56. Moscow

Tapehead no 56

The girl with the gun is six.

Smiling and prancing about on the bed in a party dress, she is pulling faces, madly, as she waves the gun around, announcing, “We have wholesale and retail priced goods, everything must go,” like a playful female version of The Tin Drum’s Oskar.

Russian Wonderland looks at the surreal chaos of modern-day Moscow, and starts with Natasha, a Ukrainian refugee, who spends her days demanding money without menace. 

In all weathers she’s out there begging – in the traffic, on the trains and in McDonald’s, making about 50,000 roubles/£8 a day, which she gives to her imposingly large mother. 

Having spent four years sleeping in Moscow’s station, Natasha’s earnings now contribute to a shared hotel room. With no resident’s permit, they are entitled to no housing or education, no health care or state benefits. 

“The Government is testing us,” her mother suggests. “For survival.”

In the meantime, the indomitably perky Natasha, Tapehead’s Performer of the Week, plays on. 

“My little actress,” her mother calls her. “I had a happy childhood,” Natasha reflects. “I’m grown up now.”

Meanwhile, in Belfast, another gutsy girl: Michelle Kenny’s video diary shows her recovery from serious substance abuse (A Comic Relief Special). There’s not much to laugh about as Michelle tries to cope with going to her first rave straight as a die. Filmed sitting at a table in the corner, as miserable as sin, her face look’s like she’s just bitten into a lemon and her hairdo looks alarmingly like Gail Tilsley’s. No wonder she took so many drugs.

She describes her flat as it used to be, back in the days/daze: 

“There was always speed lined right along the TV. I started by doing speed, then Es, then Es and speed together. Then more speed more Es, and blow for the comedown. Then I took trips, cocktails. Half of those. Some of that.”

Cutting Edge’s Casino is packed with sterling performers. 

“Last year me favourite number was 26, this year it’s 33,” chortles Jean as she prepared for another all-nighter down at Lytham-St-Anne’s casino. Jean, like most of the local characters captured here, will gamble on anything – she’ll even toss the butcher for her weekly meat (if you get my meaning). How the butcher’s wife feels about this is anyone’s guess. 

The one-liners, rather suspectly, come thick and fast. “Casinos are like hospitals, “ says Ray. “A roadsweeper can rub shoulders with a multi-millionaire and be treated the same.” 

Howard is also full of them (and himself):

“The only way to win at gambling is to play snap with a bloke that stutters.”

Tapehead’s Male Performer of the Week though, is Hymie. “As long as I get up in the morning,” he says, “I’ve got chances.”

If only the poor people in this week’s Casualty could say the same. This week: a woman being persuaded to go up in a light aircraft (don’t go up ! don’t go up !), a woman who falls asleep in a skip (wake up ! wake up !) and a very special guest, Judy Loe (from Revelations), taking time off from plotting to bump off Rachel and have The Bonking Bishop certified. Sublime.

The downside of life though is the last chance to glory in the majesty that was The Buccaneers, or “The Buckaroos” as Tapehead likes to call them, as they frolick around, compare cleavages and get of with any Englishman with a stiff upper lip.

The Buckaroos end with Julius exposed, Jenny Agutter put out of her misery, and Nan and Guy Thwaite attempting to run away to South Africa in a horse-drawn cart.

Governess and football coach, Cherie Lunghi (Miss Testvalley as they insist on calling her) makes an injury-time bid to steal the show in the final scene, sighing “Can a woman never be free, to love ?” 

She ends up with an uncertain future but a decidedly prescient career change in mind.

“I will probably manage,” she says, as she heads for a spell in the Third Division.


Casualty: Sat, 8.05pm-8.55pm, BBC1

The Buccaneers: Sat 9.05pm-10.10pm, BBC2

Cutting Edge – Casino: Mon, 9pm-10pm, C4

Comic Relief Special – Michelle’s Story: Wed, 10.20pm-11pm, BBC1

Russian Wonderland: Fri, 9.30pm-10.20pm, BBC2