My father, Joseph, was born in Russia. As he came to England when he was no more than 2 years old he has no memories of his time in Russia having grown up in a Jewish family in Liverpool.
His father had died of TB when still in his twenties. My great uncle paid for his sister to come over to England, where he bought her a shop and also found a second husband for her.
Unfortunately, my father did not get on with his stepfather, so he emigrated on his own to work on a farm in Canada – an amazing thing for a city boy of only 14 years to do – as he had never even set foot on a farm.
In 1935, he returned to visit his mother, my grandmother. She found him a wife here, my mother, Hilda, and he never returned to Canada to the woman he had planned to marry.
Whilst in Canada he had become a cheese maker and tried to find the same work back here in the UK, but when his employers learned that he was Jewish, he was sacked. He then found work in a power station. My mother worked as a shop assistant.
I have a brother five years older than me, who still lives in Liverpool.
When I was 5 years old, I started at a Jewish Primary School and began learning ancient Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. This may have been what started my interest in foreign languages. Later, I moved on to the Liverpool Institute, a grammar school, and one of my fellow pupils was Paul McCartney. So, I can honestly claim I went to school with him. I have a photograph of us both (along with 500 other boys) to prove it!!
I have been very grateful to Joseph Stalin for dying in 1953. When that happened, it was thought we could now become friends with the Soviet Union, so the school began to teach Russian and I was one of the first group of students to learn the language.
Later, I went to Liverpool University and took a Degree Cours and followed this by taking a PhD at the new University of Essex. After which I got a lectureship teaching Russian Language and Linguistics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
My first trip to Russia was in 1965. At that time, during the ‘Cold War’, it was very difficult for University Students to go there. I was chosen to go on a course as part of the Anglo-Russian Cultural Agreement made between our two Governments”. I spent two weeks in Moscow and two weeks in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
At that time, whilst you were in the Soviet Union, you were cut off from the rest of the world. There were no Western goods for sale in the shops. No foreign news was broadcast as they blocked the BBC World News. And the Internet was not yet available.
Three years later I went back to Russia. As part of my PhD research, I was taking part in a Russian Language project, looking into its structure. Together with a colleague, I went with a tape recorder to record both lecturers and students. We were very lucky as it was unusual to be given permission to do something like this, so we were treated with some suspicion. Luckily, we managed to make most of the recordings we wanted until we got to the Arts Faculty. The Dean would not allow us record his students.
Later, I found out that there had been problems with some students not towing the party line!
One event in particular I will never forget. I was in the Lenin Library (the equivalent of our British Library), in the old part housed in what had been the palace of a prince before the 1917 Revolution. The catalogue room was a grand marble hall. Whilst I was looking up a reference I heard my name echoing round the walls. To my surprise and delight, the voice belonged to Natasha, the teacher who had organised my course in Moscow in 1965.
I have kept in touch with her ever since and have also become good friends with her husband. They live in Central Moscow and when I visit Moscow, I am always welcome to stay with them.
It was in 1970 that I met my wife Julia, and the following year we were married. We had two daughters, both now happily married, and there are now 4 grandchildren, 3 boys and 1 girl, ranging in age from 8 to 13
One of the first things we did after we married was to get a dog. I have never been without one – or two – since then. They are great friends and I have had many dog adventures. But I think I will tell you about those – as well as my other adventures in Russia – in the second part of my profile. So look out for them in next month’s ‘Pump’.