Bird Droppings from Estonia: October and Back in the UK
Arvamus 13 Dec 2014 Hilary BirdEWR
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My dismantled London home (in a van driven by trusted Estonian friends) should by now be rattling through the Baltic States heading for Tartu.

I am selling my UK property but I must remain camped out in my empty house until at least mid-November until the paperwork is complete. Taking a chance that Magna Ursus Putinus (the Great Putin Bear) remains east of the border, I am settling for good in Estonia. I could never be called a “fair weather friend.” I am glad the President of the USA came, quoted Marie Under, and assured us that we are not alone.

My decision, however, is based more on sociological research. The Levada Centre is a Russian non-governmental organisation whose expert opinions appear in both the Russian and foreign media (The Economist, Wall Street Journal and New York Times). The 2014 Levada polls on the Ukraine are based on 1,600 questionnaire responses from 46 regions. Statistical error does not exceed 3.4%. The March poll shows 36% of respondents saying they would "definitely" support direct military intervention in Ukraine: the August poll, however, shows the number down to 13%. See [in Russian]: The Russians have noticed that soldiers are coming back in body bags. This is a political development that even Tsar Vladimir cannot ignore … We shall see …

What a strange business moving is! What is to go to Estonia, what is to be given to friends or charity and what is to be thrown out? Things come to light that have been hidden for decades. What is fished out of a cupboard can stir up sharp memories, good or bad, and what seems to be indispensable on day one can (especially if heavy) seem less so on day two and by day three has ended up in the charity pile! My friends have been very helpful but only I can decide what must stay and what must go. The “must keeps” are seldom worth much money…I could not, for example, throw out my pack of colourful Muffin the Mule (Muffin was a popular UK TV puppet during 1946-57) playing cards that cheered up many a winter night with my mum and dad in dreary post-war Bristol.

I have taken time out for visits – to an octogenarian Hungarian friend in Buckinghamshire (complete with folksy Finno Ugrian décor, Spanish wine and wonderful salami and spec from Budapest), to the Tate Gallery of Modern Art and a big Kasimir Malevich exhibition (my Russia – vibrant, dynamic, diverse, colourful, thought provoking and, thus, repressed by the Soviets) with a Czech friend, a reunion by the River Thames (in an old London brewery pub selling hop-laden British ale) with old street-demonstration, banner-waving socialist friends (we raised a glass to freedom and speculated which of us would have survived unscathed if we had been protesting in the USSR), a reunion with my Class of ‘71 friends from University, a meeting at the National Film Theatre (a much loved haunt of former years) with an Estonian friend now living in London, lunch with a English-Argentinean (born and brought up in Amsterdam) who shares a house with a Swede and a Slovak and an Italian meal with another dear old friend in the Jewish area of north London where I met a young waitress from Tartu who recognised my A le Coq t-shirt …

All this is exhausting and I have spent most evenings doing an imitation of a potato in front of the TV. There is, as to be expected, a lot of advertising aimed at getting the viewer to part with their hard-earned cash. My favourite advertisement is made by a company that sells spectacles: a veterinarian mistakes his assistant’s furry hat for a Persian cat and, while the baffled cat looks on, calls for a resuscitator when he can’t find a pulse, a Star Wars warrior realises that his laser beam sword is actually a cricket bat and a Shetland shepherd accidentally shears his collie dog mistaking it for a sheep…

Estonia can easily match UK TV programmes in vacuity, especially American ones. The always young and smiling characters have obviously been watching the ads, as their teeth and hair are immaculate. Some brains seem to have been scrubbed clean of content too. I watched a “comedy” where a bimbo felt the need to conceal a pimple on her face by wearing a bicycle helmet. I didn’t bother to watch the end. Documentary channels are almost as bad. The airwaves are swamped with British and American programmes about the possibly fabulous value of that old piss pot that’s been a home for the rubber plant for years. Such programmes are not likely in Estonia, as, at the time of writing, Soviet memorabilia is not treasured. Anyone in possession of a pot with a plant (see The light in Koordi village, a Stalin prize winning novel about swamp drainage) was suspected of being a bourgeois nationalist enemy of the people with all the nasty outcomes that this implied. An Estonian friend was once shocked to see a Soviet army uniform (acquired from a junk shop in Clapham) hanging in my London front hall. I bought it to wear to a Halloween horrors party: my friend was (the Virgin) Mary and I was Joseph (Stalin). I had a black moustache made from a bit of old bin liner.

Lured by the thought of fabulous wealth in the guise of antique piss-pots, I sent some pictures of my old china and glass to an auctioneer. I was told that nothing was worth more than £50. So my mum’s old china, including a pretty pale blue, white and gold tea set given to her for her wedding in 1939, has been carefully bubble-wrapped and sent to Estonia where it will be used when friends come for tea, cake and toast. Some British habits are charming and well worth preserving.

Jelli the cat, meanwhile, is having a great time being spoilt by her carers. She is eating cheap cat food, crapping in cheap cat litter and has had a manicure. All the things she will not even dream of tolerating when living with me!

I will be back soon and look forward to spending the rest of my life in the country I have chosen for my own. Warts and all. I wish you all a happy Time of Souls, hingede aeg …
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