The words and deeds of Russia and her leader have dominated the news over the course of the last two weeks. To judge from the tone and content of most of what I’ve read in the media, many senior figures in the West are taking an extremely dim view of every Russian announcement and action, in Syria and elsewhere, but I find it nigh-on impossible to decide where the truth lies, so complex are the many issues being aired by East and West.
I consider myself fortunate inasmuch as I don’t have the burden of having to make decisions on these matters, so I read the various conflicting points of view, ponder them, then effectively sit back as events continue to unfold. However, any mention of Russia immediately takes me back in time a quarter of a century to when I visited this vast country in August 1990, while it is simply the truth to say that the memory of this brief period in my life never fails to make me yearn to relive it, in what I presume is some Russian-tinged version of the Welsh hiraeth.
Very briefly, 1990 was the third consecutive year in which I worked on what was then the world’s only touring mediaeval jousting tournament. My work took me to the city of Leningrad in August 1990, where we performed in an 89,000 seat stadium that had been constructed for an Olympic games, in front of huge crowds for 10 nights; the whole experience, for a multitude of reasons, made it one of the most enjoyable and certainly the most exhilarating time of my life.
Travelling and performing across Europe, Scandinavia and Russia proved to be exhausting, even though I was a lot younger then, so when the season finished and my mind was reeling with memories of my time in Russia, I took a fortnight’s holiday on the Greek island of Poros. To my absolute amazement, the first thing I discovered on a tour around the island, at a place called Russian Bay, was a full-sized replica of an ancient Greek trireme named – in Cyrillic letters on the prow – the Eevlya, with two sailors from Odessa functioning as the crew during a break in its travels around the Aegean Sea.
I ended up spending most of my holiday on board this stunning vision from ancient times, courtesy of my two new Ukrainian friends who were delighted to hear their language unexpectedly spoken to them in a foreign land, albeit a none too fluent version of their mother tongue. I can still vividly recall my time in Leningrad, where I was treated with the utmost kindness by everyone I encountered, while I can remember a reasonable amount of a very drunken and relaxed holiday that I never dreamed I would take, like Odysseus on board a trireme in Greece that had been constructed in a naval dockyard in Odessa.
Somewhere here in the depths of my study, I still have photographs of my visit to what was then Leningrad, as well as a separate folder of photos of my time on board the Eevlya with Juri and Vassiley on the shores of a sun-blessed Greek island. Both experiences were unique and incredibly gratifying, so it’s high time I recorded in writing and photos my memories of my time in Rasputin’s one-time domain and of spending a fortnight aboard a trireme in Greece; if nothing else, it’ll be far more illuminating and enjoyable for everyone concerned than composing heated polemics about computers and the internet.
The photo at the top of this post shows me on the right, as William of Pembroke, the Earl Marshall, just outside the aforementioned stadium in Leningrad in 1990. On the left of the photo is my friend Konstantin, who helped us all out immeasurably by donning some armour and appearing in our tournament, while he was the only many I’ve ever met who could straighten out an iron horseshoe with his bare hands.