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The Psychopath Will See You Now: Dispatches of a Foreign Correspondent from Around a Weird World

The Psychopath Will See You Now: Dispatches of a Foreign Correspondent from Around a Weird World

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The Psychopath Will See You Now: Dispatches of a Foreign Correspondent from Around a Weird World

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546 pagine
8 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Aug 31, 2013
ISBN:
9781483692470
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

History is full of surprises. This book is about some of the big ones of the recent past, be they political upheavals, wars and atrocity or famine and diseases of mass destruction. But we also note the humor, or sense of the ridiculous, that is a key ingredient of the human experience. Trying to make sense of events as they occur is traditionally the job of the foreign correspondent, the man or woman on the ground. In a fast-moving collection of articles we travel the world with the author as he covers many major events, observing at first hand the end of apartheid, the fall of the Soviet empire, the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, conflict in the Middle East, the reunification of Germany, the last quirky remnants of the imperial era, the hunt for the source of the AIDS virus, the origins of the crisis in the European Union, the horrors of the narcotics trade, the lifestyles of tyrants, royalty and those who live at the edge of the world. Through it all we experience the extraordinary individuals who shape history for good or for evil, or who entertain us through their exceptional personalities and ambitions. This is a rollicking journey of discovery through a world that never ceases to excite, amuse, astonish or dismay.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Aug 31, 2013
ISBN:
9781483692470
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Graham Barrett spent many years as a foreign correspondent, foreign affairs commentator, editorial writer, and foreign editor of 'The Age' newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. His also contributed to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and the 'Australian Financial Review'. At an earlier time he was on the editorial staff of the Johannesburg 'Star' and spent two years working for black African publications 'Golden City Post' and 'Drum' magazine. More recently he was for a decade a World Bank official based in Washington, DC, while working across East Asia and the Pacific. He has taught a post-graduate course on contemporary Asia at the University of Melbourne. The author is a former vice-president of the Foreign Press Association in London and a former vice-president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. He won a United Nations Association major media peace award in 1990.

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The Psychopath Will See You Now - Graham Barrett

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CONTENTS

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Flight into Hell

Brief Encounter in Moscow

Clinging to Paradise

A Likely Lad who Became a Lord

The Governor is Waiting

Oh, What a Lovely War

Yes, Yes, Oh, Yes, Minister

Last Gasp of the Empire

Not All Fun in the Sun

Saving the Prawn-flavored Crisp

Dear Old Charles

At Home With the Golden Man of the Carpathians

Saddam Goes to War

Please Leave Your Values at the Front Desk

Life in a Land in Trouble

In the House of Fetish and Fantasy

Living Corpse

Ten Months that Shook the World

Whither the Monarchy?

An Aristocrat of the Stage

In the Political Wilderness

A Tsar Topples and Falls

A Coup in the Kremlin: the Postscript

Don’t be so Nosey

A Lifetime in Provence

A whale of a time in Norway

Evolution of a New South Africa

The Russians are Coming

Where Donkey Carts are

New-fangled Gadgets

Claus Wars

The Reluctant Diva

With Dr Death in the City of Doom

Queen of the Royal Roadshow

Maastricht to Gaastricht

All Change for Auschwitz

The Communists Who Lived Like Kings

Moss and Fangio: Best of the Best

How to Rescue Africa

A Faustian Pact with Saddam

Only 96 Wives to Go

A Leader of Pharaonic Vanity

In the Land of the Golden Guano

Confronting the Crisis in Islam

A Spot of Bother in Uganda

Kick the Garlic-eaters in the Gauls

The Great Dictator

Where Bell-bottomed Trousers are Banned

While There is Still Time to Sing

A Sunny Place for Shady People

No More Hanky-Panky

Kings for Sale

A Rebel and a Gentleman

Rise of the Neo-Nazis

English Conquers the World

The Meaning of Life

Farewell to Fair Acres

Why the US Needs the World

Plots, Paranoia and Pariahdom

The Longest Hatred

Submarine, Anyone?

Hungry for Justice

When the Romance is Over

Unbloodybelievable

Very Clean, the Swiss

Where Money Grows on Trees

At the Cutting Edge of Travel

Sickening Secrets of the Stasi Spies

Pros and Cons of Lech Walesa

Apocalypse Now

When Colonists Become Colonisers

The Untouchables of Europe

Fat Albert Goes to Srebrenica

War is the Enemy

An Imperial Army in Retreat

Dinner at the Rand Club

History’s Habit of Springing Nasty Surprises

Down But Not Out

The World’s Richest People

Inside the Medal Factory

Uniting a Divided World

How to be Happy

For Alastair Barrett

Dost thou not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?—Count Oxenstierna, 17th century Swedish statesman.

Acknowledgements

The articles in this book first appeared in ‘The Age’ newspaper, Melbourne, Australia, except where otherwise indicated.

Permission to republish them is gratefully acknowledged by the author.

The cover illustration reflects the article entitled A Spot of Bother in Uganda, and is reproduced by kind permission of the caricaturist, John Spooner.

For advice throughout the preparation for publication, the author is indebted to Anna King Murdoch.

Introduction

The golden era of the foreign correspondent is over as revenue drains away from newspapers. It was terrific fun while it lasted. The demands were profound for anyone serious about the job. But the rewards were plentiful. One got to be a witness to the big events, trends and people who make history. Travel was often peripatetic. Danger occasionally intruded, adding to the romantic allure of the job, and recalling Churchill’s belief that nothing in life is as exhilarating as to be shot at without result. Success required energy, resilience, luck, guile and determination.

In the years when nearly all the articles in this book were written there were no mobile telephones, no internet, no Google. One had to find out what was happening in the old-fashioned way, which, for a start, was to make and nourish contacts and persuade them to share their knowledge and expertise. It was to develop as much background information as possible about one’s assigned region so as to be equipped to interpret events accurately and appropriately as they happened.

The commandment was to be there when the big story broke. I still possess a wrinkled piece of notepaper on which I scribbled the only instruction I ever received before venturing into the foreign unknown. Use your intuition to get there first. File top of the news plus color plus interpretation plus background, but get there! Dateline, dateline, dateline!

Having got there, one had to move fast to be competitive. Sometimes this meant writing much of the initial story on the way in, flailing away on a clunky portable typewriter, so that it could be topped up and tinkered with at speed once a spot of local color and information could be absorbed. Finally, if the story was big and urgent, it could be telephoned through to the newsdesk at alarming cost.

For less urgent material, apart from the postal service, the task was to find the nearest Reuters office, possibly dozens or even hundreds of kilometres away, and beg or, in dodgy places, bribe the chap behind the telex machine to transmit one’s copy.

Towards the end of the 1980s a great event took place. It was the arrival of the portable word-processor, a primitive ancestor of today’s laptop. My trusty new Toshiba, initially regarded with great suspicion, had all the computing power of an electric toothbrush, but it was a revolution. It was accompanied by a device called the rubber couplers which were designed to envelop a telephone and permit the slow and uncertain transmission of words through a succession of peeps and burps from the Toshiba to a computer at the newspaper up to a world away.

The first thing one did when checking into a hotel in Managua or Moscow was to fall to the floor of the room with a selection of screwdrivers and fiddle with the wiring on the telephone jack in the hope that a fit could be achieved with the wiring on the Toshiba. Sometimes it could, sometimes it couldn’t. Disaster was to walk into a hotel room and see that the telephone was a fancy new design that would fail to fit the rubber couplers.

Even if a connection could be established it often broke, particularly in remote parts of the world with poor infrastructure and lines that were tapped by the local intelligence service, requiring the whole procedure to be repeated several times. Temper tantrums and tears were part of the scene. But note here, unlike today’s reality, that there is no mention of money or budgets or accountants or the need for thriftyness. It was all about getting the big story.

The great correspondents of the day who sallied forth from the newspaper I served were often legendary figures in themselves, inspiring reminders that life on the road was not always a matter of hard work and sacrifice. I was once lavishly entertained to lunch over an heroic seven hours in London by the late Peter Smark, a predecessor of mine as chief European correspondent of ‘The Age’. With darkness outside, Smark suddenly consulted his wristwatch and gasped in horror. My God, he said, we’re going to be late for dinner!

The compulsion to be on top of the big story when it broke led to what we called foreign correspondent’s paranoia, which meant frequent, one might say neurotic, checking of the BBC World Service on shortwave radio. Sod’s law insisted that big stories were missed. With no mobile telephones, correspondents could, and did, go missing, perhaps on an amorous assignation or merely for root canal at the dentist. On three momentous occasions overseas I found myself frantically filling in for a day or two until the luckless colleagues could be found and returned to the scene of their responsibility.

I, too, missed a big story once, in theatrical circumstances. Covering the penultimate superpower summit in Helsinki, in September, 1990, I calculated my deadlines and computed the time difference with my newspaper. I had only a few minutes to make the main edition after the press conference at which George H W Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev would announce their agreements and achievements.

Cunningly I set up the trusty Toshiba in my room at a hotel nearby, wrote up the bulk of the story from earlier developments, typed in the communication codes, positioned the rubber couplers, and jauntily processed to the Finlandia Hall for the press conference. As it concluded I bolted for the door and ran out into the hall in search of a quick exit. In the distance I spotted a small group of White House correspondents being whisked down a staircase for a fast exit to cover the departure of Air Force One.

I ran after them, jumped down the stairs into a marbled lobby, ran forward, looked in vain for the group, paused in dismay, and saw a door open right in front of me. Out came Bush, Gorbachev, Secretary of State Jim Baker, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev. Had I been equipped with a suicide vest I would have gone down as the greatest assassin in history.

The moment I saw them emerge I felt my heart fall into my feet because a dozen bodyguards from the Soviet and US presidential security details were running straight for me from points around the hall. The Russians got to me first and, not to put too fine a point on it, took me down. When they had finished their inquiries into parts of me that had better go unmentioned, I was taken away in handcuffs and passed to the Finnish police. They entertained me until everyone had departed and I was let out into the night to limp back to the hotel room and the waiting Toshiba and the numerous anguished messages on the telephone. My Washington colleague, who had expected to cover the event himself but had been told that I was nearer and would do so in his place, had filled in for me from the other side of the Atlantic.

Big news stories have no place in this collection of articles. This is a book for the interpretative, color and commentary articles that seek to provide a flavor of what a country, event, trend or personality is really all about. Some of the pieces are dramatic, some may be amusing, some attempt to predict what is likely to happen next, or try to make sense of a rapid shift such as the implosion of the Soviet empire, the reunification of Germany, the evolution of the European Union, the end of apartheid or the collapse into war of Yugoslavia. Many are snapshots of quirky countries and regimes around the world. A few, such as the article on Spain and those on the then European Community, foreshadow the crises we see today. Some are interviews with an eclectic selection of figures. The articles cover a period of upheaval in world affairs and form a first, rough, draft of history, to use a classic description of journalism. As the poet T.S. Eliot said, history has many cunning corridors; a few of them may be identified here.

I’m sometimes asked what the great political figures of recent times were really like. Of the ones I have known personally through close observation and interviews, only Nelson Mandela stands as an icon, a truly remarkable individual whose existence is a gift to humanity. An enduring memory is of him and the white President who oversaw the transition to majority rule in South Africa, F.W. De Klerk, leaving the Union Building in Pretoria after announcing the ANC’s suspension of armed struggle. This was the soaring moment when it was evident that a full civil war had been avoided. The two leaders were smiling as they passed me in the doorway, but what sent a shiver of delight down my spine was that both men were quietly in tears.

East Timor’s Xanana Gusmao shares with Bill Clinton the captivating habit of making you feel as if you are the most important person in the room, grooming you with that deep, slow voice, and the lingering handshake. In the mid-1980s, a thin, earnest, dark-haired young man carrying a suitcase called at my newspaper office and asked to see someone about his cause. He looked as if he had slept the night on someone’s couch and that he was living out of the suitcase, and he had, and was. Fifteen years later, when I was working for the World Bank, I invited him to breakfast and arranged for him to be received in Washington, DC, on a visit that triggered a rescue mission for what was to become a new nation. His name was Jose Ramos Horta, who went on to be Prime Minister and then President of East Timor.

Mikhail Gorbachev enchanted us in the West with his unusual ability for a Russian to smile and his attempt to reform the Soviet Union, only to destroy it instead. In person he is a boring apparatchik who drones through his interpreter in mind-numbing prose. Saddam Hussein, as one would imagine, did a fine impression of a ruthless gangster, because that was what he was. Yasser Arafat was an overweight caricature in his faux military uniform and designer stubble, communicating through halitosis and spittle. Character assessments of other figures feature through the book.

The truth is that, unlike Mandela and De Klerk, many leaders around the world were, are and will continue to be an assortment of psychopaths, sociopaths and pathological narcissists. These personalities carry the characteristics that motivate men—and nearly all of them are men—to gain and retain power at any cost. Democracies have ways and means to try to inhibit their rise to office—not always with success—and try to check their activities should they succeed in winning power. Other political systems lack such capacity.

As a past professor of psychology at London University, Norman Dixon, has written, For authoritarian personalities, peace of mind is at least partly achieved by the discharge of hate. What is worse is that authoritarian people are probably the last to see anything wrong in unleashing their aggression against their fellow men. Such people are ‘always right’. They always ‘know best’. What they do to other people is ‘always justified’.

The fact that the world is so vulnerable to the ambitions of such figures is why the title of this book is ‘The Psychopath Will See You Now’, and why we need to guard against them wherever we may be.

Flight into Hell

Zagreb, August, 1992

Flight Lieutenant Michael Crosby, 64 Squadron, Royal Air Force, held his Hercules C-130 transport on the end of the runway at Zagreb airport, engines roaring, 15 tonnes of flour groaning in its netting at the back. He turned to look at his six-man crew and the two reporters standing in the cockpit.

Everybody gave the all-clear. It was time to go to hell.

We avoided the MiGs operating in northern Bosnia by lumbering across the Croatian sky to Split on the Adriatic. Then we swung to port, strapped on our flak jackets and exchanged glances as Crosby gunned the four Lycoming engines and hunkered down for the run into the world’s most dangerous airport in the world’s most dangerous city.

We’re going to come in high and fast, he shouted above the din. Sarajevo will become visible in a valley to starboard, we’ll turn, fall to a couple of thousand feet until we’re near the start of the runway, and then we’ll go straight down in an emergency landing. Hang on tight. Another officer monitored instruments from his bench at the back of the cockpit. They told him whether anyone was locking a surface-to-air missile on our flying wheat-field, as has happened half-a-dozen times in as many weeks. Above him hung an orange tassel linked to a flare that would fling aluminium chaff into the sky to try to confuse anything on its way up.

Five minutes! the missile man called, holding up the fingers of one hand. Then, there it was, looming out of the haze: the capital of Europe’s newest and shortest-lived nation, under bombardment by Serb gunners for five months, 400,000 survivors living in fear as the world wrings its hands with phoney resolve.

Sarajevo filled the cockpit windows, a river snaking by on the right, tree-covered mountains all around, two armored vehicles moving slowly through deserted streets. Bombed-out houses leered at us from every quarter. A white puff of smoke from another mortar round rose lazily and silently from a building behind the airport terminal. The only thing worse than coming down was getting there.

This is it! said the navigator, Flight Lieutenant Simon Brailsford. Brace up! It was a rotten miss. We were impossibly high. Oh, God, we’d have to go around again, giving the most experienced snipers and gunners this side of Beirut every temptation to have a go.

Crosby stuck the C-130 on its nose, all his special training in play as we plunged straight down in a weapons-cheating feat that no other airforce is daring to attempt in the most dramatic humanitarian airlift since the Berlin crisis of 1948.

Eyes bulging, stomach heaving, an inner scream that no one could hear, and then we were on the deck, an hour and 10 minutes after take-off, with the ultimate roller-coaster ride ending in full reverse pitch.

We lurched off the runway into a sea of scurrying white United Nations armored personnel carriers, debris from mortar strikes, blue-helmeted troops manning machine guns, fork-lift trucks bustling forward, ready to move, move, move that flour so that the C-130 could take off in 25 minutes flat.

We jumped out into a scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’ where there is no director to shout Cut!, and ducked towards the shattered terminal with its big blue Aerodrom Sarajevo sign, into a room lined to the ceiling with sandbags, exposed plumbing and concrete floors filled with cigarette stubs. UN troops toiled away outside, Ukrainians beside Egyptians, Americans, French, Jordanians and a single Nepalese from Kathmandu.

The Luftwaffe would be in soon, then the Italians, then the Americans from a base in Germany. Shift that aid, dump that load, go back for more. But why all the fuss? Was that not a bird we could hear singing? Was that not a red rose blooming in the weed-infested garden bed just beyond the bullet-holed window? Was the mountain on the other side of the runway not beautiful, and was not the summer heat relaxing and full of hope?

The first shell landed 150 metres away, pummelling another house to dust in part of the suburb of Dobrinja abutting the airport, the suburb where the dead are buried in feverish haste along the side of the road before the mourners are themselves struck down.

Don’t bother to feed the people in that section, one warring faction advised the UN the other day. They’re only warriors. Larry Hollingsworth, an aid coordinator, risked his life to go in and check, just in case. He blesses the day he did. He found 200 children and 160 old people, hobbling around on their walking frames, living on cabbage, clinging to life and hoping the fighters would soon go away.

The mortars were starting up now, whooshing over the hangars and falling on the houses or on the narrow strip of no man’s land in between. Our greatest concern is that they’re going to fall short, said Squadron Leader Willie Dobson, whose liaison team in the UN High Commission for Refugees hangar keeps in contact with aid convoys and the world through a brace of Toshiba laptops linked to a printer and powered by truck batteries.

He pointed to the mangled metal around a hole in the roof that had taken a direct hit a few days ago, pouring shrapnel into the hangar. In the rooms at the back, their floors are a mess of broken glass, you can skulk behind a blanket and peer across a stretch of sunburnt grass into the hottest part of this hell on earth, into the rubble where thousands of people are trapped in tombs of crumbling masonry.

Crack-crack-crack. Oof-oof-oof-oof-oof. Thump. Thump. Thump. The sounds of war came pounding in as mortars gave way to the Serb T-55 tanks on the hill beyond the end of the runway.

Both sides are fighting across the airfield. We’ve been trying to persuade them that, if they must shoot, please do it parallel to the runway rather than across it so we can keep the airlift going, Squadron Leader Dobson said, putting on his flak jacket.

But last night a tank pitched up right over there. He pointed across the runway. It was firing between the airport buildings. They’re not real soldiers. They’ve had guns up in the hills over there for months without digging them in, for example. It’s this sort of mentality that means the war could go on for years. Thump. Thump. Thump. They seemed to be coming closer, the thin metal of the hangar walls vibrating with the impact. At the laptops, a petite blue-eyed, blonde-haired Muslim woman, Ms Amra Nuhbegovic, 26, primped the roses in a vase on her desk and shared a joke with the UN cook who was threatening to bake a loaf of bread for lunch.

A telephone rang nearby. Oh, excuse me, she said, listening, then reading off a list of the incoming C-130s, Transalls and Antonovs pulling in every 20 or 30 minutes, the 270 tonnes-a-day lifeline for a city that was starving in terror until the mercy mission began last month.

France, 0800, flour; Germany, 0827, feta, flour, DHH (baby food, formula and other foodstuff); Italy, 0900, DHH, feta, rice, salt, oil; UK, 0923, flour; United States, 0948, flour, medicine. On the tarmac, another convoy of UN trucks pulled away for the inner-city distribution depots, armored personnel carriers interspersed in the line.

In a corner of the hangar the soldiers of a dozen nations were taking a break, sweating in their protective vests. Corporal John Burns, a tactical communications specialist, removed his helmet, snapped the ring of a cola can, and said: "Whether they aim to piss you off or kill you, you just don’t know.

When it gets too heavy you get the hell out into the bunker over there. We used to sleep in the hangar. Now we sleep in the bunker. We’ve put up a blanket. He explained how it would not be necessary to run for the bomb shelter until the mortar, artillery or tank rounds started walking towards us. We’ve got quite experienced in judging how late to leave it. We can’t just abandon our work and dive for cover every time something goes pop. A few days earlier, the Ukrainians had brought in a new radar to help the air traffic controllers, sitting up in the tower behind sandbags and shattered windows. The Serb forces in the hills had taken exception to the radar. They walked their mortars across the airport until they had the right range.

Things got so bad earlier this month that the airport was shut for four days as the world anguished over what to do. Then stories began to go out suggesting that Sarajevo had too much food. Such rumors anger the relief workers.

It’s not possible to have too much food here with winter coming on and the rains, snow and bogged roads, Ms Nuhbegovic said. We need to get in as much food as possible in the few weeks left before the seasons change. Relief officials admit privately that fighters as well as civilians are getting food. We know it’s happening and there’s nothing we can do, one said. "In a sense, it’s perhaps not a bad thing because they know that if they bomb us to smithereens they won’t know where the next MRE (meal ready to eat) is coming from.

"The good thing about these MREs, which come with their own little heating canister and so on, and they’re bloody expensive, pardon the French, is that they give the victims here a solid and nourishing meal. People are stockpiling them for a rainy day.

But MREs also allow a sniper to stay in position for days at a time. He doesn’t have to come down every day or so, grab some flour, find an oven, bake a loaf of bread and go back into position. You go downtown and see all these wankers with their guns, standing around letting the old people unload the food. According to Squadron Leader Dobson, a veteran of the Ethiopian airlift, Sarajevo presents other unexpected problems. "In Ethiopia, we’d drop sacks of wheat and the people would treasure every grain, lovingly grinding it down into flour and preparing a basic meal.

Here we’re dealing with a European society. They want something to pop into the oven. They’re not really equipped to live on bread alone. The printer sparked into life. It was an aid convoy trying to get 46 tonnes of supplies into the besieged southern city of Gorazde.

Pinned down. Can’t move, the message chattered. The liaison team fell on the laptops and telephones, trying to break the impasse. Outside, the gunfire resumed. Oof-oof-oof-oof-oof. No one paid any attention.

We slipped into a sandbagged trench to see what was happening. Listen for the crack and thump, said Major Andrew Venus, explaining how the time between the two sounds could tell a soldier how close the fire was coming, and from which direction.

Look there, he said softly. See the bombed-out roof of that house with three or four chimneys? There’s a sort of conservatory. In there is a sniper. See, he’s drinking from a bottle. Farther away, a tank opened fire.

The only way into the city of death is through Serb checkpoints followed by a breakneck dash down notorious Sniper’s Alley, a two-kilometre stretch of knuckle-gnawing terror for anyone in a vehicle not covered with armor-plating. The BBC is particularly proud of its new armored Land-Rover, driven in from London.

The road is scarred with the memories of those less well-supplied, their bullet-holed vehicles lying in awkward poses as a warning to anyone who takes unnecessary risks.

An American television producer, David Kaplan, took the hell-ride last week after refusing the offer of a bullet-resistant vest. He survived 150 metres before a high-velocity shot took him in the back. Squadron Leader Dobson supervised the loading of his body on to a departing transport plane as the death toll for journalists in 14 months of Balkan conflict rose to about 40, proportionally the highest of any modern war.

No one is safe here: the UN troops, unable to intervene, are sitting ducks. The Red Cross comes under fire routinely. The terrified European Community monitors got out weeks ago. Ambulances are favorite targets for the men with guns. So are hospitals. Doctors battle on, falling prey in their dozens to the bullets and shrapnel that pore down from the Serb-held hills.

The world is up in arms, figuratively speaking, about the detention camps discovered in other parts of Bosnia. But nothing could be as bad as the casual maiming and murder that await the innocent civilians of Sarajevo—Serbs, Muslims, Croats, a handful of remaining Jews—and their visitors.

This is where power lines trail on the roads, trucks stick out of shop windows at insane angles, buildings slump in burnt-out surrender and rubble scars the landscape. This is a city where the wounded can lie screaming on the road for hours until others can risk their lives to save them, like the woman doctor shot in the chest as she tried to evacuate patients under fire in an intensive care ward.

Sarajevo has learnt to live underground until courage or hunger drives people to crouch in doorways, waiting to make a dash for the occasional bus that still runs, only to be shot as they take a seat.

If Sarajevo is hell, so the surviving victims say, the senior Bosnian Serb leader, Dr Radovan Karadzic, must be the devil. There are lots of devils in those hills and in the suburbs below, gangsters who have raped and murdered their way through whole districts at a time, making merry on a mixture of plum brandy and blood.

You can see what is in a day’s work for them by intruding on the M*A*S*H-like mood of the hospital. There are babies with their arms blown off, small girls who will never play hopscotch again and people whose suffering has overpowered their minds. There is a man in one ward who got shot through the window while recovering from an operation to amputate part of an arm wounded in a mortar blast.

You can see what can be done with everything from a broken bottle to a rocket-propelled grenade if you have the guts to keep looking after the mind shuts down to protect the soul. You can also see that the people of Sarajevo, who once prided themselves on being the most sophisticated society in the Balkans, where Serb, Muslim and Croat lived and intermarried in harmony, are clinging to shreds of normality and dignity.

In the burnt-out ruins of a bank a woman is standing in the sun before a queue of people, neatly trimming their hair. People take elaborate care over their appearance. Before the summer holidays, students swotted for their exams in the hope that they would survive to put their education to use.

The man who runs the tourist office is still open for business, his bearded face wreathed in smiles. Families and friends are desperately close, living each day as if it were their last on earth. Children rush up with bunches of flowers to greet two visiting psychiatrists coming to monitor the effects of protracted trauma.

This is the town where death comes out of the sky in a flash, ripping apart a family enjoying a respite in the sun, pulping the people in a food queue, or eliminating a mother running across an intersection to get home to her children.

We are a very proud people, you know, said Ms Vesna Vukoic, half-Muslim, half-Serb, an economist who is now a UN official. "My father still goes to work each day, knowing that as the boss he must set a good example to the staff.

My family lives in the centre here and my two young brothers have been inside for the whole summer. They are so pale. They show me bullets and shrapnel and say they aren’t scared. I don’t get nervous any more. It was hard in the first few weeks. But now we’ve been under Serb pressure for five months. Many of those trapped in Sarajevo are bitter at a world that could do so much to save Kuwait and yet so little to save Bosnia. We know why foreign governments are so reluctant to intervene with their armies, a Muslim academic said in an intense conversation. "We realise this is guerrilla country that can swallow hundreds of thousands of troops without result.

"But there are other ways, other means. The big boys in Belgrade could be given an ultimatum. Stop the nonsense, you could tell them, or we will destroy your strategic targets, your military bases, bridges, arms factories and so on. Give it a try.

We are lost without such help and you are lost, too, morally. Your Western principles are on the line with our lives. Remember that Sarajevo is just one of many such hells in Bosnia. At the airport, there was word that the RAF was on its way back in. The friendly Muslim cook served a plastic plate of delicious beans in pasta sauce with bread straight from his oven as a parting present.

Ms Nuhbegovic, the blue-eyed liaison assistant, finished her meal and said: "I think the hate is going to be so bad. Bosnia cannot survive by itself. I could never believe this war would happen. I’m a pessimist. I think the Serbs are going to achieve what they want.

We had a model city. Everyone was so happy here and now we are dying in our thousands, cut down in our homes. Before all this, I was an architectural draughtswoman. People tell me now that after the war there will be lots of work for me. But I think it will be many years before we are ready to rebuild. Outside the hangars, the last of the day’s 24 flights were unloading, each flight costing the equivalent of 40 overland convoys of the sort that may one day make it through.

Thump. Thump. Thump. The bombardment was resuming. Oof-oof-oof-oof-oof-oof. An Italian C-130 plopped on to the runway in the middle of it, the roar of its engines drowning out the blasts. Ms Nuhbegovic returned to her laptops. Move that convoy. Shift that aid. Keep those people alive.

Then Crosby was back, tumbling down at 50 metres a second in his Khe Sanh manoeuvre developed by American pilots in the Vietnam War. A UN supervisor checked me on to the manifest. You are leaving so soon, said Ms Nuhbegovic with a big smile. Thank you so much for coming to visit. You must come back soon. Corporal Burns came to say goodbye. When I go out for a break I always feel a sense of guilt, he said, about the people I’m leaving behind. You can get used to all this, to the steady drip of adrenalin.

I knew what he meant about the guilt, the easy-come and easy-go. I think I know what he meant about the adrenalin. Flight Lieutenant Crosby was ready to leave. We’re going to take it low and slow, then straight up, he said. Be ready for two Gs and hold tight. The empty C-130 roared away, lifted off almost immediately, clung at two metres above the runway to the end, rose to three metres over some hillocks, flew straight at a bullet-scarred block of flats controlled by Serb forces, then soared in a vertical punch that blurred my vision and dragged me towards the floor of the cockpit.

Then we were levelling off high above the valley, Sarajevo slipping from view, the missile monitoring officer starting to relax at his console, the navigator setting course for Split, Zagreb and the Western capitals where politicians wring their hands in anguish.

We unstrapped our flak jackets and fingered the sweat-drenched shirts beneath. Down below, Ms Nuhbegovic, Squadron Leader Dobson, Corporal Burns and 400,000 others would be going about their business at the end of another day in hell.

A little tune worried away at my lips as the Adriatic coast came into view. What were the words that went with it? Why does the sun go on shining… That was it.

"Why does the sun go on shining.

"Why does the sea flow to shore,

"Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?

"I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand,

How life goes on as it does.

Brief Encounter in Moscow

Moscow, November, 1979

A scarlet ball was setting fire to the Lenin Hills when Tanya telephoned. A babble of Russian bubbled over the wire. Can you speak English, please, I said.

Mr Barrett? she asked.

Yes, I said, wondering what the authorities wanted now, and watching flecks of snow dancing outside in the twilight.

Why you not phone me? Her voice, young, strange and accusing, husked into the earpiece. On the horizon the sun spent itself in the Gothic pile of Moscow State University. Red stars lit up on the towers of the Kremlin.

I have been waiting home three days for you to call. Why you do this to me?

In an office across the courtyard a man in a white shirt stood up and switched on the naked bulb over his desk. He paused at the window, viewed the slush on the cobbles below, then sat with a file of papers.

Michael told me you were coming! He arranged it all in Austria. Why you not phone me?

A spray of swallows swept past the double-paned windows of room 423. Why hadn’t those birds flown south for the winter?

Petulant breathing replaced the voice.

Look, I said, I think you’ve got the wrong man. I’ve never been to Austria, I don’t know any Michael there, and I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.

You lie to me! Why you lie to me? Intrigued, I began to make notes on a little yellow pad filched from a Bangkok hotel. Under Thai: a beautiful way to fly, I wrote: Wait a minute. Let’s get this straightened out. Who are you?

You know what my name is. Why you keep me waiting? Why you lie to me?

I’m not lying to you. What do you want? Who are you?

Tanya! You know it. Michael told you.

Now look, Tanya, you’ve got the wrong man. I live in Australia, not Austria. I arrived from Tashkent three hours ago. I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.

More lights flicked on in the building across the way. Banks of snow glistened on the roofs of Gertsena Street. My 40th anniversary edition of Fodor’s guide to the Soviet Union flapped on the desk beside the phone.

I hauled at the chromed handle on the window frame and the inner fanlight creaked shut.

Tanya raged about double-dealing Westerners and deceit in general.

Suspicion began to cloud the air of room 423. Fodor, like a behind-the-Iron-Curtain Gideon Bible, helped out on page 46, verse six: Watch out for agents provocateurs. Avoid sexual entanglements.

Tanya, an agent provocateur? Me?

Verse seven: Don’t wear shorts or bathing suits in the street.

Tanya’s tirade faltered. This is all a mistake, I ventured. Why don’t you speak to the reception desk and sort out this mess?

I do not understand you, she replied.

Look, you’ve got the wrong man.

I do not understand you. I wait for you at home for three days and you do not come. Now you lie to me. Why you not come to me? Come tonight. Now.

I know nothing about this, I said with an exasperated laugh.

Why you smile? Why you smile at me? Why you not call me? Why you keep me waiting?

Tanya, I’m not smiling at you, I don’t know anything about this and I’m going to ring off.

Graham, she said. A gust of wind rattled at the outer panes. Memories of too many bad Cold War novels flooded in. Visions of KGB bedrooms shimmered in the glass.

How do you know my name? What is this about?

Michael told me in the letters from Austria. Now you lie to me. Why you not come to me?

Tanya, I have to go now. I don’t know what this is all about. Goodbye.

Goodbye, she said, carefully, cheerfully.

The telephone clicked. Across the courtyard, someone walked in to join the man with the file. They talked.

A walk in the snow beckoned. Gorky Street was sealed with tanks and jeeps. Armored cars littered the pavements. Soldiers hugged AK47 rifles to their greatcoats as they hopped to the tune of November in Moscow.

Whistles blew. Hundreds of heavy motors coughed white clouds into the cold night air. Flags fell. A frozen corporal on crowd duty shrugged into the chests of chattering onlookers. A manicured slice of military might rumbled and roared towards Red Square for a dress rehearsal of the annual November 7 parade.

Back in room 423, the telephone rang. Why you lie to me? Why you leave me like this?

We’ve been through this all before, Tanya. You’ve got the wrong man. Goodbye.

Goodbye, she said, and the telephone clicked.

I felt almost left out when Tanya didn’t phone back the following night, or the subsequent nights. On the last night I went down to dinner and was given a table for one. The restaurant was almost empty. A cuddling couple nearby finished their meal and walked out arm in arm.

I saw the young woman sitting alone about five metres away with the remnants of a bottle of wine. She was blonde and rather attractive in a Russian sort of way.

She stared at me with big black eyes.

I smiled. She smiled. I paid the bill, stood up and filled my hands with the room key and a bottle of mineral water.

As I passed her table I paused. The urge was irresistible. Hello, Tanya, I said.

Hello, she replied.

Goodbye, I said.

Goodbye.

Clinging to Paradise

Harare, September, 1990

The retired senior civil servant with posh vowels was talking about his tennis club as the maid poured tea. We used to be all white in the old days, he said. Then a few blacks joined after independence. Not much good at it. Drifted away. Now we’re all white again.

He rambled into the jungle of a garden in search of the Austin he bought 33 years ago and that he keeps on the road with faith, hope, charity and rubber bands.

For the whites who stayed on, Zimbabwe, too, is a bit of an old Austin. It may stagger on for a few more years; then again, it may not.

The Trevor Howard and Peggy Ashcroft lookalikes who still potter about their grounds in the snootier districts of Harare are growing nervous for their old age and are taking a renewed interest in long-lost relatives abroad, just in case.

A loneliness is setting in among the poinsettias, the swimming pools and the packs of terriers that guard what remains of paradise. Quite a lot remains, as it turns out.

The bureaucracy may be tedious now that it is on African, rather than London, time. Spare parts for the car, light bulbs and other routine items may be infuriatingly elusive, particularly when what precious foreign exchange the country possesses appears to be going into prestige items such as Boeings for Air Zimbabwe or Mercedes Benzes for the new

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