Hello! Here in Smolensk butcher shop, we recover from Jubilee calamity.
I plenty popular butcher in Smolensk. Secret? Keep quiet and let assistant Yuri do everything. But nearly two week ago, Smolensk oligarch Big Oleg send me on mission. He ask me deliver 50 boxes contraband Jubilee bunting to UK contact, Staffordshire-based Mr Cash. Oleg keen avoid official interference with delivery. As I not able catch plane, but must deceive many border guard and customs, it take time. I abandon shop for almost fortnight.
“I put Ilya in charge,” I tell Yuri. Ilya eldest my three son. Seventeen. Soon go Smolensk Academy, where, as well as do subsidiary in Comparative Lapdance and be organ scholar, he study Putin favourite course, Business with Stalin Era Atrocity Denial Studies.
Yuri look septic. “But I manage fine by self, Pavel.”
“Yuri. It say Konnolsky on shop. People want a Konnolsky here.”
“But Pavel, Ilya is…” I know what Yuri think: Ilya outspoken, bully.
“Look. Yuri. This be making of him. One day Ilya inherit and take over. He must be prepare.” Yuri sigh.
So I bring Ilya to shop and show round. All go well. He mostly quiet. And once I stop him call Yuri “that” and “assface” or attract Yuri attention by throw bottle at him, they get along fine.
So, next morning, Thursday before last, I make ready with Oleg man Bogdan to deliver bunting. Plan is drive across Europe in van, using plenty deceptions. For first phase, bunting disguise as weapons grade uranium, easier smuggle out of Russia than novelty item. I drop Ilya at shop.
“Remember, my son,” I say. “Yuri in charge. Leave everything to him. You figurehead. Stand tall. Keep sacred Konnolsky name and – ”
“I be fine, you can f*ck off now Dad,” Ilya reply, in usual leave-taking formula.
Bogdan and me set off. Border guards shrug us through into Belarus when see we innocuous arms traders. We traverse that country, slip into Poland, then on towards Germany. All smooth, thanks to brilliant camouflage of van as parade float, first with giant General Sikorski head, then 10 metre high Frederick the Great balloon. I worry about shop. Oleg fear Interpol action against illegal party decoration trade, and enforce communications blackout. And bored. Bogdan conversation lack something. Words. But all well as we approach France.
Then Oleg send us message via Galinka (still, despite increasing alcohol problem and massive aerial incontinence, finest homing pigeon in Smolensk). Oleg say delay at UK Border Control long. Smugglers of latest consignment contraband corned beef take three days get through, despite disguise as Damian Green’s asshole. He order us divert to Bremerhaven. So, once clean off after Galinka visit, we drive north. At Bremerhaven, contact escort us onto small ferry craft. We sail several kilometres into Weser Estuary. Then crew lower boarding ramp and ask us drive off ferry, at first polite, then, when we reluctant, at gun point. Van slap into sea. Deafening bubble surge. Darkness. Rising water. Panic. Then scraping sounds, pale light, more slams, clanks, and someone open van doors. I realise we onboard Oleg luxury converted nuclear sub.
While van drained, Oleg captain, Volodya, explain plan. Van be fire from same missile tube it enter. Land on huge bouncy castle on green in Mr Cash home village. We fire with it. (Oleg want us collect payment.) Volodya say he do similar thing many time before. Only 13 fatality. We be fine.
As sub approach firing location in North Sea, we return van and wait while stolen Cruise missile mounted. Missile detach once van achieve correct trajectory, so sub can salvage. Oleg want reuse. (He raising stakes in attempt muscle in on Lelli Kelly.)
Bogdan suddenly chatty. And smelly. “So, what bunting for, Pavel?” he ask. I explain.
“British still got monarch? I thought great nations have all kill their czars.”
“Not all. Anyway, I think British did kill king. But reboot. Like Spider-man franchise.”
“So British do big party for Queen. Why?” I explain Bogdan. British proud Queen Elizabeth and believe they do big celebrating better than rest of world. This satisfy him – or at least, he go quiet, save for occasional moan of “Oh God!” Though I wonder. Every time I seen royal occasion on TV, I enjoy. But compare with other pageants – Bastille Day, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras – it always fail catch fire. I recollect explanation Smolensk egghead Student Arkady give:
“Blandness is the point Pavel. Britain has produced great artists, scientists, top people in all fields. But when the British say they rule the waves, they don’t now mean by actual greatness, let alone by imperial might. They’re saying the average Briton, with their biscuits and restrained grumbling and equanimity, and dislike of enthusiasm and show offs, this apotheosis of the humdrum, is the finest thing on earth. Now it wouldn’t do to celebrate this idea too grandly. So the British embrace not Newton or Shakespeare, but the royal family. Why? Because it has one obvious characteristic. Mediocrity. This lets everyone think that despite wealth and privilege, the royal line resembles them. The Windsors symbolise ordinary greatness. So on royal occasions, there’s lots of pomp, but it is tatty round the edges. Like bunting. Accessible. Even the few great performers who contribute to these occasions are cosy, their edginess blunted by Establishment embrace. The commoners’ festivals and the Queen’s merge. All helped by Elizabeth’s silence, which the British fill with their own dreams, myths or just chatter. A great illusion – and it is an illusion Pavel – of unity: the common people, the privileged Queen, and the silly bunting become one.”
As I ponder this thought, and conclude Gary Barlow could spare Queen embarrassment by ask some bunting for knighthood, tannoy announce we at firing point. We fasten seat belt. Sub surface. Hatch open. Missile ignite, growl, then bellow. Vast propulsive force. Sensation like falling upwards. Then noise stop, missile drop away, we slow, reach vertex of parabola and descend. Below, England green and pleasant for moment, then green and unpleasant as Bogdan release stomach contents on windscreen. This make it hard comply with instruction to jump from vehicle as castle approach. I struggle towards side door and open in time to see huge yellow edifice, 30m high, surrounded by Mr Cash people, ready to collapse inflatable and cushion van fall. I shout “Now Bogdan!” and jump. Impact like blow I get one night from wife Irina when, before my Ivan flop, I ask her if she seen Last Tango in Paris. But, with broad, soft exhalation, like open buttocked fart of contented regularity, my side of castle give way and break my fall.
But there another sound. Tighter, shorter, constipated. I look round. Other side of bouncy castle, which comprise separate air chamber, not deflate in time. Van – still containing Bogdan – ricochet into distance.
Mr Cash people, all Jubilee volunteers (later I find out they unpaid jobseekers), dismantle castle and take me Cash house for food and bath. Cash in London until Friday before Jubilee weekend. Then they hunt for Bogdan. With mission nearly accomplish, I defy Oleg and ring shop. But all I hear over crackly connection is small explosions, laughter and shouting. Then line go dead. I try again. And again. Nothing. Wife Irina and other boys stay with her sister and I forgot number. Can’t call Oleg. Out of contact. Big worry.
Bogdan missing several days. Then on eve of festivity, we get word. Search party find him. Few hours later, Mr Cash arrive. I meet him on village green, with his friends, Mr Leigh, Mr Carswell, Mrs Dorries, Mr Holloway, Mr Jackson, Mr Redwood, Mr Davies and Mr Farage. They relieve.
“We’ve almost run out of bunting, Mr Konnolsky,” Cash say, gesturing around village where preparations for festivities advance. It seem me everywhere already plenty festoon. But he point to house.
“I left my decorations till last, as Oleg promised quality,” explain Cash. “We’ll sell the rest to neighbouring villages at huge profit.” Then we hear vehicle horn, unfamiliar van approach, and Bogdan dismount. He recount adventure while unload boxes.
Bogdan fly as far as Welsh coast. Van land on sand dunes, roll, slide, then halt in holiday camp. Suspension destroyed, van caput. This cause problem. Because it Monday before last, inspectors classify vehicle as static caravan and threaten big tax. So Bogdan barricade self in and only sneak out in darkness to negotiate with hot pie shop for food. Fortunate for him (because it Monday before last) they confuse about ratio of pie price to temperature, and exchange him big supply for two bottles worthless cabbage moonshine. Then, as pie and time run out, he send Oleg distress signal. Usual formula. Bogdan don inflatable David Hasselhoff bodysuit and appear in holiday camp. In Russia, Oleg search latest hits for “Hoff impromptu visit” on internet. He locate Bogdan through local news coverage and inform Cash people. By time they find him, caravan tax threat fade. Bogdan pay off inspectors with signed copy of Looking for Freedom, and volunteers drive him and bunting boxes back to Staffordshire.
“Please open them, Mr Konnolsky,” say Mr Cash. I tear tape off box lid, pull back flaps, then stare at contents. Big Oleg supplier strike again. It bunting. It flags. But black, red and yellow. German. We open some more. All same.
Cash rage. I dive for safety into box, but Mr Farage drag me out by hair and Mr Redwood immobilise me with pinch on shoulder. Meanwhile Cash engage Bogdan with punch on side of head. Bogdan respond with uppercut to Cash chin, but Cash snare Bogdan arm, turn, and toss Bogdan over shoulder. Bogdan get up, drop kick Cash and jump on him, but Cash grab Bogdan testicles hard. Bogdan wrench self free, scissor Cash neck in legs and spin him over, but Cash roundhouse kick Bogdan, bodyslam, then kneel beside and beat him senseless with copy of the Lisbon Treaty.
Cash order offending boxes arrange in circle around green and burnt. In strange light, our captors tear down their own bunting and reassemble it in huge construction on wicker frame. In shape of “£”. Crowd kindle torches on blazing boxes, then drag me and Bogdan towards bunting sterling.
“Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!” scream Bogdan as we place inside pound. Just as first torch touch flags, there rumble, rustle, then continuous ssssshhhhhh. Rain. Heavy rain. Cash people rush for cover. In confusion, we jump out of pound and run. In sombre shades of storm, we escape.
After that it easy get home. Bogdan swim channel, disguise as David Walliams, while I pretend I Syrian diplomat and get expel from UK to Russia (same now as Syria in global diplomacy).
I get back yesterday. After explain what happen to Oleg, I rush back shop. Chaos. Ilya transform brutalist but functional Soviet era shop front by attach fibreglass mock up of neo-classical palace. There no customers. Instead, Ilya amuse self by fire revolver rounds towards Yuri feet and make him dance. Older woman (new girlfriend) sit on counter and laugh. I stop all this, send Ilya home, and ponder disastrous till receipts. Soon customers, seeing me, return.
After apologise Yuri and tell him about adventures, I say, “What I do Yuri? There must be a Konnolsky running this shop. Always.”
“Then boss,” he reply. “You better live forever.”