October 04, 2004 GMT
Russian Farce Acts II and III

(with apologies to Dostoevsky, but I've just read Crime and Punishment as I've been that bored I'd have cleaned the bike if I had one).

Act II

Having already bought my ticket for the boat, but not yet for the bike, I decided (fortuitously, it seems) that it might be wise for me to investigate the station and find out train schedules (if there be such) and the whereabouts of the baggage facility; I had been enjoined, whilst in Yekaterinburg, to make strenuous efforts to meet the train and specifically the appropriate wagon, tended by Sergei and Tatiana.

On entering the concourse (small though it was, although well-furnished with comfortable leather seats) I noticed what appeared to my inexpert eye to be Arrivals and Departures boards; and on consulting my ever-present oracle (as purveyed by the inestimable Messrs. Lonely Planet) I discerned the one to the left-hand side of the central pillar to be that for the Arrivals.

Imagine, therefore, my consternation when I read, at the lower part of the board, the legend '904' (being the train number), together with a start point of Moscow and an arrival at the local time of 16:38. I was, at first, mystified; then turned to my notebook and made certain calculations. I had been informed in Yekaterinburg that the train aforementioned was to arrive in Vladivostok at the Moscow time of 4am, that being 11am local time (which information had misled me into purchasing my passage on the ship and making arrangements for expediting the machine through the Customs House); so my perception at that moment was that either a mistake had been made or that the train had been delayed for an as yet unknown reason.

My grasp of the local language being but faint, I ventured to send a text message to Stalina (of whom you have heard me speak), asking her to communicate at her earliest convenience in order for me to avoid the disgrace of a public hysterical episode. The lady thus contacted me and I explained the reason for my extreme discomfiture; she joined me at my lodgings, and after failure to establish by telephone the true course of events, we sallied forth to the station and to the 'Information Desk'.

Stalina there found that the Arrival time was correct, and was 16:38 every day of the year. I could then only surmise that my machine must be destined to arrive on the morrow (Monday) at the specified time. This, of course set all my plans into disarray, as the ship to the Eastern Land was to set sail at 14:00.

I thanked my saviouress profusely (my penance is to provide a lecture about my travels to the young pupils in her erstwhile place of education and edification) and retired to my lodgings in order to make my preparations for the morrow.

There I asked for an extension of my stay until Saturday, but they could not promise me accommodation until noon the next day.


On Monday morning I betook myself to the Marine Station and there met, as arranged, Irena; I explained my problem and that I was as yet unsure of the exact arrangements. She exhorted me to retain what humour I had left: "This is Russia" she said, smiling; and I laughed (for what else could I do?).

Irena intimated that as the Monday ship was no longer a possibility due to my precarious circumstances, I should see her the next morning at 10am and arrange to board the smaller ship on Saturday. This, of course, means that my official permit to remain in this country must be extended.

I quickly went to the station and established that the train would arrive at its appointed time, and at which platform it would arrive. I repaired to my lodgings and persuaded them that I could stay at least another three days (after which I may be able to persuade them of more), thus obviating the need for me to make numerous calls of other landladies for accommodation and of moving my goods and chattels thereto.

At 16:38 the train slowly drew into the platform on which I waited; yet such a long train was it that the wagons extended far beyond the platform to a narrow glass-strewn path alongside the track. I walked slowly along the train, studying the wagon numbers (mine was 82750) as I went. Suddenly I was accosted by a grubby youth who murmured 'mototsickel, mototsickel'; in truth, I think he may have recognised the apparel which I had donned that morning with the faint but still-existent hope that my machine would today be back in my hands.

The distance from the wagon to the ground was about four feet; and the path was narrow. However, having made use of wooden pallets and the hands of six men, my machine eventually set its wheels on the path; and with the lubrication (well-deserved, in my estimation) of a few thousand roubles, those hands willingly pushed the machine along the path and over several obstacles until it was properly on the platform.

I had my machine.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at October 04, 2004 04:47 PM GMT

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