Sunday, 22 April 2012


Saturday April 21st
Walking along the streets, in bright, warm sunshine, it's like the whole city is waking up from winter sleep ...

The trees are coming into leaf, pale green and fresh, or blossoming white. The cathedral spire shines brilliantly white and gold against a deep blue sky, its bells ringing out a sweet arpeggio.

People are out and about, many, many people, strolling in leisurely fashion along the broad, tree-lined roads, and the main pedestrian street, Deribasovskaya. And everyone is wearing light clothes - the scarves, gloves, thick coats and fur hats of the very cold winter now seemingly a distant memory - and looking relaxed and happy with the change.

In the parks and gardens people are lounging on benches, chatting, couples have their arms wrapped round each other, and children are running in every direction, freed from the layer upon layer of clothes they are swathed in during the winter.

The fountain in Gorodski Sad (City Garden) sends freshening sprays of water into the air for the first time this year, and a small orchestra tunes up on the bandstand - the tuba's august tone, as it seems to me, sounding a fanfare for the arrival of spring.

The planet reaches that stage of its annual journey through space, where its axial tilt of 23 degrees takes the northern hemisphere that little bit closer to the sun, and the increase in solar warmth works its quickening magic on every cell. Or, as the ancients would have said, the unconquerable sun returns to warm the earth.

"It's time for spring", "When is summer coming?", "I want the winter to end", have been standard refrains in conversation for several weeks now. We have our wish ...

Saturday, 31 March 2012


Today this blog reached 1000 pageviews. I'm really chuffed about that. Thanks to everyone who's contributed even just one of those, and especially to those who've told me they enjoy reading it. It's a nice feeling to know that. :)) More to come!

Sunday, 18 March 2012


It's long been my experience that life delivers messages and benedictions, if you want to hear them and can understand them - but they are never what you expect!

Some back-story. I've been having difficulty teaching a group of 11 and 12 year olds, on the basic level of the children's behaviour and classroom discipline. At one stage I thought I'd made some progress, but then, the next time I saw them, their behaviour was the worst I'd experienced, the class was completely disrupted, and I really lost my rag with them, banging books on the table, shouting, telling them I was appalled by their rudeness and their behaviour, their parents would be told, etc. etc. (Such is the reluctant lot of one in a position of authority, even when that one is, by nature, something of an anarchist!)

Subsequent to that, much searching for ways to handle the situation better next time, me talking with the head of children's teaching about working with this age group and these particular students, alternative approaches, tips and strategies - anything that might help me do a better job. (I don't like not doing a good job.)

Fast forward to the next time I was due to see them. Immediately beforehand I was, unexpectedly, asked if someone could sit in on the class. She was an older Ukrainian woman, who'd been a schoolteacher in the past, and was observing classes, with a view to doing some teaching at the school herself. You can probably imagine that, at first, I wasn't best pleased to be asked - not this class, on this occasion, when I feared that all hell might break loose, and the chances of me appearing competent and professional were very low indeed! I could've refused, but at the same time I thought her presence might have a positive effect on the children's behaviour - I'm quite sure they take advantage of the fact that I don't understand what they say to each other, and they wouldn't be able to do that with her.

So to the class, with a couple of new strategies in mind, and now a different classroom dynamic. It went very well. The children behaved considerably better than usual (I'm sure the presence of the former teacher played an important part), and we even managed to do some work! A much better experience in every way. But that's not the point of the story.

I got to the end of the class, and of course I wanted to know what my observer - a trained, experienced schoolteacher - would have to say. Would she comment on the lack of discipline in the class? Would she talk about the behaviour of the children? Would she make any observations about my approach? Eventually we did talk about all those things, but her very first, unprompted, words to me at the end of the lesson?

"You obviously love children."

That was not what I expected to hear. Talk about coming out of left field ... But, hearing her perspective, instantly my whole experience of working with the group was re-framed. That's not to say that I suddenly realized that classroom discipline was of no importance, but rather that I was too hung up on it; nor that I suddenly abandoned my determination that the children learn some English in the classes, but rather that I understood I already had the most important quality for bringing that about in abundance. The mind of course quickly jumped in with its disagreements ("but ... no ... really? ... but it can't ...what about? ..." etc.), trying to re-establish the status quo, but the message had already been delivered. Straight to the heart. I'm still absorbing its impact.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Aaaaaaaaand I'm back!
My long silence has been the result of really needing to concentrate on teaching, getting settled in to my new situation and new daily activities. I feel I don't need quite the same intensity of focus now, so can include other things in my view, like the blog.

There are quite a few potential entries jostling for access to the blog, and I'll get round to the ones I like best soon. But to start off with, as something of a contrast to a photo I posted earlier (!), here's one of a group I've just been teaching:
They're not quite as pretty as the other class ;), but they were very "real" and I enjoyed teaching them. They're Ukrainian merchant mariners - captains and chief engineers (no erroneous, Pugwash-themed jokes about Seaman Staines or Roger the Cabin Boy, please) - who work on dredgers, all over the world, for a Belgian company, imaginatively called Dredging International - tsk, those Belgians, they really know how to come up with a snappy and allusive brand identity, don't they? The guys were doing a 40-hour intensive course to improve their English, which the company had paid for (its concern for CPD evincing a more modish business acuity than its marketing!) In truth they were more interested in talking than learning grammar, so we spent quite a bit of time doing that. The conversations were interesting, full of enquiry, and very good-natured, but it's rather a shame that there wasn't an opportunity for us to include some beer in the proceedings, as I think that would've made them even more so! Needless to say, we talked about the frozen sea (did I mention that already?), and I learned from them that it was about twenty years since it last happened, but this time a much larger area was frozen; also that the Sea of Azov (look it up) was frozen solid!!!! Apparently this was not such an unusual occurrence, though, as it's only a few metres deep on average.

In the spirit of the title of this blog, I rather like the fact that I've chosen to publish this entry on International Women's Day. It wasn't deliberate, it's a connection I've made just now, while writing it. So, dear readers, I send you my best wishes for International Women's Day (pozdravlenya s Mezhdunarodnym Zhenskim Dnem', as they say here), from one bloke among many.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Some more pics of the weird and wonderful frozen shoreline.

The number of people out there to see it this Sunday afternoon is testament to how rare an event it is (and, probably, to the fact that today it was only -10 ... Practically balmy!)

A middle-aged woman with fantastically misaligned, orange teeth, from whose kiosk I bought a slice of soggy, microwaved pizza (reminded me of West Bay ... aww!) told me in some detail, while waiting for the pizza to heat up, how she couldn't remember the weather ever being like this before. At least, that's my best guess at what she said. She chatted happily away, clearly unaware that her listener understood only about one word in ten. But I must've got the gist, because when I made my own, less-than-ten-words-at-a-time, weather-themed contributions to the conversation, she didn't look at me as if I was a crazy person talking unconnected nonsense. Result!

It was an afternoon of strange shapes ...


I've been wondering how these ice shapes came about. They rather look like the water froze just after waves had broken over these structures. Extraordinary.

Last night featured some strange shapes too. I went with some colleagues from work to a bar where a couple of live bands were playing. The support band were a bit Coldplay-ish, pretty good musicians actually. But they weren't local, and the level of audience support wasn't that high. The main band, on the other hand, were clearly local favourites, so got a much more enthusiastic reception from the crowd - even though they were rather less interesting. I've heard the kind of music they played (punky, music to pogo to) many times, starting in the mid-70s, and it all gets a bit same-y. The mainly youthful audience loved it, however, and pogo-ed away enthusiastically (God, do I sound old, or what?) But the atmosphere was good - apparently it's a very "in" place to go here - and the beer was good and very cheap. I bought three half-litres of an excellent light beer (they call it "white" here) for about £2.50. Entrance cost the same. Here's a rather uninformative photo, the only one I took:

Back to the shapes. One of the most surprising things that happened was that, during the gap between the two bands, the people who jumped up and started to dance to the DJ's music, were nearly all men. Something that doesn't happen very often in the UK. Time will tell if it's characteristic or not ... And they were "throwing" some very weird shapes while strutting their stuff.

That's it. Pretty feeble link, really. :))

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


I discovered a couple of days ago that the sea here is frozen over. The Black Sea - frozen. Not all of it, of course, but up to a considerable distance from the shoreline, half a mile, maybe more. Almost unheard of here, apparently, and something I've personally never seen before. Today was another clear, bright day, I had no teaching, so I decided to go and see ... frozen sea!

On the way there, a walk through Shevchenko Park in the lovely winter light:

With signs perhaps of the rapid departure of some of the people who would normally sleep rough there (most of the people who've died in Ukraine in this cold spell have been homeless):

And then, finally, to a frozen Black Sea:

In this particular spot, there was still some water not frozen solid:

 But elsewhere it was like this:

In one place, sheltered behind a wall, there was a small patch of completely unfrozen water

 which made a strange contrast with its surroundings:

In another place, a stream continued to run along a conduit

and kept the sea unfrozen where it ran into it

even though it itself was surrounded by ice

Oh, I forgot to mention that this was the coldest place I've ever been in my life! Not only was it cold enough anyway to freeze the sea, but there was also a strong wind blowing - it was like someone was trying to wrap every bit of my exposed skin in rough ice. After I'd been by the sea for the best part of an hour, I was very cold. I had, with difficulty, managed to operate the exposure and shutter controls on my camera with gloves on, but not to change lenses, so the gloves had had to come off (for the briefest time possible), twice, and my fingers were *burning*. And then, finally, the camera battery gave out. I don't mean it just ran out of charge, like batteries do, I mean it stopped working, because of the cold. It was time for me to stop too. A brisk 15-minute walk to the nearest cafe, a bowl of hot soup and some coffee, and I recovered. The battery hasn't.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


I thought today was a degree or so warmer, at least in the middle of the day (I didn't venture outdoors until lunchtime). But this evening a student on one of my courses told me that the temperature on her outdoor thermometer before she left for work this morning read -24.

I just need to give that a moment to sink in ...

-24 !!!!

My lips are practically frozen together just thinking about it. :||

Word is that the temperature will rise somewhat after the weekend, when it's rumored that it may go as high as 0 degrees. Blimey, practically time to get the swimming cozzy out! I also hear tell that the cold front is headed in a westerly direction - so if it reaches my dear friends in the UK, you will have my sympathy, but I'll be glad it's gone somewhere!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


I joked the other day about my fingers maybe getting frozen to the metal of my camera in this weather. Hahaha. Well, as it turned out ...

Today was probably the coldest yet, with the temperature around -18 (that's in the middle of the day, in full sunshine, you understand). It was also a brilliant, clear day, with all the streets and buildings looking fabulous in the beautiful winter light again. As I, thoroughly wrapped up, was walking briskly to meet a friend in a cafe, I saw a view of some bare trees and their shadows cast on a building, which I thought would make a nice shot. Should I stop and take it? Or should I just keep going and get out of this cold as soon as possible? My crossing the street momentarily delayed by traffic anyway, I decided to take the shot. I took my camera out of my pocket, then my glove off so as to press the little magic button ... FUUUUUUUUUCK! My fingers didn't actually stick to the camera, but they immediately hurt like hell, and continued to until I got inside the cafe and warmed up about fifteen or twenty minutes later ... Something else to be careful of in these new and unfamiliar circumstances I've chosen. I've *never* experienced this degree of cold before. I think it was about 10 below when I was in Moscow 6 or 7 years ago, and also in Japan back in 1985, but that's the coldest, until now.

Here's the shot, btw:

Was it worth the pain, I ask myself? I mean, it's OK. And I still think it's a good idea, but fully achieved? Nah! What do you think? (comments below, please)

There is, for a photographer, a painful irony in the fact that the light here on a day like today is just *exquisite* - I mean, even the north coast of Cornwall can't match the crystal-sharp luminescence of this light, imo - but it's just too bloody cold to engage in any meaningful way with the act of taking photographs! (It's almost too bloody cold to engage in any meaningful way with the act of just looking - or even being alive - tbh.) But maybe I'll find a way - and one which doesn't require the sacrifice of any precious, and much-loved, digits!

Somewhat later, I saw this shapka (fur hat) abandoned by the side of the path:

How could *anyone* not notice they didn't have it? (And, in case you were wondering, no I didn't have painful fingers for a quarter of an hour after taking this photo - this time I left my glove on. Hah! Lesson learned. Far from a resolution of the frustrating situation previously described, nevertheless a step in the right direction ... )

Tuesday, 31 January 2012


I saw a man in the street the other day, who looked like he might well have been homeless, and thought "Shit, I don't like the idea of being without shelter in this weather". And, it seems, dozens of people here and in Poland have actually died from the cold in the last few days, many of them homeless.
Grim. If you can't find shelter, I honestly think there's little chance of surviving ...

I'm told that the temperature here (-10 to -15) is not so unusual for this time of year, nevertheless it's still top of everyone's list of conversation topics. Odessits may be familiar with this degree of cold, but they don't like it any more than us newbies, it seems. And the fur coats and hats are out in force! I hope to get some photos tomorrow - if the camera operates, and my fingers don't freeze to the metal :{

One interesting (and more light-hearted) consequence of the weather is that the presence of snow brings a near-army of babushkas out onto the pavements, all bearing traditional, twig broomsticks, with which they brush determinedly away at the snow. They don't wear conical hats, though, nor do they utter obscure imprecations in rhyme, so the impression that Odessa is hosting a convention for witches from fairy stories is merely fleeting. Anyway, watching them, my first thought was that this place could do with some snow-throwers, because if these besom-wielding biddies (sorry, couldn't resist it!) were trying to sweep the pavements clear, they were, not to put too fine a point on it, entirely failing. But then I started to wonder if they were actually trying to do something else, like maybe just stir the snow up, so that it doesn't solidify into treacherous ice. If I can find anyone who a) knows and b) can understand what I'm asking, I'll ask.

Another thing that happens because of the cold is that, if my breath, from behind my scarf, goes up my face, it mists up my spectacles, but usually just on one side - with the entirely unexpected consequence that I instantly lose my depth vision. Several times yesterday and today I nearly stepped into a hole in the pavement several inches deep, or could not tell how high the kerbstone I was about to step off actually was. Just another thing to be careful of, as well as the simple slipperiness ...

Having successfully traversed snow-bound territory, ranging from the mountain peaks of the harrowing to the uneven pavements of the banal, in this blog post, I think it's now time to stop. Spokoinoi nochi.

Thursday, 26 January 2012


It's cold here. And I mean COLD. Today I believe the highest temperature was around -7 or -8 ... yes, I did say the highest. And there was an *icy* wind. I resorted to two pairs of trousers and to trying to cover up every bit of skin possible. When I go out, especially into the wind, my eyes instantly start to water; and then when I go indoors, my nose instantly starts to run. Very attractive!

The forecast is for it to get colder. There have been dark mutterings about it reaching -15 ... Ooer! But I think that's only expected at night. I hope, anyway.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to the market in search of thermals and jumpers, maybe even one of those classic Russian hats!
Somehow I just know I'm not going to look quite so moody ...

Friday, 20 January 2012


This is one of the classes I've been sitting in on these last two weeks.

I have absolutely no comment of any kind to make.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


A beautiful, sunny day today. The sort of day, with it's pale, wintry light, when the buildings here can look just fabulous!

A few posts back I described Odessa as a mix of very smart and run-down. This is the kind of thing I mean.

This is on one side of a street I walk along, on my way to work ...

and this is directly opposite ...

Another example, a little further along.

On one side of the road ...

... and on the other.

There is an appetite here for the new stuff - after the austerity of Soviet times, it's not hard to understand why these symbols of modernity, progress and affluence are attractive. Like during the 60s in Britain, after the post-war period of austerity. I'm not sure how much concern there is here not to lose their past, though. While I wouldn't want to work or live in the first of the "run-down" examples above, the second seems to me rather charming and, assuming that it was modernized inside, preferable as a home to its shiny new neighbour.

I was told a few years ago that there was some concern to preserve, rather than demolish, a place like the first old building above (maybe even that very one), because it was the last surviving - and, incidentally, still-inhabited - example of the tenements that many Odessits lived in, in the 19th century.
Don't know if that's why it's still there, or if it's just that the developers haven't got round to it yet!

Monday, 16 January 2012


Last night the school where I'm working held a New Year party for the staff. Fortuitous for me, 'cos it meant that I got to meet most of the people who work there in one go. It was fun, and I had some good chats with people about movies (I found out about an "art house" cinema here that shows movies out of the mainstream), about being a foreigner in Odessa, about the Ukrainian equivalent of a PhD (one of the teachers is embarking on hers just now), and so on. Everyone was very welcoming.

I was rather relieved when the attempt by the restaurant to encourage us to take up the karaoke facility they offered was resoundingly ignored by our party! I've failed to understand the attraction of karaoke ever since I first came across it in Tokyo in 1985 - well before it caught on outside Japan. But then perhaps that's just because I sing so badly! :( Having said that, I do remember the end of a splendid evening there with some Japanese guys, all of us completely rat-arsed, barely able to stand, who insisted on singing "My Way" etc. in wonderfully incoherent and quite incomprehensible fashion! A quite unique experience at the time.

Back to last night, where I was very impressed by the daughter (about 10 or 11, I think) of one of the teachers, the only child present, who showed us the moves she'd been learning recently at her dance class - this involved her effectively commandeering both the sound system, by getting the dj to play the specific pieces of music she needed, and the floor space in the middle of the restaurant, where she went through her routines, entirely on her own, with great skill and panache. She dealt with those hiatuses in the routines, where others in the group would have featured, by simply standing and counting through the music, without a trace of self-consciousness, until it was her turn to dance again. I confess to envying her complete insouciance. Her mum, who appeared a little abashed by her daughter's utter certainty that centre stage was her rightful place, told me she had suggested that perhaps she not go through all the dance routines, because that might not be so interesting for everyone else there; to which her daughter's response had been to conduct a poll amongst us all, asking if we wanted to watch her dance or not! Needless to say, we did. I think it's fair to say that centre stage was in fact her rightful place - both in terms of her dancing, which was very accomplished, and her winning the "more front than Blackpool" award for the evening!

I was rather inactive on the photo front, being more involved in talking and spectating, but here are a couple of pics of me in charming company. First with Sabine, who's from Latvia
and second with Elena, who's Ukrainian
They both teach English at the school. I sat in on several of Elena's classes last week, as part of my "familiarization" process.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


This afternoon a walk along the streets on a beautiful, sunny winter's day.

A pretty church, just along the street from my apartment:

But it's not all pretty. This dilapidated building is just down the road from the church - and there are many, many others like it. Odessa is a real mix of the very smart and the very run-down.

I was heading for the market, called "Privoz". I think it's the biggest open-air market I've ever seen in my life - thousands of stalls, selling pretty much anything you can think of. These photos give a very poor idea of one small area of the place:

Just fascinating. I think it deserves a whole photo essay - one day ...

Most gratifying of all, however, was that I managed to buy the things I wanted (kitchen stuff mostly), and understand and be understood by the stall-holders. Mainly just exchanges about what I was looking for, and prices. But I had a pleasant conversation with one friendly stall-holder,  mostly in Russian, with occasional bits of English, who wanted to know what I was doing in Odessa etc. They weren't all friendly like that!

Then a walk back in lovely late afternoon sun:

I took a wrong turning at one point and had a moment of panic ... Omigod I'm lost in a strange city, what if I just get more and more lost ... Ridiculous of course, since I had a map and I could always ask someone for directions. Guess which one I resorted to (being a bloke and all that ...)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Here's part of the explanation for my choice of title for this blog.
Anyone who's aware of recent cultural developments in the UK will know that immigration has become a "major issue", and that increasingly (if the mass media are to be believed) a part of British society likes to lay the responsibility for its grievances at the feet of "immigrants". Particularly featured among these are people from Eastern Europe - currently unpopular largely, it seems, because they are the most recent arrivals. I, of course, have gone from the UK to Eastern Europe, that is to say I have gone "the other way". Since I abhor the growth of this "little Englander" mentality, I am pleased to draw attention to, and celebrate, my geo-social contrariness. Hence the title. Small rant over.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


Woke to find a light snowfall outside. Pretty.

A 10-minute walk along snowy streets to the school (it's the building on the end):

Looks like I'll have a fairly light week, sitting in on lessons, reading course materials, getting the hang of the place, then start in earnest next week. Good - gives me a bit of time to recover from the intense upheaval of the last month!

The school is directly opposite Shevchenko Park, which is a nice place to go for strolls when the weather is good. It looked rather lovely this morning too: