(The day a flat became a car and a car a flat — one of those friendships)

Once upon a time in Kazakhstan there lived a mother with one son. She was a good wife to her husband. She worked in the Ministry of Justice which paid for her to come to England to study English and to get an M.A. in law. In her free time, to keep fit, she started doing aerobic exercises on a grey carpet in a sports centre called Momentum. She sometimes peddled madly on a fake bicycle. After the aerobics and the walking (on an electric carpet) and the running (on an electric carpet, too) she went into the swimming pool which she didn’t like very much because swimming-pool water was wet, but it was OK because there was a dry-heat room and a wet-heat room and she could relax. There was also a Jacuzzi where she lolled and smiled her little smiles and thought and pondered. And it was while lolling and smiling and thinking and pondering that she met a guy called Jon. She told him she had been doing abnormal exercises on the carpet and he laughed and said, “Not abnormal but aerobic.” They talked about a lot of things including silicone implants and life in Thailand which is where Jon lived with his partner and twenty-three of her family.

      Next time they met she didn’t recognise Jon because she was walking in the swimming pool without her glasses. Right up close she knew who it was and they smiled and talked. She knew he was the man for her because she could understand almost all of his English. He was a great find and when he told her he had worked in Italy as an English teacher, well, that was it, that was great, he was the real McCoy, a true-blue Brit, and the cat’s whiskers to boot.

      Now, Jon knew he was making an impression on the pretty Kazakhstan student who liked silicone implants but he couldn’t understand why. They seemed to be getting on fairly well so he immediately suggested they go out that evening, a Saturday evening, with his son and his son’s friend, for a meal. Amiba (for that was her name, more or less) readily agreed. “We’re going to a very good pub about seven miles from Sheffield which has good pies and good pints. I’ll probably drive or my son will.”

      Amiba immediately informed Jon she couldn’t go. “Oh, ho!” he said. “You’re frightened of going in a car with people you don’t know.”

      “Reluctant,” she qualified.

      “Well, let’s go out tomorrow night.”


      “Where?” Pause. “You want to go local – like five minutes away.” She nodded. “You’re very sensible.” She didn’t nod. “OK, eight o’clock tomorrow night outside Momentum.”

      Sunday evening rolled in, and there she was outside Momentum at eight o’clock. She had on jeans and a top which was padded and she was wearing her brown glasses (or were they black?). She looked smaller than in the swimming pool and when he told her so, she told him that he looked smaller, too. “I’m expecting you to drink six pints of beer,” he said.

      “No,” she said. “I was twenty or twenty-one when I did that.”

      “The Euro final is on. Do you mind if we watch it?”

      “Not at all. I had a boyfriend who played football and loved to watch.”

      “So, it’s a pint,” he said. They gave her a taster. She tasted. She liked. “A pint,” he said.

      “Am I supposed to pay?” she asked.

      They settled down to watch Portugal take a thrashing from France but after thirty minutes it was still nil all. However, Ronaldo had already taken a thrashing and was off the field, carried there by four lusty stretcher-bearers. His handsome face was the epitome of thrashed and half-broken legs and ruddy-bruised shinnery. Yep, the French had thrashed him good and proper.

      Well, it was quite a final, and in front of millions of Moliere (accent grave) / Racine / Rimbaud / Baudelaire / Sartre / Gide / de Sade (especially de Sade) / supporters France lost one nil. Jon was quite surprised to note that no one, yes, that is no one, was supporting France. Indeed, for him, the cheers when Portugal scored resembled barely-disguised jeers and sneers at the French team and Paris and France and La Republique (accent acute on that first “e” – do not forget).

      Oh, well…

       During match-time and extra time, Amiba and Jon were also getting to know each other better, and they could be seen tossing butt-ends on to the clean Sheffield pavements and into the clean Sheffield gutters. They smoked together and talked together and Amiba asked Jon why the Sheffield council couldn’t provide bins for cigarette-ends and Jon answered Amiba that that was a question he had no idea how to answer. She looked at him then as if she really did expect him to answer her council-bin question but because he was not taking the piss he merely looked back at her and did not answer.

       Amiba informed Jon that Kazakhstan was conventional while being fairly liberal. Women were expected to get married before having children, and that a long phone call she had just taken during the Euro cup final was none other than a good friend asking her to be bridesmaid at her, the friend’s, shot-gun wedding. “You didn’t do that, did you?” asked Jon. “Oh, no,” replied Amiba, shaking her wise head. “I got married and then pregnant.”

      There were lots of other snippets of information that came Jon’s way that evening – about life in Kazakhstan, marriage in Kazakhstan, husbands and wives’ behaviour in Kazakhstan, money and study, and all of that information Jon put into his noddle along with the videos he had watched on You Tube and of course the famous Borat’s representation of his fatherland and of the greatest States of America. Yes, “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” in which Borat leads a willing audience by the nose into supposing that Kazakhstan people are easy ladies, uneducated lads, and that houses are huts and swimming-costumes for men are of an unconventional cut and carry.

      It was not beyond Jon’s grasp to realise that the exuberant Borat had been exaggerating but the point was brought home to him on the way home. Yes, they were passing Jon’s son’s flat and Jon invited Amiba up to see it.

      “Oh, no,” she replied, shaking that wise head of hers not for the first time.

      “I see I’m with a very sensible lady, one who errs on the side of caution.”

      She nodded, and asked, “Ears on the side of caution…what does it mean?”

      “It means you are very careful, maybe too careful.”

      And that is why a flat is as dangerous as a car, a car as dangerous as a flat, and both are the same – fine, subtle traps to lure Kazakhstan ladies to fates far worse than death, into troubles and trembles without end. Infinite. If a gal of uneasy virtue gets into a car with guys she doesn’t know or goes upstairs and enters a flat with a corridor and four rooms, well, anything might happen, and if she doesn’t know the guy she’s with, it’s well worth presuming that anything will happen (even though with Jon it won’t).

      Borat, why did you fib? Now, where’s your email address so that Jon can send you a diatribe or, if not, at least an email expressing his grave displeasure (as well as mine!)?

      And Sacha Baron Cohen (what a mouthful!), why did you exclude “Cultural Learnings of Great Britain…”? Jon’s country needs you to put its citizens straight because guess what?

      Jon has another date with Amiba!


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