“Jesus’s Mickey”

This is a true story that happened to me in Moscow a few months back. I don’t know why I haven’t written about it until now. All that I’ve changed is the names of the participants, apart from myself. For the record, despite the awkward situation I am about to describe, the evening as a whole was a lot of fun. Also, the reason for the title won’t become apparent until the end of the story

Earlier this year, an Irish exporter found a potential buyer at an annual event in Moscow. It was looking promising, so the importer invited the exporter, Damian, to go to dinner. Then Damian asked if I would like to go as well. I wasn’t comfortable at first, as I didn’t want to impose on discussions they might have, especially as the importer had not specifically invited me. I voiced my thoughts to Damian, who said it would be fine.

We went to the company office to meet with the importers, they gave us a tour of the place and then we went to the restaurant nearby.

At the restaurant, the CEO, Aziz, ordered the first of several large bottles of vodka, poured for everyone and things began to relax. Aziz was a fiery, emotional individual who gesticulated, and was clearly from the South (the Caucasus, most likely), given his name and the fact that he had much darker skin than regular Russians.

He dominated the conversation throughout the evening, telling lots of interesting stories about the company and about his work in the United States running health clinics before taking over as CEO at his current company. Whenever a bottle of vodka was emptied, he would simply order another and kept refilling our glasses.

All of a sudden, he veered off topic onto more political themes, such as gay marriage and the Russian interference in the US election. His rant about homosexuality went on far longer than I was comfortable with. Not because I don’t find societal or political topics interesting to discuss, or because his views were the absolute opposite of mine, but because of the way he was talking.

As he spoke, he grew more and more animated, to the point that he had stood up with his hands on the table, staring at me continually and at nobody else.

He was what one might describe as emphatically homophobic.

I generally don’t get offended easily, and was not offended then, but was more acutely aware of the fact that this was not the time for me to voice my true opinion on the matter; nor was it the time to get The Giggles, which was precisely what I could feel rising up.

It was a sensation reminiscent of my school days, when I would get The Giggles, even while the most terrifying teacher was yelling at me. The more they would shout, the more I would laugh. Church was even worse for that. You were not allowed to laugh and everyone around was wearing sombre expressions; therefore ANYTHING would make you laugh.

I bit my tongue very, very hard, but could still feel the corners of my mouth twitching.

‘I do not understand this whole gay thing and gays being allowed to marry in the West. It’s so completely weird! You understand that men and women were made by God to be together, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It’s written in all the holy books!’

I nodded. So did Damian, who kept his eyes averted.

‘It’s the same with magnets.’

At this, I feigned a coughing fit and sipped some water. I wanted to excuse myself to make a beeline for the bathroom, but I felt it’d be rude to interrupt.

‘A negative charge is not attracted to another negative charge and a positive charge is not attracted to a positive. Do you have a wife, John? Do you believe in God?’

‘Not a wife, a girlfriend.’ I said.

‘And where is she from?’

‘She’s from here.’

‘She’s Russian? Very good! And what about you, Damian?’ said Aziz, turning away from me, after what felt like an eternity.

‘My wife is German,’ said Damian.

‘Nobody’s perfect, I suppose,’ said Aziz.

I used this comment as an opportunity to finally release some of the laughter pent up and the atmosphere relaxed again. We drank more and he continued on the same topic, albeit more calmly, but he then asked me if I agreed with his views on the matter.

‘Do you agree with what I’ve said?’ he said, staring straight at me.

‘Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion,’ I replied.

The dinner was very good, and the conversation finally moved on to other topics, where Aziz would stand up again, gesticulating, but this time his attention was directed to Damian.

‘Damian, my friend! We are going to make a loooot of money!’ he said, arm around Damian’s shoulder, the other patting his chest. ‘I think we need to drink to this!’

So that was that. We all tipped out merrily into the freezing night, but even under the warming influence of about 8 or so vodkas, I was still very much aware of how close I had come to getting uncontrollable Giggles at the wrong time and place.

It reminded me of all those painful times in church as a kid/teen, such as the time in primary school, when my class was standing in a part of the church where the sun was shining down through the high windows, reflecting off my wristwatch.

‘Here,’ whispered my classmate, Woodsy, ‘shine it on Jesus’s mickey.’ He indicated the model of Jesus on the cross, which was overlooking the altar.

For non-Irish readers, “Mickey” is Irish slang for penis.

I duly reflected the light upon Jesus’s mickey and then the priest said:

‘And Jesus said, take this, this is my body.’

*Muffled snorts of laughter*

Russian Vodka – an infusion of fruit and madness

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.

‘Hello?’

‘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.’

 

infused vodka

You know you want to

 

Russia – Nothing to Declare

A friend of mine, asked recently when the next anecdote about Russia would be. I answered with something along the lines of “I’ll see when I get back.” As it happens, I only had to reach the airport for one.
Strictly job related, I brought back a load of whiskey and beer samples to offer distributors here in Moscow. I’ve brought excess alcohol in check-in baggage many times without any hitches. This time, however, was different. It was almost as though the customs official knew already.
As I jostled through the milling crowds towards the exit from the baggage collection area, a hand shot out in front of me, and a burly man in uniform took me aside.
‘Put your suitcase through the x-ray, please,’ he said.
I did as I was told.
‘Ooooh, I see there are a lot of bottles in your suitcase!’ he said. ‘Passport, please.’
I duly handed him my passport.
‘Irish? I hear Irish whiskey is very good, is that true?’
‘Yep, most of it is,’ I said.
‘Open your suitcase, please.’
I opened my suitcase to reveal row upon row of neatly wrapped bottles in bubblewrap. His face fell at this, as most of these were beers, but upon closer inspection, he spotted the burly bottles of whiskey underneath.
‘Do you have laws in Ireland?’ he asked me.
‘Em, I suppose we do?’
‘Do you have restrictions on the amount of alcohol you can bring in at any one time?’ he continued.
‘Not that I know of.’ I thought that in this instance it would be better to play dumb.
‘Well the permitted amount of tax free alcohol you’re allowed to bring into Russia at any one time is 3 litres, did you know that? You’re way over the limit.’
‘Oh, I didn’t know that at all,’ I said, shaking my head in what I hoped was disbelief.
‘Come with me, I’m going to show you our laws, so that you know for future reference.’
I followed him to a big list on the wall at the far side of the corridor, where he pointed and explained.
‘See? 3 litres! Do you realise that we could confiscate everything?’ he said.
‘They’re not mine, they’re gifts,’ I said.
‘You must have a lot of friends,’ he said.
‘They’re for Russian friends, yes’ I said, grinning.
‘What are you doing here? Are you a student?’ he asked.
I nodded. This was something of a lie, as my visa does not state that I am a student, but I thought that under the circumstances it was easier to go along with his questions rather than offer unexpected answers.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘well look, if you offer a token in exchange for our good will (translates into something along the lines of “Nasha dobrota/наша доброта) we’ll pretend like we saw nothing. Just make sure this doesn’t happen again!’
I pulled a 750ml bottle of black imperial stout out of the bag and placed it absentmindedly on the table.
‘I’ve always wanted to try Irish whiskey,’ he said, pointing at one of the short, stocky (and much more expensive) bottles at the bottom of the suitcase, which happened to be a 7 year old bottle of Glendalough.
‘Oh, Irish whiskey is very good,’ I said. I reorganised the contents of the bag, placing the whiskey bottle on the table.
‘I’m sure it is,’ he said, grinning. ‘Enjoy your stay.’
It occurred to me that it could have been a lot worse. If that had been in the likes of Germany, it would have all been confiscated in adherence to the law.

Readin’ in De Streets o Dublin

Walking around Dublin, one hears funny things. For instance, reading and walking at the same time is an interesting task. In fact, it is the feat of superior multi-tasking: *read and comprehend, avoid dog poop, avoid walking out into heavy traffic, avoid people, stop yourself listening to the conversations of passersby* The list goes on, really.
The last task is important i.e. stop listening to other people’s conversations – this is often difficult to do in Dublin, as inner city Dubs are wont to having conversations with each other standing at opposite sides of the road over the din of heavy traffic.
It’s extra funny when what you overhear is spectacularly contrasted to what you are reading in the given moment, such as the following:
“Toc’s fellow lieutenants – and indeed Anastor himself – were well enough fed. They welcomed the endless corpses the march had claimed and continued to claim. Their boiling cauldrons were over full. The rewards of power.
“The metaphor made real – I can see my old cynical teachers nodding at that. Here, among the Tenescowri, there is no obfuscating the brutal truth. Our rulers devour us. They always have. How could I ever have believed otherwise? I was a soldier, once. I was the violent assertion of someone else’s will.”
He had changed, not a difficult truth to recognise in himself. His soul torn by the horrors he saw all around him, the sheer amorality born of hunger and fanaticism, he had been reshaped, twisted almost beyond recognition into something new. The eradication of faith – faith in anything, especially the essential goodness of his kind – had left him cold, hardened and feral.
Yet he would not eat human flesh. “Better to devour myself from within, to take my own muscles away, layer by layer, and digest all that I was. This is the last remaining task before me, and it has begun…”
When suddenly you overhear the following:
Woman 1: “How’s Holly?!” she shouted.
Woman 2: “Ah, she’s grand. Goin’ inta de Junior Cert year, yeh know? Feckin’ books are goin’ ta clean me ou’. How’s yer little wan?” shouted no.2.
Woman 1: “She’s no’ little anymore, sure she’s neerlee twel’ve!” shouted no.1.
Woman 2: “Yeh, bu’ dey’re all little t’mee, ye know? Is she doin’ her confirmation this year?” shouts no.2.
Woman 1: “Jayses, yeah, I’m fuckin’ dreadin’ i’. Dat’s gonna cost an arm an’ a leg an’ Chrismus is jus’ gone!” shouted no.1.
Woman 2: “Ah Jesus, don’t talk to me, sure we’d be better robbin’ a bank, wha?!” shouted no.2.
Dublin streets are sometimes the best places to read something dark and grim.

My First Ebay Experience

I never thought that selling on Ebay could be such a headache. A buyer sent me a link to a courier company which was cheaper than the registered post I had on the ad. I was happy to accommodate him and sent the invoice. However, although I’d heard of the company, I decided to double check and look at the reviews. Out of over 1500 ratings, it had achieved 0.9 stars out of 5. So I said to the buyer that I’d try to find a different company. All the cheap ones that he found, and that I found had terrible ratings. I refunded the buyer the money, issued a new invoice with the original postage price and said that it’d be better and safer to use the original postage advertised, even if it’s a little more expensive. At least it would guarantee that the item gets from A to B. He then opened a case against me for ‘non receipt of item’ and got pretty rude in his messages thereafter. I told him that if he wasn’t happy with the original, advertised price of post and packaging, he didn’t have to buy it and that I could refund it and sell it to someone else. He agreed then, but said that he was ‘very, very unhappy about it’. I said ‘well, if you’re not happy, I’m not forcing you to buy it, we can cancel the transaction.’ Curious to see what kind of person I was selling to, I looked him up and found his facebook page. His ‘liked’ pages included ‘Wehrmacht/Waffen SS/Luftwaffe’ where, among other things in the newsfeed, there is a picture of the Fuhrer petting a baby deer (it had 41 likes). Potentially a Neo-Nazi that looks like he might have been dropped on his head as a baby? Just my f*cking luck as a first time seller.

A Week in Moscow – the Cossack

We, that is to say I, another Irish person, a Polish/American, and a Russian, were in a restaurant buffet on Arbat street, when a guy sat at the table next to us.

This wouldn’t sound unusual, except for A) how he was dressed B) his hairstyle and C) the fact that he joined our conversation, having taken an interest in us foreigners. While A) and B) are superficial details, but all the same add to the overall experience, the conversation is what made it.

So, I’ll start with A) how he was dressed:

He was dressed in a suit that made him look like he belonged in a Russian gangster film set in the 90s (see below). Now, although it wasn’t pink, it was a questionable cream colour, and he was wearing a large, chunky gold ring to go with and a colourful tie.

B) His hair was a sort of mullet, which again screamed of early 90s hairstyles.

C) The Conversation:

This was interesting. It went on for over an hour, and some parts are sort of hazy while others are more clear in my mind. It began with the usual ‘where are you from?’ etc etc. As the conversation continued on, we learned from him that he worked in the legal world. More interestingly, he told us that he worked as part of a body that drafts government laws.

Him: ‘I helped draft the law to legalise the unification of Crimea with Russia’. (Unification of Crimea – His words, not mine)

He handed us each a business card.

Me: ‘Your surname is Daneiko? That’s not a Russian surname, right? It sounds Ukrainian because of the -ko at the end.’ (In light of what has happened over the past year, and what he said about drafting the law re Crimea, this would have been a sore spot. I pointed it out in all innocence, however.)

Him: ‘Well, I suppose it is a Ukrainian name…’

Sensing the discomfort from my companions, I struggled to avoid making eye contact with them, for fear of getting a fit of nervous giggles.

Him: ‘I mean, it’s a Slavic name, but I’m a Cossack.’

Note: The pronunciation of the words ‘Cossack’ and ‘Kazakh’ in Russian sound sort of similar to a foreigner (in English letters its ‘Kаzаk’ and ‘Kazakh’), especially if you’re in a loud public place and are struggling not to get the giggles.

Me: ‘But you don’t look like you’re from Kazakhstan.’

Him: ‘No, I’m a Cossack.’

I look bemused.

My companions (in English) say: ‘He’s a Cossack!’

Me: ‘Oh, you’re a Cossack! Sorry, the words sound very similar to me! I was wondering, because you don’t have the asian look at all.’

After this, I left for the bathroom – at this stage, upon realising that I’d put my foot in it more than once.

The conversation digressed then to other subjects, such as why he thought Greece should also become a part of Russia, and what currency Poland has. He then asked for our numbers (I made up an excuse that I’d only just arrived and still didn’t have a Russian phone number)

It was an interesting evening.

Explosives and Nail Clippers

Frankfurt airport is pretty gigantic. I landed early this morning with 2 hours to spare before the connecting flight with Lufthansa to Dublin. Glancing, bleary-eyed at one of the screens (I still hadn’t had my morning coffee) I saw the words ‘Dublin – Terminal 2, Gate D something or other’. I was in Terminal 1, so I thought I’d wander in the direction of Terminal 2, taking the shuttle train along the way, stopping for breakfast (still no coffee), before having a look in the bookshop and then sitting in one of the recliners in the leisure lounge.

Eventually, the words ‘Aer Lingus Flight 12@*+ to Dublin is now boarding’ echoed from the speakers. “Hurrah,” I think, and got up to go to the gate. Having gone through the rigorous security and waited in line to board, I handed my boarding pass to the woman.

‘Sir, this is an Aer Lingus flight.’

‘Yeah, to Dublin, right? …. wait, what?’

‘Your flight is Lufthansa, Terminal 1, this is Aer Lingus.’

“Follow the shamrocks, the wonderful greeeeeen shamrocks,” I thought.

‘………’ I said.

‘Sir, your flight is boarding right now. You should just make it if you run.’

I ran back up the escalators, down the long halls, past the bookshop, the food hall, the leisure lounge, and eventually reached the Sky Line shuttle to go to Terminal 1. Another 5 minute dash and I was at yet another security control.

This time, it was a little different. Because, so far I’d been through at least 8 security checks, I was quick to organise my belongings so that they could go through the x-ray.

‘Sir, I’m going to do a random test on your suitcase, it will only take a minute to process.’

*1 minute passes*

‘Sir, your suitcase has tested positive for explosives.’

‘Has it really?’ I ask, unable to stifle a grin. ‘That has to be a first! What kind?’

‘Usually creams or some medicines can cause the result to come out positive, but I’m going to have to ask you to open your suitcase.’ She calls over a policewoman, showing her the test result.

‘Which country did you fly from today, sir?’ asks the policewoman.

(what’s with the ‘sir’ lark?)

‘Russia.’

‘….. And where are you flying to?’

‘Dublin.’

‘What were you doing in Russia?’

‘Work.’

‘What kind of work?’

‘Market research’

‘……. Open ze bag, sir.’

I did as she bid me to do, at which point she saw, among other things (other things being: a half consumed pack of Nurofen+, Alkaseltzer, an old sweater, a dusty keyboard and mouse, the Master and Margarita, a laptop, and a half-eaten pack of peanut M&Ms) a toenail clippers and a small pair of scissors.

‘Er… I suppose you’ll be taking those?’ I say, indicating the scissors.

‘No, you may keep zem,’ says the policewoman.

‘You sure? You could take someone’s eye out with those, you know.’

At this, the austere look changed to a flicker of a smile.

‘Have a nice flight, sir’

‘Thank you, you too. I mean, have a nice day.’

I finally reached the plane, which was almost fully boarded and all the overhead compartments were full. ‘Now, how is that possible, given the carry-on luggage allowance?’ Then I saw that people had stuffed things like jackets and scarves up there. At this point, Moscow’s blunt voice whispered (shouted, more like) ‘Now, repeat after me: “Who owns this coat? Do you mind? It’s taking up too much space. I need to put my bag (full of explosive M&Ms) there.’

Moral of the story? There isn’t one, really. Except, perhaps, if you’re a coffee addict, do not miss your morning coffee. It hurts.