LENINGRAD - a Cold War memory

Let me take you back forty years - to when simple Freedom made me glad

To a different time and a different world - and a March trip to Leningrad.

It was a Thomson Holiday long-weekend  - four days away all told,

That appealed you see to a pal and me - adventurous and bold.


We sat aboard that Aeroflot flight thinking what our trip might bring

And I confess to some misgivings when I saw a man out on the wing,

Before we took off I'm glad to say - his sleeves with circles of gold band -

But I wondered just what he was up to - with a screwdriver in one hand.


Then a stewardess appeared at my side to re-focus my attention

It was the size of this crew (she filled my view!) that brings about this mention.

The food was cold fare (red cabbage took more share) but the spirits on offer were hot,

Russian grub and booze to help a passenger snooze when travelling by Aeroflot!!


From the bright lights of the Capitalist West to the dim-lit Leningrad aerodrome

Took some adjusting for those recalling the glows of any well-lit welcome at home,

And the airport staff (never seen to laugh) took their time with an occasional grunt,

You'd think we'd arrived  there to grab our share of some newly-opened hostile "front".


Our hotel - so new the shower walls were like stalls - overlooked the River Neva

With its ship (but no crew) that fired the revolutionary brew to impress this non-believer.

As did the Hermitage - the famous winter palace;  with its golden summer partner beyond

The last rebuilt by Soviet blood, guts and guilt from the destruction and despond.


Our hotel floor was supervised (and some more!) by a woman like Giles' cartoon "granny",

With a stare to freeze a warm body from the knees and possessed of a yard wide fanny.

What sort of man, I thought, would want to be caught with a biddy like her for a wife,

But when escaping her care, my goodbye "so there!" was leaving my capitalist "Country Life"!


But the city of Tsar Peter, Tchaikovsky and Rasputin has its memorable place in my mind,

To have seen and endured  - to death and starvation inured - it lingers as one of a kind.

And its people whose spirit I witnessed, and with a generosity despite all that was bad,

Made me realise how blest were our lives in the west - and the many reasons we had to be glad!










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Mon 11th Jan 2016 14:57

A very nostalgic trip and an interesting piece of the past Mark. I don't know if you watched the BBC 4 piece on the orchestra of near starving musicians who played Shostakovitch's symphony no 7 in 1941 (2?) and broadcast it through external loudspeakers as a broadside to the German troops. Apparently it made a colossal difference to the morale of the Germans who thought it would be a pushover!!


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M.C. Newberry

Tue 5th Jan 2016 12:26

Hello Harry - it is quite possible our own 'plane was an
Ilyushin...the name was popular then. You will certainly
have your own memories: I have mine. The sheer scale
of the city streets and their monuments; the impressive
large stores (in size) and their windows containing row
upon row of the SAME item; the Hermitage - and the Summer Palace (rebuilt from shattered walls upward in
a monumental feat of recreation "as was"; the foolish
woman in our Intourist coach crowd on a visit to the
latter who had the film torn from her camera (NO PHOTOGRAPHS ALLOWED!) by a machine-gun toting Red Guard; the view from the hotel room across the River
Neva where the cruiser Aurora (fired the shot that preceded the October revolution) lay moored; the visits
to the Kirov and the Russian State Circus...so much
crammed into a brief visit but the images and the
brief contacts with its people linger still. To add a note
of levity allied to just maybe some reality, my chum and
I would be sure to praise in v. loud tones the country
and its people when in the confines of our hotel accommodation. It may have helped us to wander
freely as we seemed to do when out and about. But
then again, we were never approached to test our
I think of my visit when reading the posts of those
who seem obsessed about our own "failings" - and I am reminded of the words "What do they know of
England who only England know?"

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Harry O'Neill

Mon 4th Jan 2016 21:04

Your your story about the guy with the screwdriver takes me back fifty years to when - as a young E.C. member of my union I went as a Fraternal Delegate to post revolution Hungary (my first ever flight) the plane
was an IIyushin. The wing-tips moved that much that it seemed we were flying like a bird

During a stop in Brussels we came back to the plane and saw the pilot sitting on the steps looking so worried that we nearly didn`t carry on.

Hungary - at that time - was enough to put anyone off being a communist for life. (I could write a book about the delegation)

Leningrad at that time must have been quite an experience.

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