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Literary News: The City of Optimists

The City of Optimists is an account of Julia Shuvalova’s life and travels in England between 2002 and 2013.

The City of Optimists was the name of a small article I wrote for a Russian magazine in 2003. Years after I had started writing essays about my life in England I finally began to publish these accounts in Russian in a draft electronic version of the book under the mentoned title.

I’m in the process of uploading different chapters, so there’re some chapters on Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, and London.

Manchester’s Urbis is on the cover; I took this photo in 2008.

The link to the draft copy. The full English title reads The City of Optimists and the rest of England, to say nothing of London. I don’t think I need to say what book title inspired it. Wales is not included, as I’m writing a separate book on it.

Other posts in Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose

Julia Shuvalova – Miracle at Christmas. Part 3

A tale Miracle at Christmas by the Russian Julia Shuvalova inspired by the painting by the American Tom Sierak and set in the British Lake District.

Back in 2019, when we were making The Hammock for the Falling Stars, I wrote two fairy tales. The Welsh one, set in Llandudno and telling about the faeries visiting a tea room, was included in the book. Another one, set in the Lake District, in the town of Bowness-on-Windermere, was a bit too contemporary, so I published it in Russian as a separate book. It is called Miracle at Christmas and tells the story of the fog coming down on the Lakes and “miraculously” going away.

This story was once again inspired by a painting by Tom Sierak. In 2007, I wrote a script for a short video: it was a story about a girl who always stands by the window on Christmas night, waiting for a miracle to happen. And then, 12 years later, this image returned, and this time I wrote a nice fairy tale.

christmas
Tom Sierak, There Really is Santa! (2007)

I can unashamedly state that I absolutely love it! It contains all the magic of a Christmas tale: talking dolls, a grandmother, a non-believing brother, the evil spirits of Lake Windermere who conspire to ruin Christmas, the tine elves who fill rooms with golden magic on Christmas night. And there is a lot of Love and Faith, for without either no miracle can happen.

I see something special in the fact that I wrote this tale ahead of the troublesome 2020. Christmas and New Year holidays are commercialised, and we think about presents more than about less tangible but infinitely more important things. Children boast not believing in Santa Claus or Ded Moroz, but what good does it do to our world if we lose faith? Children do not believe in God, then they lose faith in Santa Claus, and before long they do not trust neither people, nor governments. This is a very sad reality, especially because miracles do happen.

We tend to think that miracle come out of the blue, but as the tale shows, the protagonist, a 9-year-old Linda, still had to do something to make her miracle happen. So, yes: we make our miracles ourselves, by at least having a burning desire, faith, and love.

I translated Part 3 of the tale, in which Linda asks Santa Claus to help raise the fog.

Miracle at Christmas

By Julia Shuvalova. Translated from Russian by the author.

On the morning of the 24th, Sky News, ITV and the BBC all reported that “a very thick fog had descended over the entire North-West of England”. Various weathercasters explained the reasons for this fog, which was not that unusual, but completely unexpected nonetheless. People in Grasmere and Kendal mournfully told reporters they would not be able to go to their families in the Midlands, or even to Manchester and Liverpool, because trains were cancelled and roads were blocked.

Linda heard her grandmother talking to aunt April on the phone. From snatches of conversation she learnt that her parents ‘ arrival was at least delayed. Around four o’clock, unable to stand the uncertainty, she called her mother. Through the constant interference, she understood that her parents would leave the house and head toward the Lake District, but…

As she was leaving the living room and was about to close the door, Linda glanced back. Little elves were filling the space under the Christmas tree with magic.

As she was leaving the living room and was about to close the door, Linda glanced back. Little elves were filling the space under the Christmas tree with magic.

– Linda, my dear girl, I’m sorry, I can’t promise you anything, – her mother said in a sad voice, and Linda’s heart sank. What a fog! Why couldn’t it wait and go down on the 25th! Then parents would have stayed in Windermere and needn’t go to work. And now they will have no Christmas, no gifts, no holiday dinner…

Linda buried her face in the pillow, but quickly got up and ran to her brother, who was watching a TV series.

– Jamie! Let’s write to Santa Claus! He will have the fog to rise, and the parents will come!”

Jamie turned away from the TV and studied his sister.

– Linda, silly girl, even if Santa exists, on December 24, he is flying around the world delivering gifts. Do you think he has the time and strength to clear the fog? And who will deliver this letter to him? – He glanced at his watch. – It’s almost five, and the post office is closed.

The rest of the day dragged on even longer than it usually does on Christmas Eve. No-one wanted to play, tea and cakes tasted no good, and the phone stopped working. Jamie was very excited: he liked the idea that they were completely cut off from the world here in Windermere. “Like on a desert island!” – he exclaimed, peering out of the window into impenetrable fog. Grandma Joyce turned on “Coronation Street” and began knitting. Linda sat on the sofa with her feet up, looking at the Christmas tree that she and her brother had decorated on December 22, and fighting back tears with all her strength.

Despite the stress of the day, sleep did not come to her, so shortly before midnight she dressed and went down to the cold living room, turned on the garland, wrapped herself in a blanket, and climbed into the armchair by the window. Alice the doll sat primly on the windowsill, her sky-blue eyes turned to the night sky.

– Oh, Alice, if you only knew what a dreadful Christmas we are having this year! – Linda said in a low voice and buried her face in the knees. She should have stayed at home with parents.

Suddenly, she felt the room fill with warmth. She raised her head, and sure enough, little folks with transparent oblong wings were fluttering around the room.

– Who are you? – Linda asked in surprise.

– We are the Christmas elves, – she heard a tiny voice say. A little girl with sparkling golden hair hovered in the air just above Linda’s shoulder. – We always fly to people’s homes on Christmas night to fill them with magic! You must have noticed that on the morning of the 25th everything seems different in the entire house, as if gold particles sparkle everywhere. This is our magic! – And she giggled contentedly.

– We won’t have Christmas this year, – Linda said, – because the fog has come down on the Lake District, and my parents won’t come on time.

– Oh, poor thing! – the elf sighed. – But wait, Santa Claus has just started to deliver gifts, if he visits your place, he will definitely help.

– But how will he find us? – Linda exclaimed in despair. – Look at the fog, you can’t see anything!

– Really? – The elf said, unconvinced. – I think Santa travels in all weathers. – And when she saw Linda’s puzzled look, she nodded with conviction: – Definitely so.

Linda turned to the window and stared out into the thick fog. It was a long time before she saw anything. Even the streetlight opposite the house was almost lost in the white haze. But then she noticed that Alice herself had got to her feet and leaned against the window. Following the doll’s gaze, she noticed two lights appear high up in the sky. They did not blink but moved closer, then there became more of them, and soon Linda, throwing away a blanket and jumping off the armchair, was standing at the window – and through the glass she saw a painted wooden sleigh hovering in the air at window level. It was every bit like the one they painted on old postcards, and it was led by the harnessed reindeer flapped their ears. In the sleigh, resting his hand on a large bag with gifts, sat Santa Claus. He was the same age as Grandma Joyce, Linda thought, and he had a long, broad beard, a bushy moustache, and kind eyes behind glasses.

– Hello, dear Alice! – he said, waving a red-gloved hand.

– Hello, dear Santa! Alice replied in a tiny, melodious voice.

– How are my Christmas elves doing preparing your home for the holiday?

– But, of course, – Alice reported. – And all the food has been purchased, Joyce has prepared meat and a pie, and there are still vegetables to cook for dinner. The only thing is…

– What’s the matter? – Santa Claus leaned forward.

– Let Linda tell you all about it, – Alice replied suddenly. – Besides she really wanted to see you.

Santa Claus turned to the girl and looked at her with attention.

– So, Linda, tell me what happened.

Linda blushed: Santa was looking at her so intently and affectionately that for a moment she thought it was wrong to keep him here. After all, the fog will clear sooner or later, except that…

– Dear Santa, we won’t have Christmas, – Linda took a deep breath. – The news says that the roads are blocked because of the fog, and the parents will not get to us. And my aunt and cousin Robert won’t come, either.

– Yes, yes, – Santa Claus nodded, – I know the story. The spirits of Lake Windermere decided to play a joke on the residents this year. My heralds warned me, but I hoped they would have the decency to wait until at least the 26th. I’m sorry, Linda…

– Santa, if I had known better, I would have sent you a letter! – Linda threw up her hands. – But Jamie said the post office was closed, and you were delivering gifts and couldn’t help.

– Jamie thinks I don’t exist, – Santa Claus smiled. – Your brother is growing up too quickly, alas. Of course, you should have written to me and just put the letter in the mailbox. Remember what I wrote to your grandmother? I see you all. I would have known you were asking me to raise the fog, and I would have done something.

– And now, Santa? – Linda was all confused. – Can’t we do anything now?

Santa Claus shrugged.

– Actually, your gifts will still arrive on time, I know that. Maybe it’s not a big deal if you spend Christmas with your grandmother, without your parents?

And here Linda exclaimed excitedly:

– No, Santa, it’s not about our gifts! Don’t you understand?! My father and mother will be left without gifts, I have spent some much time embroidering a cushion for my mother, and I made a beautiful pen case for my father! And I embroidered a pincushion for aunt April! And I bought cousin Robert a book about knights! And Jamie made presents, too! And now we can’t give them! – And her helplessness brought her to tears.

Alice pleaded:

– Please, dear Santa, do something! A long time ago you persuaded the store owner to give me to Joyce. Can’t you get a handle on the spirits of Lake Windermere?

Through the tears on her lashes, Linda could see Santa Claus stroking his beard thoughtfully and adjusting his glasses.

– You’re a good girl, Linda, very much like your grandmother. You know, these spirits are strange creatures, they like to complicate things, but they are not without empathy. I won’t promise anything – I still have to deliver gifts – but I’ll try to do something.

Santa Claus reined in, and the reindeer swayed their antlers and began to move. They rose majestically higher and higher up in the air, and as far as Linda and Alice could see, they were slowly receding into the night. The elf girl sat on Linda’s shoulder and touched the tip of her nose with her wand.

– Linda, it’s time to go to bed! Santa Claus can’t bring gifts if you don’t fall asleep.

– Do you think the fog will clear, Alice? – Linda asked.

Alice settled into her usual position and shrugged.

– Linda, dear, there are things that neither people nor dolls can influence. You did everything you could. Now we can only trust and wait.

As she was leaving the living room and was about to close the door, Linda glanced back. Little elves were filling the space under the Christmas tree with magic.

Jamie! Let’s write to Santa Claus! He will have the fog to rise, and the parents will come!”

Jamie turned away from the TV and studied his sister.

– Linda, silly girl, even if Santa exists, on December 24, he is flying around the world delivering gifts. Do you think he has the time and strength to clear the fog? And who will deliver this letter to him? – He glanced at his watch. – It’s almost five, and the post office is closed.

The rest of the day dragged on even longer than it usually does on Christmas Eve. No-one wanted to play, tea and cakes tasted no good, and the phone stopped working. Jamie was very excited: he liked the idea that they were completely cut off from the world here in Windermere. “Like on a desert island!” – he exclaimed, peering out of the window into impenetrable fog. Grandma Joyce turned on “Coronation Street” and began knitting. Linda sat on the sofa with her feet up, looking at the Christmas tree that she and her brother had decorated on December 22, and fighting back tears with all her strength.

Despite the stress of the day, sleep did not come to her, so shortly before midnight she dressed and went down to the cold living room, turned on the garland, wrapped herself in a blanket, and climbed into the armchair by the window. Alice the doll sat primly on the windowsill, her sky-blue eyes turned to the night sky.

– Oh, Alice, if you only knew what a dreadful Christmas we are having this year! – Linda said in a low voice and buried her face in the knees. She should have stayed at home with parents.

Suddenly, she felt the room fill with warmth. She raised her head, and sure enough, little folks with transparent oblong wings were fluttering around the room.

– Who are you? – Linda asked in surprise.

– We are the Christmas elves, – she heard a tiny voice say. A little girl with sparkling golden hair hovered in the air just above Linda’s shoulder. – We always fly to people’s homes on Christmas night to fill them with magic! You must have noticed that on the morning of the 25th everything seems different in the entire house, as if gold particles sparkle everywhere. This is our magic! – And she giggled contentedly.

– We won’t have Christmas this year, – Linda said, – because the fog has come down on the Lake District, and my parents won’t come on time.

– Oh, poor thing! – the elf sighed. – But wait, Santa Claus has just started to deliver gifts, if he visits your place, he will definitely help.

– But how will he find us? – Linda exclaimed in despair. – Look at the fog, you can’t see anything!

– Really? – The elf said, unconvinced. – I think Santa travels in all weathers. – And when she saw Linda’s puzzled look, she nodded with conviction: – Definitely so.

Linda turned to the window and stared out into the thick fog. It was a long time before she saw anything. Even the streetlight opposite the house was almost lost in the white haze. But then she noticed that Alice herself had got to her feet and leaned against the window. Following the doll’s gaze, she noticed two lights appear high up in the sky. They did not blink but moved closer, then there became more of them, and soon Linda, throwing away a blanket and jumping off the armchair, was standing at the window – and through the glass she saw a painted wooden sleigh hovering in the air at window level. It was every bit like the one they painted on old postcards, and it was led by the harnessed reindeer flapped their ears. In the sleigh, resting his hand on a large bag with gifts, sat Santa Claus. He was the same age as Grandma Joyce, Linda thought, and he had a long, broad beard, a bushy moustache, and kind eyes behind glasses.

– Hello, dear Alice! – he said, waving a red-gloved hand.

– Hello, dear Santa! Alice replied in a tiny, melodious voice.

– How are my Christmas elves doing preparing your home for the holiday?

– But, of course, – Alice reported. – And all the food has been purchased, Joyce has prepared meat and a pie, and there are still vegetables to cook for dinner. The only thing is…

– What’s the matter? – Santa Claus leaned forward.

– Let Linda tell you all about it, – Alice replied suddenly. – Besides she really wanted to see you.

Santa Claus turned to the girl and looked at her with attention.

– So, Linda, tell me what happened.

Linda blushed: Santa was looking at her so intently and affectionately that for a moment she thought it was wrong to keep him here. After all, the fog will clear sooner or later, except that…

– Dear Santa, we won’t have Christmas, – Linda took a deep breath. – The news says that the roads are blocked because of the fog, and the parents will not get to us. And my aunt and cousin Robert won’t come, either.

– Yes, yes, – Santa Claus nodded, – I know the story. The spirits of Lake Windermere decided to play a joke on the residents this year. My heralds warned me, but I hoped they would have the decency to wait until at least the 26th. I’m sorry, Linda…

– Santa, if I had known better, I would have sent you a letter! – Linda threw up her hands. – But Jamie said the post office was closed, and you were delivering gifts and couldn’t help.

– Jamie thinks I don’t exist, – Santa Claus smiled. – Your brother is growing up too quickly, alas. Of course, you should have written to me and just put the letter in the mailbox. Remember what I wrote to your grandmother? I see you all. I would have known you were asking me to raise the fog, and I would have done something.

– And now, Santa? – Linda was all confused. – Can’t we do anything now?

Santa Claus shrugged.

– Actually, your gifts will still arrive on time, I know that. Maybe it’s not a big deal if you spend Christmas with your grandmother, without your parents?

And here Linda exclaimed excitedly:

– No, Santa, it’s not about our gifts! Don’t you understand?! My father and mother will be left without gifts, I have spent some much time embroidering a cushion for my mother, and I made a beautiful pen case for my father! And I embroidered a pincushion for aunt April! And I bought cousin Robert a book about knights! And Jamie made presents, too! And now we can’t give them! – And her helplessness brought her to tears.

Alice pleaded:

– Please, dear Santa, do something! A long time ago you persuaded the store owner to give me to Joyce. Can’t you get a handle on the spirits of Lake Windermere?

Through the tears on her lashes, Linda could see Santa Claus stroking his beard thoughtfully and adjusting his glasses.

– You’re a good girl, Linda, very much like your grandmother. You know, these spirits are strange creatures, they like to complicate things, but they are not without empathy. I won’t promise anything – I still have to deliver gifts – but I’ll try to do something.

Santa Claus reined in, and the reindeer swayed their antlers and began to move. They rose majestically higher and higher up in the air, and as far as Linda and Alice could see, they were slowly receding into the night. The elf girl sat on Linda’s shoulder and touched the tip of her nose with her wand.

– Linda, it’s time to go to bed! Santa Claus can’t bring gifts if you don’t fall asleep.

– Do you think the fog will clear, Alice? – Linda asked.

Alice settled into her usual position and shrugged.

– Linda, dear, there are things that neither people nor dolls can influence. You did everything you could. Now we can only trust and wait.

As she was leaving the living room and was about to close the door, Linda glanced back. Little elves were filling the space under the Christmas tree with magic.

The Russian book is available here and here.

2021 Photographic Calendars to Order

2021 photographic calendars by Julia Shuvalova feature original photography of Wales and London. Enjoy the familiar and new landmarks all year!

The new year is just around the corner, and I’m pleased to announce the availability of 2021 photographic calendars I’ve prepared for you.

llandudno-great-orme
Llandudno. A View from the Great Orme (@Julia Shuvalova, 2013)

We’re starting with my photographic calendars available on Zazzle.com. One of them is dedicated to Wales and features my photos made there between 2009 and 2013. The photos were taken in North, Middle and South Wales, particularly in Caernarfon, Llandudno, Denbighshire. Exact places include Valle Crucis Abbey, Horseshoe Path, and a few others.

Another calendar consists of my London photos. The landmarks include a church in Aldgate, St. Pancras Railway Station, the church of St. Clements Danes, a few Bloomsbury and Soho streets. This is London you rarely see on postcards. While the Welsh 2021 photographic calendar is ideal for those who love the countryside, London 2021 photographic calendar will best suit those who like the subdued city vibe.

Both 2021 photographic calendars cost around $20 and can be delivered within a few days. I hope you will be able to enjoy my photos in the coming year.

Furthermore, please browse my Zazzle store and choose from cards, posters, iPhone covers and other merchandise that I will upload soon.

Mundus Vivendi Design

More posts on Photography.

Megxit, or Coat-hangers and Coat-bearers

When a woman joins a high-profile family, she becomes either a coat-hanger or a coat-bearer

Being a trained specialist in English history, I cannot avoid commenting on the recent scandal in the British Royal Family, poignantly called Megxit by the media. Harry and Meghan walked out on the British royal family. I didn’t want to engage in the hysteria of Harry’s exiting the family when the news had just broken out. I now feel I can share my view of the situation.

Personally, I don’t sympathise with either Harry or Meghan. Even Kate Middleton didn’t instantly become the nation’s favourite, and she’d been in the public eye for much longer before her marriage than Meghan. Never mind the latter’s cinema career, I suppose few people had heard of her before she got engaged to Prince Harry. So, I cannot see why the public wouldn’t judge Meghan where it had previously judged Kate. The British mouth can blurt out some scathing criticism. This had to be foreseen, obviously, and not just by the PR services but by Harry and Meghan themselves.

So, I feel for Meghan for any misery she endured at the royal court but it was in the cards anyway. The monarchy has to maintain its public image, and it costs a lot – financially, as emotionally. If she thought that the BRF is no Hollywood and she could be herself here, it was a very silly thought indeed. I’ve never been to either place but it seems no Hollywood may be as restricting and false (to someone’s liking anyway), as a royal family of any country.

Coat-hangers and coat-bearers of the British monarchy (Image courtery: Telegraph.co.uk)

To portray Harry as a poor guy torn between the beloved Granny, the native country and the wife-and-child is also to do him no justice. He’s not a teen nor even a young adult. He’s the sixth in line to the throne, and even if he was unlikely to get there ever in his life it doesn’t change the main thing: he represents the British monarchy. I cannot imagine what it was that eventually prompted him to break the news on Instagram of all places, but it is clear that this was a thoughtful decision, not a fly of fancy. Of course, he’s got a historical precedent in the face of Edward VIII. However, there isn’t as much pressure on Prince Harry, for he simply decided to get rid of royal responsibilities that demanded the presence of his wife. It is in no way critical as King Edward’s abdication in the wake of the Second World war.

Following the Megxit has led me to this observation. When it comes to joining a high-profile family, women apparently fall into 2 categories: coat-hangers and coat-bearers. Coat-hangers dream of nice clothes, family jewellery, publicity and other perks of an aristocratic dolce vita. So duties and not-always-nice-comments come as a surprise. Coat-bearers are more grounded. Being women, they certainly dream of the above, but they realise that to be a wife to a president, a king, a prince etc. means to carry the coat-of-arms of his country and his family.

Speaking of royal couples, the Spanish Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia have long been my favourite Royal family, for they both had successful public careers before getting married and ascending the throne. Princess Letizia reported from war zones and was an established professional in her own right. The image of a “normal” family that Prince William and his wife have adopted has made them popular but I cannot see them projecting the country to any new heights. They were so “normal” that they left practically no mark on this world prior to their marriage. Perhaps, the forward movement is no longer important after Brexit.

Having said that, Kate Middleton is certainly a coat-bearer. And there’s a good reason why she also is. She’s British. Whether she’s always dreamt of joining the Royal family or it happened by chance, she’s aware that she represents the country – hers, as her husband’s. You may remind me of members of other European royalty and aristocracy whose wives or husbands are foreigners (the Netherlands and Monaco come to my mind). What we still see is that a spouse becomes a full member of the royal household, complete with all duties this entails.

In case with Meghan Markle, she comes from the country that abandoned monarchy from the very beginning of its political life. America has been the country of the people – at least, nominally. When you elect and re-elect presidents, it’s hard to force yourself to be a part of the family where you will have to work like a queen but never get the chance to sit on the throne. British Royal family is very undemocratic and has evidently made some impossible demands on the good, young American.

So, Meghan is a coat-bearer, too – but of her own country and interests. It’s hard to say whether her attempt at bearing the arms of Britain and the Windsor family was good enough or it was doomed from the start. Yet even  her appearances as a coat-hanger didn’t always impress the media. Her being a brunette meant constant comparisons to Kate. Since William is more likely to get the throne than Harry, it’s more important for the media to keep Kate in the spotlight, than to let Meghan have her share thereof.

The result is that Prince Harry chose to altogether abandon the Royal family instead of withdrawing from the public eye for some time and helping Meghan to come to terms with her duties and a new lifestyle. Perhaps, Meghan decided that being married to a Prince is quite enough for her. And Prince Harry whose past behaviour occasionally outraged the public apparently thought that he could finally live his life on his own terms. Whatever the reports say, he’s always been the younger brother: always second, always in the shadow. Now he’s got the spotlight, and it remains to be seen what use Harry and Meghan will make of it.

Julia Shuvalova

Image is courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Belated Snowfall

Belated Snowfall in Moscow finally comes down on the city

A late January snowfall in Moscow

There’s a chance that Moscow people will enjoy some proper winter weather soon. The first sign is the snow which is well overdue but is nonetheless welcome. I may try to be funny and say that Britain with the Brexit has waved goodbye to Europe and various European organisations, like PAEC, by sending a heatwave that saw the warmest December and January in all Russian history. But no, things are getting back to normal here, while we’re yet to see what lies ahead for Great Britain.

A Retired Easy-Rider

The English pensioners sometimes drive these motorised wheelchairs. They are quite expensive, so are more rarely seen compared to a usual wheelchair. This photo was taken in Stockport, England, but I recall narrowly avoiding a collision in Salford. I was slowly walking to a shop when suddenly I thought something was moving behind me. You know, a kind of a thriller movie scene when you feel someone breathing you in the neck. I looked across my shoulder and barely managed to jump to the left, to a fence of someone’s house. A typical English lady, complete with a pastel fleece zip jacket and permed lilac hair, confidently drove past me at a pretty high speed, without any warning. It took me time to come to terms with the fact that she nearly ran me over…

Liverpool: In Search of The Beatles Story 

The first time I visited Liverpool was in November 2002. The weather was typical of the English North-West in autumn: above the nil, wind and RAIN.
It should be noted that the trip was an act of appeasement of this Russian girl who was ready to love Manchester United FC provided that no one would stop her from adoring The Beatles. You see, Mancunians are peculiar people. In their view, all best things had happened – or are happening – in Manchester. Therefore, Liverpool, or London for that matter, is a nuisance that throws its shadow on the splendour of the red-brick city. (A note: Liverpudlians secretly giggle at, yet uphold, this ‘competition’). God knows what I had to listen about Liverpool! All people there stretch “i” sound, it’s raining there, Scousers keep outplaying MUFC in the Premier League and at various championships; and on top of that, there is an incomprehensible urban planning and roads that are impossible to navigate. However, as I was eager to even take the train, and my hosts couldn’t risk letting me go on my own, we eventually went by car. 
…and for some reason it was the day of our trip that the firemen trade union had chosen for their strike! To avoid strikebreaking and any incidents, the lifts were switched off throughout the country, communications with the firemen were aborted, hence anyone using electrical goods, shaving and cooking in microwaves was doing so at his or her own risk. We nevertheless went on our trip, but you surely do understand that Liverpool was the cause of it all?!

None of my company knew the city and had barely ever visited it, so we spent a long time searching for Albert Dock where The Beatles Story Museum was located. At first, we ended up at a car park which was at the opposite end of our destination, so we had to brave the rain and wind. In search for a parking space we had to go as high up as level 6 or 7. And whilst going downstairs wasn’t much trouble for any of us, walking back up the stairs presented a challenge even to the healthier ones, who didn’t suffer from asthma and had no problems with legs. The parking was located somewhere near the university, and, as I recall, it was the first time that I saw some tropical plants, like palms, fluttering pathetically in the wind. Later I would see many an unfortunate tree, like those ones, that somehow got settled in the English North-West and in Wales and were courageously soaking wet in the intermittent, cold local rain, the icy winds tearing apart their leaves. 

The road to The Beatles Story was long, though not winding. We had no idea where the museum was, so we took the direction in which everyone wagged and waved. We had to stop regularly because the adults had difficulty walking. We got hungry and popped into a cafe; I tried scrambled eggs with salmon for the first time. This part of the journey took about an hour and a half. Mancunians kept looking for ways to pick at Liverpool, but, apart from the weather (which hardly differed from Manchester), there was nothing to discuss.

After lunch we went on to search for The Beatles Story under the rain. The longer you live in England, the more you realise that the rain is accepted as an inseparable part of life, its absence denying life altogether. Or at least without the rain life becomes palpably incomplete. That time in Liverpool, looking for the museum, I also figured that it was under this perpetual rain the young Beatles had been gathering at each other’s houses, composing and rehearsing songs, and then going to the historical Cavern club to play a gig. They soaked to the bone and got cold but still went wherever the music was taking them. 

Finally, we almost reached our destination: we got to the other end of Albert Dock. Yet we were in Liverpool that evidently decided that those arrogant Mancunians had to get beans for their sharp tongues. On our right a wall was rising, in front of us the boats were floating, and on the left a small bridge was leading to the other bank of the dock. Unconsciously, instead of all this we expected to see some remarkable building with a running inscription, like the British Museum or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, for shouldn’t Liverpool have been proud of its famous citizens? But alas, there was nothing of the kind. Looking around in despair, I saw two street-signs, one near the bridge, another next to us. Both had “The Beatles Story Museum” arrows pointing at each other. Where they intersected, stood a red Royal Mail post box pinned right in the middle of the little cobbled space where we stood. 
The epic journey was becoming unbearable. This magical mystery tour seemed to be endless but then we noticed a man with his young son. To our question he confidently waved towards the brick wall, and we turned around it and immediately stumbled on a green garbage bin and a sort of cabins painted in the style of the Beatles’ cartoons. And a little farther there was the museum building, with a running inscription, but the entrance led downstairs, rather than upstairs, and The Beatles Story was beginning with the very first steps…

From The City of Optimists by Julia Shuvalova 

The Sights of Manchester Attacks 22-23 May, 2017

As could be expected, the explosion of what is thought to be a nail bomb in MEN Arena last night may be just one of the episodes in a series of attacks. Arndale shopping centre that you can see in pictures is now reported to be under attack, as people are being evacuated following a loud bang.

As you know, I spent 7 years in Manchester (although I travelled throughout England), so in a way this is a native city where I survived many a memory. So it is deeply saddening to hear about the teracts. I hope the police and citizens show vigilance and remain calm amidst the terror theats.

Personal Landmarks Disappear in Manchester

When you live in the city for a number of years, walk its streets, frequent the eateries and entertainment venues, it may be hard to see some of those places shut down. Crisis dealt fiercely with quite a few places across the city of Manchester, but the biggest blow to me was the news about the BBC Manchester building in Oxford Road being demolished. Last time I was in Manchester and had a ride on a number 2 shuttle bus I saw the bare foundations, and it was sad. No more Radio Manchester newsroom where I had had my first radio placement, with the walk down the corridor past the BBC Philharmonics studio. Neither canteen, nor library on Floor 2. Neither floor 4 where Entertainment department was based, nor Floor 5 with Religion and Ethics department. I know they have all moved to Salford Quays, but personal memories have been quite literally swept away along with the building. This is what it looked like.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/loscuadernosdejulia/2845051811/player/9ec0b0555c

Saying that it’s not possible to enter the same river twice isn’t quite true. In spite of leaving the Beeb in early 2007 I returned there already in February 2007 for the first meet-up of BBC Manchester Blog. After a session at the BBC Cafe we moved to ponder the future of blogging to Lass O’Gowrie pub at the top of the nearby street. Well, the pub’s recently closed with a promise to open in early February 2014. Considering its fame and the most recent win of The Best Pub in Britain in 2012, I sincerely look forward to having a pint there at the earliest available opportunity this year. Meanwhile, this is how it looked while I still lived in Manchester:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/loscuadernosdejulia/2845050053/player/de77431294

Here’s a story of the first BBC Manchester Blog meet-up.

Still, the saddest disappearance is that of Mark Addy restaurant. Again, it is set to reopen in February (for they do need to serve all those romantic Valentine dates, I suppose!), but whether or not it keeps the famous name is unknown. Apparently, the reason is the poor state of the building and the inability to meet the cost of renovation and refurbishment works.

I’ve never dined there, but on January 7th 2005 I was supposed to meet a female acquaintance who apparently never came. Fine. It was Russian Christmas, and I think I ordered a pint of bitter (or was it a glass of wine?) I sat there, looking at the cold waters of the river Irwell, taking a moment of calm to think of everything that was happening in my life since 2000, and especially since 2003. Then I made a decision that changed the way I spent the next 5 years. After a very tumultuous 2004 when I realised that I would most likely have to choose between myself and my marriage I had to decide whether to stay in England or go back to Russia. As I was gazing at the waters, the decision came. I even wrote it down on a piece of paper, which I might still be able to find. I decided to stay with the nation that was proud as a lion and hell-bent on winning, and has superbly succeeded at delivering great work throughout its history. Some people advised me to get on the door of a Russian company, just because I was Russian. At Mark Addy I decided to only work with the British. Indeed, if I had such a wonderful opportunity, why shouldn’t I have used it to the full, to learn from the best, to take my English to the next level of fluency, and to acquire the skills and experience that would benefit me in the long run?

The rest is history. Amidst all sorts of setbacks, including various losses, I fully realised the goal I had set at Mark Addy when I decided to stay in Britain. Thus when I eventually came back to Moscow in 2010 it was,  I suppose, a logical outcome of all years of “learning”. I returned because it was finally time to return.

I may be wrong but it looks like I haven’t ever taken a photo of Mark Addy. But I have a pic of the opposite side of the river Irwell near The Lowry Hotel. Interestingly, on this spot in the 19th c. there happened a boat accident that claimed lives of several people.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/loscuadernosdejulia/2959586636/player/b7f52f0c94

error: Sorry, no copying !!