Sunday, 3 May 2020
WHEN THE ALL-CLEAR SOUNDS
Having a book published in a time of plague can seem like a disaster but compared to people really suffering it’s a high-class problem. Basically, the launch party has to be postponed until a healthier time. Those people kind enough to pledge for the event will be invited to later party; not so much a launch as a celebration.
There’s so much comparison to war in our current emergency. I have friends in other countries who knowing I live in central London; feel I must be living through a sort of Blitz with a constant wailing of ambulance sirens. But it is the reverse, outside of my basement flat the prevailing sound is silence, and I wonder if there is anything as silent as a silent city? Somewhere there is a heroic National Health Service, sweating blood and tears, but it isn’t me. I am not doing my bit and it’s astonishing how guilty that makes me feel. From being a small child watching war films I had assumed I would be the hero not the bystander. Think the film D Day and a civilian looking up at the hundreds of bombers, fighters, and towed gliders on the way to liberate Europe, well I never thought that spectator would be me. I thought I’d be in one of the aircraft on my way to do my bit. I am living the phoney war. Huge efforts are being made to keep me safe. I wonder if I’m worth it and in the courtroom of my head I think not really. I wish there was a Home Guard I could join but it isn’t that sort of war. I can just try to stay healthy so as not to be part of the problem.
Of course, in a real war there must have been many like me who never heard a shot fired in action, never heard a bomb blast, and who lived a quiet life in the midst of carnage. My main characters in Wolf Trap are like me. Both of them washed up by war and becalmed. Jago is in uniform but has never been in action. Gabriel has been invalided out of the Eastern Front and has a cushy job, far from the action, guarding Adolf Hitler on Obersalzberg. Jago does his duty as an Intelligence Officer in bomb devastated London. Gabriel serves in Hitler’s close protection body guard, The Old Hares, on the beautiful Bavarian Alps. Neither are what they seem; Jago is a homosexual and is as frightened of the British police as he is of the Nazis. Gabriel wears the uniform of the SS but is a British agent. Both have the surface calm of a phoney war, but underneath they fight their own war against panic and terror.
War for most people is no more a choice than catching a virus. An epidemic is a trap, just like war. We step into it unaware and suddenly we are caught. Then begins the great struggle to regain freedom, to walk the streets again without danger. Ultimately, there is one final choice to make; do we wish our world to go back to what it was before, or do we use the catastrophe to shape something different? A brave new world. Will it be 1918 or 1945? The choice is ours. Jago and Gabriel made their choices and surprised themselves, and what is life without a surprise?