I’m three episodes into the third season of Mad Men on a Transaero flight to Moscow, and I can’t help thinking the plane I’m flying on looks like a prop from my new favourite TV series, of which the DVD box set has been keeping me sane on long flights recently. The plane itself is old, but it’s more the particular shade of blue that cover the seats and the outfits that the stewardesses are wearing that really seem so retro. Of course, everyone and everything is much more stylish in the series than this two-bit airline could ever hope to be, but still, it makes the flight a little more bearable to imagine the only reason we’re on it is because we’re actors in a fabulous TV drama about advertising in the 1950’s, and NOT because . . . . well, we’re actually just unfortunate passengers on a shit airline. Nevertheless, there’s no getting around it, I am travelling to the far-flung end of Russia where the time zone is the same as Australia, and concerns about rising radiation levels have been reported recently due to Vladivostok’s proximity to Japan. Yes, Russia really is THAT big. No wonder the Americans have always been so scared it. However big you think it is, times that by ten and you’ll be getting a clearer picture. But I’m not complaining, or at least not really. This is one American who is making the most out of Russia’s vast and seemingly cashed-up population. Over the past year there have been months when three out of four weekends my work has taken me to Russia, which if you know my music seems just a little ironic, as I tend to make music about being happy and joyful, and the Russian’s aren’t exactly known as purveyors of either happiness or joy! If you ever get a chance to travel there, remember to play the ‘make ’em smile’ game at any airport, and see if you have any luck. To make the time spent in long queues both entering and departing the former Soviet Union a little more bearable, I’ve invented this game to amuse myself. The objective: by any means necessary, make a Russian airport staff member smile at you. Even a half-hearted grin could be misconstrued as a smile. If you win (i.e. someone smiles at you) then you get to treat yourself to a beer at the next available bar! I can honestly say, I have never had a beer in a Russian airport. I have stood in front of immigration officers for up to twenty minutes with an unchanging ridiculous expression on my face, baring just about every tooth in my head, and probably a few internal organs as well with my big American smile, with no reaction whatsoever – except perhaps to make them that much more suspicious! Still, I haven’t given up hope! I figure if I keep touring relentlessly and singing my gospel guts out all over the country, at some point it’s bound to start getting widespread results, right? If there was a joy barometer in Russia, I’d like to think of myself as a man on a mission to raise it, even if just slightly! China tends to be the same, with civil servants and taxi drivers whose ability to smile seems to have been literally sucked out of them by an alien force. Needless to say, Communism must’ve been a real kill-joy!
On an entirely different note, London is gearing up for the royal wedding tomorrow and it must be said that given the recent bout of unusual sunshine and the excitement surrounding this event, I don’t think I’ve ever known London to feel quite so jolly as it feels right now. It was actually a shame to leave! Like anyone living in a big, dirty metropolitan city, I’ve been having an on-off love affair with the place I call base for many years now. Sometimes it’s positively horrendous, and other times it’s the only city in the world to be. Right now, it is definitely the latter, and driving through town a few nights ago, seeing the union jack flag draped across just about everything that will sit still made me feel proud to be British, even though I’m not! Of course I’m aware of how ridiculous it is, and I’m often loathe to attend weddings of people I know and even like, so why should this affect me at all? And yet, tomorrow night I will be declining any invitations to dinner by the promoter in Vladivostok so I can lock myself in the hotel room, glue my attention to whatever English-speaking TV channel I can find on the limited hotel cable, and raise a a glass of something (if there’s room service!) to the young couple while the whole world watches these two strangers get hitched! My British friends tell me I shouldn’t be supporting it, taking into consideration the 20 million pound costs while there’s a recession, and the unlikelihood that it will even last given previous royal couples failure to do so, blah bah. But honestly, I just can’t help myself. I don’t know if it’s to do with being a romantic at heart, or a silly American (since we automatically seem to be born royalists even though it’s got nothing to do with us), or just a HUGE relief to see something on the sorry-ass news which isn’t so hideously grim as everything else we’ve been subjected to everyday for the last two years. Whatever the case, I say let the nation have a party for Christ’s sake. Lord knows we need it. If the marriage only lasts a week, well . . . at least we will all have had some fun! How many millions get pumped into those stupid wars every year, which rarely achieve any real objectives, and are definitely NEVER any fun. The way I look at, we’ve all had moments when we’re a bit skint, but we’ll still find that little bit of cash to buy a few drinks, or pay to get into a club, or whatever. This is just the same thing, but on a national scale! Wills and Kate are like two pills, and their wedding is being paid for by that little stash of drug money that can be scraped together even in the bleakest of times! To all of those cynics moaning about tomorrow’s lavish expenditure at the tax-payers expense, I say CHILLAX! Make yourself a Pimms and let the country get high! What will the Russians and the Chinese think, when they see all those hundreds of thousands of people coming together and SMILING!? They will probably suspect that the whole country is under the influence of some government-manufactured industrial strength lithium, confirming what they knew all along . . . that we are all just a bunch of weirdos! But maybe, just maybe, a few of them will see how exciting and uplifting it can be to feel part of a global community who will be coming together tomorrow to celebrate something as unlikely and adventurous as two people deciding to publicly declare vows of love and devotion to each other. And perhaps, in the privacy of their homes, with no managers to chastise them, and no peers to judge them too harshly, a big fat uncontrollable smile will stretch across their stoney faces, as Wills & Kate win the make ’em smile game for all of us!