I wake up and immediately go back to sleep. This cycle of behavior is exactly why every morning before work ends up being stressful.
But then, I wouldn’t call what I go back to sleep, strictly speaking. It’s that state which isn’t exactly lucid, but you’re still not completely conscious or otherwise.
Christ, I can’t even be coherent about something as straight-forward and universally understood as sleeping. I give Anna a lot of grief for never – ever – making sense, but her earth-shaking snores at least suggest she understands sleeping very clearly. I should probably remind myself to delete that bit about her snoring later.
Whatever the state might technically be, my brain is at peace. That was a comfortable night’s sleep following a seemingly infinite drive and the world outside is awake but quiet. Since we’ve no show today, there’s also no looming pressure to get moving.
That being said, we do have a couple of full driving days ahead and we might end up on TV while we’re here. Not in a ‘Newsflash: Western Pigs wanted for crimes against sound’ sort of way, I hasten to add.
Here, incidently is Chita. Over five hundred miles east of Irkutsk, where we were a mere three days ago. Irina and her husband (who we met yesterday) are our welcoming hosts and are taking the time to explain the plan for the day.
Which I immediately forget. Or sleep through. I’m not sure.
Great start, Ed.
Story continues below...
Trying to remember Chita
I’m reliably informed that Chita has a ‘bit of a crime’ problem. Similarly to how Donald Trump has a bit of a ‘thinking’ problem. Or Harvey Weinstein has a bit of a ‘sexually assaulting women’ problem. Or Social Justice Warriors have a bit of a ‘distinguishing facts from feelings’ problem. Or Krupskaya have a bit of a ‘playing our instruments properly’ problem.
I could go on all day with that.
Out of respect for the three people who managed to survive my opening segment, I probably shouldn’t.
Lest they accuse me of having a bit of a ‘knowing when to shut up’ problem.
As a result, I elect to leave my camera behind at the flat. And by ‘my camera’, I obviously mean Anna’s camera.
Yeah, I’d rather losing her camera not end up being a topic of conversation when I get home. It’s the kind of thing she’d want to talk about as well, you know?
Like, from the list of experiences we’ve enjoyed across this tour, such as traversing a significant portion of the continent, swimming in Lake Baikal, standing across from the sleeping Lion, playing a show in a Moscow forest and such like, you can guarantee that ‘losing her camera to a thief in a crime-ridden city‘ would be the one thing she wants to focus on.
Understandably, says you. Inconveniently, says I.
As a result, I’m afraid this diary is going to be very light on imagery. Quite possibly detail as well, since I’m going to be relying quite heavily on memory.
I’m going to do my best to keep some short hand notes and hopefully the result will be a semi-tolerable look into Chita.
I make no promises.
Plans and hospitality
We head to the van and Denis explains to Alex what the schedule is. I don’t really listen.
From the fragments of information my ignorance is unable to deflect from my brain, I come to understand that we’re going to get some food, chillax a little bit and then go to meet Irina at the TV station where she works. Krupskaya will be interviewed and shortly after I expect, the studio will be shut down. Serves them right.
Following this affront to the TV-loving demographic of Chita’s populace, Irina’s very kindly offered to show us a little bit more of the city itself.
Given the threat of criminal activity, you’d forgive me if I was slightly fearful of potential stabbings. But you forget – I’m from near Stoke-on-Trent, a place so devoid of aesthetic or cultural delights that one may consider being stabbed a relative kindness. A mercy, even.
On the subject of Irina’s hospitality, I am continously baffled at how kind and inviting people are to us. Sure, Alex, Matt and Riley do a fairly good job of impersonating reasonable, approachable human beings. The kind whom other people are naturally inclined to be pleasant towards. Although to be fair in Matt’s case, the human being in question is somewhat more ‘bear’ than man, if we’re splitting hairs over taxonomy. He’s like ManBearPig.
But even with that being true, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that my social awkwardness is of such magnitude, that it could nullify our unified capacity to fool others into mistaking us for functioning human males.
Nevertheless – people keep being nice to us. Even when they’ve heard our music. Misanthropes can whinge all they like about how ‘humanity is a plague on planet earth’, I consider the consistent levels of acceptance Krupskaya enjoy to be proof of quite the opposite.
Or perhaps I’m proving their point… wow, that came full circle. Mind-blown.
There are some murmurings about a potential gig, but I think I’m just miss-hearing things. It’s an unfortunate, unexpected side effect of not listening properly.
In lieu of any photographs of where we are, here’s where Chita sits on the map, in relation to Saint Petersburg (where our journey began):
As we drive toward Chita, the sun is absolutely beaming and it’s a beautifully warm, vibrant day.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m expecting from the city. Since we’ve been warned of the considerable criminal element, a fairly bleak and industrial nightmare seems reasonable, but I know that’s not necessarily fair. Cape Town has its own share of crime problems across various parts of the city and yet, is still the most stunning I’ve ever visited.
I do remember Googling Chita before we left the UK and being surprised at how little information there actually is on the city. Certainly compared to the likes of Vladivostock and Blagoveshchensk.
I’m not suggesting that such a measurement method should be adopted, I’m just surprised/interested at how relatively undocumented such places are. Maybe people back in Cheddleton just have too much time on their hands. The amount of bickering on our local Facebook group would certainly suggest so.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that our goal is one very simple thing – food.
Settling into Chita
Denis navigates us across various streets, slaloming between assorted oddities and human beings going about their daily lives.
So far, Chita feels like any other city. The streets bustle with life. Shadows move and criss-cross beneath beaming rays of sun. Every face is straight with intent. Chita hasn’t yet declared what makes it distinctly Chita, in the way the likes of Yekaterinburg did and I expect Vladivostock will do. You know how sometimes you visit a place and it just makes an immediate impact? Chita hasn’t.
I’ve no doubt it will change. I’m always on the look out for the ‘thing’ that makes a place feel like that place, rather than any other place. It’s entirely possible that it’s staring me in the face and I’m blinded to it on account of my abject hunger.
We wait in the van shortly while Denis does… something. I’m not really paying attention, because I’m being distracted by the noises my stomach is making. They remind me of the T-Rex roar sample featured in Bruce’s death scene at the end of Jaws:
An hour or so passes before we eventually find somewhere deemed suitable to our delectable tastes.
We walk into a building that has a dark, industrial but purposeful tone. I don’t know if this is an entrance to a club, but it’s got that feel. Descending down a darkly lit staircase, we arrive in a pool hall. I’m assuming the place we’re going to eat in is nearby. I can’t eat cues. I can barely even understand social ones.
I wouldn’t describe the air as being especially thick with smoke, but there’s certainly a density to it. The vibrancy and colour of outside has been all but diluted completely as we walk across the grey floor, between dimly lit tables upon which even the balls seem absent of saturation. Colourless, empty balls – I wonder if they belong to a politician? Whey!!
It’s not that I’ve never been to a pool hall before, it’s just a bit of a contrast to what it was like outside.
The juxdaposition is almost whiplash inducing – but not to nearly the extent that follows when we enter the actual ‘restaurant’.
It feels like we’ve walked into an episode of Spongebob Squarepants.
I’m not joking. The walls are bleeding colour. The brightest greens, reds, yellows and blues. Something that looks vaguely Disney-esque blairs from television screens, even the waitress’s hair boasts a borderline nuclear shade of pink.
Denis… where the hell have you taken us? What business does a place like this have being directly attached to the one was just entered? It’s like we’re stepping through inter-dimensional tears. I’m half expecting the Lutece twins to show up and tell me to avoid item #77 on the menu. If you know, you know.
A tolerable amount of time passes before we’ve each got a thick, cheesey pizza sat infront of us. They smell absolutely delicious and the sheer weirdness of the journey that’s bought us here immediately becomes a distant memory. We gorge. Not one of us makes a sound but for grunts and moans of sheer satisfaction.
Make of that what you will.
But then things take a turn. Alex gets up to go to the toilet and when he comes back, there’s a look of abject confusion on his face. I’ve long questioned his cognitive ability, but I don’t feel like this is a ‘normal’ state of confusion. Something happened in there that he is struggling to come to turns with. After a few moments silence, these words exit his lips:
“Ed… just go in there. Then try to explain it.”
…but fudging weird toilet situation
I honestly can’t.
Alex is an individual whom I will take every opportunity to mock. You would too if you’d spent as much time in the studio being told “You need to play that beat faster, but at a slower speed. It also needs to be far more complicated, but with less going on.”. The confusion on his face having returned from the toilet, seems (on the face of it) to represent the perfect opportunity for some mockery. Who the hell gets confused by a toilet?
More than just him, it will transpire.
So, I open the door, expecting something really surreal. Maybe velvet toilet seats, or a short person holding the toilet roll while humming the theme tune to neighbours. You know? Just something blatantly, painfully odd.
But no, it’s not that. I close the door behind me and see a pair of toilets.
Directly opposite and facing one another. As per the graphic below:
Who poos like this?
Ignore the window, I added that for dramatic effect.
Now, you might think “Bit of an anti-climax mate, what’s the big deal?”.
Sure, on the face of it, that’s not particularly strange, nor mind bending. But that all changes the moment you ask yourself one very simple question… why?
Why are those toilets facing each other? What possible reason might one have for wishing to sit directly across from another person, while defecating? Why is there a lock on the door? Bare in mind that my graphic isn’t super accurate as the room is far, far more narrow than it suggests. Regardless of size, the likelyhood is that if two people are using these toilets at the same time, their knees will be almost touching. Who wants that? I know we’re in Russia but still – WHO – wants that??
I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced that I want to know.
The passing of stool is a process I usually try to wrap up in a couple of minutes, tops. But on this occasion, the speed at which it departs my insides is at its slowest in almost thirty-five years. Every part of my body is transfixed on this conundrum – who approved this floor plan?
After what feels like several weeks, I give a quick polish and make my way to the door, washing my hands on the way. Before I exit, I take a moment to look back. No, I wasn’t dreaming. That happened.
I sit back down next to Alex. In over fifteen years of being in Krupskaya and almost eighteen of having known the guy, I’ve doubt we’ve ever felt closer.
In this moment, there exists a dimension of reality composed exclusively of those contemplating the reason for that bathroom layout.
That’s us. The rest of the band join soon after, equally shocked by what they’ve seen.
We elect not to discuss the matter any further.
I guess we know what makes Chita special, now.
Krupskaya break the fourth wall
With our bellies full and brains gradually adapting to life post The Toilet experience, it’s time to find Irina and get our TV faces on.
My TV face is the same as my normal face, so this isn’t a prospect for which I’m brimming with enthusiasm.
A short drive in the Gazelle later and we’re at the TV studio.
It actually looks like a TV Studio, too. You can’t blame me for being surprised. This is Krupskaya and things rarely go as common wisdom would have you expect. Do you remember the toilet incident from a mere two hour back? What about the soup?
It isn’t long before TV cameras are shoved in our faces, as a kind faced interviewer quizzes Denis on The Gazelle of Death, periodically turning to Alex. After a few minutes posing outside by the van, we’re guided into the station and are wondering down corridors littered with photos of what I assume are Russian celebrities.
It’s a bit of a strange feeling. Being in another country and surrounded by photos of celebrity faces whom everyone in the building probably recognises and we don’t. And yet, there’ll be an equivalent for every one of these photos back at any TV station in the UK. I could very well be looking at Russia’s Bob Monkhouse, Russel Brand or Barbara Windsor. Faces most of us (above a certain age) could name in a second, but would be equally meaningless to anyone here.
Perhaps strange isn’t the right word. More just a reminder that things can be both alien and familiar at the same time, depending on your perspective. An invitation to check one’s premises.
Our traversing the labyrinthian halls and corridors of the building conclude in a large room that would appear to be intended for equipment storage. There’s not much in here, but for a few lights that cast a cold, moody tone over the whole of the room.
The four of us stand in a row. The black lens of a studio camera and white teeth of a smiling presenter greeting us sequentially as we introduce ourselves by name, profession and instrument. We are asked about our inspirations and the interviewers expression turns from professional joy to confused bewilderment when I mention Belinda Carslisle.
What can I say? ‘Summer Rain’ and ‘(We Want) The Same Thing’ alone are better songs than 99% of the ones you like. Facts bruv. Sorry.
It’s fun, overall. I enjoy talking to people about work. By work, I mean the things I invest a degree of time, effort and vision into. Doesn’t matter if it’s design, shark research or Krupskaya, these are things I know and am therefore more comfortable talking about than Trump, Brexit or whatever distant concept one might invest part of their identity into.
But I’m also conscious of the fact that I have a tendency to digress along seemingly random threads, when asked a question. Trying not to ultimately results in a long silence while I attempt to carefully construct the foundation of my answer before providing it. That’s equally ineffective in this situation.
I think I hit a middle ground with my responses. Everyone else expresses their’s well enough.
This segment culminates with Alex being asked to do a scream. It’s thoroughly embarrasing. I don’t mean the scream, I mean the situation and I’m fairly sure the sound of me exclaiming “Jesus Christ” will be edited out of the final cut. I don’t envy him, but he pulls it off as well as he could, given the circumstances.
We return to the foyer for posing and photographs, before sharing handshakes with the crew and going on our merry way.
Walking around Chita, Siberia
I forget the order in which the following events occured, but they did, which is all that’s really important.
We walk the streets of Chita, learning of the various buildings from both Irina and Denis. The city is starting to cement an impression in my mind, boxes of concrete, a relaxed but regimented pattern of yellows, whites and blues stretching to a consistently modest height. It actually reminds me a lot of Reykjavik, where I recall buildings being similarly short compared to those of other major cities.
Irina mentions that much of the city’s crime runs through the homeless, whom can be identified by tattoos on their arms which designate their role within a gang. I might have misheard or not fully understood, but I subsequently can’t help paying particular attention to the wrists of any homeless individuals whom we pass on the streets.
I spot a distinct circular pattern on one of their wrists. Then another and then another.
I suppose I’ve found what makes this place particularly Chita, afterall. Well, this and strange toilet situations. I wonder if they’re connected?
I hope they’re not.
We make our way to the cinema, which sits infront of a large, open courtyard type area with movie posters splattered across every wall. Irina explains a film festival is hosted here and before I’m able to ask any questions (because I like films), I’ve noticed an ice cream van. In fact, we’ve all noticed an ice cream van.
So we stop for ice cream and a spot of relaxation, before moving onto our next destination.
A little more cultura
Irina invites us to visit one of the city’s Temples. This one, specifically: Chita Buddhist Temple.
She goes into considerable detail about the temple’s history, cultural significance and what the various objects/structures here represent.
I’m not going to do her knowledge the disservice of inaccurately or incorrectly reciting it here, but it’s genuinely interesting. I usually hate being taught things in this way. I think it stems from those bloody awful school trips where you just step from room to room, listening to some miserable git of a teacher insist you should be interested when you know full well he was only seconds away from drowning himself in the bath that very morning.
But this is the difference a decent educator can make. She delivers her knowledge thoughtfully and with a clear understanding of what’s important. She’s engaging and I learn more about the Temple and likely Buddhism in general, than I have in all my years before.
It’s just a shame that like pretty much everything else – I’ll have forgotten most of it come morning.
Onward to Blagoveshchensk
We absorb as much as we possibly can of Chita, before returning back to Irina’s flat and preparing to once again hit the road.
Pulling into the car park, a group of kids on skateboards approach, curious as to what we are. I often wonder the same.
The more Denis explains, the more excited and interested they become, mesmerised by both the art adorned metal of the Gazelle of Death and absence of talent among the men before them.
Alex hands each of them a copy of Dawn of Shattered Silence. You’d think he’d placed a nugget of pure gold in each of their palms. Their gratitude seems only to be matched by their wonder. I’d like to think they won’t be dissapointed when they finally listen to it, but I’ve heard our music, they’ll probably find themselves envying the deaf.
But by the same token, they’re probably at the same age I was when I started getting into this stuff. This could be the thing that compels one or more of them to pick up a guitar, pair of drum sticks, or just make a racket. I’m not saying it will, but if it did, this moment would sort of represent the closing of a circle.
Whatever, I hope they enjoy it.
Thanks Chita, your TV viewers and Irina especially.
See you in Blagoveshchensk.