I love to travel (2)

I love to travel, even if only on the local-stopping train round England.

June 1998.  I’d been to Gavin’s leaving do.  I’d had a few drinks.  I was merry, slightly drunk.  I board the last train back to Bracknell from Reading.

I sit in one carriage.  It’s nearly empty, with just me and a couple of other men.  I start to flick through the newspaper for a few minutes.  Meantime, I listen in on the two other men sitting opposite me.

Foreigners…

Slavonic…

Ah, Russian.

I decide to spend the next few minutes listening to them.  Time to kill before I reach Bracknell.

One fancies a girl off his course.  The other had had a McDonalds for breakfast.  Interesting stuff.  A good chance for me to practise my language schools.  (Three years at sixth form college and four years at university.)

Three minutes before Bracknell, I put the newspaper down.

One minute before Bracknell, Our Boris says to Our Ivan:

Попроси газету у этого толстого козла.

(For those not fluent in Russian: “Ask that fat bloke if you can have his paper.”)

Ginge in Germany, holding his copy of the Evening Standard replies very nonchalantly:

Почему ты сам не спросишь?

Translation: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Suddenly two very embarrassed and surprised Russians, their faces now as red as the old hammer and sickle flag.

My train stops.  I get off.

One word: satisfaction.

Have a multi-lingual day, won’t you!

Birthday Nostalgia

So, last week was my birthday: 21 again, and more.

Where was I on that day of the year…?

  • 10 years ago: Doing pgce teacher training in Middlesbrough.  Not my cup of tea.  Ler’s just leave it at that.
  • 20 years ago: Started my first ever permanent job, working in the International Programme Liaison team at Mercury Communications Ltd.  I did a lot of telecoms courses in that year.
  • 30 years ago: At sixth form college in Middesbrough, re-sitting my O-levels.  That was where I started studying Russian.
  • 40 years ago: At Wolfenbüttel Primary School, near the East-West German border, being sent to the headmaster’s office to take a phone call from my Dad, then stationed at HMP Maze, Northern Ireland, to wish me happy birthday.

Have a nostalgic day, won’t you!

Radio – My Best Friend

Desert Island Discs: what items would I bring?  I can’t give you a comprehensive list, but I do know which luxury item I would bring: a radio.

I’ve always loved the radio.  My relationship with the radio goes back to the mid-70’s as a pads brat in Germany, listening to BFBS radio.  (As an  aside, besides the target audience of British service personnel and their dependents, millions of West Germans, East Germans, Poles and Dutch used to tune in.)  As for German TV, I never watched much, just Biene Maja cartoon series, Pippi Longstocking and The Muppet Show dubbed in German.  Instead, I used to listen to Dad’s Army. the yes-no game and Badger Bill.

If you haven’t heard of Biene Maja, Pippi Longstocking, or Badger Bill, you were never a pads brat in Germany.  Punkt.

When I was ten, my birthday present from parents was a transistor radio, not much bigger than my ten-year-old fist, with FM and MW.  I used to listen to the evening football and fall asleep, my radio on quiet, crackling as MW does, under my pillow.  Even at the age of ten, I was into news and current affairs, so I often used to listen to BBC World Service on crackly MW.  Even now, just thinking of it, I have that “Ohrwurm”, Liliburlero, running through my head.

Fast forward to sixteen and sixth-form days.  More late-night radio.  Nightowls phone-in show on Metro FM from Newcastle.  Scores of Geordies ringing up to say,

“I’m a first-time caller, so I’m a little bit nervous.”

All addictive stuff when you’re at sixth form, listening to Geordies:

  • moaning about their dole money being stopped because they’ve been working
  • calling for national service, capital punishment and the birch to be brought back
  • screaming for all immigration to be stopped forthwith with and for “them” to be sent back “to their own country”, etc

Listening to the show years later, I just thought “pub bores’R’us.”  Tastes change as we grow older.

Fast forward to my year abroad in the USSR/Russia, 1991-1992.  A ghetto-blaster, with tape recorder and:

  • FM
  • MW
  • LW
  • SW

I tried all the frequencies.  Local radio was sleep-inducing in Voronezh.  My fellow year-abroaders in Moscow had a far bigger choice of stations.  I gravitated to SW.  I discovered:

  • All-India radio (yawn…)
  • Radio Pyongyang (fascinating hearing about all the achievements under Kim-il Sung)
  • BBC World Service (decent signal was only there from 11pm till 4am)

A few mornings with bags under the eyes after listening to BBC during the weee small hours, when the reception was crystal-clear, without crackle and hiss trampling the news.

I remember writing in my diary during my year abroad:

Things I miss. from the UK

  1. Radio 4
  2. The newspapers

Fast forward to 1993-1994 and bedsit (WG) days in Saltburn, living on the breadline.  My fortnight treat: a copy of Private Eye magazine.  Entertainment: the radio, especially BBC North, where the late-night show presenter would finish off by wishing listeners:

“A very good night to you, especially if you are alone tonight.”

Fast-forward to today.  Praise be to internet radio.  I can pick up so many stations on my Kindle.

  • BBC World Service
  • BBC Radio 4
  • BBC Radio 5
  • Falkland Islands Radio Service (come on, you know you want to!)
  • BBC Radio Tees

Since moving to Germany I’ve made a point of listening to Radio Tees, especially the Sunday morning God-slot show, emailing the presenter and having my mails read out.  (I am one of The International Contingent, together with Kim in Arizona and Bill in Seattle.)

Do I want a pet dog as companion?  No, I think it has to be a radio – even after all these years.

Having a radiant day, won’t you!

Yer Get Out What Yer Putin…

Stalin’s ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for his help running the country.

Stalin says:

“Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue.”

“Why blue?” Putin asks.
“Ha!” says Stalin. “I knew you wouldn’t ask me about the first part.”

Have a tolerant day, won’t you!

Today’s Bonus Joke

A Soviet Jew is sitting on a train, reading a book, “Beginner’s Hebrew.” Opposite him the KGB agent asks, “Hey, Jew, why are you reading this book?”

The Soviet Jew replies, “Well, if I go to heaven when I die…”

The KGB agent butts in, “And if you get sent to Hell?”

The Jew replies: “Hey, listen, comrade, Russian I already speak…”

Joke du Jour

The year is 1982.

A Polish man goes to the government bank with 300 zlotys, but he cannot decide if he wants to deposit it.

“Why are you so worried?” asks the teller.
“What if you go bankrupt?”
“Your deposit would be insured by the Polish government!”


“What if Poland goes bankrupt?” asks the man, still worried.


“We have the guarantee with the whole socialist bloc backed by the Soviet Union!”


“What if the Soviet Union goes bankrupt?”


“Surely that must be worth 300 zlotys to you?”

Have a well-polished day, won’t you!

Happy World Book Day!

So to deal with the issue of listlessness, here is my favourite books list on World Book Day 2016.

  • 1984, by George Orwell.  The only book I’ve read cover to cover four times.
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Solzhenitsyn.  I’ve read that book three times.
  • Gulag Archipelago, again by Solzhenitsyn.  It took me about three years to read it, mainly on the loo in my flat in Bracknell, but well worth reading.
  • Anything in the Dummies series of books.  (Well, almost anything.)
  • The Bumper Book of Government Waste, by Lee Rotherham.  Very entertaining and informative.
  • The Penguin Russian Course, by JJL Fennell.  It was *the* must-have book till the mid-90’s.
  • The Berlin Wall, by Frederick Taylor.  I bought that at Newcastle Airport while awaiting my flight to Düsseldorf.  Three hours later, I was still reading the book at the passport control queue on arrival in Germany.

Have a literary day, won’t you!