I have a new pen pal, Emiliya Christie, and it came about like this. I was feeding the peacocks on the Yew Walk about a month ago when a family stopped to watch. We chatted, and they said they came often when they were in England. So, next question – where do you live? Moscow. That was unexpected. It turned out that Emilia’s husband Jon is a local man, from Chellaston, who is deputy head of a school in Moscow involved in teaching English to, among others, staff from various embassies. Emiliya is Russian, and they have a small child, who had gone on ahead with the grandparents.
We have struck up a conversation because I had the most exciting four days of my life in Moscow – in 1957. Aged twenty one I travelled solo by boat and train, via Sweden and Finland, then the long overnight train journey through Leningrad to Moscow. Arrived there I had a guide, Valia, but also explored on my own. It was the era of Bulganin and Kruschev, who I saw at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. In the Kremlin I filed past the embalmed bodies of Lenin and Stalin – before they kicked Stalin out. One evening I watched Romeo and Juliet in the fourth row of the orchestra stalls at the Bolshoi, on another I attended the Queen’s Birthday Party at the British Embassy. That was through an English businessman I met in the hotel, who also introduced me to two British former spies who were interested to give me roubles at four times the official rate for some of my English pounds. I toured Tolstoy’s town house, bought records in GUM, the department store, and explored St Basil’s, the church with the onion domes which always features on news items from Moscow.
There was more; how I crammed it all into four days is a mystery to me. At the airport, waiting to fly back to Helsinki, I had my first and only sighting of a man with a complete set of gleaming steel false teeth.
So, sixty four years later, I’m eating chocolates bought at GUM, and reliving that time with a charming Muscovite. It is certainly a great bonus in these straightened times.