Excerpt: A Fearful Love

This is how L himself, writing his MEMOIRS in the last days of his life, described the Hampstead house where he grew up and lived until the revolution, and where he liked to have it believed that he was born:
“The house where I was born stood on a quiet street lined
with old trees, and the quiet houses were shady and shadowy.
Dogs slumbered in the gateways, and old men and women
slumbered in upper rooms behind drawn blinds. Our house
was wound to the eyes in ivy. It could not, so it seemed,
brush it out of its eyes, because its arms were bound to its
sides by the tough ivy-boughs. It was hooded by a dark roof,
and being so muffled, being a blind and snuffling house, it
looked equally unhappy in summer green or autumn brown.
… In front there was a stone wall and a lych-gate in which
a knotted bell-rope hung. I sensed that if I pulled that rope
it would open the flood-gates of the universe and the whole
solid world about me would be shattered. … The garden
was a large one, with square patches of green surrounded
by tall old trees. Near the bottom of the tree-trunks were
the scars where years before branches had been lopped off.
It was my belief that these were the mysterious holes that
snakes inhabited, and that the roots which sometimes stuck
up in humps from the earth were the bodies of long dead
and badly interred serpents, who, if trodden upon, would
lift their heads from the ground and destroy, destroy, not
me alone but the whole quiet, tree-lined, slumbering-dogguarded
world. … At the bottom of the garden was an
orchard, and I remember one old fig-tree that I loved. But
to venture all that way alone was a daring escapade, and
I went there only once when neither gardener nor nurse
was there, at the still, lonely, thrilling hour of three o’clock
in the afternoon, when the whole quiet world was asleep,and the sun was slumbering in his respectable heaven, and
I stood there in blue-brown shade under a pine tree on
the stony, needly earth looking to the fig-tree for comfort
and reassurance, but it stared back at me with its drooping
eyes, threatening me, and I was numb with fear. … There
was a sunken garden, a pond in the middle of a circular
rockery, where I once put a pet tortoise which I never found
again. And there was a sundial mounted on three round
steps which was in mysterious collusion with the sun to
tell the time to my father only. There was a conservatory,
which we called the Studio. In it on rare Sundays my father
modelled heads in clay, which were removed on completion
to the high places of the drawing-room. … They grew in
number over the years, but slowly, like choice souvenirs
of a reign of terror, the eternal accusers of children, baked
reminders of a still, dead world. The house was a place of
holy silence. For some reason we had always to be quiet: my
brother was ill, my mother was resting … It was a very big
house to me, the rooms very high, the passages very long
… My early memories of my mother are more numerous
than of my father, but are equally vague. I remember sitting
– whether on one or many occasions I cannot say now – on
the blue-carpeted floor of my mother’s music- room, under
the huge dark grand piano, as my mother played Scarlatti,
and I watched her shoe decorated with cherries going up and
down on the pedal. It seemed an angry noise pumped out
by the energetic little fruits from the great brute of a piano.
… And I remember her lying on a chaise longue, her red
hair glowing in the long nostalgic shafts of late afternoon
sunshine, her fingers playing with a string of pearls that hung
about her neck. … Kept in an antique bureau were a set of
china tulips and a pack of tiny playing cards which she would
let me play with. She seemed to me to be playing a part in a
story, not doing and unable to do anything irrelevant to the
plot, and the plot in which my mother and I were involved
was indefinite and interminable, the enemies invisible, and
the evil elusive, but more certainly present than my mother
or myself. … Through all those days I was afraid. In the
nursery I would sit and sort my particles of understanding,
feeling about my thoughts as with a hand in a box whose
lid I could not raise far enough to let my eyes help with the
search. And I explored the lawns and flower-beds, and the
paths and rockeries, with a bow and arrow in my hand, and a great space between me and the heavens, comforted to
hear the scrape of the gardener’s shears at the edge of the
grass-plot. The world of street and house and garden, and
all the silent walking things and the silent growing things
and the silent pushing and blossoming and aging and falling
things, and the silent sunshine and the rain and the noisy
thunder and the sweet wet smells and the first bird singing,
and the music from the house, and the crushing of little
stones beneath my feet, and the pushing-through-colours of
darkness, and the tasteless butter of the electric lights, and
the black sky mounting the stars, and ungreetable sleep,
and weak awakening dropped on familiar voices like cool
water through the warmth of a dream; the unclassifiable
details that made up the myriad shapes and textures that
my groping hand could feel in that dark box of being, were
worth the risk, the fear, the unframed questioning. For terror
was in the veins of youth, and made a child kin to the
earth, consanguine with the rooted things, with the little
animals in the grass, and with the whole precarious world
that would seem so firm, portioned out and bricked in and
dog-guarded, ivy-bound, sky-lidded. The bell-rope that I
must never touch might indeed be fixed to the flood-gates
of chaos, and though I never pulled it there was a slow and
dangerous leak. Through all those quiet unmoving days,
the terror mounted in the holds, in the sheds, in the houses,
gardens, countries, deserts, marshes, continents of the mind.
My mother fingering her long necklace in the blue music room,
and my father carving a fine eye in the studio, and
my nurse stitching in the sudden light of a window, have
ceased suddenly to man this world, have turned from me
into themselves, abandoning me, with a handful of china
tulips, to three o’clock, to the shade beneath the fig-tree, to
the secret of the sundial, to the path of the tortoise.”

Excerpt: A Beautiful Terror

The summer of 1969 was a season of hectic political activity for the multitudes of the young in Europe; though less so than the year before, when the New Left student protest movement had reached its zenith of exhilaration, when all over the Western World, the children of affluence demonstrated against the tolerance they lived under, complaining that it was “repressive”; against the plethora of choice with which they were confronted; against the “ugliness” of prosperity; against the freedom of speech of which they were availing themselves when it was also taken advantage of by some people and newspapers to say things they, the students, did not like; and chiefly against a war in the Far East, where communist force was being opposed by American force in Vietnam.
They marched in anger, and as they marched these self-designated “antiauthoritarians”
shouted their adoration of Mao Tse Tung (the dictator of China), Fidel Castro (the dictator of Cuba) and Ho Chi Minh (the dictator of North Vietnam), and their abomination of their own elected parliamentary representatives. And meanwhile, in that same summer of ‘68, the students of Prague demonstrated against communist dictatorship, and for tolerance, choice, prosperity, freedom of speech and the right to choose their own government, and were suppressed by the Soviet Union with an armed invasion.
Now and then in 1969, on a warm Sunday, if less frequently than the year before, a few thousand of the free and prosperous would march down the main streets of the great cities, Paris, Berlin, Rome, carrying banners demanding peace, shaking their fists, and chanting in unison, “Ho! Ho! Ho-Chi-Minh!” But the demonstrations were not as they had
been. The heady days when the students had felt themselves about to change the world by sheer power of excitement were over. Sometimes the processions looked more like nostalgic rituals celebrating a tradition than a show of “youth power”. Already there were some dozens of them who felt emotionally unemployed, and were looking for other means
of expressing their hatred of the world that smiled upon all hatred so indulgently, and rewarded them for it with attention, protection, shelter and sustenance, and costly electronic equipment for musical entertainment.
Late in the spring of 1969 L arrived in Vienna and took up residence in a large apartment in a fin de siècle palace of haute bourgeois solidity, no longer fashionable. It still stands, in a row of its kind, overlooking the Naschmarkt, all with ornate baroque facades: fat balconies with stone balustrades, huge windows framed with curlicues of stone. [Plate 7.]
L’s apartment had been the board-room of a great corporation. His father bought it for him from an old friend and business associate who had had it on his hands for years and did not know what to do with it, and so disposed of it to Sir Nicholas for a price that would not have bought one average-sized room in the centre of London. It consisted
of two enormous rooms approached up a wide curving stone staircase from an imperial front door.
In 1970 an acquaintance from Cambridge* visited L in his Vienna apartment, and wrote this description of it to a friend:
“A thick crimson cord, held at intervals by rings of brass,
is swagged down the curving wall of the staircase. On the
upper surface of this cord, dust lies thick as cocoa-powder on
pralines, and one doesn’t want to touch it. But underneath it
remains deepest burgundy. At the top of the stairs there is a
wide landing, receding into a passage, one end of which has
been cheaply and shoddily screened off by flimsy walls, and
a squalid little bathroom and kitchen have been squeezed in
behind them to contrast amazingly with the general operatic
magnificence. But grubbiness and neglect have done no worse
to the building than to forgive it its erstwhile ambition,
represent its ostentation as courage, and its pomposity as
tradition. The squalid poky little offices can no more insult
it than would a plastic bucket left on the granite stairs by a
careless scrubwoman.”

A world without Margaret Thatcher

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, became Prime Minister. Her vision was to restore Britain to free-market prosperity, and have as many citizens as possible become property owning share-holding capitalists. The early years of her leadership were marked by a revolt of the Left, chiefly in the form of strikes by the trade
unions – in particular the miners – in the course of which people were killed, and race riots in which also blood was spilt. She crushed the unions. She partly succeeded in arresting the long decline into which Britain had been thrust since the Second World War. But the battle was hard and had she been a little less strong and courageous, had her spine
been a little less steely, she might not have won. The elements of chaos and anarchy, the defeated ideologues of collectivism, were still there,lurking in the shadows.
In 1984 I began to write a fantasy of what might happen if Mrs Thatcher did not get re-elected, a radicalized Labour Party came back into power, and was too weak to resist the violent Left. Violence and public cruelty were in the air. Shaven-headed Neo-Nazis
marched in steel-studded black leather, and the “Anti-Nazi League”, combining numerous cranky groups, clashed with the skinheads in the streets. In the theatres, small animals – including puppies, if I remember rightly – were slaughtered on stage.
On the continent, cruelty in art was taken to even greater lengths. I was commissioned by the Sunday Times magazine to attend and write about a Festival of Performance Art taking place over ten days in Vienna. Although there were “Action Artists” from various European
countries and America, the Austrians and Germans were the most spectacularly bloody. They were obsessed with blood and mutilation and pain. They enacted rituals of human sacrifice stopping short only of actual slaughter. They simulated the tearing and cutting of flesh, and in some instances really did tear it with whips and knives. It was as if
the hellish blood-fest of the 1940s, of the war and the Holocaust, the soaking of Europe’s soil with the blood of millions, less than forty years earlier, had not been enough to slake the thirst for atrocity, ruin and death in middle Europe; and as if even more recently people had not suffered the worst that the Communist tyrants Mao and Pol Pot could
inflict on helpless multitudes. The artists claimed political justification for the spectacles they created, pleading that they were themselves victims forced to produce works of art that reflected a terrible reality, caused by “imperialism” – by which they meant America, capitalism, prosperity, freedom, choice, opportunity, rule of law, opposition to
Communism.
The illustrated article I turned in to the magazine was to be the cover story one Sunday, but at the last minute the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times looked at the cover photograph of blood-soaked bodies and declared that he could not allow anything like that to be put on the Sunday breakfast tables of his readers. The whole story was spiked.
But what I had seen and learned in Vienna nourished the fantasy I was writing. It was apparent to me that sadism was an aesthetic rather than a moral issue for the artists, as it was for writers who had inspired the “New Left”, and for the affluent bourgeois terrorists I had written about in my book Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof
Terrorist Gang. For all their political excuses and pretexts, their actual aim was self-liberation, which they hoped to achieve by breaking through, outrageously, the limits set for them by the culture and custom of their Western, highly developed societies. And in the case of the Germans and Austrians, they wanted also not to be guilty; to separate themselves, by acts of defiance that would have been courageous thirty years earlier,
from their nation and – necessarily according to the Marxist “analysis” they parroted – also from their class. They liked to claim that they suffered for “the cause” (variously named as peace, anti-imperialism, anti-fascism, Third World liberation), and that their extreme deeds,
words, and performances were heroically self-sacrificial. But there was no missing the excitement, the emotional release, the rapture they were after. Whether or not they achieved the sensations they desired, and even if their own pain and fear were less than exhilarating when they actually occurred, the pleasure of hurting and terrifying others never
palled.

Excerpt: The Floodgates of Chaos

On the 10th July 1988, there were no deliveries of any food, or anything else whatsoever, to the “Marx” stores in London. The queues at the counters and through the doors and along the pavements were as long as ever, when suddenly it was announced by the counter-hands that there was nothing left to sell. Nobody moved for two hours or so. The people at the front waited wearily but patiently for supplies to be unpacked or
delivered. Then the New Police arrived, those who were lined up inside the stores were herded out, and the doors were locked.
People waited another few hours on the pavements. Then they began to disperse. They knew there was no one in the stores to shout at, and noisy complaint to the New Police could be considered rioting and answered with bullets. A few groups set off towards Downing Street, but were stopped and turned back by New Police on horseback. A small
crowd gathered under the windows of L’s office on the Embankment, but they were quickly dispersed by L’s personal guards – not New Police but East Germans, in foreign green uniforms and Soviet-style jackboots, and armed with Kalashnikov sub-machineguns.
Even these bolder few had not put much heart or organization into the approach to Number 10 or Scotland Yard. There was no use in protest marches and demonstrations now. For now there was real deprivation, real tyranny, real hunger. And that was precisely what L had promised them. They were no longer rich in many poor things, as once protestors had so angrily complained to governments and authorities. Now they
were poor in all things.
They went home, and there was “a great quietness over the city”, as
L himself records.
The next day the stores in other cities remained closed, and within a week not a single official store, shop or stall had anything to sell anywhere in England.

To help us learn what many citizens must have felt at that moment when civil life broke down, we have this recollection by a Camberwell tobacconist and newsagent, a Mr Bruce Waughs, a staunch Conservative by his own account, who had run his own small shop in Brixton until the revolution, and then carried on working in it when it was expropriated
like all other businesses big and small, as a licenced distributor of the RED TIMES. It tells what is surely a most surprising anecdote.
“My wife Stella appeared at the door, and she just stood there, looking at me with her eyes wide open and saying nothing, like someone who had just seen something happen that could not happen. I said, “What is it?” And she said, “There’s nothing! Nothing to eat. Everything’s just stopped.” It took some time for me to get the story out of her. When I did it took me even longer to grasp what it meant. Then I walked out of the shop, shut the door behind me, and was about to lock it, when Stella said, “What are you doing that for? Who are you going to lock it against?” And then it really came home to me. Well, I pushed the door open again and left it gaping wide, and I took her hand – something I hadn’t done for years − and we started walking along the street. And suddenly I felt − terribly, terribly happy. I can’t explain it. I can only say that I had never felt so happy in my whole life, not even when I was a child. And at that moment I looked at Stella, and she looked at me, and we began to laugh, and we couldn’t stop, we walked along the street laughing and laughing, and then we joined hands and began to dance, skipping round, like children, and if anybody had asked us what we were laughing at we couldn’t for the life of us have told them, not then. And all at once we weren’t alone, not alone in the street and not alone in our happiness, there were others, several others, many others, and then hundreds of others, the streets were full, and everyone was laughing, and dancing, we had seen nothing like it since the day we stood outside Buckingham Palace in July 1981 and cheered the Prince of Wales and his bride. And that was the same month our shop had been broken into and our stock looted by a mob in a riot, and Stella had cried. And I think the royal wedding had been a tonic for us, and Stella felt much better afterwards. But now what were we celebrating? The moment when we knew we might starve? It was only afterwards I could put a name to that feeling. Freedom. Somehow, in the twinkling of an eye, we had been set free. Free of what, you might say, when we were living under a tyranny, and had no notion of how we were going to go on living at all. Exactly. It was irrational. But somehow it happened. It wasn’t just having no more living to earn, no more mortgage to pay, no more bills, no more saving and budgeting, no more being told how much better Stella’s brother was doing with his furniture stores and garages than I was with my corner shop – all those sorts of worries had been lifted one by one when the revolution came eight months before, and other worries had come to replace them, heavier too, by far. Worries about the grandchildren and were they getting enough to eat, and about Stella’s mother who not only had her teeth taken away but even her wheelchair so that she just stayed indoors and we had to carry her from the bed to the chair and back again, and generally worries about whether life would ever again be comfortable and pleasant – as it had been when we had only the mortgage and things like that to worry about. And so what kind of happiness was this, what kind of freedom was it? I can tell you now – it was freedom from hope! Stella and I and all those other people made a strange discovery that day. We discovered that when you truly despair − there’s nothing to do but laugh.”
It is perfectly true that on that day many people danced in the street. The New Police, mounted and on foot, descended on crowds wherever they found them, and broke them apart and sent them home. They rode or marched up, thinking that these must be the beginnings of the first genuine and justified demonstrations against a government since the 1930s, after all these years, even before the revolution, of groups playing at protest, playing at suffering, playing at reaction to pretended oppression and pretended deprivation. And the New Police were themselves so surprised at the carnival mood they found in borough after borough, that they were caught by the television cameras smiling,
chatting to people in a friendly way, as they asked rather than ordered
them to get off the streets.
But there was one man who, when the report reached him that the people were dancing and laughing at the news they would get no dinner that day, was not surprised to hear it.