Tag Archives: Tashkent

Other people’s lives: Freemasons, gangsters, a cat killer and the Cold War

Purveyors of fine petrol to the nation

Owners of fine petrol stations across UK

Last night, I went to Stowmarket in Suffolk to see two excellent Edinburgh Fringe preview shows by Doug Segal and Juliette Burton.

On the way back, just before midnight, I filled up at a BP petrol station somewhere on or near the A14.

Inside, a man dressed as a green duck was talking to a woman dressed as a yellow chicken.

“It was brown and grey and French,” the man said.

“Karen has always been difficult,” the woman replied.

Then they left.

Despite that, I have no particular blog to write this morning, so I idly looked through some old diaries at what happened today in previous years. These are extracts, going back in time to another era. Some names have been removed.

Boots: a frequent weapon in Glasgow

Two negotiation tools often used to settle disputes in Glasgow

5th MAY 2002

In  the evening, I went with (a fairly well-known English comedian) to a gig at a Masonic Hall in Easterhouse, a legendarily rough part of Glasgow. The low, unmarked building was surrounded by empty space, like a free-fire zone, and had 7 ft tall spiked grey metal railings surrounding it with barbed wire on parts of the roof. There was a full house: perhaps 150 people, all dressed up in their Sunday best as if for a West End occasion. They hated (the fairly well-known English comedian’s) performance. Their favourite star was ‘Christian’ a 64-year-old who sings as if it were still the 1970s.

The son of one of the people who ran the club told us: “My nose is getting better now. It’s still just tender here, towards the top.”

The other night, he had been driving home from some late night DJ work and stopped at a petrol station. After paying, he walked back towards his car. A man appeared, said “No-one talks to my wife like that!” and hit him.

Three other men then appeared and all four attacked him, knocking him down and kicking him, breaking his nose.

The police say they have the men’s faces and the number plate of their car on video but, because the beating itself is not seen on any video, there is no point finding and prosecuting them.

It seems that the DJ boy, drunk, had reached the pay counter at the same time as the angry man’s wife and (he says) told her: “You go first.”

Seeing this from outside, the other man and his friends somehow misinterpreted what had happened and got angry.

taxisign

How is this common sight linked to the Great Train Robbery?

5th MAY 2000

I had lunch with a chum. Last week, (a prominent London gangster) told him one of the Great Train Robbers who was never caught is black and now works as a London cab driver. He kept all of his share.

My chum went to Charlie Kray’s recent funeral in Bethnal Green. As Reggie Kray came out of church after the service, handcuffed to a policewoman, my chum found himself shouting “Let him out!” and it was taken up by the rest of the hundreds of bystanders. When Reggie went to his brother Ronnie Kray’s funeral, he was handcuffed to two gigantic policemen to make him look small, but instead it made him look very dangerous. This time, my chum reckoned, he had been handcuffed to a woman to try to belittle him in fellow-gangsters’ eyes.

Later, I talked with another chum on the phone. She has just got back from cruising the Caribbean in a yacht. She said the Caribbean is full of white South Africans who have left the country and put all their money into buying yachts and cruisers. She said her bottom was probably on the Internet because one man spent 39 days sailing from South Africa to the Caribbean and, when he got there, he was greeted by her buttocks exposed to him spelling out WELCOME NICK.  He took a digital photograph to send to his friends as an e-mail attachment.

Portrait of a killer

Portrait of a pitiless kitty killer with a track record

5th MAY 1999

I had lunch with a chum at BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane.

Last weekend, he and his girlfriend went to Chichester, where she has friends. In the evening, they were all watching a video of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Halfway through, the chief baddie was saying something to the effect of: “If things don’t happen, people will lose their digits.”

At this point, the living room door was suddenly pushed open – slammed open, really – by the family cat, who entered the room with the hind legs of a rabbit dangling from its bloodied mouth. The cat strode in, dropped the legs on the carpet, looked up at the humans and strode out of the room. The cat’s owner said they’d once sat and watched the same cat eat an entire rabbit in the garden, head first.

“You sat and watched?” my chum asked incredulously.

When he got back to his home in Brixton that same night, my chum found the head of a toy Teletubby (the yellow one) in his back garden. Just the head.

He recently negotiated a per-day pay rise for himself at the BBC; then negotiated a 4-day-week for himself thus, in effect, getting paid the same money for a day’s less work. He intends to try to write a novel on Mondays. His female boss is also going to take a day off work each week in an attempt to write a novel.

When I got home from the BBC lunch, I found an e-mail from another chum who works at Anglia TV:

Hey, today’s Eastern Daily Press is full of a story about an ex Anglia TV carpenter who murdered his wife and attempted to murder his daughter. You would recognise him. He looked like a little gnome and wandered around fixing things with a white coat on. He stabbed her to death because she spent more than £60 a week on the housekeeping!

Later, shopping in Tesco’s, I met the woman who used to live next door to me in Borehamwood. She, her husband, son and daughter moved to nearby Shenley about six years ago. She said her daughter was now twelve and “getting hormonal”. Nothing she (the mother) could do was right and her daughter was embarrassed by her.

Tashkent earthquake memorial in 1985

Tashkent earthquake memorial in 1985

5th MAY 1985
(four years before the Berlin Wall fell)

Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The old city was flattened by an earthquake in 1966 and rebuilt mostly in ghastly Russian tower block style.

Walking along a street this morning, I encountered three thin policemen and a tubby officer with a moustache talking to a shirt-sleeved man who seemed to have committed a traffic offence. The shirt-sleeved man took some pieces of paper out of his right-hand pocket and offered them to the officer. But the officer noticed me – an obvious tourist – approaching with a camera over my shoulder. He dismissed the man’s offer of (I presume) roubles with a wave of his hand.

Walking into the grounds of a mosque, we were given a very crude propaganda magazine about how local Moslem customs are respected and how the Soviet state is renovating mosques. The Russians must be very worried about the Moslems in Soviet Central Asia.

My German chum yesterday encountered a local Uzbek newspaper editor called Igor who had met a girl in Bulgaria whom he (Igor) wanted to marry. This romance came to the ears of the KGB who interrogated Igor and told him there was no way he could marry her.

Igor earns 250 roubles per month compared to the average of 160 roubles per month, so he is well-off. He lives in a three-room apartment – unusually spacious – but he has to share it with his brother and one other man. There are weekly political meetings at his apartment block with a register of names and it is compulsory to attend them unless you are working.

Igor came very nervously to our hotel tonight to talk to my German chum. He wants to send my German chum a book but will have to get a friend to take it to Yugoslavia and post it from there. If Igor got mail from the West, he would be questioned by the police. He tried to persuade my German chum to send him money so he can travel to Yugoslavia himself and then on to Germany. My German chum met him just outside the hotel for this chat and thought it might be some form of set-up by the security police.

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Filed under Crime, Humor, Humour, Politics

One night in Tashkent, I did not sleep with a Nazi

I am knackered by lack of sleep and cannot think of anything to blog about, so I am reduced to remembering what happened on Friday 3rd May 1985 in Bukhara and Tashkent, in what was then Soviet Central Asia.

I was on a 37 day group tour of the Soviet Union, Mongolia and China. We started in what was then Leningrad (later re-named St Petersburg after the collapse of Communism) and ended in Hong Kong (which was, at that time, still a British colony and not part of China).

In our group, there were Americans, Australians, Canadians, English, Germans and Scots. This is an extract from my diary:

_____

Friday 3rd May, 1985

Our group leader, Jimmy, is a dour and wizened Glaswegian in his mid-fifties who, when not taking large groups of strangers to exotic locations, works as a barman in London. He says he has been coming to the Soviet Union for 23 years and has never been invited into an ordinary Soviet citizen’s home. He has been visiting China for 4 years and has been invited to ordinary people’s homes several times.

“Russians are so completely paranoid,” he explains, “They don’t even trust their neighbours in case they report them for something.”

At the airport in Bukhara, a woman border guard sniffs and wants to confiscate a plastic bottle of water carried by American platinum blonde Carla. Having got through Customs, we are told we cannot sit on any seats in the Departure Lounge because “the Departure Room seats are not for sitting on”. We are taken to wait on the tarmac, separated by several yards from the locals already patiently waiting there, in case we contaminate them or vice versa.

As usual, the locals have to wait while we are first to board the smallish prop plane with its wing above the fuselage. The locals look at us forlornly with something between hatred and resignation. They are seated separately from us and are collected by different airport buses when we land at Tashkent.

In the afternoon, we are taken to a collective farm. Someone asks what happens in years when the crops fail. “We never have crop failures,” comes back the immediate reply. Seeing us laugh, the Party member pauses, taken aback, then adds: “ Once we had a crop failure… Once.”

At each stop, the singles in our group have to share with different members of the group – this is Jimmy’s wise idea to avoid people being paired permanently with people they hate.

Tonight, I have to share a room with one of our Germans – Alex – a boorish old man in his sixties who keeps geese and who, at every stop in Russia, blithely told the Inturist people that he had been in their country once before – during the War. This went down particularly badly at Leningrad.

He leches after any women under 30, sometimes clenching his fist and raising his forearm behind their back: a sort of retired Nazi Benny Hill.

His animal-like snoring is so loud that the walls virtually vibrate and, during the night, it continually wakes me up. I find I can temporarily stop the snoring by clapping my hands, but it soon re-starts. I progress to turning the radio quickly on and off, banging my headboard, throwing headache tablets at him then finally putting the light on above his bed head. All to no avail.

It is like sleeping in a room with a Panzer tank revving up its engines.

I try not to think about what he might have done when he was in the Soviet Union during the War.

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Filed under History, Russia

The roaring, drunken yet very amiable Finns of the former Soviet Union

In 1985, I was in the Soviet Union – firstly Russia and then what was, at that time, called Soviet Central Asia. On the trip, I kept encountering a group of holidaying Finns. This is the shortened version of my diary entries about what happened…

Saturday 27 April – Moscow

In the evening, at the hotel, we encountered a group – about 20 or 25 of them – of absolutely roaring-drunk but very amiable Finns. They were swaying around in the foyer greeting each other loudly and embracing complete strangers randomly in a language which sounded like a tape-recorder playing speech at twice its normal speed. They were staggering, almost rolling, around trying to strike up conversations with all and sundry. Apparently Finns get cheap boats or planes to Leningrad, laden down with denim jeans which they sell for gallons of vodka and which they then have to drink before returning to Finland. The drinking laws are very strict in Finland.

Sunday 28 April – Moscow

Over breakfast, the amiable Finns are still paralytically drunk. Later, in a corridor, I hear people talking in broken English about belly-dancers. Yes, it is a couple of Finns talking to a complete stranger who is utterly bemused, slightly frightened and is looking round asking for help with his eyes. Suddenly another grossly-fat, drunken Finn staggers out of a doorway, naked from the waist up, his stomach bouncing and gyrating dramatically as he laughs:

“Belly dancer!” he shouts at the top of his voice. “Belly dancer!”

Tuesday 30 April – Samarkand

When we return to our hotel in Samarkand, we find a drunken lone Finn wandering sadly around the foyer holding his head and plaintively saying to no-one in particular:

“Bukhara…Bukhara…”

A hotel employee directs him to his coach outside.

At 1.40am at night, we get a train from Samarkand to Bukhara. The Finns are nowhere to be seen but then, a few minutes before the train sets off, we see two drunken Finns from the hotel being helped along the platform by four equally drunken friends.

“Bukhara!” they shout. “Bukhara!”

And then the others appear in one large singing, swaying mass.

The guard on the train looks at me and raises his eyes to heaven – an unusually expressive thing for a Russian to do in the presence of a Westerner.

Wednesday 1 May – Bukhara

In the train, two of our group – including a very strait-laced West German doctor, share a sleeper carriage with two of the Finnish men who enter and strip off immediately, moving the good doctor’s belongings whenever he isn’t looking in what appears to be a rehearsal for some slapstick routine. Meanwhile, in the other half of the coach, about twelve Finnish women strip off completely in their three 4-berth compartments and leave their doors wide open while they sing loud folk songs very loudly and slightly off-key.

When we eventually get to our hotel rooms in Bukhara just after 7.30 in the morning, we discover the Finns have somehow managed to reach the hotel first and there is a rowdy Finnish party in full swing in the room next to mine with riotous singing blasting through the wall. You can’t complain: they are just enjoying themselves so much.

Thursday 2 May – Bukhara

We are to be taken for an Uzbek folk song evening. My heart sinks. I come down to the hotel foyer from my room, the lift door opens and I am confronted by two Finnish men stripped to the waist, wearing very short, very bright red shorts. They have big grins on their faces. They have clearly just come back into the hotel from the outside world and I assume they have been out jogging, terrifying the locals.

“Bukhara!” they shout. “Bukhara!” and one plants a large wet kiss on my cheek.

Friday 3 May – Tashkent

We arrive at our hotel where a lone Finn stands by the lift, looking startled, with glazed eyes, clutching his bottle of Black & White whisky and swaying ever-so-slightly.

They must have drunk the Soviet Union dry of vodka and have moved on to whisky.

You have to admire their stamina.

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Filed under Drugs, Finland, History, Russia, Travel