My enthusiasm for things Russian persists. I love the icons, the incense, the architecture, the matryushka dolls, The language: wonderful sounds – ‘l’ sounds like you hear in east Lancashire in places like Burnley and Chorley (listen to Jane Horrocks). And music to die for – literally, the Contakion with Russian basses whose vocal cords (no h, please) must be at least a foot long, and whose chests must contain several barrels of vodka, for them to get that low. The chants, the Rachmaninov Vespers: I drool like Homer Simpson with a donut. In Leningrad I sought out a poster shop a few metro stops from Hotel Moskva, and brought back some treasures, now gone the way of much else in various house moves. But one was particularly juicy, I recall, with square-jawed Soviet heroes and the hammer and sickle, and a slogan exhorting the workers to something or other in Russian.
A few months after that holiday, we moved from Nottingham to Kilmacanogue when I started professoring at the College of Surgeons in Dublin. What better place to display the said communist poster, thought I, than in the Anatomy Room of that august body, well known for its revolutionary history and sympathies. At that time, we had some young surgeons in training at least one of whom, from a wealthy Dublin family (a rarity, of course, at the College of Surgeons) found it unsettling. He disapproved, and said so. What a tease!
The year before all five of us went to the USSR, Susan and I went to Leningrad, Tashkent, Samarkand and Moscow. It was a rather rushed trip, and memories are hazy: tea drinking and beautiful Islamic architecture in Samarkand stand out. Someone wanting to talk to westerners the following day approached us in Samarkand, but nothing materialized. Gorbachev was in power then, and Moscow was boss. I wonder what has become of the would-be conversationalist in the now independent Uzbekistan. I wonder what has become of Comrade Boris and Borisovna of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Were they better off under Krushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev, before the ex-KGB man came to power and their oil tycoons became filthy rich and bought up football clubs?
One thing I brought back from the USSR was the realization that despite what we are told year-by-year, the Russians suffered war casualties on a far greater scale than anyone in the so-called west. You can understand why Uncle Joe was so keen to have a fence of buffer states between him and the western aggressors that had invaded Russia time and again over the centuries.
Communism and Christianity have much in common. A pity nobody’s tried either of ’em. Happy days.