Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hi ho, Silver, away

So whats new. As you may have noticed I have been a little bit preoccupied over the past week and have neglected my blog. Why is that you ask? Well it seems that I have been promoted at work (in my absence) and now I have more work to do, so my blogging time is limited and has been for the past week or so as I have had to ‘hit the floor running’ as they say to catch up on the new things that I should be doing.

Now I say ‘new’ things that I should be doing, but if we apply that old saw ‘what goes around comes around’ to the work I am now doing, having been ‘promoted’ we would find that I am now doing exactly the same as what I was doing 6 years ago when they first employed me! i.e. both the quantitative and the qualitative research. But the managers, in their wisdom, after a while saw fit to employ others to do the quant work and it drifted away from me to such an extent that this past two years the work had been subbed out to a contractor.

So hey ho, I asked for extra responsibility (as the only way to be up-graded) and they gave me back my original job, but with a new title, so that’s OK then.

You will have noticed below how manly I was on my holidays, playing with guns and shooting stuff, well isn’t it spooky how synchronicity happens, because I had not shot a gun for many a year, not even at the fair, until visiting Ukraine this summer and found myself blasting away with the ubiquitous Kalashnikov and then this Bank Holiday weekend I find myself on a range at a gun club blasting away at targets once more.

How did this happen is even stranger, at a loose end on Saturday as my wife was meeting with the local coven of Ukrainian Wives here in sunny Plymouth, I visited some old friends, who unbeknownst to me, even though I had known them for years were members of a gun club and when I arrived Dave was cleaning his 4 rifles as a prelude to the next days open day at the range. Consequently I was invited and had quite a fun time blasting various paper targets with various weapons.

Now I know you think firearms are banned in this country but the stupid thing about this law is that while you cannot own a handgun, you can own as many rifles as you want including Kalashnikovs (single shot). How ridiculous is that?

Now I know that shooting is a sport and I know that we were firing at paper targets but why is it that when you wander down the range to look at your group, if its nice and tight (like mine were!) people start commenting about how the good shooting equates to ‘well he’d be dead then’ or ‘yep nice group, right in the middle of the chest’ as if the targets were somehow substitutes for some unknown assailant that I wanted to take out.

I was only trying to get the shot close to the centre of the target that’s where my head was at, not virtually trying to take someone out. I think it comes down to that old question, do guns kill people, or is it the people who hold the guns that kill people? I personally think it’s the people who pull the triggers that kill people, guns are just inanimate objects, machines that can only work with a person present.

Oh and I would be really interested to hear the American point of view here.

O I’m not a gun nut and I don’t think I’ll ever be, but there is something quite satisfying in the big bangs they make, and in using a Winchester rifle, like what the cowboys used to in all those cowboy and indian films.

"Hi ho, Silver, away!"

Thursday, August 25, 2005

My 6 year old daughter

Hello I’ve just had another three days holiday, now don’t get jealous, I know I’ve just had a month off, but these last three days have been about ‘parental responsibility’. I’ve been looking after my 6 year old daughter while her mum has been gallivanting off somewhere.

To look after ones 6 year old daughter for a while, when you usually see her over a weekend every other week, is bliss. There is nothing better or sweeter on earth than a 6 year old daughter, how could one get tired of the constant chatter, the wriggling about trying to get comfortable on your lap whilst you watch 3 hours of constant repetition on children’s TV, the sudden need to go to the loo when you are out, the pleading Daaaadddy! And so on and so on.

Oh I know that the single mums out there who look after our 6 year old daughters will say, ‘Well to you it might be bliss, but when you have to cope with it 24/7 then it would be a different story!’ It probably is, but I have often offered to have my daughter full time, an offer which is never taken up, so it can’t be that bad can it?

‘Parental responsibility’ is a funny thing, I don’t have it apparently, in the legal sense, because we were not married, so my daughters mum has total control over how she brings up the child, she does not have to consult with me over any issue, which could include changing their religion to become Jehovah’s Witnesses and then refusing life saving medical intervention because of their new religion. I would just have to stand by and could not do anything.

And yet, it seems I am responsible enough a parent to financially contribute to the upbringing of my child and the Government involves itself, through the Child Support Agency to make sure that I am financially supporting my child. The situation as it stands is that because my former partner has two children, one by another man, she actually has a larger disposable income than I have. The fact that she also works part-time does not seem to impact upon the amount of money I have to give her.

I am in no way suggesting that I should not financially support my child, all I am arguing is that if I am responsible enough to support her financially, why then am I not allowed to have some legal responsibility for my child? I know I could go to court and get an order making me a ‘responsible parent, but at what cost to my current relationship with the mother, which is often rocky due to her ongoing mental illness.

Anyway despite that we had a great time, seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was good, going to the beach, riding on donkey’s and all the fun things one does with one’s 6 year old daughter, including all the things her mother doesn’t let her do, like eat too many sweets, ice cream, crisps and junk food!

Aren’t I a great dad?!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ukrainian Holiday

Given what I have written about Ukraine in the preceding few posts one might want to beg the question, as Mike da Hat did, why would I (or you) want to go to Ukraine if its full of bad service, bad food, alcoholics and fag smokers? Ok I admit that this might have seemed a bit negative on my part to mention these things but even though there is some slow or bad service, I was writing about the food from my perspective as a vegetarian, where even here in the UK most of what’s offered in pubs and restaurants can’t be better described than gloopy slop!

At least in Ukraine one doesn’t get offered gloopy slop masquerading as a. Veggie curry, b. some sort of pasta dish covered in some form of cheese flavoured elastic, c. the ubiquitous mushroom risotto, no there is a dearth of vegetarian cuisine in Ukraine, but not I might hasten to add a dearth of vegetable based dishes of which Borsch is the most notable. Plus the food on the whole for the meat eaters looked excellent, especially the Shaslik and the chicken, plus a lot of fish dishes, from both fresh and sea water and the plus side of this it is cheap to eat, I paid for a huge meal for all my family as it was the mother in laws birthday and it cost me only about £50 for 10 of us including drinks and about 4 or 5 courses. (we didn't eat in for the whole of the holiday - my wife refused to cook!)

My problem with the vegetable cuisine on offer in Ukraine was I just didn’t like it; they use some herb (Dill I believe) on quite a lot of their food that I just found unpalatable. I just couldn’t eat it and consequently given that trying to explain that while I wanted the dish I didn’t want the said herb was just too difficult so I usually ended up with chips or omelette and chips or pizza or Borsch as long as it wasn’t made with meat of course, the fact that it also suspiciously looked like the stock had been made from chicken stock I just closed my eyes and taste buds to.

Anyway Ukraine is a wonderful place, lots to see and do. The people are very friendly and welcoming and all this rot about the Mafia and men in black is rubbish. The beer is cheap and the women are extremely beautiful, it’s worth writing that again just for emphasis: The beer is cheap and the women are extremely beautiful – what more can a man ask for?

mmm beer Posted by Picasa

During the first part of our holiday we went to Lviv which is in the western part of the country and entails an overnight train ride to get there from where our flat is. Lvov is a beautiful Old City in what is known to be the ‘cultural’ part of Ukraine, Lvov used to be the Capital before Kiev became transcendent. We stayed in really nice apartments for I think it was 20 Euro a night and spent two days wandering around seeing the sites etc.

The Opera House Lviv Posted by Picasa

Old Geezers at Chess Posted by Picasa

shadows Posted by Picasa

Later in the month we went to Sevastopol in Crimea. Once again this entailed another overnight train journey enjoying the couchettes. But Sevastopol is a great destination, hot, on the warm black sea. We stayed in what one might call Ukrainian accommodation, $5 per person per night, we had rooms in a Babushkas house looking out onto the garden full of tomatoes and other organic vegetables, and we sat under the grapevines, eating figs off the tree next to us – bliss.

outside our rooms Posted by Picasa

There is a beach just away from the main part of town called blue lagoon, you can see from the pictures posted that it is beautiful, not too overcrowded with a small bar where you can buy snacks and beer. Plus we went to the aquapark to swim or just promenaded around Sevastopol town enjoying the sites, sitting in cafes, the usual holiday stuff.

Blue Lagoon - Sevastopol Posted by Picasa

Blue Lagoon Posted by Picasa

sunset in Sevastopol Posted by Picasa

We visited the secret nuclear submarine docks in Balaclava and watched a huge sea parade commemorating the Navy, lots of weapons firing, big bangs, smoke, jets, tanks – it was fantastic, then later sitting in a dockside cafĂ© surrounded by former Soviet sailors singing about how they would never let one foot of the enemy soil the ground of Sevastopol, over their dead bodies – I hesitated to tell them I was English!

Soviet Saliors with the 'enemy' in their midst! Posted by Picasa

Then later back in Vinnitsa I was taken shooting by a friend. We met up with a Major from the Cobra’s – the anti- terrorist police and taken to their training ground where I fired the Makarov 9mm pistol, another fully automatic Russian pistol and both the 7.62mm Kalashnikov and the 5mm Kalashnikov on their range, I could have fired a Bazooka but we didn’t have the time!

shooting the Makarov Posted by Picasa

AK47 Posted by Picasa

If you really want an off the beaten track holiday I would recommend Ukraine. Yes there are frustrating and difficult bits about being there, but it’s a wonderful place and I’m not just saying that because I am married to a Ukrainian woman (which I heartily recommend) I’d be happy to help anyone who would wish to travel to Ukraine with all the tips and advice you would need – have a look at my website

Ukraine Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

MIstaken Identity

'Cherry' Cake Posted by Picasa

As I mentioned briefly yesterday it is something of a tradition at work that if you go on holiday it is expected that you will bring back some local cakes, biscuits, sweets etc to put in the kitchen. I duly fulfilled my task, but it wasn't until later yesterday that someone in the office pointed out to me that I had indavertantly had bought cherry cakes called 'fuckbum'! I'll have to ask the wife what the actual cyrillic scrip is as my russian doesn't stretch that far. Although I am sure that to me and you dear reader that these cakes will always be 'fuckbums'.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Help I'm back at work, what happened?

Its seems like it was all a dream, here I am sat back at my office desk. Have I really been on holiday, did I actually have one month off? Am I going mental? Its only the fact that I am sitting here eating one of the biscuits that I bought back from Ukraine to put in the office kitchen (long established tradition) that convinces me that I actually have been on holiday! It all seems so abrupt! Yesterday I was in a foreign country now Im sat at my desk.

It wasn't that abrupt I suppose because we had to get up at 4:30 in the morning (or 2:30 in UK time as Ukraine is 2 hours ahead of the UK) and didn't get home until Midnight last night, so that was about 22 hours of traveling.

Anyway as this is my first day back at work I can't spend all day bloggiing, that will have to wait for tomorrow as I have to spend the rest of today deleting the 2 million emails I have waiting for me, and saying hello to all my collegues and telling them all about my holiday so I have a busy day ahead and its gone 11 already.

I will regale you with my holiday stories and pics from tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ukraine the culture

I just thought that while I have a minute that I would jot down a few of my impressions of Ukraine and its people.

That big old monster Capitalism has surely got its grips into the popular culture of this country if the TV ads are anything to go by. In the most part they seem to be for cigarettes and alcohol. Generally most of the adverts feature semi naked women so clearly sex still sells. That these adverts are paying off is evident by the numbers of people smoking. It is remarkable, that after coming from what is nearly a smoke free country, how irritating it is to be in resturants, bars, the street! where people are smoking in quite substantial numbers.

Alcohol seems to be a problem here too and no wonder when you see kids of 13 and 14 (and younger) walking along swigging from bottles of beer in between puffing on their fags, in the internet cafe where I am now, its just gone 9:30 in the morning and some of the kids are on their first bottle, and some seem terribly bleary eyed! (But Hurrah theres no smoking here)Adult drunkeness is much more familiar on the streets.

Thhis all seems a bit negative, but its not as negative as it sounds, these are the things that catch you eye, 99% of the time Ukraine and Crimea is a great place, the people are friendly and helpful. I have no problems shopping on my own and getting what I want despite my russian not being so great. There are lots of myths and untruths about Ukraine about 'Men in Black' and the Mafia, but in the 6 times I have been here I have never been worried or scared about my safety.

I saw a great TV ad last night.

A woman was at home, all dressed in white, she had her little white pet mouse with her. She goes off to do something and the little mouse climbs up a flower vase and falls in - O you god you think the poor mouse will drown...the woman runs over but can't get her hand down the thin neck of the vase( Got the picture yet?) the mousey is treaing water for its life. Then the woman has a bright idea, she runs for her handbag and out she takes a tampon. Which she drops into the vase and said mouse is lifted safely out of the water.

Great hey, so women for those days of the month when you need to save a mouses life always carry a tampon with you, at least its better than having to cycle everywhere or rollerblade your life away going between stores to buy even more white trousers!

PS I am having a great holiday another 3 days here in Sevastopol and then the overnight train back to Vinnitsa until the 15th August but Im not thinking about that.

Bye bye the beach is calling...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Still Sunny

But I think that i have recieved a little too much sun. The last day or so I have been feeling a little off, a slight discomfort in the tummy not so much Stalins revenge, more like a touch of the Lenin revolutions. I have spent some time and effort yesterday trying to increase my liquids, and not beer I might add, to try and get my urine from being a slight squirt of dark orange stuff to the flood of nicely coloured wee that it is now, but the amount of liquid I had to consume was remarkable.

On of the most irritating thing about Ukraine is the total lack of customer focus. To get anything you generally have to queue and that can take forever, because it seems that Ukrainians need to discuss every aspect of their purchase. So for example when we arrived here and got to the railway station in Kiev we had to queue for TWO, yes 2 hours to get tickets. And no there wasn't just one ticket counter there were loads.

The other evening, in the search for food (my Ukrainian diet is progressing well, yesterday I had a plate of chips (of which more later) and three bananas -who would be a vegetarian eh!) we went to an italian franchise sort of place for a pizza, it took one hour of queueing to get our order, the way it works is you find a table, then one of the party queues, after an hour she came back with the drinks and the salad, we then had to wait for the pizzas to be cooked - blimey Gordon Ramsey could have a field day here.

Now you might say that having to wait proves that they are actually cooking the food, but thats no guarrentee of quality. I mentioned that yesterday I had a plate of chips, well thats only half of the story, we ordered the meal in a very nice waterside cafe on the harbourside, waited the prerequisite 45 minutes before the food came, by then I had drunk the beer and a coke and eaten all the bread, when the chips arrived they were smothered in tomato sauce and cold - which in another resturant I was told it was normal. So I sent them back. Then waited for a new plateful, they came covered in some grassy herb stuff they like here but to me tastes foul, I picked it off and eat them - I was hungry.

Later we dropped into another waterside cafe for some ice cream, we ordered fruit salad and ice cream, while we were waiting we were entertained by a whole bunch of former Soviet Saliors getting progressivly drunker in the corner (remember yesterday was a big memorial day) I have a picture of them I want to post but can't till I get home, but they were singing good old Soviet Saliors songs and my wife pointed out that the one they were singing was about how sacred Sevastopol was to them and that the enemies feet would never touch the sacred ground. I hesitated about introducing myself as an Englishman! Andway the ice cream turned up and it was simple a melted mass with a few soggy fruits floating in it. I, of course, sent it back and refused to pay. Which is an unbeliviable act in Ukraine. The waiters can't belive that you are turning down the gastronomic delights that they are placing before you. They need a culture of complaint here, and I'm the guy to teach them - lack of food makes me irritable.

Anyway its getting late 9:45am and I must be off to the beach again, its getting a bit tedious but I have some serious research to carry out - there are an enourmous number of good looking women here, so thank god for the inventor of the thong and I just hope that I don't go blind, or my wife cathes me peeking!