Our European travel history
Other travel documents
Our first ever trip abroad was in 1967 before the children started at school, so the whole family went off to live and work in a foreign land with a different language. I had just been promoted (but not yet started) as Director of Computing, we were about to move house from West Bridgford to near the university, and Angus was about to start school. What a year 1967 was!
The Vienna visit was originated by an invitation through our professor of statistics, Nobel prize winner Clive Grainger, for whom I'd done some programming (coding) in the very early days of computers. In those days the university had a data link to Manchester University's Atlas computer, the biggest and best in the world, programming was in machine code or Atlas Autocode, all very primitive; I was a "techie". He had been involved with the "Institute for Advanced Studies" or "Institut fur Hõher Studien" (in those days add to the title "und Fortliche Wissenschaft") in Vienna. They were funded by the Ford Foundation as part of helping Austrian recovery after the Russians left in 1956. Before that, Vienna was divided into four sectors like Berlin. We were told later that, the day after the Russians left, all the statues/memorials they had put up during their occupation vanished. Our first impression of Vienna was that there were still many signs of bomb damage, it was very grey. But as we got to know it, it became - and still is - our favourite city.
I knew some German language from my GCE O-level school lessons taught by Mrs Bannerman (she taught the grammatical endings in the form of songs, that's why I remembered them) (if you did well in first form French, you studied German as well thereafter) and more recently I'd attended another course at the University organised by Walter Grauberg, a lovely man, head of the language centre. In Vienna I gave my first lecture in German, I thought it went well. But afterwards the staff of the institute came up and said "We can understand your English better than your German". So the rest was in English! But we used German language around the city, and Joy picked it up as we went along. There was virtually no tourism then, so no English speaking guides.
The course I was asked to give was to explain the workings of a particular IBM software package, the SSP or Scientific Subroutine Package. I had taught the relevant scientific methods at Nottingham, and learnt the FORTRAN computer language in which they were programmed. The computer was an IBM 1620 with variable length arithmetic.
We were accompanied by Marion, who we had just met. For this trip she had to be described as our nanny/au pair, since you couldn't just go there for no reason. I had to get a work permit of course.
We travelled in our Ford Thames minibus DTO 322, which we'd bought when our Standard 8 TTT427 (from Auntie Gwen) got too small for the family. The vehicle had to be exported and imported at every country border we crossed, great forms to fill in causing delays. We stopped en route at a ghastly place run by an Englishman in NE France, then Nancy (Joy drove into the hotel's undeground car park, I walked in front and set all the alarms off), Strasbourg, and Salzburg (lovely "Gasthof Junior"). Soon after we arrived in Vienna, Angus came out in measles. I imagined a map on the front page of the Guardian showing the spread of the measles epidemic across Europe from Dover all the way to Vienna. We had to call a doctor to Angus, our pigeon German and his pigeon English made it difficult to follow. The measles carried on to both Rory and Hamish but not the adults.
We first lived in a flat near the Schönbrun Palace, Fourth floor with no lift, and Eric's asthma was still bad. It adjoined a shopping precinct which included a cinema. On the cinema sign there was one word which stretched the whole width of the sign, a compound German word meaning "hearing apparatus for the hard of hearing". Soon afterwards the institute organised a bungalow for us, at the bottom of someone's garden (built for the owner's son, who didn't want it, on Granichstâdtlgasse) further from the centre, but near the Vienna woods. The heating didn't work at first, but was soon OK. We had to black out the windows when the children had measles. Marion and Joy took the children to the Vienna woods several times, it was bluebell time, the children sulked "Not the Vienna woods again". We had three adults and three children, when baby sitting was needed any two of the three adults could go. Trips out included going up the rack-and-pinion steam railway to the nearby Schneeberg (2000 metres), but at that time of year the train had to stop at a big snow drift well short of the summit.
I needed two trams to get to work (change at the Kennedy Bridge, every European city had something named after him). My tram pass had my age in big letters, ladies' tram passes had their photo. The IAS was just off Mariahilfer Strasse, about 1km from the centre of town. There was a cake shop at the end of the road where I bought a treat for home on some days.
My immediate boss was Roland Stôckelle, a lovely man. His wife Eugenie worked at the British Embassy and had a PhD degree in English, she knew some aspects of English culture better than we do. They both spoke excellent English. The first time he met Joy he kissed her hand, the Viennese are very formal! They had no children, but looked after us wonderfully well. They took us to the Iron Curtain (Czech) border in two places (one by the main road between Vienna and Bratislava, the other where there were two fences with armed soldiers and guard dogs in between, someone was shot there the day after we visited). Roland also worked at the Moscow Academy of Science, he said the people there were brilliant. The boss of the Institute was Herr Dr Professor Bomze. Of course one shook hands with everyone at first meeting every day, even when crossing a main road. Vienna is a very polite city, everyone understands. The first self-service restaurant opened just before we arrived, but most folks scorned the idea of self-service. Roland later became head of computing for the Austrian government.
Our Nottingham teacher friend Sylvia visited for a week, she always swatted up the history before any visit.
We remember a visit to the Spanish Riding School to see the horses (and riders) performing. A member of staff came up to ask Rory (age 3 then) to stop singing "Yellow Submarine", it was disturbing the horses.
On the way back we stayed (among others) at a posh hotel in Zurich recently refurbished, and owned by a friend of Auntie Gwen. The kids were intrigued with the endless hot shower.
1967 Conference in Copenhagen
Advanced Summer school at Copenhagen, organised for NATO by Hans Jorgen Helms. Speakers included Don Knuth (on formal grammars, "Here's a theorem I proved on the way in", "Here's a counter-example to the theorem I proved yesterday"), Christopher Strachy (on proving things about programs), Jensen ("Jensen's device" in Algol 60 parameter passing). When we asked about shop opening hours, HJH said "This is a summer school, not a shopping expedition" and refused to answer the question. Most of us took Wednesday afternoon off. We eat endless open sandwiches, and there they were again on the plane on the way back. There was cherry soup for breakfast. The conference ended with "dancing in the free" at a reindeer barbecue. We stayed at the "Danish Switzerland", a hill about 20 feet high, the highest Denmark could find!
When I was boss of the computing centre, we were due for a new computer. The sum of money available was about £1.1m in 1968 (about £25m in 2020's money). We were all encouraged to buy British (ICL) at that time, to support British industry. But IBM wanted to bid and treated me to various trips to try and persuade me in their direction, to buy one of their "360" series computers. One trip in 1968 was in a private jet (Grumman Gulfstream) round some of their European manufacturing sites. I would have been more interested in their university sites, but who would refuse the offer of a trip like that? The other six on the trip were from Hawker Siddely, they'd done lots of flying, so I was allocated the spare cockpit seat. Dad delivered me to a private terminal at Gatwick Airport, where we underwent perfunctory customs arrangements. We flew to Paris, and were driven to their factory as Essonnes. They were proud that it was served by a Metro train station called "IBM"! Then on to Frankfurt airport for a visit to their factory in Wiesbaden. In the evening the IBM representative, dressed as always in white shirt, tie and dark suit, announced that "IBM will find you a woman if you wish, but we are a moral company so we will not pay". And the rest went off to a casino, but I was too wheezy. When we left Frankfurt Airport they had to invent a flight number ("360" of course) so that we could shop at duty free, you had to show your ticket.
Another IBM sales trip was flying (sadly a commercial flight) to Nice, staying in a posh hotel with a room overlooking the sea. We were driven each day by a lunatic minibus driver up hazardous precipitous roads to their factory and research centre at La Gaude in the hills behind Nice with views down the valley towards the sea. Wonderful views, all IBM factories were built in wonderful places.
At one point early in the days of computers (1970s) I got interested in their use in music and ended up presenting papers at several international music conferences. The music conferences were the first of any to request that all submissions be made by email. Musicians where ahead of the curve in computing, there were even special computer languages (Snobol 4 for example) for handling music. My topics always involved the study of folk music, its analysis for harmonisation or classification. I typed about 1000 folk tunes I knew into the computer in a format I had devised, which later became developed by others as "ABC". All of the other people attending the conferences were interested in classical music. I became known (we were a select international bunch of researchers at that time) as "Eric the Ethnoid" and was always introduced as such.
One Paris conference was funded by the French CNRS (the French for Committee Nationale for Research Scientific or some such) based at IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique) situated under the Place Pompidou, and run by the famous French composer Pierre Boulez. It was an amazing eye opener to the use of computers in music. The French don't distinguish between arts and science as we do, you can study both, you don't choose at age 14 whether you'll be arts or science. As a result they had far more technically competent music people than in the UK. The whole centre was amazing - the ceiling of the recital room could be raised and lowered as part of a performance, the reverberation qualities of the walls could be changed too.
I also remember that one of the offices there had a sign in French on the door "Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray." Lots of French people smoked then.
Tuesday 6th June 1995 I set off to Finland Helsinki with colleague Edmund, depart Nottingham after lunch in his car. Edmund bought bathing trunks, we each changed 100 pounds at 6.8 Finnish marks to the pound. Depart Heathrow 17h55 (well, a few minutes late, we are on British Airways, they were still taking food on board, they are usually the worst airline to choose). We put our clocks on 2 hours, I had expected only 1. We arrived about 22h45 local time and shared a taxi cost 90 Finnish Marks to the Hotel Cumulus, arrived just before midnight. It was still just light.
Next day breakfast at 8, muesli with mixed fruit, coffee, orange, biscuit and cheese. Our local contact Lauri met us at 09h00, and we walked to catch bus 102 to the University. He bought us a family 24 hour ticket. The painted buildings were so clean and bright they looked like a film set or a toy town. We had a meeting with 2 others, chatting about their use of Ceilidh and the variations they've done. They have 1200 students in one class, and have more problems than us with students hacking the system. (In Nottingham the ones clever enough to hack the system get good marks anyway, so don't bother with hacking.) Lunch was in the student cafe with another professor as well. Then another meeting, we twice got moved on to another room. Back by bus to the hotel, and I walked out shopping to Stockman's department store. I had mentioned I was thinking of building a sauna, and one of the staff showed me his, which he claims is the smallest in Finland. And he says "don't let your wife know it's good for drying clothes". His sauna is just a little smaller than ours. We were met at the hotel by Lauri 19h00, and taken for a long walk round the old town (built 1800s, Lutheran and Orthodox cathedrals), I remember lots of docks and water and clean buildings. Then a tram to the restaurant near the Olympic stadium (built but not used for the 1940 Olympics which were cancelled) near the "ooppera" (they double lots of letters in Finnish), and met other staff at the restaurant. They chose for us Finnish fish pie for starter, reindeer and cheese for main, Finnish cheesecake for sweet. We drank vodka and birch sap afterwards, it's a good strong drink! The bill (we weren't paying) was 200 pounds for 4 of us, and we took four and a half hours for the three courses! Tram home for 00h30.
The last day here we checked out after breakfast, and paid our 1200 FM. Then back to the bus station to catch the 09h10 bus number 102 (the 24 hour tickets he'd given us run out at 09h30!) and found our way to Lauri's room. He hadn't yet arrived! Then meeting with Suvi and Ken to decide future actions. Edmund and I left 11h30, bus back to town (15 FM each), and we walked separately. I went to the Orthodox Cathedral and the market, very pleasant. Meet at the hotel 14h30 for taxi to Airport.
Helsinki buildings are so clean (there's no pollution) and all painted in nice colours, that the city looks more like a film set than real.
Monday 11th September 1995. I flew with Edmund Burke (CompSci lecturer, later V-C at Bangor Univeresity, shared a book authorship with me, but I had to rewrite all his chapters) to Moscow. On the way to the airport we had to divert via his wife Michelle's school because Edmund had her house keys! The great British Airways boarded a couple with baby and toddler along with everyone else, no special treatment! Grot overcooked food, my few encounters with BA have always always been bad. We arrived on time 20h20 (clocks on 3 hours), and were met by Leonid, who wants to find out more about the Ceilidh software teaching system. (It turns out that he wasn't rerally interested in the software, just whether he could make money out of it.) The airport arrival system was very slow but OK getting through passport and customs. With Leonid we caught bus number 511, then the famous underground ("Metro", magnificent stations like cathedrals, all different, wonderful plaster work and paintings) green line. We got off at one station just to look round, it was used as a shelter in the war, and there were paintings on the ceiling of planes and parachutes on the ceiling. Then the Metro red line, then another bus, ending up at Moscow State University, the huge famous building as in many photos. They call the buildings in this style the "wedding cake" buildings. Room 335 is shared, not too bad, but peeling paint, smelly loo (but at least there is one and it works), grotty shower (ditto, but Edmund wouldn't use it because the water came out brown), one star! The building is 33 storeys high, marble, very pompous and designed to impress, The food stall had closed by the time we tried to find it.
Tuesday 12th September 1995. Leonid came here for breakfast consisting of a slice of bread and salami and a coke, eaten standing up in the downstairs buffet, Edmund drank 2 cans of Vimto, made in Manchester. It was then time to install Ceilidh on their system. The Cybernetics Building is just across at the back, 5 minutes walk; a more modern building, but inside as dilapidated as ever. We installed Ceilidh on a UNIX IBM (RS6000?) which had been given them third hand, ex-MIT and someone else. It was painfully slow, but went OK with a few hiccups; I ought to check it out later. Then to their SUN laboratory (called "REDlab"), the installation there had problems because they don't have a compiler, we had to compile on a remote machine. You wouldn't normally install programming software on a machine without a compiler. I did the work while Edmund and Leonid went off to change some dollars, we have to pay the accommodation in roubles even though it's advertised in dollars. One dollar is about 4500 roubles, a pound is 6700. We pay for 4 nights (the booking time is midnight to midnight, another trick to con money out of visitors!), 20 dollars each per night sounds cheap, 160 dollars = 700,000 rubles, Edmund had a wadge of notes about 3 inches think!
Lunch was a meat-filled doughnut, again eaten standing, in the basement of the building. Then off to pay and register (11000 roubles each), Leonid spent ages in queues on our behalf. Then (in the dark) to watch a "SUNergy" interactive video conference at the lab, much too sales oriented and smooth, you must "get your company vertically customer oriented", and all the smoothy participants promoting their own companies and books. They are all capitalists at heart. Then a walk round to the front of the main building, where there is a great view across Moscow at night, a few kilometres away. It's difficult from here to tell which bit is the Kremlin. There's an imitation ski-jump at the view point, they call it "fly skiing". An Italian film crew was doing some video shots at the front of the main building with the obligatory skimpily dressed females. The street vendors were selling nesting dolls for 10 to 30 dollars, no-one wanted roubles. Leonid went off to an all-night party, and we watched TV in a communal room along the corridor from ours, Leonid had persuaded the janitor lady to lend us a key. It was Manchester United versus a Russian team, nil-nil, then another (non-British) match on another channel.
Wednesday 13th September 1995. Up 07h45, woke Edmund 08h00, he went to sleep again! We set off 08h45 to the viewpoint at front of campus. We took photos of Moscow and of the University, and bought some souvenirs, nesting dolls, wooden toys. The thought of their breakfast didn't appeal, so we set off to town by trolleybus with Leonid. Dismount at Gorky Park (a large funfair with the actual Russian space shuttle as an exhibit). Then using the wonderful Metro to Revolution Place, and from there just a short walk to the Kremlin and Red Square. Afterwards back out to visit Lenin's mausoleum, containing his embalmed body. While we were inside I was told off by a soldier guard for talking, Edmund was told off for having his hands in his pockets. The preserved Lenin corpse looks unreal, brightly lit face and hands. Then past the "tombs of the famous", we took some photos of the square. You can't miss St Basil's with the beautiful ornamental domes. Round the other side of Red Square (through GUM, the world's biggest shop, with its beautiful pale blue plaster work, and a fountain in the centre of the ground floor) past St Basil's cathedral, and into the Kremlin, 1000 rubles each to walk round. The guard would not let me into the Kremlin with a camera. We walked to another entry, no luck, so we put the camera in Leonid's shoulder bag and walked in through the first entrance. So many beautiful buildings, so many golden domes. Out via yet another gate, and we walked along "Old Arbat", a pedestrian street with artists, musicians and touristy shops. Then to the TV building and "White House" = Russian government of Yeltsin battle fame. While we were there we heard a very loud bang (it set a whole lot of car alarms off!), it turned out to be a mortar attack on the American Embassy the other side of the street. The police were very deliberately slow in doing anything about it, we saw it on TV later. Then down "New Arbat", stopped at the "Irish Arbat", I had a cider (half litre 2 pounds 50 + five pounds deposit on the glass!), the others drank coke. Edmund looked in all the music shops for a CD of Bob Dylan, I looked for bass balalaikas but found none. We eat (our first food today) at an Italian restaurant on Old Arbat. Metro home, stopped for a photo, the stations are all wonderful. Back at University we bought chocolate and coke at the University stall, and watched football on TV, Blackburn versus Spartak Moscow in Blackburn, Moscow won 0-1.
Thursday 14th September 1995. No breakfast again. It was my last go in the tatty but hot and plentiful shower. Edmund won't use is because the water is a little brown. Refreshed, and off to the department again, we really should try to get Ceilidh working better on the old IBM machine, but there are still problems with sheer lack of size and power. Still, their SUN and PC versions will be OK. After a quick Vimto (Edmund) and Sprite (me, Coke's off today), off for lunch, then back for a meeting to discuss future research directions, topics, outcomes and possible sources of money. It didn't really get anywhere. We insisted on a quick trip to the University Museum in the main building on floor 28, with a good view of Moscow. We finally left the room 17h30 to reverse the airport journey, walked to the bus (the rucksack is heavy again), Metro with one change (long way, for the metro you buy coin-shaped tokens beforehand and use them at turnstiles to get in, one fare for anywhere), bus to the airport (on the buses you buy tickets beforehand, and punch them on the bus with punches fixed to the windows) a ticket inspector threw 2 people without tickets off), arrive 19h15. We've only once ever waited more than 2 minutes for public transport, the Metro is better than every 2 minutes. Last After a final chat with Leonid, we had a very slow queue at passport control (how do they find so much to do to take 5 minutes with one person, they usually don't worry when you are leaving a country), and bought a Moscow picture book in the airport shop. We flew back by BA, I really appreciated the meal, we haven't eaten much here!
My thoughts after the Russia trip included that, although I didn't speak the language, and they use a different character set for writing, I felt more at home in Moscow than I did in the USA. The whole culture was European. If you could read the letters (many the same as in Greek) on signs, and if you knew some other European languages, you could make sense of it. The main problem was on the metro; by the time the train stopped and I'd worked out the station name, the train was moving out. And Leonid wasn't really interested in our software, he was just hoping for some software from which he could become rich; no such luck!
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Page updated 16-Aug-2023