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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

24:The Bolshoi - has anyone got any tickets?

Recently re-opened after an extensive refit (even the foundations had to be rebuilt) which lasted for several years and cost billions of roubles the renovated Bolshoi stands in all its glory on Theatre Square.

Unfortunately, everybody in the country now wants to visit and it is nigh on impossible to get tickets.

I had wanted to see Carmen at the end of December - no chance!

I noticed this plaque has also been renovated. It says: In this building of the Bolshoi Theatre the first All-Union Congress of Soviets, on 30th December 1922, proclaimed the formation of the USSR.

Interesting to see which parts of history are being air-brushed and which parts are coming back into fashion.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

23:Food shopping

Food shopping is sooooo exasperating, especially having just returned from the UK where Tescos and Sainsburys can handle supply chain management properly.
I usually go shopping armed with a list. I don't know why because many of the items on the list are just not in the shop. This is not the same problem from the old days of food shortages (дефициты). This is simply bad management. Never mind the concept, adopted by car manufacturers and others, of "just-in-time" deliveries. Here we have "just-too-late"! People need training, and systems put in place, to re-order goods before they become out of stock and not afterwards.
If you see something you want, buy several of them just in case they're in the delivery pipeline the next time you want some.
There are occasionally discounts on certain products but the "Western" system of BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free) is rarely seen.
When you buy stuff from the chiller cabinet you need a degree in maths. The price per kilo is usually shown on the front of the cabinet but only the weight is shown on the product. There is (usually) a barcode but there is also a handwritten code of some sort and it is this which the check-out girl keys in at the till. Why do they not put a price on the product? It is one of life's great mysteries.
Today many of the aisles were blocked by pallets full of newly (I hope) delivered goods. It was nigh on impossible to get a trolley past these pallets and certainly not two-way traffic. You get the idea that we, the customer, are there for their benefit and not the other way around as it should be. In the West we have a slogan "The customer is always right". Here the customer is an inconvenience that is sometimes tolerated.
Rant over. Have a nice day!


Monday, 28 November 2011

22:Winter fashions

Who am I to talk about fashions! It just struck me as amusing on the metro this evening that the girl next to me was wearing boots with what must have been 6" spiked stiletto heel boots (with luck you can just make them out in the photo) and the girl opposite was wearing patterned wellies. I sneaked in a quick photo while they weren't looking. Russian girls wear their finery to work. None of this "saving it for a special occasion" or for evening wear - live for today because you don't know what tomorrow will bring!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

21: Paddington (station, not bear)

This is a view of some of the trains in Paddington station, from where I had planned to catch the Heathrow Express out to the airport. Unfortunately, there were engineering works on the line so a replacement coach service was laid on. My own view here is that the £18 (900 roubles) cost of the train ticket should be (much) cheaper when you are inconvenienced by the longer, and less comfortable, journey on the bus. The train operator has a different view!

In addition, several of the underground lines were closed for the weekend. Everybody and his brother was in London yesterday and traversing the longer, circuitous, route with luggage was quite stressful, especially for those whose people who got in my way and ended up with bruised legs from my suitcase!
In spite of the longer journey I still arrived at Heathrow in good time to order my usual kedgeree breakfast. Enjoyment was slightly marred by the presence of more bones than usual but they did give me a free coffee by way of compensation.  
Having landed in Moscow, after an uneventful and pleasant flight, I took the Aero Express to Paveletskiy and then failed to pay attention to the announcements in the metro. Turns out there were engineering works  on the Moscow underground too. Because I didn't pay attention I ended up going Paveletskiy->Novokuznetskiy->Taganskaya->Novoslobodskaya->Timiryazevskaya. 
I was pleased to get home!

Thursday, 24 November 2011


In UK, in most towns and cities, there is a recycling facility where people take things they no longer want/need. The range of items that are now recyclable is growing all the time. Great Britain has embraced recycling in a big way. This is good news for the landfill sites which are growing larger all the time.
As well as the local recycling facilities, most local councils issue different coloured wheelie bins which are collected regularly from outside your house. For example, in Huntingdonshire, we have green bins for garden rubbish, blue for recyclable materials - e.g. newspapers & bottles, and grey for general household rubbish.


Dead computer monitors

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

19:My mum!

Here is my mum! She is 86 years old. She had a fall a couple of weeks ago and is a bit frail at the moment. She enjoys a drink and smokes like a chimney and is disappointed that she can no longer throw herself around the dance floor.
Here's to you, Mum!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

18: 3 laps around Silverstone

The long-awaited day had finally arrived and I got to experience the thrill of driving a Ferrari 360 around Silverstone. I knew I was never going to break any land speed records but I was determined to enjoy the ride. There was a co-driver who talked me through every inch of the course - where to position the car on the track, what gear to be in, when to break, when to start the turn and so on. All in all a great day.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

17: Home Sweet Home

I'm home

But not for long - off to Silverstone to stay with some old friends tonight and then drive a Ferrari around Silverstone race track tomorrow.

A nice flight home yesterday, although it seemed longer than usual. A slight hiccough at the end. As the plane was coming in to land we suddenly changed from descending to ascending and found ourselves back in the air instead of being on the ground. The pilot announced that the plane in front of us hadn't got far enough along the runway so the Air Traffic Controller had decided to abort our landing and send us around again. We landed safely about 15 minutes later. Phew.

I'm struck by how expensive transport is in UK. Heathrow to London on the Paddington Express £18 (900 roubles). King's Cross to Huntingdon (about 100 km) £29 off-peak return (1,500 roubles). When you compare that with Roubles 320 for the airport express from Domodedovo to Moscow or a monthly 70 trip ticket on the Moscow for 1,700 roubles......... Still, mustn't make comparisons like that - apples and oranges.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

16: Park Pobediy (Victory Park)

Four photos today showing how Russians like BIG. This is their victory park which celebrates victory over the fascists in the Second World War. In Russia WWII is called the Great Patriotic War and countless millions made the ultimate sacrifice. These photos are of some of the advertising boards in the metro station just outside the park. The battle of Moscow and battle for Stalingrad are in the museum as dioramas and are very impressive and thought provoking.

Off to Blighty this evening. Next post from there.....

Friday, 18 November 2011

15: Chilli Peppers - Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Two blogs in one day! But this one couldn't wait.

A salutary reminder to anybody involved in preparing chilli peppers to always wash their hands after handling them. I went to "spend a penny" afterwards and I can say it brought tears to the eyes!

For anybody that hasn't heard of the Red Hot Chilli PIPERS please have a look at them on you tube, buy their music, and go and see them. A vibrant and exciting mix of guitar and bagpipes. I went to see them in Ayr a few years ago when I was involved as Interpreter for the rededication ceremony of the Russian ship Varyag. They were great.
Red Hot Chilli Pipers 

14: Vincent

The sun is shining; it's time to be uplifted. Watch & listen to this you tube video about Vincent Van Gogh as sung by Don McLean. I hope you will agree there some beautiful pictures. The song, too, is inspirational. The lyrics are included for you.
Starry, starry night..

Thursday, 17 November 2011

13: Where's the lift?

Last night we had some serious snow and first thing this morning there was perhaps an inch of snow on the ground. Time to don the Winter boots. By 9 o'clock there was some rain and the snow had turned to slush. Can anybody explain to me how the Russians can send a man into space but to make roads and pavements where the water drains away instead of forming into giant puddles is seemingly beyond them?

Today's picture shows a 5-story block of flats in the Kozhukovskiy district of Moscow, although it could be anywhere. My point is that there are no lifts in these flats. Can you imagine! I have a lesson on the top floor once a week and it takes me a week to recover and to gird my loins (to gird up one's loins библ.поэт. — препоясать чресла, приступить (к чему-л.) ) ready for the next assault the following week.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

12: Music – Part 2 (or not!)

Picture censored!         

I thought you might like to know that Russia hasn’t changed all that much after all!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to a business centre called Legion-1. There is a bright, airy, open space in the middle of the building and there is a piano, usually with a pianist playing it. I went to take a picture for my blog but was stopped by security. He agreed that it wasn’t a secret piano but still wouldn’t let me take a photo. Hey Ho. Give a Russian a bit of power and common sense flies out of the window. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

11: Music - Part 1

This is a photo from a couple of years ago when I was lucky enough to be staying in the Golden Ring hotel in Moscow (in the days when the Ministry of Defence was picking up the tab). The breakfast was superb, everything you could possibly want was there and to help you start the day in a relaxed mood there was also some lovely soothing music from this harpist.

Alas, I fear my days in 5 star hotels are numbered. Unless, of course, business takes off exponentially! Or I win the lottery.

Monday, 14 November 2011

10: The kvartal pub!

With apologies for the poor quality of the picture, taken at night on my mobile. It shows, I hope, my local supermarket and the area just in front of it. In the evenings, in Spring, Summer, and Autumn there are always people standing outside drinking in small groups. They are still congregating now, in mid-November, but the falling temperature will soon drive them away. It is hovering just above freezing at the moment. One of the reasons people do it, I suppose, is the price. A tin of beer in the supermarket costs 50p and upwards. A half litre in a pub can cost 10 times that - depending, of course, on the beer, and the pub. In the mornings, as I walk by the side of the wall, it is quite common to see broken bottles lying around. Not for too long though as the Dvorniki (janitors) soon tidy the place up.

Apropos of nothing, simply that I like it, I wanted to include the following aphorism:
To kiss a miss is awfully simple
To miss a kiss is simply awful

(Of course, to kiss a miss uninvited is to lay yourself open to an interview with Mr Plod - at the very least).

Sunday, 13 November 2011

09: Park Dubki

This is a lovely little park 2 minutes walk away from my apartment. Sometimes I like to go running in this park but I think I've hung up my trainers for the Winter.
The photo shows some of the children's (paid) attractions. They have other areas with more conventional swings and slides etc. There is usually a pony or two as well and the pony's owner sits the child on the pony walks the pony around the lake (for a small consideration, of course).
All in all, a nice place to go for some "fresh" air away from the traffic. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

08: Room with a view

Time for a few words about my little flat, or at least about the central heating system in most Russian flats. The heating is not optional, it is mandatory - you get as much or as little as the authorities choose to give you. There are no radiator valves to regulate the temperature - if it's hot you open the window and if it's cold you put a jumper on! Soon it will be time to lag the window frames for the Winter. The windows are double glazed but aren't always the best of fits in the frame so I will make up some papier mache to lag around the frames and try to keep out what can be a biting South wind.
Incidentally, in the Summer the hot water gets turned off for 10 days so the local authorities can carry out repair work on the pipes. Can you imagine!
The photo on the right shows the view from my window. There are in excess of 13 million inhabitants in Moscow so high-rise apartment blocks can be seen everywhere in the city, except the very centre. Ostankino TV tower in the distance. The bottom photo is the view of my apartment block - isn't it attractive? You should see the battleship grey front doors.

Friday, 11 November 2011

07: More transport blogs

I suppose it's inevitable that there will be a lot of blogs about transport, since I spend so much time on it - in one form or another. Today I wanted to show you one of the little bus ticket booths that are dotted about all over Moscow, usually very close to a bus stop.
You buy tickets here that are valid for tram, bus  or trolleybus (and sometimes metro). A 60 trip ticket costs about £15. You get on the bus and put your ticket into a machine which prints a date stamp and the number of trips left on the back of the ticket. A turnstile is released and you can pass through into the bus. You get off the bus via the middle or rear doors. Woe betide (горе тому, кто) anybody who gets on via the centre or rear doors. The driver gives them a right ear-bending.

Occasionally the ticket stops working, part way through its validity. You have to go a ticket booth and hand in your ticket. They will keep it and give you replacement tickets up to the number of rides you still had left. For example, it happened to me yesterday when I had 17 rides left. She gave me a 10 ride ticket, a 5 ride ticket and 2 single ride tickets. All very nice but I had wanted the 60 ride ticket for the UK tax man. Never mind. As far as these ticket booths are concerned I have two questions? Firstly, how can somebody work in there in solitude all day and every day without losing their sanity?  Perhaps the lady in the transport ticket booth pops across to chat with the lady in the theatre ticket booth but often the booths stand in isolation. Secondly, with so many of them all over the city, how can anybody earn a living wage working therein? 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

06: When in Rome...

A sculpture of Romulus and Remus (and an apple that somebody has left for effect) at metro station Rimskaya, named after the Italian city of Rome.
I pass through here on Thursdays on my way to lessons. From here I go under the railway line by using the underpass at the Hammer and Sickle suburban railway station.
In this underpass there are nearly always several poor old babushkas begging. They are often down on their knees and crossing themselves. It is a really pitiful sight. What a sad paradox that Moscow allegedly has more billionaires than any other city on earth.  

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

05: Shopping in Moscow - Part 1

Not the most exciting topic in the world but I did want to draw your attention to the Ashan chain of hypermarkets here in Moscow. There are about a dozen of them scattered around Moscow mostly, but not exclusively, located outside the Moscow outer ring road (Moscow's M25). They are quite difficult to get to if you don't have the luxury of a car and often involve the peculiarly Russian phenomenon of the "marshrutka". These are minibuses with no seat belts and the back doors semi-permanently sealed. They can be found all over Moscow and take you from A to B for about 50p whilst at the same time giving you a few more grey hairs. Back to Ashan.
Something good to come out of France! A vast range of goods, and service with a smile - both sadly lacking in other Moscow supermarkets. They are much cheaper too. Always worth a trip when you are feeling the results of poor Supply Chain Management and the rudeness of ordinary Russian shopkeepers & shop assistants is beginning to rub off on one. In general shopkeepers don't say anything and wait for you to speak first. When they do speak it's usually "I'm listening" rather than the "can I help you" we are more used to back home. Politeness costs nothing and puts both parties in a good mood. Rudeness has the opposite effect.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

04: The Moscow Metro - Part 2

Sometimes the metro (especially the circle line as it just goes round and round) is a nice, warm, place to have a little sleep. N.B. I assure you, this isn't me!
If I remember rightly, just after this was taken a few youths got on and began to poke and prod him - just for the fun of it. I think that was the end of his little kiplet. Poor man but all self-inflicted.

In the rush hour, especially at about 8.00 a.m., you are squashed in that tightly that it pays to know the Russian for "I'm terribly sorry madam, that's my mobile phone you can feel pushed up against you!".
как сельд в бочке - packed in like sardines

Question: I wonder how long it will be before the escalators look and sound like this:

Monday, 7 November 2011

03: From subway (metro) to subway (fast food)

Monday is my busy day. I leave the flat at 0700 and get back about 2300. It's my hither and thither day. It's a fast food day - for both lunch and evening meal. So, dear reader, I'm writing this from Subway. This outlet is now ubiquitous in central Moscow.
I must confess to visiting several times a week. But, for value, you can't really beat a "sub of the day" for approximately £2.
Between classes 1 and 2 this morning I squeezed in a visit to the cinema - much easier than trogging all the way home and then coming out again a short while later. I saw The adventures of Tin Tin. It was OK, but nothing to write home about.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

02: The Moscow Metro - Part 1

This evening's lesson was close to the metro at парк победы (Victory park). One of the murals is a constant reminder of the glorious victory over "the fascists" in 1945.

The Moscow metro is very fast and very efficient. In the rush hour(s) a train can be disappearing into the tunnel at the far end of the platform just as the next one is appearing at this end of the platform. They start running at 0530 and stop at about 0100. You buy a ticket (roughly 50p) to travel any distance and present the ticket at the entrance turnstile. There are also turnstiles to exit but the ticket doesn't have to be presented again. The metro is deep in many places as the escalators can be very long. I would estimate I  spend at least 30 minutes a week travelling up and down the escalators.

01: You've got to start somewhere...

I wonder if anybody is remotely interested in my impressions of everyday life in Russia where I am currently working as a TEFL teacher in Moscow.
Today, Sunday 6th November, it is cold (it was -7 this morning) but sunny. There will only a few days of sunshine between now and the end of Winter, sometime next April.
I have a lesson at home soon and then the delights of the Moscow metro for my evening lesson.
A very short blog this time - just to see how it turns out.....