Yekaterinburg- Boris Yeltsin and Krokodil

There are lots of dead people’s heads in Yekaterinburg. Huge, clunky reconstructions of once famous craniums. Most of these heads have nothing to do with Yekaterinburg. A thousand miles east of Moscow, it’s a sad city trying to be something it’s not. This dearth of culture was guaranteed from the start. Peter the Great built St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg simultaneously, the former to be a stunning capital of culture, the latter to be a grimy industrial power house. He succeeded on both accounts.

The Pushkin statue here has an uncharacteristically empty, lifeless expression. It’s as if he’s making the point that he’s here in sculptural form but not in spirit. Is there any spirit here? Or just a lot of coal and useful minerals? Tsar Nicholas II was sent here to die with his wife and children. They were murdered in a basement and then thrown down a well.

One statue that does actually belong here is that of Boris Yeltsin. The elegant, upright marble form seems to be a mocking dig at the clumsy buffoon who was invariably hunched by his insatiable alcoholism. He served here as governor before becoming the first “democratically” elected President of Russia. “Boris Yeltsin”- his name sounds like the blundering jiving of a joyous cretin, and his dancing has indeed been compared to my own arrhythmic flailing.

In light of Putin’s steely authoritarianism it’s difficult to imagine that Russia was once run by such a moron, but his drinking literally brought Russia to its knees. He resigned a year after leading the Russian economy to bankruptcy. His finest moments include a Presidential trip to Washington on which he was found crunk in his underwear outside the White House trying to hail a cab to get a pizza. He once smashed the Kyrgyz President on the head with a spoon hoping to make music.

Clumsiness, a brazen lack of taste and misplaced endeavour sum this city up. The centre piece is a huge artificial pond. Hemmed in by grey concrete walls, its greeny-black depths seem to suck the life from the surrounding scenery. In the murky shallows I saw a baby bottle and a vodka bottle lying side by side. Huge grey skyscrapers sprout around it like poisonous toad stools. Their matte texture seems to absorb sunlight and offer up darkness in return. The heavy haze that hangs over the city permits, at best, only a vague impression of sunlight.

Although Yekaterinburg is brutally ugly the drainpipes are beautiful. The city council seem to blow most of their budget on them, just as the railways blow most of theirs on ornamental cup holders. The drainpipe mouths are as big as the plastic lampshades dogs wear after operations. They are finely wrought into elaborate patterns, whilst the spouts protrude a full three feet from the building, spraying luxurious, inconvenient arcs into the walkways.

Yekaterinburg is a key transit point in the Afghanistan-Europe heroin supply chain. Heroin kills 30,000 people a year in Russia, more than a third of the global total. This city is awash with used needles. They are strewn across grass verges and form ad-hoc heaps in disused doorways. I saw some children playing with a dog on a verge that was so liberally scattered with syringes of various shapes, sizes and colours that it looked like an art installation. I tried to warn them but they didn’t understand.

Russia has among the fastest growing rates of HIV infection in the world. In 2011 over 100,000 people died from AIDS related illnesses in Russia compared to 500 in the UK. This is hardly surprising when methadone treatment is illegal and there is no state-run needle exchange programme. As I reach old-age and my cynicism mushrooms, I realise this dual lack of compassion and common sense has always defined Russian governance and perhaps always will.

Yekaterinburg is the home of krokodil, a home-made opiate cooked up from codeine tablets, red phosphorous and petrol. It literally eats junkies alive, rotting their organs and turning their flesh green. Their skin starts to peel off and they die within a year. There are so many people wondering around off their nut in this city, but not in the way we have all come to know and love.

(Check out the Vice documentary: http://youtu.be/JsUH8llvTZo)

When I was sitting by the river, a krok-head scrambled up the embankment and asked me for a cigarette. I had none.
“Well how about some money?” he asked.
“No.”
“Foreigner!! Faggot!!” he screamed, baring a few black teeth “Fuck off!”

Sympathy, fear, rage and repulsion mingled in a heady emotional cocktail that froze me to my bench.

“Hell hath no fury like a krok-head’s scorn,” I said to myself mournfully. I stared at the empty river bank for a few minutes before shaking my head and saying, “sticks and stones” many times. This made me feel much better.

It is easy to understand why people take drugs in a city like this. It is easy to understand why people take drugs in any city (feels real nice), but it is especially easy to understand it in this city for there seems to be no other pleasure on offer.

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Moscow Round Two

Although Moscow is the capital of Russia, people say it’s not really Russian. Like most capital cities, it’s a repository for the country’s wealth and its aspirational provincials. In Russia the contrast between capital and provinces is particularly stark. Moscow has more billionaires than any other city, boasting 78 to New York’s 57, although the minimum wage in Russia as a whole is $155 per month.

Living in Moscow a year ago I drank from this trough, being chauffered around to teach children in luxury compounds, paying dazzling sums for normal sandwiches and renting a room with windows and many chairs. I was so wealthy and I was living in Moscow and I just didn’t care. This time I’m going from where the wealth is to where it comes from, taking the train from Moscow to Siberia, home to Russia’s oilfields, her gold mines and her krokodil, Russia’s response to America’s Wild West.

During my second stay in Moscow, I’ve been living in a hostel which seems more like a Dickensian work house than a place of leisure. There are almost no tourists here and the average age is about 50. Most people seem to be living here indefinitely. One pock-marked Russian lady has tried to turn her bunk into a private residence, closing it off with towels, a sarong and a clothes line. In the morning she sticks her head out proudly like a tortoise or princess in a castle. A lot of people have erected their own furniture, cobbling together shelves for their cutlery and powertools.

Some people are rearing babies here. In living memory I have never before had a baby reared near me. It is a new experience and one that I relish. The TV room is always populated by old Uzbek men wearing dirty wife beaters and plastic Adidas flip flops. Sitting beside them you see stolid little cockroaches make the journey from the sofa to the skirting board.

In my room of eight live a Mongolian and his mother. They wake up early, go out briefly and then the mother returns and sleeps a few more hours. Her amorphous, honey coloured mass spreads voluptuously across the bunk. She closes her eyes and she looks so happy and I feel happy for her. After a few hours her son returns and she wakes up. Then they lie awake on their bunks facing directly upwards, him above and her below. They don’t speak but they are happy together, mother and son, the way God intended. One cannot but smile at his harmonious design.

One morning they were talking particularly loudly and I saw my friend, Stefan, was still asleep. I smiled sweetly and asked the Mongolians to speak quietly so Stefan could sleep. They both looked at Stefan and then looked at me in outrage and disbelief. I mistook this for misunderstanding and repeated myself, “Please be quiet for a bit, he’s still asleep.” The Mongolians looked at Stefan, looked at each other, then looked at me. “He is reading,” said the son in English. “He is reading a book,” said the mother in Russian. I looked over and saw Stefan was indeed wide awake reading a book. I tried to explain my honest error, but sadly the Mongolians mistook my benevolence for beastliness.

I felt embarassed and resentful. That evening I saw the Mongolians in the communal kitchen. The man was stirring some rice and his mother was patting him affectionately on the shoulder, gazing lovingly at the back of his head. I saw the empty mug by his hand as an opportunity for atonement. I lurched in close and before he could say anything I filled it to the brim with beer and I gazed into his eyes expressing affection and penance from the bottom of my heart. Mug clinked mug and man smiled at man, a scene of reconciliation that still brings a tear to my eye.

Tonight I take the train 2000km east to Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

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Sexual subjugation in Lvov

Ukraine- the lumbering leviathan on the edge of Europe, on the edge of Asia and on the edge of Russia. Ukraine is neither here nor there and until twenty years ago it was precisely nowhere, absolutely non-existent as an independent nation. Apart from a brief three year flirtation with existence at the end of World War One, Ukraine did not come into being as a nation until the Soviet Union collapsed. Her history is largely defined by great empires storming back and forth across her, carving her up in an endless, profligate geo-political feast. The Mongol Hordes, Lithuania, Poland, The Russian Empire, The Ottoman Empire, The Soviet Union- all sucked on Ukraine, suppressed her people and sought to permanently assimilate her. It is truly remarkable that after centuries of quasi-existence, Ukraine is now alive and tangible.

With such a motley history, modern Ukraine is understandably characterised by intense ambiguity. The country is split roughly half and half between Ukrainian speakers in the West and Russian speakers in the East.  Language is a source of extreme tension in the country. Last year a mass brawl erupted between MPs in parliament, with chairs, head butts, eggs and smoke bombs used to debate a bill that would make Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian. The fact that reigning boxing world heavy weight champion Vitali Klitschko is running for office in the upcoming election is perhaps indicative of the brutally straightforward machinations of Ukrainian politics.

Many see Ukraine as a schizophrenic country, and the possibility of significant boarder realignments seems ever possible. Until last weekend, I was only acquainted with the Russian speaking South-Eastern regions, having spent time in The Crimea, Odessa and Kiev. On Friday I took a trip to Lvov and discovered not just a new language but a whole new world; a carnival of brutal eroticism and fairytale chimeras.

Going from Odessa to Lvov, Russian gave way to Ukrainian and the plump onion domes of Orthodoxy were replaced by sylphlike gothic spires. Lvov is unadulterated in its medieval majesty, largely untouched by the Western trash that has done for much of Eastern Europe. The cobbled streets and cityscapes of spindling towers lend her an enchanting air. I felt like I had leapt back five hundred years, but as night fell I wasn’t prepared for quite how authentic this anachronistic ambience would become.

It turns out that Lvov was home to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author who lends his name to sexualised beatings, a.k.a. masochism. I am aware that I only have a brain once and as such I am obliged to treat it to the full catalogue of sensations that the world has to offer. So I went there to get battered.

Masoch was a dark and dingy affair. The drinks menus were bound in leather and purple fuzz. A huge waitress was lashing a small topless customer with a whip. He was screaming and his back was covered in violet welts but not once did he ask her to stop.

Max and I had a few drinks to steady our nerves and raise our libidos. I assumed this was going to be difficult to enjoy but I was determined to make the most of it. We expressed our curiosity to the waitress and within seconds the colossus with the whip had stormed over and was staring at us with hungry black eyes.

She lined up two chairs and told us to get on our knees. It was as if we had signed away all our rights at the door. We knelt and she told us to grip the chair in front of us. She lifted our t-shirts over our heads to expose our tender virgin backs.

In his book Venus in Furs, Masoch explains his understanding of sexual relationships; ‘whichever of the two fails to subjugate will soon feel the feet of the other on his neck.’ I had rarely contemplated the power dynamics of mating in such graphic terms. In fact I had never even seen power relations at work; for me mating had always been an act of union and equality- the mutual exchange of pleasure and occasionally emotion. Not anymore.

The first two licks drew cries of pain from us both. We attempted to stand but she forced us down with a brutal growl. For a moment I thought about resisting; I didn’t have to be kneeling on that dirty floor being whipped by that dirty brutette. But then I remembered that my atoms and her atoms and the whip’s atoms had all been in perpetual motion since the Big Bang and none of us could possibly be anywhere else at that particular moment in time. So I gripped the chair and put my head down.

The following blows lashed me through the boundaries of pain and I stepped into a new world. The lick of the whip was so overwhelmingly exciting as to leave me permanently changed. I will never see women as equals again. They will always be potential colossuses who set me a-tremble with fear and titillation. The thrill of being utterly subjugated by an utter brutette was the best thing I have ever felt and it has changed my life.

That was just wishful thinking. I like to think that travelling and trying new things can change your perspective, but fortunately I didn’t ‘find myself’ in that masochist bar. Luckily for my body my brain wasn’t impressed. The experience simply confirmed my belief that I don’t like pain and I learnt nothing. But I will keep trying. I will put myself in whatever humiliating, harmful position presents itself because that is probably for the best.

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I am a teacher.

Since I’ve been in Moscow I’ve been teaching English, maths and science to rich children. The first kid I taught was an intolerable prick, and despite his young age (15) I can’t forgive him for that. However, I kept my feelings concealed and never told him how I really felt, for he was almost the same size as me and his dad was much bigger and deals surgical instruments for a living. Incidentally, it seems that surgical instruments are extremely profitable judging from the lifestyle of this young man. Before lessons I was picked up in the centre of Moscow by their chauffeur and driven to their compound. The compound was enclosed by a tall fence and the only entrance was manned by a guard. It consisted of 7 large dachas (Russian style country houses). I taught young Boris in the house that was used to store his micro-scooters and his mother’s dresses and handbags. On Valentine’s Day he bought 301 red roses for his girlfriend.

The first few weeks passed smoothly and Boris was learning (although he learnt only because he was smart and not through any real endeavour). However, as Boris became more comfortable with me he became excessively confident. He sought out my weaknesses and exploited them ruthlessly. We played a game of chess and within minutes he had claimed a cruel and humiliating victory. He saw mental multiplication of four digit numbers as a chink in my armour, and he constantly sought to penetrate, baiting me with outrageous sums. But worst of all, he sensed my reluctance to use physical force on him and delighted in my consequent vulnerability.

Boris had recently taken up boxing because his parents wanted him to lose weight. I agreed that he should lose weight but I felt boxing was not the best way, especially boxing with me. I grew up in a British school system riddled with excessive anti-touching hysteria, so Boris’s boxing frightened me on two fronts. Firstly I was terrified because he was big and strong and was punching me hard, but moreover I was frightened because I needed to punch him or throw him but I thought this might get me into trouble. I tried to be stern and shout at him but he seemed to like that. Before long, every lesson, my arrival was greeted by a barrage of conkers. I had to cover my head and run into the house, where I was welcomed by the wildly swinging young Boris who would hit me with a barrage of punches.

Although I was not overly keen on Boris, I was certainly overly keen on his mother. She was the perfect size- not too big but not too small, and she always wore nice silk tracksuit trousers that showed her size off beautifully. The texture of her face was exquisite- it had a healthy brown glow but it wasn’t too shiny and her teeth were thin, white and straight. She wore white earrings to match and everything came together in a paradigm of perfection. Her personality was also perfect- she laughed at my jokes when they weren’t funny and she always showed me the affection I deserve, bringing me cakes and coffee and caviar pancakes. Her handshake was cool and refreshing. In short, she was the women of my dreams. One day I was teaching Boris and I heard his mum come home. I straightened my tie and smoothed down my shirt in anticipation of seeing that smile at the end of the lesson. But as I shuffled and preened myself, I became uncomfortably aware of a strong whiff of body odour. I had been hustling around all day and that had clearly caught up with me. A horrible sinking feeling came over me- I would not be seeing that smile if I smelt bad. I went to the toilet and frantically rummaged through Boris’s things for some deodorant. Nothing. No perfume, no aftershave, no nothing. I panicked and picked up the air freshener from behind the toilet. The scent was ‘after rain’ and I sprayed myself up and down, all around. The jet was pleasantly powerful like a light massage, but it left strange marks and the smell was overwhelming. I was covered in white stains and I smelt like a toilet. There was certainly no smile for me on that unfortunate afternoon.

Now it would be unfair to entirely overlook the beautiful moments we shared together. When we were practicing interview questions before an open day, I asked young Boris what he could bring to the school and he told me that he would bring pleasure to every English girl. This response made both of us laugh because we knew it was so far from the truth. Between beatings we enjoyed indulging in The Hobbit, although Boris constantly joked that he hated it which was funny. Despite the slow progress we made, Boris managed to pass some exams and get into a boarding school in England. I suppose we’ll both be in England together at some point and I keep dreaming that if we happen to cross paths, perhaps we might get on better in a more informal environment. I would like to think that he hated me as a teacher rather than as a person. I just want to believe that all those beatings were nothing personal, that I didn’t deserve them, that it was all just part and parcel of a dangerous job.

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Love in a hard place.

In Moscow God moves in mysterious ways. This city serves up unexpected kindness and punishment in equal measure, constantly keeping you on your toes. Everyday life depresses, delights and confuses me.  In this city of contrasts, Ladas and Limousines bounce together, brutal grey concrete blocks stand proudly beside charming onion dome churches and I am forever wondering how people can be so cruel and so kind. Such opposites are thrown into particularly stark relief in the Metro, where starving beggars swarm through gilded caverns.

Stalin began the metro project in 1932, promising spectacular stations that would serve as “underground palaces for the proletariat.” Commuters are blessed with chandeliers, mosaics, statues and vast halls lined with bronze. The metro is a delight to behold. However, judging from the hypnotising procession of long, lifeless faces on the escalators, the novelty of these temples has worn thin. The morosity is at times overwhelming. I used to try and cheer fellow passengers with warm smiles and understanding nods but I just seemed to frighten them or make them angry. Passengers push passengers around. They knock each other over and hurt each other without apologising. The lifeblood of the city surges through these filthy tunnels and sweeps away all in its path. Sometimes this lifeblood is so sexy that I shed tears of lust. Long shiny legs and nice heads with perfect eyes and make up. Look but don’t touch.

The station doors are one of the most inexplicable examples of human thought that I have ever witnessed. These wooden beasts weigh 200 kilos and swing freely on their hinges. They swing so fast and hard that you have to time your entry just right to avoid a brutal impact. If one hit your face, you would be broken and could probably die. A few months ago a girl got her finger cut off. When it’s windy, old people, children and small people get trapped inside because the doors are too heavy for them.

In London, when you go into the underground you have to put your ticket in for the gates to open, and you go through. Here, there are no gates- just gaps. But you have to buy a ticket and put it in, because otherwise you trigger a censor and rods shoot out and smash your legs. I saw it happen to a guy once and he was trapped in between the rods in agony until the guard came over to release him. The logic is simple- tempt people into wrong doing so you can punish them. This cruelty and gloom can really get quite infectious and I realised something had to be done.

At the station Ploshchad Revolutsii the platforms are lined with a bizarre array of bronze statues. A fortunate bronze hound is singled out for special attention. Passing commuters grope him for good luck, rubbing their claws on his nose and paws so that these parts gleam brightly. In November I fondled the hound and wished for a nice time on the metro. My wish was promptly granted.

The first time I encountered a shuba (Russian fur coat), I thought a bear had been released into the metro. A great shimmering mass of fur waddled through the crowd ahead of me and onto a train. I gave chase, and when the creature turned I saw not a bear, but a beautiful fur coat with a lady inside it. The shubas soon bred, and by December Moscow was full of them. Travel on the metro became a sensual feast. Shubas are probably the softest thing I have ever had the good fortune to touch, and in rush hour opportunities for touching are ample. As people crush into the carriage I carefully manoeuvre to stand next to a shuba and relish the silkiness. Dropping something on the floor offers the chance to discretely rub your face down the whole length of a shuba, and then back up again. But more importantly the annual appearance of the shuba changes the way people treat each other. The notoriously cruel Russian babushkas (old ladies) become remarkably docile the moment they don a fur coat. No more barging and thrusting in tight places. No more snarling. The amorphous masses gently bump into each other and nobody seems to mind.

So now my metro journeys pass in a warm furry haze. The danger and the gloom are still there, but they’re easy to ignore when you feel this happy.

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The police in Russia

In England, unless you’re doing something wrong, policemen make you feel safer. In Russia, policemen make you feel less safe. They fulfil an inverse function, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation amongst law abiding citizens, whilst protecting criminals from the law. I often wonder whether they commit more crimes than they prevent.

The variety of law enforcement creatures is dazzling. There are young boys in great coats and pretty boots. These ones move slowly with their hands behind their backs and their hips further forward than their head. Those blessed with the largest heads are presented with a uniform of blue camouflage. They waddle with their arms out to the side like they’re wet. There are the storm troopers covered in plastic plates. They can hurt people without hurting themselves. My personal favourites are the slobs in faded green slacks. I was lucky enough to see them at work in an office when I had a problem with my visa. The whole afternoon they were ogling pictures of woman with tops on, incompetent even in their lechery.

In Russia, the logic of law-enforcement is shockingly flawed. They recruit the nastiest humans in the country, give them guns and black sticks, give them carte blanche to do what they like and pay them peanuts.  It is a recipe for disaster and disasters are frequent.

The police carry black batons of remarkable length. A phallic interpretation is not misplaced. A few months ago a man was arrested in Kazan on his way to the shop having forgotten his documents. He was taken in and raped with a champagne bottle. Two days later he died from his injuries. The officers involved were initially not held accountable because there were no cameras and his injuries were “self-inflicted”. Action was only taken after nationwide outrage and street protests.

The worst thing about the police is that they are painfully ubiquitous. When you go to a football match, it feels like policemen and soldiers are the home fans and civilians are the away fans. They even keep reserve forces in large steel cattle trucks.

When I was in St. Petersburg at Christmas, returning to my hotel one day I found that Nevsky Prospect was completely shut off by policemen. I assumed there was a bomb scare or the President was passing through. There were armed policemen everywhere. A bit further along, civilians were allowed to stand on the pavement, although the road was ringe-fenced by armed police and soldiers. When one of them told me that Father Christmas was coming, I thought I’d misheard. 20 minutes went by, and then suddenly, it was him. Led by a convoy of 20 police cars with flashing lights, Santa sped past and was gone in an instant. A straggle of children marched behind, followed by another long convoy of police cars and soldiers.  I know full well that Father Christmas is an unpredictable, unsavoury character, but they could have kept him under control with a mere fraction of the police presence. Perhaps they were trying to intimidate him so he never returns. Whatever the intentions, the Christmas spirit was successfully strangled.

When I was young and foolish, a few weeks ago, I was outside having a drink. It was hot and I thought I might take off my shirt like Jesus. Russia is strongly Orthodox. A few minutes went by and I heard footsteps behind me. I looked round and was unhappy to see one of the slobs in green slacks. He had his stick out. His face was as shapely as a cheese, with deep pock marks and crumbling corners. Overweight and wheezing heavily, he was a far from threatening individual, but his stick was his saving grace. Long black and magnificent, it helped to cast his many defects far from mind. I essentially entered into conversation with his stick. He took my driving licence and started to shout that I was drunk and on drugs. I said that I wasn’t on drugs and I most certainly wasn’t drunk and this was the honest truth. He radioed to his friends. I really didn’t like the idea of more sticks on the way and the Kazan incident came to mind. I pulled out a thousand rubles.  When he saw the flash of green his eyes lit up. The tables had turned. The stick was lowered, my driving licence was returned and he promised me that no more sticks were coming. I held the money at arm’s length and slowly backed away. He took the money and I took my freedom, both happy with a good deal.

In Russia the police used to be called “The Militsia”. In 2010 Medvedev rebranded them “The Police” to try and change their image and make them more user friendly. I don’t find them friendly and I try to avoid using them. I hope they never have the chance to use me. Image

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The hostel to end all hostels.

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Due to the abusive and expensive housing situation in Moscow, I’ve been living in a hostel for the past few weeks. I intended the situation to be very short term, but my fellow hostel dwellers and the inadvertent entertainment they provide have convinced me to stay for longer.

The first night I was here a huge convoy of tanks and rockets stormed past the window. This was only a practice and we were treated to the same display a week later. It’s called Victory Day, a celebration of the smashing of The Third Reich. As far as I could tell, they were more than capable of merking Angela too.

During my time here, two religious fanatics have tried to get their claws into me. The first was a Muslim who sat me down in the kitchen and softened me up with small pieces of apple. He told me that he has nothing to worry about in life and just lives day to day, a notion that seemed fairly appealing. He said that as a non-Muslim I probably think about tomorrow. I agreed. If I had some food and didn’t eat it all, I would put it in the fridge for the next day. I agreed. He said that if he had some food and didn’t eat it all, he would give the rest to me. I thought this was wonderful and that perhaps everyone should become a Muslim. As the explanation unfolded I was less impressed. He said that Allah will provide for him as long as he sees fit so he doesn’t have to worry about the next day. One day Allah will decide to stop providing for him and that is fine and he won’t complain when that happens. I realised that I would rather trust myself than trust Allah, so ultimately all those seductive promises are worthless to me.

An incredibly calm looking Buddhist approached me one day and asked if I was looking for a flat. I said I was and he said he knew a lady who was looking to rent two rooms out and asked if I would join him. I said that would be perfect. He asked if I was a Buddhist and I said no. He told me that wasn’t a problem since I seemed to be a remarkably calm, reflective young man. I was somewhat puzzled, but eventually realised he thought this because the two days he had seen me, I was curled up in a ball with a brutal hangover. He had mistaken suffering for meditation. Eventually I recovered, the false aura of calm disintegrated and he disappeared.

One day I encountered two topless thugs in the kitchen. One had some cruel scars on his back and flanks which he was displaying proudly. The other had smooth beige skin and no fur but he was frightening nonetheless. They were both destroying pot noodles and staring at me. I wanted to retreat but I was so thirsty. I skirted around them and avoided eye contact. But one of them stopped me at the tap and demanded some information about Chelsea FC. I gave him everything I had on Chelsea and before I knew it I had taken a seat and soon they were no longer thugs but friends.

For a while there was an old American guy who looked like a frail version of the hulk but his wife was long, lithe, sexy and Russian. I wanted her but unfortunately so did he. One guy keeps plying me with John Digweed and boiled eggs. Another fat old man gravitates towards the spot where he will be most intrusive and promptly falls asleep and snores manically. At night I’ve become so used to the snoring that it’s soothing. The worst is when the snoring stops and an eerie silence ensues. There is a constant stream of friendly faces on rotation, but sometimes these faces smell quite bad. I deliberately leave my toothpaste and deodorant in the bathroom hoping people will make use of them.

I awoke the other day to find the roof had burnt down. Apparently it was nothing serious, although there was no roof and the staircase was an ashy river. The hostel is on the second story, and the roof is about three stories further up so they said it wasn’t worth disturbing me. The electricity was back on by the evening and today they’ve been carting burnt timber down and fresh timber up to put a roof back on this madhouse. I hope they fix it up before it rains because I never want to leave.

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