Windows to the West.

Suddenly you are increasingly in rooms with people raising their voices, and making arguments they had previously, themselves, dismissed. They are respectful and even warm, they are close, some are friends. There is no menace, but you have conversations where you are on the defensive all the time.

And in these rooms you are the representative of that enemy they are raising their voices about: you are asked to justify events that are happening from Kiev to California, from Tbilisi to Tokyo. It has become us and them and you are one of them. And they are right: I am. I’m a liberal, democratic, European socialist and I think that mess that they are showing me on their IPhone is still better than Russia. Shit is fucked in the west, I get it, but it’s more fucked here, and increasingly the man you worship is a big part of why it’s fucked in both places, those places being here and….everywhere else.

And all of this happened slowly and subtly over a decade or more. I had known I was different and would always be an outsider in Moscow, but it hadn’t mattered. Russians had been warm and honest and welcoming, and they still mostly are when I am there. But the ones I really connected with were becoming a minority and, with nearly all of them, the list of things you couldn’t say was growing. I found myself making mistakes more and more often with people, feeling uncomfortable. And it’s harder to do all this when you aren’t all that sure of yourself; the psycho/successful guys have it easier there.

I married a Russian and lived a decade in a flat with 5, then 4, of them. I went to their funerals, they christened my children in their churches, I taught their children in their homes and their schools. I saw their football matches and orchestras alongside them. I watched Yeltsinism fall and Putinism rise alongside them, I watched 911 and 7/7 happen with them, as well as their own tragedies, Beslan, Nord Ost and North Ossetia. And I learned that they are right when they say that we are softer in the west, weakened by the very comforts that they yearn for.

My best friends were Russians, or at least English speakers who were fairly well integrated into the country. I had less and less to do with the expat scene of bars and Starbucks and IPads, where people tell you excitedly that Moscow is crazy, like Paris in the 30s. It’s Berlin in the thirties mate, and I don’t really have time to hear about your screenplay. I have a family to feed you see. I remember when I thought exactly the same thing, and for the same reasons: things are distorted when you are looking at them through an empty shot glass.

St. Petersburg was built as a “window to the west” but now I read that idea as a matter of time rather than geography, 1991 to 2012 to be precise, though you can never be very precise with this stuff. However you define it, that window to the west is closing fast and, at this point, you might well get broken fingers trying to keep it open.

 Windows 2011

From The People's Republic of Ukipistan

Friends in the south of England have suddenly started worrying seriously about Brexit, up here it has felt very real for quite some time. I am now an immigrant from Russia, come in search of a better life, which in mostways it is, and God it’s quieter here; at night the silence can still keep me awake. When Moscow falls this quiet people start to get scared.

 I thought I was going home, but instead I find myself here, where home only used to be. The legendary empire of Humberside has fallen now and, like lichen, North Lincolnshire has reclaimed what was really always hers. Over the river South Yorkshire reclaims its lost children. But nobody cares anymore for the machinations of boundary adjusters, and anyway, Jerry Mander sounds a bit like one of those weird Polish names. Humberside only lives on in Smiths’ lyrics these days.

No, this is Ukipistan now, and all of the blame, and menace, and for me, much of the hope, is still elsewhere. Perhaps it’s a little further down the road. I could go and see but I am so tired already, and this has been going on for decades now.

Still everything is easier here; things are fine. There are no armed policemen asking to see your papers, no 40 kilogram chunks of ice plunging from the roofs of buildings, no taxi drivers shouting at you about Obama or Stalin. And the leaders here are harmless bumbling men who look like frogs, not cold eyed paranoiacs imprisoning people for Facebook posts.

I write this from Scunthorpe in the northern reaches of this mighty realm. Here the flat lands begin their long southern march out beyond the gleaming spires of Louth and Mablethorpe, on and on under that great, big, sky, all the way down to Norfolk, where the strange ones roam. Behind us the Humber river meets the Trent and the Ouse, though of course it just grunts and nods at them stiffly, in case anyone thinks it’s gay. Out on the great north western road to Goole, all is calm To the east the kindly north sea murmurs its tender comforts to the gentle folk of Cleethorpes.

Yes peace has come to Ukipistan and it is good. The fear is faint, for Swinefleet is a long way from Crimea and the echoes of war are faint on the dappled streets of Grimsby. They have finally forgotten that war exists here; all that’s just a video game now. Once there was an orange glow in the sky here too, and the smell of metal burning beneath a smoke filled sky. But government industrial polices and TATA steel have pretty much stopped that nightmare, and it no longer much plagues the towns of Scunthorpe, or Corby or Port Talbot. You have to go further east than Skegness to see that kind of thing these days. But why would you, when there are plenty of east European supermarkets on Frodingham road? All you have to do is walk past Britannia corner, where the cops tape off the crossroads against the weekend’s drunken revellers and the Kurdish taxi driver has to go out of his way to get you home. He watches you, and answers any questions so carefully that you start grasp what a shaven headed middle aged guy getting into his car on a Saturday night can mean for him.

 In Ukipistan they are scared of far vaguer things than war. Things that are happening here, yes of course, though they remain strangely and determinedly invisible. Still the people here are wise, and they have learned of these things from televisions and newspapers and Kev’s mate’s Facebook friend, who had to wait behind 572 Bulgarians in Doncaster A and E that Tuesday night, when he broke his shin kicking a shopping trolley though a charity shop window. Here they drive their invalid carriages down the precinct, between the vape stores and the Phone accessory kiosks, past The Works and the pawnshop and they sit in the market café to speak of immigrants from Eastern Europe taking all of the work that they would do themselves if…well you know.

In the pathlab at Scunthorpe general hospital the pensioners wait in their dozens for blood tests, explaining the burden that Albanians could place on the NHS if we don’t get out now. I nod sagely, and start to think that the teenagers might not be such fools for living in headphones and staring at their phones all the time. I don’t really belong here anymore.

 But here I am

Doomed I tells Ya, doomed

As conflict looms the internet becomes hysterical, the cyber sages struggle to cram every new random twist and turn into their tottering narratives of the way shit really is. Twitter seems to be staffed by bloodthirsty carrion crows and entering the guardian comments section is best left to Orpheus, or perhaps Mobius.

The Kremlin’s human spambots are cackling and screeching in their usual demented fashion, the half literate ex army halfwits, usually American, are sneeringly deconstructing each other’s icily grim predictions of how the killing will pan out while every bonehead and his uncle are desperate to explain how none of it is anything besides the hellish suffering of those cursed enough to be living in CAMERON’S BRITAIN or the FASCIST REPUBLIC OF OBAMASTAN. (The Brits are just as bad now: the garden centre must have been closed this morning)

And the certainty is spectacular. No one has any doubt at all regarding the question of who is to blame, who’s gonna win and why that’s exactly how it should be. Everything that happens is the clanging, irrefutable truth of whatever it was they had been saying all along.

All of a sudden everyone is an expert and everyone is a historian who knows everything about Ukraine and Russia. Men in bad suits who have read far too many spy novels appear on 24 hour news channels where they pronounce Putin’s name wrongly, then shake their heads in solemn acknowledgment of the sorrowful truths they have been called upon to bear.

Go to the agencies, serious newspapers, reliable media or talk to ordinary people and it’s all humming and hah-ing and hesitant guesswork, but look at the comments section and everything has been figured for at least a decade and all that remains is to reveal the truth.

This is how people end up hating democracy and free speech I imagine.

Facts are no longer relevant; there is no objective reality, only accusations of fascism and genocide. Hitler is everywhere; when I was a kid people told me that we should never forget what had happened in the death camps. It had never occurred to them to wonder how it would be if everyone remembered it every time someone disagreed with them.

Even Wingnut Windsor is at it now.

Doomed

Gone wrong

 

 

They’ve gone really fucking elsewhere now: we’re done with the pretending to be a normal country routine and have just given up. Civilization? Rule of Law? Nah, sorry we just couldn’t manage it Now we’re aiming to be the The tea party with nukes

I made a video call to the boy today, with mother in law sitting in the background watching the evening news.

What’s on? I ask.

“She’s watching the terrorists in Ukraine.” He says, turning the tablet and showing me the screen. It’s that clip of protesters retreating under lethal sniper fire.

“Terrorists” That’s the story on prime time Russian TV.

One guy explains that Russia must help them to stop the ongoing genocide, that’s right “Genocide”

 

I know it can seem that Bush started this stuff off, or at least this latest wave, and that gave every bastard under the sun the cover to slaughter folks, but this is starting to look horribly like something much older. This is Conrad and anarchists in London, Tsarists officers and Raskalnikovs with Kalashnikovs, cold eyed Kremlin maniacs ablaze with notions of holy Russian souled destiny.  

Any Russian who objects to anything that is done by the state is clearly under the influence of sinister foreign agents: because they couldn’t possibly be thinking for themselves. Likewise with Ukrainians or Georgians: the very notion that these people might want to do this shit for themselves is bewildering to the werewolves in the Kremlin,

They have fucking hells angels for god’s sake, powering their way down to Crimea, bikes loaded up on trains coz they must have bad backs by now. They got bus loads of thugs whose only political programme is “referendum” For who? For what? They have no idea, some deputy stuck them on a bus 6 hours ago and told them to go break heads and shout “referendum” at scared old ladies in Kharhkhiv.

And everyone is a fascist now: that name calling idiocy that used to be the preserve of angry 80’s radicals seems now to be standard operating procedure for voices on any side of the issues.

It’s official: Russia has gone totally wrong, again.

How to write and deliver a Russian patriotic song

.

First take a feminine noun, which in Russian means a noun that ends in an “a” sound. Luckily many of the nouns you will need are already feminine in form such as: “Strana”= country, “Moskva” = Moscow, “Stolitsa” = capital, “Rossiya” or ”ulitsa” = street, “zima” = winter. There are many more: running out of feminine nouns is not likely to prove a problem in your creative endeavors.

Next, add possessive pronouns. There are three forms of the first person singular possessive pronoun, or “my”: these are “Moy, Moyo” and, the one you will be using “Moya”. In Moscow Russian an unstressed ‘o’ becomes an ‘a’ sound so that the pronunciation you will be working with is closer to ‘maya’, like Mayan without the final ‘n’. Bear in mind that it is important to have no working class British people in the room at this point, as they have great difficulty in resisting the temptation to change “Moya” to “my arse” and “Moskva my arse” is simply disrespectful, however much it reflects the daily reality of traffic jams and dirty streets.

Then add them together, using whichever syntax sounds best: there is no difference in basic meaning between “Moya Moskva” or “Moskva moya”, but the difference in feeling when a husky voiced Russian man is emoting on a primetime TV show can be significant and the latter form carries more yearning and passion.

The next step is to just mix them up for a while with a few random sighs thrown in: ergo:

“Ahhhhhh, Moskva Moya, Stolitsa moyaaaaaah, ay ay ay strana moya, da Rossiya maya, Moya, moya, moya” And so on.

To avoid this drifting into meaningless blather too quickly you can add in other adjectives and, with Russian’s nature as a gendered language, these adjectives will all end in out handily rhyming “aya” sound. The first choice adjectives for this sort of nationalist chansonery are as follows.

“lubimaya” = favourite/beloved “Krasivaya” = Beautiful “belaya” =white, (to cover the snows or the fair hand of your “Devushka” gal) “Malenkaya” = small, (making things small is a handy Russian way to make them seem nicer). Spokoinaya” = peaceful, “Staraya” = old, “dorogaya” = dear and so on..

Then if you add in the oos and ahhs and the occasional “Ti” which is the informal/affectionate form of you, there is little else required.

Ah, Moskva, Moskva, ti lubimaya moya.

Moya strana, ahhhh moya malenkaya Rossia,

Krasivaya stolitsa, ti moya, krasivaya moya.

Da, dad a, strana, maya, belaya zima, ti spokoinaya.

And continue thus until the absurdity becomes overpowering, at which point you will need to add in a new noun or two.

Then, the lyric written, take a melody of numbskull simplicity, ideally following the chord sequence as a nervous dog follows its master, add one middle aged man who has some connection via marriage or an ancient  love affair to Alla Puchacheva and find a TV spot on the calendar devoted to some state celebration. It need not be something significant, even the day of the border guards tends to get a TV concert in its honour.

Then take your song and husky voiced soviet pop fossil, add flags and serve.