I recently found two diaries which I’d written on school trips. The first one was written by me, aged ten in Swanage, Dorset, which you can read here.
Today, I’m thinking about the diary I kept while I was in Russia when I was seventeen. We flew out to Leningrad and then went by train to Moscow and flew home to London, from there.
Thankfully, I was a bit more specific about what happened on the trip than I had been in my Swanage diary although I’m a bit baffled by some of the things I thought were important.
Unusually for me, I recorded all the meals we ate and as I’m not exactly known as a gourmet, I think the only reason I wrote about them was, I was just surprised at how ghastly the food was.
Strangely, two of the memories that have remained with me didn’t get a mention in the diary although thankfully, I did record the names of the places we visited, many of which I’d forgotten over the years. I also noted the names of people we met when we were out and about and my impressions of them. While we were in Moscow, a group of Russian girls of similar age was assigned to us and they accompanied us on our visits. They all seemed to be daughters of diplomats and other dignitaries and they were very pleasant. I wondered if we’d be allowed to talk to ordinary people but no one seemed to stop us going out unaccompanied and chatting to anyone in the streets. Many ordinary Russians approached us asking us for chewing gum and wanting to swap badges, pins and other bits and pieces. Along with my diary, I still have lots of pins and badges that were given to me.
One memory I have, which I logged in my diary was when we arrived in Russia and passed through immigration. We had been told to show any books to the guards, for inspection. I had two books with me and I wondered if one of them – a New Testament would be confiscated but the guard didn’t take much interest in it and handed it back to me without opening it. He was, however, really interested in the other book I had – Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott and spent some time opening it and scrutinising it! I’ve wondered ever since what he was looking for.
One memory that didn’t make it into my diary was in the hotel in Moscow. My room mate and I decided to have a shower and were told the showers were in the basement. We followed the instructions and eventually found what we assumed was the hotel boiler room but further inspection showed us we had finally found the showers. The room was grey concrete and freezing cold, with several showers and no curtains, so no privacy. There didn’t seem to be any hot water and it also appeared to be mixed. My friend and I decided a wash-down in the sink in our room would be adequate after all.
The other memory that didn’t make it into my diary took place on the train journey from Leningrad to Moscow. I can only think that I was so tired once we arrived at Moscow, I forgot to mention the train journey at all. Several of us decided we’d stay up all night. We didn’t manage the whole night and we did finally fall asleep on the uncomfortable bunk beds. During the night, we decided we needed food and someone said there was a place to buy refreshments in the last carriage on the train, so several of us set off to find it. I was leading our little group and at the end of each carriage, I opened the door and we jumped across the articulated part between the carriages into the open end of the next carriage. We got into quite a rhythm. Fling open the door, jump and land in the next carriage. Until I opened one door and was about to jump. There was a deafening roar and everything seemed to be moving at speed. We’d reached the end of the train and the final door opened on to the rapidly receding railway track. After a split second of shock at what might have been, I slammed the door shut. I can’t imagine why the door hadn’t been locked but perhaps Russian trains didn’t have restaurant cars in the 1970s, so people didn’t usually move between carriages.
Russia seemed to be a place of contrast. I loved the magnificence of the Underground, museums, palaces and cathedrals but often, the streets and ordinary buildings were shabby, grey and dull places. One of my favourite buildings was St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, Moscow, with its beautifully ornate roof and exquisite interior.
It’s lovely to have found diaries of Swanage and Russia but I wish I’d been a bit more committed to giving the sort of details I’d be interested now! But I suppose if nothing else, they are a record of how my mind worked at those periods of my life.
St. Basil’s Cathedral was built in the mid 1550s, three hundred years after St. Nicholas Church, Laindon with Dunton, Essex. While St. Nicholas Church is nowhere near as ornate as St. Basil’s it has a wonderful charm. My ebook, ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’, is set in the Essex church and any profits from sales of the book will go towards its renovation and upkeep. If you’d like to help, you can buy a copy here on the Muse It Up Publishing website #MuseItUp #DaffodilAndTheThinPlace