Tag Archives: Ukraine

An Unusual Use for Vaseline

“’Really Quite a Bit’?” said Mr Singh, a representative of Newham Council.

“Yes.”

“Yulification-max?”

“Yes,” I said.

Mr Singh sighed.

“If I had a pound for every time I have to see to the consequences of some idiot who turns the yulification dial to ‘Really Quite a Bit’ without considering the consequences, I wouldn’t be considering strike action having regard to my pension rights,” said Mr Singh. “Which I am.”

“I’m sorry. It was the night terrors.”

I had thought it best not to identify Mr Putin as the subject of my night terrors and the possible occupant of my chimney, in case questions of diplomatic immunity arose.

Mr Singh sniffed.

“We’ve tried pulling,” I said. “Quite hard. And I’m afraid that he’s becoming a health and safety issue. He leaks.”

I thought that this was a cunning touch.

“Well, some years ago when I joined the service, I could have dispatched a task force. But the cuts, you see, the Tory cuts!”

He spat meaningfully into a sponsored cuspidor.

“Regretfully,” he said, “I have no longer a task force at my disposition. Have you tried the Fire Brigade?”

“No, I thought it best to consult yourself.”

I know that ‘yourself’ is ungrammatical, but by emphasising his personal role I was trying to flatter him.

“Actually, there’s probably not a lot that the Fire Brigade could do that you couldn’t do yourself with the liberal application of Vaseline.”

“Vaseline! But – can you supply me with such?”

“Fortunately,” said Mr Singh, “I still can. Please fill in this form.”

As we left he said, “Just be careful of the sack.”

I smiled grimly.

A barrel of Vaseline takes some shifting, and it was some hours later that I was rolling it up my street, with Bella at my heels, getting in the way. Aubergine Small had generously agreed to meet me there. It was immediately clear that he had addressed a problem that had been worrying me: how to get the Vaseline up the chimney and surrounding the little dictator. He produced shyly but proudly from about his person something resembling a giant bicycle pump.

Donning rubber gloves, I gave the protruding leg an initial tug. As expected there was a distant groan of ‘Horse Potty!’. Was there a hint of movement? Mr Putin was getting smaller with each succeeding day of no food and drink, after all, although his notoriously pumped-up torso was likely to be a problem given the domestic scale of my fireplace.

“We must be careful not to suffocate him with the Vaseline,” I said to Aubergine Small.

He gave me a look that was pregnant with meaning. It was as if he could speak. ‘Dictators come and dictators go. What matters most is that your chimney is clear and free for Santa this Christmas.’

He searched through his bag and produced a card:

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE

“Yes?”

He tore off a scrap of paper.

RUSSIA IS ALREADY BECOMING A BIT BALKANISED, IF THIS MORNING’S FT IS ANYTHING TO GO BY

He went at it with a vengeance. Quantities of Vaseline disappeared under pressure up my chimney. Unfortunately some of it came back down mixed with Mr Putin’s leakages. Bella sniffed a couple of dollops in the grate, gave me a pained look and went to lie down in the spare bedroom.

ANOTHER TUG

“Mind the kelim.”

You can tell that my mood had changed to one of optimism. I really believed that we might get him out.

And eventually we did. The biggest problem was the second leg, which had got itself caught behind the one that was already protruding. After that the rest followed relatively easily, although Aubergine Small indicated that we should take special care with the head. The torso had not turned out to be the blockage that we had feared. Suddenly, my night terrors flooded back to me. I attracted Aubergine Small’s attention.

“Aubergine Small, I just can’t stand to see the parting: his horrible neat parting. It’s probably got ruffled in my chimney, but I can’t take the chance.”

He smiled affectionately and indicated that I should look the other way; he could manage the last bit. There was a sucking noise and then a thump. He invited me to turn round. Mr Putin, or at any rate someone who looked like him, was collapsed on my kelim with a pair of my underpants on his head hiding his tonsorial arrangements.

“Good work,” I said to Aubergine Small and then turned to the other man. I thought it best to get my retaliation in first.

“What exactly were you doing in my chimney?”

I spoke in German. I believe that he is at his best in that language because of spending his formative years in Dresden clerking for the KGB. However, he didn’t answer.

Aubergine Small put a sign in front of me, where the other man couldn’t see it.

ANY DEMANDS RE UKRAINE?

“No point,” I said. “If it’s really Putin, he’s a liar. He’d say anything. I’ll take a photo though, just in case of future trouble.”

And I have it. The man is smeared with Newham Council’s Vaseline and his own faeces and he has my underpants on his head.

He squelched towards the door, with, I have to admit, surprising dignity.

“Leave my underpants at the door,” I called. “Carpet bagger.”

“Do you think that that was really him?” I said to Aubergine Small when he had gone.

GOODNESS KNOWS. BUT YOUR CHIMNEY IS YOUR OWN AGAIN

“Did you see his parting?”

Aubergine Small indicated yes with a nod. But his face went white at the memory.

“You’re a braver man than I am,” I said.

Then the same thought struck us at the same time.

“The sack!”

If the parting was a horror, the contents of the sack were ‘Really Quite a Bit’ horror. Since this is a blog occasionally consulted by the impressionable I will describe them only on the restricted-access section.

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He’s Only Half Way There

“I think,” I said to Amy, “that I have got that Mr Putin half way up my chimney. Or as he would regard it, half way down.”

I couldn’t help regretting that there was no way to share my predicament instead with Augustus Sly, but he is in Vienna following up my neighbour Maria’s bottom. He would probably have had something sensible to offer whereas Amy was always more likely to shout.

“You got in your chimney how? I saw him at G20, on television.”

I started to tell her about my night terror and my fateful and clumsy use of the yulification ‘app’, which had had the effect of making a bad situation much worse.

“I know. I read this. But how you know it’s Putin?”

“I don’t, of course, and of course I saw him at the G20 too. That may have been a double. He wouldn’t have wanted to have a full and frank exchange of views with Angela Merkel himself – who would? – or with our own Mr Cameron, bless him, so he may have sent a stooge. Lenin would do that, expose someone else instead when there was any risk to his personal safety. It’s certainly someone Russian. I twisted the Cossack foot. From the depths of the chimney breast I heard a faint cry. They said, ‘Horse potty!’.”

“’Horse potty’?”

“It’s a mild but characteristic Russian ejaculation. Like ‘Goodness!’.”

“Did it sound like a little dictator, to judge by the vocal quality?”

“It was too faint to tell.”

“What say the better half? Her bedroom too.”

“She’s keen to put it to political advantage. She shouted up the chimney – and she has a penetrating voice. She said, ‘Withdraw your troops from Ukraine and we’ll let you out!’.”

“What he say?”

“He said ‘Chto?’.”

“’Chto?’?”

“What? It means ‘What?’. He was indicating that he couldn’t hear.”

“Cunning bastard.”

“Being a cunning bastard is one cornerstone of his successful career.”

Amy thought about this.

“I wouldn’t just say leave Ukraine. I’d say: free press, free elections, no more murders, no more lies and a substantial contribution to your extraction expenses taken from the budget for his enormous new dacha near Sochi.”

“It’s hard to ask for anything complicated if all he says is ‘Chto?’. The better half thought that if we did something unpleasant to a toe it might make him hear better.”

“Or,” said Amy with the subtlety for which the Chinese are famous, “you could tickle his sole.”

“I thought of that – but I don’t think I could bear to touch him. Also, I’m not sure that I want to descend to his level, even to help the people of Ukraine.”

There’s an issue,” said Amy. “Ends and means. We can debate this.”

“My friend Theo says,” I said, “that he is a strong leader holding his country together and that without him Russia would become dangerously balkanised.”

“Bollocks,” said Amy. “They said that about Chairman Mao and the Gang of Four. Anyway, he is not holding anything together now. He’s in your chimney. Maybe we leave him there and see if Russia balkanised.”

“I wish it was that simple, Amy. Unfortunately he’s started to leak. He’s dribbling into the grate. It smells bad. The better half doesn’t like it. Even Bella turns her nose up, after some initial interest. We could go to the spare bedroom until either he empties or Russia balkanises itself, but that’s only a temporary solution.”

What would you have done? We decided to think it over.

Half an hour later Amy sent me a text:

PUTIN/SANTA HE GOT SACK AND PRESENTS IN CHIMNEY?

It was a pertinent question but one for which I had no answer. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t ask.

A few days went by. Russia didn’t get noticeably balkanised. Someone who looked like Putin continued to appear on state television and point out the hypocrisy of the West. They accuse Russia of political murder, he said, but what about the Northern Line? Who are you to point the finger? The leakage eventually fell away but the smell became appalling. The better half said, “You’ve got to do something.”

“What about independent Ukraine?” I said.

“Geopolitics is immensely complex,” she said, “and I want my bedroom back.”

I put a handkerchief round my hands and tugged at the leg. Nothing moved. There was another cry of ‘Horse Potty!’, but far weaker this time. Whoever was up there, Putin or not, ensacked or not, they were alive: but this was a condition whose continuation indefinitely could not be relied on.

I called round to see Aubergine Small. Strength and resourcefulness seemed to be called for. It crossed my mind to find out if The Jibjab Woman would help, but I didn’t know where she stood on a resurgent Russia and I didn’t want to offend her. Aubergine Small assessed the situation. He also twisted the leg, but could get no purchase. All he got was another weak cry of ‘Horse potty!’. Muttering to himself (or what would be muttering if he had the wherewithal; Aubergine Small is dumb and converses by the use of pre-printed cards), he took himself off and the next thing was that I heard him on the roof. He was prodding a bit of wire into the chimney from above. This time there was silence. He returned to the bedroom.

He produced a card:

SILENCE!

“What does that tell you?”

He demanded paper. This was a circumstance without a well-known phrase or saying.

IT IS THE DICTATOR WHO DIDN’T CRY ‘HORSE POTTY’ IN THE NIGHT.

Without his cards he can be quite prolix.

“You mean…”

YES. HE HAS A SACK AND IT’S ABOVE HIM. THIS IS MORE SERIOUS THAN I FEARED.

Aubergine Small threw himself at Mr Putin’s leg with a passion. For thirty minutes he tugged, but to no avail. Sweat on his brow, he faced me.

A. SMALL FAILS!

THERE’S ONLY ONE OPTION

“?”

He seized the pad.

NEWHAM COUNCIL!

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