Mem­ory Lane Robert Pon­sonby

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - By Robert Pon­sonby, who re­ceives this month’s £50 prize. Read­ers are in­vited to send in 400-word sub­mis­sions.

60 -odd years ago I boarded a train at Vic­to­ria sta­tion that would carry me and a mu­si­cian friend on the first leg of a jour­ney to Bel­grade. A Yu­goslav in­ter­preter, met at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, had told me how we could then get to Dubrovnik and up the Dal­ma­tian coast to Venice. That was al­lur­ing but reach­ing Bel­grade meant nearly 48 hours of in­creas­ing dis­com­fort. In Tito’s cap­i­tal, though, we were made wel­come, em­bar­rass­ingly so when we were guests at a per­for­mance of Labo­hème, our only cos­tume anoraks and hol­i­day trousers.

The day-long jour­ney to Dubrovnik was en­hanced by the spec­ta­cle of a red dou­bledecker Lon­don bus on the move which even the wildest spec­u­la­tion could not ex­plain. We reached the coast af­ter dark but could find no ac­com­mo­da­tion, fi­nally set­tling for deckchairs in the gar­den of the ho­tel we had hoped to oc­cupy. In the morn­ing we ex­plored the town, a lit­tle Venice with­out canals but with the open sea at its walls. Next day there was a Homeric storm and a sun­set which turned the sea a wine-dark red. Small steam­ers car­ried us north­ward and at ev­ery port young men came aboard, all with close-shaven heads. They were con­scripts and on the quay­sides fam­ily and friends sang sad Slavic songs of farewell.

We put in at Kor­cula, which though in­ter­est­ing could not com­pare with Hvar, whose beau­ti­ful pi­azza, all honey-coloured stone, was dom­i­nated by a hand­some church. En­chanted, we spent sev­eral days there, soon fall­ing in with two young Croats. Once we asked them to keep an eye on our ruck­sacks while we swam. Af­ter we had left Hvar I found in my diary an en­try which trans­lated: ‘You have been nice and I wish you all the best and good time in our coun­try. Ed­uardo. Hvar, 1952.’

Our last port of call was Rab, a lovely small town whose cathe­dral had a touch­ing weather-worn Pi­età over its west door. At Rab we had our last swim. A spec­tac­u­lar light­ning-storm daz­zled us on our way to Ri­jeka, whence trains took us to Venice, for both of us our first ex­pe­ri­ence of that rav­ish­ing city.

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