I’m back in Sakhalin alive and well, despite the lack of posts on here. Truth is, I’ve changed jobs, joining another company from the one which brought me to Sakhalin in the first place. Having had to do a handover, organise a new apartment, and start a new job, I’d not got around to writing anything until now.
I enjoyed my trip back to the UK a lot, mostly because I caught up with friends and family who I’d not seen in almost two years. Much time and money was spent drinking, and I enjoyed being able to visit some decent shops without having to pay either a commission charge or a foreign currency charge when paying by credit card, nor did I have to pay a few percent of every total I withdrew from a cash machine.
My first thought on returning to London, which occurred when I was on the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow T5, was how pretentious people are there. I listened to some real nonsense being spouted on the tube, including some fellow with a ponytail explaining to his rather bemused female friend all about how the Illuminati control the world via the Freemason movement. This was a result of her asking why Angelina Jolie was made a UN goodwill ambassador, and she listened patiently for fifteen minutes whilst Ponytail explained the inner workings of the Bilderburgs who, incidentally, select the UN security council and have appointed Barack Obama to be the next US president. When he finally ran out of ideas, she looked confused and asked what that had to do with Angelina Jolie being made a UN goodwill ambassador. Ponytail had an answer: it ensures the Illuminati has Hollywood on side, and thus films can be made to influence the opinions of the masses. The example he gave was Men In Black, which was made in order to make the public think that men in black working for the government was all a big joke. She didn’t look convinced.
But in a way, I kind of liked this sort of stuff, and I think Londoners have got a right to be pretentious in some respects. One thing I noticed, more so than I have done before, is the incredible variety of people who live in London. You hear a bewildering array of languages on the tube, you can sit opposite a swarthy couple speaking a peculiar language, and you’d struggle to pin down the continent they are from, never mind the country. Everybody is of all shapes, sizes, and colours, and you see a hippyish Spaniard with his arm around a Korean girl, and between all the languages and dialects I noticed that there was no connection whatsoever between speaking like a native Londoner and personal appearances. Having been living in Russia, a place where opinions of racial superiority are widespread and do not lie buried deep, and where ethnic Russians fiercely deny that a third-generation ethnic Korean could ever be considered Russian, I thought Londoners should be justifiably proud of what has been achieved there. I certainly was. You can be whoever you want to be in London, something which few cities in the world can boast of.
But then there were the things London cannot boast of, one of which is the ludicrous 11pm closing time of bars. Having a big fat bastard bellowing in your ear to finish your drink and make your way outside still grates as much now as it did in 2003 when I last heard it. On a Friday night in Shoreditch we could not find a bar open later than 1am, and even then there were only a handful staying open until that time. Advice was given for us to wander about looking for a nightclub which “might be open until 2am”. No thanks. The Russians might not run the most refined drinking establishments, but at least they know how to keep their customers happy and not boot them out just as they’re getting going.
Which leads me to the things London can be utterly ashamed of. Having kicked the entire population of the city pubs out onto the streets on a Friday night at around midnight, inevitably the thronging masses proceed to turn the place into a total shit-tip. Without exaggerating, Brick Lane was ankle deep in litter and what by the morning would become effluent, and the street was packed with people who were utterly plastered to the point of not being able to stand properly, but being more than able to order a kebab from a van parked opposite. It was not a pretty sight. With a thick stench of piss and weed, it wasn’t a pretty smell either. Even the most depraved Russian town doesn’t turn scenes like that on a night time. When the desperate alcoholics of Sakhalin’s abandoned port towns demonstrate greater civic pride than the average Londoner, then perhaps it’s time to ask Sochi if they want the summer games as well.
Many people complain about the appalling standard of service in Russia, even the Russians themselves. But there is no greater preparation for living in Russia than having previously endured British levels of service for several years. Try getting a fridge delivered in Russia and Britain, and see if there is any discernable difference in service. If anything, the Russians will do it better even if the delivery guy is actually somebody’s mate and could really use a bath. The aeroplane which flew me between Moscow and London – Europe’s two largest cities – was operated by British Airways and had the interior condition of any random carriage on the Northern Line. It was a disgrace. It was old, unkempt, unclean, and my armrest kept falling off. And the food was terrible. By comparison, the Transaero plane I took for the flight between Sakhalin and Moscow was old, unkempt, relatively clean, and the armrest stayed on. And the food was edible. If British Airways between London and Moscow can’t beat the service standards that Transaero achieves between Sakhalin and Moscow, they should flog their Heathrow landing slots pronto and go off to do something they might actually be good at.
Later on in my holiday I ordered some computer components online and selected the express delivery option, which cost £10 instead of £5. Unfortunately, the company I purchased them from had chosen to use City Link for the delivery. Having waited a few days, I called them up and found out that they had tried to deliver the package but found nobody in (I was in), and had left a card (which I never found). Then they just sat back and did nothing. According to the online tracker, the package was scheduled for delivery the next day. The next day nobody came, so I rung them up and asked them why. Apparently, the website automatically updates itself to state the delivery date as being the next possible date of delivery which is in no way related to the scheduled date of delivery which City Link has decided upon. Presumably the website states “scheduled delivery” because the web designer lacked a dictionary. So I asked the boy on the end of the phone where the package was, and he said it was a couple of miles away. So I asked him if they could reschedule it to deliver it today, but that was not possible. In fact, nothing I asked City Link to do seemed possible, and as my flight back left the next morning, I said sod it and walked round to their depot to collect it myself. Asking around, it seems quite a few people have trodden this path before me. Before I hung up, I asked him why nobody called me in the 4 days they had my package. He said they “don’t offer this service”. Why they insist on having a telephone number for every recipient is anyone’s guess. But if the customers of City Link find themselves walking a 4-mile round trip to collect an express package 4 days after they failed to deliver it, then they should probably join British Airways in sacking off their whole core business and finding something they might do well, although I wouldn’t like to take a guess at what that might be. Monitoring clouds, perhaps?
Russian service is crap beyond belief, but at least they have the excuse of 70 years of idiotic communism to offer up as an excuse. What excuse do the Brits have? I don’t know, and I’m not going to stick around to find out. It was a nice visit, but I’m not going to live back in the UK any time soon. My new job will likely keep me on Sakhalin for another two years, and beyond that I am not even going to bother thinking about.