Fear and Starving in St Petersburg: the latest instalment in the farcical tale of Mike Boorman and Stoned Fox in Russia (catch the first one here)
April 12, 2013: I wake up on day four of St Petersburg DJ contract negotiations, and it's getting very tense. Will Space Dimension Controller allow me to tour with his fox for the next six months? Radio silence at the moment. And it's a deal breaker. As funny as it is to have an offer of a load of DJ gigs on the back of some stuffed fox, suddenly it isn't a joke any more - there's too much money on the line to be relaxed about it.
But first things first; last night's Masters leaderboard. Garcia was going well when I left him on the 15th and it turns out he's in a share of the lead; nice one, hope it happens for him. Tim Clark 2 under par; he'll probably fade like he does every year, but I'm pretty happy with my 150/1 each way investment. Next, breakfast. But no; too late for breakfast. Make mental note that unless I am willing to go to bed well before the leading groups finish their rounds, freebie hotel breakfast will not be possible for the remaining three days of the tournament.
It has to be a foreign supermarket gamble - there's one just around corner, and I can't be missing breakfast on what might be the day of reckoning with the contract. Not a very big supermarket though, hmmm, not looking good, but then, in amongst all the tinned nonsense on the shelves... pate. Get in. Whack it on a bagel and that'll do. Get a knife from the hotel dining room when no one's looking... yes; got it; no one saw; this is gonna be fine. But back in my room, things started to unravel, although in the case of the pate, it didn't - that was the problem - for the ring pull just fell off in my hand; and of course I rogered the tin all I could with the knife, but that never works, does it?
Back to the shop then, but not before I notify Irv on facebook of my unfortunate pate incident - he'd really enjoy this. Despite formerly being a member of Calvin Harris' band, Irv's greatest achievement in my view is his decision to award me the nickname of "Pate Man" back in the day. Quick as a flash he responded, advising me to not return to the shop in case they were merely "factory seconds", which I laughed off as impossible... the very idea of "factory seconds pate"... but it turned out he was bloody right - the same thing happened with the next tin! Ah well, reception will have a tin opener.
Then the phone rings. Coincidentally, it's reception. Did someone notice me nick that spreading knife after all? "Sir, you still haven't given us your immigration card," oh God, even worse. "You cannot stay in this country without one... today is the deadline." Despite the fact my people had assured me it would be fine to stay on beyond my original visa to finish negotiations, I was never convinced this was watertight. No new visa had been added to my passport, and my immigration card was still in my previous hotel (I had been upgraded to one where the telephone was not in the toilet). So I could jump in a taxi and get it, but surely it would be suicide to hand over an expired immigration card to this lot? And then what about the tin opener?
Double suicide to be going to reception and asking for that.
It all started to feel a bit weird. Was this whole thing getting a bit too dodgy? And after this dry bagel, where is my next meal going to come from, given that I need to avoid reception? And Space Dimension Controller... where the fecking hell is he?!?
Then the phone rings again... Christ Almighty, please don't tell me the police are here or something. But it's my interpreter. Without much small talk, she says "the task for today is to sign this contract." This was awful pressure. Just like yesterday and the day before, I was still in no position to sign away appearance rights to a stuffed fox that was owned by the silent Space Dimension Controller, not to mention the fact that there was still a load of stuff that I wanted to change in the contract for myself.
"Oh and also, you're DJing at 4am tonight." I wasn't in the mood, but to welch on that was hardly going to help negotiations; so if they wanted a set for an as yet unspecified fee they were going to bloody well get it, but it would be a pre-planned set of Progressive House from 2011 that was knocking about as a playlist on my computer - no potential negotiation-energy will be expended on this set, and it serves them right for applying the pressure. Of course I will mix it on CDJs and make it look like it's on the fly, but it won't be.
It was just this insane limbo - my head was all over the place for hours, and I was manically hungry, but scared of showing my face to reception without any of my Russian people there to blag it, because of course my Russian people were in a game of hardball with me over contractual terms... this was not the time to be bugging them telling them to get the hotel off my back. And what if SDC never replied? Or at least, didn't reply for a couple of days? Or worse, he said no? Could I lose everything and just get deported? If there's no fox, there's no deal, so what would it be to anyone if I had to take the rap at the airport when I tried to leave? After all, with no fox, what am I to these people?
Then there was a bite - a new email in - and it's SDC! Oh joy! But it was not the response I expected. He said something like "So could you just explain to me the situation please?" If you could have seen the look on my face; for he was asking for an explanation that he'd already had four times in the last two days, across a few different mediums. By God. But to be fair to him, he had been travelling about around Singapore and then back to the UK, and was probably extremely tired - it isn't every day you get pressured into giving up a stuffed fox for half a year in St Petersburg... there really is no precedent.
Then further hours of agony while I await SDC's response to my latest desperate plea - we're talking 5pm now - I tried to watch a youtube documentary on Richie Hawtin to take my mind off it but it barely did, apart from the bit where they interviewed his mother and it turns out she used to work on the door as a guestlist girl for his legendary early Plastikman nights... that's quite an image. "Yes, when we used to clean up afterwards and find hypodermic needles," she said in an impeccable English shires accent, "It did make me think a bit."
Then it gets to 6pm, no more Hawtin; it has to be BBC World News on my TV... and there's Kissinger. Henry Bloody Kissinger. What on earth did he want? The fucking bullfrog. I was really cracking up at this point.
But then SDC saved the day; suddenly his tardiness and complete disregard for the real world of business became endearing - he emails back saying that I can take the fox around Russia for 6 months, and he didn't even ask for any money, not even a deposit; only a few DJ gigs, and that was probably only because I suggested he should get some out of it. Top man. I will insist on a deposit on his behalf anyway, and get something written into my contract about gigs for him - he deserves at least that.
This was big news, but I needed to compose myself before telling my interpreter to re-open talks... get the rest of my own terms straight first and never mind that... food. That one bagel will not be enough to do business with later - to hell with reception - I'll walk very very quickly and make a dash for it. But to where? KFC of course. A well-earned bucket was almost completely despatched, and I had no shame: all this protein was going to make me play a blinder when we're back around the table, and what was more; 2 Unlimited - No Limit comes on in the background on the surprisingly punchy KFC sound system; and it was the 12 inch version with that extra bit of rap in it as well. That was a nice touch.
Time to get back to ring the interpreter and tell her the good news from SDC. "So is there anything else in the contract that you need to change before signing the deal? They are ready for you." She gave up after about the eighth point - the processed protein was clearly working for me. So it was left that we would talk again, but I had no idea of when.
It turned out that 'when' was 12:30am that night, in my hotel lobby. This struck me as absolute genius. 11th hour (well, slightly later) negotiations, with foreign businessmen, in a hotel lobby. I suddenly had visions of that man that was only ever referred to as "A Malaysian Businessman" in the John Fashanu/Hans Segers/Bruce Grobbelaar alleged match-rigging case... he could have done business with them in that lobby.
And it's a different Russian! The third and so far silent partner, Pasha. But he can speak good English, which is bound to make things easier than the last few days of hand signals and interpreters. Within a couple of hours we reach a verbal agreement over a contract that lasts 6 months, containing a load of DJ gigs and public appearances with the fox, starting from now "we are going to create a bomb with this fox," he says proudly. "Let's go party." But then I had that horrible sinking feeling... what about Stuey Watson's wedding? I've known him since I was three - I can't miss that. What about my ticket to The Ashes test match at Chester-le-Street? Would I get another opportunity to see an Ashes test at my home ground with the old man? After all, Old Trafford has just been redeveloped, and the Rose Bowl and Cardiff have upped their games in recent years. And then there's the gig at The Thin White Duke Bar in Carlisle on the May Bank Holiday... Paolo's gonna be annoyed... he's just done the artwork as well.
All of this was wurring around in my head at hyperspeed. I had to try and change my availability in the contract. So nervously, I broached it. The Ashes: signed off. Stuey Watson's wedding, as well as stag-do (bonus): signed off. Paolo: denied. It's also a big weekend in Russia apparently. But what Paolo doesn't know is that it was my intention to play an hour of late 90s trance in the inevitable lock-in afterwards, just to see whether I could get away with it. So maybe it's a blessing. I was told that a revised contract would be drawn up overnight and sent to me by the morning.
What a bloody day. And of course, I had to DJ in a couple of hours as well. They were still going to get the 2011 Prog treatment whether they liked it or not - I was too drained for anything else. They'll definitely be glad I play this though:
April 13, 8:30pm local time. Three successive birdies for Tim Clark puts him back in contention, but still no contract. The nerves began to jangle again: was Stuey Watson's stag-do that bridge too far? Had the other two over-ruled Pasha on all the other stuff we talked about?
Then the contract lands, but disaster. All that we had discussed the previous night was in there, but everything that had been painstakingly agreed during the previous few days was nowhere to be seen. The farce was going to be prolonged, and I wasn't very happy. Within minutes Ksenia's onto me on Facebook. I know what this usually means, but surely this time it will be about business, given what had just happened with the contract. But no - it was more temptation:
It was the last thing I wanted to hear with the next six months of my life still up in the air and plenty of work still to do, but I had to remind myself that DJs party - that's what they do. They don't worry too much about contracts - they can always wait - and they don't spend the night in watching golf. Well, Nic Fanciuili does, so that made me feel a bit better, but it wasn't enough to prevent me from saying yes, so cue another potential lost day of shame.
As it was, there was no shame like earlier in the week, just a lost day. But late on in the day, a satisfactory contract arrives in my inbox. Get in! At 10pm on the sabbath, business is concluded. Good old clubland - I shouldn't have been surprised by the disrespect for normal working hours during all of this, but it made me chuckle. Time for a pint to celebrate, and if I'm threatened by reception, I can just tell them I'll be leaving tomorrow anyway.
Oh jesus, what do I see here in the lobby, is that a? No, it can't be. Oh yes it is; it's a Sunderland shirt. And another. And another. For God's sake, what the hell is going on? Why are there a load of Sunderland supporters in my hotel in downtown St Petersburg? Thank God they won the derby today, so at least they'll be up for the craic. On closer inspection, I also see Newcastle fans, but with their shirts discreetly tucked under their jackets... this was just like what would have happened in my local back home in County Durham... the only difference was the lack of hand-pulled bitter and the obligatory load of Middlesbrough fans winding everyone else up from their own table... and it was happening in the same place - the same table in fact - as the 11th hour contract talks only two nights earlier. So surreal. "I need to get out of this country - I can't take much more of this madness," was a conversation I had with myself as I got my beer and started talking to them.
After the standard pleasantries about Marco Gabbiadini, Newcastle's disallowed equaliser, and the undrinkable water in St Petersburg versus the drinkable water in the UK ("there's not enough germs in the UK any more like... kids are gannin' soft" was one evaluation); we got onto more important matters, like my exit from the country. These boys were seasoned travellers in and out of Russia, and one of them told a story of how his HR department realised they'd stuffed up his visa and it in fact expired the evening of the day they realised; and within three hours he'd got on a flight to Amsterdam, an entire ocean apart from Sunderland, just to get him out of Russia before it kicked off. With me, I was a week over, so lord knows what that meant. "You'll struggle, mate," he said.
It's not often I agree with the analysis of a Sunderland supporter, but I knew he was likely to be right; and sure enough, the next day at St Petersburg Airport immigration control, it all goes berserk. Over an hour of frantic mobile phone calls, finger pointing, and then my host Alexia ends up in tears. Then a guy gets up from his desk, gestures towards me and says "follow me, sir". Oh dear oh dear. Where's this gonna lead? Maybe those tears from Alexia were not because she had been given a bollocking by someone on her mobile as I had originally suspected; maybe it was guilt over what was about to happen to me? All bets were on at this stage.
I'm led downstairs to a room. Good news: it isn't a cell. Bad news: they're taking my finger prints, and not just finger prints; hand prints from both hands, and no less than four thumb prints from each thumb, placed on different documents.
Logged in Russia! Not good. As much as I had been enthused by the welcoming good-humour of St Petersburg, if I had to be placed on file in any country, there is a long list of other countries in the world that I would pick ahead of Russia. Like all of them.
But miraculously, with some kind of temporary one-day document, I got out. Changing flights at Moscow airport was a bit hairy (there was a three minute consultation between passport minion and manager before they let me through), but it was back to England to take stock, have a rest and recharge. I'd earned that.
Yeah right. What actually happened was a mad dash around London on Tuesday, having not been to bed since Sunday night (all that partying that DJs are meant to do provides useful training for times like this), to get another visa (hopefully a nice long one), with a view to returning to Russia on Thursday. And incredibly, despite being a marked man in Russia, it was granted; so here I am, back here, sitting in another hotel lobby; but this time it's Moscow and there are no Sunderland fans; but maybe just maybe, a Malaysian Businessman.
To be continued. Visas Permitting.
Article: Mike Boorman
PS: check out what El Foxy got up to on the plane: