drives on passion more so than mere ‘liking’. So all those who state their hatred of the EU have more drive than those who merely quite like it. After all, no one loves the EU, even the most diehard fans! But liking can be turned into something positive whereas sceptics only thrive on negativity. And the British need some positivity.

My message to the the pro EU lobby is simply this. Unite, speak out and let us end this tired agreement once and for all and get on with the things that really matter.
Much of what UKIP peddle is just opinion. Facts alone are not enough, it is how you use them.

Marcus Aurelius said it best ….

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth”                                                                                     

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‘Удачи Украина’

Good luck to Ukraine for whatever path you choose. Sadly death and violence is often the path to gaining democracy and we in the West take our democracy for granted.

I spoke on here of the struggles and the dissatisfaction that Ukraine had with the Yanokuvich government.
I felt I had to write something today amidst the biased tv and radio reporting and the vanquishing display of apparent democratic victory.
Eavesdropping on the middle class do gooders in the coffee shop this morning pointing at the simplistic, and in my mind, inaccurate headline on The Sunday Times, I know it is not their fault if they don’t comprehend the full story.

Not quite black and white – some varying shades of orange

When had the ‘government‘ become a ‘regime‘ and when had that become a ‘dictatorship‘. For me, the word condescending does not even cover it. I don’t think the British Press has empathy with Ukrainians, I think they just like to feel superior. The air of’ what are those foreigners up to now’ type thing.

I do not set myself as an expert on Eastern European politics but I think I do know a little more than these BBC News watching casual observers and  have carefully avoided most media on it at first because it seemed always to be pointedly anti Russian and naive.  Not that I get a much clearer picture from Russia Today or РИА новости either… You really have to search hard for the truth sometimes, and that involves talking with my Russian and Ukrainian friends about it too as they are far better educated about it than I am.

Yanokuvich was a vile man disliked by most Ukrainian people – very corrupt and unpopular. He was standing in the way of Ukraine becoming the country she deserved to be.
Yes, Putin may have exacerbated the issue but Russia is not the wicked baddie in all of this as painted by  much of the Western Press.
The protests that began after closer ties to the EU were refused were not all about the EU. They were about Yanukovich and his ‘regime’. The people of Ukraine deserved and do deserve better.

Ukraine is a fascinating and beautiful country. The memories of my short visit there will remain with me forever.
I found this photo I took on just an ordinary weekday morning of the Motherland statue (Родина мать) that stands tall over Kiev.

Родина мать

 It was such a quiet sunny day. Such a contrast to the pictures we have seen in recent times.

However, Ukraine was never a dictatorship. In the Western press it amuses me that governments are called regimes or dictatorships when they are not. Corrupt yes, damaging definitely, but Yanukovich is no Nicolae Ceausecu or Stalin. And lets be honest shall we, not all so called dictators are wicked villains anyway – Marshal Tito is often referred to as the benevolent dictator.
One needs to be careful throwing these labels around when we aren’t quite sure.
As far as I recall selling arms to Saddam Hussein was fine until we decided he was a dictator of the villainous kind.
Yanukovich does not care for his country or the people and shows total disregard for their future or wellbeing, and that is why he has been removed.

Yulia Tymoshenko is not the Aung San Suu Kyi type figure that the Western Press is trying to paint her. She is not the saviour riding up on the white horse to rescue Ukraine.
Yes, she has been unjustly treated and I am glad she is free to be involved in the democratic process. But let us not be swayed by the very anti Russian western press trying to portray as her as the answer to all of Ukraine’s problems.
Nor is the EU necessarily the answer, and I will be most cross if the EU tries to bully Ukraine as Russia did. It is for Ukraine to decide what is best for them, and if closer ties to Russia is the answer then that is okay. If they wish to join the EU at some point then that too is fine but it must be a democratic free decision made by a corrupt free government and its people to ensure no more lives are lost.

Ever since the 2004 assassination attempt on Viktor Yushenko, watching in disbelief at his disfigured face from the poison, amazed such a thing could happen, I was transfixed at the remarkable politics of Ukraine. And of course Tymshenko’s plaits could transfix you without her even uttering a word!
The people seemed so impatient for political transformation but of course as we know this cannot come overnight.
I hope that in this case they remember the backdrop to the Orange Revolution and what came after. Perhaps these protests are the delayed aftermath. They should rejoice in the coup d’etat which they have brought about, albeit at such a tragically high price.

Once the violence has subsided comes the really painful process – decisions and democratic healing.

Украинцы заслуживают лучшее правительство.

Apologies for  my rusty Russian, hope you get the gist! Good luck Ukraine!

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‘Sex, Lies and Economics’

Yes François, I know. Everyone knows…

François Hollande – liar, cheat, betrayer…
He could be called many things by his compatriots or critics, but I would hope these derogatory terms would be based on his political, rather than his sexual prowess.

Taking a vaguely bemused glance at the ‘story’ of M. Hollande and his mistress (can one have a mistress when not married?) I feel a bit sad that France has become as puritanical and dull as the ironically sexless USA or UK.
And once again, the really important matters of the day are put aside in favour of pointless tittle tattle which to be honest seems almost quaint to me.

Now, the first issue I take with this matter other than the fact it is totally irrelevant and a disgraceful invasion of privacy is one which is weirdly never discussed when writing about the sex lives of politicians or publicly known people.
How it affects their partners and families.
Mme. Trierweiler, Hollande’s partner, perhaps knew all about his mistress. Maybe not.
Like many of my male friends, their partners turn a blind eye, feign ignorance or have an unwritten rule that their husbands can sleep with half the population should they so wish as long as they rock up to their quaint dinner parties on the weekend and make sure the children’s school fees are paid on time.
Many women, rightly or wrongly do not want the stigma or upset of divorce or being single and would rather live that way. But the key rule is keep it hidden, so no one loses face as it were.
Who divorces on grounds of adultery these days? Pricey and archaic some might say. Sad maybe, but true.
Female infidelity is often seen as a minor dalliance and husbands and boyfriends routinely turn a blind eye or forgive any indiscretions, perhaps more out of male pride than anything else. Or perhaps female sexuality is still seen in such a laughable manner that it is of absolutely no importance.
Whether or not people have an open partnership or not, it is not for others to comment on. All relationships are unique in their own way.
By outing M. Hollande this way, the press have shown no regard for Mme. Trierweiler. They have made her look ridiculous. Maybe she knew and let it go. Maybe she didn’t and now the press have dragged her personal life into the spotlight.
Yes, she may be the partner of the president of France, but respect for peoples’ personal lives should extend to all surely, especially those who do not put themselves up as public figures.

This whole débacle is embarrassing for Hollande, his partner, his children and upsetting for all concerned, including his mistress.
But should it be embarrassing for France?

François Hollande is one of the most unpopular presidents France has ever had. But then what leader of any country in these difficult times is held in high esteem by their people?
Chirac and Mitterrand – both notorious womanisers were never hauled over the coals for their behaviour, but by no coincidence were much more popular than Hollande is now.
So is it that France is unsympathetic to his call for privacy here because of his political unpopularity rather than any change in their moral viewpoint?

Hollande may be seen by the Socialists as betraying the ideals he used to advocate. He is described as a Social Liberal. As far as I am concerned that is a fairly complimentary moniker but I suppose for a French Socilaist, it is a damning insult and is meant as such.
But would it not be better to condemn him politically than label him a chaud lapin or philanderer? It all feels a bit like Al Capone being done on tax evasion…

France has stood teetering over bankruptcy and tip toeing around economic reform for too long and now any policy which looks to make cuts or changes is seen as wicked and the most bitter of betrayals by someone who is meant to be Socialist.
Hence the strained relationship with Germany. Hollande simply cannot be seen to be endorsing the kind of economic policy implemented by Frau Merkel, and Germany is distinctly unimpressed by France’s dithering and lack of urgency in curing their ills. As such the Franco-German alliance within the EU is quite simply a bit of a mess.
While Greece and Spain seem to be showing the first shoots of recovery ( I can’t believe I used that horrible economic cliché, sorry) France has lost its AAA credit rating, become weak, unemployment is up, their private sector has shrunk and it has been said that it is not impossible that growth in the economy could be 0%.

Hollande, in his defence, would be hard pressed to retain his Socialist credentials in these constrained times. It is a thankless task but in France, perhaps even harder. The French cling stubbornly to their old social model which confronted by the current economic crises cannot possible be sustained. The ancien régime ruling France is uniquely conservative and impossibly stuck in its ways despite whoever the president may be. France’s inflexibility has been its downfall and its reluctance to embrace the necessary measures to mend their economy may mean their progress or recovery is severely impeded.

One can blame the establishment, one can blame M. Hollande’s bad economic policies.
One thing will not be to blame is the fact that their president may or may not have been having a liaison with an actress.

I think my own life is not so dull that I want to resort to imagining the sex lives of unattractive politicians. Who finds this fun? Where is the story or entertainment here really?
My basic reason for finding the tawdry tales of high profile people so dull is that not only is it unimportant for anyone outside the sphere of these people but because I would actually rather they were conducting their lives in such way.

President Hollande has to deal with the severe problems of the disintegrating French economy on a  daily basis, his ideas either thwarted and or pilloried by the angry Right or the angry Left, perhaps the only pleasure in his life are his trysts with Mlle. Gayet.

This may come as a bit of a newsflash for uptight Britons who perhaps place sex on the back burner to …well pretty much most things, but in my opinion a sated happy person will perform their duties and job better than a sad sexually frustrated one.
Perhaps people in general would be far better placed worrying about their own non existent sex lives or state of their relationships rather than those of strangers. And if you are not interested in sex in general then why be interested in other people having sex?

If M. Hollande has been paying for his affair with public money or sleeping with someone who would compromise national security, then perhaps this is a cause for discussion but he should not have to explain to anyone other than his partner, who he is or is not sleeping with.

The French Press notoriously once restrained from invading the private lives of public figures seem now not so quiet.
With the digital age of course, one can not keep a secret under wraps for long and suing the perpetrators merely makes one look ridiculous.
But I truly believe that if President Hollande were a more popular president, people would not be so ready to criticise or question his behaviour. I do not think this is some change in the French sentiment.
Even in the hypocritical US, President Clinton lost little popularity over his extra marital sexual exploits. His political achievements and personal charisma ensured that even now he is still held in high regard.
If M. Hollande had been performing better in office no one would be discussing his performance dans la chambe.

All this seems so utterly quaint to me. We have openly gay heads of government, black presidents, sexual images thrown at us from morning until night from every corner, morality twisted in every shape and form to fit, and yet somehow in 2014 the Hollande scandal is front page news.
C’est bizarre.

Condemn him for his political mistakes or lack of economic sagacity.
Call him a traitor to Socialism, or a liar for his U-turn on VAT, but do not condemn him for having a sex life.

” Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power” 

                                                                                              Oscar Wilde

Urquhart

‘If a man is not Socialist at 20 he has no heart. If he is not Conservative at 40 he has no brain’

A couple of months ago, an old friend and I decided to watch the entire House of Cards trilogy- the British version aired in the early ’90s not the recent Kevin Spacey US version.
We laughed at how dated it seemed and admired the brilliance that was Ian Richardson. I feigned mock horror at how it had shaped my  impressionable childhood mind about politics and was certainly part of the reason I ever became interested at all.
The truth is, yes technology and attitudes have changed and the way we work and operate is very different, the early ’90s might as well be 60 years ago in that respect, but the Machiavellian machinations and base morals are all still as prevalent as ever ,but just hidden a whole lot better. Or perhaps the public have become sadly accustomed to that fact.
At least one knew with Francis Urquhart, who is possibly one of the most alluringly wicked TV characters of all time, that his desire for power would stop at nothing and that his self belief would reign over whatever decision had to be made. With many modern politicians they lack even the wit and intelligence to have such malevolence.

But this is not a post about Francis Urquhart.
This is a post about the difficulty I have with being so motivated by something I both loathe and love in equal measures and how that difficulty can be exacerbated by the futility of the actions made by the political elite.
It is also about how our perceptions alter as we get older and circumstances often dictate our beliefs, but the overriding thing must be to always do what is right.

I am ever fascinated by people’s political motivations and inspiration. Reading this interview in the FT with Margaret Hodge gives an insight. Being an immigrant, losing her mother at 10, and facing constant sexism are among many of the issues which clearly led her to the path she eventually pursued. Knowing these things is often very important in how we perceive politicians or anyone. Back story is intrinsic in the make up and choices of a person.

I, as with most things in my life, am quite back to front from most people. Quite unintentionally.
I feel I have become more liberal and even more left wing on some matters. But this is only from how I have been told, because I cannot see it.
Now, as much as I loathe the right and left wing labels I do believe that on the whole people do get more so called right wing as they get older.
This for some reason is slightly biased towards men. Although we will come back to the science and statistics of this later.
I met a fascinating old man recently, he was trying to teach me some German and asked if I would like his late wife’s mink coats. When he talked of her he began to have wide eyes filled with tears so I tried to steer the conversation to something else. Naturally politics! You know me, nice safe uncontroversial topics like weather or television would be far too difficult!
His wife died over a decade ago but the pain was clearly still there. What I found interesting was his approach to life. He was fervently involved with the local community he lived in, had hobbies, was sincerely interested in everything that went on around him and loved to hear about others.
The reason for this is clear. When you have lost those dear to you, when you have no other to concentrate on and be involved with on a day to day basis, you immerse yourself with matters that actually are of no importance to you at all. The world around you and its problems suddenly keep you awake at night.
Normal people with families and partners busy themselves night and day with thoughts of when to pick so and so up; what to get a person for their birthday; how much they are annoyed by that person; planning holidays with them…. The list goes on with both the mundane tasks and also the general thoughts.
Maybe one might lie in bed at night thinking how much they are bored by their sleeping partner next to them, or perhaps they are thinking about an argument with a parent or sibling, thoughts generally involving people in their own lives and their impact or interaction.
For the majority of people they do not lie awake angered by voter apathy, stressed by socio-economic issues or get emotionally tangled up and upset about seemingly random crimes or events.
I am not saying people with families lack empathy. They simply have less time to be bothered.

Before Mama died she actively encouraged me to pursue a harebrained political idea. I did, it went nowhere and we laughed about it after.  Mama always said if she carried on at work the way people I told her about in politics had, she would have been out on her ear, and couldn’t understand how these things went unchecked.
My parents never actively encouraged me to do anything really but when it came to politics they seemed bewildered by my obsession and so I suppose thought it best to be interested too.
For years the boyfriend told me to get back into the political scene, as it was clearly my first love. I stayed well clear and preferred to focus on tangible things like normal jobs, him and our life and future.

Over the last year I have got more involved in political causes that matter to me, albeit on a very low and insignificant level. It bought me no satisfaction but then politics I told myself is meant to be about the greater good. Not oneself. I am no Francis Urquhart!

But the more I got involved the more I remembered why I had tuned my back on it in the first place.
The same pretentious wannabes still float around Westminster, fascinated by money, sickeningly hypocritical about mostly everything. The fakery, the insincerity – it all disgusted me.
Yes, I have along my journey met some deeply sincere and clever people. They stand out in their rarity.

I told myself that mama, papa and the boyfriend would be proud of me. We all want someone to be proud, we all want approval even the most apparently confident and self possessed.

So, why the disheartenment? When you realise that politics is still for the most part habited by uncaring individuals with only their own career as any motivation to do anything, it is of course disheartening.

Beliefs and principles are everything. Without those, what is there?

I wonder would I have the political beliefs I have, had it not been for the loss of all those I loved and trusted the most?
Now, I did not have some kind of epiphany and convert from a staunch right winger to a radical lefty. These are pointless labels were it even to be close to the truth.

But I can without doubt say that my thoughts are different as I get older. This is not so much about compassion, empathy or fighting injustices but more of letting go of irrational fixed ideas which with the hindsight of age do not make sense or even seem that important. Maybe this is just an age thing then…

If it is age then statistically I should be becoming more right wing.
As the quote which forms the title of this post goes, when we are young, idealistic and care about our world we lean towards the left end of the political spectrum.
But as we all know, at 18 we know everything! Even though we haven’t even lived life yet, we think we know it all and therefore I would argue that actually it is closer therefore to being right wing.
When you are young and running around absorbed with your own friends and social life and self importance, who cares about others. There is no time to be absorbed by all that goes on around us.
A lack of understanding of the world means one is slightly naïve but I would say that is very quickly shaken out of us by  adult realisation of the world.
I would argue further that kids growing up today are so pandered to by their overly anxious and profligate parents that they actually have no concept at all of the injustices or inequality that Socialism fights hard to address.
I think like most young people I went through a sort of faux arty lefty type phase when I was about 12 which saw me be a total brat and telling Mama she shouldn’t have a cleaning lady! The obnoxiousness even now makes me cringe. The fact that she had not been well, had me, Papa and the pets to look after, as well as my Grandma living with us at the time failed to penetrate my youthful naivety.
In the end the cleaning lady left as she was stealing and Papa got bored of her high pitched shrieking on days when he was at home trying to work! But the point here is I did want to care about the world we live in, I did want to address injustices, albeit the wrong ones!
I latched on to the Conservative party more by happenstance than design and really because I always loved politics it could as well have been any party, but by natural human instincts to be part of a tribe I assumed you needed to be in one party and have your politics all neat and tidy in boxes which were clearly marked Left or Right.

Statistically they say men with daughters become far more right wing than fathers of sons. There is a lot of theory about this which cannot really be backed up, beyond what I see as simple hypocrisy and disingenuity.
Having children clearly would alter your perceptions but then by equal measure, those people who think the state owes them a living and churn children out with no thought about how to pay for them would swing to the far left. Thus making the ones who don’t live their lives in such a way swing even more to the right. Tricky, and definitely not exact.

Women historically would be seen as more left wing, and certainly in the USA the unmarried young female demographic of disproportionally high Democrat voters is something statisticians seem fascinated by.
I would argue that this is a false assumption because in actual fact people in general are more centre left than left, as seen by the surge in popularity in the last UK general Election for the Lib Dems, and certainly in the US the Democrats could hardly be described as Socialist or really even that left wing at all.
The feminist movement was naturally more to the left and gender inequality in society would certainly be traditionally addressed by the left rather than the right wing parties.
Yet age again alters this statistic.
Older women tend to become very right wing as they age and stick rigidly to that.
The far right’s popularity in France for example seems disproportionately dominated by high profile older female figures who appear more ardent than their male peers.

There is a wonderful report about the science of political belief which states that conservative politics are based on a larger amygdala part of the brain. Apparently the bigger this part of the brain is the more susceptible to fear one is and therefore one could say this gives way to conservative type thinking.
No wait, it gets more far fetched! Apparently, when in the womb if the mother is under greater stress with the pregnancy it can create this effect on the foetus’s brain.
Well, according to Mama, she barely even noticed she was pregnant with me!
So scientifically I was not predetermined to be conservative! If one were to believe such things.
I prefer to think I hark back to my own grandparents’ beliefs which were mainly Liberal(in the old sense of the word).
Maybe when I suffered head injuries after an accident when I was 21 it also altered my political beliefs. I think that was the year I cancelled my party membership…. Interesting!

I do on the whole believe people to be more centre left than anything else and it is circumstance and upbringing which dictates the rest.

After all it is only the political extremes which have caused war, hostility and tragedy. No one ever died fighting for the centre moderate ground!

As we age, one might presume that we learn and realise things. Surely by that reasoning we would become less rigid and therefore more liberal or at least left leaning?
Certainly as I have faced life entirely alone, the injustices in the world have become much more apparent to me and without which I may not have felt quite so strongly.

The rigidity of politics is not reassuringly constant, it is absurd. How else can one describe David Cameron’s stubborn unwillingness to face up to the fact Scotland are having a referendum and by this time next year might become an independent state. He refuses to have a debate with Alex Salmond, and for me this kind of uncompromising dogmatism is something you really do not want in your politicians.

That campaign and the outcome not only will affect the UK but will shape the relationship Britain has with EU for the better…or the worse.

The more I got involved with pro European politics I realised how lacking it seemed to be in vision. How rigid it seemed in its lackadaisical approach.
The Eurosceptic side will always be strident, forthright and passionate because it is based in hatred. Hate fuels the fire and the pro Europeans for the most part are a decent bunch who mean well and care about the future of Britain. But they aren’t quite full of the same spark or ruthless efficiency because while hate and love are flip sides of the same coin, most pro Europeans would not say they love the EU. Nor do they love Britain. Really liking something doesn’t inspire the same passion unfortunately.
UKippers often seem to be exposed as virulently hateful and unpleasant people with an axe to grind. That is why they have been portrayed to be the new ‘nasty party’.

Just as I am motivated by my past and what I have experienced, I think the anti EU lobby must also have a lot of back stories. I am weirdly intrigued as to what these might be.

But I have had much stress of late trying as I saw to shove the pro EU side into the limelight, make their voices heard.

Each time I questioned what I was doing, I simply asked what would Mama say? What would Papa think? What might the boyfriend do? And each time I did or said anything I felt that I had them on my side, and that what I was doing was entirely justified and right.
Perhaps one might argue many megalomaniacs think the same way! But the one difference is, that I stood to gain nothing and lose what I did have by interfering and speaking my mind.
When one is right and doing the right thing, there is no loss of sleep, no palpitations, no guilt and no fear.
When you know in your heart something is wrong you generally display some of the above symptoms!

Francis Urquhart was wicked even though he thought he knew best. But the longer he remained in the Westminster bubble surrounded by yes men the worse he became. It is only by living in the real world and/or experiencing life changing traumas or joys can one really be a good leader or politician.

The pro EU lobby are not wicked, nor really are the Euroscpetics. But by lacking in transparency, honesty and fairness both sides are in my mind as pointless as each other.

The title of this blog post is entirely false. One needs a bit of both to be a kind, caring, intelligent and honest leader.

A fusion between pride in oneself and compassion for others, of admitting when one is wrong and conscientious leadership are a good basis. A fine balance between these traits is paramount because otherwise it all  just degenerates into vapid and narrow minded automatism.
Politicians need to remember they are human beings for all the good, and all the bad that might  entail.

Perhaps all I am trying to say is stick to your principles and fight for them. I don’t really know why, but it seems like a good use of one’s time.

Perhaps without any family I just have too much time to think…

I couldn’t possibly comment!

o-toole

‘Are there any hell raising rascals left?’

As a child I was forced to watch one of Papa’s favourite films, ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘ at least a dozen times. I cannot say I ever truly enjoyed the experience and while many of his choices have ended up in my top twenty favourites, this one is not in there.

However, Peter O’ Toole, who sadly passed away today, did leave a lasting impression upon me as a distinguished, handsome and brilliant actor.
He also is very much tied up with how I think of Papa so his passing is especially poignant for me.

As an actor, O’Toole’s presence, like several of his generation, had a very distinct and authoritative feel.
While ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ may have left me cold, I can still think of how he looked and acted without having to look through any video clips.

The role he played which really makes it poignant and forces me to reminisce is from a rarely mentioned film called ‘ Night of the Generals a WWII crime mystery film from the ’60s.
It may have had a pretty stellar cast but O’ Toole’s icy General Tanz was forever a joke in our family as Mama used to say how much he reminded her of my father!
I know, I don’t suppose many mothers make jokes to their daughter about how much their husband looked and acted like a cruel and maladjusted Nazi general. But then all families are odd in their own ways I guess. It was all meant in the best possible taste!

Physically I can see where it came from, Papa had very cool blue eyes. He was, like me I suppose, quite equanimous as a person and his manner was very composed. But really it was a family in joke because it was a play on how others probably perceived him as steely or aloof, and how different he was at home.
Something which I think many people have to deal with in their lives.

Of course Papa could be very silly or mischievous, sometimes quite bonkers and prone to all kinds of typically embarassing Dad-like nonsense so I suppose the joke was funny in that sense.
But of course all this makes me remember all the Nazi cliched heel clicking together type messing about, outrageous stereotypical accents and remarks made in jest…. and other ridiculous things which I won’t go into, for fear of being too offensive or…. boring.

Peter O’ Toole stood out in that film because of his alluring iciness.
His eyes really were piercing.
His manner really was imposing.
He really had that passionate depth to his acting which could seemingly flare up on demand.
But we know he was a real hell raising cad too and we all secretly love a cad!  Not in the true dictionary sense of cad but more of a loveable rascal …with style and class!
That irreverent, devil may care attitude whilst also being brilliantly talented is actually a very rare thing to carry off, but he definitely succeeded.

I love this interview with Ryan Gosling about meeting his hero and the unexpected turn that took.  Can’t you just totally picture that episode?

Peter O’Toole. One of the great actors of his generation.
And I will end with this quote, which if he did really say it, is just sublime!

When did I realise I was God? Well, I was praying and suddenly realised I was talking to myself’

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‘What now for Ukraine’?

Which way is the wind blowing…?

I have a soft spot for Ukraine. It is a fantastically interesting and awe inspiring country which has given the world a great deal. It is a complex nation and deserves a lot more than the current violent upheaval.
The shocking  protests in Kiev, which we have seen in recent days, highlight the huge chasm between the interests of national parties and those of its people.  
Something which is quite apparent in many countries – Ukraine is not peculiar in this. 

The Eurosceptics have heralded the rejection of the agreement by President Yanukovich as a victory for their camp. It clearly isn’t, and to me shows how people can protest so ardently in favour of joining and being part of the EU.

Russia say it is a victory for them. It isn’t. Threats to a former Soviet state are an unfair way to go about creating some kind of Russian led customs union which Russia clearly wants. This is no bad thing. I personally, and many of my Ukrainian friends, would prefer this. 
Ukraine is, despite what the BBC like to tell you, more like Russia than Europe. 
What would be good I think is if Russia swallowed her pride and apologised. 
Apologised for everything that Russia has ever done in its past to upset and hurt its former states. Some kind of grand gesture of penitence to ensure that a clean fresh slate could be made. 

Sorry may be the hardest word but it is also one of the most vital. 
Putin I suppose is not one for such gestures. 

It is important I think to remember that Ukraine is a very different country to many in the EU and its ties with Russia are not merely superficial. It is angered me the way the EU has behaved and thus antagonised Russia. I think for the EU to remain a success and to realise its true potential for good, then they must learn to adapt and understand situations better.

The EU is something that many ordinary Ukrainians aspire to be in and President Yanukovich’s rejection of the association agreement and free trade accord is a sharp blow for many who see Ukraine’s future within the EU, or at least standardising to the EU model.
A trade deal with the EU was estimated to have boosted the Ukrainian economy by 6% and saved businesses billions in import duties and Barroso called it the ‘most ambitious’ agreement ever offered to a non-member state.
The formidable demonstrations clearly show that Ukraine is very much torn between East and West. Yet is proof of how desirable still it is to be in the EU and how much the people of Ukraine would like to be given the opportunities that other member states enjoy through closer political association and economic integration.
For many modern Ukrainians the EU represents transparency in the political system they are cynical of and believe that Ukraine can be a prosperous state within the EU. This agreement was the first stage in that process and the failure marks a huge setback for them. 
The people of Ukraine want to share the common standards of European justice and democracy.
These are the benefits that all member states can enjoy and it is a remarkable thing to see people protesting because they want so much to be part of that, unlike the muted discontentment from the Eurosceptics complaining at being in the EU. Europhiles can use this episode as further proof that the EU matters and is a force for good.

Now, it may seem at odds with how I began this post, but one must understand that Ukraine wants to be in the EU for reasons of national discontentment not always because of what the EU is. 
Yanukovich symbolises all that is wrong for Ukraine – corruption and lack of transparency and justice. 
In a poll out today opinion suggests that the EU being a force for good is not so widely held in certain member states – particularly in Britain.
Opinium found that just 26% of British voters regard the EU as, overall, a “good thing” compared with 42% who say it is a “bad thing”. In Poland 62% say it is a good thing and 13% bad; in Germany 55% good and 17% bad, and in France 36% good and 34% bad.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Nick Clegg have called for some serious debate in Britain to highlight the real benefits that being in the EU offers.
In these troubled times amid the Euro crisis it is easy to see where this disillusionemnt comes from. When polled recently nearly a third of French and Germans said they would vote to leave the EU.
Certainly across the continent in countries where the EU used to be more popular there is clearly a need for leaders to remind people of the good that the EU has achieved.
The current situation in Ukraine is timely in demonstrating how important and vital the EU is for many and what a strong force it can be.
For many Eurosceptics using the rejection of the agreement as endorsement of anti EU sentiment they have missed several key points and misinterpreted the situation.
Ukraine rejected the agreement not because they didn’t want to be in the EU, but because of pressure exerted on them by Russia and the fact they did not want to comply with one of the conditions laid down by the EU as necessary.
The EU requested that the ’selective justice’ that Ukraine implemented regarding the imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was to be amended and they allow her out the country for medical treatment.
This decision not to sign the agreement was based largely on national party interests and not because Ukraine does not want a trade deal with the EU. The protests do however show how much the Ukrainian citizens want that deal.
The demonstrations are in fact proof of how valuable and important the EU is and how much being a member matters. They see being part of the EU as a way out of the corruption that many think still blights their political system.  The EU holds a standard that all members must aspire to and achieve and for many Ukrainians joining the EU is a way to attain those democratic ideals.
Van Rompuy said after the agreement was rejected that “we need to overcome pressure from abroad”. 
Russia’s pressure on Ukraine not to sign the deal was indeed at the heart of the decision.
Russia sees Ukraine as an essential part of their Eastern Partnership trading agreement.
Ukraine has for some time now been torn between the EU and Russia and is now facing up to the reality of how this manifests itself.
Russia recognises the importance of the EU but as a separate entity from their own trading agreements with former Soviet states, which they hope will form part of a Russian led customs union.
Yet lessons must also be learned from this by the EU in how best to continue.
Not all countries should be in the EU and perhaps it may be best for Ukraine to concentrate on ties with Russia and its former Soviet neighbours. Dare I say it? Expansion is not necessarily a good thing. (off to hide from the fanatical Euro Federalists)!

Yanukovich himself says that Ukraine is too economically fragile to be in the EU at present and surely amid the Euro crisis it would be best not to exacerbate an already precarious situation.
The last thing the EU needs is another unstable economy joining ranks.

It is certainly not for the EU to cause rifts between countries who perhaps belong in a different kind of trade agreement with their neighbours.
This has also now caused a huge crisis in EU- Russian relations not seen since the 2008 Russian – Georgian war.

Barrosos’s insensitive flat refusal to have three ways talks between Russia, the EU and Ukraine is improvident.
The future of the EU depends on co-operation and negotiation, though clearly any vetoes by Russia would contravene international law.


It is not for Russia to try and block such a deal and use threats to do so, but the EU must also recognise and respect the cultural and political differences in this matter. 
In these troubled times they do not need to give the Euroceptics and naysayers any ammunition.
Union can only work in any form when all parties work in harmony and with a mutual goal.
This is not a victory for the Eurosceptics as some have mistakenly suggested.
It is not a victory for Russia as they might suggest.
It merely highlights the benefits that being in the EU brings and why being a member is such a privilege, which must not be undertaken lightly and why perhaps some countries are not suitably placed to become members. 
The dilemma is for Ukraine, and Ukraine alone to conquer in order to decide what is best for their nation and they should not be threatened or intimidated by anyone. 

We are not all the same. We do not necessarily all want or need the same things.
Negotiation, compromise and co-operation make the world go round.
I think the EU needs to have this mini mantra written down and stuck on a post-it on their office fridge so that they can be reminded on a daily basis. Thereby continuing to be the force for good that many members and non members believe them to be.

sanity

‘What Price Grief’?

I try hard to avoid or react to the vast majority of what passes as the’ news’.
Current affairs that occur in the world, are not necessarily the same thing as the mooting of ill conceived policy wheezes which the British government pandering to social media seems to delight in delivering on a daily basis.

However the latest irrelevance to catch my eye is this.
Bereavement Leave.

I  recently came across a great quote from a notable general who said,
‘Bans are laws for the stupid’.
I actually would add the caveat that a lot of legislation is completely unnecessary and irrelevant and one is in fact legislating for common sense, decency and regular morality which frankly in a decent society shouldn’t really need to be legislated for.  Though even I admit people need a push in certain directions now and again and protection for the vulnerable is essential.

So would this bereavement leave be only for bereaved parents? Or for all bereaved? Would there therefore be a sliding scale of loss and trauma? Would it depend on proximity of relationship?
So if one were to have a month off for a loss, applying this logic I could have had a heady 3 months off of work for the loss of my mother, father and boyfriend.
What utter rubbish.

Loss as we know is dealt with in completely different ways. I was not working full time when my partner died and would have actually relished being in full time work to keep me busy. As it was I was studying and had to put myself through the absurdity of trying to calm my mind to sit exams. Getting up everyday, going through the daily motions of feeding the pets, tidying the apartment, dealing with all the stuff with my partner’s affairs and the actual coping day to day meant that superficially I had more than enough on my plate.
The reality was that my head felt like a tool box, with spanners and hammers flying about giving me constant pain and noise leaving little room for coherent thinking. I was a shell of a person.
Yet, weirdly the busier I was and the more I took on, the better I felt.  It was only after the funeral, after the legal affairs were tied up and when people thought I should be getting better did the full effect hit me and the quietness and the lack of purpose and company, made me dwell on the dark side and feel that there was little hope.

This bereavement leave is a flimsy, ill thought out idea.
Let me pose a few simple questions to illustrate why.

  • How long is long enough? 

Is four weeks paid leave the price for parents losing a child? How young or old should the child have been? Is losing a 5 year old the same as losing a 20 year old? Your child is always your child whatever their age. Would the same legislation be across the board therefore?
Sitting at home looking at a child’s empty room, enduring the deafening silence of their absence? Surely one day would be enough of that for most people.
I agree that many would not be able to fulfil their job well in these circumstances and maybe it would be best if they were not at work and could indeed afford not to be.
Have we really become such an unpleasant society lacking any norms of social conduct and empathy whatsoever that employers could not see it themselves to say to grieving parents that they should take some time off if they need to? I would always err on the side of caution when it comes to legislating for decency and normality because once you do that, I feel that anything is possible and no personal responsibility will exist at all. Are we then not mere automatons simply acting on orders?

  • So? Just for the death of a child?

How long would you legislate for a child who has lost parents? Surely a 16 year old employee would differ from a 50 year old who had lost a parent? What about if both parents died? Double time off?
what about circumstances? Accident, old age, murder? Maybe the cause of death would dictate such ill thought out legislation.

I had to go part time to help my mother care for my father when he was sick. Did anybody help me? No.
I had my wages slashed to beyond what was actually even a part time salary but ended up working nearly full time anyway as I felt guilty and didn’t want my colleagues thinking I was a slacker!

What about death of a spouse or partner? If one had been in a relationship for a month with a new beau would that deserve paid leave? The same as if someone lost their husband or wife of 20 years? What about if they were estranged? Still married but not together? Another thorny problem.

What about a lifelong best friend? That is not family but perhaps they were your housemate or schoolfriend or godparent to your child? There are endless possibilities here which are no doubt going to be abused in some way. Someone will of course demand leave for a grief they are not even experiencing. I simply disagree with trying to ever legislate for something that is too variable and too open to abuse.
This is a minefield. Legislating for something as inconsistent and unquantifiable as  human emotion is something that the government must not get involved with.

  • Sharing information

Al these matters also depend greatly on what a person actually wants to share with their colleagues. I for one keep a very different relationship with people I work with to the other people in my life.
Some of my friends go on holiday with their colleagues, socialise on a regular basis and even date their colleagues.  In the age of over sharing and updating personal information every ten seconds it is hard to imagine anyone keeping such a huge thing as bereavement under their hat.
Some people think it is absolutely amazing I never told certain people of my losses yet for me having people treat me normally without withering looks of pity was essential to my own recovery.

Yes some people I told offered me time off and were very sympathetic. I would hate to feel that these people were obligated to do so. Their heartfelt compassion or just really basic decency instead made me feel more relaxed and comfortable. I would feel distinctly uncomfortable if people were pressured to do so and knew all about my personal business because legislation dictated as such.

I genuinely believe we live in a  society where there is no personal responsibility and forcing others to take care of our needs all the time is something which has become so ingrained that it is hard to explain to some people why this is a bad thing.
Stigma of benefits no longer exists. Building up personal debt to get what you want is seen as the norm. Leaving the raising of children to society. Letting others pick up the pieces is just how it is.
Some people do everything for themselves and never once complain or even ask for help but instead it is the personally irresponsible who prosper.

  • Types of grief
Some people live in a dressing gown for six months and cannot even wash their tear stained faces. They need help and assistance all of the time.
Others busy themselves day and night to occupy their disturbed lonely thoughts and try to offer help to all the other bereaved people around them.
When my father died I took on the parent role and helped my mother. I took a new job and started within weeks of his death. In hindsight probably not the best idea. 
When my mother died I had the boyfriend to help me through it. 
When he died I was very much alone. Yet bizarrely some of my friends would say I was more upbeat after he died than when my mother died. His friends told me I was more open and friendly wight them. Maybe because I had to be. 
When you have no one to really turn to or depend on then it makes you stronger and more resilient as you have only yourself to depend on.
Bereavement comes in all shapes and sizes and so does grieving.  You cannot possibly say that four weeks paid leave is substantial. As I have learned, the real pain comes much much later. 
For me Christmas time is a painful time. I would like to have the whole of December off to lick my wounds and be away from all the faux drunken jollity and mayhem of people wittering on about family Christmases. 
We are all different and this constant desire to put people in boxes and legislate as though we were all the same or should be is beginning to really get on my nerves.

I empathise greatly with the proponents of this policy idea. I cannot begin to comprehend their grief over a dead child. Just as they cannot begin to understand the grief I have endured arranging three funerals for the three most important people in my life by the time I was 30 years old.
I am not asking them to. As a human being we should all be capable of having a small piece of pour hearts which can open to people who experience such things.

Grief makes you strong and oblivious to life’s trivialities. If I was a grieving parent and wanted time off…..  I would take it.
You’ll be entirely backed up in doing so.
People in Britain seem to me assertive when they shouldn’t be which just manifests itself as bad attitude and arrogance.
Yet when they need to be assertive and are entirely in the right they say nothing, and are weak minded.
Stand up for what is right and correct. Very few have the inclination to argue for very long against what is truly right.

Legislating for impossibly and endlessly variable matters is a recipe for yet more ad hoc and ill conceived policies.
We have enough of those already.

What we do not have enough of is common sense, but as Voltaire said and I so often repeat, common sense is not so common.

D1-80-D0-BE-D1-81-D1-81-D0-B8-D1-8F

‘ Solace in a Samovar’

This time a fortnight ago I was on my little Russian adventure sat in a Germanic style bar in central St. Petersburg getting warm and setting the world to rights over a decanter of vodka and a German beer with a fascinating new Russian friend (for stereotypical ease let’s call let’s call him Boris shall we).
He was regaling me with anecdotes of his time in Afghanistan before the Soviet coup and I was waxing lyrical over the relative merits and pitfalls of Socialism.
By midnight we had pretty much solved most of the world’s issues and by 1am, neither of us actually really cared anymore!

Last Saturday a week ago I was adjusting to setting the clocks back, catching up over coffees with a very dear old school girlfriend far away up North in Newcastle. Her home cosy and  very real filled with family and visitors. Something I have not experienced for some time.
In both those places I felt truly relaxed and  like myself, time just flew by. So far, far away from the constraints I have found myself in recent times.
So it is a shock to be sitting at home on the weekend now. Very bored and uninspired.

Both these places felt a million miles from ‘home’, yet at the same time I could totally be myself.

I  made several personal theories about St. Petersburg and also some cultural and political observations.  I would hate to forget these feelings amidst the mundane monotony of day to day British life. So I suppose this post is part travel diary, part commentary on Russia, and also a bit of a catch up with where I am right now.
I was unfortunately only there for a week and one can hardly integrate in that time, but like Jonathan Dimbleby in his ‘Russia’ book,  I too was on a personal journey as well as a geographical one. The passions running through Russia make it somehow all the more poignant.

I thought I would feel something more for Russia than I did.  I learn the language, I have Russian speaking friends, I am borderline obsessed by certain periods of Rusian history and have an embarrassing penchant for Russian pop music. Even some of my distant ancestors were Russian. Yet I didn’t feel the magical click I have done before on my little  trips.
When I visit Germany or Austria, despite knowing no more than ten words of German I feel an inate sense of belonging. It is hard to describe.
We all visit places we like and fantasise about living there or having a home there. But in an abstract and whimsical way I might think how charming Italy is or how relaxing some of France can be but never do I have that sense of belonging and comfort.
In Germany it just feels like I went home. It is hard to describe because when in England I feel a bit like an alien but in those places I just feel normal. And you can’t really describe normal as it just feels as it should be.
Once for example in Germany, for an all too fleeting visit, I visited a flea market.
I found a stand with glassware and jewellery and transfixed I felt like a little girl in my Grandma’s bedroom surrounded by all these familiar trinkets. I even searched in vain for a much loved golden cigarette box she had and I am on an eternal quest to find ever since she died. If a similar one would have turned up anywhere it would have been there I am sure.

A wonderful flea market in St Petersburg I visited with ‘Boris’ was full of furs, Soviet memorabilia and German military spoils and well worth the early morning effort to get there and enduring the  -1 temperature. Markets like this tell you more about a place and its history than what dreary chain shops they might have in the more central areas.

With Russia, it is far too difficult to tell if I fitted in or ever could.  Certainly that it retains German roots and felt a lot like Vienna or certain German cities meant I felt relaxed and content. Maybe my favourite dish of apfelstrudel I found in many cafes helped!
I wonder what the Prussian born Sophie Friederike von Anhalt- Zerbst Domburg or Catherine the Great as she would become, would think of the City now…
Interesting article on Russo-German relations here in Deutsche Welle.

In language school everyday, this meant I was doing what I do best, being with people; learning; absorbing; chatting; keeping fully occupied; mentally active and challenged and with a great sense of purpose and determination.
My brain was so tired from hearing, talking, writing and seeing Russian that I couldn’t possibly have thought about anything else even if I had wanted. I slept as soon as my head hit the pillow. This is not only the key to my state of happiness but also to curing sadness and loss. I’ve never been particularly adept in the art of doing nothing. It definitely got even harder to do after everyone died.

So, the thing that made me feel instantly part of regular life in Peter? Travelling about on the Metro and trains? Living with a host family?  Eating every random bit of Russian food I could find? Drinking tea until it came out of my ears? No.

More than this , much more was the fact that in Russia, being a widow and an orphan is barely even worth mentioning it is so commonplace.

Men die young. Really young. Women bizarrely outnumber men. Massively. So most girls have no father or have lost him when young. Most women in their 50s or younger are widowed. No big deal.
Totally unimportant and not worth mentioning. So little old me didn’t feel quite like the usual freak as in England. Instantly reassuring really.

Wandering, another favourite pastime was done with two of my classmates. One of whom was a girl I  instantly liked. A sarcastic but refreshingly uncomplicated Slovenien with the most mesmerising hair. Everytime she took her woolly hate off and shook out her insanely long blonde hair it was like a slow motion Timotei advert. The Slovenien language is similar to Russian, and although a different alphabet, many words are exactly the same and she was very advanced in her language skills. But am glad to say her grammar was as poor as mine! Those tricky Russians!

In Hitchock’s Vertigo, Madeleine declares only one is a wanderer and  therefore more are always going somewhere. I am inclined to agree and the three of us generally had a purpose in mind when we set off after our lesson. Generally it was for much needed food. Then an excursion. We always seemed to be in a rush somehow.
Wandering, by its very natue is a leisurely, selfish pursuit best done alone. But eating and excursions are much more fun with others. Our boat trip was more a game of who can shiver under the blankets on deck the longest before giving up and going inside! I think I stoically (stubbornly) stood my ground but as soon as the other two suggested going below deck I was probably the first to run down there… with the blanket!

Even though Peter (as the locals say) is in Russia I rarely felt I was in Russia at all.
The city feels so young. As Voltaire said to Catherine the Great. “I am older Madame, than the city where you reign.”
I am a great fan of Voltaire but French arrogance often pops up just for the sake of it sometimes and I am not snobby enough to care how old a city is. But somehow I feel the Soviet presence more than I feel anything else there and really that is very recent. Which to me, makes it all the more interesting actually as far more my field of interest.
I am not a great one for French style baroque architecture and ornate gilded objets d’art. Or as my Slovenien friend referred to much of the Hermitage –  dust collectors!
The City is an eclectic mix which is a term overused but with Peter I feel justified to use. The best thing is to do as much as you can there to experience all the different strands.

I went off one day to do my own thing and decided to go on a long trek out of town in the pouring  rain to  the suburb of Pushkin and went to see the Царское Село (Tsarskoye Selo). Only 30km or so from the centre of Peter but with a thirty minute train journey, ten minutes on the bus and long walk it felt  much further! Everything in the Motherland is so big and so far away! Lucky I like to walk!

I was distinctly underwhelmed by its faux French pomposity, pale blue buildings with gilded tops do not do it for me and think it looks especially ridiculous in the rain. But there is something pleasantly unsettling about getting off a Marshrutka and walking down a long road with grey buildings all around and seeing this vast ornate palace in the distance.
Structurally it looked a little like Belvedere in Vienna. Frankly, as philistine as I may sound, but one baroque palace is much like the other and once you see one, you have kind of seen them all. But for those with that bent, it would be very appealing to see I am sure.
The gardens interested me more as I prefer to be outside, and I think in the Spring or even a dry Autumn day they must be absolutely divine. They are vast. Truly the green haven of tranquility out of the hustle and bustle of Town. We are lucky in London with so many enjoyable parks but in many cities these out of town places really are a treasure for people.
I did not see much of Pushkin as wandering in the rain is not as appealing, but what I did see was very charming and I would definitely like to return.

One day when it was a perfect text book Autumn scene my friend and I walked round Михаиловский Сад (Mikhailovsky Gardens) covered in crisp golden and red leaves.

I rarely see such colours like that in the UK because Autumn is really a few strange warm days tagged on to Summer and then grey skies and rain sodden days before the clocks go back. More’s the pity.

The ballet is of course a must in Peter, even if you think it is not your thing. You can read reviews and tips for yourself and I am not nearly expert enough to talk about the ballet.
An opera connoisseur friend of mine asked me to tell him how Swan Lake differed from versions I had seen here in the UK as we have a long running discussion over how music differs depending on nationality of the orchestras. I am no connoisseur of ballet, but I love music and I can assure you that music performed by musicians of the composer’s origin definitely play with more passion and enthusiasm and I believe with more authenticity. Perhaps one might say in interests of fairness, that Russians cannot play Elgar as it was intended.  I don’t know as I am no Elgar fan. Perhaps others may wish to comment.
But they performed Tchaikovsky with the emotions intact. I might have cried had it not been so utterly boiling hot in the Mikhailovsky Theatre that I was more preoccupied with how to keep cool and how soon I could get a drink!

One tip I will give you. Don’t be American, i.e. do not go to the opera/theatre/ballet in your casual clothes. Russians make a big effort and dress up, as people everywhere used to do years ago.
If you want to show lack of respect and/or look like a tourist then wear your jeans, but understand that men will wear suits, little (well behaved) children are in their ‘Sunday best’ and women will wear vertiginous heels even if it is pouring with rain or snowing.

Maybe I liked it in Peter because it felt so far away from the UK……..

In geographical terms, Russia is not really so far from the UK.
St Petersburg even less so, and its close proximity and ties with Finland, its Germanic appearance and fondness for German goods means that one doesn’t feel too far from Europe in a geographical and cultural sense.
Competitively speaking, they clearly still see their main rival as the USA. Though Russia is not immune to the pop cultural rot which has so infected the UK, but they are so far still resilient enough for it not to be too pervasive.

Yet England –  an island with all the insecurities and inferiority complex which that entails. Its strained relations with the EU and obsessive sycophancy with the USA, means that in my heart and mind I felt as far away from the UK that it may as well be a different planet.
A conversation I had with someone about the EU ( oh come on you’d be worried if it hadn’t come up somewhere) seemed so utterly trivial and insignificant I even wondered for a minute if I really was on another planet. Even I felt disinterested.
For Russia, relations with its neighbours are obviously paramount.

Naturally history dictates that the CIS will be of paramount importance and it will be interesting how far Russia tries to exert its hold over a participating state like Ukraine from the East, when the EU starts wooing from the West. Sometimes Russia seems like an overtly matriarchal figure trying hard to keep hold of all her children who are flying the nest and getting on with their lives. Other times, Russia seems to me like the mothership and all the ex Soviet states have a sense of reluctant loyalty or even confused admiration and belonging.
One cannot discount the fact that Russia like many of its neighbours are deeply conservative with a small c. They naturally prefer to align themselves with like minded countries.
As people wish to align themselves with other like minded people. It is hardly complex, yet something the West, in its arrogant insults of Russia over moral or religious issues, seems not to grasp in the slightest.

The other person in my language class was a striking Finnish diplomat who I found fascinating and who was (diplomatically and politely) enchanted by my twin loves for Moomin and Sibelius and delighted in telling me all about the trade and cultural relations Finland has with Russia.

Having discovered the brilliant Finnish beauty brand Lumene when I was in Sweden once, and found again because of its popularity in Russia, I see how influential neighbours can be. I have a penchant for Scandinavian beauty products because of the natural ingredients they tend to use and especially for the winter months where they know the importance of great skincare to combat the detrimental effects of the cold.
But in a less girly perspective, I also think one should be adaptable. If you are somewhere, adapt immediately to your surroundings whether for a mini trip or long term. In a practical and psychological sense it means you retain far less of your own unsuitable baggage and open yourself up to all kinds of new, useful and interesting things. ‘When in Rome‘ and all that.

Whenever we are discussing the UK and condemning them, one of my friends always says that we are an island as though that counteracts all the absurdity I try hard to avoid or is in someway a plausible defence. Maybe it is. But it gets very boring. Is it not time to put all that to bed?

I know myself over the last few weeks how wonderful, how beneficial it has been to be around like minded people. Whether it was laughing with Timotei girl over her acerbic comments, or  discussing Russian grammar with the diplomatic Fin . Discussing the benefits (and pitfalls) of Socialism with ‘Boris’. Or even last week just sharing silly school stories and crying with laughter with my old friend.

Being an island is no good for people, or for nations.

Now for the politics…

When I went to my Russian class in London, my tutor asked me what stood out in my impression  of Russia.
Strangely the two things which sprang to the forefront of my mind were the two things which I had told ‘Boris’ when he asked me the same thing in the bar. The things which are hang overs from the Communist era.  Heating and transport.
I would add a third one to this involving employment and I will explain further.  In extremely basic terms. Because these are based on the most basic needs.

Life is a struggle. We need to have money to survive. So why would the state either make this too easy or too hard?
Make it too easy and there is no incentive, and it is unfair and unjust, not to mention a huge burden for the State to finance.
Make it too hard and honest hardworking people are punished. Also leading to disenchantment and inequalities.

So the heating system…

I know, a pretty sexy subject but one which I can honestly say is at the top of the things I’m most taken with from my trip.

It took me no time at all to realise that in Peter, you need an über warm coat and gloves etc for outside but very little for indoors. It is baking. Everyhere. Shops, homes, offices, banks, theatres…wherever you go.  The surplus of sweaters and chunky knits I had chosen carefully and managed to fit in my average sized suitcase were fairly redundant.

Next time, I am going with an empty suitcase

If I had known, I would have had far more room to bring back all the sweets I had wanted to!

The Soviet centralised heating system is still in place. While critics will say this is wasteful as people cannot regulate their heating I personally cannot help but see this from a different angle.
I just received a lovely email as will millions of other people, from British Gas saying how our bills will be going up.  How in these difficult times can one even try and defend this?
When Ed Miliband suggested freezing energy prices, he was vilified. Yet to me, heating, hot water, these are not really luxuries are they?  Of course we must pay for them, but why make people pay such a large percentage of their wages on what is an essential to life.
How can a person spend more for the benefit of the economy if their salary is eaten into by basic human requirements?

And transport…

I read everyday some new stupid idea for WiFi on the London Underground. Or WiFi on all trains.
How exactly is that essential? Really essential I mean , in the true sense of the word. I would say that putting up rail fares when trains are actually performing worse than ever is really the problem to address. Trains that are old and need to be modernised. Trains that are actually glorified cattle trucks arriving and departing late or standing in the middle of nowhere for no reason.
Call me a Luddite but I’d sooner my train ran properly and had a seat for me than was full of WiFi so we can all sit on the floor of the carriage and check Facebook statuses without incurring data charges!
In actual fact the British rail network is 23% less efficient than in mainland Europe and 25% more expensive. These facts don’t really tally up for me.

I caught an electric train to Pushkin for about 50 RUB which is under £1.
Admittedly my Russian is so bad that I only bought a single and then was in big trouble when I returned and had to play the dim foreigner card, but even so, it is pretty cheap.

The train was very cold and very bare. So I just kept my coat and gloves on. But it ran exactly on time and got me there when it said it would.

We listen to dreary arguments about HS2, in Russia they realised the need for fast travel between Helsinki and Peter. So they created the Allegro which the stunning Finnish diplomat said was just the best thing since sliced crisp bread. Well I might be paraphrasing her comments there but why must everything be such a struggle in the UK when really certain things are just necessary for the efficient infrastructure in an efficient economy.

I suppose one must ask as with all wonderful Socialist ideals, who is subsidising this? Russia is not exactly renowned for its brilliant management of the nation’s taxes and I certainly don’t advocate the taking from Peter to pay Paul mentality.
Even so, I can’t help but think again, like heating that public transport is just an essential to living. Not a luxury.
To ensure people can go to work to pay their taxes and spend their money they have to be able to get there in the first place.

I left a very nice job once a long time ago because actually it was not cost effective at that time for me to commute by train as it took such a large proportion of my not very large wage packet. That doesn’t really make sense does it?

And what about employment…

My friend and I couldn’t quite work out what the people in the little kiosks at the bottom of the escalators in the Metro actually did.
Peter’s level of unemployment is lower than the state average and as I have only been there I cannot really comment on the  employment policies of Russia as a whole. Yet it seems to me that jobs are important for them. More on a personal level than perhaps a political one.
They would sooner someone was sitting in a box doing seemingly nothing, wearing a uniform and getting paid than having them sit at home doing nothing getting paid by the tax payer. There is some logic in this even if it is just the psychological element.
Claiming unemployment benefits and not working out of choice is just plain bad for you. It is bad for your morale, your health, for your children and creates a totally wrong demographic. Working as Voltaire says, saves us from vice, boredom and need.

When I went to the cinema recently I noticed that like the supermarkets and banks, they are doing away with people in kiosks or at tills and instead having machines to take payments. Now I can wax lyrical about the moral implications of this but really on a basic level how can a country with unemployment issues advocate this as a viable solution. That machine was once a person in a job.

The splendidly uniformed people in the kiosks may not love their job but they look smart, have a reason to get up in the morning and take home, maybe not a large wage, but a wage nonetheless.

The benefits culture in Britain has reduced people to worthless burdens on society who are unable to take responsibility for themselves and this should not be how it is.

Uniforms, nice cakes and warm buildings aside St. Petersburg is a strange place. But I am glad there are strange places left in the world. And I felt perfectly at home there, so therefore maybe I too am a bit strange!

In all seriousness, life is hard in Russia for the ordinary person but then so too is it anywhere. There are injustices and issues which clearly need addressing.
Russia undoubtedly has many and varied problems but it is not for me and this blog post to discuss or judge.

My only surprise from the trip? That it is not so extraordinary or alien as I thought it would be.
The peculiar ‘wild west’ stories I heard form people or the misconceptions I let myself ponder over where indeed totally unfounded or exaggerated. Though I can see if one were to visit purely as a tourist with no understanding of the language or connecting with ordinary Russians then it would definitely give a different impression.
St. Petersburg is, for the time being, wonderfully unique yet at the same time fantastically typical.
As Churchill did once say Russia is a riddle , wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. But for me Russia is a bit how I sometimes feel.
It just is.

Perhaps my only really important question left unanswered which I hope someone can elucidate for me.

Why the abundance of shoe shops? Обувь, обувь, обувь!  Opposite one another, next door to one another, simply everywhere. But why? Some superstition? A weird Soviet fetish?

While you find the answer to that for me…. let me leave you with this very old but very apt quote.

” The secret of politics. 

Make a good treaty with Russia”

                                                                                                    Bismarck

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‘Mail vs Miliband’

In recent times I have taken to getting most of my news from skim reading various journalistic

publications I favour for matters I am interested in, and watching or listening to topical news comedy shows on tv and radio.

This generally works in helping me to keep my both my sanity, and to be well enough informed of the things that really matter.

And of course with the internet, it is difficult to be in the dark about anything really. Yet the story that has really riled me during the last few days is the Miliband family insults.
Naturally, as an orphan, I feel especially prickly about this topic. I would defend my parents in a blink of an eye and would be mortified to hear a stranger hurl unjustified insults in such a way as the Daily Mail has done.  But also as a fan of great journalism, it just disgusts me how dumbed down and rotten the industry has become.

This is however, not a story. Insulting someone’s dead father and attending private family memorials is just not cricket. This is not a ‘politics’ story. This is not a ‘news’ story.
Even by desperate Daily Mail standards this does not even qualify as investigative journalism.
We live in an age where badly brought up, simple children get themselves and others into trouble over ‘bullying’ on social media and people cite harassment over a ‘Tweet’ from a stranger. Yet a Cabinet Minister states that Miliband is fair game and that the Mail are in the right. So  thereby actually endorsing derogatory insults. Nice work.
Sterling example by a man who is supposedly in charge of educating future generations.

First rule of journalism, ask ‘who, what, where, why and when‘? On each count this piece is unacceptable and fulfils none of the criteria in the way it should.

Who is it about?
A public figure’s father. So not Ed Miliband. A deceased family member who was not a public figure. So actually, no one that  really concerns the public except as an academic. His Marxist work is known but that is not what is being discussed in this article. Even if his father was a criminal, or a hateful person, when do we draw the line between them and their offspring? If Ed Miliband had made the comments, fine, we have a bit of a story and discussion. As such the person is not the issue and the comment is not factual so there is little story here.

What is it all about?
In essence a slur by the Daily Mail about how Ed Miliband was shaped by his Britian hating father. Naturally we are all shaped by our parents whether consciously or sub consciously and in both positive and negative ways.
Miliband himself said he was fine with the Mail discussing his father’s politics which after all did shape his views and opinions, and as a back story we can and may need to know this.  But to say things which are not true i.e. that he hated Britain is mere tittle tattle dressed up as outright lies and therefore libellous in many respects.

My own father had some very odd political views which as a little girl I thought were right but only as I got older I realised are not my own. But like Ed probably did, I grew up in an environment of lively discussion and debate.
Miliband often cites his father with influencing him and that is fine, but to say he was influenced by opinions we are not sure he even held is just a non story.

What is the story?  Well, it is actually based on several opinions Miliband senior wrote as a teenager in a diary.
As we all know, we are wise and prescient and know ourselves so well at 17 and everything we write is  prose of brilliance and pearls of wisdom. Teenagers are experts after all.
Yes.
I attend pro European meetings where elderly people who actually did fight in WWII actually say all the time that Britain being the victors in the war has impeded our progress. Are they unpatriotic? No, of course not. It is just an intelligent and alternative opinion on the way things are.
As an immigrant, the Daily Mail of course have scrutinised Miliband Senior’s opinions even more so.
The simple fact, is there is a lot wrong with Britain. Yet are we not allowed to voice our concerns? There is a lot right with Britain too, should that never be discussed?

And as for the opinion that ‘Britain has the greatest contempt for the continent’.
Well they did. And they do!
Well well well, an actual fact. Like I said people don’t really like the truth. It hurts. It means you have to face up to things you would rather not face up to.

Where?
This can be summed up by The Daily Mail using a photo of the gravestone of Ed’s father. I think they are on a  mission to sink to the lowest possible level they can in some kind of disturbing game. I dread to think what the prize might be.

I visit my parents’ graves occasionally to take flowers and talk to them, to have a moment of quiet with my thoughts. To think someone could take a photo and use it in such a way actually makes my stomach churn. No one can possibly condone this as a positive journalistic endeavour.
Vile does not even begin to describe it.

Why?
Well, The Mail hates just about everyone so anyone really is fair game. All class bullies must aspire to be Daily Mail workers when they grow up.
The irony for me, is that there is no form of media in Britain now which hates Britain more than them. To constantly pick holes in everything in the fabric of society and never once publish anything of any positive merit is not in my eyes a medium which best extolls the merits of Britain.
Their spite and hatred knows no bounds.
Let us remember shall we that this is a paper whose online journalistic efforts comprise of articles about Kim Kardashian’s hair and bitchy pieces about the cellulite of other nonentities.
This is nasty paper read by nasty or ill informed people.
The why is defended as free speech. An informed article on the man who shaped the Labour leader. Except the facts are not all facts. So the why is based on very shaky and uncertain grounds.
I was always taught – know your facts. I don’t think Daily Mail ‘writers’ were taught that though.

And let us not forget that The Daily Mail under Viscount Rothermere supported the Nazis. Oh what’s that now, that is in the past and of no relevance now….
Oh the irony. If only we weren’t all so American now we might appreciate it more.
And hypocrisy –  always such an admirable trait I think.

When?
So Ed Miliband’s father died 19 years ago so this is hardly topical or recent. The when is now. Or rather when the story came out. That is to say, at the end of a party conference where Miliband tried to stand up for the consumer and tell us that as a nation we deserve better.
The usual political twaddle really that is peddled at conferences but frankly all basically decent concepts which even the most hardened of cynics could be motivated by.

As with most things in life I do not put myself in a box. I am not socialist nor am I right wing. I think in this day and age we are surely past such basic labels.
What I do believe in is a decent moral compass. Bullying is not on that compass.
It is unacceptable in school, on the internet, in the press and it is certainly not acceptable against the dead or bereaved.
There a lot of bullies in politics sadly which means a lot of really decent people do not get the voice they deserve and the public do not get the benefit of hearing them.
Unfortunately, bullying is bigger than it has ever been because making insults anonymously and behind the safety of computer screens has become the norm.

The first thing that caught my eye about this ‘story’ when it first did the rounds, was what the main premise actually was. That the Labour Leader’s father hated Britain.
Well actually I thought, I did not disagree with much of what he allegedly thought or wrote.
Britain does have a huge issue with mainland Europe.
The Cold War did serve the Right as a ‘bogey’
No one likes the truth do they?

The second problem with this story is it just lacks any essence of common sense or common decency. Things which are lacking in most aspects of life without being further demonstrated by the Press. After the Leveson enquiry you would think journalists would like to bring some dignity back to their profession, not drag it further along the gutter.

What this problem also highlights for me is the topic of loyalty. I find I respect Miliband more that he is so loyal to his father and kept relatively quiet about the whole affair. He has been very dignified.
Only a dehumanised self seeking wannabee would shun their upbringing to pelase others.
Yet I have seen with my own eyes wannabee politcos change their names, alter their ‘background story’ and more, all in the name of getting on in politics.
Ed Miliband and his family must have been so utterly hurt by this episode. Whatever you may think of him, it is just not acceptable behaviour in any way.

There are so many things wrong with this whole episode, from the way it was imagined and written to the bizarre and unpleasant reactions to it.
Boris Johnson, Zac Goldsmith and Alistair Campbell are a few of the unlikely supporters of Ed Miliband in this affair and have spoken out against the disgusting character assassination of what is essentially a man’s dead father.

I was recetly called ‘quite the Socilaist’ by someone who was quite intelligent just for merely voicing my opinions on matters of justice and fairness. Have we really reverted so far back to the hateful me me me generation of über capitalists that anything resembling kindness and decency have become dirty words linked to some kind of ardent Left wing, or foolish and naive do-gooders?

When Tony Blair spoke out against Ed Miliband’s proposed energy price freezes because it comprimised big business, I think even I was a little bit shocked. Surely a party who speaks up for the consumer, and let’s face it a consumer who is being squeezed uneccesarily from all sides, would surely be praised in these times as someone standing up for the people.
Ed Balls advocating the  albeit badly named ‘mansion tax’ specifically for foreign ‘investors’ buying up property in London?
This is something I heartily endorse, and while the Lib Dems pretended to be interested in such a levy, they have not dared mention it much since getting into bed with the Tories.
Principles? Goodness, I remember those……

Now, I am no fan of Michael Gove but hearing a minister condone dirty, trashy journalism in the name of free speech is just too much even for him. The Daily Mail piece was not journalism, it was mindless insults dressed up as research.

I would like to hear Mr Miliband talk about important things other than defending his father. Maybe if he spoke up as a clear and distinct voice in favour of a united Europe (oh come on I’ve got through a whole blog post nearly without even mentioning the EU or Frau Merkel).

Surely as a child of a Nazi fleeing immigrant, Ed Miliband is expertly placed to sing the praises of what a politically united EU can do and achieve. Something which sadly gets put on the side when the heated topic of the EU and Britain comes up.

Decades of peace and progressive collaboration are testameant to the powers of good that the EU can bring.
At a time when all the parties are divided over the EU, Theresa May is suggesting Britain leaves the Convention on Human Rights, and the public have no real proponent of the EU then maybe
Ed Miliband should see that opening and be brave enough to stand up and say what he stands for and how Britain deserves better.

As much as I dislike the Daily Mail, I would not like it to crumble. All press serves a purpose and I do believe in freedom of speech.
Mama used to buy the Daily Mail and sneakily read it on my iPad when I wouldn’t pick up the paper copy of it for her. But think of all the heated discussions we would never have had, or the correct information she would not have got if I had not intervened and helped!
Daily Mail readers are people too and we need all opinions in society to form the correct ones and find out the zeitgeist.

But for the Daily Mail  to go unpunished for the hurt and sadness caused by their foolish piece and other actions is sending out a message to everyone that bullying, witch hunts and childish lies are okay.
They are not.
Being a nice guy does not mean you finish last, it means you can sleep at night and hold your head high knowing you are a decent member of society and that you deserve to be treated as such.
Being a decent person is rewarding and should be rewarded. Being wicked should be punished.
So simple.
A bit like the Daily Mail really.

Seeing as I am apparently such a devout Socialist, how about a quote from Aneurin Bevan to finish with.

” I read the newspapers avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction”