Forgive me reader, it has been four weeks since my last submission. Much like any other good mouse or man, I planned to pop back to England for a quick visit and keep writing all the while but it was not to be.
It is not for lack of access to a mouse and keyboard that I have erred, indeed quite the opposite: I seemed to spend too much time staring at computer screens during the trip. The difference was that word-processors and blog editors were replaced by numerous elements of that strange and marvellous beast that is ebay.
On the surface it looks so easy. Something to sell? No problem: take a couple of photographs, scribble a few lines to describe further details, start the auction and watch people go crazy over bidding for your fine offering. As if€¦ This is neither the time nor the place to go picking through the finer nuances of the ebay selling experience, suffice to say that as a first-timer I learned a lot and learned it fast while expending far too much time and effort on the sales of a full edition of the Marshall Cavendish “Quest” series (wot? – ed), a job lot of Amiga computers plus peripherals and software, my car and my motorbike.
Those last two were the most important sales and the most painful but having spent nearly three years out of the country I had realised it was time to face my petrol-head addictions head-on and kick a couple of habits cold-turkey. The car although posing as bullet-proof was quietly dying on the kerb in my absence while the bike had far outstayed its welcome in the garage of a very generous friend.
Riding the bike to and from its MOT test reminded me of how much I had been missing and even added a rare scene to deepen the pang: show me an other rider who has enjoyed a laughing conversation through the window with a white-van driver while waiting in traffic for someone to finish a ninety-nine point turn and I will show you my collection of hens’ teeth. The car left on a trailer, an other one of my faithful pan-European conveyances to succumb to the evil tin worm. Thankfully both vehicles returned a fair price and I still have my Niva here to keep my fingernails dirty.
Work continued away from the screen with various bits of administration and some required visits (to my savings at the Northern Rock for example – topical humour for British readers) but there was also time to enjoy being back with the family. The start of my visit was timed to overlap with the last few days of my aunt and uncle from South Africa being in town. They are fellow petrol-heads and music-lovers and seeing them is an all too rare pleasure. Just before my return to Baku there was my brother’s birthday to celebrate and we did so merrily.
Brief moments were also grabbed to see London and Yorkshire and catch up with a few friends. It has to be said that my bullet-point memories of London after this visit are all fiscal: beer is now averaging over three pounds a pint, petrol is topping a pound per litre and cigarette machines (even after introducing a nationwide ban on smoking in public spaces last summer) have suddenly sprouted slots in them to accept bank notes as well as coins – they are that expensive. In Baku we have been watching inflation rise at a fair old rate recently; London seems to be playing catch-up.
It amused me during this visit to see how Russia is quietly stepping ever deeper into England and how things that I first encountered here in Baku can now be found ‘at home’. Forget Abramovich buying Chelsea or an other tycoon buying TVR for his son (actually don’t get me started on the latter), the two examples I saw were both aimed at the drinking heart of the nation and were somewhat more subtle.
Baltika 3 is a Russian lager that has been available in England in bottles for many years. While in Baku I have discovered that it is one of a full set of beers numbered from 0 (no-alcohol) to 9 (makes Special Brew look tame) encompassing, light, dark and wheat varieties across the range. How pleasant a surprise it was to find Baltika 5 offered on tap in a pub in Balham: just a shame it was extremely expensive and did not taste as good as the bottled stuff here.
Russian Standard is touted here as a premium vodka and is charged for accordingly. I used to believe the hype until I bought a bottle, put it in the freezer and found it full of ice when I returned. In mitigation, there is the possibility that I was sold a fake bottle but my trust has somewhat diminished nonetheless. I notice that there is a television advertising campaign for Russian Standard on UK channels at the moment…
In the meantime, oil is predicted to break the hundred dollars per barrel mark this week and I am working in plant that pumps over eight hundred thousand barrels of the stuff per day. The way things are looking the gap between London and Baku may well continue to close and at an accelerating rate…