Category Archives: England

Megxit, or Coat-hangers and Coat-bearers

Being a trained specialist in English history, I cannot avoid commenting on the recent scandal in the British Royal Family, poignantly called Megxit by the media. Harry and Meghan walked out on the British royal family. I didn’t want to engage in the hysteria of Harry’s exiting the family when the news had just broken out. I now feel I can share my view of the situation.

Personally, I don’t sympathise with either Harry or Meghan. Even Kate Middleton didn’t instantly become the nation’s favourite, and she’d been in the public eye for much longer before her marriage than Meghan. Never mind the latter’s cinema career, I suppose few people had heard of her before she got engaged to Prince Harry. So, I cannot see why the public wouldn’t judge Meghan where it had previously judged Kate. The British mouth can blurt out some scathing criticism. This had to be foreseen, obviously, and not just by the PR services but by Harry and Meghan themselves.

So, I feel for Meghan for any misery she endured at the royal court but it was in the cards anyway. The monarchy has to maintain its public image, and it costs a lot – financially, as emotionally. If she thought that the BRF is no Hollywood and she could be herself here, it was a very silly thought indeed. I’ve never been to either place but it seems no Hollywood may be as restricting and false (to someone’s liking anyway), as a royal family of any country.

Coat-hangers and coat-bearers of the British monarchy (Image courtery: Telegraph.co.uk)

To portray Harry as a poor guy torn between the beloved Granny, the native country and the wife-and-child is also to do him no justice. He’s not a teen nor even a young adult. He’s the sixth in line to the throne, and even if he was unlikely to get there ever in his life it doesn’t change the main thing: he represents the British monarchy. I cannot imagine what it was that eventually prompted him to break the news on Instagram of all places, but it is clear that this was a thoughtful decision, not a fly of fancy. Of course, he’s got a historical precedent in the face of Edward VIII. However, there isn’t as much pressure on Prince Harry, for he simply decided to get rid of royal responsibilities that demanded the presence of his wife. It is in no way critical as King Edward’s abdication in the wake of the Second World war.

Following the Megxit has led me to this observation. When it comes to joining a high-profile family, women apparently fall into 2 categories: coat-hangers and coat-bearers. Coat-hangers dream of nice clothes, family jewellery, publicity and other perks of an aristocratic dolce vita. So duties and not-always-nice-comments come as a surprise. Coat-bearers are more grounded. Being women, they certainly dream of the above, but they realise that to be a wife to a president, a king, a prince etc. means to carry the coat-of-arms of his country and his family.

Speaking of royal couples, the Spanish Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia have long been my favourite Royal family, for they both had successful public careers before getting married and ascending the throne. Princess Letizia reported from war zones and was an established professional in her own right. The image of a “normal” family that Prince William and his wife have adopted has made them popular but I cannot see them projecting the country to any new heights. They were so “normal” that they left practically no mark on this world prior to their marriage. Perhaps, the forward movement is no longer important after Brexit.

Having said that, Kate Middleton is certainly a coat-bearer. And there’s a good reason why she also is. She’s British. Whether she’s always dreamt of joining the Royal family or it happened by chance, she’s aware that she represents the country – hers, as her husband’s. You may remind me of members of other European royalty and aristocracy whose wives or husbands are foreigners (the Netherlands and Monaco come to my mind). What we still see is that a spouse becomes a full member of the royal household, complete with all duties this entails.

In case with Meghan Markle, she comes from the country that abandoned monarchy from the very beginning of its political life. America has been the country of the people – at least, nominally. When you elect and re-elect presidents, it’s hard to force yourself to be a part of the family where you will have to work like a queen but never get the chance to sit on the throne. British Royal family is very undemocratic and has evidently made some impossible demands on the good, young American.

So, Meghan is a coat-bearer, too – but of her own country and interests. It’s hard to say whether her attempt at bearing the arms of Britain and the Windsor family was good enough or it was doomed from the start. Yet even  her appearances as a coat-hanger didn’t always impress the media. Her being a brunette meant constant comparisons to Kate. Since William is more likely to get the throne than Harry, it’s more important for the media to keep Kate in the spotlight, than to let Meghan have her share thereof.

The result is that Prince Harry chose to altogether abandon the Royal family instead of withdrawing from the public eye for some time and helping Meghan to come to terms with her duties and a new lifestyle. Perhaps, Meghan decided that being married to a Prince is quite enough for her. And Prince Harry whose past behaviour occasionally outraged the public apparently thought that he could finally live his life on his own terms. Whatever the reports say, he’s always been the younger brother: always second, always in the shadow. Now he’s got the spotlight, and it remains to be seen what use Harry and Meghan will make of it.

Julia Shuvalova

Image is courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Belated Snowfall

A late January snowfall in Moscow

There’s a chance that Moscow people will enjoy some proper winter weather soon. The first sign is the snow which is well overdue but is nonetheless welcome. I may try to be funny and say that Britain with the Brexit has waved goodbye to Europe and various European organisations, like PAEC, by sending a heatwave that saw the warmest December and January in all Russian history. But no, things are getting back to normal here, while we’re yet to see what lies ahead for Great Britain.

A Retired Easy-Rider

The English pensioners sometimes drive these motorised wheelchairs. They are quite expensive, so are more rarely seen compared to a usual wheelchair. This photo was taken in Stockport, England, but I recall narrowly avoiding a collision in Salford. I was slowly walking to a shop when suddenly I thought something was moving behind me. You know, a kind of a thriller movie scene when you feel someone breathing you in the neck. I looked across my shoulder and barely managed to jump to the left, to a fence of someone’s house. A typical English lady, complete with a pastel fleece zip jacket and permed lilac hair, confidently drove past me at a pretty high speed, without any warning. It took me time to come to terms with the fact that she nearly ran me over…

Liverpool: In Search of The Beatles Story 

The first time I visited Liverpool was in November 2002. The weather was typical of the English North-West in autumn: above the nil, wind and RAIN.
It should be noted that the trip was an act of appeasement of this Russian girl who was ready to love Manchester United FC provided that no one would stop her from adoring The Beatles. You see, Mancunians are peculiar people. In their view, all best things had happened – or are happening – in Manchester. Therefore, Liverpool, or London for that matter, is a nuisance that throws its shadow on the splendour of the red-brick city. (A note: Liverpudlians secretly giggle at, yet uphold, this ‘competition’). God knows what I had to listen about Liverpool! All people there stretch “i” sound, it’s raining there, Scousers keep outplaying MUFC in the Premier League and at various championships; and on top of that, there is an incomprehensible urban planning and roads that are impossible to navigate. However, as I was eager to even take the train, and my hosts couldn’t risk letting me go on my own, we eventually went by car. 
…and for some reason it was the day of our trip that the firemen trade union had chosen for their strike! To avoid strikebreaking and any incidents, the lifts were switched off throughout the country, communications with the firemen were aborted, hence anyone using electrical goods, shaving and cooking in microwaves was doing so at his or her own risk. We nevertheless went on our trip, but you surely do understand that Liverpool was the cause of it all?!

None of my company knew the city and had barely ever visited it, so we spent a long time searching for Albert Dock where The Beatles Story Museum was located. At first, we ended up at a car park which was at the opposite end of our destination, so we had to brave the rain and wind. In search for a parking space we had to go as high up as level 6 or 7. And whilst going downstairs wasn’t much trouble for any of us, walking back up the stairs presented a challenge even to the healthier ones, who didn’t suffer from asthma and had no problems with legs. The parking was located somewhere near the university, and, as I recall, it was the first time that I saw some tropical plants, like palms, fluttering pathetically in the wind. Later I would see many an unfortunate tree, like those ones, that somehow got settled in the English North-West and in Wales and were courageously soaking wet in the intermittent, cold local rain, the icy winds tearing apart their leaves. 

The road to The Beatles Story was long, though not winding. We had no idea where the museum was, so we took the direction in which everyone wagged and waved. We had to stop regularly because the adults had difficulty walking. We got hungry and popped into a cafe; I tried scrambled eggs with salmon for the first time. This part of the journey took about an hour and a half. Mancunians kept looking for ways to pick at Liverpool, but, apart from the weather (which hardly differed from Manchester), there was nothing to discuss.

After lunch we went on to search for The Beatles Story under the rain. The longer you live in England, the more you realise that the rain is accepted as an inseparable part of life, its absence denying life altogether. Or at least without the rain life becomes palpably incomplete. That time in Liverpool, looking for the museum, I also figured that it was under this perpetual rain the young Beatles had been gathering at each other’s houses, composing and rehearsing songs, and then going to the historical Cavern club to play a gig. They soaked to the bone and got cold but still went wherever the music was taking them. 

Finally, we almost reached our destination: we got to the other end of Albert Dock. Yet we were in Liverpool that evidently decided that those arrogant Mancunians had to get beans for their sharp tongues. On our right a wall was rising, in front of us the boats were floating, and on the left a small bridge was leading to the other bank of the dock. Unconsciously, instead of all this we expected to see some remarkable building with a running inscription, like the British Museum or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, for shouldn’t Liverpool have been proud of its famous citizens? But alas, there was nothing of the kind. Looking around in despair, I saw two street-signs, one near the bridge, another next to us. Both had “The Beatles Story Museum” arrows pointing at each other. Where they intersected, stood a red Royal Mail post box pinned right in the middle of the little cobbled space where we stood. 
The epic journey was becoming unbearable. This magical mystery tour seemed to be endless but then we noticed a man with his young son. To our question he confidently waved towards the brick wall, and we turned around it and immediately stumbled on a green garbage bin and a sort of cabins painted in the style of the Beatles’ cartoons. And a little farther there was the museum building, with a running inscription, but the entrance led downstairs, rather than upstairs, and The Beatles Story was beginning with the very first steps…

From The City of Optimists by Julia Shuvalova 

The Sights of Manchester Attacks 22-23 May, 2017

As could be expected, the explosion of what is thought to be a nail bomb in MEN Arena last night may be just one of the episodes in a series of attacks. Arndale shopping centre that you can see in pictures is now reported to be under attack, as people are being evacuated following a loud bang.

As you know, I spent 7 years in Manchester (although I travelled throughout England), so in a way this is a native city where I survived many a memory. So it is deeply saddening to hear about the teracts. I hope the police and citizens show vigilance and remain calm amidst the terror theats.

Photographing Flowers

There is no right or wrong way to photograph anything anymore. Even the technically worst photo may become a hit just because it’s struck a chord with the audience. Yet still it pays to try and look at a familiar subject from a different angle…

Paul Arden mentions two photos of flowers, one by André Kertész, another by Irving Penn, in both of which a photographer worked with a wilted (Kertész) or dead (Penn) flower. I attempted to undertake a similar task with a photo of two dried roses in a vase overlooking a rebuilt church in Tarusa, Kaluga Region.
I understand this is done automatically – a visual effect has been applied to my photo by Google+. I think you may enjoy it too.

 

Personal Landmarks Disappear in Manchester

When you live in the city for a number of years, walk its streets, frequent the eateries and entertainment venues, it may be hard to see some of those places shut down. Crisis dealt fiercely with quite a few places across the city of Manchester, but the biggest blow to me was the news about the BBC Manchester building in Oxford Road being demolished. Last time I was in Manchester and had a ride on a number 2 shuttle bus I saw the bare foundations, and it was sad. No more Radio Manchester newsroom where I had had my first radio placement, with the walk down the corridor past the BBC Philharmonics studio. Neither canteen, nor library on Floor 2. Neither floor 4 where Entertainment department was based, nor Floor 5 with Religion and Ethics department. I know they have all moved to Salford Quays, but personal memories have been quite literally swept away along with the building. This is what it looked like.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/loscuadernosdejulia/2845051811/player/9ec0b0555c

Saying that it’s not possible to enter the same river twice isn’t quite true. In spite of leaving the Beeb in early 2007 I returned there already in February 2007 for the first meet-up of BBC Manchester Blog. After a session at the BBC Cafe we moved to ponder the future of blogging to Lass O’Gowrie pub at the top of the nearby street. Well, the pub’s recently closed with a promise to open in early February 2014. Considering its fame and the most recent win of The Best Pub in Britain in 2012, I sincerely look forward to having a pint there at the earliest available opportunity this year. Meanwhile, this is how it looked while I still lived in Manchester:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/loscuadernosdejulia/2845050053/player/de77431294

Here’s a story of the first BBC Manchester Blog meet-up.

Still, the saddest disappearance is that of Mark Addy restaurant. Again, it is set to reopen in February (for they do need to serve all those romantic Valentine dates, I suppose!), but whether or not it keeps the famous name is unknown. Apparently, the reason is the poor state of the building and the inability to meet the cost of renovation and refurbishment works.

I’ve never dined there, but on January 7th 2005 I was supposed to meet a female acquaintance who apparently never came. Fine. It was Russian Christmas, and I think I ordered a pint of bitter (or was it a glass of wine?) I sat there, looking at the cold waters of the river Irwell, taking a moment of calm to think of everything that was happening in my life since 2000, and especially since 2003. Then I made a decision that changed the way I spent the next 5 years. After a very tumultuous 2004 when I realised that I would most likely have to choose between myself and my marriage I had to decide whether to stay in England or go back to Russia. As I was gazing at the waters, the decision came. I even wrote it down on a piece of paper, which I might still be able to find. I decided to stay with the nation that was proud as a lion and hell-bent on winning, and has superbly succeeded at delivering great work throughout its history. Some people advised me to get on the door of a Russian company, just because I was Russian. At Mark Addy I decided to only work with the British. Indeed, if I had such a wonderful opportunity, why shouldn’t I have used it to the full, to learn from the best, to take my English to the next level of fluency, and to acquire the skills and experience that would benefit me in the long run?

The rest is history. Amidst all sorts of setbacks, including various losses, I fully realised the goal I had set at Mark Addy when I decided to stay in Britain. Thus when I eventually came back to Moscow in 2010 it was,  I suppose, a logical outcome of all years of “learning”. I returned because it was finally time to return.

I may be wrong but it looks like I haven’t ever taken a photo of Mark Addy. But I have a pic of the opposite side of the river Irwell near The Lowry Hotel. Interestingly, on this spot in the 19th c. there happened a boat accident that claimed lives of several people.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/loscuadernosdejulia/2959586636/player/b7f52f0c94

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Is Under Threat of Closure

Like many other Mancunians, I have been unpleasantly surprised to hear the latest news.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester’s Castlefield may be closed.

SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

As it happens in England, the North-South struggle is on again. The closure may come as a way to keep London-based Science Museum open, Manchester Evening News reports. The National Science Group is said to be considering plans to cut funding to Manchester-based venue. BBC has more details.

The MOSI grew out of the old Science Museum and the Manchester Air and Space Museum, both were merged in 1986. The MOSI encompasses several buildings, including the 1830 Warehouse, where a part of exposition was dedicated to the Irish migration to Manchester during 19th c. I went to the museum many times, and it was often used as a venue for various events. In 2005 I was there with a BBC Bus and my old friend Paul as a story gatherer on People’s War campaign for the Beeb, in 2006 I went there for the opening of my first FutureSonic festival, and the first Social Technologies Summit, along with a few exhibitions, took place at the mentioned Warehouse. I did interviews with the artists there, and at one time a gallery assistant suggested us to use a baby changing room that was a part of a female toilet, although I was going to talk to a man. The last memorable exhibition I went to was The Body Worlds by the German Professor Gunther von Hagens. I could not make it to The Da Vinci Genius exhibition, but it was very actively prepared and promoted with the help of Social Media and Networks. On top of it all, this is a good place to practise photography 😉

The figures have it that the MOSI is visited by 830,000 people annually, which is no small number, considering that the majority of overseas tourists still gear towards London. One of my friends also mentioned on Facebook that her friend regularly brings school children from France to visit Manchester and always takes them to the MOSI. The museum is conveniently located towards the edge of the city centre, with a free shuttle bus going past it every 10 mins. Among the closests attractions are the Granada TV Studios, the Roman fort, the Beetham Tower and G-Mex, and the “Deansgate Mile”, as well as the fashionable Spinningfields area with the Guardian offices on Deansgate side and the People’s History Museum on the River Irwell’s bank in Bridge St. Oh, and don’t forget the Opera House in Quay St. St. John’s Garden is practically opposite the museum’s main entrance, having previously belonged to the church built by the Byrom family whose will ensured that the land was never to be built upon.

I don’t even begin to mention the amount of cafes, restaurants and pubs around the area. Suffices to say, there are plenty of things to do, prior or after visiting the MOSI. It has long been one of the main Manchester attractions that did not struggle to attract both adults and children. The story of Manchester scientific and industrial leap in the 18-19th cc. is mesmerising, but there is more we need to consider, than justs costs of running such museum.

Because I fear this is not the only victim of the funding cuts up North. For a literary piece that was loosely inspired by my visit to Heaton Hall and Park in spring 2009 I needed to pay another visit to the place. So when I went there this May I found that the Hall was not just closed for winter – it was entirely shut down. “Closed for the public” is not just the splendid mansion where restoration works helped to restore some of its bygone splendour. “Closed” are a floor-to-ceiling organ by Samuel Green from 1789, the only remaining set of paintings by the Polish architect Michael Novosielski (1750-1795), when he was yet a painter, a set of furniture by Gillows of Lancaster, and a magnificent suite of furniture that previously belonged to the Duke of Wellington who used to visit Heaton Hall and was very fond of its housemistress, Lady Wilton.

This is more than just an old building closing its doors – this is a whole part of history of the English North West, a resource that sheds tons of light on the tastes and habits of its people. Quite important is the fact that the Hall is a part of Europe’s largest municipal park and easy to visit: the metrolink tram station is exactly opposite the park entrance, and so are the bus stops to and from Bury. I did not investigate the reasons why the Hall was closed, but I would not be surprised if it was also due to “funding cuts”.

The MOSI is not in Prestwich, which may only be known in London if you are Jewish. It is in Manchester’s city centre and, as we saw above, attracts many foreign visitors, including children. As much as I love Arts and am not quite a techie person, I would be unconsolable if we lost the opportunity to study the technical and scientific progress of our nation close to our home. The MOSI surely provides this opportunity for the entire North of England, and this is what the London bosses might be trying to tap into. Perhaps, they think that, if the MOSI is closed down and its collection is moved down south, then people from Scotland and the North of England come to London more often. Of course, I assume that Manchester collection would not just be abandoned or sold by piece. But… it’s silly to think that this would increase a visitor flow to London museums. The costs of going and staying in the capital at the time of severe economic downturn are not going to be taken up by many, if any, Northern families.

And at the same time closing one of prominent Northern museums would severely impact the educational prospects. As a venue and a cradle of information and objects that can inspire future engineers and inventors, the MOSI is indispensable. With less things to learn and do, children are more likely to spend time in the streets, getting involved in gangs, drug abuse, and “anti-social behaviour” of all kinds. Instead of a Northern Rutherford or its female “version” we will get yet another drugged Salford guy with a pregnant teenage girlfriend, applying for benefits and living in a run-down council flat that can be taken away from them at any moment. And when this happens we as the society will shake our heads and wonder, at exactly what point the former glory of Britain went to the dogs.

Finishing now, I do not want this piece to come across as yet another helpless outcry. I think we should consider what measures we can take to save the MOSI. I am sure there are many people throughout Manchester who would gladly volunteer to help at the museum, if it struggles to maintain the staff. And if this means bringing the payment back for the time being, then why not? Just make sure it goes to the MOSI coffers, not elsewhere. I think of it this way: if it costs 4 quid to buy a bus ticket that is valid all day, then how much more can you afford to pay on top of that for a single museum visit that can last all day? And there may also be a family ticket, and an option for a child up to a certain age to go in for free, and maybe even a “frequent visitor ticket” or a “weekend visitor ticket”. It’s not something that we’d like to do, of course. However, I have come to believe that, whatever alleviations the government of any country is prepared to give to its citizens, people must not stop helping themselves, including financial help, be that for art venues, civil initiatives, or something else that directly affects their lives.

In the meantime, SIGN THE PETITION TO PROTECT THE MOSI!

To finish off, here are some of the photos I took between 2007 and 2010 related to the MOSI and the surrounding area.

MOSI - Transport then and now
MOSI – Transport then and now

 

MOSI in the Streets
MOSI in the street

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Entrance to the MOSI

 

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Another view of the MOSI entrance

The Oistrakh Quartet At the Tarusa Winter Festival, 2013

The town and vicinity of Tarusa are well-known for the love that great Russian artists, musicians, and writers had for it. I mentioned previously that Marina Tsvetaeva, Konstantin Paustovsky, Viktor Borisov-Musatov, and Nikolai Zabolotsky all lived in Tarusa at one or another period of their lives. However, there was one man-of-arts who acknowledged the salubrity of Tarussian air and the glory of its nature, and built himself a dacha in some distance from Tarusa town centre. This was Svyatoslav Richter, one of the outstanding pianists of the 20th c.

Richter founded several annual musical events, some of them specifically targeted at young audiences and musicians. The Svyatoslav Richter Foundation regularly organises the Tarusa musical festival, and this year there was a special event in early January, called “Tarusa Winter Festival”, that lasted from 5 to 7 of January, 2013. I attended it on January 6, 2013 – and was lucky to listen to the David Oistrakh string quartet perform  Edvard Grieg, Maurice Ravel, and Dmitry Shostakovich.
The David Oistrakh Quartet: Andrey Baranov, Sergei Pischugin,
Fedor Belugin, and Alexey Zhilin (courtesy of the official website)
The quartet consists of Andrey Baranov, the first violinist, who symbolically won the first prize at the Queen Elizabeth International Violin Competition 75 years after it had been won by David Oistrakh himself. Just as Richter is considered one of the best pianists of the 20th c., so is Oistrakh the best violinist. His legacy lives in the second violinist of the quartet, Sergei Pischugin, who was Oistrakh’s student. Over the course of his career Pischugin played in the Glinka and subsequently the Shostakovich Quartets. With the latter he recorded virtually all string quartet repertoire existing. The violist Fedor Belugin played with Pischugin in the Shostakovich Quartet and has been successful at combining teaching activities at the Moscow Conservatoire and the Gnesin Music School with both quartet and solo performances. Finally, the cellist Alexey Zhilin is considered one of the best Russian cellists of his generation. He often performs as a soloist with chamber and symphonic orchestras in Russia and abroad.
In 2012 the family of David Oistrakh donned the famous violinist’s name to the quartet.
So, on January 6, 2013 the David Oistrakh Quartet performed Edvard Grieg’s Quartet no. 1, Op. 27, G-moll and Maurice Ravel’s Quartet F-dur. As it happens, however, the public was so fond of the performances, the quartet had to play a bonus piece… and that was Polka by Dmitry Shostakovich. The videos below are Ravel’s Quartet F-Dur, Allegro moderato, tres doux; and Shostakovich. I also included a recording of Shostakovich’s Polka by the Rasumowsky Quartet.