The news that Obama-inspired People Power prevented a booze-weary Aeroflot pilot from taking to the clouds in his wingèd trolley-bus brought up queasy memories of my encounters with Soviet-era air travel.
Aeroflot was called "The Flying Gulag" by the unfortunates who were obliged to skid from runway to runway in its dusty crates. The in-flight staff were trained to punch you at the slightest comment and spent their time ferrying all the food and drink up to the cockpit for a slap-up mid-flight feast with the pilots.
I don't remember any of their air crew being drunk, but that might be because I, like the other 150 million inhabitants of the First Socialist State in the World, kept myself topped up at all times on various skull-numbing fluids.
My sole encounter with a drunken airman came at Moscow's endless Sheremetyevo Airport in 1986, courtesy of the Polish state airline Lot.
I was writing a fond postcard to my soon-abandoned Black Earth ladylove in the post office when a poorly-shaved bear in a blue suit a size too small slurred a request to borrow my pen.
This happened a great deal in the Glorious Soviet Union, as the Ust-Kamenogorsk Ballpoint Pen Factory and Nuclear Testing Ground concentrated on producing James-Bond jobs that poisoned Bulgarian journalists and turned into speed boats etc.
I reluctantly handed over my prized Bic, only to notice that my petitioner was wearing a Lot pilot's uniform. As a subtle protest against Soviet oppression I had spent the previous two months learning Polish instead of Russian, and couldn't resist the chance to show off my linguistic brio.
"Here is my pen!" I announced with a Cracowian bow.
"Prząbwość niech kładowięckiego żibrząb sztont śmigrzydzły!" declared the ursine Pole as he embraced his new-found if clearly simple compatriot.
All correspondence forgotten, he opened his pilot's jacket to reveal a half-bottle of finest Dagestani brandy. My shoulders still pinned within his mighty paw, we lurched off to the underground car park to celebrate what I gather was our "szkrątnowalkówięnrzność".
I felt uneasy about this prospect for a number of reasons:
- The Soviet Union was enjoying a predictably disastrous period of Prohibition, and swigging firewater in one of their sensitive border facilities was likely to earn you a hands-on tour of the local drunk tank followed by two years in a uranium mine.
- Poles were regarded as the weak link in the great Chain of Socialism, and any association with these backsliders might lead to an evening attached to a KGB car battery.
- For reasons I shall go into, I was wearing a 1950s Red Army cavalry officer's uniform under my fisherman's sweater and loon pants.
My companion - for the sake of simplicity let us call him Kapitan Mieczysław Wrzaszczyk-Ćwierczakiewicz - found us a bulky concrete pillar to hide behind while we exchanged swigs of Makhachkala three-star cornea-rot. Soldiers skulked at the nearby Central Committee limousine pool.All Slavonic languages merge into one when you've taken on half a pint of spirits, so I was able to tune into Mieczysław's musings in the middle of an impressively clinical account of the internal workings of Iranian women.
He flew the Warsaw-Tehran route, the destination of which afforded him more opportunities for alcohol and spousal abuse - other men's spouses, I gathered - than the BBC news might suggest.
"Pięknię kobietą, ale chopi-chop - skrzy pierst części mórze!" he explained, with cheery gestures that suggested a unicorn had recently tried to saw through his glans.
But the return stopover in Moscow, with its familiar aromas of cheap petrol, damp hair, fried gristle and bark-enriched cigarettes, brought on a wave of nostalgia for Poland and his shrewish wife Małgorzata.
Hence the recourse to Caucasian monkey-juice and the tearful letter of confession that she would never receive - not least because the Soviet postal system had diverted all Poland-bound material to a large fire near Zhlobin as a matter of policy since 1921.
This was all very interesting, but we both had flights to catch, so I offered to escort "Mike" - I could no longer manage more than one Polish syllable at a time - up to the departures lounge.
"At least you get to sleep it all off on this leg of the flight, eh?" I remarked as we staggered up the motionless, herring-scented escalator.
"You must be joking!" he wailed. "Kazimierz has been drinking brake-fluid since Tabriz, so I'm in the driving seat!"
At this point I fell over. As Mike helped me up he saw the Soviet Army collar stick out of my sweater. With a cry of "Skafander przeciwprzeciążeniowy!" he lurched off towards the crew entrance, where a few other uniformed Poles were propping one another up and trying to fit their arms into one sleeve of a jacket.
I never saw him or his plane again.
While writing this I've received a number of urgent demands for clarification as to my unusual attire at the time. In short, I had bought the cavalry uniform from a retired Soviet Army officer in Voronezh with the ruse that we had a military museum at Swansea University (formerly Sketty Catering College) that needed ideological balance.
"It's all Wehrmacht and Free Wales Army by there, Igor," I had explained.
The true reason, as usual, was to ease my assignations with the female wing of progressive studentry, most representatives of which were called Hillary.
In 1986 the Hillaries loved a man in righteous Red Army uniform, perhaps because it was good practice for when the Warsaw Pact rumbled up Bexhill High Street and billeted its hunky officers in Mummy's house (Daddy moved away to France with That Slut back in 1978).
This was all to change. By 1988 Gorbachev was friends with that awful President Reagan and you could buy Perestroika! t-shirts in Top Shop.
Meanwhile The Guardian had noticed that General Rabin was busy breaking bones on the West Bank, so you suddenly needed the Full Yasser (keffiyeh, Bundeswehr surplus jacket, shades and stubble - the lips of a corpulent voluptuary were optional) to part a sociology 2nd-year from her black leggings.
Worse was to come. Within months the Berlin Wall was gone and you could pick up Soviet Army uniforms, Kalashnikovs and atom-bomb kits on the Ku'damm. My outfit was well-tailored in bilious cotton, rather than the boxy khaki polyester of the 1980s infantryman, but once you have to explain the difference it's time to move on.
I dug the ensemble out one more time, at the request of the college Catholic chaplain "Desperate" Dom Leo Bonsall. I was giving him my full high-kicking staircase descent when his housekeeper's husband wandered in.
This refugee from eastern Poland had last seen a Soviet cavalry officer riding his Aunt Jadwiga to market in Brześć nad Bugiem in 1940, and the bastard had never come back with the change he'd promised either.
"Skafander przeciwprzeciążeniowy!" he yelled and lurched for the kitchen, where a few other Poles were eating goose fat and trying to fit all the countries of Central Europe into one map of inter-war Poland.
I never saw him or his wife's gołąbki again.