When I was eighteen I went to Poland for six weeks. It was a great turning point in my life, as up till then I had been very shy, very nervous, lacking in confidence and with very few independent skills. I was clever and well read, but that was about it. I left school after my A levels, applied unsuccessfully to Cambridge, and thus I had a gap year. What to do? I went to work, initially in an advertising agency, where they made me cold call big companies and extract what would now be seen as quite confidential information from them. I remember that only Rolls Royce asked me who I was and why was I asking.
After a fortnight of this I had lost my fear of the phone. All well and good. Then I got a job at Gabbitas-Thring Educational Trust . Very Dickensian, but I loved it. I was in reception and my extremely onerous duties were to greet clients, smile and point them in the right direction.
This was not without its own stresses, as the other two receptionists had many other duties. They rather resented my presence. I was occasionally given a letter to slowly type. But that was it. I lasted about five months and by then I had saved quite a lot of money, to go to Poland.
I wrote to everyone in my parents’ families, and their friends and eventually I had enough places to stay for six weeks, without ever spending more than three nights anywhere. I also slept a lot on trains
This was the most exciting adventure, if only for the fact that I had to speak Polish all the time ( I wasn’t that brilliant at it) and arrange almost everything myself.
But everyone was extremely kind and hospitable and I had a wonderful time. Party after part after museum after thestre. Etc etc I came back a changed person.
But why am I writing about this now? Well, I was in Poland a week or so ago, and I was asking my husband if he remembered Russian champagne. That and vodka were the drinks of choice when I was in Warsaw all those years ago. He looked at me and pulled a face. The memory of Russian champagne was not good. Both it and vodka always tasted foul to me. But occasionally I was compelled to take a sip.
As it happened we were going to a party that evening. We had taken a bottle of Prosecco. I knew vodka would be on offer; I still don’t like it at all.
What I wasn’t expecting was the bottle you can see in the picture. Soviet champagne. Not made in Russia. Made by Freixenet, the Cava people. Still tastes horrible. An overwhelming elderflower flavour. All right in a cordial. But hardly Taittinger!
So- my question was answered serendipitously! It does indeed still exist!