Tag Archives: Ceausescu

A Lovely Guest

22 Jul

With the Ceausescu corpses in the news at the moment, I thought now would be a good time to tell you about the Romanian student we hosted two years ago. A tenuous link, I know; but I’ve been inhaling paint all day so you’ll forgive me if my brain has taken the night off.

Tory Boy’s sixth-form college hosted a whole group of them for a week and Tory Boy asked if we would take one in. As he had been hosted in Denmark the previous year, we thought it was the least we could do.

The boy’s name caused some confusion because it was Bogdan Vlas and everybody called him ‘Vlas’ but that would have been like calling me ‘Bud’. ‘Bogdan’ sounds like an East-ender asking if he’d finished his toilet business. I did consider calling him ‘Thingy’ but had to go with the standard parental fall-back of full first name use (remember Claire Huckstable’s ‘Walter’ for Cockroach?), so ‘Bogdan’ it was. Hub and the boys ended up calling him ‘Vlas,’ and I called him ‘Bogdan,’ as I am a mother, and that’s the name his own mother gave him. The Hub said I had to stop amusing myself at the expense of the poor boy before he arrived (once he had got, ‘I hope he’s not a slippery customer; or we’ll have to call him Vlasoline’ out of his system). I suddenly had the terrible thought that he might be asthmatic and I would have to call him Vlas the Inhaler.

For some reason I was expecting Viktor Krum; I don’t know why, as Vlas is Romanian and Viktor is Bulgarian (and fictional). He was tall and dark and gorgeous.

He is an only child and it showed in his confidence around adults. He was polite and friendly, and willing to try everything English: particularly the food. He asked if we had tea at four o’clock, which made us laugh. At home he drank black tea but while he stayed with us he drank it with milk, just like the English do. He didn’t notice that the Hub and I both take it black (although, to complicate matters, I only take my Earl Grey black; my PG Tips I take with milk). Bogdan also drank Armenian coffee, which is two parts coffee-three parts cocoa-one part water, and takes the veneer right off your teeth by vapour alone. He saw to that himself. He showered twice a day, which seemed bizarre to my dirty children who have to be bullied into scraping the dirt off, but it is perfectly Romanian (and much harder on the family who hosted two students and had only one bathroom between seven of them).

I thought I would try and make some typically English meals for Vlas, such as bangers & mash, roast chicken, and egg & chips. I started with a five veg beef stew, as it was January-cold and unwelcoming outside and that was warm and filling. He slept with his bedroom door shut so after that stew I had to call him Vlas the Daren’t Exhaler. I had to provide his lunch some days, and although it was cold I only provided cool drinks, or I’d have called him Thermos Vlas.

On the first night TB took Bogdan out to Pizza Hut with the rest of the Romanian contingent and their teenage hosts, and they were back by about ten-thirty; Bogdan had been travelling/awake since midnight the day before and was ready for bed. On Saturday, they all went into Manchester and then back to someone’s house for a party. TB phoned about ten p.m. to say that they were just coming home to collect Bogdan’s insurance documents, on the way to taking him to the hospital. It seems he fell down some stairs at the party and sliced open his wrist. As he was seventeen and a guest in our home, the Hub and I felt it would be better if we took him to A&E ourselves. We were only there for about ninety minutes as the Saturday night blood rush hadn’t yet started.

Bogdan saw a singing doctor. He came from over the water (Wallasey) and we immediately recognised each other’s accent. That didn’t stop him singing, though: half-under his breath and no tune that I know. He was cheerful, at least, and impressed by Bogdan’s English, which is excellent. He gave him three stitches and some glue. I stayed with Bogdan and watched the sewing (years of Schwarzenegger movies have hardened my delicate soul), because I wanted to be able to look his mother in the virtual face; I would hope that if a similar thing had happened to TB in Denmark, his hostess would have done the same. Bogdan was fine, but I bet he went home and said to people, ‘I went to England prepared to like it, and it attacked me.’

On the Sunday I packed him a monster lunch for his trip to York; on the Monday, the students went to Old Trafford (multiple fainting fits in the house at the news) and the Lowry Centre, so it was another packed lunch. I made him such large lunches that he was the envy of his ‘fellows’ as he called them; but I hate to think of a guest in my home going hungry unless by choice (have you tasted my cooking?).

I made a full English breakfast for dinner, to be eaten at tea time. The great thing was all of the food was new to him, so anything that he might not have enjoyed could be blamed on his palette and not on my cooking. The Hub once said that he never knew until he met me that burnt was a flavour. Bogdan loved the bacon & egg even though (despite the George Foreman Grill) it was incredibly greasy. By the way, he is welcome in my home forever because he told me I’m a wonderful cook, bless his innocence.

There was much hilarity around the table because I was talking to Spud Bud and he was looking at me as he poured his orange juice and didn’t notice when he ran out of glass; as one, all four of us rose up and shouted, ‘Wooaahhh!’ and Spud sat there trembling in fright like a cornered little bunny rabbit. He made us laugh again when he told us he had played in the inter-house rugby tournament and lost all his games but his team still came second…because the other three teams came joint-first.

That night, TB and Bogdan went skating in Altrincham with the Romanian students and their carers. They had a lift there and back and then TB phoned to say the car had broken down and then he phoned again to say the car had been fixed. Bogdan’s whole trip was nothing if not eventful.

It being Shrove Tuesday next day it was pancake breakfasts all round. By seven-thirty I had cooked fifteen pancakes (okay, burnt fifteen pancakes), and I was getting pretty bored with the whole hostessing thing, not having thought it through to just how much cooking was involved. TB and Bogdan went bowling and to laser quest that night; one of Bogdan’s ‘fellows’ (so cute) got a gun in the eye and she ended up in Stepping Hill A&E. A couple more of them and they’d be setting up a Romanian ward. They went to Liverpool on the Friday. All of the host students had the option to go on any of the trips, and TB decided at the last minute (literally: he was walking out the door) to go with them. This meant that my guest went to Liverpool with two drinks; four tuna mayonnaise sandwiches; a packet of crisps; an apple; a cheese string; three different sweets; half a pork pie; and a scotch egg; and my child took a bottle of water.

The Hub and I went into Stockport to try and buy something British for Bogdan to take home. We got two London bus key rings but they were tiny, and a large England flag for his room, whixh was better. Bogdan had brought us three hand carved gifts: a pretty flute-whistley-thing; a wooden wine cup; and a wall carving of a cherb, a Romanian mountain animal. The Hub and I gave up on buying British souvenirs, as everything seemed to be made in China, and went with British foodstuffs instead: PG Tips, mallow cakes, sweets, things like that; we also bought shortbread for Bogdan’s Mum, Boddingtons Bitter (made abroad now) for his Dad, and a monster bottle of HP sauce for Vlas, as he had it on everything, including his gravy: he was so keen to try British food we got British fish & chips from the Chinese chippy one night, but he had pudding, chips, mushy peas and gravy, like the Hub. He had a wonderful appetite, but even he balked at mushy peas, though he swallowed his distaste and gave them a go. He didn’t like them. I can’t say I blame him; they are disgusting.

The boys were late coming back from Liverpool on Friday, which gave Bogdan the chance to enjoy his first chav encounter on the bus from college, in the form of two abusive thirteen-year old girls. A real British experience.

The boys wolfed down dinner and went straight out to the barn dance at college. On the coach back from Liverpool, a teacher had asked whose parents were going, and Tory Boy was the only one to put up his hand, so we were officially de-invited by our son, who did not wish to be embarrassed by us.

On Saturday, Bogdan left for London at six-thirty a.m., with his biggest packed lunch yet. He again told me he was the envy of his fellows because he had the biggest and best lunch every day. Food was something of an issue with the students, as they had initially been told not to worry about taking too many clothes to England, but to take blankets and food instead. Not sure if they thought we Brits are poor hosts or on starvation wages. Bogdan had erred on the side of caution and brought sweets and snacks and a sleeping bag. He didn’t go hungry as we gave him full access to the fridge and cupboards (Spud came to me with a doleful face and one sentence that encapsulated his utter deprivation: ‘He ate my Hershey Bar…sigh’), and he ate everything that was put in front of him except for the mushy peas and the scotch egg: he said he took a bite and looked into it and went the Romanian equivalent of ‘Wooaahh,’ holding it out at arms length. He was really freaked by finding an egg in it, for some reason. Two of his fellows shared it and loved it, anyway.

We made a point of buying and cooking British food for him to try as he was so keen to embrace the culture, though we drew the line at faggotts and tripe. We heard through the student grapevine (just had a mental picture of entangled students in a sunny French vineyard) that one girl was staying with a couple in a similar financial situation to us and they had gone out of their way to buy lots of British foodstuffs for her to experience and she turned up her nose at everything, and threw her lunches away. I think she was the worst of the lot, but most of them were lovely. However, if the Romanian students were limited editions, we got number 1/20; the English students kept saying to TB that they wished they were hosting Bogdan.

Sunday was recuperation and packing day for him. TB had to work but managed to get off early, so Bogdan got the bus into Stockport to do some shopping, and TB met him there later. I was worried about Bogdan going off by himself, particularly as he walked out of the front door holding his passport and wallet in hand as an invitation to the local muggers but he was fine, even managing to hold onto his money long enough to buy eight t-shirts, with TB buying him a ninth as a gift. His luggage was ten kilos overweight and we had to give him a rucksack to hold the extra stuff.

I made a light tea of beans on toast – you can’t get more British than that – and at seven we all went to a farewell meal at a strange place: a private house with parts given over to a tea room and arts & crafts section, and not open on Sundays except to special friends like Aquinas College, who hired out the whole building.

Spud was the only child there, as the invite was just for the students and as a thank you for those host families who had not had a reciprocal arrangement with their own child going to Romania, and we were the only host family without a reciprocal arrangement who was not without a child. Spud clung to his father at first, as he was a little diffident back then, but Bogdan persuaded him onto the dance floor and stayed with Spud, showing him his best moves. This was despite the girls clustering around him (Bogdan) all night; he was a lovely, good-natured boy and a great ambassador for his country.

There were so many people there that we didn’t quite work out who was Romanian and who wasn’t; the only thing we could do was pick out the negatives with lighter hair, as the Romanians were all dark. However, there was only one girl who looked obviously foreign, and she was dressed as a Goth, so I’m guessing she was Transylvanian in origin.

The adults all sat together and I was chatting to one of the teachers, Janina, who was charming. She grew up under Ceausescu and was telling me – after some probing on my part – how awful it was, and that the Romanian people all try to forget those times. We had an interesting chat about regime change and European public transport systems, and then we danced with the students.

A disco had been hired and it was peculiar that the teenagers kept requesting the latest music but only danced if a song had been born before them. At least it gave me a chance to make up for Tory Boy’s lack of embarrassment on Friday. We got home just before twelve and I felt as giddy as if I’d had two glasses of wine instead of orange juice and water; I seem to get drunk on atmosphere alone.

When Bogdan first arrived we did that awkward thing of going to hug then changing our minds and shaking hands instead; when he left it was hugs all round. We stayed in touch for a while but I haven’t heard from him this year. He did promise to come back one day and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a knock on my door in ten years’ time and it was him. And he would still be welcome.

 

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