A new Swiss humanitarian convoy for the city of Donetsk

This article first appeared in French on the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation website.

On 22 May 2016, two humanitarian convoys Confederation carrying chemicals for treating water and medical supplies left for Ukraine in the conflict zone.

Part of the convoy with medical equipment and medicine was awarded to the Kurakhove hospital this morning.

The products have been transported by road but also, for the first time by rail .

Sunday morning, a train ferrying chemicals for water treatment left Switzerland to Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

The cargo is for waterworks of Donbass, which supply the population with drinking water on both sides of the line of contact.

Other goods, including medical supplies, including spare parts for X-ray machine, are transported by road to Donetsk on trucks.


A second convoy of fourteen trucks, is designed to transport some 245 tons of chemicals to the waterworks of Donbass, in the city of Krasnoarmiynsk placed under government control.

A load of medical equipment and medicines by truck was delivered this morning at the hospital Kurakhove.

Convoys benefit from the guidance and support of seven members of the Humanitarian Aid of the Confederation, which is part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) and as collaborators of the embassy and the Kiev cooperation Office.

This convoy is the fourth Swiss humanitarian convoy for this area of ​​conflict since the spring of 2015.

The SDC is so far the only state actor to organize humanitarian convoys crossing the contact line in eastern Ukraine*.

*Editors note: This last line is absolutely untrue. Russia has sent over 50 humanitarian aid convoys to Donbass. Perhaps the Swiss forgot that………

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The New USA -v- Russia Cold War. Seeing the Wood Through the Trees.

I’m not sure why anyone falls for the dishonest media spin from either side.

The current “cold war” situation owes more to an engineered conflict that is agreeable to both sides (EU/US and Russia) to distract the peasants from the domestic economic turmoil.

Creating political theatre and ‘threats’ allows governments to run loose economic policy and pour money into defence without taking a beating on the markets.

The ISIS/AQ threat is better persecuted by special forces. To be able to dump billions into new defence projects and soak up blue collared workers into a standing military you need a credible threat.

China doesn’t work so re-igniting the cold-war provides a convenient dog and pony show to distract everyone from our politicians inability to extract us from the economic quagmire they put us in.

There isn’t a single military expert who believes any conflict between NATO/Russia can ever be won by either side, regardless of the military technology employed, since as soon as either side crosses a certain line, then it would escalate to tactical nuclear options, followed by wholesale destruction from the ICBM arsenal.

Putin knows exactly how much rope he has to play with, NATO isn’t going to risk anything over places like Georgia or Ukraine, it is fairly doubtful they would do much over the Baltics. Putin would have to launch an invasion of Finland or Poland before you’d see any kind of response.

Really this is the stuff of Tom Clancy. Any war between major superpowers would plunge the entire global financial system into a collapse, global trade is too interwoven for anything over than skirmishes over non-relevant world economic players.

It’s well known that the UK could no longer even repeat the task force needed to defend the Falklands, but Argentina doesn’t gain anything from trying to take them by force again.

Putin is never going to invade Ukraine, he has the capability and stated he could be in Kiev in 2 days if he wanted (which he could). But occupying a sovereign country would bankrupt Russia and likely lead to his own regime falling.

He is a smart guy and knows real wars are now fought with the media. Market manipulation and information warfare not armour and foot mobiles.

The military talk up a threat to get bigger budgets and new kit, the media toe the line because fear sells more print than Kim Kardashian’s arse, and Putin gets to hold his political control by playing the archetype Russian bear.

Behind the scenes they all discuss what their plans are and laugh at us little people.

Whatever is said publicly the west want to keep Putin in power. He is predictable and capable of holding the country together in a manageable state. They would rather have Putin than some irrational unknown hardliners trying to be a Putin without the smarts of knowing where the line is drawn.

The west don’t care about Russian domestic policy. What they care about is stability of regimes not spooking the markets and causing economic collapse.

No doubt Putin told the US exactly what he was doing in Crimea – he’s not so stupid as to antagonise a nuclear superpower. And no doubt the American administration agreed that the strategic importance of Sevastopol was sufficient grounds for them to protect their interests without interference knowing the potential instability Ukraine was facing.

Anyone who thinks what politicians say and do, or what the media report is in any way representative of what goes on behind closed doors at this level of geopolitics has clearly fallen for the body of lies entirely woven for their benefit.

Remember. War is good business. Most of our enemies like Bin Laden and Saddam were created to serve economic purposes. Suddenly Putin is the bogeyman and Iran is our new best mate. When they want to give China an economic haircut, they’ll be next.

Don’t fall for the rhetoric from either side.


Mr Black

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BBC pressure leads Paxman to bin article criticising EU

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times

BBC pressure leads Paxman to bin article criticising EU

It is not easy to muzzle a journalistic pitbull, but Jeremy Paxman has withdrawn an article critical of the European Union from a forthcoming issue of Radio Times after coming under pressure from the BBC.

The article was commissioned by the magazine to coincide with Paxman in Brussels, a BBC1 documentary about the EU presented by Paxman and due for transmission on May 19.

Typically pugnacious, Paxman expressed doubts about the EU, its bureaucracy and, in particular, the loss of Britain’s sovereignty. While he stopped short of advocating Brexit, Paxman’s strongly expressed views raised concern that the impartiality of his documentary could be compromised.

In publicity material for Paxman in Brussels, the BBC states that “Jeremy Paxman takes an impartial look at the fundamentals of what actually goes on between the UK and the EU”.

It is understood that Paxman had to deal with a senior BBC executive over the article and was unhappy with proposed changes so decided to pull the piece. Radio Times, which was sold by the BBC in 2011, has a weekly circulation of around 800,000 as well as a substantial online audience.

This weekend, the magazine said it was “disappointed” not to be able to publish the article. Paxman’s documentary, during which he meets EU officials and politicians, is one of four about Europe from senior broadcasters. The other presenters are Nick Robinson, whose programme has already aired, Laura Kuenssberg and Mishal Husain.

Paxman’s has been made by Brook Lapping, a TV production company whose documentaries include Inside Obama’s White House on BBC2, and Putin, Russia and the West.

Paxman: UK’s standing ‘much reduced’ BBC

Paxman: UK’s standing ‘much reduced’

There have also been minor disagreements over what can be said in the programme. The script is yet to be finalised before the voiceover is recorded.

Paxman presented BBC2’s Newsnight for 25 years until his departure in 2014. He still hosts University Challenge. The 65-year-old has described himself as a “One Nation Tory”.

He was recently quoted as saying that he expects Britons to vote to remain in Europe. “Yet Britain’s standing in the world is now much reduced from what it was,” he added. “The problem with the EU is that it makes that abundantly clear.”

In a speech in March, Paxman said: “For the past 40 years, power has been taken from politicians and parliaments, and given to international organisations …

Norman Tebbit [the Conservative politician] said people do not like being ruled by those who don’t speak their language. It sounds small-minded, but I think there is something in it.”

Paxman declined to comment.

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The Reality About Estonia

I have been visiting Estonia for many years. Since the late 90’s.

I have a house there and (now) a Russian-speaking wife.

I think I have a unique perspective that locals  don’t have.

A bloke recently asked me:

What did you like/prefer then? (in pre-EU Estonia) Apart from being one of few foreigners in the country at the time.

Here is my reply:

There were always more foreigners around than you might think, but still relatively few.

I first went in 98 in pre-EU days, and went quite often with bits of business and later with dating. It had this kinda wild west feel about it as Russia still does today.

Nobody was suing anyone when they fell over a crack in the pavement. People took responsibility for their own actions and didn’t expect a nanny state to wet nurse them. I found it quite refreshing. How the UK was in the 70s in some respects.

It was self regulating (as we were in the 70s) but also amusingly lawless. You could buy anything. Expats might just about remember the black market by the railway station. You could buy Kalashnikovs there (if you wanted to). I used to trade British cigarettes for old Russian medals and military stuff to sell on (usually to the US).

Hardly any language between us, but we got by. I still know blokes today I met back then on that market.

Yes, some people were poor, especially those who lived out Lasnamae way. But guess what? Life for those people hasn’t really changed under the EU. Lasnamae, Narva and all the “Russian” bits all look the same as the government do not invest there. Money is only poured into Tallinn and everywhere else has to make its own way.

It used to be a fabulous place with cheap stuff, beautiful women, much freedom, relatively unregulated banking and business, and no noticeable anti-Russian sentiment – and it worked just great as it was. A free, proud and independent state. A great place to be and spend time in.

2004 they joined the EU. 2006 they got a US bred president. 2011 they joined the Euro. Then they had EU regulation, US interference and the place changed. Then they were mostly pretending to be a Swedish suburb.

Everyone borrowed EU money, the place boomed then crashed. Yes the internet got fast and the roads smooth, but there were downsides. Prices went up a lot, McDonald’s were everywhere, women gained weight (thankfully, many are still slim and beautiful) , hemlines and heel height dropped (economists know about this marker) nationalism and anti-Russian feelings increased, and today it is an American client state within the EU.

Now, everyone lives on credit and it is little different to anywhere else in the eastern European EU. It has become homogenised. I haven’t been for a while, I am surprised if most of the expats haven’t  moved on by now. It isn’t what it was.

Is it better now? In some respects, and for some people, yes. But for many others they feel the government has abandoned them. And it has, if they are in a “Russian” bit of Estonia. Like Narva especially.

Now, the place is full of US military “countering Russian aggression” (that doesn’t exist). Toomas Hendrik Ilves (prez) is a US bitch, while he is there it wont change. Might as well have Victoria Nuland as president.  :(

But everyone drives an Audi now on credit, so life is good, yes?

30% of people there are Russian, but Russia is “bad”. A crisis waiting to happen, no? It will end up another country America has fucked up.

Cuba is next to enjoy some capitalism. Soon people there will also have McDonald’s and credit they don’t understand for cars they cant pay for ……..

But they will have a newish Audi and a Visa card, but own nothing, so life is good. Just like Estonia.  :sick0012:

I still have a place there, we used to use it as a dacha. But now I rent it out and manage it from afar. The raison d’être to visit has gone. I can enjoy the odd few days there now, but no more……

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So, What’s The Story Behind Donald Trump’s ‘Surprise’?

So, What’s The Story Behind Trump’s ‘Surprise’?

I have been thinking about this Trump thing and how it has been that some folks have simply not been able to understand what was going on in front of their faces.

I don’t just mean the ordinary voters, but pundits, analysts and other politicians.

Here, I will make an aside and not that it is quite likely that many, perhaps most of these groups were fully aware of what was happening but their assigned task was to convince the main in the street that Trump was not as significant as he has been and will be.

I was looking at the process by which a person gets to be president of The Free World.

Setting aside the truth that it probably does not make much difference to the man in the street who becomes the president, it is certainly true that various power blocs DO have a keen interest in who gets to be THEIR representative.

To that end it is necessary to convince a significant minority (not necessarily a majority) of the population that the representative of a chosen bloc should gain the needed votes.

What Are The Primaries All About?

It seems to me that the strategic purpose of the charade that is the primary elections is to give the various candidates an opportunity to build a brand among the electorate. After all, almost all the runners and riders for president are unknown to most Americans at the start of the contest.

The primaries give each prospective candidate an opportunity to build a connection with the public, to get their faces known and to transmit a chosen and groomed persona that is hoped will resonate with the relatively uneducated and unsophisticated proles who are expected to make a choice.

We have had many people telling us that Trump was going to fail, that he’d get nowhere and, in terms of the actions taken to dislodge Trump’s progress he had a reasonably expected point. If I were to look at the machinations against him by the Republican party and by the representatives of the various power blocs, to which Trump does not (at this time) seem to belong then I’d say, ‘Yes, Trump has no chance’.

However, what many, probably most people forgot, or disregarded was what the primaries are all about – building the brand.

Trump came into the contest with a HUGE advantage: like him or loathe him there’s 300,000,000 Americans who knew his name, knew what he looked like and were familiar with his chosen and carefully developed public persona.

No other candidate came close apart from Hillary Clinton! Truth be told, her public profile is almost certainly why she is the preferred candidate in the Democratic party.

Which Other Candidate Could Equal Trump’s Visibility?

More than that his personal brand is one of the strongest in the United States, and even globally.

If he wants to move some steaks – all he need do is put his name and a photo on the box and a few commercials.

If he wants to get cars for free – all he need do is talk to a nice man at General Motors.

It does not matter that not every project does as well as its promoters hope because every new project build the brand incrementally.

The nearest we have had to Trump is Reagan, a man who similarly was blessed with a public persona and the skill to mobilize his name and visage toward his chosen goals, but Trump is way, way more powerful and accomplished.

Some folks have wondered why it is that he can say stuff that appears crass or ill-informed without suffering any loss in momentum. Well, that’s his brand working for him. All he’s done is behaved as people expected him to do. But, here’s the thing, Trump is a very, very sharp operator and he works with very, very sharp people. His public persona is a mask, it is not the man – although I am sure that the man wears the mask more comfortably than many others do their own.

He is excused for what critics see as shortcomings because to 300,000,000 Americans he is a human and, oddly enough, one they trust and respect – even many who do not like his persona. That’s because he has been consistent for 30 odd years. He has grown up with the electorate, they have seen his wives and envied him for his ‘catches’ I am sure that many women would give their eye teeth for the chance to have him divorce them!

The Battle Of The Brands

So, what we have right now is a battle of the brands. Clinton understand this and it is why she is now turning toward Trump rather than concentrating upon Sanders (although that may come back to haunt her as an error of judgement) Sanders has done an extremely good job of branding himself and his message resonate with probably 70% of the electorate, even if most will not vote for him.

As we move forward, and assuming that Clinton gets the nod as Democratic candidate we are going to see brands battle it out. It will not be about politics but about how we perceive the candidates. Trump is already doing well here. He has already removed the ‘Hilary as woman’ card from the game. Henceforth it will not be a winning move for Clinton to mention gender in respect of her candidacy. Trump was EXACTLY right when he said that without her gender she had nothing and so removing her ability to use it was a masterstroke.

Now that Trump has forced the Republican party to fall in behind him he needs to pay attention to a stab in the back, but he is no fool and, I am sure has that under control.

My guess is that Trump will go to town with Hillary, he will remind us of her dishonesty, her lack of skill, her poor health and he will, I expect, win the general election.


Andrew Wilson – Political Analyst 

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Where To Get Long Stainless Steel Barbecue Skewers BBQ

Finding good quality long barbecue skewers  in the UK can be a drag. But you are in the right place to find out more.

BBQ skewers are a sector of the market that cheap Chinese manufacturers and ‘pile em high, sell em cheap’ eBay and Amazon merchants have been all over for some time.

Finding the good stuff at the right price among all the cheap rubbish out there can be hard.

If you want long barbecue skewers, you want stainless steel. Catering grade stainless steel, actually.

Forget all the cheap and nasty mild steel (it rusts), rhodium coated, chrome coated and anything else coated (designed to inhibit rust but eventually flakes off – in your food). You want stainless steel skewers, and only stainless steel.

Now as to what type.

The most abundant are the ones like a stick skewer. They look something like this.


I call these ‘knitting needle skewers’.

The problem with knitting needle skewers is when you try to turn them, the meat stays in the same place and the skewer turns. These therefore, are next to useless. Avoid them.

The type you want are blade skewers. But not any old blade skewer.

These are typical blade skewers.

blade skewers

The problem with wooden handled ones are fourfold. First, where the metal joins the wood they are a germ trap, and second the fitting between the wood and the metal degrades over time and becomes loose. Thirdly, you must wash them by hand taking care not to damage the varnished wood. Lastly, there are only two positions for the skewer – this side or that side. What if you want to cook a little on the sides and turn them halfway? You cant. These are not for serious use.

You need a blade skewer with a twist near the end so they can be located in any position around 360 degrees, like this.


However, you now have two other considerations: Thickness of metal and length.

Because factories in China who churn this stuff out are looking to sell to bulk online sellers cheap, they need to use less metal and make shorter skewers to keep the price down. That means short, thin skewers.

If you seek out long stainless steel skewers, they are out there.


But as above, they are still thin – to save metal, weight and shipping costs. This stuff is manufactured to keep prices low in what is a competitive area. Most sales are online where you cant feel the quality. And that usually means low quality.

The problem with thin skewers is when you fill them up with meat and put them over the barbecue, they sag in the middle so what is in the middle burns and what is each end is under-cooked.

You need thick skewers. With a thick skewer, the skewer heats up and assists in cooking by transmitting heat down the length thus cooking from within as well. This reduces cooking times and makes for juicier meat.

Length is another consideration. What one person calls long another might call medium (ask any woman!).

So how long do you need?

Think of it this way, if they are longer than you need, they are future proof (when you buy a bigger barbie). If they are longer than you need, you can just use enough of the blade that you need, so go long. I recommend 70cm (27″) overall length. Remember, you don’t get to use all of that as some of it is taken up by the twists.

In the UK, many of us use the larger fifty odd centimetre across Weber barbecues. You need a long skewer to get across one of those like this.


Yes, you want to cook above the grill, with the skewer on the edges. Using skewers this way allows you to better control the cooking of the meat, keep them further from the heat source, off the hot grill they might otherwise stick to.

So lets recap what you really need when buying skewers:

  • Long enough – say 70cms.
  • Thick enough – say 3mm.
  • Twist near the handle for partial turning.
  • Stainless steel only.
  • Preferably not cheap Chinese ones.

So where to look?

You look to where cooking with skewers this way is commonplace: Russia, Scandinavia and eastern Europe.

Look how these guys in Russia cook with skewers.




Those guys know how to barbecue meat! The stuff we get in the UK is just for amateurs and very over-priced compared to what is available out there.

Stuff made in in Russia isn’t what Jeremy Clarkson once said it is: “Made badly by someone who is drunk”. Jezza was being tongue in cheek there, but think about it. China makes every little bit of plastic rubbish you ever had that probably broke.

Russia makes guns, missiles, planes, rocket engines and other manly stuff from metal. To make proper barbecue skewers does not present too much difficulty for them. Russians want to buy skewers that will last a lifetime. And now so can you.

So how about some Russian skewers that tick all the boxes, but are shipped from the UK so no dodgy Ivans to deal with?

Like these for example.





So your food will look like this.


70cms (55cm blade length), 1cm wide, 3mm thick, twists in the right place, no silly wooden handles and made from catering grade stainless steel.

Of the exact type shashlik restaurants across Russia, the Baltics, Sweden and Norway use.

Yes, just the ticket! thumbs

Where to buy?

If you want UK Amazon, they are >>here<<.

If you want UK eBay, they are >>here<<.

If you want to pay a bit less and buy directly from the UK importer, go >>here<<.

If you are outside the UK and want to buy in US Dollars, buy >>here<<.

In Russian: Шампура для шашлыка, набор из 4-х штук, длина лезвия 70см x 1cm x 3mm, в Англии

In Polish: Szpikulce do Grilla – Typ Dlugie Ostrze. 70cm x 1cm x 3mm. Wytrzymale. Szt. 4. Szaszlyk Kebab

In German: 4 St Grillspieße Schaschlikspieße Schampur Fleischwender 70 cm x 1 cm x 3 mm


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Musing on the EU, the UK and Syrian “Refugees”.

I totally understand the situation faced by the innocent in Syria and its appalling.

Some of the footage caught on camera is truly heartbreaking and something positive needs to been done by the world community to stop the suffering.

That said, opening the back door to the EU and illegally allowing millions of unregulated economic migrants along with some refugees flood in, is simply scandalous.

It’s not the answer and for all the bleeding heart liberals out there demonising anyone who opposes this tidal wave of illegal immigration, they need to see the fruits of their ridiculous tree hugging ideology.

History can provide important facts and it can’t be ignored that dropping large communities of people with different cultures, moral compasses, expectations and needs will only cause divide and friction.

There is no seamless integration and there never has been a successful, multicultural society who holds each others hands and tolerates one another. This doesn’t mean we do nothing but it certainly doesn’t mean we do the opposite.

That’s why I find it truly disturbing that mainstream media rams footage of disabled elderly women and drowned children down our throats so we can all have a competition to see who’s most offended by it.

For the sake of honest journalism, why doesn’t the same media outlets share the social problems that come hand in hand with mass immigration?

I’m far from a bigoted racist but I do see the world for what its become. The liberal ambivalence that allows ethnic groups and their alien ways to be sheltered, under the guise of freedom but anyone with an ounce of common sense challenging modern society is told to shut up and labelled a right wing nut job.

It’s going to come home to roost. Some people are even learning Russian now, so they can move on in the event of Sharia ruled UK. Dramatic in one sense but also a possibility over the next 50 years at this rate.

News feeds being littered with Muslim crime, mass illegal economic immigration, British soldiers being investigated for killing armed militants in the act of war, denying the rape/crime epidemic caused by ‘refugees’, Islamic hate figures preaching their bile on our very own streets whilst on benefits etc.

I could go on but for a so called minority they cause one hell of a lot of problems.

Where’s the daily world news of heinous crimes committed by Chinese, Argentinian, New Zealand, Buddhist, Sikhs around the globe?

Apologies for the rant but Islam has some real problems that need addressing one way or another. I can’t think of another group of people who cause so much suffering, distress and problems for the rest of the world community.

Has anyone read ‘Sapiens, a brief history of humankind’? It’s a fantastic book and part of it addresses Islam and how its shaped the ideology and its sheep.

At this very moment in time, is for us to help those worst affected by the atrocities in Syria/Libya/Iraq.

Anyone seeing the drone footage of cities bombarded to rubble can’t expect people to live there.

That help however, doesn’t include the illegal immigration of hoards of young fit men into the EU, nor does it mean accepting people from all over the Arab world who have decided to benefit directly and take advantage of our politicians unacceptable policies made on our behalf.

Helping the real people includes educating our society about how Syria has become such a mess, millions killed and displaced just because the West didn’t want Assad anymore.

It involves protesting against our governments role in being part of the problem, it involves doing what we can to make their country a safer place. It includes sending aid through the right channels to help refugees caught up in the mess and by aid I mean food, shelter, medicine, clothes and teams dedicated to helping out in disaster zones.

It involves providing security somewhere in that part of the world so they don’t feel the need to flee to Benbecula and of course it involves providing refuge to a sensible number of families needing our assistance, who have been vetted and cleared for re-settlement in the UK.

None of this is unreasonable or unrealistic but the way its being handled is completely unacceptable and those calling the shots should be held responsible.

Right now, the Syrians/Libyans & Iraqi’s are suffering, partly because of the decisions made by our politicians and the end result is that people in Britain will now also directly be affected.

And they call this democracy!! At what point were we consulted or ask for all of this to happen….any of us??

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Want the VAT Number of Tameside MBC?

So you want the VAT number for Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council?

So did I, they had billed me for an item I decided should have included VAT, and my accountant asked me to obtain the VAT number.

Easier said than done.

It took me some extensive searching to find it.

If you call them, they wont tell you.

There are no reverse search VAT number directories.

You can only check the validity of a VAT number you have. Not the other way around.

However, I am quite resourceful, so I eventually got it, and to be sure, I checked it with the EU VAT validation website.

So here it is:

VIES VAT number validation

Yes, valid VAT number
Member State GB
VAT Number GB 149193544




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The Realities of Expat Living in Moscow 2016

The main thing about living anywhere in the world is your attitude.

How easily you can adapt to living outside your “comfort” zone, to how willing you are in accepting a new reality.

There are advantages and disadvantages to living anywhere. I think this goes without saying, but I obviously have to say it to put things into perspective for some.

I have often said that you cannot compare Russia to the established Western world. One has emerged from 75 years of Communism, not to mention a whole host of tragic historical and cultural norms, to a meshing of free market policies and a new world order in the 21st century.

25 years of a market economy does not allow itself to compete in the same manner as 250+ years in such; just that simple.

One would think this fact alone would be enough for even the most egregious of Russophobes to understand the absurdity of apple to apple comparisons. I digress.

The advantages of living in Russia for me are:

1) the women plain and simple. I’d be lying if I say that part of my decision to move here didn’t involve the possibilities imagined with the opposite sex.

I’m a man and a rather decent one at that if I may say so myself , and I knew I would be in the “catbird seat”. Let me put it another way; I have seen the most heinous of male embodiment date normal women here.

2) say what you will about comfort, but nothing promotes personal growth like the uncomfortable. There are many ways to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person, but nothing compares to moving to another country.

The growth I have personally experienced from my move here would take pages to express and has far exceeded my expectations.

And while moving to another country similar to the one I left would have provided me with a nice diversion from my normalcy, I really don’t think it would have been in the same diametrically opposed reality of life in Russia.

I seriously doubt I’d be anywhere close to the person I am now if I had stayed in America and continued to live in that existence.

3) the freedom I feel here, real or imagined. Being a foreigner in Russia gives one the advantage of leaving if one so desires. Although things are changing with respect to laws and legislation, the simple fact is there are just fewer restrictions/rules one has to live by. For me, it is a plus.

4) relationships have become much more of a priority for me over the years. The bonds I have formed here are stronger than what I had experienced in my country.

I find Russians in general to be more genuine than my countrymen.

5) the nature of my work has introduced me to people beyond even my wildest dreams. It’s not the work in and of itself that drives this, but the dynamics of everything involved with it that makes it fascinating. I really like what I do, and this is mostly because of the relationships I form through my work.

I hope I never have to work for an Amerian corporation again, period!!

6) I now speak decent Russian. I can’t put into words what this means to me to be able to speak another language, especially Russian. I seriously doubt this would have been possible if I still lived in America.

Disadvantages of living in Russia. Well, relatively speaking, I can only say that the weather is worse here than what I was accustomed to; that’s it.

The above is just scratching the surface.

We have seen what oil prices, and to a much lesser degree, the sanctions have done as it stands now.

I’m sure there are people in Russia who are somewhat worse off than before, as I’m sure there are Americans worse off now than before.

I thought some of you might like to know how life is for someone living in Moscow.

Here in Moscow life goes on pretty much as usual. While no one wants their currency to take a 50% hit, as long as you’re not exchanging money, the ruble is still the ruble if you get my drift.

My monthly nut hasn’t gone up that much, but yes, it has gone up.

There is always a percentage of expats who hightail it once things tighten up in Russia. The herd (expats) has thinned quite a bit over the years for the reasons I have given before (e.g. previous recession, visa rule changes, long winters etc.), not to mention the progressive replacement of foreigners at Multinationals by Russians.

On average nominal costs are less compared to the West; as much as 30% factoring the country as a whole.

You also have to look at this from an expat perspective, as the biggest expense is housing which might not be a concern for the locals, and paid for by an employer should you be here on a contract working for a Multinational (but this segment of expat is nowhere near the biggest).

Obviously, an expat’s money is not “taxed” in the same way as it would be in the States.

Make no mistake about it, there are still plenty of foreigners under contract here. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn’t know what they are talking about. People from Germany, America, Italy, France and Hungary still work under contract here in Moscow (just to name a few countries).

Do I want to leave because of all that has happened?

Of course not. And it doesn’t matter about the money because it won’t be any sweeter money-wise back in America.

I thought I would break it down using 200K as a starting point because it was suggested (indirectly by another expat as too little to live on), and use my expenses as real numbers to show how knee-jerk that statement is.

I’ll use an average yearly exchange rate of 60/1 rubles to the dollar which is very close to the average year-to-date. This comes to about $40k a year, or $3300 a month. Yes, quite a hit from the $6600 it was prior, but easily workable nonetheless.

If you’re not exchanging money, rubles are rubles.

One would need to find a job making roughly the equivalent of $60K (taxable income) to match that. And for a 45+ yr old expat out of the workforce 10+ years, certainly no easy feat.

Let’s break down some metrics:

I live in a 2-room flat less than a 10-minute car ride to the city center (Prospect Mira for those of you who know the area).

It’s Western renovated and ran about $1330 (40k rubles) before the ruble devalued. Concurrently, most apartments in Moscow have either kept the same rental price, or have actually decreased in price in order to find tenants.

So, while someone’s income has decreased because of the exchange rate in dollar terms, so has relative housing cost; over $8k a year in my case (roughly $675 a month). That 40k includes gas, electricity, landline, cableTV/internet, trash, water and my Tajik Concierge. Great guy, and very helpful.

If I were to go back and live in a comparable flat in Los Angeles, the same cost would double, minimum.

I would also have to buy a car, so we’d be talking conservatively about another $600 for car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance for an average $20K ride. My transportation costs average about $150 a month (metro, taxis, g/f’s car, etc.).

The next biggest expense is of course food. I spend at most 1000 rubles a day. I really can’t see spending more than this, and 1000 could probably be chopped in half if push comes to shove. But for the sake of argument, let’s double it to 2000 and use this for reference.

Housing, utilities cable and WiFi internet – 40000

Transportation – 10000. Remember I’m an expat and don’t need a car here.

Food – 60000, and believe me that is an ambitious sum, more like 30-40000 at most, but again for the sake of reference. We’ll use 60k to include entertainment such as eating out, movies, theatre, etc., and a daily 300 ruble Starbuck mocha that I could easily do without, etc. This factors in a 35% rise in food costs during the devaluation period.

Restaurants/cafes prices have only increased about 5-10% during this time; closer to 5% all things considered.

Pretty much covers about everything and we’re looking at 106,000 rubles.

Now I understand that it would be nice if you could still stash away about $3k a month, but times they do change. And if you were someone who hasn’t saved for a rainy day (time), then that’s on you.

Nevertheless, that leaves us with 94000 rubles and that is still close to $1500; not bad all things considered.

If you think that things will not improve, or that your time back in the States will be better, I say don’t let the customs agent kick you in the ass on your way out. And good luck with those American women.

All I know is, given the situation, there’s no way I’m heading back, and really, why would I? Simply put, I have a wonderful life here, despite all the oppression I [don’t] feel from Putin.

Contrary to popular belief, life is good here. And it’s especially good if you’re lucky enough to be making 200k rubles a month. 98% of the working population in Moscow would love to make that kind of money. And if you’re one of the very fortunate expats to be making 200k a month or more, then count your blessings.

Flat in Moscow – $675 (2-room) including all utilities, cable/internet, land line.
Food and entertainment – $1000 (in reality I spend about 70% of that).
Transportation – $150
Total – $1825

Flat in LA – $2000 (1-bedroom) including utilities, cable/internet
food and entertainment – $1000
Transportation – $600
Total – $3600

Better make that a job pulling $75k minimum when you return to the States.

P.S. I wrote this post about 2 months ago, and most, if not all of it relates to 2015. I used a base of 60 ru to the dollar, so anyone can do the math as the numbers skew a bit at present. Keep in mind that oil can eventually go up this year so that on average we can still be looking at around a 60 to 1 ruble to dollar ratio by the end of 2016.

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Parcel2go and Hermes Overweight Parcel “Extra Payment Required” Rip Off.

Have you had the “Extra Payment Required” email from Parcel2Go?

As online sellers, we access the services of Hermes/myHermes sometimes direct, and sometimes through parcel2go.com – depending which platform we are booking from.

Years ago, everyone used to book everything at 0.99kgs and anything up to about 3kgs would go through without a hitch. That was never going to last.

In the last 18 months, Hermes have started routinely weighing everything, so weights must be accurate. No big deal and not rocket science to make sure which band your parcel falls into, right?

We only use Parcel2Go/Hermes for low value parcels (things you can afford to lose) under two kilos. So there are two bands: 0 – 1kg and 1 – 2kg.

We use digital mail scales, so we know our weights are right. Thus we know that we are booking the correct weight band.

So here is what happens. About once a week, sometimes twice a week, we get this email:

Dear [customer name],Thank you for booking with us and using Hermes to send your parcel.

Unfortunately, Hermes have informed us that your parcel weighed/measured more than was declared when it was booked on our website. The parcel was declared as 1.00kg (20 x 20 x 20), however the actual weight/dimensions are 1.10kg (20 x 20 x 20).

We understand mistakes can be made and we operate tolerances to allow for small mistakes, however due to the size of this discrepancy, we unfortunately need to charge for this misdeclaration.

Also, due to the increased cost in processing misdeclarations, which include identifying and weighing the parcel, an additional handling charge of £2.50 is included in the underpayment total.

The total underpayment due is £ 3.49 + VAT. You can pay this charge now via the link below or find it in your basket and pay it the next time you check out with us.

Occasionally human error happens, so those of us who send many parcels will expect to make the odd mistake and have this bite us in the arse.

However, I have noticed a pattern here.

It only seems to happen with the under 1kg band with parcels that are over 900g in weight, but under the 1kg threshold. The weight they say they are is always 1.1kgs.

If your parcel was not in fact overweight, how can you prove it? The answer is you cant, because they have your parcel, and Parcel2Go/Hermes have you over a barrel here.

We got another one of these a few days ago, so on the basis that the staff will start having deductions for these “errors” if they continue, I decided to investigate this one.

Using the P2G number, I traced the order, looked at what the item sent was (an item in standard retail packaging that we sell) and weighed another one. Better than that, I took another from our pending orders, taped it myself and added a label. The weight? 975g. I checked the weight stored on our system: 975g. I checked the manufacturers declared weight: 950g. So the 25g is tape and label.

The staff routinely weigh each and every Parcel2Go item because they are aware of this issue. On the day in question, everything that went out was checked.

This means our parcel was NOT overweight.

Dyson Spare Parts

This probably means none of our parcels were ever overweight since the “Extra Payment Required” emails started arriving.

This smells to me like a quiet little scam by either Parcel2Go or Hermes.

But as we also use Hermes directly, and don’t get these penalties from Hermes directly, it would appear that this is generated at Parcel2Go – but we cannot be sure.

What I can be sure of is Parcel2Go have extracted by now several hundred pounds out of me with this little scam.

For “overweight” parcels that I reckon were nothing of the sort.

So what to do?

Well, here is the problem with Parcel2Go and Hermes. You get what your pay for. Its a cheap service. This means zero competent customer service of any description.

Both organisatons are set up to dissuade you from contacting anyone if something goes wrong. Daft email support (copy and paste replies) and dire “live help” that will have your dripping in cobwebs by the time you get anywhere.

Try and do a claim for a lost/stolen/misdelivered/undelivered item and you will see what I mean. If you have a spare few hours, you may eventually get your money back. The system is designed so you cant be bothered and will write their mistakes off.

Sure you can email “concerns@parcel2go.com” but nothing will happen. When faced with facts and logic, they will simply stop replying.

Customer service is not a hallmark of either Parcel2Go or Hermes – both are totally chronic in this regard. The fact is they simply don’t give a shit – they only want your money.

I estimate that between this “Extra Payment Required” scam and the few items that are stolen, lost, delivered wrongly or not at all, we will have issues with up to 5% of Hermes bookings.

Its probably time for us to start using a better courier or continue to self-indemnify against their mistakes as there are not enough hours in the day to chase them for losses and dishonesty.

So why is this out here?

I wanted to get this out here because I want to see if anyone else has had enough of being overcharged in this way by Parcel2Go and how big a scale this is happening on.

Parcel2Go and/or Hermes might be clawing quite a lot of money in from this little racket. And a racket is what I believe it is.

Parcel2Go will not even engage with us on the subject of the “Extra Payment Required” subject – despite our trying – they just keep charging us for it. 

I suspect it isn’t only happening to us. I suspect there are other sellers out there writing off a fiver once or twice a week, assuming they or their staff made a mistake. Again. But deep down they cannot see how. And they will Google and land here……..

If this is happening to you, please use the comment box below to say so. thumbs

Posted in Selling Online | Tagged , , , , , , | 88 Comments