Against all odds, a dead fox comes back from the, err, dead, and ends up doing a parachute jump in Russia.
Not for the first time, I really did not think that there was any more mileage to be had out of this fox, but once again, other people had other ideas. In my opinion, the latest turn of events is an even more surreal concept to grasp than the happenings over the summer, which was basically "stuffed animal that was bought to pay Space Dimension Controller for a DJ gig goes viral in Russia, then original buyer of fox surfs off the back of it and tours around Russia as a DJ".
It's tough to get more surreal than that, but have a listen to this: the owner of one of the best record labels known to man, International Feel (the home of DJ Harvey for a few years), has decided to come on board as an investor in the fox project, and sent me to Moscow on business, with the idea of reviving media interest in the fox by doing a parachute jump strapped to it and then by staging a fox kidnapping; then capitalising on the renewed media interest by making a fox pop song and ring tone.
For me to have even been able to meet Mark from International Feel this summer was an achievement in itself - I don't think he's done a face-to-face interview for the best part of a decade - but for him to then give me a tirade about how I should have already made a million from it, and then to actually put up the money to buy the copyright of the fox and fund my management of the project... it's just complete madness.
And I told him as much. I warned him of the folly of this investment, (because in my opinion, the moment had passed - my fox-related DJ work had dried up in July), but I did concede that if it came off, it would come off big. Still, I was amazed that he'd managed to persuade his venture-capitalist mate in Geneva to come on board. This really did remind me of my responsibility here; so I got cracking and had conversations with pretty much everyone I'd gotten to know in Russia in the last few months.
The upshot was that no one wanted to go in with me and manage the PR for a fox kidnapping, but I did have the filming of a fox documentary lined up (and a DJ gig via the owner of the production company that was filming it); the parachute jump was still on, and also, I'd set up a meeting with the agent of a famous lunatic actor called Nikita who I thought would be ideal as the voice of the fox in a future pop song. His career seemingly on the rocks, he won the nation's hearts in Russia's equivalent of Celebrity Dancing On Ice, and then went on to marry his professional ice dancing partner from the show, thus propelling him into the cheap pantheon of celebrity that might also have room for a number one hit made by a stuffed fox.
I first met Nikita when he was going berserk on a trading floor, filming a video with a scenario that involved the fox buying a controlling interest in Facebook. His performance here, coupled with his public profile, made him an absolute shoo-in for the role.
So it was off to Moscow, and time to write another warped travel diary which is basically me quoting a load of Russian mentalists before losing my own sanity in a hotel room. We've been here before.
Bad start; the plane was sitting on the runway for an hour, which I knew would make me late for my gig that night. But then my mood lightened when I landed, where, during a text exchange with my host/driver for the night, Anna, she concluded it with a message that simply read "that's Boss!" Had I gone all the way to Moscow to DJ with a bunch of scousers?
Turned out she was Russian, but reading my mind, as soon as I got in the car, she said, "Did you like 'Boss'?". Damn right I did. I explained to her how a scouser might say it, and what one had to do with one's cheeks to make it sound authentic; and then she comes back with "do you know the phrase 'top cunt'?"
She continued. "A Russian friend of mine in Manchester told me this phrase but it is a good thing, like a compliment."
I was stunned. "Errr, well, 'prize cunt' would definitely be a bad thing... don't say that to the face of anyone English, but 'top cunt'? I've never heard it. Errr, urrrm, I guess it could be a good thing sometimes, but only in the east end of London."
"But doesn't top also mean a prize?"
There was no getting out of this one - I could come up with nothing to make any of it sound remotely logical. But no matter, Anna moved on.
"Would you like some methamphetamine?"
From one text message I suspected Anna to be a bit of a weapon - this just confirmed it. I didn't want any, but that is not the point. This girl had range.
As we entered the bar (and what a bar... original tiling and all sorts), there was Dima: documentary maker/DJ/club promoter extraordinaire. This was to be my first engagement on behalf of the investors. We agreed that the fox was going to be filmed the next day, touring around the sites of Moscow... Red Square, The Kremlin, the statue of Yuri Gagarin etc. etc. I had to laugh at the fact this 'meeting' took place in a DJ booth, while the host of the meeting was simultaneously mixing House and Disco to a full dance floor. Those poor investors.
So with fox business concluded for the night, it was time for me to have a play. All you need to know is that they went mad to this - that is a measure of the quality of the crowd:
Then it was the turn of Anna The Weapon to finish the night off; an hour-long cameo that involved House, Nu-Disco and Liquid Drum & Bass. I thought I was being ambitious with 1996 Farley & Heller, but in comparison to her playlist, it felt like I'd bottled it.
A 6am finish was pushing it, but it was still technically possible to film foxy the next afternoon, wasn't it? I was kidding myself. Dima eventually got to bed for 11pm the following day, while I spent an absurd Saturday, failing to sleep, gradually cracking up in my hotel room.
For pretty much the entire day/night I had multiple Facebook messenger conversations on the go simultaneously, ranging from people who I'd met on the dance floor the previous night, to my attempts to arrange a parachute jump with Katya the skydive instructor, and then transport to/from the airfield; and then the real killer, in amongst all of it, my mate Thompson whose message simply read "r u in Russia or the UK? Kind regards, The Fremantle Doctor"
This floored me completely. I was in a foreign land, trying to do business on a non-working day, having not been to bed, and I was being hectored from all angles, including from a Western Australian sea breeze. The farce was building. The World Darts Championship on my Skyplayer did nothing but make things worse, as it delivered two 9-dart finishes in the space of an hour, and also a wasp up on the stage that halted play. Perhaps changing channel to Sky Sports 1 might calm things down a bit: if anyone can restore some order to a Saturday afternoon, it's Jeff Stelling. Oh for goodness sake... Man City 6 - Arsenal 3?!?
I reckon this is how Woody Allen feels every day. His mind relentlessly bullied by trivia. If you have enough in one day in a confined space like a foreign hotel room, even darts can appear significant enough to write about.
The ying and the yang of sanity
Still, tomorrow's another day - there's nothing like a parachute jump to settle the nerves. But despite my seemingly endless chain of Facebook conversations, not one of them ended with "yes, tomorrow morning we will drive you for an hour-and-a-half across Moscow and then 40 miles outside of it so I can sit and watch you jump out of a plane"; and to be fair, I could not reasonably expect any different.
So I had to run the gauntlet of the Moscow metro. Then get a bus. Then get a taxi. I was assured by my Russian friends that this was simple enough. "But I can't read the cyrillic writing in the metro stations - will this be a problem?" "No no - you only have to change once on the metro, and then once you get to the end of the line, you get the bus from next to the station. It is simple for you."
I was not convinced. But then I looked at the map... it looked kinda similar to the London Underground map... I only had to go a couple of stops on the green line and then change and get to the north-eastern end of the dark blue line... it's only Cockfosters at the end of the day. It's do-able.
And I suppose I did do it, but it took two-and-a-half hours more than it should have done. What did for me was that my first station was basically the same as the Bank/Monument conundrum, where two stations bascially join into one. Turns out I didn't even start at the right station; but it's just a cyrillic symbol versus another cyrillic symbol, and green signs do not automatically mean the green line, they just mean an entrance to any line.
Then it's out of the frying pan, into a blizzard... but no worries - I see a bus station next to the subway station, this might be easy. But no, it's all in cyrillic again. There is a pattern emerging here, or more precisely, there isn't. And worse, after passing my phone under the glass of the ticket office for the woman serving me to speak to Katya, it turns out I don't even get the bus from the bus station, apparently. So where?
I look forward to the day I can return the favour to my Russian friends when they visit London: a nice day-trip to Cockfosters, but they have to start at Bank and travel in completely the opposite direction, completing their trip via Brighton. Having sampled the delights of Cockfosters; get a bus to Southend, and then a taxi to Canvey Island, before proceeding to jump out of a plane. Perhaps they could then write an article about it.
All that said, if someone offers you the chance to do a parachute jump strapped to a stuffed fox, you say yes to it and you're bloody grateful they made the offer, and if it takes five hours to get there then so be it. This was all thanks to Evgeniya, the interpreter/PR I had when I first came to Russia a few months ago. Ironically, she was probably the most sane Russian I ever dealt with, but she likes a good skydive and had arranged for mine to be filmed; so it just had to be done.
It almost wasn't though. Were it not for a guy in the queue for the ticket office who could speak a bit of English, I think I'd have given up and turned back. But before marching me across a dual carriageway to my 'bus' (which was a converted Ford Transit Van with my destination 'Киржа́ч' clipped to the windscreen), he got the important stuff out of the way.
Where are you from?"
"Manchester" (I'm not, but it's just easier)
"Ah, it was a crazy result yesterday for Manchester City... 6-3!! Arsenal were top of the table!"
There's just no escape. Not even at an altitude of a few thousand metres, where, just before I jumped out of the plane, I am introduced to a fellow jumper:
"I am Arsen"
"Pardon?" (this plane had propellers - it was loud)
"Arsen! Like Arsene Wenger! You know Arsene Wenger? You like football, right?"
I had an attack of the Woody Allens again. It's bloody lucky that it was only on the ground later that he told me his surname was "Al", thus pretty much making him "Arsenal". I don't think I could have coped with that at altitude. Breathing was difficult enough. It turns out that it's almost unprecedented for someone to do their first ever jump at that kind of height, for that exact reason. And what on earth would this do to a fox?
"We were going to do 4,000 metres, but now we will only do 3,000," Katya had told me when she first greeted me at the airfield. "3,000 is better for a fox".
But then, just for the craic, when we got to 3,000, Katya told the pilot to take us up to 4,000 anyway; so that was that, and out of the plane I went, strapped to a stuffed fox and an instructor who I'd met half an hour earlier, and someone was filming it. And it was minus 8.
The first 15 seconds of freefall were great fun, and I was relieved to see the fox was in tact - this was genuinely what I was most worried about with the whole thing... I mean, what if the fox's head had blown off or something? As funny as it would be for a fly on the wall when I break the news to Space Dimension Controller that his fox had been dismembered in a skydive somewhere above Moscow, he just didn't deserve that. Me and my mate bought this for him last February, remember, and he still hasn't got it back permanently.
But the fox ceased to be a concern as I descended further and the altitude hit me - it became all about not passing out. The only way I could breathe was by putting my hand across my mouth, so a good portion of the video footage for the fox's PR reel involves me making what looks uncannily like a nazi salute, as I plummet towards Moscow.
Ah well - next challenge: get back to hotel and hopefully take three hours less than I did on the way so I can get to bed early; look fresh for full day of re-arranged fox documentary filming tomorrow, and meeting with agent re: pop song. Good thing I had Arsen look after me on the way back... it's a train this time.
One stop into the journey this group of lads get on, carrying bottles of what looked like the Russian equivalent of Buckfast; and they make a beeline towards me and start pointing at my jacket.
"Ah, Stone Island! You are a hooligan! We are hooligans also!"
Oh for goodness sake. I wasn't scared at this point - I was more indignant: is there anything that Russians don't know about English culture? Even completely drunk ones?
Why I even possess a Stone Island jacket is a whole other story - I certainly didn't buy it. It is a tangent too big for even this article that includes a Chicago House DJ called Justin Long, a pub full of east-end gangsters, and a common thief, but whatever; I thought I was safe to wear it in Russia without anyone knowing the connotations.
"At the moment I am reading this book by Eddie Brimson... what is the name what is the name?... it is about international team"
"You mean, 'England: My England'?"
"Yes yes! That is right!"
Post university, I have read about one book per year on average, so that's a grand total of about ten, but in Russia, the land of infinite common ground, they've read one of those very books. Course they have.
"Which team do you support?"
"Newcastle" (I don't, but I don't want to have to explain Darlington)
"Ah, St James' Park it has a good atmosphere, no? Do you watch the games?"
"No, I live in Manchester."
"Ah, did you see the game yesterday?!? 6-3 for City against Arsenal!"
Jesus jesus jesus. I had progressed from Woody Allen to fully-blown Groundhog Day. And don't forget, I am sitting next to a man whose name is Arsen Al.
"We have not been to bed for two days!"
"What drugs are you on then?"
"No no, we don't take drugs; we just drink energy drinks and alcohol... try it."
It did taste a bit like Buckfast actually, with a cyrup-ey dash of Red Bull. I had to admire them for sustaining this filth for two days, but couldn't help thinking that Anna had a more efficient strategy for how to stay up an entire weekend; and her meth would probably have tasted no worse.
"Do you want to come to a gig with us tonight? Then we party?"
Ultra knowledgeable: the most engaging of hoodlems
I honestly couldn't think of anything to do on a Sunday night that had a higher potential than being taken out in Moscow by a bunch of piss-head Lokomotiv Moscow football hooligans who I'd just met on a train. And I mean that in all sincerity - this could have been even better than a parachute jump strapped to a fox - but Monday was my last chance to do anything remotely productive for the fox investors, so with a heavy heart I passed up the opportunity of a lifetime and off I went to bed, in case tomorrow was going to yield something.
Which of course it didn't. This was always the most likely scenario for the fox 'investment', let's be honest. Turns out that it is nigh-on impossible for a foreign enterprise to promote a big pop song in Russia, because you have to bribe radio stations so much money to play it, and even then, a decent label would probably not touch it unless you are part of a small inner-circle of producers.
Then our documentary filming was continually thwarted. First by a guard at the Kremlin who had to tell us twice, and then apparently said to Dima (angrily pointing his finger) "Get out of here - you will put a video of this fox and the Kremlin all over the internet"
You see? Russians know everything.
Out-foxing The Kremlin, but not for long...
And then, the fox and I were ejected from a carousel opposite the Kremlin. There was a bit of an argument, then Dima said out of the side of his mouth really quietly "Don't say anything and act dumb", and then the woman looked me up and down with ludicrous suspicion... I did wonder whether we'd become marked men as a result of our altercation with the Kremlin guard earlier. But then Dima, in fits of laughter, revealed:
"They said it is only children allowed on the ride before 4pm. I tried to tell her that you were my dim 15-year-old brother who is so stupid you cannot talk, and the fox was your favourite toy."
He'd left the camera running whilst doing this - Panorama this ain't. And this is basically the only business angle left for the fox. There's a tiny chance that if the final cut is good enough, it'll be picked up by a TV channel in Russia or the UK. I am going back over in mid January to manage the rest of the filming of it; and then I imagine that will be the end of the Russian madness. Time to get a proper job.
If you don't hear from me again, assume that the fox will have been returned safely to the rightful owner, Space Dimension Controller, with my immense gratitude for loaning it back to me to take on the most absurd of adventures.
Has there ever been a better loan deal in history?
Article: Mike Boorman
PS: If you've no idea how on earth it came to this, check out the previous articles: