In this thoughtful and humorous account of the recent Britain First expedition to Moscow, Britain First campaigns officer Timothy Burton gives an analytical insight into this otherwise extremely productive trip that ended in a draconian and tyrannical raid by SO15 Counter-Terrorism Command on three senior officers of the Britain First leadership.
Chapter 1 – In the Beginning
It had all begun so well.
I should have that phrase inscribed on my gravestone as an epitaph, as a tribute to the late comedian Spike Milligan, who before he shuffled off this mortal coil, had his gravestone etched with the profound words – ‘I told you I was ill’.
As Campaigns Officer for the political organisation ‘Britain First’, I had been invited to be part of a delegation to visit Russia for three days to support our leader, Paul Golding, and our Director of Communications, Ashlea Simon, in their promotion of Britain First to our Russian friends.
The purpose of our visit was not only to build friendships, to foster mutual co-operation and to develop international relations, but also to sample Russian cuisine and culture, to gain an appreciation of Russian history, and to record the entire experience for our faithful following of Britain First activists and party members.
Red Square at night with St. Basil's Cathedral and Lenin's Tomb in the background.
I hadn’t flown on an aeroplane for over fifteen years, so I was looking forward to the advances in technology that would make the flight a more relaxing and dreamlike experience than the one I endured fifteen years previously on a flight back from Tenerife.
At that time, the flight conditions had been terrible, with a couple of hundred sweaty holidaymakers returning to Birmingham and the Black Country crammed inside a long narrow tube resembling a sardine can with wings.
The flight attendants had been surly and rude, even refusing my reasonable request for a set of noise-cancelling headphones to help drown out the sound of the squalling baby in the arms of the woman seated behind me.
Even the reclining seat had been of no use to me, as any attempt to recline the seat to a more comfortable position was met with ‘Dow do that – yow’ll squish ‘im, an’ then yow’ll before eat,’ which – for the benefit of non-Black Country speakers – was a request not to disturb the status quo vis-à-vis the reclining position of the seat under the threat of being dealt a severe and painful blow to the side of one’s head – or ‘Orl fetch ‘im such a clump to the lug-owl’ as they say in the Black Country.
After three hours of what can only be described as physical and mental torture from the claustrophobic rigidity of the uncomfortable seat position coupled with the incessant squalling – prompting the same thoughts of infanticide that most likely affected King Herod in biblical times – I disembarked extremely tired, not to mention completely exhausted and aching in every bone in my body, to face the cool refreshing chill of an early morning September in Birmingham.
I didn’t quite fall to my knees and kiss the tarmac in the manner of Pope John Paul II, but I vowed there and then never to set foot on an aeroplane again unless it was a matter of national importance.
If only I had known what awaited me.
Chapter 2 – Airport Security
Fifteen years later, my flying to Russia could indeed be described as a matter of national importance, as it concerned Britain First and their unceasing efforts – which of course I fully support – to reverse our once-proud nation’s decline, and so I put aside my aversion to flying and turned up at Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 on the evening of Sunday, 20 October.
It was only at the last moment I had found was that the much prized free baggage allowance of twenty-two kilograms had been scrapped, a discovery that caused me a great deal of consternation as I realised that my entire wardrobe for the next three days would have to fit into a cabin-approved case which was little bigger than a Sainsbury’s shopping basket.
In the end I discarded pretty much everything I had decided to take with me, and once the case was filled with basic essentials, I could just about close the zip, an operation that required my entire sixteen-stone weight bearing down on the case from above and which would have resulted in two knee-sized dents had it not been for the impressive engineering that had gone into the making of the Aerolite case.
The basic essentials, of course, had to include a pair of thick gloves, a thick woollen scarf, and a heavy-duty beanie hat to combat the notorious Russian climate. I had been reliably informed that Moscow in late autumn was likely to be uncommonly cold, at least compared to Birmingham, and so I had resolved to plan ahead in my usual forward-thinking manner.
'It's going to be absolutely brass-monkeys, Tim, with snow everywhere.' Actually it wasn't.
Baggage check-in was straightforward enough – my two companions, Paul and Ashlea, were much more acquainted with the intricacies of modern international travel than I was, and after we received our boarding passes we proceeded to the hand-baggage security check counter.
Paul scrutinised my case. ‘You haven’t got anything in there that you shouldn’t, have you?’ he said, ‘they’re very hot on security these days.’ I opened my case on the counter, and Paul pounced with an expression of triumph. ‘That tube of toothpaste will have to go. And that bottle of orange juice. You’ll have to drink that now if you don’t want it thrown away.’
‘And that bottle of perfume will have to go. That’s a definite no-no. You wouldn’t believe how many jihadi suicide bombers have tried smuggling liquid explosives aboard a plane in bottles of Issey Miyake Eau de Toilette Pour Homme.’
I was aghast. ‘Not the Issey Miyake!’ I said, ‘Mrs. B. will kill me when I get home. That’s her favourite perfume.’
This was true enough. The Issey Miyake had been brought for me as a Christmas present, and Mrs. B. had taken an instant shine to it, to the point where she doused herself in it whenever I wasn’t looking. Not that she has particular masculine tendencies in other areas, but she does have a weakness when it comes to men’s perfume.
My protests fell on unsympathetic ears, and forty-nine quid’s worth of Issey Miyake was unceremoniously consigned to the conveniently placed waste bin, no doubt to be retrieved later by one of the cleaners and sold for a tidy profit on the airport black market.
I am sure there is a lot of money to be made on the airport black market from the retrieval of discarded goodies in the various bins scattered around the hand-baggage security area, and I was mentally kicking myself as we proceeded to the X-ray conveyer belt, where we placed our hand luggage into separate trays and proceeded to walk through the security scanner.
Paul and Ashlea passed through easily enough, but the machine emitted an unnerving screech as I stepped onto the mat. The security officer checked my pockets. ‘What’s this?’ he said, ‘a chain leash for a Rottweiler?’
‘That’s my keychain,’ I said, ‘although to be fair, it does look as though it may have once graced the delicate and slender neck of an oversized attack dog on steroids, so I can’t blame you for remarking on it.’
The security officer looked me up and down disapprovingly, but after a quick frisk with the electronic wand he allowed me through. I was just about to pick up my hand luggage from the conveyor belt at the other side of the X-ray machine when a second security officer appeared.
‘Could you just open this case for me, sir?’ he asked, donning a pair of white rubber gloves. I started to feel a little apprehensive. He delved into my case and pulled out a Swiss Army combined bottle opener and folding corkscrew that I had completely forgotten about.
My heart sank. My trip to Russia was about to be ended before it had even begun, and I anticipated an overnight sojourn in the cells before appearing before the magistrates the following day. After all, attempting to take an offensive weapon aboard an aircraft is a serious offence, and you only have to read the grisly conclusion from the novel ‘Girl on a Train’ to see the damage a humble corkscrew can do to human flesh in the wrong hands.
The second security officer obviously hadn’t read ‘Girl on a Train’, though, because he gave the folding corkscrew a mere cursory glance before handing it back to me. ‘Have a nice trip, sir.’
I turned to Paul and Ashlea, who were falling about laughing. ‘Looks like Britain First has its own resident terrorist,’ said Paul, ‘whatever were you thinking?’
This is what Red Square was actually like in October. Not a trace of snow anywhere.
Suitably chastened, I re-packed my hand luggage, closed the lid on the case with some difficulty – as all the clothes inside the case were now in some disarray – and made my way to passport control. The girl at the passport control desk only glanced briefly at my documents before waving me through, but as I walked away from the desk, a well-built official in plain clothes stepped in front of me, stopping me in my tracks.
He held out his hand for my passport. ‘How long are you going to be in Russia?’ he asked, in a very official tone. ‘Three days? And what is the purpose of your visit?’ I was surprised. I had never before been asked such questions at an airport. I was about to answer ‘sightseeing’ to satisfy the nosey plain-clothes git when I suddenly remembered that I had a business visa rather than a tourist visa.
Fortunately Paul had it all under control. He interrupted the questioning, saying ‘We’ve been invited to visit the Russian parliament. It’s all in the visa paperwork.’
The nosey plain-clothes git wasn’t going to let it go. ‘I was just questioning this gentleman, sir, and I require him to answer my questions.’ Turning back to me, he said ‘What political party is this, invited to the Russian parliament?’
I couldn’t very well lie, as I sensed that he knew the answer already. ‘Britain First,’ I said, and with that he gave me a cursory nod to indicate that the interview was concluded.
Paul had similarly been questioned by another official, and as we made our way down the tunnel connecting the airport exit to the aeroplane door, he turned to me and said, ‘you know who they were, don’t you? They were counter-terrorism officers from SO15. Thank goodness they didn’t see your corkscrew.’
Chapter 3 – Outbound
We eventually settled into our economy-style seats, having passed through the first-class area of the plane where a number of obviously well-heeled businessmen were already knocking back the complimentary glasses of vodka and wine like there was no tomorrow.
I perked up. There’s nothing like a bit of drunken air rage to liven up a three-hour flight, and I could see that we weren’t going to have much in the way of entertainment from in-flight movies or other distractions.
Each seat was equipped with its own blanket for the passengers to wrap around themselves. The crew on this Aeroflot plane were obviously preparing us for the cold Russian environment and the arctic temperatures we were likely to meet at the other end of the flight, which was a thoughtful touch.
The flight was forty-five minutes late taking off, so I used the time to look around the aircraft and survey my surroundings. The flight was full, with approximately two hundred passengers travelling from London to Moscow.
Judging by appearances, the passengers appeared to come from many different and distinct places. This was hardly surprising, as Russia is the largest country in the world by area. It covers one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area, stretching from Eastern Europe to North Asia, and is home to almost 150 million people.
The air stewardesses were all stunningly beautiful. There is something about Russian women that I am very attracted to. They seem to have an aura that goes far beyond mere physical good looks, and although air stewardesses around the world are selected for their beauty, these were the crème de la crème of Russian airspace as far as I was concerned.
Ashlea photobombs Paul as he attempts to take a selfie.
I glanced at the nametag of my assigned stewardess – Ekaterina. She gave me a welcoming smile. ‘Fasten your seatbelt, please. We will be taking off shortly.’ I did as I was told, and looked out of the window as the aircraft taxied to the beginning of the runway.
It’s an odd thing, but I recall from previous experiences on aircraft that I was prone to bouts of mind-numbing terror on take-off – a feeling of powerlessness combined with the certainty that I was likely to die in a fireball as the plane would inevitably dive nose-first into some field or other within five minutes.
This time however, my mind was completely calm, and I remained untroubled by any such thoughts of impending disaster throughout the flight. Ekaterina worked her way down the aisle bringing us all our food and drinks approximately one hour into the flight – and I enjoyed a very acceptable standard airline fare of bread roll and butter, orange juice, tuna salad and chicken curry.
Ashlea wasn’t so impressed – she has a very principled stance concerning vegetarianism, and she asked if the vegetarian option was available. It wasn’t. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Paul, ‘we’ll stop off at a MacDonald’s on the way from the airport to the hotel. In the meantime Tim is bound to have a spare Mars bar or Snickers bar you can eat.’
It is a standing joke in Britain First – that I always have spare Mars bars and Snickers on hand in case I get peckish on our Days of Action around the country. I am fairly generous when it comes to the distribution of such goodies, and I am quite sure that I have saved the life of more than one Britain First activist by fending off the pangs of starvation that they profess to have whenever they see me pull out the chocolate from my shoulder bag.
Ashlea declined my offer of a Mars bar. I felt that this was strange, because she is an avid chocolate aficionado under normal circumstances. On our previous visit to the Belgian parliament the previous month, she had almost single-handedly eaten the entire monthly output of all the chocolate retailers in Bruges in a single night.
Considering that Ashlea maintains a graceful, sylph-like figure that would be the envy of many a catwalk model, this was quite a remarkable feat, and I had resolved at the time to ask her how she managed it. I had been rewarded with an enigmatic smile and a slight tilt of her elegantly coiffured head, and I had decided to leave it at that.
As the plane started its final descent towards Moscow, Paul said ‘How’s that for timing?’ I looked at my watch. Allowing for the two-hour difference between London and Moscow, we were due to disembark approximately two minutes after midnight, which was very convenient because our visas only came into effect at midnight.
I had anticipated that we might be sitting on the tarmac for forty-five minutes, waiting for visa approval, but the late take-off meant that we arrived in Moscow just at the right time. ‘That’s a good omen,’ I thought, ‘nothing can possibly go wrong on this trip.’
Those words were to come back to haunt me.
Chapter 4 – Midnight in Moscow
We landed at Sheremetyevo airport and disembarked as anticipated shortly after midnight, and I practised my first words of Russian on the air stewardesses as we left the aircraft. ‘Dasvidaniya,’ I said, which is a standard form of ‘goodbye’ that can be used in almost any situation and literally means ‘until we meet again.’
I was very keen to practice my Russian during this trip. I had brought myself a hand-held translating device that could handle verbal exchanges between Russian and English, or a combination of almost 40 other languages.
It worked, too – although the translation app on my mobile phone could handle ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Can you tell me the way to the nearest café?’ it failed miserably on phrases such as ‘Madame, you have a face like a baboon’s arse’ – on the other hand, the hand-held translator rendered such translations perfectly. I was sure that this phrase would help me if, for example, I were to encounter a tricky jaywalking situation with a female police officer.
We passed through passport control without incident and reclaimed our baggage before heading through the green ‘nothing to declare’ customs channel and into the airport foyer. Almost immediately we were surrounded by freelance taxi drivers imploring us to employ them for the one-hour drive into the centre of Moscow.
Like freelance taxi drivers all over the world, they were there to rip us off, and they worked as a team like a pack of hyenas waiting to surround and devour a family of lion cubs. One would say ‘I take you to Moscow, only one hundred and twenty English pounds,’ and another would say ‘no, no, I take you to Moscow, only one hundred and fifteen English pounds,’ and they would bargain their way down to one hundred English pounds (about eight thousand roubles) to give the impression that the customer was getting a fair deal.
Once again, Paul was having none of it, and he strode over to the YanDex counter where the airport registered taxis were for hire. ‘How much would it be to take the three of us to the ‘City Comfort’ hotel in Arbatskaya?’ he asked. The man behind the counter consulted his screen. ‘One thousand two hundred roubles,’ he said, ‘and we have a taxi ready and waiting for you right now.’ That was about fifteen English pounds, give or take, and we took it.
We exited the airport and left the freelance taxi drivers to find other victims. Our taxi driver put our cases into the boot of his car. The Moscow night air was cool, but not cold, and on the way into Moscow we wound down the windows to try and get rid of the effects of three hours on a plane out of our respective bronchial systems.
The road from Sheremetyevo airport to Moscow city centre is fast and wide, and at that time of night there was very little traffic. We covered the 50km distance in less than an hour and after a quick stop at MacDonald’s to buy a vegetarian meal for Ashlea, we arrived at the City Comfort Hotel on Arbatskaya around two o’clock in the morning.
I had asked Paul about the hotel six weeks previously. ‘It’s gorgeous, Tim,’ he had said, ‘I’ve stayed there before. It has beautiful views over the Moskva River to Red Square and the Kremlin, and you’re going to love it.’
I had occasion to ask him again about the hotel just before we set off to Heathrow airport. I wouldn’t have said he was exactly evasive, but his tone was not quite so fulsome. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t get us all booked into that one, but I found another hotel that is quite close to Red Square and which is just as good.’
The City Comfort hotel on Arbatskaya is registered as a three-star hotel on Booking.com, and at first glance seems like a perfectly normal and average hotel of that rating anywhere around the world. It was set back in a courtyard off the main street, and as we walked up to the reception entrance with our cases, Paul waxed eloquent.
‘Look at those buildings, Tim,’ he said, ‘that architecture is just so quintessentially Russian. The whole area just has so much history in it.’ Now, I have great admiration for the extent of Paul’s knowledge when it comes to history and architecture, and maybe it was just because it was night-time and I was tired, but I couldn’t see anything special in it.
There was a sudden movement just on the edge of my peripheral vision. A large brown rat scuttled out from beneath the overflowing waste skip by the hotel wall, regarded us briefly with interest, and scuttled back again.
I glanced at Ashlea and Paul. Neither of them had seen the rat, and I decided not to tell them about it. There had been an occasion some time previously when a venomous arachnid had made its presence known in Paul’s motor vehicle while Paul was driving to Bruges and myself and Ashlea were passengers, and strangely enough, neither of them seemed particularly keen on making its acquaintance – or indeed making the acquaintance of any other exotic wildlife that might fall into their purview.
I wouldn’t say that either one of them was in the slightest bit phobic about rodents and spiders, but the entire conversation between the two of them all the rest of the way to Bruges involved the merits of competing vehicle fumigation systems.
We entered the hotel reception area. The night manager had been asleep on a dilapidated sofa beside the counter, but the rattle of our cases on the hard floor woke him, and he stared around him like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and registered us on the hotel computer system before handing us the electronic keys, and then pointed us in the direction of the staircase leading down to our rooms. His English was quite good. ‘Breakfast between seven thirty and ten,’ he said, ‘and bring iron back.’
Paul and I looked at each other. ‘Bring iron back?’ I said.
‘Yes, iron. Young lady take iron to her room. She must bring it back.’ He pointed at the ironing table at the back of the foyer, which had had a steam-iron on it when we came in, but was now strangely iron-bereft.
The City Comfort hotel on Arbatskaya. Unfortunately I couldn't get the rat in the picture.
Paul and I carried our cases and followed Ashlea with her newly-acquired iron down the staircase. The staircase looked as though it had been designed as part of an obstacle course to test the skills and dexterity of the Russian Spetsnaz Special Forces.
It was by far the steepest staircase I had ever seen, with about twenty-five steps, and the stairs were all different heights and widths, so that you couldn’t get into your stride, but had to stop every other step and grasp the stair-rail to stop yourself falling.
It was a real struggle to get down to the bottom of the staircase with my luggage, and I very nearly went flying on more than one occasion, but I eventually reached the last of the steps. I could hear Paul calling in the distance – ‘Breakfast at nine-thirty sharp!’ – and I started to look for my room number on the doors along the corridor.
A small grey cat – presumably the hotel cat – had watched me from a sitting position at the bottom of the staircase as I stumbled down the stairs. In the manner of hotel cats all over the world, it had declined to assist me, but instead waited with anticipation for me to miss my footing and fall to my death so that it could feast on my eyeballs.
‘A lot of use you are to me,’ I thought to myself, ‘why don’t you go and deal with that rat in the courtyard?’
As if it had read my thoughts, it rose gracefully to its feet, bounded up the staircase taking two steps at a time without missing a beat, and disappeared around the corner into the hotel lobby. ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘a Spetsnaz-trained cat. That cat will no doubt come in handy if we spark off a second Russian revolution during our visit.’
Room 22 was just off the open area at the bottom of the staircase, the first one along the corridor, and I presented my electronic key to the sensor on the door-lock. There was a series of beeps, but nothing happened. I tried again, with the same result.
I stood back for a moment and contemplated the door-lock. Years of training and experience as an IT consultant were about to be employed in the next step to getting that door open. I took a deep breath, stepped forward and struck the door-lock as hard as I could with the heel of my hand.
The door-lock gave a plaintive beep, followed by a barely audible click. I pushed the door handle, and with the squeak of a rusty hinge, the door swung open to reveal a twin bed room with an en-suite bathroom.
I crossed the threshold, and due to my extreme tiredness, I paid little attention to my surroundings. I pushed my case into a corner of the room, hung up my suit and my overcoat on the clothes-hangers in the fitted wardrobe, lay down on one of the twin beds and closed my eyes.
I must have fallen asleep right away, for the next thing I heard was the alarm on my phone reminding me that it was nine o’clock in the morning.
Chapter 5 – Breakfast Time
I had imagined that I would have been woken up by the early morning sunlight streaming through the window, but it was still pitch black in my room. I switched on the light at the side of the bed and surveyed my surroundings.
The absence of light in the room was accounted for by the fact that the room had no windows, and a quick calculation based on the number of steps I had descended the previous night revealed that I must be about twenty-five feet below ground.
Considering that I had been promised stunning views over the Moskva River, my first reaction was that this situation didn’t quite meet the required standard, but on the plus side the total darkness I had experienced had meant that I had slept extremely well.
I am a very light sleeper at the best of times, and I would far rather have a good night’s sleep than any number of stunning views over the world’s greatest landmarks. So I was in a good mood as I unpacked my bag of toiletries from my case and stepped into the shower.
The hot water invigorated me, and as I dried myself off and donned a grey open-neck T-shirt over my dark suit trousers, I started to anticipate the renowned Russian cuisine that I was about to experience in the breakfast room, which I had passed on the way to my bedroom the previous evening.
The breakfast room was somewhat Spartan in appearance, with half a dozen or so tables, each covered with a white table cloth, and each displaying a menu in Russian and English. I sat down at one of the tables and waited for Paul and Ashlea to arrive.
In the meantime a pleasant-looking waitress arrived with a notepad, and I assumed that she would take my order for breakfast. This was not a great assumption for me to make, as she didn’t speak any English.
She just looked at me and tapped her notepad as I attempted to order from the menu. Just at that moment, Paul and Ashlea arrived, and it transpired that the waitress required a certificate from the reception desk to say that we were entitled to breakfast.
‘I’ll get it,’ said Paul, and Ashlea and I perused the menu while he went upstairs to harangue the night manager for the required paperwork. I selected scrambled eggs and bacon, while Ashlea wanted to try something more traditional and Russian, and so selected Russian porridge.
Paul returned with a credit-card sized docket which he gave to the waitress, who brought us some tea and coffee. She then took Paul’s order and left us to savour the prospect of a forthcoming hearty breakfast.
My breakfast arrived first, and I regarded it with some trepidation. It was a great example of traditional bacon and scrambled eggs, with the minor consideration that there was no bacon and no scrambled eggs. In their place was a couple of fried eggs and what looked like a sprig of some herb or other, together with what might or might not have been a couple of small tomatoes, two sausages, and a couple of slices of insipid-looking white bread.
Now, I am not terribly keen on fried eggs, but being British, I didn’t want to make a great deal of fuss on my first day in a foreign country. I contented myself with some mild grumbling to Paul and Ashlea, who were suitably unsympathetic. They chuckled at me derisively and mockingly.
Ashlea’s breakfast of traditional Russian porridge was the next to arrive, and her derisive chuckling was replaced with a look of horror as she inspected her plate. It was not exactly what she had expected, apparently.
Ashlea contemplates her first breakfast of Russian porridge in Moscow.
To be fair, I have always wondered what a plate of cat litter would look like if you doused it in a layer of thin grease and added a liberal portion of crushed termites. ‘I’m not eating that!’ said Ashlea, in a tone that suggested that she would rather hurl herself into the Moskva River with a ball and chain attached to her shapely ankles.
It was Paul’s turn to laugh mockingly, an exercise which was cut short by the arrival of his own breakfast order. He examined his plate cautiously. He had ordered fried eggs and had instead received an omelette.
‘Tell you what,’ I said to him, ‘you can have my fried eggs and my sausages if I can have your omelette.’ The deal was struck and we started to tuck in to our respective breakfasts. Ashlea, however, appeared to be still somewhat disgruntled, or at least if not completely disgruntled, then certainly a long way from being completely gruntled.
‘I’ve got a Mars bar back in my room,’ I said helpfully, ‘or a Snickers bar if you would prefer it.’ Ashlea regarded me with a look of withering scorn, but rather than elaborating on her obvious disgust with the entire matter, she contented herself with sipping her tea in a ladylike manner as she contemplated the plate of greasy termite-ridden cat litter.
Paul took a picture of her on his phone. ‘That’s going up on the website,’ he said, ‘Britain First’s Director of Communications Ashlea Simon thoroughly enjoys her first day’s breakfast in Moscow.’
Ashlea’s response, I regret to say, was unprintable.
Chapter 6 – A Walk to Red Square
After breakfast we got ready to go out, and we met in the hotel reception area for the short walk to Krasnaya Ploshchad - Red Square - in the centre of Moscow. Paul glanced at the newly unwrapped white shirt that I was wearing, and nodded approvingly.
‘I hope you’re not going to wear that old grey T-shirt when we go out today,’ he had said, when we had recovered from the trauma of our first Moscow breakfast experience. ‘Certainly not,’ I replied, ‘this is just my breakfast T-shirt, and I intend to make sure I am properly dressed as an Englishman should be when we venture onto the streets of a foreign country.’
Ashlea was amazed at the concept of my having a breakfast T-shirt at all, and I decided to exploit this with a little gentle teasing, saying ‘Oh yes, Ashlea, round our neck of the woods we have a T-shirt for every conceivable occasion. Surely it is the same in Manchester, where you come from.’
Apparently it wasn’t the same in Manchester at all, so I continued to wind Ashley up with lurid descriptions of the T-shirts – designed for every conceivable occasion – that were all the fashion in Sutton Coldfield. I think she realised that I was pulling her leg when I remarked that I had a collection of three T-shirts for visits to the local chip shop depending on whether I was going to order fish and chips, chicken kebab, or a steak pie.
We walked outside into a warm and sunny Moscow morning. Although it was very pleasant, it was not quite what I had expected. What I had expected was four-foot snow-drifts, a biting wind, and arctic temperatures. I had dressed accordingly, with a thick dark overcoat over my business suit, and within five minutes I was sweating profusely as we made our way over the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge and onto the road leading to Red Square.
Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.
Just as Paul had said, Red Square and the walls of the Kremlin were visible from the road outside the hotel, and as we walked towards the square we could see the towering majesty of St. Basil’s Cathedral, one of the many striking masterpieces of Russian architecture that Paul had described to me before we had left to Moscow.
‘Did you know,’ he had said, ‘the cathedral was built by Ivan IV – Ivan the Terrible – between 1555 and 1561? It was considered to be the most beautiful piece of architecture in the whole of Russia, and after its completion, Ivan the Terrible had the architects blinded, so that they could never again build anything that might surpass it.’
Before I could consider the implications of such a brutal and despotic breach of the laws governing the harsh treatment of state employees in medieval Russia, he continued - ‘Ivan the Terrible proposed to Queen Elizabeth I in 1570. Apparently he was a bit upset when she turned him down.’
I wasn’t terribly surprised to learn this, as in my experience, a propensity for violence is never a very good omen for a harmonious marriage. I may be somewhat biased here, having been attacked by my first wife on numerous occasions with a frying pan, thrown out of the house and forced to sleep on the cobblestones, after having come home drunk and amorous at three o’clock in the morning.
On the way to Red Square I noticed a couple of other things – the streets were immaculate and tidy, and everyone obeyed the traffic light instructions on when to cross the road. Everyone except us, that is. Paul and I would frequently cross the road when the lights were against us, and Ashlea would shout at us from the other side of the road as we left her behind – ‘You can’t do that here! You’ll be arrested for jaywalking!’
But we didn’t care, Paul and I, oh no. We were rebels, striking a blow for the common man in the face of state oppression. Besides, I had my trusty hand-held translator with me, and if a female police officer had approached us and threatened us with arrest for jaywalking, I had all the appropriate phrases programmed into it that would get us out of trouble.
Paul nodded in the direction of the other law-abiding Russian citizens. ‘They probably think we’re gangsters,’ he said, ‘and we’ll be notching up our “gangster-y points” every time we cross the road against the lights.’
When we told Ashlea about this, you could almost see the determination forming on her lips as she joined in the race to achieve the most ‘gangster-y points’ by rushing across the road in the face of oncoming traffic, causing the cars to brake and swerve, whether we needed to cross over or not. I have to say that I do admire a competitive streak in a woman.
Chapter 7 – Red Square
We reached Red Square after about fifteen minutes walking, and I have to say it was a most spectacular place. From the entrance by St Basil’s Cathedral, the crenellated Kremlin walls run along the entire north-eastern length on one side of the Square. About half way along is the entrance to Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum, and at the far end of the Square is the State Historical Museum.
Paul in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square.
Along the other side of the Square is the GUM shopping complex, which was reserved for the Soviet elite in the communist era, but now caters for the tourist trade. The whole area is approximately rectangular, about twice as long as it is wide, and covers around 800,000 square feet.
Most Westerners associate the place with the annual displays of military hardware and the procession of battalions of well-turned-out troops marching from one end of the Square to the other, but it has been the front yard of Russian rulers since the mid-1400s, even before Ivan the Terrible.
Through the gates at the other end of Red Square is the entrance to Manezhnaya Square, and the first thing that one notices is the enormous statue of Marshal Georgy Zhukov, commemorating the triumph of the Russian forces over Nazi tyranny in 1945. He is depicted on horseback, trampling over the Nazi symbols of the eagle and the swastika.
It was by this statue that we met with Edward Chesnokov, a journalist with the prominent Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya-Pravda. This was the first of many meetings we were to have with political and media representatives in Russia. We walked to a local café – ‘The best café in Moscow!’ declared Edward, and we sat down over coffee and croissants to discuss Anglo-Russian relations.
I cast an eye across the table towards Ashlea, who was getting through the croissants at a rate of knots. It was understandable, given that breakfast-time had not been the highlight of her day thus far, but I was amazed at the speed that she was demolishing those croissants. Before I could open my mouth to ask if she would like to share one with me, they were gone.
Edward is a highly respected journalist who is very well connected in the world of Russian media, and in addition to interviewing Paul for the newspaper, he arranged for Russia’s largest broadcaster, Russia-24, to interview him for Russian TV.
This was something of a coup, because Paul would never have got the same level of coverage from, say, the BBC in England, who along with the rest of the mainstream media, are determined to censor any positive news about Britain First in the UK.
Paul had brought with him a wreath to set at the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden, and Edward wrote down the translation of the memorial message from Britain First on the wreath into the Russian language using Cyrillic characters.
Tim, Paul and Ashlea attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We then walked across to Alexander Garden – across the far side of Manezhnaya Square, at the north-western side of the Kremlin wall – and stood by the barrier next to the Tomb, where there were hundreds of other tourists gathered. There were two armed sentries guarding the tomb, and a uniformed officer stood at the back.
Paul was carrying the wreath, and after a few moments he caught the eye of the uniformed officer, who then walked briskly over to us and opened the barrier so that Paul could walk through to the tomb.
Paul walked up to the base of the tomb, knelt down, and reverently placed the wreath on the ground as a tribute to the millions of Russian soldiers who died fighting the Nazi tyranny of the 1940’s. It was a very moving moment, and I found myself close to tears as Paul stood up and saluted the tomb for around ten seconds.
Paul salutes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden.
As he walked back out through the barrier, there was a murmur of excitement from the rest of the tourists – the moment for the Changing of the Guard was approaching, and the replacement soldiers were marching steadily and in formation to the base of the tomb.
It was an elaborate process – each soldier had a very specific routine to follow with great precision – but it made for a most magnificent spectacle, and I found myself thinking what an honour it was to be present in that place, at that moment in time.
Paul turned to me and said ‘We must never forget the sacrifices that were made in the past in order to defeat tyranny – for there will come a time in the not too distant future when another tyranny will arise, and we will have to be prepared to deal with it.’
Prophetic words indeed.
Chapter 8 – Russia 24
We stopped off for lunch at a restaurant in the GUM shopping complex, overlooking Red Square to the north-eastern section of the Kremlin wall. It was warm and sunny, and I was very grateful to be able to take off my heavy-duty overcoat and my suit jacket.
My scarf, my Thermalite gloves and my beanie hat were safely stowed away in my shoulder bag, and I vowed to myself that I would have a strong word with the miserable weasel who had prophesied the arctic conditions likely to prevail during my three days in Moscow.
On our walk through Manezhnaya Square to the restaurant, we had encountered several young women dressed in traditional nineteenth-century Russian clothing, with long, colourful crinoline dresses and elaborately-crafted tricorne hats. There were also a few young men dressed as nineteenth-century Russian princes, with colourful uniforms and epaulettes.
The idea was that you, as a tourist, should hand over about one thousand of your Russian roubles (about £12 in English money) and then have your picture taken with these delightful young people. We resisted their winsome smiles and persistent entreaties, and also those of a few older men dressed as Marshal Stalin, with their huge embroidered caps and long military overcoats.
However, we couldn’t resist one chap who was the spitting image of Vladimir Putin, and after some hard bargaining, we each had our photograph taken with him. He had brought a large Russian flag with him to act as a background prop, and I remember thinking that if ever those photographs made it into the British mainstream media, we would have some explaining to do.
Vladimir Putin explains Russian foreign policy to Ashlea. In Russian.
After lunch (during which a gaggle of Japanese tourists insisted on having their photograph taken with Paul – he is obviously something of a celebrity in many countries, not just Japan) we walked back over the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge to our hotel.
As we walked through the courtyard, I looked out for my little rodent friend, but he was nowhere to be seen. I wondered whether the hotel cat had seen him off, and indeed, there was the little grey cat in the lobby, licking his paws and looking very pleased with himself.
‘We meet outside in the courtyard at 5:30 pm,’ said Paul, ‘there’s a car from Russia-24 coming to pick us up.’
With that, we returned to our respective hotel rooms, and I spent the next few minutes under a hot shower to freshen up before lying on the bed to catch up on my daily Sudoku challenge. I usually find that it keeps my brain active, but I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember was Paul hammering on my door just before 5:30 pm.
I got dressed and raced up the obstacle course that was the hotel staircase in record time to arrive in the lobby. Even the Spetsnaz-trained hotel cat looked impressed. Paul and Ashlea were already outside, and the car was waiting, so we climbed in for the trip to the Russia-24 offices.
There are a lot of one-way streets in Moscow, and even though the offices couldn’t have been more than a couple of miles away from our hotel, it took at least half an hour to get there. When we arrived, we found that they had been expecting Paul, so he was ushered through the security gate to prepare for the TV interview, but they hadn’t been expecting me or Ashlea, so we had to wait for about fifteen minutes while our security passes were prepared.
Eventually we were taken through the security gate and up to a room on the fifth floor of the building, where Paul was just having the final touches applied to his make-up. I have to say he looked very sweet with his rosy-red cheeks, and both Ashlea and I commented on it. ‘Shut up, you two,’ Paul said, ‘this is serious stuff, and it has to look right under the TV studio lighting.’
We entered the TV studio, and Paul sat down in a chair across from the lady conducting the interview. We were instructed to make sure our phones were turned off, and Ashlea and I stood at the back of the studio while the interview took place.
It was a very professionally conducted interview, and Paul provided some well-crafted responses to the questions put to him. The subjects covered included the shenanigans and goings-on in the British parliament concerning Brexit, the political situation in other parts of Europe and the state of Anglo-Russian relations.
Paul made the very valid point that in the past, Britain had been seen as a free country and Russia had been seen as a totalitarian society, but now the opposite was true, and while Russia could now be said to be much more free than it was in the past, Britain was rapidly becoming a totalitarian police state where our freedoms were being eroded in the name of multiculturalism, diversity and political correctness.
Paul is interviewed by the most influential TV station in the country - Russia-24
After the interview, the Russia-24 car dropped us off in Red Square, and we went back to the same restaurant that we had visited earlier. A piano player was playing classical music in the background, and Paul remarked on how civilised it all felt over here in Moscow, compared to what we were used to back in England.
It was hard to disagree. Our home country has declined so much over the past forty or fifty years due to a combination of factors that collectively amount to a perfect storm.
If you asked the average man in the street, he might point to the out-of-control immigration, or the creeping and insidious Islamisation of our institutions, or the pervasive influence of the Left in the areas of education, multiculturalism, or political correctness in general.
But the truth is that all of these things work against us as patriots who support conservative and Christian values; and these things are not going to disappear of their own accord. The moral case has to be made in a fluent and articulate manner, and in a way that the majority of people in our country can understand and instinctively identify with. As history has taught us, the only alternative is bloodshed and civil war.
The Left knows this, of course – we have the truth on our side, and they don’t, which is why they resort to oppression and censorship of the Britain First message, and crush dissent rather than engage with it whenever they are powerful enough to do so.
It may seem an insurmountable task to overcome, but as the old saying has it – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! – And that is how we will take our country back. Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly, together, we are doing the impossible.
Chapter 9 – Britain First meets the LDPR
The following morning we met for breakfast earlier than usual – we had full day ahead of us with an appointment at the Russian parliament followed by a trip to the offices of the LDPR, which was the largest nationalist and patriotic party in Russia.
Breakfast in the hotel dining room was relatively uneventful – we had all learnt a lot from that first morning, including the fact that we weren’t likely to get breakfast at all unless we had an executive order signed in triplicate by Vladimir Putin to give to the waitress.
Paul asked Ashlea whether she would like any more Russian porridge.
Now, personally I wouldn’t have asked that question. Ashlea scowled menacingly, and I could see that it wasn’t the best question to have asked under the circumstances. But then Paul does like to live life on the edge.
I did notice that the toast that I ordered had a distinct un-toast-like quality about it – insofar as it had obviously never seen the inside of a toaster. I debated with Paul and Ashlea as to whether we should give the waitress a crash course in toaster operations, but they both seemed to think that it might cause more problems than it would solve, and it would definitely do nothing for Anglo-Russian relations, so I submitted to the democratic vote and ate my un-toasted toast in silence.
Then we got ourselves ready to head out to the Russian parliament.
The 'Duma' - the Russian Parliament building.
The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has been described as neither liberal nor democratic, and indeed is a far cry from the limp-wristed Lib Dems back in the UK. It has been described as patriotic, socially conservative and nationalist, and holds 39 out of the 450 seats in the Duma (the Russian parliament) as of the 2016 election.
Its leader is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has led the party since its formation in 1992, and although we weren’t scheduled to meet him in person that morning, several of his deputies were scheduled to look after us.
Paul had said ‘To save time this morning, we’ll organise a taxi rather than walk to the Duma, so we’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for when they show us round.’ However, none of us had bargained for the antics of the Russian taxi driver who picked us up from the hotel.
He was happy enough to pick us up, but as we approached Red Square he became more surly and irritable. Paul said ‘Duma? Duma? You must know the Duma?’ and indeed the Russian parliament building is one of the largest and most imposing buildings in Moscow.
But this fellow did not want to take us there. To this day I don’t know what his problem was, but he drove us around Red Square several times, and the more Paul shouted at him ‘Duma!’ the more he shouted back ‘Niet! Niet! Red Square!’ until Paul got fed up with the whole charade. He leaned into the taxi-driver’s face, and said ‘Right! That’s it! Stop the taxi!’ and we all got out on the edge of Red Square.
Paul sent him away with a couple of hundred roubles, and the taxi-driver looked as though he might protest, but Paul is a well-built man with the confidence and experience of a boxer and an MMA fighter, so in the end the taxi-driver slunk off and we walked the rest of the way to the Russian parliament building.
As a consequence of the inexplicable behaviour of the taxi-driver, we arrived a few minutes late, but the LDPR representatives were very happy to see us, and they had arranged a tour for us all around the parliament building.
They had even arranged a round-table meeting for us, and our individual names were emblazoned on the cards around the table, which made us all feel very welcome.
Around the table with the LDPR inside the Parliament building.
Afterwards, three of the LDPR representatives escorted us to their offices via the Moscow subway system, which is similar to the London Underground but spotlessly clean and filled with wonderful artwork and Art Deco lighting and street furnishings.
Stalin had wanted the Moscow subway system to be the envy of the world, and he had certainly made a good job of it. Most of the citizens of Moscow use it every day, and it is a reminder of the great things a proud and patriotic people can achieve if they put their minds to it.
The LDPR offices are located in Basmanny Lane, a few minutes’ walk from the subway station past Lubyanka (famous for its prison for dissidents in the Soviet era.) When we arrived, we were shown into a chamber leading to a series of rooms commemorating the history of the LDPR and the life of its founder and leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
We given a guided tour around the LDPR museum by the curator, and although she spoke no English, one of the LDPR representatives translated for her. I suppose I could have handed her my hand-held translator (I was keen for it to be put to good use) but I felt that it might have been considered impolite.
The museum was absolutely fascinating, containing items donated to the LDPR by Russian organisations and the common people over the last 30 years. There was too much for me to comment on in detail, but for me the highlight was a series of elegant and painstakingly hand crafted chess sets, laid out under a glass-covered table.
I am very fond of chess, and there is nothing I like more than a well-crafted chess set. Well, other than chocolate, of course. That goes without saying.
There was also a Kalashnikov AK47 rifle, donated to Vladimir Zhirinovsky by Mikhail Kalashnikov himself, after whom the rifle was named. It was laid out on top of a display case, and I could have reached out and picked it up, were it not for the fact that I thought it might be disrespectful. Also, I might have been shot by one of the patrolling security guards.
Afterwards, we adjourned for tea in the library and we had an extensive discussion about how we in Britain First could work together with the LDPR. It was agreed that we should keep in touch, meet regularly, and explore ideas leading to mutual co-operation.
A civilised cup of tea at the LDPR headquarters.
Paul handed each of the representatives a signed copy of his book, and they looked very impressed. ‘Tim is an author too,’ Paul said, ‘and his book – Pigeon on the Wing – is coming out in the next couple of weeks.’
I affected a degree of modesty. ‘I’m sure my book won’t be as inspiring as Paul’s book,’ I said, ‘although they do say I’m halfway to being the new Jeffery Archer.’
‘How so?’ asked Dmitry, one of the LDPR representatives.
‘Well, like Jeffery Archer, I’ve been to prison,’ I said, ‘I just haven’t got round to selling any books yet.’
The room went silent, and everyone looked blank. It might be that some jokes don’t translate well to Russian ears, or it might be that my sense of humour is not for everyone.
Chapter 10 – Frugality
Upon the conclusion of our meeting with the LDPR representatives and the tour of the museum, we made our way back through the Moscow subway system and exited at Red Square.
‘We’re going to have to be a bit more frugal,’ said Paul. ‘I’ve only allocated a certain amount of money for food on this trip, and you two gannets have eaten me out of house and home.’
Ashlea and I looked at each other. It was true that I had helped myself to an extra couple of breadsticks at the restaurant on the previous evening, and Ashlea had definitely overdone it on the croissants on the previous morning, but to be described as gannets? Ashlea and I both put on hurt expressions.
Paul was unrepentant. ‘No, I’ve decided,’ he said. ‘There’s a supermarket just down the road from the hotel. We can pick up some snacks and make do with those.’
We walked back to the hotel and arranged to meet later in the evening for our exercise in frugality. Fortunately, my stash of Mars bars and Snickers were still awaiting me in my hotel room, so having gone through the usual process of giving my door lock a hard smack with the heel of my hand, I entered my room, proceeded to substantially deplete my chocolate supplies and waited for the appointed hour.
Paul knocked on my door at 8:30 pm and we negotiated the obstacle course / staircase to meet Ashlea in the hotel lobby. Together we walked the few hundred metres to the supermarket.
On the way we encountered some of the most lethal road users in Russia – and I’m not talking about the taxi-drivers. Many people in Russia own electric scooters, and although they are no doubt a handy way to travel short distances in a city like Moscow, you don’t see them or hear them coming until the last minute, when they are almost upon you, and a sixteen-stone Russian kulak travelling at twenty miles an hour on a scooter is likely to make a substantial dent in your well-being, not to mention your ability to stay upright.
I was appointed as point man, and every few moments I would shout ‘Scooter boys!’ at the top of my voice and watch Paul and Ashlea dive out of the way into the nearest hedge as the electric scooters whizzed past at high speed. After this had happened a few times, Ashlea had had enough, and as she pulled the last of the twigs out of her hair, she declared that the next scooter boy that came within striking distance of her handbag was going to feel the full force of it.
We arrived at the supermarket, and I spent most of my time there deciphering the Russian characters on the various products to try and determine what they were. After ten minutes or so of looking around the shop, I felt emboldened enough to place a bottle of orange juice into the shopping basket, together with a couple of croissants.
I saw some doughnuts covered in chocolate, and some bagels with icing on the top, but I thought that I had better pass on those. After all, frugality means that you occasionally have to deny yourself things that you might otherwise like, and I had no wish to incur the wrath of our leader.
‘Is that all you’re having, Tim?’ asked Paul. ‘You can’t live on fresh air, you know.’
‘That’s plenty for me,’ I said, ‘although I wouldn’t mind attacking the chocolate doughnut later tonight.’
As soon as the words had left my mouth, I regretted having said them. Ashlea stopped dead in her tracks and affected a coughing fit, spluttering like crazy with tears of laughter streaming down her face. Paul just gave me a quizzical look, which in some ways was even worse, because I knew exactly what he was thinking.
A range of chocolate doughnuts. No sniggering at the back, please.
It made for an interesting evening. On the way back, it only needed one of us to utter the phrase ‘attacking the chocolate doughnut tonight’ for the other two to double over in fits of laughter. Fortunately the scooter boys gave us a wide berth, which was just as well as I don’t think any of us could have got out of the way in time, we were laughing so much.
Oh, and if you don’t get it, ask a friend.
Chapter 11 - Sightseeing
It was breakfast-time on Wednesday morning, and the start of our last day in Russia. We were in the hotel dining-room, planning our schedule. ‘We have to be at the airport by 5:00 pm at the latest,’ Paul said, ‘our flight takes off just after 7:00 pm and we don’t want any more unpleasant corkscrew-related incidents.’
‘As if,’ I thought, and I was just about to give a witty rejoinder when a tray full of breakfast items arrived. This was odd, because none of us had actually ordered anything. We were still waiting for the signed executive order to arrive from the Kremlin before we could get so much as a cup of coffee or a slice of untoasted toast.
It was a different waitress altogether, and she didn’t seem inclined to bother about the niceties of the required paperwork. Unfortunately she didn’t seem too bothered about giving the right food to the right customers either. But nobody else claimed the breakfast, so we picked our way through it while trying to order what we really wanted from the breakfast menu.
‘I wonder where our regular waitress is,’ I mused out loud, ‘perhaps she understands more English than we have given her credit for, and has locked herself in the kitchen cupboard and has refused to serve us.’ After all, nobody likes to be criticised and mocked, even if it is in a foreign language, and my offer of how to demonstrate the correct use of a toaster and how to tell the difference, between fried eggs, scrambled eggs and an omelette must have cut her to the quick.
I forget exactly what we ordered that morning, but it all arrived at once, and we spent the next few minutes picking out what we wanted to eat from the pile of food on the table. I noticed that Paul didn’t ask Ashlea whether or not she wanted some more Russian porridge, which I thought was a good move on his part. After all, there is such a thing as pushing your luck too far, you know.
After breakfast, we left our suitcases locked away in the hotel lobby, and once again walked over the bridge towards Red Square. ‘I think we should go and see Lenin’s Tomb,’ said Paul, and after that, we should walk around the inside of the Kremlin.’
Lots of people think it is just one building,’ he continued, ‘but in fact it’s lots of buildings inside a fortress wall. In fact, the word Kremlin means “fortress” in English, and there are churches, administrative offices, an armoury and much more than we can just go and see.’
We queued up to get in to see Lenin’s Tomb. In high summer, the queues stretch right around the Kremlin walls, but in the mid-October early morning there were hardly any queues at all. Entrance to the tomb is free, but we had to have our belongings searched, and I was pleased to find that my Swiss Army corkscrew attracted no scrutiny whatsoever.
The entrance to Lenin's Tomb in Red Square.
‘They’re obviously not worried,’ said Paul, ‘after all, it’s not as if you’re going to pour out a glass of wine for the old boy, now is it?’ We made our way along the first half of the Kremlin wall, passing numerous statues and plaques dedicated to famous Russians from long ago.
Every now and then Paul would stop in front of a statue or a plaque and tell us about the history of the person behind it. I’ve said before that Paul’s knowledge of history and architecture is extensive, and if his current employment is ever unexpectedly terminated, I am sure he would make a very good living as a tour guide.
We entered the mausoleum and descended the steps to the tomb itself. There were security guards stationed every few metres along the route. I started to say something to Paul and Ashlea, but immediately there was a ferocious ‘SHHHHH!’ behind me. Suitably chastened, I continued along the underground route to the tomb itself.
Lenin’s body – the actual, real person, is maintained in a mummified state inside a glass cabinet, on display for everyone to see. Apparently his face is cleaned weekly with bleach in order to stop mould developing. You would think that after 95 years – he died in 1924 – he would have had enough of that. However, he did look lifelike. I half expected the old boy to sit up, stretch his arms and give us a wave.
We walked around the tomb, and then exited back into the fresh air. Paul was echoing my thoughts. ‘You’d think they’d have given him a Christian burial by now, wouldn’t you?’ he said. I nodded. ‘Maybe we should go back and drop a letter into the suggestion box,’ I said, ‘they could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes looking at it. Thinking outside the box, you might say.’ Paul groaned.
We walked along the second half of the Kremlin wall, stopping by more statues and plaques, and taking a few more photographs, before stepping back into Red Square. ‘Come on,’ said Paul, ‘let’s go and see inside the Kremlin. We might even see Vladimir Putin travelling to and from his office. He does that occasionally.’
I checked my watch. It was nearly lunchtime, and Vladimir Putin might well be feeling a bit peckish after a hard morning’s graft, checking that the nuclear warhead buttons were being polished according to schedule and resisting the urge to bomb Manchester. He might well decide to pop out for a cheese and pickle sandwich, and we would be there waiting with our cameras primed.
We bought some tickets from the Kremlin tourist office and ascended the cobbled ramp into the inner part of the fortress. We walked into the cathedral square. ‘Look at this wonderful sight,’ said Paul, waving his arms expansively, ‘this is where the Russian tsars would have been crowned. And over here,’ he continued, ‘is where they would have been buried.’
Paul outside The Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin courtyard.
We entered one of the church buildings and walked around looking at the various markings on the tombs. Paul waxed eloquent. ‘Look at this tomb,’ he said, it must be over five hundred years old,’ and in his enthusiasm at that point he reached over the railing to touch it.
That was a mistake, because one of the old babushkas employed to look after the tombs immediately stepped up behind him. ‘Niet!’ she hissed. ‘Look only! No touch!’
I will say this for Paul; he is very cool under pressure. Personally, I would have shot out of that church as if chased by the devil, and spent the next three hours beating myself up about it, but Paul carried on as if nothing had happened. Cool as a cucumber that has just been taken out of the deep freeze and steeped in liquid nitrogen, that’s Paul.
We spent the next couple of hours wandering around the Kremlin buildings, and then walked up Nikolskaya St. in order to find some souvenirs to take home with us. After a while, I checked my watch. ‘Shouldn’t we be making a move to get to the airport on time?’ I said. ‘It’s getting late.’
‘Don’t you worry,’ said Paul, ‘I’ve got this brilliant new app on my phone. You put your order in for a taxi, and payment is automatically taken when the nearest available taxi starts to make its way to you. It’s all controlled by GPS, so you know where the taxi is and they know where you are.’
There are some things that are great in theory, but not necessarily in practice.
Chapter 12 – Inbound
We watched the app on Paul’s phone. Sure enough, there we were on one part of the screen, and there the taxi was on another part of the screen. ‘He’ll be at the top of the road, just about – now…’ said Paul, and we all looked at the top of the road, just in time to see a big yellow and white taxi sailing past.
‘Maybe there’s another one just behind him,’ said Paul.
After a couple of minutes of staring at the top of the road, willing a taxi to turn into it towards us, Paul checked the app on his phone again. The taxi was still there on the screen, lazily circling back towards us, but there was no visible sign of it in real life.
‘This is going to be cutting it fine,’ I said. ‘Nah, there’ll be plenty of time,’ said Paul, and just at that moment our taxi hove into sight. We piled in, and Paul gave directions to get us to the hotel, where we would pick up our cases; and from there by the fastest possible route to the airport.
We picked up our cases from the hotel, and the taxi edged out into the early evening Moscow traffic. We were on our way to the airport.
Almost immediately we hit the Moscow rush-hour traffic. It was only about a quarter to four in the afternoon, but the traffic was snarled up everywhere. Paul was starting to look worried. ‘Nobody panic, but we might miss our flight,’ he said. ‘If that happens, Tim, you’re going to have to walk home.’
I made a mental calculation – two thousand miles at an average of six miles a day carrying an airline suitcase, why, I’d be home in less than twelve months. ‘Seems fair,’ I said. I turned to Ashlea. ‘That’s what I like about Paul’s leadership qualities. Cruel but fair.’
Ashlea rolled her eyes.
In the end, we did get to the airport in time to catch our flight – just. Paul had to phone ahead to say that we might be late, and the airline sent the boarding passes over the Internet. As long as we got to the airport by six-thirty, we would be fine. We pulled up outside the entrance to Sheremetyevo at six twenty-nine.
‘Spasiba, tovarich,’ said Paul to the taxi-driver, ‘thank you, comrade!’ Then we all dashed into the airport, Paul and Ashlea racing along like two pedigree greyhounds, with me bringing up the rear like an asthmatic tortoise.
Baggage check-in – Done. Security check – Done. Although I had to take off the belt on my trousers because it set off an alarm. Final dash to passport control before boarding – Done.
I arrived at passport control out of breath and completely exhausted, dishevelled and sweating from every pore. Paul and Ashlea were in front of me in the queue and turned to look at me. ‘You might want to pull those trousers up,’ said Paul. ‘We don’t want you frightening the children.’
Paul photobombs Ashlea as she attempts to take a selfie.
At last we made our way onto the plane, and by the time it had taxied to the end of the runway and was ready for take-off, I had got my breath back. I looked around for my favourite airline stewardess, Ekaterina, but she didn’t appear to be on this flight. Our stewardess was called Nazgul. She was very beautiful, but she had an unfortunate name, one of ‘The Nine’ death-dealing wraiths from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
‘You don’t have your eight friends with you, do you?’ I asked. She looked at me severely. ‘Fasten your seat-belt, please. We are getting ready for take-off.’
‘I’ll take that as a no, then,’ I thought.
Chapter 13 – Home Sweet Home
The flight from Moscow to London was uneventful – there was some minor turbulence, but nothing to disturb us unduly, and we landed at Heathrow around 9:30 pm.
‘Well, how did you enjoy your trip?’ asked Paul. ‘It was great,’ I said, ‘thanks for inviting me along. And at least that Swiss Army corkscrew didn’t get us into any more trouble.’
I had spoken too soon. As we passed through Passport Control we were ambushed by at least half a dozen plain-clothes officials who appeared out of nowhere.
‘Would you come with us, sir?’ said the first official to me. ‘You’re being detained under Section 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act.’
I glanced behind me. Both Paul and Ashlea were being confronted in exactly the same way. We had no choice but to surrender our passports and to follow the officials out of the Passport Control area, down a series of corridors and into separate interview rooms.
I was invited to sit down, on a chair that was securely bolted on the floor, in front of a table.
The first official introduced himself. ‘We’re SO15 counter-terrorism officers,’ he began, and we’re detaining you in order to find out whether you have been engaged in preparing, commissioning or carrying out acts of terrorism.’
‘It’s a bloody corkscrew!’ I thought. ‘They can’t be serious.’
But they were serious.
I was given a leaflet to read that outlined my rights. Interestingly, as I was not being arrested, merely detained, I did not have the right to remain silent. I had to answer all the officers’ questions, submit to a body search, luggage search, and fingerprint and DNA swab samples.
I had to hand over the PIN numbers to all my electronic devices, which would be seized for forensic examination. And if I didn’t do all of these things, I would be subject to arrest, prosecution, conviction and a substantial jail sentence.
The first officer pressed the ‘Record’ button on a recording device on the table.
‘What were you doing in Moscow?’ asked the second counter-terrorism officer. (There were two of them in the room with me; a third one remained outside.)
I outlined what we had been doing, just as I have outlined it to you, dear reader. I described the meeting with the Komsomolskaya-Pravda journalist; the meetings with the LDPR at their offices and at the Duma; the TV interview at Russia-24; and I even described our sightseeing around the Kremlin.
‘Were there any financial transactions carried out involving Britain First finances?’ asked the first officer.
I thought for a moment. There was a fridge magnet that I had bought for my wife. I didn’t have any roubles on me, so Paul had paid for it. Would that count against me? I decided not to mention it. ‘No,’ I said, ‘and I paid for this trip myself, so that didn’t involve Britain First money either.’
The questioning went on for several hours, as they went back and forth over my statements, trying to pick holes in them.
It was very frightening and intimidating, but there was one particular moment of drama.
The first officer picked up my iPad from where it had been put on the table after cursory examination. He then started to take the iPad out of its case.
I use this iPad mainly in order to play Sudoku – please bear with me here, dear reader. With some of these Sudoku puzzles, it is necessary – or at least helpful – to write down some code combinations on paper in the form of a spreadsheet. These code combinations are completely unintelligible, unless you happen to be a Sudoku player.
I had folded up this piece of paper with the code combinations on it and shoved it into the back of the iPad case. Just as I was thinking to myself – ‘I hope they don’t think I’m a Russian spy,’ – the officer pulled the iPad from its case, and the paper fluttered down onto the table, partially unfolding as it did so and displaying the code combinations to the two officers.
You could have heard a pin drop.
It took me half an hour to talk my way out of that, and another half an hour to display the workings of my hand-held translator to them. I have no idea what they thought when it belted out ‘Madame, you have a face like a baboon’s arse’ in Russian, but they probably thought I was completely mad.
Eventually, they let me go. ‘We’ll be in touch about returning your phone and your iPad,’ said the first officer, ‘and providing we don’t find any further evidence that you haven’t told us about, we shouldn’t need to bother you again.’
I was taken to a public area in the airport. Ashlea was already there, having been released about an hour earlier, but Paul had courageously refused point-blank to give up the PINs and pass-codes for his electronic devices, and so was arrested, taken to Polar Park police station near Heathrow, and detained until the following afternoon.
We waited for him in the Polar Park police station reception area.
‘My God, I’m hungry,’ said Ashlea. We hadn’t eaten properly in nearly sixteen hours.
‘How do you fancy a lick of my chocolate doughnut?’ I asked.
Chapter 14 – Postscript
As of this moment – 8:00 pm on Thursday 31 October 2019 – I have no idea whether further charges are likely to be brought against any of us. The full story of our detainment from Ashlea and Paul’s point of view may be found on the Britain First website. It reads like something out of George Orwell’s 1984 – something that I never thought could have possibly happened in the UK in our lifetime.
Imagine the outcry if the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, were to be detained using these draconian powers when returning from a trip to a friendly foreign country. Or Hillary Benn, Oliver Letwin, Jo Swinson, John Bercow or any one of the hundreds of Members of Parliament who have lately used their parliamentary privilege to undermine the very foundations of our democracy. We would never hear the end of it.
But because we at Britain First are members of a political party that has extensive grassroots support, yet which does not accept the globalist leftwing narrative that is being peddled by those in power, we are considered fair game for these underhand tactics, and this attack on our freedoms will most likely not be the last.
Probably the best way to view this unexpected turn of events is to say – using the old wartime RAF terminology – that if you are taking flak, then you know you are over the target.
If our ideas, as expressed in the Britain First manifesto and party policies, are so outlandish, so unreasonable, and to be considered beyond the pale by all right-thinking people, then why not allow us to compete in the marketplace of free ideas instead of censoring us at every opportunity?
The answer to that is that if we were actually allowed to compete in the marketplace of free ideas, with a level playing field, unencumbered by all the dirty tricks that those in power love to play on those who disagree with them, then without a doubt, a significant percentage of the population would side with us against the Establishment.
It was Edmund Burke who said – ‘For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is that good men do nothing,’ and we are a pivotal turning point in our history where if we do nothing, then there is a very real risk that evil, in the form of political correctness, aided and abetted by multiculturalism, uncontrolled mass migration and our permissive and tolerant attitudes towards the Islamisation of our great country, will eclipse what is arguably the greatest civilisation that mankind has ever known.
Please – don’t let it happen.
Give your support to Britain First, and help us in whichever way you can. Donate money, become an activist, support our campaigns and petitions, and together we can – and we will – overcome the malevolent forces that the Establishment currently deploy against us.
As the Buddhist saying has it - 'One drop of water may seem insignificant - but enough drops of water can create a river, an ocean, and an unstoppable tsunami.' Join Britain First, and together we will become that tsunami.
If anyone had asked me twenty years ago whether we would ever be on the frontlines of a war between Western civilisation and an ideology that now threatens to destroy it, I would have laughed in their faces. Such an idea would have been unthinkable.
And yet, twenty short years later, here we are. We may be derided and scorned, we may be called ‘racist’, ‘bigoted’, ‘extremist’, ‘Islamophobic’, and ‘far-right’ – but the truth is that we are none of these things.
We are patriots, and we love our country. And when our grandchildren ask us, many years from now – ‘What did you do in the war, Grand-ma / Grand-dad?’ then I hope we can tell them, hand on heart, that we did our very best for them.