On the 17th Day of Advent...

>> Tuesday, 17 December 2013

... I went to the supermarket.

I've written about doing the shopping in Russia before, and won't bore you again with tales of tussles in the vegetable aisle or negotiating pallets of baked beans blocking access to the chocolate fixture (a particular bugbear of mine...).  Actually, I can't bore you with tales of the former - ruckuses over radishes - because actually, times have changed.  Either I am now immune to the hurly burly of an average visit to one of Moscow's larger hypermarkets - which, I am prepared to admit, may be at least partly the case after 4 years here - or (whisper it) the Lesser Spotted Russian Supermarket Shopper has evolved.

Certainly, their natural habitat, The Reasonably Priced Russian Supermarket, has done; I can now buy Cathedral City Cheddar, organic groceries, and reasonably priced French red wine nowadays, none of which I was able to do when we first arrived (and yes, I know there are plenty of good Russian cheeses, but sometimes only proper cheddar will do for your toastie).  I also find that it causes less consternation to the checkout staff when I pack shopping into my own bags these days, but to my shame I can never remember how tell them in Russian that that's what I'm planning.  I usually end up pulling boxes of cereal out of the flimsy pakyets (plastic bags) that the store provides and repacking them into my own tougher bags in a pantomime of inefficiency, before we understand each other on this matter.

Today, however, there was no problem.

Things started out as usual; I greeted the lady at the checkout, and then proceeded to go into my usual dumb foreigner pantomime of showing her I intended to pack the goods myself before I stopped.  Why not just ask her how to say it?

So I launched into my rudimentary Russian.  "Как сказать... *"  How do you say... intending to finish by miming the action of packing the shopping into my own bags  (I told you.  Dumb foreigner).

She interrupted, smiling.  "Where are you from?"

It turned out that this lady was an English teacher, originally from Kyrgyzstan  (and no, you're not seeing things.  There is not an a, e, i, o, or u in that word...).  She had recently arrived in Moscow and was unable to find a job in the profession she'd been trained for.  She told me how she was here with her husband, daughter and son, and had come to find work.  She told me that she missed home and speaking and teaching English, and that working in supermarket was - she hoped - a stop gap until she could find a job in a school.  And then she told me, without rancour or bitterness, that to do so was proving difficult, because she looks Asian.

For her, that is just how life is.  It seems that things here are changing - but not that much.


Merry Christmas.


*  Pronounced: Kak skazat'...

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On the 16th Day of Advent...

>> Monday, 16 December 2013

... I met someone who has - gasp - never watched 'The Polar Express'.  I promptly came home, dug it out, and watched it with Boys #1 and #2 after school, and despite the fact that it must be the nth time we've seen it, it did not disappoint.

Just in case there are any more of you out there who have never seen this delight of a movie, here's one of my favourite scenes.

And yes, that is an animated version of Tom Hanks playing The Conductor (one of the 5 roles he plays in this film).

Enjoy!


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On the 15th Day of Advent... Open Your Eyes

>> Sunday, 15 December 2013




(I have no words for this one)

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Things I have learned so far this December...

>> Wednesday, 11 December 2013

It's hard to admit it, but I think we may have outgrown The Great Little Trading Company as a hunting ground for Christmas gifts for the Boys.  Sniff...

Acquaintances will blank you if they see you're selling charity Christmas cards they don't want.

Hell really is other people's over-excited, over-hyped, over-excited children...

...and nothing you say will stop those angelic two year old twins turning into devils as they attack the balloon arch over the entrance to the Sinterklaas celebration...

...especially whilst their mother watches indulgently from the sidelines...

...so just chill.  And get over it.

The Dutch Sinterklaas Zwarte Piet tradition is just. Plain. Wrong.  There - I've said it.  And to all those apologists out there, I ask this question; Would you think it a charming Dutch tradition if you were black?

Adding a sledge to the school run mix in the morning makes what was previously a bitterly cold trek in minus 12degC darkness less of a trial, for you and the kids.  (It's still bitterly cold, mind you.  Just a bit more fun.)

Likewise the way home.

Long socks work.  End of.

You can't skimp on price for decent gloves.  Not if you live in Russia in the winter and have Raynaud's Disease, anyway...

Check where your glove warmers are the night before you go cross country skiing for the first time, instead of rushing through the house frantically searching boxes of winter kit whilst simultaneously chivvying the Boys to get ready for school and trying to put on a dark wash.


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On the 5th Day of Advent...

>> Thursday, 5 December 2013

... this was my walk home after dropping the Boys at school.
















And, most likely, it will look almost identical when I walk them home after picking them up this afternoon...

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On the 3rd Day of Advent...

>> Tuesday, 3 December 2013

...I found myself going through some old blog posts, and chanced across this rather lengthy little Christmas-related number.  Reading it took me straight back to life as the mum of a pre-schooler and a toddler when, it seems to me, I was much funnier than I am now.  Perhaps that was the result of the heady cocktail of those days; part the aroma of pure panic (I'm in charge of two small children and How the Hell did THAT happen?), part steamed vegetables, part Calpol, and part nappy...

Enjoy!


The Twelve (Interminable) Days of Christmas (December 2007)

So, yesterday was the big day. Now don't be coy - I know you're just desperate to find out how the hottest event in Kensington and Chelsea went down, but fear not, I'm here to pass on the good bits...

I suppose I should explain what on earth I'm talking about. Yes, it was Boy#1's Nursery Christmas Show. For reasons known only to themselves (I think they have a new and slightly over-enthusiastic - no, scratch that - a completely over the top drama teacher. But then again, when aren't they?), the theme this year was 'The 12 Days of Christmas' and each class was required to go up and represent one of the verses. Boy #1 was a piper. Hence the kilt. Yes, you heard me - kilt (just in case you missed that nugget a few posts ago). But frankly, looking at the line-up yesterday, I think we got off lucky.

Verse 1; The partridge looked as if the costume had been ordered from Angels Theatrical Costumiers, it was so professional. Except, of course, the partridge was 3 years old...

Verse 2: 2 turtle doves - bulk standard coat hanger wings. I think the ground-swell of parent opinion was 'compared to the partridge, could do better'.

V3: 3 French Hens. Except it wasn't 3 - it was 9. Dressed in breton t-shirts, berets, strings of onions, and doing a turn singing La Marsellaise...

V4: 20 calling birds. Lots of room for variation with 20, as you can imagine. And not much room on the stage, so for healthy and safety reasons there were actually 2 'hits', so we got the same 'show' - 10 children dressed as robins, dancing to Rocking Robin - twice. Hmmm.

V5: 12 gold rings. Lots of gold lame, probably the easiest option as most mums seemed to have simply made a poncho out of sparkly material. Can't remember the turn they gave as I was struggling with Boy#2 who was trying to make a bid for freedom at this point, scattering raisins as he went...

V6: 16 geese a-laying. Hilarious incident with one little boy who's mum had clearly gone to town with his costume, even giving him a padded stomach for authenticity, hogging the limelight and elbowing all the other children out of his way to give himself centre-stage. He was eventually restrained by the teacher and given a good talking to on the sidelines. Was rather losing the will to live by this stage, to be honest.

V7: 8 swans a-swimming. This provoked naked envy on the faces of all the mummies whose little girls did not form part of the 'swan' tableau, as they arrived dressed in tutu's, twirling a pirouette or two to the famous bit from Swan Lake. Sometimes I'm so glad I have sons...

V8: 11 drummers drumming. This did what it said on the tin. Yes, the power-crazy drama teacher had instructed hapless parents to go out and find a drummer costume for their boys. To their credit they had made a pretty good job - and the imitation beaver-skin headwear had to be seen to be believed. Mind you, this being Kensington & Chelsea I was rather disappointed that there was no real fur on stage...

V9: 8 maids a-milking. Consisted of the girls from Boy #1's class complete with mob caps and sand buckets, singing 'Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary' and crying because they had lost their cow. This segued seamlessly into...

V10: 6 pipers piping. Boy #1 and classmates following an honest-to-goodness Scots piper, bag-pipes wailing, up onto the stage. (All sense of proportion had clearly been lost by the drama teacher when she planned this one). They did a little dance and then tried to help the milk-maids find their cow and followed up with a Scottish reel. Boy #1 was grabbed at this point by one of the girls (who was half a foot taller than him), and they then capered around the stage dancing the reel. Not sure who instigated the choke-hold, him or his partner, but it was a relief for all when the dance finally ended without injury...

V11: 7 ladies dancing. Dressed as flamenco dancers and performing that authentic spanish number - you guessed it - the Macarena. By this stage the audience had been flagging, but this perked them up. Or got them riled - not sure which...

V12 (Thank the lord): 7 Lords a-leaping. Boys dressed as frogs, capering onto the stage, leaping around and then dancing with the flamenco-clad lovelies. I was past caring by now, as were Husband and Boy #2...


All this took around an hour and a half, by which time the audience of eager parents had had enough, stampeding out of the venue before the final hymn was even finished. Never has 'O little town of Bethlehem' been treated so caverlierly outside Midnight Mass...

Other Points of Interest:

Boy #1's kilt stayed up. Thankyou, Mother-in-law. Your skills with the needle know no bounds. Really, I mean this; my home ec teacher at school used to just tut and walk past my table as I struggled to make a patchwork cushion, so I am grateful, grateful, grateful, that you were able to step into the breach. 

Just to put my sewing abilities in context, Husband and I once had a huge falling out when he asked me to sew on a button. He was horrified that I refused. I was horrified that he had had the nerve to ask me. Really - if he wanted to ruin a perfectly good coat he could just have let the boys at it with a pair of pinking shears.

I also had a fit of the giggles whilst standing in the queue waiting to be let in to the church where it was all happening. (Oh yes, they couldn't let us in early. I mean, who knows what might have happened? We parents could have ended up throwing pews and everything. Lighting the votive candles, using the holy water, you name it. There is no end to the devilry that could have ensued).  I was having a perfectly normal conversation with the parents of one of Boy #1's classmates when a mutual acquaintance approached us and asked them "Do you like caviar?" Well, that's a conversation stopper if ever I heard one. And more to the point - why wasn't I invited to this apparantly swanky dinner party? Obviously, had she asked me, my answer would have been "only Beluga, sweetie - and of course it does rather depend on which champagne you are serving..."



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On the Second Day of Advent...

>> Monday, 2 December 2013

... I went out foraging into the Dark and Scary Forest (aka 'Auchan', a supermarket that everyone here has their own beautiful horror story about) and wrestled the masses at the tills to bring home a Christmas tree.

Except, it's not a Real Tree.

For I have caved, dear reader.  After years of saying 'the real thing, or nothing' I have decided that 'nothing' is just too dreary for words.

Why 'nothing'?  Well, we leave Moscow for 3 weeks over the break, which makes getting a real tree not only impractical but - bearing in mind the Russian 'Christmas' is two weeks after ours, so live trees don't go on sale until just before we leave - inconvenient.  Plus, the fierce heating here destroys all living plants in the winter (at least, the ones that I come into contact with, anyway) and I can just imagine the effect that coming back to the remains of a dessicated tree would have on a family already battling with the post-Christmas blues.  It doesn't bear thinking about, really, so for the last 4 festive seasons we've been Christmas-tree-less.

No more, though; faced with yet another year of trying to make decorations dotted around the house look sparkly rather than sad, today I went out and bought a 150cm high monster (ahem) for Potski Mansions.

I had told the Boys that I would be buying a tree, along with the fact that it would be artificial, but of course that 2nd fact had gone in one ear and straight out the other.  Consequently, when they were presented with a frankly unimpressive box when they got home from school, questions where asked.

"But how did you get it home?"  from Boy #1.  In the car, I replied.  "What, the whole tree?"  "Well - yes.  That is the whole tree, in that box, there."

There was a moment of silence.

"What do you mean, exactly?  The whole tree - in that box?"  Boy #1 couldn't quite believe it.  "Um. Yes.  But don't worry - it will be much bigger once we've put it together."

Boy #2 stepped up.  He held up a hand, calling for calm.  Thank god someone was taking charge...  I watched him as the disbelief on his face began to transform into something else.  Could it be...

"Wait a minute.  Do you mean...  we get to build a tree?  Fantastic!  I'm going to the kitchen to get the scissors so we can unwrap it!"

Yes.  Delight.  That was it.  

He's not known as The Engineer for nothing.

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