Tag Archives: Gorbachev

Burns Night in the Ukraine in March

Stuart McKenzie - the Celt is their delight

The last time I flew to Eastern Europe it was to Moscow on Aeroflot in 1985 – they served you caviar to show what a People’s Paradise the Soviet Union was. Mikhail Gorbachev had just succeeded from Yuri Andropov, who died after an unusually and some might think suspiciously short stint in power.

Once you accepted that all Aeroflot staff scowled at all Westerners – partly because of the traditional Russian aversion to smiling at strangers and partly lest the KGB thought they sympathised with the evils of Capitalism – and that the interior decor of the planes appeared to be based on a Lambeth council flat circa 1952 – flying Aeroflot was a fairly relaxing experience.

Yesterday, I was flying to Kiev on the more smiley Ukraine International Airlines to meet up with Fred Finn (the Guinness Book of Records’ most travelled person). He arranged the sponsorship for Gorbachev’s first UK trip after the Soviet Union collapsed, has flown 15 million miles, had 718 flights in Concorde and is now an advisor to the Euro 2012 football championship and a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ to Ukraine International Airlines, for whom he writes a travel blog.

At his behest, at Gatwick Airport, I bought two bottles of vodka for people in the Ukraine. Yes indeed, as requested, I carried two bottles of vodka from London to Kiev. Over the years, I have come to accept such things as normal.

But I am actually in Kiev to attend a Burns Night Supper tomorrow. Yes, that’s tomorrow – the 31st March – and, yes, I realise Burns Night is/was on 25th January. And, no, I have no idea why the Kiev version is being held tomorrow either.

This Burns Night Supper is organised annually for a local charity by Stuart McKenzie, a highly-successful entrepreneur from Edinburgh.

Last year, apparently, his Burns Night Supper was combined with a St Patrick’s Night party.

It sounds like a great idea and one which I think should be picked up elsewhere. Lateral thinking is always to be encouraged, especially when unexplained.

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Filed under Scotland, Travel, Ukraine

Moscow myths in 1984. London riots in 2011. Mindless knee-jerk reactions in a fantasy world.

Last night, I was watching TV news footage of the riots in London.

NO CUTS! NO CUTS! NO CUTS! the placards read.

And one placard read GET OUT OF LIBYA!

In 1984 – yup, that reads 1984 – I came back from a trip to the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. At that time, I was working at Granada TV in Manchester and mentioned to someone there that I had taken a train to the end of a Moscow metro line, where the stations were dull, drab, grey concrete shells totally unlike the ornate architecturally splendid stations in central Moscow. I had wandered around a normal, non-tourist suburb and the supermarkets had almost empty shelves.

“Oh, you’ve been reading too much propaganda,” she told me. “The supermarkets don’t have empty shelves in Moscow.”

She had never been to the Soviet Union.

I thought, Hold on…

A couple of days before, I had myself taken a train to the end of a Moscow metro line, wandered around a normal, non-tourist suburb and seen the supermarkets had almost empty shelves.

“Oh, you’ve been reading too much propaganda,” she told me.

But she had. Sometimes people believe in a fantasy.

I thought of that again last night.

NO CUTS! NO CUTS! NO CUTS! the placards read.

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Filed under History, Politics, Television, Travel