This is a letter which I'm sending to my friend who is coming over from Russia for a visit and who plans to come north to see me. It's had the personal bits taken out but the substance remains. I had to write as accurately as I could. Thought you might like to correct me on some points where I've gone astray:
London and Britain
These are two different things, like Moscow and Russia. An example is the minimum wage in London [about £7.40 an hour] and in the rest of Britain [about £5.70]. £1 is about 49.4 roubles.
The major cost for you will be fares and food. For a short distance of about 200km you can pay up to £125. The cost of fares is unbelievable. However, at a certain hour of a certain day, if you reserve, you can have that journey for £9. You just have to know.
So, there is no such thing as jumping on a train or long route bus. You have to go into a big train station or bus station or use the internet and find the best fare. Example is when I went from London to a place on the coast. They wanted £42 for that but the woman beside me paid £9 because she had booked that journey two weeks before.
A sandwich in a pack will be about £3. A coffee will be £1.90. If you go to a pub and have a few drinks and something to eat, like in Russia, you’ll pay about £25. A piece of ordinary meat to eat is about £8.
However, the locals know the way to shop and it is not in the markets – there are almost no markets and what they have is not quality. You need to go to ASDA, Aldi, Tescos or one of the big stores and they have specials. For example, a box of Maltesers can cost £1.70 in a normal shop but £1 in a supermarket.
I bought myself a pair of winter boots. In most shops - £78 but I found them for £20. If you don’t look around, you will lose all your money fast and for no good reason.
Credit cards are big and used for everything but it is possible to use just cash as a tourist, if you go to the office which sells things.
Complex to find anything
On a map, it looks a small country but it is like the circuit board of a television or computer – complex roads everywhere, little lanes crossing each other and impossible to find.
In Russia, if I give you an address to find, the problem is no street signs and some roads are just tracks but the roads can be found. The problem then is the numbering of the houses. In Britain, you’ll just not find anywhere without a map because roads change names and they make new routes to what is on the map.
Many people use the internet to plan a journey. You write in where you start and where you want to go and it does it for you.
The tourist just does not understand how many people are actually in such a small space. Britain is organized with a lot of green areas with no people, beautiful from the train and then towns small and dense with thousands of people in a little area.
Everything is closed. For example, in Russia, you can sell things from the side of the road [like the grandmothers]. Here, that is a crime and so you are caught in a road system where you can not stop, there are no places where people are just selling and you end up in a specially built area where each of the shops pays a large amount of money to be there and they have a monopoly.
An example is someone playing music on the footpath. Looks like he just sat down and did that but no – he paid a fee and is allowed to sit there for two hours, twice a week.
Almost anything you want to do here is criminal, even little things like where you walk and what you say. You have to be careful not to criticize anyone because it is a crime. Nasty people see law suits [sudyebni protsess] as a way to get money in this economic depression. Be careful.
You’re not looking for work here but it is almost impossible unless you have a local qualification [NVQ] on top of the normal qualification you have. With mass unemployment here and firms closing every day, employers are able to ask outrageous things from someone wanting work. That’s why so many are unemployed and it is almost normal now.
If you don’t know someone, you can survive if you have money but you will be paying top rate. In this country you have to know someone to avoid paying huge money for things.
The country is so demoralized now and a new underclass has developed of young people called chavs – unemployed, can’t get work, living on government benefits, drugs, crime. If you look expensive, you are a target.
The way to go anywhere is to be in busy places in the main street [not side roads] and use major rail and bus stations. Be with someone when you go and have someone at the other end.
My advice is to try to look ordinary, plan everything from journeys to purchases of even simple things, understand that everything takes time or else money [one or the other] and make sure your phone is working.
My place is so unusual. It is an old mansion converted to flats near the sea. They are currently rebuilding and renovating flats and there is builder’s rubbish everywhere, dust and so on. I think I have one of the best flats in it.
The flat itself is compact, clean, newly painted, the central heating is lovely [and this is not so with all lower end houses], hot and cold water [clean water too – no need for filters], the carpet is wall to wall, new and clean and the kitchenette is modern. The view is lovely of the sea and right now there is a ship just a short way from me out there.
Trouble is, as I said, it’s a closed society and there is a barrier stopping you going near it. Instead, there is a lovely path but it leads around to a restaurant where they want to force you to buy a meal.
Two good things here are the automatic washing machine for your clothes and an iron. I know you need these and you can use them all the time so don’t worry about being clean. The bath is good too.
The down side of my flat. The only real down side is that there is nothing in it. I have one blow up double airbed [very comfortable, by the way – things are quality over here] and a winter weight king-sized duvet. It is SO warm at night. Today I’m going to buy a sheet for the bed and a duvet cover.
I am so poor that I have to think whether to buy either a knife to cut things with or else a chair. I only bought a super-duper can opener yesterday. I plan my meals carefully, using a can of meat, grechka and cabbage or else there is a nice tuna and Mediterranean salad in a tub. Plenty of tea and coffee though.
I have had £5 in my pocket and it has lasted from last Thursday until now.
This is the positive side where I live. Very close is a shopping centre with huge supermarket, called ASDA, an arcade and other things [enough for most days].
However, some kilometres away is a giant shopping complex with boutiques, stores, McDonalds and all the food places, GAP and so on. People come from everywhere to go there.
My problem, as I said, is not that there is nothing to buy – there’s plenty. It is only the money – I can’t afford it.
There is a good reason I don’t give my address on the internet and that is because it is hacked. People can get in and see what is in my emails and I have enemies. So I’m posting my address to XXXX today and she will send it to you. Please don’t ever put it in an email to me.
It sounds bad from reading the words above but you will be fine. Get to XXXX’s and then she’ll get you to the main station and you’ll come to one of two towns I’ll give you [not on the internet – I’ll send to her]. I'll get you from there.
I’m alive, warm and comfortable and eating not badly. My friend has lent me a bicycle so I get around and get some exercise.
Get here – I really want to see you.