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.