Yaroslavl, Russia - 1994

I was invited by Red Shed - a band from Exeter - to call some barn dances in Russian with their twinned city of Yaroslavl, north east of Moscow.

I stayed with Mira Snopko, a schoolteacher, in her flat and during the stay saw the relics of Communist Russia being taken over by the new forces of capitalism.

The photo above was taken on Victory Day (6th May) when Russians celebrate the victory over Germany in what they call 'The Great Patriotic War'. I talked to the man in the picture whose father was a tank commander in a Red Army Division near Archangel. He was killed in action, and each year the son places this photo at the monument of the Eternal Flame. He provided the first line of Mira Dreams of England which is on the Hot Rats live album and my own solo album, Happy Now?


The night I arrived Mira fed me on boiled chicken, washed down with firstly Russian beer, then Russian wine and finally of course, vodka. This is when she stepped on the cockroach on the floor who appears in the song!

I went to bed and was dozily reading 'Wild Swans' when Mira tapped on the wall. I thought, 'Oh no, not late night extras.' But word had got round that a westerner was in the block and I was dragged out to meet Boris and his blond wife, Irina. Boris owned a restaurant, was 30 and part of the nouveau rich. Mira, by the way had three jobs to try and make ends meet.

They had prepared a table full of food - zakouski, or hors d'oeuvres as we would call them. Bits of gherkin and fish on chunks of black bread to be washed down with vodka.

After a couple of hours you can imagine the state I was in. Boris was also similarly stewed and his wife kept asking me to dance, I tried to get away but suddenly Boris announced he had a car. Off we went at three o' clock in the morning, zooming around in a Lada until we came to the town square.

'I have a kiosk,' he announced, and rattled on what looked like an old Dr Who police box. A grate opened slowly and the poor creature living in this booth served us two more beers.

Seconds later I felt a prodding in my back and turning round I discovered six burly militia men poking Kalashnikovs at me. They frisked me and soon found the 300 and $200 in my pockets, together with my passport and airline tickets. I was bundled into a car and driven off to a forest.

I reckoned this was probably 'it' and was looking at some way to jump out of the car. However, after driving around for about twenty minutes we ended up back in the town square. Boris was there and quickly got into the car as the militiamen got out. 'Have you got any cigarettes?' he said. I had two Superkings which turned out to be the bribe needed to get them off our back.

Apparently Boris had paid his protection money for the month, they hadn't been paid for six months and were looking to boost their income.

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