Sometimes – actually, quite often – I find myself lying in bed in the middle of the night wondering when I’ll go to sleep. It’s not insomnia. It’s this thing called ‘pottering about’. This is a very broad title, as ‘pottering about’ can include a multiple of things: from washing the dishes, reading, hanging up clothes, to cooking; or bottling up plum-infused black market medicinal alcohol that you’ve just tasted a spoon of but are afraid to drink any more for fear of losing your eyesight.
It’s at that point that that thought stays with you and you must google the effects of methanol on humans.
The result is a panicked rummaging through the food cabinet to find that little box of baking soda which apparently helps to counter the effects of methanol on the system. Anyway, I am not blind, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. I am also now digressing.
You might ask ‘How did you get your hands on black market medicinal alcohol, JJ?’
In one of my previous posts some months ago, I recounted a conversation I had with a friend while walking the forest outside Moscow:
“‘So what are we going to do with the plums, put them in vodka?’
‘We can get pure alcohol for that. It’s way cheaper and better than vodka. Give them two months or so and they’ll make a really nice drink.’
‘How much is a bottle of pure alcohol?’
‘It starts at 800 Rubles for 5 litres.’
‘So why don’t homeless people drink it?’
‘I guess that’s still kind of pricey for them.’
‘Are you sure we won’t go blind from it?’
‘No, trust me, it’s not that kind of alcohol. This is cleaner than the vodka you get in the shops. Also, we add water to it, obviously.'” (voodoohamster.com/2015/11/28/russia-a-walk-in-the-woods/)
The plums we’d picked on our walk were not fit for eating. However, they were perfectly good for infusing pure alcohol diluted with water and we put them into the freezer until we had that very necessary ingredient.
One evening, a week or two after that conversation and following my friend’s directions, I found myself in a distant Moscow suburb on the east side of the city about 12 kilometres from the centre, close to the main ring road (MKAD). It being a district I’d never visited, I typed the address into google maps on my phone and duly followed it for about 15 minutes. The building in which the seller apparently lived was one of many identical high rises, so as I stood in the courtyard I dialled the number and waited. A woman answered.
‘Er, are you the person selling the alcohol?’
‘Yeah, which one do you want? I have…’ and she rapidly listed off a bunch of names I don’t remember.
‘I’m looking for the Luks 5 litre. It’s 1100 Rubles, right?’
‘Aha,’ she said. ‘Just one?’
‘Yes, just one.’
‘Where are you standing?’ she asked.
‘Near entry two to building 6,’ I said.
‘What are you wearing?’
‘A black coat with a hood,’ I said.
‘Everyone wears those,’ she replied. ‘What else are you wearing?’
‘I have a big empty shopping bag in my hand,’ I said, helpfully.
‘I asked you what else you’re wearing, not what you’re holding,’ she replied.
‘Jeans. Everyone wears those, too.’
‘Okay, someone will be down shortly,’ she said, and hung up.
So I waited, staring expectantly at the two entrances nearest to me.
After several minutes tall thin man in jeans, a hat and a leather jacket appeared from round the corner of the building, carrying a large plastic bag in his hand. He walked with slightly hunched shoulders.
‘Luks?’ he said.
‘Yep, that’s me,’ I replied.
‘Eleven hundred,’ he said.
I took the bag, he counted the money, and we both parted.
So now, two months later, that very same alcohol has been infused with wild plums but I probably won’t drink it. It’ll just sit on the shelf looking pretty with its dark purple colour.
I texted pictures of the bottles to my friends in our whatsapp group. One of the replies was as follows:
‘Bathed rats are grumpy rats. (he has three pet rats)
*picture of wet rats*
They even sulk when you try to dry them. But give them cold pasta… and they’ll be your friend in no time. No rats were harmed in the creation of this sideshow.
Also Jonjo, you are getting far too used to Russian culture. One of the key differences we have noticed is that you are not stopping to ask “is what I am doing retarded?” any more.’