I’ve just returned from a series of four performances in St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) Russia.
I had always assumed that Russia would be a place of grey buildings, grey people and grey potatoes as a staple diet. I couldn’t have been more wrong – well, not in that particular corner of the former Soviet Union, anyway.
Honestly, this gorgeous city overshadows even Paris for drop-jaw beauty. It has the most striking and ornate architecture, fountains and parks. Then there are the palaces, canals and churches. There is nowhere to compare.
But the thing that really struck me – in terms of the difference between there and here – is the attention to the little things. Little things like the perfectly-tended flower beds. The lack of litter. And the road surfaces.
This is a place that during World War ll, was bombed and shelled incessantly day and night for 900 days. That would make a bit of a mess. But now there are perfectly kept parklands, and roads so smooth you could run a golf ball down them and watch go until it vanishes over the horizon.
Manual labourers are out each day, clearing litter, scraping away weeds and planting flowers. Every historical site is promoted and marketed in such a way that you feel compelled to visit them.
But in West Lothian? Untended hedgerows, roads that would put a jungle track to shame, and as for historical sites… Did you know that Chopin once visited Polbeth? David Livingstone was a regular visitor, too. In fact Paraffin Young built a scale model of the Victoria Falls in the stream that runs through the village.
In St Petersburg it would be a major tourist attraction; here the only thing it attracts is car tyres and shopping trolleys.
Moreover, in St Petersburg the roads are so smooth that many youngsters get around using in-line skates. Can you imagine how far you would get trying THAT in Bathgate or Whitburn before you hit a pothole and ended up in A&E? Not far, I reckon.
Of course, we are often told by our Road Department that the potholes are caused by the icy winters we get here. Oh, really? Well, just for your information, in St Petersburg a winter temperature of – 20 Co is not unusual.
No, I wouldn’t want to live there: the massive blocks of apartments on the city outskirts are home to the majority. And tower blocks are never pretty.
But, honestly? When you see how their administration has taken a war-torn rubble-pile and produced something of which they are rightfully proud, you realise that if they can do it, then there is no reason why our administration couldn’t do it, too – if they had the drive, determination and ability.
Actually, given the advantages that we have, Oor Cooncil administrators should hang their heads in shame.