Pint-sized Lada is proved champion of the road in rescue of panting Volvo hulk

Moscow Days

I have taken a solemn vow. Never again will I pour scorn, lampoon, or subject to ridicule and contempt that whipping boy of the motor industry and butt of a million jokes, the Lada car. For all its similarities with a jerry can on wheels, I now realise the error of my ways: it is a truly superior vehicle, a masterpiece of Soviet engineering. An apology is in order.

I made my resolution at 3.45pm Moscow time last Saturday, on a roasting day in the middle of the countryside. That was when my ageing Volvo, which had been whingeing for months, issued a small sigh and coasted to a stubborn halt by the vergeside. The damn thing had only just been serviced; a mechanic's spanner had evidently upset the delicate organic internal balance that has kept it on the road beyond its natural life.

In this rugged environment, with its pot-holed roads and ferocious winters, cars - like people - die young. Breaking down anywhere is obviously annoying, but in Russia it is a crisis.

A new petrol station seems to open every other day in and around Moscow, where, until recently, there were fewer than 40 for the entire city. In summer, you can buy a bizarre assortment of goods from the stalls along the country roads around the capital - fruit, barbecued pork, cooking pots, samovars, water toys, and garish beach towels decorated as $100 notes or with topless women. But two crucial services are lacking: telephones and break-down trucks.

Hot and irritated, we decided to wait. For all this nation's reputation for churlishness, Russians are often quick to help one another out, filling in the gaps in their infrastructure and economy by a system of self-help. It is neither uncommon nor embarrassing to ask a friend for a loan rather than risk venturing into the shark-invested waters of the Russian banking system. (A Russian associate startled me the other day, when our funds were running low, by offering to lend me $1,000 - about pounds 625)

So, too, with cars. In Soviet times, for those few who owned vehicles (party lickspittles, army veterans, top scientists and so on) there was a long waiting list for the state-run garages, so Russians took to mending their cars themselves, or turning to an oily-fingered friend.

That tradition has continued, perpetuated both by a lack of mechanics who could be trusted not to steal your engine parts, and the expense of going to a garage. The place is teeming with amateurs. Every other Russian man carries around in his head a manual of the Lada, the Volga, the Moskvich or the Niva.

There are plenty of opportunities to use this expertise. On any Sunday summer evening , as Muscovites return home from a weekend at their country dachas, hundreds of broken-down Russian-made cars line the roads back into the city, their bonnets yawning.

It took approximately one and a half minutes to flag down our man. "You need a lorry to move that thing," he said matter-of-factly, after inspecting our tank-like vehicle. Yet the opportunity to be seen towing a posh foreign car with his clapped out, canary blue Lada was simply too good to miss.

He cheerfully hitched our hulk to his own pint-sized vehicle. Ten minutes later, we slowly glided through the gate of our destination, a country cottage some 50 miles from Moscow. Without asking for money, he drove off, beaming happily. Thus, the vow.

But our problem is only half solved. In the last few days, I have been trying to get our car back from the country to Moscow. If this city's new species of entrepreneur (in contrast to the Good Samaritans in the country) understands one principle of capitalism well it is this: you can charge big money to someone in a jam, particularly a foreigner.

One company - ludicrously called Angel - has demanded a fee of $1,000 , about one-third of the car's probable value. No deal.

There may, however, be a way of stopping this happening again. The other day I spotted an Orthodox priest standing by the roadside on the outskirts of Moscow, sweltering beneath his black robes and beard. Next to him, there was a large notice in which he offered (for a fee, I imagine) to bless cars.

Once mine is back on the road, I will be going straight there with a list of requests. A blessing, please, for the Volvo, with some special prayers for the broken distributor and faulty gears. Another blessing for the owner of the Lada who rescued us the other day. And how about a damnation for that Angel?

Phil Reeves

Suggested Topics
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Campaign Manager, Stevenage

£34000 - £36000 per annum: Charter Selection: This market leading organisation...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

SSIS Developer Required - Leading Media Company

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A world leading media organisation is cu...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform