German girls’ armpits and Russian foreign policy in the Ukraine

A bizarre but effective Burns Night last night in Kiev

I came over to the Ukraine three days ago to attend the previously-mentioned and still inexplicably-timed though admirable Burns Night Supper organised by Scots entrepreneur Stuart McKenzie in Kiev.

It happened last night (Burns Night is actually 25th January) and must have raised a whacking amount for the local Lions Club charities, as tickets were $250 and bids for the multifarious charity prizes were coming in at around the $7,000 and $5,000 level per item, with buyers’ enthusiasm whipped-up by Stuart, who is stepson of the late Scots comedian Jimmy Logan.

It was a very pro and very smooth operation with top-notch sound & lighting and specially-shot videos on the four giant video screens around the seated area plus great dancers, the Reel Time ceilidh band (flown in from Scotland) and top Ukrainian singers Tina Karol and Kamaliya (who won the 2008 Mrs World contest as most glamorous married woman). Someone told me there were 600 guests being looked after by 200 staff, including on-site catering by the local Hyatt Hotel.

There was also, in a separate display area at the other end of the venue, a rather odd recreation of an old Scots cottage with two live pigs, multifarious hens, a cock and several attractive girls in very short diaphanous dresses which looked to me suspiciously like Greek costumes. This promised the unfulfilled hope of bacon and eggs for breakfast.

I mean via the pigs and hens, not the surprisingly-costumed girls.

I was enticed into holding a long sword and being photographed with one of the girls, as if auditioning for some future production of Beauty and The Beast.

I was also bemused by being occasionally introduced to people by the admirably optimistic Guinness Record holder Fred Finn with the words: “This is John Fleming. He sponsors the Edinburgh Fringe.” I am sure the ashes of the late, great, never under-sold Malcolm Hardee must be silently chortling in his urn to know his three comedy awards have become synonymous with the Fringe.

It was certainly worth coming over for the Burns Night supper – though, as I mentioned in my blog yesterday, I think their idea last year of combining the Burns Night and St Patrick’s Day celebrations has a lot of future in a potential weekend party town like Kiev.

One of the bonuses of last night was that the word ‘eclectic’ understated the range of people who were there. In my experience, it is a wee bit rare to have informed conversations both about what German girls have under their arms… AND about whether or not Russia, which requires access to the Black Sea via the Crimea for its fleet, would object to Ukraine joining the European Union.

For the record, informed opinion (not mine as I am ignorant of this area) was that German girls have armpit hair like ZZ Top have beards.

“I really like ZZ Top,” the Dutchman who told me this added, by way of increasing his credibility.

On the topic of Russia requiring access to a warm water port on the Black Sea (which seemed to be a recurring theme in my 19th century history lessons at school), informed opinion came in the shape of a hyper-intelligent Russian lady whose family’s active military involvement stretched from today back to Tsarist days. Her opinion was that the Russians would not object, because the Crimea already has a high level of autonomy from the rest of Ukraine and is heavily-populated by Russians rather than pure Ukranians.

I did toy with trying to blog more about this Russian lady’s extraordinary and intriguing military and professional background while trying not to identify her and then pretend that this blog was an April 1st piece, but the complications of bluff, double-bluff and the distant possibility of being hunted down like an animal by some Spetsnaz hit squad proved too much for my sleep-deprived brain to cope with.

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