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Blog 33 - From Russia With Love

I had promised you a story from Russia but could not write it these past two days as I had heard of so many deaths. It seemed inappropriate at that time to write a blog on a comedy of errors. But there is a time for grieving, then one must carry on.

You have already seen my Russian scarf....I have only one which featured in the Bergamo blog. This traditional one pictured was bought in Paris, another Hermes by Hugo Grygkar named Panache Fantaisie, showing heads of many horses. At that time I had long brown riding style boots, and the colours of this scarf made it the perfect accessory. I had been very excited at having a weekend alone in Paris with my must have been a birthday or anniversary treat to merit the trip and scarf.

You will be wondering where Russia fits in with all this French stuff.

My father was overseas engineer for a large British company which had won a contract to provide crushing and conveying equipment for a factory 500 miles north east of Moscow and he had to spend a year in this god forsaken place with my mother and her brother who was also working on the contract. Now, this was in the mid sixties when Russia was very much behind the Iron Curtain and nobody, but nobody travelled there. Life was difficult, particularly for my mother, with little food and hardship everyday. Imagine living in a modern flat, but with no hot water, and sometimes no cold if the pipes were frozen. Miraculously, a hairdresser came to the flat, but snow was scooped from the balcony to fill a kettle to wash her hair. Food was basic but shared willingly by the locals. The flat was bugged and they had to have any chat which might be misconstrued outside when walking alone. Their interpreter was changed every month, lest she be brainwashed by the Westerners. Twice my father was interrogated on totally innocent matters. He had lent a Readers Digest, brought from UK by a visiting engineer, to their interpreter who was keen to improve her English. Alas, there was an article slightly derogatory to Lenin which the dutiful Party member reported and Dad went through hell clearing his name. Thank goodness, the Readers Digest was dated after my father’s arrival and the innocent culprit bringing it to Russia was a visiting engineer. He was refused a visa forever after. I inadvertently caused the second interrogation by sending his heart medication in a plain envelope and he was accused of drug smuggling! After a year, the plant was installed, but the promised results could not be attained because the Russians were using inferior chemicals slowing the machinery. I thought I would never see my parents again. One day, there was a big explosion in another area of the huge factory, out of bounds to Dad, and they were told to leave immediately. He never knew what happened or what they were producing. A few days were spent in Moscow, again under close supervision but long enough to use their Russian money which could not be brought out of the country. There were lots of furs, small silver objects, scarves and Russian watches so quick purchases were made and home they came.

Unexpectedly, they were going to arrive on exactly the same day as we returned from Paris. As their hasty exit was unplanned, we now have the comedy of errors, which was only lacking John Cleese in its absurdity. They arrived at our house in Essex which was only a few streets away from their own home. Great excitement, cases opened, furs, silver objects strewn all over our sitting room, our suitcases also opened with our French booty.....a whole year’s Show and Tell on both sides. Uncle Stephen, a bachelor, not interested in furs, had invested his Russian dosh in men’s watches and had bought many and had worn several on each arm to evade the British customs which was tough at that time on such multiple imports. He had also smuggled the surplus money in his shoes.

Before our departure for Paris I had asked a new neighbour to keep an eye on our empty house. He did not know we had returned, saw unfamiliar men entering my house with cases, thought they were burglars and called the police. Now imagine the scene. I had left with my father to drop him home, my mother had gone to buy basic groceries, leaving Uncle Stephen alone, admiring his many watches and smoking the contraband cigarettes. He sees policemen climbing over the back fence. Front door bell rings, he answers. Are you the owner? No. Do you live here? No. I have just returned from Russia. Now, remember in these days, nobody went there. Back door bell rings. There are now many police cars must have been a quiet time for crime elsewhere that day. Uncle now in total panic, imagining Customs have caught up with him. The police enter, back and front and see open cases, furs, jewellery and crumpled banknotes, and they are certain he is a burglar. More questioning. Mother arrives with Sainsbury bags of everyday shopping and manages to satisfy police. On my way home, I am met by neighbour who has now been alerted of his mistake and warns me of what to expect. One police car driving off, one left. I rush up and say ......there’s been a terrible mistake. I live here. Yes, Madam, seeing the snow on your long boots I know you’ve just come back from Russia. No, I’ve been to Paris.......

The policeman looked puzzled. All he needed was John Cleese to jump from the bushes and say.......007 here, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

Busy Bee, Scarf Face!

Blog 33.

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