Diary

A.N. Wilson’s diary: VJ Day and the Virginia Woolf Burger Bar

Plus: the Vegemite panic and the nostalgic appeal of Jeremy Corbyn

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

Should we have celebrated VJ Day? Hearing the hieratic tones of the Emperor Hirohito on Radio 4 the other day, announcing the unthinkable — the surrender of the great imperial power to the secular, gas-guzzling, unheeding West — seemed like a profanity. So much came to an end with that surrender that it is not possible to celebrate it, particularly since the method chosen to defeat Japan was nuclear-fuelled genocide, not once — which would have been unforgiveable enough — but twice. Surely the Japanese who survived that monstrous pair of bombings, both of which were without any military or moral justification, were staring at what motivated Guy Crouchback — in Waugh’s trilogy — to take up arms in the first place: ‘The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful. It was the Modern Age in Arms.’

My wife remarked the other day that the Hotel Russell, in Russell Square, had made a mistake some years ago in closing the Virginia Woolf Burger Bar. They had not foreseen that the tiresome Bloomsbury Group, hitherto the enthusiasm of a few cognoscenti and some students reading English at university, was about to become ‘box office’. The hotel ought to consider reopening the burger bar, with perhaps a Duncan Grant sauna or an E.M. Forster curry night. I once lived next door to Barbara Strachey — daughter of Lytton’s brother, the cryptographer Oliver, and of his wife Ray Costello, a painter, who wrote a good history of feminism called The Cause. These liberal-minded parents, filled with all the Bloomsbury/G.E. Moore notions, let their nippers read any book on their groaning shelves, from Marie Stopes to D.H. Lawrence. One day, Barbara’s little brother came into the dining room waving a moth-eaten volume and asked with the piping ten-year-old confidence of one who’d found a recondite book: ‘It’s called Holly Bibble — any good?’


The incorrigible human tendency to disobey wise counsels is frightening but also endearing. The latest scare in Australia is that children and young teenagers in rehab have learnt to process Vegemite — something a bit like Marmite — in such a way as to make it intoxicating. There have been the inevitable calls for the spread to be taken off supermarket shelves, causing howls of protest, for Vegemite is a staple of most respectable Oz households. If Vegemite were banned, of course, the would-be self-destroyers would find some other substance.

The Amy Winehouse film is heartbreakingly good. The skilful director/editor has pieced together all manner of archive footage. You see Amy rehearsing early work in recording studios, in England and the USA. You hear her telephone conversations with friends. You watch some of her legendary stage performances, and you also watch her catastrophic decline. At the height of her fame she was interviewed on television by Jonathan Ross, who told her he liked her because she, like him, was ‘common’. She was a big enough person to be able to smile through this absurdity, even though her wonderful gap-toothed smile showed that she recognised a bully when she met one. Her extraordinary way with words, which transcended any lack of education, and her personal dignity, were in fact the reverse of common, and her voice was simply extraordinary — how could a voice which God had made for a mature black jazz-singer of the 1940s have been transplanted by the angels into the body of this delicately built Londoner, with her little white legs and her slightly downy, rather spotty cheeks? Calling her ‘common’ reminded me of those hateful critics who dubbed Keats a ‘cockney’. Can the possession of genius actually kill the young? Can talent be so strong that it burns its possessors, these Keatses, Winehouses, Dylan Thomases?

Imagine. If the Tories make a balls-up of the European referendum, the new Labour leader could become the Prime Minister. So we live in interesting times. Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents claim he wants to go back to the 1980s, but this greybeard of whom few had ever heard until a month ago seemed to me to promise an alluring return to the years of his childhood — nationalised railways puff-puffing through the England of the Revd Wilbert Awdry; free orange juice from that nice Sir Stafford Cripps. Was he the embodiment of Christopher Logue’s wonderful poem, ‘I shall vote Labour because deep in my heart, I am a conservative’? Almost thou persuadest me to be a Corbynista: and then he made that revolting comment about British soldiers in Northern Ireland being morally equivalent to the IRA. Reason returned to her throne and I realised that any of the other candidates would be better. Personally, I like intelligent, Balliol-educated Yvette Cooper — not least because one of her opponents described her as ‘tepid’. For me, tepidity is a virtue, especially in a prime minister.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Was the West ‘secular’ and ‘gas-guzzling’ in 1945? I hardly think so. Has Charles Moore gone ga-ga? Let’s not forget he was already an old fogey at 28 when he was appointed editor of this magazine. He must be about 110 now in ‘Moore years’. If I didn’t already know it, I’d assume Moore has never served in the military for one day of his life. Toby Young gets this issue right in the same edition of this magazine.

    • davidshort10

      I now realise I was traducing Charles Moore when I should be traducing A N Wilson. But I think the points are still valid.

      • Chas Grant

        They’re both old fogeys, though I feel Wilson is a little more so than Charles Moore, who can be quite lively when the spirit moves him.

        • davidshort10

          I think A N Wilson was the original, and now I remember it was ‘young fogey’, and Moore was probably the leading disciple of the young fogeys at the time. How odd that he would debate with the gruesome Andrew Neil who in his thuggish Scottish manner used to try to beat him up metaphorically on the air. Neil of course couldn’t beat anyone up in real fighting.

  • Picquet

    About time Marmite was taken off the shelves in protest at the amount of water they’re stuffing into it now. Far more important a subject than all the other bits and pieces here.

    • Damaris Tighe

      Try Marmite XO – it’s like the original Marmite before they ruined it.

      • Picquet

        Love to, but where can it be found? Not Sainsbury’s…

        • Damaris Tighe

          I get it from Ocado, so Waitrose probably do it as well.

  • Gilbert White

    Amy is good but methinks you eulogize too much. Try u tube. Anything after The Spice Girls was bound to be great.

  • greggf

    Judging by the hundreds of B 29s queuing up on Tinian prior to take off and ready to attack Japan during late July and early August in 1945, gas-guzzling might indeed be the operative word!

  • Sten vs Bren

    “that revolting comment about British soldiers in Northern Ireland being morally equivalent to the IRA”

    Both groups killed British citizens because their superiors told them to. Both groups volunteered to do that. No point getting all funny about it, now.

    • Picquet

      Can you expand on that slanderous comment?

      • Beaumont7

        Well, it has been proven that the British army colluded with unionist terrorists (sorry paramilitaries in the UK press) like the UVF in the murder of innocent Catholics. If you had ever been to Northern Ireland during the troubles your car would have been stopped by an aggrresive and abusive British army man. As someone who hated the IRA I just thought “fuck off of home to your own country mate, you have no clue about here” as he pointed his rifle at my six month old child in a cot on the back seat. If you were a native nationalist in NI at that time your walk to for a a drink would have been interrupted by a Britsih soldier, and if you were a woman, he would have gone through your handbag with snide and misogynistic comments before telling you to on you fenian bitch. This is all fact. Sad to say, while I deplored the bombings in England, I could understand if not condone the killing of British army personnel in Northern Ireland. As the British would kill the Irish army patrolling Newcastle.

        • Picquet

          Nothing of the sort has ever been proven. Individuals within the Army colluded with Loyalist terrorists, but they were hunted down and jailed as soon as humanly possible. I served in Northern Ireland for many years, and can assure you that few people were held in more contempt by the security forces. There was no systemic collusion, whatever Provisional SF may have persuaded you.
          I just hope that the soldier who you thought should ‘fuck off and go home’ was not a UDR soldier. They lived and frequently died for their homes and families in Northern ireland. Your other comments are largely anecdotal; most soldiers were entirely professional; being abusive to the people on the street or in the country was counterproductive and they were fully aware of it.
          The Army’s job was to save life, not take it. The sort of fool who fails to understand that is certainly the sort of fool who falls for the PSF propaganda which even now prevents true justice in the United Kingdom. I now live in Northern Ireland, in a part mercifully free from the cretinism of much of the past. Don’t come here; you’re not welcome.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            When you invade and occupy another country, the locals do tend to resent it, and often react negatively. Short-sighted I realise, unable to grasp the bigger picture and the potential advantages of being ruled by a more industrially advanced culture. However, in the case of Ireland, it does end in tears.
            “So go on home British soldiers, go on home.
            Ain’t you got no *ucking homes of your own?
            For eight hundred years, we fought you without tears
            And we will fight you for eight hundred more …”

          • Picquet

            We are home. You can take your dark glasses off and see better.

  • georgecorgi

    Typical upper class British nonsense. Hirohito, of Pearl Harbor and Bataan Death March fame, speaks in “hieratic tones.” The American military which has saved Britain’s butt in two world wars and the Cold War against the Soviets, behaved “monstrously” and “without moral or military justification.” A funny way to define acts which saved an estimated 1 million American soldiers and millions of Japanese civilians and military. One can only hope that the next time you Brits need the US to bail you out, we have the good sense to tell you what you can do with yourselves in no uncertain terms.

    • Chas Grant

      I wonder if Mr Wilson considers the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings more or less monstrous and unjustified than the Japanese Army’s war crimes in China?

    • Ivan Ewan

      Relax, dude, we think he’s just as mad as you do.

    • davidshort10

      The US did not bail out the British. They entered the war because Japan attacked them and caught them with their pants down at Pearl Harbor and then Germany declared war on the US. The Russians beat the Germans. The US then took over world leadership from the Brits in return. Let’s not forget that the US has never won a war since 1945 and they got their arses kicked by Al-Queda on 9/11. Finally they found out what it is to be bombed.

      • Skyeward

        Pants down? Not exactly. They knew an attack was imminent and Pearl Harbor was only one possibility. But you’re right – it doesn’t much matter as Germany rules you now anyway.

        • Ambientereal

          Sooo right … funny but right anyway.

      • KingEric

        Regardless of the actual reasons for America entering the war, they did save our ass. Everyone knows that Britan only won the war because we were on the same side as Uncle Sam with his massive industrial might unfettered by enemy bombings.

      • mohdanga

        Oh, another lefty, Western hating liberal. Carry on.
        Yes, of course, the millions of Allied soldiers in Western Europe just waltzed right in to Germany in 1944-45.
        By the way, when was Al Queda’s declaration of war on the US? If the US wanted to obliterate the Middle East and your Al Queda buddies they could do it…unfortunately, they don’t have the political will to. Too bad, would solve so many problems.

    • Ambientereal

      What would have happened if the Germans would have developed the bomb first? They have probably thrown it in London and those America-hater Brits would have never been born.

    • JackyTreehorn

      If it were not for the British turning down the peace overtures from Hitler after the fall of France that many at the time wanted, the Germans would have had a free hand in defeating Russia within a couple of years. There is an argument to say that with all the resources of the beaten soviet union and the lead in rocket and nuclear science (remember Germany and Britain led the field in nuclear research before the war) Germany would arguably have been in possesion of nuclear weapons before the USA along with the means to deliver them. So perhaps the fact that Churchill would not entertain the thought of a peace deal “saved” your ‘butts” As for saving our butts in the Great War, you will find that it was the British offensive of 1918 that broke the German lines with more Germans killed and taken prisoners by the British than the French Belgium and American armies put together.
      This is not to take away from the magnificent bravery of America and it’s armed forces in both conflicts. My parents who lived through the last war (my father fought in the fall of France and survived Dunkirk) never had a bad word for the Americans only good.
      Dont judge the ordinary British by the writings in this article.

    • Frank

      Is AN Wilson “upper class” ? Hardly, Wilson barely scrapes into “upper middle class”. More importantly he appears to have been told to be as provocative as possible – either that or he has simply become unhinged and quite unpleasant.
      As for your other comments, some seem justified, but worth keeping in mind that when America clobbered Britain and France over our (fairly dubious) Suez Canal adventure, America took on the sole responsibility for policing the Middle East – be good if America got real over Iran and Syria – perhaps we have to wait until Obama departs the scene?

  • Hegelman

    “Personally, I like intelligent, Balliol-educated Yvette Cooper — not least because one of her opponents described her as ‘tepid’. For me, tepidity is a virtue, especially in a prime minister.”

    I wouldn’t hire her for ANY job. None at all.

    She speak as and has the history of a banking gangster-loving crook. She can be relied on to be completely unreliable.

    Her banking gangster unleashing policies crashed the economy in 2008 and sent millions to the food banks.

  • Sean Grainger

    Harry Truman was a farm boy. The general view was bombing saved at least 500’000 US servicemens’ and prisoners’ lives. What is your evidence against?

    • David S

      And at least the same number of Japanese lives.

  • Sean Grainger

    Mr Piquet ,, as you say much the most etc ,, but Marmite and water? Is that not a conspiracy theory too far?

  • HAL 9000

    The ‘Vegemite panic’ was about remote Aboriginal communities. And it’s a myth.

    • HAL 9000

      And that picture: ‘Bile Beans’? I could do with those.

  • dado_trunking

    If Japan or worse Germany had the bomb instead of the U.S., history would have played out differently. Never forget that – it’s not about ideas, it’s about the power to realise them.

  • Grace Ironwood

    The posters retailing the Brecht joke “you can’t dissolve the people” are out of date..

    Observant people understand that the dissolution of the people is well under way on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • Sean Grainger

    Servicemen’s of course forgive me.

  • Ambientereal

    As for Vegemite, people use to get stoned inhalating the fumes of burning plastic, but we cannot forbid plastics.

  • JackyTreehorn

    “Surely the Japanese who survived that monstrous pair of bombings, both of which were without any military or moral justification” I read a book by a British soldier who asked a historical revisionist this.. if just for arguments sake you could give your life now to save one japanese civilians life back then would you? of course not said the lefty revisionist, to this the old soldier replied, then why should young British and American men back then have given their lives fighting the Japanese on their own soil to reach the same outcome.

  • bcsapper

    I’ve never heard of the author, but I have to assume his first paragraph here is an attempt at satire?

  • Chris

    “…nuclear-fuelled genocide, not once — which would have been unforgivable enough — but twice.”

    And I stopped reading right there. The nuclear bombings were not genocide. The intent was to force the surrender of the Japanese regime, not to eradicate the Japanese people.

    Refer to occupied China or to the European theatre for true displays of genocide.

    2/10 Wilson. Must do better.

  • JabbaTheCat

    “that monstrous pair of bombings, both of which were without any military or moral justification”

    Oh dear, the author seems somewhat disconnected from reality…

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