Kiev Day 5: The Supermarket

One of the truest ways to understand a society is to watch them shop. Just as in the UK it is no use going to Regents Street because that is nearly only tourists and so it’s the same in Kiev. There are many Malls and if for example, you go to Ocean Plaza there all the big international brands. That is probably why Sasha always takes both me and my credit card there. One of us all always takes a beating.

No, where you need to go is to the local supermarket where you can watch everyday folk about their business. In the supermarket, there are no pretensions. There is just a job to be done and so it was yesterday when Sasha and I went food shopping.

It wasn’t a mega market nor was it a corner shop, but just an ordinary medium-sized local, busy supermarket with the normal mix of hardened and determined shoppers with both super-sized baskets and the faster racing in after work for evening essentials.  We were somewhere in between who didn’t need much but slowed by my insistence to visit its every corner.

Mother always told to take off my hat indoors and so my sense of etiquette had me remove my insulated woolly hat and pop it into the pockets of my Barbour jacket, but I was the odd one out among fur coats and a wide range of hat styles. The message was clear. When it is cold outside you keep your head warm at all times.

As a passing observation, I noted that while in the UK there is a strong movement against women wearing natural fur there is none of that here. The furs are everywhere. I am not an expert, but sables and minks had better watch out and it leaves me conflicted. I understand the reasons we don’t want clothes made of natural furs but when you see how beautiful and warming they are there is a moment of indecision.

I had a chance to wander around rather than push the trolley. I may be good at many things, or my family might say just a few things, but Sasha quickly decided that pushing the trolley is not my forte. Maybe it was the way I meandered away to look down other aisles and never be next to her when she wanted to place purchased items that ultimately determined my demotion from a simple job.

Anyone who is a regular supermarket shopper would recognise the layout. No sooner in and you are faced with the fruit and vegetables. While Sasha chooses a selection of grapefruit I noticed the quality. There were no pre-packaged selections. Everything was loose just as in an old-style greengrocer but unlike my UK experience, all the produce was handled carefully. My etiquette might have been removing for my hat but for everyone else, the etiquette was to handle the fruit and vegetables carefully to avoid bruising the fruit for later shoppers. There was a love of the food.

My next calling was to the large display of dried fruits and nuts. For me this was special. My current diet is long on the dried fruit and a major source of protein is peanuts. To be able to buy them loose was a treat. There are scoops and plastic bags and I piled in large quantities of high-quality product. For someone who pays £3.50 in Sainsburys for their large bags of peanuts to find that these were both nearly a fifth of the price and healthier with lower salt levels, left me wondering why Sainsburys couldn’t do the same. They were so good I sealed, weighed and priced my first selection and then collected a smaller portion which I ate as we shopped presenting a priced but empty bag at the check-out.

Sasha was still at the fruits while I went to look at the meat both fresh and cooked. Just as it was with the fruit there was an extensive range which was all beautifully butchered and presented. With all the charcuterie on display, it was a great standalone boucherie. So, it was with the bread, rolls, cakes, croissant and cheese. All was individually cut to order and served from an extensive choice.

This wasn’t a scientific piece of research but just a wandering around, but I did find my granola with summer fruits, kiwi yoghurt, cranberry juice, and oats.

I don’t have a deep understanding of UK prices other than everyone telling me that they are always going up. But I can say that the things I did buy were a lot, lot cheaper. I am always wary of these statistics, but one website tells me that Kiev is 326th out of 338 most expensive cities to live in, in the world. That sounds unlikely but those with more information might ogle at:

Milk (regular), (1 litre)

Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g)

Eggs (regular) (12)

Apples (1kg)

Banana (1kg)

Potato (1kg)

£0.49

£0.24

£0.68

£0.45

£0.75

£0.20

I am not going to draw deep conclusions about Ukrainians from such a trivial survey. This wasn’t a super special supermarket. It was just the local shop, but prices are not the issue, it is the quality that counts.

Kiev is undoubtedly one of the richer areas in Ukraine but even here the average income is still much less than $10,000 each year. Price has to be an issue, but Ukrainian shoppers must demand quality because quality is everywhere.

Conclusion? Let me put it this way. If this supermarket was in the UK it would be my store of choice and the everyday fur just adds a special glamour.

Vera: a Very British Detective

I apologise and am sorry that today this piece is published rather later than normal. I was distracted yesterday evening when I was supposed to be writing. On a normal day the bulk of my piece is written the day before I publish leaving editing as the last task as and when I finally manage to pull myself out of bed. I like to sleep on my thoughts and words.

Normally I fix on the topic mid-afternoon, scribble some sentences as themes and then, come the evening, in front of the television, pull it all together.

Yesterday, all was going fine, and today’s piece was supposed to be on Envy, the fourth in the Seven Deadly Sins series. I settled to write and then I saw that ITV was starting the new, 8th series of Vera. Everything changed. It demanded my full attention.

For those of you not in the UK let me tell you about Vera. It is a police drama set in Northumberland, in the North East of England with its stunning scenery as the backdrop. The North Sea, small villages and communities, and scarred, desolate moors.

Quoting from IDMB, “the central character is Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. Who is obsessive about her work and driven by her own demons. If she’s lonely she doesn’t show it and faces the world with caustic wit, guile, and courage”. Vera is not a glamorous character. She is a dishevelled, old school, DCI, but best of all the lead actor is Brenda Blethyn, BAFTA winner and Academy nominee.  She is quality in the tradition of British actors. We are blessed with many of the world’s greatest actors.

It would be enough to finish this piece here with a strong recommendation to anyone who can catch the latest series to find Vera on a Sunday night. However, it gives me a chance to have another rant about, mainly American, crime drama.

It doesn’t matter if you are watching NCIS, Body of Truth, or Bones (to name just a few) they all work on the same premise. Somewhere in the 45 odd minutes of drama the detective’s team will stumble upon a piece of forensic evidence which narrows the field to one in a million. Hard work means nothing. It is all about science and forensic luck. They will just be leaving the crime scene when the lead’s attention is attracted. He or she walks across the room and after putting on their special latex gloves picks up in tweezers a tiny piece of hair, material, radioactive glass, or whatever which breaks the case and the show finishes five minutes later.

This is not Vera. Vera solves the murder, finds the killer through understanding, talking, logic and hard work. It is gritty, and the case is solved with little more than the occasional CCTV and finger print. Technology never solves the case. It’s all about the people.

This is the real cultural difference between Europe and America. In European fiction there is a long history of detectives who add their own personality to the problem but who essentially are ‘proper detectives’. Morse, Lewis, and Banks are a few.  Around the rest of Europe, we have the growth of Scandi Noir again ‘with certain common characteristics, typically in a realistic style with a dark, morally complex mood’. We like our detectives working in the real world. We like the flawed personalities that we relate to.

My fictional DCI, Paul Catchpole, is in this mould. He doesn’t rely on anything other than his own intellect and the hard work of his team.

Envy, will now have to wait for another day and for me it could be Amazon Prime and a back episode or two of Vera. I like my crime set in a world I can understand.