Events, Dear Boy, Events, Edited by Ruth Winstone. Profile, £25

 

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The Independent Culture

Ruth Winstone, editor of Tony Benn's and Chris Mullins's journals, is a national treasure. She has compiled this wonderful book which relates the 20th century's follies and perceptions though selections from British diarists, chiefly political. It best reviews itself:

"D[avid Lloyd George] and I sitting and smoking… just two or three pillars one regarded as being bulwarks against trouble – Mussolini and the King of the Belgians… D regards Hitler as a very great man." (Frances Stevenson, 1934)

"John and I go to Prom… vile… the exaggerated sentimentality and nobilmente of Elgar's 1st Symphony, I swear that only in Imperialist England would such a work be tolerated." (Benjamin Britten, 1935)

"There's a tap on the window… it was, oh dear, a girl fainting. Can I have a drop of water?... She'd been walking all day to get work, had neuritis… lived in one room in Bethnal Green… We gave tongue, 2 eggs and 5/-. And felt it's our fault. And she apologised." (Virginia Woolf, 1936)

"The French called the occupying German army 'the grey lice.' That is precisely how I regard the occupying army of English socialist government." (Evelyn Waugh, 1947)

"'We need you to pen an article'… 'About?' 'Ken Livingstone'… 'Why?' 'Well… he's trying to undermine the Labour Party, and we have to ensure he doesn't succeed.'…'I don't agree… He just has a different point of view.' 'Bollocks!' Sally [Morgan] slammed the desk with her fist… She has a knack for the bad cop role. 'Look,' said Alastair [Campbell] in a final take-it-or-leave-it voice, 'this is a direct request from the Prime Minister.' (Oona King, 1998)

"The whole Royal Family, delighted at the elimination of Diana, has now settled back into their favourite role, preservation of their own perks and privileges." (Alan Clark, 1997)

The ruinous flaw in Lloyd George, and the trivial brutishness of New Labour heavies, give the merest notion of this textbook in generational folly, dappled with bursts of perception.

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