Sunday, December 30, 2007


I was remined the other day of one of the great "turn-ons" that people regularly cite. Having someone listen to you properly is a wonderful experience, and something most people never learn.
From my own experience, Mrs. Lear maintains I pay no attention to what people are saying, being too eager to jump in with my own ( usually incorrect) opinions. The most interesting thing to happen to me in 2007 has been the requirement to listen properly in Romania - I have to listen to it in Romanian, then English, and then vice-versa for the reply.
What this "splitting" does is mean I have time to observe people properly as they speak, without having to concentrate on what I am saying - the most interesting nuances get picked up this way.
In complaints, it's usually the aggrieved party wanting their point of view listened to and accepted that makes it go away - or at least cheaper to settle.The real problems occur when the other side won't listen at all - the most dangerous people are those who have closed minds.
So my New Year's resolution will be to listen more. Apparently it gives one an aura of wisdom, what with the nodding sagely and gravely as each point is made.
The only problem is Nature abhors a vacuum, and silences extend.
ps. A friend says I should mention what I am listening to whilst writing. As I tend to listen to one cd for months at a time, this would probably be very boring, but this morning ( and for the last week or two) I have been listening to Kathryn Tickell's Air Dancing. Lovely.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Crotch your speed

This is a message displayed as graffiti near Glasgow Harbour.
I'm probably too old to understand what it means, but it certainly sounds painful.

Friday, December 28, 2007


I'm being told they are too long.
This is a short one.

How to make a fortune...

1) Buy a piece of derelict land for very little.
2) Hold it for a few years.
3) Apply for a multi-use development.
4) Argue the case to designate the area as in need of special status ( or give someone a handkerchief**)
5) Get it cited as an area for urban renewal.
6) Put in an application for a HUGE development worth millions.
7) Find the area has been designated as the centre of the area for 2014 commonwealth games.
8) Hold onto it, claiming you are being done out of " millions" by the Council offering you several million for it.
9) Er, eventually, graciously, sell it for a profit of ooh, anything you like really.
** " Give someone a handkerchief" - Glasgow vernacular for stuffing a silk handkerchief in someone's top pocket with money folded inside it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A bitter-sweet tale of the future.

There was once a Lady who fought her way up the ladder in her village. She made money, she married well, had children, and continued to grow in respect and wealth. She owned the bakery, the dairy, one of the shops, land and much more.
Her children grew up. The daughter married well and moved overseas.
The son was a clever boy who worked hard.
Then one day disaster struck.
His car was smashed into by a lorry on his way to the town. It was touch and go, but he survived, just.
He was irreprably damaged, with the mental age of 12. His body healed after a fashion, but not his mind. The doctors said he would probably only live another 5 years or so.His mother was heartbroken, but could do nothing.
After a year, she noticed that he spent more and more time in the local town. She made enquiries and discovered he was doing his best to be in the company of an attractive and lively girl.
So the Lady made a point of visiting her and made her a proposition.
" Marry my son. He will only live a short time. But if you have children I will leave everything to them. You will receive a pension for life."
The Girl was somewhat taken aback by such a blunt proposal, but she knew the Lady was very rich, and that she would be able to lead a life of her own within a few years.
So the deal was struck - no lawyers, just mutual trust.
The Son was amazed when the Girl agreed to go out with him - and even more amazed when she proposed to him quite soon thereafter.
It was a quiet wedding - the Lady was criticised for it being so small, but the Son was very excited. The Girl's family were reserved about the whole thing, but, as she was an only daughter, she had never been refused anything.
In due course two children were born - but the Son declined, and was dead not very long thereafter.
The Lady stuck to her bargain. But the Girl refused to take anything more from her.
" But why?" asked the Lady." We had a deal"
" I know. But I wanted to prove to you that money cannot buy everything. I loved your Son and always will."

What would it be like to be married for 50 years?

You might think that I already know the answer as Mr and Mrs Lear have made it past 34 years, so at a guess the next 16 or so won't be all that different to the last few.
But whilst I was in Romania, one of their local traditions made me think a bit about it.
All couples that have been married for 50 years get given about £20 at Christmas time. This year, there were 22 couples in Mosna who were due to get this. The envelopes are handed out at the Old Folks Lunch. The problem is, what's the definition of " married for 50 years".
I've related before the story of The Last Communist who has certainly been with her " man" for more than 50 years, but they didn't marry so that they would not get one of their apartments taken from them. The Mayor has decided it HAS to be proper marriage as we would understand it. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who disagree with this purist attitude, and when the golden wedding-ites came up, there were over 50 looking for the handout.
So he made the following announcement. " Would all couples who cannot produce a marriage certificate please go back to their seats." Certain amount of muttering, but there were still about 40 couples.
" OK," he said," Would anyone who is not on this list I am going to read out please sit down." This left 22 couples - and one old woman.
" Was you name on the list?" he asked.
" No, but I have been married for 50 years and I have the certificate with me." The Mayor took the paper proferred and conferred with other Town Councillors.
" Madame, it would appear you are correct. I must apologise. Where is your husband?"
" Oh well he died twenty years ago, but it certainly felt like 50 years with the old bastard"
Whereupon the whole place erupted in hysterical, thigh slapping, cackling laughter.
The OAP's had set it up as a joke.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It is mandatory to sing...

I'm back in Romania for a couple of days for the Old Folks Christmas Dinner. I'll come back to that shortly.
I came in through Budapest, having sworn I wouldn't do the train trip again. As it was the only way I could get back to to the UK before Christmas, I did it with a certain amount of ill-grace.
This time, the train left in day light so I had nearly six hours of travelling through a Dr. Zhivago-like land with brilliant sun, dashing horse-drawn sleighs , curling smoke and sparkling rivers. It was a delight and a pleasure.
I had to change in a place called Teius in Romania, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. It was about 9pm their time. The first thing I went in search of was a loo. For 20p I went to the station "superloo". On my way in I was solemnly handed two pieces of loopaper. This seems like a good idea to me - no longer reams of paper strewn all over the place and clogging up loos and urinals. And the loo was utterly spotless.
So I returned to the main part of the station - again a scene like the platform in Zhivago with people sleeping everywhere, huddled against the cold. In the waiting room, which was heated by the most enormous wood-burning fire I have ever seen, there was hardly an inch of space - to lie down, never mind sit. As I stood at the door, wondering what to do, three policemen pushed past me and started shouting and pushing their way towards a small row of seats. After a moment or two, a fourth policeman - with lots of gold braid - came up behind me, and started gesturing after his men. Gingerly, I began walking towards the seats. My suitcase was taken by the Chief of Police, and I was politely pushed into the first seat. The people who had been removed, huddled out of harms way without a murmur, and the policemen stood around.
"Multumesc" I said ( Thank you). The policeman made a simple gesture.
"Is nothing. You are genuine traveller - I can see from case"
We began to talk and it emerged that he allowed the local down and outs to sleep in the train station in the winter ( but not in the summer) - except he insisted that if a genuine traveller wanted a seat they had to shift.
After about twenty minutes it was time to catch my train so I thanked him again. The people were perfectly happy. I noticed one boot near the door. As I passed it, the Chief said to me " We have many cripples. I am helping where I can"
As ever, my time here is taken up with checking that the land we are buying is actually owned by the person trying to sell it, that he doesn't owe any taxes on it, that it is capable of registration and so on. But I came across a new one this time. A piece of land that finished one part of a jigsaw we agreed to buy for about GBP140, did not have any taxes due on it. As we were leaving the tax office, the lady in charge said, " Of course, he owes for the sheep"
Apparently, a farmer pays a small amount of tax on the land, but also a per head tax on his livestock. Normally, they pay the tax on the animals ( they, after all, are easy to seize) but not on the land - it's too much like hard work for the authorities to enforce payment. So we agreed to pay the tax and deduct from the purchase price.
But what of the title above? Well, every ( that's every as in every single one) teacher in Romania has to be able to sing and lead his/her class in Carols and the National Anthem. We were treated to what I would describe as proper Christmas Nativity plays, Carols, and traditional dancing - not PC perhaps, but most enjoyable. The children were full of enthusiasm, did it all with enormous good grace and happy smiley faces.
And what of the Old Folk's Christmas Lunch? Mrs. Lear was not pleased that I should be disappearing just before Christmas, but I explained it was political.
The Old Folks Associations comprise the largest number of voters in the villages. As a result, if you want to be elected, you need to be on their good side. And, because they are older, they own most of the land. So if you want the Town Council ( who owe their jobs to them) to support what you are doing, and you want them to sell you some land, you better be nice to the Old Folks Association.
One final observation.
When I logged into the Internet my first night here, the address bar had not been cleared from the day before.
There, in all it's glory, was the web-site for Coventry City FC.
So in Romania, Coventry has at least one fan.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The politics of Germany

A friend has just shown me from his Mary Poppins like box a pamphlet of the FDP - a political party - in South West Germany.
Now, what are their " strap-lines?"
The first is:
"How you organise your future, that's your responsibility.
That you have the freedom to do so, is ours."
And as far as work goes, they want to reform taxes,workers' rights and social security.They also want to create more jobs by shrinking the state.
Gosh I wish DC said this LOUD and CLEAR.

The character and manners of a lovely woman...

... are the same everywhere, whether beside Broadway, the Thames, the Seine or the Danube.
I cannot ( being old and senile) remember who said this, but I think what he meant was that lovely women all have certain expectation in life - no matter the humbleness of their origins.
It is surely a sexist remark, but I also think it understates the cleverness of women. The most beautiful woman in the world will eventually become old and wrinkled, and then what? Perhaps all women everywhere should take heart from Pamela Churchill/Harriman etc, who, although time took it's toll, became, if anything, more important and beloved as she became older. A lesson for all of today's beauties to cultivate enduring success and fortune, not the one night shag of a foo'baller.
I was reminded of women's cleverness the other day - and also of another side.
Quite a senior manager in one of Scotland's erstwhile independent grocery chains, met, fell in love with, and married one of the check-out girls.
Nothing too extraordinary in that you might think, but he was quite senior when this happened, and had been earmarked for exalted positions.
Now quite a lot of women of such a lesser position, education and wealth in such a situation would have gone about upgrading their cars, their clothes their jewelery, their houses - and done nothing about themselves, with the result that at some point the manager would likely have been embarrassed by his wife's lack of something. If it continued, she could have ended up on the scrapheap, as so many women do. It does seem to me that men come out of these things better than women in many ways, especially where HE is still moving up.
So with great foresight, she set about improving herself. Elocution. Deportment.Clothes-sense. Cooking ( she had never done it before). Entertaining. And reading - books, newspapers, magazines.
Her husband at the start kept telling her not to be so silly - he would always love her ( she was very beautiful) - but after two years, he was promoted again, and offered a fantastic job down south. The only thing was, he was expected to host a dinner for about 50 business colleagues & their wives before leaving - something he would be very much into in his new position ( after a certain point in business, it's the entertaining that counts).
The day dawned with the husband virtually a nervous wreck.
His wife, although suffering somewhat from butterflies, had readied everything at the venue - menus, flowers, drinks - and had bought herself an extremely chic outfit, which would not be too much for the most senior wives, but would clearly place a stamp of taste on herself.
Noone at the do had met her before, and were astonished at her coolness and grace as they came in. Twice she whispered in her husband's ear as he was about to commit a faux-pas, smiled at everyone, made conversation at all levels, and bid everyone good night with a smile that made them feel that they had been not only welcome but had made a contribution as well.
The Directors noticed it, as did their wives.
The couple duly travelled south, and within six months the husband was placed immediately below the board, and when one of that august body retired, he was immediately co-opted.
Now the moral of this story is not that what she did was remarkable, although it definitely helped her husband. It's what happened when he died shortly after becoming a Director.
She was naturally heartbroken. Her grief was assuaged, however, when the Chairman approached her and asked her to take over her husband's position on the Board, with special responsibility for corporate events and entertaining, a post she held for many years.
But she never forgot where she came from and continued to spend time in the Glasgow area she grew up in. You may ask why?
Because her parents refused to be moved out.
And that was because, although they adored and approved of what she had done, they were determined she would remember her roots.She was able to show these to her children and subsequently grandchildren, who, as a result, had a seriousness and grounding that too many lack nowadays.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Collecting in Dalkeith

I popped over to Edinburgh to help collect for the Gurkha Welfare Trust outside Tesco in Dalkeith.
I was a little early so I nipped across to Portobello Cemetery where Old King and Mrs. Lear are buried, as well as numerous of Old Mrs. Lear's forebears. It's a lovely spot, looking out over the hills and fields of East Lothian, and certainly the kind of place where I would be happy to spend eternity.
Then to Tesco.
As ever, lots of tales of people liking and respecting the best friends the UK has ever had. The finale today was a very elderly lady being guided around the store by her 20-something granddaughter.
She stood in front of me and emptied the entire contents of her purse - including notes - into my tin.
" Ah," she sighed, stuffing cash into the little slots," I was in love with a Gurkha Officer for over 30 years."
" I never knew Grandad was in the Gurkhas, Granny".
The elderly lady looked at me, smiling and twinkling.
" Quite right dear. He never was, " and went on her way, chuckling to herself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


There are lots of pretty pictures of various different species of penguins, both in the papers and on the TV today.
Apparently, their lives are being threatened by a) melting ice and hence b) fewer krill for them to eat.
I have to say I have always believed that the Earth sorted out these problems ( Less food = fewer predators, so more food next season = more predators) but I suppose I must doff my cap to those who say we have global warming.That said, I've been told it's all bolloks - see here.
Anyway, I have always been very fond of penguins, ever since as a little boy my granny used to take me to Edinburgh Zoo, famous for its penguins and also on the TV today.
I'm also reasonably keen on the chocolate bar, hence the title of this post ( " Pick up a P-P-P-Penguin")
But my undying adoration of them was forged one winter whilst skiing in Switzerland. As I was forced to play games rather than getting bluttered ( ladies present), I opted for Trivial Pursuit.
Now I've never been that keen on the actual game - too fiddly - but I quite enjoy just answering the questions.
One of the questions that night was : " How often do penguins have sex in a year?"
The questionmaster followed this up with "And it's as often as Kinglear"
This meant I instantly knew the answer.
" Ah, that'll be just the once then," which naturally caused insane laughter all round, and much amusement on the slopes for the rest of the holiday as people immitated penguins when in my vicinity.
But you know what? I bet they really REALLY enjoy it.

2014 Commonwealth Games - again

I am much taken with an article in the Herald this morning which mentioned the new underground line expected to service the area where the 2014 Commonwealth Games will be held.
In truth the cost of the line will not be that great - there are apparently lots of tunnels under Glasgow which can be used with a bit of TLC.
I rather like the idea that our forebears had the whole infrastucture in place several generations ago, and we - profligate lot - stopped using them and have only now realised the truism that infrastucture is growth and progress. The Victorians knew this instinctively. Quite apart from their genius at engineering, they had a belief in progress and education.
We have largely lost that. We are beset by doubts about what we are doing and even as to whether progress per se is good at all. We have grand projects which will have no legacy ( if you believe this government about the Olympic Games you are seriously intellectually challenged) as opposed to projects which benefit people.
The new railway line will help the whole East End of Glasgow to revive.
Forget the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Look what Ryanair has done for eg Charleroi, perhaps the most depressed area of Northern Europe.
It's only a train without railway lines, delivering people to an area.
And it has done more for the area than 40 years of Belgian Government interference.
If you can say " Belgian " and " Government" in the same sentence

Monday, December 10, 2007


I don't know if you have been following Cranford, but if not, let me just tell you the production, acting and basic story far outstrips anything else on television at the moment.
I won't bore you with lots of detail, but there is a point I want to make about how we used to live.
Miss Matty had an affection for a young man, who was considered unsuitable by her family. He reappeared 30 years later and they had a very proper and shortlived romance, culminating in him getting pneumonia and dying.
But what was so delightful was when Miss Matty was ordering a new bonnet. She asked for it to be made in two parts.
Now Miss Matty was unmarried and of a certain age.
" But," said the milliner, " that would be a widows cap!"
" Yes" said Miss Matty.
Nowadays, of course, romance would appear to depend on the setting, on extravagant gestures and on a quick shag afterwards. I was reminded recently of the old joke about the girl who couldn't get her tights off in time, and therefore found her toes curling.
I would much prefer politeness and civility and romantic notions.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Even more dead brilliant!

If you'd asked me at lunchtime how the day was going I would have said dull. Five hours later I would have been doing an impression of Tom Cruise on Letterman ( I think) when asked what he felt about Katie Holmes.
The day started with the usual housekeeping - bank,lawyer, petrol station - and proceeded to the big meeting I am actually here for. I am a vice president of the association that is trying to get money from the EU for various local projects, like proper sewerage, and other civic improvements. Not enough people turned up to start with, so, Madame Elena was deputed to vote for herself and the Gypsy community. Lucian the Animator was deputed to vote for 2 other mayors who phoned in to say they would support whatever I suggested. That still meant we needed one more person ( this at a meeting where nearlty 50 people were present but only 14 had a vote ( actually only 12) and we needed one more. It was decided I should vote twice - once as myself, once as the representative of my company and oh yes, that'll be 4 votes you have with the two mayors. They then wanted me to be voted the Chancellor of the group. I refused. They voted me in anyway, with me voting 4 against. I declined and proposed another member. Immediately all the votes were cast in her favour.
That settled, we got down to the serious business. Which went on forever, as these things do, punctuated with votes about various matters. Afterwards, The Old Folks Association tapped me for a donation of Ron 100 ( about GBP20) followed by the Children's Association, The Mothers Association, the Historical Association and the Association for the Advancement of Cultural Heritage. As far as I know all of them are largely devoted to getting together and having a bloody good knees-up, but then, as someone said to me, " What you want? They are normal peoples"
When I finally got out of the hall, the local Mayor grabbed me " I have surprise!"
The principal teacher, the local police chief, the under mayor, the chief engineer, the treasurer and the man from Bucharest who is supposed to make sure the Government funds are properly spent, got into several cars and raced ( because the Mayor only has one speed) into the gathering gloom.
Into a field.
Up the hill, wheels spinning, hoots of laughter, slipping and sliding until we got to the top. We crested the ridge - and slid to a halt.
There, under the trees, was the most enormous bonfire.
Shouts, laughter, bonhommie - and they all looked at me.
Now I actually still had no idea what was going on. For all I knew I was about to become Edward Woodward in the Whicker Man ( the good one that is).
Fortunately, I spotted someone near the fire with what looked like potatoes being put into a pot.
" Fantasic - perfect! "I said. This was clearly the right thing as gales of cheers and back slapping ensued.
What was being prepared was the most delicious lamb stew I have ever tasted. It was accompanied by potatoes deep fried over the fire and polenta. It all had the most amazing smokey taste ( as you would expect) but was of such a flavour that I have never before tasted anything like it.
Chunks of bacon fat were sweated and toast was dripped onto as a starter. It may sound disgusting but the crispiness of the fat was such that it tasted more like nectar of the gods. Local wine was drunk. The fire sparked and spat. Shoulders were hugged and truths spoken. Foresters came out of the woods to join us, with their dogs, all of whom were fed too.
The chief of police was especially interesting. He gave a speech in praise of the Mayor, but suggested a new pair of boots should be paid for.
The chief engineer gave a speech where he said he wanted a new road roller. The Mayor opined the boots were OK, but the roller would have to wait a while.
As we ate, the stars came out, and the fire added to the sparkle of the night.
More wine was drunk. The food was finished, so the singing began - Christmas Carols we would have called them, but with a sweetness and pathos that our endlessly repeated songs cannot match.
I regret I had to leave - I had another meeting at 9pm 40 kms away - but not before a hug and a kiss on both cheeks from all present, gladly given back.
I said to Alin as we left " That was too good for words"
" You see, Mr. King, they are knowing how to make their lives colourfuls."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pure Dead Brilliant!

I'm back in Romania, and the snow has arrived. In truth it arrived a while ago, and then went, but has now come back.
So I arrived ready for cold and misery, as reported by Alin my faithful driver.
Naturally, the minute I stepped onto the tarmac in Transylvania, the sun broke through, and has been shining to such an extent that I am now sporting a very healthy sun-tan.
And the hills! EVERYTHING is covered in the most magical pure white carpet. Not the grubby stuff we see in the UK. This is fluffy, virgin powder, full of sparkling lights and rainbows, and, when it hits your face from a branch springing back, is like a hydrating balm for tired, taut skin.
I've spent two days walking the hills with maps and sticks to be pushed it for reference points, with locals giving us names and delineating areas to buy. Yesterday I landed at 10:45, and was walking by noon. We eventually trudged back into Nemsa after the lights came on, but needed no torch to light our way. Deer, foxes, game birds, field mice, birds of prey, rabbits, hares,magpies - all whirled around us, deer coming within 20 or 30 feet, unafraid of our alien bulk. It was an utterly magical day, enlivened by fantastic vistas and and the sharpest air I've breathed for months.
As a result, lunch was about 6pm, and punctuated by a stream of the vendors haggling about areas and prices - this one complaining that they have had a health problem for 30 years so we should pay them more, that one that the geometrical surveyors had done them out of areas, so we should pay them more, or even just we should pay them more. But Alin is very good and ignores all pleas - we agree a price before and that's it. Sometimes he argues with the people and says to them to go away - if they want to come back, that's all right, but we might reduce the price ( we don't, but they don't know that).
So the day ended about midnight with some progress, and it all started again at 9am today. The fields were if anything even more magical, but the haggling afterwards never really changes.
We managed to finish relatively early, so made our way back to Sighisoara for lunch, which was an amazingly early 4:45 pm.
We went to the restaurant famous for its sarmale ( stuffed cabbage leaves) and found it locked.
In the garden area at the side there was clearly a party going on, so we peeked over the fence to see all the staff having a barbecue. Someone spotted Alin, and the cry went up " Alin's here! Alin's here" ( in Romanian of course) and nothing would do but we should join their feast. This is the season that the pigs are killed, and the sausages and other delicacies are made, and a barbeque is put on for the helpers.
The fresh killed pork, roasted on proper charcoal in the open air, was simply mouth-watering. The skin had crisped to perfection, and the baked potatoes, cabbage salads and tomatoes were of a quality and taste that puts every UK supermarket to shame. The home made wine flowed, and the chatter pierced the night as time went on.
Business was forgotten - except the owner of the restaurant told me he was getting rid of the tables and chairs and replacing them shortly.
" What are you going to do with the old ones?"
" Ow, I shall just throw them on the rubbish dump"
" In that case I'll take them ". Alin looked at me with horror.
" Mr. King , what you goin to do wid dem?"
" I don't know."
" Really? You are sure?"
" Sure."
" You are not having too much wine and schnapps?"
"No - I'm fine. It's fine"
" You are sure? " said the owner.
" Absolutely. And I will bring you a bottle of whisky from Scotland when I come back." At which point he spat on his palm, as I did, and the resounding smack sealed the deal.
And the stars sparkled in the black sky, and made it perfect.