Category Archives: Personal experiences

I write about things that have happened in my not that long but very varied life. I am an adventurous sort of person and very outgoing. I would talk the birds out of the trees.

being a governor


You land in Russia at midnight. You have never been there before and speak not a syllable of the language. In customs there is a gruff question in broken English about how much cash you are carrying. You pass through to be greeted by a gigantic driver with half a week’s stubble on his grizzled face. He grunts at you that he speaks no English. You are ushered into a large black SUV.

You drive down the motorway. You are anxious about meeting the family for the first time but that will be tomorrow. You look out over the snowscape that stretches to the horizons on either side. After half an hour the car turns off the motorway and onto a side road. The road winds into the pine forest. After half an hour you draw up at a large metal gate. There are several very tall, shaven headed and muscular youths in black uniforms wielding khalashnikovs. This is not a cozy introduction. They are scowling and eye you questioningly. They use mirrors on poles to look under the car. After a cursory inspection the gates open and the vehicle purs into the estate. This is a typical introduction to the world of the oligarchs. You are shown to a staff house where you have a very spacious but sparsely accoutered bedroom. The family’s house is a five minute walk away. It is pointed out to you.

Next morning you are to report to the main house at 9. The major domo will greet you there.

A dream of tutoring and then two German babes


I was with one of my hcarges. He was about 9. A few servants were around. Ww wer ein the ktichne of a house in some warm clime. The house overlooked a bluff and the sea was far below. I chatted amiably with him and cracked some quips. This is the chap with the little glasses. Then he conceived a whimsy that I must do whatever he did. He would strike a pose and I had to mimic is. He would move this way and that and I copied it as best I could. I invented some tales about ebign a spy and so forth.

A souffle was brought in

Then the chef finished making a huge yellow nd brpown cake – not luxuious.

Later I was on a huge ferry somewhere in EUROPE. Many young tourists came along.

I was alone in London. People from the ferry were disembarking. Bizarrey it merged with a German air craft carrier that was docking. It was there on some mission to stop illegal immigration ,aybe this is ebcause I met some Royal Nacal sailors on the metro yesterday. One wa s ahot girl in a shirt skirt.

I was on the ferry. There was a large open space and many bars and restaurants. Therewas a lottery going on in one of them.

I went to a bar and had a driank on my own. Then teo nuble Germans came along. They ere slender and blonde. They did not dress provovoatively. They strukc ip a conversaiton with me in flawless English. We chatted in German a little. One was taller than the other. Borth were svelte. Theyw er in deure blosues nad blue jeans. I did not recgnose ether. The did not resmble the love of my life. The person i met last night had spent some of her childhood in Germany. We discussed exams. They told me which satte they were from – not one I remembered. They thoght y gags wer ehysteiral.

I had a cabin on the ferry or was it a hotel room in London.  I wondered whether I should invite both back.

I awoke with morning wood.


A dream about smoking and bags.


I was with a group of men about my age. The boys were all smoking and asked why I did not. I told them it is not healthful. I think they were whte but do not know their nationality. They stood on a small sand dune.


In another part of the dream I was sharing a dormtory with some other men. There were suitcases on the floor. There was an old whte an with glasses there. I went out od the room. I came back in. SOmething on the old white’s face told me he had done something wicked. I frantically tore oepn my bag. I found a small see through plastic egg thing with white and grene powder. I smashed it open. He had tried to get me to unwittingly carry his contraband. I cofnormted him with this as he sat on the bed nex time mine. I angirly accused him. He was placid in denying it but I deduced he was guilty. There was a n Orienal poicemna outside and I considered dobbing jim in. But I feared tgat if the police knew they would susect me desite me being the one t report it. Myabe it is an allusion to what fgoes on in Singapire. I also geared this chap may be a ganatsre and in a psotion toe xact vebagnace.

Then I realsied this old manw as the uncle of somone I knew. That seemd to explain it. Cannot remember what else wa sn the dream. there was an asect of danger and anciety to it.


A dream of swimming and sharks


I went to sleep at 7. A short while later i dreamt of swimming in the sea. I was with honeybrightfaith. He was playful. We would dive down. Then it was like the turned into a shark and then back into a human. I have thought of going to Turkey next sumemr where I swam with them last year. I have this absurd and excessive fear of carcharhenis. I saw posters of them in Sharjah  which means they ar eon my mind.

A dream of the Holocaust Memorial and clysters


I was showing a child around Berlin. We came to where the Holcaust Memorail is. In the dream it did not resemble the real thing with its diagonal lines and cuboids. This was an open to the air marble memorial with names inscribed on it. It was beige in colour and shone. The child showed little interesr. I explained that this efifice eas plonked on the spot where Hitler’s bunker ha dbeen. I had been telling a child the word bunker 2 days ago. The child may have been zean or a boy. I remember shwoing Barbara arund Berlin in 20005 and we went to this spit. made me remember Philip who had once led a shcool grpup was the police tape and into the park whhich stood atop Hitler’s bunker. The copper then came and told him ti shift

Later in the dream I was in a small bedroom with an evil woman. she told me she was going to defecate. I went into the bathroom later and the floor was wet. there was refuse on the floor. turjed otu to eb orange peel from the fruit I had consumed. This female was filhty. I considered an unnaturla act with her but did not go through with it. Perhaps the earlier part of that epsidoe reflected my phsucooa needsat the time. I had been recallign meeting that Indian in 2002 and attempting unproductive sex with her.

How to do business in Astana



There are daily flights from Astana to several cities in Europe, Russia, the Far East and the Middle East. Air Astana flies to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Etihad flies to ABu Dhabi.
There is a landing form to fill out. Customs inspections are rare. Once out of customs be prepared to be approached by taxi drivers. There are many unlicensed taxis. These are usually perfectly safe. There is an airport bus. The airport is 10km from the city centre. A taxi to the city centre will cost around 1000 tenge which is about $6 if you are good at haggling. If you are a first time arrival it is advisable to go to the Zhe Be Taxi desk in the airport and order your taxi there paying in advance. If you do not speak Russian or Kazakh it will be difficult to negotiate directly with a driver. They will know you are a foreigner and will over charge you. Whilst there are meters in cabs they are seldom used and negotiating a price before departure is the norm.

Citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, most other EU countries, the Commonwealth of Independent States and South Korea do not need visas. Citizens of these favoured nations can stay for 30 days at a time on a tourist visa. Simply fill out a form on landing. There is no fee. Citizens of other countries need to obtain a visa before departure. This takes a few days and the fees vary according to your country. $100 is typical. If you plan to visit regularly it is advisable to obtain a multi-entry business visa. This again allows you to stay up to 30 days at a time and up to 60 days in any period of 180 days. For visa renewal you will need to leave the country for over 24 hours before coming back in. Kyrgyzstan (no visa required for most nationalities) is a well recognised place to go for a visa hop.

Astana is very safe. There are police on every street so it seems. It is almost unheard of for anyone to be a victim of even a misdemeanour. Women say that they feel secure even when walking on the street along at midnight. For those who break the law the penalties are severe. Last year an Italian was caught with a tiny amount of cannabis for personal use. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.


English is spoken in five star hotels and by business executives. Beyond that not many people speak English. The official languages are Kazakh and Russian. In Astana people use Russian far more than Kazakh. If you need to hire an interpreter expect to pay about $500 monthly.

The local currency is the Tenge. KZT is the symbol for Tenge. There are KZT 180 to the dollar. Exchange rates in banks are not good. It is a wise idea to use ATM cards. This is a cash society. Cheques do not exist. Top end restaurants and hotels may accept payment in dollars. Likewise expensive establishments will take debit and credit cards. Ordinary restaurants, shops and restaurants will not accept carss. Cash is king.
Construction is the greatest opportunity here. Astana only became the capital in 1998 and it has more than doubled in that time. The government plans to continue rapidly expanding Astana. There are many construction projects going on currently. They want to be Dubai on steppe. They like their buildings big and bold. There are plenty of foreigners from Britishers to Palestinians here in construction. There is scope for more hotels and chi chi retail outlets. There are plenty of high end apratment blocks going up. This is probably over optimistic. Kazakhstan is no longer into vanity projects as it once was. It hosted the Asian Winter Games a few years back. There was talk of an Olympic bid but this has now been shelved. Although this is an oil rich country the oil and gas are not near Astana. The oil and gas are chiefly found in the western region of the country in and near the Caspian Sea. Aktobe and Atyrau are the main oil towns. There are plenty of Western oil workers there. They are principally British and Italian. KazMunayGaz is the main oil company here. Lukoil – a Russian company – is also here. Kazakhstan has a close relationship with Russia. It is not as cordial as it once was. The NATO sanctions on Russia have indirectly hit Kazakhstan since Russia is Kazakhstan’s major trade partner. Kazakhstan also has an increasingly important relationship with China. China is not the major investor in Kazakhstan and the main purchaser of the country;s hydrocarbons. There is talk of a pipeline from Kazakhstan to China. Moscow is vigorously lobbying against it.

The country is likely facing a couple of years of economic stagnation. President Nazarbayev brought the election forward a year probably for this reason. Having won a mere 98& of the vote he told people to tighten their belts. Low oil prices mean that many construction projects will be on hold for a while.
The capital was moved to Astana in 1997. Prior to that the capital was Almaty. Astana (meaning ”capital” in the Kazakh language) was previously named Akmola (”white grave). This was partly to have the capital closer to the geographic centre of the country. Moreover, in northern Kazakhstan there are many Kazakh citizens of the Russian ethnicity. It was felt that having the capital in this region would make it less likely that they would demand to join Russia. Relations between the indigenous Kazakhs (63% of the population) and ethnic Russians (23%) are very warm. There are several minor ethnic groups such as Koreans and Uzbeks.
Astana’s old town is a dull Soviet era set of tower blocks. The new town is all purpose built and laid out in a grid. There are many spectacular buildings. Some of them are desgined by British architect Sir Norman Foster.
Kazakhstan is neo feudal. There are a handful of oligarchs who rule the roost. Protection is exchanged for services. People employ friends and relatives. Persons of consequences exchange favours in a system called blat. It is like a throwback to Regency Britain. The super rich get their money out of the country – mostly to Switzerland. So long as you stay on the right side of the president there is nothing to worry about. However, the president’s son in law had a falling out with him and lost everything.
The president of 75 and seems to be in good health. His image is omnipresent. How much longer can he reigh on for? He has three grown up daughtes. Kazakhs say it is unthinkable that a woman will ever be president because their country has never been ruled by a woman. Who the next president will be is a topic of quiet conjecture.
A generous donation to a public servant can often lead to the rules being interpreted in your favour.
Virtually all the wealth is in the two major cities. Going into a village is like stepping back in time 50 years at least.
The Diplomat Hotel and Rixos Hotel are two of the most renowned hotels in the city. Hotel Duman is also a creditable four star hotel but they make you pay to use the gym and pool! Hotels are either five star or one star with very little in between.


Personal relationships are important – more so than contracts. People are not good on timings here. Shaking hands is vital. This is a Muslim country but men and women shaking hands is totally acceptable. Women can do any job they wish but they were seldom make it to the top of any organisation. Family is everything. Some of the people you will be dealing with will have been promoted because of who their relatives are. People exchange favours a lot. Back handers are the order of the day.
Do not expect things to happen quickly. But when they happen it can be very suddent. Kazakhs tend to use verbal commands more than written instructions.
Status is highly important. People like to look important. If you work for a major corporation you are more likely to succeed than if you run a small business. Having said that there are small business here that do well such as a chain of low priced gyms run by a Canadian.

Saturday and Sunday are days off. A few people work on Saturday morning. The super rich go abroad for June, July and August. These are school holidays. There is also a long break from 24 December to 6 January for many people. Islamic holidays are not observed in a major way.

In Astana there is the sky beach which is indoors. It is quite something to experience a Med like temperature inside when it is – 30 celsius outdoors. There are many pools and gyms. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. There are bikes for hire in the summer. People like to go riding in the countryside. You can experience the traditional nomadic Kazakh lifestyle with a night in a yurt munching horse meat washed down by salty horse’s milk. In the winter there are winter sports available. Around Astana it is cross country skiing only because the landscape is dead flat.
Astana boasts some high standard football and basketball teams with mostly foreign players. Interntaional football matches are often played in Astana.

настоящий Принц Уильям. (The Real Prince William – in Russian)


Весь мир знает, кто такой принц Уильям, но мало кто встречал его лицом к лицу. Его Высочество был моим одноклассником в Итоне и некоторые члены нашей компании до сих пор поддерживают с ним отношения. Говоря начистоту, настоящий Уильям совсем не похож на того, кого вы привыкли видеть на телеэкранах. Он пережил развод родителей и смерть матери в возрасте 15 лет. Как не крути, такие события —  серьезная моральная травма даже для взрослого человека, а эти трагедии практически сформировали личность будущего короля 16 стран.

Принц Уильям очень коммуникабельный и уверенный в себе парень. Вас удивит, но его совершенно не интересует общение на интеллектуальные темы, гораздо охотнее, чем беседу об особенностях архитектуры стиля модерн, он поддержит треп с парочкой свежих пикантных анекдотов. Всякий раз, когда разговор заходит о чем-то заумном, Уильям старается поскорее сменить компанию собеседников, и в этом искусстве он за годы учебы, без сомнения, преуспел. В Итоне он был середнячком. Его французский не так хорош, как хотелось бы его бабушке, а немецкий, который, вообще-то, он должен был знать как родной язык, не давался ему совсем. Уверен, это является поводом для расстройства самого принца и всего его окружения, ведь французским Его Королевское Высочество обязан владеть в совершенстве, чтобы править не только Великобританией, но и ее колониями. Вы ведь помните, что Елизавета II является королевой не только на туманном Альбионе? Еще 15 стран, среди которых Австралия, Ямайка и Новая Зеландия, так же находятся под покровительством Британской монархини. Как-то я спросил Уильяма, в каких странах его знаменитая бабушка является королевой? Принц не смог назвать и половины. В его оправдание могу сказать только то, что многие из них такие крошечные, что занимают всего лишь небольшие острова в Карибском море, так что вряд ли кто-то из нас, если задать ему тот же вопрос, ответит лучше Уильяма.

У принца Уильяма, кстати, отличное чувство юмора. Однажды он сказал кому-то из обидчиков: «Когда я стану королем, я отрублю тебе голову!», класс так и покатился со смеху. Все знали, что это просто шутка, на самом деле Уильям очень скромный даже слегка склонен к самокопанию.

По окончании школы Уильям оказался перед непростым выбором, но, насколько мы все его знали, ему не составило труда принять решение. Он не пошел в Кембридж, который закончил принц Чарльз, его отец, отверг Оксфорд, куда многие века направляли свои стопы члены королевской семьи, а поступил в Университет Святого Эндрю в Шотландии. Возможно, вам будет трудно в это поверить, но в британских университетах для будущих королей нет никаких поблажек, они сдают вступительные экзамены наряду со всеми остальными абитуриентами. Таковы обычаи Соединенного Королевства.

В Итоне было достаточно много так называемых «обществ по интересам», там мальчики обсуждали все, начиная от философии и заканчивая фермерским хозяйством. Принц Уильям не посещал ни одно из них, хотя однажды вступил в полемику с представителями общества защиты животных, которые требовали запретить охоту на лис. Будущий король резко высказался против запрета, и, что удивительно, эту пламенную речь пропустили все британские таблоиды, а могли бы сделать настоящую сенсацию!

Это сейчас уже не секрет, что Уильям — большой любитель «кровавого спорта», то есть охоты. Однажды я ездил с ним на охоту с гончими (beagles). Помните, именно так назывался корабль Чарльза Дарвина (The Beagle)? Мы выбрали транспорт поскромнее — это был микроавтобус. Несколько раз нам довелось охотиться в имении лорда Кэррингтона, экс-министра иностранных дел Великобритании. Там я впервые увидел, как эти великолепные псы преследуют свою жертву. Зрелище завораживающее и, признаюсь, не для слабонервных. Для Уильяма, напротив, это шоу было обычным.

Во время учебы Уильям показывал полное отсутствие интереса к политике, что в некотором смысле было даже хорошо, ведь монарх — единственный человек, который не имеет права на собственное мнение. Корона Британской Империи всегда находилась над политикой. Монарх обязан поддерживать строжайший нейтралитет в политических делах и по закону даже не имеет права голосовать.

Также принц Уильям никогда не посещал театр. Он было настолько же равнодушен к драме, насколько его мать ее обожала. Ах да, музыку Уильям тоже не любил, зато находил для себя интерес в изобразительном искусстве и был довольно талантливым художником. Он и сейчас прекрасно разбирается в искусстве, что помогло королевской семье значительно расширить свою коллекцию шедевров.

Говоря о принце Уильяме нельзя не отметить, что он, помимо всего прочего, был совершенно не религиозен. Однажды, заполняя анкету, Уильям остановился на графе «религия», ему даже пришлось воспользоваться помощью отца. Принц Чарльз, снисходительно улыбнувшись, сказал сыну: «Пиши «Церковь Англии». В нашей школе ученики могли приходить в церковь в свободное время, если им этого хотелось. Уильям игнорировал эту возможность ровно до того момента, когда посещения церкви вошли в обязательную программу обучения.

По характеру будущий король определенно оптимист. Развод родителей не сильно его задел, однако, именно он повлиял на то, что Уильям отправился учиться в Итон — там обучались все представители сильного пола династии его мамы. Также, эту престижную школу закончили несколько кузенов его отца, принца Чарльза, а вот сам принц Чарльз был отправлен в Гордонстоун, в Шотландию, в школу, которую в свое время закончил его отец, принц Филипп. Дедушка Уильяма считал Итон слишком культурным учебным заведениям, тогда как в Гордонстоун атмосфера была практически военная. Филипп мечтал, что Чарльз станет моряком, как и он сам.

Мы были поражены, когда Уильям вернулся в школу после убийства матери, ведь прошло совсем немного времени. Я никогда не расспрашивал его об этом, сами понимаете, тема очень деликатная, но все мы чувствовали, что хоть его горе сильно, все же, он сильнее и сможет справиться с ним.

Лучшими друзьями принца были, в основном, ребята из аристократических кругов. Эти парни были сыновьями друзей его родителей. На самом деле, не так уж и много мальчиков в Итоне — дворянские наследники, большинство — это дети успешных банкиров и юристов.

Принц Уильям уже тогда с подозрением относился к дружбе. Он рано повзрослел и начал понимать, что его окружает толпа подхалимов, которые общаются с ним лишь благодаря его громкому титулу. Эти люди были способны на предательство в любой удобный момент. Так же Уильям поступал и с девушками. Как-то на балу юные дамы выстроились в целую очередь и каждая хотела поцеловать принца, однако он не принял поцелуй ни от одной из них — слишком уж много вокруг было народа.

Вообще, Уильям вел себя в школе как самый обычный парень. Интересно, что он почему-то не общался с другим представителем королевской династии из нашего класса — принцем Ниражаном из Непала. И хоть иногда Ниражана приглашали погостить в Букингемском дворце, им с Уильямом так и не удалось подружиться, впрочем, и вражды между ними тоже не было. Такие же отношения наш принц поддерживал и с будущим королем Саудовской Аравии, тот тоже учился с нами в Итоне.

В школе принц Уильям покуривал, но быстро бросил, да и выпить он был не любитель. Одно известно точно — к травке Его Высочество не прикасался ни разу в жизни. Даже подростком он уже чувствовал ответственность. Миллионы людей во всем мире могли узнать, что он делает прямо сейчас, а среди них и его верноподданные. Он, их принц, всегда знал, что не имеет права подвести свой народ.

Своей родиной Уильям считает Глостершир, это графство на западе Англии. Там, в имении своего отца под названием Highgrove, он провел большую часть детства. Принц Чарльз купил Highgrove в 1980. Почему принц Чарльз купил дом в той части страны, с которой у него не было никакой связи? Все очень просто, Highgrove находится в 10 минутах езды от дома Камиллы Паркер-Боулз — настоящей любви всей жизни принца Чарльза. В то время мадам Паркер-Боулз была замужем за кавалерийским офицером Эндрю Паркером-Боулзом. Сын Камиллы — Том Паркер-Боулз тоже учился в Итоне, но закончил его еще до того, как Уильям поступил в школу. Не подумайте, нет никаких подозрений, в том, что принц Чарльз является отцом Тома! Об этом знает каждая британская домохозяйка: в первые годы брака Камиллы Чарльз не докучал ей своим вниманием, предоставив возможность родить ребенка, пока сам был в поисках новой любви.

Принц Уильям унаследовал от отца хладнокровность и острый ум. Его брат, принц Гарри, больше похож на мать —  эмоциональный, отзывчивый и добрый. Про своего старшего сына принцесса Диана говорила: «Этот ребенок — мыслитель». Он, как и она, почти сразу стал любимцем Британии.

Принц Уильям был не только талантливым художником, но и весьма неплохим спортсменом. Особенно успешен он был в футболе и водном поло, Уильям даже состоял в сборной университета. Также, Уильям любил греблю и крикет. Он вообще постоянно занимался спортом и еще следил за питанием, а это, согласитесь, довольно редкое явление для молодого человека в отличной форме.

Если честно, я считаю, что для роли будущего короля принц Уильям подходит как нельзя лучше. Он не какой-нибудь супермен или чрезвычайно одаренный парень, нет. Пожалуй, в этом и есть главная сила монархии. Король — это обычный человек, такой же, как и мы с вами.

Этому нас научили в Итоне: из сотни совершенно обычных мальчиков любой может достичь невиданных высот, нужно только трудиться и верить в себя. И это самое главное, ведь ничего в мире не существует, пока ты сам в это не поверишь.

A memoir of HRH


The whole world knows Prince William’s public persona but what is he like one-on-one? I was at Eton College with Prince William and some of my friends are still in regular touch with him. His Royal Highness’ true personality is not entirely what you would expect. He experienced the divorce of his parents and the death of his mother by the age of 15. This would traumatise most people but how have these tragedies shaped the personality of the future king of 16 countries?

Prince William is very self-assured and outgoing. Perhaps more surprising is his intellectual incuriousity and his fondness for racist jokes. Whenever any intellectual topic came up in conversation he would glaze over. He is of average academic ability which is still a lot better than his brother Prince Harry. His French is terrible and he knows none of his ancestral language – German. He laughed raucously at jokes about people of other races. He has grown out of this which is good because he will be King of Jamaica as well as King of the United Kingdom. Remember Queen Elizabeth is the queen not just of the United Kingdom but of 15 other lands – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and so on. I once asked Prince William which countries his grandmother ruled and he could only remember half of them. Many of them are small islands in the Caribbean.

Prince William had a lively sense of humour and as a little boy said to his classmates, ”when I am king I will order my soldiers to chop your head off!” Everyone knew this was just comedy.

There were many societies at Eton where boys would develop their interest in everything from Philosophy and Debating, to Amateur Radio and Farm Management. Prince William never attended any such societies expect when some animal rights activists came to speak about why fox hunting should be outlawed. Prince William spoke up vociferously in favour of keeping hunting legal. It is astonishing that the press never reported this at the time. It is no secret that he likes blood sports or as he prefers to call them ”field sports” and he has often been filmed riding to the hounds. I used to go beagling with him. A beagle is a small dog. Remember Charles Darwin’s voyage? His ship was called the beagle. Anyway, we would go by minibus to the estate of a a different Old Etonian twice a week. Sometimes it was Lord Carrington’s estate – Lord Carrington was once the Foreign Minister. We would follow the beagles as they chased and killed. I was a schoolboy who would look at racy magazines full of girls in bikinis. I remember Prince William borrowing my copy of Loaded and reading aloud ”gravity defying Brazilian buttocks!” as he leered over some nubile girls.

He showed a total lack of interest in politics which in a sense is a good thing. The monarch is the only person who is not entitled to an opinion. The Crown is above politics. The monarch must always maintain the strictest neutrality in political affairs. The monarch is not allowed to vote by law.

Prince William never attended the theatre. His indifference to drama is at odds with his mother who was quite enthusiast about the theatre. Prince William does at least like the visual arts and is a reasonably talented painter. He studied History of Art so he can develop a greater appreciation of his family’s collection of masterpieces.

Prince William was not at all religious. When he had to sign the entry book to the school he paused at the space for ”religion” and asked his father what to write. ”Church of England” Prince Charles told him indulgently. There were optional prayer services in chapel every day but he only went when it was obligatory.

He is convivial and usually upbeat. His parents divorce affected him surprisingly little. The one thing his parents could agree on is that the boys MUST attend Eton. All of Princess’ Diana’s male relatives attended Eton. Some of Prince Charles’ cousins attended Eton but Prince Charles was sent to Gordonstoun School in Scotland which his father Prince Philip had attended. Gordonstoun was chosen for Prince Charles because it was thought to be tougher and almost military. Prince Philip said that Eton was too close to London and too culturally sophisticated – he wanted his son to be a sailor like him.

What astonished me is how soon he returned to school after the violent death of his mother. I never felt it right to ask him about this extremely sensitive topic. I sensed that although he blatantly experienced grief he was coping exceptionally well in the circumstances.

His friends were mostly drawn from aristocratic circles. These boys were the sons of his parents’ friends. Only a minority of boys at Eton are the sons of noblemen. Most boys are the sons of highly successful bankers and lawyers.

Prince William was suspicious of overtures of friendship. He was well aware that some people only wanted to suck up to him because he was due to be king. He was also cautious around girls. At the Feather’s Ball girls were lining up to try to kiss him but he rejected them all – there were too many people watching.

He could he as normal there as at any other school. Curiously, he was not close to the other royalty at the school. Prince Nirajan of Nepal was there. Although Nirajan went to Buckingham Palace occasionally he never became friendly with Prince William – there was no enmity. The same is true of the Saudi Arabian prince at Eton.

He smoked a little but soon gave up. He hardly drank alcohol. Unlike his brother Harry he never touched cannabis. Cannabis was smoke by more than a few boys at Eton at the time. That has since been cracked down upon.

He regards himself as being from Gloucestershire. This is a county in the West of England. He spent most of his time there because his father, Prince Charles, owns a house in Gloucestershire called Highgrove. Prince Charles bought Highgrove in 1980 – the year before his marriage to Princess Diana. Why did Prince Charles buy a house in a part of the country with which he had no connection? Highgrove is a 10 minute drive from the house of Camilla Parker Bowles – who was always Prince Charles’ true love. Camilla Parker Bowles was then married to a cavalry officer – Andrew Parker Bowles.

Camilla Parker Bowles’ son – Tom Parker Bowles – was at Eton but finished school before Prince William arrived. Incidentally, there is no suspicion that Prince Charles is the father of Tom. For the first couple of years of Camilla’s marriage it is common knowledge that Prince Charles left her alone to have children while he attempted to find a bride he loved.

Prince William inherited the cool headedness of his father. His brother Prince Harry is more volatile like his mother. Prince Harry also inherited his mother’s low scholastic ability. Notoriously, Princess Diana left school aged 16 having passed one subject – cookery. His mother said of Prince William, ”that child is a deep thinker”. Her judgement was very poor. He was a deep thinker compared to her but then everyone was a deep thinker compared to her. But like her he was a people person. He was confident and willing to talk to boys much older than him on equal terms.

Prince William was a fairly talented sportsman. He was a decent football player and excellent at water polo. He almost made the national water polo team. He also liked rowing rather than the more popular cricket. He took plenty of exercise and always watched what he ate because it is difficult to respect an obese king.

Prince William is fairly well-suited to the role. Do not imagine that he is superhuman and extraordinarily gifted. This is perhaps the strength of the monarchy – that the monarch is usually a person of quite typical abilities.

Maita; in memoriam.


Maita was born in 1933 in a village in southern Romania. Maita was the penultimate of six children. Her father was a farmer. She grew up in hard times for Romania and lived through the Second World War. Maita went to school into her teens but was never a bookish type. As an adult she worked in an abattoir.

When Maita was about 20 she married and moved to a village about 20 miles from her birthplace. Many of the other girls in the village were jealous of her good looks. There is a photo of Maita on her wedding day. She is radiant in her white bridal gown and looks quietly confident. Her husband was a few years older than herself. About a year later she brought forth a son. A year or so after that she was delivered of a girl. They lived in a double cottage with a garden the size of a football field. They produced much of their own food. Maita sometimes liberated meat from the slaughterhouse where she worked to bring home for her family.

Maita’s husband was a props manager in the theatre. He was a fun loving man. He smokes non-stop and was fond of a drink. There was never much money about the house. She was quite strict with her children. She never smoked because she believed that only whores did so.

About 13 years after she married Maita had another baby. This time the little girl died a few weeks after birth. It was a tristful time for the family. There was supposed to be an autopsy by Maita’s husband paid for this not to happen. It would not bring the infant back and only prolong the trauma.

Maita’a family grew when her son and daughter married. She then had two grandsons and two granddaughters.

When Maita was in her 60s her husband was diagnosed with cancer of the duodenum. It was deeply upsetting. He could not swallow and food had to be fed directly into his stomach. They put food into his mouth so he could chew it – he would then have to spit it out. He insisted on smoking despite his family’s attempts to stop him. He would pay children to bring him ciggies. Eventually the family relented. Smoking may have brought on this disease but the damage was done and there was no point in stopping. After a few months he passed away. He is buried in the same grave as Maita’s baby.

Maita was house proud and did a lot of good work in the garden. She tended the chickens and the pigs. Even into her 70s she did work in the fields. She was kind and honest as can be.

I first met her one chilly March evening. She was welcoming and dignified. I gradually learnt her language. She remarked that I was very big.

Maita looked after my baby from when he was about two weeks old. She was so solicitous towards the newborn. She spoon fed him. I remember her calling out his name in her quaint accent. She sometimes took the baby into her bed for an afternoon snooze.

She sometimes shared a bed with her daughter. This loving and close relationship between the two is so admirable.

I remember about 3 months after the baby was born walking into the flat where Maita was staying in Pitesti. The baby was crying and she said ”Tati – uita tati!” She called out in a  babyish voice, ”tati, tati!” to soothe the infant.

From when he was about 9 months old she took him out onto the grass to crawl around near the state circus.

In the flat in Pitesti she often looked after the little one all day. He would be plonked up on the kitchen surface overlooking the road and watching the cars go by. If he saw a truck he would declare, ”Mare!” He may have learnt his first words from her.

Once I came out of the loo and joking told her, ”am facut trebia mare.” She smarted – this was an affront to her. My lavatorial humour did not go down well.

She told me she did not like Gypsies. She had not been member of the party but said she supported the Communists.

She never went abroad and had no desire to do so. There was talk of her visiting London but it did not transpire. Her healthy was failing and she had falls. She was embarrassed about this and tried to hide the bruises.

My parents gave her some gold and she was thrilled. It was deeply upsetting for her when she lost it in Baneasea Airport later. Then one Christmas we bought her some gold. When she opened the present she cried because she was so touched. She wore it often.

When the baby was about one and a half he could finally say her name. He called her Maisha which is a bit off.

The baby had a potty before he could use one. He left a toy man in it. I told Maita that he had done something in the potty. She said ”nimic are facut” – then I showed her and she was amused. She said of the baby ”e sufletul nostru.”

She watched television a lot. Sometimes she just sat in her room without the telly.

Once I had a call from my mother. I told Maita who is was. Maita told the baby, ”Bunica Irlandeza – Bunica din Londra.” She often called me English and did not grasp that I am Irish.

After I had known her a couple of years I started telling her ”te iubesc.” At first she did not know how to react. I would kiss both her cheeks and hug her. She was pure hearted and a giving person. I made sure that I always told her I loved her when saying farewell. She had a stroke aged 78 and each time I saw her I feared would be the last.

In 2011 she spent a few day in hospital for treatments and massages. We brought the baby to visit her and he ran up and down the corridors. He also gave her a snowdrop as is the custom to give a snowdrop as soon as they bloom – give it to one you love.

She had heart medication. She had rheumatism and arthritis. She could not walk very hard in the cold. Her long spindly toes were gnarled and her feet looked permanently bruised. She stopped taking her heart medication. I thought we should hide it in her food to save her.

She had a stroke in Janauryb 2003. She lost movement on one side for a few hours and the power of speech. I sent 100 pounds to hekp pay her medical bills.

Last summer a fast talking door to door salesman turned up at the house and wanted her to buy blankets which she did not need. She asked if I had a 100 ron on me. I said yes. lATER I told ehr not to pay me back. That was a gift. She replied multumesc with a very genuine smile. I am pleased that I brought her a little glee.

One time she was in Pitesti and everyone else was away. She was phoned and did not respond. She was phoned and phoned and di not answer. I feared she had died. A relative went to check on her and she was just asleep.

In her last few months she became drowsy. She repeated herself a lot.

I remember her counting out money that I had given for the care of the baby as she sat on his room. When I said goodbye to her in the baby;s room I told her with sincerity, ”te iubesc.” She smiled softly and responded ”Multumesc – si eu te iubesc.”

A couple of weeks later she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I skype called and spoke to her daughter. I saw Maita in the background hurrying away – her face was green. She was ashamed. I was worried and realised that this condition was not survivable. I hoped that she might live till Christmas – or at least another six months. It was not to be.  She was too weak to operate on. The baby was sent to her to bring her joy but also so he could savour some of the last of her time on earth/

Her last weekend she visited the baby in Bucharest. She became frail and could only walk very slowly. She grew confused and mixed up her daughter and granddaughter. She went back to Pitesti. On Monday she went into hospital. Her daughter stayed at her bedside all night. The next morn the doctors explained as sensitively as they could that there was nothing more that they could do for the old lady. She had only a very short time left to live. It was better for her to die at home. If she died in the hospital there would be more paperwork, more fees and the body would not be returned that same day. The hospital provided an ambulance to take the old woman home.

She was lain down on her bed. Her son and daughter were there holding her hands. She slipped in and out of consciousness. He breathing grew shallower till that Tuesday evening she breathed her last.

28 days after I last saw her she died. It was five years to the day I met her.

I received a text announcing she was dead. As I had known I would do I erupted in childlike tears. I had not cried for four years.


I got to the house on Thursday evening. I knew she would be in an open casket. Many people were milling around outside. Many of them wore only black.  I had been warned that there would be an open casket.

I saw through the window a coffin on the table in the drawing room with tall candles around it. I gingerly stepped into the room. There she lay. It was her all right. Her eyes were open – that rather shook me. She was there but not there. It is axiomatic but she was motionless and silent. Yes, as one would expect. Apart from a slight discolouration of the lips she did not look dead. She wore her black hate, a brown jumper, black trousers and highly polished black leather shoes. She was too short to fill the pale brown wooden casket. A thin white veil was draped over her but she could be seen very clearly.

Her great grandson told me matter of factly ”Maita’s in a box.” He told me ”Maita e murit” but had not grasped this.

We told him she had gone to heaven and would be rejoining her husband.

The next morning I came to the house again. i wanted to touch Maita – to commune with her whilst I could still see her remains.  I peeled back the white veil and touched her hand. It felt a little cold but not as shockingly cold as my grandmother’s hand had felt in 1997. I was not at all frightened to touch the hand of this angelic old woman. Her hand felt clammy but not greasy. I silently sobbed for a few seconds. She had departed forever. She was so good and generous spirited. Now this lady who never did a bad deed in her life was taken away from us. After a few moments I composed myself.

I saw her blood relatives stroke her cheeks and would liked to have done so. But I felt this would be seen as muscling in. I would be accused of faking it.

Only when Maita was carried out of the house did the little boy wail. His mother and I hugged him and comforted him with words of her having gone to a better place. I carried the child behind the hearse but he walked some of the way. A beggar boy followed us asking for money. I asked the street urchin if he was given 10 ron would he make himself scarce. He said yes. In my naivete I handed the filthy scamp 10 ron. Of course he reneged on his promise and continued to pester us.

We processed along the motorway which surprised me. Johnnie and Istayed outside the church and threw stones as he wished.

He was not to see the burial – at his mother’s insistence. He was angry about this and punched and kicked me. The fury on his face was worrying. People told his mum that the child was irate. She relented and I took my son in. The coffin was already on the concrete slab. I thought we would see the coffin of her husband but it was covered over by concrete. The grave diggers lowered a concreted slab over her coffin and that was that. So the boy saw the last of it.

Maita returned to the womb of the eternal unknown. She had nine descendants eight of whom survive her. She led a supremely virtuous life. Ther was talk of her visiting London. Would she not be scared of flying for the first time? She could take a valium I was told. Now she will never have that chance. I wish she had spoilt herself and spent her money more.

Her name is already on the headstone. We mention her sometimes and go into her room. Her clothes and shoes I there. I stroke her dresses as relics of her. I kiss her photos. I gave 300 pounds for her funeral.