On not needing until he is seven.

The Russian word for ‘God’ is ‘Bog’.

You find this irresistibly entertaining at times. Such as last week when you, B and the Star were squelching across a muddy section of grass on your way to the playground.

‘It’s a bog. Boggy bog. Bog bog bog. Where’s the bog?’ You were saying to the Star, while B rolled his eyes.

And the Star fixed you firmly with a hard stare and said, ‘Bog there!’

Pointing upwards.

He’d only been going to the religious-themed Russian language playgroup for two weeks at that point.


On wetting the head of the baby.

There are problems with being raised in the most liberal of British Anglican churches, in a congregation which worshiped in a shared church. And by shared, you don’t mean one of those sacred spaces which have realised that they have a spare side chapel they can rent out to the heretics for cold hard cash every second Tuesday of the month, but a church which was built not for Roman Catholics, nor the Church of England, nor the Methodists, but all three together, to be used on an equal basis. The Methodists took the very early shift, the Catholics had a lie in and the Anglicans split the difference in terms of worship times, a schedule which always caused you a small private delight. But you have also attended more shared services than you care to remember.

Of course, your church didn’t leave it there. For your confirmation classes – baptism is when the parents promise the child to God, confirmation is where the rather larger child dedicates themselves to His service – you learned about Sikhism. And although your vicar’s wife had converted from Judaism, your youth group still tended to celebrate Passover with her at her house. Moreover, the church itself was housed firmly in a community centre, and the post worship coffee and biscuits were held in the bar, in amongst the fruit machines.

Now up to a point you are Anglican to your core. You fail comprehensively to understand a belief in transubstantiation, or the impatience with bishops. You regard icons as deeply suspect, and badly painted, but you think fondly of shakily executed tapestries cobbled inexpertly together by the children of the parish.

But at bottom you cannot take these differences of opinion seriously.

So when you found yourself in a church in Moscow, signing the Star up for his christening, and the little old babushka who holds sway in the registry left a big blank space next to ‘mother’ on the ground that you aren’t a christened Orthodox believer, you were shocked. Not least because you might be a heretic, but although B is happy to firmly declare himself Orthodox, wear a cross at all times, cross himself in entirely the wrong direction and turn up for communion at Easter and Christmas, you found yourself once having to explain the concept of the Trinity to him. One God, with three aspects. Not, and this was what surprised him, one God and two lesser deities, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You sometimes forget that not everybody has the benefit of 16 years of Sunday school, and weekly church youth groups.

To be fair, you have no reason to believe that your church would accept Orthodox godparents for an Anglican christening either, and at least one of the laypeople who turned out to be organising the service was fighting valiantly in your corner (‘Yes, but she’s Christian, isn’t she?’) but you threw a bit of a tantrum anyway. Which was embarrassing as unlike the large family affairs you are used to back home, christenings in the Orthodox church take place en mass, and the audience is largely restricted to the very nearest of those getting bathed. But there were quite a lot of them.

You might have been less cross had you known that once you finally got settled into the basement chapel they were using for the service, you, along with all the other mothers, would be banished from the proceedings anyway. You got to squint at the proceedings through a grill looking into the chamber from a corridor outside, and so readers will be spared a blow by blow of the proceedings which followed as it was dark, your view was frequently blocked and you were slightly distracted by both your own lingering resentment and the uniform screaming of all the smaller children taking part.

You still have no idea why mothers are thus excluded, but suppose it is something to do with transferring the child’s allegiance firmly to God. It certainly seems to have partially worked. The Star, in the midst of being summarily stripped, covered in water, covered in oil, bundled into a long white nightgown and chanted over, bonded madly with B’s cousin and the Star’s new godmother. To the extent that he now bounds up to any young blonde Russian woman and hugs them enthusiastically, shouting ‘Totya A! Totya A!’

Although his wildest screams of joy are reserved for when the woman herself gets in touch over your new Skype connection.

And for the photos…

On doubt.

You like to describe your religious affiliation as ‘lapsed Anglican’.

This, you feel, neatly encapsulates the contribution the Church of England made to your upbringing*, whilst hinting at the vast whirling storms of doubt you are now afflicted with.

Which centre mostly on the way you find it impossible to believe in Jesus.

You simply cannot bring yourself to see the Bible as anything other than a historical document, neither of which is conducive to believing in a virgin birth, stars, angels, donkeys, five thousand fishes, water based miracles, raising people from the dead, Mary Magdalene, thirty pieces of silver, the empty tomb and post crucifixion sightings. You darkly suspect the Gospels of being a sort of amalgamation of folk stories that at best describe something of the actions of any number of indigenous charismatic preachers. You think of Jesus, in fact, as something very similar to the phenomenon of Robin Hood.

There’s certainly a similar level of historical evidence to support their literal existence.

Every now and again, you do remember that the Bible is supposed to be divinely inspired.

But if you accept that the book of Genesis is at best an imperfect description of big bang theory written by people who hadn’t the benefit of reading either Charles Darwin or Stephen Hawking to help them make it more, how shall we say this, accurate, and you do, then you find no difficulty in feeling that, broadly speaking, the points the New Testament and the story of Jesus’ life makes are not necessarily invalidated by the fact that they are one big allegory.

After all, even Jesus told parables.

However, once you reached this conclusion, you found it very difficult to sit and listen to sermons which talked about Jesus as though he were a real person, and worse, that he lived just down the road at number 22.

You also felt that even in the dear old liberal Anglican tradition**, your views might not be accepted without comment.

And so you’ve been rather avoiding church ever since.

But you take an interest, you know? And you mis the singing.

And then, on holiday in Moscow, you also got the Star christened. As a Russian Orthodox christian.

So you very much feel that you are going to have to dunk your own head back into the muddy theological waters of your faith in order to at least educate the Star in the mysteries of the religion you have committed him to.

And the Church of England.  Because a part of your protestant soul disapproves of icons.

Which should nicely mess with his head.

*Admittedly, it was a very positive contribution. Sorry about that, all the lapsed Catholics out there.

**Bits of the British capter, anyway.

On angels in bright raiment.

The Star likes church.

Anglican ones have organs. The Anglican one your family goes to has an organ unwisely located within sprinting distance of the children’s play area at the back. You thought he was continually toddling in that direction as someone had left a wheelchair there for him to play with. You were wrong. He was studying the organist’s moves. That very loud discordant bellow interrupting the sermon was your son diving onto the foot pedals with a look of sheer bliss on his face.

Orthodox churches have candles.

The Star happily dashed from icon to icon, delighted at the opportunity to lightly singe his little fingers. He also appreciated the lack of chairs. Nothing to hamper him from running round in circles and shrieking. Luckily there wasn’t a service on at the time.

Wha he liked best, though, was the sweet, modest, blonde dyevushka who had the job of removing the candles from their holders when they were starting to flicker out.

He started to follow her around. And, oh joy, oh ecstasy, she noticed and, with a sweet, modest, blonde smile, knelt down and showed him how to blow the flame out. And then she did it again. And again, and again and again. And, the Star was insistent, again and again and again. Luckily, there were a lot of candles that needed attention.

The Star eventually saw something else shiny shiny to distract him and the young woman escaped. But he was just taking a break. And, ready to resume his duties, he marched up to a sweet, modest, blonde dyevushka, chattered a friendly greeting,  stood in front of her gesturing impatiently at the rack of candles nearby, and when she didn’t move, took her firmly by the hand and attempted to pull her in the right direction.

He was indignant when his Papa came and fetched him away.

Until Papa showed him where his real young lady had got to, hidden behind a pillar.

On giving away an heirloom.

So next week is the Russian Orthodox Maslenitsa in your little corner of London that is forever Moscow. Pre-Lenten pancakes for breakfast for a whole week. Well, Russia is a tad colder than the UK and clearly just the one day of stuffing their faces isn’t enough to see them through forty days of fasting. And the Orthodox church is pretty big on fasting; we aren’t just talking the very Anglican habit of banning chocolate biscuits for the duration.

Maslenitsa is, of course, a full week before the week when everyone else in the UK will be aiming their frying pans at the ceiling.

Sometimes you think it would be easier all round if you both converted to paganism. At least then you and B would be taking your clothes off and humping the nearest silver birch, molesting Stonehenge or whatever in concert. Although knowing your luck you would accidently join two different sects and continue to be conflicted about when to order the ritual sacrifice for Samhain.

To prepare for pancake week, the MiL has been teaching you her blini recipe. It is a little involved, although slightly less faffy than the ones you’ve previously written about.

First take a four pint carton of milk and put it on a radiator. Which should be on.

Leave this overnight.

When it has separated into a sort of yellowish water at the top with a rather squidgy mass at the bottom, pour the milk into a pan and apply heat. Not too much though, it mustn’t boil. Leave it to cool down.

Pour the mixture into a colander lined with four layers of muslin. Make sure there is a pan underneath to catch the liquid.

Gather the edges of the muslin together and twist them to make a closed bag. Don’t squeeze too hard or everything will come through the sides of the muslin and be lost. Weight the ball of milk remnants down with something like a jam jar filled with water and leave for at least four hours until all the water has been pushed out. Open up the muslin and scrape whatever is there into a bowl.

Congratulations, this is tvorug.

It’s sort of cream cheese, which Russians eat a bit like yoghurt by mixing fruit and such into it. Or make a sort of baked cheesecake out of it by adding raisins. Or use it along with jam to stuff Russian ravioli with. The possibilities are endless.

Unfortunately, one of the few things tvorug isn’t used for is making blini.

No, it’s the by product of the tvorug, the milky water carefully collected during the straining process that is the crucial ingredient for B’s Mother’s Russian pancakes.

The liquid will keep a day or so in the fridge. When it’s needed, heat it until it is tepid. add at least two eggs and beat until frothy. Add self-raising flour and beat, enough to make a fairly gloopy pancake batter. Add two desert spoons of vegetable or sunflower oil.

And that’s it. The resulting pancakes won’t be very good for flipping, and should have little holes throughout. You ate yours with maple syrup, the Star had some with sour cream and B wanted to have his with condensed milk but you were out.

On another day in another place.

The gray sky hangs low, pressing you into the ground, opening out the horizon and forcing everything else to admit its insignificance.

Yet on this unpreposing canvas the reds and yellows of the trees glow. Green grass seems brighter. Buildings are whiter, and every little scrap of litter on the ground shines out in lurid advertisement of its former contents. There is no wind, and no chill in the air. Instead you are wrapped in a gentle soothing clagginess, fine drizzle misting your hair, which is soon warmed away as the fires are lit and bottles of beer are broached.

It is a distinctly autumnal kind of day.

Which is something to be savoured in Russia, a country where your favourite season lasts five minutes between the scorching heat of summer and the first snowfall.


This is also a distinctly Russian works day out.

First, of course, is the enforced dash through culture. A trip around the New Jerusalem Monastery, undergoing, in common with every other Russian Orthodox building at this time, extensive renovations. The money that is being spent on the hand-painted frescoes, re-plastered walls, gold-leafed cupolas and heavily-carved stonemasonry is a testament to just how popular religion becomes if it’s banned for 70-odd years.

Much like any other drug.


The highlight of the visit is a stone heralded as an exact 1:3 scale copy of the boulder which once covered the enterance of the tomb of Christ. A solemn precession of irritable foriegners, resentlful that this is taking up valuable drinking time, shuffle past, intoning “But how do they know?”

But then comes release. Into the park. Head for the windmill. Ignore the replica wooden peasents hut and chapel, ignore Patriach Nikon’s home-in-exile, ignore the riverside baptismal platform, ignore the colourful wishing trees with their penants of hankerchiefs, scarfs and plastic bags. Head straight for the beer.


But there is little time to relax, for the entertainment the Boss has laid on is spectacular. In the middle of a field, in the middle of the sodden Russian countryside, you are seranaded by a full brass band, complete with baton-twirling, bright-smiling majorettes in shocking blue and red uniforms. And then, still reeling from the incongruity of it all, the folk singers come on, persuade a gaggle of capering lads to take bread and salt, chivy the company into the spoon game, and start up the ever popular tunnel procession run, last seen played by teenagers on Red Square before a pop-concert.


And so to bed. Drunken staggering in the half-light, singing, whispering, collapsing.