The County Durham expat who went from writing a front page obit on a dead horse to witnessing one of the biggest revolutions in modern times.

BACK in the USSR, or whatever these days it has become, Andy Potts views the general election with a certain detachment.

It’s a long way from Durham City’s football programme, where his journalistic career began, or Spennymoor United’s where, goal hungry, it continued.

This week he was promoted senior editor of the English language Moscow News’s website – – a medium neither holding the front page nor polling its hair out, either.

The feeling among Moscow’s expatriates, however, is that New Labour is old hat and that the Conservatives are on course for a working majority.

“It’s not a good time,” he supposes.

“The election falls between the May Day holiday and the Victory Day holiday, when everyone’s heading out of town to commune with Mother Russia.

“The close contest is rather different from elections in Russia where voting resembles a lot of North-East seats where it’s easier to weigh the votes than count them.”

This week’s editions have instead reported a mock air attack on the capital – “Don’t be alarmed, it’s only a rehearsal” – a failed raid by two push bike-riding jewellery shop robbers and Naomi Campbell’s forthcoming marriage to a Russian oligarch (of whom there appear rather a lot.) “In an interview with the Oprah Winfrey show, the supermodel, who regards The Ritz as her Moscow residence, insisted that size isn’t important when it comes to her man’s wallet,” the News reported.

Had she ever dated a pauper?

There was one once, she thought, but perhaps suffers from a poor memory.

Neither Russian nor oligarchical, our man in Moscow has nonetheless been able to witness something of the second revolution, and remains fascinated by it.

These days the News was even able to get away with misquoting President Putin – “We don’t, thank God, have elections in Russia” omitted the fairly crucial phrase “coming up” – with nothing more than red faces.

It began with an exchange visit in 1990, arranged by Susan Tasker, his French and Russian teacher at Durham Johnston school – the first of three trips in successive years to what then was the USSR.

The first was to Tallinn, now in Estonia, memorable for the Depeche Mode graffiti on every apartment building – Depeche Mode are an electronic band from Basildon, the direct current not immediately obvious – and for the anti-Communist, pro-independence demonstrations.

“In St Petersburg two years later we saw pro-Communist demonstrators wanting to go back to the old certainties.”

In 1992 he also headed into Moscow at night – “a more or less deserted and almost totally dark city of ten million people. The shops had names like Shoes or Milk, with no attempt to get visitors through the doors.”

Mind, adds Andy, the exchange visitors couldn’t much get their heads round the MetroCentre, either.

The other impression was of universal friendliness, often from complete strangers. “They were astonished that, at such an uncertain time, anyone should want to visit their country at all.”

HIS parents, retired teachers, still live near Durham. He went to university in York, wrote stuff for the student newspaper, helped produce the programmes at Durham and Spennymoor – “topping a glittering shortlist of at least one applying for the task” – and spent a formative year with North News. a press agency in Bishop Auckland.

It allowed his first Football Echo byline – “Andy Potts reports from Wembley” – on Tow Law Town’s indelible FA Vase final appearance in 1998.

After a lap of local newspapers – flogging it, he still recalls having to write a front page obituary on a dead horse – he returned to Russia, taught English and 18 months ago got a staff job on the Moscow News.

It had been formed in 1930 on Stalin’s direct orders – intended to spread the word of the glorious Revolution to the rest of the world – but was closed in 1949 after its editor-inchief was arrested and is thought to have died in a labour camp.

It resumed under Communist Party supervision in 1956, these days a “more or less independent” part of the state-run news agency.

There’s also a headline “Vixontakle rolls out online payments” and thus tempting to suggest that anyone employing that asinine neologism should be interred for five years, regardless.

ANDY’S a Sunderland supporter, the present editor-in-chief Tim Wall a Newcastle United man. It’s a freedom of expression doubtless illustrative of the new Russia.

Most of the other staff are Russian – “their English putting my rotten Russian to shame” – most of the readers either expats, English speaking Russians, Russophiles round the world or “occasional strays looking to confirm or challenge their prejudices about this strange country”.

His own challenge, says Andy, is to provide both an up-to-date news service and a snapshot of Russian life, real and surreal.

“We operate like a local title but over 20 per cent of the land surface of the planet.”

The signs no longer indicate “Shop”, rather point, neon-lit, to Ikea or other global retailers.

Tallinn has painted over the graffiti but has two Depeche Mode fan bars to reinforce the Basildon bond.

“I fondly hope the former hooded hooligans with the spray cans are in charge, turning an honest kroner out of a youthful passion,” says Andy.

The real Moscow news is that he’s loving it. “It continues to be a fantastic adventure, Moscow no longer dark and silent as it appeared back then.

“Of all the places I’ve lived, it has perhaps the greatest breadth of live music, theatre, culture and toplevel sport and all at bargain prices. If only they had decent beer.”

Tonight, he supposes, he’ll have an early night while wakeful colleagues watch swingometers and roundabouts in one of Moscow’s olde Englishe pubs.

“The only issue that will affect me is any tightening of immigration law, and its knock-on effects. Beyond that it’s a bit like watching Real Madrid play Barcelona – interesting, but I’m not all that concerned about the outcome.”

When he wakes tomorrow morning, however, he’s still pretty certain it’ll be to Moscow news of yet another revolution, and of Prime Minister Cameron.

The Canon and his concrete crusade

CANON Jack Lee-Warner, who has died, aged 87, was one of many future clergymen upon whom active service in World War II left an indelible impression.

“We should still shudder to think what (the Germans and Japanese) would have done had they been able.

We had a great deliverance,” he told a Remembrance Day service in Winston in the year 2000.

He was a pilot, revealed at a nostalgic gathering in Darlington last year that he had fibbed about his height – the whitest of white lies – in order to be accepted.

The maximum was six feet oneand- half inches. Jack was 6ft 2in. He still measured up, admirably.

Oxford educated, ordained in 1951, he served a curacy in South Shields, became priest-in-charge of Cassopcum- Quarrington and then just the second vicar of Peterlee, then still wet behind the urban ears.

A slim cuttings file nonetheless reveals that in 1962, when the world was rather different, he’d asked that parents of children under four refrain from using his Sunday School as a glorified creche. It had 250 children as it was.

For 11 years thereafter he became vicar, affectionately remembered, of Holy Trinity in Darlington, pleading on his departure for Gainford and Winston that Darlington should be spared any more “concrete monstrosities”.

Presumably satisfied – the headline had read “Save town, says vicar”

– he returned upon retirement.

His wife Nance, who survives him, is a former history and English teacher who, when 86, returned voluntarily to teach literacy and numeracy skills at Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution, outside Barnard Castle. “It gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” she said.

A celebration of Canon Lee-Warner’s life will be held at 11am tomorrow at St Edwin’s, High Coniscliffe, near Darlington.

REPORTING a couple of weeks back the Darlington Pig Discussion Group’s annual dinner, we suggested that – despite a distinctly porcine flavour to the proceedings – no one had yet invented bacon ice cream. The claim was mistaken – Heston Blumenthal’s even made egg and bacon ice cream, as BBC North-East industrial correspondent Ian Reeve points out. It comes as a “twist on breakfast”, adds Ian, with caramelised brioche in place of toast, tomato and red pepper compote instead of jam, salted butter caramel with wild mushrooms and all washed down with jellied Earl Grey tea.

ACOUPLE of beers in Crook last Friday with Alec McCoy, retiring from Durham County Council’s licensing and markets department but much better remembered – by some of us, anyway – as PC 1346, stationed at Shildon (your Worships.) Alec was one of the Horden – and thus the real – McCoys, reckoned pollissing Shildon the happiest time of his life. “We had nothing, about 50p away from free school meals for the kids, but they were brilliant times,”

he recalled.

The sergeant back in the 1960s was Ernie Coates, old school and affable, the bobbies included Norman Woods, the wonderful Tommy Trebilcock, Ray Bradley, John Wilkes and Ivan Cliff, the resident detective.

Alec once let me off riding a bike without a back light. We’ve been mates ever since.

YOU thought it was just a general election? We hear that Radio 4 have drafted in front line reinforcements to cover the count in Sunderland – step forward ace war correspondent Kate Adie.

DAPHNE Clarke, positively beaming, looks in with a copy of Trains of Thought – “a collection of prose and poetry about railways in Wensleydale and further afield”.

It’s compiled by the Wensleydale Writers’ Group, profits to the Wensleydale Railway Association – an imaginatively varied, lively and diverting anthology.

Daphne, among those featured, is 77. We’d featured her last December after her performance poem Obesity Rap – “Obesity, obesity, we’ve all got obesity” – helped her to second place among all the young ’uns in the Richmondshire’s Got Talent contest.

“People weren’t quite expecting a rapping grandmother,” she said. “I still don’t think it’s quite what The X Factor is looking for.”

Obesity Rap was included in her own anthology, Kaleidoscope Soup, which has now been named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writers Magazine. Daphne, from Richmond, collects her award in London today.

“I was a little surprised,” she says.

■ Trains of Thought is available, £5, (including postage) from Hazel Townesend, Dale Cottage, Vale Terrace, Railway Street, Leyburn, North Yorks DL8 5BA.

ONE of those small world snippets that helps make it all go around.

Barbara Brown, who helps run Enterprise Coach hire in Darlington, reports that two female passengers got into conversation on last week’s trip to the Alnwick Garden. Both, it transpired, had daughters in Canada, both in Greater Vancouver, both in the little seaside city of White Rock and – ultimately – in adjacent streets. Until a bus trip to Alnwick, they were unaware of one another’s existence.

...and finally, a thought for the day.

Roger Morris, still promoting Isaac Holden’s tea trail in the North Pennines, calls attention to another Isaac Holden – a successful 19thCentury textile manufacturer and claimed inventor of the Lucifer match who, at the age of 58, was medically advised to take things a bit more canny.

Thus he became MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, thereafter for the North West Riding of Yorkshire and for Keighley and remained in the Commons until retiring at 89, life’s stresses long behind him.