Tag Archives: Russia

Back in the USSR

Stalin shouted over to me. He’d seen my pipe and wanted to compare. I wandered over. Stalin liked mine. He asked me what make it was. I told him it was from Ireland and asked if he wanted some tobacco. I had some good stuff. Lenin laughed and told Stalin he was cheeky. Stalin didn’t care. He stuffed tobacco in his pipe like a starving man would bread. He asked me for a light, but my lighter wouldn’t work. I said I was sorry and left him there, with a pipe full of fresh tobacco and nothing to light it with. Continue reading

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Everything Must Go

Moscow might be rank with corruption, it might whore itself daily to the whims of the corrupt and powerful few, but people here are still trying to create something better and, even if that never happens, that’s still pretty awesome. Continue reading

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The Rest Is Silence

In retrospect, this was probably luck, as what happened next would have made a sober man very nervous. Drunkenness has many advantages over sobriety, bravery is just one. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, or why we had stopped. The first thing I was aware of was a uniformed head sticking itself into the cab and ordering us out on to the street. Leaving any car and getting into the freezing cold of a dark Moscow night is always disconcerting, not least when that dark Moscow night is populated by three Militia of varying ages and a nervous looking Gypsy cab driver. However, the nerves didn’t appear to be entirely contained to the cab driver. I remember one of the Militia, probably still in his teens, also seeming quite nervous. That should probably have been the cause for some concern and I remember telling myself that someone else should probably be quite concerned about it. From here, and after some fairly abrupt questioning, we were bundled into the back of the Militia Car, flanked on either side, and driven across the city. It’s worth stressing at this point that neither of us were in any way scared. In fact, sticking with that whole commitment to honesty thing, I should admit to a shared drunken thrill in the experience. However, maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. Certainly, looking out of the window and staring out at the city passing me by, I don’t remember feeling any real sense of dread. There’s something inherently reassuring about being driven through a city night. Perhaps it’s the neon light, maybe it’s the warmth of the car against the nighttime’s cold, I don’t really know, but it’s soothing and, even under those fairly extreme circumstances, I was failing to get overly excited. Rather,I remember an idle curiosity as to what would happen next and an almost lazy detachment to events as I calculated the odds of getting a beating. As it was, we came to halt in a darkened and fairly secluded residential area where we were removed from the car and our documents taken off us, (I know we were supposed to keep them but they had guns). I think this was the fist time I became aware of my nerves. I had no idea where we were, but I knew it was dark and no one was about. Furthermore, I knew that they now had my passport and were not looking at us in a very friendly way. The details of what happened next are pretty blurred, but matters soon came to rest on the subject of how much money we had and how much money we were going to give them. For reasons that entirely escape me now, I made the decision to haggle, before conceding to reality and handing over most of our money. Duty done and richer for the experience, the Militia drove off leaving us to the Moscow night. Continue reading

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Domodedovo Airport Bombing

Moscow makes you feel small. Big things happen here. Big things on epic scales. Think about it, the course of the 20th Century was pretty much defined by what was happening here. It’s even big to look at. The high rises tower over you wherever you go and whatever you’re doing. It reduces that most Western of attributes, the overriding sense of your own significance, to little. That most valuable of all Western commodities, the value of the individual, doesn’t have quite the same caché here. All that is left for the individual therefore, is to concentrate on what is to be done next and make life as good as it can be. Continue reading

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From visiting to residing

I can’t imagine doing this without risks. Let’s take that a step further, I can’t imagine wanting do this without risks. I’m not saying that I plan on seeking out brawls with giant slavic psycopaths, or that I’m trawling the streets of Moscow looking for the next race riot. I’m simply saying that there has to be a risk of failure for any of this to mean anything. It’s a critical aspect. Think about anything that’s worth doing, take it apart and really consider it. Nine times out of ten, the one thing that made it worth doing was the risk of failure. Failure isn’t always something to be feared. Sometimes – just to know that you’re alive – you need to place yourself directly in its path. What’s more, the greater the risk and the greater the degree of failure, sometimes the greater the argument for placing yourself in its way. Continue reading

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Happy people don’t create anything.

In some ways, I’m back where I started, sat around in an old cricket jersey and shorts and looking out of the window. However, this time it’s a radically different landscape, one whose peak temperature today is predicted to be a giddy – 19, and that’s going to be about it ’till well into next year. Continue reading

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I don’t know why you say good-bye, I say good-bye

You see, as well as the loss of belongings, is the loss of, let’s call it, ‘tangible memory’. Yes, I know exactly how pretentious that sounds, just bear with me. I’ll give you a ‘for instance’. Take, for instance, the sofa that, until this morning, sat just two metres behind me. Well, that had some pretty powerful memories invested in it. A lot of conversations passed between me and others on that sofa. It was the sofa that I sat on as I wrestled with what was, at that time, the very real prospect of going blind. Later, it was the sofa I sat on as I reconciled myself to being forever blind in one eye. It was also the sofa I was sat on when I decided that it was time I was in charge of events, rather than events be in charge of me. There was even a time when that was ‘our’ sofa, and not just my sofa. I think that’s what I meant by tangible memories. I don’t care what it cost, or how it looked, it was all the memories that been created around it that mattered. It’s that our belongings become far more than the sum of their parts, it’s that they become the physical embodiment of all the memories associated with them. Maybe it’s their continued presence that helps keep those memories alive. Continue reading

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