VJ Day & Virginia Woolf Burger Bar

London: Should we have celebrated VJ Day? Hearing the tones of 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 genocide. Surely the Japanese who survived the bombings, both of which were without any military justification, were staring at what motivated Guy Crouchback — in Waugh’s trilogy — to take up arms in the first place: “The enemy was in view, huge and hateful. It was the Modern Age in Arms.”

My wife said 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 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 parents, filled with all the Bloomsbury/G.E. Moore notions, let their nippers read any book, from Marie Stopes to D.H. Lawrence. One day, Barbara’s brother came waving a book and asked with the piping 10-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 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 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 in recording studios, in England and the US. You hear her telephone conversations with friends. You watch some of her stage performances, and you also watch her 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 smile showed that she recognised a bully when she met one. Her extraordinary way with words 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 delicate Londoner? Calling her “common” reminded me of those hateful critics who dubbed Keats a “cockney”. Can the possession of genius actually kill the young?

Imagine. If the Tories make a balls-up of the European referendum, the new Labour leader could become the PM. 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 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 Yvette Cooper — not least because one of her opponents described her as “tepid”. For me, tepidity is a virtue, especially in a Prime Minister.

A.N. Wilson is an English writer and newspaper columnist
By arrangement with the Spectator

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