Одинокий

Firstly, apologies for not updating everyone to the events and mishaps going on in my life for a while. Sadly working life just doesn’t provide the opportunity for embarrassing myself or getting into utterly bizarre situations… much.

The biggest news to report is the break-up of Charlie and myself. A week and a half ago he uprooted sticks and flew back to England. The reason? Amazingly it isn’t due to spending too much time together (almost 6 months) but the magnetism of love is just too strong apparently. Charlie is returning to Tyumen for another few months to be with Anna, and to do some teaching. This demonstration of wonderfully optimistic young love is as touching as it is sickening. We started our Year Abroad in the same love-situation-boat, and he has excelled to such levels that ‘feelings’ now dictate it. Something which is still utterly alien for me. Nevertheless, I of course wish him and Anna all the best in their further adventure.

The McCloy Family kindly invited me to watch 'Turandot' (opera) at the Bolshoi Theatre. Aka I am supremely cultured now.

The McCloy Family kindly invited me to watch ‘Turandot’ (opera) at the Bolshoi Theatre. Aka I am supremely cultured now.

This, however, left me alone in big, scary Moscow. Luckily, a Russian colleague at work took pity and invited me to visit his extended family in the countryside to the North-East of Moscow (Vladimirskaya Oblast); I, of course, agreed. My underestimating of the size of Russia came into play once again- I was picked up at 5.30am on Saturday morning and we drove non-stop for 6 hours before arriving in a classic Russian village of about 50 wooden houses- the first of many stops.

What I hadn’t expected were these stops to entail drinking various alcoholic drinks on a Saturday morning. So, at 11.30am I sat down with ‘Ivan’, a man whose doppelgänger would quite simply be a walrus, and part-voluntarily drank 5 shots of cognac with him, all the while toasting to continued friendship/international relations/work etc. In the next four stops (all around an hour drive to each) I was given red wine, vodka, mead and then, thank god, a cup of very welcome tea. By 9pm the hangover was in full force and at 10.30 I was tucked up in bed feeling partly ill from some bad alcoholic mixing and partly happy to be once again outside of the mundane working life. The journey back was far more conventional and I arrived back to my dark, empty flat wondering what to do next…

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

There was only really ever one option. Nope, not the strip club but St. Petersburg!  I was going to visit The Hermitage, the Winter Palace and the beautiful boulevards that I have read so much about over years of Russian studies. Oh, and of course to visit the numerous friends from Bristol that have all now moved there for studies.

To try and keep the costs down, and for a true Russian experience, I booked overnight trains in the infamous ‘Platzkart’ class. Everyone who has been in Platzkart has different stories to tell, some good, some not so good… In Winter the windows are bolted shut (to keep the warmth in). This, however, obviously means that no smells or heat can get out. Given that in a Platzkart carriage there are 54 people and that the temperature in my train upon departure was above 30 degrees, the bolted windows didn’t seem quite so necessary. As a light-sleeper at the best of times, having 40 people seemingly all snoring just by my head and the temperature (and equally putrefying smells) slowly rising, I was never really going to get my solid 8 hours sleep.

The Platzkart carriage

The Platzkart carriage

Rufus and Harry had kindly let me sleep at their flat for the long weekend, or so they thought. On Thursday, the day of my triumphant arrival, their Landlord called to say that they were being evicted and had to be out of the flat by Friday. They were obviously incredulous as they had done nothing wrong, and yet on Friday (which I should add was Woman’s day in Russia, a National Holiday) said Landlord came round at 8pm and unceremoniously chucked us all out. Luckily, they had other friends who had offered to put us up; Rufus and I quickly dumped our stuff at Minnie’s room, a friend from Bristol, before going out to celebrate Women’s Day/Eviction Day. We all celebrated so well that I sadly wasn’t able to see any of St.Petersburg on Saturday.

Seeing the sights of St. Petersburg

Seeing the sights of St. Petersburg

On Saturday evening Rob (ex-Tyumenian who is now living the life in St.P) had organised a private Banya trip for 15 of us. For those of you who don’t remember the Banya in Tyumen, here is a re-cap: https://tyumenandbackagain.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/деревня/

As we were a group of both sexes we all wore swimming costumes. Unaware that we were going to the Banya, I didn’t bring my trunks with me to St.P. So Rob, ever the friend, lent me his Speedos from Tyumen. They had definitely shrunk since their last outing. So much so that I can’t put a detailed picture up else I’d have to make my blog restricted to over 16’s.

The building and the area of the Banya was reminiscent of most horror films- through a dark passageway and through a solid metal door. Prest took great pleasure in informing the girls that it looked like the start of The Human Centipede 3. The Banya itself could, and probably does, double as a brothel when it’s not booked out. Nevertheless, everyone had a great time.

The Banya

The Banya

Before I knew it, it was Monday and I still had yet to see a Museum. So, ignoring the blizzard conditions, Prest and I set out to find something cultural to look at. After 2 hours of walking and numerous attempts at getting into a Museum (anything cultural is apparently shut on Mondays) we gave up and went to the pub.

Prestige searching for a Museum

Prestige searching for a Museum

I returned to Moscow in much worse shape than when I left, both financially, physically and probably mentally.

The train

To turn to my love-life- surprise surprise, still no real girlfriend. Yet I do at least have some semi-decent excuses this time. As my working hours are from 9-6.30 here, and my commute is around an hour, by the time I am home and eaten all I want to do is sleep. It means that I can only really go out on Friday nights and drink enough (about 1.5 beers) to feel absolutely irresistible to everyone and everything.

Despite these setbacks, I finally met a Russian girl called Katya a few weeks ago and have since gone out on a few dates. It gives me a great chance to practice my Russian and she gets to laugh at me, so everyone is a winner.

On the second date we organised to meet after work for a few drinks. Very kindly, she gave me a chocolate bar as we met because she thought that I would be hungry. Thanking her I put it in my pocket and thought nothing more of it. A few hours and many drinks later we had moved from bar to bar to club, and the time had come to leave. Realising that I’d need some more money for a taxi I reached into my left trouser pocket for my wallet. I pulled out a disgustingly warm, and dark-chocolate-covered wallet which then smeared from my hands onto pretty much everything I was wearing. Katya laughed, probably partly from horror. Trying to act as nonchalantly as humanly possible, I laughed along too whilst internally swallowing the humiliation of looking like I’d had an ‘accident’ and working out how on earth to get chocolate out of suit trousers.

We then walked into the centre of the road to hail down a cab (me, for some unknown reason, still assuming she would be coming back for a ‘cup of tea’) then stood by and watched her hop into a cap whilst shouting ‘bye’. To conclude, I was left standing in the middle of a busy road all by myself, covered in dark chocolate.

Extraordinarily she was still keen to meet another couple of times. So before going to St Petersburg I thought I’d step it up a notch, I sent her a text saying ‘So are you going to miss me?’ with an outrageous smiley face.

She has yet to reply.

I’m taking it as a good sign.

The next post will be posted in a few weeks, as in that time both my parents and Harris and Sam will be visiting me. The juxtaposition of the two weeks should be amusing.

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SHAMELESS PLUG: If you have the time please have a look at my brothers charity collecting page for his attempt on the gigantic African beast of a mountain, Kilimanjaro. His attempt to raise money via his utter humiliation is particularly commendable (see Facebook for proof).

http://www.justgiving.com/Jack-Reynolds

Работа

After a little international ‘blip’… The blog is back in its full, uninhibited form.

GUM Department Store

To pick up on where I left off, Charlie and I have actually managed to find a more-than-decent looking apartment for a price that wasn’t completely out of our budget. How could this be possible we thought? With only three days left of our cosy communal living experience, we took the plunge, moved out from our snug little hostel and are now proud, fully flat-initiated Muscovites. Whatsmore, instead of just getting the usual dark, damp and dingy Year Abroad flat, we’ve gone for the more palatial approach. We even have a spare bedroom for visiting guests. Our bachelor pad, although admittedly a good half hour on the metro from the centre, is undoubtedly very nice. Ever the realist, it feels incredibly strange and unnatural for me to not have anything bad to say about it. So much so that both Charlie and I are waiting for an inevitable downturn- an axe-wielding landlady, poltergeist or Welsh neighbour surely?

Ladies... I present my bedroom.

Ladies… My bedroom.

Charlie is out of control

Charlie is out of control

As it was a Friday, we decided to go out and have a few quiet cocktails and sample some of the more salubrious (that’s right, more salubrious) destinations in the centre to celebrate our apartment victory, or ‘Victory of the Apartment Day’ as it shall come to be known. This conservative and sensible approach to a night out, after all, would suit our new ‘working lifestyle’. I even put on my tweed jacket, just to show the world that we really meant business.

We began our foray into the Moscow high-life with a decent cocktail bar, but we thought we could do better. After another Mohito for the road, we wandered around passing a number of bars before one caught my eye. Most of that day I had been perusing the ‘Moscow Nightlife’ sites, and this one had been mentioned a number of times. After a quick conversation with the suprisingly friendly bouncer, we entered.

My first impression was: ‘well this is alternative for Moscow’; lots of impressive facial hair, well-fitting jeans and even some flat caps. Most unusual for Russia indeed. Nevertheless, we settled by the bar and I let Charlie decide what to order. As he uttered the words ‘Two Rusty Nails please’ to the barman, I knew that our sensible night out was completely off (Charlie had ordered us cocktails comprising of one half whisky and one half gin. Oh bugger). About 10 seconds after this realisation, another realisation hit us like a limp, well-moisturised backhand across the face: we were in a gay bar. Men of all shapes and sizes were gyrating away all around us, interspersed with the odd girl here and there for good measure. And there we were, together. I was in my tweed jacket and Charlie had some questionable ginger facial hair. We fitted in like peas in a pod.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the current situation in Russian politics, the State Duma (Government) voted 388 to 1 for a bill that makes public events and the dissemination of information by the LGBT community to minors punishable by fines of up to £10,000 (a huge amount for the average Russian). After two more readings, the bill will have to be signed by President Vladimir Putin. Whats more, any protest against this bill is being met with a typically Russian iron-fist. ‘Kiss-ins’, a method of peaceful protest where people simply snog, have been occuring recently. These have been broken-up by militant pro-Church members who religiously beat-up the protesters. All the while, the Police stand by and watch.

The general population’s opinion of homosexuality is sadly still very archaic, according to opinion polls last year almost two-thirds of Russians find homosexuality ‘morally unacceptable and worth condemning’. A third thought homosexuality was the result of ‘a sickness or a psychological trauma’. So for Charlie and I to find the ONLY gay bar in central Moscow really was quite a feat.

I am very proud to say that this did not stop me from finding (the only?) two 24 year old heterosexual girls to talk to. One of them had a boyfriend with her, who was 47. Amazingly, he was Scottish. Not so amazingly, he was called ‘Ronny’, and he proceeded to get absolutely hammered. If there was ever a stereotype of a Scottish man, it was Ronny. To give a quick excerpt of the conversation we had with him: ‘Ayyyeee lads, let’s get ba’errrd!’ Translation: ‘Yes gents, let’s get drunk’.

Naturally, we left Ronny to do his own thing (stumble around aimlessly) whilst I got on with the whole ‘get a Russian girlfriend’ business and began to dazzle the girls with my stupendous idioms, flawless grammar and all-round knowledge of the Russian language.* Or so I tried. Ronny’s girlfriend very loudly and forcefully announced to my face that she spoke such good English I shouldn’t even bother speaking Russian. Twice. Just to reiterate to my gobsmacked face just how good she really was. Just when I thought I couldn’t dislike someone based on first impressions much more, she then sneeringly asked me:

‘If you are only 21, why on earth are you wearing a tweed jacket?!’

Game over. We left.

In terms of my work (Charlie has yet to begin), after two weeks of commuting I am bored of even the spectacular Moscow Metro. It is one of the most impressive metro systems in the world, has more passengers than the London and New York metro combined every day, and I dread it already. In the office I sit at my desk, in my own office; something that millions of people around the world are striving to achieve- a personal office in a magic-circle law firm. All I can say is God knows why, I crave human voices for 10 hours a day. Each time someone walks past my always-open door I look out longingly and wish for that quick, daily ‘kak dela’ conversation. Sat in my suit all day and commuting… Life after university seems foreboding close.

My office (the desk next to me is unoccupied)

On the plus side, the work is actually very useful for both my business knowledge and Russian as I mostly help with translating documents that I don’t even understand in English. If the 4th year exam is on Russian legal deals in the energy sector, I will utterly annihilate it. I have also finally branched out in the office and befriended people in the Banking Department, who are all very friendly and sociable.

Charlie begins his work in the Capital Markets department at Cushman and Wakefield on Monday. He has been so worried by the thought of starting work in such an intense environment that he is struggling to finish his food and even threw up my sumptuous Spaghetti Bolognese on Tuesday night. I had extras.

On Saturday 2nd we celebrated Charlie’s 22nd by dining at ‘Pushkin Cafe’, one of the most ostentatious and impressively ‘tsarist’ restaurants in Moscow. As such once again we thought that we had better dress up to be sure we fitted in. Begrudgingly forgoing the tweed jacket this time, we ‘tied-up’ and got ready to impress the Moscow socialites.

No one else wore ties.

Once again we had managed to overdress, yet far worse (purely in a sartorial sense) was to follow. After the lovely meal we had arranged to meet with Zhenya, a Muscovite friend of Rufus’ who works as a PR in a modelling firm and had kindly agreed to meet up with us and show us some proper bars. After rubbing shoulders with the unashamedly rich and fabulous in a couple of unbelievably exclusive bars we ended up in ‘Solyanka Club’; I would liken it to Dojos in Bristol, but only after everyone in Dojos had suddenly become incredibly wealthy. Despite Charlie and I sticking out like sore-thumbs (at about 3am the incredibly laid-back and chilled Zhenya just laughed, pointed at us and said ‘Your ties…’),we had a great time.

Cafe Pushkin

Cafe Pushkin

Club Solyanka

Club Solyanka

* What about Charlie you may ask? On a slightly more successful note, I can confirm to the masses that Charlie ‘Badass’ McCloy is a no longer a single and ready to mingle eligible bachelor…

Москва

The Last two weeks in Tyumen flew by in a blur of visiting the sights we had yet to see and saying our goodbyes. By the end, as ready as we were to go home, we were actually sad to leave. Especially Charlie…

Early morning wander Tobolsk

I spent the break from Russia… Eating to be honest. Returning for Christmas and then popping to France for a couple of weeks was the perfect way to gain some much-needed weight. After hundreds of Tartiflettes, Raclettes and Croutes before I knew it I was back in the Motherland. This time Charlie and I will be in Moscow for a few months. Thats right, only me and Charlie. Maybe it was after the ‘Banya incident’ or simply Tyumeny crazy things happened whist we were together but Iona and Rob will not be joining us here. They decided to take the soft, easy option of St. Petersburg whilst Charlie and I forge on in our intrepid Russian misadventure.

Before we arrived the only thing Charlie and I had to do was find an apartment to live in, and we had decided that we needed to do this about 4 months ago. Needless to say, we failed miserably. The cost of living in Moscow is widely regarded as the most expensive in the world. To give an example: A 1-bedroom apartment that was suggested for the both of us would have cost £900 a month. Each. Furthermore, it looked like a convent and was located so far from the centre that I reckon it would have been easier to get to St. Petersburg than Moscow each morning.

Until we find an apartment we are staying in the ‘Basilica Hostel’ in a very cosy twin bed room. It’s a 40 minute walk to work every morning, although it means I can enjoy the relative warmth of -8 here! In the hostel, the receptionist thinks I am gay, and Charlie hasn’t even arrived yet (he gets here tomorrow). When asked who will be sharing my room I bumbled my way through some slightly rusty Russian explaining that it was my friend from England. This attempt was met with very raised eyebrows and a classic Russian disapproving stare. Ah well, doing my bit for gay-rights in Russia.

Having semi-decent access to the centre of Moscow is actually quite important for our first couple of months as we are both working. Well, working for no money. Charlie is working at Cushman and Wakefield, a real-estate company, and I am working for Allen and Overy, a law-firm. I started my first day yesterday at 9am and didn’t leave the office till 6.30pm; quite a shock for someone who only got up before 10am during the Winter Break to ski some powder, and even that was a challenge. The work itself was translating and generally helping out, amazingly I haven’t been ask to make coffee or photocopy yet.

St. Basils

Despite my new working life the same ‘challenges’ for my Year abroad remain:

-Become fluent at Russian.

-Get a Russian girlfriend (to help with the above obviously.)

-Get a ‘manly amount’ of chest hair.

Over the course of the next 3 and a bit months I will try to update my progress on those three challenges, as well as anything else vaguely strange/cool/crazy happens of course.

Жизнь

Countryside

I am actually very happy to say that nothing vaguely fatal has happened recently. Instead, with only ten days left in Tyumen, I thought I’d devote my last post (rant) to our everyday lives here.

For the last three and a half months I have been living with an Azerbaijani, Charlie a Chechen, Rob a Tajik and Iona a Mongolian. The rooms we live in would be considered a very optimistic ‘cosy’ in England. In hindsight, combining a tight room (read: crap), drastically different cultures and such a long period of time was always going to cause some friction.

Our living conditions make Bristol’s Halls look like 5* Hotels and roomy; the rooms here are about 5x3m and we have to share a desk. What’s more, for the past month the Siberian winter has very much set in (reaching a ball-chatteringly cold -33 with wind chill so far) meaning that nipping to the (nonexistent) nearby pub to escape our roommates for a while is all but impossible.

I normally consider myself a fairly easy-going guy, admittedly I can be untidy from time to time (just ask my Uni house last year…), however I feel like some of my basic human rights have been taken away since living here.

Hussein is a Muslim, as such he has to pray 5 times a day. I don’t have a problem with that one bit, however, being woken up a 6:30am every morning for 3.5 months has definitely had a lasting effect. Despite his alarm being louder than a Boeing 747 landing next to my head, he can never wake up. Thus, as a fairly light sleeper I am bolt-upright and wide-awake every morning at 6:30 prompt; really great when Hussein has been on Skype till 4am anyway. In terms of the computer he is actually much better than Iona’s and Charlie’s roommates. Charlie’s regularly games till the early morning, whereas Iona’s sings to her boyfriend on Skype until 5am most nights. In Mongolian.

I have tried various ways of politely getting Hussein to wake up/turn off his bloody alarm for the first month or two but to no avail. Thus, I have recently been forced to adopt a tad more direct and loud method:

“OHHMYGODD HUSSEIN, TURN. OFF. YOUR. SODDING. PHONE.”

It seems to be working a bit better so far.

He then moodily and noisily gets up and puts the kettle on (for his aprеs-pray brew). Meanwhile I try and get back to sleep, this is often quite an optimistic goal as having the words ‘Allah Akbar’ shouted, sung and muttered half a metre away from my head frankly makes it impossible.

After he prays, he slurps his tea at a quite incredible volume, spits into the kitchen sink a few times then loudly calls his friends to organise what he’s doing today. And that is just the morning…

For 3 and a half months I have lain awake listening to this ritual, and I can confirm that it has slowly driven me mad. Each slurp or bit of phlegm that he spits into the sink really is a form of torture.

Hussein has also recently taken to making posters to tell what he wants me to do (I would like to add that the vast majority of the mess is his and not mine). The brilliant thing about them is that, for some reason, he writes them in English. With hilarious mistakes.

His first poster, which annoyingly I didn’t take a picture of, read:

YOU CLEAN TABLE!!! WE ARE NOT DIRTY PIG!!!

The second was placed at head-height above the bin:

The Poster Home for the last 3.5 months

… Thanks Hussein!

Ah well, only 10 days till home! I have already ordered several meals from Mother Reynolds- the first? Roast beef, Yorkshire Puddings, every vegetable available, lashings of gravy and finished off with a huge Sticky Toffee Pudding.

To conclude, my tour in Tyumen has been an experience that I will never forget. I have genuinely met some of the kindest and nicest people, and their generosity and hospitality has been amazing. A big thanks to Diana, Alex, Ksenia, Sasha and many more people who have really made us feel welcome. It has made me genuinely appreciate home and the UK; until you spend so long in a place so alien and unlike home I don’t think you can ever appreciate it. My 3 aims that I set out to fulfil before I left for Tyumen sadly didn’t all go quite as planned:

1) Become fluent at Russian:

Getting there but a long way to go yet…

2) Get a ‘manly-amount’ of chest hair:

Slight improvement. However, if -33 doesn’t put hairs on my chest then God help me.

3) Get a Russian girlfriend:

… No comment.

I would like to thank Charlie, Iona and Rob very much, I am utterly amazed none of us have punched each other.

I leave Tyumen on the 20th, and by 15th January I’ll be hitting up Moscow. It’s going to be very different. Thank you to anyone who has read my blog, it now has way over 2000 views which is pretty nuts, I hope you have enjoyed it… So far!

The Gang on Tour

Авария

I can gladly report that the levels of nudity between us guys has decreased immensely. Instead, fate had very different ideas for us this week…

Last Saturday we were invited to a concert at the Philharmonic hall celebrating ‘The Day of National Unity’. After sitting down in the auditorium, it became immediately apparent that this concert was a bad idea. Apart from us 3 English 21-year-old’s, the rest of the crowd comprised of about 2000 OAPs. The concert started with some traditional dancing, all fine, before moving onto the speeches from the local big shots. 30 minutes later I honestly thought I had been transported back into 1950’s Soviet Russia- ‘Comrades, Dear Friends, together we can make the country great! You are firstly citizens of Russia, then secondly citizens of the world! Etc etc…’ We sat squirming for a good hour whilst these ridiculously last century speeches indoctrinated everyone but us. Once the speeches had finished, unbelievably, it actually got worse. The concert was a 2 hour long mime-fest with some very questionable dancing.

That night we had been invited round to a friend’s house after we had offered to cook them some classic English food. Out of all the friends we have made in Tyumen, these are the ones that typify the ‘New Russians’- well-educated, friendly and well-travelled. We decided to cook them Shepherd’s Pie, fairly easy and tasty. However, upon arriving at the apartment, we discovered that there were only two pans. Miraculously, after about 2 hours of working away, everything went to plan and they all loved it.

Around Monday of last week we all had a sudden lull in enthusiasm for everything Russian and all became quite homesick. Luckily, before I took to drinking in true Russian fashion (vodka before midday), I received a receipt for a parcel. 7 weeks ago after hearing that I had lost some weight my worried parents send me a package of food, testing the postal system here. The Royal Mail optimistically estimated that it would take 4-5 days. LOL. Buoyed by the promise of some English produce I practically skipped to the Post Office. I pushed open the door and was greeted by the sight (and smell) of about 50 bored Babushkas; apparently it would have taken over two hours to collect my parcel. Plunged into a foul mood and muttering some of my finest Russian swear words I stormed back to the shithole that I call home and vowed to return at 8am the next day.

At 08:15 I sat down and enjoyed the sweet taste of victory. A jar of peanut butter and 2 chocolate bars that had traveled 2000 miles and taken an absurd amount of time had never tasted so good.

Things were on the up- my Russian was getting vaguely comprehensible and I was enjoying myself once again. On Thursday evening we had arranged to meet up with a friend. Yet, before this Iona and I went to a cafe. After sitting down she announced to me that ‘I’m not feeling too good.’ Boy oh boy was she right. I ordered myself a large sandwich, sat down and enjoyed myself whislt Iona had to keep running to the loo to throw-up. Food poisoning had finally struck one of us down.

Speaking of striking down… At approximately the same time, innocent, angelic Charlie McCloy was ambling back down the main street to meet us. Unbeknownst to him, a man from [Insert Country] had taken a disliking to him. Whilst standing on the traffic island in between lanes, said [Countryman] marched up to him, shouted something incomprehensible, then promptly twatted him square in the face.The man then ran off. Adding insult to injury, the stunned, shocked and utterly confused Charlie had to wait for a green light before even being able to nurse his injuries.

I am glad to report that, apart from his pride and an impressive black eye, he is absolutely fine once again.

On Thursday, Izzy Linacre, a friend from University, posted this link on my Facebook page with the comment ‘Weird, weird country you have decided to live in’:

Fate really is tempted easily… Last night we went out with a couple of friends for some beers, one of them was the designated driver so he didn’t touch a drop all night. The bar we went to closed at 12 and so we decided to get some more beers from a supermarket nearby. The seal had been fully broken, so en route we stopped off by a roundabout and all piled out to relieve ourselves. We walked about 20 metres from the car, and began our business. Mid-flow, there was an almighty bang from our car and a large cloud of smoke from nearby it. We ran back to discover that another car had spun off the roundabout and ploughed into the front, driver side of our car. The other car was halfway up a large bank of snow and in equally back condition.

The Police arrived miraculously quickly, especially considering that we are in Russia. The man who’s car had spun off slowly got out of his car and started giving it some lip. He was absolutely battered. There is an absolute no drink-driving law in Russia, so it was pretty obvious that this guy was in trouble. He at first seemed to be resigned to the fact that he had been caught and was in the shit.

However, as is always the case here, it didn’t end there.

Our friend who had been our driver decided to get a picture of the culprit. Of course, the culprit didn’t take it so well and so he started swinging for him. The Police rushed in to intervene and so instead of stopping, the drunk pillock started having a go at the Police as well. Bad idea. The Police officers, already renowned for brutality in Russia, got out there cattle prod-type taser and proceeded to electrocute, kick and rough-up the felon.

All the while Charlie, Rob and I stood part-gawping, part-reveling in the utter absurdity of the situation. Just another day in Tyumen…

Our car:

On the plus side, as you can see, we are loving the snow:

Деревня

I thought that the blatant homosexuality of last week’s Speedo’s incident couldn’t be topped. I was wrong.

Last weekend we were kindly invited to a Dacha, a country house for you non-Russophiles, by a girl we met from University. Sadly Iona wasn’t able to come as she had to teach, thus it was just us three guys, and Alexandra of course.  We were meant to meet at midday, fresh and ready to board the train, however we naturally went out the night before… We decided to have a couple of pints and relax, as is always the case, the easy night out rapidly spiralled out of control. We found an Irish bar (in Siberia?!) and the rest is history. Rob and I arrived over an hour late, yet Charlie, in a feat greater than climbing Mount Elbrus, woke up 4 hours earlier than necessary to meet with an acquaintance.

We all managed to board the train and the journey to Piorniskii passed without incident, apart from Charlie dying mid-journey (see picture below).

After the two-and-a-half hour journey to the town, we then took a taxi to Pionirskii, a village 110 kilometres from Tyumen. Before this trip I genuinely thought that Tyumen was the middle of nowhere, a dot on the map of civilisation, however after seeing this place I can safely say that Tyumen is a beacon of the Western world in terms of modernisation. The village was also pretty damn scary. We arrived on the night when everyone was celebrating Halloween in Tyumen (not in the village of course- far too American) and it was a full moon. Likening the village to a cross between something out of The Chernobyl Diaries and The Hills Have Eyes is quite fair.

Saturday evening we went to the communal village Banya. A Banya is probably best described as a Sauna and a communal washing area combined; it is a big tradition here. The following guest passage is Rob’s account of out trip to the Banya:

Баня

‘We left the dacha and set out for an evening bathe down at the local bathhouse, or for all you Russophiles, the banya.  It was a full moon, and thanks to the absence of street lights, the stars were out in force. We walked through the village and a few mud roads later and there it was: the sacred banya. Not much to look at if I’m honest; a simple wooden hut, much in line with the rest of the village. As usual in Russia, there was no sign, or indication that this building was indeed a banya. There was only a poster, stuck to the side of the hut, reading “Beer Festival 2008”. Perhaps it was some cryptic message? Beer festival; beer; banya? 2008? Who knows? “See you in two and a half hours!”, our friend Sasha said, as she pushed us through the doorway. Two and a half hours? Just what did this wash entail exactly?

We found ourselves in a relatively empty room, painted a nice shade of lifeless green. On the right side of the room sat a babushka, behind a desk. She was busy sifting through some spreadsheets and didn’t notice us come in. Apparently business at the banya was doing well enough to warrant spreadsheets. On the left of the room there were two doors, one for men, the other for women. We turned our attention to the babushka, who was still yet to acknowledge us, when suddenly a loud guffaw erupted from the behind the male door, followed by shouting and general loud conversation. The room filled with sounds, all coming from behind the male door. We stood, staring blankly at the male door: the roar of Russian voices punching their way through its thick metal construction. A double tap of her pen, and we all turned around to be greeted by the stern stare of the babushka. Her spreadsheets all in order, she was now ready to receive us. 

Looking up from her desk, the babushka eyed each one of us up in turn. I ventured a smile, her face didn’t even twitch. She met my eyes with a cold stare, and grumbled out the price. We paid the woman; she handed us each a bouquet of tightly wrapped reeds. A complimentary selection of herbs, perhaps?

Bouquet in hand, we shuffled over to the bellowing male door. I caught sight of Tom, his face was pale, his eyes shone with bewilderment. Were we really going to go in here? Was this really happening? I grasped the handle, the door shook with the noise from inside. I pushed and the door creaked open. Silence. Pairs of eyes lay firmly fixed on us. A moment of hesitation, and we stepped further into the room and proceeded to undress. 

Meandering around the banya were around eight or nine old men: washing themselves, talking with each other and occasionally looking our way – all of them completely naked. Me, Charlie and Tom undressed down to our boxers. We exchanged glances, it was time. No words were spoken, but we knew what had to be done. We knew. We slid them off and there we stood. Naked. Our peripherals were full of other men’s penises, our minds were cloudy from the heat of the room, and yet one unceasing thought lay at the forefront of each of our minds, one perpetual anguish, a constant worry which flickered in each of our eyes. Do not get a hard-on.

Into the washroom we went. Now naked we seemed to have formed some sort of special pact with the Russian men, who now came across as friendly and helpful. One old man took an extra special liking to Charlie, and took him into the steam room directly. After some slight hesitation, me and Tom followed suit.

The sight that met our eyes was truly something to behold. Poor Charlie stood bent over before an old man, being whipped mercilessly with a bouquet of reeds. The old man’s enthusiasm was surprising. I mean he was really going for it. Gobsmacked, I took a front row seat next to Tom to watch the action. A look of concentration was spread over the old man’s face, drool spilling out of his mouth, he fervently whipped Charlie’s back. Charlie stood dead still, paralysed by the sheer abnormality of the situation. Well at least he was finally getting some action. Another old man, parked himself next to me and began whipping himself. Me still sitting down, he towered above me. His body was covered in black hair, and his penis was firmly at my eye level, only inches away. He began thrashing himself with reeds, groaning as he did so, his shrivelled genitals swaying menacingly. 

A few thrashings later and the two hours were already up. We got dressed and retired back to the dacha for a debriefing and pancakes (блинки). I myself felt strangely satisfied: a feeling I can only liken to the one experienced just after having sex. Sitting there on the sofa, listening to “Тёмная сторона луны” (Dark Side of the Moon) on vinyl (who’d of thought it?!), an aura of accomplishment hung over us. It had been an evening of bonding (read: bondage), both with each other, and with ourselves. As the last crackling sounds of the record faded out, we softly fell into a deep sleep. At ease with the world, and safe in the knowledge that the emotional scarring we had endured that evening would be with us for the rest of our lives.’

Robert Phillips (Intern at TyumenandbackagainCorp.)

The weekend in all was great fun; we tried lots of Russian food, experienced the beautiful countryside and felt recuperated for the week ahead.

This last week has been a combination of meeting up with Russians in various bars, lessons and James Bond. Oh yes, I have so far watched Skyfall (or Skiifauuill as it is pronounced here) twice, in Russian of course. I would definitely like to see it in English when I return just to be sure that I did actually understand it…Whatever the case may be, I know that Daniel Craig can rock the hell out of a suit. Check out the Russian trailer here:

Turning to the romantic side of things, or not so romantic as is so often the case. I have still not yet fully comprehended the carpet cleaning incident of last week; maybe it was a genuine mistake? Maybe she really did forget what time it was whilst she cleaned that damn carpet? Everyone knows how easy it is to do so… Not.

Nevertheless, over the last week I continued to chat via text and everything seemed to be back on track. I invited her out to the club on Friday- her answer? No can do I’m afraid, I have bought a kitten. We went out anyway without her, and tried to meet some new girls. The best response from a girl was to Rob; instead of even speaking to Rob, she simply held up her arms in a cross. I haven’t seen such a brutal put down for a long time.

The start of November we all agreed that this month was going to be a good one- back on track with the fluency drive, and back on track with the Russian girlfriend. I wasn’t going to let a carpet-cleaning, kitten-buying girl get in my way. This week we were invited to come and chat with some students of a different University- the University of Culture and Music, aka dancers (winky face). We went there with high expectations, and intending to come away with a plethora of girl’s numbers. The quality was distinctly average yet both Charlie and I spotted two girls who we liked. Charlie sidled up to his girl and started chatting about the accordion (she was an accordion player), all went well except he claimed he also played the accordion and then simply didn’t ask for her number.

I went for a more a direct approach, ‘Hi, Can I have your number?’. And her quick-as-a-flash retort? ‘Nyet.’

Short, sweet and crushing, my favourite type of rejection.

Восхитительно

Since the last post there have been, as usual, a considerable amount of fun moments and the odd awkward moment. On Saturday 13th we celebrated Rob’s 21st Birthday at ‘Coyote Club’- a club loosely based on the film Coyote Ugly. The only actual similarity to the film is that girls danced on the bar whilst the men stared gormlessly at them. Standard Tyumen.

The night started well: we invited a couple of girls we had met to join in the celebrations and began by pre-lashing in classic Russian fashion on vodka (when in Rome). The club was, of course, great fun after the vodka and proved to be a good place to finally get somewhere with a girl. As is usually the case, the Dutch courage needed to muster a move proved to be both mine and Charlie’s downfall. Again.

Iona took Rob back at half 3 after he celebrated a little too much in the loos. I set about about trying to charm Anastasia whilst Charlie flirted with every other girl in the club. Charlie can’t remember exactly what time he left and I can’t remember leaving…

The next day we didn’t feel so fresh, however, a successful night all round and the buds of romance finally starting to blossom for Maccers and T-dog…?

On Monday we had a toned-down celebration for Rob’s actual 21st. After hearing of a  place in Tyumen that did Indian food, we set off for ‘Buddha Bar’. To say that it did Indian food was the overstatement of the century: in the menu there were pages of sushi dishes, and one ‘Indian sushi roll’- aka a deep-fried sushi roll. That Rogan Josh is going to have to wait… Even calling it a Bar was outrageous, we were the only people in the place (I think they actually forgot we were there at one point- turning off the music halfway through our meal). Adding insult to injury, after asking for a second beer each the waitress informed us that were only two bottles left in the entire Bar. Wow.

Despite the lack of everything we set out for, the sushi was decent and we had a good time. The rest of the week flew past in a blur of meetings, dates and lessons.

On Saturday 20th we were invited to the local football match, FC Tyumen versus Dynamo Kirov. The level of football on show was hilarious. It really was sinfully bad. Despite having not played football in three years, I genuinely back myself to start next match at centre forward. I’ll update you on how that one goes…

The level of football was not the only unusual thing: The stadium is a massive, brand-new structure and yet only a quarter of it was occupied; There were also as many police officers as supporters- from walking into the stadium to sitting down we were bodily searched on three separate occasions. All very strange.

There were a lot more people in the crowd I promise:

On Sunday we left the lights, glamour and razzmatazz of Tyumen City Centre to go to the ‘Hot Springs’ in the countryside. However, none of us had swim trunks, and none of the shops in Tyumen sell respectable, non-paedophile swim shorts. Thus, we Speedo-ed up, and did so in style. In my opinion (and I’m sure the opinion of anyone who saw us), the 3 identical, mid-blue banana hammocks made us look like a world-class water polo team on tour from the Caribbean. Needless to say I’m joking, however, we all agreed that Speedos are both liberating and aerodynamic- they may very well return to England with us. (winky face ladies LOL). The Springs were actually very relaxing, despite turning us all an Essex level of orange from the iron in the water.

One of the gayest pictures of all time, greatly helped by how limp Mccloy’s salute is…

After the Hot Springs, I had arranged to meet up with Anastasia again (the girl who was posted on my Facebook wall so kindly by Charlie and Iona…). At 9pm we were going to go for a walk and go to a cafe.

At 9 I waited by the agreed spot. And waited. And waited.

I could’t believe it. Had I, Thomas James Reynolds, International Playboy and Man of Mystery, been stood up?! How was it possible?! I returned to the Hostel a shell of a man, mystified, (perhaps a tad more modest) and waiting for a valid explanation.

The valid explanation never arrived… Her reasoning for not turning up..? She had been cleaning her carpet and lost track of time. CLEANING HER CARPET?! Unless she lived in the Palace of Versailles I can’t think of a carpet that would take longer than 10 minutes to clean. It was, without doubt, the worst excuse I have ever heard of. Back to square one then…