There were 19 of us boys and two staff, Mr Hughes and Mr Smithers. I will not go through all the boys, mentioning just a few. One was Jonathan Williams from Torquay known to everybody as Yogi Williams. I do not remember which house he was in, except it wasn’t Farfield. He was a big, bluff rather jolly boy, about a year older than me, and was named after Yogi Bear, who he resembled to some extent. My two closest friends, boys of my age and from my boarding house were Jeremy Falkus of Chingford in north-east London and Bill Wragge of Prestbury in Cheshire. So you can see we were not all East Anglians by any means.
The trip began on Thursday, April 1st, 9.45 a.m., Victoria Station for the train to Dover for the ferry to Belgium. At Ostend we got on a train as far as Cologne, where we spent the first evening. We got on the next train at midnight and spent the night in couchettes, six to a compartment and surprisingly comfortable. As you can tell from what is written below, the German economic miracle was already well underway 20 years after the war. No only was Germany much more vibrant than Communist Europe, it also put Britain in the shade. This was West Germany of course; East Germany was a Stalinist state, and I think even more bleak than Czechoslovakia or Hungary, who at least made some attempt to entertain tourists.
This was three years before the Prague Spring , when Alexander Dubček made a doomed attempt to break free of the Communists shackles. I was listening to Radio One on the 20th August 1968 when the Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia. At the time I was quite a fan of the DJ JOHN PEEL and I listened to him waiting for him to mention the awful goings on in Prague. He never said a word about it, and when somebody else took him to task for this glaring omission he weakly said “I didn’t think we were allowed to mention it.” This craven attitude ended my admiration for John Peel and I never listened to him again as long as he lived.
The following was written at the time, Easter 1965 when I was just 16 years old.
Just before I got off the train I put my history book in my case. When I got off I could not find my identity card (panic), but discovered later that I had left it in my history book!
Köln [Cologne] is a lovely city with clean streets. Over here all the streets seem to be made of granite sets. All the shops are new & post-bombing; all the lights are bright, none had gone out and nowhere was dingey. There were lovely things to buy in the windows.
We had good meal at the buffet (more of a restaurant, one is served at table). There are men working digging up the road in what seems like the middle of the night – 9 o’clock in the evening anyway. Never get that in England.
We left Köln at 12 mid-night.
Odd things in Prague
The man who sold me a postcard spoke English with a good accent. He guessed I was English before I had said little more than a word. In a gramophone shop the records were of Czech orchestras but the sleeves were in English. Then, in a magazine I bought the contents were written in 3 languages – one of them English. It was a magazine printed in Prague as well.
The ice cream here is cheaper (slightly) than ours (about 7d), and much nicer. [P.S. I subsequently went off Czech ice cream.] The majority of the food is savoury, which is horrible, and the minority is sweet, which is lovely. 3/6d = cost of bath.
In Prague I saw a Rank organisation lorry, and a Volkswagen belonging to Marley Tiles.
The people in Czechoslovakia are on the whole good looking and fairly cheerful. The city of Prague is old, ornate but fairly poor and dirty with plaster and paint flaking off the walls. They are a musical people. The traffic lights are policeman controlled from kiosks. The small lights are for pedestrians. The main policemen carry revolvers but there are so many of them that they can afford to do such things as leading a blind man about.
Most trains are steam, contributing to the dirty mess of the city. There is a lot of peeling plaster and old paint in Prague, but the architecture of the town cente is mostly grand, of former centuries. The smells are all of petrol, dust and food. The people are apparently very musical, you see them carrying guitars and double basses all over the place. At least a quarter of the male population must be in the army or the police, but they do not look as formidable as the German police, who wear those nasty high peaked hats. There are hundreds of trams.
The horse is still the main method of transport in the countryside. The railway is very popular, both narrow gauge and standard gauge with steam engines much in evidence. Very old looking steam engines but some of the narrow gauge lines are electrified. I would have liked to take photos of the old engines but you are not allowed use your camera at airports, railway stations etc. There is a lot of industry, but primitive. Nearly all the roads in European towns (West and East) are paved with granite sets.
The biggest cathedral in Hungary is at Estergom, a small town near the Danube bend. There are still bullet holes in the windows from the war. Houses, especially in Buda, show signs of bullets etc. In the Fine Arts Gallery I saw paintings by Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Utrillo, Gaugin, Toulouse Lautrec, Cezanne, Hogarth, Reynolds, Constable, Gainsborough, Canaletto and Tintoretto. We also went to the zoo.
Some Hungarian prices; a picture of The Beatles in a plastic frame, 15 forints, a cigarette case 20 ft, a dish towel 30 ft, a mouth organ 40 ft. An electric train set was 210 ft. Prices seem much higher in Hungary than in Czechoslovakia.
POSTCARD FROM AUSTRIA
Dear Mummy and Daddie,
Thanks for your lettercard. Vienna is a pretty good city, but the cultural side is ridiculous. All the seats for an opera are sold out before the programme is published, so you don’t know what you are going to! It is a change to be able to buy an English paper that isn’t a 5 days old Daily Worker! Things aren’t so expensive here as in Hungary.
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