Setting Off For The Soviet Union in 1970
This is the beginning of a very belated diary. I’d been invited many years ago to stay with friends in the Soviet Union. It took a lot of arranging as my mother lived with me and did not approve. But in the end I went and this describes the first section. Sorry about unexplained Russian and my typos. I don’t see well at present.
At last I set off from Bodyfuddau, dropped Frosty (my dog) off at Cwm Hwylfod and, armed with a route from Joan and a final one from Ig, took the road.
Several hours later approaching London I decided I’d better fill up on petrol and oil so went into a service station. The oil was well down so I approached a row of self-service shelves , saw some plastic bottles the same shape as those that they put in the van at home, picked one up and read ‘shell oils, shell supersafe plus’. That should be ok I thought and tipped it in. It was thin and blue. I moved my thumb off the corner of the label and read ANTIFREEZE.
The girls in the pay kiosk suggested the ,mechanics,. I found four men in overalls in a car bay over which a large board proclaimed MOTORWAY RESCUE SERVICE. I explained.
‘Can you help?’
‘Do you think the AA could help?’
‘I suppose so.’ They didn’t even smile.
By means of a reluctantly pointed out phone I contacted the AA and was rescued after no more than an hour by a delightful AA man named Kevin Jones, (whose tongue had no overtones of yr heniaith) and transported to Ig’s in style. Kevin Jones said it would have to be drained and if I liked it could be relayed to Trawsfynydd. I played with the idea, imagining the unconcealed amusement and Bill would its ignominious return and opted to leave it in London.
‘Is your friend here mechanically minded?’ asked K.J.
I knocked on Ig’s door and put this question to him. He emerged damply in a bathrobe and admitted to a leaning that way, whereupon K.J. unloaded the van on the drive, issued some technical instructions, declining an offer of half of Ig’s duck eggs, saying. ‘I tried them once’ they didn’t grow on me.’
Had a restless night due to over excitement (plus a degree of intoxication). John set Ig’s alarm for me, otherwise I should not have dared to sleep at all. Ig got me to Liverpool Station in good time and I was duly stowed onto the train right next door to my luggage.
The journey to Harwich was shared with two fairly silent Russian gentlemen and a voluble Polish lady who was going to visit her son with the intention of living with him and his family in Poland. I should think the plan is a recipe for disaster as she spent nearly the whole journey relating to me all the sins of her daughter-in-law with a thoroughly bitter mother-in-law expression on her face.
When we arrived at the docks I was very glad that my own difficulties with my luggage fully prevented me from feeling obliged to help her with hers, so I avoided having her company to Warsaw, for which Heaven be praised.
The ship (Dutch) was most luxurious but I still don’t like them. I slept part of the 8 hours and then went to a film – a typical American production about violent men (staff and prisoners) in an American jail. Right, of course, triumphs with an equally violent response. I’d have done better to have slept the whole eight hours.
The best thing about Hoek Van Holland was an efficient luggage trolley and moving floor passage ways.. Straight through to the platform and found my train of which the Moskva bound section was, to my delight, Russian. Heather and Denis had told me that ‘the timetable recommends the German one.’ I still prefer Rusian trains. The loos leave a lot to be desired but a very nice fatherly проводчик keeps us supplied with русский чай in стаканы. I share a sleeper with Karen, a medical student from Guyana studying in Leningrad.
The night was punctuated by requests from assorted officials for passports, visas and cash for same. It was so warm we kept the door open. So far I have seen no need for my vast stock of jumble sale woollies. Between glasses of tea and forays into my picnic provisions (including a bottle of blackberry home-brew) I finished crocheting Rosa’s shawl and watched DDR and Poland flash by the windows (and at times dawdle). Both look well farmed and the towns, although not exactly beautiful, seem cleaner and tidier than what meets the eye from a train into and out of any large town in Britain.
The train turns out to have a restaurant car but, after we’d navigated the length of the train to get there someone told us, ‘Deutschmarks only,; so we retraced our steps only to hear later that all currency was OK. Try again later. Later it was replaced by a Russian restaurant car, but we’d already eaten. Will sample on the way home I hope.