I waited three hours at Heathrow for Vladik and his security guard to finally emerge from customs, red faced and complete with two of the family dogs. We quickly got the formalities out of the way – huge bear hugs from both Vladik, who has grown a lot since I last saw him, and Ivan, who (in a cheesy eighties way) always reminds me of the Soviet boxer with the mega punch from Rocky 4. I could feel the bones in my back cracking as he grasped me. They both seemed a little tense and flustered, and in a hurry to get out of the airport. I asked Vladik if everything was OK – he replied that they’d been waiting for me in the VIP lounge, and had got chatting with one of his father’s business associates. I didn’t believe him then, and only yesterday learned the real reason for their delay…
The flat is amazing, but then again I guess most flats would seem amazing to a man used to shivering under three blankets in a converted garage, and prone to tarrying a little longer than usual in the corner shop because it’s warmer there. Not that I’ve been able to spend much time in the flat – now that he’s grown an extra three inches, Vladik’s keen to use his extra height for his football, and has somewhat grandiose ideas that he could become a meaty, old-fashioned centre forward for one of the big London clubs. We’ve spent practically the entire two weeks in the local park practising heading from corners and free kicks, and my football knowledge has been tested to its limit. Once Vladik goes to bed, I’ve been having to stay up all night on the laptop playing Football Manager to try and work out how to make the best use of his skills. Good job I brought my laptop with me.
I made use of the fact that I wouldn’t have to pay the phone bill to make a couple of personal calls, the first to Mum and Dad:
‘Mum, it’s me. Has London Mark called?’
‘Yes, I’m fine thanks Jonathan. Thank you for asking! No, nobody has called for you at all, unless you count an automated message telling you that you’d won a yacht.’
‘Maybe that was him using a different tactic. I hope you used the script I gave you for…’
‘Jonathan, he hasn’t called you! I don’t know why you’re so afraid of him, anyway. From the book he seems so…’
‘Oh, Mum, don’t you start as well! I’ve had enough of everyone telling me how he’s the real hero!’
‘But it’s true! I’ve had enough of people round here telling me that after reading the book they’re more scared of you than of The Man! I’m sure Mark means no harm – he was trying to help you in Russia. Why don’t you move back up here? Surely you’ve had enough of that silly garage by now.’
‘I’ve got news for you Mum – I’ve moved up in the world. I’m now living for free in a luxury flat in Bayswater, and I’ve got no plans to move on any time soon.’
For once, dear bloggers, I wasn’t lying to my dear mum. Vladik and Ivan are going back to St. Petersburg tomorrow, but I am staying here, all thanks to me discovering last night the real reason for their lateness at the airport. I was sipping Coke, lying diagonally across my king-size bed and wondering whether to turn on the under floor heating (I didn’t want my feet to get cold when I came back from the toilet), when I got distracted by a heated conversation between the two Russians. My Russian has faded somewhat since the heady days when I could understand all the announcements in the St. Petersburg Metro, but as I began to comprehend the problem I knew exactly what to do.
‘We can’t take it back through customs. We’ve already lost enough money by paying to bring it into the country. If we take it back they’ll take it off us, and your father will laugh.’
‘We can ask Jonathan to help.’
‘But you said he’s chicken shit.’
‘Ivan, it’s only sausage.’
I had thought that there was a strong smell of salami emanating from Ivan and Vladik as they python-hugged me at the airport, and also thought it rather odd that they only seemed to have brought one set of clothes each to England (Vladik bought a Fulham tracksuit, his new favourite team, on his first day back here). It turned out that their bags were stuffed full of sticks of Moskovskaya salami, which they had been intending to sell to the Russian ex-pat community, though things hadn’t quite worked out. Downing the rest of my Coke, I seized my chance:
‘Vladik, I can take it for you and try to sell it.’
‘Jonathan, nobody near your garage in province will take this sausage. I think it only sell to people in London.’
I smiled wickedly, possibly for the first time since the day I managed to rumble The Man over on Bolshevik Avenue.
‘Yes, Vladik, you’re right. But you don’t want your dad to laugh at you.’
‘My father will be angry, like when you ruin car. He want me to be the good businessman.’
‘So let me help you, then. As you say, I probably can’t sell it in my town, so it’d be more convenient for me to live here for the time being.’
Vladik paused and sighed, upset that the mint condition of his flat was about to be ruffled by a long-term resident.
‘Jonathan, you more clever than before. My father call you dickhead when you work for us for only 20 dollars in one hour. He pay cleaner more, and you do four jobs. But OK. And you contact Fulham Football Club?’
‘Vladik, I will try to sell all the sausage, and I will try to arrange a trial with Fulham for the next time you come over.’
‘Not Leicester City. I will not go to pork pie town 100 miles away. And what about key? You need key make for flat from special shop.’
‘Don’t worry about that.’
‘Oh, I, erm, got one made last week. Just in case…’
‘Jonathan, you definitely more clever than before.’
And so I find myself the sole resident of a second-floor luxury apartment in Bayswater, with nothing to do other than lie here, listening to Seven Ways To Love by Cola Boy (who were actually St. Etienne, if you didn’t know), and occasionally pretend to sell the 200 sticks of salami lurking in the kitchen by emailing Vladik and Ivan a ‘sales update’. Oh, and I must drop Fulham an email, but first I’ll spend a few days playing Football Manager, just to check whether Vladik is likely to fit into their style of playing….
For once, I don’t mind plugging the so-called novelist Saul Pope’s book, seeing as he’s probably living in some crummy flat in a London wannabe town rather than rent-free in a luxury apartment in the country’s hub. So if you’re interested in a slightly above-average novel with a keen line in self-depreciatory humour and eighties cultural references, then click here – you even get free delivery, apparently…
Oh, before I forget, the other phone call I made was to Olesya’s number in Russia. Unfortunately I hung up after a couple of rings, shallow-breathing and my heart fist-pumping into my ribcage, but I’ve promised myself I’ll try again soon…