Monday, 17 November 2014

Klaus Johannis

Heartfelt congratulations to all Romanians who voted for Klaus Johannis. Why does the British press describe him as 'ethnic German'? Surely his family has lived in Transylvania for generations. Would we describe Ed Miliband as an 'ethnic Jew'? Best wishes to him, anyhow. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The designer

Edu: playful designs with green aims. 

Edu, short for Catalin-Andrei Edu, is a 20-something designer and sculptor from Pietrosita, a pretty mountain village at the eastern end of the southern arm of the Carpathian Mountains, about 115 km from Bucharest.  

He came to the UK as a student and is now designing toys.  He is passionate about his work.  Many of his latest inventions are models of animals and cars, but all are lively, witty, simple, and clean-lined.  Edu attributes his love of simple shapes to his admiration for the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi (1874-1957), whose deceptively naive style has inspired thousands of artists - and non-artists - to search for the same thing, which amounts to an essence of form, the nub of the matter, without frills but enormous fun.  

Brancusi believed that the most creative ideas come from children; he even said that once we stop thinking like children we might as well be dead.  He wasn't alone in this conviction: Arthur Koestler put his faith in the concept of homo ludens, playful man, and Romania can boast of many other free thinkers who left conventions behind in order to find new ways of interpreting the world.  In the fields of visual art and literature there are the Dadaists and Ionescu, and in science, the aviation expert Henri Coanda, but there are many, many others, and Edu fits perfectly into this mould.  

Five years ago he won a scholarship to the School of Arts and Designs in Coventry, where he graduated in 2012.  Before that, he studied computer programming in Bucharest at which time he worked on a team project for NASA.  That experience told Edu that he far preferred graphics and 3-D design to writing software.  In Coventry, he concentrated on consumer product design, and won a competition in his third year which led to an internship sponsored by the Erasmus Foundation.  He went to a toy design company in Como where he stayed for six months and found himself creating playthings for China and Germany.  

Edu has found his feet by inventing toys.   'It's an unexploited part of the design world'.  It also gives him the chance to work with natural and recycled materials.  

'They aren't always ecofriendly', he says of his designs, 'but it's a bonus [when they are], even if they are a bit more costly.'  He points me to an Italian website he's been contributing to called idkid: the toys shown there are nothing like the tacky, garish horrors you find in doctors' surgeries and hospitals, but simpler, more elegant, calmer and made out of kinder materials: much more exciting to look at and handle - what good design should be.   

'My dream is to leave something good behind me.'  In 2012, he took part in the New Designers exhibition at the London based Design Museum and in December that year, Pro tv's news programme included him in a day of special 'good news' reports for Romania's National Day.  In the meantime, he has not always had work, and the work he has found has not always been to his taste.  So to keep himself occupied, Edu is training to be a special constable with the Metropolitan Police Force.  

Edu says he would like to go home to Romania but the opportunities are just not there: 'I can't meet enough people there, it's too isolated'.  

Apart from designing toys professionally, he likes to play around with sculpture.  Another artist he admires is Christophe Gordon Brown who lives in Cambridge.  This sculptor's work is quite simple and abstract, showing an affinity with Brancusi's.  

I asked Edu if he's been troubled by the recent wave of anti-Romanian feelings in our press.  

'I've never felt any adverse pressure', he replied, 'the professionals I've worked with didn't care that I was Romanian.'  But he added, 'Many Romanians come to London and some are a little bit dodgy.  We (Romanians) are used to them; we have learnt how to keep our guard up all the time, but you in Britain are not.  I understand the concerns.  [Here in Coventry and London] I found quite a lot of Indian people so I didn't realise why other foreigners would be a threat.  I feel quite neutral about this problem because I haven't been impacted [by it].'

When the Revolution happened he was just two.  His parents moved to Constanta, on the Black Sea coast, when he was five.  He learnt English from watching American films on tv.  

Edu belongs to the generation that should have escaped all that tragedy, aiming for a much better future.  It seems to me, he is a pretty shining example of the energy, imagination and decent principles that you'd want from the new brood.  If, like all the other talented youngsters around, he can get the chance to prove and establish himself.   

Monday, 29 April 2013

The care worker

Rodica comes from Braila, the same city as Alex, the taxi driver.  She is in her late fifties, with grizzled hair and a broad face with dark, lustrous eyes that could be Greek or Turkish - there are large communities of both peoples in Dobrogea, the region around Braila - it is also a face of great humanity which is ready to break into galactic smiles at the smallest cause.  Her voice is deep and husky from a lifetime of dedicated smoking.  She has worked in the UK for five years, three of them near London, and the past two in Wales.  For Rodica, caring for others is not a profession but a calling - something that comes naturally to her - but she is not like any preconception of a meek, put-upon drudge that I know of, being tomboyish with a shock of explosive hair that has gold glints amongst the black and grey. 

While Alex is a journalist turned taxi driver, Rodica is a former HGV driver turned carer.  That kind of thing happens a lot in Romania: women did men's jobs during Communist times, and they have become used to picking up new skills to put food on the table.  And they do it, usually with incredible decisiveness and a good grace, with no resentment at the unfairness of the cards they have been dealt. 

Now she is looking after Floss, an old lady who has dementia; Rodica 'lives in', cooks and cleans for Floss, takes her for walks in the garden, out in the car, talks to her, reads to her.  Is kind to, and patient with her.  In other words, she is Floss's lifeline while the rest of her family gets on with its lives, probably heaving a huge sigh of gratitude and relief that someone is willing to dedicate themselves to a task that would hold them back.   

Rodica does not have access to the internet, but she has a mobile phone and a telly and she can read and speak English perfectly well.  She has seen the scaremongering reports about the rapacious hordes of Romanians (for Romanians, read unscrupulous Gypsies) that are threatening to invade us.  Rodica works pretty much 24/7, nearly 50 weeks of the year, in a metier that many of us would avoid like the plague, pays her taxes and sends any extra money she has home to what remains of her family - her parents are dead, and a beloved brother died last September, leaving Rodica and three other siblings alive.  She herself was married but it did not work out, and she has no children.  She has no reason to feel inferior. 

I asked her what effect these reports have had on her.

'Well, I'm upset', she told me.  'I don't have anything against Gypsies personally but I hate it that we are all tarred with the same brush.'

'Has anyone treated you badly because of your nationality?'

'It was hard at first, when I was learning the language.  In London people behave differently.  But here, in Wales, everyone is kind.  I haven't had any bad experiences here.  My employers are wonderful people; they are so considerate.'  

We went for a walk last week, just before I left for Romania.  Rodica looked very sad, disorientated, and I felt for her, a woman in middle age far from a home that she loves - her eyes light up at the very mention of her native land - and it hit me smack in the stomach that she must be terribly lonely sometimes, and afraid of the future.  

My partner and I wanted to make friends with her because she is one of the few Romanians we know close to our home.  We offered her a very modest contact - invited her to lunch one day.  On the phone, she said that she would cook a Romanian meal for us - this was our second meeting, mind you; when I tried to refuse, saying that this was a chance to repay some of the wonderful hospitality I have received in Romania over the past 20 years, she would not have it.  So the rules were completely reversed, and instead of providing for her, Rodica came laden with bags full of containers from which she produced kiftele, salata de boeuf, a special, creamy bean soup, garlic bread, fresh coffee, treats for our animals, and much more.  She was exploding with happiness at being able to give us so much, but we felt terribly uncomfortable: the Romanians are poor, the British are rich: it practically says so in the Bible.  She tried to cover us in largesse the third time as well, and we had a more vigorous tussle over who was going to play host.  Who would not love such a person?  I felt disgusted with the easy assumption of British superiority over another nation which has so much decency, culture, education and is only down on its luck because of a historical trick.  If nothing else it was a lesson to me about how to behave when I am in her country: generosity and good behaviour go together.  

'Would you like to return home?'  I put the obvious, clunking question.  

'Of course, but I could not get a job like this, that pays as well as this one.  I will have to work until I die,' she added. 

Rodica is passionate about travel; she would love to see the world.  Today she rang me to see if I was getting on OK in her country.  I told her yes, I was fine, that the weather was wonderful, if a little too hot, that the trees were coming into bloom, their blossom smelling of heaven.  Her sigh said it all. 


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The architect

Iolanda Costide came to Britain in 1974.  She escaped from Romania two years earlier, using a month-long tourist visa to Switzerland to visit her grandmother.  When the visa ran out, she simply failed to go home.  

Her maternal great grandfather was a Swiss engineer who had emigrated to Romania in the late 19th century.  His daughter, Iolanda's grandmother, kept her Swiss passport and was allowed to return there in 1952.  Her father came from a Greek family who had settled in Braila; her mother's people were from Campina and had Transylvanian Saxon blood.  Iolanda's dad was a chemical engineer; he had been in charge of oil wells in Ploiesti when they were blown up in the Second World War.  The Communists sent him to prison.  

Iolanda resumed her architectural studies at the Lausanne Polytechnic; she had courses in  architectural theory which were a revelation.  Her boyfriend, a Romanian who was also studying architecture, got out of the country several months after her, and they married in Switzerland.  

Two years in orderly, conventional, strait-jacketed Switzerland were enough; the couple set their sights on London where the liberal fizz of the 1960s had not yet gone flat.  But money was tight so while her husband completed his training at the Architectural Association, Iolanda spent that three years working, then went to the AA herself.  

It took her a long time to qualify but Iolanda believes that her extended education in three different countries gave her a unique grounding.  Doing the first three years of the traditional 'beaux arts' course at the Ion Mincu Architectural Institute in Bucharest taught her how to draw fast and freehand.  "The projects were all about Socialist Realist architecture: everything had to have a practical purpose."  

There were seven challenging tests each year.  "You had to think on your feet", she said, "and to work without making mistakes."  Each test had to be completed within 12 hours, starting with an early morning brief, after which students had to conceive and work out their ideas, then draw them in ink on a sheet of paper that was glued to a board - so no leeway for mistakes - and present their completed plans to the examiners.  You had to pass three of the seven examinations in order to continue your course.  In Switzerland, she learnt about theory, and in London, the emphasis was all on conceptual art, and the links between architecture and language. 

She does not regret leaving Romania "where you have to be a politician as well as an architect", and having developed her own highly successful architectural practice, nta16architects, in the UK, she does not want to settle there again.  After 1989, she returned for several visits and one of her former tutors is now an associate in her firm.  Iolanda feels more at home here professionally, although she qualifies this by saying that for her, living in Britain is "an intellectual choice, rather than an emotional one". 

At the start of her life here, she did not feel like fraternising with other Romanians, but after three years she began to miss her fellow countrypeople.  In 1977, Iolanda joined the Romano-British Society and became an ardent campaigner for human rights in Romania.  She became president of the Society in 1985, and worked with Jessica Douglas Home, a British artist and journalist who smuggled precious samizdat publications out of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and led the fight to save Romania's traditional villages which Ceausescu wanted to destroy in order to systematize them into agro-urbanistic settlements, forcing everyone to live in concrete blocks.  During the 1970s, Iolanda met the innovative sculptor, Paul Neagu, who fled from Romania in the 1960s; they became life-long friends, and she is a trustee of his estate. 

With public and private projects in Greece, Pakistan, Nigeria and Guinea as well as Great Britain, Iolanda is deeply immersed in her work: she loves the whole process of conceiving, designing and bringing a building to fruition.  "I'm not interested in buildings as objects, but in how they fit into their surroundings, how users influence the space.  You can't make every building a star - you need accents in an urban landscape." 

There is a lot more to say about Iolanda's commitment to the struggle for freedom in Romania.  For now, though, I will leave you with her comment about the current anti-Romanian and anti-Bulgarian brouhaha in the British press.  "It is simply political posturing", she told me, "there are elections coming up, and there's nothing more to it than that.  I've seen it all before and it doesn't disturb me, but I know that Romanians who have only just come here are very upset by it."  If any of them are reading, I hope they will take comfort from her words.      

Friday, 19 April 2013

A diversity of Romanians

In the next few weeks, I'm going to bring you news of Immersive Theatre, a new project designed by Anca Doczi, a young Ratiu scholar and PhD student, and her partner, Cristian, both of whom live in London.  Their aim is to make it easier for Romanians who suffered under Communism to tell their stories, and to share their experiences of living in Britain.  

One of their key players in their Immersive Theatre project is Mariana Gordan, an artist and film-maker who made a dramatic escape from Romania to the UK in 1979.  Her film, Disorient Express, pinpoints many of the issues that afflict those who have made the same journey, which 'ends' with the difficulties of integrating into a society that could be on a different planet.

Another interview I want to do is with Ilinca Calugureanu, director of the forthcoming indie film, Chuck Norris V. Communism.  She's looking for crowd-funding and you can take part.

Thanks to Paul Cristian Angelescu of Protv, I'm also on the trail of the following bright sparks:

Loredan Gargalac - the only executive chef in the UK with a Rosette award.

Edu - a Romanian who graduated in design from Coventry University.

Iulian Caraulani another design graduate from Coventry University who has invented something called the SmartPlate, which matches foods with sounds.  SmartPlate has been shortlisted for an Electrolux design award.  Iulian explained his invention to the Romanian newspaper, Jurnalul National, like this:

[E] prima farfurie care, fizic, percepe mancarea si o transforma in sunet. Cu alte cuvinte, fiecare ingredient din farfurie primeste o "voce", iar utilizatorul poate asculta, astfel, prin intermediul smartphone-ului, sunetul salatei orientale, pe cel al crevetilor... Totul functioneaza cu ajutorul unui senzor care masoara radiatia electromagnetica pasiva emisa de materia organica si, printr-un algoritm special, determina cu exactitate ce ingrediente, in ce cantitate si sub ce stare de agregare se afla ele. In felul acesta, farfuria poate intelege si interpreta fiecare ingredient, atasandu-i note muzicale, ritm sau armonie, completand cercul celor cinci simturi prin care noi interpretam ce mancam 
Iolanda Costide, an architect who has designed many buildings in London.   

There are hundreds more I could mention, including Ramona Gonczol, a Senior Teaching Fellow at University College London and author of a series of textbooks which help English speakers learn Romanian, and Ramona Mitrica, who co-founded Profusion Publishers, which describes itself as:

  • an independent British enterprise,
  • interested in Eastern Europe,
  • looking for popular stories that also speak about society, mentalities, the way people live.
  • We produced, in 2011 – 2012, an extraordinary trio of novels from Romanian authors in English translation, plus an amazing non-fiction book.
  • We are challenging preconceptions about Eastern Europe, its peoples and its cultures,
  • championing new authors on the English-speaking book market,
  • introducing original stories and themes appearing for the first time in English.
Ramona also organises the annual Romanian Film Festival in London.  

And while I wasn't looking, Tessa Dunlop (author of To Romania with Love, 2012) has galloped to the rescue of Romania's reputation with a splendid article in the Huffington Post. 

Pob hwyl!   

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The taxi driver

How would you explain Britain to a Romanian who has never been here?  Would you start with mundane facts, such as our practice of driving on the left-hand side of the road, not the right as over there?  Would you tell him or her about Shakespeare, the Royal Family, the weather, cricket, and tea-time with cucumber sandwiches?  Probably not if you are under 50, or live north of Leicestershire and west of Hay on Wye.  Whatever your age and wherever you come from, it can be disconcerting to hear what people from other countries think about yours, like being told that you drive on the wrong side of the road.  

“When I first came here I noticed a lack of principles in the general population, and my opinion hasn’t changed.  On the contrary...  There is a lack of shame.”   

Alexandru – Alex for short - made that forthright remark after having kindly agreed to talk to me on skype a few days ago.  He is a journalist with ten years experience of working in the Romanian mass media.  Today he drives a taxi in Portsmouth.  He has lived there for just over a year, and he, his wife and young son share a house with another family.  Alex’s training - and his natural inclinations - have made him curious.  He likes to know how things work, what makes people tick.  Nothing daunted, he says that being a cabbie is one of the best ways to get to know a country.  Getting to know Britain has been a revelation in more ways than one. 

Alex comes from Brăila, an attractive old city in south-east Romania.  Brăila has a population of about 160,000 – roughly three-quarters of the people in Portsmouth – which has settled comfortably on a lazy stretch of the Danube, close to the Moldovan and Ukrainian border just before the river loses itself in the Delta, where millions of migrating birds come to nest in the reedy wetlands, before seeping via thousands of byways into the Black Sea.  Although Romania is a predominantly Latin country, Brăila is a Slavonic name.  The city was first mentioned in Catalan navigation charts in 1325, and the Ottoman Empire ruled it for nearly 300 years.  In the 19th century Brăila became one of the busiest ports in this part of what was then Wallachia, a principality struggling to keep its feet in the midst of much more powerful, rival powers.  Graceful Neo-Classical and Neo-Baroque buildings adorn its centre, and along with the area’s stunning Neolithic and ancient Greek archaeology (to choose two periods at random), they show that this is – or was - a cosmopolitan place. 

Brăila has seen better days.  So have many of its people.  In the socio-economic chaos that followed Romania’s 1989 revolution, conditions for ‘ordinary’ folk - i.e. those millions who were unlucky enough to miss out on the bonanza from the overnight sell-off of the State’s farm machinery, and from the dissolution of Romania’s industrial base - have had to struggle for survival without any government handouts. 

A chaotic 17 years of getting used to ‘free market capitalism’ the hard way left many cynical about the blessings of the great white bird of the West, and then, in 2007, almost totally unprepared for it, the Romanians took the EU plunge.  For Romania, joining the other 26 EU nations has probably been a good move in several ways - not just because of funding that has come their way but because membership of the European club has given its citizens a sense of belonging to the West rather than to Russia (which for historical reasons scares them rigid), even if they are not wholeheartedly in favour of down-graded, Western values - but huge inequalities persist, and government ineptitude if not downright greed has left the foot sloggers, who form a majority of the country’s 21 million inhabitants, feeling desperate.  Like most Romanians who remember communism, Brăileans are used to hard graft.  They also know how to live on their wits.  For many, the only answer to an impossible situation at home has to look for work abroad.  This they have been doing for many years, and as some pundits are admitting, there is no reason why the huge numbers of Romanians who want to work honestly should focus on Britain in 2014 rather than other, closer European countries available to them.  We cannot vouch for the dishonest ones, but other nations have their criminals too.  To date, most Romanians working abroad have chosen Germany, Italy and Spain as being the most convenient nations to aim for, because they are not only closer to Romania but lie within the Schengen Agreement which allows free movement across their internal borders.  

“Why did you come to Britain?” I asked him. 

“It was an opportunity for me to take food; I had a friend who was already in the country and he told me there was a chance to work with hire cars.  I had given up my job on a paper in Bucharest called Adevarul (The Truth) because I did not agree with the way it was run.”

If you are lucky in Romania, you can earn 400 Euros a month, but such earnings are by no means the norm, and with rising fuel costs many people find this income impossible to live on.  Because of their thriftiness, and the survival of the extended family network, some manage by growing their own food on small gospodării (small family farms, ‘subsistence’ farms in official speak), and sharing it with city-based kin.  

“Did you try to get work as a journalist?”

“Yes, I tried once.  Someone gave me the name of the picture editor of a local newspaper.  But you know what?  I sent him my cv but he never even replied!”

Anyone who has also tried this gambit knows that this is by no means unusual for anyone looking for a job in the British press, wherever they come from. 

On political correctness:

“I think it has been imported from the Americans and it is doing a lot of harm.  You make too big a thing of it.  For example, why does someone object, when I stop the car for 15 seconds on a disabled parking space, at a time when it is perfectly free?  15 seconds!  It’s a kind of double standards.  In Romania, you are used to think for yourself – but this sort of thing suspends common sense. 

“In Romania, whenever you go into a shop for example, it’s your fault if something goes wrong; the assistants aren't interested, but here in UK as a service provider, I have had a very bad experience, too. Here ‘the customer is always right’ and they are NOT always right!

“I have observed that you can’t have an argument with the British.  The moment you say ‘hello’ and they know you’re not British, some people don’t say a word after that.  There are several reactions to the question ‘where are you from?’  Every time I end up swallowing my words.  They start off very polite, thanking you 20 times – I believe the first one, but not the rest.  they are suspicious of you as a taxi driver, about fares and payment, all because you’re a foreigner.”

On drunkenness in the streets:

“I have never been drunk in my life: I hated to see people drunk and never wanted to be like that.  But can you answer me this: why does everybody, and I mean everyone from 15 to 90, go to the pub and get drunk?   Why do educated, rich young women get drunk and show themselves off in the middle of the street?  In Romania, most women would never do that; they have too much shame.  My colleagues, who work at night, have had their minds blown.

Alex acknowledges that life in Britain is neither better nor worse than elsewhere, it is just different.  He is a great fan of BBC Radio 4 - "I listen to it all the time" - and there are a few other things that he likes:

“People around us, they are used to immigrants and understand our condition.  They try to help us and are very tolerant.  I have to think how it would be for a Chinese taxi driver in Bucharest who didn’t know the route.”  I can imagine: his passenger would despise him and fly off the handle. 

“At home it’s not save to be a taxi driver.  Here, in one year, I have been verbally attacked but never in fear of my life.  There it’s different.  Society still works here.  

“At home we are used to seeing Gypsies begging in the streets, whereas the British would be shocked by that.” 

On government handouts:

“My parents and grandparents taught me to stand alone, to be self-reliant.  There are too many pillows around people here.  I mean the benefits [system of social security].  I really dislike this kind of behaviour.  Why do people not help themselves?  You know in Romanian there are words for this: mila (pity or charity) and pomana (alms).   If someone receives money or help, it’s shameful.”

On surveillance:

“You know, I think British people don’t know how to feel any more.  And it’s because of fear.  Did you see the film Crash?”

“No, I haven’t, but I’ve read about it”.

“Well in Crash, people are so desensitised that they have to get violent to feel anything.  I think it’s because of fear.  You know, all those surveillance cameras, and it breeds fear, not internal morality.  At home [in Romania], you learn from others how to behave; here you learn from the government, which knows best.  In Romania that fear doesn’t exist.  You can feel yourself free there as a human being, as a free animal.”

As a too-complacent Brit, this was the most uncomfortable comparison: after all, was not Romania the country that was forced into nearly 50 years of brutal communist rule?  And they feel freer than us?  But I know exactly what Alex means, because that sense of personal freedom is one of the joys of travelling in Romania.      

And there is another weird paradox:

“The Brits say you’re lucky to have a job here – so I feel ashamed to be working!”

Should he stay or should he go?

“I’m 33 years old and I don’t want to forget who I am.  And I have to think of my son [who is three].  I ask myself, ‘do I want to make him British?’  If I did that, he would miss a lot of very good customs in Romania.  The education could be better here, but I don’t think he would become a superior person. 

By the same token, he does not feel easy about returning to his homeland, mainly because of the lack of the physical, legal and financial security.  It is a hard dilemma. 

Alex is keeping his hand in the writing game by publishing three blogs.  You can find them via these links:  

After we had finished talking, Alex sent me a link to a song performed by Păsarea Colibri (The Humming Bird), a Romanian folk group.  The lyrics come from a poem by George Coşbuc, a poet I have heard a lot about but never read.  Its title is Lordul John and its message is pretty clear – that just because you are a British aristocrat, don’t think you are better than the rest of us.  I will translate it later, but for now, eat your heart out, Alf Garnett:

Se zvonise prin ziare
Ca-n Irlanda-i
Un barbat grozav de tare.
Lordul John prinzând de veste
Cine e si unde este
Vrea sa stie daca e adevarat
Ca multi lorzi de vita veche
Din îndepartatul nord
Lordul John e-ntr-o ureche
Fluiera pe drum si cânta
Si e cel dintâi la trînta
Si e cel mai tare lord
A gasit în urma satul
Pe taran el l-a gasit
Ocupat cu maturatul
Si asa, ochindu-l bine,
Lordul drept spre dânsul vine,

Far-a-i zice, far-a-i zice bun gasit.
Si-apoi gata de bataie
El se-ndreapta spre taran
- Spui ca esti grozav de tare
De ti-a mers cuvânt prin lume
Eu din Londra vin anume
Trânta deci cu tine vreau.
Dar taranul se cruceste,
Simte palmele ca-i ard
Lenes târnul si-l propteste
Scuipa-n palme si se-ntinde
Si pe lord de brâu îl prinde
Si-l azvârle, si-l azvârle peste gard.
- O sa stau acum cu tine
Sa ma lupt.
Mai vrei ceva?
Auzi tu cu ce gând vine!
Lordul John privind cu jale
Si tinându-se de sale
Spune sa-i azvârle calul
Sa poata pleca.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Why have a blog about them?

This blog is about giving the two-fingered salute - in the nicest possible way - to David Cameron, Ukip and other scaremongers who have been trying to whip up a frenzy of fear and loathing towards the Romanians who are apparently planning to over-run dear old Blighty like a plague of locusts in 2014 once the employment controls that limit their freedom to work - and claim social security benefits - in Britain are lifted.  To quote from BBC news reports published respectively on 17th and 28th January: 

'[Think tank Migration Watch predicts that] about 50,000 people from Romania and Bulgaria will come to the UK every year when restrictions are lifted next year.'

 'Since 2007, Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to come to the UK as self-employed businessmen or women, or as students, provided they do not seek benefits or any other employment.  But the end of existing controls will give Bulgarian and Romanians who want to work in the UK the same rights as foreign nationals from the other 24 EU nations.'

On 30th March, The Guardian reported that the EU's Employment Commissioner, Laszlo Andor, had 'launched a ferocious counterattack against David Cameron over immigration saying his talk of benefit tourism and a something-for-nothing culture among EU migrants is unintelligent and risks stoking "knee-jerk xenophobia."'

I'm British by birth, so why am I getting involved?

Because for the past 20 years I have spent a lot of time exploring Romania and meeting Romanians.  It is hard to think of any moment during those trips when I did not receive the most wonderful welcome: people made me feel at home practically everywhere I went, and though it would be impossible to repay their generosity in full, this is a small way of showing my gratitude. 

The trouble is it is hard to know where to start.  There are so many fascinating individuals to choose from.  There is my friend Rodica who lives a few miles away and cares for an old lady with dementia.  She comes from Braila where she worked as an HGV driver, she has a cloud of unruly hair and is one of the most extraordinary characters I have ever met: exuberantly extrovert, unbelievably generous and ferociously critical of anyone whom she considers to be a waster.

There is the surgeon from Neamt who treated me for an infected thumb joint in our local hospital last summer, and the builder from Suceava who has done a brilliant renovation job for my friend Tim's house in Belsize Park.

Then there is Alexandru, a facebook friend who writes a blog of his own; Alexandru has lived in Portsmouth for just over a year, is a taxi driver and has paid his way throughout, and resents being lumped together with freeloaders of any kind.

There is Ramona who has founded a new publishing house for Romanian crime fiction translated into English; Mariana who escaped from Romania in 1979 and turned herself into a talented artist; Anca who has created a theatre project for Romanian exiles to share - and assuage - their traumas of living under communism; Serban who was the head of the Royal Fine Art Commission for many years; Daniela, a go-getter who runs fund-raising cultural events for Romanians in Birmingham, and many more.  I know of teachers, engineers, cleaners, journalists, nurses, librarians, historians, electricians, film-makers and musicians.  They are not murky, fly-by-night figures bent on ripping us off, but fully-rounded, decent human beings who could teach the rest of us a thing or ten.    

It would be fun to go further back in time, to find out who the Dacian soldiers were who came to protect Hadrian's Wall from the Picts after the wall was completed in 126 AD.  Roman Dacia, the province they hailed from, covered most of what is now Transylvania.  There are tantalising inscriptions which mention the Dacians in northern England but give little other clues as to their uniqueness as human beings.  And then there are the Vlachs, Latin speaking descendants of the Roman diaspora, who have close ties with Romanians and whose name comes from the same root as the words, Wales and Welsh. 

OK, not all Romanians are angels.  But they do not have a monopoly on crookedness.  I can tell you one thing for sure, though: Frank Timis will not be appearing in my list of admirable Romanians.

Click here to find the Avaaz petition protesting about press discrimination against Bulgarians and Romaniains. 

Here's, a very well-informed and sophisticated forum for Romanians who have come to live and work here.