Vodka, Kasha and the Russian Chapter

 Two Babushka Dolls given to me by two Russian doctors almost fifty years apart, one is a peasant, the other a bit of a hussy!

Two Babushka Dolls given to me by two Russian doctors almost fifty years apart, one is a peasant, the other a bit of a hussy!

Imagine my delight  

Writing a book was a lot harder than I imagined.  I have a new-found admiration for anyone who gets their work onto the shelves.  My first memoir of two years I spent in Hong Kong got bogged down at the beginning when I wrote about my journey East from England on the Trans-Siberian railway.  I struggled, my words totally inadequate against the Russian front.

Then right in the middle of my epic battle with the Russian chapter, I hosted a Russian, an Associate Professor from Siberia.

I pestered him with questions, he looked disconcerted.  His Siberia was a vibrant spot, he enjoyed living there.

My Farewell Invitation

The months flew and it was time for his farewell.  I sent round the invitations.  We’d send the Professor off in Russian style: drink vodka, eat kasha and sing the Volga Boat Song.

The Professor came to me.  He had printed off my email.  “Vodka?  I prefer Australian white wine.”

“That’s OK,” I said brightly, “I’ll get wine.”  Me and the bottle of Vodka would have our own party, I thought.

“You can cook kasha?” he said doubtfully, “Do you want me to buy the cream?”

Why would I want him to buy the cream?  My kasha was from a The Pauper’s Cookbook by Jocasta Innes, and sure had no cream.  (It upset Mike when I bought that book at a time when we were financially challenged.  He had a Scarlett O’Hara moment, “As God is my witness, we’ll never be poor again … I don’t want to eat like a pauper.”)

I said to the Professor, “No, no, it’s fine, my recipe does not have cream.” 

He looked doubtful.  

Then we had an discussion

His finger moved to the last item, “What is this Vulgar Boat Song?” 

“No, Volga.  You know, ‘Yo heave ho.  Ay-da, da, ay-da.’”

“No, I don’t know this song.”

“Yes you do!”

“No I don’t!”

Thank God for You Tube

So I found the Red Army Choir on YouTube singing the Volga Boat Song.  Since every second and third line is Yo, heave ho, I thought my earlier rendition should have sufficed.

“Oh, this is a very old song.  This is about slaves!”

It was a good party nevertheless

So, the kasha was as the Professor had never tasted it, Australian wine flowed and the Professor led us through some strange song, a romantic lament of cold and snow.  It is always winter in Siberia.

A lesson in Russian history

The professor said how much he had enjoyed staying.  He was a little embarrassed at not being able to answer all my questions about Russia.  He’d attended high-school, just after the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  The Russian history curriculum was suddenly redundant and it took time to pump out a new one. 

Just as well he was going.  If only I’d known, I’d have rectified that!   What a golden opportunity wasted. 

And the Babushka?

Yes, the Prof gave me a very shiny Babushka doll.  I was truly delighted because in 1968 on the Trans-Siberian Express, another Russian doctor had given me a Babushka doll.  That doctor had liked his Vodka - very much - and I'm sure from memory, we together gave a splendid rendition of the Volga Boat Song.  Yo heave ho.

Dropping off dangerous spiders!

 I didn't take this photo...  It was taken in my house, in my garden ... relax!

I didn't take this photo...  It was taken in my house, in my garden ... relax!

The international guests I host through Airbnb are hardly in the door, when they ask about spiders.

“Not to worry, the spiders in the house are harmless, you have to really go looking for dangerous ones!”

They are not easily convinced.

And then one time...

Moments after I had shown one guest her room, she arrived screaming in the kitchen and threw herself into my arms.

"A spider, a spider, above my bed!"

IKEA should really not sell lamps like this in Australia:

 I didn't buy it to terrify guests, I bought it to amuse my small children

I didn't buy it to terrify guests, I bought it to amuse my small children

 

Guests ask difficult questions

Although I'm reassuring, the conversation complicates if guests follow up by asking if I have ever found a dangerous spider in the house.

“Well yes, once, but a long while ago ...” 

Their eyes widen, “IN THE HOUSE?”

“Yes, but it was before we put in flyscreens and got brushy things on the bottom of the doors.”

This confirms their worst fears – the spiders are OUT THERE, battering to get in

They immediately want to know more.  “What kind of spider?  What did you do?”

“Well it was a funnel-web. I released it in Lane Cove National Park.”

What I don’t tell them is that I confiscated it from a guest who was a biology student.  He'd put it in a jar and wanted to keep it as a pet.  When he cooked, the jar sat on the kitchen bench.  Other brave guests would shake the jar to see if it was true funnel-webs jumped.    But when he told me he let it out for runs, I’d had enough. 

Neither do I tell them that I didn’t drop it at the nearest entrance to the Park but took it far away as I was terrified it might have some kind of homing instinct.

That’s why I prefer hosting graduates.  They are past keeping things in jam-jars.

Take aim, fire!

“You didn’t kill it?” is the next question from my newest guest.  It is especially Australian men that want it dead.  And they repeat, "Really, you didn't kill it?"

Last week my daughter Emily listened to my spider spiel

She watched the expressions on the faces of my guests as I moved into the convoluted story about the single funnel web ever known to have crossed the doorstep. 

Afterwards, she took me aside and said, “Mum too much information.”

 “But I can’t lie!” I say...   “I have to tell them when they ask if I’ve ever had a dangerous spider in the house.”

“But Mum, it was over five years ago.”

“But it still happened.”

There was a pause while Emily, who is very practical and solution focused, thought about my predicament.

“Mum, think of it like demerit points - spider sightings drop off after five years.”

 

 

AND IF YOU REALLY MUST KNOW MORE:

Don’t mess with spiders with your bare hands

Don’t leave your soggy towels on the floor

Don’t walk around outside at night in bare feet

Don’t touch spiders in the kids paddling pool – funnel-webs just look drowned

Don’t go poking around in my garden without gloves on

And if you find one, call Emily