Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Posing.... again!

Marina likes to pose as regular readers will know, so that's what we did on Monday. She knew an interesting building a little out of town to do a photo-shoot. I took about 300 photos in all (Nikon D7100 DSLR). I'm not sure where the photos end up, I am trying to persuade her to update her website with more photos.
After shooting the pictures, she went off home by taxi because she had an English lesson to give and I took a tram back to Heroiv Pratsi where there are two large shopping malls. I had a burger and Coke, I can't remember the price but the burger was about 50 euro cents. Admittedly is wasn't very big but by then it was about 4pm so I didn't want to eat too much. Later I took the Metro back to Sumska Street and my hotel.

Today (Tuesday) was less successful! Marina had booked two restaurants in 5-star Kharkiv Palace Hotel but I thought at first she was talking about a restaurant for this evening. But her intention was to shoot photos in each of the two locations but the hotel does not allow photos apart from those taken on a mobile, such as selfies of photos of plates of food I guess. To do a serious photo-shoot is 2000 uah for 2 hours (€64). I asked Reception if they had a lower rate for non-commercial photos but there was just one rate.
If it had been half that, I would have paid it (if Marina had allowed me) but 2000uah was quite a lot of money if we weren't claiming it on expenses! Marina wanted me to take photos on my phone but I felt that wasn't really honest seeing that only I would be eating anything and I wasn't really in the mood for eating anyway. Unfortunately we ended up arguing about it and went back to Hotel19 in not a very good mood! I think Marina was tired because, by then, all she wanted to do was go home, so we called a taxi for her. But it was a great shame because she had gone to a lot of trouble to get ready with dresses and makeup. It is no surprise that there is a big gap in outlook between a young girl of 27 in the east of Ukraine and an English guy of 74. Normally it doesn't matter but she just wanted to go for it and I felt that it would be unwise to attempt it because we could have ended up humiliated. That didn't bother her but it did me!!
When we arrived back at the hotel I asked at Reception what their rate was for taking photos in public areas and the answer was 500uah. We have taken lots of photos here in the past but we never have to pay because I am resident.
As I write this, I am hoping we will meet up this evening with her friend Vika. Marina, if you read this, I hope I have given a fair description of events and that we make it this evening. If there is anything in this narrative that you would like to change, please tell me and I will be glad to do it. I felt that if I met Vika on her own, we would have ended up talking about Marina which would not be fair.

Monday, 16 October 2017


I will add more words later! This was Sunday and the photo is of the fruit and veg market. 

The other photos are of Marina and her friend, Vika. We went bowling as you can see. We had so much fun - we were like teenagers and my age in years was quite irrelevant. We laughed so much in the restaurant afterwards that Marina was almost falling off her chair.

Vika ordered (Ukrainian) champagne but of course I paid for it together with the bowling, and the meal in the restaurant afterwards. If you have any lurking feelings about "buying friendship", then dismiss them instantly. I can promise you, this was a wonderfully moving friendship. The only stage at which relative age would be relevant would be in a sexual relationship but I am sure that you can see that this is quite different than all that stuff! Maybe they will find the husbands that they wish for but meantime, they had a great time with a guy who unfortunately is outside the age range (in years but not mentally). We will meet up again tomorrow for a farewell supper (I am writing this on Monday evening). And then I leave them to go and see Marta in Nizhiyn on Thursday. I will be a little sad because I like Vika a lot. To see her and Marina together gave me enormous joy.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

A view of Catalunya from Ukraine

I'm writing this on Sunday. Later I am going bowling with Marina and a friend of hers, Vika. I try not to think too much about the bad things going on back home. I don't read Spanish papers and there is no Spanish TV here. But I read The Times which, during the last week or two has been intensely anti-Madrid which upsets me a lot, because it is rather like supporting the illegal forces instead of the side which is attempting to uphold the law.
Most people reading this will know that Carles Puigdemont has been given a deadline of 10am on Monday (tomorrow) to make it clear whether he is actually declaring independence or not. It is not as though Madrid is asking him to decide, it is really to ask, who is calling the shots.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I want to move out of Catalunya regardless of the outcome because I cannot stand the poisonous atmosphere which will continue in any case. It is splitting families and friends. In my case, although I try not to think this way, I feel upset with my friends who support independence whereas before, I was very happy to co-exist with people who felt differently from me. Maybe they will feel differently about me because I don't hide my wish for Catalunya to remain part of Spain. Now people associate remaining part of Spain with the police violence on 1st October although I share their opinion. The big difference is that I don't see that it makes any difference to the legitimacy of the referendum and independence, it is quite separate. Two wrongs don't make a right.
When I go back on 25th October, I have 3 weeks before I go to Thailand and The Philippines which will be another welcome relief from the upheaval in Catalunya. But some of that time will be spent in Valencia because there is a very good chance that I will make it my new home. The big problem is my flat which I own. In the short term, I would have to rent it out and use the income to pay the rent in my new home and hope that they more or less match but I have to pay tax on the rent that I receive. In the longer term I would want to sell and buy but what chance of selling my flat when there is so much uncertainty. I could have done without this but I am a great believer that out of something bad, there comes something positive. And I will be moving to Spain, real Spain, where people speak Spanish, where I won't get nagged for not speaking Catalan. And Catalunya can sink for all I care. Even if Puigdemont declares independence, Madrid will immediately apply Article 155 which takes direct rule and forces new elections. This will cause enormous bad feeling which may spill onto the streets.
I think independistas ought to spend a week in the east of Ukraine and then talk about freedom and more money going to Madrid than comes back. When Catalunya wakes up to all the money and commerce escaping to Spain, they may see things differently. 


I ended my last post boarding the plane to Kyiv. The flight takes 3 1/2 hours, it is a 737-800 of Ukrainian International Airways and the return fare is never less than €300. Ryanair attempted to break the monopoly about a year ago and Kyiv Boryspil Airport agreed but the powerful owner of the airline overruled it.They even started taking reservations.

These flags, Catalunya, Spain and the European Union are flying outside the terminal, will they still be there when I return?
The flight arrived 30 minutes late, so by the time I got through Immigration which is very quick, and went up one floor to Domestic Departures, and got through security, I walked straight through the boarding desk to the bus waiting below. I guess I could have made it if I had been 15 minutes later but is is a little too tight for comfort. And I could have asked to jump the queue for Security.
I met my dear friend Marina at Meeters and Greeters and we spent a pleasant hour in the bar close by before I started to think that I should be heading for the hotel. We took a taxi together and dropped Marina off at her home which is not far from the airport.
I had a meal in the hotel and they gave me a free ticket for their disco next door. By now it was well past midnight but I was an hour behind so I went back to my room to change into my trendy girly gear and spent about 30 minutes in there. The sound level was enormous so I couldn´tstick it for very long. In any case it is not music, it is DJ generated beat. The girls were beautiful and smartly dressed and the guys rather shy and wearing the kind of clothes that they would wear in the street. I hesitate to generalise but in Ukraine I often see this contrast between the sexes.
 I didn´t sleep well. At about 5am I was woken by a loud crash. For a moment I had no idea where I was. I think it was the disco emptying its bottles into a refuse bin in the courtyard outside. It took me a long time to get back to sleep ad I was woken again by stuff being emptied into the bin. I complained in Reception but they can´t change their room. I asked that they are quiet but I can´t depend on it. It´s terrible, going to bed half expecting to be woken at 5am with breaking glass.
I complained bitterly at Reception next morning and they promised to talk to the disco. I had some breakfast and went back to sleep for an hour and felt much better. I never need much to catch up. Marina and I arranged to meet outside Universitat Metro at 2pm, I was expecting to be eating somewhere, she told me that we going to a place with plasticine but first we were going to a fair. On the way we passed hand-prints of various celebrities. I have attached various photos. The fish were from the local river and were still alive, so obviously air-breathing, like lobsters. I decided to give that a miss. They were very strange-looking to me.

After the fair, we walked back towards the hotel and, very close to it in Shumska Street, we dived in through an unmarked door, down some steps and Marina knocked on a door. There was a small sliding window and a man's face appeared and demanded a password which fortunately Marina had prepared. The door opened into the most beautiful restaurant. It was if they didn't want customers. The walls were covered in thousands of sculptures in plasticine. We took a seat and Marina ordered for us because the menu was all in Cyrillic.

 We were given our plasticine kits and I chose to create a Union Jack. I had to look it up in Google Images because I couldn't remember exactly how it went. The food was brilliant, Marina chose salmon soup for me, we shared a piece of roast chicken and chips and finally had cherries in a dough cover. We also had ginger tea. The bill was 400 uah which converts to about 13 euros. This is typically Ukrainian, it was so quirky. And one could almost imagine in advance that they didn't take anything as normal as a credit card! The food was absolutely top-class.
By now it was about 5pm and Marina wanted to go home but before that, we continued down Shumska Street to Ave Plaza shopping mall which has been updated since I was last here. There is now an Intimissimo and Calzedonia. Marina wanted to buy a bra so we visited Intimissimo and one or two less expensive shops on upper floors but left without success. She took a taxi home and I walked back to the hotel, had a beer and then spent some time in the room before eating later in Abajour which is the hotel restaurant below ground. I thought about going to the disco again but it was 11pm, a good time to sleep and too early for the disco anyway!

Friday, 13 October 2017

To Ukraine to escape the stress

I am sure you will have read in the press what is going on here in Catalunya. On Tuesday evening at my Meetup group, we watched Carles Puigdemont declare independence rather half-heartedly and then withdraw it pending talks. Some hope of that. All parties that are offerig to mediate insist on talks being within the law.
Then two days ago Mariano  Rajoy stood up and gave Puigdemont a deadline to say whether he had declared independence or not. We are now inside that watiing period and I am going to Ukraine yet again. For some reason I have made this my second home, I don´t even speak the language. I am writing this at Gate E at Barcelona, a place that I know well. And I am fascinated to see Emirates to Dubai leaving at 3.30 and Avianca to Bogotá an hour after that. Another month and I will be on the Dubai flight going to Bangkok and Manila. And last November I was on the Avianca flight to Bogotá. Today I am going to Kiev and then taking a connecting flight to Kharkiv where my friend Marina will meet and greet me.
I am glad to be escaping the turmoil in Catalunya. I will read about it online of course but I will be able to feel remote from it.
My feeling is that the independistas are on the back foot despite their making huge capital about the police violence. Puigdemont is now under enormous pressure, not only from Madrid where the National Day of Spain was celebrated yesterday but also from the more fanatical parts of his coalition, namely the CUP who want him to declare independence unilaterally.... and now!
I don´t really know why he is taking the 5 day deadline right up to the line. To confirm one way or the other now would be to show that he is sure about what he is doing.  
 Madrid has made it clear that they will activate Article 155 if Puigdemont insists on declaring independence. Article 155 is direct rule of Catalunya from Madrid.
To add to the pressure on Puidgemont to back down, but risk the wrath of the CU, almost every country leader speaking out is telling him to comply with the law.
A few days ago, an article appeared in The Times written by John Carlin, described as an essay. Then at the bottom, it said, "John Carlin writes for El País". The article, like many in The Times was critical of all the things that El País holds in esteem, the unity of Spain, the King. I imagined that maybe he just wrote for them from time to time because the article would never appear there. I wrote highly critical comments. Yesterday it was clear that he was on the staff of El País but no longer. They took great exception to what he wrote and fired him. I read that news on the train coming from Girona this morning.
The flight will be called soon, it is listed as running 15 minutes late but that will still leave me time to make my connection in Kiev but I have to go through immigration and security again at Domestic Departures. Security here was excellent. They have scanners for reading the boarding passes and there is a huge area to prepare for the baggage scanners. Sometimes that can be rather a pressured experience because, apart from having to remember all the metial biits like watch and belt, all computers have to be extracted and placed in the trays separately.At Barcelona, this was a breeze, there was so much space and time in which to do it. I tried to check my case all the way through to Kharkiv but I always buy two separate tickets because on the return, I have to. Well, I can but it meanns getting up very early and I prefer to take it easy in Hotel Ligena in Boryspil.
The check-in counter would not let me do it, so I have the case with me here. I have to board now!


Monday, 9 October 2017


I'm sorry, I got rather behind with my blog! All day yesterday, I was in Barcelona! Look! These are all my photos taken with my S6 phone.

Later in this post, there is an interview with the Mayor of Celrà where I ask him about what would happen in a future independent Catatlunya.

 This guy also appeared in some newspapers

This march was organised by Societat Civil Catalana and was a great success, the number of people was far in excess of what the organisers were hoping for. And not a fascist in sight! That is a dig at the media which attempted to vilify the march by mixing in photos of a completely separate and very small march by the far-right. It is true that at one stage they came together (physically but not in opinion!) but only for a short while - they were quite separate but people try to paint the SCC as far-right but in fact it is apolitical, it is not a political party, it is an organisation to bring together people like me. I try to be cool and respectful when talking to people who do not share my opinion but one thing that does make me angry is the attempt to paint the Partidio Popular as far-right and fascist, an extension of the policies of Franco, often by use of manipulation of images on TV and in the press. It is similiar to the Conservative Party in the UK and it would have my vote if I had one just in the same way that I would vote Conservative in the UK. I argued with the Mayor of Celrà about this but I suppose, from the far-left of the CUP, everything appears far away to the right!

It was a wonderfully joyous experience, helped by the amazing weather. I thought it was rather mischievous to insert a picture of fascists in Madrid in the article in The Times. There will always be a small minority of people like that, but there was not a single "francismo" flag in the SCC march (I like the Spanish word, "manifestación", it suggest a kind of coming together). No way was it a "march"! It took us 1 hour to move 50m out of Plaça Urquinanoa, such was the vast throng of people. Various numbers has been discussed, up to 1 million, but the point is that the number vastly exceeded the expectations of the organisers. 

Buses were laid on. There was one coach from Figueres and Girona but it was fully booked so I went on the train like very many others. In any case, the hire of the coach is normally covered by contributions from the occupants. By the way, the high-speed train (AVE) whizzes down from Girona to Barcelona in 37 minutes, so it is quicker than going by road.

An Interview with my Mayor!

Today I rang the Town Hall and asked if I could hold an interview with Dani, the mayor of Celrà. He is CUP, the party on the left of the governing coalition here and staunchly pro-independence. We have always got on well despite our totally opposite views. We had a most interesting conversation and no holds were barred. There was one point when I got up to walk out because he had seen pictures of the two groups in Barcelona and accused the SCC of being far-right, fascist almost. This made me rather annoyed because he kept on pressing the point, by this time we were both on our feet. I insisted time and time again, "Two separate groups"! But it was all courteous and we continued our "interview" standing! In total, we met for about an hour and a quarter which was great! We parted on very good terms, that was so interesting!

I won't go into too many details but we covered all the grievances of the independistas, going back to 1714. We talked about the police violence on 1st October but I was totally in agreement that it was excessive. But I am afraid I preached to him about forgiveness because he still burns with anger about it and it drives the move for independence. This was one of the few times he stopped to listen to me, for most of the time, he did most of the talking. Ha, not a good listener, sometimes he interupted me. I can hold my own, I said, "Escucharme!" At times he spoke in Catalan but most of the time, in Spanish. That must have hurt!

I had brought a large paper pad with me and drew an independent Catalunya as a train leaving a station, its exit driven by all the seething anger and I asked what would happen a few kilometers down the track when the violence was a thing of the past and Catalunya had to make some money. We argued about taxation. I maintained that, because we all live in Spain during the larger part of 2017, the tax would automatically be collected by Spain in June 2018. He disputed this but it is a recognised fact the world over. 

We disagreed of course about the right to self-determination. I said that the UN charter gives this right only to countries under oppression. He argued that Catalunya had been under oppression for many years. I swept my hand towards the window with the sun was shining. There are many parts of the world where the sun does not shine.

I explained how Article 50 worked with Brexit but he thought that it could be applied to Catalunya because it is leaving Spain so I explained that it was quite different. I drew a hypothetical 2 year period following the expected declaration of independence and said that there would be no rules of engagement as with Article 50 but unfortunately I couldn't remember the phrase, even in English. I said before talks started on exit from Spain, the rules would have to be agreed. I used as an example, the size of the table, who takes part, etc. And that would have to be settled before talks started.

I then asked him about the possibility of mediation, possibly by Switzerland or The Vatican. Would Catalunya enter into talks without the pre-condition of independence? He said that, of course, it would be the subject, not flowers! So I asked what his response would be if the mediator come down on the side of Spain and declared Independence a no-go area. But there we reached a slight impasse. It was a kind of chicken and egg situation. In any case, he said that they had a mandate from the people so can't see talks happening, mediated or not. And he says that Rajoy refuses to take part in talks. Not true. What he means is that he will not enter into talks where independence is on the table.

We will see what happens tomorrow. I asked him, "Are you optimistic about a future independent Catalunya?" I explained that I was scared and would move to Valencia. He said with a smile that Valencia would be next. He is half serious but we laughed about it. I wish I had pressed him more about the future because when he talked about it, the subject became woolly and unclear with a conviction that an independent Catalunya would remain in the EU. It would never belong in the first place. I wish I had asked him about the various companies, including my bank, which are planning to move their head office to Spain.

At 2.15 I left and thanked him for his time. He knows Carles Puigdemont because Puigdemont was previously mayor of Girona but he said that he doesn't see him too often now which is hardly surprising! Apart from anything else, he probably stays in Barcelona during the week. I was hoping he would pass on a few tips from me!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Moving Money

Something which I never imagined would happen may actually occur, a unilateral declaration of independence. Possibly on Monday.

They got their referendum. So, all the court hearings, declarations by the Tribunal Constitutional, even the intervention of the Guardia Civil were as nothing aganist the determination of people who want independence (or at least the opportnunity to choose it)

I have been moving my savings out of Catalunya and into the main part of Spain but I'm reluctant to appear as though I am panicking. I went to see my bank manager at "la Caixa" this morning which is where all my regular transactions take place. He explained to me that CaixaBank has a vast web of branches all over Europe so it is not just in Catalunya. But he offered me an account in any city in Spain and I chose Valencia. And that is where I would go to live if things got bad here.

So I am creating an account there, but partly it is a kind of protest at the high-handed way that the Parliament is taking me on a roller-coaster ride out of Europe. It is a statement.