Andrew Marr’s diary: Seeing shadows of Syria in Limousin’s ghost village

Plus: Scotland’s real ruling class, the best kind of holiday cottage, and my malice-laced first novel

30 August 2014

9:00 AM

30 August 2014

9:00 AM

No, no, no, you don’t want a house abroad — the paperwork, the taxes, the piping, the cost of the pool. What you want are good, kind, generous friends with houses abroad. That’s what we’ve enjoyed this summer, meeting scores of interesting new people and being looked after by our best friends. We pay them back with wine, little presents and London hospitality. The only downside to ‘les vacances ligging’ is having to book extra seats home on Ryanair for our vastly swollen and moaning livers.

The most striking thing we did in France was to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, the Limousin village where on 10 June 1944 a Panzer division of the SS massacred 642 men, women and children as a reprisal operation against the Resistance. The ‘village martyr’ has been preserved exactly as it was: de Gaulle ordered a new village to be built alongside. On a bakingly hot August day, we joined hundreds of tourists silently walking the roofless streets of what was once an idyllic little town. What takes the air out of your lungs is the familiarity and specificity of the place — the boulangerie, the postbox, the tram rails; the garage where men were rounded up and machine-gunned; still with its metal signs for petrol; the rusted hulks of Citroëns in the street. The worst place of all is the church where the women and children were killed with hand grenades and by shooting and burning. It’s an exquisite medieval building, minus its roof; inside, the bullet holes are everywhere, and there’s a mangled and burned children’s buggy and a fresh, warm sense of horror. The names of the officers and soldiers who committed the atrocity are all known and listed in the Memorial Centre. Some were French, from Alsace, and the whole country was divided about what happened.

Seventy years later — and by eavesdropping I know I wasn’t the only one thinking this — in another part of the world, strutting young men are behaving in almost exactly the same way, though with even greater cruelty. And they’re doing it for a surprisingly similar reason: a fanatical belief in purity. Once large numbers of people are convinced that there is one route to human felicity, whether it’s Aryan racial purity or extreme Sunni purity, massacres and sadism follow. Yes, I know there are other factors, from obedience to fear and the natural cruelty of young men in gangs. But they only remind us that we humans are too dangerous to be allowed simple, one-size-fits-all solutions to anything. Ideas are only good or bad in terms of their effect on actual societies, and I go back to Isaiah Berlin, who warned that without pluralism, there followed ‘the vivisection of actual human societies into some fixed pattern dictated by our fallible understanding of a largely imaginary past or a wholly imaginary future.’ Spot on. That vivisection is memorialised deep in rural France, and carries on in Iraq and Syria right now.

But this is, of course, also the year of the Scottish referendum. The Edinburgh Festival was more political than usual, but not much. The James Plays were certainly the highlight and an entire mini-festival had been organised for the politically enthusiastic. The fact that it was called ‘Yestival’ gives you some idea of how the Scottish writing and musical classes are thinking. On the other hand, wandering around Edinburgh, I was reminded that Scotland is really dominated by a regiment of small, stern-faced, grey-haired ladies. They have fierce Presbyterian views, hats, walk at great speed, and regard all politics as ‘damn nonsense’. When they finally take over the country, I tell you, it’s going to be a very different place.

Nervously, I’m publishing my first novel this month. It’s a comic political thriller, if you can imagine such a thing, set mainly in Downing Street. The current Prime Minister has kindly allowed me to check the layout of rooms for accuracy. The characters, however, are wildly fictional and the whole thing is laced with malice. I now have to hope friends and colleagues retain a sense of humour. I have a vague memory that there is, for instance, a kilted and libidinous No. 10 press secretary called Nelson Fraser. And I’m looking forward to a review by the journalist Dominic Sandbrook. Anyway, it’s called Head of State and at least it’s short.

One of the games we’ve been playing on holiday with friends is the one about great books we’ve never read. I got a lot of abuse for not knowing The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth. It’s about the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and it’s an absolute belter. That and The Return of John Macnab by Andrew Greig are my two top tips to cheer up a rainy autumn.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Andrew Marr was editor of the Independent from 1996 to 1998 and political editor of the BBC from 2000 to 2005. His first novel, Head of State, comes out in two weeks’ time.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • JohnIIISobieski

    The Radetzky March is such a great read but I am not sure it will cheer you up exactly since it is so melancholic.

    • WFB56

      Surely the point of the Radetzky March is to provoke thought and reflect on current parallels?

    • Doggie Roussel

      Marr was just showing off his literary knowledge…

      • Terry Field

        Oh you can spell ‘literary’
        Sophistication oozes from every orifice.
        You are SO wise.
        Seen it all before eh?

  • Roger Hudson

    I assume that like a lot of Scots, a huge diaspora, Andrew doesn’t get a vote.

  • Terry Field

    Some of the horrors as putrid as those of the of the ISIS, and the SS is also replicated in dozens of British towns TODAY where:-
    1 There are corrupt councillors (and based on the cases so far, are far and away most likely to be good old New Old God Knows What it is Labour)
    2 There exists the NewLabour absurdity of Islamic appreciation and protection from normal constraints.
    3 There are exposed and vulnerable kufar (ie nonmuslim) children,
    4 The local civil servants quangotrash and assorted employees act ‘appropriately’ to earn tomorrows salaries from the corrupt described above.
    5 There are corrupted criminally minded so-called ‘police’ – should be called ‘corruption enforcers’

    Based on the towns so identified to date, the numbers of raped British children could run into the hundreds of thousands.
    The numbers of abusers running into many hundreds of thousands.

    As a clear supporter of the left, Marr probably avoids expressing anything other than the most anodyne observation.

    And as for the latest horror, ANY citizen should be able to walk straight into the chief of police’s office, grab him by the scruff of the neck and frog march the bastard out onto the street, then return to the HR department and tell the sidekick HR lickspittle to draw up the Police head honcho’s unconditional letter of resignation without compensation, then that citizen should march into the payroll department and frogmarch the payroll supervisor to the HR department and tell them to immediately cancel the computer instruction to pay that bloody monster of a policeman A SINGLE PENNY.
    ANd NOBODY should be able to countermand that citizen’s actions.

    I assume you agree Marr.

    I bet you do not have the balls to say so.

    That is you really mean the sanctimonious stuff you have written about Oradour.

    That was also about racial / cultural superiority as is the Islamic infection in Britain – which of course you will support, wont you Marr!

    • JohnIIISobieski

      You are absolutely right. Many people are still as outraged as you are.

      Marr drinks wine and plays guess the book with his ridiculously bourgeois friends whilst thousands of poor white girls are being raped by smelly Pakistanis. But Marr is a lefty and he does not really care since he sees Islam as a vital ally against traditional Britain. So don´t expect anything else from Labour and guys like Marr and don´t waste your time on them.

      Whom you should not let off the hook so easily, however, are the writers at the Spectator, the Telegraph, &c. all these useless talkers, these conservative court Jews with their proper little hair cuts, and their BBC-compliant, domesticated conservatism and their desperate seeking of approval from the cool crowd, journalists who knew just as much as Norfolk did but undertook absolutely nothing and are now, in faux outrage, sanctimoniously praising him for breaking the story.

      And while this is all still going, girls getting tortured and raped up and down the country they prefer to investigate some story about an ambulance emergency.

      The best part about it is that they won´t defend our own little children at home but expect us now to be all outraged about “evil” Russia.
      It is all so base.

      • Terry Field

        Your anti-semitism is an equal disgrace -but it appears in the slipstream of the moslem infection of our society.

        • JohnIIISobieski

          What the hell is antisemitic about my post?

        • Doggie Roussel

          Have you any idea of what a court Jew was / is… you ignoramus…

          • Terry Field

            Referring to characters such as Aaron and Vivelin can be read in two ways as you perfectly well know. Of course if it was a mere institutional reference then there was no anti semitism and I remove my criticism. The rest of the note was sensible and could not be argued against.
            I am not an ignoramus. No need to try a cheap insult.

          • JohnIIISobieski

            It was a mere institutional reference.
            I am not sure if there even are any Jews at the Spectator.
            And I completely agree with everything you write.

          • Terry Field

            Thank you; and I repeat my apology to you.

          • Kaine

            Can we have the same for the Tories, considering we know a Conservative Prime Minister regularly dined with Jimmy Saville? And the underage boys at Brighton, and Harvey Proctor torturing children, and Leon Brittan etc, etc…

            Or do you only care when you can make party political hay?

          • Terry Field

            I agree entirely with you – the prosecutions should follow the evidence – if politicos of any colour have a case to answer they should do so.
            I consider the scale and extent of the Islamic rape and abuse hoororr in the context of New Labour behaviour to be worthy of the sanctions and investigations I have suggested.
            ANY perversion by politicians or any other powerful groups should be expunged.
            I am not using this to attack the New Labour horror. That has been done many times over already,and the armoury of evidence to have done so is extensive.

          • Kaine

            Points for consistency at least.

          • Colonel Mustard

            There is a difference.

            The lack of action and cover ups in Rotherham appear to be down to perverse ideology, institutionalised if you will.

            The Tory skeletons seem to be personal motivations which abused power but were not ideological.

            I can see both forms of malpractice associated with Labour but only one with the Tories.

          • Fergus Pickering

            Oh don’t be silly. Labour won’t dp anythig about muslim rapists because muslim rapists vote for them.

          • Kaine

            Citation needed.

          • Fergus Pickering

            Denis McShane said so a couple of days ago. He has since denied it.

          • Doggie Roussel

            A geezer whose fount of knowledge is a quick reference to Wikipedia … viz: Aaron & Vivelin…

          • Terry Field

            No not at all; educated people often find that snippits of their knowledge may appear in Encyclos.
            Surely, my observation is not replicated in a digitial domain?!?

          • Doggie Roussel

            More gobbledeygook… not to say presumptuous by assuming that you are educated…

          • Terry Field

            You have the proble, doggie (joke) old fool. I do not spend my time cruising silly on line encyclopedias. Books are so much more rewarding. Buy one, why don’t you? Start with a pink one or a green one.

          • Doggie Roussel

            Actually, I am a published author.

          • Terry Field

            Mincy pincy little wally.
            I bet it was a plagiarised Mr Men.
            Or something a touch less intellectual.

          • Doggie Roussel

            Don’t patronise me by saying, “as you well know…”

          • bionde

            You forgot to mentiom postal voting and the unlawful intimidation of voters in Tower Hamlets.

          • macks30

            I heard
            Tower Hamlets is now an independent Muslim country..

          • Richard

            He should have capitalised the “C” in “court” to denote a term, rather than letting us thing it was a standard adjective.

  • Kitty MLB

    You mean Scotland is not dominated by kilt wearing warriors
    riding the Highlands drunk on the romanticism of independence
    from those wicked people of England..I wonder who they’ll blame
    for all their ills afterward.
    You mention France…I remember when living in Holland riding a
    bicycle though a forest in Arnham and the unatural silence of the

    • Augustus

      Having lived in Holland you may have heard of the Putten raid, in which the entire male population of the village were taken (a total of 602 men) in October 1944, and deported to various concentration camps in Nazi Germany, as a reprisal for the Dutch resistance having ambushed a car carrying German officers. “Only 48 men returned after the end of the war, but another 5 died from their mistreatment after they arrived home. A total of 552 men died, mostly victims of malnutrition, slave labour and infectious diseases.” There too a memorial is held every year.

      • Hagen vanTronje

        Erg zielig !

  • Noa

    “…We pay them back with wine, little presents and London hospitality…”

    Ah so parsimonious Andrew! Do you pretend that you’re illegal migrants; cooking their meals and cleaning their toilets for £6.50 per hour?

    How novel.

  • Augustus

    “They have fierce Presbyterian views, hats, walk at great speed, and regard all politics as….”

    Ach, ee cuud’ne be bortherd!

  • WFB56

    The Radetzky March, an excellent suggestion.

  • Bonkim

    Spot on Mr Marr.

  • ChuckieStane

    ” Scotland is really dominated by a regiment of small, stern-faced, grey-haired ladies. They have fierce Presbyterian views, hats, walk at great speed, and regard all politics as ‘damn nonsense’.”

    Mr. Marr’s stereotype may have had some truth 30 years ago but the ladies he describes largely disappeared from Scottish life at the time he moved south.

    Interestingly he adopts the same stone age attitude to women and their involvement in political debate as the offensive “patronising better together lady” broadcast.


  • Doggie Roussel

    Marr is but one example of the diaspora of pseudo-intellectual media types who have fled the parochial restrictions of a culturally-desolate wasteland, Scotland, to live high on the hog in media and literary circles in London: Neil, Wark, Gray, Nelson etc…

    Fervently ‘No’ voters, they are terrified that a ‘Yes’ vote will cause a tsunami of Scottish emigres who will swamp their (g)litterati status in their new-found land of milk and honey…

    • ButcombeMan

      I make an exception for Paisley Grammar boy, Neil, (who I have long thought the very best media questioner of the political class-because he really does his homework) but the rest, to my mind, are fairly useless,

      Marr particularly, seems to duck asking the difficult or obvious questions.

      It may be of course that if he did ask these questions, he would find that rising to meet him on a Sunday morning became less and less attractive.

      Neil I would have liked to run the BBC and cut it down to size.

  • Baron

    Good, entertaining read, Mr. Marr, the Isaiah Berlin’s quote is in particular illuminating, worth repeating again: “Without pluralism, there follows the vivisection of actual human societies into some fixed pattern dictated by our fallible understanding of a largely imaginary past, or a wholly imaginary future.”

    So, how does the great man’s warning, for it is a warning, square with what’s actually happening on the grounds here? In the blogosphere, there’s alot of it, few drops of it can be found, if one searches patiently, in the MSM, but in the policies offered by the main political parties there is zilch, naught, nothing that could be called pluralism. Not even a sliver of differentiating dualism exists amongst the policies the ConLabLib syndicate are offering. They are all pushing us in one and one direction only: pro EU, pro immigration, pro AGW, pro any shibboleths of the anointed progressives.

    What do you reckon, why should that be?

    • Kaine

      The EU is about diplomacy in an era of globalisation. Immigration, more specifically migration, is key to neo-liberal capitalism. Climate change caused by human action is scientific consensus.

      There’s no link apart from the fat you seem to be against them all.

      • Baron

        You’ve missed the point entirely and also, where does the posting say Baron’s either for or against any of it?

        Still, on EU: does diplomacy in the age of globalization include the backing of a regime change (say) Kiev? On migration: Japan’s a part of neo-liberal capitalism, any problem with immigration there? On AGW: since when has consensus in science stood for the truth on anything?

        • Kaine

          Actually the Japanese response to neo-liberalism has been to hide their tariffs as safety features and replace their swiftly ageing population with robots. The fruits of fascism I suppose.

          Truth is for God and mathematicians. All the rest of us have is the scientific consensus which, while perhaps it will never be right, gets progressively less wrong.

          • Colonel Mustard

            The age driving immigration argument is one of the nastiest leftist myths.

            The rise in ageing population in Japan is 65+ which as it is not a working age does not need “replacement”. The 15-64 age group has not risen by much since 1935 but the 0-14 has dropped by a third.

            The issue is state funding of the elderly and since immigration is largely exploitative, either for the immigrant or the employer, I’ve yet to see a cogent argument that increased immigration will provide it. Meanwhile the population increase brings its own infrastructure burdens, costs and societal problems.

            The trouble with you lefties is that you start from an outcome proposition – no racism or discouragement of immigrants – and then build the justifications around it.

      • Doggie Roussel

        A true master of gobbledygook…

        • Kaine

          Happy to explain any of the long words to you babe. X

          • Doggie Roussel

            Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.…Ernest Hemingway…

          • Dainase

            And quoting Hemingway shows what exactly? That you’re a bit of a sneering tit?

          • Doggie Roussel

            Hemingway was a writer of a few well-chosen words, unlike that prolix, presumptuous fart, Kaine… I was merely trying to illustrate a comparison… occasionally there are people who just get up your nose… and, for me, Kaine is one such… he may well be justified in thinking the same of me…

      • Colonel Mustard

        “The EU is about diplomacy in an era of globalisation.”

        Is it? Can you point to any successes or even the means by which they might be measured?

        “Immigration, more specifically migration, is key to neo-liberal capitalism.”

        That is absolute rubbish. It is like saying a draining plughole is key to taking a bath. It ignores the impact of former communist repression on the emergent countries in East Europe for just one example. Shades of grey, comrade O’Kaine, shades of grey, and there are more than fifty!

  • The Masked Marvel

    “The characters, however, are wildly fictional and the whole thing is laced with malice.”

    Yes, but whose malice? With Marr’s CV (left out the Young Communist bit, did we?), one can probably guess.

  • JPJ2

    Marr is completely out of date about Scotland-and all his comments on the subject are now filtered through the prism of his bitterness at having been caught out by Salmond in inappropriately expressing his personal view about Scotland and the EU.

  • Richard

    We should all remember that Mr Marr does not have the adaptive intelligence gene, and “stands tall” with his “black brothers” who have the older ancestral gene (which does not impart intelligence as great) as he said in that BBC television programme.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Don’t give up the day job, Andrew. The novel sounds pretty bad.

  • Gwangi

    I shall keep my eye out for a rare unsigned copy…

  • Hagen vanTronje

    This would be the same Andrew Marr that is on record as advocating Race Mixing and was encouraging the importation of Negro’s into the UK to achieve this ?
    Why any normal being should laud the creation of more half castes, is beyong me !

  • Hagen vanTronje

    Looking at the Oradour reprisals, there is no doubt that a popular German Officer was kidnapped by Frenchmen not wearing uniform (terrorists), another German Officer was kidnapped but managed to escape but during the captivity he saw that the Church at Oradour was a meeting point for the terrorists, this is why the SS focussed on Oradour for their revenge attack.
    After the war an ex SS Officer who participated was asked what happened at Oradour compared to his Russian experiences, the SS Officer replied that Oradour was a ‘mere bagatelle’.
    One wonders what happened in Russia ?