GROWING PAINS: Death-Trap Apartment Rattles Family's Nerves

Our new apartment is light, spacious, clean and roach-free. What more could one ask? Well - a few less life-threatening household hazards wouldn't come amiss.

A few nights ago, I was woken up at 3 a.m. by an ear-splitting crash accompanied by the sound of shattering glass and splintering wood in the kitchen. Naturally assuming we had an armed intruder who had blundered into something heavy and was trying to make off with my babies, I leapt up with my heart in my mouth and crept fearfully in to investigate (hubby being away on assignment). But it was only one of the top kitchen cupboards that had worked its way off the wall and come thundering down, spewing its contents all over the floor. Well, thank God, I thought, that it happened when the children were asleep.

Three days later I heard the same crash, this time accompanied by the children's screams, and tore in to find 8-year-old Anna standing among a pile of broken glass and crockery with another kitchen cupboard on her head. As I eased it off her, she looked up at me with terrified eyes and asked: "Ya zhiva?" - am I alive?

She had, in fact, just escaped with some nasty lumps and bruises, but I quickly got Viktor, our landlord, in to reinstall all the cupboards.

The next life-threatening incident happened when Bobby got toasted by our washing machine. That morning, I'd had a team of listless, vodka-deprived workers in doing the installing, and when they'd gone, I proudly put in my first load. When the cycle finished, Bobby opened the door to pop the cat inside (don't ask me why) and as Divine punishment, received an electric shock because the power point wasn't grounded.

He was shaken but luckily not too stirred, and back came Viktor with the explanation that this was a postwar apartment block - built incidentally for NKVD families - and well, it just didn't have this new-fangled grounding wire thing.

I can cope with the fact that our gas supply has slowed to a trickle, we can't dial abroad and the bath water runs out brown, because these things pose no great health threat to the children, but I would like frazzle-proof electricity.

And as if this weren't enough for a harassed mother, there was then a ring at the doorbell from a woman claiming to be from the city health authorities informing us that our stairwell has rats and advising us on what precautions to take. Bobby was all for gunning them down, which sounds like the best idea to me.

But hey, let's look on the bright side. The kids haven't been bitten by our pet snake, Fluffy, (who incidentally I found hanging happily from the ceiling in our bathroom after a two-day absence), and we still don't have roaches. Stay tuned.