Tag Archives: Aeroflot

Burns Night in the Ukraine in March

Stuart McKenzie - the Celt is their delight

The last time I flew to Eastern Europe it was to Moscow on Aeroflot in 1985 – they served you caviar to show what a People’s Paradise the Soviet Union was. Mikhail Gorbachev had just succeeded from Yuri Andropov, who died after an unusually and some might think suspiciously short stint in power.

Once you accepted that all Aeroflot staff scowled at all Westerners – partly because of the traditional Russian aversion to smiling at strangers and partly lest the KGB thought they sympathised with the evils of Capitalism – and that the interior decor of the planes appeared to be based on a Lambeth council flat circa 1952 – flying Aeroflot was a fairly relaxing experience.

Yesterday, I was flying to Kiev on the more smiley Ukraine International Airlines to meet up with Fred Finn (the Guinness Book of Records’ most travelled person). He arranged the sponsorship for Gorbachev’s first UK trip after the Soviet Union collapsed, has flown 15 million miles, had 718 flights in Concorde and is now an advisor to the Euro 2012 football championship and a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ to Ukraine International Airlines, for whom he writes a travel blog.

At his behest, at Gatwick Airport, I bought two bottles of vodka for people in the Ukraine. Yes indeed, as requested, I carried two bottles of vodka from London to Kiev. Over the years, I have come to accept such things as normal.

But I am actually in Kiev to attend a Burns Night Supper tomorrow. Yes, that’s tomorrow – the 31st March – and, yes, I realise Burns Night is/was on 25th January. And, no, I have no idea why the Kiev version is being held tomorrow either.

This Burns Night Supper is organised annually for a local charity by Stuart McKenzie, a highly-successful entrepreneur from Edinburgh.

Last year, apparently, his Burns Night Supper was combined with a St Patrick’s Night party.

It sounds like a great idea and one which I think should be picked up elsewhere. Lateral thinking is always to be encouraged, especially when unexplained.

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Filed under Scotland, Travel, Ukraine

Yesterday was like all last days before the start of the Edinburgh Fringe

It is the same every year but different.

Horrible.

Dies horribilis.

I got to bed at 2.15am this morning and set off for Edinburgh by car at 6.15pm.

Yesterday started at 8.00am with the postman ringing on my door bell.

I went downstairs. I did not have my keys in my pocket.

“Hold on a minute! I don’t have my keys! I’ll be back in a mo!”

Upstairs. I could not find my keys.

Spare bedroom. Look for the spare set of keys. Could not find the spare set of keys.

Downstairs. The postman had gone. I could not see anything left outside the door.

“I won’t be here tomorrow to collect it from the sorting office,” I thought.

I went back upstairs. I could not find my keys.

“It is a bad enough problem when you are locked out of your house,” I thought, “but it is actually worse if you are locked inside it and can’t get out.”

It was going to be embarrassing to phone the two neighbours who have spare sets of keys to my place. And I think they may be away on holiday. Which would mean phoning my friend in Greenwich and asking her to get two trains across London to let me out of my own house.

Then the phone rang.

It was a call from New York. It was not glamorous.

It was now 8.30am.

“Buggeration!” I suddenly thought. “It is 3.30am in New York. What on earth is he doing?”

I found my spare keys in the spare bedroom.

The postman had left a package outside my door. It was not for me.

I had to go to Kwik-Fit for 9.00am to have my tyres and treads checked. One of my headlight bulbs had also stopped working the previous night.

“Great!” I thought. “The Kwik-Fit man can fit it quicker than me.”

I am not one of Life’s naturally practical men.

The Kwik-Fit man had trouble getting access to the headlight bulb; another Kwik-Fit man tried. He had trouble. I looked at the area under the bonnet behind the headlamps. It looked hermetically sealed in plastic.

The two Kwik-Fit men said to me:

“Can’t do it. It’s got a plug socket thing attached. You can only get it from a Toyota main dealer.”

They are very nice people at Kwik-Fit. I like them. They did not charge me.

I drove to my local Toyota dealer.

The young couple in front of me had been waiting 20 minutes for two light bulbs. That is the short version of their service trauma. Toyota are usually very good. They were having an off-day.

Halfords told us we could only get Toyota light bulbs for our car from Toyota,” the young couple said.

“Kawk-Fit told me that about my car,” I said.

They were not impressed.

Eventually, I got my light bulb fitted.

Then a travel company phoned about a trip I am making next year. There was a long but necessary 15-minute conversation. It was almost all settled. Except Aeroflot have not yet confirmed their flight schedule for next April. I was told I could travel by Emirates, but I prefer Aeroflot for the eccentricity factor because, when I last travelled with them under Communism, scowling stewardesses used to serve you caviar to demonstrate what life was like in a true Socialist paradise like the Soviet Union. Things may have changed now they have discovered capitalist corruption and McDonalds.

Back home, I found my doorkeys under a Boden clothing catalogue.

I started to wonder if Johnnie Boden’s wares had reached Novosibirsk yet. They do very good winter coats. You need good clothing in Novosibirsk.

I think Edinburgh Fringe fever may have started early this year. It is a swirling of uncertainties in the head, coupled with a slight shivering. There is no known antidote except September.

Around 1.00am this morning, I collected elfin comedian Laura Lexx (she was once employed as an elf in Lapland) from the Elephant in South London (American readers will just have to pass over this reference, mystified) for the trip up to Edinburgh later in the morning. Laura had no Boden clothing, as far as I could tell, and had given me the impression she had packed as if for a year-long expedition to the Sahara and the Antarctic by the massed ranks of the Dagenham Girl Pipers and would have the entire contents of the Colindale Newspaper Library for her Fringe play Ink.

Unfortunately, she had packed quite modestly.

I told her: “I had been going to say I have a Toyota, not a TARDIS.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because,” I explained, “I pre-wrote tomorrow’s blog and I was going to say you had too much luggage.”

“Well just make it up,” she told me. “I don’t mind.”

When we got back to my home, there was a drip-drip-drip sound in the kitchen.

“What’s that?” Laura asked.

I thought for a bit. “That’ll be the new washing machine,” I explained.

And it was.

A handyman (much cheaper than a plumber) had sorted a leak on the water tap when connected to the new washing machine; he had made his own rubber washer to stop the water leaking.

It clearly had not worked.

We mopped the floor under the washing machine, having dragged it out of its recess and into the middle of the kitchen floor.

I got to bed at 2.15am. I will post this blog around 6.15am.

Ars longa, vita brevis.

Or maybe Limbus longa, vita brevis.

Look it up on Google Translate.

But most definitely the traditional pre-Fringe dies horribilis.

Spaghetti-juggling at the Fringe will be like a walk in the park.

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Filed under Comedy, Scotland, Theatre