LETTERS:My peculiar Cold War encounter

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The Independent Online
Sir: As Richard Gott, latterly literary editor of the Guardian, says of his curious encounters with the KGB and MI6, those Cold War years were a bizarre time - and certainly bizarre for journalists, including some less illustrious than him. Over 3

0 years ago, when I was a young reporter on a Sussex weekly paper, the Crawley Courier, I got in touch with PAP, the Polish Press Agency in London, with some ideas of pursuing journalistic contacts with a country that I then saw as building a new and more egalitarian society. There followed restaurant meetings with a PAP correspondent, whose name it might be gracious not to give in case the revelation should incommode his present situation.

I always insisted on going to modest establishments and on paying the bill on alternate occasions. This seemed odd to my friend, who one night almost broke down in a Soho restaurant and talked about how tough life really was in Poland. "Yes, I know," I said, "but you must keep your faith and build your new society ..."

I thought it might help him to renew his faith in the cause if he were to escape from the debilitating atmosphere of high-life London and spend a weekend meeting the workers in Crawley. He wasn't keen, but turned up one Friday night with his pigskin luggage to sleep on the floor of my rented cottage. The meetings with the workers didn't excite him and we never renewed the experience.

In the few months of our acquaintance, when I suppose my right thinking had been demonstrated, I was invited to write an article on British Government foreign policy for distribution on "white PAP" - the restricted circulation service of the agency. I was delighted to exercise myself in this task - I think I earned £10, but my PAP friend was not very satisfied. "Can't you get some information from other than journalistic sources?" he asked.

It was then - after the unfulfilling weekend in Crawley - that I thought something peculiar might be going on. PAP and I lost interest in each other and the restaurant meetings tailed off, to the benefit of my frail budget. But I still do not know whether my erstwhile sad Polish friend was seriously seeking to recruit a potentially useless agent.

Twenty years later, when visiting Warsaw, I asked a Polish journalist what had become of PAP's man in London. "He chose freedom in America," I was told. With the pigskin luggage, I suppose.

Yours faithfully, PETER AVIS Brighton 10 December