Our columnist Jason Goodwin recounts a chilling tale of his own brush with the Russians in Dorset.
Russians in Dorset are like fairies – we don’t see them from one month to the next. It’s as if the Iron Curtain were still standing.
The last time that any actively Russian Russians came this way, I received a message from a TV researcher in St Petersburg, who was interested in interviewing me about the history of the American dollar, a subject on which I happen to be an expert.
Sergei called later and introduced himself as the London correspondent for RT, the Russian news channel. To my surprise, he suggested doing the interview at home. When I explained that it would mean a day trip for him and his cameraman, he said it was no problem because his mother was staying with his family in London and she fancied a trip. We exchanged emails and I sent him directions.
They arrived the next day, just the two men in a big hire car. Sergei was in his late thirties, a handsome man with a cultivated accent and fair, wavy hair. His manner was polite, but slightly aloof, from which I deduced that interviewing me hadn’t been his idea.
When I asked after his mother, he explained that he had dropped her off in Dorchester.
‘To see the sights,’ he added, deadpan.
‘So it’s a pretty quick interview, then,’ I quipped.
Actually, Dorchester has plenty of sights and his mother could have been well entertained if she happened to be interested in fossils or Thomas Hardy, whose ugly house, Max Gate, is open to the public. There’s an excellent army museum and, of course, Maiden Castle, the finest hill fort in Europe – lots for Russian mothers to do.
We went into the sitting room for the interview. Kate offered them coffee while they were setting up.
Sergei was polite and professional, but I was a bit nervous so I never managed to ask him what his mother had planned for the day. Is Dorchester in the guide book, for instance?
Stranger things have happened. According to Lonely Planet, Salisbury is among the 10 best places to visit in the world, beating Toronto and Vienna.
We did the interview. The Russians drank their coffee and ate the biscuits, packed up and left. Kate and I agreed it was a bit weird and then forgot about it until, a few days later, I received an email from Sergei, thanking me for my time and enclosing a video clip.
My contribution was brisk: I spoke for a few seconds about wampum and wildcat banks and got to pose the rhetorical question ‘What is money?’ before it cut away to more interesting stuff about the role of the dollar in international finance. I don’t think the show was in favour of the dollar’s primacy.
There was nothing the least sinister about any of it, except perhaps the Russian mother wandering around Dorchester, but I had forgotten Sergei’s real name so I went back into my computer just now to find it.
There was nothing there. The original message on Twitter from St Petersburg, Sergei’s emails setting up the meeting, the thank-you email with the video? They have all gone.
Only one fragment of the video is left, buried in my computer’s electronic heart, and when I press play it stutters into life, then crashes.
A notice pops up, asking if I want to report the crash to Apple. No, I say.
I feel like one of those fiddlers who falls asleep on a fairy ring, is taken to play at the fairy ball and wakes up, shivering and confused, with nothing to show for it but the notes of a new tune.
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