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Tuesday, 31 January 2012


 A couple of my young students last night, especially those that haven't yet travelled outside Russia, were astounded at some of the cultural differences between our great nations. As usual I am making no judgements about whether one custom is somehow "better" than the other. 

The first difference is that Russians take off their shoes as soon as they go into a house or apartment - either their own or somebody else's. Usually the host will have a few sets of slippers (тапочки) by the door for the family or guests to wear. When I explained that we usually leave our shoes on, especially when visiting somebody else, they were dumbfounded.

When I was here in the 70s, working in the British Embassy, we all used to think that there were a lot of thieves about because there were no sink or bath plugs in the hotels we were "lucky" enough to visit. It's only now I've come to realise that they weren't there because Russian people simply don't use them. They shave (those that need to) and wash their dishes, faces etc under running water. Water, in the Russian mind-set, is an infinite resource. Nobody considers the cost of treatment and preparation and storage etc of the water. My students had difficulty believing that I fill a washing-up bowl with hot water to wash my dirty dishes - and then I dry them afterwards. Instead of washing them under running water and leaving them to drain in the special draining cupboard that is above most Russian sinks. 
Those Russians who have visited UK have expressed enormous surprise at our (old) system of having 2 separate taps - one for hot and one for cold. Generally they have mixer taps.
One more thing, while I'm on the subject of water. I think I may have mentioned it before but I feel it is worth mentioning again that most Russian apartments have their hot water turned off for 10-14 days in the Summer so that the pipes can be repaired/renewed prior to the next Winter. Imagine that happening in Britain!
Time to sign off or I will be in hot water (Я попаду в беду).

Monday, 30 January 2012

81:Rest in Peace - James Sheppard

I was reminded of the transitory nature of life this afternoon when I heard that an ex-pat acquaintance of mine had passed away on Friday. I may have mentioned him before. He was the building and facilities manager of a business centre here in Moscow and I would pop in and drink coffee with him occasionally. He had lived here 15 years and gained a Russian wife and still had not a word of Russian. I wonder what language they speak in heaven? Rest in Peace James. You will be sadly missed, by your family and friends and by your work colleagues here in Moscow. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012

80:Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo how about you, you, you

This is Russia. I wanted to go to the dolphinarium. To go there you have to go to the zoo first. So they can take two lots of money off you. (Having said that, I think there is a "new" dolphinarium in BBЦ and I shall explore that another time.)
I enjoyed the half-hour show in the dolphinarium: there were seals, then a dolphin, and then an enormous beluga whale, all of which were doing lots of tricks in return for bucketfuls of fish.
Unfortunately, and understandably, no photography allowed during the show so today's photos are from the zoo visit. Plus a silly song for any children reading this blog!

Saturday, 28 January 2012


On this day in the year 814 Charlemagne, King of the Franks and creator of the Holy Roman Empire, died in Aachen. May he Rest in Peace.
Here is Blondie's 1960's (?) song "Charlemagne".

On a more high-brow note, here is a link to a Guardian article entitled "Walking in Moscow's Winter wonderland" by former resident Phoebe Taplin.
To go with it there are 19 beautiful picture of Moscow

Friday, 27 January 2012

78:Oscar Wilde in a marshrutka

Not much to report from around and about since I haven't been over the threshold (через порог) for more than 24 hours. However, here is a picture I took on Wednesday of the TV screen in the marshrutka I was travelling in (perhaps it was the marshrutka that caused my bad back by bumping around too much, who knows).

It is based on a quote from Oscar Wilde's play "A woman of no importance". "You should never try to understand them. Women are pictures. Men are problems. If you want to know what a woman really means - which, by the way, is always a dangerous thing to do - look at her, don't listen to her." 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

77:The morning after the night before

I'd love to be able to report that I had a rip-roaring time at a Burns Night Supper here in Moscow. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I've hurt my back, perhaps from travelling in too many Formula 1 Marshrutkas yesterday and today have had to cancel all lessons.
While I'm on the subject of Burns' night here is an animated explanation of the life and times of the man himself. Enjoy. 

If Burns is not "your cup of tea", or even if it is, then have a look at this superb time-lapse video of Moscow.I would recommend clicking on full screen once you start the video. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

76:Students' Day

Today, 25th January, is marked for different reasons in Russia and in UK. 

In Russia, today is commemorated as students' day. To all my students, and to all students everywhere, I say поздравляю and keep up the good work. If you have any exams looming then ни пуха ни пера! (neither feathers nor down!!)

In the UK, today is the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish Robert (Rabbie) Burns in 1759. He is Scotland's most famous poet and every year on, or close to, this date Burns night celebrations are held. This is a feast centred around Scotland's national dish - the haggis. 

Parties are held all over the world. In Moscow the event is usually organised by the St Andrews Society.
Here is a link to the Moscow News coverage of last year's event.
Whenever possible there is a piper present to "pipe in" the haggis and there is almost always an address (a toast) to the haggis before it is eaten. Here is a link to the Burns night party in Dundas castle in Scotland in 2008.
I suggest you don't have your speakers turned up too loud or you may be deafened by the sound of the bagpipes.

Monday, 23 January 2012

75:The British

Here, in the interests of providing balance (from blog No 73 about "The Russians"), is a translation guide explaining that "we" don't always mean what "we" say. It is a little bit "tongue-in-cheek" (I couldn't find a good translation here but it means something that is said and not meant to be taken 100% seriously) but there is more than "a grain of truth"  (в каждой шутке есть доля правдыы) in much of what is suggested.
I "borrowed" it from a FB site called Anglomaniya.
They have a very interesting blog that you might like to follow:

Sunday, 22 January 2012

74:My flat

Luxury of luxuries, today I don't have to go out. This is a highly unusual occurrence and a moment to be treasured. Especially since it is -14 outside and getting colder by the minute. Whenever there is a South wind blowing, as there is today, the inside of the flat gets a bit chilly - despite the only slightly effective radiators and only slightly effective lagging of the windows.
Here then are 2 pictures of the inside of the flat - a bog standard Russian flat known colloquially as a панельное (домостроение) or panel/sectional flat, as opposed to a Крущёвка (one built during the Krushchov era) or a коммуналка (a house or apartment block with shared facilities). Often I don't need to turn my radio or television on as I can just listen to my neighbours' sets but at least "the facilities" don't need to be shared with anyone!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

73:The Russians

A random selection of a few Russians on Kantimirovskaya metro station. I'd like to use the photo to illustrate the fact that although they may look like "us" there are, in fact, quite a few differences in their psychology, their culture and their habits and traditions. Allow me to point out a few of these differences with the rider, of course, that I'm emphatically not saying "we" are right and "they" are wrong. Certain things are just done differently. Today I would like to talk about hand shaking.
1.  If a Russian is wearing gloves he will always take his gloves off to shake hands. "Pressing the flesh" means just that. It is bad form to shake hands with a Russian if you are wearing gloves.
2.  It is considered unlucky to shake hands over the threshold. If you are invited to a Russian's flat, or you invite one to yours, only shake hands once you are inside. Exceptionally you can go outside to do it, but never over the threshold.
3.  This last one is, perhaps, the most controversial from a Westerner's point of view. A Russian will enter the office in the morning and shake hands with all the men present but only with the men, not the women. He may also do the same going home in the evening. Imagine trying that in UK! The women would have a field day, saying they are being discriminated against.  Apart from this, rather macho, example I would say that Russian men are usually very gallant towards women, holding doors open for them and generally treating them like "ladies". Perhaps I will write more on this subject when we get closer to "International" Women's Day on 8th March.
In the meantime I am looking forward to any comments or observations from my small band of readers.

Friday, 20 January 2012

72:minus eleven and falling

The 8MP camera on my phone takes a reasonable picture - until I use the zoom and then the slightest shake of an old man's hand makes the picture blurry. So you'll have to take my word for it that the picture below shows today's temperature at -11 degrees Celsius. A bit parky I thought, although a friend did remind me yesterday that parts of Canada are currently enjoying -43 degrees. (Note for the technically minded: -40 is when the Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales converge.) 
There is a lot of ice on the pavements. It is the time of year to start mincing, a la poofter! I will be glad when I can walk properly again. 
The play on words in the title of today's blog suggests, to me at any rate, both the falling mercury and people falling over because of the icy conditions.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

71:I am the walrus

I am reminded of another Beatles song - I am the walrus. to listen to the song, with lyrics. - to try and understand the meaning behind the strange lyrics. 

Russian men, and women, are hardy characters (some may say foolhardy). In a normal Russian Winter they talk about four frosts. 19th January in the Russian Orthodox calendar is Sacred Epiphany, or the Baptising, and the time for the Epiphany Frost (крещенские морозы). Some Russians decide, every year at this time, to make holes in the ice on the nearest lake and drop in for a quick swim. They are known as моржи (walruses). They believe it is very beneficial for their health. I reserve judgement. Each to their own! All I have to say is: rather you than me Ivan!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

70:A church for a change

You can't go far in Moscow without coming across a religious building - be it a church, a cathedral or a monastery. Religion was not the flavour of the month during Communism but since the fall of the Soviet Union it has been encouraged. People, generally, need somewhere to "hang their hat", something to believe in.

Took this picture yesterday. Isn't it strange how the snow clings to the top half of the "onion"!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

69:stalactites trickle

Whenever I see icicles (сосульки) hanging I am always mentally transported back to my school days when they explained to us how to remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. StalagMites mount (i.e. climb up) and stalacTites trickle (i.e. trickle down). So there! 
In today's picture you will see lots of icicles hanging from overhead pipes. It is common to see (heating) pipes overground and to see them bent into an inverted U-shape to avoid obstacles or perhaps to allow traffic to flow beneath them. 
The mercury (in the thermometer) is finally falling to bring us a more typical Russian Winter. On the GISMeteo forecast for the next 2 weeks there are only minuses, with the coldest being -16 during the day on Tuesday 24th. Experience has shown that GISMeteo is not too accurate with its forecasts - I think they just cut and paste whichever numbers take their fancy - unless it's a secret code of course! 

Monday, 16 January 2012

68:almost no blog

Almost no blog today - I don't feel 100%. Having just struggled through the snow all the way out to Paveletsakaya and then all the way back because the lesson was cancelled I think I'll go back to bed for a few hours to see if I might feel any better. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

67:A visit to the cinema

Russian cinema buildings have reinvented themselves the same way that UK cinema buildings have and are, to a large extent, flourishing. Old single-screen cinemas now lie idle (See first photo). Multi-screen, often as part of a large shopping complex, has taken off in Moscow and appears to be very successful. Tickets are, to my mind, reasonably priced but where they really make the money is in the sale of food and drink (See second photo).
I've just returned from watching the latest Sherlock Holmes adventure. I thought it was going to be the end of any further movies after he, and his arch-enemy Moriarty, fell from the castle high in the mountains of Switzerland. But, just in the last few moments, we were given a reprieve and can, I believe, now expect a sequel. A pleasant couple of hours of pure escapism. The slo-mo camera action was especially good.
As I write this there are fireworks going off in the distance. Can't begin to imagine what they're celebrating now. Do fireworks have a use-by date?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

66:Desmond has a barrow in the marketplace

A line from the Paul McCartney song "obla-di, obla-da". I want to state categorically that I don't have, and never have had, a barrow in the marketplace. In fact, I don't understand markets at all. Row after row of shops, or stalls, all selling more or less the same thing for more or less the same price. How does it work? How come they don't go out of business? How can stallholders have the patience to stand there all day and every day for the sake of a few roubles? 
For me, one of life's great mysteries. If somebody could explain the "market economy" I'd be grateful.....
Today's photos are of Timiryazevskaya market, which must be a quarter of a mile long and contains three different types of goods; the food market, the clothes market and the market that sells everything else - including lots of kitchen sinks.

Friday, 13 January 2012

65:Going back to bed and Old New Year

The joy of going back to bed after the first student of the day has cancelled knows no bounds. Having had a couple of hours extra in bed I am now fully refreshed (believe that if you will) and ready to face the day - even though it is Friday 13th. Unlucky for some.

Perhaps now I'll manage to stay up until midnight to celebrate Old New Year. This is the last of the 4 celebrations (Christian Christmas, New New Year, Russian Orthodox Christmas and Old New Year) and is a commemoration of the coming of New Year according to the old Julian calendar. Russians do like to celebrate life.

Here is a link to "Russian Blog" with a more detailed explanation of the old New Year and how it is celebrated together with lots of interesting Russian phrases. I would recommend this blog to anybody interested in Russia and things Russian.

Moscow has slowly been filling up during the week as people drift back to work. Whereas this time last week I could be guaranteed a seat on the metro, now it is more usual to stand, depending on the time of day and the particular line.

Here is a recent photo of a mural on the wall on Savyolovskaya metro station.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

64:The girl with the dragon tattoo

Two lessons, out of two, were cancelled yesterday so I had a day to myself apart from having to go into the office to re-register. Normally foreigners have to register or re-register with the authorities within 3 days of arriving but when all of Russia is on holiday for 9 days then foreigners are allowed to wait until the first official day back at work (i.e. yesterday). 
I decided to visit the cinema after going to the office and it transpired that they were showing "the girl with the dragon tattoo" (and with Daniel Craig) at the Pushkin cinema on Pushkin Square. Today's photos are of the cinema. Isn't the building impressive? 
Had some nachos before I went in. 240 roubles (about £5!). Daylight robbery!
I enjoyed the film, but not the ending. I won't give it away in case you are planning to watch it.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

63:Here comes Winter now

Two days ago, in my blog about the snow ploughs, I mentioned how unseasonal the weather was.
I think somebody REALLY IMPORTANT is reading my blogs because now the snow has arrived.....
The burning question is: am I going to buy skis or not? On balance, probably not as I spend enough time on my feet as it is - using Shanks's pony.

Monday, 9 January 2012


I'm just back from a brief visit to Solnechnogorsk, a small town 60km to the NW of Moscow. It lies on the main road from Moscow to St Petersburg, which is affectionately known as the Leningradka. 
I took photos of these war memorials to show any non-Russian readers the reverence that is placed in Russia on remembering those who died in battle, especially in the Second World War, known here as the Great Patriotic War. Russia didn't join the war until 1941 when Hitler tore up the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression treaty and his troops marched into Russia. 
German troops occupied Solnechnogorsk for a while but were beaten back in December 1942 (?). Fresh wreaths are laid every December to commemorate this event. In the photo on the left the illuminated section in the middle scrolls constantly  to show the names of the fallen. The inscription at the bottom reads "Eternal Glory to the Heroes".

Sunday, 8 January 2012

61:A convoy of snow ploughs

I've mentioned the unseasonal weather before. Maybe it's Global Warming and maybe it isn't but it is certainly true that the weather in Moscow at the moment is unusually mild. In early January there is usually lots of snow and temperatures  can be -10 to -20. Yesterday it was +2. Today it is -2. Perhaps the cold weather is lurking just around the corner.....

Here is an amusing picture of a convoy of snow ploughs all lined up and waiting for the snow to fall so they can clear it away.... Shame there's nobody in authority to say "you don't need to go out today lads, there's no snow"

Saturday, 7 January 2012

60:Happy Christmas - again

Today Christmas is celebrated in the Russian Orthodox calendar. Presents were exchanged on New Years Eve/New Years Day, so today is more of a religious event. Earlier today I listened to a particularly edifying speech from Patriarch Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus'

Today's photo then, appropriately, is of one of the local churches. It is, unusually in this day and age, a wooden structure but it is still a working church.

Friday, 6 January 2012

59:Around and about

I set out today with the dual aims of visiting a couple of museums and taking some pictures "around and about" to illustrate the sometimes unusual architecture that can be seen in Moscow.
One of the reasons for doing this today was that entrance to Moscow's museums would be free over the holiday period......In theory anyway.
I ended up in only one museum - the Museum of the East and, of course, this particular museum wasn't free. In fact, like many of the museums here, there is an extra surcharge for foreigners! Perhaps at one time in the past we "Westerners" earned more than Muscovites. I think that, in many instances, the boot is now on the other foot. The entrance fee imbalance remains.
Notwithstanding, the museum of the East was quite impressive with exhibits about many places East of here. To name but a few places: China, Mongolia, Tibet, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Buryat, Georgia. Each  country has its own national characteristics which are reflected in its art and culture.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

58:back in the USSR

Whoops, I'm (a lot) more than 20 years out of date. I mean back in Russia of course. I left Ramsey at about 4.15 p.m. (UK time) yesterday afternoon and arrived in "my" flat in Moscow at about 7.30 a.m. (Moscow time). Journey time about 11 hours door-to-door.
The UK underground system as usual left a lot to be desired with a 15 minute delay at Covent Garden or Leicester Square, I don't remember exactly as I was in Zombie mode. My apologies for the poor quality of the photo. I need more practice with moving objects! 
The Moscow underground, on the other hand, was fast and reliable. I wondered why the carriages were almost empty until I remembered "Russia" is still on holiday. They don't start back until Tuesday 11th. I'm reminded of a Russian toast "may we meet under the table!". 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

57:The 12 days of Christmas

In the Christian calendar there are 12 days of Christmas. These are the days between Christmas (25th December) and Epiphany (6th January). Epiphany is celebrated as the day the wise men, or magi, brought gifts to the baby Jesus. 

In the UK many people decorate their houses (sometimes inside and out) with tinsel, paper streamers and (fairy) lights. There is often a Christmas tree, which is also decorated. Decorations go up any time from the beginning of December. Traditionally they are taken down on the 12th day of Christmas. 

Here is a well-known song about a man giving unusual presents to his true love on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Ramsey, in Cambridgeshire. I have lived here for the last 20 years. A small town with a population of about 8,000 people. It is an old town with a long history. The town has grown around the Abbey, work on which started in 969AD, the Abbey being dedicated in 974AD. At this time Ramsey was an island in the fens*. In 1110 Henry I granted Ramsey Abbey permission to hold a fair during Easter week in the Manor of Slepe on the banks of the Ouse just where it entered the fens. The fair attracted visitors from all over England, and also from a number of famous European cities. Typical items for sale at such fairs included hides, furs, wool and jewels.
The Abbey grew very quickly and was soon one of the most powerful in the country. Like many surrounding settlements, it was damaged significantly during the black death of 1348-50, the grain production being roughly halved on the manors of Ramsey Abbey. Further trouble came in 1381, when the Abbey was attacked by revolting peasants, irritated by legal villeinage**.
The current church of St Thomas à Becket was built in around 1180. The most peculiar thing about this building is that it was not originally built as a church at all; instead it appears that it was built as a hospitum - either a guesthouse or possibly a hospital. This was certainly dissolved before 1291, and an unconfirmed dedication date for the parish church of 1237 appears in the literature.

*(the Fens) the flat low-lying areas of eastern England, mainly in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and Norfolk, formerly marshland but largely drained for agriculture since the 17th century.
** villein. In medieval England a feudal tenant entirely subject to a lord or manor to whom he paid dues and services in return for land.

Monday, 2 January 2012

55:Pass the parcel

Enjoyed some "down-time" yesterday but first I had to collect my mum who had spent Christmas and New Year in London with my sister.
To save my sister driving 100 miles to Ramsey and 100 miles back again we often effect a changeover at Birchanger services on the M11, almost halfway between Ramsey and where my sister lives in London.
Everything went well and now my mum is back in her sheltered accommodation* in Ramsey and my sister is back in London.

*sheltered accommodation or sheltered housing
[mass noun] British
  • accommodation for elderly or disabled people consisting of private independent units with some shared facilities and a warden.

I took this photo yesterday, of Santa and his little helpers, at the motorway service station at Birchanger.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

54:Happy New Year

The first blog of a new year. 2012. What will it bring for each and every one of us? (The New Year I mean, not the blog!). Some surprises, some disappointments, probably some sadness but, hopefully, also a lot of happiness. Life, to a certain extent, is what you make of it. The decisions you make, or don't make, can have a profound effect on the direction your life takes, the people you meet, the friends you make. 
I wish you good luck with keeping any New Year's resolutions you may have made to make your life better in some way.
I could go on but these are only platitudes. 
a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful:

For my photo today I felt it only appropriate to show some fireworks. A truly international symbol of celebration. I had a look on flickr for an interesting picture to download but so many of the pictures are copyright protected. So here is one from my own album. I know it won't win any "best picture" prizes.