There's a little cafe here run by a very shy Russian lady who spends her day watching soaps on a TV with no aerial - the picture is barely visible. Her clients are mechanics from dozens of car workshops lining the street but, despite the fact that they are all work with their hands and like to watch her TV. none of them has offered to fix her aerial. That's Russia for you - a shrug and a willingness to accept things as they are, to accept that life can't be changed.
Unless...unless something special needs to be done like fixing a Peking to Paris rally car that's fallen behind and needs to be made well. A little group of mechanics worked until 2 am yesterday trying to get Rhubarb and Custard going.
First out came the fuel tank, which was full of rubbery bits like black baby aliens. There were also sheets of what looked like glue floating in the petrol. What any of this was or where it came from we don't know but to the surprise and great reluctance of the locals we asked them to fit a brand new fuel tank. An hour later a small Lada petrol tank appeared and several hours after that it was fitted and working and I was beginning to contemplate a beer.
No such luck. Our mechanics didn't like the noises coming from the engine and so the carburettors were taken apart and patiently rebuilt with scientific precision. No good, and so the electrics were fettled. Still no good. Eventually the problem was identified as being a broken exhaust valve fitted between the cylinder exhaust outlet and the exhaust pipe - I must say I had no idea we owned such a thing.
It was an heroic effort which if applied to the TV in the cafe would have transformed local viewing habits, but sadly a test drive was accompanied by lots of popping and banging from the exhaust.
"Will this get us to Minsk?" I asked - Paris being too far to contemplate at this stage. A long silence, a long discussion, more silence, "Maybe."
Decision making was put to one side for the day and we left the car at the garage. Despite being the early hours of the morning the White Nights here meant that there were no street lights and the sky was still light. At our hotel couples in spotless all white outfits reluctantly shared a lift with oily, dusty and black faced Richard and me as they headed to the 25th floor nightclub to celebrate these special Kazan days when the sun never quite sets.
Has the sun set on Rhubard and Custard? Should we be like good Russians and simply accept life as we find it or should we fight to stay in the rally? As the disco beat throbbed through room 1809, I fell asleep leaving those questions for the morning.