Soviet Union, 1977

Part of my job is to check that no moral rules are broken in this hotel: and tonight I again saw the woman go into the same room as the bearded stranger.

There are lots of tourists at this hotel, because we are near Red Square in Moscow. I am one of the so-called floor babushkas, or grannies. I sit in the lobby on the sixth floor of the hotel, just next to the lifts. They come up in the lift, the tourists do, and I give them the keys, in exchange for a card, and I check they go to the right rooms. No tip-toeing off to someone else’s room happens on my floor. And we are instructed by the KGB to make ourselves, and our vigilance, obvious. When guests want to talk in the lobby we start our hoovering. When they don’t move we ram our hoovers against their feet until they move. We call in the painters or carpet-cleaners in the early hours of the morning to ensure they are awake in time for breakfast.

Tourists are easier than Russians: tourists know we lobby-ladies are part of the Communist regime and they are a bit frightened of us. Russians are trickier. Quite often Russian men visiting Moscow will telephone rooms quite randomly. If a man answers they will put the phone down, if a woman answers they will ask if they can pretend to be a husband and, to save costs, share the room. That’s hard for us to spot.

Anyway, the bearded stranger and the woman were part of a group of tourists. I became suspicious as the woman didn’t surrender a card to me to get a key and then she went into the same room as him. So, puffed by moral outrage and proud to do my duty, I called up the English-speaking KGB man in the lobby and reported this. He asked the leader of the group about the bearded stranger’s woman and reported back to me: ‘It’s his mother!’.