Following on from my last post, here’s another souvenir china horse bought on holiday. With my parents being Communists and my Dad working for British [European] Airways, we tended to have holidays abroad in Soviet countries. We usually went to Hungary to visit ex-lodgers who had become firm friends of my parents. In 1972, however, we had our only beach resort holiday, in Bulgaria. At least, that’s what we thought we were going for. I was reminded of this holiday recently when I read Alexei Sayle’s autobiography, Stalin Ate My Homework. Sayle’s parents were also Communists and, although his childhood was spent in 1950s Liverpool rather than 1960s London, I was struck by the similarities with our own upbringing. One of these was his description of a trip to Bulgaria where, much to their surprise, the family were treated like VIPs and driven around in state limousines accompanied by heavy-looking security guards. Our experience was similarly surprising. We thought we were just going on holiday, but Dad found himself considered a representative of the UK Communist Party, attending official events in that capacity. One of his duties was to lay a wreath at a war memorial during a ceremony to remember the fallen. Like Sayle’s family, we were driven about in big cars and accompanied on shopping trips; the Bulgarian state representatives seemed anxious to impress us with the success and generosity of their country. As a result, I was unable to admire anything in a shop window without it being immediately bought for me. I was 10 and found this largesse embarrassing, especially as the language barrier meant that the men in dark suits usually bought me something other than the thing I had been admiring, for which I then had to fake deep appreciation. I was relieved at the end of the holiday to be able to choose my own souvenir: another china horse for my “ordiment” collection. I gave it the grand name of Star Prince and although I can see now that it is no less tacky than the long-abandoned gifts that were forced on me, I was very fond of it.
We flew to Bulgaria with Balkan Airlines, the Bulgarian state airline, which similarly showered us with branded gifts. Mum had an ornate carved wooden box in which she kept sewing materials for the rest of her life. They also gave us little perfume vials in decorative wooden cases – I still have this one:
I have a few vivid memories of that holiday, one of which was dining in a restaurant that was built inside a giant cider barrel. For many years I thought my memory of this must have been unreliable. A giant cider barrel?? Then a folder turned up in the archives marked “Bulgarian Holiday”. There is no log book this time, but the folder is full of random ephemera from the holiday, including this postcard of “Restaurant Batchvata”:
The other bits and pieces in the folder make an interesting snapshot of Soviet Bulgaria, from Balkan Airlines salt and pepper sachets to the Balkan Tourist (state tourist agency) pamphlet, “Bulgaria: Where what how?”:
The file also contains a letter to Mum and Dad from Brother 1, who didn’t come with us as he was on an exchange holiday in France. It seems he was having the better time of it; getting sunburnt on the beaches of the Black Sea wasn’t really my kind of holiday, even then!