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Jessica Duchen
Saturday 7th November 2009
"Ochin priatna"

Tom Service in The Guardian brings us the news that "the beast from the East", Nikolai Valuev, 7'2" heavyweight boxing champ who's gearing up for his big David & Goliath fight with David Haye tonight, "is classical music's only known aficionado in the boxing world."

I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet, but I note: a) I am surprised and b) I'm wondering why it is so necessary to be surprised. Why should it be so amazing that a visually terrifying hulk of a bloke should, in his spare time, like good music and literature? Why on earth shouldn't he? Third, I notice that he is, of course, Russian. We can't be certain that he would have espoused different tastes if he was British, but it would have surprised me a great deal more. Traditionally Russians value classical music and take it seriously. It's something to love and be proud of. Unlike...but we've been over that before. (I thought I spotted oligarch Oleg Deripaska at a concert of Russian music in the RFH about week ago, but maybe he has a double.)

Incidentally, my father was a neuropathologist and on several occasions had to examine the brains of dead boxers. He declared that the sport should be banned, so shocked was he by the horrific damage it had inflicted on these individuals (often well before their deaths). Where's the health & safety executive amid all the excitement about tonight?

"Ochin priatna, Nikolai" - pleased to meet you. Still wouldn't like to bump into you on a dark night.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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