Thursday 20 March 2014


Tonight for a brief few days, we will be reunited as a family.  The Boy lands at Heathrow at 8.15, and The Cat arrives at Paddington fifteen minutes before.

The Cat's Mother and I are like two six years old the night before Christmas.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Fame and misfortune

For me, there is little confusion about Putin's objectives.  Not so many years ago he proposed the Eurasian Economic Union...a sort of EU for former Soviet bloc territories.  In truth it's not been greeted with wild enthusiasm...after all each of these territories has their own oligarchs and dictators, so why would they want to hand over protection money to Moscow?  But it sets the scene, and shows in a very public way that Putin would like to return to the days of the Soviet Union.  And if he can't do it through negotiated agreements, he'll do it by hook or by crook.  You may have forgotten Georgia, half of which was re-absorbed into Russia.  They are now just waiting for the Russian tanks to come rolling through and reclaim the rest.  Crimea is one small step...the deniability of having used Russian troops is pretty weak, but not quite as weak as any poll that gets a 97+% vote in favour of moving away from the Ukraine.  In the short term Russian troops are unlikely to go beyond the Crimean and Russian borders, but you can bet your bottom dollar that plenty of Russian money and effort will go into destabilising regions - and not just in the Ukraine - where there is a sizeable Russian population.  At some stage, the possibility of using Russian troops (not necessarily in uniform) to protect Russians becomes an inevitability.  That should be quite a frightening prospect.  In recent years the West has taken an enormous integrating Russia into the international community and economy, it was hoped it would become so entwined that it wouldn't rock the boat.  Clearly that strategy hasn't worked.  And not surprisingly really...have you ever seen how the Russians do business?  Just look at the BP experience...effectively bullied out of Russia once it had given its expertise to exploit valuable oil reserves.  But thinking beyond the old Soviet frontiers, think of other flashpoints:  Iran could be given a free hand to do whatever they want with their nuclear enrichment because it could come ever closer to Russia. War in the Middle-East?  Quite a possibility, and imagine how the West would be without oil from the region.  Russia also supports the existing regime in Syria.  Phew, I'm even scaring myself.

The Boy is continuing to enjoy his time in Austria, and I'm glad.  But at the same time I'm afeared it is becoming increasingly difficult to tempt him back to the delights of academia in Edinburgh in September.  I do hope I don't have to talk to him severely.  I remember when I was his age, and had taken a year out in the Bavarian Alps.  The return was a painful one, and even more difficult was the first term at Uni, when I struggled to return to study....on many an occasion I was tempted to chuck it in and head back up the mountains.  Fortunately there was a degree of common sense in me that made me realise that I would only enjoy myself doing hotel work for a limited time...I assume The Boy has the same realisation.

Without a hint of bias, The Boy has always been a good-looking fella.  I'm not saying where he got it from. In Kitzbuhel, the regional tourist board has been looking for a new poster boy for next year's advertising campaign, and the Ski School suggested The Boy.  The photo-shoot was last week, and sometime the campaign will begin.  Yep, a boy from North London will be the face of the Austrian Alps in 2015.  And that says a lot for the Austrians...I can't think that would ever happen in France.

Here's a couple of pictures of the lad himself which I've pinched off his friends' Facebook pages

Monday 17 March 2014

Crunch time

Give or take an artillery round or two, it's a century since the outbreak of the First World War.  Whilst most of Europe has debated how to acknowledge that conflict, the Russians seem to have taken it upon themselves to celebrate by partying hard in the Crimea.  Whilst I'm hopelessly confident that we're not going to collapse into the conflagration that would be World War 3, there are some uncanny parallels between the start of WW1, and indeed WW2 (in the latter case, substitute Putin for Hitler and his desire for a greater Russia, and it all falls into place).  Anyway, kudos to Vlad the Impaler for using democracy as a novel weapon of war...normally democracies find it difficult to start and engage in military conflict...well if you exclude all the ones that Mr Blair got us involved in.  So on the one hand, I'm quite pleased to have predicted the fall of Crimea to the Russians, but on the other, I'm a little sad, because I can see eastern Ukraine and Georgia heading that way.  I'm so hoping Dave the Rave pops over to Moscow and comes back waving a piece of paper declaring peace in our time.

I'm a little bit stretched (read, completely under the cosh) at the moment, so I'm not managing to read people's blogs as I like....I think it will stay like this until that gives me something to focus on; a bit like a promised holiday.

We overdid ourselves this weekend with a trip to the Sam Wannamaker theatre at The Globe to see Knights of the Burning Pestle.  The key device in this love story was that a grocer, his wife and their apprentice are sitting in the audience, and just as the play begins they jump up and insist the apprentice has a part.  As the play progresses - two steps forwards, eight steps sideways - the grocer (played by the irascible Phil Daniels) and his wife keep interrupting and demanding their apprentice be given more time on the stage.  If I didn't know it had been written in 1609, I'd never have guessed's as contemporary as anything on the stage at the moment.  It was uproariously funny, brilliantly played by all the actors, and a real joy to be a part of.  For me the tragedy is, that if you could take it out into the wider world and persuade people to come and see it, almost everyone would enjoy it.  As it is, it is restricted to a small and somewhat elite audience.  That's a shame.

We were fortunate enough to get some returned tickets for Oh What A Lovely War, which has been put on in Stratford (the London one) where it was originally performed nearly half a century ago.  If you've seen the film, you'll know what it's about.  It changed our attitudes to the First World War.  But this revival didn't quite cut it.  The format of the play just doesn't really resonate with an audience not used to a music hall experience, and in truth the performances were tellingly week.  I enjoyed it more than the Cat's Mother, but it will be remembered as one that had to be seen, rather than  one we enjoyed seeing.

I've not been out on my cycle this year...a combination of laziness and rain has allowed my belly to enormous proportions....I can practically balance a tray of champagne glasses on it at the moment.  So with the sun shining, I decided that I'd ride into work today, and quite pleased I was as it didn't seem too tricky...until I got to a short, sharp cobbled hill at Three Mills.  About three-quarters of the way up I heard and felt a crunch from my lower spine.  On the upside I still seem able to cycle.  On the down side I don't seem able to walk....