Yet another twist in the fox tale. Who’d have thought that a full two years after I last laid eyes on the thing, I’d be compelled to write part number seven.
So what’s new?
Well, since part six, the fox was seemingly in retirement. And rightly so - I quite simply had to get shot of it. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t return it to Space Dimension Controller, and there’s no greater message that you’re pushing your luck than the fox going missing at Creamfields after Fatboy Slim had ambushed Calvin Harris with it, but then miraculously turning up in Hull a couple of weeks later.
Just to recap: I originally bought it from Ebay as currency to pay Space Dimension Controller to play a DJ gig, which he duly did. It was only because he loaned it back to me that I was able to go on the fateful Russia trip. So once I’d rescued the fox from Hull, I posted it to SDC’s flat in Belfast, but not before I’d commissioned a nice suit as a parting gift for SDC’s generosity throughout the whole thing.
Last time I looked the fox appeared to be living in relative comfort among SDC’s Blu-ray collection, and he’s had the odd night on the piss too:
But then, as per every other chapter in this story, “the Russians had other ideas”. Imagine my surprise when, sitting in the family home on Christmas Day, I open a letter purporting to be from the Russian Embassy containing multiple instances of the phrase “sanitary napkins”:
It’s hard to know which bit of it is the most splendid. I think the paragraph that just shades it for me is the one that starts: “AS YOU KNOW, THE RUSSIAN LADIES SANITARY NAPKIN MARKET HAS BEEN MARRED BY DAMAGING REPORTS…”.
Just so matter-of-fact!
And the context as well - that just multiplied the joy. My parents had put it in amongst a pile of Christmas presents because for all the world it looked like it was going to be a Christmas card. “Probably from Aunt Celia,” I thought, before being utterly broadsided.
At first I thought it must be a fake - it was simply too ridiculous to be genuine. But then I quickly cycled through some of the highlights of the fox adventure and began to question that logic. In no particular order, here are just some of the achievements of the fox to date:
-Used as DJ currency
-Subject to demonstrations from communist splinter groups (which at one point I needed armed guards to protect me from)
-Cited in a political motion in the Kremlin alongside Lady Gaga in an attempt to ban them + me from the country, before Putin intervened to stop it
-Responsible for a member of the Russian opposition party dumping her boyfriend
-$20,000+ of royalties earned across nightclub appearances, press conferences, shop openings, copyright options and adverts
-A parachute jump 4,000 metres above Moscow
In the style of Steve Coogan’s pool attendant on The Day Today, “I could go on”; but the point is, in that kind of company, the concept of “Russian Embassy decrees fox is used to front-up sanitary health campaign in Bashkortostan” isn’t all that ridiculous. In fact it’s entirely consistent.
Although there was a clear instruction at the bottom of the letter to send an expression of interest to a “Galina Lebedev” in Bashkortostan, I felt the next action was to take a trip to the Russian Embassy to check the validity of the document. This was a win win scenario. If it turned out to be a fake; what a ludicrous scene it would surely cause at the embassy. If it was real on the other hand - well - goodness knows what could happen from there.
So off to the embassy I went. On approach to the gates I realised that the address on the letter was for the main diplomatic building, not the public-facing consulate around the corner. I liked this a lot. Oh how I wanted that moment where I’d have to explain this on an intercom to someone important.
Which is exactly what happened. The security guard, quite understandably, didn’t feel all that confident about explaining it himself, so he dialled in the intercom and asked me to speak.
“Errr, I’ve got a letter from someone called Aptejm Optrios that says I need to see you.”
“Sorry sir, who?”
“I can’t quite make out his name - it might be something different.”
“What’s it about?”
“Errrm, it’s about a campaign for Bashkortostan and a stuffed fox on behalf of the Russian Embassy.”
“I will come to the gate and see you sir.”
I cannot tell you what an absolute weapon this man turned out to be. Full suit, sharp as you like, and yet he felt the need to wear a flat cap. I just found this astonishing. Did the hat remain on throughout his entire working day? Was he making small talk over a pile of Ferrero Rochers while wearing that thing?
I handed him the letter.
“So you’re in the napkins business then sir?”
Goodness me, that wasn’t what I expected.
I put him right in as concise a manner as possible, but it really did take some explaining, even with the letter right in front of him. And you couldn’t exactly blame him for being a bit hesitant.
Eventually he’d heard enough, and got on the intercom. By now a man wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket had come to stand behind me at the gate - the very same man who I’d seen five minutes earlier shouting abuse at a bus driver for blocking the pelican crossing we were both waiting at. He was to become important later on.
So another man comes out from the embassy and takes a look at the letter, and a similar conversation ensues between us. They were both completely poleaxed by it. They agreed that whoever signed off that letter didn’t work with them but they seemed thoroughly interested in the whole thing all the same, so it was back to the intercom to call for more reinforcements.
Then another man emerges from the embassy, and whaddya know?? - he’s got a flat cap on.
Course he has.
So now we’ve got three diplomats poring over this letter, two of which were wearing flat caps, and I make no apology for labouring the flat-cap point… I mean what fucking civil servants do you know who will be sporting one of those in 2017?
After much conferring, and strangely, not a hint of laughter, they all concluded that it must be a fake letter. Then fluorescent man got involved.
“They’re fakkin’ useless these Ruskies - they don’t have a scooby!”
Jesus Christ, that was harsh. I’m not sure I’d have that much of a clue if someone turned up unannounced to my embassy with a letter sent by someone they’d never heard of, discussing the use of a stuffed fox for an advertising campaign for “Swimprotect panty napkins” on behalf of one of my sister states. I’d be even less helpful once I’d received racist abuse from a fluorescent cockney who had almost no teeth.
So then fluorescent man and flat-capped diplomats have a raging argument about the electricity meter - apparently he’s always made to wait ages whenever he comes there to check it - but fluorescent man wasn’t finished. He then proceeds to take the fox letter and point to the signature at the bottom, insisting that Aptejm Optrios probably did work there and that they were simply not trying hard enough to help.
I didn’t believe fluorescent man for a moment, but I made no attempt to stop him. This was just too good.
After much gesticulation (very much in an Italian style….. I’ve always thought there’s a bit of an Italian streak in the Russian psyché actually….. just look at the architecture), things eventually calmed down. Fluorescent man was assured that someone would come out to see him, and two of the diplomats went off to their meeting. So that left me with the last remaining diplomat.
“This letter did not come from our building, but if you have a proposal for economic relations with your fox then you can present that to me and I can put it to the ambassador. Here is my business card. I’m sorry I don’t have more time to talk but I now must run to a meeting”. It was roughly those words anyway; 'economic relations' and 'the ambassador' were definitely cited, and it seemed like he meant it.
I just love the fact that a letter he has just declared fake is nevertheless sufficient to open the door for some kind of international commerce. And lest we forget, we’re talking about a stuffed animal that’s currently in Belfast here. God knows what I will actually propose, but I’m sure I can put something together just for the shits and giggles.
But that is a mere side issue. I wasn’t just there to piss about with diplomats (although I could thoroughly recommend it to anyone)… there were a whole load of questions that still needed answers.
1. Who sent this letter, and why did they go to such lengths to fake it?
I’m certain it isn’t as simple as one of my mates having a bit of a laugh. This surely couldn’t be the work of an English person - there’s no way they could have come up with the cyrillic writing on the date, or the name and address in Bashkortostan. Although looking at the postmark, this letter was definitely sent from London.
2. And who the hell is Galina Lebedev? Is that a real person?
After I left the embassy I got my ex-tour manager Evgeniya on the case to do some cyrillic internet searches (it’s hard to find much Russia info online using standard English), and she’s come up with a potential match who lives in Sterlitamak (as per the letter) on VK, which is the Russian equivalent of Facebook. Here she is:
Please God let her be the mastermind.
The story of the sanitary chemical controversy, by the way, stacks up. As does the company named “Usoyle” in the letter, as does the address. So could this possibly be a genuine cause that is pretending to be backed by the embassy, merely to get our attention?
In fact, was fluorescent man actually right all along, and I just saw the wrong guys at the embassy?
Or is there some other explanation?
Buggered if I know anyway. Answers on a napkin.
Article by Mike Boorman. Follow him on twitter HERE.