Spot-the-Broken-Lada And Other Road Games

"Are we nearly there yet?" -- the words every parent dreads hearing somewhere near the start of a long car journey.

When we were little and used to travel regularly from England to our "dacha" in Wales my father invented a brilliant antidote

At the beginning of the journey my sister and I were issued with a list of things to spot along the way; the one who spotted the most being pronounced the winner some three hours later. It was an innocent enough list along the lines of BP petrol stations, white Minis, red telephone boxes, A-registered lorries, tractors -- moving on to roadside milk churns as we drove deeper into rural Wales, escaped sheep ambling along the curb or herds of cattle holding up the traffic on their way to evening milking.

Thus we sat glued to the window the entire drive, the climax being a bonus point for the first one to spy the sign for the Brigands' Inn, an historic hostelry which marked the crossroads from where we turned up the mountain and scrambled out of the car to fill our lungs with the pure Welsh mountain air.

Although 2-year-old Vita's conversation is not quite up to "are we nearly there yet?", "Car -- enough" is sufficiently eloquent and, since our weekly pilgrimage to podmoskovye now takes about as long as that drive to Wales, I decided it was time to reinvent the family game.

But what crops up typically enough to maintain her interest between central Moscow and the 64-kilometer mark on the Minskoye Shosse?

Russian roulette playing babushkas trying to shuffle across a major highway? BMWs playing "chicken" with oncoming cars as they drive 200 kilometers per hour down the wrong side of the road? Drunk-driven lorries which have landed nose-first in the ditch -- we counted seven last weekend? The piles of watermelons which Sasha won't let us eat because he says they are injected with highly contaminated water to make them bigger? Black-windowed cars with blue flashing lights which think that bankers have a God-given right to sweep down the central median? Overheated Ladas causing yet further traffic jams? Unfinished 24-bedroom kottedzhi -- there don't seem to be any finished ones anywhere? Shashlik stalls with open flames licking the gasoline caps of the cars drawn up alongside? Or the piles of saucepans being hawked by nearby factory workers who haven't received their wages for months?

And the final bonus point? That's when we reach the crossroads where we have to hustle our way past the Red Army conscript since, for some impenetrable reason, our dacha stands on army terrain which is illegal to traverse.