Doing nothing in particular tonight except sitting in the smoking area of The Scarsdale in Kensington, drinking a pint of overpriced cider (calling is ‘cyder’ seems to bump up the cost a little in West London), smoking a cigar - I know I shouldn’t, but ... - and surfing the nest courtesy of Fullers free wi-fi access, I came across a rather odd little story. (Incidentally, a pint of very nice cider and a bag of roasted peanuts at the Taw River Inn in Sticklepath, right on the edge of Darmoor and where I often stop off for a pint and a cigar as it’s only 40 miles from home, costs £2.50 – 70p for the peanuts. A pint of cider and a bag of roasted peanuts at The Scarsdale, Pembroke Villas (the name of the street it’s on, apparently), Kensington, West London costs £5.30 – 70p for the peanuts. Guess where I prefer drinking a pint of cider.)
Cyprus it seems, a complete tiddler economically in global and even European terms but nonetheless like almost every country south of the Rhine in the euro area beset by cashflow problems, has come up with a novel source of readies to pay its bills. Put aside for a moment the sheer lunacy of borrowing even more money to pay off your debts - and, yes, I know national economics are apparently far too sophisticated for saps like me to understand and nations have been doing it forever - and put aside for a moment, too, the debilitating link between EU Cyprus, i.e. Greek Cyprus whose economy is heavily linked to that of Greece so if Greece is in the shit, so is EU Cyprus (the north of the island is not in the EU, for which, I’m sure they are now extremely grateful after years of regretting the fact), the Cyprus government’s solution is rather odd.
Actually, once you get into the detail and the main protagonists involved it becomes rather obvious. Cyprus, it seems, has decided not to tap the EU and its various salvation mechanisms for the necessary to ensure it’s street cleaners, teachers, nurses and hangers-on are paid, but has decided to accept a loan from Russia. In fact, it has decided to accept a second loan from Russia - it is already in hock to Moscow for a couple of billion. Take a look at this story which appeared today in the New York Times for fuller details.
What is pertinent about this latest development (and it’s all in the news report, so you might want to read that first before carrying on ploughing through my two ha’porth worth) is that Cyprus’s president Demetris Christofias studied in Moscow and - now here’s a surprise - has been pushing Moscow’s case ever since. Would it be too, too cynical of me to imagine that he might well have been nobbled by the KGB or FSB or whatever they call themselves now and has become an extremely useful so-called agent of influence? No, do you know, I don’t think it would at all be too cynical. I mean if you want an ‘agent of influence’ in a country, having him or her as that country’s head of state would be pretty good going.
Christofias assures sceptics that the loans - Cyprus is already in Russia’s pocket to the tune of €2.5 billion ($3.1 billion at the current exchange rate) and needs at least another €1.8 billion euros ($2.3 billion) by the end of June to stay out of the shit - have ‘no strings attached’. What, a country lends another country vast sums of money out of the pure goodness of its heart? Pull the other one. Not even the U.S. does that. And if there really are ‘no strings attached’ whoever authorised the loans in Moscow must get the boot asap. I could carry on, but if you are interested, read the story. All I would be doing here is simply repeating what is written in the New York Times.
What really did amuse me was the claim that Russians feel a natural kinship the Cypriots because they both ‘belong to Orthodox religions’. I’m still trying to get my head around the logic of that one.
. . .
It’s always good to start at the beginning, so I shall start with WR (her initials - remember the last remnant of decency in me has rules that lovers, girlfriends and what not will not be directly identified).
I met WR when I had just turned 19 and when she was about 18. At 19, I was had still to lose my cherry and it was a matter of great importance to me then that I should do so sooner rather than later. To this day I remember with shame a nice girl called Liz who was a student at the TC next to Dundee University (TC = teacher training college) who was sweet on me and with whom I tried hard one night long to lose my cherry. When I didn’t, I lost interest in her, and to this day I remember sitting opposite her in the Queens Hotel in the Perth Road and ‘jacking her in’ and seeing her eyes begin to water. It was no great love affair by any means. She was merely hurt, very hurt at being used and at how shallow men - boys, really - can be.
I met WR at her flat through her friendship with a guy called Angus who was one of the students I initially hooked up with when I went to Dundee. She and her flatmate were employed by Thomson’s on one of its teen magazines. At some point a few days or perhaps weeks later, Angus made me aware that WR was sweet on me. I wasn’t sweet on her, but I thought to myself that, well ...
Christmas intervened, and by the beginning of the new term she had move back to Edinburgh to look after an elderly great-aunt who live in Morningside. I can’t remember just how we got in touch, but on the Saturday that Scotland played Ireland at Murrayfield in what was then (I think) called the Five Nations, I hitched down to Edinburgh to see her. She took me off to the match and then we returned to her great-aunt’s flat. We had another drink, she, guessing as much from my innocent fumbling asked me directly whether I was still a virgin, I admitted that, yes, I was, she took me to bed and nature took its course.
But there is one small detail which I shall mention here but which I have never mentioned to anyone else. And I can’t think how to put it overly delicately, so I shall be straighforward. Perhaps it was nervousness or perhaps there was another reason but that first time I didn’t come. And do you know, dear reader, the following day I wondered and wondered and wondered, as callow, shallow 19-year-olds do, whether I was technically still ‘a virgin’. I can’t say I really know now, but I can say that it doesn’t bother me any more.
The term carried on, and the next, with me spending more and more time visiting her at her great-aunt’s flat in Morningside, hitching down to Edinburgh from Dundee at about Friday lunchtime and not returning to Dundee until Monday night and, I think, quite often Tuesday morning. She was good company, but I wasn’t ‘in love’ with her. I was just grateful to have a girlfriend with whom I had regular sex. This was in the days when having ‘safe sex’ meant using a condom to prevent pregnancy rather than using a condom to avoid catching or passing on the HIV virus, but I can’t remember having a lot of safe sex. All I remember was that it was regular, every weekend.
I always stayed the night at her great-aunt’s flat which meant that every morning we went through a ridiculous charade of me creeping out of the flat as quietly as possible, then, as soon as the door had shut, ringing the bells and being welcomed in officially. But I’m sure - no, I’m no utterly sure her great-aunt knew what was going on - because she wasn’t the ga-ga old crone everyone pretended she was. I once walked into the living room unexpectedly and far from moving with difficulty, she moved like greased lightening from one end of the room to the other to sink into her armchair and become once again the very elderly invalid she officially was.
She eventually died, and WR moved to London, although I can’t remember why. I stayed on Dundee all the summer holiday because I had failed very single one of my five end-of-first-year exams and was due for re-sits in the September. My attendance at lecutures and tutorials had dwindled to absolutely nothing - I am not exaggerating - and what motivated me to make sure I passed enough re-sits to get into my second year - and I did spend a lot of time with my books - was making damn bloody sure that grant cheque would arrive at the beginning of the winter term. In the event I passed four out of my five re-sits - methodology, economics, political science and history, and I only failed psychology (the university ran a four-year honours course, and the first year was by way of a foundation course in ‘social sciences’.
WR were keeping in touch by letter, but I finally decided to end it at some point, although I remember few of the details except that the letter I wrote to her telling her was simply sent back to me torn into small pieces. We did, however, meet up again, at the end of my fourth year. Finals were finished and with a college acquaintance, a druggie and dealer called Ian Hunter (I was not part of the druggie set because although I enjoyed the cannabis, chemist shop speed and acid as much as the next fool, I found the druggie set ineffably, unbelievably dull) I went to Edinburgh as the end of term was still several weeks off and we were footloose to do as we pleased. On a whim I tracked WR down. By now she had retrained as a nurse and agreed to put us up for the night. And the following morning with Ian Hunter out of the flat to attend to whatever he had to attend to, she took me to her bed again. And I remember her telling me - I proudly remember her telling me - that four years on I was a better screw than I had been the first time we hooked up.
I know that she later moved to Canada and later in life had developed breast cancer, and I did what I now feel was a silly thing about eight or nine years ago. Her surname was quite distinct and I had tracked down her sister and she had given me WR’s number. I rang her and we spoke for a few minutes. I can’t at all say whether or not she was pleased to hear from me. She gave me her email address, but when I emailed her, she didn’t reply. So I left it at that. WR was my first, though pretty certain I was not her first.