Across Continents

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Very British affairs

April 17th, 2012

I was far from bored, busying myself with pursuing a new career, and there’d even been a parental visit. Forty three and I’d still made sure there were fresh towels and bleach down the loo. But, as if this wasn’t enough to be getting on with, I’d found myself engrossed in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of Swedish part investigative journalism part crime novels. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo probably the most well known. I couldn’t remember how I’d stumbled across them in the first place, but it didn’t seem to matter. The characters had a depth that made an otherwise improbable individual suddenly plausible. Small, almost insignificant, details that added little, if anything, to the plot directly, but helped make the various players in the drama believable. Fascinating writing style. I made a few notes.

But it wasn’t just fiction that’d had me intrigued of late. Much in the news to draw in my interest, especially if you’re a conspiracy theorist. I’m not, but I do enjoy a good plot with plenty of twists and turns. Ever wondered what spies give each other for Christmas? I’ve a hunch that there are a few worried souls on the South Bank of the Thames who’d rather wished they’d eased back on the glowing correspondence with the Libyans and, instead, given them a shredder. Adds new meaning to the expression Pen is mightier than the Sword if you’re looking for a smoking

Amidst the terrible nautical puns, there’d been a refreshing piece in the Independent on one man’s effort to thwart the annual Oxford Cambridge boat race. There’d been talk of Class War, but I’d always thought that was really an indulgence of Socialist Worker staffers, and in any case it’d hardly been little more than a skirmish. But no, our lone swimmer had at least livened up what was undoubtedly one of the dullest possible spectator sports, the writer claimed. After snooker. I agreed.

Class, incidentally, we are told, is a very British thing. Eton. Harrow. Oxbridge. Although sometimes it sounds to me like the politics of envy, oft said by those who should have tried harder at school. Truth is often less palatable than some would like, for the rarely aired irony is that both Oxford and Cambridge would actually welcome far more students from less advantaged backgrounds. Perhaps less prepared than their public school chums for the entry process, instead reliant more on raw intellectual ability, they generally make better undergraduates. As I’d once learnt over breakfast with the Rector of one of the Oxford Colleges. She’d been most passionate on this point.

But most intriguing of all over the last couple of weeks has been the death of an old Harrovian in China. Actually it was last year, but the story, such as it is, has only recently emerged. Amidst tales of political intrigue amongst the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party there’d been quickly rebutted suggestions of espionage, and allegations of vast wealth being siphoned off. The only certainty so far is that a rather amiable chap is now dead. If I ever needed a plot for a novel, the whole affair wouldn’t be a bad start. I stuffed the various press cuttings in an envelope and made a few more notes.


In the news…. again

April 30th, 2010

Ken in Chokhatauri Western Georgia - Guria News - web version

Another example of the beautiful Georgian script, taken from the local Guria News. No idea what it actually says, but suspect the bold text is the questions posed, and the copious plain text my answers. Brevity.

[The author is also indebted to Nazi for forwarding the article on to me]


Reflections on Turkey

April 10th, 2010

I might have tired of Istanbul, but not of Turkey and its people. Waiting at the city’s airport for my flight east, my rudimentary Turkish still a bit rusty, an elderly chap, overhearing my efforts at ordering a coffee, helpfully explained that ’thank-you’ was in fact tesekkur ederim (pronounced teshekoor ederim), not merci. I thanked him, properly this time. My plane delayed into Istanbul by bad weather, it was late when I eventually reached my hotel in Trabzon. I was greeted at reception by Sena. She’d remembered me from my earlier stay with my Dad. This was much more like it.

The journey back east had given me plenty of opportunity to reflect on Turkey, and what it was to be Turkish. A strong national identity for a start. The military given equal prominence on television with the politicians. You sensed political satire was still in its infancy, and criticism of Ataturk, founding father of the modern Turkish nation, would be ill-advised. YouTube had apparently hosted a few offending clips and, despite their prompt removal, a court order blocked access to the entire site for a couple of weeks.

Authoritarian undertones? The male predilection for dark clothes certainly adds a Kafkaesque feel, but no, just different boundaries to our own, and certainly not oppressive. In fact the military would probably argue, with some justification, that they have only ever sought to protect the constitution from wayward governments attempting to undermine or erode its tenets.

But things are changing, the balance of power gently shifting towards the democratically elected administration, as tolerance by the Armed Forces of the recent arrests of senior military officers for their alleged part in an suspected coup plot would seem to demonstrate. Either way, a strong Turkey is no bad thing, providing a buffer between Europe and more turbulent nations further east. But I doubted if much of this ever had much of an impact on the lives of ordinary people. It just flickered by in the news bulletins.

Fact is I’d been made very welcome, from the moment I’d stopped to get my bearings in Edirne, my first day in Turkey. Back then, Nadir and Beckant had approached me, keen to show me their home city. They’d been Tugba in Istanbul, Zehra and her friends along the Black Sea coast, Yaren, Ali and Sena in Trabzon. And so many people in the villages who’d so often dragged me off the road, plying me with sweet, warm Turkish tea. Couldn’t ask for more. But now it was time to see what Georgia had to offer.

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