RDP Tuesday: Mandolin (sorry no guitar here)


This is my mandolin. It has quite a journey behind it. Made somewhere in a Russian factory, taken to Britain from Leingrad and afterwards Switzerland where it has been for the past fifty years.

I remember well when I first saw it. Actually it was supposed to be a balalaika. I was on a school trip in my last year at school on a cruise ship visiting various towns around the Baltic sea, one of which being Leningrad. In 1964 Leningrad was still a communist stronghold being under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, but we were teenage schoolgirls, so what did politics bother us. On the cruise there were two ladies from the USSR as the country was then known, and we would meet up now and again and they would tell us about what to expect in their country and we could ask questions.  One of the questions was about music instruments and when we heard that the price of a genuine Russian balalaika was only 1-2 roubles we had all marked our choices on the shopping list.

Eventually the ship docked in at Leningrad.

Quayside Leningrad
It was the job of these two red army soldiers to control our special identity cards each time we left and boarded the ship. Freedom of movement was not allowed.

And so there came the day when we were ready for our planned excursion to the town of Leningrad. The first visit was to the Young People’s palace where invited younger members of the Russian population were ready to meet their english friends, although their idea of being modern was not really ours. We were all wearing our fashionable clothes, often with skirts shorter than usual, and the Russian guys and girls were dressed more proper. I remember the guys. They were all wearing a tie with shirt. It seemed that material was scarce in Leningrad as the ties were half the normal length we were used to. It looked like someone had cut off the bottom part of the tie.

After getting this official part of the business behind us, we were let loose and all of us headed for the large store where they sold everything, including music instruments. Our two teachers accompanied us but it was a big store and we soon lost sight of each other. We were told to meet afterwards at the bus stop where public transport would take us to the quay where the ship was docked.

We were about 50 school girls and the invasion had begun. It was a large music department, but we raided it. After half an hour there were no more balalaikas. First comers had bought them all. For such a cheap price of 1-2 roubles they were almost free for us, although the average Russian probably had to work a couple of weeks until he could afford it. I also wanted my balalaika, but being none left, I settled for a mandolin. It cost a little more than 2 roubles, about 4 roubles, and so was on Russian terms classed as a good instrument. This was also confirmed when I arrived back in England by a musician.


Here is a close up of the label in the inside of the mandoline. I can read russian, but it just said that it was manufactured in an instrument factory in a place called Lunacharsk.

The result of our invasion in this department store was easy to see. The shop assistants had never seen anything like it. They were defenceless against the english schoolgirls, but we paid our roubles and left an empty store in the music department. There was not one balalaika or mandolin left on the shelves, they had been cleared. I think that day was a record turnover.

We all left the store and I met our teacher who was still waiting for the rest of the troup. I told her it would be some time before they all arrived and so she put me and my colleagues on the Russian bus which had arrived and waited for the others. Each of us naturally had an instrument tucked under our arms. Eventually we arrived at the ship, had the normal examination by the red army guards who looked a little perplexed at each of us carrying a Russian music instrument. We had all decided to leave our precious music instruments in the purser’s office on the ship as they would look after them and we were sure they would be safe. Unfortunately the office was fully packed with the mandolines and balalaikas (as well as a few guitars) from the floor to the ceiling, so we were told to keep them in our dormitries (we were sleeping in group accommodation). And so that was my story that happened when Putin was still wearing diapers.

In the meanwhile I have not learned to play the mandolin, but Mr. Swiss being more musically talented in that direction one bought a set of strings and restrung it for me. It is now placed on top of our TV cupboard in the living room – a family heirloom which I will one day pass onto my son.

Naval Triumphal Arch Starchek square Leningrad

Naval Triumphal Arch Starchek square Leningrad – my photos, being from 1964, are all black and white.

RDP Tuesday: Mandolin (sorry no guitar here)

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