On Russian Balconies

On a recent visit to Istanbul I stayed in an apartment looking out on the Bosphorus. Every morning I’d get up and see the sun sparkling on the surface of the water as birds circled languidly overhead. At night it was even better, as the thumping techno from the pleasure boats and the call of the Muezzin intermingled. It was very different from my usual mode of accommodation when I travel: cheap hotels, dirt, and the lingering possibility of sudden, violent death.
In many ways it was the culmination of a quest that began years ago in my hometown of Dunfermline in Scotland. Over there, you don’t see too many balconies. It’s too windy and wet. Yet I remember one house that had a huge balcony on the second floor. I used to walk past, wishing I lived there. I didn’t care that it was useless, that if I sat up there the wind would probably pick me up and drop me in the North Sea. I only saw the ideal of open living, close to the sky.

Kremlin Kids Gone Wild!

Life is not easy for the offspring of dictators. Look at Gaddafi’s kids, who are either dead, in prison or in exile. Bashar al-Assad would have been an ophthalmologist if his elder brother hadn’t died. But now he has to kill thousands or be killed himself. Even Kim Jong-un, allegedly the supreme overlord of 24 million North Koreans looks vaguely terrified by the awesome responsibility of carrying on the family tradition of EVIL.
It’s not always easier for children who don’t get near actual power. Consider the case of Russia in the 20th century. For seventy years the country was ruled by authoritarian strongmen; all of them bar Lenin had children, and many of those “Kremlin kids” led deeply unhappy lives.
Stalin’s eldest son Yakov was a