I’ve been so busy with so little respite that I’ve stopped expecting days off.  I will get December 25th off, purely due to the fortuitous fact it falls on a Sunday, but I still have a corporate party to attend that day.  My weekend schedule this week was so frantic that I only got a chance to print off my schedule on Monday morning, and it said on the front my only day off was December 25th.

So today I was expecting 4 lessons starting at 16:00 at my local office, Voroshilovskiy.  As days go it is almost as good as a day off – I get to lie in in the morning, I don’t have to go to the centre at all, and I can probably prepare all four lessons in an hour or so – three of them are my own students so I know their study programme very well.  So I decided to get some stuff done before I went into the office.  Two loads of laundry for starters.

Yesterday I spotted a hole in my boot.  I think it is just the outer layer so far, I haven’t noticed my feet being any colder or wetter than normal, but it is clear that having only one pair of shoes or boots is inviting disaster.  I would have to buy a new pair of boots.  I have a bit more Russian now but even so the level of conversation required with a shop assistant in a shoe store is beyond my capabilities.  But this needed doing, so I pulled on my holey boots and headed for The Mall.

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I decided to try the sports shop rather than a traditional shoe shop.  I found the boots section on my own – brands like Caterpillar which I decided to avoid, having bought a pair of their boots 2 or 3 years ago which lasted all of a month or two.  I saw some boots I liked from a company called Outventure – I don’t know them, but I’ve been wearing one of their hats for the last month.  They were brown which meant I’d need to buy new polish and stuff, but they looked great and had fur lining inside – perfect.  Unfortunately the display pair were the only ones they had in stock, and they were size 44 – just one size too low for me.

I had still been left alone by the shop staff, for which I was grateful, and I found another pair of boots by the same manufacturers – they were black, they were in the price range I was looking at, they had fur lining, and they had a size 45.  I wasn’t totally sold on the look but I’m a pragmatic chap and I didn’t really want to have to keep doing this in shop after shop, so I decided to just buy them (after checking they did actually fit me).  I picked up the box and walked towards the checkout.  NOW at last the staff started taking an interest in me.  I don’t know what they were asking, probably just “do you need any help” but when they saw I was heading for the checkout anyway, they just let me get on with it.  The checkout lady did try and sell me a store discount card but this was just one level of complexity too far for me, I just wanted to complete the transaction and move on.

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So I have some new boots! 5500 roubles, in my head that’s about £55 though I know the pound has been all over the place recently.  I hope they last the distance.

I also took the opportunity to pop into the supermarket for some margarine and marmalade, and bought a little USB charger from a phone shop – the one I bought from China before I set off here seems to have stopped working, before today the only way I had to charge all my devices was by plugging them into my laptop (which only has 3 USB ports 2 of which are already in use).  I looked at 3- and 4- port chargers but they were too expensive, I will try and get a cheaper one next time I am at the market or the big electronics shops in Dzherzhinskiy or Tractorniy.

I returned home, had a quick shower, found the books I would need for today, and headed back for the Voroshilovskiy office.  I was surprised to see the other Stephen there, and even more surprised when he told me he was doing my lessons today.  I pulled out my schedule and took another look at my day – all the lessons were listed, but just next to the date heading were the words “DAY OFF.”

They gave me a day off!

The office staff all seemed to know about this before I did and were also surprised to see me.  I was a little put out because I had not had any warning and had a wasted journey – but I had walked, so I wasn’t out of pocket, I hadn’t started planning for the lessons so I hadn’t wasted any time, and I had used my morning productively instead of just lounging around in bed watching TV, so it probably worked out for the best.

I had a chat with Stephen, it seems he has been moved into the centre now (he was previously living in the Red Army District, a distant outshoot of Volgograd to the south) and seems to be enjoying his work a lot more.  He is living in the flat I used to live in, more recently occupied by Janelle and Brianna.  He may well decide to stay on for the full contract after all, and looked forward to meeting up with me for an evening out sometime.

So, I headed back home, with what was left of the day to use as I pleased.  With that in mind I took a leisurely detour.  At least, as leisurely as you can be in -16C temperatures while carrying a heavy bag full of text books.  I tried heading towards the river but it was blocked off by industrial compounds.  I wanted to get some photographs of it all icy, but this was the best I could manage.

I also found a Magnet depot – Magnet is the main supermarket company here for poorer people, like Tesco in the UK.  This explains why I have seen so many large Magnet lorries around this part of town.  I also took a picture of some icicles.

I continued my detour down an interesting street that was being resurfaced.  I found a new supermarket which sold some lovely large onions – they are so much easier to work with than the tiny ones you find in most of the supermarkets.  I spotted a cat who knew at least one the tricks of keeping warm – sitting on a drain cover.  I saw what may have been an effigy of a child or an impromptu scarecrow hanging outside a residential block – I don’t know what it was, really, but I took a picture of it anyway.

And then I went home!

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