Christiane Cowell and Moscow dreams
Friday 19 January 2018
In the rapidly dimming and distant past of the Old Reuters, Christiane was one of a team of telegraphists (another was Barbara, later to marry Manfred and become Barbara Pagel) who, among their other roles, were vital in determining when correspondents in Moscow could leave the office at the end of the day and get back home - upstairs or across the yard of our SadSam foreigners’ ghetto - to our long-suffering spouses or to lonely bachelor apartments.
In those 50-baud teleprinter days, the line from Moscow carrying our masterpieces of kremlinology and lesser works stopped in Bonn. When the TASS printer ceased clattering and the evening duty correspondent decided it was time he could safely go home, usually around midnight, a “closer” message asking for clearance to leave the office had to be sent to the distant frauleins with alluring names at the other end of the line. They, dropping other duties, had to forward the request to London and then relay the answer back to Moscow. Usually this took little more than five minutes. Occasionally there were delays - 15 minutes, 20 minutes or even up to half an hour. But we never blamed Christiane, Barbara and the other ladies. We knew the late-night editors in London, probably not long back from The Bell or The Codgers, were to blame.
But the waiting time could be filled with a little bit of long-distance flirting - in both directions. For the younger unmarried male correspondents - no expat women in Reuter Moscow in those days - and perhaps for some of the married ones too, the unseen Bonn ladies became, at least in the imagination, something more than friends.
Years later I met Christiane and realised those Moscow dreams were not totally wild. “Of course I remember all your names,” she told me. “We always tried to let you off to bed as quickly as we could. We all felt so sorry for you stuck out there in Moscow.” ■