Tyumen Musings Part Fifteen: Hipsters & Hair

My mother will probably kill me for this, but here goes… I have decided to grow a beard.

Beards

20160704_153113

Sorry Mum…

In the past I have dabbled in facial hair, but mostly because I was simply too lazy to bother shaving for a while, and I did once grow a quite brilliant (even if I say so myself…) handlebar moustache for Movember. That experiment ended swiftly, as in two years I managed to raise the grand sum of 10 pounds, but this time is different. As I leaned against the parapet of the promenade by the River Tura in my home town of Tyumen last week on a quite sublime summer evening, with the breeze gliding past my cheeks, I realised the time was right.

It’s not just that it keeps the face a little bit warmer, but in my humble opinion the beard has grown a new life in modern Russia. Let’s be honest for a moment – 20 years ago, the thought formula probably went something like this: Russian man + beard = tough, grizzled & unsophisticated. Nowadays there are so many variations on beards that they can represent anything from historical grandeur to sharp fashion, but take my word for it, there is no deep-lying reason behind mine, and certainly not fashion. If you don’t believe me, have a look at my track record of hairstyles.

1933736_524170308319_9112_n

Looking so Italian in Venice 10 years ago

No, this beard is being grown for one simple reason: I like it. I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to follow a trend with disastrous consequences before; as someone once said, to be old and wise, you must first be young and foolish. I’m not quite sure at what stage of that scale I lie right now, but I am at least aware enough to know my limitations. While living in Italy as a 21-year-old student, I thought it would be a great idea to grow my hair as long as possible, ostensibly because I thought “that’s what Italians do”. I apologise to everyone who had to suffer the monstrosity of my flowing locks for most of that year; it must have been truly terrifying.

Male Grooming

1829587351402665_0098

Trendy London

The attitude towards male grooming in this country has altered dramatically to the extent where there are now more male-only hair salons than female or unisex ones. Vaguely presentable is not enough any more. Opposite my old workplace there is a faux-red brick building that holds one such establishment, “Trendy London”, which to be fair does a booming trade from the name alone. Wedding parties have even decamped outside the doors to take pictures such is the originality and cool surrounding it. I resisted the pressure to attend these types of places on a number of grounds, chief of which was that it pains me to pay 1,000 roubles for something I could do myself at home, but after a cunning move by my wife I had no choice but to cave in.

My New Year present, you see, was a certificate to “Like Bros” (like Trendy London, the sign is written in English as is the fashion). In fairness, it wasn’t as pretentious as I had dreaded, and my stylist – I still cringe using that word – even spoke excellent English. OK, I admit it; it was very reasonable value. Given that I take my daughters to a daily fashion parade, I mean take them to kindergarten every morning, I realise I have to keep up standards. You would not believe the height of the heels or skirt hems that the tottering mothers wear to drop their kids off; I’m not talking work suits, but full on nightclub-worthy attire. It’s mental, but in fact is just an extension of the obsession with appearance in Russia today.

In fact I am in a distinct minority as a husband who appears at Kindergarten. The ones who do turn up are either in very odd-fitting jeans and those ghastly dated bluetooth earpieces for their phone that were about as popular as MiniDisc players (remember those??), or in their work suits with about as much time for being there as Nigel Farage has for foreigners. A gruff, short “Stras-jay” is grunted, no more, between the male species of parents, as most aim to get out of there at the first opportunity. Male fashion? No time for that nonsense here.

Hipster Life

13123073_10205982731307674_5543956679289965795_o

Milya & Johnny; so effortlessly cool…

Outside the kindergarten gates, however, it’s a totally different story. When my good friend Johnny revealed he even has his beard trimmed professionally every so often at Trendy London, my initial reaction was to groan, but then after a while I thought: why not? His wardrobe used to be filled with tracksuits and simple t shirts, but now his skinny jeans and hipster sunglasses would not look out of place on the boulevards of Paris or Milan. Or Moscow.

The young professionals of Modern Russia aspire to more than life in their own town, or even country, but aim for loftier ambitions. 15 years ago, there were a very small handful of Italian restaurants in Tyumen; now you can take courses in Indian Kathak dancing, enjoy Thai massages or listen to authentic live samba music. If you had to pinpoint what exactly the Modern Russian character is, it would be something vastly removed from the stereotypes that still bandy themselves around casual conversation in the West. One thing is certain; the younger generation is deeply in touch with global trends, or at least wants to be seen to be so.

Anti-Cafes and Warehouse Cinemas

From ‘anti-cafes’ to warehouse cinemas, there is a whole range of hipster locations for hipsters to admire each other’s hipster style springing up at a dizzying rate. One cafe charges you by the hour, not by what you eat or drink, and in principle you can consume as much as you like as you play boardgames or just chat. Instagram has spawned a whole army of accounts that will be represented at any evening at such places, which everyone knows. This has the odd effect off people desperately trying to enjoy a ‘deconstructed’ atmosphere while simultaneously trying to preen themselves to the nth degree.

Another place, Fabric Loft, for me sums up the best and worst of this whole hipster craze. It is a three-storey warehouse with all manner of paint-splattered woodwork tools and half-mended doors hanging loose as you clamber between them to make your way upstairs. You pay what you like to watch as eclectic a mix of films, all in original language, and sit on a random but comfortable assortment of stools, benches and futons, but then are more often than subjected to a snooty talk about the deep meaning of the Korean art-house monstrosity about to come on.

Perhaps I am being a little bit harsh; if people enjoy the discussion about films with others of a similar persuasion, who am I to judge them for doing so? The same people might mock me for watching four back-to-back football matches on TV, even if I can’t imagine why they would. What I object to is the swelling number of those who flock to these places because they want to be seen to be doing so, not because they genuinely have a passion for art house culture.

If you do come to Russia any time soon, don’t expect to see bears walking down the High Street and men weilding Kalashnikov rifles and swigging vodka – they’re more likely to be rocking Ray Bans and Cuban heels.

 

Tyumen Musings Part 13: (Late) Christmas Special

I have redefined cool.

We’ve all grimaced at those low-riding custom job cars with the windows down blaring out some god-awful abomination claiming to be music. It’s odd why some people think anyone else gives a **** about whatever form of mind-numbingly inane hip hop beat they find defining, and I swore I would never sink to anything like that low. Well have you never broken a promise?

car_modification_1

Tyumen has an odd range of cars on its roads, from Toyota Landcruisers and Porsche Cayenne 4x4s to these gaudy monstrosities – all blaring out horrendous music

As I sped down the central artery of the glorious Siberian city of Tyumen at 11pm, I succumbed to this vice. The thumping tunes blared out at full volume (and I mean FULL volume), attracting glances ranging somewhere between disgust and utter bemusement as my companions wound down the window. For the short ride home we were transported to another realm, far removed from our surroundings. If we had closed our eyes, we could almost have been huddled around a log fire with a glass of wine and a contented belly full of turkey and trimings, not rushing home over the dirty ice-ridden streets after a long day’s work surrounded by people who didn’t care much for us at all.

 

The difference is that whereas suburban white gopniks – chavs to English readers – pathetically attempt to connect to their ‘brothers’ from the East or West coast of a country they generally look upon with contempt, my choons were the distinctly un-rock’n’roll strains of Nat King Cole. Oh yes. Welcome to life on Christmas Day as an expat in a country where December 25 is a just another date…

The last time I wrote a blog post, the sun was beating down as I panted out of breath having run a sprightly kilometre in a ‘snug’ grey suit. Two stylish chaps strolled down the path in front of me, so effortlessly smooth and emanating the sort of cool we all wish we had a bit more of. Thankfully they took pity on the hapless foreigner and were charming in their openness as they took photos with me and chatted for a while.

img_20150530_190931

A style icon – and Evgeniy Savin

One of them is about the most fashionable men to ever step foot in Tyumen. Ha ha, big deal I hear you say; well he is also now a presenter on Mr Putin’s grand new TV sports channel, Match TV, having also been called up to one of Guus Hiddink’s Russia squads a few years back. Evgeniy Savin is the sort of man who could look cool in a bin bag and a bowler hat, but he doesn’t conform to the largely true stereotype of the disconnected, arrogant and self-obsessed Russian football superstar. He runs a youth tournament every year wherever his career takes him, and last summer he spent a lot of time with the hundreds of kids who came to Tyumen as they played for the Kubok Savina (won by “Tyumen-2003” = under 12s, since you ask). He even found time to speak to the grey-suited foreigner again.

The other, meanwhile, is entertaining thousands in Brazil on a weekly basis. His arrival was a real culture shock; a Brazilian with actual talent and reasonable pedigree playing in Tyumen was not something we have been used to. Every time he touched the ball, something unique happened which either created an opening or at least put us on the edge of our seats. Cleyton by name, genius by nature. Will we see his like again? Well possibly, yes; only four places off the playoff places with a game in hand and with Spartak reserves – currently just above FC Tyumen in the table – unable to be promoted, the omens are promising for a dramatic end to the season. The mouth-watering prospect of top flight football down the road awaits.

Why am I mentioning these two players again? They have both moved on from our humble town to pursue what they wanted to do; Cleyton is now back in his homeland, Savin is in front of the national TV cameras, and neither are stuck in limbo. Little did they know it at the time, but when they stopped and were so open to me, they lodged a mental note in my head to follow their paths. Much as I admired them on the pitch, they were both clearly not made for the environment Tyumen offered for different reasons, so the fact that they got off their ‘zhopas’ and did something about it is inspiring. To me at least.

CAPKc_bWgAAX4kv

“Soon it will be Monday, and back to work!” – This poster may have Soviet propaganda written all over it, but it hints at the hours many Russians work

My brother-in-law is an example of this ruthless pursuit of self-improvement that I find common in many Russians. Like 90% of the population in my adopted home town, he qualified as an engineer, but not satisfied with an office job and little prospect of career progression, he took the bold move at a time when the rouble was beginning to fall faster and faster to find a new job that involved moving hundreds of kilometres away from his family, and worked so hard he was awarded a prize in recognition of his progress.

The number of hours worked by the average Russian is, to me, astonishing. University students often work full time jobs in conjunction with studying with 30 contact hours a week. I had 11 weekly hours on my schedule at University, and I struggled to make half of those sometimes, yet alone hold down a 9 to 5 at the same time. What is curious is the surprise local people show me when I say how hard I think Russians work; my students and friends tell me that while many of their compatriots work long hours, they don’t always use them efficiently. The thing is, I used to do neither – unless fine-tuning my team on Football Manager counts as productive. No? Oh well. I might just fit in here after all…

* * * * * * * *

*After an enforced hiatus from Andrewmijflint.com due to technical reasons – I forgot my password – Tyumen Musings and all my other personal views will be posted here. The name ‘An Englishman in Siberia’ has been permitted by the very kind James Brooks, who has written a brilliant account of life as (you guessed it) a fellow countryman in this vast region which can be found at http://www.siberia.eclipse.co.uk. My personal favourite story is of how he met his future wife via a tramp and a bus stop, but please do discover his adventures in Chita and beyond for yourself.