Chapter 1: Rudy the reluctant reindeer

On the snow swept streets of St Petersburg

Resplendent in his winter coat, Rudy felt so at home on St Petersburg’s snow-swept streets that he could almost have been in Lapland. He had found his true habitat, he thought. Somewhere an elk could finally be recognised.

Hotel Astoria, which had been Rudy’s home since arriving in the city, had certainly helped.

Here, a Concierge had been quick to brief his colleagues on the differences between elk and reindeer. The usual confusion had been avoided, and the hotel had even sourced fresh birch saplings as a treat for Rudy’s afternoon teas.

Still, Rudy made little progress in his mission to rebuild the good name of Europe’s elks, and this started to grind him down. Inspired by the Axenoff nutcrackers on the hotel’s Christmas tree, the Concierge organised a backstage tour of the Mariinsky Theatre and a seat in the Astoria’s private box to lift Rudy’s spirits. He could tell he was an elk of culture.

When Rudy arrived, the Kirov Ballet was preparing for the first Nutcracker of the season. Dancers were springing all over the place, and were so caught up in their preparations that they barely noticed the elk that had joined them backstage.

Indeed, Rudy was still there when the curtain went up. It was then that he saw his opportunity.

He took a graceful step onto the stage, ignored the anxious cries of the stagehands, and launched into what could be only be described as a piece of pure artistry.

That night, he returned to Hotel Astoria a star. An impromptu Champagne and caviar reception was held at the Lichfield Bar, where everyone toasted Rudy’s fluid, earthy dancing, the likes of which had not been seen since Isadora Duncan.

The next day, a waiter brought the morning newspapers to Rudy’s breakfast table in the Café Astoria. Each one was covered with images of his triumph – finally, he had made a name for the elks of Europe.

He picked up the first paper, and read the headline:


Rudy slammed his teacup back into its saucer. If he couldn’t make it in Russia, then he’d just have to try elsewhere…