How important are the Georgian Presidential elections?

I read somewhere that when Louis XIV was in power, he was woken by an attendant at a very civilised hour, who would then whisper into the royal ears, ‘It is my humble honour to inform His Majesty that it is now eight of the clock’, after which His Royal Frenchness was more or less lifted out of bed and dressed, washed and shaved without having to stir so much as a finger.

When I was a young soldier during Basic Training, I learned never to underestimate the sadism of the training staff (of whom I became one years later) very early on. We were told that reveille was at 0500 (this after only being sent back to our blocks at 2300, and then having to iron, clean and polish our kit), so the cunning ones amongst us decided that we would outsmart the staff by getting up at 0430, thereby preventing the blitzkrieg of the platoon sergeant’s wakeup call.

Of course it didn’t work. Somehow they got wind of this, so crashed into our room at 0400, banging a metal poker against a coal bucket and screaming, ‘Har-har! Wake-eye, wake-eye! Gerrup, gerrup, gerrup! Put ya cold feet on the nice waaarrrrm floor, lads! Wake-eye, wake-eye, Ah kin see yer!’. We never found out how they knew. Soldiers’ intuition, my arse; it’s just first-class espionage, that’s all. 

But then that also begged the question of how the platoon sergeant and his corporals managed to look so fresh-faced, since they didn’t finish the day until the same time as we did, and got up even earlier, looking immaculate on parade without a hair out of place as they berated us over the state of our uniforms or groggy appearance. It filled us with a slight awe, as it was meant to. Leading by example, they call it. 

I will be haunted by memories of my Basic Training experience until the day I die, and enjoyed putting my experience to use when I became an instructor myself (when asked why I wanted to be an instructor by my company commander, I tried to look earnest and felt that my youth of eighteen years would help me connect with the younger men, sir, and I felt that teaching was what I was born for, sir, and felt that this was the capacity in which the Army could best use me. Sir. Never mind the truth, that I was sick and tired of being treated like bloodthirsty cattle and wanted to lord it over my fellow man for a change, but true speech never won over fair officer yet). But when I think back to the Army’s practice of leading by example, I’ve applied it to almost every other aspect of life. 

If Tbilisi was populated by British people, things would be pretty different. The sexual frustration that hangs over this city like a bad fog would be gone in a matter of hours, though the police would be kept even busier due to all the violence…and Bidzina Ivanishvili would never have had a look-in. 

I mentioned in my last post that Georgians are hypocrites. They are. As I mentioned, people hit up on Salome Zurabishvili’s French upbringing and claim she isn’t a true Georgian while ignoring the fact that Bidzina’s command of the Georgian language is sketchy at best and hasn’t lived here full-time until very recently. As a more relevant example, a lad I know called Giorgi (ha, what else, right?) was once ranting and raving about the comfort that Saakashvili enjoys in the palace he built for himself, and how he travels the word living a life of luxury…without acknowledging Bidzina’s monstrosity of a house on the hillside, or the fact that he owns luxury apartments more or less everywhere. 

My friend Rob visited last year, and asked what the big green and metal building on the hillside was. I told him it was Bidzina’s home, and like the Oriental sage musing on human vanity, observed ‘stupid big bastard’. That, in a nutshell, is the reaction common not just to British people but Europeans as a whole; the new Italian ambassador put something on her Twitter to that effect…something about ‘ruling over’, but I can’t quite recall her exact words and am far too lazy to look it up.

Every European and American friend I have who has seen Bidzina’s house has more or less said the same thing, so it profoundly shocked me that no Georgian ever seemed able to come to the same conclusion. Does that mean that Georgians aren’t as clever as British people? Well, no, not really; British people are just inherently angrier and more aggressive. The Georgian pattern of politics is to worship the new leader before and just after election time; the British habit is to hate the bastard before, during and after his reign, and dismiss the opposition as ‘useless cunts’ (which, to be fair, they usually are. But then again, I’m British too). Georgians are able to ignore what they don’t want to see, and put hope in politicians where it isn’t warranted, which has never been more true than over the last twelve months. 

Bidzina does not lead by example, and his giant horrible palace is only a part of that. Personally, I think he would benefit from having having my old platoon sergeant run and organise his life for a month or two, that’d set him straight. I can see it now; ‘Gerrup, gerrup, ya skunk-headed bastarrrd! Put ya tsivi pekhebi on the warm floor, har-har!’. Saakashvili might be like a teenager kicking and thrashing around the world while the adult American, European and Russian powers patronise him and send him up to his room (with good reason, the little upstart), but for all his fiery rhetoric and knee-jerk reaction rants, you can’t deny that he came from more or less the same place as most other Georgian people, nor that he doesn’t lead by example. In that sense, I do have time for the man, and despite that a lot of his anger towards Russia is counter-productive, I’ll not say he’s wrong when he claims Putin wants to reestablish control over the former USSR. When people say Bidzina ‘is one of us’, I feel the need to laugh. He surely doesn’t see himself that way. After all, he won’t feel the effect of his release of 3000 criminals who’ve upped the crime rate significantly over the last year. 

Due to the constitutional changes made within the Georgian government, the soon-to-be-vacant Presidential office really won’t matter a damn. It’s only important now because Saakashvili is still in it. Georgian people don’t seem to know what the point of the President will be after this next election, and small blame to them; I read somewhere that apparently the job of the President will be to travel the world and ‘secure international relations for Georgia’. I thought that came under the remit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Georgian ambassadors (but I’m just a foreigner, what do I know?). The constitutional change was only made so that Saakashvili could have another bash at power, for all the world like his arch-enemies, Putin and Medvedev. 

To my mind, the only thing the next election will be good for is to show just how much Georgian Dream’s popularity has fallen during their year in power. I’m sure you know many people who were infected with Bidzina Fever and have now admitted that they made a mistake, which for me was staggering; Georgians aren’t good at admitting they made a mistake, and while not many of them actually did, the ones who were ranting and raving about Bidzina have been rather quiet since he took office and did absolutely nothing.

I think it’s just something that younger democracies go through. Even the Americans still put faith in their politicians; just look at the enthusiasm when Obama was elected. The older hands know that politicians are all bastards, and that nothing is really going to change whoever gets in. 

Nevertheless, election time in Georgia is always fun, so I anticipate a good laugh, a lot of angry shouting from sexually frustrated men, and absolutely no changes. Enjoy. 

 

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Guns

Shooting is something that I enjoy, and I think it’s a general skill that people should learn…kind of. When it comes to guns, I pretty much stand alone, since my opinion is neither here nor there when I compare it with contemporary arguments of for/against firearms in civilian life. 

In Britain, guns are mostly illegal. Countryside dwellers (like my family) are permitted shotgun licences after stringent tests, and after a few years this can be upgraded to a bolt-action rifle licence (which we’ve never bothered with, since the areas you can actually use it in are extremely limited). Similar rules are to be found in a lot of European countries, though things on the continent are generally more lax than they are on our island. France has some silly rules, though. Black-powder revolvers and old fashioned weapons are readily available, and it isn’t hard to acquire a hunting rifle (that could easily double up as a sniper system), but where you’re allowed to use it is a very narrow area indeed. The French go in for organised hunts, usually as part of the Chasse, and I hate the little bastards. They ride around in jeeps wearing orange jackets and blazing away at the deer when they can find it. I think it’s pathetic for a whole host of reasons, not only because it’s little Frenchmen playing soldiers in mechanised warfare, but also because it’s senselessly cruel. We have supermarkets nowadays. If they want the outdoor experience, they can fuck off and go camping. What makes even less sense is that our friend Richard shot a deer from his bathroom window with his rifle, an act that was actually illegal, despite the fact that he legally owned both the weapon itself and the land the deer was standing on when it was killed. Ah, but had he been riding around in a little car in an orange jacket with a bunch of shouting Frenchmen, that would have been fine.

There is limited support in our country for changing our gun laws to have more in common with those of the United States, and on the face of it I think it sounds like a really bad idea. On the other hand, gun crime is rife in Britain; assault rifles, submachine guns and pistols are all commonly found within the arsenals of criminals, but the public have nothing to defend themselves with. To give you an example, two years ago two female police officers were murdered by some thug in a grenade attack. A fucking grenade. I’ve written elsewhere about the violence problem in Britain, and guns are very much a part of that. Hence, supporters of reformed firearm legislation advocate giving the public the chance to defend themselves more effectively. Would that spiral? I don’t know. An American would probably argue that it would, but on the whole I think our country isn’t quite so full of morons as theirs is (or at least, we have different types of moron) and in some cases, it’s possible to buy a weapon and ammunition in America with little to no background checks (to prove a point, a British news crew pretended to be Americans and bought an AR-15 straight from a gun fair, armed with no proof of ID except for a persuasive nature and a fake accent. If that’s not ridiculous, tell me what is).

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that my parents are criminal lawyers, and when I was a boy they were always telling my brother and I about the cases they dealt with, and, in layman’s terms, just how the law could be so fucking stupid. In one instance, in the late ’90s I remember they told us about a farmer who saw three intruders on his grounds with knives in their hands. He blazed away at them with a shotgun, killing one and wounded the other two…and was subsequently sentenced to over twenty years in jail for murder and GBH. As I got older, my parents were always warning me never to get into fights, since if I ever did any real damage (especially after I started boxing) the police never care who started it. The choice was either get stabbed and be innocent, or defend yourself and be guilty. Thankfully I never had any trouble with the police; I don’t enjoy nightlife and never let myself get into those sorts of situations, but the risk was ever present. You wouldn’t believe how many people want to start fights in British cities, even in broad daylight, and they’re generally the ones who don’t care about getting in trouble with the law; nine times out of ten they already have been, and have nothing to lose.

The trouble with making firearm laws more liberal is that a country runs the risk of ending up like America. The situation there is just ridiculous. 

I learned about firearms when I joined the Army in immense detail, and from day one we were told two things over and over again. 1. You never point these things at anyone. 2. These things are designed to fucking kill. I think I was trained with an SA80 assault rifle for almost a month before I got to fire the damn thing. We learned to handle the weapon safely, strip it, clean it, load it, unload it, strip it, clean it, over and over and over again until we could have done it in our sleep. We used drill rounds, which are fake bullets; not blanks, just pieces of metal that are shaped like 5.56 rounds so we could get used to feeling ammunition in our magazines and in the rifle itself. After that, we shot rifles hooked up to computer systems on the electronic DCCT ranges, which is basically a simulator. Then we were sent on our first field exercise, and given live ammunition…but only blank rounds. Only when we came back from that we were issued real bullets and sent onto the ranges. 

Now, as you can imagine, all of that took quite a long time, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort, since it was accompanied with all the other stress and torture that makes up what the Army calls Basic Training. But whenever you learned how to use a new weapon, whether it be a pistol, sniper rifle or machine gun, you were taught using the same procedure…over and over and over again. But it quickly made me feel comfortable around firearms; British people aren’t used to them, we don’t grow up with them like Americans do. But because of the training I’d undergone, I knew that all the men around me had had exactly the same instruction. We never worried about people fucking up and causing an ND (negligent discharge) and killing someone by accident.

…which is exactly why I cringe every time I see Americans shooting guns on YouTube. They really do not have a clue. Oh, some of them can shoot quite well, I’ll give them that, and a few even know quite a lot about guns, but for the most part they are just the worst types of fat army wannabes, tooled up in more camouflage than I was ever issued, with the webbing hanging off them and God knows what else. Americans often grow up with guns, but it seems that that doesn’t make them treat guns with respect. On the contrary, their attitudes often seem almost flippant towards firearms. 

The Americans set much store by their Constitution, and for all their honking about Muslims interpreting the ancient text of the Koran, that’s exactly what it reminds me of when they argue over what was (and wasn’t) meant in the document set down by the Founding Fathers. It almost looks pathetic, the way in which Washington and Jefferson are elevated to the same status as Socrates and Plato, and how the interpretation of their words set down a handful of generations ago is treated as some mystical philosophy. ‘A man’s right to bear arms’…I dread to think how many have lost their lives because gun laws are too lax and American politicians can’t face some very obvious truths. 

What did George Washington mean by that statement if not that people could turn their basements into personal arsenals? Well, back in the old days, when the mean and nasty British ruled over America, there was no heroic US Army nor mighty United States Marine Corps; hence, everything was done by militias, and if memory serves the Constitution does state that weapons can be owned ‘as part of a well-regulated militia’ (I could look that up, but I can’t be bothered). Now, to my mind, the ‘well-regulated militia’ bit is fairly important, since it implies that weapons should be owned by reservist soldiers who have been properly trained. The modern equivalent would be something like an army reserve…namely, the National Guard. Perhaps a more accurate version would be the Swiss system, wherein men are conscripted and after their service ends, they keep their personal weapons at home, to use in case of a national emergency. 

In Washington’s day, the standard firearm was a matchlock musket at best, which had a rate of fire of about two or three bullets a minute. Could George Washington have imagined the effects of an AK47 or an AR15? Likely not, and I think he probably would have been horrified at the potential for damage that could be unleashed by someone keeping such a thing in their home. I put this to an American friend, Joe, who is a twenty-two year veteran of the US Navy, and now works as a military advisor to the UN.

But beyond all that, modern Americans just don’t need military-style firearms. In some states it’s legal to buy a fully-automatic light support machine gun. Shooting for sport is understandable, but there are guns designed for just such a purpose, and they could easily be used in self-defence. Americans buy military-style weapons because they fancy themselves as soldiers, basically. US soldiers I’ve met have cringed at the situation, and small blame to them.  

There’s a guy on YouTube called Iraqveteran888. He’s your typical overweight American, and claims (obviously) that he served in Iraq. What suggests to me that he’s lying is that his only video of him on operations is a clip of some American artillery soldiers manning a gun in Baghdad. Their faces can’t be seen, and the video was taken at night. I think what also casts doubt on his alleged military service is the content of his videos. It isn’t just that he’s a fat bastard, and most ex-soldiers like to keep trim even after they finish their service (well, it’s partly that…), it’s the things he does. ‘Dual-wielding’ Makarov pistols like a character on a video game; putting nine magazines on a ‘zombie-killing’ rifle with fuck knows how many attachments; and worst of all, firing a .50 calibre bullet from a 12-gauge shotgun. If he was in the military, it reflects pretty badly on the US Army, but I don’t think he was. I’ve known a lot of US soldiers, and on the whole they were good men who’d never be so fucking stupid with firearms. But Iraqveteran isn’t seen as another YouTube whackjob. He has a hell of a lot of subscribers and even more comments of support and admiration on YouTube. It’s scary.

Iraqveteran, like so many other American gun fanatics, is one of these Republican lunatics who spend their days moaning about Democrats, immigrants and turrurists, but in truth they’d probably like nothing better than for the US to be invaded by China, Iran and North Korea. That way they could put the ‘close quarters combat’ techniques they show off on their videos into practice (or try to, anyway, they wouldn’t last five bloody minutes). That’s not what I’d like, though. I’d just like them to do two hours of my Basic Training. They’d be bawling for home in minutes, I’d be prepared to bet any money.

Personally, I think Georgia’s firearm laws are excellent. It’s possible here to buy a 30-round magazine AK101 (a semi-auto version of the latest AK design), body armour, smoke grenades and a sidearm, but we’ve yet to see any kind of shooting that tragically happens so frequently in the USA. I don’t know what makes Americans do that. The amount of sense murders over there is nothing short of staggering.

I’m sure detractors will argue that it’s because America’s population is larger than most other countries with ready access to guns, but I doubt it. I’m sure a person bent on mass murder would find a way to get the job done whether firearms were legal or no (did I mention those grenade attacks?). I think America just has a larger share of the nutjob population than the rest of the world. 

Why, then, do I want a gun? Well, I enjoy shooting, especially pistol shooting (though I was always better with a rifle), and I’m sure only the most ignorant person would deny the rise in crime since Bidzina released 3000 criminals from the prisons. I want to teach Natia to shoot, too. Why not? God forbid she might need to one day, especially as she frequently walks home from work late at night and I’m not always able to go with her. I’m also of the old-fashioned opinion that a man must know how to use firearms, blades and hand-to-hand combat, as well as possess some musical talent (otherwise, you see, he is just a brute). Oh, and he should read a lot. Nowhere can more wisdom be gathered than from books.

There’s also the ever-present threat of the Russians, so it’d be handy to have a gun if they ever drop paratroopers into Tbilisi, and Syria isn’t so far away. Although if that conflict spills over this far north, we’re all fucked anyway. 

 

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TV series I would love to see

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do latch on to the HBO-style epic series, like Rome, The Walking Dead (it’s AMC, I know, calm down), Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers etc. etc. As such, I believe I am destined to be a TV/movie producer, what with my total lack of qualifications and awesome ideas and non-existent experience. See what you think; if nothing else, you’ll hopefully agree that these are better ideas than more money being pumped into rubbish like Jersey Shore and its franchises of thick people drinking and humping each other (and these are celebrities these days…the world is finished). Some of these are things I’d like to see in new series, and others are expansions of already existing shows. Enjoy. Or don’t. 

1. Quartered Safe Out Here – an adaptation of Fraser’s memoirs.

If you haven’t read George MacDonald Fraser’s recollections of his wartime military service, order it off of Amazon immediately. This is not the work of a professional soldier glorifying in his service, but instead the memoirs of a young man fighting in WW2 who was conscripted and forced to go to war. George MacDonald Fraser was also one of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century, and is comparable in my mind only to P. G. Wodehouse; interestingly enough, both men were mutual admirers of each other’s work. So there.

This book is also significant since it deals with that little-known theatre of conflict of the Second World War, namely the Burmese Campaign. A British Empire army made up of Englishmen, Scotsmen, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Gurkhas and East Africans fought together against the Japanese, driving them out of India and back through Burma. Most people don’t even know that there was fighting in that part of the world, let alone on such a massive scale with so many strategically significant (but forgotten) battles. Would the Americans have had so much hard-won success against the Japanese if a massive bulk of their army wasn’t tied up in India and Burma? Likely not. Burma was one of Britain’s greatest victories of the war, and it pains me that people only really remember the Battle of Britain, Stalingrad and D-Day. 

Anyway, the book is so beautifully and masterfully written than it’s a must-read even if you’re not into military history. Actually, it’s a book really far more about the human spirit than it is about war or history; Fraser does, after all, report on exactly what he saw and experienced, so it doesn’t read like an Anthony Beevor history book.

I think this would make a fine Band of Brothers-style TV series…but it would be devoid of all the things about Band of Brothers which annoyed me, namely things like the British all being posh useless cannon fodder and Easy Company being unstoppable All-American killing machines, whom the Germans cannot possibly stand against. Hollywood re-writing history has been a disaster for everyone, America included. 

2. Some sort of Harry Potter mini-series.

If you’ve looked at J. K. Rowling’s works outside of the Harry Potter universe, perhaps you’ll agree with me that she is best left to wands, wizards and witches. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; after all, Tolkien never did anything outside of Middle-Earth of note, and I don’t think George Martin will be remembered for anything other than A Song of Ice and Fire, however much work he put into Hollywood back in the ’80s and his sci-fi novels. 

Like almost anyone else on this planet, I’m a Harry Potter fan, and like almost everyone else I was left wanting slightly more from the universe which Rowling spent years weaving together. In fact, I’m such a die-hard I even logged onto the Pottermore website after having had the dangled carrot of new content being promised, but to be honest an interactive website will never be the same as a book. If you read the last book or watched the last film (of course you did, what am I saying?) then perhaps you too would have thought we’d see some kind of spin-off from the main series dealing with Harry’s offspring. And why not? Another Tri-Wizard tournament? That could be cool…set against the legacies of the events in the other books…hey, Rowling, if you don’t want to write it, I will. I’ll say yes to a few million quid writing about how young James Potter uses his invisibility cloak to have a wank in the girls’ changing rooms. Although to be honest, I feel it’s only a matter of time before J. K. Rowling returns to the series in order to fund the construction of her cloud base. 

3. Something about the American Eagle Squadrons.

Despite my annoyance of how every World War Two film is about how the Americans won the war for the rest of us, there was a host of American war heroes who are rather unsung these days, probably because their own self-sacrifice makes the rest of America look bad. As you know, the Americans didn’t join the war until it was already half-way done, but a group of Americans left their homeland in 1940 to volunteer for the Royal Air Force, long before the US was provoked into joining the war after Pearl Harbour.

These men were a collection of US Army pilots who had resigned their commissions and those who’d never flown a plane in their life, who all travelled to Britain to volunteer their services for the RAF. Dubbed the ‘Eagle Squadrons’, they wore distinctive British uniforms with Eagle shoulder flashes symbolising their American identity and were a fully-fledged part of the RAF, until the US joined the war and they were (sadly, I think) incorporated into the US Army Air Forces, losing their distinctive uniforms, ranks and squadron number. 

We’ve all seen movies wherein the Americans won the war and saved the world, whether it’s in Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Pearl Harbour, A Bridge Too Far…I could go on. I think it’s about time the Eagle Squadrons, the first American heroes, had their sacrifice properly honoured, especially as the closest we’ve ever come is Henley, a secondary character in The Great Escape. Sort it out, America.

4. Some kind of Stargate comeback. 

As much as I love the franchise, there comes a time when aliens who supposedly live billions of lightyears away are speaking English like were born and bred in Kent wears a little thin, as do the more ‘alien aliens’ who basically wore a lot of makeup in scary costumes. The special effects got better as time went on and things became more convincing, but it wasn’t until the newer and grittier Stargate Universe came about that we got a sense of things being truly alien and ‘out-there’. Quite why they cancelled it I don’t know, but the franchise surely isn’t finished yet and MGM would be fools to abandon it. 

5. An expanded The Walking Dead. 

This is probably one of my favourite recent TV shows, and yes, I’m fully aware that they did make a few mini-shorts of expanded content which dealt with the lives of people outside of the main cast. But even then, we’ve only ever seen what’s going in Georgia, USA. If you were Rick Grimes and his friends, wouldn’t you want to travel as far as possible? My Southern US geography isn’t great, but by Season 3 I was under the impression that Rick’s hometown was a little more than just a few hours’ drive away. They claim that in Season 4 we’ll see something different, but I doubt it.

What I’d like to see is something like a submarine crew, deep under the water and spared from the zombie apocalypse…or (dare I say it, America?) at least life on the other side of the world. Maybe they’ll look into it, but I doubt it. 

6. The life and times of Jack Aubrey.

I actually hesitated to put that one down, since I honestly wonder whether there is enough interest in Patrick O’Brian’s flagship (ha! Get it? Probably not) character; after all, despite the brilliant performance by Russell Crowe as Jack in 2003’s Master and Commander, it was never expanded into a franchise. However, it strikes me as odd how things have changed over the last ten years. Why, when I was at school, if anyone dared to admit that he read comic books (which, incidentally, I never did) he would be teased and bullied mercilessly as being a sad-act, a geek etc. But now things like Iron Man and The Avengers are positively cool. What the hell happened? I hate society, I really do. 

O’Brian’s novels are considered Jane Austen for men, and with good reason. They’re awesome. Who doesn’t want a ten-part HBO miniseries about ships being blown up, sword fights and wenches? It worked with Rome. However, since Jack is portrayed as an officer of the Royal Navy fighting the French, Spanish and Americans during Napoleon’s wars, I can’t see Hollywood going for it somewhat. A pity. 

7. A decent medieval drama. 

This is mostly untapped territory within Hollywood, which is something I’ve always wondered at, especially as so much money is pumped into series like Game of Thrones and real world history is no less interesting. Since the medieval spans such a great time with scandal, drama and violence taking place from England to Jerusalem, I think there’d be more than room enough for some kind of HBO-style series. Kingdom of Heaven didn’t quite hit the mark. 

8. Flashman

I’ve already discussed George MacDonald Fraser’s wartime service and his Quartered Safe Out Here autobiography, but Flashman was his most famous brainchild, and if you haven’t read the books, you simply haven’t lived. The wit and humour is rivalled only within the works of Wodehouse, but the historical accuracy gave me more of an education than RGS Worcester ever could. 

The titular character is an alleged Victorian war hero, who is in fact a coward, bully and willing to hump any female within arm’s reach. The books are historical fiction, comedy and thriller all blended into one, and while I would love to see the books adapted to screen, I appreciate that it would be difficult to get the wit and humour to translate effectively, since in the books it largely depends upon Fraser’s masterful command of the English language. Perhaps the best way to do it would be to copy the style of Peep Show, wherein the characters’ thoughts are expressed privately through inner monologues (and thank you to Natia for recommending that, I honestly hadn’t considered it but it seems the best way to me). There was a 70s adaptation of the second book, but it didn’t utilise this style, and since one was unable to hear Flashman’s workings, it didn’t come close to the style or excellence of the books. Small wonder no other efforts were attempted.

9. Mr. American

This is another work of George MacDonald Fraser’s, who you have probably already gathered was a hero of mine. This book concerns the life of a mysterious American Western gunfighter who comes to England in 1910 having struck gold in Nevada. The story follows him as he traces the roots of his family before they left with colonists to live in the New World, as well as his previous life as a gunfighter, bank robber and train-robber coming back to haunt him even amongst the quiet settings of Norfolk and his billionaire fortune. As he enters London high society, he fraternises with the king and leading statesmen of the day, all against the backdrop of the world steadily approaching World War I. The story ends in 1914 as the country goes to war. Fraser’s character Flashman appears as an old man in a supporting role to the story, sagely predicting the outcome of the war and the consequences that will lead to World War 2.

Said like that, the story sounds unbelievable and ridiculous, but I don’t have Fraser’s gift for making the unbelievable sound credible. I highly recommend you read the novel, but after having finished Flashman; then you can fully appreciate the old general’s input.

10. Some adaptation of Andy McNab’s books.

These books are a lot cleverer than they’re given credit for, and would probably end up looking like a less dramatic and more gritty version of the Jason Bourne films. Still, it’s something I’d want to see, since most of the plots are relevant to contemporary world events rather than being specific to a character like the Bourne franchise is. I’ve read that Hollywood are considering making the first book in the series into a film, but I imagine it’s a no-go since it concerns a terrorist attack by Al-Qaeda in Washington…and it was written before 9/11. Besides, the later books were better, anyway. Plenty of topics such as drugs, human trafficking, corruption in South America and the post-Soviet states…can’t go wrong with any of that. 

So there you have it. The end. Leave your comments. Or don’t. 

 

 

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UKIP, Europe & Georgia

‘Bastards let us down in ’14, and again in ’39…and at Suez…and they gave Exocet missiles to the Argies in the Falklands! Cunts! Why the hell are they here?’ Ricky demanded of me, referring to the French soldiers who had come to train with us for a few months.

‘Because they’re our friends and allies, and it’s important to learn to work together. Never know who we’ll be serving with when we get to Afghan,’ I said, repeating almost word-for-word what our platoon commander had told us in an effort to stop any premature feelings of xenophobia. I was also very conscious of the fact that my parents lived in France, and was determined to avoid mentioning it.

‘Bollocks,’ Ricky declared. ‘Remember Agincourt?’

‘No, not really. A bit before my time, and yours…’

‘Fuck off. You know what I meant. One hundred years of war, and then another few hundred years of them being complete bastards, and then Napoleon. We’re mates now, are we? Bollocks…’

I soothed him with a cup of tea, which is the British Army’s cure for everything up to (and including) disembowelment, and it put the brakes on his ranting until the rest of the platoon tramped in and echoed his own thoughts almost word for word at the top of their voices (after that, it wasn’t hard to keep the fact that my parents live on an 80-acre estate in southern France pretty quiet). Whatever political correctness and the government might say about old enmity being forgotten and a new age of friendship being embraced, the opinion of the common people (and, therefore, the opinion of the rank-and-file soldier) is rather far from where it should be in the eyes of our political class. EU membership brought larger military co-operation along with it, which in turn brought a few companies of French soldiers over to our islands to train with our unit.

In the spirit of international friendship and brotherhood, our platoon commander sternly warned us against a) making inflammatory remarks about French military history, b) stealing personal and/or government property belonging to French military personnel and c) fraternising with the wives of the French officers and NCOs. All of which resulted in Privates Davies and Parsons brawling with a few French counterparts over comments about French defeats in World War Two; an empty French-issued FAMAS assault rifle and kepi headdress being worn by an inebriated and half-naked Private Lawton as he was wrestled to the ground by military police, alternately singing the national anthem and threatening to write to his MP; a chase across half the barracks as Private Bailey, the battalion Casanova, fled the wrath of a French platoon commander after having used his charms and Google Translate to ask the officer’s wife voulez vous couchez avec moi, m’mselle? All in all, about par for the course, young British soldiers being what they are, will be and always have been. The French, of course, were outraged. Their company commander filed a formal complaint even after our lads had been given fourteen days’ in the lockup. Never in his life had he seen the like. What was wrong with these barbaric anglais? What would Milor’ Wellington have said if he could see l’armee de l’Angleterre of today? Surely these men must be given more severe punishments, death of his life and sacred blue. From what we could tell, the officers weren’t overly sympathetic to their viewpoints, but they tore strips off the rest of us, anyway.

It got me thinking, though, about Europe and the EU in general, something which is topical in both Britain and Georgia at the moment, and the incident described above always comes to my mind when I bother to think about it myself.

EU Membership is something that every politically minded Georgian clamours for, but without really knowing why. The reasons usually given are protection from Russian aggression (which wouldn’t be guaranteed by EU membership, anyway) and improvements within the Georgian economy. The real reason is probably something closer to free travel and the opportunity to work and live in more affluent countries…but despite these desires, nobody is really familiar with the problems that would go with them. Britain is currently undergoing something of a political upheaval, since the United Kingdom Independence Party are gaining more popularity by the day, stealing disenchanted voters from the Liberals, Conservatives and even Labour. I won’t go into too much detail as to why; you can look up that sort of thing for yourself if you’re interested, but for the benefit of non-European readers, I’ll sum up some of the issues surrounding it all. Disdain for the EU stems from a myriad of factors within Britain.

Firstly, British people hesitate to describe themselves as Europeans as a rule; during our history, we have never been as heavily involved with the continental countries (apart from the odd war) due to the fact that we are, obviously, an island. Since we’re also four countries in one, British people will usually describe themselves firstly as English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish, and then as being British. To the average person, we have little and less in common with Europe, which isn’t strictly true, but since the less affluent will rarely travel beyond our borders (and, if they do, they typically travel to strictly English-only areas of Spain, Ibiza, Bulgaria or Thailand if they’re feeling really exotic) it is difficult for them to build up any kind of rapport or sympathetic feelings towards Europeans in general. Modern continentals, however, are a rather different breed, since in today’s world travel is cheaper than ever, and people such as the Dutch, Germans and the French identify with their neighbours in a way that the British simply don’t. The European grasp of other languages also plays its part; I’m sure you’ve met those Germans and Dutch who can speak English as if they were born to it, or the French borderers who’ve picked up an admirable command of Spanish or Italian. The British are also rather xenophobic, a legacy of empire and a lack of foreign influence, brought about as being (almost) undefeated in war. We’ve had foreign kings and queens, but whatever bearing they had on our culture was almost negated by the fact that they were invariably either Dutch or German, who are of our blood as fellow Saxons, anyway, and culturally close to us.

I would say without hesitation that mainland Europeans are more progressive than the people of our islands. French and German co-operation is admirable, and a federal Europe seems almost inevitable in the not-so-distant future. The wounds of the past have healed…unless you’re British. The distrust towards Germany is so rife you’d think that World War II finished in 1995, and despite the fact that France has been our ally since the Crimean War, people still view the French as our traditional enemies. I’d like to say that’s because of our wars with the French that have stretched back over the centuries up until Waterloo, but it actually probably stems from a reluctance to learn French at school, with groans of “Fuckin’ shit waste o’ my time, ay it? I dun’ need to know this fuckin’ shit, its bollocks. Frog eatin’ cunts”. Ignorance and intolerance in Britain is, after all, at an all-time high.

There are, however, a good many reasons for Euro-skepticism. What people wanted years ago when Britain became a member was a beneficial free-trade zone. What they got was incorporation into a political body that has, arguably, impeded our own sovereignty. The deportation of terrorists to our Jordanian allies is a relevant example, an action that was blocked numerous times by the European Human Rights Court until it was finally managed very recently. Neither Germany nor France have suffered at the hands of terrorists in the same way that Britain has, and Jordan is a firm ally of the West that should be supported; preventing the extradition of a terrorist wanted by our partners is rather counter-productive. And anyway, let the bastards get what they deserve. They don’t fuck about in Jordan with terrorists, believe me. King Abdullah (an American-educated former British Army officer) is a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad, and does not like extremists besmirching his religion’s name.

The economy, too, is something that is hampered by EU membership. As part of the Union, Britain is limited with who it can trade with outside of Europe, yet it is forced to contribute to the bail-outs of member states whose economies are in peril. It is not politically correct these days to talk about how southern Europeans are not as productive as their northern counterparts, but the truth is evident when you compare the economies of Italy, Spain and Greece to Germany, Britain and Sweden. British taxpayers, then, are not entirely happy with helping bail out these countries, and a referendum on EU membership has been a long time coming. Leaving the Eurozone obviously raises the question of who Britain would trade with instead, to say nothing of who it would look to for military support. The answer, though, is obvious to me, and constitutes one of UKIP’s better ideas. Nigel Farage and co. advocate increased trade with the countries of the former British Empire, with whom we are only able to do limited business with due to EU restrictions. Since they are, mostly, our direct descendants, Britain and her people have more in common with the people of Australia, New Zealand and Canada than with European countries, even those with whom we share blood, such as the Germans or the Dutch. UKIP don’t advocate cutting ties with Europe; they still want to trade, but without being a part of a pan-continental state. Freed from the responsibility of bailing out failed European economies, if we had left the EU and a free trade agreement had been reached ten or fifteen years ago…ah, well, what might have been.

There’s talk of a north/south divide within the EU, and it remains to be seen whether the Union will break up or become Federal…maybe a combination of the two; they aren’t, after all, totally mutually exclusive when you think about it. A topic of controversy in Britain at the moment is the predicted influx of further immigration of Bulgarians and Romanians due to arrive next year. The main problem is, of course, that many of Britain’s unskilled labour jobs are currently being performed by immigrants from the aforementioned two countries and Poland, thanks to all three nations being admitted into the EU. What many on the Right like to moan about is that these jobs should be being done by British natives who are unemployed as a result of the immigration. While there is an element of truth to this, this view ignores the fact that many young Britons are more than happy to be unemployed due to the ridiculous social benefits system, which does, at times, mean they can make more money being officially unemployed than if they had a job. In layman’s terms, we have a working class who are not prepared to work.

‘Immigration’ is a blanket term that does not often reflect the reality of the situation. On a cultural level, Eastern Europeans are largely harmless (and I should know, since I both live in Eastern Europe and know a lot of Eastern Europeans in Britain). They create no issues with assimilation or cultural erosion, the same of which could not be said for members of the Islamic community, though it’s not politically correct to say so. I believe in equality as a man of liberal principles, and while criticism towards Eastern European immigrants is, at times, valid, it is neither fair nor just to ignore the growing discontent amongst British people about areas of Muslim society who detest our way of life but for some reason insist on living in our country anyway.

However, I don’t want to get dragged into that discussion today. Back we go to the Georgians. Georgians inevitably complain about foreign dominance, whether it be from Russia in the past or America in the present. Quite why they think Europe would be any better is something that I don’t think they have properly considered, especially as the rules and regulations of being a part of the EU would be more stringent and binding than the current ones they have to suffer as being an American client state. When you consider how xenophobic Georgians can be, the idea of trying to convince them to pay taxes to bail out another country is simply laughable (a hypothetical and unlikely situation, admittedly, but you get the point).

If Georgia ever does get EU membership (which it won’t, because if it was ever accepted then Turkey would have to get in as well, and that will happen when Berlin is in ruins and Munich becomes a wildlife park) then I think they will be disappointed with the reality of things. It would probably take only a year or two before people would be honking ‘The Germans don’t understand our country! They don’t have a right to tell us we can’t ban gay rights!’ or something similar. Whatever they might like to think, Georgian culture is not European in nature; it has far more in common with Russia.

To any Georgian who’s reading this and doubts what I say, I would point out that Europeans do not gawp at any woman who is unfortunate to walk past because of extreme sexual frustration, nor do they discriminate against homosexuals or judge women on whether or not they are virgins. Russians don’t do that either on the whole (apart from the gay bashing), but Georgians would (and do), I think, fit in more easily with Russian life than in Europe. Russians have a fondness for Georgians and their culture which is not shared in Europe. (Actually, Georgian social behaviour is actually far more Islamic than they would care to admit; sticking a cross on it instead of a crescent moon doesn’t change the Asian nature of it. I’m mostly referring to how Georgian men stare at women, or don’t respect women, or insist on family values that they themselves hate living with but see no other option just go along with things as they are. That, more than anything, is why Georgian culture is not European.)

Anti-EU arguments in Britain are probably the same ones that would crop up in Georgia, given enough time. A common one is that Germany’s insistence on bailing out bankrupt countries is a symptom of national guilt over the instigation of two World Wars. I doubt that, personally, though it is, admittedly, hard to argue with the opinion that the Kaiser, Bismarck and Hitler would probably be quite satisfied with Germany being the premier power in Europe (having worked with German troops in the past, however, I understand German dictators rather better these days. The efficiency and the professionalism…well, having millions of them at your beck and call would probably make the temptation to yell ‘Occupy Europe at once!’ almost impossible to resist).

I’m not a Euro-skeptic in the sense that I believe the possibility of a European Federation is the next Axis of Evil; I just don’t think it would be right for Britain or Georgia. Would a Federal Europe even work? Possibly, but in my opinion, not in its current form. I can imagine (just about) Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden forming one nation…but the inclusion of Spain, Italy, Greece, Romania and Poland just seems unrealistic. Europe is too diverse, no matter whether it be in the form of languages, work ethic or what have you, I just can’t see it working, and the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria is already seen as being a step too far. Does Georgia, then, really have a hope? I highly doubt it.

What, then, is Georgia to do? Well, in my humble opinion, it needs to get things sorted with Russia…but if it does that, it’ll mean the end of American investment, probably. On the other hand, friendship with Moscow does mean the end of a continuing fears over renewed war. If I were Georgian, I’d say bollocks to South Ossetia and Abkhazia; at the moment in Britain, the Scottish are thinking of leaving the UK, which is a big deal in Scotland but not in England. Our attitude seems to be something along the lines of goodbye and good luck, lads, it was fun while it lasted. I’m still unclear why Georgians want Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be a part of Georgia. If Cornwall was full of whiny dicks who didn’t want to be a part of England, any sensible Englishman would cut them off forthwith, just as we’re doing to Scotland (the government isn’t making any efforts to keep them in, you see. The official statement of ‘oh, that’s a shame’ surely doesn’t constitute caring).

I read somewhere recently that Azerbaijan and Turkey want to forge closer ties with Georgia, and I’d be interested to see what the reaction will be from Georgian people. They have a negative perception to both Turks and Azeris on the whole, and their intolerance towards Islam makes the right-wingers in the UK look like Martin Luther King. If you ask me, such a move is a product of Ivanishvili’s premiership, wherein the Georgian government has managed to piss off Moscow, Paris, Berlin and Washington to the extent that Ankara and Baku are the only ones interested.

Well, there you are. Another post finished with a whole host of things I forgot to mention left out, complete with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors etc. because I write these things over a period of weeks and never bother to read a draft through after I’ve finished it. This week, instead of Megan Fox, we’re rocking Mila Kunis. But what if they got together…

Posted in Georgia, Tbilisi, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Fashion, ties, the importance of wearing a watch & gentlemanly conduct

(Just so you know, I will not be able to write this post without sounding like a snobby elitist bastard, and since I have no desire to engage on class warfare debates, if you’re a New Age left-winger I suggest you leave now and return to Stephen Fry’s Twitter page.)

Nowadays, I live in a tiny apartment in Tbilisi, which is basically a corridor divided into two floors which function as two rooms. It’s comfy, homely and cheap, and I’m very happy here. It does, however, sometimes make me forget that I grew up a spoiled little bastard of a rich kid, who went to a prestigious school and is still a season ticket holder at Royal Ascot’s exclusive Royal Enclosure. If it wasn’t for the expensive gym membership and the fact that I spend my days lounging in the Marriott or the Radisson, I daresay I’d forget where I came from entirely.

My family are a contradictory mixture, owing to the fact that (unlike me) they were not born to money and had to work hard for every penny they had. My mother went to a school where stabbings were monthly events and the alumni included only criminals and failures. Nobody from her school had ever been sent to a university; my mother was the first, and she got into Oxford (the real Oxford, not that Oxford Brooks nonsense). I wasn’t even close to being alive at that point, but I’m still so proud of her, and for the career she later built for herself. By the time she left government service five years ago, she was the third or fourth most powerful woman in Britain’s judicial service.

My step-father had a similar sort of career path, though he never came close to wielding the kind of influence and power my mother enjoyed in London. He never would have made it there, anyway; he’s far too intelligent, kind and honest for the kind of riffraff who run things in our capital (my mother, however, being of Scottish descent and therefore naturally inclined towards evil, fitted in perfectly). The point is, unlike my brother, step-brother and myself, my mother knew what it was to have nothing, and I never let any Georgian tell me different, and I don’t care how hard it was here in the ’90s. The council estates of Wolverhampton, Tipton and the heart of the Black Country were little better than the extreme poverty of the post-Soviet republics, though it’s impossible to convince anyone of that who’s never been there.

My step-father had a more affluent upbringing than my mother, since his father was a bank manager and he attended a grammar school, hence he was raised as a gentleman. My mother’s own refinement didn’t take place until she went to Oxford in her late teens. What I’m driving at is that unlike the upper classes, they live in the real world of the here and now, and do not isolate themselves from the rest of the planet; by the same token, unlike the lower classes, they are cultured, educated and are as easily as civilised as the Lords, Knights and Counts whom we drink with at Ascot. You can’t tell them apart, except my parents know the price of a pint of a beer at the local pub.

Which leads me nicely on to the point of what I’m writing about today. When it comes to dress, I have two modes; either a total jeans and T-shirt slob or the tailored business suits that I actually feel most comfortable in (nobody believes me when I say that, but I swear to God it’s true). I simply cannot do ‘smart casual’ (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean), which meant I was never cut out for activities such as clubbing. I couldn’t very well go in my suit, but the whole chequered shirt, tight jeans and quasi-sneaker shoes is, in my opinion, nothing short of ridiculous. The best I can manage with smart casual is wearing my suit without my tie, but that makes me feel decidedly naked.

During my twenty-one years on this Earth, I have indulged in the most eclectic bunch of outfits. My private school uniform (which changed as I got older, but never lost its smartness); my collection suits, varying in colour, pattern etc.; the tuxedo I wear to balls and evening functions; the morning dress of top hat and tails necessary for Ascot’s Royal Enclosure; the camouflaged combat uniform of an infantry soldier, complete with regimental beret (a garment that represents centuries of history, warfare and the shades of your predecessors, and if you think that fanciful, you don’t know the British Army); ceremonial military dress, which is something special; and everything in casual from the boxing trunks I wear with the British and Georgian flags stitched on to the T-shirts of TV shows I like.

My upbringing and, later, the demands of military fashion, have imbedded in me a certain idea of what is and isn’t acceptable…by which I mean I am the most judgemental bastard when it comes to the way people dress. My brother has always had a preference for incredibly Left-wing women, and I remember one of them mewling ‘You’re saying, people judge you by the way you dress?’, to which my mother gave her the kind of withering look one usually reserves for the parents of crying children on planes or particularly dim-witted airport workers. It is, of course, the truth, and I didn’t learn it until I was about sixteen.

Before I joined the Army, I had originally applied to the Royal Marines and, by extension, the Royal Navy, which doesn’t call itself the Senior Service for naught. At my mother’s insistence, I wore my suit to my initial written test, though I was reluctant to do so at the time. I was, after all, enlisting as a rank-and-file Marine, not an officer, and I didn’t want to be marked for a posh kid from the get-go (which would have happened anyway, and later did when I started Army Basic). As I suspected, of all the recruits taking the written test that day in the Careers Office, only myself and one other chap who was joining as an officer wore suits, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. At the end of the test, we were given our instructions for our interview that would take place the following week, and the Petty Officer who was talking suddenly glared at me. ‘You, Marine,’ said he. ‘Get up.’ Wondering what the hell I’d done and reflecting on the fact that military bullying seemingly started far earlier than I’d imagined, I felt my face turn an embarrassed shade of crimson. ‘Listen in, the rest of you. I want all of you scruffy cunts dressed like him for your interviews.’ Which, as you can imagine, did wonders for my self-esteem.

I used to roll my eyes whenever my step-father would talk about the importance of double-cuffed shirts, the way the tie was tied, or the gentlemanly preference for a double-breasted jacket, but the incident describe above and others like it suddenly turned his droning into pearls of wisdom. It became easy to tell the difference between a Marks & Spencer off-the-shop-wall suit and the real deal. ‘Ah ha,’ I hear you say, ‘not everyone is lucky enough to be a spoiled little bastard like you, not everyone can afford this kind of rubbish!’. To which I would answer; true, but the kind of young office worker who turns up in his Next suit is the kind of man who believes that his Audi sports car and brand new smartphone constitute money well spent, and that investing in garments to wear while he attends the job that he hates is nothing short of a waste of money.

The fact is, I’m not the only one who judges people by their appearance, as copious amounts of time around military officers, lawyers and government executives (the latter two by virtue of my parents’ work) has convinced me. I usually prefer to travel on planes in a suit, since it usually leads to preferential treatment. I’ve been upgraded to first class thrice, and received free drinks on the flight to New York (with British Airways, who else) while my friend Rob, who was dressed in a hoodie and jogging trousers, was forced to pay (HA!). The uncharitable would say that this is just a conservative old-fashioned form of snobbery, but even if that’s true, it’s still rife and, therefore, important.

Look at Georgia, for example, and someone like Dmitry Shaskin or Irakli Alansia, both previous and serving Ministers of Defence respectively. I have seen both men meeting with foreign delegates wearing no tie. Consider the fact that the kind of men they’re meeting, leading European military and government officials from a more upper class background than I, and then remember the fact that they’re supposed to be representing Georgia for things like EU and NATO membership…it’s not surprising that they’re not taken seriously. It might sound like a trivial thing in itself, but not when you apply the standards I’ve outlined above, and remember the fact that Georgia is trying to prove itself as a civilised country to the Western world with similar values. These sorts of people who represent Georgia are supposed to be the best and brightest the country has to offer, and if I, an insignificant snob, find their dress totally unsuitable, imagine then what a French or German government official would think (especially when you consider the fact that the former are renowned for their elegance and style, and the latter for their typically solemn and commanding presence).

My step-father would often divulge his own beliefs on what made the thing he vaguely described as ‘a gentleman’. Over the years, I’ve formed my own view, and rather than describe it in detail I instead recommend you read about the life and times of David Niven, a soldier-turned-actor who also famous for his womanising and his skills as a raconteur. I enjoy the kind of behaviour that the uncharitable would describe as boisterous or rowdy as much as the next man, and when I was single and younger, pursuing women was one of my favourite pastimes. But there is a distinct difference, I feel, between the modern lady-killers (whether it’s rappers talking about ‘fucking bitches ‘n hoes’ or the young British men yelling ‘mate MATE I shagged this well fit girl last night!) and the charm and style of yesteryear, which is still around if you look hard enough for it.

The David Nivens of this world are still around, mostly in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and its sister Air Force and Navy academies. During my brief military service, I actually had two careers, one as an enlisted soldier and one as a ‘potential officer’, which exposed me to both the highs and lows of the Army. I have a particular fondness for Sandhurst and its young gentlemen, shaped and formed by centuries of tradition and the grizzled sergeant majors yelling ‘You will address me as “sir”, and I will call you “sir” in return. The difference is you will fucking mean it!’.

If you didn’t know from reading my other posts, my old school is the sixth oldest in the world, and when I first started attending, the seventeen and eighteen year olds (who made up what we call the Sixth Form) were young gentlemen, no other word for it. They wore smart suits (of which even I approved), carried briefcases and umbrellas, sported smart haircuts and carried newspapers under their arms. Within a few years, however, they were gone, and the generations after them were different. The smart haircuts were gone, replaced by spikes held up with too much gel, the elegant aftershaves superseded by cheap deodorants, the jovial countryside drawls turned into affected common accents, with shouts of ‘mate MATE MATE!’ in the manner of football hooligans becoming the norm. Keeping up the news and paying attention to the world outside was considered ‘sad’. No longer did the Sixth Formers chuckle about taking girls into the countryside for a picnic that had turned into a frolic in the grass; instead, they bragged about taking drugs in seedy nightclubs before going to a girl’s house and ‘fucking her senseless’. The carefully tied ties became stumpy and short in defiance with convention and tradition, the suits were the cheap variety of Next and Marks & Spencer that I’ve discussed already, and the shoes were slip-on affairs that I stopped wearing when I was fourteen, unpolished and drab.

The people who attended the school hadn’t really changed; they weren’t from different backgrounds that were poorer (which perhaps would have validated the change in behaviour), but they desperately wanted to be. They wanted to be seen as being ‘street toughs’, though in fact most have never been in a real fight and avoided confrontation despite all their aggressive behaviour. The teachers, too, changed, so the old ways weren’t enforced any longer. Instead of the old masters who were scholarly and pensive, we had new young teachers who looked younger than I did at eighteen and were about as much use as nipples on body armour. The school I attended was not the same as the one my family and I had been so impressed with as a boy.

I imposed my own standards during my latter years at school, vindicated by my concurrent military service. I adopted double-breasted jackets as my signature (and still do, more or less. Not many wear them, and they give a very elegant appearance), wore regimental cufflinks and my own tie, ostensibly due to the fact I lost my school one but in fact because my own were infinitely smarter (and, as I told one teacher who told me I’d be sent home if I didn’t wear the issued school one, ‘Go ahead, sir. Throw me out for dressing better than half the staff’. He didn’t, oddly enough. Mostly because I threatened to write to the Standard, and the school already had enough bad press after an arrest and a suicide all in one year. My God, it really went to the dogs in the end).

I’m also a firm believer in the fact that a man should wear a watch. It says a lot about yourself; in a lot of places it is a status symbol, particularly if one is lucky enough to own one or more luxury models, and at other times it gives off the impression of punctuality (according to my German friend and they, really, would know about that). Despite the fact that my brother has been as fortunate as I am in his watch collection due to gifts and inheritance, he rarely wears one, something for which I chastise him for whenever I see him (which isn’t often, lucky for him).

The above rant and assorted anecdotes have probably made whatever point I was trying to make by now. So leave your comments. Or don’t. Or maybe you’d like to discuss Megan Fox and Mila Kunis?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Agents, writing & books

Over the last few weeks, I’ve submitted my latest brainchild to the mercy of a few literary agents. I decided to go down this route rather than self-publish again because self-publishing is, basically, vanity publishing, and while it made me a tidy packet after I first released my book last year, sustaining the revenue was next to impossible. Not only was I writing about a subject which many people aren’t interested in (ie. Georgia), but promoting the damn thing is an expensive and often fruitless task (how many times do you see adverts every day? Even if the product looks decent, how often do you actually buy something? If you’re like me, you content yourself to a ‘oh, that looks cool’, while keeping your wallet firmly shut). Besides, I’m one of these chaps who hates to read something that he himself wrote, but I forced myself to re-read my manuscript this year, and in all honesty I hated the bloody thing. Amateurish, poorly developed…I could go on.

This summer, however, I finally produced something that I am actually happy with, having forced myself to read the thing from start to finish after having finishing writing it. I can honestly say that I’m pleased, and that’s a first; I didn’t cringe when I read the draft over again, and I sent the first few chapters around to a few friends who told me (apparently honestly) that they enjoyed it. I don’t want to talk about the book itself, but since I’m about to rant about originality (or lack thereof) I’ll have to disclose a few details. Suffice it to say that the plot is something like every zombie film you’ve seen…but without the zombies. That threw you, eh? I wouldn’t class it as science fiction, since the disaster in my new novel is semi-plausible…sort of. 

Anyway, I submitted it to a few literary agents over the last few weeks, and have been on tenterhooks ever since. My nerves don’t stem from fear of rejection; literary agents and publishers don’t seem to know any words apart from ‘no’, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Just go and look at any writers’ forum, or read about how many times bestselling novels got passed over by agents. Rejection is to be expected and not at all to be taken personally. That’s not why I’m nervous. I’m worried because one of them said ‘yes’ and asked for the full manuscript. 

Now, as happy as I am with this achievement (if, indeed, achievement it is. A lot of these writers on the forums seem to think so, since they apparently write for years and years and never get asked for their full MS to be sent), I am fully aware that it does not mean success, especially as the person who enjoyed reading my submission is not the one who will make the final decision. It’s more than likely that I’ll ultimately face rejection even after this victory, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find that concept a little frustrating. Here’s why.

Every agent lists on their website the clients whom they represent and the works they have published. I’m an open-minded sort of man, and even though I have my own preferences when it comes to literature, I’m more than prepared to try works that I wouldn’t normally consider (usually, admittedly, due to the lack of anything else). But after browsing the titles and summaries of novels published thanks to the hard work of the agents and their clients, I marvel that a lot of it is taken on. To my eyes, very little of it is original, with the classic love stories, generic SAS thrillers (yawn) and of course, the painful erotica destined for the coffee tables of sexually frustrated housewives. 

Now, I appreciate that one of the advantages of non-original content is that it is guaranteed to sell. The majority of people are, of course, inherently stupid (these being the same people who made 50 Shades of Grey a success, for God’s sake), and since stupid people inevitably demand more of the same since ‘stick with what works’ seems to be the only mantra they’re familiar with, one can understand the reluctance of agents and publishers to run with a wildcard. I am not, before you ask, vainly referring to my own work. After prowling the writers’ forums over the last few weeks, I’ve seen many novel (literally) ideas put forward by authors which sounded as though they’d be a hit…given the chance. Like anything else, this is a business, and if something new and original fails to make money, it’ll have proven to be a bad investment; this kind of thing happens fairly frequently, apparently, so it’s small wonder that agents and publishers are so reluctant to push the boat out. 

The thing is, though, many of the authors you see listed on agents’ websites don’t have the luxury of writing for their living full-time. Having looked at the kind of things they’re writing about, it isn’t hard to see why. I don’t know if anyone else does this when examining these sorts of sites, but I imagine myself in a bookshop, browsing the titles, and thinking which ones would catch my eye. Very few do, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Boring, generic, over-done…yet these are, apparently, the kind of things agents and publishers are looking for (though you can bet your bottom dollar that if you or I wrote and sent off such a piece of work, it would be rejected since it’d be boring, generic and done to death). Perhaps if we are to revitalise the literary world, these books simply should not make the shelves. I don’t know. 

I’m not thinking (or trying not to, anyway) about the fact that my completed manuscript is currently under intense scrutiny by some merciless man or woman in London, casting their beady eye on the plot and character development, while I sit here languishing in regret that I didn’t include that awesome sentence I thought of, or add an extra line to my accepting email begging for justice, wisdom and mercy. Instead of thinking and worrying, I’ve already started work on my next two projects (I have little else to do this summer, before you ask), both of which I’ve completed the first few pages for. I’m indulging myself in my love of science fiction for these two; one is a sports piece, a boxing story set five hundred years into the future, and the other is about the world in a century’s time, complete with the legacies of all of today’s political and social problems. If my current submitted novel comes to nothing (which, in all likelihood, it will), I’ll carpet bomb the same agents with my next two products.

And then you can read the blog post about how much I hate the literary business. 

 

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On Americans

I was asked to write this by a Georgian friend, who wanted me to comprehensively list all the things that bother me about America and Americans in Georgia, since it seems to be something that crops up fairly frequently with. So for his sake, I’d like to set the record straight (or as straight as it can be since I’ll undoubtedly forget a lot of my key points, but that’s usually the way it goes).

Being British has certain advantages in the modern age. As our country has drifted into global insignificance, prejudices against us have declined whereas for other peoples, perceptions of their nationality have grown worse. To use Georgia as a relevant example. Georgian people have strong feelings towards both Russians (‘bastards keep invading us, forcing their language and culture on us, the swines…’) and the Americans (‘bastards use and abuse us, abandoned us in ’08…), but no real negative attitude about British people.

They’re not alone, either. Australians used to detest British immigrants, but since they’ve witnessed an influx of immigration over the last twenty years or so of a different sort, there’s been a revival of affection towards the Pommies (that’s the English to you). After all, their culture is strikingly similar to ours (without the beach fever), which isn’t wholly surprising since they’re our direct descendants. Americans, too, are mostly pro-British, probably due to our close military co-operation since ’14 and again, a shared culture  (in particular the ladies, and if anyone from New York, Philadelphia or Boston is reading this…actually, that’s best left. This is a family-friendly blog, so this is neither the time nor the place for reminiscing about my decadent exploits with my Australian best mate. My God, those were the days. American ladies, I am indebted forever to your sisters of the aforementioned cities for giving me the rides of my life, and you may take that to mean what you will). 

Anyway, Americans seem to be universally unpopular these days, so when I criticise America I suppose it’s easy to accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon. Yet in truth I feel rather betrayed by Americans, since for years I defended them against the lampooning they suffered at the hands of my countrymen and other Europeans, who insisting on criticising them despite (unlike me) never having visited the United States.

The reason I was initially so impressed with American people and the United States was their behaviour. I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere how I loved the way in which they were so polite, in contrast to British people who are (despite popular belief) some of the rudest bastards you’re ever likely to meet, and in some places are as likely to respond to ‘hello’ with a ‘fuck off, queer’ if you’re a lucky and a swung fist if you’re not. After my first American experience I was thoroughly impressed with how they’d maintained social standards and basic manners, and I decided I wanted to live in the US. My opinion didn’t change until I moved to Georgia.

Something that I really think sets Americans apart from other peoples I’ve met is how they seem to be completely in one camp or the other, with very few in the middle ground, no matter what you’re discussing, whether it be politics, gay rights, the war in Afghanistan, take your pick. All the ones I meet in Georgia are either Republican right-wing lunatics or liberal save-the-world Americans, with honourable exceptions (Emma, darling, if you’re reading this, you’re definitely one, as is my friend Jon).

Take a controversial issue such as the current problems with the Islamic community in Britain (relevant today due to the Border Agency raiding homes and deporting people). The former group will mutter something about ‘goddamn tururrists’ without knowing what Mecca is or that the chap in the purple turban is actually a Sikh; the latter group will overreact with affected dignity and cry that any criticism of minority groups is ‘intolerant’ (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean these days), and the accusation of ‘racist!’ is never usually far from their lips. 

How do they differ from British people, you ask? Well, I’d like to be a bit more niche than that. They don’t differ from the racist morons who paint English flags on their faces and march around screaming about Iraqis, or the woefully short-sighted students whose left-wing ideologies would have had Marx bolting for the door. They differ from their equivalents, in that these are supposed to be educated professionals who ought to know better, and be worldly enough to not ascribe to one position or the other. Of course, not all Americans do that, in the same way that not every British professional is a wise enlightened thinker; I’ve met plenty of British morons and sensible Americans. I’m just describing my overall experience, which hasn’t been disproved yet. 

It’s reflected in their attitude towards foreigners, too. I think the American view of foreign countries is influenced by their own borders, of which they have only two, and the fact that they are rather isolated in a way. In my experience, this leads them to view countries in two lights: either by the Canadian standard of ‘kinda like us’ or the Mexican standard of ‘Third-world shithole full of immigrants who want to come to the US and take our jobs’/’Third-world shithole we can exploit and imprint our culture upon’. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a redneck Republican or a lefty Liberal, it never seems to make a lot of difference. For example, take the latter issue of a second/third world country they’re supposed to be helping. There’s a patronising self-righteousness to some of those who come to Georgia to ‘teach’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and an arrogance which at times can be contradictory. For example (and I’ve seen this happen) the same American Liberal who criticises (quite rightly) US foreign policy for forcing their culture and their beliefs on countries like Afghanistan or Iraq, is totally oblivious to the fact that his bleating about Georgian culture and his insistence on forcing ‘American values’ on them is exactly the same thing done in a slightly different way. Like kicking a man in the bollocks instead of punching him in the back of the head, I suppose, though they can’t see the difference. Or how an overweight American once told me with no sense of irony about the diabolical problem of obesity currently afflicted the United States. 

They also seem to have a propensity to generalise when it comes to Europe. I’ve had Americans tell me ‘So, you guys in Europe do things like this…’. Let’s look at what that actually means. Europe. Aye, I’m from Europe, but although Europe is a smaller place than the USA, it’s a hell of a lot more diverse (and don’t start on how you’re diverse because you’re somehow “Irish”, “Italian” or “Ukrainian” by virtue of your great-great-great grandmother’s cousin’s aunt, because it won’t damn well answer). I might as well say I’m from the Northern Hemisphere for all the good describing myself as ‘European’ seems to do in getting across my national identity (not that I really belong to one). 

So what I mean is something like this; in layman’s terms, just because the British do things in a certain way does not mean that we will do or view something in the same manner as other Europeans, like the French, Italians, Germans or Danes. Oh, to those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, I’m sure you’ll find (as I have) that there are similarities between people of similar ethnicity; I, for instance, will probably have more in common with a German or other Saxons or Scandinavians than I would with an Italian, in the same way that Italian would have more akin with a Spaniard than he would with me (this is to generalise, of course, but in my experience it generally rings true).

However, that still ignores the fact that we’re all different countries with different languages, to say nothing of different histories that stretch back thousands of years, with old rivalries and friendships still playing a part in the perception of people across the continent. The people of our islands have long memories, and none have forgotten that despite a hundred years of co-operation, the French remain our traditional enemies, and that for a long time Briton and German stood shoulder to shoulder against our former Catholic foes. In the same way, however, our neighbours in southern France where my parents live never let us forget the raids and destruction wrought upon French shores by the villainy of the Royal Navy, who were unchallenged at sea for almost two centuries (as you can probably tell, I take that particular gripe as a back-handed compliment. Mind you, if UKIP ever have their way the Navy will rise again. One can dream). 

Some people also forget that Britain is technically four countries in one, and I can bore you for hours on how England’s Saxon heritage has made its culture different to those of the Celtic Welsh, Irish and Scottish, to say nothing of how England itself is so sub-divided into different regions with a whole host of accents that sometimes even I can’t understand. 

Not to say there aren’t differences in America too, of course. The states of the former Confederacy strive to appear different from their former Northern foes, and life in the Mid West doesn’t often reflect that on the East Coast (or does it? I can’t see a huge difference between rural Dakota and Cape Cod, but there you go). The point is, the differences that exist between American states, while they do exist, are nowhere near as vast as those between European countries. Not even close. 

It’s a sensitive point for some Americans; the fact that their country is young. I’m not really sure why it matters. After all, our country is ancient and one of the world’s oldest democracies, and look where it’s got us; lapdogs of foreign powers, having had successive governments with no backbone for almost a century. The Americans don’t seem to be doing too badly, which goes to show that the age of a nation surely doesn’t matter a damn; I think it’s just a retort for Georgians who don’t like being reminded that they’re controlled by America. Which leads me on to rant about Georgian opinions of America…

Whenever I’m talking to Georgian university professors who’ve studied for a semester or two at an American university, they seem a little shaken whenever I try and debate the points they’re trying to get across, and they get very defensive. After all, their opinions must be right, they learned it at an American university, didn’t they? That’s actually their first defence, too; ‘Well, I was told this by a professor in the US!’ as though that will make me realise ‘Ahh, of course, my mistake…you’re quite right after all, it seems…’. I put it down to a legacy of the Soviet Union, when the words written by the Press were gospel true, and since these days the Georgian newspapers are spouting the good word of Uncle Sam I can see why so many people lap it up without question. They don’t have the skeptic ‘all journalists and politicians are lying bastards’ opinion common to Western countries, especially the British and our Imperial descendants; I hope they will in time, but who knows. 

It’s that same lack of skepticism that leads Georgians to believe that their country is more important to America than it really is. The British have learned that America is a fickle friend at best, and probably would have done better to cut close ties with Washington like Germany and France did back in ’03. Ah, wouldn’t that have been something? Maybe if we’d played our cards right we could have been the third major power in Europe alongside Paris and Berlin…but the British government has never had any sense since 1914, so one can’t expect them to start making good decisions now. I just wonder when I read things like the American ambassador talking about how ‘Georgia is a highly valued ally to the US’ who really believes it. They weren’t anywhere to be seen in ’08, nor would they be tomorrow if the Russians suddenly to decided to have another crack at Tbilisi. 

Not all Georgians are taken in by America, of course. I had a very interesting conversation with a taxi driver the other day, who was by far one of the most extraordinary Georgians I’ve ever met. It turns out he was a big fan of the British Empire, and said it was absolutely unfair that our colonial expansionism is compared to that of the Russians, which I fully agree with myself. His point was that the places Britain colonised, such as the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, were uncivilised before we arrived and so our contributions were positive. I wholeheartedly agree. Oh, certainly there was conflict, but tell me, when isn’t there? And if we hadn’t done what we did, some of the world’s leading nations and economies wouldn’t exist (including, as some of my American friends hate to admit, the United States itself. Well, you’d probably all be speaking French, and who wants that?). Another point Americans enjoy forgetting is that during our wars with them for their independence and again in 1812, Britain was allied with many Native American tribes, and after all, it wasn’t us who pursued a genocidal campaign against them in the 1870s. So there. 

My new taxi driver friend stressed to point out that without Britain’s imperial seeding, the world would be worse off, since if our territories hadn’t belonged to us, they certainly would have been owned by Spain and France, and he didn’t have much confidence in either judging by the way the former Spanish and French colonies have turned out (though I suspect he was just flattering me, but when you compare Argentine, Mexico and Algeria to New Zealand, Australia and Canada…quite). He was also adamant that we were most unlike the Russians, who had imposed their culture and language on people who already had both when they built their Empire, while we had simply introduced our way of life to people who didn’t have much to begin with. Well, that’s true to an extent I suppose, but it wasn’t as friendly as all that. We had our scuffles with the natives of the territories we claimed, but they calmed down fairly quickly, and as I’ve said, without us there’d be no modernisation (HA! “Us”. Like I was there). I know it’s very politically correct these days to say just how much Native American society influenced the modern US state, but if that was even anywhere near close to being true, New Jersey would be at war with New York because of a cattle dispute, Canada would shut its borders for fear of having its womenfolk raided, and all the skyscrapers would be shaped like giant tipis while everyone enjoyed chewing on the buffalo they’d spent all day hunting in their condo apartments-come-wickiups. 

Georgians seem to have two views on America, neither of which are accurate. The one school of thought thinks the USA is the fountain of all enlightened knowledge; for example, some the people in the government (past and present), and despite how on the one hand they will be ‘Georgian liberty! Georgian freedom!’, and on the other they require the approval of the Americans for every decision they make. I don’t see how that’s much different from being controlled by the Russians, albeit the goals are different and the type of dominance is more subtle.

On the other hand, however, there are Georgians who claim that ‘America has no culture’. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, but from conversations I’ve had with people, I gather this is something to do with the fact that Americans have sex before marriage and that they’re a new country and made up of immigrants. I don’t see how any of that is important, really. I point people in the direction of all this chastity ring bollocks to squash the first point, remind them that Georgia as it is today has only existed since ’91 for the second, and for the third…well, I can hardly gripe about immigration, firstly because my ancestors were Saxons from Germany and Danes from Scandinavia (recent or ancient history makes no matter, they were as much immigrants to England as the Italians and the Irish were to America) and besides, I’m a British person living in Georgia. 

There’s been a lot of recent talk about Bidzina recently, since it is becoming clearer every day that the guy has no fucking idea what he’s doing (he say she wants to resign before the year ends. HA! What a joke), and I was going to write more about how that might impact Georgia’s future and its relationship with America, but my hands are tired, I want to swim and I can’t be bothered. To my American friends like Tom, Emma, Jon and Chris, you know none of this applies to you, but if you’re offended I do apologise. And to the rest…enjoy. Or don’t. You probably won’t. But at least if you tell me I’m a miserable British bastard I’ll put my hand on my heart and tell you you’re absolutely right. We’re a horrible race of people, really (or races, I should say). Feel free to comment and tell me how wrong I am. Or tell me that you think I’m awesome. Yeah. Do the second one. I like that one better. 

 

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