Tag Archives: Ukraine

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.

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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.

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Filed under Dreams, Medical, Russia, World War II

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.

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Filed under Crimea, Russia, Ukraine

A message from Kiev this morning

Kiev1_18feb2014 Kiev2_18feb2014 Kiev3_18feb2014

Above, BBC News reports from Kiev.

I know someone who lives in Kiev. I got a message this morning.

It’s been an amazing time in Ukraine the last three months and no more than the last five days, it became quite scary but thankfully the worst is over now – well as long as Russia doesn’t get too involved. I am very proud of the Ukrainian people. What a fight they had to put up against such a dictator, thankfully who is now on the run!

I asked if the person I know wanted to say anything on my blog.

They did. This is it:

The situation in Ukraine is chaotic, and out of chaos DOES NOT come democracy.

If the EU does not act now with genuine help and money – lots of money – Ukraine will end right back where they just came from.

The EU needs to send experts to help the National Bank of Ukraine, experts to help support businesses and again lots of money to make sure the country does not go bankrupt.

The EU gave Greece an obscene amount of money for a much smaller country where almost all citizens were part of sucking their own country dry and into bankruptcy. In Ukraine a very small group of people have been sucking the state coffers and 99% of the 45 million population have suffered.

If Ukraine goes bankrupt, the Hrivna (the Ukrainian currency) will collapse, which is already well underway, Ukrainians will eventually largely blame the events happening over the last three months for this and they will end right back in corruption with leaders that will suck the coffers for anything they can get their hands on. They will want to choose a strong man/woman that will again have too much power and democracy will be lost again.

The EU have to act FAST and ignore Russia, because Russia can never act against a blooming democracy. But Russia CAN act against an ongoing chaotic situation as we have now.

EU foreign ministers – Get together again immediately, stop patting each other backs thinking you saved Ukraine from (ex-President) Yanukovich. The people of Ukraine kicked out Yanukovich, but NOW they need you to help building up and keep the country united fast, before the situation becomes even worse. Please use the momentum, do not let a chance of getting the biggest country in Europe on a correct democratic path slip away. Because it WILL slip away if you do not act NOW.

And NOW does not mean within the next 3-4 weeks where you just want to see where events go in Ukraine, since you do not want to interfere too much… The time for waiting is over, action is needed and it is needed NOW.

Ukraine needs experts to help them hold a free and fair election before May 25th  that can unite the country.

Ukraine needs financial help so the Hrivna will not collapse further.

Ukraine needs help to set up democratic institutions as we know in western Europe.

Ukraine needs to know that the EU is there to support them and not just in words  – Remember people have died for this!

EU will NEVER get a better chance to get the biggest country in Europe on the right track than right now, so why are the foreign ministers and heads of states in the EU not sitting right now in Brussels talking about this ??

Please EU, show us why you exist.

* * * * *

There is a video, posted on YouTube last Thursday, of people being shot in the street by government snipers.

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Toilet seats and the difference in the collapse of British & Russian empires

A bottom-shaped toilet seat as it was meant to be

A toilet seat as it was meant to be…

I flew to Kiev yesterday. I went to the toilet first.

They have tried hard at London’s Gatwick Airport.

There is a new ‘super-loo’.

The holes in the toilet seats are rectangular.

I checked my bottom before and after using one. My bottom is not rectangular. I was unable to check other people’s bottoms. But I suspect the design of these new ‘super’ toilet seats is a triumph of design over practicality.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Some seats in the Departure Lounge at Gatwick have little flat surfaces next to them with plug sockets and USB ports so you can use and charge your computers and mobile phones.

All the sockets and USB ports had been switched off.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Ukraine International Airlines were very attentive on the flight to Kiev. All the pilot and cabin announcements were, of course, in both Ukrainian… and in English as, I think, the rules say they have to be. At least, I think they were in English.

But the English was around 97% totally incomprehensible. It was like audio origami. I basically only knew it was English because of the polite addition of clear Thankyous at the end of sentences.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

A street in Kiev at 9.40am this morning

A central street in Kiev – or Kyiv –  at 9.40am this morning

So now I am in Kiev.

In an enlightening conversation last night, a local was telling me how the corruption system works.

It is a triumph of actual effectiveness over good intentions.

I say I am in Kiev… but actually I am in Kyiv. Because ‘Kiev’ was the Russian-approved Western spelling used in the Soviet era. Now Ukraine is independent. So now it is written as ‘Kyiv’.

As with all ex-Soviet states, there was and is a problem with the Russians.

I remember a historian (not British born) telling me in the 1990s what he thought was the difference between the collapse of the British Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

I do not know if he is right or wrong, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

The way he saw it, the British had conquered an empire but had, by-and-large, not fully integrated themselves within the local community, particularly in India.

In the Raj, they tended to live in British communities, go to British clubs and continue living their British lives separate from the local communities. Britain was always seen as their home country. They lived consciously as ex-pats.

With the Soviet Empire, the Russians, to a greater extent, colonised each country and moved their families and lives lock, stock and family barrel into them because they, perhaps, felt that all these other countries really were part of one great Socialist country.

When India got independence, by and large, most British families simply upped-sticks and left, mostly going back to their ‘home’ country – the UK.

But, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and satellite countries got independence, the Russian populations within those countries had psychologically, economically and physically integrated their families’ lives within the communities. They had no actual close family ties back in Russia. They were not expats living away from mother Russia. They were Russians who felt fully part of the satellite countries.

For example, in Uzbekistan, they were not Uzbeks yet, in Russia, they were not ‘real’ Russians. They had nowhere to ‘go home’ to. These were Russians who had been in Uzbekistan for generations and were now left stranded in what had been their home country and was now a foreign country.

Same thing in the Ukraine… exacerbated by a history of invasions over the centuries.

There is a heavy Russian presence in the east and in the south of modern, independent Ukraine. According to a 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their ‘native’ language and 29.6 percent declared Russian.

They considered Russian their ‘native’ language.

Almost 30% of the country.

Almost all in the east and south.

This is not good.

Some people talk of splitting the country.

Mostly the Russians in the Ukraine. And the Russians in the Kremlin.

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What Scotsmen do in Eastern Europe: Burns Night on March 9th in Ukraine

A bizarre but effective Burns Night last night in Kiev

Burns Night celebrations in Kyiv were also in March last year

Burns Night was on 25th January this year. It is every year. It is Rabbie Burns’ birthday.

But I am allegedly going over to the Ukraine for a Burns Night charity event in Kiev – or in Kyiv, depending on your spelling – on 9th March.

Kiev was the Russian-approved spelling in the Soviet era. So, obviously, since independence, the officially-approved Ukrainian spelling is Kyiv, just to be different.

But this does not explain why Burns Night is being celebrated on 9th March.

Last year in Kyiv, it was celebrated on 31st March.

The explanation is that it is being organised by a canny Scotsman.

Stuart McKenzie at the 2012 Burns Night

Stuart McKenzie at 2012 Burns Night in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie owns a company in the Ukraine which handles events, PR, marketing, training, e-commerce and research. He also owns hotels and restaurants. And he is also the late Scottish comedian Jimmy Logan’s stepson.

“I organise the Burns Night event with other Kyiv Lions Club members as part of our contribution of time to the club,” Stuart tells me. “Most Kyiv business people are away from 20th December to the 15th of January. So it’s therefore better for me to push the date of Burns Night forward to give me more time to speak to these companies and get sponsorship support. It simply means we can raise more money. Also pipers and entertainers are a lot cheaper to bring over to Kyiv if I’m not competing with the 25th January date.”

Canny and successful.

Sponsors for this year’s Burns Night in Kyiv include Coca Cola, Hyatt Regency, Radisson and Ukraine International Airlines.

“It’s our 18th anniversary this year,” Stuart tells me, “and, over the last eight years, we’ve raised over $700,000 for Kyiv Lions Club projects.”

This year, the Burns Night celebration also coincides with a Women’s Day Celebration.

I suspect Rabbie Burns would have approved.

Stuart certainly knows how to put on a party.

Part of the entertainment on Burns Night in Kyiv will be the Red Hot Chilli Pipers:

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Robert Burns money but chicken-sexing is the thing that brings home the bacon

Spot the cock

For those who have read my blog in the last couple of days… Stuart McKenzie made $132,000 for the Lions Club charities with his Burns Night Supper in Kiev.

He tells me the reason it is held late (Burns Night is actually on 25th January) is simply that the later date will generate more money for the charities – 25th January being too near the Christmas/New Year holidays.

Interesting people are everywhere.

At Kiev airport this morning, on the way back to London, I got chatting to an Ulsterman who travels the world as a dairy consultant; he is currently working in Saudi Arabia for eight years (after which he can retire). Where he is based with his cows in Saudi, they have to pipe the water up from 3.5 miles underground. He tells me the Chinese are importing the crème de la crème of cows and bulls to build up gigantic top-of-the-range herds ten or so years hence.

“I suppose cows are recession-proof,” I said. “People always want beef and milk…”

“You’re on the nail there,” he replied. “Nail on the head.”

He says he was pursued for three years before agreeing to work for his current employer. When he met his current employer, the man pushed a piece of paper across the desk with a salary offer written on it.

Yer man the Ulsterman pushed it back without looking at it and said: “It’s not enough.”

His prospective employer, surprised, said, “No-one’s ever done that before,” turned the paper over, wrote a much higher figure and shoved the piece of paper back again.

Which is how yer man is now working in Saudi Arabia with a weekend break in Kiev and regular flights to literally anywhere in the world he wants to go for breaks.

Perhaps I should have gone into cows in my youth.

Though I remember reading a few years ago that chicken-sexers (apparently a very highly skilled job and who am I to doubt it) are always in great demand and can attract very large salaries.

I imagine chicken-sexing may also be recession-proof. And interesting.

We live in an interesting world.

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Filed under Charity, China, Farming, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Ukraine

The new Wild West of Eastern Europe and its new stag party capital of Kiev

Dancing the night away in the Wild West of Eastern Europe

(This piece was also published in the Huffington Post and on the Indian news site WeSpeakNews)

I was in a basement disco in Kiev a couple of nights ago at three o’clock in the morning.

Anyone who knows me will tell you this is not my natural habitat. I hated dancing and strobe lights in the late 1960s and early 1970s when people not only dressed in primary-coloured clothes and juddered in bright flashing lights, but also wore flared trousers.

I remember going to a very jolly Saturday night party in someone’s house in London around 1981. The colours, the lights, the loud pulsing music. It was very well done but, that morning I had been in the studio in Birmingham for the live three-hour mayhem that was the Tiswas children’s TV show – and I think it was towards the end of that season’s 39-week run.

For people at the party, bright exciting colours, lights and noise were a good thing. I just wanted to stare at a beige wall for three hours. Sensory overload was not excitingly stimulating; it was more of what I had already had all morning, minus the smell of shaving-foam-filled ‘custard pies’ and whatever the sweet-smelling ingredient of the occasional explosive puffs was.

Which brings me to a basement disco in Kiev at three o’clock in the morning and me being there with a runny nose and a hacking cough.

Unmarried twenty somethings with disposable incomes way beyond the wild imaginings of their parents at the same age were dancing and drinking the Thursday night away to 0730 on Friday morning

Kiev’s streets are busy with Range Rovers and other 4-wheel drive vehicles and occasional nightclubs and 24/7 restaurants.

“It’s a cross between the decadent remnants of a Communist state and the Wild West with mobile phones,” I told my eternally-unnamed friend back in the UK via Skype and the free WiFi in my very good room at the Impressa Hotel. “It’s young people with money for the first time,” I added, knowing what I meant but not knowing if that phrase communicated what I meant.

In The West in the mid-to-late 1950s, ‘teenagers’ first appeared. Before then, people in their late teens had been schoolchildren or students or a living-with-their parents underclass with no money. But then they suddenly had disposable incomes and could afford to build their own lifestyles.

Then, starting in the Swinging Sixties though the Seventies, sexual liberation added a whole testosterone-fuelled extra dimension and (a phrase I hate) the Working Class British kids found they could be as decadent as the upper classes had always been because, suddenly, their parents were going on holiday to Spain not Blackpool and ‘Working Class Yoof’ was ‘in’.

From the early 1990s, post-Soviet Union kids had a theoretical new freedom, though without the money to fuel any real new lifestyles. I worked in Prague in the mid-1990s and saw this after it started but before it fully happened – there, the change I saw seemed to be heavily-fuelled by foreigners and tourists finding an open-minded country with relatively cheap living costs.

A Brit who has been coming to Kiev since around 1992 told me: “You could really see the changes happen from about 1999 onwards.”

The old Soviet Union is the new Wild West. Not an original thought, but true nonetheless. I vividly remember being behind a young couple in 1996 who were walking hand-in-hand down Wenceslas Square in Prague. He was wearing a dark jacket which clearly marked him as working for some private security company. Out of the bottom corner of my eye, I saw something bouncing on his right hip as he walked with his left arm round his girlfriend and it was then I saw it was a handgun in a hip holster.

It really was the Wild eastern West.

There was much talk in Prague at that time of the various mafias – German, Italian, Russian – who controlled parts of the city’s and country’s economy – one mafia ran most of the taxis. There is talk today in Kiev of the mafias and a surprising number of people – taxi drivers, shop assistants et al – without prompting, show extreme verbal dislike of the current President, openly calling him a ‘criminal’.

Where all this goes, only time will tell.

I do not know if the testosterone-fuelled mating rituals in that Kiev basement disco are a sign of a new awakening or the last belated gasp of a decadent Europe before the inexorable rise of China.

When I was in Prague in the mid-1990s, it was becoming (with Dublin for Brits) the weekend party capital of Europe. In last week’s edition, the Kyiv Post was touting Kiev as the “new stag party capital of world”.

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Filed under 1960s, History, Prague, Russia, Sex

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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Cutting the faggots with the lawyers – but not cutting crime in Greenwich

Yesterday afternoon, ironically, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.

I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.

It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.

Surely not.

But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).

Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.

At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.

Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”

The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.

According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):

During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”

I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.

According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”

Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.

Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.

Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).

It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.

On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.

What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.

I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.

It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.

Things could be worse, though.

When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.

This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”

Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.

But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.

Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.

I must remember.

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Filed under Crime, Eccentrics, Legal system, Travel, Ukraine