SANTA’S LITTLE HERETICS

SANTA MEETS THE CYNICS
It’s time to quote Charles Dickens again: “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveller back to his own fireside and quiet home!” Of course, back in Dickens’ day, if you were lucky, Yuletide was a goose, a pudding, a nip of gin and some cheap wooden presents for the kids. The enjoyment of the season was the thing; it was all about atmosphere.
How times have changed. Over the past 20 years I’ve spent my spare time during this season as both a professional and volunteer Santa Claus. Whereas it says something for welcome, innocent faith in Father Christmas for the younger kids, those in the 3 – 8 years age group, old Santa has to report that there’s a disappointing growth in cynicism from the older children. For example, at one of my appearances on an estate in Mansfield in early December, after posing for dozens of photos with toddlers and parents, I was accosted by a quartet of junior heretics who doubted my authenticity. “You’re not the real Santa,” moaned one. I asked him why he thought this. “Because you’re wearing a watch. And I looked up your sleeve and you’ve got a black shirt on.” Naturally I asked him, in that case how does Santa tell the time, and that he can wear whatever he likes under his robes. Then another kid suggested that my outfit wasn’t ‘furry enough’ and that if I lived at the North Pole, I’d freeze to death, and I was a fake. A third lad, probably about eleven, laid it on the line; “You’re a phoney. I don’t believe in Christmas, or Jesus and the three kings – it’s all crap. I prefer birthdays, because then I get money!” I said it was very sad not to let a little magic into your life, but he then stabbed me in the heart with “You know, mate, I feel sorry for you, dressing up like that. You’re the sad one, not me.” This seemed staggering contempt for one so young. At times like that, my Yuletide ‘Ho ho ho!’ evaporates.
Yet agnostics or not, they all told me in no uncertain terms what they wanted; X-Boxes, Laptops, I-phones, bikes, etc. To their credit, most of the little girls always seek simpler gifts; colouring books, dolls, Peppa Pig. The lesson I’ve learned as Santa is that despite the junior sceptics, donning the red robes keeps my own spirit alive, the warm memories of the past, those we have lost. It’s a small island in a sea of homelessness, food banks and greed. So let’s remember Dickens who said “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

A TOWN CALLED MALICE?

A TOWN CALLED MALICE?

June 28 2016 was a warm, sunny day in Mansfield. As I made my way through the market place I paused at a second hand book stall to browse. Feeling buoyant with the sun on my neck I made a genial comment to the middle aged couple running the stall.
“What a lovely day. It’s like being abroad.” The response threw me. The woman snapped back: “We don’t need any ‘abroad’ here!” Which was followed by words almost spat at me by her partner: “No, we don’t. We’ve taken our country back!” That vitriolic undercurrent, replete with an unprecedented aversion to what was once regarded as friendly colloquial banter, an element of British ‘character’ had, thanks to the referendum, undermined sociability like a parasite, and in subsequent months, it has burrowed ever deeper.
Mansfield, historically the centre of the ancient Sherwood Forest, can be a bitter town. In the referendum the leavers won with 39,927 votes, giving them a victorious 70.9%, whilst the despised remainers gained just 16,417 votes, a measly 29.1% . The town has a large population of eastern European immigrants. In the town centre there’s a Rumanian mini-market, a larger Polish shop and another specialising in Russian produce. The Poles have always been a feature here since the end of WW2, when many came over to work in the coal industry. My next door neighbours are Poles from that wartime influx, and even though their offspring were born in Mansfield, among themselves they still speak Polish. Across the street is a house rented by a large group of Latvians. All of these immigrants have steady jobs. There is a very small Muslim community representing only 0.5% of the population. In a 2011 Mansfield census on religions 61% claimed to be Christian, with 7,036 people claiming to have no religion. 266 people announced they were Jedi Knights and 4 people said their faith was in Heavy Metal.
Apart from a blip between 1922-23 when Sir Albert Bennett, a Tory masquerading as a Liberal, held a short tenure as MP, since 1918 Mansfield had been staunchly Labour. But in May 2017, thanks to Brexit, the town’s lurch to the right saw the demise of Labour’s Sir Alan Meale MP with the election of 29 year old Tory Brexiteer Ben Bradley, who claims to have been inspired to stand because of ‘David Cameron’s compassion.’ Surprisingly, UKIP, with only 2,654 votes to Bradley’s 23,392 did not make an impression. That ship had already sailed.
Yet the UKIP flavoured animosity which pervades here is just one current facet of a further confrontational bitterness which has its roots in the Miners’ Strike of 1984. There’s always been a lot to be angry about in Mansfield. At one time Nottinghamshire, with 42 collieries and 40,000 miners, was one of the most successful coalfields in Europe. When I moved to Mansfield in March 1987, there were 13 pits in the area. Today there are none. During the strike, this was one area where Arthur Scargill’s rolling thunder hit a brick wall. When the NUM called for a strike Nottinghamshire’s miners demanded a ballot which the union never carried out. Nottinghamshire miners were the breach in the NUM’s wall of national solidarity. Nowhere during the conflict did the term ‘scab’ have more meaning than it did here. Following the strike, a significant part of the Nottinghamshire NUM broke away, led by their own ‘Judas’, Roy Lynk, to form the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). Spurned by the TUC yet beloved by the victorious Tories, the UDM came to signify the area’s apparent penchant for working class betrayal. The National Archives contain recently released classified files of the UDM’s clandestine meetings with Margaret Thatcher. Roy Lynk even wrote to Thatcher, stating “In 1984 fate threw us together, and I have always comforted myself with the knowledge that the UDM has a friend in the Prime Minister.” For the NUM that was bad enough, yet it appears that the UDM even advised the government on limiting miners’ power, submitting ways to make them work longer hours underground, offering suggestions to weaken the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS), and in a privatised coal industry, how to minimise the impact of strikes. The UDM even recommended redundancies. Until relatively recently, when Mansfield Town or Nottingham Forest played certain teams, you’d still hear the chant of ‘Scabs! on the terraces. Even two decades after the strike its remaining social scars resulted in a murder in 2004 in nearby Annesley over crossing the picket lines during the dispute.
As for Thatcher’s pet ‘union’, the UDM, in the end it became obvious to the renegades they were due for the same pitiless treatment as the NUM. When Maggie’s naïve correspondent Roy Lynk, appalled at the pit closure plans, staged a week long sit-in down the Silverhill pit, many local miners said that if he hadn’t gone down the shaft they would have thrown him down anyway. For many ex-miners seeking compensation for various injuries, the UDM came across as lethargic in their support. This was hardly surprising when a subsequent chain of events revealed the misappropriation of millions in compensation funds by the union’s rogue solicitors, culminating in the imprisonment in April 2012 of the UDM’s president, Neil Greatrex, for the theft of almost £150,000 from an elderly miners’ charity.
Such bitterness has gestated down the years, morphing into a new target of disdain: Europe. Those ex-pitmen who have followed the demise of their industry will complain bitterly at the fact that the UK imported17.9 million tons of coal in 2016, a lot coming from Poland. Over 90 per cent of UK steam coal imports came from just three countries Russia, Colombia and the USA. To say foreigners are unpopular in Mansfield is an understatement. As one taxi driver commented to me recently, “Shopping in Tesco on a Friday night is like being in downtown Bratislava”. Following Labour’s defeat at the General Election, the editor of the town’s popular weekly newspaper, the Chad (Chesterfield Advertiser) Andy Done-Johnson, expressed his concerns in an editorial in July that post-Brexit Mansfield could possibly end up being regarded as ‘the most bigoted town in England’. He based his anxiety on the fact that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn had called on Theresa May to give her MPs a free vote in legislation which would benefit the lives of transgender people. However, a counterintuitive sarcastic response by Professor Steven Fielding of Nottingham University’s politics department, “That’ll win back Mansfield” laid bare the growing liberal disdain for the town.
Mansfield’s defection to the Tories came about for two reasons. One was the somewhat lacklustre campaign by Labour’s Sir Alan Meale. It is well known that during his 30 year hold on the seat, Meale spent a lot of time commuting between Westminster and Brussels. Having always won comfortably in elections since 1987 Meale probably thought his 2017 victory was a given. This did not go down well with the Mansfield electorate as they digested a daily anti-immigrant UKIP diet of news from the ‘evil’ EU against which they had voted in such numbers to leave. With the perceived EU fence-sitting by Corbyn’s Labour, Mansfield voters rallied behind what they regarded as Theresa May’s more robust ‘Brexit at any cost’ campaign.
Mansfield’s District Council, with an elected Executive Mayor, is also the brunt of much dissatisfied grumbling. At one time, standing as a Tory in this town was political suicide, so right-thinking candidates for council election found an alternative niche between Labour and Tory – they called it The Independent Forum. This business-based challenge overturned decades of Labour rule. Yet the current Mayor, Councillor Kate Allsop, has been challenged by the only real Conservative on Mansfield District Council, Councillor Stephen Harvey. He is angry at the council’s £24 million pound investment in property, which stretches from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London. This includes a Travelodge in Doncaster, brought for £5 million in June 2015, and another in Edinburgh for £7.98m, the Glasgow Volkswagen Van Centre, £2.98m as well as other multi-million pound properties out of the area, including a 2017 London residential investment of £6.23m. Despite concerns about a country with Human Rights issues, Mansfield has also put £7m into the biggest bank in the United Arab Emirates, First Abu Dhabi Bank. However, local leisure centres, such as the one at Warsop, are to close due to lack of investment. Defending these investments, councillors will remind grumblers that money from central government for the council has dropped from £10.3 million in 2011 to £5.4 million today, and that by 2020 there will be no money at all for local councils from Westminster. Thus councillors face a learning curve as property investors and trainee venture capitalists hoping for a sizeable return.
How ‘taking our country back’ will pan out in Mansfield after the drawbridge is raised in 2019 remains to be seen. It is easy to see why the hated, mythical ‘Liberal Metropolitan Elite’ would regard the town’s 40,000 over amplified Euro sceptics as some mass movement of bigotry. Yet every township has its redeeming cultural factors, past and present. Alternative comedians such as Andy Parsons and Rich Hall both sold out at the town’s Palace Theatre. Mansfield produced one of the world’s greatest classical pianists, John Ogdon – and even Alvin Stardust was a Mansfield lad. We have our own Olympic Gold Medallist swimming star, Rebecca Adlington, and an internationally famous girls’ choir, Cantamus. There’s the constantly good humoured and entertaining battle between Mansfield and Yorkshire to keep Robin Hood as our local hero, and this also is the home of Robert Dodsley (1704 –1764) playwright, bookseller, poet, and miscellaneous writer. His premises still stand next door to the Brown Cow pub on Ratcliffe Gate. Few people realise that Mansfield is the birthplace of the Quaker religion. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker Movement, lived as a shoemaker in Mansfield and began to establish the religion in 1647. The site of Mansfield’s award-winning new bus station is located on the site of where the Old Quaker Meeting House and burial ground once stood.
In the final analysis, it’s too early and perhaps unfair to label this bustling East Midlands town as bigoted. Yet the next time the sun shines and I’m browsing at the book stall on the market, I shall keep my mouth shut. As the lady said; “We don’t need any ‘abroad’ here…”

 

sources
BSA: Racial Prejudice by Region https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/may/27/-sp-racism-on-rise-in-britain
http://www.chad.co.uk/news/comment-why-mansfield-shouldn-t-be-tagged-the-most-bigoted-town-in-britain-1-8663179
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/udm-told-ministers-how-to-cut-miners-power-1563452.html
Coal statistics http://www.coalimp.org.uk
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-faec-The-blackleg-miners-powerful-friend-at-No-10-Downing-Street#.Wfy4y7p2vIU

 

RED KNIGHTS: a play for radio

 

 

Red Knights

A play for radio
By
Roy Bainton

©Roy Bainton 2014

SCENE 1:

NOVEMBER 10 1989: WITH HIS GRANDAUGHTER SVETLANA,IN THEIR LENINGRAD APARTMENT, 89 YEAR OLD IVAN BORCHOV WATCHES A NEWSCAST ON TV. IT HAS THE BACKGROUND NOISE OF CROWDS CHEERING.

NEWS REPORTER Here in Berlin, it seems that this is an unstoppable event. The Berlin Wall has been breached. Thousands of East Germans are now being re-united with their West Berlin relatives. Even the soldiers and guards of our own forces are helping in the destruction of the wall. This could be simply the end of an era for us in the USSR, yet it may well signify something more cataclysmic.

THE TV IS SWITCHED OFF. A CLOCK TICKS IN THE BACKGROUND AND IVAN SIGHS.

SVENTLANA: What’s the matter, Grandpa? You’ve turned the TV off. You’re always watching television. What’s wrong?

IVAN: I can’t watch that. It’s all over now. All gone.

SVETLANA: It’s only the Berlin Wall, Grandpa. It had to come down eventually. It was wrong.

IVAN: Svetlana, remember the thing you most hated about being a school teacher here in Leningrad?

SVETLANA You know full well what it was. Kalashnikov drill.

IVAN: What was the school record?

SVETLANA: We had a girl called Tatiana from Vyborg. She was 14. She could break the gun down and re-assemble it in 38 seconds.

IVAN: All that gun practice, drilling. What was it all for?

SVETLANA: It was so that we didn’t have to go through what you went through with the Germans. But I never liked it. Guns in schools. It made me sick.

IVAN: So that’s it. It has all been for nothing. 72 years wasted. Huh. Did you hear what the man said? Something ‘cataclysmic’. They celebrate in Berlin so what shall we do here in Leningrad? Bring the Tsar back?

SVETLANA: Who needs the Tsar? We’ve already got Yeltsin and Gorbachov. Cheer up, Grandpa.
You can’t change the course of history.

IVAN: You’re wrong. Svetlana. Once upon a time we did change it. If only I’d known that night back in 1917. I should have stayed at my workbench, ignored the revolution and gone home to my mother …

SCENE 2:

RUSSIAN CHOIR SINGING THE INTERNATIONALE: FADES TO:
FOOTSTEPS MAKE THEIR WAY ALONG A CORRIDOR,
IN THE BACKGROUND CAN BE HEARD SPORADIC CHEERS AND APPLAUSE: A BIG POLITICAL DEBATE IS IN PROGRESS. FOOTSTEPS
THEN HALT: THE DEBATE CONTINUES FAINTLY IN THE BACKGROUND.

YOUNG IVAN AS
TEENAGE RED GUARD: Halt! State your business!

TROTSKY: How old are you, son?

IVAN: Show me your pass!

TROTSKY: Comrade, How long have you been a Red Guard?

 

IVAN: I ask the questions here.
Who are you, and show me your pass.

TROTSKY: You don’t recognise me?

MORE BOOTS ECHO ALONG THE CORRIDOR
AND HALT:

KAMENEV: Lev! Hurry! We’ve been waiting for you –
The debate’s in full swing!

TROTSKY: Apparently I’m a security risk.

IVAN: Comrade Kamenev, this man refuses
to answer my questions and show his pass.

KAMENEV (LAUGHING) How long have you been at the Smolny, son?

RED GUARD: It’s my first day, comrade.
I came over from Vyborg this morning.

TROTSKY: What’s your name, son? How old are you? Do you have a day job?

IVAN: Do I have to answer to this man?

KAMENEV: Son, you should look at a few Bolshevik photographs and learn who’s who. This is only Comrade Trotsky.

IVAN: Oh. I’ve heard that name. I am Ivan Borchov. I’m 17 and I’m an apprentice lathe operator at the Putilov works.

TROTSKY: Well, young Ivan, if you’re as dedicated at your lathe as you are as a red guard,
we can look forward to some good tanks and artillery. Can I come in now?
SCENE 3:
IN LENIN’S SAFE HOUSE: DISTANT TRAFFIC AND CROWD NOISE SEEPS IN FROM THE STREET.

EINO RAHJA: It’s looking bad out there. Kerensky’s
raised the bridges on the Neva – the workers can’t get across.

LENIN: Don’t panic, Rahja.

RAHJA: With great respect, Comrade Lenin –

LENIN: Respect, respect! ‘Comrade Lenin’? Stop being sarcastic Rahja!. Just say what’s on your mind.

RAHJA: Well, it’s all kicking off out there.
We’ve no idea if the Army or the Cossacks are planning anything – the congress are debating in a few hours at the Smolny – you have to be there.

LENIN: I’m an exile, Rahja – I’m not even supposed to be in Petrograd. I could be recognised.

RAHJA: Well, use your disguise again. It worked well last week when you met the Central Committee.

LENIN: I looked stupid.

RAHJA: What? Dressed as a Lutheran Minister?
It fooled me – apart from the fact that you kept fiddling with your toupee.

LENIN: Those bastards. They were laughing at me.

RAHJA: Who?

LENIN: Trotsky, Zinoviev – and that bloody bumpkin, Stalin.

RAHJA: Well, come on, you have to admit it was funny. The great Lenin in a dog collar and a ginger wig. I thought Kamenev was going to wet himself. Even I laughed when the wind blew it off on the way back here.

LENIN (Sighs): Oh, well. I suppose you’re right.
We ought to make a move. But no Lutheran Minister this time.

 

RAHJA: Well, your wig’s nice and clean. I washed
all the mud off it. Tell you what – how about the wig and a bandage?

LENIN: A bandage?

 

RAHJA: Yes. Wrap this old towel around your jaw; we’ll go by tram – you’ll look like a worker who’s been to the dentist. Here – you can wear my cap.

LENIN: Once again I’m to look like a clown.

THERE IS A METALLIC CLINK AS RAHJA FASTENS HIS GUN BELT.

LENIN: What the hell are you strapping on there?
RAHJA: Beauties, aren’t they? Colt 45s. I pinched them from an American in Helsinki.

LENIN: For god’s sake, Eino – who do you think you are – Wyatt Earp? If we get stopped and searched –

RAHJA: Then I’ll shoot the bastards! There’s no point in my being your bodyguard if I’m not armed.

THERE IS A FURTHER CLINK, THIS TIME OF BOTTLES:

LENIN: Vodka? How much more can you conceal under that greatcoat? You’re going to look like Falstaff waddling down the street!

RAHJA: What does a man need on the eve of a revolution? I’ve got it all – two loaded revolvers and two bottles of vodka.
If we go down fighting, we can at least have a drink.

 

SCENE 4: THE NOISY DEBATING HALL AT THE SMOLNY INSTITUTE: TROTSKY IS ADDRESSING THE ROWDY CROWD:

TROTSKY: Comrades! Workers, soldiers, sailors – this is the day and the night we’ve waited for. In 1905 we learned a bitter lesson – but this is 1917. Our time has finally come. We shall end Russia’s capitalist war and soon be at peace.
Look at the front now – the Germans are confused. Today there is not one single Russian Army unit … which is not in the control of the Bolsheviks!

(CHEERS ARE INTERSPERSED WITH BOOING AND THE ODD CRY OF ‘RUBBISH’)

Yes, I see you’re all here – the Mensheviks, social revolutionaries, I can even smell a few miserable democrats and Kerensky supporters in the room. But in a couple of hours we shall open the Congress of the Soviets. Only they – the workers and soldiers organised by the Bolsheviks will transform theory into action. The provisional government will be arrested! So when we re-assemble, remember these words – All power to the Soviets!

(CHEERING)
SCENE 5:
OUT ON THE STREET,RAHJA AND LENIN ARE MAKING THEIR WAY TO THE TRAM STOP: THE ODD VEHICLE RUMBLES BY.

RAHJA: Come on, wait over here by the wall. Stay out of the street lamps. There should be a tram along soon.

LENIN: It seems quieter than I imagined. Are you sure the trams are running?

RAHJA: Trust me. There’ll be a tram. Just relax.

THERE IS THE DISTANT CLATTER OF HORSE’S HOOFS; IT DRAWS CLOSER:

LENIN: Shit! That’s all we need. Cossacks!

RAHJA: Don’t panic. Pretend to be drunk. Sway around a bit. We’re pissed. Stagger!

THE HORSES SURROUND THEM AND STOP:

COSSACK 1: You there – you pair of shitheads!
Where do you think you’re off this time of night?

RAHJA (slurring) Hello, Captain .. lovely horsies … does your gee-gee want a lickle drinkie?

SECOND COSSACK: Leave them, Dubrovsky. They’re drunk.

COSSACK 1: They look like Bolsheviks to me. Step forward into the light where we can see you!

LENIN AND RAHJA SHUFFLE FORWARD

SECOND COSSACK: Are you Bolsheviks? Speak up!

RAHJA: Boshy what? Boshy wiks? Here. Lickle horsey … lovely horsey… we love gee-gees ..

COSSACK 1: Bloody state. No wonder we’re losing the war. Why aren’t you at the front, you useless turds!

RAHJA: We were wounded, comrade. Does horsey want a drink?

COSSACK 1: Stay away from my horse, arsehole!

COSSACK 2: We’re not your ‘comrades’ you lazy, idle bastards! You there! What have you got under your coat?

LENIN: (whispers) For Christ’s sake, Rahja …

 

COSSACK 1: What’s that, shitface?

RAHJA DELVES INTO HIS COAT AND THE VODKA BOTTLES CLINK:

RAHJA: Wahey! Good Petrograd vodka! Come on you Cossacks – have a drink with us! And the gee-gees!

COSSACK 2: Leave them Dubrovsky – they’re just a pair of pissheads.

THE HORSES BEGIN TO CLATTER OFF:

LENIN: Good god, Eino – that was close!

A SINGLE HORSE TROTS BACK TO THEM:

RAHJA: Damn it! It’s that mouthy one – he’s coming back.

LENIN: Be careful, Rahja – he’s got his whip out.

THE HORSE HALTS IN FRONT OF THEM:

COSSACK 1: You! You in the greatcoat – come here!

RAHJA STAGGERS FORWARD AND THERE IS A CRACK OF THE WHIP. RAHJA YELPS.

COSSACK 1: That’ll sober you up, dungheap!

THE HORSE CLATTERS AWAY

LENIN: Bastards! Eino – your head’s bleeding.

RAHJA: Oh, well. I’ll have a nice duelling scar to remind me of the revolution.

A TRAM APPROACHES, ITS BELL RINGING.

LENIN: How do I look?

 

 

RAHJA: Stop worrying comrade. We both look just as we’re supposed to look. Bloody awful.
Just get on the tram and stay quiet.

THE TRAM DRAWS TO A HALT AND THEY CLIMB ON BOARD. THE TRAM ACCELERATES

CONDUCTRESS: Where to?

RAHJA: Two to Suvoroskiy Prospekt please.

CONDUCTRESS: Your head’s bleeding.

RAHJA: Yes. I had a run-in with the Cossacks.

CONDUCTRESS: Murdering swine, the lot of ‘em.

LENIN: It’s quiet tonight – we’ve had to wait ages for this tram.

CONDUCTRESS: Huh! Think yourself lucky there are any trams! I nearly stayed at home. It’s going to be a big night.

LENIN: Why – what’s happening?

CONDUCTRESS: God, you need a tram conductor to tell you?

RAHJA: Oh, take no notice of him. He’s been to the dentist.

CONDUCTRESS: Well, what kind of workers are you if you don’t know what’s going on? The revolution starts tonight.

LENIN: Is that a fact?

CONDUCTRESS: Hah – you’re obviously not a Bolshevik. Tonight the workers are going to stuff it to the bosses, and about bloody time.

 

 

SHORT PAUSE: THE TRAM RUMBLES ON: THERE IS BACKGROUND CHATTERING.
THERE IS THE CLINK OF A BOTTLE

LENIN: Hell, Eino -what are you doing now?

RAHJA: What does it look like? I’m having a drink. That whiplash really stung.

LENIN: Even the tram conductress seems to know what’s happening. I hope Trotsky’s worked everything out.

RAHJA: Of course he has! You know what Comrade Lev’s like. No stone unturned. Look – out there …

PAUSE

RAHJA: Soldiers and workers warming their hands around a fire. They’re our soldiers. Not the Tsar’s, not Kerensky’s or Kornilov’s.
They’re Bolshevik soldiers. And they’re ready.
SCENE 6:
THE SMOLNY:THE CHEERING AND DEBATING CARRY ON IN THE BACKGROUND. TROTSKY HAS LEFT THE HALL AND IS OUT IN THE CORRIDOR AGAIN.

KAMENEV: I think you’ve kept them happy for the time being, Lev.

TROTSKY: My job’s not to make them happy, Kamenev.
My job’s to keep them angry. Do you have a cigarette?

KAMENEV: Yes, here. Not nervous are you?

THE CIGARETTE IS LIT AND TROTSKY INHALES AND EXHALES AND COUGHS.

TROTSKY: Where the hell is Lenin? He should be here. He’s needed.

KAMENEV: He’ll get here, I know he’s coming.

TROTSKY COUGHS VIOLENTLY, EXHALES AND COLLAPSES NOISILY TO THE FLOOR.

KAMENEV: Bloody hell! Lev! Guard! Over here, quick!

IVAN: What’s wrong, comrade – is he ill?

KAMENEV: What does it look like? He’s bloody fainted – here, help me get him to his feet!

KAMENEV IS SLAPPING TROTSKY’S FACE:

KAMENEV: Come on, Lev – what’s up here? Wake up!

TROTSKY (COUGHS) It’s that Balkan tobacco, Kamenev. It would fell a rhinoceros.

KAMENEV: Bollocks. You’ve smoked plenty before. When did you last eat anything?

TROTSKY: Oh … I can’t remember. Perhaps three days ago.

KAMENEV: And when did you last sleep?

TROTSKY: The day before yesterday.

KAMENEV: Well no wonder you’re collapsing. You need to get some shuteye for a couple of hours.

TROTSKY: I’m alright now. Give me a light again. We’ll wait for Lenin.
SCENE 7:
THE TRAM PULLS AWAY;LENIN AND RAHJA ARE WALKING ALONG THE STREET

LENIN: Couldn’t we have arranged a car, Rahja?

RAHJA: We need all the cars tonight. In any case, there will be more Cossacks around and they’re stopping cars.

LENIN: How much further do we have to walk then?

RAHJA: Stop grumbling. Just around the next corner.

THEIR FOOTSTEPS CONTINUE; THERE IS INCREASING NOISE OF CARS, MARCHING, MEN CHATTERING.

RAHJA: There you are. The Smolny Institute. It’s a shame you haven’t been here before.

LENIN: Yes. It seems exile has deprived me. It’s a fine base for a revolution.

RAHJA: We had great fun taking it over from all those rich Bourgeois tarts and prissy princesses.

LENIN: What a hive of activity. I never expected to see soldiers drilling at this time of night.

RAHJA: You see, comrade, that’s your trouble. You’re just the brains behind all this.
They’re the action. These lads drilled for the Tsar. Now they’re drilling for the workers – and Trotsky.

GUARD: Halt! What’s your business? Oh, it’s you, comrade Rahja. ‘ere – your head’s bleeding.

RAHJA: I got a whipping from some Cossacks.

GUARD: Bastards. Better get yourself to the first aid post – that’s a nasty slash.
Who’s this ragamuffin you’ve brought us?

RAHJA: For god’s sake, you can take the towel and the wig off now.

GUARD: Christ! If he had a beard he’d be a dead ringer for Lenin.

RAHJA: It is Lenin, you twerp. Now get out of the way!

 

SCENE 8:
INSIDE THE SMOLNY LENIN AND RAHJA ARE MET BY KAMENEV AND TROTSKY

KAMENEV: Vladimir Illyich! Here at last.

LENIN: My god, it stinks in here!

TROTSKY: It’s the smell of revolution, comrade.
It’s good to see you. Has Rahja been looking after you well?
LENIN: Yes, he’s gone off to get his wound dressed and probably drink more vodka.

THERE ARE FURTHER ROARS FROM THE CROWD
IN THE NEARBY HALL.

LENIN: Never mind the small talk, Lev. What’s happening? Have the Soviets convened?

TROTSKY: No, we’ve a couple of hours yet.

KAMENEV: Unfortunately we’ve got a mixed bag in there. Everybody’s after a slice of the pie.

TROTSKY: But it’s a Soviet pie and I don’t think some of them enjoy the taste.

LENIN: Well, they’d better get used to it. You look exhausted Lev. Can we find somewhere to sit for a while?

KAMENEV: Your sister’s here, Vladimir Illych. She’s sorted a room out for you and Lev to take a rest for a couple of hours. She’s even found a blanket and some pillows. Maybe you should both grab some sleep.
SCENE 9:
LENIN AND TROTSKY ENTER THE ROOM. THE SOUND OF THE DEBATING HALL RECEDES AND IS REPLACED BY THE DISTANT NOISE OF VEHICLES AND MARCHING OUT ON THE STREET.

LENIN: Well, I’ve slept in some Spartan beds before, but one blanket on a bare floor and two filthy pillows –

TROTSKY SIGHS HEAVILY AS HE LIES DOWN ON THE FLOOR.

TROTSKY: Don’t just stand there. I’m worn out. You may as well come and lie beside me.

LENIN: You’re a tough bird, Lev Davidovich. How the hell can you get comfortable lying down there? Anyway, it’s too damned cold in here.

TROTSKY: Look – there’s a roll of carpet over there by the wall. Pull it over here. It’ll make a good eiderdown.

LENIN PANTS AND STRUGGLES WITH THE CARPET.

LENIN: God. I bet the Tsar never had to do this.

TROTSKY: Well if he had, he might realise how his subjects suffer. That’s right – get it unrolled … now lie down here. At least you’ve got a pillow.

LENIN: Christ. This floor is so bloody hard.

TROTSKY: Oh, relax and stop chivvying. Think of those poor lads out there. They’d be happy to be here under an imperial carpet.

THERE IS A PAUSE. THE STREET NOISES FILTER THROUGH. LENIN SIGHS THEN BEGINS TO CHUCKLE.

TROTSKY: That’s a first, the great Lenin giggling. What’s tickling you?

LENIN: Oh, just a thought. We’re about to make history and already we’ve been swept under the carpet.

TROTSKY; Well, at least the rug’s not been pulled from under us. Now, for god’s sake, just lie back and try to sleep.

THEY LISTEN FOR A WHILE: THERE IS DISTANT GUNFIRE AND THE BOOM OF A LARGER GUN FAR AWAY.

LENIN: I hope those are our guns.

TROTSKY(yawning) Yes, they probably are.

LENIN: Probably? You’re in charge of the Military committee –

TROTSKY: Yes, but that doesn’t make me a psychic!

LENIN: So you’ve done everything that needs doing?

TROTSKY: Yes, yes, yes! That’s why I haven’t slept for three bloody days, that’s why I’m lying here trying to!

LENIN: The railway stations?

TROTSKY: Oh, God give me strength … yes, the railway stations, the post office and telegraph offices, even the Winter Palace.
In fact, that big gun you heard is probably the cruiser Aurora. The sailors moved her up river to be in range of the Winter Palace.

THE CRACKLE OF GUNFIRE CONTINUES: MEN’S VOICES AND VEHICLES.

LENIN: So much has happened. It’s hard to believe that just five months ago I was living above that cobbler’s shop in Zurich.

TROTSKY: I’d heard it was a butcher’s shop.

LENIN: No, that was next door.

TROTSKY: Was his meat any good?

LENIN: He made a fine sausage.

TROTSKY: Well, in a few months’ time we’ll all be eating good sausages. Now go to sleep.

LENIN: What about the army, the Cossacks?

TROTSKY: They can get their own sausages.

LENIN; I’m talking about our enemies. Surely they’re prepared. What we planned for tonight is no secret.

TROTSKY: Illych, war is war. It’s like football.
Two teams. Look – you were there last week at the Central Committee meeting.

LENIN: Yes, and?

TROTSKY: You heard what Kamenev and Zinoviev said.

LENIN: Yes, bloody Zinoviev. His pessimism … at least Kamenev has changed his mind and come on board.

TROTSKY: Well, Kamenev might be my brother in law, but just like him you can be annoying at times. You confuse pessimism with caution. Zinoviev and Kamenev both did the necessary homework. What can the enemy bring out to oppose us? You want me to frighten you? Well, seeing as we’re laid here in the dark under a shitty old carpet, here’s a suitable horror story;
5,000 Junkers, magnificently armed and knowing how to fight, troops at the army headquarters, and then the shock troops, and then the Cossacks, and then a considerable part of the garrison, and then a very considerable quantity of artillery fanned out across Petrograd.

LENIN: My god. It could be a blood bath.
TROTSKY: Or it could be a picnic with a few firecrackers. Listen comrade. We have 40,000 bayonets on our side out there and the Kronstadt Sailors. Illych, you’re the great theorist. So think about the army of the enemy. It contains the wormholes of isolation and decay.
LENIN: And a hard core of fanatics and a lot of heavy artillery.
TROTSKY: Now who’s being a pessimist?
LENIN: I’m sorry, Lev. I was thinking back to that Central Committee meeting. Kamenev and Zinoviev were against tonight’s insurrection. They said it was too early. What if they were right?
TROTSKY: Alright, misery guts. Then we’ll fail, a lot of blood will flow, the Tsar will crow like a rooster, capitalism will triumph and the Germans will keep killing our men on the front.

LENIN: And it won’t be exile for us this time.
It’ll be the firing squad.

TROTSKY: Well, at least it would shut you up.

LENIN: Yes … I am being pessimistic. This is what we’ve devoted the past thirty years to. It’s just … well, lying here, listening to the physical outcome of millions of words and thousands of speeches; it’s breath-taking.

TROTSKY: Oooh! Be careful, Illych. I smell creeping romanticism. You’re the philosopher, remember your Karl Marx.
LENIN: Which chapter, which verse?
TROTSKY: The philosophers have only interpreted the world –
LENIN: – the thing, however, is to change it.
TROTSKY: And now we’re doing it.
LENIN: Yes. I remember Kamenev telling me something Stalin said to him one night when they were exiled to Siberia.
TROTSKY: Another of Josef’s malodourous farmyard homilies, no doubt.
LENIN: No, considering tonight, it was very apt.
He said something about …let me recall – yes; ‘to choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plan minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance …and then go to bed … there is nothing sweeter in the world.’

TROTSKY: Mmm. That’s Stalin to a tee.

LENIN: Well, isn’t that us? Slaking an impeccable vengeance and going to bed?

TROTSKY: There is a difference.

LENIN: How so?

TROTSKY: When Stalin goes to bed he goes to bloody sleep! Fat chance of that with you around!

THE DISTANT ACTIVITY CONTINUES OUTSIDE. THERE IS ANOTHER ‘BOOM’ FROM THE DISTANT GUN ACROSS THE RIVER.
TROTSKY IS NOW SNORING.

LENIN: Lev. Are you awake?

THE SNORING CONTINUES:

LENIN: Lev! Lev! Wake up!

TROTSKY IS DISTURBED FROM HIS SLUMBER WITH MUCH GRUNTING, COUGHING AND GRUMBLING.

TROTSKY: For God’s sake, Illych! I’m buggered here – can’t a man have a bit of sleep?

LENIN: I think the Aurora fired another salvo.

TROTSKY (yawning) Oh, well, all power to the sailors. This is purgatory. You’re like a kid on Christmas Eve.

LENIN: And that’s our role – Saint Nicholas.

TROTSKY: It’s not Father Christmas you need. It’s St. Raphael the Archangel, patron saint of people suffering from nightmares and mental problems.

LENIN: I’m impressed. For a Jew, you certainly know your Catholic Saints.

TROTSKY: Know your enemy. But don’t expect me to quote the Talmud. Are we done now?

LENIN: Done?

TROTSKY: Yes. Can we get to sleep?

LENIN: I just wanted to say something else.

TROTSKY: Huh. Go on then, spit it out.

LENIN: Well, when Eino Rahja and I were travelling here on the tram tonight, I felt very proud.

TROTSKY: Whoa! Steady on comrade… the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins.

LENIN: I saw workers, soldiers, armed, guns and bayonets, warming their hands around a brazier, their faces illuminated in the darkness. I felt proud that we’d brought them all together at last.

TROTSKY: Well it isn’t as easy as you make it sound. Propaganda and written theory are one thing – practical organisation is something else. Books versus artillery doesn’t work.

 

 

LENIN: Touché… I’ve relied heavily on your mathematical brain, Lev. I’m interested, from a military point of view. How have you organised all this?

AS TROTSKY SPEAKS, HIS WORDS ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THE SOUNDS OF MARCHING BOOTS OUTSIDE.

TROTSKY: Keep this in mind; we’re not an attacking force. We’re a defending force, defending our revolution. If they shoot, we’ll shoot back. If Kerensky and his men accept reality and surrender, we save bullets.
We need people to live for the revolution, not die for it. There’s already enough corpses piled up at the front.

LENIN: So – the military aspect – how have you planned it?

TROTSKY: Our basic military unit is ten; four tens make a squad, three squads, a company; three companies, a battalion. With its commanding staff and special units, a battalion numbers over 500 men. The battalions of each district constitute a division. Big factories like the Putilov have their own divisions. Special technical commands – sappers, bicycles, telegraphers, machine-gunners and artillery men – were recruited in the corresponding factories, and attached to the riflemen – or else act independently according to the nature of the given task. The entire commanding staff has been elective. There was no risk in this: all are volunteers here and know each other well.

LENIN: Well, there we are. An incredible achievement. Now will you allow me to be proud?

TROTSKY: Only if it all works. Huh! Pride. Dante’s definition was “love of self, perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour.”

LENIN: Well, maybe we can allow ourselves that luxury. Aren’t you proud of what we’ve achieved – especially what you’ve accomplished – after the entire struggle?

TROTSKY: I remember the first morning after I’d slept with Natalia. She said you never know the full measure of a man until you’ve shared a bed with him.

LENIN: What’s that supposed to mean?

TROTSKY: I’m getting a new measure on you, Illych.

LENIN: Well, maybe your Christmas analogy isn’t far off the mark. We’re a couple of kids tonight. Wasn’t it John Locke who said ‘Children are travellers newly arrived in a strange country of which they know nothing?’

TROTSKY: I’m sure he did. But kids go to sleep at night. Even on Christmas Eve.

LENIN: Point taken. I usually sleep like a baby.

TROTSKY: People who say they ‘sleep like a baby’ usually don’t have one alongside them in bed!

TROTSKY BEGINS TO SNORE AGAIN. VEHICLES RUMBLE OUTSIDE MIXED WITH GUNFIRE: ABOVE THIS RISES TROOPS SINGING THE SOVIET SONG ‘OVER THE HILLS AND DALES’.LENIN GETS UP, RACES OVER TO THE WINDOW AND OPENS IT.

LENIN: Lev – listen!

TROTSKY CONTINUES TO SNORE; THE SINGING FROM OUTSIDE HAS GROWN LOUDER. LENIN SHAKES TROTSKY AWAKE:

 

LENIN: Lev – Lev! You can’t miss this!

ONCE AGAIN, A GRUMBLING TROTSKY SPLUTTERS AWAKE.

TROTSKY: Oh, now what? Sod me – you’ve got the bloody window open!

THE SINGING CONTINUES:

LENIN: Oh, Come on Lev! Listen to that.
You know that song, surely?

TROTSKY: Yes, it’s something to do with over the hills or something – a forest song from the Taiga.

LENIN: It’s called ‘The Soldiers’. Listen at them
out there. Magnificent. What a night, eh?

TROTSKY: Yes, and I’m about to catch pneumonia.

LENIN: How can we think of sleeping with this going on?

TROTSKY (yawning) It’s easy, comrade. Anyway, I thought you didn’t like music…

LENIN: I never said that. I said it was a distraction from revolutionary work.

TROTSKY: Well it’s certainly a distraction from sleep.

LENIN: I used to play the guitar when I was younger.

TROTSKY: Well thank God you gave it up. Shut that damned window and come to bed.

THE MUSIC GROWS THEN FADES: WE RETURN TO THE DISTANT SOUND OF ACTIVITY OUTSIDE.

TROTSKY: What time is it?

 

LENIN: Oh, I thought you’d gone back to sleep.

TROTSKY: I should be so lucky.

LENIN: It’s too dark. I can’t see my watch.

TROTSKY: Ah well, Kamenev said he’d wake us when the congress starts.

LENIN: I’ve been thinking.

TROTSKY: No change there, then.

LENIN: If it’s all worked out tonight – if we’ve taken power, if we can disband and arrest the Provisional Government, put Kerensky on trial –

TROTSKY: Slow down, take it easy. Stuffing the provisional government shouldn’t be too hard. They’re a mamby-pamby bunch OF lickspittles with no sense of direction.
But the only sense of direction that slippery slug Kerensky has is the road out of Petrograd.

LENIN: Yes, well all this begs a question. We’re to form a new government, right?

TROTSKY: You’re working well tonight, comrade. That is the general idea.

LENIN: But it needs to be something new, something totally different.

TROTSKY: I think ‘revolutionary’ is the word you’re looking for.

LENIN: Exactly. So – will we have ministers?

TROTSKY: Mmmm. Nasty.

LENIN: So what shall we call them?

 

 

TROTSKY: Anything but ‘ministers’. That’s such a vile, hackneyed term. We might call them commissaries … but there are too many commissaries just now. Perhaps ‘supreme commissaries’? No. That doesn’t sound well, either. What about ‘People’s Commissars?’

LENIN: People’s Commissars? Well, that might do, I think. And the government as a whole?

TROTSKY: A Soviet, of course. The Soviet of People’s Commissars, eh?

LENIN: Mmmm … yes. The Soviet of People’s Commissars. That’s splendid; smells terribly of revolution! You can go back to sleep now.

TROTSKY: I don’t think I’ll bother. Your incessant worrying has infected me.

LENIN: In what way?

TROTSKY: Well, I’m the chair of the military revolutionary committee, and here I am dozing under a carpet whilst god knows what I’ve set in motion out there is going on.

LENIN: Well, don’t the Africans say that sleep is the cousin of death?

TROTSKY: Now he tells me! So that’s what you’ve been up to under this carpet – keeping me alive?

LENIN LAUGHS QUIETLY.

TROTSKY: That’s the second time you’ve laughed tonight. This is looking serious.

 

LENIN: I don’t see the funny side of life as often as you do, Lev.

TROTSKY: Well you should dress as a Lutheran Minister more often. That was a laugh a minute.

LENIN: Yes, Rahja brought that up. I have to admit I was annoyed. There we were planning an insurrection and you all kept bursting out sniggering.

TROTSKY: We’re not going to issue a decree on humour, are we? You should take a leaf out of my brother in law’s book, and even Zinoviev’s. They may be serious most of the time, but they like a good laugh.

LENIN: Sometimes it’s bad manners and ignorance.

TROTSKY: Oh – let me guess – Stalin.

LENIN: I’ve every respect for him as a revolutionary, but he has the manners of a pig.

TROTSKY: Well, we wanted a revolution by workers and peasants, Illych. We’ve had enough bourgeois chatter over the coffee cups to last a lifetime. A bit of crudity livens things up.

LENIN: I’ll admit Josef has firmness of character, tenacity, stubbornness, even ruthlessness and craftiness – qualities necessary in a war. But if the rest of the world is going to take us seriously, we still need a bit of sophistication.

TROTSKY: If you’re talking about diplomacy, it’s a lot of twaddle. Jobs for the boys, upper class chinless wonders talking in riddles.

LENIN: Perhaps. But if we have to negotiate with governments –
TROTSKY: Negotiate?! As we’ve discussed, Illych – the revolution might start here, but it won’t finish in Russia. When the Germans lose the war –
LENIN: If –
TROTSKY: When the Germans lose the war the comrades in Germany will follow our lead. We’re lighting a forest fire here. The French and the British workers will follow suit. It may take time, but it’s inevitable.
LENIN: In the meantime, when we do appoint ministers –
TROTSKY: Ah-ah! Commissars, remember?
LENIN: Then we need commissars of quality.

TROTSKY: I don’t like the implications of the term.
Any one of those lads out there on the street tonight has more ‘quality’ than a dozen Kerenskys or Rodziankos. You could send that hulking great sailor, Dybenko to deal with that windbag Lloyd George.
LENIN: All right, Lev. So whilst we’re at it, as a judge of character, give me your assessment of our team.
TROTSKY: An ‘assessment of our team?’ You know them as well as I do. Assess them yourself. Assess me if you want – I don’t care.
LENIN: Don’t be flippant, Lev. I value your judgment. We’ll have to build some kind of a cabinet.
TROTSKY: Oh, of course. We need something to keep the drinks in.
LENIN: Be serious. It doesn’t go beyond this room.

 

TROTSKY: If you think in my exhausted state that I’m going to go through about twenty personalities then you’re mistaken. Just give me a couple of names and we’ll call it quits.

LENIN: Zinoviev and Kamenev.

TROTSKY: Don’t think I’m going easy on Kamenev because he’s my brother in law.

LENIN: Why should you? Family ties are the first thing to be severed for a revolutionary.

TROTSKY: Zinoviev and Kamenev are two profoundly different types. Zinoviev is an agitator. Kamenev a propagandist. Zinoviev is guided in the main by a subtle political instinct. Kamenev is given to reason and analysis. Zinoviev is forever inclined to fly off at a tangent. Kamenev, on the contrary, errs on the side of excessive caution. Zinoviev is entirely absorbed by politics. He has no other interests or appetites. Kamenev’s a sybarite and a aesthete. Zinoviev? He’s vindictive. Kamenev, yes, alright, he married my sister, but he’s good nature personified.

LENIN: Mmm. Interesting.

TROTSKY: ‘Interesting’? That’s a bit nebulous for you, isn’t it?

LENIN: What about Stalin?

TROTSKY: You’ve already summed him up. What was it again? ‘tenacity, stubbornness, even ruthlessness’.

LENIN: What kind of commissar would he make?

TROTSKY: The People’s Commissar for spittoons.

LENIN: You know, Lev, there’s still a bourgeois streak in you.

TROTSKY: Bollocks.

LENIN: Now you’re sounding just like Josef.

TROTSKY: Oh, come off it with the hypocrisy, Illych. If I’m a bourgeois then you’re the Tsar’s arsewipe. I know deep down what you think of Stalin.

LENIN: Really?

TROTSKY: Yes. Go on – remind me. I’ve given you Zinoviev and Kamenev. You give me Stalin.

LENIN: Oh, I’ll tell you about Stalin, but I’ve another question first. We spend as much time apart, you and I, as we do together.

TROTSKY: Such is the curse of exile.

LENIN: Yes, quite. But in the various scattered enclaves of the party, other opinions must arise. This is a good night for me to wonder; what do they think of me?

TROTSKY: What does who think of you?

LENIN: Well, everyone – they must talk. You, yourself, for example?

TROTSKY: Oh, I can quote chapter and verse the utterances you’ve made about me – both verbally and in print.

LENIN: Dialectics demand fearless honesty, Lev.
You’ve kicked me around too.

TROTSKY: Oh, well, how about 1909 – “Trotsky’s major mistake is that he ignores the bourgeois character of the revolution and has no clear conception of the transition from this revolution to the socialist revolution”. Utter bullshit.

 

LENIN: Well, much has happened in six years.

TROTSKY: Perhaps. However, wounds heal but there are scars. Take your 1911 attack for example: “We resume our freedom of struggle against the liberals and anarchists, who are being encouraged by the leader of the ‘conciliators,’ Trotsky.”

LENIN: I had a point. You’ve always been a fluctuating character, Lev. It takes time for you to see sense…. Yet here we are, after all the arguments, under this carpet. What about the others?

TROTSKY: What ‘others’?

LENIN: You needn’t name names. What’s the general opinion of me among the comrades?

TROTSKY: Fearless honesty?

LENIN: I can take it.

TROTSKY: Your writings, your dedication, your discipline, without these the engine in our ship would be several pistons short.

LENIN: That’s a compliment.

TROTSKY: I haven’t finished. As Zinoviev is always saying, revolutionaries have neither the time nor space for sentimentality, or personal and familial relationships. Yet on occasion, men can’t help but to succumb to human emotion.

LENIN: You can skip the biology lesson.

TROTSKY: Oh, I intend to. Cold, mechanical, aloof,
intolerant, humourless, implacable. How does that sound?

 

LENIN: You’re still issuing compliments.

TROTSKY: I remember once talking with Martov –

LENIN: That sad bastard. He was anti-Bolshevik even in 1911, criticising us for expropriating the capitalists by robbing their banks! He’s finished.

TROTSKY: Yes, I agree, but he’ll be at the congress tonight. As I was saying – he once expressed his opinion that if Lenin was sitting at his desk and Marx and Engels walked in, your arrogance would drive them both out of the room.

LENIN: Shows how little Martov knows. Why would I ever do such a thing?

TROTSKY: Martov cited your philosophical conceit and over confidence. He said even when Lenin is wrong, he’s right.

LENIN: (laughs) There you go, Lev. Three laughs in one night from your cold, mechanical and implacably humourless party leader.
Anything further you’d like to reveal?

TROTSKY: No – we had a deal, remember? Stalin. Is it true you wrote a letter to Gorky in 1913 calling Josef ‘a marvellous Georgian?’

LENIN: Yes, I probably did. Fair enough. He’s a good revolutionist. He’s tough and he’s brave. He’s a lousy orator and a poor writer.

TROTSKY: And you let him edit Pravda.

 

 

 

LENIN: Yes, but he got the message across to the workers. But he’s certainly no theoretician. Stalin’s value lies wholly in the sphere of party administration and machine manoeuvring. Have I left anything out?

TROTSKY: His brutish manners. I was with him when we went around the Putilov works introducing ourselves to the women workers. He actually farted. Not quietly, either, and certainly not odourless.

LENIN: Well, you can’t get less bourgeois than that. Maybe our first decree ought to be the freedom to break wind wherever we like.

TROTSKY: If you don’t mind me saying, this is a facile and pointless discussion. We’re a revolutionary body. We’ve got more farters, belchers, boozers and smokers than half the governments of Europe. It hasn’t held us back.

LENIN (Yawns) No. We may be a disparate gang, but the aims and objectives weld us together.
I’m tired now.

TROTSKY: Oh, you’re tired now. That’s rich.

LENIN: I think I may snooze for a while.

TROTSKY: The hell you will. If we fall asleep now even a shell from the Aurora won’t wake us up. Anyway, you’ve kept me awake.

LENIN: I wonder what history will make of us?

TROTSKY: Mincemeat, if we make a hash of tonight.
Think on what Hegel said; ‘What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments have never learned anything from the study of history, or acted on the principles deduced from it.’

 

LENIN: Until now.

TROTSKY: One hopes, therefore, that we’ll be remembered for our nature rather than for our deeds.

LENIN: I doubt it. Remember Goethe? ‘Sin writes histories – goodness is silent’.

TROTSKY: You should have stuck with the guitar, and I ought to have become a mathematician. We’d both be silent goodies then.

LENIN: I suppose a century from now they’ll see us like all other governments; we had to use violence to get our own way.

TROTSKY: We’re animals, comrade. Ants, spiders, rats, foxes, tigers … violence is part of life. We’re no different except for our politics. The best revenge we’ll have on history is that we avoided imitation. Whatever else they’ll say about us, at least we were original.

THERE IS A PAUSE; THE BUSTLE OUTSIDE THE BUILDING CONTINUES AND THEY BOTH BEGIN TO SNORE. THIS FADES AND IS REPLACED BY THE CHOIR SINGING BOLDLY, COMRADES, IN STEP. THIS CONTINUES BUT IS BROKEN BY LOUD KNOCKING ON THE DOOR; THE DOOR IS THEN OPENED: KAMENEV ENTERS

KAMANEV: (quietly) Glory be … look at this …babes in the wood …
(Shouts) Comrades! Wakey wakey! Up! Up!

LENIN & TROTSKY BOTH SPLUTTER AWAKE, GROANING AND YAWNING

LENIN: What is it Kamenev? Has the Congress begun?

 

KAMENEV: The Soviets are assembling. I thought I’d call you as soon as possible. You’ve got about half an hour. One of the comrades is bringing you some tea and some bread. Give you chance to liven yourselves up.

TROTSKY: Get me some cigarettes, Kamenev.

KAMENEV: Here. Take these – but for god’s sake don’t faint this time!

KAMENEV LEAVES AND THE DOOR CLOSES. TROTSKY LIGHTS A CIGARETTE. LENIN COUGHS.

LENIN: You damned smokers. Is there any wonder this place stinks so much. We should issue a decree against tobacco.

TROTSKY: You do and you’ll end up talking to an empty hall.

THERE IS A FURTHER KNOCK ON THE DOOR: IT OPENS, AND YOUNG IVAN ENTERS WITH A TEA TRAY:

LENIN: Hah-ha! Room service, no less.

IVAN: Comrade Kamenev has sent this tea and bread for you, gentlemen.

LENIN: Spoken like a true waiter. Gentlemen, eh?

TROTSKY: Yes, it’s a while since we’ve been called that. Put the tray down here, son, on the floor.

THE TRAY RATTLES AND THERE IS THE CLINK OF A BOTTLE:

TROTSKY: Hello, hello … vodka as well?

IVAN: Yes, Comrade Trotsky – compliments of Comrade Rahja.

LENIN: Typical Rahja – he’s bloody incorrigible.

TROTSKY: And all the better for it.

TROTSKY SWIGS VODKA AND EXHALES.

TROTSKY: Ah! Mother Russia’s milk!

LENIN: Well, thanks son – you can go now.

IVAN: Er … excuse me, comrade …

LENIN: Yes, what is it?

IVAN: Are you – are you really … Lenin?

LENIN: Yes – that’s me, lad. Don’t look so surprised, I’m not the Tsar.

IVAN: May I … could I …

LENIN: Could you what?

IVAN: Sir, could I shake your hand?

TROTSKY (laughs) Hey, kid – he’s not Chaliapin either –
He’s only a politician.

IVAN: I apologise, but my father has read all of your works comrade Lenin, your books and pamphlets. If I can tell him that I’ve shaken hands with you, I think he’ll be very impressed.

TROTSKY (laughs) Hey – you’re making me jealous Ivan Borchov. Don’t you wish to shake my hand too?
SCENE 10:
SOVIET CHOIR SINGING ‘THE ENGINE’ FADES TO 1989 IVAN BORCHOV’S LENINGRAD APARTMENT

SVETLANA: Grandpa, here, Come away from the window. I’ve made you some tea. Either cheer yourself up or go to bed.

IVAN: I should have shaken his hand.

SVETLANA: Who?

IVAN: Leon Trotsky.

SVETLANA: I knew you met Lenin once – you never mentioned Trotsky.

IVAN: No-one mentioned Trotsky.

SVETLANA: Will you come away from the window, sit down and drink your tea!

IVAN: They told us he was a criminal and a counter-revolutionary.

SVETLANA: Forget Trotsky. Think about Pushkin; “Ecstasy is a glassful of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth.” Despite the Berlin Wall, we have both, so come and sit down and enjoy it.

IVAN: Criminals and counter revolutionaries. Huh. I wonder what they’ll call Gorbachov and Yeltsin.

SVETLANA: You still believe in it all, don’t you?
What are you staring at out there?

IVAN: My city. St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad. Fancy a city having three names in less than a century. Come over here, Svetlana. I want to show you something.

SVETLANA: Well, what is it? Show me.

IVAN: You can just see the lights from here around the Winter Palace. Do you remember when you were a little girl, during the siege?

SVETLANA: I don’t want to talk about it. Those were horrible times, and best forgotten.

 

 

IVAN: You know, the week before the Nazis attacked us there was an exhibition over there at the Hermitage. I’d bought a newspaper – the Leningradskaya Pravda. It had a big advert for the exhibition. It was all to do with Tamerlane. There’d been an expedition to Gur Emir at Samarkand and they’d opened his tomb. When they found his skeleton, one leg was shorter than the other.

SVETLANA: Well, that’s all very fascinating, but why don’t you go and sit down, drink your tea before it gets cold.

 

IVAN: It even snowed on May Day in 1941. But one thing I remember reading in that newspaper was about Tamerlane’s tomb. There was a legend that if anyone opened it – and they did – they removed the lid – it was a big block of green nephrite – if they opened it then a great war would be released.

SVETLANA: Coincidence and superstition. So there was a great war, and we won. Now take things easy and stop torturing yourself. Good, hot tea, Grandpa. That’s what you need, not bad cold memories.

IVAN: Just let me stand here for a few more moments.(PAUSE)
Lenin didn’t appreciate Petrograd. To him it was just a sweated slum, a place of intrigue and agitation.

SVETLANA: Well forget Lenin. Pushkin loved it – “Show your colours, City of Peter, and stand steadfast like Russia.” Now come and sit down.

THEY SIT DOWN, IVAN SIGHS AND TEA IS POURED.

 

IVAN: Mmm. ‘Stand steadfast like Russia’. We certainly did that night.
SCENE 11:
SOVIET CHOIR SINGS BOLDLY COMRADES, IN STEP: FADES TO LENIN AND TROTSKY IN THEIR SMOLNY ROOM: THERE IS THE SOUND OF MUCH ACTIVITY FILTERING IN FROM OUTSIDE, AND CROWD NOISES SOMEWHERE WITHIN THE BUILDING.

LENIN: Well, it wasn’t much of a sleep, but it’ll have to do.

TROTSKY: We would have been better off with separate rooms. I’m still tired.

LENIN: We have work to do.

TROTSKY: Yes. If everything’s gone to plan, we have that damned rabble in the hall to sort out.

LENIN: Are you ready then?

TROTSKY: Yes. Those baying dogs out there.
What shall we tell them all?

LENIN: It depends. Either there is a revolution or there isn’t. Let’s go and find out.

THEY LEAVE THE ROOM AND ENTER THE NOISY,
BUSY CORRIDOR.

LENIN: Kamenev! You look happy – is this a good sign?

KAMENEV: Damn right it is!

TROTSKY: Have we pulled it off?

KAMENEV: Clockwork, Lev, clockwork. Telegraph offices, railway stations, and governmental buildings- all occupied without any noteworthy resistance.

 

TROTSKY: What about Kerensky – the Provisional Government?

KAMENEV: Troops of the Military Revolutionary Committee surrounded the Winter Palace. The Provisional Government were in session, but we put a stop to that.

LENIN: Has there been much bloodshed?

KAMENEV: Some, but Kerensky’s Cadets asked ministers if they should fight to the last man. The ministers backed down. They sent us a message; ‘No bloodshed – we surrender’.

TROTSKY: What medical facilities do we have in place?

KAMENEV: Yesterday the Vyborg district soviet issued the following order: “Immediately requisition all automobiles … Take an inventory of all first-aid supplies, and have nurses on duty in all clinics.” That’s been done.

TROTSKY: Brilliant. Did we arrest Kerensky?

KAMENEV: The bastard’s as slippery as ever. He’s escaped. But everyone else has been arrested. We’ve locked them up in the Peter and Paul fortress.
Comrades – we are victorious.

LENIN: Curb your passion, Kamenev. We’ve won a few skirmishes, not a war. We still have to sell this to that crowd of spineless procrastinators in the hall.

TROTSKY: Well, now is as good a time as any.

KAMENEV: Comrades, there’s 650 overheated delegates in there – but we’ve got wall to wall Bolshevik support – the Kronstadt Sailors are all around the room.

 

SCENE 12: LENIN AND TROTSKY ENTER THE DEBATING HALL TO A MIXTURE OF CHEERS AND CATCALLS. FADE TO TROTSKY IN MID-SPEECH:

TROTSKY: Yes, comrades, as comrade Lenin has announced, now we shall have peace, bread and land. Our troops are already being told about our success. Think back to March this year when those same soldiers kissed the hands and feet of liberal priests, carried ministers on their shoulders, got drunk on the speeches of Kerensky, and believed that the Bolsheviks were German agents – of that filthy propaganda there is nothing left! No, comrades. Those rosy illusions have been drowned in the mud of the trenches, which the soldiers refused to go on treading in their leaky boots.

LOUD CHEERS DIE AWAY AS AN ARMY OFFICER RISES TO SPEAK:

ARMY OFFICER: The Bolshevik hypocrites who now control this congress told us we were to settle the question of power – and now it is being settled behind our backs, before the congress opens!

HE IS INTERRUPTED BY BOOING AND HISSING. THIS SUBSIDES AND HE CONTINUES:

Blows have been struck against the Winter Palace, and it is by such blows that the nails are being driven into the coffin of the political party which has risked such an adventure!

THERE IS COMMOTION IN THE HALL AS SEVERAL DELEGATES STORM ANGRILY OUT: TROTSKY’S VOICE RISES OVER THIS:

 

 

TROTSKY: Yes, off you go, Mensheviks, stamp out of your antiquity like petulant children. Go to your provisional government – it’s finished. But don’t look for Kerensky – he’s cleared off. Go and join him!
What has taken place is an uprising – not a conspiracy. An uprising of the masses of the people needs no justification. We have been strengthening the revolutionary energy of the workers and soldiers. We have been forging, openly, the will of the masses for an uprising. Our uprising has won!

HUGE CHEERS: TROTSKY CONTINUES:

And now we are being asked to give up our victory, to come to an agreement? With whom? You are wretched, disunited individuals; you are bankrupts; your part is over. Go to the place where you belong from now on – the dust-bin of history!
SCENE 13:
GREAT CHEERING, GUNS AND FIREWORKS FADE INTO THE SOVIET CHOIR SINGING WE RENOUNCE THE OLD WORLD: RETURNING TO IVAN & SVETLANA IN LENINGRAD, DRINKING TEA.

SVETLANA: You’ve gone all quiet on me, grandpa. Do you want some more tea?

IVAN: Leave it, Svetlana. I’ll be up all night peeing.

SVETLANA: Mr. Grumpy! Well, why don’t you get an early night? I can’t be doing with you sitting here all silent. It’s not like you.

IVAN: It’s only ten o’clock. I’m 89, for God’s sake. What does it matter when I go to bed. There’s no peace in sleep and little to get up for.

SVETLANA: Oh dear, oh dear. Even I’m beginning to wish they’d left the Berlin Wall alone now.

IVAN: Did you know two months ago that British woman was in Moscow – what’s her name again – some minister –

SVETLANA: Margaret Thatcher.

IVAN: Hatchet faced old biddy.

SVTELANA: Grandpa! That’s not nice. When did we ever have a female premier? She’s got some good ideas. People admire her. We’ll have a market economy like the British. No more waiting in queues for rubbish products.

IVAN: She met Gorbachov.

SVETLANA: Yes, I know. I watch TV sometimes too, when you’re not hogging the set.

IVAN: Do you remember what she said to Gorbachov?

SVETLANA: No. What?

IVAN: She was against the break-up of East Germany. She wanted the wall to stay.

SVETLANA: Really?

IVAN: Yes, and that French clown – Mitterrand. Know what he said? He said “I like Germany so much I would prefer to have two of them.”

SVETLANA: Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. It’s a good job poor Grandma isn’t alive to see you sitting here moping like this. Think on – you’ve got your pension, and Germany can look after itself. There’s nothing you can do about it. We’ve still got the Soviet Union.

IVAN: We haven’t had the Soviet Union since 1924. My seven years in Siberia taught me that much. What we have now has been constantly whittled away by the western nations.

SVETLANA: For heaven’s sake, don’t exaggerate.

IVAN: When you were a schoolteacher what did Leningrad kids want?

SVETLANA: Oh, I suppose … well, the same things they’re wanting today. Jeans, rock and roll, Coca Cola.

IVAN: Not in my day they didn’t. We wanted our own Russian culture. The classics, good music, radical art. We had good sportsmen and women, the finest doctors. What are the next generation going to be? Pizza cooks and hamburger flippers?

SVETLANA: Oh, I don’t know what’s got into you Grandpa. If you’re not going to bed, then I am. You can sit here and stew in your own miserable nostalgia.

SVETLANA LEAVES THE ROOM: THE DOOR SLAMS AND THE CLOCK TICKS. FAINTLY IN THE BACKGROUND AS IVAN SPEAKS, THE CHOIR SING YOU FELL VICTIMS:

IVAN: Yes. Go to bed … switch off the lights, pull the sheets up over your head. Go to sleep. History is simply a pageant, not a philosophy. I can’t hang it all on my memories. They’re too frail to take the weight. They are recollections of hope, enthusiasm, sadness, death, struggle, a remembrance of seven pointless decades. They’re all sleeping now: the just and the unjust, the sinners, the saints and the murderers. And yet I’m still awake, thinking about you all. But none of it seemed pointless back then. I know; I was there, it all happened, and for a brief moment, I, Ivan Borchov, full of fire, young, idealistic, played his part.

THE SOVIET CHOIR SINGS THE RED FLAG: RETURN TO THE SMOLNY INSTITUTE, OCTOBER 1917: TROTSKY LEAVES THE NOISE OF THE HALL AND STEPS INTO THE CORRIDOR.

 

KAMENEV: That told them, Lev!

TROTSKY: They needed telling.

LENIN: You’re smoking again, Lev.

KAMENEV: You ought to try it, Illych.
It calms the nerves.

LENIN: My nerves are calm enough.

FOOTSTEPS APPROACH ALONG THE CORRIDOR:

TROTSKY: Ah-ha! It’s the lathe operator from Vyborg. Don’t tell me you’re going to speak to that rabble too!

KAMENEV: You’ve deserted your post lad! You should be on the door!

LENIN: Oh, leave him, Kamenev. He’s done no harm.

IVAN: I apologise, comrades. But I heard the cheering. Have you spoken yet, Comrade Lenin?

TROTSKY: No it was me.

IVAN: Oh. When will you go in there and speak, Comrade Lenin?

LENIN: I am about to. Any second now. Why?

IVAN: Will it be alright for me to go into the hall?

KAMENEV: No it will not – you’re not a delegate!

TROTSKY: Don’t be hard on the lad, Kamenev. Let him have something to tell his grandchildren.

LENIN: Well, young comrade Burchov, what are you waiting for; follow me.

LENIN ENTERS THE HALL TO MASSIVE CHEERING WHICH EVENTUALLY SETTLES DOWN TO A FEW COUGHS AND SHUFFLES.

LENIN: All power has passed to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers and Peasants’ Deputies.

JUBILANT CHEERING

A new phase has opened up not just in Russia, but throughout the entire world. We will announce decrees on peace and land. And this new phase will inevitably lead to the victory of socialism.

MORE CHEERS

Without this, it is not possible to resolve all the problems that are posed before us by life and war…. We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order!

THE HALL ERUPTS INTO CHEERING WHICH FADES INTO THE SOVIET CHOIR SINGING
THE INTERNATIONAL.

 

T h e E n d

 

Remembering Che

1967
Che Guevara is executed

On this day in 1967, socialist revolutionary and guerilla leader Che Guevara, age 39, is killed by the Bolivian army. The U.S.-military-backed Bolivian forces captured Guevara on October 8 while battling his band of guerillas in Bolivia and assassinated him the following day. His hands were cut off … strange how the fascist mind-set is one of such spiteful vindictiveness is fed and strengthened by added layers of cruelty. For example, when Franco’s Nationalists had achieved victory in the Spanish Civil War in 1939, winning was not enough. Rather than seek to put the nation on a path to reconciliation and social peace, Franco chose to execute over 100,000 people the fascists had loosely identified as supporters of the Republic. Che Guevara’s many critics will make similar points regarding Che’s orders to execute many right wing Cubans in the immediate post-revolution period. There is no argument for murder; but in the wider terms of history,  we choose the less morally reprehensible movements as steps forward. Fascism has no redeeming features, as Donald Trump continues to remind us. Che’s status as a revolutionary icon and hero remains untarnished, despite everything.

IT’S NATIONAL POETRY DAY

ALOPBAMBOOM

Never appreciated Byron,
No comprehension of Neruda,
My clumsiness had one effect;
It made my craving cruder
I remained unsure of Shelley,
Perplexed with Dylan Thomas
Shakespeare I almost understood
His verse offered some promise
I felt, as all young lovers,
That I deserved a ration,
A brief insight to all these names
To supplement my passion
Yet the chains of youthful ignorance
Were bound tightly round my soul
So I expressed my love for you
With lines from rock’n’roll.
So just like Jackie Wilson,
You became my Reet Petite,
I raved on like Buddy Holly
My heart Chuck Berry’s beat
Little Richard joined Gene Vincent
With Elvis in the lead

Thus Hound Dog, Bebopalula
Satisfied romantic needs.
But that was many moons ago
Before I understood the truth
Behind the passion of great poets,
The conundrum of my youth
With age comes understanding
The years bring clarity
So I thank you Shelley, Dylan Thomas,
For what you gave to me, and
To Neruda and Will Shakespeare
All pouring passion from your hearts
Now this aficionado understands,
Although he didn’t at the start
Yet in my young pursuit of passion,
I still satisfied my soul,
If great poetry is perplexing,
There’s always rock’n’roll.

THE BLOGGING FRUSTRATION CONTINUES

Of course, as I have learned to my cost, any searing anger directed at Google’s impenetrable carapace is a pointless waste of energy. Their refusal to assist me in maintaining my blog domain http://www.roybaintonwrites.com has lost me a number of regular readers and supporters. Many were a third of the way through my unpublished novel The Man Who Feeds the Swans but the impetus for posting daily chapters on line has now fizzled out. Thanks, Google. I also find this WordPress site very difficult and restrictive. For example, how do I put images into the main body of the text, rather than just at the top of the page? There’s a lot to do as yet.

Learning The Ropes

If anyone from Google is reading this then be aware of how angry your corporation makes me. I am having to work off my disgruntlement here on this unfamiliar blog landscape where I’m slowed down and bamboozled, simply because your Google people would not, in any way, assist me in my genuine efforts to pay for the continuation of my original blog of ten years, http://www.roybaintonwrites.com. Sooner or later I’ll master the intricate mysteries of wordpress and perhaps turn out a decent enough blog, so at least I’m able to do this because wordpress was willing to give me this domain for a fee, which I gladly changed. Google? They don’t need such paltry amounts these days.

 

THE ZANETTI TRAIN MYSTERY:
FORTEAN FAKE NEWS?

 

As all good Forteans know, the internet is awash with creatively designed ‘phenomena’ web sites framed in impressive graphics, yet which are stacked with nothing but plagiaristic hearsay, anachronistic photography, rotten writing and few, if any facts. Add YouTube, a bit of weird music, a touch of the Illuminati, photo-shopped UFOs, a few shots of ‘alien life’ on Mars, and most surfers will be hooked way past their bedtime.
The sad thing is that, as all anomalists realise, once a long-running Fortean ‘mystery’ has been scientifically solved, another star in our galaxy of wonder is extinguished, so we need to find a replacement. Some internet stories are so dumbly concocted and naively colourful they take your breath away, because you realise that there may be people out there who actually believe this … yet with Donald Trump in the White House, fantasy has replaced truth, and I think I’ve found a terrific Fortean shaggy dog tale.
Unexplained phenomena, by its very ambiguous nature, can easily propel a hapless writer down the rabbit hole into a minefield of embarrassment. Over the past two decades I’ve covered a variety of mysteries including mad Nazi doctors, the Philadelphia Experiment, ghostly U-boats and maritime phenomena. In the latter category the stand-out story was the persistent mystery of the Dutch cargo ship, the Ourang Medan, found adrift in the Malacca Straits in 1947 with all her crew (including the skipper’s dog) wide-eyed and stone dead. After boarding parties left the vessel, she exploded and sank. For 20 years I became the world’s ‘go to’ internet scribe for this nautical chestnut. Even today, Forteans around the globe contact me every week with their ‘solutions’ to the mystery. The speculation over what happened was rife; poison gas, a Dutch ‘black ops’ voyage, an unknown virus, even UFO involvement. Saga magazine even sent me to Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum to track the Ourang Medan down. The archives yielded nothing. Then along came a meticulous U.S. researcher, Alexander Butziger who left me with much justifiable egg on my face. His 2014 book The Ourang Medan: Conjuring a Ghost Ship excavated deep beneath my staggered research and proved what I’d suspected all along – the story was a worn-out threadbare hoax propagated by (among others) the Nazis . Lesson learned.
Yet I quote Charles Fort from Lo!; “But some of us have been educated by surprises out of much that we were ‘absolutely sure’ of…”
Back in the 1950s I spent a few months working on British Railways during the age of steam. During the busy night shifts on Hull’s fish dock sidings, I’d often hear tales about weird goings-on on the rails or erratic train crew behaviour. This led to a fascination with the idea of ghost trains, terrifying tunnels and inexplicable disasters. One of the most successful stage plays written by Arnold Ridley in 1923 is The Ghost Train . (Yes, that’s the same Arnold Ridley who played the loveable old codger Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army.) It’s a creepy story about a group of rail passengers who spend the night in the waiting room of a country station, after being warned by the station master that if they stay, a ghost train due to pass through could being them death. There are many stories world-wide about ghost trains and strange disasters. For example, take William Topaz McGonegall’s unintentionally hilarious poem (beloved by Spike Milligan ) The Tay Bridge Disaster:
‘Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.’

Since that awful event, (and verse) it has been claimed that at 7.15pm each December 28th, accompanied by agonised screams and screeching brakes, the ghost of that ill-fated train can be heard, whilst lights have been seen coming towards Dundee.
Stirring stuff, but like shipwrecks, the rusting hulks of historical railway catastrophes gather mysterious, sinister barnacles mixed with dubious ‘facts’. In addition to Margaret Thatcher, the Lincolnshire town of Grantham is notable for another terrible disaster which occurred on 19 September 1906. The night mail train, which included a sleeping car, hauled by the powerful Ivatt Atlantic locomotive No 276 was en route from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley . The train was scheduled to slow down and stop at Grantham station. Both Caution and Danger signals, usually rigorously obeyed by drivers, were showing. They had been set for a Nottingham freight train. Yet the mail train didn’t stop. To the shock of waiting platform staff, it raced at speed through the station and was derailed, where the points were set against it, on a sharp curve at the end of the platform. A huge fire broke out. 14 people died, including the staff in the mail carriages.
Why did an experienced long-distance locomotive crew speed through danger signals to their death? Subsequent reports, following the crash told of the driver and fireman standing immobile on the footplate simply staring vacantly ahead. Explanations for their conduct included the suggestion that the driver may have gone mad or perhaps was drunk, ill or had been fighting with his fireman. The Grantham signalman said he observed the men through the loco’s cab front windows, standing calmly as they sped on. Another suggestion is that the driver suffered from a touch of sleep apnoea, momentarily dozing off whilst the fireman realised only too late. We shall never know. The great railway writer L.T.C. Rolt has referred to this as ‘the railway equivalent of the Mary Celeste’.
Inexplicable human behaviour in such cases often leads to speculative embroidery over the years. Grantham has a tragic echo in The Moorgate tube crash of 28 February 1975 on the Northern City Line. After failing to stop at Moorgate station, the line’s southern terminus, a train smashed at speed into the wall at the end of the tunnel. 43 people died and a further 74 were injured. An investigation found nothing technically wrong with the train. The driver had failed to stop at the station. Suicide? Some thought so. Yet the driver had over £270 in his pocket because when he’d finished work that day he was going to buy his daughter a car. Did he hit the accelerator instead of the brake? There was not enough evidence to determine the reason.
I began this dispatch with the hoary and now invalidated legend of the Ourang Medan. Therefore for those of you out there with a penchant for debunking fake Forteana, I hereby throw a new chestnut into the sceptic’s fire. For some obscure reason, the story of the Zanetti Train seems to be a major subject of fascination in India and Ukraine. As the story is based in Italy, this in itself is curious, but treat yourselves to an hour on YouTube and all will be revealed – even more so if you speak Urdu or Hindi. Dim the lights, open a beer and prepare to be entertained.
THE TRAIN TRAPPED IN A TIME TUNNEL
The story goes as follows … In 1911, an Italian railway company, Zanetti, is supposed to have organized an advertising campaign to demonstrate a new type of excursion train. They set up a free trial ride for well-off members of the community. I have tried in vain to link the name Zanetti to Italian railways or such a project, without success. There is an Italian tourist company of that name, but they’ve only been going for 50 years. Still, on July 14, 1911, a tourist train said to carry 106 passengers left Rome for a scenic excursion. (Another source claims 100 passengers and a crew of 6.) The train was due to pass through a tunnel in Lombardy. Which tunnel this is remains unclear. (A search on Wikipedia Commons will give you six potential tunnels, but from the legend no further information is available.) According to two passengers who managed to jump out of the train, it was suddenly enveloped in a white fog. Then comes this statement, allegedly given to ‘an Italian newspaper’:
“I heard an unclear humming sound. Beyond the black smoke, I could see a milky- white fog creeping from the tunnel – it literally swallowed the train like a wave. And with it the first car of our ill-fated train split open. It became so horrifying. The train was barely moving so I jumped from the car and my eyes caught another passenger who jumped at the same time. We both hit the ground hard, and that is the last thing I remember.” Needless to say, there are no names mentioned. The train apparently entered the tunnel and vanished, along with its passengers and crew”
According to one website, “After this occurrence the tunnel was stuffed with stones, and in the wartime an air bomb hit it.”
Apparently there was panic among Italy’s rail travellers following this incident, but if that’s the case I could find no reports on line from either the press, or a mention of the missing train on Italian Railways websites. The story seems to have become extremely popular in parts of India, although the reasons for this are not clear. However, a long way from Italy, it crops up in a new form in, of all places, Poltava, a central city in Ukraine. According to the website welcome-to-poltava.com, a gentleman named as “Chairman of the Board for Study of the Anomalous Phenomena”, one Vasyl Petrovych Leschatyi saw the ghost of the Zanetti train on a railway crossing on September 25, 1991 and we’re informed: “ The train with the curtains tightly closed and operator’s cab empty moved absolutely noiseless while smashing the hens walking over the tracks. (Leschyati) jumped on the footboard of the ghost and … nobody saw him anymore. And the train has been still going about over the Poltava region.”
Google the missing ‘Vasyl Petrovych Leschatyi’ and you’ll find nothing. Perhaps, lifted from the Indians, this is a good old yarn to add colour to a region’s tourism website. But Vasyl’s disappearance is nothing to what comes next. We’re further informed:
“Leschatyi found the records of the well-known Mexican psychiatrist Jose Saxino from the middle of the 19th century about once upon a time 104 Italians had appeared in Mexico City stating that they were arriving to Mexico City from Rome by train.”
That must have been some trip Zanetti organised – Rome to Mexico and back in time ! He ‘found the records’? Where? I’m not au fait with Mexican Psychiatry’s unsung heroes, but I couldn’t find a ‘Jose Saxino’, so perhaps he’s not so ‘well-known’ after all. Another website, ‘The Ancient Ones, Mysteries’, moves the arrival of the confused Italians to the 20th century, reporting that:
“A psychiatrist living in Mexico in the 1940’s, who took meticulous doctor notes, wrote the following: “One hundred and four people have been admitted in the local Infirmary. Their diagnosis is: mass insanity and it is the same in every patient. What a rare occurrence! All patients are acting completely erroneously, and not comprehending anything of what they are told. The truth of the matter was that none of them were Mexican or Spanish. They were Italians. An interesting fact was that none of them belonged to any ship company – I checked myself. What’s even more incredible is that each one of them claimed to have arrived aboard the ghost train of Zanetti. And not just from anywhere but from Rome. Our local fools even went as far as to believe that this was a sign from God and that these Italian patients were emissaries from the Eternal City. But this cannot be – trains do not travel on water!”
Well, he got the last bit right. Of course, in adherence to the usual internet sloppiness we’re not told who this doctor was or where his words are recorded. But there’s even more; a medieval report from the ‘region of Casta Solea’, that in a Modena monastery in the Middle Ages, the monks had a vision of a train, which they described as “a sled with a pipe, dragging three smaller ones behind it. On top of that, suffocating black smoke was spouting from its pipes.” Apparently two passengers emerged from the train but the Monks closed their gates and prayed as this could only be the ‘work of the devil’. It is claimed that this report is among archives stored by ‘the Sadjino Family’. Yes, there is a monastery in Modena, but as for the ‘Sadjinos’, they’ve proved elusive. (Although there is a hairy breed of pig called ‘Sajino’).
Finally, back in Ukraine, the train’s still running:
“On October 29th, 1955, a signalman on duty at the railway near the city of Balaklava (Ukraine) witnessed an unannounced train heading for the barrier of the station, and it was running where there were no tracks … he told famous writer, Nikolai Cherkashin: (who does exist on Facebook) “I rubbed my eyes, thinking that I was only imagining things – it’s not possible for a train to run where there are no tracks, but there it was – a locomotive with 3 passenger cars! And the entire composition did not seem to be one of ours – it seemed like it was from the war, or from an even earlier period in time.”
There’s been a suggestion that there was an earthquake in 1911 somewhere along the train’s route, and the more imaginative cybernauts have a theory that this may have opened up a ‘time portal’. But what happened to those reluctant Italian tourists in Mexico? Who were ‘Zanetti’ and ‘Jose Saxino’, and why, many miles away, do the Indians and Ukrainians devote so much time and space to this truly weird stretch of imagination? Maybe, like my embarrassing, wasted years spent on the phantom Ourang Medan, this is all part of the unhinged wackiness we Forteans enjoy so much. As the great Charles Fort asked;
“If there is a true universal mind, must it be sane?”
©2017 Roy Bainton