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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Trouble Afoot As Mr. Fix-Its Come Calling




Twas on a Monday morning, the gas man came to call.


I should have known better than to let him in. For, as the comic British song warns, once you let a workman into your home, you can expect a disaster that will require corrective measures from another clumsy workman and so on ad infinitum.


I was not thinking of this when the doorbell rang and a bearded dwarf in a fluorescent orange jacket announced that he was a safety inspector from Mosgaz. Rather, my initial reaction was to be pleased that someone was paying attention to safety in a country where buildings regularly collapse in gas explosions. I was even ready to forgive him for tramping across my hall carpet in muddy boots.


"Tut, tut, tut," he said after glancing cursorily around the kitchen. "I'm going to have to fine you." The on-off switch for the gas mains was not immediately visible and he accused me of having walled it up behind my Euro-remont. "A lot of people do this," he said. "It's illegal. The switch should be accessible."


I was reasonably confident that my switch was accessible, only I could not immediately put my finger on it. Before I managed to find it, tactfully hidden at the back of a cupboard, the poisonous dwarf was unscrewing the white formica panels that make up the washable walls of my "Finnish-style" kitchen.


Now I will freely admit here that I have had the odd cockroach in my home. When the panels came off it became clear that my hygienic kitchen was nothing more than a Potemkin Euro-remont, a beautiful facade. In the gap between the facade and the original wall there was a heaving nest of cockroaches, like in the film "Alien."


Just as I made this discovery, the dwarf announced: "Everything's fine then, sorry to have troubled you. I'll be off." And he exited, leaving more muddy footprints on the carpet and the liberated cockroaches to overrun the kitchen.


Two minutes later, the doorbell rang again. I looked through the spy hole and saw another man in an orange jacket, and as I wondered whether to answer I heard the gas man shout in the corridor: "Ring again. She's in." So I opened the door to the municipal icicle man.


I know I should have been keen to cooperate with him, as every spring Muscovites are killed by icicles that hang from the roofs like Swords of Damocles. However, I was less than ecstatic to have more muddy footprints, this time leading across the bedroom carpet to the balcony, from which hung a huge stalactite of ice."Phew!" whistled the icicle man. "That's big. I'll have to call the boss."


At this point I was in the mood to take control of my life.


"Here, put these on," I commanded, handing the boss two plastic bags to put over his boots. The boss, a thin man who looked like Jack Frost, was charm itself. He donned the bags, joking that it was like visiting a museum, leaned dangerously out over the balcony and bashed the icicle with a long metal rod until it fell with a crash onto the pavement below.


"That's a nasty cockroach problem you've got there," he said as he prepared to leave. "Would you like me to arrange a visit from the sanitary department?" I agreed. The cockroach man will be one workman I shall be pleased to see.