Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

The Vikings got to Ukraine first

March 5th, 2014 No comments



vikingsFunny how things come together.  I’ve just been to a preview of the British Museum’s new blockbuster show on the Vikings, which opens later this week just as the world is focussed on Ukraine.  A side-bar to the exhibition, which naturally focusses on the Viking invasions of Britain – is the less well-known Viking progress east, when ‘the Rus’ travelled down to Novgorod and Kiev in their longships and founded what became Russia.


The Viking leader Rurik and his dynasty established their base in Kiev from about 862 on – the same time as ‘the great army’ landed in East Anglia, martyred King Edmund and put Alfred the Great’s kingdom to the sword.

The difference is that in Russia the Vikings won.  Kiev is as a consequence as central to Russian identity and history as Winchester or Canterbury to England.  Hardly surprising they should take a proprietorial interest in what happens there; or that the descendants of the Vikings should value the navy at Sevastopol enough to protect their Crimean base.

The Vikings themselves travelled on past Kiev and down through the Russian river system to reach Constantinople.  Now that must have been a clash of civilisations.  Islamic commentators of the time were impressed by the Vikings’ fighting spirit, but less by their personal habits, reporting that they did not wash after urinating, or after sex, or indeed much at all.

River Swimming

September 9th, 2011 No comments

Poor David Walliams’ illness contracted from swimming the Thames for Charity threw up (sorry!) the following quite incredible statement from Thames Water:

A spokeswoman for Thames Water said: “The Thames is not a designated bathing area and therefore the Environment Agency does not require us to disinfect the treated waste water before it goes back into the river.’

swimming on the river thames Swimming breaksWell speaking as someone who regularly swims in it anyway, why the hell not make it ‘a designated bathing area’!  It would be a fabulous resource that could be accessed from half the Home Counties.  And get rid of the many pathogens that Thames Water currently pumps in there……

One of my best memories of travelling through Russia is the way that Russians use every last available inch of water to swim, so that you see them in canals and rivers and lakes everywhere, usually with a cold bottle of vodka and some pickled mushrooms to help them recuperate afterwards.

Pioneers like Kate Rew and the admirable Outdoor Swimming Society, OSS, still have a long way to go in their campaigning to make the same thing possible in Britain.