Hello! Here in Smolensk butcher shop, we very thankful to all friends who concern about my absence. This contrast with reaction my sons, who only just realise I been gone for almost month.
So where I been? Plenty excitement!
Over three week ago, Smolensk oligarch Big Oleg summon me his office in Happy Kalashnikov Bar.
“I want him Pavel,” he say. “Get me Diamond!” Oleg explain he want Bob Diamond, former CEO Barclays, to help him manage his returns to LICBOR, Legitimate Index of Corned Beef Of Russia. LICBOR is cartel. Producers quote price they offer consumer and publish aggregated mean. This govern sale corned beef commodity on open market. LICBOR vital to Oleg, Smolensk leading corned beef magnate.
“If I manage manipulate price, I can speculate against rivals destroy them and then take over the world!”
“World of corned beef. In Smolensk,” I suggest. Oleg look at me like I fool who not understand power of tinned goods.
So, I leave Yuri in charge shop, and travel UK with Smolensk egghead, Student Arkady. (Oleg pay for Arkady Smolensk Academy education – in exchange for repayment scheme where on graduation Arkady enter Oleg employ for 65 year term. He send Arkady with me to get practical work experience.) We evade UK Border Control plenty easy, disguise as consignment Theresa May shoes. We find Diamond plenty quick. He playing round of farewell no hard feelings golf with Mervyn King. We tell him about LICBOR proposal. But although he know about corned beef pricing, he not able help. “I already cut a LICBOR deal,” he say. “With Fray Bentos.” I ring Oleg and hold phone away from ear while he react with usual shouts and expletives he use to denounce hated Baxters-owned Uruguayo-Caledonian interlopers in Russian market. And it get worse when we tell him that though Diamond not available, King interested. “I am want grinder of organ, not idiot monkey!” he scream.
“So you want us come home?” I ask.
“No,” Oleg reply. “There something else you can do. You can’t get me Diamond. So get something else precious.” While we in UK, scandal break of G4S failure recruit enough security guard for Olympics. Indeed, throughout our visit, Olympics is only story in UK. We see nothing else on TV in our hotel, run by Oleg underworld associates, Travelodge. Arkady explain. “In ancient times, Pavel, wars and animosities were suspended for the duration of the Games. As modern proxy for this, the BBC is suspending all non-Olympic news.”
Oleg want us offer British Government replacement for G4S: service of his protection outfit. “Tell them we got brilliant way of keep peace,” he explain. “Olympic sites will be reserved for members of IOC family. It’s an outfit Pavel, just like ours. So’s LOCOG. It’s just like LIBOR and LICBOR. Only without Burger King. Who want in to LICBOR. So. We treat all scumbag trouble-making non-family general public, who actually stupid enough to want to watch some stupid shit like badminton, we treat them just same as we treat people outside our organisation. With maximum prejudice.”
“You mean, erm, rub out the crowds?” I ask, plenty nervous.
“Why not? After all, organisers in UK prefer empty stadiums.” Eventually Arkady get Oleg compromise. We offer deal where Oleg outfit sweep tourists, flag-waving sports fans and non-approved businesses away from venues to location where they can do no harm: gridlocked M25. But though Government interested, we lose on technicality. Our proposal say nothing about what happen after Olympics. Oleg prefer more long-term, open-ended relationship, where you scratch his back and you scratch his back. But cost-cutting British Treasury spot this and realise they may end up paying Oleg many years after 2012. So government bring in security outfit they can downsize and disband after Olympics. The Army.
“Can we come home now?” I ask Oleg.
“No.” By time we finish security negotiations, UK post negative growth figures, under cunning Olympic camouflage. Oleg get idea from British media that George Osborne is “part-time Chancellor”. “That mean he got time on his hands, Pavel,” he say. “I could use him in our organisation.” Oleg move into Siberian market in lead-based household paints. Want George be consultant. But Arkady convince him drop plan.
“You see Pavel,” he explain when put phone down on Oleg. “Osborne is not part-time Chancellor. He is half-cock Chancellor. Brilliant strategy. If you are faced with crisis of capitalism, you got three choices. Solve it – tax rich, cut evasion, protect incomes of spending poor, break up and regulate banks, invest in growth. Which is politically very hard. Or do nothing – and risk popular revolt. Or use half-solutions. Impose one-off stamp duty levy on rich, not an ongoing property tax, and introduce general anti-tax evasion provision (imposed at discretion of decreasing numbers of HMRC officials facing phalanx of corporate lawyers), while simultaneously making it easier for rich to move their profits into untaxed foreign subsidiaries – oh and cutting their taxes. Blame the poor for the crisis and cut their benefits. Reduce levies on bank profits, fail to block bonuses, introduce meaningless “firewalls” instead of breaking banks up. Block EU-wide agreements on financial regulation. Cut spending while failing to stimulate growth, turning your deficit reduction strategy into a deficit enlargement strategy. And what happens?”
“Nothing. Nothing really changes. Only it looks like you’re trying to do something. Especially if you’ve convinced another party to go along with you. But meantime those who did well out of the crisis, your natural supporters, bankers, financiers, tax dodgers, continue to do well – and will do brilliantly out of the next disaster. And the fact that your half-cock measures fail reinforces your real message: government can’t do anything and you can’t buck the market. Nothing induces apathy and resignation in the face of the status quo like ineffective measures. And nothing makes people more likely to see all politicians as the same, as snake-oil salesmen, even those proposing real solutions. No, Pavel. Osborne’s not part-time. Genius policies like these take hours of hard work.”
“So, can we go home?” I ask.
“No. I gave Oleg another idea.”
“You’ll see on Friday.”
Arkady smuggle me and him into Olympic opening ceremony, disguised as Great Ormond Street hospital beds. Amazing spectacle.
“Look, Pavel,” say Arkady. “What an inspiring message! Apart from Elgar and honorary Englishman Vangelis, all of British musical culture can be summarised in a post-60s continuum refracted through the lenses of Cool Britannia and Brit Pop. This isn’t dated at all. It’s how post-Blair Britain really hears things! And look. The Industrial Revolution! Owing nothing to the advantages of colonial resource expropriation, but instead springing spontaneously out of Ken Branagh’s head. Forging on the anvil of time the ultimate consummation of British history. Its greatest export.”
“Mr Bean. Gove and Ferguson must be delighted. British manifest destiny. A new take on the Whig version of history.”
“Is Kenneth Branagh wearing a wig?”
“Sideburns I think.”
“Who is he anyway?”
“Brunel. Why, who did you think he is?”
Arkady explain new plan. “A creative visionary who can cosy up to royalty and make them look amusing and like they’re one of the people, who can show the easy inevitability with which Morris Dancing leads to Firestarter, who can make everyone feel morally superior by including a reference to the NHS at the opening of games sponsored by purveyors of saturated fats, sugars and alcohol – no those weren’t rings that came spontaneously into being as result of Brannagh chewing an unlit cigar, those were the mounds and undulations of so many interlocking golden Ms! – that is the sort of creative visionary Oleg needs.”
“Our forthcoming Smolensk Big Oleg Day.” And of course I remember. Oleg plan festival of games – well, of monster tractor rallies, goat dressage and toad tossing – to show how he and his benign despotism is inescapable consummation of Smolensk history.
So Arkady try hire Danny Boyle. Meanwhile I watch some Olympics. (Funny how there were low expectations for Euro 2012. And England got no medals. And high expectations for men’s road race. And Team GB got no medals. You British must stop having expectations.)
Well, Arkady fail. Danny Boyle’s people say he interest, but he too busy working on new show to celebrate his forthcoming knighthood and canonisation. (I relieve. There not enough silk in all Smolensk to make parachute large enough for spectacular skydive arrival of Big Oleg elephantine frame.)
But fortunately, we able get services of someone even more to Oleg taste. Someone who promise extraordinary celebration: vision of Russia, ethnographically pure Russia, monochrome Russia for the Russians, without Poles, Circassians, Mongols, or any other distractions from progress of Russian history towards creation of supreme and purest of all Russians, Oleg himself.
So we head home and arrive back this morning. Oleg thrilled. After all, it not every day you meet someone with spotlessly pure vision, whiter than white.
Not every day you meet Aiden Burley.