BLOG Michael A Oliver-Semenov

NWR Issue 104

Sunbathing in Siberia & West Wales

It’s hard to believe that I am in the middle of this Wales tour already. My Russian wife Nastya and I arrived on 29 May after a twenty-one hour slingshot to the UK that included a flight from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow, then Moscow to London. Since then it seems as if we’ve been travelling nonstop.

As it’s Nastya’s first time in the country, I have been able to look at Wales through her eyes. On the journey from Heathrow to Cardiff she kept pointing out the fields of sheep. She had never seen so many before. It reminded me of the time we went to Krasnoyarsk zoo to see the lamb they had there. It looked very cute with a little pink bow about around its neck, but when it skipped or jumped, Nastya would scream and run away. Now that she is in a country full of sheep she has realised how harmless they are. She keeps telling me that she wants to stroke them.

While I am here to read from my memoir and sign books, Nastya is very much on holiday. Although we’ve only been in the country seven days we’ve managed to consume several meals in Indian restaurants, four English breakfasts, countless BLTs and several gallons of ale. A pint of Guinness is 300 roubles in Krasnoyarsk (about £6) and is rarely poured right. Knowing that we have to leave in less than a week, we are doing our best to drink Wales’ entire supply of Guinness and Newcastle Brown Ale. Time, unfortunately is short, though thankfully, thanks to a friend with a spare house we managed to squeeze in a few days holiday in Aberystwyth, right after the Cardigan launch on 30 May. Our peace was shattered by a glut of phone calls from my publisher Parthian on the evening of the 3rd. I had to snap out of holiday mode and get back to work (if you can call it work). I had to give an interview on BBC Radio Wales at about 10:45am the following morning. In order to make it on time Nastya and I had to catch the 7:30 bus to Carmarthen, where publishing director Richard Davies picked us up and rushed us to Swansea. I only had time enough to make a liquid offering to Mother Nature before going live on air. I was pulling my copy of my memoir from my rucksack, which was jammed underneath a plastic bag of dirty socks just as the interview began. Then, because I had too many bookmarks, I couldn’t find the extract that I wanted to read. It would have been a disaster if Jason Mohammed hadn’t rescued me by asking lengthy questions to buy me some time. I owe that man a pint. Radio is harder than it looks (or sounds). It seemed that no sooner had I sat down, we were leaving again. Richard Davies, who had waited outside in his car, rushed us off to the Mumbles, Swansea to have a meeting about book distribution and to sign contracts at last.

After hiding from the relentless Swansea summer rain in the comfort of a friend’s house in the Mumbles we then made our way to Mozart’s bar in the Uplands, via the big Tesco in Swansea. My British mobile, the one that I used to meet Nastya in Paris originally and that saved my neck on the Trans-Siberian (another story), informed me that it wanted to make its way to the great mobile phone shop in the sky. Still, we made it to Mozart’s with time to spare and I managed a slightly better delivery than the one I had given in the morning. Reading live is a bit like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it, but getting back on it after a long time away can be a bit intimidating. If it weren’t for Nastya acting as stabilisers I think I might have fallen off by now.

Michael A Oliver-Semenov's memoir, Sunbathing in Siberia, A Marriage of East and West in Post-Soviet Russia is published by Parthian this month. Mao Jones is currently on a promotional tour of Wales, remaining dates in Cardiff tonight and Saturday 7 June, see schedule below.

Following his debut publication in 2009, Cardiff-born Michael A Oliver-Semenov served as the first poet in residence for Blown, a magazine of cultural intelligence, and has since published in a plethora of magazines and journals worldwide, including the The Morning Star, Orbis, Mandala Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. In 2011 Michael emigrated to Siberia to live with his wife Anastasia. When he is not growing vegetables at the family dacha in summer, or avoiding the wild Siberian hounds of winter, Michael is also a freelance English teacher and occasionally contributes to The Siberian Times.

Tour Dates
Launch: Cameo Club, Pontcanna, Cardiff - Thurs 5th June, 7pm, free entry and wine
Signing: Cardiff, The Hayes, Waterstones Cardiff - Sat 7th June 12-1pm, free entry
Signing: Cardiff, Wellfield Road Bookshop - Sat 7th June, 2-3pm, free entry, followed by a birthday pint or two in a nearby pub.


previous blog: The Things He Saw One Day in May
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