“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, 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.


‘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


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.