Winter remains, as late as 24th March there has still been heavy enough fresh snow to build an army of snowmen. Many of my Russian colleagues and students have said it is the longest winter they can remember, certainly it is very unusual for recent years. The city has a very effective gritting and road- and pathway-clearing operation but some less important paths can be dangerously treacherous, particularly as the ice starts to melt. I have had one serious incident where I slipped on ice, bounced down 5 steps and ripped my trousers! No serious injury, thankfully.
My schedule of work remains pretty much the same as it has been for the last few months. I regularly work 7 or 8 hours overtime every week – the deal is that on completion of the contract I get paid all the overtime hours I have worked, minus any shortfalls in months where I didn’t reach the contractual monthly requirement of 129 hours, which are usually the less busy summer months. The contract also has some restrictions about use of vacation allocation – we are supposed to use 50% of it in the final month of the contract, in my case August, but to me that is no different from working an 11 and a half month contract and getting some extra money at the end. I value my vacation time. I managed to persuade the school to give me 2 weeks vacation in May by threatening to stop working overtime hours – in the end only a couple of lessons were affected, moved to other teachers, and I got my holiday.
Apart from that everything has been routine. Well, Peter got married – secretly – that was a bit of a surprise, but he is still working the Volzhsky shift, while Wesley and I carry the bulk of the foreign-teacher lessons in Volgograd. One of the offices is being covered by a Canadian guy called Ron, who previously worked for the same school first in Volgograd, then in St Petersburg, he came back just before Christmas. I never go to his office, he doesn’t often come to the centre so I have yet to meet him.
The new supermarket has opened in the Pyramida shopping centre – it is called Perekrestok, which translates as Intersection (or maybe Crossroads?) – it’s very Waitrose-like, even down to the pastel green branding. I’ve managed to sort out a store card, and they have some very good bargains particularly on potato crisps! They also sell Newcastle Brown Ale – I don’t drink, of course but I have managed to introduce Wesley to its delights, in my role as cultural attache for the Geordie nation.
I should mention the election – on 18 March Russia voted for its president, and I can reveal the results, if you have not heard them elsewhere, Vladimir Putin won another 6-year term. He had plenty of support among my students who regard most of the other candidates as walking jokes, with no leadership potential (that includes the excluded go-to hero of Western media outlets, Alexei Navalny). They find it very difficult to understand the comments from American media about “sham” democracy, and as far as I could see the elections were not all that different from the kind you see in other democracies. Of course everyone knew the result ahead of time, the real problem in Russia is that apart from Putin there are no real, credible leaders. Perhaps a lot of that has to do with state-run media limiting access to political opposition, but it seems strange that in such a big, hugely populated country, there are so few seasoned, viable Presidential candidates.
Of course the other big issue this month was the diplomatic argument over the poisoning of a Russian spy in England. It really isn’t big news or a big talking point in Russia, they regard it as anti-Russian propaganda and are used to their country being blamed for everything. There is a bit of a siege mentality here. But there has been no “anti-British sentiment” – at least not towards me, so the Foreign Office advice seems a little overdramatic to me.
So that is how things are in March.