Friday, 2 February 2007
Owen Powell – 1st February 2007
Nastya Krasko had it all. Twenty–two years old, she was the personal translator for the President of one of Russia's biggest oil and gas companies. In the evenings, the translation work continued but she turned from fossil fuels to old rock stars, converting the whole of Rolling Stone magazine from American English into Russian. She lived in St Petersburg, and says that "For anyone who has read Crime and Punishment, it is still Dostoevsky's city, except it has more supermarkets now. It is a beautiful place." But on 2nd January 2006, without knowing anyone in Britain, she arrived with four suitcases at Stansted airport, leaving all that behind. Was she excited, I ask? "I was shocked," she answered.
Nastya lived for two weeks in a B&B in Victoria, paying £40 a night, and hit the internet cafes in search of work. Russia is outside the EU, and so getting hold of the necessary work permit can be frustratingly hard and expensive. She had nine or ten interviews in banks, all impressed with her CV, but put off by the thought of all the paperwork. The year rolled on. I turn 23 on 31st March, thought Nastya. If I don't have a job by then, I'll think that, well, I had a good time in London, but I'll go home to Rolling Stone magazine.
She emailed Jonti Small, the editor-in-chief of the Russian Investment Review, and also a friend of ours from University. He didn't have any jobs to offer – he's pretty much the only employee of the Russian Investment Review – but he passed her details on to Simon Joseph, who runs Eventica, a firm who specialise in arranging events and conferences for the Anglo-Russian business community. This is more like it, thought Nastya. She became Simon Joseph's PA for six months, then he promptly promoted her to deputy director. "It is a pompous title," says Nastya, shrugging.
But what's this? Has Nastya fallen for Jonti? Their paths cross at various functions, and soon she is thinking of a way to call him, just for a friendly chat. As luck would have it, she's now living in a new flat and needs to do some DIY, so she phones Jonti and asks if he has a drill she can borrow. "He's so taciturn," complains Nastya. "I can't believe just how taciturn he is." She goes to collect the drill from Jonti's house, from his housemate Pete. (Pete, another friend from University, has been working with me at the Globe Theatre for years, and knows Benji, our no. 22.) She gets lost, and arrives late. (Pete and Jonti were living on the same Bermondsey Street that Rachel, my girlfriend, now lives on). Jonti is out, but our mutual friend Phill Breen is in. "You know Phill Breen?" asks Nastya. Alex and I nod. We know Phill Breen. "Phill Breen was sitting on the sofa, eating ice cream from the tub like this." She does a very good mime of Phill Breen eating ice cream from a tub. Pete gave her the drill, but it was so late she couldn't get home again, so she stayed up all night with Phill and Pete talking about theatre – Phill knew a director who had worked in Russia, and was in fact a friend of her father's, an actor. I'm working on a spider diagram of this paragraph to make things a bit clearer. It might take a while, but I'm hoping to publish it before we get to our number 192.
Nastya and Jonti are now an item, and live together (with Pete) in a flat in Pimlico. The work is hard, but she enjoys it. As Nastya says, she is career-hungry, rather than money-hungry, and is happy to take on responsibilities and work on bigger and bigger events. One of the biggest, which Alex and I attended a few weeks back, was the Russian Winter Festival in Trafalgar Square. It was great. We got to have some borscht and watch amazing Russian dancers, choirs of monks, a military band who did Glenn Miller numbers (the Cold War is definitely over). Lots of her work recently has been preparing for the tenth annual Russian Economic Forum, the biggest yet. I ask about the most famous Russian in London, Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich. She hasn't met him, but tells us that far from being an interesting one-off, he is merely first of many such businessmen who may begin to make investments in British life.
I also ask about the second most famous Russian in London, ex-KGB man Alexander Litvinenko. He died last November, poisoned by polonium-210, a suspiciously rare radioactive isotope. "It is interesting," she says, "He is seen as a victim here, but as a traitor back home. Normally, my mother calls me every three days, but when he died my step-father called me straight away to find out what I knew, and we had a big argument. I was sad for him. It was a terrible way to die. But do you know what the front page of a Russian newspaper said? 'A Dog Deserves A Dog's Death.' That is not very nice."
Nastya says that, like may of the people we have found, she thinks in English as well as speaking it. Unlike other people we have found, however, she can even sleepwalk in English. One night, she got out of bed, knocked on Pete's door and demanded, "We need the answers, Pete! We need the answers!" Poor Pete. He gave her a drill, but he couldn't give her the answers.