I mentioned in a previous post that we had a Miss Helpful in our carriage. She actually had a little friend who was equally helpful. One afternoon when they were having a cup of tea we gave them a couple of packs of shortbread from our supply of “gifts”. Big smiles etc. A few minutes later Marina (I don’t know how she would spell it but this is how she pronounced it), who spoke some English, brought us a cup of blackcurrant jam. She told us she had grown the fruit in her garden and made the jam herself. I’m not sure what she thought we had to eat with it but it was very kind of her and John struggled manfully to finish it.
We were the only ones in our carriage who went all the way to Harbin. For some of the time we had the carriage to ourselves but people tended to travel just a few stops. The exception to this was the mad babouschka and her granddaughter. This lady was 95 and her granddaughter was taking her back to her home town. She really gave her granddaughter a hard time. After one particularly disturbing and noisy episode in the middle of the night the granddaughter decamped to another compartment. At the next stop a medic was brought on and the old lady was sedated for the rest of the journey. Peace reigned.
The provodnitsas worked hard and were definitely Jills of all trades, including shovelling coal to keep the samovar boiling. They were meeters and greeters, housekeepers, administrators, social workers, stokers and ice pickers, Every afternoon Galena would vacuum the corridor and the carpets in the compartments.
One job not done by provodnitzas was waitressing. Instead we got periodic visits from, who we thought was the daughter of the solitaire player. She would wander up and down the train taking orders for drinks and delivering them. She quickly cottoned on to the fact that she had frequent custom from our compartment – so frequent in fact that the restaurant bar ran out of Baltika beer and, on her advice, we changed to something called Siberian Corona.