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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Diary of a Tsar-in-Waiting
By Michael Romanov

If you missed Parachutists’ Day in August, Tank Drivers’ Day in July or Bus Mechanics’ Day in June, don’t worry. You still have time to attend Sulking Waitresses Day in September. I know because I have been invited to judge the main competition, to be held at the 40,000-seater Eurovision Stadium in Ostankino, where waitresses from all over Russia will parade their most wallet-shrivelling expressions in the hope of winning some of the generous prizes donated by our sponsors, the European Tourism Promotion Agency.

First prize is a Shestyorka with soot-black windows, a threeinch diameter exhaust pipe and a high-volume, dashboardmounted combination ash-tray and deep-lung spittoon system. Second prize is two of these vehicles, plus a free spanner and socket set. Third is a coffin. To paraphrase Queen Victoria: there is no fourth.

Tickets for the event are in great demand, especially as only seven are actually going to be sold, in the commercial sense of the word. The other 39,993 are reserved for VIPS like me and the vast number of competitors who are to be bussed in from all over Russia.

For health and safety reasons, our sponsors have asked the coach drivers to avoid recognized accident blackspots, like the roads. But if September is reasonably dry, many of the buses should actually make it to Moscow without getting bogged in unmapped ponds. It should be quite an event.

An Australian friend of mine, Carleton Boardwalk, is the whine correspondent for Excruciator, an up-market, bezplatny magazine, and his job is to tell foreign visitors where to find the best sulk-shows in Moscow.

Recently, he was in the sushi bar at BUM, the Bolshoy Universalny Magazin, which he ranks as one of the top scowl-houses in the city, panting for a swift one. He wanted a drink too, so in order to provoke the barman to shout ‘Gavariti!’ at him, he pretended to be concentrating on his newspaper. By chance, this featured a front-page photograph of our sushi-loving prime minister, Hercules Putin, flailing around in a mountain lake during his summer holidays, hands above his head as if in an attitude of drowning. He could have been waving, Carelton thought, but most likely it was a case of the fish trying to eat him, for once, rather than the more conventional obverse.

However, a better explanation presented itself when the fearless investigative journalist found himself involuntarily over-hearing two tipsy English businessmen at the other end of the bar discussing a related topic.

“You know how they say: ‘You are what you eat’?” barked one of them, to the accompaniment of a sonorous Midlands belch. “That we should all be vegetarians in order to put an end to war and all?”

“Uh huh,” said the other as he knocked back a family-sized thimble of saki.

“Well back in the hotel last night I was surfing the web, bored, and I found a list of all the Olympic medal winners from last year’s Games.”


“Not a single one of the swimming medals was won by a Japanese.”

“And your point is?”

“My point is, my friend, that the Japs eat more fish than all the rest of the world put together.”

With my old mucker, Barak Obama, safely back in the real world after his visit to Moscow, and this year’s test series with Georgia scratched for insecurity reasons, the main social pleasure I have to look forward to this month is the visit to Moscow of a band that I used to manage on an informal basis in my student days, Queen. They will be playing at the same Eurovision Olympic Song Stadium near Ostankino that will be hosting the restaurant ladies’ schnarlfest.

My role in the band’s earlier success has rarely been acknowledged by the world’s media, with their sad turf-jealousies and interminable clustering up at waist height to anyone they think might be famous next week. But I care not. It is a matter of record that Freddie Mercury and I were old chums in the days when Bohemian Rhapsody was considered technically advanced music, and the song Radio Ga-Ga had yet to acquire the ring of truth.

But of course dear Freddie—born Farrokh Bulsara in the Soviet republic of Zanzibar—is now dead, having succumbed in 1991 to a bout of Saturday Night Swine Fever. The band which will arrive in Moscow is just a rump, featuring only Brian May and Roger Taylor, plus a swarm of roadies and toadies.

Despite this, I will be there to welcome them, and will be waving college scarves in the aisles on concert night with the rest of the fans. And if invited for old-times’ sake, I will happily go up and help the lads trash their hotel bedroom after the show, while engaging the usual pond of vodka in mortal combat.

So let no-one say I am disloyal if I ask the question that is on Moscow’s lips today: is this band really still, strictly speaking, Queen? Surely, without its star performer, it should now follow the Windsors’ example and call itself the Royal Family.

When Carleton told me that story about the businessmen in BUM, I fell to thinking what it must be that the waitresses of Moscow eat that makes them so unhappy-looking. Not enough kolbasa, I concluded.

Then Carleton said, “Do you know why Freddie Mercury had teeth like that?”

“No,” I said.

“He used to eat diggers!”

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