To set the scene, Hamish & I had just undertaken a horrendous overnight bus journey from Odessa to Sevastopol due to all the trains being full. Predictably we had shared the journey with thirty beer-swilling, chain-smoking, salami eating, joke telling construction workers. Sleep had therefore been sporadic at best…….
When we arrived at Sevastopol Bus Station just past seven, we were absolutely knackered and not in the best state to negotiate buying a train ticket for four days hence to Lviv, working out the tram route into the city and finding a hotel to crash in.
That is what we had to do however and we first dragged ourselves across the nearby rail tracks to the adjacent train station. We were incredibly to stay here for the next two & a half hours!
We didn’t have the complete chaos of Odessa station, but the language barrier very much existed here also. As Hamish was worse for wear than I was, I volunteered for ticket duty.
First barrier, the ticket office was shut until 8.30, about an hour away. I returned to a prone Hamish to tell him the good news. There was already a queue forming outside the locked ticket hall door, so I joined the throng. I was fourth in line, not too bad I thought as I yawned for the umpteenth time.
The doors swung open at the allotted time and the crowd of around twenty swarmed in. Only one desk open and I was now somehow eighth in line.
The bonus was that I had plenty of time to research my speech. “Do you speak English”, she would reply “yes”. “Two premium class singles to Lviv for Tuesday night please”, “certainly sir”. Lovely. Dream on!
For what seemed an age, I crept forward with a feeling of foreboding, until it was my turn in the firing line. I was now faced by a bulbous women in her forties, bright red lipstick hiding her thin stern lips, freshly laundered light blue railway issue shirt straining to contain her large bosom, lacquer drenched peroxide hair with dark roots showing cascading down onto her broad shoulders.
She didn’t speak English nor did she know how to smile. I then wrote down what I wanted in the hope that she could at least read some basic English, even though my hand-writing was more than a tad shaky out of fatigue, hunger and most of all trepidation.
Evidently she knew the English word for NO, which she barked out aggressively, whilst pointing to the door. It seemed Communist ways were still lingering in these parts. Had I got the wrong office after all this time? As there was no help at hand (just gawping & impatient looking locals), I had no option but to return to an expectant Hamish and impart the bad news.
An information desk had now opened next to where he waited. Hamish didn’t look good; he was suffering from being extremely tired and in pressing need of nourishment.
Behind the info desk was a younger and much friendlier looking lady in a much smaller railway issue shirt. Quite pretty as it happened and best of all she spoke good English.
I had been in the right place, but she explained there were no tickets for four days time and it would necessitate a departure in three or five days. After some debate, we chose the three-day option for our twenty-seven hour marathon north. The lady kindly wrote our choice down in Russian so that the severe lady in the next room could absolutely understand our requirements.
I was now third in line and soon enough it was my turn. I enthusiastically handed the note over with a flourish and a smile, confident of a pain free transaction.
She screwed her face up to read the note, shrugged her shoulders and barked back at me in Russian. I had no idea whether this was a command, a request or a question and felt myself cower into my walking boots.
I could only point to the note, somehow hoping that she would re-read it and give me what I wanted. This predictably just brought more barking, accompanied once more by her pointing back towards where Hamish was now slumped in a chair with his eyes shut.
The nice girl at the information counter smiled and gestured towards my sleeping buddy with her deep blue eyes as I entered the room.
As she smiled I realised that she wasn’t just quite pretty, but was in fact absolutely stunning. I momentarily forgot our predicament as my thoughts turned elsewhere. The sight of my dusty rucksack brought me quickly back to my senses, so I approached ‘Anna Kournakova’ out of desperation rather than attraction.
I explained what had happened and implored her to come with me to see the dictator next door. She smiled again as she agreed and closed her counter to accompany me.
Stone me! When she reappeared my side of the counter it was revealed that she was wearing a short skirt and high heels. If only Southern Rail had such uniforms, commuting would be a wholly more pleasurable experience!
She led me to the main ticket office and as an antidote to the sight that I followed I concentrated on imagining my nemesis in the next room in the same attire, which had the same effect as bromide! I imagined how Dennis Potter would have depicted the scene in one of his plays, “think of something boring, a speech by Ted Heath, a long sentence from Bernard Levin, a Welsh male-voice choir, the Blue Peter dog,” and so on! (thanks to the fantastic ‘Singing Detective’ for that line).
The fabulous Anna then proceeded to have a stand up row with Dastardly Dora. Beauty and the beast shouted at each other for a couple of minutes and thereafter in no time at all we had our precious tickets for Monday lunchtime, proving once more that it’s not what you know………….