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No idle chat in Moscow

I only met John Morrison once, in 1973 in Moscow. He was driving, and I was in the back seat. On the other front seat sat my Soviet minder. A discussion arose. The minder was at least as nice as I would have been in a comparable situation, but suddenly the conversation went from cheerful to icily non-existent.

The reason for the change in our conversation was that I had mentioned the name of Nikita Khrushchev. He had been removed from power in 1964, and had died in 1971. At the time of his death, the Soviet leaders did not know quite what to do with his corpse. Obviously he could not be buried at the Kremlin Wall, where Stalin and Lenin had been buried, but equally obviously the fact of his death could not be forgotten. So they compromised, and had him buried in the Novedevichy cemetery instead.

So, in 1973 my minder was intellectually lost when the subject of NK came up - he did not know what to say. It was my mention - I was extremely ignorant at the time - of the Novodevichy cemetery that brought about the icy silence in the car. When I was afterwards alone with John he came as near as he ever did to outwardly chuckling, and assured me that I had been correct.

Afterwards, I asked John whether I had really understood everything that had been said. “Of course”, he said, “right now, they’ll never say anything against Khrushchev”.

John was six years younger than I. At the time, I had the impression of a bloke at least six years older. Not physically, but in terms of mental strength. ■