1989 The Berlin Wall

The Economist calls it, 'Irreverent and engaging' and I'd agree.  In reading Peter Millar's 1989 The Berlin Wall, or more fully 1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in Its Downfall one gets a knowing yet almost naive version of Millar's time in Berlin, being trailed by the Stasi whilst drinking with the locals in a back street bar or nipping over to West Berlin for new sofa.  As with any story which covers life in a communist country, the thing that grabs me is the sheer breathtaking cheek of some of the things that these regimes get up to.  I'd like to believe that in the west such things couldn't happen - but then the whole Spycatcher farrago would tell a different story.  I particularly like the part when Millar regales us with some of the details from Stasi observations of him. Writing about shopping trips with his wife, Millar quotes,

On such expeditions, it would appear that Streamer (Millar's Stasi codename) makes his wife carry the heavy objects.


Interesting for Millar to read, useful ammunition for his wife, but relevant to the 'security' of the East German state? Somehow I don't think so.  Through a trip to Moscow, under the auspices of the 'Soviet fraternal service' and back to Berlin via London to the night of the ninth of November 1989 Millar continues to entertain whilst making some astute observations about life in Cold War Europe as it spirals towards the end of communism.  His view of what has happened since is a wistful regret at a lost opportunity and a not so subtle dig at the "Little Englander" mentality of more than a few people here in Blighty.

The Sunday Times described the book as 'part autobiography, part historical primer and part Fleet Street gossip column' which sums it up quite neatly. Peter Millar's 1989 The Berlin Wall is a most enjoyable piece of work, combining dryness of wit with the sentiment of reminiscences of time spent in the company, amidst all the nonsense, of good friends.

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Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s

According to Dominic Sandbrook’s Sunday Times review of Rejoice, Rejoice!: Britain in the 1980s written in April 2010,

Not everybody, it turns out, was frightened of Mrs Thatcher.  ‘I gave her a hug,’ remarked Paul Gascoigne, football’s clown prince, after she had hosted England’s squad for the 1990 World Cup.  ‘It wasn’t bad, she was nice and cuddly, like.’  Few of the long-term unemployed in his native Newcastle would have agreed with him, and probably even fewer of her own cabinet, famously lampooned by Spitting Image as vegetables at the tyrant’s court.  But one of the pleasures of Alwyn Turner’s breathless romp through the 1980s is that it overflows with unusual juxtapositions and surprising insights.  Who knew, for example, that not only Alan McGee’s Creation Records but the bawdy magazine Viz were set up with money from Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme, dismissed at the time as a feeble attempt to disguise the horrors of mass unemployment?

Turner’s book takes its title from Thatcher’s exclamation when the Falklands War was won.  It was a curious time – for example, that war was the last time that Britain had been a single protagonist in a conflict and may well be the last.  So perhaps (Last) Hurrah! (Last) Hurrah! May have been a better title?  Turner makes much of the working class origins of Ian Botham – 80s icons and one supposes a symbol of Thatcher’s Britain - I have him down as one.  Also, in a throwback to bygone times - something she really liked - the comprehensive school educated oik, ITB was channelled in the right direction by the likes of public school educated Mike Brearley (hint: think Larwood and Jardine).  Steve Davis is also mentioned in the same breath – an individualist like Botham but, superficially at least, much more of a role model for Thatcher’s Britain.

Ultimately, Turner attempts to make sense of the decade using in the form of a grand tour through politics, sport and culture.  He’s correct to do so.  There is no way that any of them can be separated from each other.  From decisions on the 1980 Olympics to the government’s proposals on football hooliganism to the highly charged protest music of the early 80s and on towards the new, supposedly, alternative humour of Mayall and Edmondson, Elton and Curtis, not to mention French and Saunders, all impact on each other to greater or lesser extents.

So that’s it.  Rejoice, Rejoice! is an impressive romp, worthy of far more comment than the 400 or so words that I have given it here.  To finish as Turner does, let’s muse on Denis Thatcher’s comment to his wife on her leaving office – ‘I suppose,’ he remarked, ‘they will be remembered as the disastrous Thatcher years.’  Disastrous Roberts years doesn’t scan.  Well, not for me.

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