Reading Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith at the moment, a thriller set in Stalinist Russia, and it’s brought back a few memories of my time in Moscow as a student in 1991, just before the August coup. Mostly, I remember gray. There wasn’t much to eat, sometimes eggs or sausages that were padded out with shredded paper – not so tasty. The bread shop sometimes had something to buy, but the queues were long and people grew angry if you bought too much (decadent westerners trying to eat!). You could get beer and vodka if you knew the right people, it was cold, the queue for Pizza Hut was a good few hours, and the babushkas would slap you if you showed the bottom of your feet on the metro. There was a restaurant we sometimes went to, a place with cockroaches crawling on the walls, and we had to leave the light on in our shared bathroom to keep the ‘roaches away, but there were still dead mice in there from time to time. It wasn’t all bad, of course, but most people seemed … subdued? Mind you, Tverskaya (formerly Gorky Street) was a wonder in the summer – the blossoms blew along it in such quantities it looked like it was snowing. I wonder what it’s like today.