Showing posts from August, 2018

Crime Here?

I never intended this blog to become political. On the whole, I find politics amazingly boring, as do most people, but I have to write this post because I think that many people have just not heard the truth. They are probably not going to hear (or read) the truth because most TV news outlets in the UK and in the USA have not treated this subject in a fair and even-handed manner. I used to be (and to some extent I still am) a great fan of the BBC, but the BBC’s coverage of this issue has not been fair, balanced or unbiased. Well, this piece in my blog is going to try to present the other side of the coin, the side that CNN and the BBC do not want you to think about. So what am I going to write about? Russia’s “annexation” or “invasion” of the Crimea.

Russian casualties in the Second World War were 20 million. Huge swathes of Russian territory were occupied by the Nazi forces and from their panzers the invaders could see the spires and domes of Moscow. The suffering and the sacrifices t…


In Around the World in Eighty Days, my hero Michael Palin famously described the city of Alexandria as being “like Cannes with acne". Maybe Yalta used to be like Bournemouth with boils, but it was very different when Irena and I went there for the day.

I had not been back to Yalta since before Irena and I were married. In a few ways, it was much the same (the mountains frowning down on the sea, the cypress trees, the vineyards and the church that does impressions of a wedding cake). But really Yalta is now quite a different place. Yes, the beach is still a painful and pebbly Via Dolorosa if you want a swim in the murky seawater. (And, just in case you were wondering, the water in the Black Sea is not actually black.)
On the busy streets, you can still buy kvas, even though I am not sure how to spell it. (But why would anyone want a stinky drink made from fermented bread?) Twenty-five years ago, kvas was served in jam jars, but now they give it to you in a glass. And yes, there are…

Datcha Days

Most Russians live in apartment blocks these days and so many of the city dwellers want to have something that is peculiarly Russian: a datcha. If I said that this was a "country house", then you might think of a French chateau or an English stately home, whereas a datcha is usually quite a humble affair, a small bungalow or even a hut. Some have electricity and running water, but many do not. Sometimes you get to your datcha by driving on a proper road, but in most cases it will be a rough, muddy track for the final kilometres. Fruit trees, flowers and vegetables are the order of the day in the datcha. Nothing very special or splendid, just a simple, rural home-from-home.

Although Mamuluchka also has ducks and chickens, this is not normal because many Russians only go to the datcha at the weekends and holidays. A datcha, therefore, is more like an allotment with somewhere to live, but the living space is sometimes not much more than a garden shed.

Mamichka's datcha is mor…

The Reunion

It must have been about twenty-five years ago when I was first in Simferopol and in Kiev. In those days, the Crimea was still very much part of the Ukraine and it was the era of perestroika, or maybe just after that difficult time. What I saw then made a big impression on me. Those who are so quick to criticize Putin's "illegal occupation" of the Crimea should do a bit of research and find out how dreadful things really were back then. 
I remember that in the summer it was 18,000 Ukrainian kuponi to the pound; by Christmas, 24,000. I remember having to pay to use the beach at Yalta. Then there were valutni magazini, the well-stocked shops for those with foreign currency. These valutni shops had almost no customers at all and all of the prices were in US dollars. The local shops, by way of contrast, were full of empty shelves or there were maybe just a few jars with some mysterious brown liquid in them. A strange object could sometimes be made out, floating in the murky de…

Missing You, Part 2

Yesterday I received a couple of WeChat messages from Miss Yanee, who was my assistant when I was teaching at Green Oasis School in Shenzhen. She has been having a great time canoeing in Thailand. (She was always "Miss Yanee" in class and she always called me "Mr Hill" in front of the students, but I insisted on her calling me "Simon" when we were alone.)

At the moment, I still do not really feel that I have retired. It is still the summer holiday and school will not be starting again for another week or two. When I come back from the Crimea, then maybe I will start to feel "retired".

I started writing this piece for my blog in Terminal 2 of Sofia airport. Now I am in Vnukovo, located somewhere near the Moscow ring road -Russia's equivalent of the M25. And just like the M25, there were lots of traffic jams, but fortunately most of them were on the other side of the six-lane highway.

I miss Miss Yanee very much. No, it wasn't like that. You …