I had a Phillips radio in my bedroom. It was a valve radio, rather
than the more modern transistor-based instruments, which were
already available in the 1960s. Once it had warmed up - a slow
business taking up to a minute - and had stopped emitting
crackling sounds, it was able to receive broadcasts on three
wavebands including short-wave. I used to enjoy twiddling its
tuning knob, and listening to broadcasts transmitted from all over
the world. It was a window to the world beyond the confines of
the highly manicured, desirable but rather dull, Hampstead
Garden Suburb, where we lived.
The author’s childhood home in Hampstead Garden Suburb
One day, I tuned in on an exceptionally clear transmission, and
listened with some curiosity and a great amount of surprise to a
woman who was speaking perfect English with only the hint of a
foreign accent. After a few minutes, she informed her audience
far and wide that they were listening to the voice of Radio Tirana.
I could not believe my ears. I made a mark on the tuning gauge to
ensure that I would be able to find this station again. I tuned into
Radio Tirana regularly, listening with astonishment and also
amusement at the various commentators’ beautifully articulated
words - mostly rants and raves directed against the actions of the
imperialists and capitalists. These were punctuated by stirring
Albanian songs sung in a style that was new to me, as I had never
experienced the music of the Balkans before. Incidentally, the
clarity of the transmissions from Tirana was due to it being
broadcast from a reputedly very powerful transmitter.
After a short while, I decided to write a letter to Radio Tirana.
Somewhat tongue in cheek, I wrote to the unknown addressee (in
English) that the songs, which were being broadcasted from
Albania, inspired me greatly and helped to reinforce my faith in
Socialism. After addressing the letter’s envelope to ‘ Radio
Tirana, Tirana, Albania’, I waited with little expectation of
receiving any kind of reply. I thought that it was more likely that
I would receive a communication from MI5 or MI6 than anything
from Albania. However, I was wrong to have been so pessimistic.
A flat parcel, wrapped in brown paper and string, arrived by post
a few weeks later. It was from Albania. I unwrapped it carefully,
my fingers thrilling at the thought of handling something that had
arrived from the mysterious country that had begun to interest me
The package contained a 10-inch diameter long-playing
gramophone record in a garishly coloured cardboard sleeve. It
was decorated with an electricity pylon; musicians in folk
costumes; dancers dressed likewise; a man wearing baggy
Turkish-style pantaloons; and an oil derrick. The plain,
unadorned record label bore the name of the recording company:
Pllake Shqipetare (‘ Shqipëria’ being the Albanian word for
Albania). I played this endlessly, much to the dismay of my
parents who did not appreciate its special musical properties.
Even today, I can still hear the tune of “O djell i ri” (a song about
the sun) ringing in my head.
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