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There are lots of pubs and cafes round here. It was as if I'd been invited to his house and suggested that it would be just as good to go and see the neighbours instead. So we went to his house. I mean class in the everyday, rather than the Marxist, sense. Zinovy writes more and more in English now, though two books of his essays have been published in Russia.

I argued that there are classes in Russia. Some people read about glamorous celebrity lifestyles, usually in brightly-coloured shiny publications full of English words and expressions which seem to suggest that there's nothing to choose between Moscow and London. Others prefer reading matter of a more nationalistic kind, with elements of criminality, Orthodox religion or other rubbish, in which life is nightmarish and hopeless. The rest of the world can just take a running jump.

Contacts: what’s next for Abramovich, the king of Londongrad?

The first group are optimists, the second pessimists. You hear nothing from the others - they are the rustling in the garden. It isn't the only one, of course, but to Zinovy in his Londongrad the others are no more than the rustling in the garden. From that English garden you just can't hear our discourse any more, any more than you can hear our problems and what's going on in our society. Every pub has its own atmosphere and you can see the different types of people in them at a glance. I always drink a pint of cider, as I don't like beer.

In the clubs there are no outsiders, so they're completely homogeneous.

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The Athenaeum is a big old building and everyone is respectable. Wearing a white shirt, jacket and tie is de rigueur. Women weren't allowed into the club before. But Margaret Thatcher came when she was Prime Minister and they couldn't really ask her to leave. Since then women have been allowed to become members too. Britain has emerged from the Roman Empire, outgrown it, as it were.

So for them what the gods can do, cattle can too. It offers only one point of view - for or against. I was taken to the Athenaeum because Brodsky had been there and Seamus Heaney is a member - poets are part of the scene. I put on a black dress and Sasha specially bought a white shirt. However, when we went to another club with Mark Grigoryan we dressed normally, like everyone else.

Londongrad: As Putin’s opponents flocked, his spies followed

Jeans, teeshirt and jacket. It's a club for journalists who work in the trouble spots of the world - hence its name, Frontline Club. It was at the Frontline Club that Alexander Litvinenko held his last press-conference, when he announced that he knew who had killed Anna Politkovskaya. This is the place in London where Russia is discussed often, with acute interest, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Their relics are spattered with dirt now hallowed, as journalists from all over the place have paid for it with their lives in a variety of dirty wars. The mobile telephone and the dirty wallet with bullet holes have saved lives.

Mark himself suffered an attempt on his life and still has the grenade splinters in his body to show for it. He left Yerevan and now works for the BBC, making brief sorties to trouble spots. Once, he too was a student of literature, but the front suddenly seemed more appealing than life behind the lines. London is a haven for them all.

Who to believe?

Now that figurehead of Russian politics - Chief Sanitary Inspector Onishchenko - has banned schoolchildren from travelling there, to prevent them from becoming too accustomed to London at a tender age. After all, it doesn't take much to get used to the good things in life. Since I was here before Norman Foster's appetising glass gherkin has gone up and Renzo Piano's bright orange buildings are nearing completion in the historic centre.

They fit so well into classical London that one can only feel they should somehow have been there before.

Лондонград - Серия 13

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A Russian Outpost With More Freedom: Londongrad - The New York Times

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