The Night Manger and the Cold War

I would like to suggest that we spend all day on productive, useful, creative activities and then have something for supper made from some organic veg box – and across the dinner table we discuss Bentham’s principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the finer passages of the Iliad.

But actually, we have supper in front of the telly more times than not – and that can be re-runs of Lewis if one of us has had a particularly hard day, or recordings of what is making the ‘culture’ news.( And we don’t have an organic veg box delivered.)

And recently, like everyone else ( or at least everyone else like us,) it has been Happy Valley and The Night Manager.

We are of an age to have read John Le Carre avidly as ‘young people ‘ and to still enjoy a ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ‘ DVD with Alec Guinness as George Smiley.

I was raised in the Cold War and those stories seemed all too believable. I still like them. In our recent cull of some of our books (we still have many, many, left) all the John Le Carre were protected as they will be re-read.

(Now, I could do a list of books that I will always want to lay my hands on when a current book is finished/boring, I have a stinking cold and need to be tucked up with a good book or things are bad and I need to be sure my book will be escapism of the best order – but that is for another time.)

Some young person came in the Oxfam shop the other day and asked for any John Le Carre as she had seen The Night Manager and wanted more. Sadly, we didn’t have any, but I explained (in great detail) which she should read and why. She backed out of the shop, nervously…

My favourite is still The Little Drummer Girl which is about a young woman who is ‘recruited’ both by Mossad and the Palestinians and is pulled in one direction and then the other.

Surely, it would make for an excellent follow up to The Night Manager but international political sensitivities, or put it another way, the Israeli sensitivities, might put paid to that.

But, it was the Cold War spy stuff which resonated from my youth when I visited Berlin.

What I expected were steamy cafe windows with unshaven men looking unhappy or furtive and passing slips of paper or a few words between them, and eating hurriedly.

Sadly, I didn’t make it there until after the wall was well and truly down – and so what I found was more or less a city like any other European capital.

My friend, who is German, and I visited the Jewish memorial at dusk and found it eerie and impressive – lots of narrow tunnels between blocks which look like raised graves and it is a brilliant, thought-provoking place to be.

But of steamy cafes, there were none.

She was too young, too German ( as in, not raised on British spy novels) and too pleased to see a united Berlin, to understand my disappointment.

Since then, I have been back and now can see signs of the old left in the new. Berlin is a really big city with no real historic centre and lots of areas in which you can see signs of whether they were east or west, American, Russian or British – just about.

And the flea market in Berlin had lots of shadows of the older Berlin. (I bought a very welcome sheepskin coat which was very welcome when I was walking the very long distances between a and b which you find out about in Berlin.)

But back to the time when John Le Carre was writing the first stuff and I was young, and it was the Cold War.

We had a very real feeing that nuclear war could break out at any time.

I am too young to remember the Bay of Pigs and the brinkmanship around that, but I do remember growing up with the feeling that this issue was live and it only took someone nervous or mad to spark off a nuclear holocaust.

I clearly remember going on holiday to Cornwall and before we left there was some issue – I forget what – between the USSR and the Americans.

This was in the day, of course, of no mobile phones and, indeed, in that place there was no phone, tv or radio – we were cut off from news.

I was walking on the coastal path and thinking – as we did in those days – do you want to try and survive a nuclear fallout or do you want to to be killed by the first bomb. I always came to the decision, the first bomb.

There was a television series at that time about survivors of the nuclear holocaust and part of it was filmed where I grew up in Malvern – I remember the station being a location.

And for people of our age, if you are lucky, you can still catch The Day of the Triffids on Radio 4 Extra. Now, I know that is not a nuclear war story as such but the aftermath story is very similar.

But we, like John Le Carre, have moved on to issues which now face us and the next generation after us have no points of reference to the Cold War.

The Night Manager could start me on a riff about BAE systems ( but that is for another day.)






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