Sunday, 22 April 2007

Soviet submarine

This is the boat, originally called "Б-396", then renamed "Новосибирскый Комсомолец" (Novosibirsky Komsomolets). It is moored on the Tushino bank of the Khimki reservoir, on the Moscow-Volga canal. It has been jacked up on piles to expose the propellers to view. Notice the St Andrew's cross on the stern. This was the pre-Revolutionary Russian Naval ensign, and is the post-Soviet one too. Other boats will shortly be joining the exhibition. The entrance is 150 roubles (£3). The very friendly and knowledgeable guide speaks Russian only. It can be reached by a half-mile walk from Metro station Сходненская.

Soviet submarine

This is the exhibition room in the centre of the submarine. Although a lot of the equipment has been taken out, there is still a lot to see. The boat was designed in the 1970s by theRubin bureau, which also designed the Kursk and many other Soviet submarines.. It was built in Nizhni Novgorod and served in the Northern Fleet, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean as a hunter-killer (as we would call it) from 1980-1998. It was armed with six torpedoes, and displaced 3,000 tons.

Soviet submarine

The display is informative. Having been aboard HMS Vanguard, one of Britain's Trident submarines, the comparison was interesting, mainly for the similarities. Both boats looked cramped, old-fashioned yet hi-tech for their day. One big difference was that this was an entirely Soviet product, whereas the whole missile section of the Vanguard is controlled from America. The result was that the crew were not authorised to give me permission to photograph there, even though there were only blank missile-tube walls to be seen. Of course, the chances of getting aboard a Russian submarine on active service, even without a camera, would be nil.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Philby's grave

This is Kim Philby's grave in the military part of the cemetery at Kuntsevo, in the western suburbs of Moscow. Though it is in the suburbs today, a long way from the edge of town, it is five miles further out than Stalin's "Nearby" dacha, which was also at Kuntsevo, and built in 1934 in the countryside. Though intact, that cannot be visited--sadly.

The graves in the cemetery are arranged in date order of burial, so Philby is next to generals and admirals who died in the last years of the Soviet Union. They almost all have flabby-looking, uninteresting faces, unlike the older communists who were often lean and lively-looking. Philby stands out in this company as very much an individual amongst rows and rows of very similar-looking men (though, in fairness, that is partly due to the habit of stylised posing for something as formal as a photograph which would later be etched onto the gravestone).

Philby's headstone

Click on this picture to enlarge it. Do you, as I do, detect a disappointed man? He wrote in My Silent War (1968 -- I do not have the book here in Moscow so I am quoting from memory) that in 1932 he left Cambridge "with a degree and a conviction that my life should be devoted to Communism. I have long since lost the degree, indeed I think it is in the possession of MI5, but I have retained the conviction." When faced with the aberrations of individuals, he was forced to chose whether to abandon his faith and "become a querulous outcast of the Koestler, Muggeridge, Crankshaw variety, railing against the god that had failed me, or to stay the course. I stayed the course. Now as I look out of my study window in Moscow, I see all around me the solid foundations of the future I first glimpsed at Cambridge over thirty years ago."

What, I have wondered many times, when seeing Ferraris and Bentleys racing black Porsches and Hummers round the Kremlin and up Tverskoy Street--no longer Gorky Street--would Philby have thought if he had lived just a few years longer?


This is Kolomenskoe's operational Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan, built in 1644 by Tsar Alexei in memory of the war against the Poles during the Time of Troubles. Inside the elderly ladies who bustle about keeping everything in order provide the best reminder in modern, post-Soviet Russia of the world and attitudes of the USSR. When we were there the vestibule was thronged with other old ladies selling budding willow cuttings which people buy as symbols of spring.

Kolomenskoe: part of the museum

Part of the old monastery at Kolomenskoe. The churches are still operating, but the rest is a museum and public park. On display is the wooden hut in which Peter the Great lived when he first spent time at Archangelsk overseeing construction of the fort there, before St Petersburg was founded. There is also a massive orchard, plus archaeological diggings. We saw people giving a concert of what could only be described as flat bells. They were pieces of metal hanging from frames which were tapped with felt-covered sticks, much as one would a xylophone. It was a very beautiful sound and carried a long way in the crisp air.

Kolomenskoe: first day out with the new camera

Just to get started: a view of Moscow from the heights at Kolomenskoe, to the south of the city. The Moscow River flows between the photographer and his subject. It was a sunny but chilly afternoon at the beginning of April. Nonetheless an enormous number of people were out strolling on the first weekend after the snow had melted (very early this year).

For some reason this item has come in after the previous two, when I intended it to be first. Anyway...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

In the beginning...

This is the first entry in an impulse creation, a blog designed so that my family, any friends who might be interested and anyone else curious about Russia at a first-hand, sub-headline level can, as it were, follow me and my nw digital camera round this fascinating country. While looking up "civil jury trials in Scotland" on the internet, I found a blog from an Edinburgh advocate and at the side there was a logo which implied that by clicking on it, a blog could be created. It seemed so easy, that I decided to try. I have no idea what I will end up writing, or whether I will continue to write after the first burst of enthusiasm. But why not give it a go?

I should add that I really ought to be writing my book (The Justice Factory) instead of doing this, but, well, if I can't skive off two thousand miles from the Birlinn editorial suite then where can I? I should possibly also add that this is a five-year old photograph, the only one on hand. But it is a way of saying, "Hi!" So here we go... And it really is easy.