It’s New Year’s Day in Scotland and, of course, it’s raining. I am waiting for my brother and his friends to turn up and then we’ll eat a lunch of grouse, bread sauce and roast potatoes and then – hopefully – see the old French comedy Les Visiteurs.
I’m rather ashamed of myself for not writing for this blog for so long. I have lots of excuses but I’m not going to bore you with them , instead I will add to my list of New Year’s Resolutions with this one: in 2014 I will write for my blog more.
My other NY Resolutions are to stop eating sugar and spice and all things nice (cakes and sweets) as I don’t want to get too fat. Also to write for an hour each day; writing short articles like this and, ideally, books; not the sort of stuff I have to write every day for work.
Last year I wrote a bit of my travel book each day and by December I had a 300 page manuscript. Now I’m discovering that editing can take just as long as writing and I need a new writing project (i.e. a book) to keep me busy each morning. This blog will also help to fill the gap.
My big brother Kim just turned up in his old white van and my parents’ dogs went berserk. I’ll have to get out of this bedroom and go down and say hello. But first I want to post this note and the article below which I just published on Huffington Post.
I owe Romania a big thank you for having me for so long – I’ve been using it as a base since 1990 – and for being so nice to me. Romanians are really nice even though they don’t think so. In fact, they don’t seem to like one another very much; suspicion is the main feeling people have about one another. But I’m not going to get into that now.
If there is anyone reading this please send me a wee message on the comments section under here. I have no idea if anyone sees this blog anymore but having an audience, however small, is inspiring as you can get some feedback and that’s what helps keep you going.
Happy New Year.
P.S. It took me almost a week to post this article due to poor internet connections in the hilly Borders Region of Scotland. Better late than never. I’m surprised to have found out that the following article that I published on New Years Day has gone viral in Romania, earning me an incredible 60 Twitter followers (normally it takes months to get so many followers).
This is what I published in the Huffington Post on 1st January 2014:
Thank You Romania
A London-based journalist once told me how the British tabloids operate: “every morning we would hold an editorial meeting and the top priority was to find a lead story that would scare people.” This helped me understand how the Sun, the Mail and the Express manage to sell such vast quantities of papers that are so often filled with distortions and half-truths.
The British tabloids should thank Romania for providing it with so much great material over the last quarter century. The latest scaremongering — 27 million Romanian and Bulgarian scroungers are coming over in January 2014 – is just the latest in a long list of scare stories. Still fresh in the public’s mind are stories of Romanian gypsies begging and claiming benefit in the UK.
Other great news stories that emerged from Romania include lurid portrayals of Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist dictator who was overthrown by a mob in 1989 (the first “televised revolution”). The people’s triumph in ousting one of the region’s worst tyrants was short lived; the news story that dominated the early 1990s was the appalling state of children in the vast network of run-down orphanages.
What the British papers didn’t say is that Romania flung open its doors for international assistance, unlike many countries which strictly ban all foreigners from visiting children’s homes. It is now illegal to institutionalize children under the age of two and all abandoned children now go directly to foster families. It is also one of the few poor countries that has successfully banned the sale of children under the dubious business of international adoptions (this charity calls it child trafficking).
Some years ago I worked as a PR to an EU-funded project which raised awareness about the fact that Romania had implemented child rights legislation. My job was to tell international journalists that things had changed, that babies were no longer being institutionalized (or being sold) and that foster care was the order of the day. There were still huge problems due to poverty and corruption but a fundamental change had been made. The American, Dutch, Russian and French media were open to this news but British journalists seemed unable to get their editors to allow them to come and investigate.
Eventually I found out why: an editor told me “whenever we need a horror story about institutionalized children we send someone to Romania, where they can always find a sad case to report on. These stories don’t have the same appeal when they come from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic or other places.” He was interested in the fact that Romania was the only Central and East European country to have reformed its child welfare system so thoroughly but told me “this isn’t a news story.”
Tabloid editors like to attach particular stories to specific countries so that readers will make immediate associations (orphan, gypsy, scrounger, beggar, thief, immigrant in the case of Romania). To explain that there are so many gypsies in Romania because they weren’t wiped out in WW2 (as happened in some of the neighbouring countries) or that most Romanians have no intention of moving to the UK, is too complicated and boring for tabloid editors.
Another group that should send a thank you message to Romania is the British business sector. The idea that only the Romanians have benefited from immigration is a nonsense. There may well be some beggars, scroungers and thieves operating in London but the vast majority of Romanians in UK are honest, law abiding and incredibly hard working.
Thousands of British companies have benefited by the hiring of reliable, uncomplaining and grateful Romanian workers, and scores of other companies have made decent profits since this nation of 20 million consumers was thrown open to the free market (they joined the EU in 2007).
Everyone I know who has worked with a Romanian, or hired one to fix up their home in UK, have been delighted with their attitude, hard work and cost. And not all Romanians who come to the UK are unqualified workers. I know many Romanians who have settled in the UK and only know one who claimed unemployment (and she’s in jail for fraud).
The first Romanian I met in Britain was an artist (Paul Neagu) and since then I have met an architect, two filmmakers, a DJ (“Nico de Translyvania”), a City broker, a lawyer, several business owners, a maths teacher, a famous violinist (Alex Balanescu) and a driver and nurse at the Scottish rehab clinicwhere I work. The one person who did thank Romania was someone who routinely dismisses whole countries: Jeremy Clarkson.
At the end of a Top Gear programme about Romania in which he described the Romanian “Trans-Fagarasan” as the best road in the world, he thanked Romania “for having us” and then said he’d like to come back “forever”. Normally such words coming from the mouth of such a cynic would seem trite but in this case it seemed genuine.
Clarkson is just one of the many Brits (myself included) who fell in love with this beautiful but grossly misunderstood nation.