December 6th, 2013
|11:52 pm - Madiba|
Let me say first and foremost that I have the utmost admiration for Mandela. He fought bravely throughout his life,was a model of clemency upon victory and left the world a better place than he found it. Who among us will be able to boast as much upon our demise?
Nonetheless I am bracing myself for a lot of sentimental guff in the next few days and goodness only know what is going to happen in South Africa. The ANC has not exactly distinguished itself in recent years, with Jacob Zuma proving corrupt and Julius Malema's own racism threatening to undo all the good and trust that has been achieved. It has been eroding its moral capital for some time now but as the party of Mandela and the struggle it continues to have a hold over many South Africans. It could be argued that it is time for a period in opposition. But symbolism is a dangerous thing, facts can be forgotten and the ANC will legitimately use Mandela in its future campaigns.
Mandela showed great mercy and this must never be forgotten. Nonetheless he is relentlessly sentimentalised as a kind of secular Jesus/Gandhi/Angel hybrid however he was a man and like most me, well, pretty flawed actually. By all accounts he was a beast to his first wife, I am told would have got rid of a lot of the (white) civil service after his election but for agreements he made with FW De Klerk (which, to be fair, he kept to) and advocated the use of violence and terrorism in the apartheid struggle. This is a difficult one, for while I think I can comprehend the frustration and agony black South Africans had to go through (though as a middle class white Brit I would never presume 100% that I could) on principle I don't think violence is a good idea. It was bourne of desperation but in the end I think it merely hardened the attitude of many in power who might (though not definitely, definitely not definitely) might just have had a little sympathy, for apartheid was a doctrine of utter putrid folly and repugnance which anyone with half a brain cell or fragment of compassion should have repelled and rejected. On the whole terrorism merely plays into the hands of the people in power, enabling them to claim that 'x is evil because s/he uses violence. Therefore we are justified in oppressing them' (as can be seen among out glorious leaders vs Islamists today alas). And violence merely breeds violence. South Africa is an incredibly violent country, I believe the violence to be a result of poverty, fear and a lack of mobility but also due to the expectation of hostility which creates a defensive terror, a nation of cornered rats. The campaign of the 60s was symptomatic of this latter point but also I would argue helped to perpetuate it, continuing the bloody cycle which began when the Dutch landed and continues to this day.
What brought about the end of apartheid was the power of thought. The campaigns of the oppressed (and their friends) had an effect. They changed minds. De Klerk deserves credit for though he was reluctant to negotiate with the ANC he did it and did the right thing calling for free elections. I would argue it was Robbin Island that really made Mandela. It turned him into the symbol of oppression and earned the world's sympathy. It prepared him for his role and let's face it, who could have played it better? The fact that Mandela had imperfect humanity isn't noteworthy. What is is that, despite the awful conditions of prison, he kept it. I don't know how far I could keep my humanity if I were hated because of the amount of melanin in my skin, let alone make friends with my gaolors.
Today is a sad day. But what is sad is not the death of Madeba but that South Africa s still a mess. I hope attention will be paid to building on his legact rather than empty tribute.
November 20th, 2013
|06:56 pm - Life|
I keep wondering if I am a bad daughter and sister.
A big part of me wonders if I should go home and help with my sister's childcare. I am always exasperated with my sister and yet sympathise with her present plight and yet feel angry when she takes her anger out on our mother.
I really do not want to go back to the UK right now and I would hate not having regular work or income and it would drive me mad to be in the family circle all the time. But I know they are so stressed right now I almost feel it's my duty. I feel guilty about being the favoured child when I am far away and not there physically. Am I being selfish to put my own life first? Am I wrong for favouring my mother over my sister when in my head I know I simply cannot look at it objectively and there aren't really any sides to chose? Was I a bad kid for relishing my place as favourite child and hurting my siblings?
I know I am not responsible for their relationship, at least I keep telling myself that. I also keep telling myself that I mustn't waste my 30s as I did my 20s. But sometimes it really doesn't sink in.
A former student asked me what I though of this.
There are several things which spring to mind reading this article.
The first is a small incident in August last year when I was crossing the frontier between Ukraine and Russia at about 3 am. I awoke groggily and espied the boarder guards coming in, they were obviously gossiping and joking about something and walked into the vestibule smiling, but then – work to do – smiles were switched off in the blink of an eye and the ice queen border guard gave her basilisk stare at my passport.
The second incident occurred in February. It was a dark, cold day and I had been walking for quite a long time through fresh snow and when I got to work and greeted everyone one of our staff said 'I saw you walking here, I didn't recognise you – your head was down and you looked grumpy, I thought you were Russian!'
The third incident dates from June when I was taking Seriyozha back to the UK. As I approached the security ladies they were looking grim as ever, but on setting eyes at my precious cargo they all went 'awww' and one of them berated me for being too rough taking him out of the carrier (which was no easy task!). Another one held him when I was going through the check before boarding and cuddled the frightened little cat before handing him over to me as gently as possible.
I could go on with similar tales.
I like Russians enormously, but I cannot say that they are overly possessed of the social graces which are deemed so important in the west or in Japan and I think the article is largely correct. Lots of English people here are freaked out by the fact that Russians don't smile in shops (and I have lost count of the number of times babushki in produkty have looked exasperated at my attempts to ask for stuff!). But I think maybe it's a northern thing, Finns, Swedes and Estimations are not overly smiley either, except when the sun comes out.
But in a way I have come to prefer it, when I go to England I think it's deeply, deeply strange that people in coffee shops insist on making small talk when all I want is to get my drink and go. I always found it odd in Japan when I would walk into a shop and all of the assistants would stand up and bow and watch me. And always with the same smile...
So yes I can see how people from other lands find it strange, but you do know when a Russian smiles he or she means it!
October 20th, 2013
|10:39 am - I break the silence of months....|
...because I feel somehow I have to share something online and while I don't know if anyone will read it still I must.
I feel something like a beachball bobbing on the open ocean at the moment. I feel alone and not sure what I am doing or where I am going. I haven't felt like this since Edinburgh 6 years ago, this same flatness.
I think in a large part it is because I am tired and winter is coming. I am working a lot and irregular hours ($$$$!) but at the same time I don't really have the mental space to recover.
I am deeply, deeply, deeply worried about my family. There has been a damoclean sword over our heads for a while anyway - worries about money, Dad's illness, my brother going nowhere in his life. My sister is doing her nursing training, has not got her bursary and is frankly losing it. She has split up with her boyfriend (the father of her baby) and rather cruelly I cannot help but wish she had seen his deficiencies before she got pregnant. Mum is wearing herself ragged with childcare and sister is shrieking every time Mum does something even slightly off. Added to this Mum is still suffering from her childhood when she lost her father and was not allowed to grieve. Sister has a personality rather like my grandmother and I think Mum has always been rather scared of her. She's going for counselling but a big part of me is wondering whether I should go home to support my family. But I don't want to go back to the UK at the moment (look at the government!), I would not be earning (and financial independence is very important) and, at a deeper level, I want to lead my life.
And this autumn I have been increasingly feeling that yes, I do actually want a home and family of my own. Lord knows my love life has always been non-existent to dismal but I don't know that it is too much to want a companion. But in Moscow there is I feel, not a lot of hope. Russian women do have a certain mystique and most foreign men here are after one and I do not want a Russian man! I've lost weight, I am not unintelligent and my liveliness is I believe attractive. Yet I literally have no clue about how to go about attracting a man and I don't know how other women do it. It seems a foolish admission from a 32 year old but still it's how I feel.
I have my friends of course, I have a decent social life, but last night we went out and we had a nice evening but I wanted to unburden myself but it was not the time for it, everyone just wanted a good time. I didn't begrudge them but I felt lonely. I daydream a lot but it's like a drug and can't help me with the real issue.
For these reasons I have been wondering whether to stay in Moscow, but also this week there was an alarming incident. Last week an ethnic Russian was murdered and the accused is an Azaeri. Consequently nationalist groups have been attacking Caucasian migrants. the police have arrested many agitators but they have also arrested many migrant workers and the mood is ugly. I don't know if I can stay in such an openly racist environment.
And yet what will I do? I have been planning to do another degree (environmental studies) but I am wondering if I really want to do it. I am slightly afraid of moving back to the UK because I don't want to live with my parents yet I am also afraid of moving to another city because of making friends, now is the time of life when people of my age are settling and babying and it's harder. I want to change my life, I don't want to teach much longer. I want to write the biography of my great grandmother and her sisters I've been talking about for yonks but and I brave enough to do it?
Well, I am going to the pub this afternoon and I hope I can meet new friends. I can't leave the country for another few weeks as my visa is being prolonged. I still have work to do.
June 13th, 2013
Any particular reason who dreamwidth is now seemingly shut down in Russia? I can't even get through on a proxy.
April 9th, 2013
|12:59 pm - My 2 pennoth|
Yesterday a Russian friend asked me how Thatcher was viewed in Britain and how she affected me personally.
Well a short answer to the first would be 'it depends who you ask!' and the second 'I loath Thatcherism' but longer answers need to be had.
There is no escaping the fact that, for better or for worse, I am a child of Thatcher. I was born 2 years after she got into power and throughout my childhood she was somehow there in the background, a hairdo like my granny's and her face wallpapered onto the 6 o'clock news every night. My parents were both Thatcher voters unsurprisingly, they were upper middle middle class (my mother's family is Tory to its constituent atoms. Dad's family were traditionally liberal, being of mercantile stock. More on that later), alarmed at the mess the country had got into during the 70s. Patriots, they applauded the Falklands endeavour and I absorbed their feelings, although these grew increasingly qualified during the course of her reign until they were glad to see her depart. Naturally when I reached the age of reason I became a radical socialist and while I am not that strident now I am still considerably to the left of my mother (though I think less so of my father).
But as I say, I am a child of Thatcher. My formative years seeing the first female PM would have given me an idea that women and men were equal. I am basically a meritocrat (one of the reasons why I so loath the present government is that it is dominated by an old Etonian elite based on their old boys network – hardly run according to the principals of their heroine!), believe in hard work, saving and not taking anything from anyone if I can help it. I don't know how far these are my own values or the values of Thatcher's Britain but I hold them nonetheless. However, I also believe that I was lucky, being born into a family which could provide and helped me as far as it could to a good start in life. Others born in 1981 were not so lucky.
And here we come to the biggest problem with Thatcherism, its lack of mercy. She proclaimed loudly that 'there is no such thing as society' when in fact there is. Thatcherism was a deeply uncaring philosophy.
'Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.' (Samual Smiles). There is something in that, and I am no fan of the nanny state. But similarly, people do need help. Lassaiz faire economics did nothing to help the poor in the Victorian England Mrs T so admired, poverty did not begin to be solved without actual legislation and the eventual creation of the welfare state. People do need a leg up and to be taught to fish, as was done when people were permitted to buy their own council houses. But getting people on the property ladder merely drove up house prices (I doubt I'll ever be a house owner in the UK) and for those who for whatever reason didn't jump on the bandwagon? She abandoned the north and let it rot, preferring to let the market deal with everything which for much of the time it couldn't and can't as we see today. Meanwhile, although people are selfish inherently, I don't believe that encouraging this is a good thing. Independence is attractive, that's why I believe Thatcherism resonates with our national psyche, but I strongly feel it has created conditions whereby money is seen as a measure of personal worth rather than as a means of exchange.
Let us go back to the north. While undoubtedly the nationalised industries needed something doing to them I can't help but feel it was foolish to close them down altogether, Britain lost its manufacturing base, becoming a financial giant instead. But money is a chimerical thing. I am no economist but it seems bizarre to me to expect perpetual growth when fundamentally the markets depend on confidence and confidence is elusive. I cannot help but feel that money has to come from something concrete and Britain's being a net importer cannot be a good thing. Similarly, in the north there are now generations of people who have been on the dole and the negative psychological effect must be pretty strong. But as they are not middle class the educators and those in power can happily ignore them.
When she declared 'There is no such thing as society', she meant that people should use their own inner resources to help themselves. But she did not bank on the cultural and psychological barriers to that. Poverty is isolating and deadening. It cannot be cured by personal initiative alone, help must be given. Especially in the north in the 80s when there was literally no work around. People survived (I've survived on 25-30 quid a week after paying rent before now. It wasn't much fun but I did it) but is it really living? Can one think and dream and aspire while merely surviving? No. Job creation schemes for the young might have helped but one good friend of mine is a veteran of these things and according to him the standard practice was to work the young person to death while they had them and then give them the boot just before the end of the training period and have to provide them with certification and/or work.
She was quick enough to aid the Falklands, it fitted in with her jingoistic parochialism which totally failed to empathise the Chileans (her chum Pinochet helped her after all), the people of South Africa and probably did extreme damage to the Northern Irish peace process. She knew she was right and while in some cases a leader shouldn't listen, in most others she should. Her total lack of imagination and flexibility alienated vast swathes of the UK and divided the country between her supporters and her foes.
At the end of the day she wasn't a conservative. Conservatism is after all concerned with preserving the status quo, she was an old fashioned free market liberal (though very socially conservative – but that's another tale for another time!) but she changed the norms. Every subsequent Prime Minister has had to be her disciple, whether willingly (Blair) or unwillingly (Major, Brown and I believe Cameron strangely enough). They have all follwed the intellectual programme she began and I don't think that it has ultimately been to the benefit of the nation. Privatisation made logical sense for somethings but it really has been taken to absurd extremes and I fear education and the health service are going that way slowly.
I don't like the feeling of rejoicing when someone has died (honest!) but the Britain she set the conditions for is a place with no mercy for the weak an unfortunate and Disraeli would be turning in his grave to see the 2 nations.
February 17th, 2013
|10:34 pm - 2 earworms|
The sun came out today and made me feel happy :)
I might be losing an annoying kid I have been teaching but as her mum is a friend of my boss I am a little anxious.
The weekend I have been rediscovering my first musical loves, namely anything to do with the human voice en masse. Instruments are fun but there is something about vocal music which has a raw simultaneous power and delicacy.
From the North I have heard this delightful arrangement of a Finnish song
Rich, liquid rhythms which make me think of the melting of the snow in the beautiful ice air of the Finnish proto spring, voices like birch trees and clear as early spring birds.
From the south, the pure strength of African singing. I have been reading a collection or Rian Malan's journalism about South Africa and read with some interest about the proto 'Lion Sleeps tonight' and there is something eerie about hearing the melodyfrom this old recording which sounds removed and almost restrained, and yet there is the hint of pure energy and anarchy there.
February 14th, 2013
I am still here. Believe it or not.
I am working a lot but next week shouldn't be too bad. I like the money I am getting. Money is good.
I am on a diet and someone at work asked me if I had been working out as I appeared to be more slender. No one could have had a better valentine's day present :D
It was warm (+2 last week) and horrible. Now it is -6 and sunny which is much better.
January 5th, 2013
|07:40 pm - 1st entry of the new year|
So my 2 weeks has come to an end. Mixed feelings this time, I am keen to get on with my life and for the moment at least my life is in Moscow. I will miss home but it is lotus land very much and I do and feel like nothing here.
I feel depressed because my Mother is worried about everything, including the surveyors the Diocese are sending round. Bastards.
I have made up my mind to leave my job asap. I feel better for having decided so but I need to a)get more work lined up b)Get a place to live (which will accept Sergei!) c)plan around visas. I can't tell work about this until the end of January but I must be prepared to hit the ground running.
Exciting but scary. Just like Moscow. Just like my life.
December 29th, 2012
|09:03 am - 2012 meme|
1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?
Became an examiner, went to Ukraine, renewed a job contract, became a cat "owner" in my own right, had an 8 hour domestic flight, had an operation.
2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Well, I worked hard and saved! But I failed to make any headway with Russian.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister and assorted friends
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
Russia (if that counts), Turkey, Romania and Ukraine
6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
Less weight, more money,more clients.
7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
August, taking the train to Ukraine from Buchrest.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
9. What was your biggest failure?
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Twice pulling muscles on my ribs. A massive throat infection. Having my toenail removed due to ingrowingness.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books and train tickets and JEWELS!!!
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Our new DOS, a friend who in desperation has done some really stupid shit.
14. Where did most of your money go?
books and food
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Sergei Koshkovich Imbirov :D (the cat), TRAVEL!
16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
Love like Blood as I have been listening to it no end this autumn.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) About the same though pensive about all the things I need to get done next year
b) Fatter :(
c) Richer :)
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I went to church, sang carols and spent the day with my family
21. Did you fall in love in 2012?
Nope though I fancied a few people. I wish Russian men weren't so beautiful as all the nice ones are taken and the rest are bastards!
22. How many one-night stands?
23. What was your favourite TV program?
I downloaded Mary Beard's stuff which I much enjoyed. The Thick of It!
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
the new DOS
25. What was the best book you read?
Life and Fate, Istanbul, the third reich triogy, silverland, The plot against America
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Rediscovering Killing Joke whom I last listened to aged 6!
27. What did you want and get?
28. What did you want and not get?
More money and more travel. Actually I got most of the things I wanted this year.
29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Nothing really stands out.
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
31, I ate fish and chips at Dunwich with my parents and then drank cider.
31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More money and more time to relax. Sunnier weather.
32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
The usual but more boring.
33. What kept you sane?
Reading, the internet, my cat and my friends.
34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
None comes to my mind
35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The continued rape of the poor by the Tories. "Legitimate Rape" and the US elections. The senseless death of Savita Halappanavar. I kept my nose out of Russian politics.
36. Who did you miss?
37. Who was the best new person you met?
Mari with whom I couchsurfed in St Pete, Brendon (the first flatmate since Graeme who hasn't driven me stark staring mad) Ash, Jill, Andrew and new teachers, Anton, Marja, Sergei and my new niece little Iris :)
38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.
Keep on moving.
39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Nothing comes to my mind
Well it's been a year. it hasn't always gone smoothly but I can say on the whole it worked out positively for me. I hope for more of the same next year.
otherwise I am worried about the floods hitting the UK, the problems my countries are facing and the poverty which is killing friends ad which has driven one person I care about into hiding.It's an odd numbered year though which in my personal superstitious nonsense is more lucky!