Flat Earth: Spring fever on the Moskva

NOW is the springtime of our discontent. In Britain, snow, gales and tax increases; in Russia, trial by fire and water. For Muscovites, though, April is an even crueller month than it is for us.

The problem is that the snow melts, revealing corruption that had been well hidden during the winter. As the thaw fills the city's reservoirs at a rate of 20 inches a day, bodies of dogs, rats and people, long preserved by the biting cold, begin to emerge from the snow. The water supply is so polluted that it is brown and smells as it comes through the taps. All the water authorities can do is add huge amounts of chlorine.

The dvorniki, or street cleaners, burn all the rubbish they find, while anyone who has a mind to sets fire to the dead grass and brush exposed by the disappearing snow. The air becomes as brown and pungent as the tap water. Summer, of course, cannot be far behind. Then the apartment buildings turn off the hot water for a month to repair the systems.