Everybody is writing about Londongrad now

“I told you so” isn’t my favourite genre of journalism, and I only ever practise it when sorely tempted.

Oleg Deripaska, aluminium king, is already under sanctions in the US

This is one such occasion. As Putin’s kleptofascist regime is raising its nastiness to a new height, our papers have had a Damascene moment. They’ve discovered that London, along with many of our political and financial institutions, is so inundated with dirty Russian money that a draining operation may no longer be possible.

This, of course, is one of my recurrent themes, and I’ve just discovered when it began to recur, if you’ll forgive the tautology. Turns out I first started writing about it very early in the life of this space, almost 10 years ago. So here is that article again, for the benefit of the antique collectors among you. The title was ‘Russian Businessmen Aren’t Just Buying London’s Houses — They Are Buying Its Soul‘. Some of the people mentioned are no longer with us. But the shame of it all still is.

The other day the French authorities impounded some £11 million belonging to that worthy London resident Boris Berezovsky. The money, they declared, had been acquired in criminal ways and therefore its owner can’t claim legitimate property rights. As the French acted at the behest of the Russian government, which is itself criminal, their reasons are questionable. But their action does raise interesting issues.

I’m not going to explore how Boris has made his billions. If you’re interested in the subject, read an excellent book Godfather in the Kremlin by Paul Klebnikov. The eponymous godfather is no longer in the Kremlin – having fallen out with Putin, he now resides in England. And Klebnikov is no longer alive – in 2004, as he was researching another book on Russia’s organised crime, he died in a hail of bullets fired (one hears by Chechens) from a passing car in central Moscow.

True to its heritage, Putin’s government spread the rumour that Klebnikov had been killed by a jealous husband. Of course he was. The MO proves that: two men firing submachine guns from a fast-moving car. Love does work in mysterious ways, especially in Putin’s Russia.

And now yet another Mafia hit, this time in London, reminds us that Russian ‘businessmen’ are just as capable of settling their disputes at our doorstep. The only sane response to this is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). Yet this is a response we are unlikely to give.

Pecunia non olet (‘money doesn’t stink’), said the Roman emperor Vespasian when questioned about his tax on the urine sold by public lavatories to tanners. Vespasian was rather crude even by the standards of Roman emperors, so he can be forgiven for his soldierly directness.

What is upsetting is that after two millennia of subsequent civilisation we still haven’t outlived the principle first enunciated by Vespasian. Except that we couch it in legal cant based on property rights, a subject dear to every conservative heart. However, much as we worship this or any other right, we shouldn’t allow it to turn into a suicide pact. Society has a superseding right to protect itself.

Ever since the ‘collapse’ of the Soviet Union, Russian billionaires have been arriving in England, first in a trickle, lately in a stream. A good chunk of their money arrives with them, and we welcome it. The British can’t afford to buy £40-million houses; good job someone can. Who cares how that £40 million was earned? Pecunia non olet!

Everyone knows, or ought to know, that no one can become a billionaire in today’s Russia without engaging in activities that in any civilised country would land their perpetrator in prison. Since the KGB Mafia fronted by Putin controls Russia’s economy, no Russian can become a billionaire without active cooperation with it, if only by paying protection money. And since the Mafia is criminal, every Russian billionaire is, as a minimum, its accessory.

They all, possibly with one or two exceptions, have a criminal mentality, and they bring it to London along with their money. We close our eyes on the former because we like the latter. Pecunia non olet!

So we let the likes of Abramovich, Berezovsky and Lord Mandelson’s best friend Deripaska come to London. Their billions are welcomed, as long as we are sure they use our courts, not our dark alleys, to settle their disagreements. Meanwhile, Sloanie dimwits are falling all over themselves to get an invitation to Abramovich’s box at Stamford Bridge.

Girls previously only interested in the hats they were going to wear at this year’s Ascot now profess interest in holding midfielders, wingbacks and second strikers. Thanks to Abramovich’s money footie has become their nostalgie de la boue, today’s answer to the fashionable slumming of yesteryear. And the provenance of the money? Who cares? Pecunia non olet, and those who still remember their Roedean Latin won’t even need a translation.

One would think that the six shots fired into Gherman Gorbuntsov’s body would serve as a wake-up call, even though Gherman himself can hardly be confused with a boy scout. Wanted in Moldova and Russia for the sort of dealings that would tip the Old Bailey scales at the better part of 25 years, he already did some time back in the early 1990s. I don’t know what the charge was in Russia, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t dissent.

And then Gherman committed the ultimate Mafia crime of squealing. Specifically, he agreed to give evidence in a case involving another attempted murder, of the chap whose son at one point owned another English football club. (What is it about football that attracts those people? Why not polo? Go straight to the top, I say.) The death penalty is the only possible punishment, and silly Gherman thought they wouldn’t get to him in London. Little did he realise that, just as the ruling Mafia had turned Moscow into the Wild West, so it was turning London into Moscow.

Miraculously, Gherman has survived and now he’s busily naming names, those who ordered the hit. One suspects his loquacity is the price Scotland Yard has demanded for its protection, but be that as it may Gorbuntsov has now pointed a finger at several chaps close to Putin himself. So when he recovers from his wounds, he’ll probably be allowed to stay here, until next time. After all, pecunia non olet, and his money is as good as anyone else’s.

I don’t know if Putin did commission the murder, and frankly I don’t care. It’s enough for me to know that this unrepentant officer in history’s most murderous organisation is perfectly capable of it. What I do care about is the moral damage these Russians are doing to us. Pecunia non olet? You bet it does. It smells of blood spilled in London streets. It stinks of the Faustian deal we’ve struck. It reeks of a society in decay. Are you holding your nostrils? I am.

Learning English at the Australian Open

Yes, I know. As a lifelong tennis player, I should have been trying to learn Nadal’s forehand, Medvedev’s serve or either man’s backhand.

Congratulations to Nadal. They are a great player.

However, as a lifelong realist, I know that any hope of my emulating those men’s strokes is forlorn. They and I inhabit different tennis planets, and I can no more learn to hit the tennis ball from them than they from me.

Yet I’m not only a lifelong hacker, but also a lifelong student of the English language. That’s why, when watching a sporting event on TV, or reading about it in the papers, I pay attention not only to how the players play, but also to how the commentators speak or write.

To keep it fair, I never mock the numerous errors peppering the speech of former tennis players for whom English isn’t their mother tongue. It’s only native speakers who find themselves in my crosshairs.

One such bemoaned a sitter blown by a seeded player. “Missing easy shots isn’t his forte [pronounced for-tay],” he said. The reporter hit a double fault there, an impressive feat, considering that both came from a single attempt, in this case one word.

‘Forte’ has two pronunciations in English. In music, whose glossary is dominated by Italian, the word is indeed pronounced for-tay. But in the non-musical sense of a ‘strong point’, the word floated into English from France, which is why it’s pronounced fort (as in Sumter or Benning, for the benefit of my American readers).

Yet, however pronounced, the word didn’t belong in that context. Missing easy shots is no one’s forte. It can be somebody’s (well, my) weakness or, as one can deduce from the context in question, habit. I know that ‘habit’ doesn’t sound as sophisticated as ‘forte’, but if that’s what the chap meant, then he should have bitten the bullet, or else his tongue, and bloody well said it.

This brought back to mind my pet idea of issuing licences for using words. The whole lexicon of the English language should be broken into groups according to the frequency of usage. For example, the word ‘bed’ will appear in the 10,000 most frequently used words, the first licensed bracket.

Since words like ‘eirenic’, ‘exegesis’ or for that matter ‘forte’ won’t be covered by that starter licence, only an advanced course would entitle a speaker to use them. I’m not sure how this system could be set up or enforced, but it’s the thought that counts.

At the end of the match, the biggest sponsor of the tournament said a few customary words. He congratulated the players and remarked that his company has been sponsoring the event for 21 years. And since Nadal has now won 21 majors, “there’s a lot of synergy there”.

There isn’t. If I were a language policeman, the chap would have had his collar felt.

‘Synergy’ is interaction producing a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Since neither Nadal nor the chap has become better at his job as a result of that corporate sponsorship, the word is simply wrong.

He meant ‘symbolism’, but, as you’ll notice, neither word is among the most frequently used ones. Since in my scheme the speaker wouldn’t have qualified for an advanced licence, he should have said something like ‘a good sign’ or ‘a happy coincidence’, hoping that ‘coincidence’ would just about squeeze into the top 10,000.

Let’s not be too harsh on the good Aussie gentleman – using English isn’t his profession. It is, however, how a sports journalist earns his crust at one of our top newspapers.

Professional integrity demands that people have full command of their tools of trade. The hack under scrutiny here has treated this requirement with cold disdain. Worse than that, he must really hate his principal tool, English.

If that weren’t the case, his ear, hand, mind – his whole system – would go on strike if he attempted to write the sentence he did write: “A protester for refugee rights has dramatically thrown themselves three metres onto the Australian Open court during the men’s trial.”

One has to infer that the protester suffers not only from asocial tendencies, but also from dual personality disorder. As one of my favourite comedians once quipped, “My Dad is a schizophrenic, but he’s good people.”

‘A protester’ is a singular noun; ‘themselves’ is a plural personal pronoun. The two don’t belong together this side of a loony bin.

I realise that singular personal pronouns, especially the masculine ones, have been outlawed by the woke controller. But submitting to the diktats of such riffraff is even worse than speaking without a licence – or with too much licence, as the case may be.

Anybody who loves English, or at least doesn’t hate it, would be unable to write such a sentence on pain of death. It would have jarred his ear worse than any tinnitus.

Nor was it a case of an unfortunate lapsus manus. For in the very next paragraph, the same offender committed a few more transgressions: “Gobsmacked tennis fans could be seen staring in shock as [a] person earlier leaped over the front row railing, waving the sign overhead. They only managed to make a short dash towards the corner of the court before being tackled by authorities.” [My emphases]

Enough said about the awful, ideologised grammar of that ‘they’ business. But the chap has a Van Gogh ear not only for grammar, but also for style.

The infra dig colloquialism ‘gobsmacked’ does exist, although the word doesn’t strike me as especially mellifluous or charming. Yet I wouldn’t take exception to it if uttered over a pint in a pub.

But in the context of a newspaper article it’s a glaring stylistic solecism that ought to have made the hack’s tinnitus even more acute. But it didn’t. His ear for English didn’t hurt because he doesn’t have one.

I don’t know if this says more about him or the paper that employs him. Doesn’t it have editors and subs? No, probably not.

The underlying assumption has to be that there’s no such thing as right or wrong – and not just in language. 

“Is the Ukraine worth risking Armageddon?”

A reader asked this popular question a couple of days ago, and it deserves a longer answer than I could provide in the Comments (“Is anything?”).

First, ‘Armageddon’ has to mean a shootout with strategic nuclear weapons. That isn’t on the cards because neither side wants it.

Putin probably has the technical capacity to annihilate Britain and France, the two nuclear powers in the civilised part of Europe. However, some major Russian cities would also go up in smoke, including the ones where Putin and his jolly friends live.

Also, if Britain no longer exists, where will those gangsters find schools for their children, hospitals for themselves and laundromats for their purloined trillions? And what will happen to their mansions in the best parts of London? No, I’m sure they’ll keep their fingers off that button come what may.

As yet no post-Hiroshima war has involved nuclear weapons. The Israelis were ready to use them as a last resort in 1973, but that proved unnecessary. Neither the US nor Russia has gone nuclear in any conflicts. India and Pakistan keep their nukes in the silos – this though both would dearly love to see those mushrooms sprouting on the other side.

The question would be more apposite if we replaced ‘Armageddon’ with ‘conventional war’. Is the Ukraine worth risking such a war between NATO and Russia?

Let’s say “no, it isn’t” and see what happens, staying within the boundaries of the “What if…” genre of history. Suppose a bloody war between Russia and the Ukraine breaks out, which is a possibility but, as President Zelensky stated, not necessarily a certainty.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians may not survive the war, and Putin’s regime may not survive all those KIA notices. That possibility will remain even if Russia emerges victorious, which it probably will.

But let’s assume the Ukraine is conquered, and Putin hangs on. What then?

The Anschluss of Belarus will definitely follow (it’s likely to happen even if Putin decides against further aggression against the Ukraine). Kazakhstan and some other ex-Soviet Asian republics will re-join the fold, a truncated USSR will be reconstituted.

Is this possibility worth risking a war? Let’s assume it isn’t and keep our conjecture going.

Will Putin’s appetite be sated? Probably not. Russia may have been hit by crippling sanctions. Will the Russians be happy to have their standard of living drop from low down to puny? Will they be happy to swap empty fridges for TV sets full of bugle toots and drumbeats?

They may, up to a point. But certainly not indefinitely. When the rumble of discontent turns into a growl, Putin will have two options.

One will be to unleash the kind of terror for which his idol Stalin is known and, in some quarters, still loved. This isn’t feasible, even though Putin and his gang wouldn’t be held back by any moral compunctions.

Tightening the screws more than they are already tightened, yes. Murdering millions and enslaving the rest – unlikely. Different times, different mores, different Russians. Herzen did write that the strongest chains shackling people are forged out of victorious swords, but I simply can’t imagine today’s Russians sitting still for Stalinesque terror.

The other, likelier, option will be to empty those fridges out completely, but at the same time ratcheting up the volume of the TV bugles and drums. More conquests, in other words.

The next logical target in our hypothetical “What if…” scenario would be the three Baltic republics, NATO members all. Article 5 of the NATO Charter specifies that an attack on one member is an attack on all. Should NATO go to war then?

If not, NATO is dead as an effective deterrent to Russia, which is the sole purpose for which it was formed in the first place. That means the US, which is growing more and more isolationist, will fold its nuclear umbrella and go home, leaving Europe to her own vices and devices.

The continent may not be occupied by Russia, but it’ll definitely be dominated by her. That’s another way of saying that Europe will no longer be free.  

The combined resources of a now de-NATOed Europe will still be sufficient to contain Russia, provided those resources are mobilised and activated, not to mention underpinned by steely resolve. However, such an effort is extremely unlikely, if recent history is anything to go by.

Realising this, and Putin’s KGB training means he’s unlikely to overlook it, Russia will be encouraged to move into Poland and beyond. So is that worth risking a war?

The number of hands voting aye is increasing now. By then even slow learners will have realised that the foot is off the brakes of the rolling juggernaut, and it won’t stop by itself.

But let’s say the nays still have it. And next thing you know a Russian airborne division lands in Kent, with a puppet government in tow. What then? Should we fight?

Here the support for a belligerent response becomes overwhelming. The spirit of the Blitz, the roar of the lion, we’ll fight them on the beaches and all that… Well, you know the drill.

Hence, going back to my counter question (“Is anything?”), the answer is an unequivocal yes. By the old method of reductio ad absurdum, we’ve agreed that some things are definitely worth risking war.

The original question could then be further rephrased to say, “What are those things?” Or else, “At what point in our hypothetical progression must we fight?”

Here we leave the domain of “What if…” to enter one of dispassionate analysis, based on the thorough knowledge of the relevant facts and intimate understanding of the key players in this game. It’s on these bases that I form my judgement:

The earlier we snip the chain of events I’ve outlined, the better. This chain may be hypothetical, but the hypothesis is solid, supported as it is by the nature of Putin’s regime – and an understanding of evil.

This last constituent is especially hard for middle-class Westerners to grasp, and who these days isn’t middle class? Bourgeois mentality is such that good people boasting two chickens in every garage, two cars in every pot, 2.5 children and a nice house in the suburbs can’t easily grasp that some other people may be drastically different.

A little different, yes, we can all get our heads around that. But yahoos knowing no civilised restraints on their behaviour? No, leave that stuff for horror films. Real life isn’t like that, even if it might have been in the past – or may still be in the low-rent parts of the world.

Alas, real life is exactly like that. Some people are evil; under certain historical and cultural conditions evil people create evil regimes. And evil regimes do evil things that seem irrational, and therefore impossible, to good people.

I’m certain that my macabre progression must not be allowed to unfold. How, is a different matter.

It’s clear that NATO won’t fight to save the Ukraine, so that point is moot. However, Putin must be made to pay an exorbitant price for perpetrating evil in the heart of Europe.

I doubt any sanctions can be severe enough to deter that particular evil, but I’m no expert. It’s possible that, at some cost to their own comfort, NATO countries could destroy Russia’s economy, entirely based as it is on export-import.

Moreover, a promise to do so may prevent Putin’s march into Eastern Europe. Provided – and this is a sine qua non proviso – both sides are sure that the West is ready to impose such sanctions. In the absence of that certainty, the threat of sanctions is no more effective than threatening a thug with a gun he knows isn’t loaded.

Why Nazi death camps were all in Poland

Now Eastern Europe is very much in the news again, it’s time to cast another retrospective glance at the ‘Final Solution’, otherwise known as the Holocaust.

As we know, the Nazis and the Soviets were allies until 22 June, 1941. And allies freely exchange useful information.

When Hitler took over in 1933, Germany had no concentration camps. Russia, on the other hand, had already created a vast network of them under the auspices of the State Administration for Camps (known by its Russian acronym GULAG).

The project was by no means straightforward: the logistics involved were intricate, and the capital investment vast. Hence, when Germany felt an acute need for such installations, the Soviets were happy to share their experience.

However, once the two allies occupied Poland, their needs diverged. True, more millions of people died in the Soviet camps, but that wasn’t their explicit purpose.

For a whole economy was erected on the inmates’ bones. Timber, gold, metals, coal, later uranium were produced by those walking skeletons; great canals and whole cities were built by them.

The skeleton didn’t remain walking for long: after at best a few months they keeled over their wheelbarrows and died. When that led to a shortage of work force, a new wave of arrests would repair the deficit.

This confluence of punitive and economic needs also appealed to the Nazis. But not where Jews were concerned. They had to be exterminated to the last man, woman and child.

Some, not many, could still be useful. Those were sent to the camps similar to their Soviet analogues. Jews didn’t last long there either, but their demise wasn’t the sole purpose of those institutions.

For the six extermination camps, it was. Chelmno. Belzec. Sobibor. Treblinka. Majdanek. Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those camps (interestingly, ‘camp’ is the same word in Russian and German, lager) didn’t care about their inmates’ productivity, only about their death.

They were all sited in Poland, in the heart of what used to be the Jewish Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire. That’s where most European Jews lived.

Millions of them lived in the Soviet Union, and until 22 June, 1941, they didn’t know they were slated for extermination. The Soviets only deigned to inform them of that possibility on 24 August. By then it was too late: the Nazis had already occupied the Baltics, Moldavia, Byelorussia, most of the Ukraine and a great part of western Russia.

No attempt had been made to evacuate Jews before the Nazis got to them. Clearly it was impossible to save all, but a few thousand children could have been evacuated without much trouble. Stalin saw no need.

About three million Jews were left behind: 220,000 in Lithuania, 800,000 in Byelorussia, 250,000 in Moldavia, 1.5 million in the Ukraine. Of these, 2,825,000 were murdered. Most of them didn’t even make it to the death camps: they were either machinegunned in ravines or gassed in special trucks (another Soviet invention graciously shared with the Nazis).

Now, the Nazis put together three Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units trained to achieve the Final Solution on Soviet territory. Technical personnel apart, their combined strength was 2,400 men.

Given the technical means at their disposal, it’s reasonably clear that, even at their most industrious, those Germans wouldn’t have been able to murder millions by themselves. But they didn’t have to.

The local population made up the personnel shortage with alacrity, murdering their former friends and neighbours in their thousands. To be fair, only a few per cent of the locals were enthusiastic supporters.

There were also many heroes hiding Jews and risking (often losing) their own lives for it. But neither monsters nor heroes are ever thick on the ground. Most of the locals looked on the massacres with indifference. It was none of their business, let the Krauts and the Yids sort it out between them.

Hence over 90 per cent of all Jews were killed throughout the occupied parts of the Soviet Union, 96 per cent in the Baltic republics. And the denizens of Lvov, the capital of Ukrainian Galicia, brutally murdered 10,000 Jews in the couple of days of the interregnum, when the Soviets had already left the city, but the Nazis hadn’t yet moved in.

All knowledge, according to Descartes, is comparative. Thus France lost less than a quarter of her Jewish community. A third of the Czech and Serbian Jews survived the war. In Holland and Belgium, a quarter survived – which is astonishing, considering those countries’ terrain and population density.

There was no mass extermination of Jews in either Hungary or Italy until they were occupied by the Nazis. Denmark managed to save practically all her Jews. But in Poland, 98 per cent of the Jews were murdered.

Since one can observe a direct, iron-cast link between the killing rate and the behaviour of the ambient populace, this should answer the question in the title. The Nazis couldn’t build death camps in Western Europe because the populations of those countries en masse wouldn’t have responded to such savagery with enthusiasm or even indifference.

That’s why the Nazis built the death camps in Poland, creating numerous bottlenecks in their rail network to transport European Jews to the gas ovens.

For example, in the summer of 1944, when the Nazis were hanging on by their fingernails, they deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews by rail. How many trains? How many carriages? Thousands, and they were all desperately needed to transport military personnel and supplies. But first things first.

I’m not suggesting that any possible war in (or over) Eastern Europe would produce a similar outcome. It is, however, useful to remember that evil regimes perpetrate evil deeds – not sometimes, not occasionally, not sporadically. Always.

Are our shops like brothels? Are our women like men?

If you expect some deep insights, sorry. All I have to offer today are a couple of random observations.

Another unsporting slice coming up

First, I try to shop locally whenever possible. As a result, many shop assistants have known me for years and usually even remember what I bought last time.

However, whenever I bump into them in the street they show no signs of recognition. When I nod and smile at them, their expressions remain vacant.

Now I know (strictly from hearsay, as I hope you understand) that prostitutes are trained not to recognise their customers when spotting them outside ‘the house’. That stands to reason: they’d lose custom if exposing their johns to interrogations by their wives, along the lines of “How well do you know this young lady, Nigel?”

However, a local greengrocer’s is hardly a den of iniquity. Someone who works there wouldn’t embarrass me by saying hello even if Penelope walked by my side. And yet they hardly ever do.

This has to say something about the nature of commerce in Britain, though I’m not sure what. I’m specifying the geographic aspect because the local tradesmen in France always treat me as a friend lost and now regained. Our comely pâtissière even gives me a kiss each time I see her. So does my barber (a young woman, I hasten to reassure you).

Anyway, while we are on the subject of commerce, over the past fortnight I’ve been sporadically watching the Australian Open. When the remote is out of reach, that inevitably involves also watching commercials, many of them for tennis equipment.

They tend to use famous tennis players to flog their wares, which is par for the course. So I don’t mind Roger Federer hinting broadly that his success is somehow linked to the Rolex watches he wears.

What I find amusing is a top player holding up a racquet and saying things like: “You want to play like me? Then buy [the advertised brand].”

So that’s what it takes? I’ve been wondering why I don’t serve many aces, but now I know. All one has to do is buy the racquet used by a big hitter, and suddenly one’s opponents won’t be able to touch a single serve.

Yes, that should work. Provided also that the punter starts playing at age three, has the best coaches working with him all his life, has a dysfunctional childhood, practises six hours a day (plus hours in the gym and endless miles of running), always eats right, hardly ever touches alcohol – and let’s not forget the minor matter of him being a supremely talented athlete to begin with.

Then there’s this point. Top players’ racquets may look like the Heads or Wilsons we see in the shop, but they aren’t, not really. Each player has his racquets customised to his specifications, and they only look like the commercial products.

Andy Murray, for example, played his whole career with the same racquets. However, each year their livery was changed to look like the current model.

In other words, those commercials are thoroughly deceitful, which makes me tremble over my final destination when I arrive at the pearly gates. I can just see the vindictive smile on St Peter’s face when I admit that I wrote advertising copy for 30 years.

Speaking of modern perversions, last night I watched the men’s quarterfinal between Medvedev and Auger-Aliassime. This morning I caught the women’s semi between Barty and Keys.

Medvedev won in a few minutes under five hours. Much to the delight of the spectators, the local girl Barty put paid to Keys in a few minutes over one hour. This gets me to one of my recurrent bugbears.

Since the men and the women receive the same prize money, the women are effectively paid several times more per hour. This is called ‘equal pay for equal work’, which yet again demonstrates the gross mendacity of any language that touches upon politics even tangentially.

And that’s not all. The expert commentator explained that Barty dispatches her opponents so easily because she slices her backhand, and “most girls don’t know how to handle that”. Excuse me?

You mean professional players earning the same money as their male colleagues don’t know how to handle one of the basic tennis shots? Yes, a sliced ball stays low, making it hard to get the racquet under it to hit topspin.

But I bet you my house against your tennis ball that you won’t name a single male pro who has the same problem.

I’m old enough to remember 1974, when Jimmy Connors demolished Ken Rosewall in the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open. Rosewall arguably had the best sliced backhand in the history of tennis, and yet he only managed to win a total of eight games in the two matches. Yes, Ken was getting on a bit, but he still made it to those Grand Slam finals.

One has to conclude that ‘the girls’ spend a lot less time not only playing, but also training. It’s that equal pay again, although they undeniably spend more time in photographers’ studios.

The upshot of these snippets is that our nerve endings are so atrophied that we either don’t recognise lies and falsehoods for what they are or, worse still, don’t care. When no one believes in the absolute truth, even little truthlets stand no chance.

German admiral betrays a state secret

Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach should count himself lucky. Under the Kaiser, never mind Hitler, his indiscretion would have merited court-martial. In today’s Germany, he merely had to tender his resignation.

Merkel is no longer there, but her cause lives on

The secret he revealed so blithely is that Germany, nominally a NATO member and technically a Western country, does Putin’s bidding with unwavering loyalty. However, for PR reasons, this Katze is supposed to stay in the bag.

Publicly, German officials are supposed to proclaim their nation is a NATO member not just nominally, and a Western country not just technically. Having thus paid lip service to the Western alliance, they can then – and only then – proceed to serve Putin in his confrontation with the West.

For example, Germany not only refuses to supply armaments to the Ukraine, but is doing her level best to block other countries’ airlift there.

Yet there was the good admiral, speaking out of turn at a streamed conference in India. The sea wolf saw fit to deliver himself of insights into German foreign policy that were way outside his naval remit.

“The Crimean peninsula,” he said, “is gone never to return, that’s a fact.” And Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine has become a fact only because he doesn’t get enough respect from the West.

The admiral even co-opted the deity to make his case. “Mein Gott,” he said, “giving someone respect costs very little, even nothing… It’s so easy to give him the respect he demands – and probably also deserves.”

One has to wonder what Putin has done to deserve respect. Having those he dislikes murdered all over the world, not just in Russia?

Recently two such individuals got “whacked” in Germany, on top of the dozens murdered in Britain and elsewhere, some with nuclear and chemical weapons, some with exotic poisons, some with bullets, some with garrottes, some by defenestration, some by air crashes.

Or perhaps Putin merits respect for the kleptofascist state he created by merging the secret police with organised crime? The number of political prisoners in Putin’s Russia tops by an order of magnitude that in Brezhnev’s USSR – is that cause for respect?

Or is it creating a coterie of money-laundering billionaire acolytes, all with either KGB or Mafia background, while presiding over a pauperised population? Waging non-stop hybrid war against the West, with a propaganda arm whipping up a hateful hysteria easily outdoing anything heard in what Ronald Reagan so aptly called an “evil empire”?

And whatever gave Schoenbach the idea that Putin hasn’t been getting what Vito Corleone called rispetto?

Western leaders have been photographed doing foreplay with him; President Trump consistently called him a “great man”; Western credits and technology have been flowing to Russia in a steady stream; whenever Putin pounced on Russia’s neighbours, the West responded with token sanctions; until recently Putin’s mug was seen at numerous summit meetings and international conferences; Putin’s (and his acolytes’) purloined billions are securely parked in the West; one of Germany’s ex-chancellors sits on the boards of Russian oil and gas monopolies (Putin’s wholesale purchase of Western dignitaries is therefore called Schröderisation); prominent British politicians hobnob with Putin’s shadiest ‘oligarchs’ .

How much more respect does he deserve? Well, you see what Schoenbach means is that anything short of abject surrender constitutes disrespect. The West, he believes, should show Putin respect by accepting his gangster ultimatum, leaving Eastern Europe at his mercy.

That view is consonant with the policy pursued by German officials – but at odds with their public pronouncements. Now, I have no inside knowledge of German politics, but here are the comments by the man who does. This is what the German journalist Boris Reitschuster had to say a few months ago:

“One of Merkel’s greatest successes is that she pretends to be Putin’s opponent while being in fact his closest ally. They are alike, and that’s no accident. They were both politicised within professional communist organisations.

“When Putin has problems, he can always rely on Merkel: it was she who stopped the Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO. That prevented arms supplies to the Ukraine after Putin’s [2014] invasion. She is pushing through Putin’s most important project: the North Sea pipeline. Merkel’s words and deeds – and not only in relation to Russia – are diametrically opposite… Western people who have no relevant experience are usually unable to understand this. Merkel is Putin’s best woman. Mainly because she conceals this so adroitly.”

Neither Merkel nor her party is in power any longer, but Germany’s Ostpolitik hasn’t changed. Her new government is fighting tooth and nail to stop really severe sanctions in their tracks should Putin expand his aggression against the Ukraine.

Germany refuses to present a united Western front to Putin’s international banditry, which, considering her status within both NATO and the EU, effectively encourages yet another invasion. The entire system of collective security is under threat as a result, but that’s a minor consideration for German politicians. Especially when lucrative sinecures with Gazprom and Rosneft beckon.

I’m not privy to the conversations German politicians have off the record. But Admiral Schoenbach no doubt was. That’s why he must be genuinely perplexed.

He merely vented publicly what he knows is the official, if tacit, policy of his government. The poor seaman doesn’t seem to grasp the seminal difference between public and tacit.

“For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest,” said Jesus Christ, but he wasn’t commenting on Germany’s foreign policy. In that domain, making manifest that which is secret is a sacking offence. At best.

Score one for the NHS

I’m both a heretic and a traitor. Or perhaps I should rephrase: I despise the NHS and everything it stands for.

Fancy watching the tube?

That’s as close as one can come to either heresy or treason in today’s Britain. I don’t know how this situation arose.

When I moved to London 35 years ago, the people had already been brainwashed to regard nationalised medicine as a distillation of virtue, both sacred and profane.

Everybody complains about the NHS being underfunded and therefore inefficient. I always say that the NHS is inefficient not because it’s poor, but because it’s socialist. Any giant socialist (which is to say bossy, megalomaniac and unaccountable) enterprise always ends up serving itself, not its proclaimed end user – to this law of nature there are no known exceptions.

Since I detest socialism in all its forms, I’d steer clear of the NHS even if it were the paragon of efficiency. Since it’s hopeless in that department, you can understand why I’ve been paying exorbitant amounts every year for private medical insurance.

But man proposes and the NHS disposes. Its good offices can’t always be avoided even by conscientious objectors like me. Hence, for reasons I won’t bother you with, I’ve had to get into the ring with NHS hospitals three times.

The first time was some 10 years ago, and that round went to the NHS: if it failed to finish me off, it wasn’t for any lack of trying (I wrote about it then: http://www.alexanderboot.com/how-the-nhs-tried-to-kill-me/). Let’s just say it beat me on points without quite landing a knockout blow.

Then, a couple of years ago I was delivered to the same hospital straight from Fulham Road, on whose pavement I had collapsed unconscious. That gave me an occasion to find out that ICU patients are treated much better than the general population. One round each then.

Yet today the NHS has moved ahead on the scorecard again.

In Britain, one needs a GP referral to see a specialist. Hence, when I felt a stone moving about my kidney yet again yesterday, I went to see my local NHS practice. Since I was in pain, I didn’t have to wait the customary week to get an appointment.

A very nice young doctor examined me and said I needed a blood test and a CT scan. I asked for a referral letter, but instead she said she could arrange those tests at that same hospital with one phone call.

Since she was young, competent and good-looking in spite (because?) of her face mask, I couldn’t say no. And what do you know: one phone call was all it took for her to make the necessary arrangements.

At 9 am today I presented myself as ordered to the Ambulatory Care unit – and almost felt like taking back all the nasty things I had ever said about the NHS in general and Chelsea & Westminster hospital in particular.

The receptionist could actually speak and understand English, which isn’t to be taken for granted. She instantly found my name on her list, ascertained with just two questions that I wasn’t an impostor and told me to wait. She also called me alternately ‘sir’ and ‘Mr Boot’, rather than the egalitarian ‘Alex’ NHS staffers tend to favour.

The wait took just minutes, and I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. A nurse wheeled in a trolley, and went to work on my extremely fickle veins. Yet she was so good that she got in at first attempt and I hardly felt it. Brilliant, reassuring and unexpected.

She then inserted a cannula into the same vein for her colleagues to inject the contrast medium necessary for the CT scan. And – like wow, man, as my American friends used to say – another nurse took me to Imaging straight away, sparing me the trouble of negotiating the hospital’s labyrinthine corridors.

By then my eyes were red from constant rubbing, but things instantly went back to normal (which is the NHS for SNAFU). The imaging receptionist consulted her list, and I wasn’t on it. Not to worry, she said. It would take them up to two hours to get the results of the blood test anyway, by which time everything would have been sorted out.

For the next two hours I read my book, asking the girl every 15 minutes or so if there had been any progress. Every time, she patiently explained to me that a scan had to be requested by Ambulatory Care or a urologist, and no such request had been made.

I kept showing her the cannula sticking out of my arm. Ambulatory Care put it in, doesn’t that qualify as a request? No it doesn’t, was the courteous but firm reply each time.

Out of the kindness of her heart she agreed to ring Ambulatory Care and find out what was going on. Once she got through she was put on hold, waited for 15 minutes and hung up.

Would it help, I asked, if I went down to AC and posed the question in person? It might, she said.

Down I went, and all the nurses were apologetic and solicitous. They desperately wanted to help, but the system wouldn’t let them. Has my blood test come back at least?

Yes, it has, sir. But there’s a slight problem: the computer couldn’t read it. What on earth do you mean? My blood, unlike my handwriting, has always been legible.

The young lady didn’t say “shit happens”, but her facial expression did. Yet she didn’t have to prick me again: she could draw blood through the cannula. Another two hours’ wait then? No, they’ll do their best.

At about 1 pm a young urologist turned up, asked me a few perfunctory questions and promised to sort out the mess quickly. That he did, and half an hour later another nurse took me to another imaging department, not the one where I had already bored everybody.

There things went into high gear, and I was loaded into the tube within minutes. However, it turned out that the scan I needed didn’t involve any contrast medium, which meant I didn’t need the bloody cannula in the first place.

Another hour or so later, the urologist appeared bearing good news. Apart from the stone which I’ve had in my kidney for years, all my tests were reassuring. So what about my persistent pain then?

Oh well, he could get me in touch with the NHS clinic where I could be investigated properly. The wall clock was showing 2.30. I thanked him, walked out and rang my GP to ask for that private referral letter.

I spent five-and-a-half hours at the hospital. The two tests plus two chats with the urologist took about 15 minutes. The rest was, well, the NHS. Score another round for them then.

Cultural appropriation is hard to swallow

What do you call a black woman playing a white man in a Shakespeare drama? Progress, a blow for racial and gender equality.

Pukka dish, Jamie, But you’re nicked, sunshine, djamean?

What do you call an English chef cooking curry? Cultural appropriation, a whisker removed from racism.

If you think I’m putting you on, you’ve forgotten an essential feature of modernity. Everything about it is progressive, evidently including its madness.

Apparently, only someone native to the cuisine can produce recipes for it without giving offence. Anyone else, such as Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey, must learn how to negotiate the dire woke straits.

Ramsey can’t string two words together without effing and blinding in his TV show. That, however, doesn’t offend anybody. It’s his new Mayfair restaurant that leaves a bad taste in every woke mouth.

The restaurant is described as an “authentic Asian eating house” even though – brace yourself – it doesn’t employ a single authentic Asian cook. That’s cultural appropriation with a capital C, or rather, this being a Ramsey eatery, with a capital F.

I’d suggest that it’s easier for a British chef to whip up an authentic Asian dish than it is for a black actress to ham up an authentic Hamlet. But, being an inveterate cultural appropriator, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Gordon should follow the lead of his colleague Jamie and hire what the latter tags as “teams of cultural appropriation specialists.” I wonder how often this job description comes up when a little boy is asked what he wants to be when he grows up.

“Well, we don’t want to offend anyone,” Jamie explains. Specifically, he had to discontinue his popular Empire chicken, even though it’s a “bloody good recipe”. The dish is seasoned with turmeric, cumin, coriander and garam masala, and Jamie with his mockney accent demonstrably comes from none of the places known for such spices.

Raymond Blanc is another chef sensitive to the problem. That’s why he seeks advice from natives before cooking any ethnic dish. “It is for us professionals to do that in a manner that is not offensive,” he says.

These chefs speak from experience. Many of their colleagues have found themselves in the soup when offering dishes out of sync with their nativity. Customers get offended, which these days has to mean they seek legal recourse.

I know I sound like a broken record when talking about the madness of modernity, but I can’t find any other explanation. You mean, say, a Tuscan gets mortally offended when the ribolita he orders in a London restaurant isn’t quite like Mama used to make it? And then he reports the chef for cultural appropriation?

I’d say that chap should be served not by chefs but by the men in white coats, but then we’ve already established that no one cares about what I think. Modernity moves on with the inexorable momentum typical of natural forces, and no old reactionary can slow it down.

I remember eating in New York’s Russian Tea Room, only to find that none of its dishes even remotely resembled anything authentically Russian. Yet that was a cause for mirth, not offence.

Nor have I ever been able to get an authentic Tex-Mex meal in either New York or especially London. In both places they use rump steak rather than skirt to make fajitas, which is about as authentic as a young black actress playing King Lear.

And the bagels you get in London aren’t even close to the real NY thing. (Yes, I know one could get real bagels in Bethnal Green, but who wants to schlepp all the way to the East End?)

Should I be calling my solicitor to seek restitution for the multiple traumas I’ve experienced? And what about those poor Pakistanis who find out that so many of their supposedly native dishes actually originate from Birmingham? I weep thinking of the mental anguish they experience every time they order a Balti.

People often ask me if I enjoy cooking. The honest answer is that I cook not because I like to but because, being married to an English woman, I have to. And having done that for 35 years, I’ve become reasonably competent in the kitchen.

Now I shudder to think how many offences I’ve caused over this time. For, in spite of ever having lived in only four countries, Russia, US, Britain and France, I’ve also cooked dishes from Italy (different provinces), Spain (ditto), China (ditto), Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Georgia, Uzbekistan, the West Indies, Peru, Mexico – and I’m sure I’ve left a few out.

That must make me a serial offender, although I’ve never claimed either professional expertise or pristine authenticity. Should I hire a ‘cultural appropriation specialist’ or, alternatively, instruct a lawyer?

One wonders what modernity will throw up next. No use trying to second-guess it – nobody’s imagination is that good.

Putin’s shill is at it again

Peter Hitchens has been spreading Kremlin propaganda for so long that his writing on the subject has become rather formulaic, as his article Poke the Bear and This is What Happens shows yet again.

That poor baited Russian bear

The formula is simple. First, issue a disclaimer, such as today’s: Putin “is nasty, cruel, sinister, intolerant and many other things.” Really? I thought he turned Russia into the most conservative and Christian nation in Europe, which is another one of Hitchens’s mantras.

But never mind, a variation on the theme of Russia’s innocent goodness will come later. Now it’s time for the second part of the formula, branding those who are genuinely scared of Putin’s aggression as ignoramuses who “know nothing of the issue, could not find Odessa on a map and are joining the crowd because they feel safe doing so.”

Third part, preempt inevitable criticism: “For these days, if you don’t join such crowds you will be accused of being a ‘Putin apologist’ and worse.” Such as, well, Putin’s shill.

Then the actual propaganda, which never moves too far from the line peddled by Putin’s Goebbelses: “Putin… has no ideology, racial or social. He has been complaining for years, using every peaceful means, against the expansion of Nato into Eastern Europe. He has asked, quite reasonably, who it is aimed at.”

Had he posed that question to me, he would have received quite a reasonable reply. It is aimed at Russia, or rather against her expansionist ideology Putin and his lot enunciate and practise.

The ideology, far from being nonexistent, is Third Rome chauvinism based on Russia’s divine right to dominate in eternity what used to be her empire. This ideological hymn has been played, at an ever-increasing volume, since the 16th century reign of Ivan III.

Then comes a lie or two. Today it’s more like three.

Lie One: “Russia is not the USSR”. Quite. She merely inherited the entire nuclear arsenal of the USSR, which is what enables her to blackmail the West with an élan that puts even Khrushchev, and certainly Brezhnev, to shame.

That blackmail is an essential part of fulfilling the ideological promise to restore the Soviet empire, which Russia, according to Hitchens, isn’t.

Lie Two develops Lie One: “Nato was set up to deter aggression by the USSR, an empire which ceased to exist 31 years ago… Keeping Nato in existence is like maintaining an alliance against the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman Empires, which vanished a century ago.”

Russia is not the USSR; she is merely acting like it. To distract observers unsullied by a passion for Putin’s kleptofascism, the likes of Hitchens play with grammar.

They talk about Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine either in the future tense or in the subjunctive mood. People like me, they snigger, claim the invasion of the Ukraine will happen or could happen.

This cunningly ignores the crude, physical fact that it did happen, in 2014, when Putin’s troops grabbed the Crimea and two vast provinces of eastern Ukraine. That act is now treated as a fait accompli, rather than a crime in progress, one that has already claimed 15,000 Ukrainian lives (Russian casualties are unrevealed, or possibly uncounted and therefore unknown).

Lie Three: Russia in her munificence “let go of vast tracts of Asia and Europe”, and in return “the then leaders of the West said they would not expand Nato to the east (a huge archive of documents at George Washington University in the US confirms this).”

No legal document containing such an undertaking exists in that or any other “huge archive”. The legal document that does exist is the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by the US, UK and Russia. It provided “security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan” in return for those countries giving up their Soviet nuclear weapons.

Those terms have been heinously violated by Russia’s 2014 invasion. The two Western signatories hardly covered themselves with glory either. Their security assurances amounted to expressions of concern, rather mild sanctions against Russia and grossly inadequate supplies of arms to the Ukraine.

The summation of all these lies leads to a reiteration of the umbrella lie screamed by the Kremlin with monotonous regularity. Russia is supposed to feel threatened by what Putin’s shills, including Hitchens, call “NATO’s expansion to Eastern Europe” and what was in reality a just — and justified — response to a desperate plea for protection.

Even assuming that the Russians are paranoid, a British journalist shouldn’t be. He must know that NATO was, is and always will be a purely defensive barrier designed to contain Russian aggression.

It has never harboured any offensive plans against Russia. Nor can anyone in his right mind possibly imagine NATO launching a first-strike offensive. Screaming about it from the Kremlin’s towers, however, can be used as a pretext for further Russian aggression.

In 1956 the Soviets drowned the Hungarian Revolution in blood. I was only nine at the time, but I remember the rumours spread by the KGB and the press, to the effect that Soviet tanks moved in to preempt an invasion of Hungary by American and West German troops. Sound familiar?

Putin’s shills, such as Hitchens, even lack the imagination to come up with a new line. The criminal invasion of the Ukraine in 2014, they keep droning on, was a response to a NATO offensive, or the threat thereof. But those Western villains didn’t suspend their beastly plans. Hence another invasion may be an unfortunate necessity.

Hitchens concludes with a slight paraphrase of that sentiment: “If you poke a bear enough with a sharp stick, he will attack you. When he does, you should perhaps not blame the bear.”

No, of course not. It’s all NATO’s fault, m’lord. It’s America what done it.

Our hands-on government

It was only yesterday that I wrote about the innate bossiness of liberal governments. Hence I’m thankful to HMG for illustrating my point yet again.

Save the cyclists and win a valuable prize

According to a new entry into the Highway Code, drivers will be fined £1,000 if they or their passengers open the car door with the wrong hand. That is supposed to reduce the number of cyclists injured thereby from the current toll of 500 a year.

“Where you are able to do so,” says the Code, “you should open the door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening; for example, use your left hand to open a door on your right-hand side. This will make you turn your head to look over your shoulder. You are then more likely to avoid causing injury to cyclists or motor cyclists passing you on the road, or to people on the pavement.”

This is called ‘Dutch Reach’, after the nation that has pioneered so many modern perversions. Except that, as any visitor to Amsterdam will confirm, there this rule may not be quite as perverse as all that.

Amsterdam (and most other Dutch cities), especially around the canals, is ill-suited for cars. The streets are too narrow, and when a single car has to stop for whatever reason, drivers behind it can’t get to the red light district in time for the first show.

That makes cycling a natural alternative, and the country has developed a culture of moving on two wheels rather than four. Even their queen has often been photographed riding a bike, to reassure her subjects on her egalitarian credentials.

Our Queen, God bless her, rides horses, not bikes. Or else she drives or is driven. That serves as a useful reminder of the difference between England and Holland – and between the two countries’ urban environments.

Toy Dutch cities are beautiful, in a bijou sort of way. Yet little about them suggests that Holland used to be a mighty empire. London, on the other hand, is unmistakably an imperial capital, even though the empire is long since gone.

Many of its streets are wide enough for a driver to open his door with the nearer hand without risking anybody’s life and limb — especially if he uses the side mirrors God created partly for this use.

Moreover, Britain has a car culture of long standing, with most Londoners (unlike, say, New Yorkers or Parisians) owning cars and knowing how to use them safely. That’s why we have half as many road fatalities per capita as Holland, for all her love affair with the bicycle.

In any case, 500 cyclists a year injured by car doors doesn’t sound excessive, considering that London alone is cursed with almost a million bike rides every day. This, though it’s as unsuited to bicycles as Amsterdam is to cars.

Yet the bicycle isn’t just a mode of urban transportation. It’s an ideology, and many of its adherents smugly claim a high moral ground. The ideology is multifarious, including elements of class envy and ecofanaticism.

All socialist governments, which nowadays means all governments, have waged war on cars for decades. This goes back to the time when only the wealthy could own their Jags and Jensens, and they looked down on pedestrians and cyclists.

That’s no longer the case, as you can confirm by casting a glance at the car park of any council estate. From personal observation, you’ll see more pricey motors there than in some of Paris’s upmarket arrondissements. (That’s another cultural difference: unlike Parisians, Londoners love their cars and are prepared to pay more for them. Parisians, on the other hand, spend much more on food.)

But memories of class envy linger in the brain areas from which reason is barred. I’ve heard university professors make envious, and misplaced, noises about my wealth on the basis of the 3-Series BMW I drive, and such sentiments are encouraged by government officials.

Ecofanaticism is another constituent of the war on cars. Like most foolhardy initiatives, this one misses its declared mark by a wide margin.

Cars emit much less carbon when they move at a sensible speed, as opposed to crawling along or sitting in jams. That’s exactly what they do when traffic in our cities is suffocated by cycle lanes, bus lanes, traffic islands, speed bumps and punitively low speed limits.

Our government clearly sees car drivers as a cash cow to milk or, tautologically, to fleece. Taxes on cars outpace all others, and London drivers are hit with a £15 charge for driving into the city centre even on weekends. Moreover, owners of older non-electric vehicles have to pay daily charges in the vastly greater area within the circular road.

The door fine reflects all these aspects of anti-car despotism: class envy, ecofanaticism and extortion. But I do detect a silver lining there, shining bright through the clouds of liberal totalitarianism.

Things can’t be as bad as I think for the government to direct its attention to such trivial matters. Inflation rate going up, education heading in the opposite direction, the Treasury printing and borrowing promiscuously, healthcare approaching the level of Zaire, the system of collective security about  to collapse – none of these is evidently as serious as naysayers like me claim.

So why stop at mandating the door-opening technique? There’s so much more to be done.

For example, coupés should be banned because they have bigger doors than sedans, which puts cyclists and pedestrians in mortal danger. Windowsill flower pots should be another target: they can fall off, causing quite a few headaches. And don’t get me started on ambulances, fire engines and police cars which don’t have to obey speed limits. Out with all of them, I say.

Every day deepens my sense of unreality, as if I’m watching a sci-fi TV film whose plot I can’t quite follow. Where’s the red button on that bloody remote?

P.S. On the same subject, scanning the headlines the other day, I noticed that many of them screamed the DEATH OF MEAT LOAF. The news saddened me because I quite like that dish, especially with a spicy tomato sauce.

However, it turned out that gastronomy had nothing to do with it. Meat Loaf was some kind of pop celebrity, meaning that I’ve never heard of him. Do you ever get the feeling that life is passing you by? I do, all the time.