Express & Star

Peter Rhodes on digital booking, Putin's gangster state and a sudden ban on burgers

I rang my GP to fix a blood test and encountered, once again, the awesome brilliance of our computer age. The receptionist consulted the surgery diary and suggested the 18th. I agreed and she said: “Right, then. We'll see you on the 18th at 9am.”

Farewell, Big Macs

“Hang on,” I replied. “You haven't taken my name. You don't know who I am.” “Oh, yes I do,” she said proudly. “Our system automatically recognises your phone number. You're Hugo Bennet.”

Digital stuff, eh? I often wonder how we ever managed without it.

A reader looks forward to “the removal of Putin and his gangsters.” Spot on. It's important to understand that Russia is not a state in the sense that we in Western Europe understand the term. It is more like a gangster fiefdom, created out of the ruins of the old Soviet Union and run principally for the enrichment of Putin, his family and his cronies.

Nobody knows how rich Putin is but some sources reckon he has amassed about £150 billion.

Other experts reckon his actual wealth may be much less than that because, having every company and oligarch living in fear of him, Putin can book a private jet or have a palace built without needing much in the bank. Another gold-plated Ferrari, Comrade Putin? It would be an honour. . . .

Sad to see that all 847 branches of McDonald's in Russia are closing because of the war. This will include the very first branch in Moscow's Pushkin Square. I was there when it opened.

That was back in 1990 when Russia was known as the Wild East as it stumbled from surly communism into rampant capitalism. The queue for McDonald's was long and cheerful. As one Muscovite explained to me, it wasn't just because the food was excellent or even that the staff actually smiled at customers. It was a treat, an event, a delicious culture-shock. As he put it: “For us, this is a day out in the West.” No more lovely Big Macs for a long time, I bet.

When I was in Moscow all those years ago, the rouble suffered one of its occasional earthquakes and the value of our tourist pounds suddenly increased tenfold. So the champagne that cost £7 a bottle on the first day was reduced to 70p. I've never heard so many corks popping.