Minsk Nostalia Fest


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August 25th 1990
Published: August 25th 1990
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About This Document
Where it Came From

In Summer 1990, I went on a school exchange trip to Minsk. I kept a
handwritten diary throughout the trip. When we got back, I typed the
diary up on the family BBC Microcomputer, editing and sanitising it for
an audience of family, teachers and friends, to whom I gave printed
copies.

This year, 2002, my parents gave me the floppy disk it was on. I
searched long and hard for a way to transfer data from BBC Micro disks
to a PC. All the solutions involved finding a BBC and making a special
lead, and in the end I offered some stranger a fiver to do it for me. He
kindly offered to do it for free, and got a box of BBC games from a boot
sale for his trouble. Unfortunately, time had not been kind to the
disk, and he found it to be completely blank and unformatted.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, work got a posh new printing and
copying system, with far better Optical Charater Recognition
capabilities than I've ever seen before. I decided to try it out a copy
of the Minsk diary. Optimised as it is towards modern laser-printed
documents, the system made a valiant effort at this document, a 12 year
old photocopy of a 12 year old dot matrix printout, but even so it
needed extensive editing in order to make sense.

So, what we have is a candid diary, edited to take some of the juicy
bits out, then distorted by lossy transfer methods, and reassembled by
hand. Any spelling errors, spurious punctuation, etc. can be blamed on
this.

Me, Then

I've tried very hard to resist the temptation to edit out parts that
don't reflect well on my 16 year old self -- mostly spurious turns of
phrase that look odd to me today. The scary thing is that in many ways
I've not changed at all. If there's a campfire I still want to sing
Smiths songs around it accompanied by my own hamfisted strumming. People
still won't let me. I think I was a bit harsh on British War Museums.
Having recently been to the Imperial War Museum Duxford site, I
wouldn't today accuse them of jingoism, nor do I think that was a fair
accusation in 1990.

What was Censored

I still have the handwritten version of this document, which was not
intended for authority figures -- parents, teachers, the like. At the
time I had a deep and all encompassing crush on Elinor (who was on the
trip), and there are some comments in there which were too personal to
publish. In addition, on the train journey back from Minsk to Moscow,
some members of the group got blind drunk on vodka (intended as gifts
from Russian families to their guests' families at home), causing a
chaotic night which was best glossed over at the time. Remember, we were
all between 15 and 17 years old.


The Diary


Saturday 25th August 1990
Last night I went to bed at nine in order to get up at three this
morning. The rest of the family all seemed to be more, excited than
I, all wanting, to be there to see me off at the swimming pool
despite the ungodly hour. Whether this was out of love or out of a
desire to be rid of me I can only make an educated guess.

We left the swimming pool at half past four, Bethan Evans bearing a
heavily guarded box containing a gift from Bwrdd Datblygu - a
crystal bowl, just the thing to take on a coach, train and
aeroplane journey far hundreds, of miles, eh?

The bus was a really cheap one organised by Penweddig's own Arthur
Daley - Vivian Davies. Half an hour into the trip, a car signalled us
to stop because the boot was open. An omen? Perhaps. Later we were
given visas, customs declaration forms and plane tickets. All of a
sudden there was an almighty bang, as if someone's bag had faillen
from the overhead luggage rack. It turned out to be a tyre
bursting. There was no time to fix it, so everyone had to move over
to the left hand side of the bus and ignore the multitudes of
truckers trying to tell us to pull over.

Heathrow's terminal was a fair old hellhole. Not only was it
crowded, but there were no civilised queues and the feeling of
claustrophobia was accentuated by the extremely low false ceiling.
Having got rid of our suitcases at one desk, we had to go to another
to have our passports examined, then through the x-ray machine.

Both I and my bag beeped, so I was frisked and my bag was searched.
I was carrying Julian's LCD game, which was eyed with great suspicion -
the man wasn't happy to examine it himself, so I had to open it up
and show it to him. At the departure lounge I tried to teach Rhian,
Dai and Sarah to play Black Maria, but before we'd finished a test
run it was time to board. 1 found myself lumbered with the crystal
bowl, now labelled "Y Trysor".

Ceri was hoping for a good looking hostess : he says that Singapore
airlines have a policy of choosing them for their looks. He was
disappointed. There was some confusion regarding seat numbering.
Mine was '25J' but the seats only went up to 'I'. It turned out
that 'I' was 'J' or vice versa. Sitting next to me were two Russian
English teachers who had been on a package holiday in Britain. The
flight was delayed by about an hour, but once we were off it was
most enjoyable, the clouds below looking like an icy landscape,
with the gaps between them like lakes. This is not a contrived
similie - that was my first impression. I read, slept and chatted
to the English teachers for three hours, interrupted only by an
ordinary British style meal until we landed. After the slow queue
waiting for a young conscript to examine our passports and visas,
we went to collect our suitcases from the carousel. "Oh. look!"
said Ceri, as a sad, clothes-spewing, open suitcase passed by,
"someone's wiped out!". It was mine. When it passed for the second
time, a number of us grabbed the constituent parts of my luggage,
including a big bag af Jelly Babies a few metres ahead of everything
else. Vows were made to find a strap before going on the train to
Minsk. More queuing ensued whilst we went through customs, then we
met Irena Pavlova, one of School 51 Minsk's English teachers. A
coach was there too. We were driven to a hotel where the
beaureaucrat who got us our rooms, checked each passport and filled
in a form refused to be hurried. Owain and I are now in a budget
hotel room,. It will do, although the lights seem to dim and
brighten with a mind of their own, and the beds are unmade. We get
up at eight tomorrow, so goodnight.
Sunday 26th August 1990
Obviously the Soviets don't make their beds in the same way as we
do. I could not fathom the purpose of the various odd shaped sheets
and blankets. We were woken by a call from Mr. Mitchell on the
telephone. Its ringing scared the living daylights out of us.
Eventually I answered and when I told him how startled he'd made us
the callous man laughed quietly to himself.

Breakfast for me consisted of a roll, salami, a hard boiled egg
and some tea. Everything was of a similar stodginess. After some
shivering and confusion in the. cold, we found ourselves in a bus to
some monastery or other forty five miles from Moscow. Moscow can't
be much good if they have to take us that far to see something. I
still had sleep to catch up with and could scarcely keep my eyes
open. I'm told the guide was in the middle of a lecture on
seventeenth century icons when he looked up to sea a coach full of
sleeping bodies, mine amongst them. Oh! the guilt.

Despite the rain, the monastery was resplendent in its onion-roofed
beauty.

The food was alright, I thought, nothing special. Again it was
quite stodgy, and most of us hated it. The journey home to Moscow
was long due to a queue where the traffic on a two-way road split
into three lanes in one direction - one lane taking up the grass
bank. It was tea time when we got back to Moscow, and we ate in
another hotel. We were faced with probably the most revolting meal
I've ever seen. Even I, Mr. Mange Tout, couldn't face this horrid
sausage, and its horrid vegetables. Bleddyn Barry complained loudly.
Very loudly. He has three volume settings - loud, very loud and
NATO-are-investigating-it-as-a-weapon-principle.

Afterwards we caught a service bus (yes, all of us) to the nearest
metro station. This was a new line, and each station was
beautifully decorated with scenes from the revolution in mosaics,
stained glass and so on. We then took the Metro, having seen the new
stations, to our hotel, where about ten of us adjourned to Ceri and
Julian's room for a game of cards. The fact that a game which
everyone knew was nigh on impossible to find didn't deter us.

Tomorrow's a long day - nine in the morning until eleven thirty
on our feet, then the train to Minsk overnight. What a joyful
prospect. G'night.
Monday 27th August 1990
Breakfast this morning was the same as yesterday's with the addition of
some weak coffee, Bleddyn Barry complains incessantly about this
and most other things. Thus I find myself complaining about his
complaints.

Today kick-started to a furious pace immediately. Max, our guide,
who's name was Vladimir, had found the volume control on the
coach's PA, unlike the last one, so we could hear his commentary.
I'd better explain this Max business. Ever since last year's
exchange in Brittany, Ceri and I have called guides Max. How jolly
witty we are.

Zoom! Before we knew it, the bespectacled bullet had us into the
centre of Moscow, into the, Kremlin, and past the long queue into
the cathedral (Enunciation Cathedral, I think it was). Full of
icons, it was, and people. Having picked out all the features, Max,
with lynx-like agility and speed led us to a small, private,
icon-filled chapel as used exclusively by Peter the Great, Ivan the
Terrible and their brethren.

Again turbo powered, our group flitted to an enormous.cannon.
"There is no time to wait about?" said dynamic Max, whilst Sharon
quietly developed a crush on him. The cannon was the largest in the
world when built, but, said Max "it was never used."

On we sprinted to a thirty foot bell with magical Japanese tourist
attracting powers. Max told us that it was never used, although it was
the world's largest. This was because not only was it too big for
its intended belltower, but some cretin had tried to speed up the
cooling process when it was cast by pouring on water, and a three
ton chunk fell off. I failed to get a photo of it without including
a Japanese tourist who was posing for his Pentax toting wife.

Our next stop, for which Max decided to slaw down his style, was
the Armoury. This is, in fact, a museum where other things have
outnumbered arms since it was named. Max waxed lyrical about each
exhibit - I reckon all these Russians are royalists deep down,
judging by the gusto with which they remember the Tsars.

One eye catching exhibit was a carriage presented to Catherine
the Great by James I, which had no steering. That wacky British
sense of humour, eh? The stupid woman still used it, though, by
getting slaves to lift it up and turn it at every corner. Well, what
do you expect from a woman who traversed Siberia in a midget-drawn
sled? Another carriage drew my attention. Max said that it was never
used, because it was too big and heavy for the road.

After looking at some Faberge eggs, we at last got to see the
weapons. A vicious collection it was too. I eagerly anticipate
"Teenage Mutant Cossack Turtles".

We hurried back to the bus, or "couch" as Max liked to call it.
This was in order to go back to the great hotel where we were served
that fabulous tea yesterday, Bleddyn stubbornly ate nothing, but I
thought it much improved. You could eat it.

We returned to the coach and were driven back to central Moscow.
Zzzip! Max steamed ahead and we followed him to Red Square, past the
most beautiful onion-roofed building, which was never identified to
us. We posed for some photos, holding aloft a Soviet flag which Dai
had bought from an evil black marketeer, and we giggled at the
goose-stepping guards. We didn't queue to see Lenin, but we saw the
outside of the tomb.

Max then rushed us over to Moscow's state department store where
I nearly bought a slide projector for the equivalent of two pounds
fifty. Next stop was the end of an enormous street, which, according
to Max, had it not been raining, would have been teeming with
singers and dancers. We were given half an hour to wander down to
the far end, where the coach would meet us. Immediately, a mute
accosted us carrying a book full of badges, Lenin profiles,
hammer'n'sickles, that sort of thing. He mimed that he wanted us to
swap things with him. I was moderate and took two badges in exchange
for a biro, whilst Rhian went a little over the top and got about
thirty for two packets of chewing gum. The capitalist swine will
probably sell them at home.

At the end of the street, Max bought Sharon a coffee whilst we
waited impatiently. Then the time came for us to leave, and part
with Max. Someone tipped him with a packet of cigarettes - I thought
it was Rhian, but now I'm told it wasn't, and I don't know who it
was. I tipped him with a joke about tapeworms.

The train journey is the next exciting tale - but that comes
tomorrow.
Tuesday 28th August 1990
At nine o' clock last night we left the hotel, struggling with our
bags and cases. The bus driver was a surly old soul, and made a
nuisance of himself as we tried to put our cases in the luggage
compartment. Some cases, like Sarah's, which was unnecessarily
heavy, and I had to lift, had to go on the seats. A short journey
later, they all came out again, and we lugged our luggage about
thirty carriages down the endless station.

After, a. longish wait, shortened only by a discussion about physics
with Nudd (If you jump vertically in a moving train, will you land
in the, same place?) and Julian's Computer Shopper magazine, a
stunningly beautiful hostess came and watched as we struggled on
with our cases. Owain first echoed my perfectly innocent (I must
stress that) thoughts on her beauty, and Rhys agreed quietly, but
wouldn't rave as he was "spoken for". In our cabin with Ceri and
Julian, Owain and I voiced our opinions on this temptress of the
East, and Ceri and Julian were noncommittal. Verily, though! They
changed their tune when she brought some tea to us and they had a
good look. She poured some slops from her tray onto my jeans and
Owain's jacket, but we forgave her. Sharon and Elinor came into our
cabin for a game of cards. Sleep was not easy - the train rattled
around quite a lot - but I got at least three hours.

We woke up pulling into Minsk station, and quickly gathered our
possessions, supping the morning tea that the Beautiful Hostess had
brought us. I have been forced to drink tea here, but it's OK
because the Russian tea doesn't tasts quite like tea at home.

The welcoming party of our partners and some teachers greeted
us. Strangely, all the girls bore flowers to present to their
partners. Marina recognised me, obviously from the photo I sent, and
came straight to me, thrusting a bunch of carnations into my hands.
Her mother was with her. Both seem very nice and friendly so far. We
boarded a coach and drove into the centre of Minsk, then the family
and I caught a trolleybus to the flat. The building is like
something out of Brixton in its shabbiness and sheer ugliness, but
once through the padded door into the apartment, it's very
comfortable and pleasant, though rather small. I suspect that this
family must be fairly well off compared to most Soviets -- the
government wouldn't want us to get a bad impression. A spread was on the
kitchen table: salad, bread, salami - all the usual stuff. Marina's mum
then went to the fridge and fetched out a bottle of champagne
(well, fizzy wine - they called it champagne) - I didn't say niet.

After breakfast we set off for school. Marina just had to collect
some books - it's still school holidays. On the way, we met
Marina's friend,, Anya, who came along with us. We went to the
school, which is big, and collected two carrier bags full of text
books. I had a chat with their English teacher and then we went to
the supermarket, still with Anya. The supermarket was a fairly drab
affair, most things held in brown paper, and obviously no choice.

We were to walk around Minsk, so we dropped off the bags in Anya's
flat and hopped onto a trolleybus. Marina led us into a bookshop, and I
decided to buy a souvenir book of pictures - a fairly expensive,
hardback one, with Byelorussian text. What I hadn't realised is that
this lot are worse than either the Welsh or the French. As I
brought out my cash, they made tut-tutting noises and said "No no.
We pay." I was too astounded to argue. I wonder now if I shall ever
rid myself of these roubles, since if a Russian friend is present,
he or she will insist on buying it, but if he or she isn't there,
the system is too complicated and language dependent to manage
alone.

Minsk, from what I gather on this tour, is very modern (nothing
pre-war since it was all razed), full of big statues (obviously -
it's Soviet), has nice parks, and lovely Metro stations. Also, the
local graffiti-ists are into Depeche Mode.

We collected the bags from Anya's flat and headed off home for
lunch. This was very tasty. Than off we went again to join the rest
of the gang for a tour of Minsk by "couch", Amazingly Bleddyn Barry
has changed his tune, having nothing but good to say about the
people, place and food!! I saw much of what I had seen before again,
plus of course some more. We all gathered behind the city's eternal
flame to take some group photos (Minsk is a "Hero. City" meaning it
suffered greatly.. in the second world war - all Hero Cities have
big monuments to communicate this, with an eternal flame - monument
to the unknown soldier - as an important-part). Around ten of us
then went to the Cinema, which happened to be closer to Marina's flat
than anyone else's, where Mississippi Burning was showing. With
bated breath, we watched the dialogue free introductory sequence,
itching to know whether it would be dubbed or subtitled. To our
dismay, it was dubbed, and we could only just follow the story from
the pictures. Then... we returned home, and I wrote this.

By the way, the dentistry here can't be too hot: loads of people
have very prominent gold teeth. I saw one man with every single
visible tooth a gold one! i
Wednesday 29th August 1990
Today I was woken at nine and we just made it to the meeting place
at the correct time of ten o' clock. The bus took us to an enormous
war monument - the "Mound of Glory". We were all excessively well
behaved, as this thing is very important to all Byelorussians. It is
an enormous mound of earth, covered in grass, which was made by each
Byelorussian bringing a small amount. On top is a huge ring, which
looks like copper, with faces moulded into it - the faces of
soldiers, airmen and so on. A three pronged thing springs from this,
forming a bayonet which dominates ths landscape. We climbed the 241
steps to the top, where we noticed that the ring was not moulded
copper after all, but was tiled with shiny-ish stones.

Rhian marvelled at the incredible craftsmanship. On the inside
of the ring was a five pronged Soviet Star, with.a hammer and sickle
on it, and a rifle and a cutlass crossed behind it. The Soviets seem
to remember war in all its violence - .perhaps this is no bad thing
as it increases the reluctance for another one.

Next stop was a winter sports complex. We didn't know this until
a man zoomed past us on a pair of roller skis. We looked down on a
field and couln't contain our giggles when about five men practiced
their speed skating arm movements, like gorillas. A quick look at
some roller skaters (proper skates, these, with only one row of
wheels so they behave like real skates) and some summer ski jumps,
and we got onto the bus again.

Our next stop was a really amazing place. It was one of the main
reasons Alistair had come - the village of Khatyn. In 1943, Nazi
troops rounded up 149 inhabitants into a barn, and burnt it, killing
all but one man who escaped to tell the tale. Khatyn is a symbol of
the 186 villages where this happened. The village was destroyed
utterly during the raid. In 1963 it was turned into a memorial site.
At the site of each house there is a stone outline, and a short
bell tower, whose bell tolls every two minutes. The barn has a
special monument, and next to it is a large statue of the survivor,
carrying his dead son. There is a monument for each village which
was raided, and one for the victims of each concentration camp.

All this blew my mind. We so often hear about the six million
Jews at home, but all of a sudden this morning I learnt of a further
two million, two hundred and thirty thousand people in Byelorussia
alone - a quarter of the menfolk. The final monument is a square
where three birches make three-corners of a square. These represent
the three quarters of the population surviving. The fourth corner is
an eternal flame.

I was extremely moved by the whole thing. Back by the bus, I
investigated the stalls selling souvenirs. I bought a pack of postcards
depicting Khatyn, Such packs are available in many places, and I have
some from the Armoury and the Kremlin too. There was a woman with a
large barrel on wheels selling some kind of drink. It was made of
fermented bread, I think, and tasted of watered down, sweetened
beer which I quite liked.

The bus then took us to a restaurant, where we had a really tasty
meal. The last course was a delicious potato pancake containing meat,
and dresssd with soured cream. Everyone else seemed to think it was
horrible, and Bethan Evans, on her rounds, telling everyone that it
was a really nice local dish, was amazed on finding my clean bowl,
and thanks to my influence, three other rapidly-becoming-clean
bowls. At the shop next door, the witty wags in the group bought
the entire stock of toy Ladas. Races were held in the bottom of a
dry fountain whilst Alistair did Murray Walker impersonations into
his dictaphone. Then we drove home.

The coach trip spirit had caught us and we burst into song. On
reaching Minsk, many of us went for a wander, first to the Beryoska
- the hard currency shop - which was naff unless you were after
booze or fags, then to a room full of one armed bandits. ("Slot
machines" they had said, so we followed them expecting video games,
but no, it was fruit machines.) None of us spent our precious money
here. Then we went to a park. Suddenly I realised I was without my
bag! Help! I told Marina, and we rushed back towards the Beryozka.
We met some stragglers, Geraint, Sharon, Elinor and Bleddyn, and
explained my predicament.

"It wasn't blue, with Adidas written on it?", asked Sharon. "We
saw someone pick it up, and as he walked past we said 'That's John's
bag' and he just ran away", added Elinor. After I'd had a few
coronaries, Bleddyn presented the bag from behind his back, and I
tried to murder all three of the conspirators. We caught up with the
others, and photos were taken in front of a river. We sat down by a
lake from which the river flowed, and one of the assembled Soviets
said that they had enjoyed our singing and could we sing again? We
sang "Calon Lan" and "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau", then they sang the
Byelorussian, and Soviet national anthems (very poorly, it has to
be said). We tried to collaborate on "Yesterday" (surely the one
song which everyone in the whole world knows). "Y Gwcw" followed -
in its bastardised "Hans o Wlad yr Awstria" incarnation, and "Do
they know it's Christmas" then some wag suggested "Ring-a Ring-a Roses"
so we got them all into a ring and played that. "Oranges and
Lemons" and "The Farmer Wants a Wife" led on naturally (with Elinor
as the farmer!). Then we played one of their games, called "Cat and
Mouse". This involved chasing - a bit like tig, but the 'mouse'
could transfer his plight to another person by touching one of the
many pairs of people, and one person took over.

At about nine, we returned home. Here, the impossible Marina
presented me with fifty roubles! I tried to resist and got some success.
It is now in a box in my room for me to take if I want it, which I
won't. Tomorrow's exciting promises? The fridge factory.
Thursday 30th August 1990
I was waken by the frying of tasty meaty pancakes, At eleven we met
in the usual place. A rather sad excuse for a bus took us to the
fridge factory. On entering the shop floor we were given the
impression that this was a shoddy little affair , but were amazed at
how various bits of sheet metal and sheet plastic were transformed
into Phillips Whirlpool fridges. We moved on to the factory canteen
to eat. Now normally I'll eat most things, but this I couldn't
touch, I just filled up on grapes and water, and promised myself I'd
accept supper tonight. Bethan Evans asked me to make a thankyou
speech - just a few words - so I did. We returned to the bus then,
to go on to a hotel which changed money. Ceri and I waited outside,
as we both had more roubles than we knew how to cope with anyway.
Photos were taken by a fountain, where Ceri and Dai foolishly went
wading after some money. Two of the Soviets disappeared, then
returned with guitars. Someone let slip that I played, so I
explained I was really no good at all, then strummed through "House
of the Rising Sun", "Always on my Mind", "Streets of London" and so on.
Any attempt at a decent Smiths song was swiftly terminated by a
Welsh hand on the fretboard. Hrrumph!

We went on to the park with the lake, where we had been yesterday
evening. A few singalongs later, Bleddyn appeared on a pedalo which
he had rented from the opposite side of the lake. There was a spare
seat, so I got on. Some of the Soviets took out a rowing boat and
other pedalos were taken by Rhys and Sioned, and Rhian and
Alistair. Neither Bleddyn nor I trusted the other enough to get off
the pedalo and explore the island in the lake. Finally I decided
that trust was very important , and that I should give him the
benefit of the doubt. I paid for my naivety by finding myself
stranded. The rowing boat of Soviets saved me in under a minute,
fortunately. Back ashore, Dai and Ceri decided to go for a swim.
Rhian, removing only her shoes and socks, dived in too. Afterwards
they were told that the water was radioactive.

There was an unimportant incident in which I almost ended up in
the drink, but, it's hardly worth mentioning. Seeing as guitars were
being played, we decided to light a campfire. Large stones were
collected, and a copy of the Morning Star was crumpled into the
centre of a circle of them. Twigs from the nearby woods came next...
Y'know, it was just a fire.

The thing lit beautifully, though the wood was slightly damp and
smokey. Some Soviet wags tried to jump over it. Rhian decided to
rush home to get some food to cook over if, but before she returned,
the Soviets decided it was bedtime. How I wish I'd seen her face
when she got back to find the fire extinguished (by a carrier bag of
water) and the hordes absent.
Friday 31st August 1990
This morning I was woken at nine. We met in the usual place at ten,
and Dima, Geraint's partner, had his guitar. He wanted me to write
down the words and chords to "The House of the Rising Sun". We were
expecting a seven hour bus tour, so I was a little disappointed to
find myself without a seat, and having to sit on the floor of the
coach with no view. The guide (I can't remember her name, but we
called her Max) gave us a history of Byelorussia. I was glad when we
stopped to see Byelorussia's equivalent of St Ffagan folk museum, as
it gave me a chance to grab a seat later on. The place was quite
interesting - a glimpse of peasant life in feudal Byelorussia. This
lot had larger houses than the average citizen nowadays, it seems.

Back on the bus, I got a seat - Owain's! Hoho. Ceri and I sat
down and shared a pair of headphones to listen to Alistair's tape.
He's been mumbling into his dictaphone since day one, rather than
writing a diary like anyone else, the workshy devil that he is. The
tape was gently amusing. Alright, it was a larf. OK I admit it - it
was almost entirely a riot. When the recording of the bus jumping
about on a flat, tyre came on I giggled my little head off. We were
loath to leave it when the bus stopped again for us to have some
food. Irena Pavlova kept squawking at us that we were to return, in
"TWENTY FIFE MINNITZ". This was to become a catchphrass of Bleddyn's
later on in the fortnight. I didn't eat much in the little forest
clearing where we sat, because I wasn't hungry.

Then we went on to a little church which was by now a museum. In
its time it had been a protestant, catholic and "Christian" {i.e.
Russian Orthodox) church. A comical woman showed us around, all
wrinkles, lipstick and dimples. She squeaked as she spoke and
smiled. Then we examined the crypt, which was basically a hole in
the ground, as the bodies had been removed. We climbed the seven or
so flights of steps to the top of the bell tower, those of us not
too tired after the trip's rigours. Bethan Evans was one of the
abstainers, saying that she was totally exhausted.

On returning home, I asked If there was somewhere to buy gifts
with roubles - they seem very keen on taking us to the Beryoska. We
were almost on the doorstep of such a shop, and what a choice there
was there! A veritable Aladdin's cave, it was, with all manner of
glittering gifts (sarcasm). Nevertheless, I found a candle for Ruth
and a brooch for Mamgu. What's more, I persuaded Marina not to pay,
although I had to let her go through the buying process for me.

Some of us wanted to go to the Beryoska (some of us were so homesick
for junk food that the supply of crisps and drinks was welcome), so I
went to the lake with Dima and his friend, Geraint, Richard and
Sarah. The others were to meet us there when they had finished
their decadent Western shopping. We passed the war memorial, where
lots of smartly dressed people had gathered. The boys told me that
Friday and Saturday are the days for getting married in the USSR.
In this particular republic, brides must be between seventeen and
twenty-five and grooms must be between eighteen and thirty. Sarah
was characteristically outraged.

I went with the two Russian boys to hire a pedaio or two (up until
now I've referred to the kids as "Soviet" against my instincts, but
they seem perfectly happy to call themselves "Russians" so hereafter I
may as well call them just that - just as long as they don't call
us English). After a short half hour on the water I pleaded
knackered legs, and returned to shore. I collected some wood and
built a fire. During the course of the evening we had considerable
trouble with the fire, which kept burning down to a cinder way too
quickly, and we had to rebuild it and light it again, from the
glowing left over embers. Everyone else eventually turned up. I put
a spud into the fire - some thoughtful person had brought a bagful
- and in order to add some much needed suspense to this dreary
diary, I'm not going to reveal how it came out until later...

The local Matfia had gathered round.... Ah! I haven't told you
about the Mafia yet. Last night we noticed hundreds of kids, between
around nine and fourteen, running around with sticks. It turned out
that there were two large gangs of these kids, who beat each other
up with the sticks. I don't know whether they grow out of it, or,
not, but, I truly hope so. We dubbed them "The Maf ia". Clear? Good.

The local Mafia had gathered round, fascinated by the fire. Sarah's
partner, Slava (or Secret Squirrel - the inside of his jacket was
covered in merchandise, watches and badges etc.), had brought his
friend Loshi. He had a ghetto blaster and a Martin Gore disguise.
This figured, as he was a Depeche Mode fan. I happened to have my
tapes with me, so the Minsk air was filled by the sonorous sounds
of The Shamen, The Smiths, Public Enemy and allsorts. Secret
Squirrel is obsessed by "Always on my Mind" and kept wanting to
play.it again. I liked Loshi - it's a shame he's not coming back to
Wales. The music attracted yet more Mafia. Later on some of them
disappeared to beat seven bells out of each other with sticks
(kids!) but some remained, fascinated by the fire.

At last, the spud. I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief now,
the tension about to be lifted. I got it out, peeled it,, took a
tentative nibble and found it delicious. Y'know, I amaze myself
sometimes.

Time flew by and we had to return home. We stamped out the remains
of the fire, and two of the Mafiosa got some water in a can and
poured it over it. I gave them a stick of chewing gum between them
for their trouble.

I share the route home, some of the way, with Elinor and Bleddyn.
Elinor was quits upset as she doesn't get on with her partner - Irena
Pavlova's daughter. She is too young, and doesn't share Elinor's
interests. Elinor is quite keen to swap partners with Emma. I'm
dubious about the politeness of this, but there it is, just the
facts. Anyway, "Da boch", I said, and off we all went our separate
ways. Tomorrow promises a seven o' clock rising, in order that we
be in school for the beginning-of-the-school-year celebrations.

Gelebrations? Gimme a break. I'm a stranger in a strange land.
It's an experience. G'night.
Saturday 1st September 1990
Yeah! And it was at seven that I was awoken, verily and forsooth.
The first thing I said came out sort of husky and sexy, and my head
was all blocked up. I took a decongestant. Mums are useful after
all. After breakfast we caught the trolleybus to school - Marina
dressed in a grossness calling itself a uniform. This consisted of a
shapeless black dress and a white apron. The white was just for
today. The rest of the year she wears a black one. By total chance
we met Nudd, Dosi and their partners whose names I have yet to
learn. The school was teeming with life.

Many of the girls presented their form teachers with flowers,
and with the obiigatory Russian fuss, everyone gathered in front of
the main building. Two rows of pre-teen kids gave us a song. Then
the Soviet and Byelorussian flags had a race to the top of their
flagpoles. Of course, ths Soviet one won. Next, achievers were
rewarded by a brass band two-bar jingle and the oppurtunity to dash
to the principal for a medal. This was a bit ... a lot like The
Price is Right.

The principal gave a characteristically long speech, then handed
over to Mr. Mitchell, who said that he was privileged to be there,
welcomed the changes which made it possible, blah blah blah. Then he
said that a pupil of Penweddig had a few words to say. Cue Alistair.
His speech seemed (and knowing him was) calculated to confound
Irena Pavlova, translator. He quoted Churchill - "A puzzle within a
riddle within an enigma", or something. He also said that the
republic had "risen like a phoenix from the ashes of despair".

Whether the ceremony was cut short by the rain, or whether the
rain just had excellent timing I just don't know, but as we traipsed
into the large main hail, the whole thing stank of a merciful Deus ex
Machina. Only those of us involved in the exchange gathered in the
hall. The others went home, or something - I don't really care.

We sat waiting for something to happen.

The principal (who I shall revert to calling the head now) came
in leading the parents of all our partners. This was supposed to be
a meeting of some kind. We "bounced" observations off each other.
Trystan - tactfully, said that he had noticed that everyone was
bigger than at home. "No they're not!" bawled Bleddyn, "They're not,
are they John? They're not!" before the head could reply.

Afterwards, I got a picture of Marina and her mum together, outside.
The entourage were to meet in an hour and a half to visit Minsk
Polytechnic Institute. This was to give the Russians time to change
out of their uniforms. Rather than go all the way home with Marina
on the trolleybus, I stayed with Rhian, Sharon, Dai, Emma and
Elinor - all of whom lived near the school. Emma and Elinor took the
oppurtunity to organise the partner swap. The partners in question
were not at all offended. Unfortunately, I didn't witness the
masterpiece of tact which achieved this. The swap has now occurred.
Some partners were slow to change, and as a result we were late at
the Institute, after a long trolleybus and metro journey. Happily, we
slowed nobody down. Had we baen on time, they'd have hung around
for just as long.

Yawn! They showed, us their sports facilities. Yawn! A lab. Yes
I do know what a lab looks like, Max... Hold on! This lab was like
something out of Frankenstein. Huge static balls hung from the
ceiling - observed by Lenin's portrait. Apparently, they are trying
to develops a way of transferring electricity between major cities
in the USSR by air!! Seems a bit pie in the sky to me. What happened
in this lab is that sparks flew some ten centimetres between the
balls, noisily. Wires must be more efficient. Must be.

Their computers, their pride and joy, were unspectacular. Not
bad, but not good either. We had some fun playing Tetris and some
tennis game though. We arranged then to meet at the lake at four,
then separated to go home for lunch. I ate well at home and read a
bit.

At four, we found ourselves by the lake. Sarah and Slava were
there, along with Dai and Bleddyn's friends. They were a bit worried
as Dai and Bleddyn were missing. I built a fire, and we had little
trouble with it all night. At one breathtakingly exciting point
Alistair and Sarah collected as much wood as their little arms could
carry and we put it all onto the fire, for a big flaming
all-or-nothing of a fire which lasted about five minutes. Gradually,
in unpunctual dribs and drabs, the others arrived, though Ceri,
Rhys, Sioned and Rhian never turned up.

Trystan asked to read my diary, and it was passed around a littie.
Elinor was offended (ish) by the odd bit (this is the uncensored
version we're talking about here) and Emma asked for a mention.
This is it.

Dai did many prattish things during the course of the evening.
He failed utterly to row a boat, and tried to walk a tightrope-thin
iron rod used for mooring boats, which was supported over the water.
It's lucky his partner looks after him well, and is mature and
responsible enough to keep him in check.

It's now ten in the evening and my voice has gone completely.
Mum has smothered my face in some kind of balm, so my face is on
fire and I have been inhaling spirit vapour since nine. Now I have a
spirit soaked towel round my neck, constricting my veins, so I shall
remove it as soon as I'm safely in my bedroom and sealed up for the
night. I was supposed to be going to see Marina's brother his wife
and kid, but now I'm not allowed out. Ho hum. G'night.
Sunday 2nd September 1990
10.40 am : One advantage of my predicament is that it presents an
argument against Alistair's pro-dictaphone case. How can you speak
into a microphone when you can't speak at all?

Mum suggested Champagne (what was left in Tuesday's bottle) and
before I could think I'd accepted. This meant that pills were out of
the question for at least a couple of hours. I was threatened with a
number of old wives' cures including an infusion of dried flowers.
Just a thought, but what kind of spirit did I inhale last night? If
it dissolved my phlegm, what else did it dissolve? It's too
horrible to think about.

Before they could experiment on me further, I asked for a hot
shower. This I had, and most welcome it was too. My only hope is
that I don't have malaria - we are all nursing insectbites from that
lake.

7.30 pm : After this morning's entry, I was in fact subjected to
an infusion of dried flowers, which I was expected to gargle. On
emerging from the bathroom, I saw Marina's brother, his wife and
their four year old son. If Mohammed won't come to the mountain...
they had come to dinner here. The wife had excellent English - she
was a computer programmer and needed to understand manuals in
English. The kid was very cute indeed, and seemed very pleased with
the gifts we had gathered at home with him in mind. Surprisingly,
Jelly Babies left him cold. Weirdo. Throughout the day, by the way,
I'm whispering.

At dinner, I was offered a red wine coloured liquid. On, asking
what is was, I was told it was "vino". Assuming that meant wine, I
took some, but it was something stronger. I looked up vino in the
dictionary, and wine it was, but this was strong, sweet, unpalatable
and not wine.

An exchange of gifts followed. Between the lot of them they gave
me some Byelorussian towelly things, a box of Minsk biscuits
(probably gross) and a lovely Perestroika watch. I was delighted -
and felt that my return gifts were rather inadequate. All of us
except Mum then went to the park for a stroll. I was wrapped up in a
bright yellow scarf to protect my still silent vocal chords.

On the way in we met Rhian, Elinor and their partners. Rhian has
also been ill, so she claims, and has slept for sixteen hours since
last night apparently. She has been living it up a bit, though, and
probably had much sleep to catch up with. By now she was awake
enough to laugh at my scarf.

This was the park we had been to before, with Anya, only this
time it was busier. We strayed from the main path to visit the
city's botanical gardens. It's odd how a seemingly endless concrete
jungle can harbour a large pocket of greenery with each environment
nearly invisible from the other. Here I got a photo of the lot of
them together. Hooray!

We waited ages for a taxi. At five kopeks a kilometer it works
out cheaper in some cases than a trolleybus. The family stopped for
a while in the flat before leaving. The three of them live in the
girl's parents' flat - all three of them in one room. This is the
kind of thing we have been shielded from, I think.

Ons revelation I have had today was brought on by a conversation.
Just as Thatcher's is a rich man's government, so, by Soviet
standards, is Gorbachev's. Apparently, Russia does fine under him,
whilst other republics have to cope with food shortages the like of
which have not been seen since the war. How biased these facts are
I don't know. I certainly don't know enough about the situation to
have an opinion, though such a big country can't function well,
surely.

8.20 pm: Aaaaarqhi. Thatcher's just appeared on the TV news. I
thought that here at least I could escape. My fingers sufficed as a
makeshift crucifix.
Monday 3rd September 1990
Today we had to be in school by nine. Usually, Marina's school starts
at eight. Quite why my presence exempts her from this I don't know. As
we headed for the school gates, our numbers grew (OK so we came
across Sarah and Slava). We ended up in a room barely large enough
for the lot of us. Owain likened it to a headmaster's office, and
suggested that we were there for a ticking off.

The Russians went off to lessons, whilst we were shown around
the school. What did we learn? The chemistry students don't have gas
- they use spirit burners. No boys want to do home economics. We all
gathered in the hall for a chat with the head. One of his best
traits is that he will rabbit on, then pause for just long enough
for Irena to start translating, then interrupt her to continue.

Rhys asked if the head thought that it would bs preferable to
teach in a democracy. He had previously asked a maths teacher if she
thought communist dogma made balanced history teaching difficult.
She replied that thi.s was why she preferred maths.

We then joined our partners in their lessons. The first lesson
was boring, but I noticed that the Russian kids are just like us -
they have mastered the art of passing notes around unnoticed. For
the second lesson, I joined Sharon at a desk at the back of the
class. We started to write out the words to songs which the Russians
liked. Surprising what fun you can have with a piece of paper and a
pen.

Afterwards, we were to meet by the food hall for lunch at one.
Lunch didn't materialise until nearly half past, but when it came it
was eatable. Tepid, but eatable. Then, we went home.

I refused more dinner, obviously, but Mum forced some watermelon
upon me. I sat down to reflect on what had been going on. This is,
of course, a literary device, to tell you about those little things
that have been happening in the background. When we came over Rhys'
intended partner was unable to have him as there had been a death in
the family. Ceri's family have put him up instead. Other thoughts
running through my head? Ah yes. Why do we never buy watermelon at
home? They're really tasty.

Marina and I went into the city centre to go shopping with her
brother. I searched for gifts. Ruth already had her candle, and
Mamgu her brooch. Mum was easily catered for by a basket from a nice
ethnic shop. (Correction. No shop utilising the Russian awkward
system can be called "nice"). Tadcu and Dad proved to be impossible
to buy for. We decided to go on to a different part of town. On the
way we encountered a load of our gang, and we strolled around with
them for a while. Eventually Marina's brother had to go, but we
stayed with the pack. Passing a bookshop we went in. On the face of
it this seems a pretty thick idea for a load of non Russian
speakers, but here I got a nice picture calendar for Tadcu and a map
of the USSR for Dad. Rather embarassingly this came to under three
roubles. Outside the shop a cute little kid offered us some
postcards worth under a rouble, for a dollar! Laughable. We told him to
get lost, despite his cuteness. The sad thing is that he probably
has someone putting him up to it - a "pimp" if you like - and he would
only get a fraction of the full profit. We then went home.

I've just seen something really daft on TV - how many Soviet
citizens will gain anything from watching a Qantas airlines advert?
I stayed at home tonight as it was too cold to go to the lake.
Tuesday 4th September 1990
Today's treat was to be the state farm. It was bitterly cold when
we left the house, and raining, It struck me that despite the food
and clothing shortages, everyone had a spring loaded umbrella. How
many do you see in Britain? It must be a communist ploy to keep the
masses happy.

At the farm we were first shown into a large hall with a staqe
at one end. The head of the local communist party was there, it
seems, along with a trade union leader and the boss of the farm. The
farm was owned and run by the state, with the workers living there
under salary. After what was basically a checklist of the farm's
size, its livestock count and so on, we were introduced to the
farm's leisure, activities organiser. His big thing was traditional
music, and he led a band based on the farm. This band was apparently
quite famous. He showed us, a vast array of Byelorussian
instruments ranging from a pipe shaped thing from a single piece of
rush to an accordion, and including a Jew's harp, a hurdy gurdy and
an alpenhorn along the way.

Next, we were shown the school for the workers' kids. Some very
young kids sang us some songs from "Clap a Chan i Lenin" (modesty
obliges' me- to tell you that this really great joke is actually
Ceri's). They then danced us a little dancs which portrayed life
(boy meets girl; boy and girl kiss; girl scolds boy; couple split up
and find another partner each; repeat until fade). The witty teacher
said then that we were to join in. Fortunately nothing came of it.

Even in the nursery classrooms, where some of the children actually
slept, Lenin's stern portrait watched everything. Most of us, I
suspect, were searching for a subtle and tactful way to ask about
this. At last Alistair cracked it. "Do the children love Lenin?" he
asked. "Yes, I think so?" was the reply - the kids are taught his
lifestory in school as we are taught Christ's. The run up to
October to them is as important as the Advent to a British
Christian.

They didn't seem overly keen to show us the farm, possibly, to
be fair, because of the horrid weather. They showed us a hole in the
ground which we gathered was a disco. As we got back onto the bus,
Ceri said to Sergei his partner, "So on your farm you grow children?
yes?"

We returned home for lunch. At around three, Marina asked if I
wanted to go to Natasha's house, Natasha being Trystan's partner.
Rather than stay in the house all afternoon and evening, I accepted.

We took the trolleybus there, and had to wait in the rain (with
an umbrella, mind you) until, the two Natashas (Alistair's partner
too, y'see) came to show us to the flat. The two boys had gone to
the Beryozka in search of some Western food, but turned up seconds
after us. One of the Natashas suggested a game of lotto (meaning
bingo). Apparently, if Alistair is to be beliaved, she had won five
games running the previous night, so it was no great surprise when
he caught her cheating. She went off to sulk.

The two Natashas it seems, are always childish and giggly together -
Alistair's being the more annoying. Marina, normally so well
behaved and sensible, became just like them, and Alistair suggested
that if they didn't start to behave quite soon we should announce
that we were going out for a walk - just for the sake of seeing
their faces. Surprisingly, they didn't bat an eyelid at the
prospect. We wandered around a bit in the light rain.

On the way I realised what a tip the place is. In the sun when
we first cams, anywhere would have saemed alright. Now in the rain
the place appears to be a real dump. I suddenly found myseif dying
for a nice four bedroomed detached house with Peruvian ornaments and
a decent TV (oh yes, and proper three pin sockets and switches). One
can fight off the depression caused by a three room flat when it's
sunny, but now... the place has no colour. The rain runs through
the manifold cracks in the pavement. Whoever built the roads didn't
have the common sense to make them convex, so there are enormous
puddles in them, which can only disappear with evaporation.
Numerous non-tarmacked bits leak muddy water. The place is thus a
hellhole. Also we have seen deeper into the system. All is not the
socialist paradise we saw at first. Some people have "blat" - roughly
translated as "influence", but something more - knowing the right
people, having the ability to exchange a favour for a favour.
Ceri's lot have it. They have given him gifts that the average
citisen couldn't buy. Sarah's lot certainly have a lot of it. If a
youth wants to avoid national service, he must get into an
educational institute. This involves being a member of the Young
Communists, and having lots of family blat. Of course, some academic
skills help too.

On returning. to the flat, we didn't find the girls. Natasha's
dad greeted us, and we had a game of cards while we waited for them
to get back from their walk. The cards were very tattered, and as we
played on we realised that the various denominations had tears in
exactly the same places! More girly silliness occured when the
lasses returned, accompanied by some really dire Russian pop music.
I don't like to judge too hastily, but this lot all sound like the
London Boys only worse. Yuk!

I had a nice little chat with Alistair about comics - he likes
Marvel and DC stuff.. Trystan was initiated with a 2000AD summer
special - not the best introduction to comics compared to, say, Tank
Girl or a Slaine graphic novel. Never mind, an old Nemesis the
Warlock story had to do as an example of a high quality comic.

The whole lot of us then boarded a trolleybus (henceforth called
"odourbus") as far as Marina's stop. We went home. Lord knows what
the other four did then.

It's late and tomorrow we go to the Second World War museum. G'night
all.
Wednesday 5th September 1990
Marina's first exciting task for the day was to get me to the war
museum by eleven - something Slava failed to do for Sarah. The war
museum was good, excellent in fact. It gave a real feeling of WWII's
horrors, without the jingoistic "hooray we beat the Huns!" attitude
of British war museums. There were reconstructions of death cells
and concentration camps. We were told of the way corpses in
concentration camps were layered up with logs, then the whole lot
set alight. Perhaps a little too gory was the inclusion of a bowl of
human ashes in the exhibits.

I forget the guide's name, but as you've probably guessed, she
was called Max. Her accent was interesting in the extreme. It was as
if she thought that to sound English you must make every sentence
sound sardonic. She was extremely well versed in the tales of many
of the heroes whose photographs adorned the walls. They were all
ordinary people who had done extremely brave things, and had been
awarded the title "Hero of the Soviet Union" often posthumously. We
were told of one man who as a matter of course, rammed enemy planes
with his own when he had run out of ammunition. He had died on his
fifth attempt at this. Another story was of three women who had
planted a time bomb under a Nazi general's bed - they're still alive
and living in Moscow and Minsk. The youngest Hero of the Soviet
Union was fifteen when he died. He was surrounded by SS officers,
but rather than go to a concentration camp, he detonated a grenade
in his hand, taking nine SS men with him.

I have decided that I approve of the Soviet way of remembering
war. Heroism is deservedly remembered, but so too is individual
human suffering. None of the horrid goriness is forgotten either. I
can't imagine anyone rushing into a war having seen this, Khatyn or
the Mound of Glory. I would advise Thatcher, Bush, Saddam Hussein
and several personal acquaintances to go and visit these places, if
they possibly can.

The only disappointment was that no postcards were available,
only a thick book of text with a few pictures in the middle.

Rhian missed all this as she is obviously overtired. I still don't
believe that she's ill, at least, she's not, as ill as I have been.
When woken this morning the pathetic creature opted for a lie-in. A
shame really, because although it was mostly boring, there were
parts of our next destination that she would have loved. It was an
art gallery. Olga, our guide, was an arty tea-towel-in-the-hair-type,
just like the girl in the Ariel liquid advert who says "len'el
cassarewl?" and she was called Max. The paintings were all
classical ones. They were very good, but in a classical sort of way
- very formal and often lifeless. Some were excellent, though, and
the life of the subjects really shone, through. Bleddyn hated it,
though.

We were told that we must meet tomorrow at eleven in the morning
in the school hall, and that we must tell our partners as they
didn't yet know. Whilst waiting for the odourbus home, I did tell
Marina. "No," she said, "tomorrow we go to ths shops." No matter
what I said, she would not believe me. Never mind, there's a disco
at half past six, in the fridge factory. Someone there can back me
up.

The disco promises to be really crap, judging by the quality of
music on Soviet radio. Yesterday, I think I told you about the
Natashas' fave music. Euch! I'll report on the disco straight after
it.

10.30 : At the fridge factory, I met Ceri, Julian and loads of
the others. I asked Rhys (while Sioned sat on his lap) who he had
his eyes on for the evening (Boom boom!) and after a bit of merry
banter we went into the dancefloor room. Our eyes goggled at the
tables of drinks, sweets and artificial-cream cakes. In a disco??
How particularly odd.

The music was poor, for the most part, and some Russian bloke
"rapped" over it. The volume made up for it. Anything by Depeche
Mode freaked us all out, as did "Blue Monday". I shan't go into all
the dancefloor intrigue, I mean life's too short isn't it. I shall,
however, tell you what was odd about the disco. Firstly, the fast,
dancey tracks were periodically interrupted by slowies. Secondly,
after an hour or so, the music stopped for a ten minute break, A ten
minute break? In a disco? Blow this, we thought, and burst into song
as only the Welsh know how. We sang all the songs we knew they
liked, along with the old Dairylea advert ("My tummy says it's time
for tea...") and were cut off halfway through "You do the Shake 'n'
Vac..." by the disco restarting.

Despite ths annoying slowies in the middle, there was nothing so
civilized as a last dance. Irena Pavlova gave a long speech which
translated into a command for us all to go straight home and not
dilly dally on the way.

An interesting evening to say the least. Nothing quite like a
naff disco. Goodnight.
Thursday 6th September 1990
Eleven o'clock found me not at the school hall1, where I was supposed
to be, but rushing towards it hot on Marina's heels. What exciting
things were there? Let me explain. Tomorrow morning, marking our
departure, there is going to be a concert. We are expected to do a
couple of turns. Now, anyone organised would have got the thing
sorted before leaving British soil, but not us. We're far too
relaxed and easy going. No bad thing, to be honest. This morning
was the first time we gave the matter any thought.

'Steddfod types such as Sioned and Elinor flatly refused to perform
solo, but although Sarah received an almighty great elbow in the
stomach for suggesting I play guitar, I hesitantly agreed, on the
condition that someone sang with me. Elinor and Rhian agreed to be
taught "This Charming Man". I asked Max (remember, the English
speaking teacher who's not Irena Pavlova) if there was a guitar
available, and by the time Dima turned up with one we had
unanimously agreed on "Yesterday" instead. Sharon and Emma joined
in, and Dima showed me the chords. It'll do. Meanwhile, the others
were practising "Calon Lan", "Gwin Beaujolais" and "Daw Hyfryd
Fis...". Wow!

Afterwards a taxi load went on a tour of the city's shops. Who,
I didn't notice. Elinor and Sharon were dragged off to record some
reading, as a teaching aid - an example of how English should be
spoken. Elinor?!? I have this waking nightmare of hundreds of little
Russians speaking English in a heavy Welsh farmer accent.

Dima let me borrow the guitar overnight to practice, and Marina
and I went home. Tomorrow afternoon is meant for packing, but I did
it today, and plan to shop tomorrow afternoon, ridding myself of
remaining roubles. At about four, we went to the Palace of Arts
where there was an exhibition of paintings and other works of art to
celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Scarina - a
Byelorussian philosopher, poet and printer.

Of course, not everything was good, but much of the work was truly
excellent, and very refreshing, after yesterday's old-fogey
paintings. Had there been an auction of the work, and had we had
enough money, Rhian and I would have pushed ths prices sky-high by
bidding against each other (we're not mature enough to work out some
deal between us... especially Rhian). One particular painting,
taking up three large canvasses, really caught my eye. I can't begin
to describe it, but Loshi told me it was called "Personal Jesus". It
was so colourful
and striking and detailed, and Rhian said that she'd be prepared to
build a house designed to accommodate it. She, like me, was
horrified by the absence of any prints or postcards of the work. We
were each given a calendar poster, but not a very good one.

At half past six, we were at the state circus. The big top was a
permanent building - the circus does not tour. The circus was
alright, though very boring in parts. The best bit for me, I must
admit, was the troupe of very attractive and talented dancing girls.
They drummed, they juggled and played with spinning thinqs, their
mouths ever-smiling, and their legs ever-looking-leggy. The trapeze,
too, was good - especially when lit only by a strobe. The clowns,
however were totally naff. Far funnier was the woman with the
birds. She did a little act which involved dancing around with
various birds in tow. She came on bearing a swan, which relieved its
bowels onto her leg - she had to go through the whole routine
grinning, with the brown stain running dawn her tights.

The best bit, however, was the interval. Through a doorway opposite
our seats, leading from the opposite seats to a corridor, we saw
two lovers entwined. Realisation ebbed over our consciousness,
saying "Oi folks, it's Rhys and Sioned!". In their search for a
secluded corner, they had found probably the most open place there,
barring the centre of the ring. Personally, I think they did it
deliberately, just to show off.

After the circus we all wandered around town a little, for no
apparent reason, before taking the odourbus home. Goodnight again.

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