Category Archives: Russia

Are all Finns drunk all the time?

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

Anna took this selfie in Antwerp

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, lives on a boat in Vancouver. She has an exotic past.

And, indeed, present.

Exotic dancing is what we are talking about here.

This week, she told me about Finland.

I mentioned that the first Finns I ever met were an uproarious and paralytically drunk group of tourists in Leningrad.

Very very amiable but (literally) staggeringly drunk.

Almost every Finn I have ever met since then has been very very amiable but amazingly drunk.

This is what Anna remembered of Finland.


Trees and snow. Trees and Snow. Trees and snow.

Finland was the most civilised place I ever worked. There were saunas everywhere and sculptures of naked women, even in the post office.

I danced at La Scala in Helsinki for a week (which gave me the silly distinction of being able to add La Scala, Helsinki to my CV) and I toured the rest of the country for three weeks. It was the coldest February in decades.

La Scala was an ornate cinema on Esplanadi, the main esplanade on the Helsinki waterfront near the controversial mermaid fountain called Havis Amanda. When I danced at La Scala, the entire audience was composed of men wearing wolfskin hats.

The brochure produced by La Scala featured a photo of me baring my comely bottom and claimed that I was a “Upea Lumoojatar” (Gorgeous Enchantress). I danced to James Bond theme songs and emerged from masks and a cape, as the sea was frozen.

After years of poverty in England, I was enchanted especially by the food, which was included in my contract. I had shrimp cocktails daily and tried unsuccessfully to make myself sick of salmon, which I washed down with large glasses of thick piimä (buttermilk). Clusters of drunken men lurched towards me when I left the stage, pleading with me to drink with them. I cut a path through them by explaining: “Sorry, but I only drink piimä,” which sent them into convulsions and they echoed: “She only drinks piimä! She drinks only piimä!!!

I was followed out of the theatres several times by men – once by a beaming eighty year old who told me that I was very, very good at my work and that he knew what he was talking about because, as he said, “I am connasieur”.

In Tampere, an industrial town in the north, I was charmed to see the earmuff-wearing police. I performed in a vast hall that had no stage, so I had to dance on the floor in front of tables of pulp and paper workers. One of them was a woman who stuck her tongue out at me, but seemed to be enjoying my show. The sound system was terrible at that place. I could barely hear my music so I had to fake it as best I could, which was awful for me but the audience didn’t mind.

As I was putting my clothes back on in the washroom which served as my dressing room, the door suddenly burst open and a big drunk man came through it. He knelt at my feet and began howling out a stream of words in Finnish. I was standing by the sink wondering what to do next when four more drunk men crashed into the room. They were laughing but also apologetic.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, looking back at me as they dragged him out of the room.

3 Comments

Filed under Finland, Finland

Singing Hitler act Frank Sanazi now to perform as gay dictator Vladimir Putin

Frank Sanazi performs at yesterday’s party

Pete at yesterday’s non-Communist party

Yesterday afternoon, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to the annual charity garden party thrown in Bromley by Frank Sanazi’s mother.

Frank Sanazi (real name Pete) sings like Frank Sinatra, but looks and acts like Adolf Hitler.

There were songs at the garden party from Elvis Presley impersonator Pete Storm and by our Pete (he has multiple surnames) – out-of-character as himself – singing straight Frank Sinatra songs.

Pete Perke aka Pete Sinclair aka Pete Cunningham aka Tom Moans aka Frank Sanazi etc etc told me: “I’ve been looking for a new character, because I’ve been doing Frank Sanazi for twelve years now.”

“That’s longer than the original Hitler,” I said.

Vladimir Putin - macho man incarnate

Vladimir Putin – a man who should be able to afford a shirt

“Just about,” said Pete, “I kept seeing photos of Vladimir Putin with his chest bare or coming out of the sea with a spear in his hand like he’s just caught a massive fish and he looks a little bit camp, to say the least.”

Vladimir, with a love of horses worthy of the wild Wild West

Vladimir, with a love of horses worthy of the wild Wild West

I said: “Putin’s forever riding stallions in forests with his shirt off.”

“So I thought,” said Pete, “after the whole furore about him being – excuse the phrase – hard on the gays and lesbians and his persecution of Pussy Riot, I thought I wanted to do a send-up of Putin because he obviously bats for the other side.

Headline on  today’s Daily Mirror

Headline on today’s Daily Mirror

“So I got this idea where I come on in a lovely suit as the iron man of Russia and deliver this speech in Russian and have it translated into English.

“And it’s welcoming Ukraine back into the old Soviet motherland and It’s going to be so nice now, because we are going to outlaw homosexuals and it will be a crime for them to be on the street and we will lock them all up. There will be a law against them, so we will have no lesbians or gays in Russia at all…

“And then the music starts playing It’s Raining Men and I start singing…

Tensions are rising
Gas supplies running low
According to my sources
Kiev’s the place to go
Tonight for the first time
Just about half past ten
For the first and the last time in history
It’s gonna start raining men

Ukrainian men!
Hallelujah!
Ukrainian men!
Ah, men!

Nazi but nice - Frank last night

Frank Sanazi rallies his audiences

…and I rip my shirt off and I have two tit-tassels underneath and I start swinging them around as I sing. I haven’t got a six-pack, but I bought a six-pack to go over the top of my normal chest and I bought these pants which have a bum added in the back and I’ve put a hammer & sickle there so, when I drop my pants…”

“You seem,” I said, “to be getting overly-excited telling us about the pants.”

“Yes,” agreed Pete, “because I didn’t think you could buy pants like that with a fake arse actually built into the bum. They were only £4.”

“What about your hairline?” I asked.

“I’ll put a load of talcum powder on my head and flatten my hair down and my face can look a little like Putin. I tested it out for the first time at Cabaret Roulette in Madame JoJo’s in Soho – Vivacity Bliss runs it – and it seemed to go down a storm, so Putin will be with Frank Sanazi as part of my new Dictators of The World show.”

Pete sniffs a 4711 face wipe

Pete sniffs a 4711 face wipe yesterday

At this point, my eternally-un-named friend said I admire Putin and gave Pete a packet containing a 4711 facial wipe.

“Think of it as a 9/11 wipe,” I suggested. “Keep calm and carry on. What’s your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

Das Vegas Night 3 – Zis Time We Win!. It’s all about if the Germans had won the Second World War and what would Las Vegas have been like? I’ve got Baghdad’s Got Talent coming to join us in their burkhas and they’re going to do some magic for us and a bit of puppetry with a little doll – that’s got a burkha on as well. It’s perfect for Das Vegas, because it’s wrong… but it’s right… and I’ve got Gay Jesus coming to finish the show.”

“Oh, he’s great!” I said. “Does he still live in Glasgow?”

“Yeah,” said Pete. “I have to go now. I have to sort Elvis out.”

And off he went.

Later, on the way home, my eternally-un-named friend said: “Do you think you should warn him It’s Raining Men might be in bad taste because of the plane exploding and all the bodies falling out of the sky onto the Ukraine?”

“Well,” I said, “Frank Sanazi sings Sinatra’s Witchcraft as Auschwitz-craft. So the body parts of men, women and children raining down onto fields and farms in the Ukraine won’t be a problem.”

You can see Frank Sanazi singing Third Reich on YouTube.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Politics, Russia, Ukraine

Life is but a dream of Nazis, Russians, the Ukraine and my father’s fatal cancer

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks like the human brain

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks to me rather oddly like part of a human brain – but, then, I am only very barely awake…

On the rare occasion when I remember a dream, I feel obliged to write about it.

This morning’s blog had been going to be about my father’s cancer in 2001, but I woke up at 6.22am and remembered I had been dreaming about some presumably purely fictional Rhine mine line deaths in the Second World War. The rhyming phrase Rhine mine line was what kept swirling round in my mind. It was something about large numbers of people being taken or thrown down a mine in the Rhineland by the Nazis and a railway line that led to the mine.

Just a dream.

I guess it had something to do with me half-seeing an anti-Ukrainian documentary last night on the RT (formerly Russia Today) TV channel. The purpose of the documentary was to link in viewers’ minds the wartime Nazis and western Ukraine which, admittedly, did have a fair number of Nazi sympathisers. Is it my imagination or is Russian propaganda getting more sophisticated?

The whole Russia-Ukraine thing is so complicated and swirling dreamlike with facts intertwined with the past and political spin that it is rather unsettling because it echoes the build-up to the Second World War.

There are lots of Russian-origined people in Eastern Ukraine. When I was in Kiev in 2012 and 2013, there was talk of the slightly more than vague possibility of the country splitting in two even then.

There were lots of Germans in the Sudetenland in 1938.

The Crimea’s links to Russia and it being part of the Ukraine are complicated, For all the entirely justified Western words about how Russia’s invasion and take-over is beyond acceptability – and it is – the Crimea situation was/is very complicated.

When the Nazi army marched into The Rhineland in 1936 and took over the Sudetenland (which was part of Czechoslovakia) in 1938, there was some similar understanding in the West of the arguments the Nazis put forward for taking them over, just as there was when the Nazis took over Austria in the Anschluss in 1938.

Apparently Hitler had said things like “German-Austria must be restored to the great German Motherland” and “People of the same blood should be in the same Reich.”

Now the Russians are rattling on about ‘protecting their own people’ in eastern Ukraine and there is a clear threat they might invade especially as they claim the recent changeover in power in Ukraine was a ‘neo-Nazi coup’ – thus all the fact-based documentaries on RT and homeland Russian TV about Ukrainian Nazis in the Second World War.

It all swirls round like a dream muddling the past with the present. And I am writing this after waking up ungodly early at 6.22am.

If the Russians were to unacceptably invade and take over eastern Ukraine, there would be a lot of shouting by Western politicians but the Russian propaganda machine could spin the reasons.

Hitler in 1939 believed he could take over the rest of Czechoslovakia without starting a war; he was wrong. If Russia took over western Ukraine, political life would get complicated.

A Google Streetview image of Dreams

A Google Streetview image of Dreams somewhere in London

What all this has to do with my dream of fictional Rhine mine line deaths is another matter.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog about my father being in hospital in 2001. He died a couple of months later. Several people asked me what happened next. So I was going to write about that today, but I was sidelined by this Rhine mine line thing.

It was all thirteen years ago anyway and, at that remove, it all becomes a dream. I would not remember any details if I had not written bits down. Just bits. The rest has drifted off, dreamlike, in time.

Never be afraid to write a pretentious sentence is what I say.

Thirteen years ago today – 23rd April – I had an Instant Message exchange with a friend. I pasted it into an electronic diary I kept at the time. My father was due to have a meeting with the consultant/surgeon on May 16th, when he would decide what to do about my father’s remaining cancer.

The Instant Message exchange starts with what my friend wrote…


Monday 23rd April 2001


My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976.

Your father sounds like he is doing better than everyone expects.

Well, I think the consultant thinks he is recovering fine. He is still very weak, hasn’t been given any food and gets about half an inch of water per hour to drink. He is on drips from bags of clear liquid (glucose and saline) suspended above the bed. It seems like he has 101 tubes stuck in his hands’ and arms’ veins, has his urine piped to a bag under the bed, has some odd bag of green liquid behind his shoulder and has a couple of tubes taped up his nose under the oxygen mask.

That might mean his resistance and willpower is higher than he’s been given credit for by the surgeon. And that counts so much in something like this.

Well, every time I mention the word ‘liver’ to anyone who knows anything about cancers, they wince.

If your father asks you about life expectancy, which isn’t impossible, then you will have to decide on the spur of the moment how to answer.

I would lie to him and say I don’t know. Hopefully the seriousness will slowly dawn on him and the 16th May should solidify it. As I understand it, chemotherapy is used on the whole body and is horrendous; radiotherapy is used on a specific area and isn’t quite so bad. Presumably the consultant (who is a bowel and nether regions man not a cancer man) is going to… um… consult a cancer specialist before the 16th May. He told me he was going to discuss the case and the possibilities with “colleagues” to decide what to do.

Depending on his and your mum’s mental state, I would tend to think honesty is always the best option. 

So do I, which is why I am none too happy about it, but I think they (particularly my father) should be allowed to try to recover from the operation first. May 16th is proverbially another day. At the moment, my father is incapable of having any type of treatment because he has not recovered from the operation, so time is not of the essence before the 16th May.


If I had not written all that down at the time, I would barely have remembered the details of it.

On YouTube, there is a rather dreary audio recording of a song called Life Is But a Dream by a group called The Harptones.

I have never heard of The Harptones. Apparently they were formed in Manhattan, New York, in 1953, recorded the track in 1955 and it was featured in Martin Scorsese’s over-rated 1990 film Goodfellas.

According to Wikipedia, The Harptones “are still considered one of the most influential doo-wop groups” partly because of (says Wikipedia) their lead singer Willie Winfield. Wikipedia has no entry on Willie Winfield. He may be dead. Or not.

So it goes. Or not.

I think I may go back to sleep and post this blog later. Dreams are strange things.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dreams, Medical, Russia, World War II

I don’t care who my dead relatives were, but comedian Charmian Hughes does

My parents after their wedding

My parents after their wedding

My mother was born with only one hand. Her brother died of pneumonia when he was, I think, around 16 and she was around 11. She had no other brothers and sisters.

When he was in his early teens, my father ran away from home to join the Navy. But he was too young and they rejected him.

Eventually, he joined the Royal Navy when he was 16 in 1936, just in time for the Spanish Civil War in which British forces were not involved – although his ship dropped men off the Spanish coast late at night for reasons he was never told.

In the 1950s, he got tuberculosis and had to go into a sanatorium for a while.

My mother’s father, was a joiner and carpenter. He lived with us after he had a stroke.

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father, was a ship’s captain. He died when my father was aged about three, so I never knew him.

Beyond my parents and grandparents, though, I’m not really interested in who my ancestors were. They’re in the past.

As far as I know, I am not in any way related to either Sir Alexander Fleming or Ian Fleming – therefore I am not due any money from penicillin or the James Bond books – and so I don’t much care what happened to unknown members of my family in the past.

About 20 years ago, some Canadian members of my Fleming family – whose existence we knew nothing about – tracked down my father and his sister in England. These Canadian Fleming’s were creating a family tree which they later sent to us. There was a surprising number of men in the family – about 3 or 4 – who died as a result of falling into the holds of ships – presumably while very drunk.

Arguably, other people have more interesting members of their families.

Charmian inherited her Victorian relative’s chest

Charmian inherited her relative’s chest

Last night, I went to see Charmian Hughes perform a rough run-through to an audience of six in her kitchen of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Raj Rage, about her trip to India to find out what happened to one of her female forbears caught up in the Indian Mutiny.

It’s a cracker of a story and I would not want to give away the twists and turns, but Charmian has more than one bizarre forbear in her family.

On the wall of the stairs at her home is a portrait of a distinguished-looking, uniformed man.

Charmian’s distinguished grandfather

Charmian’s distinguished grandfather

“That’s my grandfather,” Charmian told me. “My father’s father. He was Irish and was Postmaster General of India for about a week. He was supposed to be from Dublin, but you can’t find him anywhere if you try to look up records of his past. I think he re-invented himself. I don’t know why.

“And this oval portrait,” she said, “is either my mother’s great grandfather or her grandfather. My mother told me he was at medical school and, because he wanted to marry a woman his parents didn’t approve of, they refused to finish paying his fees so, my mother told me, he became what she called That other thing when you don’t qualify as a doctor.

Charmian’s less-distinuished relative

Charmian’s rather less-distinuished relative

“I asked my mother: What do you mean? A nurse?

Don’t be stupid! she told me. “Men aren’t nurses!

A physiotherapist? I asked.

No, no, my mother told me. You know… When girls don’t want to have their babies.

“He was a back-street abortionist when abortion was illegal. Women paid him with their jewellery. He lived in Cricklewood. They all lived in Cricklewood. The ten brothers and sisters all lived in neighbouring streets. I think he was the one who drank himself to death and, as a result, my grandparents didn’t have a drop of drink in the house.”

Charmian also pointed out to me an ornate carved hat stand in her hallway.

A hat stand nicked from the Russians?

Hat stand nicked from the Russians by Charmian’s granddad?

“My mother’s father,” she explained, “was a mercenary who went to Russia during the Civil War between the White and Red Russians after the Bolshevik Revolution and he came back with… well… with stuff. I think he was on the White side. Then he lived in Hertfordshire and he was a travelling salesman for a building materials company.”

Interesting.

Even fascinating.

And it is a very nice hat stand.

But I still have no interest in my own family background.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nostalgia, Russia, Spain

The little reported Ukrainian Moslem problem & feeling sorry for politicians

Kiev2_18feb2014

BBC TV reporting from Kiev on events of 18th February 2014

I visited the Ukraine briefly at the beginning of 2012 and at the beginning of 2013. So I am interested in the ongoing and currently escalating crisis there.

On 23rd February 2014 – just over a week ago – the new Ukrainian government abolished the “law on languages of minorities” including Russian – making Ukrainian the sole state language.

On 26th February, highly-armed pro-Russian paramilitaries appeared in the Crimea.

On 28th February, Russia in effect invaded the Crimea and took over key buildings and areas.

Yesterday, I was sent a long analysis of the ongoing situation by a Ukrainian academic. There were two interesting parts which do not seem to have been covered in UK news reports.

Apparently advisors who were once close to Russia’s President Putin (e.g. Andrey Illarionov) say that, after the 2004 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, Putin became obsessed (my word) by the very real threat of a domino effect of further revolution in post-Soviet states, particularly in the Ukraine.

Seen from this viewpoint, the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovich could escalate into a very real threat to the inviolability of authoritarian rule in (what Putin sees as) the entire Soviet region. Throughout the recent ‘second Orange Revolution’ in Kiev, the Russian media not surprisingly focussed on discrediting everything connected to it – claiming the ‘revolutionaries’ were neo-Fascists etc.

But less well reported in the West was the fact that Russian intellectuals were increasingly vocal in their support and (according to what I was sent yesterday) in St Petersburg and Moscow these ‘intellectuals’ began asking: “If the Khakhly (a derogatory term for Ukrainians) can do it, why can’t we?”

Thus, arguably, the risk of a domino effect has become even more of a potential danger to Russia itself and even more threatening to Putin’s position.

The other (from my TV viewing) under-reported fact is the Moslem factor.

It is complicated enough that Western Ukraine tends to be Ukrainian-speaking, Eastern Ukraine tends to be Russian-speaking and yet a lot of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians see themselves as totally Ukrainian and do not want to be controlled by Russia. It is complicated enough that Crimea used to be part of Russia itself.

But then there are the Tatars.

According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, the Crimean population is roughly made up of 58% ethnic Russians, 24% ethnic Ukrainians and 12% ethnic Tatars.

The Tatars were deported from the Crimea by Stalin after the Second World War and only allowed to return after Ukraine’s independence in 1991.

One of the leaders of this ethnic group apparently spoke at a demonstration in Kiev on Sunday and, as translated, he said that, if a single drop of Moslem Tatar blood is spilt in Crimea, Red Square in Moscow will become true to its name. “By starting a war in Crimea, Mr. Putin,” he apparently said, “you are starting a war against all Moslems in your own country. It will be your end. Crimean Tatars are not fundamentalists, but the Islamic faith promotes significant solidarity among its believers.”

This is a very complicated situation.

It is one of the times I feel sorry for politicians trying to problem solve.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crimea, Russia, Ukraine

Minor паранойя – Why was my Apple computer typing in Russian yesterday?

My blog yesterday

Мой блог вчера

When I grew up, the trendy always said: “No matter how paranoid you are, they’re always doing more than you think.”

I met American financial guru Max Keiser a couple of days ago for a chat which ended up in yesterday’s blog.

He appears on the RT television channel – apparently it is no longer called Russia Today because another Russian channel is now using that name. He has his own show called The Keiser Report. As far as I know, no-one else is yet producing a show with that name.

When we arranged to meet, I asked (via an e-mail) for his mobile phone number.

“I don’t have a phone,” he replied.

How strange, I thought.

He is a TV presenter and journalist I thought… No mobile phone?

Then I thought further.

Aha! I thought. Either he just doesn’t want to give out his number to all and sundry… OR… Maybe it is because he works for RT – which is financed by the Russian government.

Maybe people who work for RT do not have mobile phones because it means they could be tracked by GPS positioning and I presume that the microphones on mobile phones (as with landlines) can be remotely activated so that anything said near them can be listened-in-to.

In fact, when I met Max, it seemed he just can’t be bothered with mobile phones. Seems strange to me. But then most things do. Also, his show is produced for RT by the US company Associated Press.

So we had our chat and, yesterday morning, I was transcribing the conversation I recorded on my iPhone onto my MacBook Pro computer.

I had got about halfway through. I had typed in references to Russia Today, corruption at the UK’s Big Four banks, the Iranian government’s Press TV channel and was typing a bit about the Al Jazeera English channel when everything new I typed suddenly started appearing in Russian Cyrillic letters.

On the screen, it read:

So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.

“What show did you make for them?”

We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?”

Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still ыууьы ещ цфте ещ иу ашпрештп еру Сщдв Цфкю Ша нщг дщщл фе еру круещкшс сщьштп щге

I typed a bit more.

It read:

Ша нщг дщщл фе еру круещкшс сщьштп щге щаююю

I tried typing gibberish – random English letters. They read:

рпмложэщъхзшн

I studied Russian for two years at school but, of course, I can neither speak nor read it. I am, after all, British.

I went into the Settings of the computer, into Language and Region… It said Preferred Languages: British English primary and gave English (presumably American English) as a second preference. It said my region was United Kingdom.

I looked at the Keyboard Text preferences. It said British English.

I went back and typed more random letters. They came up on the screen as:

рпсоп ирщшгнгщ8 итгн эжщх

Minor paranoia sidled into the back of my mind.

Fair enough, there’s always a slight chance some SigInt computer somewhere might have me on a vague-watch list. I will be on some minor computerised file somewhere because my father had to be positively vetted for his job during the Cold War (he worked for a radar company and had to visit the bunkers in the late 1950s); I worked for BBC News where (I was later told by my boss) there was a slight delay accepting me because, at that time, all potential employees’ details were sent “for checking”; and I have been to places like Albania under Enver Hoxha, Siberia, Soviet Central Asia, Laos and two trips to North Korea. In mitigation, my first trip to North Korea in 1986 also included the Head of the BBC’s South East Asian Section, a reporter for The Times and a reporter for the Guardian.

If you have been, thankyou for listening

If you have been, thankyou for listening. Спасибо товарищ

It would be a very over-enthusiastic listening computer who paid any real attention to me and to the fact I was typing the words Russia Today, RT, Iranian government, Press TV, Al Jazeera (and, as it happens, the word beheading) – and, even then, why start changing the text I am typing into Cyrillic? As a paranoia-inducing warning?

As far as I knew, I had not changed the keyboard from British English to Russian by mistake and, surely to do that, I would have had to probably simultaneously hold down the Command or Alt key and one or two other keys.

But I have no problem with being eavesdropped-on.

This whole recent Edward Snowden hoo-hah about the NSA and GCHQ hoovering-up communications information on millions of people willy-nilly in countries worldwide bemuses me.

Surely that is their job???

If you are a criminal or an international terrorist, you should have the common sense not to carry a mobile phone, not to put any sensitive information on any computer linked to the internet and not to talk in any room with a telephone receiver in it.

I just assume anything everyone says anywhere may be listened-in-to and that could be in the street or in any room in your or anybody else’s house. Who knows what level of technology the satellites have up there in the sky? It is entirely possible that every sound on earth is being listened-in-to with everything filtered out except human voices and the computers listening for certain key words in key languages.

Car number plates are routinely read by cameras all over the UK. Even my local Sainsbury supermarket’s computer reads the number plates of vehicles going into its car park and displays the time your free parking ends. Street cameras can use face recognition systems. The new Apple iPhone has fingerprint recognition of its owner.

What I’m saying is the level at which I am liable to get worried about the government (any government) reading my computer and listening-in on my telephone is virtually non-existent. I really don’t care. Thank god we had the Ultra Secret in World War II and the Germans did not know we had it.

Still… It was bizarre that, without me doing anything, my Mac’s keyboard was suddenly typing in Russian yesterday. So I booked a free appointment at an Apple Store for yesterday afternoon.

I finished my blog yesterday morning on my eternally-un-named friend’s unaffected MacBook computer.

And, just before I went to the Apple Store in the afternoon, I checked my own computer again.

It was still typing in Russian.

Then I noticed a Russian flag had appeared in the menubar.

I noticed a Russian flag had appeared on my computer

The Russian flag appeared in my computer menubar

Sure enough, when I changed the flag to a British one, the words I typed reverted to English.

It seem that, when I had looked in the Keyboard Preferences, I had not checked the Input Sources menu which allows you to change the keyboard language.

So – as in most cases – this was an example supporting the balls-up theory of history rather than any conspiracy theory.

Except that, for this balls-up to have happened, I would have had to – unknowingly – while transcribing – move the computer cursor up to the menubar, click to make the drop-down menu appear, move the cursor down from the British flag to the Russian flag and change the setting from British to Russian.

The other odd thing is that, in my menubar settings, I know I did have the option to change the keyboard from British to Italian (I have a friend who lives in Italy) but, as far as I am aware, I had never ever inserted the ability to switch to Russian.

Why would I?

That remains a mystery.

But – frankly – I don’t give a shit what happens in the upper Echelons.

1 Comment

Filed under Russia

“Being a stockbroker is like being a comedian”: Russia Today’s Max Keiser

Max with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

Max (right) with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

If you want to see the heir of the late American comedian Bill Hicks performing, where do you look?

Not in British comedy clubs where Bill Hicks is the comedians’ comedian. Certainly not in America,  where Bill Hicks only came to most people’s attention fairly recently.

Perhaps one place to look is a television programme transmitted three times a week on the RT channel (The channel used to be called Russia Today.) American presenter Max Keiser is RT’s economic guru; he fronts his own show: The Keiser Report.

Max Keiser (extreme left) on 10 O'Clock Live

Max (perhaps suitably on the extreme left) on 10 O’Clock Live

Last month, he was a guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You. Last year, he was a guest on Channel 4’s comedy series 10 O’Clock Livepresented by Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. 

Jimmy Carr came up to me after the show,” Max told me yesterday in Soho. “He was very nice and wanted to know more about my views on the economy. A few weeks later, I was having lunch over at his place – beautiful house, beautiful tennis court. He had me up there to talk about gold and silver. He said he was prepared to buy a ton – that’s 32,000 ounces – of silver. Since that lunch, the price has dropped about 50%. So that’s probably why I haven’t heard from Jimmy since then.”

“And you’re a fan of Bill Hicks,” I said.

“If anyone is a big fan of comedy and they watch my show on RT,” said Max. “they’ll recognise that I borrow heavily from him. I liked Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and that raw, unvarnished truthfulness is something we’ve always tried to strive for in The Keiser Report. It’s just very raw and sometimes it works not from having people’s funny bone tickled but because they are uncomfortable.”

Max Keiser presents his Report on Russia Today TV

Max presents Keiser Report next to Boris Johnson’s City Hall

“But The Keiser Report,” I said, “is a current affairs show – a news show covering business and finance – that is not normally a comic area.”

“At this point in time,” replied Max, “the financial world and the banks are so pathetically corrupt that it’s impossible to cover them without having, to some degree, a satirical view. Very few things which banks do, in this country at this point, are legal. Virtually 100% of everything all the Big Four banks do is illegal.”

“Could you be pushing this angle because you’re a presenter on the Russian government’s own TV channel?” I asked.

“Well, the show is produced by Associated Press,” said Max. “which is an American company. The show is recorded at a TV studio that’s part of London & Partners, which is London Mayor Boris Johnson’s public relations division. And we make other shows with Associated Press which are sold to other outlets. We sold a show to Press TV.”

“Thats worse!” I said. “That’s the Iranian government!. These are dodgy people we are talking about.”

“These are fine international news organisations,” said Max. “We’ve done a show for BBC World News. We did shows for Al Jazeera English.”

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English, Doha

“Ah, now,” I said. “Al Jazeera English is a very, very good news channel, though I don’t know about the Arabic version.”

“When we were in Doha where Al Jazeera English is based,” said Max, “there was this famous car park with the Al Jazeera English building on one side and the Al Jazeera Arabic building on the other and they really did not get along. So there is a perpetual stand-off in Doha and occasionally executives would be taken out to the car park and…”

“Beheaded?” I suggested.

“…left to their own devices,” continued Max. “And that’s not easy to do, because you need an exit visa. So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.”

“What show did you make for them?” I asked.

“We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.”

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?

“Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still seems to want to be fighting the Cold War. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the US, they still think it’s 1970. They don’t understand that Russia and the Russian economy has leapfrogged well beyond what was happening during the Cold War, well past the Soviet Union. They are very entrepreneurial in Russia and the TV network is very savvy. They have a bigger reach than the BBC – over 800 million. I think they’ve really taken the top position in the world right now as far as global international satellite and cable TV is concerned. And whatever we can do to support that, we’re happy to do. In this country, I would say the relationship with the Soviet Union is quite strained. Other countries have moved on from their Cold War perception.”

“You’ll get a Hero of the Soviet Union medal,” I told Max. “You’ve had other comedians on The Keiser Report, haven’t you?”

Max Keiser (right) interviews comedian Frankie Boyle on Russia Today

Frankie Boyle (left) interviewed on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Yes, we’ve had Frankie Boyle. I’m a big fan of his. A no-holds-barred comedian who’s willing to take big risks.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I think he and I talked about the state of the media.”

“But you’re a business show.”

“Yeah, but so much of business now is driven by perception and that perception is driven by the media. The Stock Market – whether it’s the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones – it’s a hologram driven by perception. There’s no actual equity in those markets; it’s completely a bubble puffed up on zero collateral.”

“What were you before being a TV presenter?” I asked.

“I started out as a stockbroker for Paine Webber on Wall Street in the early 1980s. Before that, I was at New York University and I was doing stand-up comedy. I made the transition from doing comedy to being a stockbroker at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period.”

“Why?”

“Because, surprisingly, being a stockbroker is not that much different from being a comedian. You’re telling stories to people, going through a lot of stories quite rapidly and you are essentially getting people not to laugh but to say: Give me 1,000 shares. To get to that moment, you use the same techniques as a comedian: pacing, word-choice, empathy.

“I was at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. Rich Hall was doing improvisation down in the theatre district. Robin Williams was at Catch a Rising Star. On the West Coast, you had Steve Martin. It was the beginning of that huge new wave when comedy became the new rock ’n’ roll and then TV shows came out of that.

“Watching Robin Williams work was pretty remarkable. During that time, before he went on stage, his ritual was to line up seven or eight Kamikaze cocktails. They’re extremely potent alcoholic concoctions. As the MC was about to introduce him, he’d just go Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang and down those suckers and then hit the stage with all that energy.

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser is into a post “Comedy is Rock ’n’ Roll” period

“Now we’re into a post Comedy is rock ’n’ roll period. I’m hoping we’re getting back to the more politicised comedy – the Lenny Bruce type of comedy – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway. A lot of people who do comedy here in London go to the United States and come back and tell me: It’s great; it’s all very funny; but it’s homogenised. They’re all doing the same kind of jokes, which is because of this huge thing called TV: the sitcoms. They’re looking for a certain type to fill a certain spot and there’s 10,000 comics trying to get that one spot and they’re all doing the same act.

“I love the comedy here in London, because it’s completely different. There’s a lot of political edginess to it. A lot of comedians here identify themselves as ‘left wing’. In America, there is no left wing. There’s only slightly right-of-centre and extreme right-of-centre and the fanatical right.”

“Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I went for the first time last year.”

“You should do a show up there,” I suggested.

“I would like to take a show up there though, if I do, I’d have to workshop it here in London beforehand. But I’ve already been doing my Stand-Up Rage show in cities around the world: Dublin, Los Angeles, London.

“People are fans of my rages on The Keiser Report and this is a 60-minute rage without any control whatsoever. I go into a fugue state in a white rage. Afterwards, I literally have no memory of what I’ve said. It’s a cathartic experience and the audience, in many cases, achieve a level of ecstasy.”

There was a slight pause.

“So you don’t have a script,” I asked. “You just go off on a rant?”

“I start off on one basic idea,” explained Max, “and I will refer to headlines and each usually triggers a good ten minutes of rage. Then, to catch my breath, I will maybe cut to a 20 second music or video blurb.”

“And you rage about politics?” I asked.

“It’s about the bankers and the banksters because, when you have this merging of the private banking interests and the political interests otherwise known as Fascism… I mean, London is the capital of financial terrorism. This is where the financial Jihadis congregate.”

“You do good headline,” I said.

“If you go down to the City of London,” continued Max, “they have the madrassas – otherwise known as HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. These are the madrassas of banking fanaticism. They pursue market fundamentalism which says they can blow themselves up and others around them – not to seek THE Prophet but some profit.”

(The Keiser Report is transmitted on RT, with editions also available on YouTube)

1 Comment

Filed under Cold War, Comedy, Economics, Finance, Russia, Television