Who’s the priest ?
16th October 2011
Unless some money turns up in the next few months it looks as though my history of having visited Russia under every president since Brezhnev is about to fall down as Medvedev cedes place back to Putin.
So much has changed since I first visited in 1981 when the Soviet Union was very much in control of the Eastern Block. At that time it would have been almost impossible to speak to Russians who had not been vetted beforehand or disappeared afterwards.
My friend Oleg and I reckon that we all first met somewhere around 1993. Conscription was still the order of the day in the Soviet Union so in meeting Oleg I was introduced to service mates of almost exactly the same age. Amongst them Aleksei and Denis.
Aleksei seems to spend his holidays in Italy whilst Denis suddenly announced that he had remarried and that he was coming on his honeymoon to Europe following in the tracks of Vincent van Gogh.
On the Sunday he arrived having driven over in his rather flash Land Rover. I also noted that he and Julia had approximately twice the luggage as Judith and Ray for a shorter holiday. Aussies know how to pack.
The next thirty-six hours were spent in a mishmash of Russian and English, and me using French where necessary whilst speaking to the outside world. They have given me a flash bottle of vodka and in return I poured local beers down their throats. They were moving on to Paris but their night’s stay allowed us to catch up on some gossip and for me to show them a little of the countryside.
They showed me their wedding photos and some of the photos that they had taken whilst travelling through Holland and Belgium (It would appear that the first part of the trip through Poland was boring – too much like Russia ! )
We sat and watched the video of Hannah’s wedding and as soon as Simon came into view Denis wanted to know who the priest was. That’s no priest, that’s wee Simon the fourteen year old that was last seen wearing chicken slippers at Aleksei’s birthday party. I must point out that Simon gate crashed it at 0300 hours because (he says) we were all making too much noise and he couldn’t sleep. Have you seen him with a bottle of whisky – so you don’t believe his story either.
I had to take my plaque over to Festubert so Denis and Julia came along for the ride through the mining towns (they have actually seen Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis in Russian), and as we had also been talking about Oscar Wilde I took them on a few kilometres to Richebourg where his son is buried. The sheep over the wall gave us a mid morning chorus which was amusing.
Back to the house and it was so sunny we managed to lunch on the terrace before I pointed them in the direction of the autoroute via a quick stop in St Riquier. Julia was saying that she had studied architecture but studying is one thing but coming face to face with ornate Gothic façades was another.
Posted : 27 October 2011