A Day in the Life of an Expat in Moscow

I've woken up; I think because the snow plough's just rattled past my window clearing the small access road beneath. Or maybe it's because it's freezing in the room since I've fallen asleep with the window open again.

I've woken up; I think because the snow plough's just rattled past my window clearing the small access road beneath. Or maybe it's because it's freezing in the room since I've fallen asleep with the window open again.

Anyway, my alarm hasn't gone off so it can't be 7.30. I close the window, get back in bed and curl up a bit more.

Then the alarm sounds - Bollywood Mast Qalander - the only thing left on my phone since I somehow wiped all the factory tones, sounding perverse now as I think about the leaden sky outside.

I fossick around beside the bed to find the phone and the snooze alarm. Then the plough clatters by again. Might as well get up.

After I've showered and dressed I walk gingerly down the dark corridor outside my room. The door at the end of the corridor has been closed by Kirill, the night warden, to keep the heat in reception.

I walk through it and open the heavy outside door where the chill hits me. About -10C. Not too bad. I'm not going back for my sheepskin.

Kirill's stood smoking at the entrance, erect and facing the breeze with his legs spread like a sailor. I guess he's about 50 from what he tells me, and from the regions not Moscow. What was he doing in the Soviet years, I once asked, 'Digging potatoes', he said wryly. And what about in the crazy '90s? 'Digging potatoes', came the same reply, this time with a big laugh at absurdity of it all.

He turns his head and smiles when he notices me rubbing my eyes and says 'Ah, Richard, l'vinoye serdtse?!' - Richard the Lionheart. Yes, Richard The Lionheart. It's me. Again. We go through this act most mornings, but I still enjoy it, and it's the kind of warmth that leavens the mix in this otherwise tough city.

I'm on my way out to teach an English class at Interros, one of Russia's finance giants handling many of the construction contracts for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Outside MGIMO, Russia's foreign policy university where I'm taking a master programme in politics and economics, the blacked out Mercs, Beemers and G-Wagons of the nouveau riche kids are already lining up, blatantly parked illegally and blocking half the rush hour traffic. But who's going to tell the dour close-protection crews to move on? If not the militsiya, then not me.

On the way to the metro at Prospekt Vernadskogo I try to walk casually on the icy pavement the way William S. Burroughs' colonel might have coached: 'every object you touch is alive with your life and your will'. But only the shuffling babushkas look comfortable. I'm sliding about because the skinny tractors which clean the pavements also polish the ice like a curling rink and I don't know the babushkas' secret (although I think it might be their felt moon boots). I stick to the squeaky powder at the edges instead.

The sun comes up as I walk and starts to burn off the mist. A crisp, dry Moscow morning.

At the metro entrance I instinctively run my tongue over my teeth as I catch the swinging metal door just before it smashes into my face. I'm grateful every morning I get passed it. Prospekt Vernadskogo is not one of the pretty Moscow stations, but going north towards the centre they get better.

At Vorob'evy Gory the train comes out into the open to cross the Moscow River, frozen solid and dusted white. The river's actually a good barometer for the winter harshness, just a few degrees change either side of -10C and in a few hours the ice will break into platelets or refreeze again. There's practically no traffic on the river in the winter, but it's the first place to see spring, as people start strolling the banks in April and the rowdy and rickety old pleasure boats tear up and down, sinking from time to time and making the newspapers.

For now I change at metro Biblioteka Imeni Lenina - all socialist glory with constructivist stencilling on harvest gold tiles.

Finally at Interros close to Polyanka station I'm given my security pass and step left into a glass tube where I wait for a moment while all manner of scanning takes place before the door the other side whispers open and I go upstairs. Always an eerie silence at Interros, no rhythmic tapping of keys or whirring of photocopiers. Somehow I have a feeling a lot of big Russian business is like this.

Nikolai, my pupil here, is a kind of vice-president and a young one at that, no more than 45. He has a posh office replete with Newton's cradle balance balls and a nice secretary called Katya. Classes with him are more a morning chat over coffee than teaching. His vocabulary is better than most people's in the village where I grew up in Yorkshire and my main challenge is to get him to use articles, which he doesn't see the point of.

Nikolai also has a magisterial grasp of Russian history and the kind of sardonic humour that comes from having been young, good-looking and successful in the torrid '90s. 'Basically, in 16th century', he explains, 'Tsar Peter decided we all retarded and gets us shave our beards and stop keeping farm animals in our gardens. This gets everyone pissed and ever since we have problem with government'. I remember this in anticipation of my off the wall class on 'the philosophy of science' back at the university in the afternoon.

On my way home I take the scenic route to the metro from Alexandrovsky Sad, through the tundra of the gardens that are planted with tulips in spring, past the tomb of the unknown soldier and on to Red Square.

There's a temporary skating rink on the square now and mock mountain cabins, which all looks rather tacky. Still, it's hard to detract from the grandstanding of the place, the convex cobbled floor that arches from Manezh Square at the north end down to the Hansel and Gretel St. Basil's cathedral at the south; the twinkling Tsarist GUM department store to the east - always stocked for the apparatchiks in Soviet times but off limits to everyone else - and crimson walls of the Kremlin at the west. Just a pity the 11th century fortress mentality has rubbed off so much on the government which occupies it.

Many things brought me to the city, but really, if I'm honest, I know it was Red Square that always clinched the decision for me. It's the memory of films shown on rainy days in school history lessons; scenes of the revolution and ensuing Cold War; crowds thronging to hear speeches that changed the world and parades to insist it was for the better; Stalin in his absurd uniforms and finally, in 1990, the queue stretching for over a kilometre for Moscow's first McDonalds that passed close to the square.

I come here every opportunity I have, because it's the place that defined a century, as well as my own earliest memories of sneaking with my father to the fence of the American base near our earlier home in Cambridgshire to watch the secret Blackbird spy planes taking off. I don't think I'll stop detouring here no matter how long I spend in Moscow, and I know it's the thread of consistency that draws all kindred Russophiles here to the Wild East.