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Sunday, 29 April 2012

B150:It wasn't a bluff

It's a slow news day. What to write about? Just back from my friend's birthday party last night. A good time was had by all. Good job it was indoors as the weather has been atrocious all weekend. Almost non-stop rain. I got soaked this morning when I went to collect the car (which I had to abandon last night after it had had too much to drink). And yet in Moscow this weekend it has been 24 degrees. I see from the forecast that as soon as I get back to Moscow tomorrow evening the temperature will return to one more normal for the time of year! Roll on Summer.
Today's pictures have been included to corroborate the marathon claims that I made last week. Here is a younger, and faster, me - in 1995 and 1998.

Four hours for a marathon is, I think, quite respectable. The elite runners finish in a little over two hours and slow, and fun, runners come in at about the six hour mark. In 2002 Lloyd Scott took almost a week to complete the course. But he was wearing an antique diving suit. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

B149:A tale of two toilets

The inspiration for the title came from Charles Dickens - this year we are celebrating the bicentenary of his birth.

Today I am seeking advice. I'm in the process of solving a problem but undecided what my next step should be.
The story, so far, runs something like this....
I noticed that the floor in the toilet was a bit damp (and I'm usually so careful!) . On investigation it looked as though the water was leaking from the toilet itself. A plumber sent by the управдом (building management people) suggested that I needed a new манжет (some kind of rubber 'sleeve').  I managed to buy said манжет from the local market and called for the plumber to fit it. A different plumber arrived and said the first one was an idiot and I really needed a whole new toilet and it needed to be a certain kind. He showed me where the cistern wasn't aligned with the pipe in the back of the toilet. 
So, did I really need a new toilet or was I the one being played for a fool? I wanted to resolve the problem myself without involving the landlady (hope she isn't reading this) as she always tends to increase the rent whenever I trouble her with anything involving money. My thinking at this stage was that if I throw some money at the problem it would solve it so whether the first or the second plumber was right a new toilet would be the end of the matter. Ha! Off to the market and start  looking at toilets. Of course, when I started mentioning the kind I was told I needed then people started saying "you don't want one of them, you want one of these" in the way that people do. A ordered a complete new toilet and two young men from Dagestan, and a new toilet from goodness knows where, duly arrived just after 9 p.m. (!!) on Wednesday evening. They ripped out the old one and installed the new. If only that were the end of the problem I could live "happily ever after". But, and there's always a but, the toilet seems to have been installed in the middle of the floor rather than against the wall. When I sit down my long legs  don't allow the door to close! I could see why they did it as the pipe sticks out a long way from the wall but surely as reputable plumbers (?) they should have told me that this particular toilet wasn't suitable in this instance rather than go ahead and "bodge" it. There is no Consumer Credit Act in this country (as far as I know). What do I do next? Some choices are:
1.  Leave it as it is and always visit the loo with the door open. Not really a viable option as sometimes there are students in the flat.
2.  Go back to the boys from Dagestan and see if they can cut back the waste pipe and reinstall the toilet closer to the wall. Firstly, the waste pipe is quite a substantial fitting, I'm not sure it would be easy to cut it. Secondly, if they made such a mess of the first installation, do I really have faith in them to come back and do good work.
3.   Buy another toilet, of the kind I was advised to get in the first place, and get somebody reliable in to install it? It would be throwing good money after bad but if it solves the problem.....
4.   'fess up to the landlady and get her to solve the problem. Not likely!
What should I do next? 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

B148:English with love

Now the snow has (finally) gone, we can start reading the pavement ads again. This one says "English with Love". The mind boggles! I'd just  like to say it is not a reference to my website. I don't know what it means as I'm not brave enough to call....
Maybe instead of syntax there should be a sin tax?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Sorry, but I couldn't resist this. Not very gallant of me I know, but look at the difference between the three young ladies in the poster (advertising a radio station) and the three, not quite so young, sitting on the bench waiting for a bus. I'm aware, of course, that I too have been slowly aging and am not the Adonis that I once was (ha ha). 

Sunday, 22 April 2012


When I left the flat yesterday afternoon I didn't really know where I would end up. I had no specific plan in mind but decided just to let my feet lead me. After a short bus ride and two stops on the monorail train I ended up in Ostankino. This is well known for its TV tower.
But as well as the TV tower, Ostankino has a cathedral

And a large park with at least one tree sculpture
and a "dancing veranda" where people of all ages can step up and dance to the music.
By way of a contrast from the rather sedate dancing, today the 32nd London marathon will be run. I wonder if I've got any more marathons left in me - I suspect not, but who knows what a bit of determination can yield.
Image of Tower Bridge

Saturday, 21 April 2012

B145:Subbotnik and Happy Birthday Your Majesty

Today, as Spring continues to invigorate us all, a subbotnik was declared for many Muscovites and indeed, as far as I know, for many Russians - at least in those parts of Western and Southern Russia where Spring has arrived.
This involves giving several hours of your time in the service of the local community. It is completely unpaid and voluntary. People are "encouraged" to attend by their employers and get some kind of black mark against their name if they don't take part.
Most of the work involves light gardening, tidying and making outside areas look nice after the ravages of Winter.
The work of painting everything that doesn't move continues. Here the entrance to my stairwell has been given a fresh coat of battleship grey paint to see us through another year. The second picture shows the result of a lot of people's efforts.

Our Queen has two birthdays every year, an actual birthday and an official one. On the official birthday, held on a Saturday in June, the Queen reviews her birthday parade, otherwise known as Trooping the Colour. See the video clip below.
RAF Valley 

Today is the Queen's actual birthday. She is 86 years old.
Happy Birthday Your Majesty.

I had the privilege of meeting 
Her Majesty in 2005.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

B144:I survived Easter

I survived Easter:

The next two holidays on the horizon are Labour Day on 1st May and Victory Day on 9th. That nice Mr Putin has made an executive decision and juggled a few days around so that we get 5 days holiday for the price of 2. Not quite as generous as it first appears because we will have to work on 3 consecutive Saturdays to make up for it.
Victory Day is very important here in Russia. I may well write more about it nearer the time. For the moment I wanted to show that motorists are already marking the event by putting a slogan on the back windscreen of their cars "Thank you for Victory Grandad". I see this every year at about this time. Here is a photo taken yesterday through the window of the tram I was travelling in.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

B143:Spring has Sprung

Finally, it is Spring. There is warmth and sometimes even sunshine. Gangs of workers are out everywhere painting everything that doesn't move and turning over every bit of ground.(N.B. the old man in the picture, walking away from camera, isn't me!)
Soon, just in time for the May holidays, all the bulbs (you can just about see them in the picture below) and thousands and thousands like them will have metamorphosed into flowers and the city will look lovely again. (Perhaps I'm gushing just a little bit!).
Finally, for today, here is a picture of an egg decorated for me by Mila. Thank you Mila for taking the time, and trouble, to decorate this egg especially for me. Much appreciated.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

142:Христос воскресе

Today the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter Sunday. People greet each other with the words "Христос Воскресе" (Christ has risen) and respond with "Воистину Воскресе" (truly risen).
Russians decorate eggs to present to each other - here is one I got last year from the lovely Katya.

They also make an Easter cake/loaf called a Kulich.

Finally, here's a facebook entry I came across a few days ago from Maria. It says "Don't complain about not having enough time. You get the same amount of hours every day as Einstein, Gates and Soros!"

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Today I went to Vernisazh to buy a birthday present for a friend. This is a big touristy souvenir market on the East side of Moscow a few minutes walk from the metro station Partisanskaya. Here are some of the partisans after whom the metro station is named.
As you walk down to the market there is a big, and when I say big I mean big, complex of 5 hotels on your left. They were built when Moscow hosted the Olympic games in 1980 and are looking a bit dated now. They are called Alpha, Beta, Vega, Gamma and Delta (known locally as ah bay vay ge day ka) and I often stayed there when I visited Moscow before I moved into my rented flat. I used to get phone calls in the middle of the night asking if I wanted any female company

The market itself hosts hundreds of stalls selling an enormous variety of "tat". I had wanted to take lots of photos to show you some of the products on sale but my mobile phone decided to freeze up after I had taken this next picture. With most phones it would have been possible to simply open the back and take the battery out but this is a Nokia E7, which is a sealed unit, so there was nothing to be done with it. Somebody called me and the phone just rang and rang and rang in my pocket until the battery went flat. Luckily, it appears to be charging up successfully.
After buying the present for my friend I decided to lunch there before the long journey home. I can recommend the lamb shashlik. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

140:Yuri Gagarin

On this day, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel in space, aboard the spacecraft Vostock 1. Russia was, and still is, tremendously proud of this achievement. Today's metro newspaper is almost entirely devoted to "Space" and includes a picture showing Yuri Gagarin's statue being given a good Spring clean.

On a more down-to-earth level I was reminded earlier today of the disadvantages of travelling by tram. As soon as there is "an incident" of any kind on the tram tracks then trams can no longer move and start to back up, inconveniencing not only those people already sitting on the trams but also those waiting further down the line. Today there was a minor accident on the tracks, not even directly involving a tram, but everything has to stop until the police arrive. Luckily I didn't have too far to walk.

Last, but by no means least, and purely for aficionados of the Yorkie bar, here is a picture of the Russian equivalent, including the phrase "keep it away from women". 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


On 9th April 1867 The United States senate reluctantly voted to purchase Alaska from Russia for just $7.2 million. 
What a different place the world would be, geographically and politically, if Alaska still belonged to Russia. Although Winston Churchill's iron curtain has now gone I wonder if there would be an "ice curtain" dividing Alaska from Canada and the US. Still, the world is what it is - a very strange place, especially where different cultures meet.

Here in Moscow I have my fingers crossed that there is no more snow left in the sky to fall on us. There are gangs of workmen breaking up the piles of snow that have amassed during the Winter. 
It makes it easier to melt. The roads and pavements are awash with melting snow and the almost non-stop rain we had yesterday. April showers? Trying to circumvent the pools of water that were everywhere yesterday I was reminded of the old one-liner "I don't care what your name is, you're not walking on my lake while I'm fishing!" 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

138:Happy Easter!

Today is Easter Sunday in UK. It is a religious festival to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. Some Christians go to church but not many these days.
As with so many of our present day festivals, religion has taken a back seat. Easter now means chocolate Easter eggs and presents to our children. Easter eggs are on sale in the shops from the middle of January. Cadbury's creme eggs are on sale throughout the year.

Over the Easter weekend we eat Hot Cross buns.

Here in Moscow I went for my first run of the season. I call it a run but that's a bit like calling a trabant a car. It was a mix of jogging and walking for half an hour.. But the important thing today was to put the running kit on and get out into the park. I can now start to build on the stamina and endurance.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

137:A cheeky parrot!

I meant to write this yesterday (Friday) but ran out of day and my grasp of technology let me down. I had upgraded the operating system on my mobile but haven't yet got my head around its intricacies. 
On Thursday afternoon I went to the cinema between lessons. What, again, I hear you say. Relaxing in the cinema is a pleasant way of passing a few hours when there is a largish gap between lessons. Better than taking a 10-15 walk to the metro and then 45 minutes on the metro then 5 minutes on the bus then 5 minutes walk to get home only to do it all again in reverse a few hours later. I saw a new Russian film called Spy. (шпион). I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would but still better than the long trek home and back again.
While I was sitting in the cinema, waiting for the film to start, I was minding my own business and eating some nachos when along comes a parrot (I think!) to help me eat them. A cheeky blighter!
Here also, to finish off the blog, is the classic Monty Python dead parrot sketch from their heyday in the 60s.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

136:Maundy Thursday

In the Catholic and Anglican church calendar this is Holy Week week. 

Easter (пасха) is a movable festival in both the Russian Orthodox and the Anglican calendars. This year, in Russia, it will be celebrated on April 24th. 
In UK, most schools are closed this week and next for the children's Easter holidays. 

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Today is Holy Thursday when we commemorate the Last Supper
Maundy Thursday

Today is also known as Maundy Thursday and the British Queen, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, will distribute Maundy money to (some of) the needy. In the Middle Ages English monarchs washed the feet of beggars but starting in 1932 the monarch distributed silver coins.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

135:Back to the grindstone*

It is always always strange returning to Moscow. Russian laws, rules, appearance and behaviour are so different to UK that often it feels as if I have landed on another planet.
Having said that, it was a very pleasant, and talkative, young lady border guard who checked my passport yesterday. And I am always impressed in the Moscow metro when young people give up their seats more readily than our youth in UK. When they offer me a seat, which they do quite often, I feel a mix of disappointment (that I must look older from the outside than I feel on the inside!) and gratitude. 
And as for the weather! We've had snow today and there is a strong Westerly wind. In English there is a very old proverb which says "ne'er cast a clout till May is out"! but it will be nice to feel some warm sunny weather here in Moscow.    


 keep one's nose to the grindstone

 work hard and continuously.

ne'er cast a clout till May be out

proverb do not discard your winter clothes until the end of May.

Monday, 2 April 2012

134:Happy Birthday to me

Many thanks to my many friends and colleagues who have sent birthday wishes. Does anybody know a way of slowing time down so that the birthdays don't come by quite so fast?
I'm at Heathrow waiting for my flight back to Moscow to be called.
An interesting item on the BBC news this morning: 600 fishermen had to be rescued from an ice floe off Sakhalin. Luckily there were no casualties. Fishing through the ice is a very popular Russian pastime. Unfortunately several (?) people die each year when the ice they are sitting on melts or collapses.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

133:A proper Sunday lunch

A proper Sunday lunch (roast lamb and all the trimmings) in a proper English pub. Nice. 
Back to Moscow tomorrow,Monday 2nd April.Wonder if all the snow has gone yet.