Robin Ashenden

Robin Ashenden is founder and ex-editor of the Central and Eastern European London Review. He is currently writing a novel about Solzhenitsyn, Khrushchev’s Thaw and the Hungarian Uprising.

The hell of interior design

I spent seven hours yesterday cutting up cardboard boxes into little square pieces with a Stanley knife and stuffing them into rubbish sacks. I’ve just moved house and my home is piled high with bulging black bags and looks like Leicester Square during the Winter of Discontent. Given that I don’t currently have the necessary

Georgia’s ‘foreign agent’ law protestors won’t go down quietly

Following the introduction this Tuesday of Georgia’s notorious ‘foreign agent’ law by the ruling party Georgian Dream, there has been widespread popular protest in the capital Tbilisi. The law, proposed last year but postponed in the face of public resistance, demands that any non-governmental organisation receiving more than 20 per cent of its funding from

My battle with a Puglian pugilist

To nearly any English tourist, the small southern Italian town I’m currently living in, half an hour from my daughter’s school, would seem idyllic. It has an old castle, a monastery and olive groves in all directions, but in Puglian guidebooks it barely rates a mention. It’s the scruffy, down-to-earth cousin of richer or bigger

A bloke’s guide to aftershave

In 2020, the year of coronavirus, I came to a fork in the road. I’d just turned 50, a moment of looking back over your life, realising what you’ve failed to achieve, and accepting there’s only a finite number of years left to you. It was clearly a time for making a change of some

The monstrous experience of boarding school

Charles, Earl Spencer published a blistering denunciation of his prep school days – complete with constant corporal punishment and child abuse – in A Very Private School last month. Since then, many of us who attended such places have been recalling our own time there too, nodding in recognition or giving thanks that our experience was better.

A love letter to the Fiat 500

On visits to the continent as a child, what struck me was the strangeness of other European countries. Going to France or Italy, pre-internet, you cut off your connections to the outside world, and even got the British news a day or two late. People ate horse meat, tortellini in brodo or croque monsieurs, and

How was ITV’s trans drama Butterfly ever made?

In the wake of the Cass Report’s damning verdict on the reckless ‘social transitioning’ of children and the prescribing of puberty blockers to minors, it’s perhaps an apt time to recall a mini-series that appeared on ITV a few years ago cheerleading for both. Butterfly was broadcast in October 2018 just as Theresa May’s national consultation

The sacking of Frank Skinner is a loss to British comedy

The recent news that comedian Frank Skinner had been sacked from his job at Absolute Radio after fifteen years as presenter feels like a misstep to say the least. It has not been without a whiff of scandal, coming amidst accusations of ‘ageism’. The man himself lamented: ‘I’m not going to pretend I took it

My loveless nights in post-Soviet hostels

I suppose there are people who stay in four or five-star hotels all their lives and become a kind of expert in them, turning their noses up at rooms I would regard as the acme of comfort, but since my parents stopped paying, I never have. In adulthood my standards have plummeted and, as a

Where have the West’s liberal values gone?

Russia is ramping up preparations for a ‘large-scale’ war with Nato. That’s the verdict of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, which reports several indications that Moscow is preparing for war with Nato ‘not imminently but likely on a shorter timeline’ than many Western analysts believed. Is the West ready for war? Its

Watches satisfy a strange masculine urge

A year or two ago I got my first expensive watch, a Longines Conquest Heritage. It wasn’t quite my dream timepiece – that was a 1960s Omega Seamaster automatic (think Bond films at the Sean Connery stage) but these are priced off the scale and need plenty of specialist upkeep. The Longines Conquest, very much

What my strange old friends taught me

As a young man I sought out the company of much older people in the arts, feeling they had some secret to life, often the same one in different guises, which I wanted, needed to discover. In the let-it-all-hang-out youth culture of the 1990s I felt awash, and the elderly (which to a 20-year-old meant

The trials and tribulations of Orthodox Lent

The Russian Orthodox Church, which I converted to in 2018, has disgraced itself in the years since. Its Patriarch Kirill has oiled up to Vladimir Putin and his war effort on every possible occasion since Russia invaded Ukraine. My feelings about this strand of Christianity may be highly ambivalent now: what good is its staggering

Navalny’s death has left Russia’s opposition in despair

Following the wave of articles that have appeared in the Western press since Navalny’s death come three pieces from émigré Russians. All present a sobering and even chilling picture of Russia’s future now that its leading figure of opposition is gone. The first, published by the Russian-language Meduza on 4 March, was by Shura Burtin,

Men don’t belong in Hampstead Ladies’ Pond

The waters of Hampstead ladies’ pond are this week, it seems, more troubled than ever. Last Sunday, amidst cries of ‘traitor’ and ‘shame on you’, the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA) voted against barring transwomen from using it. As a result, this unique bathing site, billed as providing ‘a place of refuge and security for

A Soviet guide to vodka

One of the perks – a perilous one – of visiting the Former Soviet Union in the 1990s was the cheapness of the vodka. I was used to paying London prices for it but in Estonia (where I lived for two years) you could find bunker-bars where they’d serve you a generous tumbler – enough

The horror of travelling with pets

It’s 7 in the morning, I’ve got to Milan Linate airport two hours before my plane to Bari, and already things are going horribly wrong. The airline aren’t letting my cats fly with me. I’ve got documents to show they’re microchipped and all their vaccines are in order, but two uniformed men, straight out of

The key difference between Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin

Following Alexei Navalny’s suspicious ‘sudden death’ in an Arctic prison camp last Friday, two scenes immediately come to mind featuring Vladimir Putin, who almost certainly mandated it. The first is from December 2018 and his meeting, at the G20 Summit, with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, suspected at the time of involvement in