Sunday, 21 October 2012


In today's Sunday Times, the second volume of  Brian Sewell's autobiography is serialised. One section is about his help to Anthony Blunt when the press had just discovered that he was one of the "Cambridge traitors."  I read Sewell's words with revulsion.The controversy about the Cambridge spies is old history now, but I remember it well - and also, its background. For growing up in the 1950s, one was  permanently conscious of the Cold War, and of the threat of Hot War, which would  inevitably lead to nuclear annihilation. I suppose we were afraid, though I don't remember feeling fear until I had children to protect in the 1960s; after that, of course, one lived in dread of nuclear war.   The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most terrifying periods of my life.
        The point of all this is that the fear was of something real - nuclear war.  The threat was genuine. And the people who secretly worked for the Russians  were not romantic heroes, and they didn't have the right to follow their consciences. One can forgive their behaviour when they were young in the 1930s, before everyone knew the full horror of Stalin's Russia, but they didn't recant or repent after the war. Instead they continued as  traitors to their country, to the people they knew, to  their families. They wanted to  destroy European civilisation, and near as dammit did so. 
          It's fine to look back  now it's all over and forgive one's enemies, but don't  ever look back and underestimate their culpability.  Anthony Blunt's  actions  were intended to bring the world he had grown up in  to a hideous end.
         Some people have suggested that his later life as an academic art historian and art adviser to the Queen  redeemed the crimes of his youth. I doubt if those who died as a result - admittedly indirect  - of his treachery would have agreed. In fact,  anyone old enough to remember the Blunt-fuss and the Cambridge Spies and Burgess and Maclean - in fact anyone for whom The Fifties Mystique  is the stuff of memory  - will take a view of their own. I'd love to hear what it is.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


A shamingly or shockingly long gap since my last post, partly (but only partly) explained by my being away on holiday for a while. Back in Cornwall now, in the wet wind that has become our default daily weather. Although summer visitors, usually confined to more prosperous resorts, are seldom aware of it, this is still almost the poorest county in the UK, and still qualifies (along with  Sicily  and Northern Portugal, for special EU subsidies. As has  been said, when England sneezes, Cornwall  gets pneumonia - which will be even more noticeable if the present government really introduces regional rates of pay in public service jobs, as it has threatened. When I was first involved, as a "quangaroo" - a member of quangoes - with the public services (NHS etc) there were regional rates of pay, which ensured  that nobody from more prosperous areas would ever apply to work here, because it meant a drop in salary. Do we want to re-introduce immobile and aggrieved workers in the public sector and a low (because uncompetitive) standard of work? Yes, says one feminist friend. The chaps, she thinks, will be leaving in droves  before they get stuck for keeps in a low-pay area, which will mean more public sector jobs going to women.
Which is not , I told her, what I'd call another triumph for feminism.