THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Twin Cities and Boondoggles

I am indebted to Tom Paine for suggesting that I contribute to The Last Ditch. Being new to the business of blogging, perhaps my initial offerings will be on the tepid side of hot stuff, but nonetheless here goes.

Tom and I have recently gone our separate ways after a few days of hard work, punctuated by a most agreeable dinner, in the south of France. At the dinner table were bright people who worked in Moscow, Kiev, London, and in my case Edinburgh/London.When I meet new people from Kiev it reminds me that Kiev is twinned with Edinburgh - a fact very few Ukrainians or Scots know. I suspect that, apart from me and a few others who have travelled fairly frequently between these cities, the only ones who know are the civic leaders(?) who decided to do the twinning in the first place.

Imagine the scene. The City Chambers in Edinburgh, some time around 30 years ago. "Who are we going to twin with, Hector? Birmingham has got Frankfurt, Glasgow has Nuremberg, and Manchester has had to settle for Chemnitz." (Where's Chemnitz I hear you say. A good question. Chemnitz United is not the world's best known football team. It is somewhere in the former DDR).   

MapofukraineTo Hector's credit he put his "O" Level geography to good use, and picked up the Atlas. "Fraser" he said, "we shall have to go further East". And so it was that his finger lit on Kiev, then little known to those outside culinary circles, and of course a large number of unfortunate chicken.

It was an inspired choice. When the high hedjuns (top people) from Edinburgh City  Council went to Kiev they would have been greeted by Party Officials in ill fitting suits, but doubtless also surprised by the beauty of the Ukrainian ladies. Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, eat your hearts out - Edinburgh had come out on top  (possibly in both senses of the word).

The beauty of the ladies of Kiev is well documented. In the late 1990's the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now there is a name from the past to be conjured with) held its Annual Conference in Kiev, and there was considerable disquiet ahead of the event because of the shortage of hotel accommodation of even a modest standard. The then President of Ukraine was quoted in British papers as saying words to the effect of " once the delegates get here and see the beauty of our Ukrainian women they will stop worrying about their hotel" - a thought which went down like a lead balloon with delegates wives.

Well, fortunately for Mrs Paine and Mrs Primrose the ladies in Cannes were not nearly so alluring, and Mr Paine and I contented ourselves with an excellent dinner, with convivial company which tried, and inevitably failed, to convince us that the world in general, and Britain in particular was in fine fettle. It would be a much better place if the best people felt able to stand for office without the certain knowledge that they would get either hacked to pieces by the gutter press, or wind up as a "celebrity" on TV. Sadly we live in a time when the pinnacle of most young men's aspirations is to be either a professional footballer, or to run a hedge fund. Politics nowadays is for the foolhardy, or so it seems. Who are the conviction politicians now?   Robin Cook is dead. Desert Island Discs today had Tariq Ali as the guest, and much as I dislike his views, I respect the strength and sincerity which he has to maintain an ultra left stance well past its sell by date.

Tomorrow I tackle a 500 mile drive to Cornwall, and a few traffic jams en route could put me in real Victor Meldrew mode, but in spite of dire warnings about Easter motoring there is hope.  Tonight on the News a reporter on a motorway bridge in Bristol was saying there was little traffic and no hold ups in sight, so there is hope for a clear run. That said, mother nature may have last laugh, as howling winds from the north are forecast to bring snow, which in infinitesimal quantities can bring Britain to a grinding halt. I shall take flasks of coffee, chocolate, and a little emergency ration of whisky, and will report on the odyssey in due course.