Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Thought you should know that I am terribly stressed right now.

Because, on Thursday-and that is only in two days!- I will know what happens. And what happens is terribly important. So important that I already had a nightmare about it.

On Thursday, sometime before 6pm, an email with appear in my mailbox. It will tell me the name of the school my child has been allocated to.

Nothing else matters more to me right now. I know the whole country is discussing hung parliament issues but I am not interested. I can’t even enjoy the good weather or the fact that my mother had managed to get a visa and is coming to see us soon.

Somewhere there, on the local council computer system, locked under a thousand powerful cyber locks, the fate of my child has already been marked down. It has been calculated purely by the distance from our house to the school we so badly desire. One step too many, and someone else would get in before us. One meter further- and we are in the other school.

Here I have to add, that none of the schools in our area are bad, per se. That is precisely why we pay a fortune to live here. That, and the ladies in tight riding pants.

There are two state schools, both are very good, and we will end up in one of them -for sure. There is also the church school, but Ha! And Ha! again.

So, most of my conversations this week involve subjects such as:

How many places are there?
How many kids do we already have in the nursery class?
How many outsiders are likely to suddenly appear with a better postcode and snatch our warm seats?

I have to say, I hate the outsiders. The Others. They are like some evil aliens, lurking on the borders, trying to get in. Nobody knows who they are, everybody only heard of them. There is a boy who lives near someone, and there is a girl who went to a private nursery but now is coming to our school...There is a house that just got built across the road, and there is someone sleeping with the headmaster....

OK, I might have made the last one up, but it could be happening? I know I would sleep with him if it guaranteed my child a place. But the truth is, short of murder, there is nothing, absolutely nothing I can do.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Kill the first one and hope the word gets around.

Not sure if you noticed (this is where I imagine you shouting "yes we did, we missed you lots!" ), but I have not blogged for some time. Not my fault. It is just that it has been unbelievably warm and sunny here. For the whole week we basked in glorious sunshine. On Thursday morning, around 7am, when I was getting in my car to drive to work, I noticed a thin layer of substance on the windscreen. Thought it was volcanic ash, but it turned out to be ice. Oh, I thought, that’s it. Back to normal, then.
But, by the afternoon, it was hot and sunny again.

And when it is this lovely outside, all I want to do is sit in the garden with friends, consume endless amounts of BBQ meat, and sip some chilled white wine. On Friday, I started early, with a few mums from school.... and smoothly continued into the evening, when some other local friends came for dinner. Clearly, was not in the best state for blogging.


We have been discussing this the other day.

In theory, should be shocking. But it isn’t. Not in the UK. So many shops here either sell, or have at some point attempted to sell, sexually suggestive clothing for children. I am talking lacy thongs and padded black bras for 9 year olds. Is it really that surprising that the teenage pregnancy rate in the UK is higher than anywhere else in Europe?

Encouraged by the over-sexed fashion, and -oh, don’t forget-free council housing, girls as young as 13 happily engage in sexual relationship.

I had my first boyfriend at school. We were 15 and thought of ourselves as cool and brave because we occasionally skived off lessons. We even went to the beach a few times. Shocking! We might have smoked a few cigarettes. No drugs. And no sex. I mean, absolutely no sex. In fact, my blue-eyed boyfriend never even kissed me. (even though, I was,of course, hoping) Our physical proximity was limited to slow dances at parties; also, in cinema, encouraged by the darkness, he would place his arm across the back of my seat.

OK, I might be getting more conservative with age. But this sexualisation of young girls in the UK concerns me. As a mother of a four year old, I thought I did not have to think about it for many, many years. But suddenly, I find myself noticing things that make me uncomfortable.

They are only four, but some of them dress like teenagers, showing up at parties wearing fishnet tights and bright pink lip gloss.

I know a few of my mummy friends would not see any problem with that. They would argue that it is just fashion, and there is absolutely no connection between painted nails at the age of four, and having sex at the age of thirteen.

But isn’t it all about growing up too early?

What are we going to do? I ask Husband. What are we going to do when she shows up one day with a boyfriend?

Husband said he would do what Bruce Willis suggested. Wait till the first one comes over, kill him and hope that the word gets around.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


“The irresisitable proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down the streets and shout: 'We are all writers!'"

Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

So, my friends... it is time to openly admit something that most of you have suspected by now:

I am possibly- or very probably- a graphoman.

Graphomania is a well-known, very unflattering concept back home.

Looked it up, as never heard an English speaker use that word before, and, of course, found the above quote as well as this explanation:

Kundera's feeling about graphomania may be explained by the fact that such pejorative meaning of graphomania is actually often used in Post-Soviet block to denote foolish, unprofessional and excessive writings (not only in the form of literature, but also science. (Wikipedia)

I once knew this older chap, who loved to write stuff and then e-mail it to everybody in his address book. Until, one day, someone told him to stop spamming. He, of course, got terribly insulted and sent us all another email, where he apologized for wasting our time, and asked that, should we desire to stay on his mailing list, we let him know. Most of us kept quiet.

These days, I can only imagine how that lack of enthusiasm made him feel.

But it is too easy to become a nuisance. I have decided, after one attempt to share the Pink Slippers story with some mummy friends, to avoid imposing my writing self on them. It is unfair and dangerous. First of all, it is impossible to expect friends to take you seriously. Come on! You might be able to fool some strangers, but not your friends.They know it is you. They know you only pretend to be a writer.

So no, not a good idea to annoy friends.

Who else is there to abuse?

Your mother thinks you are a genius- whatever you write.
Your husband is too afraid of you to tell the truth.
Your child can not read yet.

So, that leaves...yep. The internet readership. People who barely know you and, therefore, might trust your voice. And might take you seriously. Or not. The good news is, you will not even know.

And this is why I will keep posting stuff on this blog. You are free of commitments such as motherly love, husband’s fear or friends’ embarrassment. You have a choice of whether to read it or ignore it.

Of course, I would really not want to be considered a graphoman.

But... that is just something that comes with the territory. And, without taking a risk of being viewed as one, nobody would ever become a real writer.

Anyway, and speaking of graphomania....check out my latest short story for Women's Forum. It is called Buterbrod.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Cultural Shenanigans- April

Right, the April issue of MagAZZZZine is now out, which means...

time to share our latest cultural shenanigans. Feel free to tell me off.

To those of you who have ever been to Baku or are lucky enough to be living there now- expats or locals- may I use this opportunity to remind you to pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease send me more questions!

Muchas gracias.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Screw you, depression.

Tell me something. Is it me? Or do western people tend to get depressed pretty easily?

I am getting increasingly annoyed at the ease with which western doctors prescribe antidepressants these days.

A friend of mine told me recently she was on medication. I was shocked. Et tu, Brute, I thought.

I asked why. She said she had been somewhat down lately. Personally, I was not convinced she was depressed. Of course, I am not an expert. Depression is a scary, sensitive, dodgy area to me. As a child of a culture where depressed people were kicked up their butts to get on with it or get locked up in a mental home, I find it difficult to believe that so many people can be seriously that ill.

Because, depression is an illness, remember?

What is it with this modern life and western world that makes us all so bloody weak and unable to cope? A friend of mine came up with an interesting theory. She suggested that westerners expect to be always happy. They view it as their right, she said. And when they realize that is not always the case, they...get depressed, of course.

My grandmother had a collection of beautiful tall porcelain dolls when she was a child.

“They were bigger than me! “ she used to tell me excitedly. And each of them had a suitcase of beautiful clothes. My grandmother did not know things could be any different. That was her life. And then, one day, Stalin woke up in a dark mood, and had her parents arrested and then murdered.

And everything was gone. The dolls, the suitcases with silk dresses, the luxurious Persian rugs....everything.

Daughter of the” Enemy of the people”, she struggled to cope with public hatred, poverty and hunger. And then, her little brother died of dysentery.

So let me tell you something. That was worth getting depressed about. That was the kind of a moment in somebody’s life when it would have probably been quite appropriate to get on some strong antidepressants.

But the thing is...In the Soviet era there was no place for easily available drugs.

You either coped, or you got labelled as crazy for the rest of your life.
And, whereas I am not suggesting that those methods were humane or appropriate, I can’t help but compare. Western life, without a proper war, without a real hunger and with no dysentery but only a hyperbolised threat of the swine flu, causes more and more cases of depression from year to year.

Why, I ask you.

More importantly, how do we know when someone is depressed and when they are just a bit miserable and decided to ask their doctor for some drugs to cheer them up? Or, as I suspect it happens in an awful lot of cases, just claim some benefits and stay at home for a while?

A boyfriend trouble? Get some drugs and don’t worry about it! Money problems? Doctors will happily issue you some medication and you will tell the banks where to shove their endless bills. Lost your job? Don’t bother looking for a new one just yet, why not relax for a while and oh, don’t forget some more medication!

The western society cherishes depression, welcomes it and makes it feel at home.

Since when has it become the norm? I googled depression statistics in the UK and found this fascinating data. Just look at this chart!

So, the question is, do people in the west really get depressed a lot because of the increasing pressures of the modern life? Or do we (encouraged by our doctors) just opt for an easy, cheap and quick solution?

Even at work, in the toilet cubicle, instead of something useful, like a picture of a semi-naked Clive Owen, I have to stare at the newly designed poster:

Worried about your personal or professional life? Talk to us, we are here to listen.

Stop talking me into depression! I think, unless something truly horrible happens, I should be able to cope. I would like to think that there is some of my grandmother's spirit hiding inside me, despite the new western me.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Look at me, I've got more money than you, you stupid poor person!

Right, I just have to ask you. Is it wrong that I get excited by the Syed and Christian romance in Eastenders? Friday night, Christian (the fit gay lover boy) said to Syed’s Muslim mother:
” I want Syed back. And I am gonna get him. “

Have been thinking, after the posting on the lack of smiles for expat+harem , that there is another quite interesting issue that emerges from the whole non-smiling topic.

You see, I said that Azeri girls did not smile to waiters and taxi drivers because they were supposed to act all shy and aloof with men in general. But then I thought actually, no. It is not just that.

You see, they could also be ignoring waiters and taxi drivers because to them, those guys are servants.

There is one major difference between the UK and back home. It is in how our rich people present themselves.

It is in every little detail.

When I had a baby, friends gave us gifts, flowers and cards. One of my friends, originally from Kazakhstan, brought a very generous gift. She was clearly very pleased with it. It was a beautiful little dress of a perfect shade of light pink.

There was just one small problem with it. The exquisite material had BABY DIOR carved into it. All over.

It was like that little dress was shouting into your face: “Look at me! I am a BABY DIOR dress! BABY DIOR! In case you have missed it all over my front, there are more letters on the back, too!”

There was simply no way I could put that dress on my child.

The worst part was that I knew my friend had probably spent a lot of money on that dress. She probably thought she was being generous and fashionable. Of course, it was a designer item!!

You might ask how is that story connected to the servants issue. Let me explain.

You see, the main driving force behind both the Baby Dior dress and ignoring the waiters is this overwhelming desire to show everybody just how rich you are. So you buy flashy clothes, presents with designer names all over them and drive fancy cars. But also, you act arrogantly towards all those that you consider servants, and therefore, below you.

Arrogance often comes in a package with money back home. You might think fine, that’s just some nouveau riche bastards. Yet, there is another, more pathetic category. People who are not rich but would really like for everyone else to think they are. Treating taxi drives, waiters and shop assistants like servants who don’t deserve a smile or a thank you is just an ex-Soviet, chushka attempt to appear rich and powerful.

Acting difficult to please would come straight after being rude.

Just what is this place, a McDonald's? Oh, this waiter has not got a clue, has he? Oh, please, you call THIS sushi?

And back in my Baku days, I, myself, might have not smiled to waiters. I don’t even remember. I probably would have never even noticed just how rude some of my friends acted in restaurants or shops. It is only these days, having lived in the UK for a long time, and having got used to everyone being obsessive about manners that I notice the difference. And it becomes painful to watch. I sit next to a wealthy friend of mine from back home in a restaurant, and I want to whisper to her: “Say “thank you!” please!” like I would to my four-year old. I wish I could explain to her just how arrogant and chushka she looks, despite all her effort to act cool. But I know there is no point. Who am I to teach her, an important rich lady, how to speak to servants?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Parenting observations. Short and sweet.

First romance.

Monday: Max Digby threw sand at me.

Tuesday: Max Digby pushed me into a sand box!

Wednesday: Max Digby pulled my ponytail!

Thursday Max Digby is so naughty!

Friday: Max Digby is my best friend.

Scary Azeri parenting style.

Child: Darren is so stupid!

Me: Please don’t say that about your classmates. We don’t use that word.

Child: But he is stupid.

Me: You probably mean he is naughty. Boys can be a little naughty at times. Does not mean he is stupid.

Child: The problem is, mummy, he is stupid AND naughty.

Me:-Oh, I see. Fair enough then.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Introducing Nigar Kocharli

Suddenly realized that I have not hosted any guests on my blog for a while. This time, I wanted my guest to be a cool Azeri. Because, despite the sevdas of the nation, we do actually have some cool guys back home.

I don't know a lot about this girl. All I know is that she managed to open and successfully run a chain of bookstores in Baku. Not simply bookstores. Ali& Nino is a publishing house, and is a well-known brand.

First of all, any successful business woman in Azerbaijan demands respect and admiration. I would have probably died of a heart attack the first week of attempting my own business somewhere like Baku.

And trendy bookstores? When I lived in Baku, we could not even dream of having a bookshop we could also go for a coffee with friends, listen to guest speakers and socialize…. Now, I can't wait to check Ali & Nino out next time I am visiting Baku. ( The name, in case you don't know, comes from a romantic love story by Kurban Said.) I am excited that something like this is even possible in Azerbaijan.

I tried to structure this posting in a form of an informal interview, so I do apologize if my attempt at journalism makes you laugh. I have not interviewed anyone before.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Nigar Kocharli-a founder of the Ali& Nino, a blogger, a mother, a wife and a passionate literature activist of all sorts. There are too many amazing initiatives this girl got involved in, and it would take me forever to list them here. A collection of short stories from Baku in Russian was a pleasure to dig into. And now, together with Women’s forum, a writing competition for young Azeri women.

Q: Thank you for becoming a guest on my blog. I have been admiring your initiative in Baku: the Ali&Nino chain of bookshops. I think it is a fantastic idea, especially the way you managed to turn them into social spaces. How did you come up with the idea and how difficult did you find materializing it into life?

The idea to open my first bookstore came out of my addiction for books and reading. At that time one couldn't’t find a store with a decent choice of books. Those that were available were usually sold on kind of self-made racks by street vendors and one would approach them and ask to bring next time “specific” literature based on one’s liking.

The idea of the café came with expanding the chain of bookstores and our clients gradually turning into friends. So, we thought of creating some place that would not simply be a place to shop for books but also a point of reference, somewhere to meet with friends.

Q: What is your background? Did you have some other, possibly boring job before you could have your own business?

My background is in mechanical math and it turned out of great use when I started this business. Wouldn’t say I had any boring jobs before, since I’m not the type of person to let myself fall in boredom. I would have quit immediately if I got bored with the work I did.

It sounds great to turn a bookshop into a stylish, fashionable place, but do you feel that from business perspective it is as profitable as you were hoping? Are Bakuvians buying as many books as you were hoping? Are books popular amongst the younger generation?

It is profitable, we just need time to prove it. Bakuvians have even exceeded our hopes from this point of view. The younger generation is the first one to ask us of the news in literature.

Q: I know that you don’t just own the chain of book stores in Baku. What else do you do, can you tell us more about your other responsibilities?

Besides owning the chain of bookstores I try coming up with different types of literary and cultural initiatives, like the National Book Award held in Baku.

Q: What are your plans and hopes for the future?

The plans are quite extensive and I wouldn’t open up them now, whereas my hope is that our readers keep growing both quality and quantity-wise.

Q: How difficult did you find running your own business somewhere like Baku? Did you ever have to get some help from someone to back you up and support you? I know you cannot be entirely open about this, but what are the hardest moments? What are the best bits?

The hardest and at the same time the best bit about it is doing a business. Always a challenge!

Q: You are not only a business woman but also a wife and a mother. Tell me about your family. What does your husband do, do you work on your bookstores together? Who is the leader in your family, do you think you are equal?

Yes, I’m married and we have a splendid baby girl. My husband quit the job he had with one of the major banks in Baku to help me out with a continuously increasing volume of work. Although I’m a natural leader in every area I get involved in; family is the only “area” where I try to give way to equality.

Q: What do you think is your biggest most satisfying achievement so far in your life?

I wouldn’t name here any professional achievements since I sincerely feel the biggest and the most satisfying achievement of my life are my family and my daughter.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Bad publicity is also publicity?

So we are getting noticed, guys. Not by the right people, but still. As someone pointed out bad publicity is still publicity.

You see, we are getting complaints. Yay!

First, the magAZine editor received a Soviet style letter, signed by a collective of tovarishes who were all terribly insulted- not by anything specific that I said, but the tone I used.

I then had an email from one of the gang calling me an IDIOT.

And then, this comment I received today, was particularly good:

"I ve read your post and was terrified .How could you humiliate Azerbaijani girls and advise to English men not to marry just for reason that they are close to their family? You are married to English man!!! So he has to divorce you then!!

You had better talk about that English people have lost normal relationship with their parents instead of accusing Azerbaijani girls!!! It is really tragedy!!!

And about nickname Scary Azeri. It is insulting, humiliating, disgusting, Do you realise that you insulting the Azerbaijan nation??? If you dont respect yourself at least respect Azerbaijanians. it is shame!!!

I am asking you to change your nickname and putting Scary and your name not Azery.

You have got a writing talent but you write no nice things.

I mean, what can I say to that?

Try to explain? No point. Try to justify? Can’t be bothered.

So, I just wished her all the best and told her to stay away from this blog, so it would not upset her again.

But please help me out here. If you know what causes this utter lack of understanding, perhaps you could enlighten me.

Is it her English? Did she just misinterpret what I was trying to say? Is it lack of a sense of humour? Or is it, and yes, I might have to say it out loud- stupidity? Because, let’s face it. There are a lot of stupid people in this world. An awful, or as darling Sevda here would say- disgusting lot of stupid people in this world.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Why I could never run away with Gypsies

My grandfather was an amazing person. Of course, I know that from my mother, and she might be a little biased. But still.

He was an opera singer and an actor. His gestures were grand, and his gifts- extravagant. Once, my (then a child) mother woke up late at night because, after a successful performance, my grandfather came home with a whole tabor of Gypsies.

NB: Gypsies, (Roma or Tsygane in Russian) back home did not just have a reputation of stealing horses and children. They were famous for their musical talents. Their women, dressed in long flowery skirts, with bare shoulders loosely covered with shawls, could dance and sing like nobody else in the Soviet Union. I have no idea about the ethnic origins of that rich culture; all I know that Soviet Gypsies were one of a kind.

That night, my grandfather brought them to dance and sing in our flat. On the 5th floor of an old Soviet building, at 2am in the morning. What was the occasion, I hear you ask? None. He did not need one.

A person of a (as we say in Russian) great soul, he could not stand petty people. It was not easy to offend him; but, once offended, he would be deeply hurt.
Once, my mother told me about her sister’s husband and a bottle of expensive wine he was given by somebody. My grandfather loved his drink. So, when he came over for dinner that night and saw the bottle, he got quite excited.

“I say, Mahmud!” he exclaimed excitedly, “Looks like we are going to have a fun dinner tonight! “

“Mmm…....." said Mahmud. "Actually, I was hoping to save this bottle for a special occasion”.

“OK then”, my grandfather replied, “You can keep that bottle for when I die. Place it on my grave”.

I despised Mahmud for his pettiness. Every time I thought of that incident, I imagined my grandfather’s smiley, excited face and how the expression on it must have changed with Mahmud’s reply.

And then this happened.

The friends who stayed with us for a couple of weeks recently, gave me a little thank-you gift. It was a set of Molton Brown hand wash and a hand cream.

To be honest, I don’t usually buy myself posh hand washes. I just cannot bring myself to spend that much money on soap. This, however, does not mean that I would not want a posh hand wash. To be sitting pretty right there, on my windowsill, above the sink. Especially, when I have visitors. You know what I mean, don’t you. I know you do.

So, I was pleased with the gift, and displayed it proudly over my sink.

My in-laws were visiting for a while, and one night, as they got up to retire to bed, my mother-in-law suddenly said something that caught me completely off guard.

She asked if the father-in-law could “take” my hand cream, because his hands were feeling dry and sore. And, before I could think this through, before I even analysed what was being asked, the words just flew out of my mouth.

"My hand cream???? You mean my Molton Brown hand cream?!"- I yelped in horror.

You see, I was completely unprepared for such a shocking request. Somebody, who did not actually care which hand cream he used as long as it was moisturising enough, wanted to casually take my gift away from me. Every little cell in my brain protected with passion.

"Can I give you another hand cream?", I asked cautiously, trying to soften my answer with a sheepish smile. But it, of course, did not work. He got offended.

“It is just a hand cream”, he said. Not really, I thought, it is not.

I could not sleep that night. I lay in bed, analysing my actions, and feeling pathetic. I am no different, I thought, to my uncle with his precious bottle of wine. My dead grandfather is probably turning in his grave. How could I sink this low?

I have to add that I love my father-in-law. As far as fathers-in-law go, you could not get a better one. Helpful, kind, funny and supportive, he is the one to happily check my attempts at writing, when husband has no time, and friends would get bored. He is the one to fix my shower when it leaks and read to my child when I am busy typing away on my laptop. And for that, this is how I pay him. I am a horrible, horrible person. I am a sad chushka germemish.

I tried to justify my actions, of course. There is plenty of people I knew who would keep things for a show. A friend with Jo Malone candles on the dresser- never to be lit. Mother-in-law’s pretty soaps positioned on the glass shelves in the bathroom, still packaged nicely, with a ribbon tied around them. But then I stopped myself. It did not really matter how many people I knew who kept stuff hidden from others. Or, rather, openly displayed, but clearly not to be used. It did not matter that my father-in-law would never bear a grudge against me because of some hand cream. It mattered to me.

And I could never bring a bunch of Gypsies into my house to sing and dance in the middle of the night. They might nick my hand cream.