‘Maran Avdonina’ Now Available

My latest novel ‘Maran Avdonina’ is now available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

Buy at AmazonKindle  and paperback edition

Buy at AmazoniBooks, at Lulu.com

maran_avdonina_cover_for_kindle

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Letters in Japanese

I receive letters and emails about my books from all over the world and in many different languages. Unless they are in English I am sorry but i have to resort to Google Translate. I always get the gist but sometimes the translations are so wonderful the words just have to be shared. This is one example from a reader in Japan. Originally in Japanese (a language I have no chance with) here is the translated letter:

Dear Friend

My good friend the Englishman said you very good writer and write good books. But books only in English.

When are you going to stuff yourself into Japanese?

Any ideas on how i might reply?

 

 

Now is the time to support the people of Ukraine

I have been patiently silent on the situation developing in the Ukraine. Now I believe is the time to give my views. There is a great and global danger and we are all involved. 

Much of my novel, The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove  is set in the Ukraine and is about the rise of Ukrainian nationalism in the 1970’s when they were last under Soviet rule and as I watch the plot unfold I see that history is repeating itself.  I have been to the Ukraine and I have many Ukrainian friends. So let me say first up I have a great respect for the Slavic and Russian people and they are the ones that are suffering the most and that suffering is likely to increase.

Let’s get a bit of historical perspective.  In nineteen sixty-four when Brezhnev (incidentally born in the Ukraine) took over from Khrushchev for an 18 year period of control, second only to that on Stalin.   He implemented the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’.  Basically it meant that he could intervene in any country that was not on the ‘correct’ path of socialism.  So in short, Moscow had Poland, Byelorussia (as it was then known) and Ukraine by the economic balls.  And how did they enforce it?  They did it by shipping Russians into those countries under the pretext of manning the industrial development. Warsaw, Minsk and Kiev were Russian.  Don’t ever believe they aren’t.

So Putin is now re-implementing the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ knowing that in the east of Ukraine there are significant numbers of ‘ethnic’ Russians shipped there by Brezhnev; it is in the east of Ukraine that the heavy industry is based.

But that is getting ahead of the story. The initial cause of the unrest in current Ukraine was twofold. First was the scandalous corruption of the ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. If you live in the west you cannot imagine the scale of the political corruption. If you want an example just search the internet for pictures of the mansion he built for himself and his son (also with his finger in the pie).  Secondly was Yanukovych changing allegiance in December from a trade arrangement with the EC back to Russian support. Not proven but probably for personal gain as well as threats from Russian President, Putin.

maidan
Maidan after the fight

The people of Ukraine had had enough and staged their protest in Kiev’s Independence Square (the Maidan) which finally led to the death of nearly 100 Ukrainians – from across the country.

During this period Alexandra was writing to me daily from Kiev and at the height of the problems these are her words written to me, contemporaneously.

Thursday

You know with all these events in Ukraine I do feel so pessimistic.

Yes I am at work but to tell the truth I do not feel like working at all. Yesterday I was watching the news with my parents and we are shocked about the things going on here. More and more people are killed and the President does not want to reach the peace. He was planning to have a meeting with European politicians but I am not sure if that will help.

People all over Ukraine try to come to Kiev to take part in the riots but they cancel most of the trains from other parts of Ukraine. There is so much police in the streets and they block the streets and high ways.

So as you see the situation in Ukraine is very dangerous and all that is left to us is to hope that things will be solved soon. People say that our President has his hands in blood but as you know he does not care and he will not leave the power for any price.

Do you think the President can reach the agreement with the Ukrainian people?

Do you think there is any chance that this situation will be over soon?

Wednesday

There was another fight yesterday and since then 20 people were killed. The President is not going to stop and I guess he does not really care how many people are killed. This is sort of civil war and I am not sure when that is going to be over. The age of people that were killed is 2-40 years old.

Today morning the President and the leaders of opposition were going to meet but at the last moment the President has cancelled that and his demand is that people left the Maidan and went home.

So do you think that will stop soon?

What do you hear in the news about things that are going on in Ukraine?

The situation in Kiev is getting extreme again and more people were killed. I try not to come to the city and today.  I plan to finish my work earlier. My mother and I decided to spend the whole evening in the kitchen.  And we will cook for father tonight.

Thursday

I feel so sorry for those young people that were killed by their own government. I still cannot believe all those things happened in Ukraine and my parents and I are praying for all these things finish soon and coming back to normal life.

Everybody here is in shock about the bad things going on here and we try to support each other.

Today morning my mother and I were in the city and we came to bring products and medicine to the poor people. I still feel like crying. People are hiding in the churches and in the cathedrals that used to be places for sightseeing.

There is a very big risk there will be a Civil war in Ukraine if people separate into two parts. That will be a disaster. In total 78 people were killed for the last 2 days, can you believe this?

Do you think that Ukrainian president will resign soon and that he will stop killing his own folk?

Well Yanukovych did run away and he wasn’t over thrown and the legitimate parliament of Ukraine elected a new Government. That does seem to me be legitimate.

But the Russian’s were influential in the unrest. There are strong rumours, again unsubstantiated, that the snipers that killed so many were in fact Russian military. Putin was already inciting unrest as he saw his opportunity which presumably is to rebuild the Russian Empire and influence lost when Yeltsin took over.

And that is the policy he has followed in the Crimea. Inciting unrest, claiming he is supporting ethnic Russians and annexing part of a country.

Although it is likely and almost probable that if there had been a properly managed referendum, with the option of a no vote, then Crimea might still have voted for greater independence from the centre; but that is not the point.  The actions Putin has taken have ensured that we will never know but worse it has increased the tensions in all the eastern cities.  With troops still massed on Ukraine’s eastern borders there is no guarantee that we have seen the end of the incursions.

So why is this so important and why are the western politicians right in their response?

A world war was started when Hitler invaded Poland and this is potentially is every bit as serious although thankfully the west has so far ruled out any military response in favour of economic actions. We can make many arguments for and against the effectiveness of democracy but one seemingly universally accepted precept is that each citizen has the right to determine their own future – and that is the right Putin is removing from the people of the Ukraine.

That is what we should be working towards.

If Putin was a real world leader he would be working with the EC and the USA to help Ukraine build a real and prosperous society with trade links to both sides.

But we have to be careful with what we hear; it isn’t only Moscow that are experts in misinformation. So while the west is being sanctimonious with its response we should also point out that there are very large oil shale fields in the east of the Ukraine capable of meeting many of Europe’s long term needs. Maybe both sides are taking a longer energy economic perspective?

Similarly not everything in the Ukraine is perfect. There are ultra-right wing nationalist groups but they are a minority and they have been at the forefront of much of the unrest.  But they are a very small minority and there are of course similar groups in most western democracies including the UK, France and the USA.

But we deal with them through a democratic process that drowns out their voice and gives them little support; but we don’t have agitators in our midst building them up and giving them cause. At the moment this looks like the start of a new cold war. There is still plenty of room for manoeuvre and compromises but will either side take advantage of the time that is left.

The very large majority of people in Ukraine, Belarus (still headed by a dictator of the old Russian style) and even Russia are fine people struggling for a good life.  They are being let down by the political classes.

sofia
Ukrainian support is evident in Sofia

We need to be concerned and we need to support the people of the Ukraine. We need to support western governments with their economic sanctions. Russia may retaliate with oil price rises but they also need the revenue. It is difficult to guess which way that will pan out. But we can not just sit back and watch disinterestedly.

My once very best friend, Sviatlana is from Belarus and my current love, Alexandra is Ukrainian. I like Slavic people a great deal. I commemorate each year the enormous sacrifices they made during the Second World War when their casualties were almost 20 times that of the Allies.  I have great respect for them.

We should all show solidarity with their cause. Now is not the time to let them down.

FINALIST – Amazon Breakthrough Novel of 2014

MMGC ebook Front Cover Only

The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove, my first novel, has been shortlisted into the final 300 of the ‘Amazon Breakthrough Novel of 2014’ in the general fiction category.

The competition runs through the year and lets see how far it gets!!

If you are trying to get a perspective on the current events in the Ukraine this is the book you need to read.  ‘The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove’ tells the story of the struggle of Ukrainian nationalists in the 1970’s against Soviet hegemony. We never seem to learn the lessons of the past.

“This is a gripping novel of intrigue, power and complex relationships, showing the havoc caused when the State and the powerful manipulate innocent young lives to achieve their own goals—even when it comes to acts against humanity.”

“This poignant story tackles important issues about destiny, complicity and personal identity and responsibility.”

“When fate deals you a hand better than you could possibly imagine, should you trust it unquestioningly? If you do, will fate then find a way to claim back the fortunes it has bestowed on you?”

It is available to be purchased on Amazon as both a paper back and eBook.

Ukraine and its problems; an historical perspective

The current unrest in Kiev has an historical perspective.

Here is an extract from my novel The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove

‘It starts in the ninth century when two Byzantine brothers from Thessaloniki started a Christian campaign in the Slavic countries. There had been so many changes and the Ukrainians in particular had been subjected to so many different rulers that they always strove for an independence of sorts. It is strong in their character; it is part of their make-up. Their culture has always been at risk.

In December 1845, a certain Mykola Kostomarov founded a secret society with some Christian principles of freedom at its core to free the Slavic countries. So, going back in history, it was right, he thought, that their group should be called after those two monks who nine centuries earlier had similar objectives. So they called themselves the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, or in Ukrainian Kirillo-Mefodievskogo brat stvo.

Unfortunately, the authorities of the day weren’t overly impressed and most of the members – around a hundred of them probably – were arrested a couple of years after its formation. But while they were together, they talked of a federation of free Slavic people, although not so free as we might today, because they saw Kiev as the centre of all Slavic nations and not just Ukraine. Well, it’s all gone and it is really just a passing footnote in history. Except that we believe there are a number of intellectuals on the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Polish axis that feel the same today as the Brotherhood did over a century ago.”

 

I hope that soon peace returns to Ukraine and they have a true democratic opportunity to express their views. We wish them peace and a free future.

 

A Broken Hip and A Broken Heart, Women’s Equality and Driver-less Cars

The power of human recovery is perverse.

broken hip 2On Boxing Day, my sure-footed, eighty-five year old Mum tripped while out walking.  She sat on the side of the road for a time, a friend brought us home in his car, gingerly she walked into the house and sat on the sofa getting over the shock.  We (my sister and I) thought she had badly bruised her hip.  It still ached after two hours so we went to A&E in Guildford to get an X-ray.

The first doctor we saw also thought it was a bad bruise; but then the X-ray showed differently.  It was a broken hip, immediate admission to the hospital and surgery the next day.  That was eleven days ago.

My Mum is now home with us, walking, albeit slowly, with a frame, climbing stairs to bed.  Tonight we all went out, if only for a short time for a drink and to meet friends.  She hopes and expects that in a couple of weeks she will be at her own home again.  There is nothing that makes me doubt otherwise.

My mother has never been frail but still the body recovers quickly from breaks, bangs and bruises.  The pain disappears naturally and if it doesn’t there are drugs to numb the nerve ends and inhibit all those signals to the brain.broken heart

But a heart broken in love never seems to heal fully.  There is no physical damage, no broken or frayed nerve ends yet the brain manages to generate pain forever.  However long ago it happened there are always triggers that set you back.

The brain doesn’t seem to care if you have fallen in love again for there are always scars that can never be healed.  It’s a universal truth.  How often have you heard otherwise balanced friends tell you that they are scared of dating because of the fear that they might be starting a process that ends with them falling in love.  They want the love but the pain of being hurt again is too much to bear.

The power of human recovery is perverse.

India has god reason to look at itself – but so do we

indian rape 2Last week a 23 year girl was raped in Delhi and she later died.

Let’s be clear.  This is a crime that could have happened anywhere but it happens more often in India.  The issue has reverberated across the world not because a rape took place but because it highlighted the position of women in Indian indian rapesociety and the class hierarchies that still exist.

A BBC report highlighted one of the attitudes towards women.  “Every year, thousands of girls are aborted because of a traditional preference for sons – medical staff are bribed into revealing the sex of the child.  It is leading to an increasingly skewed ratio of women to men. And some of the worst figures are in rich South Delhi”

The now arrested gang leader said that she ‘stood up to him.’  That is why she was raped.  It was an embedded attitude of male superiority.  It was an attitude based on hundreds of years of culture and tradition.

Of course I condemn the crime totally and hope the perpetrators are dealt with properly and harshly.  Of course I want to see these attitudes change and modified.

Mind_the_gap1But this is not just an Indian issue.  I have many female friends in the Ukraine and in our exchange of letters this quote is one of many I hear, “To my mind, Ukrainian men don’t value our women and they are very inattentive to them.”  This was among the milder comments I read.  Many are a lot harsher about the state of women in their country.  In this instance Ukraine is not an outlier but an example of attitudes that are common in the old Eastern Block.

So before we self-congratulate ourselves too much on the issue of women’s rights in the rich West we should take stock of where we are and where we have come from.  To get to where we are today it is has taken nearly a hundred years from the suffragette in England and fifty years from the start of the global feminist movement .  But still we are long way from equality based on respect instead of law.

Certainly we should campaign against this crime in India but remember to some degree or other it is still a global issue.

Driver-less cars

As a footnote I saw a technology prediction for 2013 that astounded me and reminded me how far technology has moved and so quickly.  We find it hard to remember that it is less than twenty-five years since the first PC.  I driverless carstarted work when there were type writers and no photocopiers.

In 2013, so the prediction goes there will be a driver-less taxi service operating in Las Vegas.  Volvo has tested a driver-less convoy on a motorway (I think in Spain) and Google already have permission from the State of Nevada to operate the driver-less taxis.  I know no more details but I can’t wait to try it out.

some Christmas thoughts on being happy

Danielle is Romanian.  She moved from  Bucharest to the USA to marry George, a Russian émigré to the USA.  I was chatting to her last week about her goals in life, a task set by her school in Boston, where she is now studying.  She is twenty-six and, sadly, so early in her life, questioning what she has achieved.  She has taken a law degree in Bucharest; moved to America and married.  What more could she have hoped for or expected by twenty-six?

But the American culture which she is now embracing is driving her to become even more goal focused.  It is asking her to set targets and strive to achieve.  They imply that setting and achieving personal goals is the key to a successful life.

When she was younger in Bucharest and in her teenage years I am sure she never had the goal of leaving her family and friends to move to America.  She has told me as much.  Her objective was, like many of us, to be in love and be happy.  Had her fiancée been French then she would now have been in France, had he been English she would have been struggling to absorb British culture and humour.

While I prefer to think of a fulfilling life and not a successful life I will, for the moment, bow to the American perspective.  To be successful in life requires a real understanding of what is important in your life and this is different for everyone.  However, whatever the culture, there is a common core.  As the proverb says I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise.  But that is far too general and even at this simplistic level needs consideration.

Healthy and wise, of course, but we all need to consider if to be wealthy is really a goal we all want to aim for.

work lifeA girl friend of mine has two men in her life.  She likes them both.  One offers her a life of much money and the other enriches her heart with a deep love.  Both have asked her to marry them.   She was torn between them.  She accepted the offer of the man who she loved more deeply.  I talked with her and she said that in the end it was love that was more important but that love was of no use because without security loves would fail.  She had security, she had love but she didn’t have monetary wealth.  Wealth and security without love was meaningless.  For her it was perfect.  Who else would trade a life of love for wealth?

Healthy, wealthy and wise are simple objectives; in fact they are more of hopes.  But are they consistent with the culture of goal setting?

Of course it is in the tradition of many modern philosophies, and in that I include capitalism to assume that the purpose of life is only really achieved by setting and achieving targets and goals and success is like climbing the steps of a ladder.  Achieve one task then achieve another, meet a goal reach the top step and move on to the next target.  The theory is that it is this attitude that creates the competitive spirit that fuels innovation and economic development; and that leads to a successful life.

The converse of this however is the pain that arises when the goals are not achieved.  If we fail to achieve our goals then the biblical prophecy of Mathew comes true and “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  We see this is in the increase use of analysts and therapists.  We are unable to cope with failure because, I suspect, we were not meant to be so focused on short-term targets.

Sitting alongside the day-to-day effort for success  is the horrible phrase work life balance.  Our over emphasis on goals has driven people to forget the fundamentals of their family and happiness.  I do not understand the work life balance as for me work is part of my life and it is important to see work as part of my whole being.   I do not live to work but I work to live the fullest and most satisfying life I can.

Whether we talk of goals or hopes and aspirations failing to achieve is not necessary failure. While laziness is often a serious problem I like to think that other interests have taken over.  Each day we discover new opportunities as the world around us changes.  We need to stay flexible and open-minded to what we face.  We need to be malleable and open to new opportunities.  Normally we have only one chance to say yes and these need to be taken.  It is necessary to think yes first and then no.

And so as I think about my life what I think about most is always putting myself in a position to live a life which four main objectives.  When I finally reach the time in my life when I reflect on what it has been (I don’t like to think I am there yet) I want to be able to say:

  1. To the very end I have been healthy;
  2. I have felt secure;
  3. I have been loved and I loved with passion; and
  4. I have listened, learnt, understood and become wise.

And if I manage to achieve all these then I might just be able to say I have been happy, smiled, laughed and lived a life full of joy and purpose and for you reader, if you can use his words to guide your decisions, retain flexibility and remember your real long-term objective is to be happy and loved, I hope like Danielle you will have a long and fruitful life.

Tread each step of the ladder surely with the excitement of not knowing what the view will be when you reach the top.  Life is all about small steps turning into large strides.

A very merry Christmas to everyone and may all your hopes for 2013 come to pass.

Gerry

have you heard something about stalin? a christmas warning

I have a wonderfully dear friend, Inessa, in Moscow and she is one of the most accomplished people I have met; single mother, finance director of a large international economics organisation, multilingual, professional concert pianist, latin dancer and once Soviet show jumping champion. So normally when she surprises me it is about how she finds the time to do anything new, which includes writing a letter to me.

But this week she managed to shock me in a new way.

StalinPortraitIn her last letter, in reply to mine offering my books as good reading for an upcoming business trip, Inessa politely declined with the words …. I have just started to read a book about life of Iosif Stalin. Have you heard something about him?

Inessa knows me quite well but her thought that I may not know something about Stalin was, to put it bluntly, initially an outrageous suggestion. If I had to compile a list of the top ten major political shapers of the twentieth century Stalin would be in there. Of course I knew something about Stalin. No, that can’t be what Inessa meant and so I started to look for other meanings

I dismissed imprecision in her language. Inessa is fluent in English and other languages.

I thought of other interpretations and I remembered a conversation I had three or four years ago. One of my best friends (I should add once one of my best friends – but that is another story to be told much later) Sviatlana a Belarusian and I talked about a UK government report into a plane crash in the UK.

Sviatlana was adamant the report, which managed to vaguely blame no one, was a cover up. ‘Of course,’ she would say, ‘the government wouldn’t let the truth be told. They will do just enough to avoid comment.’ For my part I would retort, ‘Of course it is all the truth. We have a Press who wouldn’t allow it to be anything but the total truth. If that is what the report said happened then, to the best of the knowledge of the scientists that is what happened.’

And so we would debate many issues each believing in our truths based solely on our backgrounds and core beliefs; we were both right and both wrong.

Our backgrounds and education give us very different prejudices and triggers which we don’t always recognise. We disparage and pigeon-hole the people of different nations as a whole. We will treat every Frenchman we meet as if he was the same as every other Frenchman. I know this to be patently silly but it is human nature. I checked the internet and it didn’t take long on Wiki to get these, among all the many stereotypes:

  • Romanians are all thieving gypsies
  • Arab men are womanisers and Arab women are totally oppressed
  • Australians like to party, surf all day and drink all night
  • British drink warm beer, eat lousy food, have the bulldog spirit but with bad teeth and hygiene, and finally
  • Americans are arrogant, assertive, materialistic and ambitious. They have a US-centred world view, don’t have passports, are egoistical, fast food eaters, war mongers and believe always that God is with them.

Maybe in here was the crux of Inness’s words. Maybe the disconnect was in background and education.

English: From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Fr...

Inessa was educated in Russia when it was still a communist state and I presume that Stalin was not core syllabus.

I have written many times of my admiration for the Slavic people in the Second World War and I am continually astonished that their role and sacrifices, which far outweigh that of the ‘West’ is not more fully recognised and commemorated. But I know why we overlook their enormous sacrifice; Joseph Stalin.

In the West we were brought up with the consequences of Stalin and the terrible legacy he bestowed on the Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик or the USSR. I knew of the Great Purge, the murders, killings and Гла́вное управле́ние исправи́тельно-трудовы́х лагере́й и коло́ний or Gulags. In the West, Stalin was labelled as demon or devil.

We heard in our school history lessons of the Yalta conference when Britain, America and the USSR met to carve up Europe and we were fed Churchill’s words:  ‘No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have and I will unsay no word that I have spoken about it. But now the past, with its crimes, its follies, and its tragedies, flashes away ….. I have to declare the decision of His Majesty’s Government that any man or state who fights on against Nazidom will have our aid. The Russian danger is therefore our danger, the cause of any Russian fighting for his hearth and home is the cause of free men and free people in every quarter of the globe,’  and we followed Churchill and Roosevelt later being duped as Stalin continued on his expansionist plans.

gulag

But what was Inessa taught about these years of tyranny? The many times attributed ‘history is written by the victors’ is appropriate. Stalin was the victor and he wrote and educated his people in his history. Maybe even in her education Stalin himself has been purged, until now, from Russian history and she is now, for the first time, discovering her political roots.

As we try and get greater understanding and tolerance around the world, here is the rub.

And as we head into the Christmas season, the season of goodwill to all men, I urge you all to listen to the words of warring parties from around the world and recognise that everything may not be quite so clear cut as you first thought. Words of peace can be wrapped up in national traits and typecasting. You will need all your cultural sensitivity to understand the real aims and objectives.

And for Inessa’s question I have also reached a conclusion. My initial disbelief has diminished. As I researched the internet I learnt I know very little of the life of Joseph Stalin. What I did know was all wrapped up in cold war propaganda. However, Inessa, you will never convince me that he was a kind and gentle man. But the truth is I have heard something of him but, as ever, not as much as you will when you have finished reading your book.

a summer of reflection

It has been a summer of deep reflection for me spent in England and sometimes France. And during this period I entered a period of forced abstinence from all the social media sites to allow me to look at the world from a different angle without having to explain myself as my thoughts came together. And so the posts here have been absent; for that I apologise.
Apart from reflecting, which of course is an interesting but finally worthless exercise, I have worked through both of my novels again and made some major revisions. On this blog I have attached the revised first chapters of each and I encourage you all to read and send me your opinions. I suppose in all over fifty people have by now read the books and I am really encouraged by their views. Of course some of the observations have caused changes in the text but all my readers (who are not just family. My hairdresser today was really interested and so I have just emailed her a copy) have said they really enjoyed the reads. And that has encouraged me.
Now of course the focus has returned again to getting them published. I have written letters to many, if not most of the literary agents in the UK and their tardiness in replying, if even with a rejection, is depressing. But I soldier on and I am well now into the third novel. The working title is “Fat Phil and the GSA”. I am sure however that will change as the work takes more shape. Each day the story and characters are becoming clearer and I can see, almost, through to the end. When it is all clear I will post more details here.
If any of my readers is or has contact with a literary agent please point them towards me. The effort of publishing is a strain I want quickly resolved.  I now have  an email address attached to this site.  I have attached the details.
I will start blogging again soon and I will again comment on the world as it appears to me. I hope my observations will be off-beat and sideways but mostly enjoyable. See you all soon!

a dictatorship in the heart of europe: belarus

My history draws me to news and articles about Belarus.  But we should put my past to one side and concentrate on the facts.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/we-must-not-forget-hundreds-still-in-belarus-gulag-warns-freed-dissident-7648294.html

President Lukashenko is at the head of a brutal dictatorship generally overlooked by the West.  Most of you will probably not even know where Belarus is.  Let me tell you. 

It was on the western flank of the old USSR and the main borders are with Russia, Ukraine and Poland.  It was ravaged by the Second World War and proportionally lost my more of its people and property than any of the other allies.

And then most of the radiation of the Chernobyl disaster swept across what were previously abundantly rich farm lands.

But with the downfall of the Soviet empire, and while other countries became freer nothing changed in Belarus.

In the 2006 ‘elections’ the results were Lukashenko received 82.6% of the vote and then 79.6% in 2010.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko Русс...
President Lukashenko

Do not believe this is a sign of popular support.  Protestors and dissenters are ruthlessly put down and imprisoned.

USA State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.  “The United States concurs with the assessment of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). We cannot consider the election results yesterday as legitimate.”

A White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “The United States strongly condemns the actions that the government of Belarus has taken to undermine the democratic process and (the use of) disproportionate force against political activists, civil society representatives and journalists.  We call for the immediate release of all presidential candidates and the hundreds of protesters who were detained on December 19 and 20.”

Why this is important

  1. Belarus is in the heart of the new Europe.  Two of its bordering countries are hosting the European Football Championship and for what it is worth Belarus enters the Eurovision Song competition.
  2. Economically you may worry about the Russian gas pipeline that goes through Belarus (the cause of major disagreements with Moscow) being in the hands of a dictator.
  3. Socially you may worry the continuation of the old Brezhnev Doctrine which led to many Russians being sent to the satellite states to ensure Russian hegemony by removing, squashing and all but eliminating Belarusian culture.
  4. But more importantly all these decisions should be in the hands of the Belarusian people.  They should have a free vote and the right to decide their own culture and direction.

There is a ruthless dictator in the heart of the new Europe.  We should all condemn him and add our support to the dissidents like Mr Sannikov.

In case you don’t get to the read the article in the link here is a chilling extract:  “Mr Sannikov, a former adviser to the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Switzerland, and later Deputy Foreign Minister, was one of the most popular opposition candidates to stand against Alexander Lukashenko in the disputed December 2010 presidential elections. When protests broke out over claims of voting fraud, President Lukashenko responded with a brutal crackdown that led to hundreds of arrests, widespread torture, the imprisonment of almost all those who ran against him.”

As I have said my history makes this area one of focus for me.   Belarus is one of the key locations in my first novel:  The Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius.  They are reasons but not my main drive.  I do not like to see any people being ruled ruthlessly and having all their freedoms restricted.

Now if Belarus had been in the Middle East ……………………….

what do you do in the bedroom at night?

I read this on a BBC news a feed:

Artist Lee Hadwin has a unique talent – he can only produce his artwork in his sleep.  Lee cannot remember doing anything while he is asleep, and cannot recreate his work while he is awake.  Speaking to the BBC, Lee says he has no real interest in art, but has been producing his own work since a small child.

Hypnosis

When I dream I am fortunate that I have some control and if it gets into a boring loop I can change it and take it off into new directions.  If I don’t like the dream I can wake myself up to start again.

More interestingly sometimes when I am dreaming I compose orchestral music.  It’s original and beautiful.  But awake?  I can’t compose a nursery rhyme.

It have been thinking about this for a time and I have even considered going to hypnotist to see if I can recreate the experience and bring the subconscious to the conscious.

I am unsure of the percentages but I know we only use a fraction of our brain power; and in my case its less than most!!  I suppose the 95% is not always away on holiday, I assume it is doing important things like making sure I keep breathing.

But what if we could learn how to harness it?  I would out-Einstein, Einstein and deliver the unified general theory of relativity, or learn the mechanisms of the HIV virus and probably in my spare time find the elusive elementary particle; the Higgs Boson.

Albert Einstein

But seriously I really do wonder if under hypnosis I could learn another language or draw more than stick men?

Under hypnosis I would be fed a hundred new words in some obscure language and hope to recite them on waking.  And we could see what happens when placed at a piano or when sat with a crayon and paper.

So if you hear of a new genius with a prodigious output of new theories and art then you know how it all came about.  One day, maybe one day!!

bad karma: do we get what we deserve?

This is not a rant but over the past few years if it could go wrong, it has.  Some later day I will write about my recent divorce and maybe even write about the effect of becoming totally alienated from my very best friend.  I could comment on leaving a home and a country and being an expatriate in the United Arab Emirates.  Or maybe I could pen a few words to those planning to borrow substantially and start a new business just two months before a global financial meltdown.

Bad Karma (1991 film)

These are just the major decisions that have contributed to a difficult time.  And as I look at them none was wrong at the time.  All were rational and right.  But, as it turned out, all turned out to be disastrous.  Of course because the big things were going wrong a multitude of minor cock ups followed.

Through all of this, with the help of some great friends, I have fought through, retained my strength, kept laughing, kept working at new ideas, written two novels and I have a good plan for the next year.  As previous blogs have tracked I have signed a contract for a project in Saudi.   In preparation I have cancelled my visa to live here, terminated the lease on my apartment, sold my furniture, packed the cases, bought the air ticket and spent the very of my last savings to make this move.  I am now broke.  This move was a new exciting beginning and a chance to recover all my balance and certainty.

Retaining my calm it looks like now everything has again gone totally pear-shaped which is an English euphemism for a stream of abusive swearing and cussing.  I had a contract but it now seems probable that it won’t be honoured and I will not be going to Saudi – at least not this month – if ever.

Bad luck, ill fortune whatever you want to call it we all have our share.  Life has its ups and downs but it is supposed to level out over a month, a year or a lifetime.  But what if it doesn’t and it’s a never-ending series of bad breaks. Should we blame bad karma; that sense that we finally get what we deserve in our life for all our past misdemeanours in this, or for those of you who believe in reincarnation, our previous lives.

I had always dismissed such ideas to the rubbish bin subscribing more instead to the ‘Gary Player’ view which is captured in the phrase ‘the harder I try the luckier I get’.  But I am changing my mind

Increasingly I wonder if I am cursed and destined for every plan to fall apart.  Is there bad karma?  I have no idea but my response yet again can only be more positive actions.

Moving to Saudi was meant to be a new beginning and there is no reason why the next week shouldn’t be anything less.  In fact it could be more.  I have nowhere to live and I have to leave Dubai. I am packed and could go wherever I want.  I could send my boxes anywhere in the world for safe keeping and then I could ….

Who knows yet what that could be?  Maybe a publisher is right now reading the extracts from my books (they are right here on the blog – have you read them yet) and about to offer me a contract? Maybe I will go to the Ukraine for a couple of months and learn Russian and finish my third novel? Or maybe I will visit friends in Thailand and help them with the orphanage they support for kids with the AIDS virus?

But then karma strikes again.  I need money to live and now I don’t have any.  And so plans and dreams will again be thwarted.  But will they?

This should be about as low as I could get but strangely I have a calm and a conviction that somehow everything will work out for the better.  Somehow I feel that all the restraints and shackles have been removed.  There is a sense of liberation and excitement tempering the fear and concern.

That’s the power of human nature.  Karma, what karma!

 

 

 

 

 

what would you take, keep or sell?

As I have chronicled over the last few weeks I am leaving Dubai, where I have lived for six years, to move to Riyadh.  I don’t know how long I will stay but I cannot imagine setting up a home there.

In my six years I have built and created a home.  I have bought and own everything that sits around me.  So here I am with a major decision to make: do I keep all my furniture in store in case I come back quickly? And if don’t store and decide instead to sell, then what do I keep?

I wondered for a time what it would be like not to have a ‘home’, a bolt hole, somewhere to run to when times get bad.  And so as I thought about the ‘keep’ decision I even considered, if only for a short time, about renting property in either Cyprus or Ukraine (because it is relatively cheap) and put my furniture there.

The alternative was to keep the furniture in store in the UAE and pay every month for things I might never see again.

As I have said a few times previously I have had a few years of total personal turmoil but as I am about to leave I have no sense of ‘running away’ from my past.  But even having said that undoubtedly there is a sense of another new beginning and so I have decided to leave my past behind and split all my belongings into four groups:

  • Rubbish and throw out
  • Sell and never see again,
  • Keep for another day
  • Take with me to Saudi

My criteria

I have collected six years of furniture, knickknacks, ornaments and memories.  But most of what I own was bought either with or by someone else helping to make a home.  Everything carries a memory.  And so making the split between the four categories was not easy.

Deciding what was rubbish was easy – it was all those papers and stupid commercial letters that we hang onto.  So old invoices, brochures, take out menus were black binned.

I am selling all the furniture large and small.  Sofas I have sat on, sofas I have slept on and sofas I have done everything else on are going.  Wardrobes, beds, chairs, TVs and cupboards are on their way.

I made this decision because I decided the memories weren’t in the large things but in the ornaments, soft toys, candles (even if half used), pictures that hung on the wall and not least my books.  So these I have kept for another day.  They have been boxed up and will be stored.  Wherever I happen to end up some day they will rejoin me.

What is left is what I take with me to a furnished apartment in Riyadh.  It turns out not to be too much just clothes and few DVDs.  They too have been boxed but will be shipped.

What would you do?

Now maybe you think I should have thrown away all those mementos of the past.  After all if it is a new life then shouldn’t I junk everything?  I did think about taking that route.  If my life had been so bad why carry the memories into the future?

Well here is my argument.  An exciting, funny, loving, best friends, laughing and learning three years was turned upside down.  But my problems were of my making and not caused by anyone else (although for a time I didn’t understand that).  And now in many ways I am better for the fullness of all the experiences.  So I am going to celebrate the good times and keep all the past close to me.

My friends have all given me conflicting advice.  I have made my decision so for me it is now best foot forward.

But if you had to pack up your life what would you take, keep or sell?

the happiness tree from slonim

Three years ago Sviatlana came back to Dubai and in her hand bag was a small, green and waxy leaf wrapped in damp tissue in a plastic bag.  It was a cutting of a Happiness Tree from the gardens of Slonim, Belarus.

The leaf was planted, it rooted and soon started to grow. And for a time it delivered its promise.

But as time passed Sviatlana and I lost contact  and soon after our tree divided into two branches.  Just as I knew it would the branch I had named Sviatlana grew strong, robust and proud.

But the other branch divided as I started on a new life with the hope that the third branch may soon also have a new name.

With my departure to Saudi Arabia I have to leave my Tree behind and so, like Sviatlana I too have taken two leaves as cuttings and will carry them with me on my new journey.

But what to do with the plant?  I have looked around, among my friends, it seems to me that A and A are the most in love and so to them as I leave my happiness and my Tree.  I know they will look after both my Tree and their love.

men hate shopping: a solution

I have just been chatting to a friend and she is all excited because tomorrow she is going out to buy a new dress.  There are not many benefits of me being in Dubai and her in the Ukraine but for once in our relationship I am pleased that I will not with her. Because as a general rule men hate shopping while women live for it.

Now in my business career I have been an expert in decision-making – the processes and the activities required – and yet still shopping with women befuddles me.  Men do not understand the wandering around, the random trying on, the mind changing and the miles walked.  We tend to know exactly what we are going to buy and where it is and how we can back home in time to watch the football.

Well I have come up with an idea which I think makes the experience better for both men and women.  So here is my hypothesis based on many years following dutifully one step behind.

It is not the owning of the dress, shoes or bags that is important it is the buying that gives women the thrill.  So I have a plan that retailers can pick up; and I am not going to charge you for it.

Ladies I can hear your cries of anger already but hear me through to the end.  The first part of the shopping experience in unchanged.  You choose, you try on and buy and yes the credit card will be charged.  But this is when it changes.

The store will take a picture of you in the outfit against any background you like (the shop will have every setting you want from premiers, the best restaurants to outdoors and picnics).  And finally you will be able to leave the shop with the clothes of your choice in their carefully branded and easily recognisable bag.  Head off to Starbucks or where ever with your friends and leave the bag with your new stunning dress in the middle of the floor for all to see and admire.  You can even share the new photographs to the envy of your girl friends.

You have bought and you have owned it (you have the pictures to prove it).

A credit card, the biggest beneficiary of the ...

Now here is the clever part.  If you go back to the shop on the same day you can now hand it all back and get a substantial refund on your card.

Does that meet all your needs ladies?  You have had the shopping experience but you don’t have the cost.  You can buy but not own.

And what is more you don’t need your man to follow you complaining about the cost or saying ‘surely you don’t need another pair of red shoes?’   Now I am one of those special men who know that the heels are all different heights and the straps more or less formal and the red is not quite the same as all the other 5 pairs!!   But i think I am unique.

But maybe your man is not quite so sympathetic to your shopping needs.  Now though he doesn’t have to be there now because you can buy almost anything you want and just hand it back.

So what do we think?  Is this capturing the essence of the shopping experience?

do some songs give you the shivers?

I had no plans to write today but then on Face Book I got sent a link from a friend and it raised a number of thoughts which have been swilling around for some time.

Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards...

Scottish singer Susan Boyle in November 2009

The  link was to yet another Simon Cowell talent show: Britain’s Got Talent. Onto the stage walked a shy 17-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl.  Without being pejorative he was fat; he says so himself.  And like Susan Boyle in 2009 there was no less likely superstar.

Even before they sang Cowell was overheard to say something along the lines of it can get much worse. Yet when young Jonathan started to sing he had a voice which sounds like a young Pavarotti; powerful, resonant and bold.  The audience was as moved by the performance as were all the judges.

Now I have no interest in who wins and this is not a promo for the show.  What I find interesting is the power of a voice to raise spirits and make the soul soar.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard A Bridge Over Troubled Waters.  I had to stop the car and just listen to Art Garfunkel.

Montserrat Caballé, (born in Barcelona, 1933).But that was nothing compared to the first time I heard Vissi D’arte sung by Montserrat Caballé.  It had the immediate effect of making those hairs on the back of the neck stand on end.  Not proverbially but actually.

There are those moments when the arts really do move us.  For me its music and I understand how for others it’s the visual arts.  The link in all these performances is that they are inspirational and for just a short time life’s cares are taken away and troubles of the everyday world are lifted and removed.

But then what happens when we see that the performer is also fighting a real or social handicap? Young Jonathan is shy because of his size; Susan Boyle (then) a tubby plain ‘Scottish Jane’.

And there is Andre Bocelli who is blind.  I presume now that most of us have seen Andrea Bocelli & Sara Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye. Every time I watch it I get the shivers.

The cover of the Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brig...All these performers and their performance lift me every time i hear them.

So here is my question.

If you knew you could do so much for anyone who heard you sing; if you knew that your voice could inspire millions to a moment of sublime happiness what would you give up?

It doesn’t matter if it’s just to your partner in a park as you walked around hand in hand or to an audience in a big venue, not for any compensation, what would you give up?  Would you trade your sight to make millions happier?

For my part, I would give a lot!!!

stay thin, eat chocolate

So now chocolate makes you thin.  If you don’t believe me then check your internet news provider. The exact quote on BBC News was “People who eat chocolate regularly tend to be thinner, new research suggests…… lead author Dr Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California at San Diego, said: ‘Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight.”

I won’t try and go into the science.  Well it’s not really worth it because the scientists themselves don’t know what happens to all our chemicals as chocolate arrives in the gut.  What they have said it’s the frequency with which you eat the chocolate and not the amount which is important.  And they are fairly sure about their conclusions.  Less than a one in a hundred chance we are wrong, is what they said.  That’s statisticians talk for certainty.

So again all my preconceptions about what is good food is turned upside down and I am as confused as anyone about what is good to eat.

Twenty five years ago when my wife was first pregnant she was encouraged to eat liver every day, as it was high in iron.  I had to show unity and join in with this diet and so we had it fried, braised, boiled and in casseroles.  Five days a week until full term.  And where are we now?  Pregnant women should only eat small amounts if any and I can’t face it all.  I have already eaten a lifetime’s worth of offal. I haven’t eaten liver since.

And then I discovered a link between my hay fever and coffee.  When the pollen filled the air if I drank coffee or tea and I sneezed.  So both of those drinks have gone.   Low fat peanut butter is worse than the full strength because the one thing they take out is the only thing that is actually beneficial. I could tell you why I can’t face another Bacardi Rum but that would be an R rated story of a rugby tour to Bermuda and nothing to do with science. And finally now I am a vegetarian for no other reason (to begin with) that it was the only way to stay friends with my best friend of the time.  (Don’t worry Sviatlana I still don’t eat meat but now because I don’t like it.)

But back to the chocolate.  What I do know about chocolate from a quick internet research is that:

  • The Aztecs thought chocolate to be an aphrodisiac.  Rumour has it Emperor Montezuma II drank fifty cups daily, before visiting his harem of six hundred women.  (If I had a harem of six hundred women I think I would be turning to more than chocolate to sustain me.)
  • An Italian survey reported that women who eat chocolate feel significantly more sexually fulfilled than those who don’t.
  • Nigerians were recently advised to forego Viagra in favour of chocolate.
  • The chemical structures of chocolate has some of the same stuff as Ecstasy: but only in very small amounts: but it might give you a kick.  Plus there are lots of other make-you-happy-or-high compounds floating around in your average bar of Cadbury’s.  if only Timothy Leary had known that.
  • With even the promise of chocolate I can calm my girlfriend to be more loving and accommodating.

So maybe as a line of research Dr Golomb should ask whether all these thin chocolates eaters are burning off the calories with all that sexual exercise.

But until they next report I will cover all my bases and add plain dark chocolate to my diet.  And why plain dark chocolate?  I thought you would have known.  Each night I drink a glass of red wine as we were told that it stopped or cured some other disease and I ask you who would eat milk chocolate with red wine?  Possibly Dr Golomb, from the University of California.

consumer eugenics?

‘Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children.’

Bob Edwards - Radio Personality at the Third C...
Bob Edwards - source wiki

These are words of Bob Edwards, an embryologist and IVF pioneer which I have been discussing with my daughter, Maddie, as part of her Ethics degree course. We have had many Skype based debates and I have used her words with some of the medical stuff here.

The issue I want to raise here is the issue of Eugenics and the threat that we are moving into an area of real moral dilemma.

Eugenics was a consequence of Darwin’s theories on natural selection becoming accepted.   His cousin Sir Francis Galton coined the phrase eugenics in 1883 and by the turn of the century and through to WW2 the eugenics movement was advocated by many, many governments around the world.  It was most widely discussed and indeed acted on before WW1.

nazi eugenics pamphlet
nazi eugenics pamphlet (Photo credit: Joelk75)

In the USA over 64,000 people were sterilised as ‘imbeciles’ on the basis that they were unfit to bring up and support a new family.  But the USA was not alone: this was a global movement.  Of course it culminated in the atrocious activities of Josef Mengele and Nazi Germany.

But eugenics didn’t finish with the war.  Sweden sterilised more people than any other European country other than Nazi Germany and between 1934 and 1975 over 62,000 people were sterilised.

But this is the background.  There is a good long article on wiki which is my source of statistics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics

Eugenics in the 20th century was government sponsored.  In the jargon it is known as coercive eugenics. But now we are entering a new world where it is the choice of individual parents (or more likely the to-be-mother) to form an opinion on eugenics.  Let me explain.

Prenatal testing can take a variety of forms, from ultrasound scans to amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or testing foetal cells in the cervical mucus or maternal bloodstream. These tests are carried out at a variety of times throughout the pregnancy to check the development, age and any specific impairments of the foetus.

Preimplantation testing, or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), is usually coupled with IVF as the woman’s egg is fertilised outside of the body, in vitro. At an early stage of embryo development, there are three types of cells that are available for analysis: polar bodies, blastomere cells and trophectoderm cells. Of these, the common practice is to test a blastomere cell before the embryo divides beyond the 8 cell stage.

Up until this stage, each cell is completely totipotent and is thus, theoretically, able to develop into a complete person. Testing is done at this stage before the association between the blastomere cells becomes too great and before they start to differentiate, thus it ensures embryo development is not inhibited at any point.

The point that medical practitioners make is that these tests are screening for specific illness: ‘Contemporary clinical genetics is aimed at preventing and treating genuine illness, rather than ‘purifying the population’ or eliminating racial and social minorities.’  (Tom Shakespeare)

But we have recently seen a case in the UK where they have been reported screenings for gender.  And this is just the start.  As the gene mapping projects near completion it is quite clear that in the not very distant future we will be able to screen for attributes as well as illness.

Eugenics will be in the hand of the individual and it starts to pose some really difficult ethical questions:

  • Will screening mean a change in the attitude to abortion?  I will not get into the ‘pro life’ debate (now) but surely a willingness to screen presumes an acceptance of abortion?
  • Will advance screening techniques become a preserve of the richer nations and people?  Will that further increase the economic divides?
  • What does it say about our attitudes to the disabled?  Will it further stigmatize them if there is a feeling that they could have been ‘avoided’?

None of these are pleasant questions to ask and I understand anyone’s reluctance to enter into the debate.  Of course we want the best for our child-to-be but is this the way we want our society to develop?  It really is an example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

Human oocyte with surrounding granulosa cells
Human oocyte with surrounding granulosa cells

When my wife was pregnant we used the amniocentesis test and fortunately we had no unfavourable results.  But we had discussed our decisions depending on the result.  The new menu of options and decisions is mind-boggling.  And it will get longer and longer over the next decades. I am not sure how we would have reacted.

My opinion?

First I will never want to put a lid on science and I will not restrict them.  The issue must be education and public debate.  However I am not optimistic.  As it is increasingly clear that globally parenting is a lost art how do we prepare a new generation of would be parents for the ethical issues that face them?

If Bob Edwards can considers that it is a sin not to test for genetic disease how long before it will be a major misdemeanour not to at least test, if not influence, many other factors?

Are we sleep walking inexplicably from coercive to consumer eugenics?

simon pegg and his 2011 film: paul

We loved Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in ‘Shaun of the Dead’.  They were brilliant in ‘Hot Fuzz’ and then quite by accident I found their latest film together ‘Paul’ which I have just watched.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at Supanova 2011 Q&A...
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at Supanova 2011

I won’t spoil your enjoyment by even starting to explain the plot other than to say that the two are this time in the USA.  There are the same funny parodies of other more serious films.

It’s not as sequel of anything but if you like these two heroes then watch it.  Very funny and one I will watch again.

(There was no Nick Frost but ‘Run Fat Boy Run’ was another Pegg film worth catching if you like this style of British humour.)

Anyone agree?

an era ends

Leaving Dubai!!!  Well it looks like the era has come to an end.  I am making a clean break from my past and all my memories both happy and sad.  I have taken a piece of work in Saudi.  I am selling up everything that I and others bought together and getting back to being just a man with a suitcase.

Dubai, UAE | Dubai Creek ¦ #2

Upside: I have no ties and can wander off to wherever the muses take me.

Downside: I will not have a home or any place for repose and rest. I can’t remember any time when I didn’t have a home and my own things around me.  Is it just one short step to being a vagrant with an old pram walking up and down Oxford Street?  I hope not!! And I’ll try and make sure that life is up from here!!

I know it’s going to be a terrible wrench and I suppose it is the final and last cleansing before I reappear, hopefully in six months, even healthier and fitter than before.  My plans there?  Well apart from making some money and topping up reserves I want to try and learn Russian and the also the piano!!!  Of course I will also finish my third novel and  get the first two published.  Well I don’t think there will be much else to keep me busy. In ‘Blah Blah’ Tommy suggests that for a man marriage is the fastest way to celibacy.  Not sure that is quite right.  If recovering from a breakdown over the last two years was a more successful route then a few months in Saudi should complete torture!!!

I will keep blogging both here and other places on how it turns out but don’t forget me!!  I will need all my good friends to keep my spirits up.  Keep writing and let me know how you are.  Trivial and mundane news will be as welcome as updates on the big life events. When does it happen?  Well it all depends on visas etc. but within a couple of weeks.  I might just do a final reflection blog on life and times in Dubai as I leave, but now it’s: Riyhad, here I come!!!

PS:  I suppose now I will finally have to get a haircut 🙂