The Artist and the Stardog


Last November, following the unexpected death of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, the world was united in grief at the passing of a great artist and human being.

But we were also reminded of the stupidity of some politicians.

In a feigned effort to gain some publicity from Cohen’s death, the former British Tory MP Louise Mensch put both feet and her handbag in her mouth at the same time.

Ms Mensch, who now lives in New York, tweeted out her condolences: “Leonard Cohen’s death reminds us that America’s enduring greatness is as multifaceted as a diamond.”

And to make her ignorance about his nationality worse, in a crass dig at Russia, she added: “Russia has nothing. Russia is joyless.”

The former MP for Corby was immediately ridiculed by thousands of fans of the Canadian musician, who pointed out her mistake and her absurd criticism of Russia.

Thousands of Twitter users defended Russia’s contribution to history, pointing out Russian Leo Tolstoy, often referred to as one of the greatest authors of all time.

Others named: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who helped raise global awareness of the barbaric gulag system, and Mikhail Bulgakov, who penned a novel regarded as “one of the masterpieces of the 20th century”.

And I could personally add scores of names to the list of Russian cultural greatness.

The authors: Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and Boris Pasternak will do for starters.

Then there are the Great Russian composers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Mussorgsky are known to anyone with a passing interest in great music.

We also have so many brilliant Russian visual artists: Ivan Shishkin, Wassily Kandinsky, Ilya Repin, Anna Parkina, Dmitry Shorin, Eric Bulatov, Marina Federovna, Olga Chernysheva and Vitaly Pushnitsky… the list goes on and on!

But, before I move on to the substantive part of this article, I must also mention the fabulous architecture of Moscow, St Petersburg and Smolensk. Architecture which more than matches anything found in Paris, Edinburgh, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, and dare I say it: New York!

Russia blooms, full of joy and rich in culture, Ms Mensch!

My late uncle Rod Pounsett, started the first western news bureau, Andersen Consulting, in Moscow in 1990, after the end of the Cold War.

He enthused about Moscow as being the greatest city on Earth – full of vitality and culture – and urged everyone he knew to visit it before they died.

And the culture of Moscow and Russia continues to bloom as a new generation unfolds its talents.

Meet Helene Vasileva, a leading light among the bright new contemporary Russian creators.

A skilled photographer and graphic artist, her two art-related Instagram accounts (one named after her pet dog Venya) already have over 60,000 followers.



And her art knows no bounds.

Her black and white photography is stunning in its subject matter and technique, while her graphic drawings and paintings draw allusions to the work of Kandinsky, Rothko and others.

Much of her work is abstract and modern, exploring the space between darkness, form and light, while her coloured impressionist work shows reflections of Van Gogh.

Her works have been featured in many international publications and magazines.

She draws inspiration for her works from everyday life as well as from the influence of other artists and musicians.

Her graphic and 3D projects are diverse, incorporating such subjects as: Ansichten eines Clowns, Unknown Germany – Old German toys, Russian Heritage, Koningsberg and its Suburbs, German architects in Russia, and the fabulous Bear Story – a Journey to the Past. This project is focused on children’s memories about life in Moscow between 1980 and 1989.

Helene described two of her German related projects/exhibitions thus: “I’d like to tell about Germany, not touching the theme of the war and politics. During some years I selected documents, information, artifacts and decided to show that as I think reflects culture and life of usual people of Germany from 20 to 30 years of the last century.

“The first and the most favourite part of the project is Old German Toys. The main heroes of my photos are real old teddy bears. The second part of the project – books, music, movies, art and others, sometimes very usual things which can help you to imagine that time,” she adds, with obvious passion for her subject matter.

Now she has added her most recent project: Venya – Stardog, a quirky and wonderful cartoon homage to her Old English Sheepdog.


Helene’s work has been widely displayed in her home city, while other paintings currently hang in galleries in Germany and Israel.

And some of her more experimental work has just been part of a seven day Contemporary Painting exhibition at the trendy Brick Lane Gallery in London’s Shoreditch.


The exhibition which pitted her works with other great international contemporary artists was both flamboyant and thought provoking.

In her series of Over-painted Photographs (three examples are featured at the top) she experiments and combines different styles to produce her own aesthetic.

These creative new works use abstraction as a window that hints of what seems somehow familiar and yet perhaps not, as a mean to invite the viewer to interact with the art and to visualize their own stories, making each work their own.

But Helene is not an archetypal artist. Her passions, besides teddy bears and Venya, include British synth rockers the Pet Shop Boys, orchids, architecture, travel and animals – she shares her life with four cats and her beloved dog.

And judging by her UK, US and European fan base, Helene Vasileva is a blooming talent to watch out for!

You can find out more here: and


The Artist

Come to a place where black is the colour

Under Vincent’s starry night

Light cascades into pastel and charcoal

With bright eyes on a Moscow night


This is your place

This is your space

Where Suburbia

Meets Utopia


The painter does paint and the evening cries

The dawn is surely coming

The broken road leads to St Petersburg

And the sky is softly humming


This is your place

This is your space

Where Suburbia

Meets Utopia


Elena she waits with baited breath

Her canvas is an open door

Colour it paints a camera that sings

From the ceiling to the wooden floor


This is your place

This is your space

Where Suburbia

Meets Utopia


So dance in the snow laden moonlight

Amid sketches of shadowy grey

The burning chair beholds an impression

Where the Pet Shop boys do play


This is your place

This is your space

Where Suburbia

Meets Utopia


It’s bitterly cold and the frost hangs still

Under the pale sun of the winter weather

The evening light sighs and the steely skies

Light spoken images for ever and ever


This is your place

This is your space

Where Suburbia

Meets Utopia


Painting by Instagram

Sitting at home I landed in Moscow

With a tall  blonde artist by my side

The scenery around us made me stumble

And my thoughts they too began to slide

But pretty Elena, she was so humble

Now everything was black and white


Hitting a key I arrived in Brussels

On a journey so bumpy that I almost cried

Bright-eyed Elke painted Paul’s Blackbird

And her 20/20 vision it was so wide

The young artist was more than a password

As her colours shimmered in shades of light


Driving on I stopped over in Lombardy

With Michael Caine’s ‘Job’ on my mind

Dark-haired Sara was beginning a journey

And her Nikon camera strapped close behind

Through her eyes she unwrapped her country

Well beyond HG Wells’ colours of the blind


A special airlift dropped me in Berlin

The freedom of thought could now be told

German Ginette danced in the moonlight

Her views by the wall were bright and bold

This girl’s photographs shone like a searchlight

Like Burton’s spy coming in from the cold


Final Thoughts on Rod Pounsett

Blog RodPounsett

I THOUGHT I had written the last words about my late uncle Rod Pounsett, who died following heart failure on 9 December 2015.

But in the 10 weeks since his loss I have been inundated with emails from friends and colleagues who were unaware that this pioneering journalist had passed away, aged 76.

So I have decided to collect some of these emails and memories here as a lasting tribute to my uncle.

Rod started his career as a reporter and photographer on the Worthing and Shoreham Heralds in the early 1960s.

He went on to host a daily show on BBC Radio Brighton in the 1970s – one of the very first phone-in radio shows – and later became senior producer for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. He was at the helm when they reported the death of John Lennon in 1980 and the great storm of 1987.

He also worked for the Daily Express and started the first western news bureau in Moscow after the end of the Cold War.

He had a troubled personal life. He was married three times, and, like me, had more relationships than you could shake a stick at! He was often a very difficult person to deal with, but he was an amazing journalist, a good uncle and a great friend to many people.

He was also the person who got me into journalism when I was just 17 years-old, by securing me an interview with the editor of my local newspaper.

Anyway, here are the tributes from his former work colleagues:

While we knew that Rod wasn’t always the easiest person to work with, his pioneering spirit, sense of adventure, and passion for all things Russian gave us Brits a real excitement about being in Moscow – that for some of us has lasted to this day – and brought opportunities to all of us, both British and Russian. 

He introduced me (and Andersen Consulting) to Moscow in December 1990 – in fact a number of us were in Moscow only last month celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Moscow Bread Project” which began when Rod started to bang on Moscow City Council doors in September 1990 and arranged for us to meet the deputy mayor, Sergei Stankevich (who also joined us for the reunion last month).  

This led to a fabulous 3-year project, which was undoubtedly the most exciting project of my 25-year consulting career. How sad and ironic that Rod died on the day we returned from Moscow after a 25th anniversary reunion of the project he began. 

We (a team of five from Andersen Consulting) had an amazing fortnight with Rod in Moscow in December 1990, one that I am 100% sure that my colleagues and I will never forget – as he introduced us to the city and helped us set up our first ever project there. 

He was an incredible character back in those days, full of optimism and real pioneering spirit – and what seemed to be a real love of Russia and everything to do with it.  He was full of stories, plans, ideas, revelations, and theories – some of which turned out, we later discovered, to be complete figments of his imagination, but always entertaining nevertheless. 

The following year, late 1991, we returned to Moscow to conduct the main part of the project – we were now a 10-strong team, and Rod continued to work with us, to provide overall context of goings-on in Russia, and to help us arrange meetings with politicians, press, etc.   

I must confess it became quite tricky to work with him and he was clearly under a lot of stress through goings-on in his personal life which we never really understood.  He was always needing to be loved, and became melancholy and aggressive if he thought that he wasn’t. 

But despite all this, he remained one of the most colourful characters I have ever met and worked with, and I will always be grateful to him for opening the doors of Moscow to me, a place I remain to this day totally entranced by, and I still return several times every year, mainly just to remember those amazing days with Rod and the work we did there at such an amazing turning point in history.  

I stayed in touch with Rod for a few years after that, and then our contact dwindled to a call every couple of years or so. I started to send him emails and messages to see if we could meet. He rarely responded over the past few years, but on the couple of occasions I spoke to him on the phone he said he’d been very unwell and was awaiting various treatments and operations.  I wished him well, and he called me again out of the blue several months ago, and we shared a few wonderful memories of our timed together in Moscow. He sounded frail, but promised that we should meet again if he got through the latest round of treatments.  Sadly it was not to be, and I will always be sorry for that.

RIP Rod Pounsett.

Stephen (Andersen Consulting)

I was trying to find a current phone number for Rod when I sadly came across your notice of his death.  I had wondered why he didn’t answer his email, though we had been in touch infrequently of late.  I’m so sorry to hear of his demise.  I worked with him on the Today programme for many years and had a lot of fun during that time. 

Sue (Today, BBC Radio 4)

My husband, who was Deputy Editor of the Today programme for several years, was a colleague and friend of Rod’s for many years and Rod came to stay with us at our several homes over a long period.

I didn’t have to work with Roddy (as I always called him) which sometimes was not easy for his co-workers, and I was exceedingly fond of him – as were both our sons.  He had an amazing gentle charm about him which was very endearing.  

We went to visit him in Worthing when he was house-hunting but then at the end of 2014 we moved to France and lost touch.  We came home one day to find a message from him on the answering-machine with a phone number, but though we tried it many times he never answered.

I am sorry therefore to hear of his death via some BBC colleagues, and though indeed he had a troubled personal life as you put it – he was much liked by many people; I for one shall not forget his charm, his kindness, his lovely gentle and reassuring voice, and his constant stream of exciting fun ideas and things to do.

Sherry (Today, BBC Radio 4)

This is very sad… Rod was sometimes difficult to deal with, but I do have a lot of fond memories of the time we spent together.

One thing is for sure – he was never dull. RIP.

Sergei (Moscow)

Rod will not be forgotten.  He brought a unique spirit to our time in Moscow.  It was an unforgettable times for so many reasons and he was certainly one of them.

Katherine (Moscow)

It is always sad to lose one of life’s great adventurers and, in my experience of him, Rod was certainly one of those!

Ken (Moscow)

Rod was my first foreign employer, eccentric, superbly verbal, kind and hospitable, full of different unheard of stories, omnipresent and mobile, a great, but messy (you should see the kitchen after his creative job) chef. I remember him waiting for the doctor and saying: ‘What can I expect from the doctor and my health: I drink, smoke, eat a lot.” RIP, Rod

Larissa (Moscow)

Really sad… Rod loved life so much and seemed to enjoy every moment of it! It was never boring working for him.

Lena (Moscow)

There you go Uncle Rod, people did love you!

Rest in peace.

More about Rod can be found here:


Note: If anyone wants to add their memories of Rod to this piece, please email me at:


Brief Encounter #11

Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe’s granny
AS supreme middle distance runners in the late 1970s and early 1980s Steve Ovett and Seb Coe were inseparable.

Now, as subjects for this Brief Encounter, I have brought the duo together again… the encounters were separated by 15 years and in Coe’s case, his granny will have to suffice.
A bit of a tentative link, but journalists are always looking for an angle to a story!
The first part of this story lies on an Inter City train journey from Leeds to London.
It was the spring of 1977 and I was travelling home from university to see mum and dad, who lived on the south coast near the seaside town of Worthing. It was a hot day; thankfully the train carriage was only half full and I had a front facing seat to myself. But as the express pulled into Doncaster station, it started to fill up with others heading south. I glanced up to see a smart but elderly lady take the seat opposite me. She was struggling with her suitcase, so I jumped up and helped her store the case in the luggage area behind her.
As the train pulled out on its continued journey to London, I relaxed back into my seat to continue reading the paperback novel I had bought at the WH Smith store on Leeds station concourse. The lady opposite was glancing at a broadsheet newspaper and looking wistfully out the window at the passing countryside.
About 20 minutes passed before she suddenly asked where I was from and where I was going. I explained that I was a student going home for a weekend with my family. The lady asked about my university course and said she too was going home after visiting her son in Sheffield. We struck up a conversation, which lasted almost an hour and helped the journey pass more quickly. The lady told me she had been recently widowed and lived for visits to see her son and grandchildren. She said her grandson was at university at Loughborough and she saw less of him now he was away from home. She said he did a lot of running and was becoming quite good at it.
Before long the train had pulled into Kings Cross station. I lifted my rucksack onto my back and offered to carry the old lady’s suitcase along the platform. She thanked me warmly. As we said goodbye on the station concourse I glanced down at the luggage tag on her suitcase… it said simply: Violet Coe.
In 1977 Sebastian Coe was already becoming a top British 800 metre runner. Three years later he won 1500m gold at the Moscow Olympics… a feat he repeated at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
I had spent a memorable two hours with his proud granny.
My liaison with his rival Steve Ovett was much more straightforward.
Steve and I are the same age. We both grew up in the environs of Brighton and Hove, on the Sussex coast. In 1967 at age 11 we both began at high school. I went to the old fashioned – almost Victorian – Hove County Grammar School for Boys, whereas Steve started at the more modern and trendy Varndean School. My only brush with Steve at this time was in an inter-schools cross country race where I finished 37th and Steve probably won or came second!
Years later he became one of my two lifetime sporting idols – the other was former Brighton footballer Kit Napier – as he scorched the track to become (in my eyes at least) our greatest ever 1500 metre runner.
As the track rivalry between him and Sebastian Coe developed in the late 1970s and 1980s, my support was always 100% for Ovett. Not only was he a Brighton lad, but his anti-establishment air was the perfect rebuff to Coe’s smug arrogance, both on the track and in post-race TV interviews.
I leapt off the sofa, punching the air when Ovett won the 800 metre gold medal at the 1980 Olympics and sulked when he only took bronze at his favourite distance, the 1500 metres, a few days later.
When he retired from international athletics after his 5,000 metre gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, he was firmly established as a personal hero.
So when I was given the chance to interview him in 1992, it was an opportunity I would not miss.
At the time I was living and working in Mid Argyll on the west coast of Scotland and Steve had been invited by John Holt, the retired general secretary of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, to start a half marathon to help raise £500,000 to build a local swimming pool.
After the race, I joined Steve and John in the bar of a hotel in Lochgilphead for a pint and an interview.
Apart from a few smile lines and his rapidly disappearing hair, Steve hadn’t changed much in appearance since his glory years. He talked in detail how following his 1980 Olympic triumph, his 1982 season was wrecked by injury. When out training on the streets of Brighton in late 1981, he glanced across the road and ran into some railings at St John the Baptist Church on New Church Road and badly twisted his knee. It was a road and location we both knew well. He also talked about how bronchitis ruined his chances of any success in the 1984 Olympics.
But he was glad he had achieved so much in sport and when I asked him if he had any political ambitions like Sebastian Coe, he laughed out loud and said: “What do you think?”
He showed me his bandaged left thumb. “I did that last weekend with a bloody hammer, while renovating a cottage at our home,” he said, “That’s the limit of my ambitions! Although I am doing some TV punditry for Sky TV at the moment,” he added with a grin.
The formal interview lasted about 15 minutes before I mentioned to Steve where I grew up. We then spent another 45 minutes chatting about Brighton and Hove and mutual friends from our years as kids.
Steve was effusive and told me to pop by for a cup of tea, if ever I was passing his home near Annan, in south west Scotland.
As we shook hands to say goodbye I told him he was my hero. He almost blushed as he looked me in the eyes and said: “Thank you… but what a load of rubbish. I was born with an ability to run, that’s all, I am not different from you or anyone else in this pub.”