Month: February 2010


1. I got the following email today from a ‘Hospitality Club’ member called David.

“Hello I bearder,
I am David from Kenya and I have a son called Ian. Please welcome and visit us in Nairobi – Kenya and we will host you with my family.
David N.”

It’s a tenuous link David but thanks for the offer – I’ll bare it in mind …although I can’t quite work out if you’re genuine or the nicest most indirect Kenya-finance-spammer I’ve ever heard from.

2. Baby Nova. The worlds most pathetic pint-sized pant washer

Here she is – all 2 centimetres of German washing power. So much machine for such a little wash load

On the subject of odd-sized things, on the Metro home tonight in Kiev there was a small girl, actually woman (she was about 20) just very small, not like a midget but small and she was drinking the biggest 3 or 4 litre carton of Orange juice I’ve ever seen. I don’t have a photo but imagine me drinking from a suitcase and you get the idea… quite strange.

3. Don’t look up

As the mega-freeze starts to melt here in Kiev, life has become doubly-dangerous. Whilst walking on the ice, you now run the risk of being impaled by falling ice javelins. Look-up and you’ll slip over, look down and you can take an icicle in the head. Nice. Tomorrow I will slide to work on my back.

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The Slovene ‘worn-out thirty year old’ person

I was reading a European Union ‘Regional Development’ magazine last month and was pleasantly (and amusingly) surprised to see an advert for Velenje where, apparently, they ‘expect me with ‘pleasure’

…all 33,000 of them.

However, despite their bold efforts – there’s only one Slovenian name that’s important for me this month – and that’s Gorenje. For anyone that doesn’t know (I’m guessing that’s most of you) Gorenje produce the world famous Gorenje domestic appliances. And now I have one. A shiny new ‘Black Jack’ Gorenje Vacuum cleaner with 1300 watts of Slovene sucking power. So, I may not be able to drink Lasko or shop at Mecartor but, my appartment is now cleaner than your average Slovene’s car …and that’s seriously clean!

Actually, I’m surprised Slovenians can find time to clean their cars because, most of them are screwed-up and exhausted by the age of 30. It’s true, look – I read about it in an academic review of Slovenia’s recent history…

“Another economic weakness is that the workforce is relatively old and young people don’t get enough opportunities. Slovenian work legislation allows employers to use alternative ways of employing people and has created a new social phenomenon – a ‘worn-out thirty year old’ person. The use of short term contracts and self-employed by the young is so extensive as to create a substantial proportion of young people with years of working experience, little or none of which is traditional, long term, full time jobs… while more than sixty percent of Slovenes nowadays start University when they are nineteen, only 5.9% of twenty-six year olds have finished.”

‘Google-image search ‘thirty year old slovene’ and this is what you get. See what I mean!! Totally worn-out.

So please, if you’re feeling a little tired and run-down, please think of the Slovene thirty year-olds. They need your help. I’m even worried that I spent so long there – maybe I will wear out!?

Actually, whilst I laughed at this, the author does have some good points in his article. Labour laws in Slovenia advantage students (and the Studentski services Mafia) to such an extent that finishing your studies is, largely, economically unviable. It may also be a contributing factor in another trend that he identifies and that’s the relative unwillingness of Slovene’s to leave Slovenia. Personally, I’d attribute that to the fact that Slovenia is actually something close to paradise but that’s a longer story.


PS. I am painfully aware that in writing this I firstly admitted to reading ‘regional development magazines’ and secondly boasted about my vacuum. To make things worse, I have to admit to feeling pleased with myself for discovering that Velenje is (by coincidence) home to the head office of Gorenje! …OK, I’ll shut up…

If it wasn’t so shitty outside – I’d get out more

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Torvill, Eddy, Robbin Hood and crazy rich people…

I’ve successfully executed so many Torvill and Dean-esque ‘ice moves’ on the way to work this week, it’s a wonder that I’m not representing the UK in Vancouver!

Actually, I didn’t come here to complain but, whilst the following article is quite amusing (rightly or wrongly – everyone loves it when bad things happen to stupidly rich people) I also sighed with dispair after reading it:

I mean, really – what the hell?
Who, except a complete and utter brain-dead moron (or the daughter of one) would travel with $6 million worth of jewels in their bag? and why? and who needs that amount of jewellery anyway? Maybe she exaggerated to grab headlines? or to try and impress her Oligarch friends? I don’t know but the sad thing is, given the insane wealth of some Ukrainians – it could be true, and that’s where it gets annoying.

I’m not complaining because I’m jealous (although I would like $6 million) but, I’m skating around Kiev because the city council (yes the one run by her father) can’t get its act together and perform even the most basic of City Council services like – clearing ice, snow, sludge and water from the city streets. In fact, the same City Council couldn’t even find the money to remove a flipping Christmas tree from the main square in Kiev!

Yet, whilst most Ukrainians are literally sliding around on their arses – Mr Cosmos’s daughter is swanning around Paris with $6 million in her bag!

The world is a messed-up place.

I suppose, at least this time it’s the rich being robbed not vice-versa. Maybe the attack was carried out by a Parisian ‘prince of thieves’ in red white and blue tights…

So, Mr Cosmos, maybe you’d like to ‘consult the moon’ and ask the fairies to clean Kontractova Polosha. If you do that, I’ll keep my eyes open for your daughters lost booty… deal?

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What’s on Kiev?

One of the best things about being English speaking in any non-English speaking part Europe is the readily available English language press. From Iceland to Moldova you can pickup newspapers, guides and menus in something close to English. Ukraine (or at least Kiev) is no exception and actually has some pretty decent publications. The Kiev Post is the most comprehensive and freely available paper but it’s a little heavy on the politics. I mean, I studied European Politics but the Kiev Post even bores me with it’s cover-to-cover politics. Yes, this place has problems and yes, it’s election time but 3 articles per week on the Orange ‘revolution’ is a little excessive. So, for some sharp wit and blunt but honest journalism I suggest readers also pick up the weekly ‘What’s on’ guide. The Editor, a Scot called Neil Campbell usually kicks of with some amusing and intelligent commentary and as well as telling you where you should be all week, it also has a bunch of good article on local life.

Here’s the opening article from the 02/2010 edition, published without permission from ‘What’s on Kiev’ …I hope they don’t sue me.

“So the second round of the presidential elections are looming, and the whole nation is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While it seems abhorrent that Yanukovych could become the president of this great nation, it seems likely now that he will. And the alternative – the woman who shone like the nation’s angel only 5 years ago – has now proven that in all actuality she’s not much better. If I were able to vote here, I have to say I would find it very hard to choose between the two. I couldn’t in good conscience vote for either of them, and the only thing that would force my hand in favour of Tymoshenko would be just to keep Yanukovych and his Russian-leaning oligarchs out. This thought was somewhat reinforced recently, when a Ukrainian friend told me he was going to vote for Tymoshenko because he would be embarrassed to have Yanukovych as the head of state.

Quick-witted as I am, it didn’t take me long to figure out exactly what he was meaning. There’s no doubt Yanukovych will do well with the Russians, mainly because he will simply do what they tell him. But could you imagine him sitting down for intricate negotiations with Obama, Brown or Sarkozy? That would just be embarrassing. I mean, I know there was a time when drunken oafs ran this part of the world (from Stalin all the way through to Brezhnev and beyond) but that time has surely passed. Surely there’s no way the great people of Ukraine can be represented to the nations of the world by this gormless gorilla – the man who will be drunkenly handing out sweeties to other heads of state at solemn ceremonies, and whom, if ever hit by an egg again, will be so inebriated he will mistake the soft impact for that of a speeding bullet and collapse comatose on the ground. It would be an injustice for the Ukrainian people to have him as their global representative. The people of this country are intelligent and articulate, and they have the right to a head of state who is the same. Yanukovych is neither. Tymoshenko may be many things, in fact she is many things, and you wouldn’t use the word ‘good’ to describe most of them, but as least she is presentable, sober (mostly, we think), articulate and intelligent. Even if it’s only for the reason of how either would make the country look to the outside world, Tymoshenko has to be the better bet.”

Neil Campbell
Chief Editor

See: What’s on Kiev for more.

PS, I realise that I just complained about too much politics in the Kiev Post and then posted a political article from What’s on but whatever, I’m grateful to both of them.

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Life with…

My ‘Western Standard’ Apartment
I love this phrase. ‘Western’ is often used in Ukraine as a synonym for many things; ‘Good’. ‘Modern’, ‘High-quality’, ‘Non Corrupt’, ‘Functioning’ and (basically) ‘desirable’. Essentially what it means is – ‘works ok’ or ‘isn’t Ukrainian’. So, whilst my ‘western standard’ apartment isn’t much like anything I’ve seen in the ‘West’ (for many reasons) it is comfortable and has plenty of ‘working stuff’. This includes hot water, a toilet, a shower/bath, fridge/freezer, a washing machine and warmish radiators. The power sockets work and so do most of the lights. It even has a gas oven and 4 gas hobs although, so far, I’ve only been brave enough to use the one on the front left. The others have ‘gas explosion’ written all over them. I have a balcony, a wardrobe, plenty of space and a bed and combined, they add up to make a pretty decent living space.

Baby Nova
Measuring about 1 foot by 2 feet – Baby Nova, my washing machine (and yes it’s the real name) is possibly the most pathetic piece of household electronics I’ve ever seen. It also leaks, continues to ‘wash’ with the door open and so far, I haven’t worked out from the strange pictures how to get a hot (even warm) wash. However, I’ve grown strangely attached to it. There’s something endearing about its shitness and the way it wobbles like a wounded R2D2 for hours in an attempt to wash my pants. I’m under no illusion that it’s quicker or better than washing them in the sink but I’m giving up. As long as Baby nova spins, I’ll provide the dirty laundry to fill it.

My landlord or ‘owner’ as he’s commonly referred to in these parts is also, like Baby Nova, a likeable (if slightly annoying and useless) disaster. He’s friendly, resourceful (yes I mean tight-fisted) and happy to repeat the 7 words of English he knows but he keeps turning up drunk and breaking things. He managed to fix the light the other day but in doing so he set fire to my extractor fan, said ‘fire’ in English and then vanished. Sheesh…

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Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watchaaaaaa

This is either a boy-scouts wet-dream OR the most annoying song ever produced – without exception.

I listened to Timmy Mallet ‘itsy bitsy teeny weenie’ just to be sure – but this wins…

rum tum tum a rum tum tum….

apparently (and this is true) at one point they are singing about ‘young mums’ as (for various reasons) they are the best. …maybe this IS a boy-scout anthem after all

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The big chill

Kiev in the cold. I lost 3 fingers to frost-bite taking these pictures…

Check out the crazy dude with an Axe!
Now, I don’t have much experience with standing on frozen rivers but before I attempted it last week a voice deep within my soul said “go carefully and do not do anything to crack the ice or you will die – very coldly” …this guy is obviously deaf, stupid, crazy, suicidal or, perhaps all 4 combined.

Even his dogs look worried.

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