Friday, June 30, 2006

Russian Express

Just back from Moscow. We took sixty students for a week in St Petersburg and Moscow. St Petersburg was spacious, beautiful and strangely deserted, Moscow much more crowded and dynamic. Visited all the usual places, our Scottish youth growing more and more blistered in the sun. The real drama was on the overnight Moscow express when we had to stop the train about 260 miles south of St Petersburg as a boy had suffered an extreme allergic reaction and seemed to be very seriously ill. An ambulance met us in the middle of nowhere and he and I juddered off to Okulovka Hospital. Hospital as primitive as they come (I hope) but the doctors marvellous and, luckily, a tall and gregarious patient called Sergei spoke a smattering of English and took care of all translations/liason. In their tender care,the patient recovered well and after two bowls of salted porridge we set off the next morning on a 400 mile taxi ride to catch up with the others in Moscow.

Here's to the Sister and Doctors of Okulovka Hospital, and to Sergei, especially, who got up at 5.00am to gather two jars of tiny wild strawberries for us to eat on the journey back. Such tenderness.


Faint birdsong caged
in the heart of the wood.
Last night we rode miles of rutted road
to Okulovka.

They came out in the half light
to meet us: men and women
like ghosts in white
pyjamas bearing us inside.

No-one spoke a word.
The doctor pushed and prodded
and they crowded round
nodding like students, sighed and slid

away only when we were shown
to bed. Through holes in the curtain
I watched the night drown in
damp streaks of grey and cream.

We left early-
a car arranged by the embassy.
All the shutters were closed
and the pines bleeding black rain

when we went, back to our take
on the world. But suddenly a white face
at the window: wild strawberries
picked at dawn, for our journey.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A little bit of Internecine warfare in the southern uplands

The World Cup is turning the Volunteer Arms in tiny Penpont into a seething hotbed of racial hatred. Last night the entire caribbean population of the village turned out to support their local team, Trinidad and Tobago. Rum flowed, calypsos were sung, flags and garlands were festooned everywhere. The carnival atmosphere was soured however by an Englishwoman who very vocally insisted on cheering on the other side, a completely foreign team. Exactly the same thing happened last week when a substantial number of Paraguayans in the village came to support their side. I only hope that on Tuesday the village Swedes won't be deterred from coming to the pub by this terrible display of xenophobia.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Aye, it's not meant to be this hot in Scotland. It's all part of Global Warming, I'm sure. This must be stage 3 where Scotland develops a Mediterranean climate and cafe culture. The next stage -4- is when England slides into the sea.