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Expensive French perfume is wasted on the Kazakhs

  Tue 16th January 2018

I arrived at school this morning having had my usual bottle of wine the night before.

"Er...are you wearing cologne?" asked Lidia, once we were in my tiny office. "Well," I said unsuspectingly, "I wear Coco Chanel. Is it a bit strong?" "No, I just wondered if you had... well..." and she meandered about a bit before she asked me if I'd had a drink before I'd set off for work.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm very sensitive, and the children notice everything. I thought -- you don't like the cold, so you take a drink."

She was keen for us to go early to dinner in the canteen, for our homemade 60p meal. To talk privately? To give me something to eat to make my breath less obviously suggesting an Englishman abroad?

We had a delicious vegetarian rassolnik, beetroot salad, and kompot -- a warm mixed fruit juice -- in the canteen. I ate it quickly, hoping to eradicate the stubborn perfume of last night, during which she leant confidingly or sniffingly into me, telling me about the daytime drinking of the teacher I have replaced. "I like a couple of glasses of wine with my meal at night Lidia, but simply because of the lack of opportunity now I'm not a daytime drinker."

Later, she called me into her class in order to help her advanced learners with modal and semi-modal verbs. A bollocking for coming in with wine breath would have been easier to deal with.


I've got the bus service worked out now; getting used to being stared at whilst on one will take longer. My favourite bus conductor pushes, not without decorum, between tightly packed bodies in order to collect our 20p fares, and sing-songs each stop in Kazakh with a rising intonation which has none of the irritations of the Australian variety.


I got lost coming back from the shopping centre the other night.

Half a pound of cheese, same of olives, a tub of beetroot salad, a bar of soap, a loaf, two toilet rolls, 200g of ground coffee, a bottle of Moldovan pinot noir and three bottles of beer -- came to thirteen quid, but my delight with my bargain haul was tarnished by the fifty minutes that followed.

The address guides you to this glossy lower slab of restaurants, behind which stand three 35-storey blocks of flats. I live (let's say) in Flat 131 in block 1/2, 23rd floor.

However, you have to know which entrance to 1/2 you need to use, because the lifts are arranged in the blocks so that they communicate only with their side of it. Unblessed with the esoteric knowledge of the local babushkas, and not having had an opportunity to pop down the Department of Municipal Works of Glorification to study the architects' plans, I sweated self-consciously in my tweed jacket, riding up and down the lift, trying various combinations of floors and room numbers -- and worse, up and down the unlit stairs, the haven of our block's secret smokers -- thinking there might be a secret door to the magical other side which holds my 131.

I walked repeatedly past the adjacent flats 130 and 132, and imagined that Our Father must have ordered the disappearance of Flat 131 due to a recent infringement of the Non-Specific Offences: Other (Other) (as amended) Against the Provisions of the Annexe to the Civil Code published in some editions of the Astana Police Gazette on 26th December 1997, before the idea of trying the other lift occurred to me. Having worked more on faith than knowledge, I lighted with spiritual relief on my front door.


On Friday night I sent a text to Wendy: "Time was on a Friday night, I'd be off me tits in some dodgy warehouse with the fittest girl on the planet dancing to some well hard techno. Now I'm repeating phrases in Kazakh back to a computer screen. But I'm back in June. I wonder if I could persuade her out again?"

11 comments

Comment from: isabelle [Visitor]

Bloody hell, that is cold!! Do you have special clothing when you go outside??
It all sounds somehow bleak and existential, like you’re living in some stark eastern European film.

(Mind you, it’s snowing here today too.Keep warm ! x)

Tue 16th January 2018 @ 18:43 Reply to this comment
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Getting lost in the flats was horrible. No phone, can’t speak the language (yet).

The cold’s not too bad. I’ve got a thick jacket (although only one glove at the moment). I prefer it to the endless rain in Lancaster.

It’s a bit difficult at times here but it’ll get easier. I’m determined to see it out at least until the end of this academic year.

Wed 17th January 2018 @ 02:54 Reply to this comment
Comment from: organ grinder [Visitor]

Spanish flats used to be similarly organised, but fortunately the language is easy. Learn a dozen words of Kazakh, marry an Honoured Worker’s daughter, and you’ll corner the translation market and live in a palace.

Wed 17th January 2018 @ 09:26 Reply to this comment

This is like a Dickens tale. Lidia’s got the fish eye on you, pal. You’d better keep sharp. It sounds like a nice, interesting gig. Prez Nazarbayev was visiting our idiot in the White House yesterday. No mention of your activities. Enough with Wendy.

I’m not sure why I had to approve your comment yesterday. Perhaps the weird IP address?

Wed 17th January 2018 @ 11:40 Reply to this comment

P.S. Yes, I have the postcard from the Dubai journalist mentioned in my post. Yes, we’ve corresponded. We had a meet-up here in NYC.

Wed 17th January 2018 @ 11:44 Reply to this comment
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

OG–
Good idea, but I imagine an ‘umble abode back in owd Blighty for me old age.

Exile –
Yes, Lidia doesn’t miss a trick. Started reading the Astana Times about Nazzer’s trip to the US but it’s like watching paint dry.

I don’t think it’d have been the IP address because that always stays the same through the VPN based in England that I always use. It might be that WP likes to harvest addresses so spotted my new (and made-up, non-functioning) Kazakh one.

Great that you met the journalist! What a pleasure that must have been, to be sought after for something someone else finds admirable.

Thu 18th January 2018 @ 02:24 Reply to this comment
Comment from: kono [Visitor]

I haven’t been able to find my gaff before either… and it wasn’t in a tower block it was just a house on a street, lol!!! (illicit substances may have been at work)

and i advise a communications ban with Wendy, if anything absence will make the heart grow fonder right? or you’ll see you’re okay without her…

Sat 20th January 2018 @ 13:56 Reply to this comment
Comment from: [Member]

That doesn’t surprise me kono.

A ban on communicating with Wendy is impossible. She’s a friend as well as an unattainable lover.

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 12:25 Reply to this comment
Comment from: [Member]

That doesn’t surprise me kono.

A ban on communicating with Wendy is impossible, especially not while I’m out here. She’s a friend as well as an unattainable lover.

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 12:25 Reply to this comment
Comment from: daisyfae [Visitor]

-20 C? Jesus, that’s cold!

The tale of being lost is pretty terrifying… i can’t imagine. Unfortunately, this is how most lessons are learned! Pretty sure you won’t make that mistake again!

Sun 28th January 2018 @ 22:09 Reply to this comment
Comment from: looby on that day. [Visitor]

Daisy, that is warm. It was -34 on Friday and in my next post I will post you a farcebook video of my Kaalkh teacher frollicking in the snow.

I’ve learnt the way in to my flat now. Baby steps :)

Sun 28th January 2018 @ 22:26 Reply to this comment


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M / 55 / Bristol, "the most beautiful, interesting and distinguished city in England" -- John Betjeman [1961, source eludes me].

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WLTM literate woman, 40-65. Must have nice tits, a PhD, and an mdma factory in the shed, although the first on its own will do in the short term.


There are plenty of bastards who drink moderately. Of course, I don't consider them to be people. They are not our comrades.
Sergei Korovin, quoted in Pavel Krusanov, The Blue Book of the Alcoholic

I am here to change my life. I am here to force myself to change my life.
Chinese man I met during Freshers Week at Lancaster University, 2008

The more democratised art becomes, the more we recognise in it our own mediocrity.
James Meek

Tell me, why is it that even when we are enjoying music, for instance, or a beautiful evening, or a conversation in agreeable company, it all seems no more than a hint of some infinite felicity existing apart somewhere, rather than actual happiness – such, I mean, as we ourselves can really possess?
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

I hate the iPod; I hate the idea that music is such a personal thing that you can just stick some earplugs in your ears and have an experience with music. Music is a social phenomenon.
Jeremy Wagner

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Using words well is a social virtue. Use 'fortuitous' once more to mean 'fortunate' and you move an English word another step towards the dustbin. If your mistake took hold, no-one who valued clarity would be able to use the word again.
John Whale

One good thing about being a Marxist is that you don't have to pretend to like work.
Terry Eagleton, What Is A Novel?, Lancaster University, 1 Feb 2010

The working man is a fucking loser.
Mick, The Golden Lion, Lancaster, 21 Mar 2011

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