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Thursday, 27 December 2012

215:What a pen and ink!

We've had a major thaw; within 24 hours the temperature rose from -18°C to zero and the snow has melted and turned into slush and yuck. Nice! I think I preferred the cold weather.
Here in Russia it's work as usual on the days between Christmas and New Year (because according to the Russian religious calendar these aren't the days between Christmas and New Year). 
The metro this week has been even more crowded than usual as people come into town for their last minute New Year's presents. This afternoon I spied an empty seat at the far end of the carriage and made for it. It soon became obvious why it was an empty seat. The gentleman (of the road?) sitting opposite, gently snoozing, had obviously decided he would be more comfortable with his shoes off. He probably was but the rest of us weren't. I don't know where he'd been with those plates of meat but the smell was obnoxious. I'm normally able to withstand fairly malodorous pongs but not this time. I stopped only long enough to take the picture and then had to move to the other end of the carriage for some fresher air.

A glossary for my students today as there a few words you may be unfamiliar with:
pen and ink (cockney rhyming slang) = stink,pong запах, вонь
yuck [mass noun]
  • something messy or disgusting:
гадость ?
gentleman of the road = tramp бомж
plates of meat (cockney rhyming slang) = feet ноги
malodorous = foul smelling вонючий, зловонный

Just to finish off, here is a short video clip of a parody of the Queen's Speech, spoken in Cockney rhyming slang! Enjoy

Sunday, 23 December 2012

214:Lavrenti Beria

On this day, in 1953, Lavrenti Beria, one of Stalin's henchmen, was shot for treason. 
"And as you sow, so shall you reap" springs to mind.

Today's photo is another "leaning-out-of-the-window" shot. It is -21 degrees Celsius outside (and due to fall to -28 tomorrow) and I am lucky enough not to have to go out today. Did you know that the two temperature scales, Centigrade (Celsius) and Fahrenheit, converge at -40 before diverging again?
So here is a photo that looks like the sun trying to shine through what looks like some low cloud but I think it is some of the smoke that belches non-stop from chimneys here in Moscow.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

213:The KGB

As many people know, the KGB did not go away after the fall of Communism - and why would they. Every State needs a Secret or Security Service to help look after the internal and external security interests of the State, and the people. As for how much power each Secret Service should have, that is a matter for individual governments to decide. Anyway, as I said, the KGB didn't go away, they just re-branded themselves as the FSB (The Federal Security Service). 
What I'm leading up to is that on this day (20th December) in 1917, Felix Dzerzhinsky, aka* Iron Felix, founded the Cheka, which was the forerunner to the KGB. The square in front of the Lyubyanka (KGB/FSB headquarters), was named after him until 1990. There was a statue of him there but it was removed in 1991. 

To change the tone completely, and before I'm arrested, here is a photo I took the other day of some fur hats (shapkas) on sale just outside Red Square. The colours of some of the hats are very fetching**, don't you think?

*aka = also known as
** fetching, here, is an adjective that means attractive. Sometimes, as in this instance, it can be used sarcastically.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

212:English verb tenses

Sorry for the lack of a recent blog - I have been on holiday. It finishes in about an hour's time so back to the grindstone. I will fly back to Moscow tonight. 
Many thanks to Sasha for this helpful chart of English verb tenses. Hope you enjoy(ed) the pizza - whether you have already eaten it or will soon be eating it.

Couldn't resist this one - you can fool some of the people some of the time!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

211:Mince, mincemeat, mince pies & mincing

A short treatise on the different forms of mince. But first I wanted to say that with this strange weather we are currently experiencing in Moscow - rapid temperature drops followed by rapid rises followed by rapid drops the landscape can change several times in one day: lovely pristine white snow can quickly melt and change into giant puddles and then the temperature suddenly drops again and parts of Moscow turn into an ice rink.
The ice reminds me that it is the time of the year to start mincing again! We use the word to mean walking 'gingerly' but it has another meaning too ((of a man) affectedly dainty in manner or gait; effeminate:) If you don't tread carefully you could easily slip on the ice and there are no local councils here willing to shell out megabucks in compensation for one's lack of attention. Easy to fall head over heels or, for the less sophisticated of my readers, A over T. (No explanations - if you don't know it, you don't know it!)

Back to the mince. Mince pies are enjoyed all year round in UK, but particularly over Christmas. 

They are not made out of mince (фарш) but out of mincemeat (chiefly British a mixture of currants, raisins, sugar, apples, candied peel, spices, and suet, typically baked in pastry:) (начинка для пирога из изюма, яблок, миндаля, сахара, цукатов и пр.). Mincemeat doesn't have any meat in it, not these days anyway, but will often have alcohol - especially brandy.
Mince is minced meat and often used on it's own as mince and potatoes:

or perhaps in a shepherd's pie (minced lamb) or cottage pie (minced beef) (both known in Russian as запеканка):

or, my own favourite, in a spicy chilli con carne:


Monday, 3 December 2012


Not chewing gum (жвачка) but GUM the most famous shop in Moscow on one side of Red Square - the opposite side from Lenin's mausoleum and the Kremlin itself.
I don't normally visit GUM because these days it's full of shops selling designer labels and other things way out of the reach of a teacher's salary. It is currently decked out with decorations to celebrate the New Year.
On Saturday I went to a meeting there, to Stolovaya No.57. A stolovaya (or works  canteen) is a bit of a hangover from Soviet times but this one is rather more elaborate - as you can see from the you tube clip. Don't know when this guy made his video but on Saturday it was heaving with people and the queue was outside the door.

Finally, I just wanted to mention that on this day in 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush officially declared the Cold War over! An historic day indeed.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

209:Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Well it's arrived. The snow is here with a vengeance. It could be with us right the way through to next April. At least the country won't grind to a halt as it does in UK with the first flurry of snow. Snow clearing trucks are already visible in the picture, which was taken from my window at 7.30. this morning. A sky full of snow casts an eerie light over everything.
Here is a song called "Walking in a Winter wonderland". It was written in 1934 and has been recorded by over 150 different artists (according to Wikipedia anyway!). I picked this particular version so that students could read the lyrics as they listen to the song.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

208:What a wonderful weld!

Took this picture this morning of some immigrant workers building something at the end of my block of flats. The guy perched precariously on the stepladder is doing some welding. Wonder what it's going to be when it's finished. 
I think in UK we have too much "elf and safety" and here in Russia they have too little. Somewhere between the two extremes would be nice.

In a typical for me play on words I thought I might include a you tube link to Louis Armstrong's rendition of "it's a wonderful weld (world)" 
Finally, I just wanted to mention that on this day in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed Britain's membership of the European Union for a second time. Some might say it's a pity it wasn't vetoed a third time!!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

207:The London Underground

I'm back in Moscow, courtesy of First Capital Connect, the London Underground, the Paddington Express, British Airways, AeroExpress, the Moscow Metro and Moscow City Transport. 11 hours door-to-door.

I changed trains at Baker Street, one of the original stations on the metropolitan line, the world's first underground railway, opened in 1863. Because the system is so old much maintenance work is carried out at the weekends and great chunks of the network are closed to the travelling public. Yesterday, for example, the whole of the circle line was closed. Nice new trains on the Metropolitan Line. You can walk right through from end to end.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

206:Red Sky in the morning...

There is an old phrase in English:
Red sky at night - shepherd's delight,
Red sky in the morning - shepherd's warning.
You can read more about it here
I'm in UK this week. Here is a photo I took from my bedroom window yesterday morning just as dawn was breaking over the rooftops.
No need to worry though, the day turned out nice.

Here too is a link to an old hymn, first published in 1931, called "Morning has broken". This particular recording was made in 1971 by a British singer-songwriter who was called Cat Stevens at that time but has since changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Relax and enjoy!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

205:Sparrow Hills

This is Sparrow Hills metro station, conveniently located in the middle of the Moscow river - well, not literally in the middle of the water but in the middle of the rail bridge that carries the metro over the river. 
My photo but I "borrowed" the video clip.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Some pictures today from afimall or, afi mall. A large shopping complex adjoining the skyscrapers at Moscow City. I go there twice a week for lessons. The tower that I visit has a bank of new-fangled lifts where you enter the floor you want to go to and a display tells you which lift to go to. The lifts don't have buttons for individual floors, just for opening and closing doors and for raising the alarm. You get in and it takes you automatically to the floor you have previously requested.
Back to afi mall, there are six floors with lifts running between second and fifth. To get to first and sixth you need to use an escalator. the sixth is reserved for a display of enormous matrushkas. There are food halls on fourth and fifth floors with an enormous selection of restaurants and fast-food outlets catering for a variety of different tastes.
Anyway, here are the photos.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to my first lesson this morning, almost at the end of the morning rush hour. The metro train I was travelling on broke down at a station. There was an announcement by the driver that the train would go no further and everybody got off and, with difficulty, managed to squeeze onto the platform. I wondered how the train would clear the platform if it had broken down but I didn't have to wonder for long - the driver got out of the front carriage,  walked to the back of the train, and assumed control of the train form there. It then pulled out of the station in the direction it had just come in. I assume there was some kind of points crossover just beyond the platform so that the train could join the rails for trains travelling in the direction it was now headed. The next train which came in on our platform was already full with passengers and a platform-full tried to squeeze in too. I decided to wait for the next one. Even that was a bit of a squeeze and so I was ready with my standby phrase "Sorry madame, that's my mobile phone you can feel."

Saturday, 10 November 2012

203:On the Carpet*

For anybody following my blog regularly you will have noticed that recently I had a whinge* about cardboard being laid just inside the entrance to "my" stairwell to catch the dirt and slush as it comes in from outside. Well, perhaps somebody in authority is reading the blog because look:
I paid a return visit to the planetarium today. Much as I enjoyed the 40 minute screening, I'm afraid I nodded off once or twice. They've got comfortable chairs that tilt back and let you look at whichever night sky is being projected onto the dome. 
It must have taken almost as long to collect coats after the show. When they take your coat they give you a number and when you collect it and hand that number back in they have to rotate the whole system until your particular number heaves into view. So you spend half your time there watching your coat going round and round. There must be a better way!

I took the last photo because I was amused by the contrast between the grandiose and imposing "Stalin's Wedding Cake" building (also known as Stalin's Seven Sisters) in the background and modern Moscow in the foreground with Burger King, Subway,a Sport Bar etc. The large electronic billboard is advertising EF (English First) with a discount of 25%. I suspect I am still significantly cheaper, perhaps mostly because I don't have the overheads they do.
After the planetarium I went to chilis - and not just because it was -1 in Moscow today. The American chain opened its first restaurant in Moscow in February last year. Had a nice meal but not cheap by any means.

*on the carpet

informal being severely reprimanded by someone in authority:
(not me, at least not this time)
To whinge = British English informal. To complain.

Monday, 5 November 2012

202:Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Today, in UK, we celebrate Guy Fawkes day otherwise known as Bonfire Night. On this day, in 1605, the Catholic "gunpowder plot" to assassinate King James  I was discovered and Guy Fawkes was arrested and put on trial for treason. The conspirators had placed barrels of gunpowder in the cellars under the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully the barrels were discovered before they could be detonated. The gunpowder plot

Those conspirators who weren't killed on capture were put on trial, found guilty and then hung, drawn and quartered! This was a standard punishment for high treason.

Since then British people have lit bonfires every November 5th in celebration of the fact that Parliament and the King had been saved. There is usually an effigy (чучело) of Guy Fawkes atop the fire. I remember when I was young we would make a dummy and wheel it around in a pram, asking local residents for "a penny for the guy". Enough pennies meant we could buy fireworks to let off around the bonfire on November 5th. Potatoes, and sometimes sausages, were put into the fire on long sticks to roast and then eat.

Here are some more facts and figures about British traditions relating to November 5th.

Here is a game to test your knowledge of the gunpowder plot!

Here is a you tube clip showing the fireworks display at Battersea Park in London last year.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


According to the BBC (, on this day in 1956 "A massive Soviet force invaded Hungary, crushing the popular uprising that had begun in October".
Of course many of my Russian friends, students, and acquaintances won't like the word "invasion" and will suggest either that the event in question didn't happen at all, or else they will say that the troops went in at the request of the Hungarian people. I have no further comment.

I think I've mentioned before that my block of flats was being refurbished. The first picture is of work-in-progress outside the front door. They never did tile the whole step - maybe next year. The second picture is, to my mind, so Russian that I couldn't not show it. Inside the front door the new tiles are looking lovely and the entrance doors and the whole stairwell have been painted. It would be nice to have a doormat to wipe ones feet now that the streets are constantly wet and slushy. But no, doormats could get nicked. So some kind person lays some cardboard for us to wipe our feet. It's just such a paradox: lovely new tiles and a crappy old piece of cardboard. Wonder if my troll is still around - he'll be going his mile if he reads today's blog.

What a nightmare journey back from Sheremetovo yesterday. I had foolishly assumed that because it was Saturday evening the traffic would be light. Big mistake. It took almost an hour to get off the airport spur onto the Leningradka and even then the traffic was crawling. Was I glad to finally get home. Remind me to ALWAYS ALWAYS "let the train take the strain".

Friday, 2 November 2012


On this day in 1960 Penguin Books was cleared of obscenity for publishing D H Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover". Every schoolboy of my generation will have read it - if only because it was "forbidden fruit". 
Today, of course, it is freely available and considered as art? 
Here is a link to it on Amazon's website, together with the option of "peeking" inside.
How the world has changed in the last 50 years!
Today's photo is on the same subject. The "ad" says:
Intimate cosmetics
Erotic underwear
Sex toys

 This is my 200th blog! Shall I keep going? 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

199:October bows out

Three pictures taken during October. The first shows some babushkas selling flowers at the entrance to Timiryazevskaya metro. Every time I see them I can't help but think how lucky we are in UK that our state pensions, low as they are, at least obviate the need for our old ladies to have to stand outside all day to try and raise a few pennies to supplement their too meagre income.

Next up is the aeroexpress. These run from certain mainline stations to Moscow's three main airports - Domodedovo, Sheremetovo and Vnukovo. 

Just over £6 for a single journey that takes about 40 minutes. In terms of cost it beats the Paddington Express (Heathrow to Paddington) hands down; £19 for a 15 minute journey.
Last, but not least, here is a picture of my back garden taken today, 31st October. The leaves are falling. Soon it will be Winter.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

198:'snow use complaining

Only God controls the weather (apart from when the Russian Air Force seeds the clouds on big parade days).
This morning we woke up to a light covering of snow. It won't last. The snow has already turned to rain. It will all melt and disappear whilst I am in UK this coming week. Famous last words?

Here is a link to the famous song "walking in the air" from the book and film "the snowman".

Sunday, 21 October 2012

197:A sight for sore eyes

This idiom means you are pleased to see someone that perhaps you haven't seen for a long time. It can even be applied to inanimate objects - for example a favourite meal you haven't enjoyed for a while.
Here, though, I have chosen to use it to preface this photo I took the other day of a contact lens machine where you can buy daily contact lenses. It stocks a range of prescriptions so, provided you know yours, pay your £20 a day (!) and stick 'em in your peepers*. What a throw-away Society we live in.

Today there is also a link to Alex Jude's website where Vanessa Smith has written a very interesting article about the British, and Russian, class systems. I commend it to you. The clip at the bottom is as funny now as when I first saw it in the '60s.
Social Class

*peepers = eyes (colloquial)

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Autumn is upon us. Snow is forecast for next week. This is early, even for Moscow, so I though I'd better show my autumn photos before everything is white instead of multi-coloured.
This is a view of the trees from the window of "my" flat. Some nice colours but the leaves are falling fast. I think I'm a week or so too late for a more colourful picture.

Here is a nice colourful, "autumnal" picture! The reds and blues and greens of Autumn! :)
And here, to finish off, a video clip. Sorry there's no playback from within this blog, but it will direct you to You Tube. (If anybody knows the HTML to avoid this?) 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

195:The Cambridge guided bus

I love visiting Cambridge. It's a beautiful city. As far as I know the townsfolk and students live together, cheek by jowl, fairly harmoniously. No (current) rift between the city's "town and gown".
Today I wanted to show you the Cambridge guided bus system. It runs from Huntingdon to Cambridge and is, allegedly, the longest in the world.
Living, as I do, on the edge of the Fens, it is a simple matter to drive to St. Ives and then take the guided bus into Cambridge. And at my age it is free too!
The buses are specially adapted with little guide wheels that come out of the sides of the bus when it enters the guided sections of the route. These wheels keep the bus stable within the channels. The driver no longer has to steer but just control the speed.

Friday, 12 October 2012

194:Peterborough - around and about

It's been a busy week. 
Svetlana has, I think, enjoyed her week at my house. Her aims were twofold; to improve her English and to see some more of England. Both of these aims were achieved. I hope she goes back and tells her friends so that Inter-Bridge (UK) can continue to flourish.
I've been in Peterborough a couple of times this week and took the opportunity to take these pictures. I'm sorry they are of such poor quality - I didn't have my usual phone with me.
A special timetable is implemented every Autumn to take account of falling leaves! Apparently the trains leave earlier because the falling leaves on the rails make them go slower so they need more time for the journey!
A Big Issue seller. People who sell these magazines are either homeless or out of work, or perhaps both. They buy the Big Issue for £1.25 from the Charity that produces them and sell them for £2.50. They are allowed to keep any money they make to help them reintegrate back into "normal" Society.
 This is the Gloucester Police choir. They gave a very fine performance yesterday in Peterborough cathedral. 
And these are views inside the magnificent cathedral.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

193:At the airport - again

It's beginning to look like the only time I can find to write a few lines and add a few photos is at an airport during an enforced period of inactivity waiting for my flight to be called. Domodedovo is better than Heathrow because Internet access is free. 
My block of flats is having a major makeover. Here a tiler is hard at work re-tiling the entrance hall. More photos later as work progresses.

I wanted to add more pics but blue tooth has let me down and anyway it's time to go and make sure the plane hasn't gone without me. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

192:What a nightmare, to find your car gone!

I wrote recently (11th September) about the lack of infrastructure at Moscow city and about how drivers had to park some way from the building and walk the rest of the way. Now, I fear, many of them will have to walk even further as a convoy of tow trucks (the Russians call them 'evacuators'!) arrived on the embankment and began lifting vehicles off the road and taking them away to the pound. 
Amusingly, when I went back after my lesson, all the empty spaces had been filled by a fresh influx of cars. Let's hope their owners don't suffer the same fate as the previous occupants of those spaces.

 Perhaps the owners, on returning to find their cars had gone, might want to read some advice on reducing stress:

This is what it says in English. "Advice from a psychologist for relieving pressure, stress and aggression:

1. Imagine you are beside a river. 

2. Here there is cool fres
h mountain air and you can hear the birds singing. 

3. Nobody, apart from you, knows about this secret place. 

4. The water is as transparent as tears. ............................. 

5. You can clearly see the face of the person you are holding under the water"!!