Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In memory of Thomas Crapper

In searching for new and revealing insights to Riga with which to regal you, the subject of toilets came to mind.

Whilst Riga does not exactly abound with public toilets, ( See picure) most hostelries will not refuse those in need. Indeed at .................. ( by now you must know where I mean !!) - they have managed to create a pub with just two toilets which are bi-sexual - do not bother looking for the Men or Women signs !

Clearly on a busy day/night this creates a serious problem, but in effort to keep the customers happy whilst awaiting the need to satisfy the call of nature, the owner ( he of diminutive stature - but heart of gold) - has installed a TV immediately above the entrance to the these toilets. Now name me another bar anywhere where such a service is provided !

In keeping with today's theme and as is my privilege, and with thanks to the BBC web site, I have have copied below an article on Toilets, which are to be discussed at a conference in Belfast ( I will refrain from any remarks as to why Belfast was chosen as the first European city to host this grand event) - Comments in red are mine

Experts debating toilet standards

Toilet experts have gathered in Belfast for a conference to explore issues of public lavatory standards in countries across the globe.

It is the first World Toilet Summit to be held outside the Far East.

Delegates come from such sectors as public health and educational authorities, hospitality and tourism bodies as well as toilet providers.

The Bog Standard (sic) campaign to raise the calibre of Northern Ireland's school toilets is also being launched.

It wants to "bring awareness of the health and learning benefits of better toilets for pupils", a statement said.

The campaign will also encourage schools to allow pupils to use the toilets when needed. ( does this mean they cannot now ?)

More than 350 delegates from the US, Europe, Australia and the Far East will get a chance to see the latest innovations in toilet technology.

These will include a brand new pop-up urinal to be unveiled in Belfast's Shaftesbury Square.
It is concealed beneath the pavement during the day( why ?), but at night it rises hydraulically for use by late-night revellers. ( The question is what time ? - can you imagine a group of revellers standing around waiting for the the thing to pop up - it paints a wonderful picture - does it not - can you imagine if it suddenly malfunctions and take the poor incumbent into the earths bowels)

Delegates will also hear presentations such as Changing Washroom Behaviour, Public Toilet Excellence - The Singapore Model and Managing Out Crime in Public Toilets.

A speaker from Indonesia will describe how a toilet relief programme was introduced following the tsunami disaster.

Those attending the Waterfront Hall conference will also be asked for their views on the Belfast Protocol, a policy document to be presented to international governments.

The average person visits the toilet 2,500 times a year
The first toilet stall in a public washroom is the least likely to be used: it is also the cleanest.
Most toilets flush in the key of E flat

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Australian Rules - Latvian Times

A strange and wonderful day ! - Last night (Friday) at the ................., the Latvian Australian contingent in Riga convinced the management ( the vertically challenged person of Irish/Cork descent), to open the bar at 8.00am on Saturday morning in order to watch the final of the Australian Rules Football/Rugby/Gaelic football competition ( I am told it is a combination of all) .Apparently it is a big deal in Australia. In the spirit of Internationalism ( and with no thought as to cash profit to be made ?) the wee ( relative statement) fellow agreed.

So with a great deal of effort I dragged myself out of bed at an ungodly time this morning and took myself off to .............., to watch the game, and thereby increase my knowledge of a southern hemisphere sport.

Unreal sight, in I walked to ..................... and there were the Aussies( At least 15-20) with beers in hand, ( In some cases Brandy !!) watching the "GAME". In accordance with Australian tradition one had even brought his own personalised beer cooler.

With my limited knowledge, here are my observations on the rules.

Each team can have 18 player's on the field at any one time
You can kick, punch, throw the ball ( Likewise the opponents)
The ball looks like a Rugby ball, but is Orange !
They wear short sleeves shirts ( just like beach ball players !)
Goal posts like Rugby, but with two outside post to allow for crap kicks (Maximises scoring opportunities)
Kick inside "normal" posts 6 points - inside "outside" posts 1 point
If you catch the ball from a kick, referee blows whistle, and supporters have orgasm !
Pitch looks like cricket pitch ( probably in honour of the famous OVAL ground)
Supporters must shout F..k at every opportunity
For TV - minimum of four commentators required
Game lasts for 120 minutes, four quarters of 25 minutes - with 10/20 minutes breaks for commercials & P..s breaks (see below)
Supporters attending game must consume minimum of 8 pints ( this explains why game has for quarters with associated breaks or as Aussies call them "Piss breaks"

The Latvian/Aussie contingent duly turned up for the game, and immediately took up Aussie time, and duly began to consume the mandatory amount of beer.

For my part and having to no Aussie blood - I drank coffee, much to annoyance of I.... ( the barman) - who was insisting that as he had to be in the bar at 8.00am, he was only going to serve beer. Weird Aussie actually believed him and went across the road to buy take away coffee's.

The game was really exciting.................hmmmmmm............................, unfortunately I had to leave before game ended, but received text message from J.... ( Australian/Latvian who claims to be Australian Consul in Riga) - that " WE "won - so that's OK - presumably "THEY" lost.

( One of the teams were called the "Swans" and the other the "Eagles" - given that Australia has neither( I think) - it does make you wonder !!)

Spotted a new breed of "Cretins" today - Species originated in Indian subcontinent, but recently appeared in Birmingham ( Circa 1920's) , England. Migration path is not fully understood , but have a penchant for Curries/beer - and like to display their manliness by standing up and shouting to each other across a crowded bar, particularly when they leave domestics shores. This is a common factor of all know species of "cretins".

From a weather point of view today today was simply magical - blue skies, and the temperature at 18 Centigrade.

The Old town was wholly taken over by the "Autumn Fair" - ever square was covered by small stallholders selling their goods, and as ever live music brought the place alive. I cannot think of another city that I have visited which comes alive in such an extraordinary way. That combined with simply stunning Autumn weather - what more could you ask for.

I really do wish that I had the words to describe sights and sound of Riga today - but for those you read this all I can suggest is lie back, close your eyes and thinks of a feeling which gives you the greatest pleasure - ( NOT THAT !!) - it is better and is is truly beautiful - For those of you not here - all I can suggest is that as and when - take it all in.

So there we are the end of another Saturday, and if the weather forecast is true then I will make for another walk along the beach tomorrow. - Take care

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Just another - Flag - day !

I was reminded this morning of another hidden army - Riga's flag putter uppers. Every year the Ministry of Flag Days - publishes to every household in the country the various days on which the national flag must be placed outside their house or apartment buildings.

In the country this is the responsibility of the house owner, but in Riga's apartment buildings, then this responsibility is outsourced to this army of flag putter uppers.

Clearly they have an allotted number of buildings, so of they set at sunrise with their flags under their arms, and carrying a ladder and erect the flags, which then fly all day, and then at sunset, guess what - that's right they take them all down again. Would love to see their passport job description. But just like the refuse collectors, they provide an invaluable service - and given the number of Flag putting up days their are, it is a full time job.

Their appears to be two kind of flag days, days of celebration and days of sadness, the difference between the two is that on the sad days, they attached a piece black cloth to the end of the flag pole.

So now you know !

The other tradition here is "Name Days" - Based on your Christian name, The Ministry of Name days then allots a specific day on which you must celebrate your "name day". Here this is a bigger thing than you birthday, but it does mean that there at least two days a year when you can host a private celebration ( Birthday and Name day) - God only knows how The Ministry of Name days would have coped if some of our celebrities with a penchant for naming their offspring with weird and wonderful names were born in Latvia. Hard to imagine a name day for names such as Zacharia - Cruz - Apple - Fifi Trixibelle - Peaches - Pixie ??

If you would like to check out your name day then go visit http://www.daily-tangents.com/Kalendars/ - of course you will need to latvianise your name - mine is Deivids.

Now here is "political question" How many political parties are their in Latvia ( NB this can change on a daily basis - but this is status as of today. 28 - can you believe it ? - in a country of less than 2.6m - they have a party for every 100,000 people. But don't you just love the names ! Seima is the name of the Latvian Parliament for those who do not know - clearly starting a political party is a national pastime. Makes the number of Political parties in UK seem paltry by comparison

Parties represented in the Parliament of Latvia

New Era Party (Jaunais Laiks) or JL
People's Party (Tautas Partija) or TP
Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība or ZZS (Union of Greens and Farmers)
Latvian Farmers' Union (Latvijas Zemnieku Savienība) or LZS
Latvian Green Party (Latvijas Zaļā Partija) or LZP
Latvia First Party (Latvijas Pirmā Partija) or LPP
For Fatherland and Freedom (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK) or TB/LNNK
For Human Rights in United Latvia (Par Cilvēka Tiesībām Vienotā Latvijā) or PCTVL
National Harmony Party (Tautas Saskaņas Partija) or TSP
Latvian Socialist Party (Latvijas Sociālistiskā Partija), formerly part of PCTVL;
Equal Rights (Līdztiesība)

Parties not in Saeima

Parties which participated in 2002 parliamentary elections but did not win any seats in the parliament.
Latvian Way (Latvijas Ceļš) or LC
Latvian Social Democratic Labour Party (Latvijas Sociāldemokrātiskā Strādnieku Partija) or LSDSP
Light of Latgale (Latgales Gaisma) or LG
Social Democratic Union (Sociāldemokrātu Savienība) or SDS
Social Democratic Welfare Party (Sociāldemokrātiska Labklājības Partija)
Political Alliance "Center" (Politiskā apvienība "Centrs")
Party of Russians (Krievu Partija)
Party of Latvians (Latviešu Partija)
Latvijas Atdzimšanas Partija;
Freedom Party (Brīvības Partija)
Mira Land (Māras Zeme)
Our Land (Mūsu Zeme)
Progressive Centrist Party (Progressīvā Centriskā Partija)
Latvian United Republican Party (Latvijas Apvienotā Republikāņu Partija)

Parties formed after 2002 parliamentary elections

National Power Unity (Nacionālā Spēka Savienība) or NSS
Fatherland's Union (Tēvzemes Savienība)
New Center Party (Jaunais Centrs)

And for those of with a penchant for humour, ( just like the Committee for the naming of Latvian Political Parties) - I received the following recently - enjoy !


Remember it takes a college degree to fly a plane, but only a high school diploma to fix one. Reassurance for those of us who fly routinely in our jobs. After every flight, Qantas pilots fill out a form, called a "gripe sheet," which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the gripe sheets before the next flight.

Never let it be said that ground crews lack a sense of humor.

Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by Qantas' pilots (marked with a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an (S) by maintenance engineers. By the way, Qantas is the only major airline that has never had an accident.

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.
P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.
P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.
P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.
P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.
P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.
P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.
P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're for.
P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.
P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.
P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.
P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.
P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.
P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

And the best one for last..................

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.

and finally did you know Riga has the widest Zebra crossing in the world !! - just over 8 metres WIDE !!!!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Now you see them - Now you don't

Just as each season brings has its own character, so Riga's character changes with each season. Each and every Spring the city explodes with outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants. It would seem that it is mandatory for all the normal indoor bars to have their own area outside. This usually achieved by building an outdoor deck attached to the building, putting on a cover and voila - an outdoor area.

However it is in the squares that the biggest metamorphosis ( impressive huh !) takes place. Both the Livu and Dome square transform themselves into a teaming mass of cafes and bars. Every year they become more and more impressive and sophisticated. This year saw the advent of a glass panelled cafes complete with gas heaters. They tell me that this one might actually see the winter out.

One restaurant in Dome square called "13 chairs" because normally that is all the chairs that are inside the restaurant - could be called 113 chairs as it explodes onto Dome square.

Along with this outdoor extravaganza, then the summer characters appear.

The "dancing" Lady sets up her patch in Livu square, complete with pre-recorded music and proceeds to dance. Actually she continuously spins rounds. - God only know how she feels after a day's dancing !

The we have the street artists, who will draw your portrait for a small fee. There are two of them, one you wanders around the square cigarette in mouth, and plugged into his CD player, never actually seen him draw anyone. The other is more of entrepreneur, he draws the unsuspecting who have chosen to sit and enjoy a coffee/beer and then "presents" the finished article. I think he works on the percentage principle.

In the area close to the Freedom Monument ( see picture) there is a wonderful Lady who appears every day complete with xylophone ( a children's one) - and spends the rest of the happily banging away on the keys. I think she could be termed a musical improviser - and has never been know to play the same tune twice !

Across the whole of the old town the street are awash with music, with people of all ages playing their instrument of choice -accordion, Cello, violins, saxophones etc. In the case of the latter the saxophonist has an interesting musical style. My personal favourites are the children - some of whom are simply magical. There they stand playing their instruments, to an unbelievable high standard. Many are as young as 6-8 years old.

They all have one thing in common, in their own individual way they provide entertainment to the passers by, who in turn can reward them as they see fit.

Unlike the beggars, they add to the character of the city.

This year has seen a new innovation - rickshaws - That's right we have rickshaws in Riga. Usually propelled by young students, in mid term break - -they carry up to two people round the Old City. Have not tried it myself, as the thought of sitting in the back of a rickshaw, being bounced all over ( did I mention all the streets in the old city are cobblestones ?) - Can you imagine the state of your rear end at the end of the trip ?

But just as these outdoor cafes and bars, along with the characters you inhabit them, seem to appear as if by magic - so they disappear in the same way, making way for the chill of the autumn and winter months.

Just as I asked about "them" ( See unsung heroes) - so I wonder where do these bars and cafes go - likewise the characters.

One thing is sure that come next April/May they will be back - to add color and life to the Old City.

For me I had my (probably) last walk on the beach this weekend - beautiful - You did not know Latvia has the best beaches in Northern Europe ?- a story for another time, perhaps when the time comes when instead of walking in the sea, you can walk on the sea !!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A village life for me

For the greater part of my life I lived in a small village in the UK, and I was born in brought up in a town in Scotland where the population was less than 1500 - so it is with a great deal of amazement, that I enjoy living in a city - Riga. OK it is not the biggest city in the world, but in reality it is just a big village.

From my apartment to our offices is 1o minutes, and to get into the Old city, again 10-15 minutes. No matter where you go you can guarantee you will meet someone you know, and just like a village everybody seems to know everything about everyone else.

The great thing about village life, is of course that it has a centre, usually the local pub, and at for me and many others ( both local and so called expats) so it so in Riga.

When I first came here in 1996, it was Paddy Whelans - a so called Irish bar, owned by an Australian, who subsequently got arrested for exporting Antiques ( that's another story). Then we migrated to a so called British pub - Dickens - owned by Russians - but with British beer. It sufferered a memory lapse a few years ago, when it it changed its name to "Elkor", when it was bought out by a large Electrical company called - Guess ! God only knows why, but it did not take long before it changed its name back to Dickens. Who in gods name ever wanted to say "Meet you at ELKOR".

But in recent times we have moved onto another location called .................. ( Do you really think I am going to give the name, and encourage even more "cretins". Suffice to say it is run by real Irishman - well from Cork - but as he hangs a Cork republican flag up in the pub, maybe it has declared independence from Ireland.

He is the only barman I have ever met you needs to stand on a stool, if you ask for a whiskey. I am not saying he is small, just not fully developed in the vertical direction.

So albeit that our little community has changed over the years, we have for the moment now settled into ................ as our community centre.

Like every village all over the world, this community has its characters, and in this case from all over the world. To protect the innocent I will not reveal there names ( can you get sued for publishing a blog ?)

Anyhow here is but a few

S......... - Ukranian - barman at .................... - loves playing crap music to piss the off the regulars
S......... - Welsh - A sports fanatic ( Well rugby and cricket) - Is often referred to as Tom Sellick ( God only knows why - as he looks nothing like him)
M....... - Italian - Suffers from verbal diarrhea, and does not like getting his hair touched
T........ - English - Came to Riga to find a woman - suffers from personality disorder - still looking for a woman
N.......- New Zealand - Came to Riga to find a good woman - found a brilliant one, now happily married, and back in New Zealand. Beer sales suffered dramatically when he left.
P......... - English - Another sports fanatic ( Horses, rugby and cricket) - Brought his dog over from UK, first week it nearly died - but is now fed on Steak and bottled water (with ice).
I......... - Latvian - Brilliant bar-person, can read minds - (I never have to ask for a beer - how does she know ?)
F........ - Australian - runs the best hostel in Riga, and can actually finish a portion of The Irish Stew

This is but a selection of the characters that I share my life with, and for those of you remember the TV series "Cheers" - well I think we could have the makings of a remake at .......................... ( I know you are dying for me to tell you the name - so I will give you a clue, It is 15 minutes from my office in Brivibas iela, and approximately 3 hours 30 minutes from Heathrow/Gatwick/Stanstead airports

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rubbish and all that

What can I tell you nothing happened yesterday of note. except it did rain.

One comment in regards to one of the oddities of Riga - is the rubbish collection system. Twice a day ( yes twice !) - the refuse truck arrives, and always at the same time, in my case at 10.00am and 8.00pm. Compare that with the UK, when it is once a week. The down side of all of this is that you have to personally put your rubbish into the refuse truck - but hey what a great way to meet your neighbours. I wonder where they take the rubbish ? - I have never seen a refuse site, must check this out.

I think I have now dealt with all of the aspects of how rubbish is handled in Riga, must find another subject to explore - Like why do pubs run out my favourite"Irish" beer - could it be anything to do with the "cretins" weekend indulgences ? and why do Latvians have to cross the road when the traffic lights are green - That's right they walk across the road when at the traffic has also right of way - you can always tell the first time drivers in Latvia, they scream at the pedestrians to get out of the way - I think all visitors you plan to drive should be given a little booklet explaining these little known facts of driving in Latvia. Like when you are driving in the countryside, and with not a building in sight you pass a Town or village sign - then you are obliged to reduce your spedd to 50km per hour until you reach the sign which indicates you are leaving the town /village. The police know these place and are only to happy to relieve of your Lats for speeding through a town !! ( The town/village in these cases is probably no more than a few house and way of the road.)

Well there we are I started off talking about rubbish, and ended up talking rubbish - time to say goodbye - Not a lot happened today !

Monday, September 12, 2005

Autumn Approaches

It only seems yesterday that the first leaves of Spring arrived, and now they are falling thick and fast ( only to swept up by "them" - see previous posting). The weather has remained beautiful, if a little cooler.

Spent the weekend at a house warming party in the country - near Dobele. This was a real Latvian country house, albeit thoroughly modernised. With a private lake, and wooden Sauna house beside the lake - it was stunning. The party started at 5.00 pm on Saturday and ended sometime in the wee hours of Sunday. A typical Latvian party, much dancing, singing, the sauna was optional. Complete with as much drink as you could wish. (At least for those you were not driving - regretfully I was !). Managed to get lost on the return journey, but given that eventually all roads lead to Riga - finally made it back.

One point of note for those looking to visit Latvia, the medical service is superb. No one likes going to hospital, and the food there is shall we say less than tempting - but the quality of the medical staff and the treatment is beyond reproach.

There is a clinic quite close to where I live and work, where at short notice one can get all the professional assistance you could wish for. Just to give a few examples - a blood test with results within the day - about £4.00, MRI scan ( wait time less than two weeks) £30.00.

Quite a number of my friends have all there dental work, as even with the cost of the flight, it is still considerably cheaper than the UK - and guess what NO WAITING LIST.

So there we are another week gone by, thoughts are now turning from summer to winter - hopefully it will not be a repeat of my first winter in Riga - 1996 and -30 c , brrrrrrrrrrr !!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Unsung Heroes

One of the wonders of Riga, is the manner in which it is kept clean, every morning there "they" are cleaning the streets and pavements outside the various apartments and building. They sweep up every piece of litter ( of which there is little), leaves and anything else which has dared to descend during the previous day/evening.

So to these unsung heroes of Riga - I say thank you, you make a real difference - but I have one question when they have finished cleaning their alloted area - what do they do ? and where do othey go ?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The sun shines !

If ever there was a time to truly enjoy Riga, it is now - the sun is shining, the temperature is rising to towards 25 c - and the outdoor cafes and bars are open for business - just a pity I am here at work, but at 6.00 -ish I will be there, to enjoy the beer and the view ( This is the only time I am going to mention the incredibly beautiful women of Latvia).

So for all of those who read this, but are not here in Riga - this is just a small part of what you could be enjoying if you were living in Latvia.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Welcome to Scot in Riga

I hope that in time this blog will allow provide a picture of what life is like working and living in Riga. Having spent over 10 years here, I can start of by saying that it is a wonderful City/country to be in - even if at times a little frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, the advent of "cheap" flights from UK, has meant that we are now inundated with "drunken cretins" every weekend, which if nothing else confirms Europeans worst fears about the Brits abroad - So special plea to all authorities, crack down hard, otherwise look forward to seeing this wonderful city ruined.

Finally can I suggest that someone opens a good bar/restaurant which would cater for all of "us" living here, but would "bar" any of these cretins from entry.

Finally for all those living in working in Riga, can someone explain why we still cannot get a UK newspaper in Riga ( The Business Times does not count !!) - also what about a Fish & Chip shop ?