THE RUSSIAN BEAR

I know I am not alone in condemning Russia’s repeated breaches of human rights, and some day it is to be hoped that common decency will prevail.

What is Tsar Vlad the Bad so frightened of that he neeeds to silence his critics in much the same way as Joseph Stalin, his hero of yesteryear? After all, he rules Russia with an iron rod, or so he believes, and like Jo, Tsar Vlad believes in the maxim that “you are either for us or against us”, there is no middle way.

Like any totalitarian dictator, the very thought of dissent will not be tolerated, so Alexei Navalry will not be tolerated.  He has been deported to a Gulag somewhere remote where he and his opposition will be forgotten, and with any luck, as the spotlight of world condemnation turns elsewhere, Navalry will simply disappear.  I hope not, but Tsar Vlad does not bow to public opinion, whether home grown or global, as witness the brass neck of the man who authorised the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury England.  Fortunately, the hit squad was monumentally incompetent, so the Skripals survived, and when challenged, Tsar Vlad simply denied it.

The thing about totalitarian dictators is that they never feel secure, and Tsar Vlad, rightly so, is no exception.  He joins a long list whose tyranny knows no bounds, but they are still driven by fear.

“Still as they run they look behind, They hear a voice in every wind, And snatch a fearful dread.” (after Thomas Gray).

BLAME IT ON THE RUSSIANS

For my many faithful readers, you may have been alarmed and perturbed by my recent absence, and you are wondering why.  I suspect you are feeling lonely and unloved, and crave an explanation.

The explanation is somewhat mundane, although you may feel, as I do, that sinister forces are at work. Three weeks ago, my wife and I decided to take a short break in the Algarve, where, according to the promotional blurb, the sun spends the winter.  Not this winter!

We chose Squeezijet as our preferred carrier, although, if the truth be known, we were not exactly spoiled for choice.  It was either that or Ryanair, better known as FlyinFear, and the only airline with outside lavatories.

We arrived to grey skies, a cool wind and steady rain, but we comforted ourselves in the belief that it would soon blow over, with blue skies and sunshine just round the corner.  Not so.  The word on the beach was that a belt of cold air was coming from east of the Urals, and immediate suspicion fell on Vladimir Putin.  And like a bad smell, it hung around for days.

I was amazed that Putin found time to interfere with the weather when he was in the middle of a re-election campaign for president, and by all accounts, it was on a knife edge.  The only credible candidate was Alexei Navalny, a brave yet foolhardy man who stood up to Putin and for his temerity, was subsequently barred from standing in the election following a trumped up charge  of fraud.  In passing, if fraud were a sound basis for disqualifying a candidate, why was Putin standing?

In the absence of Navalny, the next best candidate to unseat Putin was Bozo the clown.

It’s a strange business being a dictator.  You seize power for the good of the people, you suppress all opposition, again for the good of the people, you starve millions of your fellow countrymen, again for the good of those who survive, always ensuring there’s more than enough for you, your cronies and the army, and to legitimise your oppressive behaviour, you call elections from time to time which are rigged, so that you can declare to the world and his dog that your government is for the people and by the people.

But what I want to know, why bother?

SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Over the past week or so, I’ve been fending off the raddled harridans at the palace gates, exhausting work,  so it’s time to take a break, and if it were that time of the year, to kick off my shoes and feel the grass beneath my feet.

I have been doing some housekeeping and general maintenance.  I wandered into Twitter and checked out the many tweets over my controversial article on drink and consent to the sexual act.  I am amazed and gratified in equal measure over the number of positive tweets, but also dismayed over the few offensive tweets from people who struggle with the English language.  They either don’t or can’t read English, but this doesn’t seem to discourage them from saying something, anything, to get attention.

Whilst trawling through my tweets, I came across one from David Cameron in conversation with Evgeny Lebedev, “Privyet i dobro pozhalovat Tovarishch” as they say east of the Urals, and in case you didn’t know, Tovarishch Lebedev is Russian, and he is not alone in London’s fair city.  You may know that Tovarishch Lebedev is the owner of the Evening Standard (if you can’t sell it, give it away!) and his headquarters can be found in Northcliffe House.  He also owns London Live, a local television channel bringing news and views to London. What you may not know is that Northcliffe House is also home to the Daily Wail, so it’s standing room only.

I know all this because I was invited by London Live to say a few words.  Northcliffe House has a very grand entrance hall, rather like Selfridges, and there the similarity ends.  From then on, it’s all down hill.  On my way to the studio, I was escorted through an enormous room full of monitors and people monitoring them.  It couldn’t have been anything to do with the Evening Standard, as they have an editor and two newshounds and that’s it, but it looked spooky, like something out of Brave New World.

I had this romantic ‘tinsel town’ notion of television, like the movies, with elaborate sets and Greta Garbo and John ‘Marion’ Wayne drifting in and out, but the reality is altogether more mundane.  The studio where ‘This Morning’ is recorded is plywood and plaster board and smoke and mirrors. It is reached from the street by a service entrance with old boxes and tyres scattered about, then it’s through a warehouse full of junk, and out through a fire door into the studio complex.  Rather disappointing to an ‘out-of-towner’ like me, and as I had arrived at least two hours before I was needed, I was parked in a broom cupboard.  All very seedy.

By all appearances, David Cameron and Tovarishch Lebedev were in earnest conversation in the very broom cupboard I had so recently occupied. The online message was that Putin can be brought to heel.  Hope springs eternal!