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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Lisa flies to Lapland. A story for travelling with children
Today, Passport starts a new section, especially for families with younger children. We need a guide. Everyone who grew up with Russian folk tales knows that the most interesting character is a Fox – clever, cunning, able to outwit the other animals, and wise. So, let’s let Lisa look after us, along with her family and friends.
A traditional Russian-style folk tale, freshly updated and in a seasonal theme gets us started. Lisa has hidden herself on half a dozen pages of Passport – can you fi nd them all? There are some logic and co-ordination puzzles, and lastly, a simple version of a very popular hunting game, here called Lisa and the Geese. All you need is four small silvery coins for the geese, and one brassy coin for Lisa.
Have fun!
All artwork: Nika Harrison
Story, characters and games: Ross Hunter

AWN! Lisa’s mouth split so wide that her nose wet the ceiling while her jaw dusted the floor. She shook her head, trying to wake up. In the mirror, bright green eyes were ringed in red. Uurrgh! Two long flights today and no sleep. All thanks to the cubs. Off to see Father Christmas, they would not go to sleep. Jumping, dancing, it was a wonder the beds hadn’t broken.

Twins Dasha and Masha had re-written their wish lists so often that the bedroom was carpeted in scrunched-up paper balls. Sasha had only one list, but it kept growing all evening. Only Boris was not his usual self, and seemed unexcited and even sad. They were impossibly bouncy.

But not now. Sound asleep and snoring gently. One knotted fur ball with four black shiny noses poking out.

Bright lights, alarms and prods produced barely a twitch. In the end, Lisa had to bark at them:

“Wakey Wakey! We fly in an hour”.

She bustled around, tidying up noisily, paws scrabbling, tail swishing, trying to wake herself as much as the cubs.

“No, no leave us alone”, moaned a dozy chorus.

“Suit yourselves, then”, smiled Lisa, flouncing out, letting the door swing to a wee bit firmly, “I’ll go on my own, then. See you!”

“Fly? Now? Leave us here?”

Suddenly the fur flew as the cubs frantically raced to get dressed, flannel their faces and squash each other in the narrow doorway. More than one brush got stuck in the hinges. It was hard to tell which yelps were of joy, which of pain and which were from sheer exhilarated anticipation.

“Father Christmas! Today! Wait for us!”

“Have you got everything?”, said Lisa, looking up from behind a newspaper, apparently in no hurry any more.

Lists – yes. Cameras? Sasha? Open your bag. Out it comes. Father Christmas made it very clear: no photos! Sorry, Mum. Boris, don’t smirk. Something to read? String bags to carry ..... something home? Just in case - no promises. Food for the journey? Burrow chores done? Swept up? Bins? Dishes washed? Bedding hung to air? Thought not. Back you go.

Most of the sweeping was done by four bushy tails, white tips going grey as they went.

“That’ll do! Inspection time. In a line, alphabetical: Boris, Dasha, Masha, Sasha”.

Pads out, top, bottom, Dasha, clean yours again. Teeth. Fur brushed.

“Right. Off we go”, said Lisa, now almost as excited as the cubs, and was promptly knocked down in the rush.

Moscow to Santa’s Lapland winter palace. A secret spot somewhere between Finland, Norway and Sweden since you ask. Only 30 degrees further north. 3000km of snow to navigate.

Good job the stars are out. Moscow before dawn is a curious sight, as the last weary party-goers heading homeward cross with the first weary workers heading townward, as the lights either blink out or wink on. Later and from higher, Tver and Velikiy Novogrod are little lonely islands in the snow. St Petersburg glitters like rows of necklace diamonds, circling the Hermitage, silhouetted by the chilly River Neva.

Brightest of all is the still liquid centre of Lake Ladoga. Framed in white ice, the calm dark waters allow the Northern Lights to bounce back into the air. Curtain after shimmering curtain of dancing sparks are more wondrous than any disco light show.

Even four sleepy fox-cubs cannot take their eyes off the circus, or close their jaws.

The Arctic Circle slips by, and a sudden bright line of landing lights glows up to greet them. Made it! Sasha, Dasha, Masha and especially Boris have gone strangely quiet. Just a faint scraping of fidgety claws gives a clue how nervous they are.

The twins are pressed against each other, Sasha is chewing his tail, and Boris has a tear in his eye. A welcome by the Elves, and in they go.

Obviously, nobody can ever give away the details of meeting St Nicholas or reveal which Elf does what job. All reindeer data is secret. If you asked the cubs, they were so overcharged with excitement that they can only yap out their memories at Babel babble.

They were half way home before their heartbeats returned to normal, and their eyes started to blend from the glazed look of awe to the double-glazed sheen of exhaustion. It was dark again before Lisa tucked them up in their shared bunkbed sound asleep, still clutching their precious gifts.

A long sleep or short hibernation later, Lisa was serving up the cubs’ favourite breakfast. Kellogg’s Koloboks, goose eggs, chicken and feather fritters, warm milk, with the cream skinning on the top and catching in the whiskers.

“So”, asks Lisa, trying to sound casually unconcerned, and failing, “How was the trip?” She regretted asking instantly, and had to clamp paws over ears so quickly that they ended up full of egg and feathers. When the hullabaloo eventually died down, and splattered breakfast bits had been scraped off faces, the consensus was something like:

“Ace trip, Mum! Thank you in quadruplicate! Best was meeting Santa (but that stays secret), flying through the Northern Lights and having the longest day ever with you.”

Now, Lisa has had some surprises in her time. Several scrapes with miserable old Uncle Volkiy in the forest, the farmer’s shotgun in his chicken shed, in the Bear’s lair with his honey pot came to mind, but this beat all of them.

“Err, didn’t you like your presents?”

The four cubs looked at each other sheepishly, if that’s allowed in a foxes’ earth.

“Yeesss, they were very nice”, Sasha eventually admitted, uncertainly.

“Nice? That’s a boring bland word for clever cubs. Only ‘nice’? Did you get what you wanted?”

Can a red faced foxcub blush even redder? Four did.

“Yes, Mum. We got everything we really, really wanted. None of which were on our Christmas lists.”

“Go on then. One at a time.”

Dasha: “ I asked for make-up and jewellery”, but Santa gave me a really odd mirror – every time I look in it, I look super – so I don’t need cosmetics after all.”

Masha: “I wanted everything anyone else has got and I don’t, so I took a huge bag to Lapland, but Santa kept shrinking it so I could only fit fewer and fewer expensive clothes and toys in it, so eventually I threw it away, when I realised I don’t need any of them”.

Sasha: “I thought I wanted more games and time to play them. But Santa swapped my PlayBox5.9 for a really funny watch – any time I have no time, I press a special button and time slows down so I have more of it for you all.”

Boris: “Nobody likes me, or that’s what I thought, so I asked for some friends. Santa gave me a huge address book with everyone who thinks of me already in it, and lots of pens and paper so I can write to them all!”

“Mum”, they said together, “we love our presents, but what Santa gave us, we really had already, if we had only realised. We do now”.

“The best gift you can possibly have”, smiled Lisa.

Kolobok is a Russian gingerbread man, and cheeky little boy. Which route should he take to avoid being gobbled up by Dasha, Masha, Sasha or Boris?

How many words from the story can you circle in this wordsearch? There are at least 20. Look in any direction, including diagonally.

The cubs were playing with their goose egg collections: Only Dasha had a fair share. Sasha had twice as many as Boris. Boris had 2 more than Masha; 2 fewer than Dasha. If there were 40 eggs all together, how many did each one have?

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