412 Esperanto in my life (2)

Before I go any further, I should perhaps remind you that all of this happened before the days of cheap flights, satellite television, and the Internet. If you wanted to get in touch with the world beyond the English Channel, you either had to write people letters or get on a train and go there. The one glorious exception was short-wave radio, which will figure shortly. All in all overseas contacts were not particularly easy, even for internationally-minded people like the Esperanto movement
We had reached the point of my meeting Peter Miles and being invited to the Enfield Esperanto Club. Peter Miles will probably loom large when I start writing page 920 “People in my life” so I’ll leave him till then.
The Enfield Esperanto Club met in the local Co-op Hall. Being to do with the Co-op, this was located in the most proletarian part of Enfield, in the area known as Enfield Highway, about halfway between Ponders End and Waltham Cross. In fact the local Co-op was called the Enfield Highway Co-operative Society, EHCS for short.
Being such a prestigious organisation, the Esperanto Club met in the smaller of two upstairs rooms accessed by a well-concealed door at the back of the building. We met every week – on a Thursday I think – with an average attendance of a dozen or so, out of a membership of about twenty. The Club continued for about 15 years after I left Enfield (so they managed pretty well without me!) but of the people I knew then, in the 1960s, only two, so far as I know, are still alive. One is me, obviously, and a couple of years ago I briefly re-established contact with Brian Ranwell, now in Derbyshire and still active in Esperanto circles.
Somewhere around this time I discovered short-wave radio. Now, although this is still going, most people are unaware of short-wave. In terms of where it is on the dial, short-wave lies between Medium Wave (nowadays mostly used for local radio) and VHF (used for FM radio and formerly also for terrestrial television). The advantage of short-wave is that the signal carries for very long distances; a fairly run-of-the-mill receiver could easily pick up broadcasts from a thousand miles away. The downside of short-wave was that sound quality was poor and reception was unsteady, with the signal constantly fading out and fading back in again.
There was a great deal of international broadcasting; the best known were Radio Moscow, the Voice of America, and the BBC Overseas Service (now the World Service). In amongst all this there were some broadcasts in Esperanto. In particular there were daily broadcasts from Beijing (relayed to Europe from a huge transmitter in Albania, as it still is) and Warsaw. In fact Warsaw used to broadcast three times a day. The most convenient of these reached England at 16.30 BST, which meant that, for six months of the year, I could usually get home from school in time to hear it; though as it wasn’t dark yet, reception  was difficult, and sometimes I spent the whole half-hour trying to get it going. This problem was largely solved when a neighbour gave me a quantity of telephone wire. I found that this made a serviceable aerial, with one end attached to the radio and the rest of it out of the window, then wound round the washing line, and finally tied to an apple tree at the bottom of the garden. This gave quite good reception.
The radio that I used at first would give nightmares to any Health and Safety expert. Electrically it was perfectly sound, but it had no case; in other words, all the live electrical parts were exposed and open to the touch. As far as I can remember I only once got the full 240 volts from it; it just made me jerk my arm back rather suddenly, but there was no damage to me or to the radio.
Later on I got a proper multi-band short wave receiver. This came, by mail order, from a firm called, rather horribly, Shoppertunities. This was a company (with a shop in Holborn) which specialised in mostly electrical goods and cameras, but also other things such as camping and sporting equipment, imported from Eastern Europe and consequently very cheap. None of it would have won any design awards, but, as you would expect, a country the size of Russia needed to be good at short-wave radio. Over a period of years and a good deal of travelling, the shoddy plastic case got badly knocked about but the radio still gave sterling service. In fact I liked it so much, that later on, when it gave up the ghost, I bought a similar one second-hand from Cash Converters. You still see them around occasionally.
There was still a problem when the clocks went back in Autumn as, logically, the broadcasts from Warsaw now came through at 15.30 when I was still at school. Shoppertunities came to the rescue again, this time with a tape recorder. Yes, the old-fashioned open-reel variety. From somewhere I seem to remember that mine cost £19. It wasn’t very good, but a “proper” one would have cost four or five times as much. The big problem with these cheap machines was that you could only record through the microphone; you couldn’t connect them directly to a radio or television.
So I set up a fairly Heath Robinson arrangement in my bedroom, with the microphone positioned in front of the radio loudspeaker, and the radio set to the correct frequency. With the power switched off at the wall I turned the radio on, and set the tape recorder to “Record”; then all I had to do was get my mother to go upstairs a bit before half past three and turn both things on at the wall socket, and, all being well, the programme got recorded, and I could listen to it when I got home. This worked surprisingly well.
At this point, round about 1964, Esperanto was a significant hobby along with several other things. In truth I have never been obsessive about it and if I had never come across Esperanto I would have had plenty of other things to occupy my time; nonetheless the encounters with Esperanto that started with that impulse purchase in 1958 did eventually change the course of my life in ways I could never have imagined fifty years ago, as you will shortly hear.
Things began to get more serious when Peter Miles suggested I was ready to face the sterner challenges of the London Esperanto Club.
(to be continued)


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