Travel journal: USSR
Copyright holder(s): Name withheld
This is our third day in the country where they faked the maps. Or so The Independent reported on our flight across (which was delayed by two hours because of a computer malfunction at Heathrow). Apparently Stalin ordered his cartographers to distort the maps of the USSR to confuse invading troops. Well, here we are, 16 British Lectors in English, preparing to invade: six or so are hardened troopers, paying a second visit or more; the others are like [CENSORED: forename] and me, novices in the art of survival in the Soviet Union, and more than ready to be confused.
I had been warned that Sheremetyevo Airport was the most depressing on God's green earth, and, true, one missed the day-glo oranges and blues and reds of Heathrow, the niche shopping malls for socks and boxer shorts, the posters advertising duty-free malts, perfumes and rolex watches. The Sheremetyevo arrivals area is dark and busy: there is no source of natural light and queues snake out from the customs men who spot-check cases by passing them through an x-ray machine. The only decoration consists of heavy brown metallic rings which run, circumference to circumference, over the whole ceiling, except where one or two have fallen off. We waited about an hour to get through customs, [CENSORED: forename] with her 27 kilo case (marked "Heavy") and two equally heavy pieces of hand luggage, and me with my own case, slightly lighter, and University of Glasgow bag. This last item was giving me some cause for concern, as we approached the x-ray machine: I'd packed it with a stereo cassette radio - recorder plus tapes, two videocassettes on Scottish topics, two folders full of data for my PhD, and a packet of dodgy-looking herbal tea concocted by Jan de Vries. Fortunately for us, the couple just ahead of us in the line had their case opened and checked, and they got involved in an animated discussion with the customs officer (in Russian). And so after he'd dealt with them, he quickly waved us through, and suddenly we were in Moscow proper.
[CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], the Assistant Cultural Attache with the British Embassy, had met us in the arrivals area. He had brought an advance of salary of 100 roubles which were now distributed to us, since we were past customs, and technically not bringing them into the country. Then I was met by Ksenia [CENSORED: surname], my charming, friendly and efficient minder from the Maurice Thorez Institute. Unfortunately, [CENSORED: forename]'s Institute had decided not to acknowledge her arrival, so we travelled, together with Ksenia, to my accommodation in the Universitetskaja Hotel. Our transport was an ageing Soviet minibus with a roar like a B52 bomber and a driver who kept getting lost. Maybe he'd spent too much time reading the maps.
The ground floor of the Universitetskaja was teeming with Third World students, some sleeping on the floor, others forming small highly-animated groups which would break up, recombine, and break up again. Ksenia left us in the lobby with our luggage while she tried to register us with the Service Bureau in the hotel. We needed a pass to satisfy two aged, uniformed guards who fielded the pleas and protests of the clustering students with long cynical stares and slow shakings of the head. We waited and waited while Ksenia registered me but failed to get [CENSORED: forename] registered. The other (non-Moscow University) lectors then arrived in the lobby and decided that we would smuggle [CENSORED: forename] into my room for the night. It was by then getting on for 11pm and we were all fairly exhausted, so, surrounded by a phalanx of lectors and clutching another guy's pass, [CENSORED: forename] passed beyond the surly guards. Then up the stairs to the Third Floor and - again - smuggled [CENSORED: forename] past the key lady in the confusion of checking in. And so at length to bed, two of us in a single room perhaps 4 paces by 8. There are no self-catering facilities. The fridge (when switched on) sounds like a mighty atomic generator. When the thermostat switches off, the shudder makes the walls shake. The little red portable TV says ВНИМАНИЕ! - switch off!! but the wires lead straight into the wall. The wall radio doesn't switch off at all - you just turn the volume to zero. But for tonight it was home.
September 10th had a frustrating beginning - since [CENSORED: forename] was illegally in my room I couldn't go out: I would have had to give my keys to the key lady and eventually the cleaner would have discovered our secret. Neither could I find any breakfast, although at length I did manage to get 2 cups of tea from the key lady - a different one from the previous night, and one who did come into the room to collect two glasses for the tea.
"Kollega," I said, having looked up the word in case of emergencies. There were no screams or calls for forcible ejection after all.
By this time Ksenia had phoned to advise us to contact [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], who arranged for [CENSORED: forename] to move into the Embassy transit flat - his old home - for the weekend. This was enormous-looking after my wee room: three rooms, kitchen and shower room; however, the place crawled with cockroaches, despite a generous and foul-smelling layer of cockroach powder on all surfaces. [CENSORED: forename] generously brought us some bread, cheese, butter, milk and jam, and at around 2pm we ate our first meal since the airline lunch the previous day.
The transit flat is near Gagarinskaja, where the metallic statue to the first man in space thrusts upwards like a giant puppet from Fireball XL5. In the afternoon we shopped on Leninski Prospect and with some minor linguistic difficulty bought 6 eggs, a watermelon, apricot juice from Bulgaria and grapefruit juice from Cuba. Then we walked back to the Universitetskaja - a longer way than we'd reckoned, through Gorky Park, along by the river and past the giant Moscow University building - in order to meet the others.
The older Moscow/Soviet hands had put together some food - cheese (again), roast beef cold, various salads - along with champagne aplenty. Joining the group of lectors for the evening were Peter, a New York writer of Armenian origins, on a Fullbright scholarship to Yerevan for four months, and Margaret (or Marguerite?) a Dundovian working at the Embassy schools. She it was who eventually drove us back, rather perilously, on wide, dark, almost deserted Moscow streets, at around 1am.
Thursday 15th September
11.16pm by my Dixons travelling alarm clock, Tom Waits low on the JVC stereocassette - here I am in the glorified closet called Room 301 in the Universitetskaja Hotel, jotting down the continuing story of our first days in Moscow.
Sunday 11th was the day we cracked the amazingly good public transport system. We stayed the night at the transit flat, me flushing the cockroaches down the bath with the shower before applying it to myself. I then walked out to the Universitskaja to get clean clothes for the morrow, smiling at the military guards who keep an eye on the diplomatic compound on my way out. The distance looked slight on our Falkplan street map of Moscow but the walk took me just over an hour, so I decided to risk the change of buses back. For 15 kopecks I bought three bustickets from Will, a lector heading out to the provinces, and stepped on my first Moscow bus.
The bus system works largely on a sense of shared responsibility. Five kopecks (roughly 5p) is the flat rate - it would get you practically across Moscow on bus, tram or Metro - and although there are occasional bus and tram inspectors, most people simply and dutifully punch their own tickets, bought beforehand, on little hand-operated punches which are situated along the sides of the bus.
I had to take two buses back to the transit flat - the first ticket I punched easily but the second gadget was trickier and I tried to insert my ticket in all the wrong places until a grinning Russian kid in a red tracksuit showed me how.
After I'd returned [CENSORED: forename] and I decided to try out the Metro and, after some minor confusion over our Falkplan map and the cyrillic characters in the Metro stations, we made our way to Red Square.
The peacefulness of Red Square made walking in it an unreal, almost eerie experience. Moscow's lack of traffic stops it being the motorised nightmare London has become, and Red Square is pedestrianised anyway, so the sparse city traffic hums in the middle distance. There were lots of people milling about, not in the animated, jostling manner of the southern Italians, but in an orderly, quiet, respectful fashion. Sunday was a special day in Moscow - quite what we never figured out - and many kids towed balloons.
The Square is quite beautiful - St Basil's smaller than I'd expected, almost cute in its way. "Disneyland," as [CENSORED: forename] said. Lenin's tomb is of shining red marble, strewn with flowers, guarded by two soldiers almost as immobile as the stone itself... A queue shuffled outside, presumably to pass within crackling distance of what Hugh McDiamid called "the eternal lightning of Lenin's bones."
We wandered down by the Kremlin walls, past the impressive British Embassy building at Nabherezhnaya Morisa Toreza 14, opposite the golden domes. We shopped briefly in a sparse supermarket for soup (СУП) and fruit juice (СУК) which we ate with an omelette for tea.
Later we joined the other lektors at a party in Margaruite's flat elsewhere in the diplomatic compound. The flat was plush by most standards and seemed positively regal by Moscow standards. Diplomatic privilege shone like a halo around such items as a Panasonic stereo system and authentic cans of Coke and Schweppes tonic water in the copious fridge. Margaruite and her flatmate and fellow-teacher Rachel had rustled up, God only knows how, a moussaka for us, and Theresa, a vegetarian lektor who has been doing the fastest wilt in history on a diet of cheese, bread, bread and cheese, dived into this like a shark on speed.
Again we chatted away, but the previous evening's socialising had had its effect and by 10 o'clock most of us drifted off to bed.
Monday 12th began with an 8:30am briefing led by [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname] before those lectors who were heading off to foreign airts cleared their 30 kilos of unaccompanied luggage at the airport. I hung around the Embassy until around ten, when I left for a 10.30 appointment with Ksenia at Maurice Thorez. I had to register and get a pass ("proposk") before meeting the department head at 11.30. That was the plan, and like those best laid schemes, it went agley when I tried to match my Falkplan with a hand-drawn sketch map scribbled down by Ruth [CENSORED: surname], my predecessor two years ago - and found they didn't correspond.
I got lost twice on my way to the Institute. Three giggling Russian girls with rudimentary English translated my sketch map and got the mistaken idea that I wanted to go swimming at the Chaika pool, marked near the Maurice Thorez.
They directed me to a trolleybus, but I came across a Metro station and I took that to the Park kultury station, also marked on Ruth's sketch. After that it should have been easy, but the Russians had changed the name of the street since Ruth's day, so I spent another 40 minutes wandering around before stumbling on the Institute, at around 12 noon. There various English-speaking workers and students directed me to the Stylistics Dept staffroom, where I discovered that Ksenia was teaching until one. So I hung around, my hot, bothered and anxious feelings slowly dissipating in the large draughty corridor of the Institute...
Friday 16th September
...The continuing story of last Monday... Glasgow street songs on the cassette this time, courtesy of Aunt Maggie...
...There was no severe recrimination for being late on my first day; Ksenia was apologetic about not giving better directions and we commented on the street's change of name being partly the cause of my delay. I considered making a joke about the sketch map being drawn by a Stalinist cartographer, but thought the better of it.
So, later than planned, I briefly met some other teachers in the Stylistics Dept, all apparently called Tania. I received my official timetable for the month which works out as follows:
Monday: 13.00 - 14.25 Tutorial
Tuesday: Recording audio-visual materials
Wed.: 8.00 - 9.25 9.35 - 11.00 11.25 - 12.50 5th year students
Thurs: 13.00 - 14.25 Stylistics teachers
Friday: 13.00 - 14.25 Alternating tutorial / Talk on culture / history
Apparently I'm the first teacher to be let loose on yer akshul students at MTI, which is a nice step forward.
Then I paid 1 rouble 60 kopecks to register at the Institute and get my pass. At the same time - important this - I handed in my visa and passport to be registered with the police. And finally Ksenia led me down to the Park Kultury Metro and helped me buy a travel pass - I've more passes than a numbskull on 'Mastermind' - which for three roubles gives me the freedom of Moscow on Metro, bus and trolleybus.
And so I returned to the Universitskaya where, using another lektor's pass, [CENSORED: forename] finally managed to join me. She'd eventually been met by some staff members of her Institute and ferried to her accommodation near the Belyaevo Metro station. It was she who reminded me that I needed the passport and visa I'd handed in to clear my unaccompanied luggage at the airport the following day. We were due to meet at 9.30am on the Tuesday.
I phoned Ksenia to warn her about the problem only to be told that the secretaries did not come in until 11am. After informing some of the other lektors at the hotel, we took luggage belonging to [CENSORED: forename] out to get a taxi to Belyaevo.
However, in the corridor we bumped into Emma, a Scottish postgrad I'd met briefly at MTI - and it turned out that [CENSORED: forename] had worked with her mother, Joan [CENSORED: surname], at Central Region in Stirling. All the small world clichés came tumbling out. Emma, fortunately, has good Russian and she managed to obtain directions as to where taxis picked up travellers in the grey drizzle outside the hotel.
Right enough, there outside was a line of official and unofficial taxis - men with umbrellas negotiating fares with reluctant students. Checkered official taxis were few in number and tended to be snapped up by nimble Muscovites; however, just as we were considering lugging the bags and case to the nearest bus stop a chap in a big black official taxi obviously took pity on us and, refusing a few others, offered us a lift.
The doors in the taxi took some effort to open, and the driver left us to lug our case into the boot, but it was a ride in the rain and we were grateful. We got near Belyaevo in the dark, tall sinister housing blocks in regimental rows, and [CENSORED: forename] couldn't remember which hers was. Our driver whizzed us in large circles, our Russian fragments of conversation adding to the confusion, but at last we found the right block. The driver, a young guy who drove to the beat of eurodisco on a tape in the passenger seat, let escape a grin and we paid him his 5 roubles fare plus a 1 rouble tip. And we were there.
[CENSORED: forename]'s "flat" is slightly larger than my room - there is at least a desk to write on - but on that grey evening the brown wallpaper with a floral design done apparently in pinpricks looked decidedly drab. We told ourselves we'd expected something like this, and then we looked at the kitchen. Three stoves - two of them broken - huddled together in a grimy white-tiled room, as if for protection against the cockroaches which ran up and down the walls. Well, at least we can cook for ourselves...
On the way home, trying to catch a 111 bus after the Metro to Gagarinskaja, I got lost for the third time today, and spent some scary minutes wandering unlit Moscow streets, passing shadows of people holding cigarettes with bright red points, until I retraced my steps and the dim statue of Yuri led me in the right direction. Once back, I phoned Ksenia again to arrange a meeting for 8.10am the following morning - [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname] had heard of the situation from the other lektors and left a message for me advising me to get the passport back as soon as possible, and informing me that secretaries sometimes opened their offices before they said they did.
And so, at last, to bed.
Monday 19th September
The story of last Tuesday was the story of the unaccompanied luggage. I arrived at MTI at 8am and waited for Ksenia outside until about 8.40. Thinking I'd misunderstood our arrangement to meet at 8.10, I wandered into the Institute. I drifted up and down staircases until suddenly bumping into Ksenia, who'd just arrived, full of apologies for being late: apparently she'd torn a contact lens.
There was no joy with the secretary's office, and so we drank tea and chatted until about 10.30 when at last I retreived the necessary documents. I shot over to the Embassy, where the others were waiting, only to find that I'd neglected to bring a customs declaration form. So I was driven back to the Hotel to pick this up. By that time it was too late to make it to the airport - the customs men would be having lunch - so the lektors all went off to have their lunch in a restaurant near the Embassy.
The food was excellent - "domo" (?), a kind of meat-stuffed vine leaves, and "plov", rice and meat with various spices - these were the main items. We all ate with considerable relish and the others even claimed it was worth the wait, which was kind, as I felt like crawling under the nearest stone by this point.
At long last we boarded the Embassy minibus and headed off for the airport. We had with us a translator from the Embassy, skilled in the arcane mysteries of Soviet customs procedures, and we had little trouble getting our stuff through.
I was dropped off at the Universitetskaya, and unpacked there before heading for Belyaevo to meet [CENSORED: forename]. We met easily enough - no-one asked for my pass at her entrance - and I eventually negotiated the lift, which wouldn't let me out at anything lower than the eighth floor, and made it to R. 213 where [CENSORED: forename] was surrounded by a huddle of people who were changing the bulb, flushing the cistern, and manhandling the fridge.
When they eventually disappeared amid cries of "nyet problema" and "zavtra" (tomorrow), [CENSORED: forename] and I went out for a wander. We found a small market near the Metro entrance - ie some striped stalls, and women selling fruit and veg. and flowers. We bought some things which looked like French rolls but turned out to be filled with vegetable, cabbage we thought.
We also came upon a small cafe-grill which was in the process of grilling shashlyk - a kind of all-meat kebab, served with bread, so we waited and made that our evening meal. We drank Turkish coffee and fruit juice while we waited, and the guy at the bar put on a Beatles tape, presumably for us.
In the evening I tried out a faster way home - Metro to Profsoyuzkaya and then 130/103 bus to the Hotel. I made it in about 30 minutes, and I didn't get lost.
Wednesday 14th September was my first day of teaching at MTI - 3 discussion classes with fifth year students, their teachers taking notes at the back of the room, class 304. I have to hand in my pass to someone on the 2nd floor to have my room unlocked: they call this "switching on the room."
I had prepared two role-plays - one a dialogue between an Intourist guide and two British tourists, one a Sloane Ranger and the other a Glaswegian used more to Club 18-30 holidays. This was meant to illustrate differences between formal and informal English. The other was a conventional class discussion on building an ideal university.
The level of English of the classes - all girls, six or seven in number - was extremely good, and they responded well to the exercises.
After classes I'd arranged to meet [CENSORED: forename] in Oktoberskaya, under the huge statue of Lenin, chin up, greatcoat swirling, inspiring the workers. We searched in vain for a cafe until coming on a western-style fast-food portakabin outside the Intourist Hotel.
Then we wandered into the Embassy to check out the library, and wandered down Leninski Prospekt in search of cups and a saucepan. We got the cups but no saucepan. I queued for 20 minutes for eggs and a litre of milk.
We ate at [CENSORED: forename]'s flat, cooking on the one stove that works in the communal kitchen on her floor. The pace of last week is now telling on us - [CENSORED: forename] is coming down with the cold and I went home early to bed, feeling totally exhausted.
So Thursday morning I took easy, finishing unpacking in my wee room, and handwashing my laundry in the bath. I prepared a talk on the universities in the UK and, after a quick lunch of bread, spam and fruit juice, I set out for the Institute.
However, the teachers from the Stylistics Dept numbered only 3 today - Ksenia, Tania and another - and they leapt with relish onto two videos I'd brought in, one on Glasgow and one on Hugh McDiarmid, "The Hammer and the Thistle". We ended up watching the latter in a small video room - me wondering how they'd react to references to Trotsky and McDiarmid's Stalinism. But they thought it was fine and recommended that I show it to the culture class (with an introduction and transcript of some poems) over two weeks. "Great", I said, and that was today's lesson over.
I'd agreed to do the shopping today, so I sought out some shops near the Institute and queued for break and a kind of large currant bun. But no meat could I find, and finally I returned to the Metro entrance, where a girl had just set up stall and was doing a brisk trade in packets of mince. I joined the short queue, paid my rouble, and made off with my packet, glowing with pride. Meat hits the streets here like cocaine in New York City, and I felt like a junkie getting his first fix for days.
I returned to the Hotel until [CENSORED: forename] phoned, and then popped over to Belyaevo, where we cooked the meat with tomato, peppers and pasta - great! And enough left over to cook tomorrow...
[CENSORED: forename] has been having a bit of a frustrating time at Steel and Alloys: some teachers, Tania, Valery, Boris, have been kind and pleasant, but some teachers wish to have nothing to do with her and no-one seems to know what she's to do. On top of this she now has a streaming head cold and is feeling low. We arrange to meet at the Embassy the following afternoon, and I make the now familiar trek to the Hotel.
Friday, no Thursday 22nd September.
Losing track of the days and the dates and I'm getting to be nearly a week behind in this diary. So here goes: a brief resumé of the past six days.
On Friday last I went into town before class and found my way to the Dom Knigi (House of Books) - Moscow's best bookstore. Briefly wandered round, dazed by the cyrillic script, and bumped into [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], a fellow lektor now in his 5th or 6th year here. I also bumped into him on the bus home the other night. He asked the obvious question:
"Are you following me?"
"I was here first," I said defensively. Bruce adopts a mysterious air and I half-suspect him of being a plant. He knows all our CV's - apparently because he got the fee for transliterating them into Russian. Still, he showed me the way to the English section - "Daniel Deronda" is a big hit this year it seems - and told me that the Progress Publishers bookshop was near Park Kultury metro stn.
The tutorial at one was a woffly affair - largely me rabbitting on about Krashen's hypotheses and them looking confused. One nice lady borrowed my book on stylistics and presented me with two pamphlets - "The Stalin Phenomenon" and "Reform - a new economic mechanism."
At the Embassy later [CENSORED: forename], Joanne and Theresa are full of the cold, and I am getting hot flushes. So [CENSORED: forename] and I have a quiet meal and spend the evening at Belyaevo.
On Saturday we met Tanja - one of [CENSORED: forename]'s colleagues - who took us to the Pushkin Museum: we were suitably stunned by the range of European art on display, either original or in reasonable facsimile. And there is an amazing collection of Impressionists, some recognisable from books, others new to us - Manets, Monets, Van Goghs, Sisleys, Degases - and various Picassos.
We lunched in a Russian pizza parlour - surprisingly quiet, probably because it looked very closed. The pizzas were doughy affairs, stuffed with chicken, looking like they'd been sprayed with tomato sauce from a water pistol at 20 paces. But they were welcome. Anything filling is welcome.
Then Tanja had to leave us, and we wandered down Arbat Street, the part of Moscow that is supposed to be redolent of San Francisco in the 60's.
Well... there was a clown in full regalia trying without success to entice reticent Muscovites into participatory street theatre. An English girl was persuaded briefly into some cod juggling before she escaped, red-faced and giggling. In desperation the clown scaled one of the pretty lamp-posts and swung like a cross between a baboon and Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain."
Further down the street buskers strummed a vigorous song with Russian words and punchlines that inspired regular laughter.
In the evening we found that the cooker in the squalid kitchen on the second floor had given up the ghost, so we had to carry pots and pans up to and down from Floor 9.
Sunday dawned grey and drizzly with a chill wind. We spent the morning wandering around Belyaevo, remarking how many shops were open. We went into the Duema supermarket and bought some doughnuts to have for lunch.
In the afternoon we took the Metro down to the centre again and bought more postcards in the main post office. Then we took our weekly constitutional across Red Square, noticing this time how the military policeman kept people strictly to the zebra crossing - even in a pedestrian precinct with no traffic for half a mile on any side. Children wandered up to the old circular place of execution - no, a sharp whistle, a wave of the white stick, and parents are ushering their offspring back onto the crossing.
This is a place of watchers in public places: military men watch traffic from little glass cubicles perched high above crossroads, ladies in red caps sit at Metro entrances, and again at the bottom of escalators. People sit watching you enter a block of flats - [CENSORED: forename]'s dragon in the gate is a large and formidable babushka in thick-rimmed, thick-lensed spectacles. [CENSORED: forename] thinks she'll be trouble, but I'm not so sure. One evening she yelled "Polski?" after me as I entered the hall. "Nyet, angleeski," I lied, and she gave the hint of a smile. Maybe it was the accent. And in hotels like mine, key-ladies watch you come onto your floor; the eyes of cleaners follow you down corridors. You are seldom a private person; no wonder the clown on Arbat Street had trouble getting people to act foolishly in front of others.
In the evening the electricity in the kitchen on floor 2 was still out; floor nine was busy and so we hiked up to floor 10. There the electric cooker - or rather the shell of one - was stuck on maximum. It sat in a large puddle of water, blown into ripples by the wind which rattled through a broken window. God only knows what the fire risk must be; I'm glad [CENSORED: forename] is near ground level at least.
In the evening after a hastily-cooked meal I sat and wrote my first letter home. Mum will be in Italy with Aunt Frances by now. I've tried to get an international call from my hotel phone with no luck - I think it's fixed for only local calls. [CENSORED: forename] phoned [CENSORED: forename] briefly on Friday from the Embassy direct line - the British Embassy in Moscow to a filling station in Norwich. "You cannot speak freely on this phone" the dial warned and at £5 per minute it wasn't joking.
Mon 26th September
Now a full week behind with this record, so I'll go with selected snapshots of the past week. The teaching went well: I hit the staff with state-of-the-art communicative language teaching methodology and played "Call my Bluff" with the students. I was taken to MTI's TV studio where I'll be expected to make videos, and was told that one series planned for me - a brief tour round the RP consonants - has been scrapped.
"No, you must make beautiful film of Scotland: you will speak in your own language and thet will be much much bettah!"
Everyone has been trained to articulate like BBC World Service announcers - they seem to regard me as an odd pet, an amiable mongrel when they expected more of a pedigree beast. But it means that I'll have more say in the tricks I perform.
On Friday I exploited my Scottishness again when I showed "The Hammer and the Thistle" (Part One) with an introduction that ranged from Barbour's "Brus" to MacDiarmid's "Drunk Man". That played to a packed audience of about 30, standing room only in the small video room. The TV worked by remote control: I pressed a button and said, "pozhulsta" to begin, and pressed it again - "spasibo" - to finish. Again I sensed - or perhaps read into the situation - a heightened electricity in the atmosphere when Scottish and Soviet history overlapped: whispered asides when Trotsky's role was explained, and surprise when Lenin came on-screen. They seemed to enjoy it - on the other hand they are reluctant to give negative feedback and the proof of the pudding will come next Friday when I show part two.
[CENSORED: forename] is doing a great job humanising the flat in Belyaevo: she's had her own hot-plate put in her room, and what with the fridge and the mended cistern, she is beginning to feel self-sufficient and happier. She's put postcards on the cupboard doors, a map of the USSR over the bed, and Normal Rockwell reproductions over her desk. Tanja has even lent her blue curtains to replace the grotty green ones, and the place looks semi-civilised, much better, I feel, than the open prison I find myself in. I've been wandering confidently past the dragon lady on [CENSORED: forename]'s main door, trying to look as if I live there. Only once has the lady yelled after me - "Polski?"
"Angleeski" I lied, wanting to get in rather than indulge in a dialogue about Scots Pride.
"Ah," she said, unconvinced, but I haven't had to show a pass yet.
On Friday morning we were invited to the Embassy for coffee with the new British Council boss, Dick Francis, who is here to suss out the situation, and to open a Francis Bacon exhibition in Moscow.
A small, rotund man of certain breeding, he made innocuous small-talk about Soviet inflexibility as opposed to East German efficiency, while we tried to suppress questions on novels about horse-racing.
"Not the Dick Francis," [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname] had said, no doubt anguished that we would think of the DG and the popular novelist as one and the same.
With the Council delegation was [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], the AUT General Secretary: a talker. She asked me about Stirling, "Is morale higher, I was there recently and I thought it was, what do you think of glasnost, I'm not sure but something strikes me as strange about this sudden trend of breast-beating, and no-one seems to want to be the first to change, to reform, odd don't you think, not that anyone does want to be the first to change..."
The sun shone at the weekend and there are rumours of an Indian summer. On Saturday we took the Metro to ВДНX, the Exhibition of Economic Achievement, just by the huge curve of the Kosmos Hotel. There the Sputnik Obelisk arches into the heavens and a heroic statue of proletarian man and woman, huge, muscular and brave, thrust a hammer and sickle into the sky.
You pay your 30 kopecks and enter beneath a triumphal arch on which heroic statues of socialist farm labourers proudly display sheaves of wheat. The Exhibition is grandiosely impressive - Stalinist wedding-cake architecture, now, like the Mussolini architecture in Naples and Rome, going a little bit to seed around the edges. We walked down an avenue of fountains and pavilions dedicated to Electro-technology, Metallurgy, and Atomic Energy (closed, presumably since Chernobyl) until we reached the Kosmos exhibition, front by a giant BOSTOK (Vostok) rocket. Inside was trivial compared to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington - but it still gave me a thrill to see Soyuz boosters and Meteor satellites, in the flesh as it were.
Afterwards we visited an exhibition of flowers from different regions of the USSR, and [CENSORED: forename] bought a Wandering Sailor to take home. We walked around the park for a few hours and then returned, for [CENSORED: forename] had an evening invitation to dinner with her boss, Natasha. While she dined and drank Bulgarian wine, I stayed in the room at Belyaevo, reading up on second language grammar acquisition, listening to Bach and the Brandenburg Concerto (very civilised; I even had a solitary glass of whisky) and I answered occasional wrong numbers on [CENSORED: forename]'s newly-installed phone.
Tuesday 27th September
Two days ago, on Sunday - the day the clocks went back and cut the time-difference to the UK to 3 hours - Ksenia phoned, and we arranged to go to an exhibition of handicrafts and art at Izmailovsky Park, to the north-east of the city.
We had some difficulty finding the place - renovations and rebuilding abound in Moscow - and we stumbled briefly on an open-air dog show: Great Danes and poodles, spaniels and alsations were everywhere, growling their rivalries as they met. In a circle of spectators one great daft black creature was attempting to skip with its owner through a think red leash.
But at length we found the exhibition, which followed a path for a good distance through autumnal trees and bright yellow, swirling leaves. The products ranged from the awful - plastic toys, escapees from lucky bags - to the good - grey, atmospheric etchings and aquatints of old Russian churches. [CENSORED: forename] persuaded Ksenia to inquire about the price of a set of hand-painted Russian dolls - 450 roubles was the reply: just over a month's full salary to us.
I asked Ksenia who was selling all this - she said some were individuals, some co-operatives. The prices seemed high in Moscow terms, but there were plenty of people crowding the narrow path, although I saw few purchases being made.
In the evening we met Jo at Belyaevo and bought some fruit juice (СОК) to take to Moscow State University (MGU) where some lektors had arranged a meal. Alcohol is practically impossible to come by outside the Beriozka (hard currency) shops, and we've seen few of them so far, and been inside none. The alcohol in the Comshop at the Embassy is at duty-free prices, we've learnt, and is reserved for diplomats only.
So we hurried to the Universitetskaya Hotel to meet Bruce [CENSORED: surname], and James, an Education lecturer at Nottingham University, here to teach in a special English school for 3 months. They took us to MGU, the vast Stalinist wedding-cake of a building, where Bruce negotiated for about 30 mins to get us in. While he signed bits of paper and collected passes, I felt the handle of my plastic bag give and tear, and the bottle of juice shattered on the pavement. Not a good start to the night.
Still, once we were in the company was pleasant and the food - pizza, home-cooked, with various salads - was very good. The rooms in the University are small, but pleasant enough: each lektor has two rooms and a shower/toilet.
I was tired, however, and headed home with James at around 11pm. I'm spending some time reading at the moment - I've finished Malcolm Bradbury's "Cuts" since I arrived, and I'm now getting well into PD James' "A Taste for Death", gifted to us by the Embassy.
And so after reading for a while I put out the light and went to sleep.
The past two days have been uneventful - I talked to the phonetics teachers about discourse intonation yesterday. They were interested in the subject - and especially in Barbara Bradford's coursebook "Intonation in Context" - but they knew the ground better than I did and I felt at times out of my depth. Outside the classroom I'd encountered a group of giggling students, happily reciting "I'm slimming and slimming and getting so much thinner!" Both teachers and students spend a lot of time acquiring precise RP accents - what concerns me is that it seems to work. Here I am saying that the prescriptive rules are so complex and confusing that few if any could assimilate them - there they are rattling them off quite happily.
Today I've stayed in my room at Universitetskaya - save for a quick jaunt to the Metro to get a cheese pizza, or rather pizzette, from a stall for lunch. I've been preparing future lessons - the videoed discussion on the media; tomorrow's lessons; and reading more of "Second Language Grammar". The weather outside is grey and drizzling - discouraging the idea of a walk. I've written my second letter home, and now I'm waiting (a) to hear from Lisa, the New Yorker, to discuss the video, and (b) to contact [CENSORED: forename], when she returns from work.
Dinner at Belyaevo tonight promises to be minestrone soup, with the leftovers of last night's mince, and the sour Russian yoghurt they have here, sweetened with preserved plums. [CENSORED: forename] has just phoned, so I think I'll abandon Lisa and head over to Belyaevo and some human conversation.
Wednesday Sept. 28th
One of those nights when you wake up every 20 minutes after 5am. I got up eventually at about 6.40 am, to a glorious sunny day. Breakfast was a glass of sweet apple juice and a Boots multi-vitamin pill. I showered and was at MTI by 7.50 for my 8 o'clock class.
The guy who takes my "proposk" and electronically unlocks my classroom is getting to know me - "Tree Nyil Cheteereh" he says before I get the chance to wrap my vowels around the Russian for 304.
The classes went well: this week I tried to introduce the fifth years to the consumer society - they role-played copywriters producing a TV ad and poster for Levis. I talked target audience, product image and soft and hard sell. We looked at magazine ads - starting with the enigmatic Silk Cut cigarette ad which shows only a chainsaw wrapped in silk. Here, of course, there are few advertisements. The Metro stations are devoid of pictures, posters, placards - their occasional decoration stunningly commemorates proletarian achievement - stern faced statues of peasants brandish guns, saintly soldiers gaze impassively down on mere commuters.
The students were happily creative: my favourite was a romantic wedding in which bride and groom were revealed as wearing blue jeans: the slogan was "All You Need is Levis."
At lunchtime I met up with Lisa and Joy, and afterwards we went to an exhibition of World Press Photos: riots in Seoul, with the Sandinistas in Nicuragua, Maggie T. campaigning, Ron 'n' Nancy bathing, with the contras in Nicuragua, Gorbachov in Czechoslovakia, a lonely white wolf on an ice floe in the far Canadian North.... Many photographs were excellent but you did get an overpowering sense of violence in the world: large uniformed men staring down at bloodied victims; a young child with a gas mask sheltering from Korean riot police whose shields have a Mr. Happy face with Asian eyes, painted on in yellow.
In the evening I returned to the Universitetskaya and looked through Scottish poems for Friday's talk. Then [CENSORED: forename] phoned and I trotted over to Belyaevo.
We had a quiet evening - both of us are tired and [CENSORED: forename] has another heavy day tomorrow. She's worrying about a talk she's to give on communicative teaching methodology - waxing lyrical on theory is a slightly new departure for her.
And I came home at about 10.20 - metro train and bus were quick so I was home within 30 minutes. A quick look at PD James and to sleep.
Thursday Sept 29th
Another fine day - blue sky and warm. Big lazy end-of-season wasps stagger into buses and dodge about in class.
Up early today to prepare for the video session with Lisa [CENSORED: surname], on British and American newspapers. I met Lisa in the lobby at 9.15 and we set off for MTI.
Lisa is a New Yorker, ex-editor of a Business magazine and part-time language teacher, here to trace - or rather to reconnect with - her roots. She is slim, with eyes and high cheekbones that make her resemble Glenda Jackson, and has a good sense of humour. She needed it this morning.
The TV studio is on the 5th floor of MTI. Alla, the director, or perhaps producer (she negotiated a lot with a loud Russian-speaking lady who actually seemed to plan the shots), greeted me with the news that she'd managed to obtain a copy of The Sun - quite a feat over here!
"But I do not approve," she said, "your Page Three girls. I thought they would be tasteful - but no they are not."
We settled down in a litter of newsprint - the Times, Telegraph, Independent, Today, Guardian, Glasgow Herald, Scottish Daily Express, Aberdeen Press & Journal - and much much more. I'd done some research into ownership and circulation, but really we were required to chat - Lisa asking me questions about the British press, and then me grilling her about the situation stateside.
We rehearsed and joked about her playing Joan Rivers to my Burt Reynolds, and then after an hour or so we shot the video. It had to be two single takes, of about 15-20 minutes each.
I was interrogated first, and chatted on about the Sun - pointing out the sensationalism and quickly flicking through so that camera 1 (aimed over my shoulder at my lap) could pick up Page 3. I'd asked Alla about this - she said she wanted a quick glimpse. This is breaking new ground in glasnost, I thought, and duly complied. I then went on to the more serious stuff.
I was surprised to see on the playback that the loud Russian director had cut away from the offending pages to Lisa's nodding head - I'd been censored, which was an odd, disquieting feeling. I don't have much time for the Sun - an opinion I hope which came through in the interview - but I felt the students should see it for what it was.
Odd too the feeling when we watched the semi-improvised interviews right though later - for all the world we seem to be saying that our societies are breeding sex, violence and TV-mad perverts and psychotics, semi-literate and moronic. God knows, maybe they are.
I hit the Stylistics group with another session on discourse intonation - I was happier with it than on Monday - and then went to the Embassy to photocopy. An emergency session of the Politburo seems to have thrown the Cultural Department into some disarray - possibly because Kenneth Baker is visiting soon and his plans will have to be changed. Glasnost is bursting out all over. Or maybe it isn't, which is why Gorbachov's calling in the boys.
From the Embassy I went straight down to Belyaevo where [CENSORED: forename], tired from a long day, had just arrived home. We had a simple meal of pasta in a cheese sauce, and I worked on tomorrow's sequel to the MacDiarmid talk.
[CENSORED: forename] has been trying to tackle her drains problem: every so often a putrid smell escapes from the shower room and she thinks it's caused by the pipes. Someone has recommended sodium, vinegar and hot water - but the smell still billows out at intervals.
I left Belyaevo at 10 and found on my return that they key lady on my floor was absent. No room key. I waited for 30 minutes, reading Punch on the Edinburgh Festival and feeling disoriented, before going down to floor two and finding out that the key lady there was also keeping our keys.
Oh well: these are things that happen when you're a stranger in a strange land - and you can't read signs or notes...
Sunday 2nd October
Falling behind with this diary again, so here goes with the past few days. Friday dawned bright, and - strange as it may seem - warm. So much so that I was too warm in my anorak as I plodded the streets around the Universitetskaya Hotel, looking in vain for a half-decent food shop. I have this fantasy that I will walk into a little self-service minimarket that no-one knows - where you can get fresh bread, fruit, meat and vegetables at state prices, and still not have to queue.
I gave the second part of the MacDiarmid talk in the afternoon - self-indulgent fun focussing on more recent Scottish poets: Edwin Morgan, Alex Scott, Robert Garioch, Tom Leonard, Norman MacCaig. I heard later that the video caused more disturbance than I realised at the time: especially the short sequence on the invasion of Hungary - apparently that's still regarded as an "invitation" here.
Afterwards I met up with [CENSORED: forename] and Jo and we walked down into Gorky Park, having our first Russian ice-cream on the way. Russians really like ice cream - here a sticky, rather sour affair, like their natural yoghurt - and they eat it even when it's freezing cold. We ambled past the big wheels and boat pond, along the river to Gagarinskaya, and I caught a bus back to pick up James.
We'd invited Jo, a lektor at the Oil and Gas Institute, and James (who revels in the grand surname of "[CENSORED: surname]"), an Education lecturer at Nottingham, here to teach for 3 months in a special English school, over to Belyaevo for tea - a kind of noodle bolognese. It was a pleasant evening - James brought some Bulgarian wine which was more than welcome. Jo brought chocolate digestive biscuits - a rare delicacy.
Saturday we spent quietly, although we'd planned to spend some time with Nick, a lektor down from Leningrad, and Rita, our "nanny" lektor at MGU. We spent the morning very quietly - [CENSORED: forename] wrote letters and I dozed - before zooming off to see the others. However, as it turned out Nick was meeting some old friends - we were invited along but the afternoon was threatening to stretch into evening, and so we opted out with Rita to go shopping for crockery along Leninski Prospekt. We bought some more spoons, 4 bowls and 4 mugs. Plates too.
Then we spent a quiet evening preparing lessons and then watching a Russian Teach-Yourself-French programme on [CENSORED: forename]'s new TV.
These are interesting days - Gorbachov has called a snap Politburo meeting and various heads have rolled, among them Gromyko, who occupied an honorary post as State President, or some such title. But the sub-text which even the Soviets can only guess at so far, is that the whole structure of how the Party is run is being streamlined. The irony is that although we're in the middle of it, we hear the news on BBC World Service.
Sunday - today - dawned misty, grey and cool. We had arranged to meet [CENSORED: forename]'s head of dept - Natasha - her husband, Pavel, and their two kids for a walk in the woods just south of Belyaevo. They marched us into a large expanse of silver birches, glorious in golden autumn colours, and - despite signs warning that it is forbidden - we emulated other groups by lighting a small fire to warm us as we ate a small picnic. The forest areas are being quickly eaten into by the tall, white housing blocks, but once into this one you felt like you'd left the city miles behind. On the way back we glimpsed black domes surrounding one golden dome - one of the many churches that now find themselves in incongruous settings, and at last the skies cleared and the sun broke through.
This evening the two Americans - Joy and Lisa - came round. We fed them vegetable soup and crab and mayonnaise and they loved our bread, wondered at our butter, made wow sounds over our books, and brought us dry Georgian wine - again very welcome. It was a pleasant evening and I returned with them to the Universitetskaya feeling relaxed and content...
Monday 3rd October
...To awake this morning feeling doped and lazy. Pottered around and did a wash - tied some string from the shower to the air vent to give a makeshift washing line. Eventually worked up the energy to catch the various buses required to get to the Embassy if you can't be bothered waiting for a 111, and did some photocopying. Made it just in time for lunch at MTI - a cold brown breadcrumbed sausage and potatoes. Then into class at one.
I had to rearrange my plans rather: Valentina informed me I was to give a talk on the Scottish accent twice - once to the 6 folk present and again immediately afterwards to the assembled phonetics department (20 or so souls). I'd planned a jolly singalong to "The Jeely-Piece Song" but the ambience was wrong - so I finished up talking more than interacting. Maybe later in the week I'll manage to unthaw these teachers, but not today.
I hung around MTI for a few hours, collected my passport (my visa has collected another stamp - hooray!), chatted to some actual students over coffee, and waited fruitlessly in a queue for 45 minutes for my salary - come back on October 18th, I was told. Queues are now part of my life - for food, coffee, cash, buses, practically everything.
I popped up to the Progress Publishers' Bookshop and acquired my own copy of "Let's Read Russian" - I must get started to this language sometime.
Then, after a detour to Universitetskaya Hotel, I wended my usual way to Belyaevo, to eat with [CENSORED: forename]. She had her second letter from home (to my none) but at least I know [CENSORED: forename] has been in touch with Dad to let him know we've phoned and are okay.
After dinner we worked away - me on Wednesday's lessons, [CENSORED: forename] on some embroidery thing (a maquette?). I'd brought a Tom Waits tape over; we played it through and his broken, sentimental tunes stayed with me on the Metro and bus rides home, making me feel restless and vaguely depressed. Odd how popular songs move you with their sour sweetness at different times - I remember wandering winter streets in Glasgow with Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" or Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" running in my head, over and over. Tonight it was Tom Waits' tubercular corruption of "Waltzing Matilda" - cracked reflections of half-forgotten innocence blending with pale, blank faces in the bright orange bus, staring away out at the darkened bleak spaces of Moscow by night.
Thursday 6th October
Tuesday I spent shopping for food - rather tough meat for goulash, dried fruit, some apples and tomatoes - and looking briefly through books on stylistics someone in MTI lent me. I actually managed to get down to some work on the PhD, although the sunshine and warmth discourage you from spending a lot of time indoors.
In the late afternoon, I caught the bus to the Embassy for a brief reception - lektors, post-grads and undergrads - with [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], presently Minister for Education, here officially on a fact-finding tour of Soviet educational establishments: the subtext probably concerns profile-raising by someone likely to follow Mrs. Thatcher as Conservative Party leader.
The man was late, but that was to be expected. However, at length he swept in, interrupted [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname]'s introductions by barking out some obviously-prepared questions to the post-grads - and then interrupted the answers to bark out some more questions and crack some jokes at the Russians' expense. Then he mingled.
I talked to him with Rita [CENSORED: surname] and Jo [CENSORED: surname], fellow lektors. He asked us some more of his student-based questions and we told him we were actually teachers.
"Bet you'll be going into the private sector back home," he grinned.
"No, I'm actually on leave of absence from Stirling University," I said, and he looked at me as if I'd contracted Aids. Rita then began needling him about the lack of exposure he'd given to the cultural exchange of lektors on the BBC World Service interviews he'd given.
I asked him what he was learning from the Soviet Union and he told us about the places he's visiting. I asked what he thought of the special English schools:
"Ruthlessly selective," he said with relish and suddenly I saw the British educational policy for the next four years.
He moved on to another, more amenable cluster and his place was taken by a DES man wearing a green jacket that looked as if it was bought locally. He asked who financed us and then told us it was largely him. Rita told him it was probably the Foreign Office. He confided that the budget was small and he didn't see it getting bigger because quite frankly he didn't understand what was in it for Brit... when suddenly the Minister had decided to leave and was sweeping out, forcing our DES man and some other startled officials to down half-drunk cups of stewed tea and trot after him.
On the whole a depressing experience.
Wednesday continued the run of fine weather - "women's summer" they call Indian summer here. I rose at 6.30 and was in class again by 8am. We played various language games from "Keep Talking" and generally had a good time - the three classes are certainly enthusiastic and articulate, probably the most advanced I've ever taught.
In the warmth of the early afternoon I wandered along to Arbat Street and ambled down amongst the artists, busy on their caricatures, churches, nudes and abstracts, before catching the Metro to the Universiteskaya Hotel.
In the evening [CENSORED: forename] and I went along to Jo's tower block for our dinner: fried chicken, rice and vegetables, dessert being ice cream and strawberry jam. (If nothing else, this place concentrates your mind on food).
Jo is peeved at the moment because her Institute is refusing to grant her boyfriend - whom she describes as a gentle, stammering Green Party activist who makes bicycles (or probably just sells them) - a visa for a two-week visit. She herself is a smallish, brown-haired and freckled woman of thirty, with a round and plummy accent which can slide into a distinctive laugh or snarl into aggression. I've suggested Jo for the planned series on RP consonants that MTI hope to put on video.
Today is fine yet again - I met Ksenia at Park Kultury and we went to the lavish Trades Centre where I'd left my slides to be developed 10 days ago. After some dithering about over what form of hard currency to accept - I gave them three pounds and I got some American cents in change - I got a roll of developed film. It seems that little plastic frames are bought separately here. Odd what you take for granted.
I also popped into my first beriozka (hard currency) shop there, and bought four bottles of wine. This time I broke a 10 pound note and received 2 dollars and some yen in change.
Unfortunately we were longer than expected in the Trades Centre, with the result that I was 10 minutes late for class. I met the teachers coming out of MTI - and they'd given up the room to another group. I apologised fervently and they didn't seem too upset - rather glad, I suspect, to escape into the sunshine. They produced a book of Russian Folk Tales from the Alexander Alfanasiev Collection and presented it to me as an early birthday gift - I'd casually mentioned the date to one of the teachers yesterday. It was a really nice gesture and I thanked them for it.
And so here I am again in my wee cell: the sun sinking slowly over the tower blocks and trees - if that's the west then I must be looking vaguely towards Scotland. I'll give [CENSORED: forename] a ring and see if she's home: she's had a busy week, being involved with getting a video player for a meeting of visiting departmental heads. She's also been talking methodology to them. Tomorrow, however, is Constitution Day, a public holiday, and we've got a busy weekend in prospect.
Tuesday 11th October
On Friday - Constitution Day - Ksenia phoned to say she couldn't after all get hold of a car to take us on a tour of the Moscow suburbs. So [CENSORED: forename] came round and we popped onto the Metro up to Sportivnaya and looked for the Novodevichy Convent.
After wandering round the block, at length we found the building, grey and gold domed, behind a high wall. We looked for the entrance and came to an opening surrounded by people but guarded by militiamen. Only people with passes were allowed through, and we suddenly realised that it was the Novodevichy cemetery, and only relatives of the deceased were let in. In Moscow you need a proposk even to visit the dead. Which is a pity, because Chekhov and Gogol are among the luminaries buried there.
So we wandered back along the wall, and found the proper entrance. The convent is now a branch of the Historical Museum, and under restoration. It is that odd combination of gloriousness and shabbiness, that you find also in Naples, of rich buildings neglected. Long grass grew unkempt between the cathedrals and palaces, and young men and women, apparently rather reluctantly involved in voluntary work, rubbed down gravestones and carted rubbish about. While [CENSORED: forename] searched out an English booklet on the place, I bought tickets to get inside Smolensk Cathedral, the grandest of the buildings. It was worth the visit: rich symbolic wall-paintings showed golden-haloed saintly figures, and the bringing of an icon of the madonna and child to Moscow.
We returned to Belyaevo via the Universitetskaya Hotel, but spent a quiet afternoon pottering about and dozing: we felt more tired than our excursion deserved, and reckoned that the strain of living in Moscow must be getting to us. In the evening we watched some Soviet television - a historical soap opera featuring men in long beards, women in furry coats, and a mildly demented women who had a strange relationship with a bull. It all took place in a peasant village in the snow. It was followed, on the educational channel, by "Comedy Time" an English language programme in which two painfully stilted presenters showed excerpts from the BBC series "Follow Me" and an ageing director translated a poem called "If I had a boat".
Saturday was my birthday and [CENSORED: forename] gave me a letter-rack and pen. Mum and Dad had sent over with her a pair of socks wrapped around some melting - but still delicious - Marks and Spencers chocolate. Oh western luxuries!
We went shopping up to Kalinina Prospekt, the Oxford Street of Moscow: in the Dom Knigi [CENSORED: forename] bought a poster of the Battleship Potemkin for 15 kopecks (15p) and she bought me a book called "Mock Faustus" written by a Latvian, and translated into English.
We then wandered down into the grounds of the Kremlin and were impressed by the beauty of the buildings there - another walled world of golden, fairy-tale cathedrals, European palaces - and the Palace of Congresses, a modern (1961) conference hall and theatre, where we'll see the ballet on Tuesday.
In the evening we had a party at the transit flat with the lektors who had returned from the provinces - even Paul had made it from Yerevan, where there have been mass nationalist demonstrations recently. It was a pleasant evening - Rita had baked pizza again and the drink flowed freely. All in all, it was a nice way to round of your birthday.
Sunday we spent quietly: in the morning [CENSORED: forename] in her walking boots dragged me through the mud and mire of the main road (there is the constant, messy construction of tower blocks which begin to decay as soon as they're completed) to a little golden-topped church that we'd noticed on our walk with Natasha and family last week. Then we spent the afternoon working.
In the evening we got a phone call from Doog, one of the lektors, inviting us to a jazz club on Chekhov Ulitsa - the Blue Bird. We phoned Jo, met up with her, and then made our way by Metro to the other side of town. We found the Blue Bird and settled down to a snack and a fruit juice (laced with some vodka one of our group had smuggled in) while listening to some hot sounds, courtesy of a xylophone, bass, trombone and sax.
The place was run by a cooperative - the entrance fee of 5 roubles per head, with food, was obviously too much for most Muscovites on a Sunday, so the place was quiet. The place had almost an Italian-American feel to it, created in large measure by the Latin features of the man who showed us in - a young Peter Falk, cross-eyes and all - and the smiling, handshaking familiarity of the leather-coated men who followed us in.
The strange thing was that it shut up shop at 10pm and we had to leave, feeling that the night had somehow been cut short. We joined the rush of cinema-leavers on the Metro and went home.
Yesterday was quite busy: I finished preparing a talk on second language grammar just in time to scoot into the Embassy and xerox some items just in time to rush into MTI and deliver the talk. After lunch I returned home and cut up my slides of Stirling to fit frames that we'd bought on Kalinina Prospekt on Saturday. Then I headed down to Belyaevo.
[CENSORED: forename] had arranged it with me that I bought some bread and milk: the former was easy to find but the milk was more difficult, and I ended up in a 20-minute queue in the supermarket Dueta, near [CENSORED: forename]'s tower block.
I arrived at 7.30pm, starving, and we devoured the last of some boiled chicken and vegetables. We spent the evening preparing lessons. [CENSORED: forename] is getting ever busier - as usual. She has decided to take on some private tuition three days per week, helping a 7-year-old Anglo-Russian boy improve his reading to the point where he can gain entrance to Winchester Public School. She has just started with the boy, Alex [CENSORED: surname], whose father is on secondment from Rank Xerox to the Soviet Chamber of Commerce. The son appears to be a talented musician, but it's [CENSORED: forename]'s job officially to make him stick to his books but privately to get him to enjoy reading.
Today has been another quiet Tuesday: no consultation because I'm preparing a video script on the Scottish dialect and accent, illustrated with literary examples. It's good fun and keeps me out of mischief. I'm just about to leave my room for the first time today, to meet [CENSORED: forename] for tea and then pop up to the Palace of Congresses to see Ksenia's younger brother and his ballet school in action. It should be worth it even just to be in the building where the Soviet Communist Party has its meetings.
Friday 14th October
I'm writing this down at [CENSORED: forename]'s room at Belyaevo. The КАСКАД 230 television is on, showing yet another rustic and historical melodrama in which the old men are bearded, the young men are anguished, and the young women look doomed. There are many long simmering looks, an underlying sexual tension, and no one cracks any jokes. There are lots of ethnic rituals, occasional tsarist outrages or fascist invasions, then at the end communism wins out.
The ballet on Tuesday was a bit like that: boy meets girl, they fall in love and jump about a lot, aged parent attempt unsuccessfully to part them but at last is won over - big wedding finale and more exuberant jumping. The Palace of Congresses is impressive: the buffet upstairs is where good Soviets must go when they die: escalators bear the godly to marble steps leading to a light-filled hall where they serve you orange juice (we are talking fresh orange juice here) and caviar on white bread.
Wednesday saw the final stint with the first three groups of 5th years: I took in my JVC tape recorder and based a variety of listening tasks on Billy Bragg's "The World Turned Upside-down", Paul Simon's "You can call me Al, " Tom Waits' "The Piano has been Drinking" and Jennifer Warnes singing Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat". That went down fairly well - they've been enthusiastic groups, easy to teach, and I'll miss them.
I think I also received my first proper mail from home on Tuesday or Wednesday: a birthday present of a Tracy Chapmen cassette from [CENSORED: forename], and the good news that Ted has had some illustrations published in the Times Educational Supplement. Wednesday evening was spent writing home.
On Thursday I gave a lesson on Scottish accents to the stylistics teachers, and we actually got them singing "Skyscraper Wean" in vaguely West Coast burrs. After the class I had a quick look at a "Yes, Prime Minister" tape that I plan to base a cultural talk on. It has to be politically vetted - four or so signatures on a particular form. "What will happen when direct broadcasting by satellite brings direct access to English language material?" I asked. The teacher shrugged - no-one gives a thought to that, they are more concerned with obtaining the basics of everyday life. And anyway, things are opening up - even showing a video would have been unthinkable five years ago.
I spent some time at the Universitetskaya before going across to [CENSORED: forename]'s to eat and watch some TV. I'm trying to acquire some Russian by plodding away at Vasilenko's "Let's Read Russian", so far with little success. I find it a frustratingly slippery language - I definitely need some lessons to back the self-study up. I've finished reading the PD James novel, a grim entertainment in the end. Next on the reading list contains more fibre - TC Smout's "An Economic History of Scotland 1560-1860": surprisingly readable, I find. I'm enjoying so far its account of the course of the Scottish Reformation.
Today was again sky blue and sunny, but there is an increasing chill in the air. I got up and hand-washed a couple of shirts in the bath - I'm getting pretty good at this - and then settled down to a study of present tense inflexions. I then met Lisa at lunch - I'd promised to lend her some arty magazine ads for Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes, taken from British colour supplements. She's doing some sessions on advertising. And at one o'clock I gave my class on grammar teaching as consciousness-raising: old wine in new bottles.
After class I was approached by someone who wanted me to pass on a greeting to someone in Britain. It seems that officialdom here forced her to stop corresponding with someone some years ago: she and her husband's jobs were threatened. I'm torn in two ways by the request: part of me wants to be genuinely helpful, but part of me is worried that I could get involved in stirring up a hornet's nest of resentment and frustration: I don't want to end up fuelling someone's hopeless dreams. It's difficult to know which decision would be kinder: to agree, and perhaps put her mind at rest; or to disagree - say no - and perhaps leave her nagging at this loose end in her life, this unfulfilled opportunity. The request disturbed me, and I talked to [CENSORED: forename] about it this evening, which helped.
The lady was also nervous about talking to me alone, even for a few minutes - apparently there is a strong suggestion that people only approach me in pairs at the Institute, or in larger groups. For the first time here I felt strongly the sense of some watching, sinister presence: the realisation of the paranoic's fears.
Still, good news this afternoon - after only about a five-minute wait I was admitted to a shop selling wine, and I snapped up two bottles of red ВІНИО and two bottles of Russian champagne: this along with a bottle of grapefruit juice (Cuban) and two tins of aubergines came to 21 roubles. I carried this booty over to [CENSORED: forename] - wearing my walkman on bus and metro, listening to snatches of a Russian teaching tape.
We ate cutlets for tea - hamburgers, really - bought from the "gastronom" round the corner. Another treat is chocolate sent over by Mum and [CENSORED: forename], kept in the fridge and consumed in small squares. Sixth week in the Soviet Union coming up, two notches on my belt tighter, and - yes, as Nick said to me on the Metro on the way home from the Blue Bird jazz club last weekend - "every day is a new adventure."
Monday 17th October
There is an increasing urgency now when the day is as bright and sunny as it was on Saturday: it may be the last before winter sets in. With this thought in mind we made up a cheese sandwich and set off on the Metro for Izmailovsky Park, the place where we'd seen the street artists and craftsmen displaying their wares. However, we avoided them and their attendent crowds and strolled instead through quieter paths in the woods, coming eventually to an area of fairground amusements beside a small artificial lake. For 20 kopecks each an old lady attendant let us on the big wheel which inched slowly and creakily up, affording us a magnificent view of the city - from the Stalinist seven sisters away in the centre, to the expanse of forest and more forest, dissolving in autumn rust to the north and east. Back towards the Metro station we discerned black onion-shaped towers of an old cathedral that [CENSORED: forename] had been told about, so we made this our goal after lunch.
We walked back down meandering tracks through the trees, passing occasional walkers or being passed by cyclists on sturdy blue bikes. Old men sat near a hut at one point, playing cards. At another, cut-up milk cartons provided feeders for blue-tits, and a solitary man knelt feeding nuts by hand to a squirrel with a grey back and tail, but a rust-coloured chest.
After getting a little lost, as usual, we came to the cathedral - also now being renovated. It stands on an artificial "island" - really just surrounded by a boggy moat, and is part of a complex of palaces which go back to the time of the tsars. Once there was a wooden palace here and Peter the Great sailed his boat on the moat. We wandered round the buildings, then caught the Metro home.
In the evening we'd been invited out to Marguerite and Rachel's - we took Georgian wine but drank a considerable quantity of Chianti and whisky. Rachel, a PE teacher, is very keen on sports and has had a mountain bike sent over - she plans to use it in the snow over here. We had a pleasant evening which suddenly accelerated towards 1am, and we had to dash frantically for the last Metro and hope the hostel hadn't closed for the night - it hadn't.
Sunday was a lazy day, which suited our slightly hungover mood. We wandered into the town centre in the grey and chill afternoon to post some letters, and ambled aimlessly and curiously through the streets between Marx Prospect and the main post office. Some of the architecture is lovely, grandly European and just a little shabby. One old hotel - the Metropole - is being renovated, and will look stunning when it's finished - a grand old façade featuring wrought-iron balconies, and mosaics towards the roof.
In the evening we watched television - largely unpalatable stuff which made you realise why reading / cinema / theatre are so popular in the USSR.
Today - Monday - began with a rush into the Embassy to borrow some tapes and a video of 'Yes, Prime Minister' - also slides and a book on Turner for Lisa - and photocopy some material for my proposed video on Scots. Then pop into MTI to see a student, whose Chris de Burgh tape I'd promised to help transcribe: a token move towards self-access English. And then give my consultation - I'd deliberately under-prepared today to allow the teachers to ask questions, and after some initial reluctance they did. Topics ranged from poll tax to Salman Rushdie's novels, from franchises to comprehensive education.
Afterwards I was approached by another student seeking help on golfing terminology - and he in return pointed out a barber's shop to me. Therein I went after our conversation.
After a short wait I was ushered in and told to sit. Before I could speak and let my foreigness be known, I had my head ducked under a shower and was led to another chair for the cutting. There I was swathed in white cloth by a very authoritative lady barber. At that point I managed to blurt out a few words in pidgin Russian, followed by a helpless grin. She obviously took this as a challenge, and gave me the full works: scissors, clacking like pirhannas, wove around my ears; an open razor rubbed against my neck; an electric razor tamed my beard; oil squirted onto cotton wool which in turn was ploughed through my hair; finally lacquer enveloped me like fine rain. My first communist haircut: 3 roubles.
This experience must have exhausted me; in the evening I had little energy, and left [CENSORED: forename]'s early. So I missed the first phone call from [CENSORED: forename], who's obviously well. [CENSORED: forename] phoned to tell me this after I'd got back to the Universitetskaja. So that's good news and she'll sleep happy tonight.
Thursday 20th October
A real chill eased its way into the air today after another couple of pleasant autumnal days. Tuesday was a pleasant day: I went into the Embassy to shop for coffee and washing powder, then wandered into the Institute to collect my salary. Fell into prolonged chats with various people: Emma, who has recklessly volunteered to give me Russian lessons; and Lisa, who's borrowed some art slides from the Embassy via me. Walked over to Oktoberskaya to meet [CENSORED: forename] at 3.15 and caught the Metro to Belayevo, where we spent the evening.
No, I've been lying to you: I didn't go into the Embassy on Tuesday, that was yesterday, and then I went back into the Institute to lend a copy of "Yes, Prime Minister" to Tanja. Then I returned to the hotel to do some Russian before going over to see [CENSORED: forename]. Spent the evening reading "An Introduction to Text Linguistics" - the Chapter on informativity. I must try to do more work on the PhD.
Today I washed some shirts, attempted some more Russian and went into the Institute to give my class: talked about the use of computers in the classroom, and then about new notions in grammar teaching. Then went into Progress Publishers and bought a Soviet edition of Gillian Brown's "Listening to Spoken English" (hardback) - for 30 kopecks!
In the evening we met up with Jo and some postgraduates on the way to the Blue Bird jazz club (tickets right →) where a girl from Maurice Thorez, Alla, was singing. The star of the show, however, was the drummer, a small round and toothy chap who obviously put heart and soul into his art. Alla has a good voice but her nerves showed through at times. The owner, a 27-year-old impresario, discovered that we're British and brought over an album containing press cuttings and photos of Sir Geoffrey Howe's visit to the club: "This man he has invited me to London. Go to the jazz clubs there - maybe in the spring."
The place was busier than the previous evening we'd been - the meat, however, could have done with being fried or cooked in some way, and the place has been denied the right to serve coffee. The owner persuaded us to sign a petition against the coffee ban - if this gets us in trouble then we can write to Sir Geoffrey.
Friday 21st October
Home tonight on the Metro and bus - I've an early start to lessons tomorrow. It's a strange feeling to be working on Saturdays again. There was a group of guys on the bus - I'm sure they were Arabs, maybe Palestinians. You could tell they weren't Russians - they were too ebullient: one tapped a rhythm out on another's jacket, they occasionally broke into a sing-song chant, they swung about crazily as the bus lurched on. The locals regarded them with eyes hooded with suspicion; one drunk snarled at them before staggering off the bus, dangerously into oncoming traffic.
The Russians are sullen bus travellers, and the system of trust isn't what it first appears. Several times on my bus rides, plain-clothes inspectors have come aboard, checking tickets, and causing a general rush to the far exits. Those who have neglected to buy and punch a ticket are unceremoniously hauled off and booked, yet a sizeable proportion of people seem to travel "without permission".
I had a quiet day today - I did some Russian before going into the Institute to show an episode of "Yes, Prime Minister", which went down very well. Then I went back to the Universitetskaya Hotel to doze and prepare some lessons before going over to see [CENSORED: forename].
[CENSORED: forename] has her second Russian cold, but was in at the Institute most of the day, participating in a suggestopaedia course for students. One, Igor, came round to fix her plumbing. He was a pleasant chap, obviously affluent in his furlined denim jacket (English), striped green trousers (Belgian), and short-sleeved shirt (Pakistani). His cherished ambition is to own a Mercedes.
I'd received - at last! - my first proper letter from home, giving details of Mum's Italian trip. There is also a formal invitation from the Ambassador and Lady Braithwaite to a reception on the 31st Oct to meet the foreign affairs select committee. Crisis: should I wear a tie?? And, at 10pm our time, I got my first phone call from Mum, who's sounding well, which is good. So it was with a light heart that I went back into the teeth of the now bitter night breeze to begin the 30-minute trek home.
Sunday 23 October
On with the furry hats! Yesterday - Saturday - brought out first proper snow, a brief blizzard that swept through the trees - now surely "bare ruined choirs / where once the birds did sing" - as we walked to the Sovincenter, the plush International Trade Centre out by Metro 1905 Street.
In the morning I'd struggled up at 6.35am to get to my first Saturday morning classes: three new groups whose standard is slightly lower than the first groups I'd taught - and they were considerably more difficult to draw out.
[CENSORED: forename] came over to the Institute at 1pm and we had a brief lunch in the buffet before setting off for the Sovincenter. Have I described the buffet at the Institute? There are three, I think, including one teachers' buffet, one small buffet for students, and a third larger one with two self-service counters, one of which is usually closed. They all serve a variety of beetroot and cabbage-based salads, or a fish/egg/mayonnaise salad, or occasionally a vile sweet (vanilla-flavoured) cheese topped with sour cream. The soup or borsht I usually avoid since [CENSORED: forename]'s unpleasant experience some weeks ago, and the main course is often an unidentifiable brown item atop some instant mashed potato. Sometimes this turns out to be a meatball, sometimes a fishcake. If you're lucky "plov" - pilaf rice with a few lumps of mutton - is on the menu. On Saturday it was chicken on thick pasta tubes - [CENSORED: forename] had fish on pasta tubes, washed down with sweet white coffee that you pour for yourself from a large battered kettle.
Then we set off. The Sovincenter is a large complex - trade centre, hotel, administrative block, shopping mall - where I'd had my kodak slides of Stirling developed for hard currency. [CENSORED: forename] hadn't seen it. The main attraction - apart from the beriozkas selling furs, samovars, food, and high-quality local ceramics - is the futuristic decor (glass elevators shoot up and down the main lobby) and a grotesque clock which stands over a fountain, also in the lobby. At three o'clock we watched as the main feature of the clock, a huge brass cock, flapped its metal wings and crowed.
After browsing through the shops we returned to Belyaevo - walking down by the river to Kalinina Prospekt and catching a bus to the Metro at Ploschad Nogina. In between we paid a quick visit to GUM - the huge department store (really a covered block of individual booths linked by a complex of interior avenues and bridges) which borders Red Square.
We had a quiet Saturday evening by the TV. We actually enjoyed the programmes - especially a concert of Russian music and a documentary on the Siberian tiger. Later we stumbled on an undubbed Australian mini-series "Where the River Bends" which was fun in an appalling sort of way: a plucky Shiela called Philadelphia growing up in the Outback in the early years of the century survives the Depression and her Awful Family by investing in a paddle steamer. God only knows what the Russians made of it - still, it was a change from all those fur-clad proto-communists trekking through the snow.
During Saturday I was following [CENSORED: forename] by falling prey to my second Soviet cold and then around 4am on Sunday I woke with intense stomach cramps and was uncomfortably ill. Maybe I shouldn't have had the chicken? So Sunday morning was spent quietly chewing dio-calm tablets.
In the afternoon Jo came round and we expected Marguerite and Rachel (who as it happened got lost) to come for a light snack and a walk in the woods. After waiting a few hours in vain the three of us went for a wander. The snow of yesterday didn't come to much, and today was grey but dry, with a bitter, bracing breeze. To get to the woods we have to walk for about 15 minutes down roads chewed up by builders who are constructing yet more tower blocks which seem to fall into almost instant decay. I look around at these skyscraper blocks of which Moscow is (at least officially) proud and think of "The Jeely Piece Song", Adam McNaughton's lament about similar developments in the now architecturally unfashionable 1960's.
Odd: ten minutes ago I received a phone call: a Russian male asked me in broken English to go to the service bureau of the hotel. I put on my shoes and complied, to find only the assistant, a lady who speaks only Russian, there. I mimed that someone had phoned me.
"Ah," she said, "Корбет? Passport please. For registration." I trotted back upstairs, fetched my passport and visa, and she jotted down some details before returning them to me. It was all very amiable. But at 11.30pm? And where did the man go?
Tuesday 25 October
1.55 pm: our first substantial snowfall is swirling outside the window of my little cell. It seems to be lying a little, at least on the grass verges beside the wide pavements below. Out with the thermal gloves...
Yesterday I went one stop down from the Universitet Metro station and met the woman who had asked me to give a message to an English friend. She is a sad lady with a sometimes appalling story to tell of official harrassment, intimidation and obstruction - some years ago her friendship with an overseas businessman was used as a reason to interrogate her and thwart her husband's career. She was forced to cease all communication with the friend, and believes that even now her letters from overseas are opened and checked. Her account of an interview with a KGB officer sounds like the black farce of 1984.
Now her marriage is effectively over and she seems keen to contact the old friend. I am sceptical and wonder if she isn't building castles in the air. She is a nervous, emotionally intense woman who puts great faith in palmistry as a guide to someone's character: she apparently decided to talk to me after a quick scrutiny of my hands in class. No wonder she got herself into trouble... As I said before, I don't know that I want to get involved in this, play knight in shining armour and then cause more trouble than I sort out. She also generates a contagious paranoia - as we walked down by a noxious, dried riverbed a little police car drove along the path, slowed, then turned and drove past us. I remember thinking with mounting alarm - Christ almighty, this is it, how will [CENSORED: forename] find out, will Mum write to Sir Geoffrey Howe, will the Church of Scotland send an envoy to negotiate my release?
Anyway, the panic subsided and we returned to the Metro. I took a ride up to the Embassy for my weekly photocopying and then went into the Institute. Only one teacher turned up for the consultation so we simply chatted away. One of my students from the first group gave me a blank cassette on which to record a selection of music - the class had enjoyed the stuff I'd played in the final lesson.
I met Lisa on the way home and we had a cup of tea and chatted until it was time to go to Belyaevo. Lisa had her tape player stolen from Joy's room last week: the key lady who should have been on duty on their floor seems to have lost her job as a result, and if the militia don't find it, then the hotel must replace it.
[CENSORED: forename] had boiled a Hungarian chicken with vegetables to make a main-meal-cum-soup: very welcome in the increasingly cold weather. Later in the evening a French lektor came down for a glass of syrupy Bulgarian wine - he was very pleasant, very French in his mannerisms, very knowledgable about Moscow and the faking of the maps. Even our Falk-plan is distorted: he used to have an American Embassy map, based on satellite photos, which shows true distances. He also told us of the large open-air swimming pool near the Institute: before the 1930's it was the largest church in Moscow, pulled down to make way for a memorial to Lenin. However the memorial kept collapsing and eventually the pool was built. Still, on a clear frosty evening when the moon is bright the native claim the outline of the church can be seen, shimmering over the pool below.
I got back to the hotel but found it difficult to sleep, so I spent until 2am taping songs for the student. Then finally I went to bed.
I was wakened at 8.45 am by [CENSORED: forename] telephoning to make arrangements for this afternoon: I'm meeting her at her Institute to do a joint session on British uni.'s for the English Club. Shortly afterwards I got up, washed some clothes, wrote a letter home and dozed over Russian days of the week. I attempted the hotel buffet for lunch: two expensive salami sandwiches and a glass of juice. Then back upstairs to look out of the window at the swirling snow and get this diary up to date. It's now 2.40pm, time to meet [CENSORED: forename].
Thursday 27 October
It's snowing again tonight, a light swirling wet snow which swept around the street lamps as I waited for the 67 bus at Profsoyuznaya.
There was a fair blizzard going by the time I met [CENSORED: forename] on Tuesday: we escaped into a small cafe near her Institute - run by a co-operative which supplies good sweet coffee, slim bars of dark Russian chocolate, and loud western music. Then we ducked and slithered in and out of shops until it was time to go to the English club.
We waited in the lobby of the Institute while [CENSORED: forename] searched out the teacher organising the event. A student chatted in the lobby and then offered to exchange fifty pounds. Peeved at my polite refusal, he wandered off. [CENSORED: forename] then discovered where we had to go: to another building across the snow-swept quad.
At length we found the teacher and were led to a room where a samovar was malfunctioning and cups had been lined up. About forty students then shuffled in.
[CENSORED: forename] then introduced a short video ("Degrees of Excellence") which was essentially an advertisement to attract overseas students to Edinburgh, London and Warwick Universities, and Brighton Poly. We then both attempted to answer questions - some thorny:
- what is the mechanism for Soviet students to go abroad?
- does the UK make grants available?
- how much Soviet literature do we read?
- what about fraternities and sororities in US universities?
- what are our hobbies?
- how frank and honest do we find Soviet students?
(Very frank and honest, I said, not very frankly or honestly.)
After the interrogation we were treated to cups of tea and pastries and subjected to a more informal grilling. By the time we got home [CENSORED: forename] was shattered and I was pretty whacked myself.
I made the weary journey back to my hotel and bumped into Lisa, who was depressed by official obstacles obstructing her from visiting a Soviet friend in Tallin. She also had reason to believe that her letters (delivered here) are being opened and that copies of some are at the Maurice Thorez Institute. This seems possible: privacy is in short supply here - Jo [CENSORED: surname] came upon people opening lektors' mail at the British Embassy. We spoke in my room in low voices, conscious that my room just might be bugged. Part of me thinks that such a notion is daft; another part says - look, they pay people to sit and watch travellers go down the Metro escalators, why shouldn't they monitor the 16 lektors in the USSR?
Wednesday I spent quietly but industriously, working on the PhD most of the day - taking the first steps towards a thematic analysis of two science texts. Then in the evening I met up with [CENSORED: forename] and Pascale, her French colleague at the Steel and Alloys Institute, and he took us to the French embassy. We were supposed to see a concert commemorating Jacques Brel; however, a last-minute programme change served us up two movies instead: a silent version of "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Jean Epstein, and an enjoyably dreadful melodrama from the 50's or early 60's: "Pecheur d'Islande." Pascale was terribly embarrassed by the quality of the latter, which seemed a cunningly contrived justification for fishing in Irish waters (it's less stormy and there are more fish), and he needed reassurance that we'd enjoyed ourselves - which we had. The embassy cinema itself was worth the visit: plush is hardly the word - it's a full-scale cinema which is more comfortable than any even in Glasgow.
This morning I worked some more on the PhD and glanced too at some Russian, before having a bite to eat and going in to give my class. Afterwards I popped in to the Embassy to pick up mail - there was a note from Christian to say that [CENSORED: forename]'s dissertation was fine and that she'd passed her MPhil. So I picked up some champagne from the hotel and went down to Belyaevo. On the way I also bought five roses from a chap in the Belyaevo Metro underpass:
"University of Glasgow?" he said, reading my bag: "You are from Scotland? Perhaps you can help me."
In broken but coherent English he asked me to talk to my British and American friends to help him leave the USSR. He took off his hat: "Look, I am 41 and my hair is grey. I want to live some years in liberty."
I told him I was sorry but I was unimportant, I couldn't help and reluctantly he let me go, still pleading. His mother was Polish and his father was Armenian: his sister lived in France but wouldn't write the letter necessary to allow him to leave. What fantasy did he cherish that a passing request to an English-speaking customer might lead to the release of a middle-aged flower-seller?
The restrictions which apply here seem to feed people's tendency towards wishful thinking, leading perhaps to obsessional hopes and dreams. Lisa told me of an encounter with someone who claimed to be a dissident with important papers which he wished her to take into the American Embassy. When she turned him down he begged her to reconsider, giving her details: he claimed to have information about an organisation of vampires an werwolves which went under the name of the Black Shield - knowledge about this conspiracy had been given to him by someone who had been kidnapped by extraterrestrials and spent seven years on another planet. The Americans knew about this organisation, which he, a Buddhist vegetarian fought against. The Americans would value his information and take him in. He also wrote poetry, look -
Lisa tells me that she wondered: who is this guy? A lunatic? Some KGB man trying her out to see if she would take papers to her Embassy? But would the KGB concoct such a crazy story?
"Lisa," I said to her, "what if he's right?"
"I thought of that too," she said. "What if I've passed up the chance to save the world?"
[CENSORED: forename] liked the roses and was pleased about the news of her MPhil. She'd managed to buy fish - you get no less than five - and we drank the champagne with fried fish and potatoes. Later in the evening - once I'd returned to the hotel - she rang to say Mum had called to say that official notification of her success had arrived in Ayr. So she's officially a graduanda - if my weak Latin serves me well.
Friday 28th October
Today was grey and damp - a little warmer and so the sheets of ice which coated the pavements have crumbled into slush and formed large puddles over the deep cracks.
I went into the Embassy to return and borrow some books there, met [CENSORED: forename] and also Emma, who has agreed to start my lessons on Monday.
Then I went into the Institute for my every-second-Friday consultation. Today's topics ranged from the etymology of "wogs" (wise oriental gentlemen? working on government ships?), to the possible impact of direct broadcasting by satellite (I don't think the Soviets can yet imagine Rupert Murdoch beaming non-stop unofficial TV down at them), to the "doomsday scenario" in Scottish politics.
One teacher lent me some "teach-yourself-Russian" books - and also a school textbook, which is a mine of patriotic trivia: one lesson is centred on John Reed ("10 Days that Shook the World"), another on Paul Robeson ("a great communist who sang") and yet another on Willie Gallagher's reminiscences of Lenin (from "The Revolt on the Glyde" (sic)). That well-known recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize, Charlie Chaplin, also gets a mention.
[CENSORED: forename] tells me that one teacher at her Institute misunderstood "conservation" and so explained to her class that Prince Charles devoted a lot of time to pickling fruit... Maybe there are flaws in the efficient Soviet pedagogical programme?
After class I met [CENSORED: forename] and Ksenia at the modern art gallery opposite Gorky Park and we went to see an exhibition by a recently rehabilitated Soviet artist Pavel Filonov (?). He had a tremendous stylistic range, although thematically he tended to concentrate on heads - heads of men, heads of animals, heads anchored to distorted noses, cavernous pig-like nostrils, heads exploded into abstract collages, heads run through with computer circuitry. His pen and ink drawings were particularly powerful (heads spiralling out into geometric cityscapes).
And in the evening we returned to Belyaevo. [CENSORED: forename] tried out an anti-roach spray which caused the entire cockroach population of her room (a fair number) to leave their hideaways and scurry across her walls. We spent a good part of the evening catching them in a piece of cloth and flushing them down the sink.
Sunday 30th October
According to the weather report on tonight's news Moscow temperatures tonight will fall to between -6 and -8°C, tomorrows will be between -3° and -5°C. Again a light, stinging snow was falling as I caught the bus home: a quick trip tonight, no waiting - 30 minutes only.
Yesterday I struggled up for my 8 o'clock classes: we played "Call my Bluff" and again the game seemed to unlock the students' imaginations and they were co-operative and forthcoming. One group defined "squat" as a term of abuse, found in such phrases as "Stop squatting me down" and "Squat off!" At the 11 o'clock break one student, for whom I'd transcribed some of Chris de Burgh's lyrics, passed me a note thanking me effusively. She wanted the words in order to be able to sing the songs and is over the moon now she's able to do so. It's nice that such a small gesture can be so appreciated.
After classes I met [CENSORED: forename] at the Oktoberskaya Metro: I felt tired and a little frustrated. I think the Institute may be giving me the runaround over a visa to the town of Sagorsk, and I don't believe a visa is really necessary for that town anyway. We travelled out to the Andrei Rublyev museum, which turned out to be closed for repair, and so we wandered down towards the city centre. The town was older in that district - less skyscrapers, more little wine shops with long queues of coughing men, shuffling in the cold, collars turned up to their acrylic ski hats which say "adidas", "activ" or "спорт".
We reached Ploschad Nogina and caught the Metro back. Jo popped in for a cup to Jan de Vries herbal tea, and then [CENSORED: forename] and I went round to Marguerite and Rachel's to meet Gunther, a German lektor up from Yerevan, and some others.
Today we had a lazy morning: Pascale came in for a cup of tea and told us about the book beriozka near Park Kultury, and so after lunch [CENSORED: forename] and I decided to pay it a visit.
Again this district - near the Arbat - is part of the older, more charming district. A small vegetable shop was open and [CENSORED: forename] leapt at the opportunity to buy some green bananas (2 kilos for 4 roubles). We then went into the beriozka and admired the books - especially the art books - but didn't buy. We did purchase another transport map of Moscow and a cassette of solemn and festive Russian overtures.
From Kropotkinskaya we tramped the route to the Arbat and again strolled down among the artists, silhouette-cutters, declaimers of poetry, and a small brass band which played "In the Mood" while a long-haired, genial Eastern-looking chap in a fedora and grey suit with gold tie danced a solitary jive.
Instead of retracing our steps towards Park Kultury we cut right across the river and ended up at Kiev railway station: a beautiful cathedral-like building, full of bustle as crowds wait for trains (great hulking shapes glimpsed through dark glass windows), others serve food, sell t-shirts and souvenirs. We bought some more political postcards, all Lenins, hammers and sickles, and thrusting '1917's'.
From there we caught the Metro home and spent the evening writing postcards, preparing classes, listening to the World Service and watching TV.
1 Nov (Tuesday)
I spent a quiet morning tidying up my room and washing clothes. Emma had to lead a trip at the last minute, and so couldn't make our first planned Russian lesson.
Yesterday's lesson followed the pattern that Mondays are falling into: less a class and more a chat. Topics ranged from slang expressions of approbation and disapproval, to problems in UK universities.
I nipped back in the afternoon to pop into my suit and red-and-black striped Thai silk tie (a present from an ex-student) and wear for the first time my Berghaus winter jacket. Then I went down to meet [CENSORED: forename], who was washing her hair, applying some make-up, and donning her grey-and-white M&S number. Then we met Jo at her Metro stop, and headed on up to the Embassy where we were invited to a reception to meet the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons.
So there we were, all dolled up in our glad rags, being presented to the Ambassador and Lady Braithwaite, and then being ushered in to an ornate room, all white and gold, with a portrait of the young Queen benignly staring down at us.
At first, as usual, the lectors - Nick, Jo, [CENSORED: forename], and me - huddled together in one corner, a timid scrum. We tried to celebrity-spot: Peter [CENSORED: surname] stood in one corner in a red tie, other faces whose names stayed on our tongue-tips - and faces unkent - crowded the room. At length we gained courage and mingled a little. I chatted to the Cultural Attache [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], a Mr [CENSORED: surname] from MGU (a charming old rogue who claimed to be a friend of Tam [CENSORED: surname] - whose grandfather apparently fought with the International troops of Peter the Great) and a couple of MPs - Michael [CENSORED: surname] (?) and a nameless creature. The motley crew is touring the Eastern bloc, garnering information and testing the water on disarmament and giving the usual token nod towards culture. And drinking a fair amount.
[CENSORED: forename] and the others got on splendidly with the Member for Methir Tydvale (??) who promised great leaps in our humble status here.
By the time we left, this MP was offering us lifts in the escorted van (which left with the blare and flashing lights of attendant police cars) but we reluctantly declined. We all went back to [CENSORED: forename]'s flat and had a bite to eat, and some more wine.
I went home with Nick and Teresa, straight to bed and then - at some indefinite time in the morning - woke with a feeling of extreme nausea. Not a pleasant end to a pleasant evening.
[CENSORED: forename] rang just before 9am to ask me to get bread and milk for the evening, thus waking me. I gingerly got up and showered and looked out some stuff on Burns for Nick, who came round at 10.30 to collect them. We chatted for a while, about perestroika and paranoia and generally being here, until it was time to go into the Institute to collect my visa for Sagorsk. I arrive at the office (Room 131) at 12.30, to find it closed. So I went and treated my rebellious stomach to fish soup and plov, which surprisingly seemed to settle it a little.
After lunch I managed to catch the girl who looks after the passports and visas, and at last received the nondescript piece of paper which allows me out of Moscow for the day.
On the way home on this bright and sunny November's day, I was approached by a young man who wanted to buy my jacket ("Is it down? Is very nice...") or another of my jackets, or indeed anything I wanted to sell. No sorry, I said - I need the jacket myself. People are now beginning to approach me: last night on the bus a chap came up and asked if I would take a questionaire from "Anglia" English language magazine into the British Embassy. I checked the contents of the envelope - it looked harmless, so I said I would.
So here I am at 3.40pm on a Tuesday afternoon, again preparing to go over to see [CENSORED: forename]. The bread and milk are bought - from the shop across the road which teems with women in wool and fur hats, and men in blue overalls, all smiling with silver teeth.
Thursday 3rd November
11.07pm by my Dixons travelling clock, which sits on top of a pamphlet "Reform: a new economic mechanism" in the small pool of light thrown by my bedside lamp. Outside the temperature is -10°C, falling to a projected -17°C later tonight. Glasgow street songs murmur in the background.
Yesterday was a quiet day: Emma had to call off our lesson again, and so I spent most of the day working out a thematic analysis of two articles on brittlestars. I didn't step outside till I was due to meet [CENSORED: forename] at Oktoberskaya at 5pm. We were supposed to go for a cup of tea with one of her teachers but there was a misunderstanding about time/date/manner of our meeting. After waiting for about 20 minutes we decided to go back to Belyaevo and phone. Thus the misunderstanding was cleared up; however we stayed in and spent the evening replying to letters we'd received from home.
Today Emma and I finally got together and started some conversational Russian. We concentrated on shopping vocabulary, and spent most of the hour on numbers and prices. Afterwards I went downstairs to the hotel post office and bought some envelopes - and understood the price! This minor victory was consolidated later in the buffet of the Institute when I understood for the first time the cost of my lunch (1 rouble 17 kopecks). At last I can get rid of my small change - usually I just hand over notes and let the waitresses pick out the change.
Today's lesson went well - it was just a practical session based on the fluency exercises I've been doing with the students. Naturally enough it was easier to sell the relevance of these exercises to the teachers.
Afterwards I worked my way through the snow to the hotel, where, buoyed up by the morning's successes, I spent some more time on "Let's Read Russian".
The bus over to [CENSORED: forename]'s was tremendously crowded this evening. I caught the rush hour peak which meant furry hats meeting snout to snout on the 130 to Profsoyuznaya. At this stop, fortunately, a lot of people get off, and it's just a case of closing your eyes and letting the tide of people wash you out.
We did a little Russian revision in the evening again, together, this time from a text book we've both been lent: "Russian for All." At this rate, God knows, we must learn something.
Monday 7 November:
Anniversary of the October Revolution.
спраздником! - or happy holiday! It's 11.50am, a mere -3°C, and I'm sitting in [CENSORED: forename]'s room down in Belyaevo, watching the parade through Red Square on TV. The report has just switched to give a glimpse of processions taking place in different cities in the USSR: Yerevan, Baku, Tashkent, etc. Mikhail Gorbachov, his fur hat collecting snow like a fine spray of dandruff, has waved the tanks and guns and marching soldiers, now various citizens in union groups are shuffling past with banners showing Lenin and proclaiming мур (Peace) and перестроика (Reform), and so on.
You need a ticket actually to be in the flag-waving crowd in Red Square, the procession down Gorky Street through the Square to Ploschad Nogina will probably be packet out, and after the exertions of the past few days we thought we'd relax this morning and watch the celebrations on TV. (At least I'm relaxing, [CENSORED: forename] is her usual hyperactive self, washing gloves and socks - and plastic bags to use again - and sweeping the carpet with her mini witches' broom.) Perhaps in the warmer weather in spring we'll try to catch the Mayday celebrations.
It's been a busy few days. On Friday I showed the video "Changing Places" about an exchange between pupils of Rugby and Ruffwood Schools: public school meets comprehensive. We spent the rest of the day quietly - [CENSORED: forename] felt shattered - and on Saturday I got up at 6.35am again to give my (I think) final Saturday lessons to this group of fifth years. The holiday feeling is creeping in: class numbers are down but we had a pleasant time doing various fluency exercises.
At one o'clock a stentorian Russian voice boomed over the loudspeakers, followed by stirring martial music. I was irresistably reminded of the "3-minute hate" of Orwell's "1984" as I walked down the Institute corridors - however, most of the Russians around me either ignored the broadcast or performed little mock marches to the music. Behind one door students fooled around, preparing red flags and balloons for today's parade.
I met [CENSORED: forename] and we had a couple of hot-dogs each in the one buffet which hadn't closed. Then we took the Metro to Sportivnaya to see if we could get film for our camera in a Beriozka shop there. This was the biggest hard currency shop we'd seen: two floors of luxuries unobtainable to the vast majority with access only to roubles. Fur hats and fur coats, samovars and jewellery, books and records, dolls and carvings, radios and cameras - but no film for instamatic cameras. Still, we bought a bottle of Ballantine's whisky and of white Georgian wine for £9.30. On the way back, [CENSORED: forename] spotted peppers and tomatoes in a cooperative grocer's, and so we queued for half an hour for a couple of kilos.
We arrived home and had a quick meal, for we were to meet [CENSORED: forename]'s colleague Valeria at 6 o'clock - he'd promised to get us tickets for the Bolshoi for Saturday evening. We were 10 minutes late for the rendezvous at the International Hotel - and as it turned out he'd got us tickets for Sunday instead. For Saturday he'd procured us an invitation to a concert at the Actor's Union by a folk singer of gypsy songs, Alla Bayanova (Anna Баянова) - playing her first concert in the USSR for 30 years.
However, it was to be an evening of minor confusion: our invitation gained us entrance to the building but by itself did not guarantee us a seat in the concert hall, a smallish place. We ended up standing at the back of the auditorium as the singer, accompanied by pianist, gypsy violinist, and guitarists, came on stage to a literal shower of flowers.
Alla Bayanova is a middle-aged woman who made [CENSORED: forename] and me think of Edith Piaf - only the Russian, dressed in a black dress and adorned with necklaces, was sturdier and more resilient than the French sparrow. She was an excellent performer - the music like the ethnic tunes in "Fiddler on the Roof" - but after a while standing got too much for us and we discreetly left. As we descended the five floors by stair, her voice echoed after us, and the ladies in the cloakroom downstairs were huddled round a loudspeaker relaying the concert to them.
One other reason for leaving early was that I'd committed my usual error of leaving my passport (and hard-won visa for Sagorsk) in my room at the Universitetskaya Hotel - so we collected that before travelling on to Belyaevo. (Visa pasted below.)
Sunday dawned bright and mild: we got up at 7.00am, had a bowl of porridge, and made our way to the Universitet Metro to meet our travelling companions: Joy [CENSORED: surname], an American, and 6 or so of her Russian students and their friends. We then went to Kolomenskaya to catch the 9.25 electric train to Sagorsk - our first trip out of Moscow! The train was a bit like a Spartan version of one of our BR coaches - a bit wider with hard 3-person seats on each side of a narrow aisle. The train was busy, but as we moved on to the suburbs, high-rise flats giving way to trees and wooden dachas, the coach emptied and we were all seated by the time we got to Sagorsk, the end of the line.
Sagorsk is one of those towns like Pompei, a modern place with an enclosed area of antique beauty and historical intensity as its core. The heart of the town is a monastery fortress going back to the 14th century - still a working monastery as well as a tourist centre - still one of the nerve centres of the Russian Orthodox Church. Until recently Sagorsk was the home of the Patriarch, who has now moved to the Danilov monastery in Moscow.
The monastery dominates the town, behind its walls its domes balloon upwards, gold and blue with gold stars. The entrance gates are splendidly decorated with frescoes of saints, and inside there is an amazing collection of buildings.
The house of the Patriarch is a huge church - being Sunday a service was in progress. We entered the vestibule where some Rasputin-like clerics stood, crazy-haired and bearded, behind counters, selling candles. We stood at the door of the packed church, listening to distant singing and incantations, peering through the darkness at the dim, fairy-lit chandeliers and golden ornamentation.
Some people were obviously, like us, curious - others were among the faithful. A man leaned against the doorway, head in hands, praying continuously. There was the same odd mixture of devotion and irritation that I'd seen in Italy - crowds pushing in jostled crowds pushing out: one middle-aged woman who dared to raise her voice in a demand for some orderliness was furiously hushed by even more elderly women around her.
After this, we entered a chapel with a huge dim iconostasis, a collection of icons by such as Andrei Rublyov. Old women came in to kiss dark pictures of Christ; in one corner a priest led a cluster of choristers who lined up, apparently to kiss the golden coffin of a saint.
Outside again in the snow, we moved between the huge buildings, popping into a museum about the reconstruction of the monastery, also showing some historical artefacts: ceramic tiles, porcelain figures, weapons and coins.
Finally we left the monastery and searched out a cafe where we could eat lunch. Here you can go into a cafe, order a cup of tea or coffee, and then eat any food that you've brought with you - a practice which still fills me with unease: it shows you how much we're socialised by authoritarian cafe proprietors in Britain!
So there we were in a pleasant little upstairs cafe in Sagorsk, ordering tea and cake (total cost, 6 roubles 40) from a smiling lady who seemed quite happy to see us pull out bread and cheese, apples, apple pie and pastries - even a bottle of wine - to have for lunch.
And then we returned to the station, to make the 90 minute trip back to Moscow. [CENSORED: forename] and I returned to Belyaevo to have a quick bowl of soup, change, and make our way to the Bolshoi Theatre.
The Bolshoi is a gorgeous theatre which, in gold and red decor, lives up to its reputation. The curtain is overtopped by heroic symbols radiating from the hammer and sickle. Five storeys of seats soar up to the painted ceiling, dominated by a single, huge chandelier. We were in Box 8 on the ground floor, with some Japanese and Italian spectators, as well as - shock! - a Russian couple. Tickets to the Bolshoi are rare: tourists can expect to pay up to £30 for a ticket; we'd been lucky enough to get ours at the Russian rate of about £3.00.
The performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Tsar's Bride" started at 7 on the dot. The settings and costumes were impressive and the music and singing were good. Since the singing and the synopsis were in Russian, we had to do a lot of top-down processing (EFL jargon for guessing). We figured out the Tsar and his rival in love fairly quickly, that the heroine was the rival's fiancée (maybe) took some working-out, but we had it sussed by Act 3. Only at the end did we decide that a mysterious female (in love with the Tsar? an ex-wife or mistress? his mother?) had switched poison meant for the rival to the fiancée's cup - thus foiling the Tsar's attempt at a forced marriage to her. Result: a prolonged and tuneful death in the tragic manner.
The opera lasted 3½ hours but (unusually for me at an opera) I never felt tired or bored. Beautiful though the Bolshoi is, the seating arrangement is not exactly ideal. I had an excellent view in the first act but in the second I switched places with [CENSORED: forename], who had been peering past a cluster of heads in front of her. At the first interval an American tourist complained to the Italian behind us: "I'm freezing and I can't see a thing." She was in the middle of the stalls, which consisted simply of rows of individual chairs on a slight gradient.
However, in the second interval we saw the Russian couple (honeymooners, [CENSORED: forename] thought) don coats and scarves and leave, so we grabbed their places and had an excellent view for the final two acts.
The Italian couple behind us were middle-aged tourists from Firenze, flagging after a tour to Leningrad, Tashkent and Samarkand. The man kept falling asleep and giving quiet little snores. The lady sat huddled in a coat, nursing a cough. [CENSORED: forename] asked her what she thought of Russian food, and predictably her eyes rolled in horror: "Tastes all the same," she said. "Carrots, onions, tomatoes. All has no taste."
After the performance we went home and watched some incredible gymnastics on TV while sipping an evening dram. It had been a good day.
We slept in this morning and at last woke to grey skies and light snow. We switched on the TV to see the parade, but we plan to stay in this afternoon, perhaps venturing out to the Lenin Hills this evening - maybe with Jo and her visiting boyfriend Gareth if we can contact them - to see the fireworks.
Wednesday 9 November
In the end we caught only the tail end of the fireworks; they started earlier than we'd been told, and so we saw them in the distance, great green and yellow bursts of light refracted through the condensation on a bus window. We got off the bus at the Universitet Metro in time to catch the climactic explosions.
So we took the Metro to the city centre, which had been closed to traffic, and joined the throngs of people wandering up and down Gorky Street: some, in small groups, waved banners and drunkenly chanted slogans or sang political songs - whether pro-revolution or pro-perestroika it was hard to say. The only one we recognised was "We Shall Overcome".
The main Post Office was lit up by a changing screen of coloured lights which displayed revolutionary symbols, followed by Soviet achievements in space, followed by disarmament propaganda. A loudspeaker across the street explained it all in ringing tones and with stirring music.
Soldiers were in great abundance - spiralling out in rows from Metro entrances, and strung out across streets at crossroads. The voices tended to mute their songs as they approached the soldiers, then shout out in defiance once they'd passed. We walked down across Red Square, where Mikhail had waved to the troops that morning, and found a number of troops still in attendance. You are not allowed to smoke or raise your voice in Red Square, and as we were leaving we witnessed an altercation between some soldiers and a mildly drunk group of singers. After some jostling, the singers were turned away from the holy of holies.
Yesterday we spent quietly again, until late afternoon when we met Ksenia, one of [CENSORED: forename]'s colleagues, her daughter, and another friend, at Kolomenskoe, in the south-west of the city. Kolomenskoe is an open-air architectural museum: once another summer home of the tsars, it is now a working cathedral (of the Ascension) plus a church built for the birth of Ivan the Terrible. Again it was a beautiful little religious complex, a mini-Sagorsk.
We were invited for dinner to Ksenia's flat nearby, to meet another friend, an electrical engineer. We had a lovely meal: salad, a pasta-like Russian variety of ravioli, and plov - with a generous helping of wine.
Today has been quieter still: I finished writing up a simulation on Russian fast food (?!) and went up to the Embassy to collect mail and do some xeroxing. Dad has sent over a golf magazine, book, and set of rules for the student who is studying golfing terms. (There will be a little patch of Kazakhstan which will be forever St. Nicholas....) Then I did a little shopping and returned to the hotel to study some more Russian and tidy up a bit.
[CENSORED: forename] has just phoned to say she's returning home from the hairdresser's, so I'll wend my weary way over to Belyaevo. The temperature is falling again, so on with the furry cap....
Sunday 13th November
The simulation idea provoked some discussion on Thursday - principally from Tania, who seemed ideologically opposed to both simulations and franchises. She dislikes simulations because they provide students with the opportunity to make mistakes - exactly the reason why I like them. The others seemed mesmerised by the notion of a Russian fast food: Uncle Vanya's Georgian-fried shashlyk? So the session was lively for a change.
In the evening, after returning from [CENSORED: forename]'s I popped upstairs to share a last lemon vodka with James [CENSORED: surname], who is about to leave for Leningrad after his 7 weeks in Moscow. He's had a great time except for our hotel - he's made an official complaint about its Colditz-like practices and has cut his trip short by 4 days in protest.
On Friday, therefore, I had difficulty in dragging myself out of bed at 6.30 for an 8am class - which I then found has been switched to Monday! I wasn't pleased - but as usual in this country it's difficult to pinpoint the blame. Still, the two new fourth-year classes were friendly and lively - the second one bringing in a selection of Russian cakes and home-made biscuits for a session on "diet".
After class I was hijacked by a teacher who kept me an hour proofreading a godawful text-book she's writing. She obviously visited England in the 1960's, and her vision of "real English" is that of a past generation strained through 20-odd years of teaching in Moscow. "Do you like Tom Jones?" one character asks another. As we proceeded I began to feel that writing an educational text was secondary in importance to her creating a fantasy of her own - she worked her own interests (detective stories by Agatha Christie) and memories into the lives of her characters, whose background outside the text she happily embroidered: "This is John's girlfriend, Edna; they are going to get married."
In the evening we met up with Jo, Pascal, Joy, Lisa and some Russians at Luna Cafe, to have ice-cream before going to Moscow State Circus. The Circus proved to be great fun, although we had mixed feelings about the ethics of the animal acts: bears riding bare-back, sea-lions swinging on parallel bars, hedgehogs parachuting from the apex of the stunning, purpose-built and permanent Big Top.
We had no doubts about the brilliantly talented human performers, however; acrobats who shimmied unnaturally up and down a metal pole; jugglers who endearingly over-stretched themselves; ice dancers who hinted at what Soviet gymnasts do after the Olympics - one dancer in particular did a wonderful clowning tribute to Charlie Chaplin. The climax of the show was an incredible gymnast/dancer who did tremendous things with hula-hoops, and a troupe of trapeze artists. One trick was to somersault from the trapeze onto the shoulders of a man who was standing on another man's shoulders. Seen live, it was breathtaking.
So, that was the start of a cultural weekend - but I'll have to tell the rest of it tomorrow as its definitely time for bed now.
Monday 14th November
I've just made a cup of coffee with the wee plastic kettle that [CENSORED: forename] got me last week: it's against the many rules of this place to have any type of heating appliance in your room; however most residents - or inmates - have a hotplate stashed away under the bed or in the wardrobe. The kettle boils in just a few minutes and is really good.
So, to last Saturday. After a late night drinking with Pascal and dreaming of travel, we rose late on Saturday morning. There was a book/record/sweatshirt sale on at the Anglo-American school for diplomats weans, so after a bowl of porridge we wandered down Leninski Prospeckt in search of the school. At length we found it, flashed our passports to prove our "membership of the foreign community" and went in. The stuff was a bit pricey: 28 roubles for a Penguin copy of "The Brothers Karamazov" or 25 roubles for an album. The sweatshirts were said to be retailing for 50 roubles (about £45) on the third floor so, empty-handed, we tumbled back out into the cold sunlight of the main street. We then happened upon a Soviet electronics shop selling Soviet computers at really expensive prices: 10000 roubles for a business computer. We should have brought over our Amstrad wpc!
We had a quiet afternoon and in the evening we caught a bus 'n' metro to Natasha's, another of [CENSORED: forename]'s colleages, for a meal.
Natasha is [CENSORED: forename]'s boss, and very possessive, partly because she hopes her children, a girl of 14 and a boy of about 7, will pick up some foreign language. The girl already speaks excellent French, according to Pascal. The husband, Pavel, is a friendly and good-humoured travelling businessman, who speaks a little English and is fond of playing revolutionary songs on the piano.
Speaking of the piano, one of the daughter's friends had been invited to play for us - she attends a special music school and is considered the best in her year. She played us some of Chopin's "Etudes" with what seemed to our ignorant ears considerable skill.
Natasha's flat seemed bigger and more elegant than Ksenia's - although even here the lounge doubles as the parents' bedroom while the kids have a small room each. We had another delicious meal - largely vegetarian, with the main part being little pots of mushrooms cooked with cheese. We took along a packet of After Eight chocolates, which were consumed with great curiosity - Natasha read the guarantee of quality out loud with great care before biting into her first one.
So that was another late night, and we slept in again on Sunday. We went for a walk in the now snowy birch forest south of Belyaevo and watched the cross-country skiers speed down the icy paths, and kids hurtle down steep braes on their little sleds.
Again we spent the afternoon quietly - me writing to [CENSORED: forename], [CENSORED: forename] reading some Russian, before going out in the evening, this time with my "minder" Ksenia and some of her family, to see a friend play piano with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Under the dramatic instruction of an expressive conductor, the orchestra played through three Mozart symphonies - or maybe concertos (I'm as illiterate in music as in Russian) - but I made out the numbers 15, 20 and 27. The music was pleasant and the crowd was very appreciative: unlike the Bolshoi and to a lesser extent the Circus, you felt that the audience was present to hear the music, not "do" the venue.
And today I got up early - agony! - to teach an 8am class of 4th years, which went well. Afterwards I arranged to meet another class informally on Thursday at 2.30, and met another student, Ira, to help her with some work she's doing on the rhythm of the ballads. She's offered also to do some conversational Russian with me, so I'll see if I can work something out.
At which point I should stop scribbling this diary and get on with some reading of Russian.
Tuesday 15th November
Ah, last night was notable for another success in booze-getting: I queued for a mere 15 minutes outside the shop next to the hotel here before gaining entrance to the boxed bottles of wine and champers. As I was waiting the check-out woman refused two young men who were under-21. They left their two bottles apiece at the till and vanished into the dark, grinning ruefully.
I managed to pack four bottles of white wine and two bottles of champagne (total 23 roubles) into my blue nylon zip-up bag and clanked in triumph through the slush to [CENSORED: forename]. She's plundered the Com Shop, for bacon among other luxuries, and we had spaghetti carbonara for dinner. Her phone has been fixed and she was expecting Lynn to call.
Sure enough, by the time I'd won home, Lynn had been on the blower; and as [CENSORED: forename] phoned me here, Lynn phoned my parents - with the result that Mum gave me a quick call at 11.15pm. All seems fine at home.
I was tired but not sleepy last night and so I decided I'd finish Muriel Spark's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", a book [CENSORED: forename] had borrowed from the Embassy library. I got to the last page by 1.30am - it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The result was, however, that I woke late this morning. I eventually got myself into the Embassy to borrow some books and photocopy a couple of pages of a Pinter play "Family Voices" for a future session on The Theatre.
In the afternoon, here, and in the evening at [CENSORED: forename]'s I wrote up an "illustrated tour of Stirling" to go along with the slides we'd brought.
Just before going over to Belyaevo, I was visited by Ksenia who wanted me to record a couple of elementary dialogues on the weather for a friend. The dialogues were rather stilted and so, I'm afraid, was my reading of them. It didn't help that I'd to do all the voices, male and female!
The TV news is dominated - no, entirely taken up - with long speeches from some conference. Mikhai Gorbachov's speeches alone go on for over an hour. The only other news tonight was of the first Soviet space shuttle, "БУРАН" (snowstorm), which made its maiden flight today, orbiting the earth twice before landing safely in Central Asia.
Thursday 17th Nov
Temperatures are mild, hovering around zero, but snow is falling regularly and forming a powdery mush on top of previous coatings of ice. Very slippy: tonight the 130 bus home skewed and lurched a little at traffic lights. I think of Canada and the huge and tiny snowploughs there. Here big snowploughs also clear main streets, but pavements are cleared by workers - often women - weilding outsize shovels in the subzero temperatures. The sound of scraping can be heard below my window at 7.30 to 8.00 am.
Yesterday I had my first third-year classes - their exuberance overcame the stuffiness of the given topic: "travel by rail". Afterwards I chatted for a while with Emma in the buffet before returning home.
I am entering a trousers crisis: how and where to get them dry-cleaned? I'm down to my last pair of jeans, much to the disapproval of [CENSORED: forename] who accuses me - rightly - of procrastination. Last night I took my bag into a cleaner's I'd seen en route to Profsoyuznaya and then suffered a panic attack: in the large room to my left people milled around large washing machines - both members of the public and white-coated women. In the large lobby others sat looking vacant or wandered about with mugs of tea. In the room to my right large women in large furry hats wrung battleship bloomers through industrial rollers. It was all too much to handle without a translator - I turned on my heel and fled.
This morning I had a second lesson with Emma, still concentrating on prices and food. I followed this up with a bit of "Let's Read Russian" and then went into work.
Today's culture class was a slide show of Stirling - the King's Park and Raploch council houses cause most interest. This was followed by an informal "class" in the buffet with a group of 4th years who wanted to interrogate me without a teacher being present. Topics ranged from the Church of Scotland to kilts, from bureaucracy in the USSR to the average age of marriage in the UK.
There was quite a stir in the Stylistics staff room: UK papers had gone on sale in the kiosk outside the Institute. So from today not only the Morning Star is available - you can also get The Guardian for 80 kopecks! Only last week teachers were sceptical about this happening, although I'd heard news of it on the World Service.
[CENSORED: forename] and I spent the evening quietly: we didn't manage to get any meat today so [CENSORED: forename] made a pasta with fish livers she'd been given. They're considered a delicacy here... however....
[CENSORED: forename] also had obtained a New Scientist with an article on Direct Broadcasting by Satellite. I am intrigued by the notion of what access to Europe-wide TV will do to a nation so miserly with information as the USSR. After all, wider access to our papers only happened today; and even World Service radio frequencies stopped being jammed recently. I plan to incorporate information about DSB into talks on the mass media and see what reaction (if any) I get.
Sunday 20th Nov
Another cold night: -11ºC and falling as I waited for the bus from Profsoyuznaya to the Universitetskaya Hotel tonight. The statue of Indira Ghandi outside was almost chittering in her sarong; however, the base has sprouted snow-frosted fresh flowers, presumably to mark the current talks between her son Rajiv and Comrade Gorbachov.
It's been an interesting weekend. On Friday I got the students acting out excerpts from plays by Agatha Christie and Harold Pinter (to show the range of British theatre!?) and afterwards I bumped into Nic [CENSORED: surname], from Leningrad, at the Embassy. He told me that the latest Soviet revisionist theory is that Joe Stalin was a CIA agent.
In the evening we'd been invited to a "tea party" at one of my colleague's flat: "Do you mind not talking here", she said as we passed a large building on the way from the Metro stop, "it's a sensitive military area."
The tea party turned out to be [CENSORED: forename] and me alone: it seems that we'd been invited so that the teacher could continue in private a discussion begun on methodology in class about a week ago. We traded critical - sometimes very critical - arguments for quite a while, getting hungrier and hungrier as the debate grew heated. When it subsided and we ate, my colleague insisted on showing us British videos - "Spitting Image" and "Fawlty Towers" - on her Panasonic video. She's certainly well equipped for a Soviet, with a Commodore wpc and an extensive library of western literature.
It was an odd, rather strained evening. I got wound up and spent the next day sporadically rehearsing and continuing the discussion. The crux of the argument is that my colleague can't understand why the teaching of me and the Americans, Joy and Lisa, isn't more "formal" and "academic", with attention being concentrated on stylistic errors being severely punished. No amount of explaining that current western methodology puts a high priority on learners using language, and a low priority on error correction, because of current psycholinguistic research on the nature of the process of language acquisition, (deep breath) would convince her that we weren't a bunch of sloppy charlatans. Yet I look for a foundation of coherent learning theory behind her teaching practice and I find a void. Teaching in the USSR is obviously highly disciplined and - when it works - very good. Some teachers intuitively develop excellent techniques through experience. But there seems to be little in the way of informed reflection on what they're doing and why they're doing it - perhaps as a result of a rigid centralised curriculum giving little emphasis to individuality. At any rate, after Friday I had a clearer notion of the conceptual differences which exist between myself and my Soviet colleagues at the Institute - which is useful.
Saturday brought gurly winds which spun snow stinging into our eyes. We took the Metro to the top of Gorky Street and walked down to the Post Office, checking out different bookshops. I bought some New Year cards showing Father Frost and New Year Trees and the Kremlin in the snow. I also bought my own copy of I.R. Galperin's "Stylistics". At a kiosk, [CENSORED: forename] bought an English language edition of a magazine, "Soviet Women." Rather surprisingly for a nation which enshrines male-female equality in its Constitution, the magazine dwelt heavily on the joys of motherhood and sacrificing all for husband and weans. It made "Women's Realm" look like "Spare Rib".
In the evening Teresa and Jo came round and we set off to meet some students at a Palace of Culture in the south-east of the city, to listen to some jazz-rock. Unfortunately, we went wrong at the Metro and caught a trolleybus going in the wrong direction. The result was that we arrived about an hour late, at the interval. However, after a Пепси (Pepsi) we caught the second act, an accomplished instrumental group called "Kombo."
Today we decided to keep quietly by ourselves. We took a 261 bus out from Belyaevo, and walked through snow and subzero temperatures to a derelict church, redbrick and turretted with small black domes. Among the graffiti scrawled on walls and boarded windows was the phrase chalked on one corner: "SOLI DEO GLORIA." An official plate proclaimed it the Church of the Archangel Michael and dated it to the late 17th C. Now it stands desolate amid the ferroconcrete wilderness of crumbling housing schemes and the 1980s Olympic Village.
In the afternoon I wrote Christmas, sorry New Year, cards while [CENSORED: forename] prepared lessons, and in the evening we watched an odd film on TV - all about a doctor who transforms his dog into a man and then - tiring of the experiment - transforms him back again.
Monday 21st Nov.
Just witnessed a disturbing incident outside the hotel: three of four young men at the taxi rank having a real go at each other, no holds barred. One chap was down on the ice being pummelled and kicked by the others. Bystanders waited in a small queue, ignoring the fracas.
It's at times like this I wish I was of infallible physical strength and had the linguistic ability to wade in there and say "okay guys, break it up and calm down." But there were about four of them, it was dark, and I don't want to get into trouble in a totalitarian state. I want even less to be down on the ice being kicked. So feeling guilty and cowardly I ducked into the hotel thinking "Discretion is the better part..." and "where are the cops when you need them?"
The answer is: not far away. By the time I reached my room, I could see out the venetian blind a militia Lada slowly drawing up to the main road. A black unmarked vehicle moved slowly to meet it - and this second car was trailing two militiamen who were escorting one of the combatants to the Lada. A further two militiamen followed some way behind them. They all disappeared a few minutes ago.
Otherwise it's been an inoffensive day. I noted with a thrill that the river is now frozen over - winter has truly begun. I saw it from the Metro carriage window this morning as I rode to Park Kultury for my 8am lesson. After class I went into the Embassy to borrow material and read the papers - the ones carrying Jim Sillars' Govan by-election victory have just arrived: a 33% swing from Labour to SNP! It's good to see him back in Parliament.
I spent the afternoon quietly dozing over Russian and then went over to see [CENSORED: forename]. Lynne was on the phone last night, full of plans to give up her job and strike out in business on her own. She seems enthusiastic enough to do it; I think she's got the necessary determination and I hope it works out for her and Tony.
Thursday 24th Nov.
The days and weeks are flying past. On Tuesday I half-expected a phone call to arrange a time for recording at the Institute - it never came. So I happily worked on my lessons for this week at the hostel: I came upon a "Punch" article called "The Tourists Karamazov" about fictional Soviet package tourists in Torremolinos. I'll use this in a "travel" lesson.
Later in the afternoon I joined [CENSORED: forename] at the House of Artists opposite Gorky Park, and we happened upon the opening of an exhibition of appliqué work and watercolours by a lady from West Germany, who was there under the lights and before the TV cameras, nervously clutching the ubiquitous bunch of flowers.
After this quick gulp of culture, we went on to the Steel & Alloys Institute English Club, where we were supervising the Embassy video machine which was to be used by an American lady puppeteer. In the event the lady was late - we filled in time by showing part of "Charles - The Making of a Monarch" - and when she did arrive she had no videocassette.
So we were treated instead to the green and humanistic philosophy of a peace educator, Sarah, who looked and acted like a hippy who'd followed through into the 80's, with her long, thick, now greying hair and ethnic clothes. Her views were interesting, intelligent, obviously sincere, but at times they jarred in the Soviet context. Her solution to ecological crises was to "live simply" - but she admitted that it wasn't easy to be a vegetarian in Moscow. At home she grew her own fish to eat in a large tank; but here... As a reaction to consumerism she owned a 20-year-old car which she fixed herself. She wondered how the Muscovites felt about pollution and the levels of radioactivity after Chernobyl?
"Ah we are stronger than you," said one, sympathetically, "that's how we won the second world war."
Wednesday turned out to be busier than expected. I gave my classes on travel and then had lunch with Joy, Lisa and Ira. Ira then gave me a Russian lesson of sorts: she is doing research on the ballads and she obviously sees me as a guinea pig for her experiments. She thinks that reciting Russian ballads to me will give me a sense of the phonetic, rhythmic and tonal structure of the language. Well, maybe they will, and I got tore into the piece with enthusiasm; however she was a bit put out when I wanted to know what the ballad meant. Sense she seems to regard as a distraction.
We stuttered - or I stuttered - through some basic conversation then, and finally she talked (in English) about Russian history, and living "under the yoke of the Mongols."
By the time we finished it was 3pm and time to go over to [CENSORED: forename], who was due to go out to the theatre with Natasha and Pascal in the early evening. I stayed in, listening to the crackle of the World Service and continuing to write Christmas cards. It turned out that the play was the film we'd been watching on Sunday about the doctor who turns his dog into a man, only to regret the consequences. Apparently the piece was written in the 1920's and is based on the period just after the Revolution. The production was good and [CENSORED: forename] enjoyed it.
Today has been quiet and I've enjoyed having another prolonged run at the PhD. I must try to set aside at least one full day per week. I paused only really to do a wash, read some Russian and feed the pigeons on the windowsill some spare bread which was rapidly going stale. Now it's time to go over to Belyaevo for tea: so on with boots, gloves, hat, scarf and coat...
Monday 28th November.
It's been a busy, not to say hectic, weekend. On Friday I gave classes on DBS and predicted that it would change the way Europeans think of themselves. In many ways I hope it does, although I'm pessimistic enough to worry about the effect Rupert Murdoch will have on European television, and I wouldn't like to see the BBC stripped of either its income or its UK-base. The classes were naturally interested in the idea that Moscow should be within range of 16 satellite TV channels by February 1989, and some scribbled down details of the Amstrad equipment needed to pick up Astra's signals.
After my teacher's class - a discussion of task-based learning - I set off for Belyaevo. I thought I'd take another route: by metro to the Olympic Village and then by bus to Belyaevo. However, I got on the wrong bus and ended up taking over an hour to reach [CENSORED: forename].
We ate hurriedly, for we were to meet one of my students at 6pm, along with her best friend - whose brother is with "The Moscow Ensemble of Plastic Drama". Thus are tickets obtained in Moscow.
We went to a well-appointed, large and modern theatre together, but I was rather apprehensive when I learned that the performance was an "expression of abstract philosophy based on the biography of Michelangelo." However, the performance turned out to be excellent - gripping from start to finish as the performers mimed and danced the personal and political conflicts that tormented the artist. There were four acts, each climaxing with a masterpiece: the artist selecting people from his inner and outer world and shaping them into his best known pieces. The climax, after the struggle of creating the tormented Day of Judgement and the last Pietà, when the artist dying artist began a new journey towards the light, was extremely moving. It was I think the best thing we've seen so far in Moscow.
On Saturday we wrote letters, popped into town to buy some cards and political posters (to put up in [CENSORED: forename]'s loo), and ate another hurried meal before going out again to yet another performance: a production in English of Neil Simon's "The Fools" by an amateur company of teachers. This took place in a Pioneer Palace, a kind of super-Scouts' Hall for 9-14 year old children, and was a far cry from last night. The play, an extended Polish joke - cum - cod fairytale about a schoolteacher who through the love of a young maiden lifts the curse of stupidity from a rustic community, was being burdened with an allegorical significance about perestroika that it couldn't really carry. Still, it was gamely done.
One of the pleasant disasters that amateur productions are prone to was that we, as English-speakers, were given seats meant for a CND delegation headed by Joan [CENSORED: surname], who had to sit at the back. We also met Bruce [CENSORED: surname] - I tried to persuade him that he'd been mistaken for Bruce Kent, and would have to make a speech on international friendship and arms control. On Sunday we had to get up fairly early and go to a party being given at lunchtime by Tania, one of [CENSORED: forename]'s colleagues. It turned out to be a birthday party, and champagne, vodka, gin, cognac and even amaretto flowed freely. We ate all afternoon practically: pickled cucumbers and tomatoes, herring, pelimenti, red caviar. Tania's friends are in machine translation, some have lived abroad, and they were interesting to listen to with their ideas on change in the USSR.
So we went home happy in the early evening - I was so happy that I went to sleep for an hour and woke up feeling less happy. Later, I went back to the hostel, but by this time I was feeling both tired and unable to sleep. I had a restless night, reading Scottish poetry at 2.45am to try to make myself sleepier, and finally dozed off a couple of hours before the 6.30am alarm.
I made it to class on time - only two students had managed to crawl in for 8am, so we chatted about the mass media in Britain. I then went into the Embassy for my now weekly library-and-Com Shop raid, to pick up mail and do some xeroxing. Then back to the hostel to doze, to read up on Harold Pinter for Friday's culture lesson, and to prepare the week's classes.
Thursday Dec 1st.
Again we've had a busy few days socialising - it's never like this at home! I pottered about on Tuesday, writing long-postponed letters home and generally preparing lessons. Then in the evening I met Jeanette, the English specialised school teacher from Sheffield, to go round to [CENSORED: forename]. Nick and Teresa also came round, for egg salad and veg. soup you could dance on. Great. Plus wine and Cuban grapefruit juice.
We had a pleasant evening, talk revolving inevitably around food and also who (if anyone) is keeping an eye on us, both from Their Side (the Kent Gas Board, as Teresa calls them) and from Our Side. Suspicion has shifted from Bruce to Rita, who spends a lot of time visiting. [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname] must report on us too. Nick, ironically, dresses like a lampoon of a KGB agent, although more stylishly, in his leather coat and black fedora hat.
Wednesday was largely spent at the Institute: I took the 3rd years around Stirling with the help of the slides, and then spent an hour with Ira, going over "small talk" in Russian. She's putting a lot of effort into worksheets for us: in exchange we practise a little English and we exchanged copies of Alexander Blok's poem on "the silken leddy" - I wanted the Russian original and I gave her McDiarmid's Scots translation.
In the evening [CENSORED: forename] and I were invited to yet another of her colleagues - Nina's. She lives with her husband, a journalist, in a very plush flat: originally it belonged to her parents-in-law, but now they are dead. Nina is a member of the Soviet Peace Committee - she goes on peace marches and camps, mainly with Americans, but she is presently concerned with organising overseas exchanges with "ordinary" ie non-Party Soviet citizens. We agreed to look for addresses of UK organisations which might be interested in helping.
Nina's husband arrived later - a tall, lean smoker who spoke English fairly well. Like his wife he is an intense person, who probably lives on his nerves but who seemed perhaps more aggressive than he really was. At any rate, until he smiled he was pretty intimidating.
And today I simply worked on the thesis. I'm worried that I'm biting off more than I can chew and that my texts will take decades to analyse. Still, I press on in hope that shortcuts will appear or that things will fall into place.
Emma came round to Belyaevo this evening (more - thicker - vegetable soup) and we all chatted about out various experiences overseas. At last we took the opportunity of phoning Sue and Sanya's actor-friend and we'll all arrange to meet soon. So that was another convivial soirée: "At home with [CENSORED: forename] and [CENSORED: forename]." Outside the temperature was -14ºC and falling, and the wind would freeze your ears off.
Monday 5 December.
I've just negotiated a small parcel - a beret and some photos - to Sanya's mother in Tallin. That took two visits and the best part of 3/4 of an hour. On the first trip to the small post office downstairs the wifie at the counter told me to write my address on the back of the envelope. I did so, but in English. She insisted on Russian. So I returned to my room and laboriously copied my name and address into Cyrillic. I took it downstairs and she still wasn't happy. It transpired that she now wanted me to fill out a form with the price of the goods as well as sender's and receiver's name and address. With the help of a friendly customer, I did so. The wifie then wrapped up my envelope in brown paper, glued it, tied it with string, stuck the form on top and - hey presto! the deed was done. Apperently the value of the contents is necessary because posting includes insurance which is included in the cost of posting.
It's been a quieter weekend, on the whole. On Friday I gave a class on education to the students - very informal: with one group we held the class in the buffet. And with the "adults" I introduced a video of Harold Pinter in conversation, talking about a recent short play "One for the Road." That was enjoyable too.
I met [CENSORED: forename] in the gathering gloom of the afternoon. The plan was to wander around GUM, the department store, for a while, and then at 4.30 to go into the Kremlin Armoury, using an invitation Tania had given [CENSORED: forename]. So we browsed in GUM, noting the crass busts of Lenin and shoddy plastic dolls in ethnic dress, until the time came to brave the cold and assault the Kremlin.
We only got as far as the door: a Russian guard stopped me and indicated that I couldn't taken in my bag. He also indicated vaguely that we could leave it somewhere to the right: we set off in that direction but couldn't find the place, so at length we went home to spend a peaceful night writing letters and watching TV.
On Saturday morning we did some shopping, and in the afternoon we finally made it to the 2.30 session at the Armoury. It was worth waiting for: some interesting but rather vulgar silver and gold items were on display upstairs - over-elaborate settings for icons which reminded me of the over-the-top craftsmanship of the reliquarium in the Vatican. Oddly the weapons downstairs were more beautiful, lovingly designed and ornamented swords, scimitars and rifles and pistols. Mind you, some of the upstairs stuff - especially the fabergé eggs - was lovely.
Finally we came across a collection of clothes and coaches from the time of the tsars - utterly Cinderella-like in their fairytale splendour.
From the Kremlin we went up to the PO to send our letters and then caught a bus down Leninski Prospekt in a vain search for a second-hand bookstore we'd been told about by Nick. Instead we spent time trying on hats in the MockBa store, and we managed to buy 2 bottles of wine in a small shop. So the detour wasn't wasted.
Again we had a peaceful evening, watching a long TBS promotion of American TV (including American home-delivery pizza ads - "at participating stores only!") and the final heartwarming episode of the emotion-tugging melodramatic mini-series from Oz: "All the Rivers Run."
It was on Saturday evening that I made up this poem:
Coming Upon a Queue of People
Frozen to Death While Waiting
Outside a Moscow Grocer's
They will not budge now: their stubborness
Has drained them of the life they would sustain
By refusing to stray from the line. Erect and still
They sculpt their funerals in a Moscow street.
Their blood is congealed snow. Frosted eyes
Stare with an innocence reborn.
Ice pearls stop their nostrils, and the wind's
Asperity derides their covered ears.
The passing quick disdain this rank of dead.
Only children linger, to prod them through thick mitts,
And old men peering past stiffening shoulders
Read the Pravdas crumbling in their hands.
Spring will not become them, these frozen souls:
Their gift to summer will be rotting flesh.
On Sunday we followed a lazy morning with a good bracing walk in the park. The trees were frosted white and skiiers and sledgers abounded. In solitude a man sat on a portable stool on the side of a pond, fishing. We walked in a circle past another semi-derelict church and also past a small, busy ski slope on the edge of the forest. An instrumental version of the "Love Theme from the Godfather" blared from loudspeakers.
In the evening we went round to [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname]'s plush flat to have a pleasant Italianate dinner with him and Barbara from the Information Office.
The upshot was another late evening, but I got up at 6.30 all right to give this morning's class, on education again. This time an educational video on a Social & Vocational course in Scotland was available, so I showed that.
Wednesday Dec 7th
The temperature has risen to a sweltering -3º / -2ºC for the past couple of days, with the result that the centre of Moscow is awash with brown sandy slush. Deep pools of vile liquid lap against the raised pavements, and you step back at bus stops as trolleybuses and heavy, military-style trucks roar past, black exhaust fumes belched out behind them, equally black spray flying from their wheels. I stood at the Profsoyuznaya bus stop on Monday night, cursing a 67 bus which had just left; I changed my tune when I saw it later, abandoned in the slush outside the Universitetskaya Hotel, a black car rammed up its behind. Not nice weather for driving or walking!
On Monday I showed an OU video on Scottish Soc. and Voc. courses in secondary schools - a new innovation. Then I dozed through the afternoon. In the evening [CENSORED: forename] and I were invited up to Pascal's room, where a group of multinational students were polishing off an impromptu multinational meal, with a considerable amount of multinational drink: whisky, martini, vodka. A well-oiled Vietnamese chap was holding court; cigarette in the corner of his mouth, insisting that people have more food, drink, drink, food, drink. An Indian who professed an interest in football asked me what George Best was doing these days.
Tuesday was another quiet, studious day: I prepared classes, revised some Russian, worked on the thesis, before venturing out to meet [CENSORED: forename] at her Institute. My major achievement was to post a package (hat and photos on son and grand-daughter) to Sanya's mother: this took three attempts on two trips downstairs to the little post office. I eventually had to fill out a form including sender's address (and room no), receiver's address, and value of goods - this last determined the cost of postage, as insurance is taken into account.
I met [CENSORED: forename] at the Institute because we were supposed to collect skis - however the boots hadn't arrived so we left without them. We spent a quiet evening in watching a TV movie about a quiet, pleasant Moscow cop who determinedly seeks to find out the truth about the death of a young girl. Public Moscow is seen in all its boorishness, contrasted against the unassuming cop.
And today I resurrected "Call My Bluff" - this time for the 3rd years, and again the exercise worked well. I had lunch with Joy, Lisa and Emma, and then worked on my Russian language with Ira, before heading down to Belyaevo to meet [CENSORED: forename].
General Secretary Gorbachov is much in the international news at the moment: he's presently in New York, being the first Soviet General Secretary to address the UN for 28 years. He's promising big unilateral reductions in conventional arms in E. Europe within two years. He goes on to visit Cuba and Britain in the next few days - large colour photos of Maggie T., Denis, Gorbachov and Raisa already adorn the noticeboard outside the British Embassy.
My sudden burst of unaccustomed poetic activity has spawned two more poems, one a crude allegory on totalitarian politics and the other an apology for the first two poems:
Josef the Bus Driver
One winter's day when thickening ice
had made the windows opaque on the No 1 bus
Josef the bus driver went clean off the rails.
He jammed the doors shut. His voice
carried by intercom became the universe
of the weary passengers huddled inside.
His lies became their truth: "Next stop
freedom!" he cried and they cheered his deceit.
Meanwhile the bus overturned a vegetable cart
and swerved onto the pavement. "Down
with trash!" Joe yelled and two bearded priests
lay still in the snow, and a young mother wept.
Inside, some rubbed a vision of carnage
on iced-up glass, called for a new direction
but were jolted and shoved. Blood smeared the frost.
"We have reached the promised land!" And Josef
accelerated into a lamp post. The survivors,
dazed and elated, crawled into the gloom.
And in the gathering evening, they saw what they had done.
Past the burning eyes of the recently bereaved
They began a dark walk home.
Guilt Dream with Sanya
Over a bottle of vodka and pickles
Sanya arraigns me in his perfect English
Got by ramming four six-inch nails
Into cheek jaw larynx nose
The better to align the articulatory organs.
He says to live in Russia is to inhabit
Another's nightmare, not claim it as your own.
He warns: learn our language before dreaming our dreams.
And his hand unclasps four bright nails.
Saturday 10 December
We've spent most of today Christmas shopping in this atheist country. New Year tinsel and firs, and posters saying "Happy New Year", decorate some shop windows. But there is a distinct lack of choice as far as gifts are concerned: the likeliest shop counters say "Souvenirs" and contain mass-produced matroystika dolls, heads of Lenin, painted metal boxes and trays, keyrings and badges. Quality goods at reasonable prices are practically nonexistent. At length, in various shops, we bought bright floral scarves for Mum, Lynne, Alison and Chris, and two ski hats for Anthony and Andrew. In a bookshop on the Arbat we came across a beautiful illustrated book on French illuminated manuscripts of the 13th century, in Soviet collections - so we bought that for Alison too.
On TV at the moment the news is full of the terrible earthquake in Armenia: tens of thousands dead and half a million - four times the population of Stirling - homeless. Two national days of mourning have been called, and red flags are flying from many buildings, some with black borders. Gorbachev has flown home early, cancelling his visits to Cuba and the UK. The earthquake apparently happened on Wednesday evening or thereabouts. The scale of the tragedy is difficult to realise.
On Thursday morning I did some washing and then took the bus along to a 2nd hand bookshop (БУКИНИСТ) we'd been told about, on Leninski Prospect. There I picked up a couple of weird textbook, one a Russian-penned "Theory of English Grammar", and the other a Russian textbook "Methods of English Teaching". The latter text, published in 1975 (but still referring to British money as "shillings") is a strictly structural-behaviourist tract. It'll be useful, however, as a starting point for teachers' discussions. The rest of the day I worked away at the PhD before joining [CENSORED: forename] in the evening for a meal with Pascal: mulched courgettes with bread, semolina in a herb sauce (served cold), and bananas flambéd in vodka. Very pleasant. We were supposed to be meeting a Russian girl, who didn't turn up, and instead we met a French girl, Eveline, and an Algerian. Pascal told us about a meeting he'd gone to, to publicise the erection of a memorial to Stalin's victims. Films were shown of the camps where countless died, and tearful relatives spoke. Many of those responsible are still alive, and free, walking the streets of Moscow.
On Friday morning I talked about education and accents to my classes of students, and showed them the OU video on the new Scottish Social & Vocational Skills course. In the afternoon I showed some "humanistic" vocabulary games/exercises to the teachers, and then wandered along to Belyaevo, via the book beriozka and a wine shop, where I bought 3 bottles of Georgian rosé.
In the evening we wrote letters: Mum had written to say she'd had bumped the Beetle into a parked car, and needed to be reassured that it wasn't the end of the world. Uncle [CENSORED: forename] had written 12 pages, mostly deriding Kenneth Baker as a "bluenose Tory twit". He's been off work since July and so I thought I'd better reply quite quickly. [CENSORED: forename] had written of her continuing hectic but enjoyable life in London, and [CENSORED: forename] had confirmed his invitation to Finland in January. So we'd plenty to do.
The weather has been milder the past 3 or 4 days, hovering below zero, but there has been heavy snow. This morning - Saturday - we popped up to Oktoberskaya to borrow two sets of skis, poles, boots from [CENSORED: forename]'s Institute. And so if the temperatures drop we'll be all set to go!
Sunday 11 December
Temperatures did begin to fall again today, but we hesitated to go out on the skis. Instead, in the morning, [CENSORED: forename] did some work and I continued reading TC Smout: I'm ploughing through it in small doses but it's worth it. I'm getting a whole new perspective on the 1707 Union of Parliaments and the Jacobite uprisings.
In the afternoon we dropped my bag off at the Universitetskaya Hotel, and then went for a walk along the Lenin Hills: you get a panoramic view of the city from here - Kievskaya and the Novodevichny Convent on the left, the Lenin Stadium in the foreground, the dark shadow of the Kremlin away in the distance, Oktoberskaya to the right. It's a popular place for skiing, and there are two or three ski jumps - one full scale. Anyone who attempts jumping from the big one must truly be out of their skull.
In the evening we'd been given tickets to see "Macbeth" (in Russian) at the Theatre of the Soviet Army. We worked out a route on the map beforehand and gave ourselves an hour for the trip, but - true to form - we got lost as soon as we stepped out of the metro. I started leading us off in diametrically the opposite direction from the one we wanted; we spent a half-hour chasing around, with [CENSORED: forename] gamely accosting people with requests for directions; a taxi-driver refused us a lift; and finally, breathless, we arrived, only 10 minutes late.
The theatre is a grand, Stalinist building, with the obligatory bust of Lenin overlooking the stairs, and pictures of aircraft painted on the ceiling. A very friendly and helpful lady ushered us into the darkness, and we'd missed very little. It was a fair production, which strained a little too hard for effect at times: the witches kept popping up from holes in the front of the stage, and the incidental music sounded like a John Williams score for Spielberg. Still, the main parts were well played, especially a sensuous Lady Macbeth and a noble Macduff - who got an individual round of applause for his grief-stricken histrionics on the news of the slaughter of his family. We listened hard for, and caught, the "Zavtra i zavtra i zavtra" speech, delivered to the corpse of Lady Macbeth, wheeled on for the occasion. The usherette was tremendously enthusiastic in her applause, which was a nice touch to a pleasant (if initially rushed) evening out.
Sunday 18 December
Where did the week go? In a blur of final Christmas shopping and mental preparation for the festive season and beyond. Why does winding down for Christmas consist in actually speeding up toward '89?
Anyway, the bulk of the shopping - not easy in this place - has now been completed: on Monday I popped into the book beriozka and bought [CENSORED: forename]'s present, a couple of cassettes of Russian music for Dad ("Oh! You Wide Steppe") and two art calendars - one for Mum.
[CENSORED: forename] has been worrying increasingly about the spiralling out of control of festivities at the Steel and Alloys Institute: she had suggested acting out a small sketch; one of her colleagues has latched onto the drama idea but wants to do excerpts from "King Lear" and "Hamlet". Very festive. She wants Pascal to play Hamlet but - not surprisingly - Pascal has refused point blank to learn x lines of The Bard in the next few weeks: "I 'ave told 'er zat I 'ave no English: two-three werdz..." Some teachers have opted out, others have agreed, some say that those who have agreed have in fact refused, others say that those who have refused have in fact agreed: in short, a crisis is being manufactured out of what was intended as a good-natured, informal situation. What is it they say about weddings, funerals and Christmas parties...?
A friend of Pascal's - a dramatic Russian ex-actress - came round on Wednesday evening to teach us some Russian in exchange for some English... more English was spoken, than Russian. Aliona seems quite a forceful personality - she phoned Pascal up and insisted he fetch her some cigarettes, before popping into the corridor and begging two off a passer-by. Pascal at length turned up with the cigs about ten minutes after she'd left.
We met up with Aliona again yesterday (after finishing the shopping - hat for Tony, bust of Lenin for Ted, book of Moscow paintings for me) to take a look at the new exhibition of avant-guarde graphic work by Russian artists at the House of Artists. Some of the work was good, other stuff - holes punched in card; "glasnost" sprayed over back-issues of Pravda - was derivative and facile. We had strong, sweet Turkish coffee in the bar with Aliona and some of her friends, one a businessman who works two-week shifts in Moscow and Milan; another one of the artists in the exhibition.
On Thursday Malcolm Bradbury came to speak at the Maurice Thorez Institute: to a packed lecture theatre (some had brought chocolate cake, which they passed along the pew) he talked entertainingly about the reasons why 20th Century, and especially post-war, writers have swung between social realism (to record a fast-changing ever-new society) and grotesque modernism (periodically to reassess the novel and question the nature of fiction). He talked highly of Thomas Pynchon and John Fowles and black women writers in America. The audience wrote the names down religiously: mystical tokens of a world literature somewhere Out There. When the time for questions came, there was the usual stony Russian silence, until Stephen [CENSORED: surname] helpfully suggested that the audience wrote down their queries on scraps of paper and passed them to the front. Bradbury then tactfully dodged or ran with questions on the merits of Irish Murdoch and Graeme Greene (Graham?), on what his favourite of his own novels ("Eating People is Wrong" is my favourite; "The History Man" is my best"), and on the identity of Slaka in "Rates of Exchange" as well as "the main idea".
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable talk, and despite the fact that most present had thought they were going to hear Ray Bradbury, they seemed to enjoy it too.
On Friday evening we were invited to the Embassy for Christmas drinks - on with the interview suit a second time. Again it took place inside the wedding-cake, white-and-gold reception room under the benign painted eye of the Queen (God bless 'er!). We met Nick's Spanish wife and talked away mainly to those we knew. Afterwards [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname] and I went on to see Joy and Lisa at a colleague's flat - [CENSORED: forename] wanted to meet Joy before she left. Sveta and Misha were extremely amicable - she teaches in the grammar faculty, he translates fiction and films.
It was interesting talking to [CENSORED: forename] - he comes from a background of Russian language teaching and has drifted into EFL because of the lack of jobs in his chosen profession. He definitely likes being among the elite he told me he enjoys the work he does in London with NATO generals but is bored with FCE-like classes. He spoke in glowing terms of the mathematics classes he teaches at MGU - one of which contains a Nobel prizewinner. He tends to recoil imperceptibly from the company of riffraff like us.
Yes, yesterday we more or less finished buying presents and wrapped them up in Russian posters in the evening. Today was cool with a light snow: we decided to try out the skis in the early afternoon, so I wiped them down with dubbin while [CENSORED: forename] popped out for bread and milk. We then took the bus down to the forest, put on the skis, and slid and shuffled through the forest tracks for about 90 minutes. We're both beginners, both a little wobbly, cautious and slow - kids and geriatrics sped by us fluently. But it was great fun: the trees were generously daubed with snow and the day was fine for practising. We came back refreshed to catch up with work and with this journal. Megan phoned to say she and Dave have arrived in Moscow, and they may pop round later this evening.
So what else do I remember of this hectic week? Odd images rear: a jogger on Lenin Hills last Sunday, wearing only light-blue nylon shorts on his body, the hairs on his chest white with snow; [CENSORED: forename] with a dust-shovel in one hand, witches' broom in the other, scooping up refugees from a colony of roaches we found behind the fridge, and flushing them down the loo. Seven days till Christmas.
21st December: Wednesday
"This and the year's midnight 'tis": I wonder what John Donne would have made of a winter solstice in Moscow. He'd probably have written a Terrible Sonnet about it. Well, here I am in bed at what I've learned to call the Gostinista Universitetskaya, outside in the darkness I can see a distant trail of lighter smoke and what might be a red star or possibly an aircraft warning light for the chimney producing the smoke. The fridge rattles and rumbles sporadically: on top is a Robertson's marmalade jar full of outsize lumps of sugar for my Golden Blend coffee: small luxuries in a harsh world?
The past few days have kept up their Christmas-accelerated pace. On Monday I gave my final lesson to a 4th year group: "Merry Christmas to you and your people," said a pretty Russian girl as she left the class, giving me a sharp sensation of being an outsider. How different do I appear to these people?
I went up to the Embassy where Erika, the German assistant librarian was celebrating the departure of Eve, her superior, on leave until March: "she come in and so quick she make you feel so small. Such complicated systems my head is spin. Not like my daughters, now they have degrees, are used to books but new it is to me. But I interrupt you are having look at books..."
She was in a chatty, relaxed mood and gave me a present of "Academic Writing: Process & Product", a really useful proceedings of a SELMOUS conference in '85. I read some papers in this in between dozes in the afternoon, then went down to Belyaevo in the evening.
On Tuesday I went into МГИИЯ (as the Maurice Thorez is known) to do some recording of jazz chants and passages from books; and also to give Sveta, a 5th year student, help with her project on intonation. The practice - astonishingly - here is to use recording equipment to monitor pitch changes in lektor's readings, transcribe them into textbooks, and attempt to make students imitate them exactly. Thus a thousand Jim [CENSORED: surname] / Ruth [CENSORED: surname] clones are produced. However, quick-thinking phoneticians have noticed differences in native-speaker readings of the same material and have become alarmed at the discovery that a native-speaker will not read the same text twice in the same way. Which pattern do they teach their students? A theoretical way out is to follow ill-digested new notions of intonation formulated by David Brazil et al. I hope to help Sveta digest these ideas and to use them to produce more meaningful (and interesting) intonation exercises.
In the afternoon I raided three shops for wine and (a first!) vodka, and then went down to Oktoberskaya to meet [CENSORED: forename] for an English Party at her Institute. This was a jolly, home-knitted affair, with precocious schoolchildren performing a musical sketch about enchanted porridge (?!) and a lottery in which [CENSORED: forename] and I won some Christmas tree decorations. [CENSORED: forename] had borrowed "The Snowman" cartoon from Grant [CENSORED: surname], and this video went down well.
Today I taught the 3rd years (youth problems and language games) and stumbled through a lesson with Ira, who gave me a book of Soviet short stories as an unexpected Christmas present. She must have high hopes of my language improving!
In the evening I went along to a gathering of the МГИИЯ English Club, largely attended by the 19 or so undergraduates at my Institute. Like last night's event, it was a jolly, home-knitted affair, with carol singing, and an extremely enjoyable reading of a Dylan Thomas short story about Christmas. Mince pies and even home-made brandy butter had been conjured out of lord knows where.
31st December 1988: Saturday
It's been a busy festive season, marked by news of tragedy at home. A bomb exploded on a Pan Am airliner en route to America, killing all passengers and also villagers in the town of Lockerbie, below. With the earthquake in Armenia and a bad train crash in London, it's been a sad end to '88. On a more absurd note, a scandal over salmonella in eggs has resulted in the resignation of the notorious junior health minister, Edwina Currie. There has been a predictable rash of "curried eggs" jokes in the media.
My own preparations for Christmas ended when I at last secured champagne for our visitors: I queued in a near riot for 6 bottles in a "gastronom" in Prospekt Marx, opposite the Bolshoi Theatre. After getting 3 of my 6 bottles, the champagne ran out for 20 minutes or so, so I had to wait at the head of a queue that eventually wound through various departments of the shop.
On the Friday, [CENSORED: forename] went to the airport to meet Chris and Ann. They phoned me from the Cosmos Hotel and I joined them later in the evening. They were tired, partly by the journey and partly by various pre-Christmas traumas before the flight. But they'd brought across various goodies, including all the ingredients for a Chinese meal for two! Unfortunately, Chris had inadvertently left behind [CENSORED: forename]'s camera (plus wide-angle lens) and brought instead the extra lenses.
After a drink or two, we left the Cosmos, to return again on Saturday morning. We took our visitors on a brief but crowded Metro trip to Izmailovo Park to see the freelance and co-operative artists, and then hurried back to the hotel for lunch. Chris and Ann joined the folk from "Jules Verne Holidays" and [CENSORED: forename] and I paid 4 roubles each for all we could eat - a rare luxury! - in the Cosmos self-service buffet. This consisted of soup, a large salad, battered fish and rice or potatoes, and a sweet. Tea flowed from strategically-placed samovars.
In the afternoon we sneaked aboard the Intourist city tour with Chris and Ann: the Mercedes coach was only half-full and the Jules Verne rep. suggested that we all just pop on. The three-hour tour was a bit of a disappointment: there was a single, brief stop in Red Square, and a quick breather on the Lenin Hills, otherwise the city was masked behind the steamy coach windows, drizzling snow, and descending darkness. The Intourist guide was like a grating version of the Wicked Witch of the West, and ineffectively tried to control her charges like an authoritarian mother hen.
We had a quiet evening - [CENSORED: forename] and I had a snack while Chris and Ann ate another Jules Verne meal. Then we went up to their room for a quick drink, and had an early night. [CENSORED: forename] was pretty disappointed that Chris especially was too tired to make the lengthy Metro trip down to Belyaevo. This disappointment was compounded on Christmas Day by Chris phoning to say that she and Ann had decided just to go on the Intourist trips to the Kremlin, and to Kolomonskoye in the afternoon - would we meet them at the Cosmos at 6 in the evening? We said yes, and then decided to spend the unexpected free time skiing in the woods near Belyaevo.
The temperature was very mild - we smeared dubbin on our skis and slid happily along the narrow white paths between the tall, slender birches. We fell once each - me towards the end when trying unsuccessfully to imitate the smooth, fast glide of the practised Muscovites.
And, as arranged, we went up to Belyaevo with presents and two bottles of champagne, to join Chris and Ann for Christmas dinner. We ate together in the roubles restaurant (after a slight hiccup when Chris lost the dinner tickets). The dinner was much the same as lunch the previous day, but we'd brought the champagne, and we had a relaxed and enjoyable time. After eating, we went up to the room again to open our presents - for me: gloves from home, and a hip-flask from [CENSORED: forename]; I'd already given [CENSORED: forename] a "babushka"-style scarf and an illustrated book on Moscow.
And so we returned, just in time to receive phone calls from home. On Boxing Day we returned to the Cosmos - me via the Arbat to buy some propaganda posters for Chris to take home - and went for a quick walk in ВДНX, the Economic Achievements' Park. The temperature had fallen sharply the previous evening and was still -14ºC on the Monday morning. So we trotted round the Stalinist architecture in the snow and paid a brief visit to a nearby statue, huge and heroic, of a male and female worker brandishing a hammer and sickle. Then we waited while Chris and Ann had a last Soviet lunch, and then waved them off on their big Mercedes coach.
It was good to see them, but it was a great pity that their hotel wasn't nearer the centre (and us) and that we didn't have more time together. Still, they seemed to enjoy the brief experience of Christmas in Moscow.
The weekend certainly drained us of energy and, it seems, our immunity to viruses. Both of us fell prey to bad colds as the week went on: [CENSORED: forename] struggled into work on Tuesday and, despite flue-like symptoms, was a great success as a student in a short sketch about an examination in spoken English. She then collapsed into bed for a few days, cancelling lessons she'd planned to give.
I soldiered into a lengthy recording session on Tuesday - further excerpts from a general knowledge text, and various ballads which Ira is working on. On Wednesday I persevered with lessons and then in the evening made the mistake of accepting an invitation from Robert, an undergraduate from Strathclyde University and aspiring screenwriter, for a nightcap in his room. This brief visit extended to 3.20am and took in a bottle of lemon vodka, a plate of meatballs and noodles (at around 2am), Billy Connolly tapes, and memories of curry houses in Glasgow's Gibson Street. On Thursday I awoke with toxic shock.
Yes, Thursday was a bit of a blank as far as my life was concerned - I got very involved in making myself cups of sweet tea, and managed to wash some clothes. I struggled down to Belyaevo where [CENSORED: forename] was feeling better, and we went out to do a little shopping. I went home early to catch up on my sleep.
On Friday I finished off my lessons for '88: one group kindly turned up with a plastic fir tree, decorated with tinsel, and a home-baked cake. We had the lesson in the Institute buffet. The other group largely stayed away, and, as the teachers were drifting off like the snow, my final lesson was cancelled.
Most of Moscow seemed to be heading home early, and the buses and metro were unusually crowded for 4 o'clockish. [CENSORED: forename] and I were both feeling better, and so we had an early meal and set out for the Embassy, where the Cultural Dept was offering New Year drinks and a showing of Hitchcock's 1939 version of "The 39 Steps" with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, to students and lektors.
This was a rousing and cheerful occasion: the atmosphere for the film was perfect, and the Scottish scenes in particular were greeted with loud cheers and laughter. It's a wonderful film, and stood up well to our abuse of it.
Today we've deliberately had a quiet day in. We did go out briefly to shop in the Dieta this morning: food stocks in the city are low just now and the big attraction of the supermarket was frankfurter sausages.
The rest of the day has been spent writing letters, and this diary entry. [CENSORED: forename] has been reading "Rates of Exchange" and is almost finished, and we've been listening to the BBC World Service. It's odd to hear New Year wishes going out to various time zones; 1989 beginning with New Zealand and advancing by degrees to Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan and Korea. It should hit us here in 5¾ hours. We're going out around 11pm to celebrate at one of [CENSORED: forename]'s colleagues, Ksenia. This Hogmanay visit has involved some nice diplomacy on [CENSORED: forename]'s part - another, insistent, invite was from her and Ksenia's superior, Natasha.
So, goodbye to 1988 and soon a big hello to 89, the last year of the 80's. I won't be too sorry to see the 80's go: sour and self-congratulatory decade. There are some positive signs: peace initiatives in Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan and South America point hopefully to a calmer world in the 90's. Still, other tensions are bubbling away: Estonia and Azerbaijan here to name but two. Let's hope the next year and the decade that follows brings a more humane way of solving our problems, international, national, and individual.
Thursday 5 January.
Here we are, in the midst of packing for Finland: at last all the documentation - visas, spravka to pay for the tickets in roubles, the tickets themselves - have been negotiated, and we head off to see [CENSORED: forename] in Tampere on the 11.20pm train tonight. Our first real escape from Moscow for 4 months!
We've had a very enjoyable New Year. We went over to Ksenia's - [CENSORED: forename]'s colleagues - to spend the last dregs of Hogmanay and a sizeable chunk of Ne'erday with them. We arrived at about 11.40pm to find the family already celebrating and the table spread with assorted pickles and salads. We took a bottle of Bell's whisky along ourselves. We met Yuri, Ksenia's husband, and their friends: Sergei, a teacher of Russian at MGU, and a couple of language teachers from Rostov-on-Don: Sasha and his wife, Lada or Lena.
The Metro stopped at 2am, so we had to stay until at least 5.30am before it started again. We spent the time eating and drinking sporadically through the night, and playing games, and singing. At midnight Gorbachev came on TV to address the nation, and on the stroke of 12 we saw Red Square to the sound of the national anthem, and the champagne corks popped.
Later, we greeted Sasha who was dressed as Grand-father Frost (ie Santa Claus) and he gave out presents to the adults and children present. Conventionally you have to do a turn when you receive your gift: [CENSORED: forename] and I sang "Auld Lang Syne" when we received little wooden boxes and a carved church or castle.
At 3 o'clock we trooped outside with a sled to whoosh down a small hillside in temperatures hitting -20ºC. The night was clear, the snow very smooth and crisp. There were a number of dark shadows of people moving in the poorly-lit streets, and quite a few windows were lit in the tower blocks. The snow and breath on my beard were small lumps of ice by the time we returned to the flat for plof.
We sang some more, to Sergei on guitar, "Rushing Troika" and "Norwegian Wood," until about six, when we staggered to the Metro to come home. A surprising number of people were around at that time, with wan faces and weak knees, occasionally wearing thins wisps of tinsel. We arrived here about 7.30am, and we slept until about one.
Later in the day we visited [CENSORED: forename]'s boss, Natasha, and her family, and I used my hip flask for the first time, to offer Pavel and Natasha a wee dram. In the evening the BBC version of Agatha Christie's "At Bertram's Hotel", with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, was showing on TV, dubbed into Russian.
On Monday I went into МГИИЯ to collect my visa, and had lunch with Lisa, who's still hoping to go on an organised "lecture tour" to Tashkent and Samarkand. She should be there by now. On Tuesday morning we met up with my colleague Ksenia, and she helped us to obtain our rail tickets, with remarkably little fuss! It only took us about an hour at the Intourist ticket office near the Bolshoi. And most of Wednesday I spent in my room at the Universitetskaya Hotel, starting the final draft of my talk for the Stylistics Dept on my PhD topic - due to be delivered on the 19th January. In the evening Jo came round for a short while for tea, but we were all so tired, she left early and we went to bed.
Today we've spent preparing for Finland: I popped - ie spent 3 hours - out to the beriozka at Novodevichny Convent to get a bottle of Chivas Regal for [CENSORED: forename] and his wife, and [CENSORED: forename] bought me a couple of rather tight vests. The trip stills seems dreamlike, but we're both very much looking forward to the change in scenery.
Friday, 20th January.
Well, we've been back in the USSR for 5 days, and already the Finnish interlude seems again like a dream.
The train trip was surprisingly pleasant: we struggled with our case and backpack to the Leningrad Station by Metro, and queued (!) to get into our carriage on the 11.20pm train to Helsinki. Once inside we'd bunks to ourselves, sharing a 4-person couchette with a Finn and a Russian.
I read TC Smout until about half past midnight and then went to sleep. We slept fitfully but reasonably well until about seven, when we were woken up. The train was reaching the border.
We nearly didn't get over the border: [CENSORED: forename] had accidentally left her stamped copy of her customs declarations form behind; however the female official took pity on us. She opened my case and poked around a bit but didn't make contact with the vodka, whisky or champagne that lay rolled in sweaters. A Soviet soldier came in and checked under the beds, and metal panel to the luggage rack, for illicit travellers. Then we chugged into Finland, where another official threw us a cursory "Anything to declare?" and passed on.
We stood at the corridor window awhile and looked at the Finnish countryside, glad to have escaped the urban confinement of Moscow. Dark forests broke wide white expanses - it was difficult at times to decide if we were looking at snow-covered valleys or frozen lakes. Wooden houses dotted the winter landscape, sometimes huddled in clusters or small villages.
We changed trains just before midday at a small, cold town called Riihimäki, sitting on the platform bench for half an hour, trying to decode the weird cipher of Finnish on the advertisements. The local train to Tampere came in at 12.15, and we ate our packed cheese sandwiches and drank concentrated orange juice on our way there.
At Tampere [CENSORED: forename] game me a £10 note, which I changed for 73 Finnish marks at the nearest YHDYSPANKI (Union Bank of Finland), phoned [CENSORED: forename], and he picked us up a few minutes later.
It was good to see him again, after 3 years. He hadn't changed much - still owned the same thoughtful, um, hesitating, ah, mannerisms - and it was nice to meet his family: including his mother, Kay, who in her youth was [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], a minor film actress in such movies as "Window on London" - and who was tipped to play Esmerelda opposite Charles Laughton's Hunchback of Notre Dame. She gave up her movie career on getting married, but obviously kept in touch with the lives of the famous through film biographies. I enjoyed talking to her. [CENSORED: forename]'s wife, Sara, was very pleasant and hospitable, and his two grown-up children - Mari and Kate - were also friendly. They made us very welcome.
All in all, the week was very pleasant. [CENSORED: forename] and Sara threw us in at the deep end of consumerism on the first evening, taking us on a shopping trip to a local mall: I have a soft-focus memory of oranges the size of footballs in a paradise of fruit and vegetables. Over the course of the week we re-established our credentials as consumers: sniffing out bargains in books and sweatshirts for the summer, in dept. stores like Stockmans, which still proclaimed JATTI ALE! (Giant Sale!) on their windows.
We also tried out [CENSORED: forename] and Sara's sauna, first on the Saturday night and again later in the week. It's a bit of an acquired taste, sitting in a hot wooden box, throwing water on dark, burning rocks - a kind of sweaty claustrophobia that relaxes the muscles and cleans out the pores - but it was pleasant enough for us to try out the public saunas (single sex, mind) in the swimming pool in Tampere.
Tampere was a pleasant enough town: built on rapids along which paper-mills once flourished - owned by patricians such as Finlayson, a Scot by birth. "The Manchester of Finland" they call the town, which is unkind, to Tampere. Apart from the shops and coffee bars, we tramped about, visiting art galleries, museums and churches - the most intriguing of which was a turn-of-the-century Lutheran Cathedral, with odd symbolist murals by the Finnish painter, Hugo Simberg. One, a circle of nude boys, modelled on young mill-workers, holding up the tree of life, caused a scandal at the time. But no less strange were theological conceits such as "The Garden of Death" (jovial skeletons in monkish habits water cacti), and the snake at the centre of the domed roof, offering an apple in its mouth.
We also went to see an exhibition, of still life paintings, mainly of pottery, at the Sara Hildénin Art Museum - where one of the main attractions is the views you get out over one of Tampere's frozen lakes. Tampere is situated on the isthmus of two large lakes: the Sara Hildénin Museum is a part of a complex on the bank of one, a complex which includes a tall tower (which we never went up) and a dolphinarium (where we went to see the dolphins feeding). One of the other interesting features of the town is the old workers' district: a jumble of wooden houses situated on the spine of the hill which separates the two lakes, a prime development site if it weren't happily protected.
The Finns, we came to learn, are a healthy, fairly wealthy, disproportionately blond(e) people in bright ski-suits and fluorescent hats. They drink like fish, which is surprising in a country whose government controls the supply of liquor through outlets called ALKO. Booze costs an arm and a leg: on two evenings at the pub, a round (3 beers and a scotch) cost the equivalent of £10. On the second evening we met a semi-sozzled Finnish ex-motorcycle racer who used to tour Europe and who knew Barry Sheene. He insisted on buying us drinks and on practising his English, learned (he said) "on the paddock and by video." He now owns a video shop. His present common-law wife came into the pub and tore him off a strip in Finnish for being a drunken sot, then left. He seemed undeterred and outlasted us in the bar.
We spent most evenings watching TV, the 9 channels available a depressing omen of life to come in a satellite-dominated televisual world: music videos with inane presenters, very old American dramas (Steve MacQueen in "Wanted: Dead or Alice"), occasionally enlivened by a good movie. We watched "Death in Venice" and "Les Quatre Cent Coups" with Finnish subtitles.
On the Thursday we forsook Tampere and took a 2-hour train ride to the old capital of Finland, Turku, where we visited the open-air Handicrafts Museum: a huddle of wooden shacks spared the fire which destroyed most of Turku last century, now preserved, and home to a collection of handicrafts and domestic furniture designed to given an impression of life in bygone days. The houses in their present state seemed surprisingly cosy - some had saunas, often the first part built - but surely when occupied they would have been cramped and uncomfortable. In one students' lodging the student would have had to sleep in a half-sitting position.
We wandered from the Museum via the imposing mediaeval cathedral, along by the river, to see old sailing ships nestling in the ice at the harbour. Then we walked through the icy streets of the darkening town for a while, before popping into a fast food place for a welcome kebab and catching the train back.
On the last day in Tampere we shopped and bought presents: a book of Naomi Mitchison's - "Images of Africa" - for [CENSORED: forename], and Body Shop toiletries for Sara, Kate and Mari. [CENSORED: forename] had booked us a room for Saturday night in Helsinki University's Guest Rooms, and so we caught the 8 o'clock train on Saturday morning - in a rush after oversleeping! - and headed for the capital.
We arrived at 10am and found our way to the Guest Rooms, which were fine. We shared a large double room, spotlessly clean, with shared wc, shower, kitchen facilities and even washing-machine and tumble-drier. We freshened up and then walked into the centre of the city, down by the open-air market selling fish and furs and foodstuffs, and ending up on the main street, and in Stockmans. [CENSORED: forename] bought a souvenir of Finland for herself: a metal mobile of birds and arcs - really a Christmas decoration but not too seasonal. We worked our way out towards a modern church [CENSORED: forename] had told us about - quarried out of stone with its interior left rough and unfinished, roofed by a large copper dome. The final effect was warm and pleasant.
We headed back the Guest Rooms to rest for a bit before going out in the evening. We'd planned to cheer ourselves up by catching the new human-cartoon movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" before trying out a Finnish pizzeria - but the early performance was sold out. So we bought tickets for the 9.00pm showing, and went in search of food, ending up, after a wander in the bright lights and thickening flakes of wet sleet, in the fastfood Pizzeria No1. where [CENSORED: forename] tried out a pizza al diabolo (very mild) and I had a calzone. [CENSORED: forename] overdid it a bit with the chocolate ice cream, which she was later to regret.
The film was excellent - pure nonsense, winningly and brilliantly executed. I've no idea how some of the effects were staged, and it sent us back, past the great floodlit cathedral on Senate Square, in very high spirits.
On the Sunday we simply strolled down the waterfront and into town again - appreciating more and more what a beautiful city Helsinki is. It's a modern city, but was built before the fashion for glass, concrete and steel boxes hit this part of Scandinavia - and its architecture often reminded us of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Slender green trams rattled through the pleasant streets.
We could only afford a MacDonalds for lunch, and, afterwards, decided not to walk out to the Sibelius Monument because the snow was falling fast again. Instead we went round the corner to the Ateneum Art Museum - a lucky choice. The Ateneum exhibits the work of Finnish artists mainly, and some of the paintings were really appealing. We particularly liked the stormy nature paintings of Fanny Chernberg - and the originals of the Hugo Simberg murals at Tampere were also there. We traced the progress of Finnish art to the obscure and impersonal abstracts of the later 20th C.
The exhibition was so good that [CENSORED: forename] bought the first (so far only) volume of the Ateneum Guide - an illustrated history of Finnish Art until the early 20th C, with a historical review in English.
Afterwards we only had time to collect our bags from the Guest Rooms - which had been comfortable, with friendly and helpful staff, and a good breakfast - and set off to catch the Moscow train at 5pm.
The train ride home was a mirror image of the ride out: we shared our compartment with another Finn, and a Russian who was taking home a mountain of consumer goods, including a video recorder. Surprisingly, the young Russian customs officer didn't give him too hard a time. "Pornografia?" was his one searching question. "Nyet!" said the traveller in a hurt tone, spreading the palms of his hands.
Again we slept fairly well, and were back in Moscow by 9.00am, local time. We lost an hour on the trip.
This past week has been quite busy. We settled back in on Monday, and I finished writing the talk on my PhD research, scheduled for Thursday.
On Tuesday evening we went out to the Bluebird Jazz Club with Jo, and I added whisky from my hip flask to their Turkish coffee as two saxophonists sparred noisily. A useful Christmas present that flask!
On Wednesday evening we were invited out to [CENSORED: forename]'s Head of Department's - Ina's - we discovered to help her celebrate her birthday. Her husband is a poet, and we and another couple - a poet and an actress - ate a lovely meal and drank a wealth of champagne and Soviet cognac, and recited poems, and generally talked. Until about 2.30am, when we stumbled out and persuaded an unofficial "taxi" to drive us to Belyaevo, right across the city. It cost us 15 rubles - he asked for 13, but given the time and the distance he was worth his round number. And we felt generous.
In the morning - and for most of Thursday - we felt awful. I delivered my talk heavily hungover, and felt that the subject matter was well beyond my large audience's knowledge. Their bafflement was palpable, and I felt disappointed. What has cheered me up a bit is that immediately afterwards I was approached by some teachers who want me to join their projected adaptation of a French language coursebook into English. It turns out to be a suggestopedic-style text - full of painful propaganda of the "stagnation" period - but the teachers are keen to change it radically, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I spent some time yesterday (Thursday) and today reading and changing dialogues for the pilot draft. The language and attitudes of the characters are excruciatingly stilted, and I'm not sure if it can be saved, but it's worth a try. It'll be an interesting challenge anyway. One nice thing is that [CENSORED: forename] is to be involved too - at least as a reader for the main character, Judy Blatt, who is at present a rude, sexist apologist for Stalinist propaganda. We'll see if we can green her.
Anyway, too much writing on a Friday night. Time for bed at 12.35am, just a few hours after the inauguration of President George Bush and the start of a new era in global politics.
Aye it fair maks ye think...
Wednesday, no, Tuesday 31st January.
Yes, here we are, 11 days into the new era and so far it's been a busy one.
Highlights of the past week or so: well, the brightest was probably the Burns Supper at the British Embassy Club (£8 a ticket, profits to charity - Bard Aid?). We'd been avoiding the Embassy Club till then, thinking it probably peopled by ageing Hooray Henrys and Sloanes going: "Yah, yah, Ruskies, yah! comshop cocktail sausages - the price! Yaaaahh!" Instead it was full of kilted punters going "Yah, yah! Grandmother came from Inverurie. Yaahh."
But once you had your ticket, the whisky was free, so we eventually got talking to the security chief from Yorkshire ("born in India, trained in Edinburgh, landed in Leeds") and began to have a good time. The haggis, neeps and tatties, flown in by "the heirs of British Caledonian" were good, and the Immortal Memory was well and wittily delivered. Marguerite gave a full-blooded rendition of "Holy Wullie's Prayer" and after the meal we indulged in some fairly drunken, chaotic and innovative country dancing. You could by then practically see the Famous Grice flapping their wings above the revellers.
Paul from Yerevan was there, having come straight from the airport from a holiday in Germany. He chatted briefly about the Armenian earthquake - he'd been to the site acting as a voluntary interpreter and had obviously been pretty shaken by the chaos and the lack of organisation.
Work continued apace. I've continued adapting the increasingly batty suggestopedic text ("If my memory serves me, the last recorded instance of unemployment was in 1922 or 1924") and we've started recording the first dialogues. May I never criticise "inauthentic" tapes again! At the recording we met Alexander, who works in the Interpreters' Dept, and he offered us a job on the side, style-editing a book on Stalinism.
So far we've looked over the first two throbbing excerpts. It's an odd thing to read: both tame and dangerous. Tame in that it constructs passionate arguments for learning from experience. So what? Dangerous in that lessons from experience lead the author to question the fundamental tenets of the communist system. Not even Lenin is quite unscathed. Last night I handed over the second section to another translator at the Universitet Metro station ("I'll be wearing a blue anorak, with yellow collar and carrying a University of Glasgow bag"). When we parted, I noticed a uniformed officer standing at ease near us, arms behind back, staring at nothing in particular. Was he eavesdropping? Am I paranoid? The polemic is apparently written by a senior member of the CPSU. A few years ago it would have got him seven years in the Gulag. Us too for having it in our possession. A weird thought when you're repositioning the commas and inserting definite articles.
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Travel journal: USSR. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1525.
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