I was lucky enough to spend all of last week in Norilsk, the most northerly city in the world. I was running a course there, and as is always the case when I’m in Russia, I was struck by the enthusiasm, dedication and motivation of the local teachers of English. I was also struck by the way that everyone referred to the rest of Russia as ‘the mainland’. For instance, when talking about the planned closure of the airport that’s due to take place this summer, people would say things like “We’ll be totally cut off from the mainland.” Usually when people talk about the mainland, they mean the main part of a country – not including the islands around it, so if you live on a little island off the coast, you might talk about getting a ferry over to the mainland. In England, people often talk about mainland Europe – meaning the large part of Europe that lies across the Channel from us! This was the first time I’d ever heard anyone talk about land they were physically connected to as the mainland.
“But can’t you drive south and get down to the rest of Russia that way?” I asked, naively. They patiently explained that there simply aren’t any roads. The basic infrastructure just stops. The roads peter out into little dirt tracks and then nothing – just hundreds and hundreds of miles of tundra, the large flat empty areas of treeless land common in northern parts! Someone added that in the depths of winter, you could drive special cars down the frozen Yenisei River, but you had to drive in convoy – with lots of vehicles, all following each other, ready to help in case one gets into trouble on the ice! At this point, I came to understand the use of the word mainland. Norilsk really is incredibly isolated. To all intents and purposes, the place is basically an island.
If you say that one thing is to all intents and purposes another thing, it means that even though it’s not exactly the same as that thing, it might as well be. In other words, it’s the same in all important respects. So you might say of a couple who’ve been living together for years and years and have kids together that to all intents and purposes, they’re basically married. In the same way, people who see the open use of cannabis on the streets of London might complain that the anti-drug laws are to all intents and purposes useless – and that the drug has to all intents and purposes been legalised – simply as a result of police inaction!
As for Norilsk, the city that was built as a holding pen for gulag prisoners during the 1920s and 1930s (and that suffered terribly during the crisis of the 1990s) is today to all intents and purposes thriving. The population stands at around 180,000, the healthcare is second to none and workers get extended holidays. Oh, and the teachers are incredible!
- Can you think of any places that are to all intents and purposes an island? In what way?
- Do you know any couples who are married to all intents and purposes?
- Can you think of any laws that are to all intents and purposes useless?
- What’s the most isolated place you’ve ever been to? Did you like it?
- Can you think of anything in your town / city you’d describe as being second to none?