Friday, March 2, 2018

Lucy, Soapy, and Dogs

 It took many years for me to realize that the best teachers in my schooldays were the ones who taught from their hearts rather than their heads.
       I enjoyed languages, and Latin, French and German came fairly easily. I also felt comfortable enough with biology, chemistry, geography and history. The people who taught these were competent enough, but what I learned about art, music and literature has lived with me forever, simply because these were taught with a transparent passion for their subject matter.
        But math? Forget it. Mr. Griffin, the math master, taught only from his head. As a result I'm arithmetically challenged. I count on my fingers under restaurant tables to work out how much to tip. I can’t read a balance sheet to save my life, and making change is always a puzzle.
        At the time I thought I was a dunce at math because I was plain dumb, and later that it was to do with being a right-brain person. But now I’m convinced it was because Mr. Griffin, our fast-talking Welsh math master, was all brain and no heart. Gray-haired, short and irascible, he galloped through his lessons, scrawling illegible equations and proofs on the board, laboring under the wrong assumption that everyone in the class was keeping up with him. At almost every lesson he lost his temper, shouting and hurling sticks of blackboard chalk into his bewildered audience. It was only then that he displayed any passion or emotion. Griffin died halfway through my time at the school, and for me the only sad thing about his demise was that although his successor – Mr. Hawkins – was patient and paternal, it was too late to start again. By then the die was cast.
        World War II was raging for the first few years of my days at Cranbrook, a boarding school in South East England. Most of the masters were either too old to be in the armed services, or had some physical or other reason not to be in uniform. Oddly, there was not a single woman on the teaching staff. It seems it occurred to no one then that a woman might be capable of explaining the difference between an equilateral and an isosceles triangle to a bunch of fourteen-year-olds.
        Mr. Lockett was one of the masters whose love of his subjects – art, fine arts and workshop – endeared him to his students. He was a gangling, bony man with hugely thick horn-rimmed glasses who we nicknamed ‘Lucy’, after the character Lucy Lockett in a nursery rhyme. He was a Communist and also a conscientious objector, but never preached about his politics or pacifism. He was impassioned about art in all its forms. In his painting and drawing classes we inherited his love of the Post-Impressionists and Surrealists. It’s no wonder that visitors touring the art room on the annual Parents’ Day were puzzled to find the pervasive influences of Cezanne, Matisse and Dali in our own efforts displayed on the art room walls.
        But it was Lucy Lockett’s fine art classes that affected me for life. He'd amassed what seemed to be hundreds of color postcards of paintings. They ranged from the nativities and crucifixions from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, the Romantics, the Realists, Dada, and contemporary work that included Kandinsky, Klee, Ben Shahn and Homer Winslow.
        With a contraption called an epidiascope, Lockett projected these images on the whitewashed walls of the art room. So profound was his knowledge that he held us spellbound while he explained the artist’s intent, the focus and symmetry of each picture, its balance and the minutiae of the painter’s life and environment. Sometimes we’d discuss a single picture for the entire forty-five minute period, while over a month we’d study, say, the Florentines, the Pre-Raphaelites or the Cubists. So, through the history of art, with Lucy’s help, we dissected the astonishing detail of Vermeer’s interiors, recognized the social messages in Daumier’s grim portrayals of peasants at work, witnessed Van Gogh’s craziness creeping into his pictures, and the threat of Nazism looming over the German painters of the 30s. We weren't only learning about pictures hanging on walls in dusty galleries, but also about the artists themselves, history, psychology, religion, human nature, and life itself.
        It was Lockett who brought bags of broken Lucite into the workshop, fragments of the cockpit covers of enemy and friendly fighters and bombers that plunged from time to time into the farmland and woods around the school. These we cut and polished, fashioning them into useful objects – letter-openers, signet rings, paperweights and napkin holders. Later, we carved figures of humans and animals that bore an almost passing resemblance to pieces from Lockett's treasured collection of Japanese netsuke, exquisite miniature ivory sculptures.
        And then there was Mr.Hudson, the music master who also, like every one else – except the late Mr. Griffin – had had a nickname. ‘Hudson’s Washing Soap’ was the best-known brand of laundry powder, and so he was labeled ‘Soapy’. A darkly handsome man with a perennial five-o’clock shadow, he played seventy-eight-speed records on an ancient phonograph. Much like Lucy Lockett and his artists, Soapy Hudson knew his composers and their lives as though they were members of his own family.
        In the 1940s, the world’s greatest composers were believed to be Palestrina, Bach, Handel, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner and Brahms. Soapy Hudson taught us their names in order of birth with an impossible-to-forget mnemonic – Please Bring Half a Hundredweight, Mother, Because Sister Wants Bananas.
        These nine, and many others’ works, were played again and again during my seven years at Cranbrook. We became so familiar with the great symphonies that we could hum along with them. We felt we’d been there when Beethoven was composing his ninth and final symphony, angrily pressing his ear to the lid of the piano in a vain attempt to hear the notes, even though by then he’d been stone deaf for seven years. We all but heard Schumann, a chronic manic-depressive, whistling softly to himself, facing the wall in his favorite coffee shop before his early death in an asylum. We felt for lonely Brahms, a lifelong bachelor who, even when well off, lived in a rented room in Vienna. He rose every day at five a.m., brewed himself cup after cup of pungent black coffee from a samovar, and smoked equally strong cheroots. How, Hudson asked us, could such a man write music that was so heartfelt, so romantic? But he never told us about Brahms’ curiously profound relationship with Clara Schumann for thirty years after her husband, Robert Schumann’s death.
        And then there was ‘Dogs’ Saunders, who taught English Literature. Larger than life, he was as different from Lucy Lockett and Soapy Hudson as chalk is from cheese. Since he had fought in several campaigns in the trenches in World War I, he was probably in his sixties, as much as thirty years older than his arty and musical counterparts.
        Throughout the Twenties and Thirties, before his blondish hair had grayed, earlier student generations had called him ‘Sandy.’ But by the 1940s, because he could be ferocious at times, and actually bared his teeth when he was upset, he had become ‘Dogs.’ Yet it didn’t take us long to discover that his bark was worse than his bite.
        Dogs Saunders was florid-faced, gravel-voiced, and corpulent, and had an oddly distinctive walk. Seeing him hurrying to a class, or heading down the village street for one of his all too frequent visits to the bar of the George Hotel, even on the calmest summer day he walked as though he were wading into a strong wind. Besides teaching English lit., he was also the school’s deputy headmaster, and the commanding officer of its highly active wartime unit of the OTC, the Officers’ Training Corps.
        Dogs’ classes focused almost entirely on three playwrights, whom he called ‘The Three S’s: Shakespeare, Sheridan and Shaw. These weren’t remotely representative of the whole compass of English letters but, luckily, two other masters more than capably handled the real gamut from Chaucer, through Milton and Wordsworth, to Joyce and Woolf. There are ample reasons why Saunders belonged up there with the two other memorable teachers; he had an abiding and infectious passion for Shakespeare, and taught it superbly, if idiosyncratically. As a student himself, he must have studied the plays and sonnets with almost the same labored devotion with which an Imam learns the Koran. For me, a thorough grounding in Shakespeare turned out to be a perfect foundation for a later, broader study of English. Like Lucy Lockett and his postcards, Dogs unveiled insights that formed the beginnings of an early understanding of human personality and behavior.
        It certainly wasn't the major’s ability to read aloud that endeared us to Shakespeare's plays. In fact, he read them terribly badly, with a total absence of feeling for the words. His reading of Richard III's impassioned plea for "a horse . . . my kingdom for a horse . . ." had all the fire and pathos of someone reading a telephone book. And when he read the lines of Ophelia and Cordelia – two of the Bard’s most tragic and feminine characters, he made no attempt to alter or soften his voice. His pitch and key were no different from his voice for Hamlet and Lear.
        Where was the magic, then, the fascination, the thrill? Strangely, Dogs’ monotonous tone didn't matter. It was his self-interruptions, his asides and translations of the language that made him the wizard he was. There seemed to be nothing he didn't know about the characters, their motivations, the different facets of their personalities and the actual construction of the plays. But for him, when seeing As You Like It on the stage, we’d never have known that melancholy and philosophical Jaques (whom Dogs correctly pronounced ‘Jaqueez’ and not Jacques) was there to inject some gravity and reflectiveness into what would otherwise have been little more than a saccharine Harlequin romance. In the same way he explained comic relief, showing how the bawdy nurse in Romeo and Juliet, the wisecracking grave digger in Hamlet and the lewd Porter in Macbeth were inserted at exactly the right point in the plays to offset these tragedies’ stark horror. Here was one of our first lessons in the craftsmanship of writing.
        There was no doubt that Saunders’ favorite play was Henry V. He was, after all, a bemedaled, battle proven veteran who profoundly believed that King and Country came before all else. Henry V is an enactment of war, courage and loyalty to the Crown, and probably the most patriotic play ever written, so it’s not surprising that the old man became watery-eyed, and his voice sometimes cracked when he read Henry’s rousing speeches. Is it too fanciful to believe that, in his mind, he was not a spectator at Agincourt, but back at war in France himself? Instead of the chaos of Henry’s battlefield in France, was he hearing the chatter of German machine-gun fire at Ypres, or on the Somme, the sudden bursts of flares in the night sky, the silence before the charge? Could he see and hear the writhing, unattended wounded, or smell the first pungent whiff of poison gas?
        Dogs could become fiercely loquacious whenever anyone dared suggest that the superhuman outpourings of Shakespeare, a mere glove maker’s son and a grammar school boy, were written by someone else. He scoffed at the suggestion that more worldly, university-educated men such as Bacon, Marlowe, an earl or two or even the well-educated and studious King James I might have been responsible. He took the side of the ‘Stratfordians,’ who were equally dismissive of the theory, but whose case these days holds as little water as that of the Flat Earth Society, or the Creationists. Even then, half a century ago, I found his rebuttals over-defensive and unconvincing.
       Dogs’ other playwrights – both Irishmen , Sheridan and Shaw – received short shrift compared with Shakespeare. But during our study of two of Sheridan’s plays, The School for Scandal and The Rivals, he seemed to become a different person altogether. The sheer zest of these two Regency comedies, with their racy tales about marital infidelity, fraud and mistaken identity, seemed to bring him beaming out of his shell. He was tickled by the very names of the characters such as Lady Sneerwell and Mrs. Candour in School for Scandal, and Lydia Languish and verbally-inept Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals, and he positively chortled at their antics.
        When it came to Shaw, the major unexpectedly revealed his true political colors. Who would have thought that this dyed-in-the-wool, stiff upper-lip Englishman was not a staunch Conservative but instead leaned somewhat to the left? There was no hint of this when we were immersed in Saint Joan, but when we got to Pygmalion there was no doubt he was a latent lefty. Unlike My Fair Lady, Shaw’s play is almost a political tract, a parody of the idle rich, an attack on class distinction and a billboard for the cause of feminism. Dogs made no secret, at least in the classroom, that he, too, was a champion of the working man and woman.
        Lucy, Soapy and Dogs were three men with uniquely different personalities and beliefs. They shared their passions and played a part in making me whatever I‘ve become. In their way they were the lions of my boyhood – a pride of pedagogues.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Man in the Mirror

He died 60 years ago, yet I see him every day. Each morning, all I have to do is look in the bathroom mirror, and there he is.
    “Morning, Dad,” I’ll say as our eyes meet, though usually under my breath, for fear that Lynn, my wife, will take this muttering as an acceleration of my actual but mercifully slowly developing dementia.
    Even though he was maybe two inches taller than I, and had straight hair and a mustache, I can tell from old photographs that we still looked somewhat alike and, now that I’m nearly 87, seventeen years older than he was when he died in England.
    Like his three brothers, my father went to a boarding school. Bill became a doctor and Frank a lawyer, but my father didn’t go on to college; instead he became a clerk at what was then the Westminster Bank, and spent the rest of his working life in banks in small country towns.
Sadly, it was only years after his sudden death that I began to realize what an unusual and lovable man he was. He was the most extraordinary mix of seemingly incompatible traits. On one hand he was kind and generous, yet at the same time he was wracked by anxiety about money, and an irrational fear of being burgled. While he was fervent in his attempt to nurture my brother David and me, and to see to it that we were well-informed, he was one of the least tactile people I’ve ever known. I don’t think he ever hugged us. From my early teens I addressed him as ‘Sir,’ and whenever we met or parted -- even later when I might have been overseas for a year or two -- we only shook hands.
    But for all his apparent remoteness, he was capable of making us laugh, bursting spontaneously into song and verse, or posing some silly riddle from his own early childhood in the 1890’s.
    “What kind of noise annoys an oyster?” he’d ask.
    “We don’t know, Dad. What noise annoys an oyster?”
    “Why?” he’d say, “a noisy noise annoys an oyster.”
    When you’re five or six that’s pretty funny, but sometimes his verses were a little too macabre for our mother, who thought we were a trifle young for some of them. For example, in a solemn voice he’d recite:
    “Oh dear Mama, what is that mess?
    It looks like strawberry jam.
    Hush, hush, my dear, ‘tis your Papa,
    run over by a tram.”      
My father had three brothers, and a sister, Janet. It was she who generously paid for David’s and my education, which my father could never have managed on a bank clerk’s salary. All four boys were in the army in World War I, and three survived. Arthur, whom I haven’t mentioned yet, the youngest, a shy, fragile youth, died in the trenches in Flanders, while Frank and Bill served nearby in France. Bill won the Military Cross for courageously  operating on the wounded under enemy fire during the Battle of The Somme. My father, Harold, caught a chunk of shrapnel in his stomach, and after being shipped home to hospital, finished the war running a German prisoner-of-war camp in Belgium. He must have been the most benevolent commandant, for our house was full of strange artifacts that German prisoners had made for him out of brass shell-cases, including ashtrays, a dinner-gong that hung in an oak frame, and a pipe tobacco jar with a lid, all with ‘Kapt. H. Birch’ engraved on them. 
    Father was 50 when, in 1939, the Second World War broke out. He became an air raid warden, and my mother a volunteer ambulance driver. We lived in a village on the estuary of the river Thames, along which the German bombers came and went during their raids on London. Our county, Kent, was the stage on which much of the Battle of Britain was played, and it bristled with searchlights and anti-aircraft batteries. My father’s voluntary job as a warden was fairly leisurely. He and other older villagers prowled the streets and farm buildings to check that windows were properly blacked-out, and to watch for fires from incendiary bombs. My mother, on the other hand, found herself carrying hundreds of casualties after air attacks on the fighter and bomber bases dotted around the surrounding countryside.
    One moonless night there was an incident that typified the clown in my father, and at the same time, his serious-mindedness. For an hour or so, after hearing strange sounds in an apple orchard, he crawled on his hands and knees, believing himself to be stalking a German parachutist. When he at last threw himself, unarmed, on his prey, it turned out to be a startled sheep, much to the later amusement of his fellow wardens in the village pub.
    Father was an inveterate walker, and as teenagers on our long summer vacations from boarding school, David and I would stroll with him between the tall hazel-wood hedgerows in the narrow lanes around the village. He called these excursions ‘informative walks’ and, as patriarch turned pedagogue, would quiz us about which river flowed through what city, dates of the reigns of English kings and queens, quotations from Shakespeare, and even Latin common nouns, most of which I still remember many, many decades later.

    I’m long retired now, and have two children, thousands of miles away with their own families. Sometimes I wonder whether, in the distant, impossible-to-imagine 2040’s, my son will ever look in his shaving-mirror and see and speak to me. If he and his sister remember me even a fraction as fondly as I do my father, that’ll be just fine by me.

Monday, January 1, 2018


Every time I look back on that night more than 60 years ago – and I often do – I still feel a pang of shame about our brief, violent act. And I see the startled, fearful eyes of the little girls, huddled in their nightdresses, trying to hide behind their mother. I hear the woman’s screams as we left the house with her husband and, when we drove away, the engines of our trucks reverberating against the walls in the narrow, unlit street.
It was December, 1955, in the island of Cyprus, then a British colony.  For years, the Greek Cypriots had dreamed of Enosis – union with Greece – and breaking away from British rule. But while the island’s population of around half a million was seventy percent Greek-speaking, the remaining thirty percent were Turkish speakers, and bitterly opposed to the idea. Historically, Greece and Turkey have always shared a mutual antipathy, and since Cyprus is forty miles from Turkey and at least four hundred miles from mainland Greece, Britain’s support of a status quo made good sense.
But that year, being a part of Greece had become more than a romantic dream, and in the summer there were sudden outbreaks of violence. Young British soldiers died or were wounded in drive-by shootings and bomb attacks, and in ambushes on mountain roads. Some had been shot in off-limits bars in Nicosia, the capital. These were the early rumblings of what turned into an ugly, four-year terrorist action that few Americans know about, and the violence quickly flared out of control.
My battalion was flown into the island from Egypt that summer, followed by others from Britain and the Middle East. Not long after we arrived, the British Institute, a cultural and arts center in the middle of Nicosia, was gutted by petrol bombs, and police stations were attacked and destroyed. The death toll was rising, and there were riots on the streets.
Throughout the year, the word EOKA was daubed on walls, the name of a newly-formed group led by George Grivas, a Greek partisan who, with an underground force, had caused havoc among the German and Italian troops in Axis-occupied Greece a dozen years earlier. Now Grivas was training a local force against us in the island’s rugged Troodos mountain range. The locals dubbed EOKA national heroes, patriots and freedom fighters, but to us they were terrorists.
Then another set of initials began appearing on walls all over the colony – AKEL, a Communist group. This was two or three years after the peak of McCarthyism in America, and six years before the building of the Berlin Wall. In December, wary of what could well be an emerging red menace, the Governor of Cyprus secretly ordered the immediate arrest and imprisonment of one hundred forty members of AKEL. The colonial police’s Special Branch knew exactly where they lived, though EOKA and Grivas were invisible.
The first we knew of this was when, one afternoon, as the fifteen youngest officers in the South Staffordshire Regiment – and similar groups in other infantry and police units posted around the island – were summoned to a briefing.  We sat around Major Dick Stuckey, one of our company commanders, on a rocky hillside in our camp by the road to Nicosia Airport. Each of us was given a detainee’s name and his address. Our orders were to pick six men from our platoons and, with a jeep and a light truck, to make an armed snatch of our AKEL member that night from his home. The raid would be simultaneous, at precisely three a.m.
Before we dispersed, we all synchronized our watches and, an hour or so later I took my second-in-command, Sergeant Murtagh, on a hasty daylight reconnaissance patrol of our snatch site, in a village called Ayios DhomĂ©teos, a few miles from Nicosia. The home was a single-story place in a contiguous row of about half a dozen others, in a street that was only wide enough for one vehicle to pass through. Without pausing as we passed it in our jeep, we checked out the door, a crude assembly of unpainted vertical boards, and agreed that, if we had to break in, it wouldn’t be a problem. We turned at the bottom of the street and again up the lane behind the house, deciding where we’d position two men to cover the dwelling’s rear.  Finally, we checked the route to a point about five miles away, where the area’s prisoners would be collected in a police compound before being driven to the detention center.
I was awakened at two a.m. with a mug of tea. Cyprus can be cold at night in the winter, and outside a chilly half moon hung bright in a sky, pulsing with stars. Walking down the slope from my quarters through the sleeping camp, I could see little groups of soldiers heading silently for the armory. Farther down, in the vehicle park, the engines of two dozen vehicles were already running. A few minutes later we inspected weapons, loaded them, and boarded a jeep and a light truck. Our group, like the others, was made up of a sergeant and two corporals, each with a sub-machine gun, and three privates with rifles, one of whom also toted a hefty axe.
The column moved off, and the sentries hailed us as we passed through the raised barrier at the guardhouse. With a number of groups we turned east onto the main road toward the city, while others headed west to their targets. Ayios DhomĂ©teos was only a few miles from the camp and, as we approached it we turned off our headlights, driving in the moonlight. Just before the turning into the narrow street we parked under trees by the side of the road.  We had, of course, done a "dry run" on the previous afternoon, so only needed to mutter a few last-minute instructions to send the corporal and rifleman to cover the rear of the house. I led the four others round the corner and down the lane. Our canvas shoes made no sound as we approached, and when we reached the house next door, we stopped. Knowing what to do, the two men detailed to cover the entrance crept across the street to their positions.
The remaining rifleman and I stood with our backs to the wall beside the door, while Sgt. Murtagh did the same on the other side. We’d been told by Stuckey at the briefing that, since there was no evidence that AKEL had used any violence against the British, we were to break the door open only if we deemed it necessary.
I picked up a rock in the road and beat on the door with it, shouting “Anikse tin porta,” ‘open up’ in Greek.
        No light came on in the house.
        I struck the door again.
       “Anikse tin porta!”
        Lights flickered on in two other homes nearby.
        “Anikse –“
“Give me the axe,” I told the rifleman.
I raised the axe above my head; ready to smash it down on the timbers around the latch with all the strength I could muster. But at that moment a faint light shone from under the door, and we heard a heavy scraping, as though someone on the other side were drawing back a bolt or a bar. I lowered the axe and drew my revolver while, behind me, the rifleman focused a flashlight at the point on the door level with our heads.
The door opened slowly and there, blinking into the light, was our target, Stavros Joannides, an astonished man with a bloodhound’s eyes who, when he spoke, seemed to have no teeth in his head.
Under the circumstances, what he said was remarkable.
Kalimera.” (‘Good morning.’)
He wore a striped nightshirt that hung below his knees. Beside me, Sergeant Murtagh thrust the stubby muzzle of his Sten gun into the man’s chest.
“Put up yer ‘ands!”
The man’s arms shot up.
“You speak English?” I asked.
“A little,” he said.
“Bring him inside,” I told Murtagh, who marched the man backward into the house, where I patted him down to check for a weapon, but found nothing. Over his shoulder I could see through the open door of a dimly lit bedroom. A woman with long black hair sat bolt upright in the big family bed, the bedclothes pulled up to her neck. Two small girls, who might well have been twins, cowered behind her, crying hysterically.
We were in a living room, where a low-powered electric light revealed a few basic items of furniture: easy chairs round a stone fireplace, a threadbare rug, a few toys here and there, and a table that seemed to have been set for breakfast on the evening before. A loom stood in one corner. The place looked more like the house of the Three Bears than that of a political activist who was dangerous enough to be imprisoned.
Murtagh had stepped back a little, though his Sten was still slung at the ready, pointed toward Joannides, who stood staring at us, shivering in his skimpy nightshirt. He seemed not to know what to do with his hands.
“I’m going to search your house,” I said.
I left him with Murtagh and, with the rifleman, made a quick tour of the house. There were only three rooms, the living room, the bedroom and a kitchen. We began with the kitchen that, because it also served as bathroom, laundry room and storage space, was almost the size of the living room. The soldier and I pulled open closet doors and drawers, rummaged inside them, lifted the wooden lid of a wood-burning copper used for boiling clothes, peered in the oven, and looked around a cramped root cellar under a trap door.
We’d searched scores of houses of EOKA suspects in the months before. There were weapons, ammunition and documents hidden in a number of them, and we’d arrested their owners. But here there wasn’t a scrap of evidence. When we searched the bedroom, the woman was still in bed with the children, who had lapsed into silence. I called out to Joannides, who told his wife to wait in a corner of the room with the children while we searched the bed.  There were several boxes and battered suitcases under it, but nothing significant in them. One of the frightened children had wet the bed, and we pummeled the thin mattress with no result.
Apart from clothes, a large wardrobe in the room seemed to contain stacks of never-unwrapped bed linens and blankets, probably wedding gifts from years ago. When we were done, I gestured to the woman and the girls to get back into bed, and it was only then that I noticed the only evidence that this family was different from most other Greek Cypriots. There, on the bedroom wall, instead of the usual image of Archbishop Makarios, was a framed photograph of Nikita Krushchev, and Nikolay Bulganin – incongruous partners to the crucifix on the opposite wall of the room.
There was nothing in the living room. There was only one other place to look.
          “Where’s the toilet?” I asked the man.
“In the yard.”
I left the rifleman with Murtagh and went outside, where the two soldiers detailed to cover the back of the house lurked in the shadows. The privy was a small hut like a sentry box built over a pit and here, too, we drew a blank. Earlier we’d searched some of these more thoroughly, an activity that involved prodding the noisome contents of the trench with long bamboo canes. Fortunately, we had only a few minutes left, and I was glad to give the procedure a miss.
It was time to go.
“We’re going to take you away,” I told Joannides, “and I have to tell you that anything you say may be used in evidence.”
The man seemed perfectly calm.
“I have some questions,” he said.
“No questions,” I said. “The sergeant here will accompany you while you pack some things. You’re allowed to bring two cases of clothing and washing things, essential medicines, a bible, no food and no other books.”
“How long do you think – ” he began.
“You ‘eard what the officer said,” Murtagh said.
The wife seemed agitated, and asked her husband what sounded like a question, to which he replied quietly. His answer caused her to let out a piercing scream, and this started the children crying again. The sound of their anguish and its volume intensified during the few minutes it took our prisoner to collect his things together.
I was unmarried then and, looking back, I find it incredible that I gave the man no opportunity to embrace his wife and children at that last moment. He had taken the arrest well so far, and it was hard to credit that this allegedly dangerous troublemaker was so mild and dispassionate.
It wasn’t Joannides who needed restraint as we led him to the door; it was his wife. Leaving her two little girls screaming uncontrollably on the bed, she staggered toward us and locked her arms tight round her husband’s body, clinging to him with unbelievable strength. So strong was her grasp on him that, struggling to get her man and his baggage through the door, we were forced to wrench her from him, taking care not to break her thrashing arms with the sudden final slam of the door. The man said nothing during the six or seven minutes drive to the compound where he was united with his fellow detainees.
I never saw him again, but this isn’t quite the end of the story. Something remarkable and almost laughable happened within a month or two of the mass arrest and imprisonment of nearly 150 members of AKEL. The British Government discovered to its extreme embarrassment that AKEL, while it sympathized with other Greek Cypriots in their wish for union with Greece, treated the right-wing terrorist leader George Grivas with derision, and denounced violence as a means to achieve it. All but a handful of the Communist detainees were returned to their homes in a fleet of buses manned by the Cyprus Police Force.
Oddly, there seems to be no record of the snatch and its outcome in Her Majesty’s archives.


Friday, December 1, 2017

A Christmas to Forget

I didn't know it that night, but this was to be the last time I’d see my father. We sat - he, my mother, my brother David and I - amid the over-the-top tinsel and decorations in a modest hotel restaurant. My father wore a dark gray suit, stiff white collar and the tie of the Durham Light Infantry, probably the only person among the forty or fifty others in the room to be wearing a tie.
        This was his way. It was how he'd been brought up. I can remember him even on sultry August days at Whitstable, a seaside resort, sitting with his knees drawn up on the crowded beach with a neatly folded copy of the Daily Telegraph, and wearing a wool serge suit and highly polished black shoes with sock suspenders. He may not have looked it, but he was comfortable.
        But now it was Christmas Day, 1957. I was 26, and he'd turned 70 a few weeks before. It was an odd, superficially festive little gathering. We went through the traditional courses of roast turkey with sage stuffing, Christmas pudding aflame in brandy, and mince pies. We pulled the crackers and blew the whistles and read and laughed at the bad jokes that spilled out of them, and we raised our glasses to the future. But the sad truth was that the four of us were strangers to one another, and also that the old man had barely any future left.
          David and I never really knew our parents. We were both sent miles away to a boarding school when I was eight. I don't remember ever sharing a feeling or fear with my father or mother. It's not that they weren't kind to us, or even that they didn't love us. It was simply that neither knew how to show affection. The only time my father and I ever touched was to shake hands whenever we met or parted.
          Nor had David and I ever known each other well, even though we were together for endless years at boarding school. He was more than three years older than I, and while I had been outgoing, cheeky and garrulous, he was a quiet, solitary boy. My parents never seemed to notice that as a teenager, and later as a man, David had no women friends, and rarely brought home any of his many men friends, who seemed to have oddly diverse social and educational backgrounds.
          The meal ended, as Christmas and Easter family dinners always did, with what my father called ‘a nice healthy walk.' When he’d paid the check, counting out the one-pound notes and half-crowns and shillings with care and attention like the bank clerk he’d once been, we faced into the cold sea air, heading for the beach.
          It was dark on the steep slope down to the concrete walkway along the sea-front.  The tide had turned, and now dragged on the coarse, flinty shingle below us. Out on the horizon the beam of a lightship pulsed. Ahead of my mother and me, David and the old man walked more briskly.
          As we strolled along together my mother turned to me. "So how do like your new life, Johnny?"
          After nearly a decade as an officer in the British Army I was on my final leave, and in a few days would begin my first civilian job. In the service I'd had excitement in action, world travel, comradeship and the company of friends. But suddenly I was alone, friendless in a rented attic room in London, and about to start a new life. Though I didn't admit it, I felt lost, and a little wary of the future.
I lied in reply to my mother's question. "Fine, Mum. My new life's fine."
        "But are you happy?" she asked.
        "Happy enough," I said. "What about you?"
        My mother took my arm as we walked. It was something she'd rarely done.
        "No," she said. "I'm not happy. But then I haven't been for years. Not since I married your dad. Surely you must know that."
        I didn't know. I was speechless. Had this happened today, were she still alive, I might have said "Do you want to talk about it?" But I didn't. We walked on.
      "What are you thinking?" she asked.
      By now we'd fallen back some way behind my father and brother.
      "I was wondering . . . well, why you married him," I said, "were things so different then?"
      "Not really," she said. "I escaped, you see. You know the story. Your grandfather had walked out years before.  There we all were. Mother, five unmarried daughters and two sons in that beastly cramped little house at North Foreland. It was like a pressure cooker. Then I met your father at a friend's house. It seemed  . . ."
      "It seemed what?” I heard a sharp, involuntary edge in my voice.
      She looked up. "You're angry, aren't you?" She released my arm. "I'm sorry, I've upset you. But, you see, marrying him just seemed to be the way out at the time."'
      My mother changed the subject and we caught up with the others.
        "What are you two chatting about?" my father asked, smiling.
        My mother laughed. "Oh, you know. Shoes, ships, sealing wax . . .”

          Two days later David and I took the train back to London. For weeks I turned my mother's words over and over in my mind, but I never told David.
          My father died less than three months later. He went to sleep one night and never woke up. The circumstances were odd. In their final years together, the old man snored heavily, and my parents slept in separate rooms. At least, that was the reason they always gave for sleeping apart.  And there was something else; he'd become almost miserly about money and had for years locked the bedroom door behind him, hiding his billfold under his pillow.
          Every morning, at seven, my mother would make a cup of tea and take it to his door.  A month or two later she knocked and there was no answer. She had to climb a ladder to the open bedroom window, and found him dead.
          Was it the wine on that Christmas evening that caused my mother's impulsive admission? Or did she need the release of this tragic secret to unburden herself, to share her load?  She lived for another 30 years, and died in her 90th year, but she never mentioned it again.
        And nor did I.       


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Clip Joints

I read recently that an average man grows about ten yards of hair during his life, so I guess I’d look like an Afghan goat-herd if it weren’t for generations of barbers and hairdressers who’ve washed, cut and dried my hair.
 And what an incredible cast of characters they’ve been! I can't remember my earliest haircuts, but the first barber I recall, long ago in the mid-1930s, had a shop on High Street in our country town in Southeast England, between a pie shop and a movie house. He was a dapper little man with a neatly trimmed mustache and, believe it or not, his name was Mr. Tidy.
        Mr. Tidy’s barbershop was always busy. His customers sat in cane chairs along a mirrored wall, reading newspapers that my father, a staid and serious man, would never have allowed in our house. These reported little real news, but spicy stories about society divorces, or bishops running off with actresses. But for me there were also comic strips and, when I could read, I met Dagwood Bumstead and Popeye, and Dick Tracy.
Mr. Tidy’s barber’s chair was a miracle of chrome and leather on a swiveling pedestal that could be pedaled up and down, and had the words ‘Made in America’ emblazoned on a panel in its ornate silver filigree. When it was my turn, Mr. Tidy put a wooden box on the seat and lifted me onto it.  He worked quickly and I watched, fascinated, as the hair clippings fell on the floor around the chair. When he’d finished, he’d stoop and lift a wooden trapdoor by its tiny brass doorknob, and sweep the clippings under the floor boards.
When I was eight, I was sent to a boys-only boarding school miles from home, and later to another much bigger one. At both schools, barbers came from the town at regular intervals, carrying their equipment in black leather suitcases, and set-up shop in the sports changing rooms. After the quiet orderliness of Mr. Tidy’s shop, these sessions were rowdy and boisterous. The visitors clearly didn’t think enforcing discipline was a part of their job, and the older boys fought on the floor and elbowed the younger ones aside in the waiting line. For the smaller, younger boys, having a haircut could be an ordeal, and often took a long time.
        At Sandhurst – Britain’s version of West Point – there was a full-time barbershop among the stables and stores tucked away behind the Academy’s elegant buildings. Haircuts were free, probably because the authorities thought we’d mutiny if forced to part with real money to have our hair cropped like convicts. It was little comfort to know that distinguished former graduates such as Winston Churchill, Field Marshall (‘Monty’) Montgomery and other greats had sat in those very same oak chairs.
        The years passed and I suffered the attention of regimental barbers in half a dozen countries. But at least we were now officers, and could grow our hair slightly longer and indulge in a little individualism.
        Later I left the army to join a London public relations firm as a trainee. By then I expected to be able to pick and choose who cut my hair. But on a monthly salary of 41 pounds – today worth about $62 – my choice of hair cutters was limited to men who practiced in small back rooms behind tobacconists’ stores. The result was often little better than the clumsy attentions of a regimental barber.
 But in 1959, on my wedding day in London, I had the most exclusive trim and shave of my life. I’d spent my last night of bachelor bliss at the apartment of a friend of my father-in-law who was shaved daily at Harrods, the venerable store that sells anything you can imagine at unimaginable prices to unbelievably wealthy people. In its low-lit, walnut paneled barber shop, respectful, speak-when-you’re spoken-to experts shaved my host and me with badger-hair brushes and cutthroat razors. We lay side by side on what seemed more like operating tables than Mr. Tidy’s chrome, all-American barber’s chair back in the 30s. There were hot towels and cologne to follow, and a massage of the neck and shoulders. The faintest sound of baroque music drifted from invisible speakers.
Nearly twenty years later, in the late 70s, came haircuts and shaves that were at the same time a wide-awake dream of fair women and the best barbering of a lifetime. South East Asia has turned a normally humdrum experience into an all-but erotic fantasy. Men’s hairdressing shops in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are a blend of an Arabian Nights harem and an Upper East Side beauty shop. It’s not that there’s any back-room impropriety going on, but simply that – however sexist this may seem – the dozen or more geisha-like young women in these places are recruited as much for their beauty and vivacity as for their tonsorial talents. Their deft, perfectly manicured hands seem not so much to work on one’s head and face, but almost to caress them, and any full-blooded male pulse quickens with their warm proximity. I wonder whether, now that I’m past my mid-eighties, their welcome would be half as seductive.
Nowadays, accompanied by Lynn, my wife, I take my gray head to her place in Greenwich Village. The hairdresser is attractive and well-groomed, but the place somehow lacks the mystical sensuality of the Orient. And, in place of the racy daily papers with their comic strips in Mr. Tidy’s shop, there are mostly fashion magazines, and books on hairstyling.
Things have changed. But so, of course so have I.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Okay, I’ll admit it. When we rode out into the dark on those long ago nights, we felt more like cowboys than infantrymen. But instead of horses, our mounts were two open-topped jeeps, with steel pickets like ships’ prows welded to their fenders, ready to slice through the lethal, invisible steel wires the enemy stretched across dark mountain roads at just the height that could chop off a man’s head. It was the winter of 1956, and the enemy was EOKA, a private army of Greek Cypriot partisans bent on wresting independence from the British in Cyprus, led by the same men who’d successfully harassed and demoralized the Nazi and Italian fascist occupying armies in mainland Greece eleven years earlier, at the end of World War II.
Now, under a cold, cloudless sky at around 2:00 a.m., we swung out through the heavily guarded gates of our camp into a moonlit landscape. We drove fast, our engines reverberating on the walls of the narrow streets of sleeping villages along the way. I drove the front jeep. Beside me sat Private Lou Davies, a chirpy ginger-haired draftee who, only months earlier, had worn another uniform as the driver of trains between London and Birmingham. Now he crouched behind a spotlight and a Bren medium machine gun, its bipod resting on two sandbags like cement pillows on the hood of the vehicle, while his eyes swept the terrain around us. Behind Davies sat our radio operator, Freddie Higgs, an amateur boxer, his head wrapped in an oversized headset under a swaying twelve-foot aerial, from the top of which fluttered a yellow pennant. Squeezed into the back seat next to Higgs, ‘Tiny’ Mustapha, a massive Turkish Cypriot police sergeant with the girth of a Sumo wrestler, chewed tobacco throughout the patrol, occasionally clearing his throat and spitting out of the jeep. In the second vehicle, towing a two-wheel trailer with mail and rations, Lance Corporal Peters and three private soldiers followed closely behind, their rifles and Sten sub-machine gun covering our rear.
They called this nightly routine ‘The Dynamite Run,’ one of the least popular missions in a five-year terrorist war about which barely any Americans have ever heard.  Our destination was Mitsero, one of many copper and asbestos mines that lay in the shadow of the 5000-ft Troodos mountains that form Cyprus’s rugged backbone.
Where there are copper mines there are always plastic explosives, the essential ingredients for making primitive bombs and anti-personnel mines. Mitsero was therefore a priority target for EOKA.  About twenty miles from our base, Mitsero stored the demolition equipment for a dozen other mineral mines nearby. The stone building was ringed with a wall of sandbags and razor wire, and a circle of outward facing floodlights. A group comprised of a sergeant and nine men, armed with an arsenal of light mortars and automatic weapons, manned it day and night. Every night, a patrol such as ours took out supplies, but also gave moral support to isolated little units like this one, which was from time to time a target for snipers from the mountains that towered over it.
For the first fifteen miles or so we sped through rolling countryside, past olive and carob plantations and a dozen darkened villages. But in the last few miles we were forced to drive more slowly because the road to Mitsero snaked and climbed, narrower now, its unfenced curves carved out of the mountains, and often hanging several hundred feet over a sheer drop.  From here on we were perfect targets. The corkscrew track passed over dozens of culverts in which it was only too easy to plant remotely detonated mines. Weeks earlier a member of our own platoon had been crushed to death on this strip of road after his scout car overturned. But what made these missions even more hazardous was the fact that there was only one usable road to and out of Mitsero.  If EOKA were looking out for us on any night, they knew we’d be every bit as easy a target heading home as we’d been going out.
And so it was that night. We’d reached Mitsero without incident. For half an hour or so we sat around a table in the store, by the light of a hissing Colman lantern, drinking tea laced with rum, smoking and chatting with the few men in the unit who were awake.
We were more than half way home when they got us, passing through Kokkino Trimithia, a dot on the map with a picturesque church, a coffee shop and a few dozen unremarkable stone houses, surrounded by olive groves. We’d just entered the village when a short burst of machine gun fire crashed into our offside fender.  I braked and, with the metallic reverberation of the shots still shrilling in our ears, we scrambled from our trucks and spread out, taking what cover we could behind the concrete-mixers and stacked bricks around what was clearly an unfinished building site. Peters, in the second vehicle, had spotted the flashes from the weapon, in a building maybe thirty yards away, up a steep gradient. His alert co-driver, crouching behind the now static jeep, swung his searchlight up the slope, training the powerful beam on a half-built, roofless single story cinderblock house. For a fraction of a second, in one of the building’s hollow window frames, we spotted two men crouched over a weapon, caught like road kill in the headlights. 
      While Peters and his team gave us covering fire, Davies, Higgs, the Turkish sergeant and I spread out, to be halted momentarily by a burst of automatic fire.  Seconds later there was an ear-splitting explosion in one of the unfinished window cavities of the house, and then a total, mystifying silence.
      In a minute, still covered by Peters and his crew, the four of us had run on up the slope and made a cursory search of the shell of the little four-roomed house. There was nobody there, but the sharp smell of Baratol explosive hung in the building’s open room spaces.
Tiny Mustapha was breathless by the time we reached the little house. But, leaning, panting against the stone wall he removed a brown, folded envelope from his tunic pocket with the letters OHMS printed on it – On Her Majesty’s Service. Armed with a flashlight, he unfolded it and was soon crawling around on the sandy, unfinished floor of the room from whose windows we’d been attacked.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“You not see blood in the doorway?
I hadn’t seen any blood. Maybe my being colorblind didn’t help.
Still kneeling on the floor, the big policeman held up his envelope to me.
“Then, you look in here, sir.”
Taking his flashlight I peered into the envelope, at the bottom of which seemed to be one or two small pieces of . . . of what?
“What are they, Tiny?”
The Turkish policeman literally left me holding the bag.
“That big bang, sir,” the Turk said, “They throw a grenade. A Number 36 Mills bomb. See . . .?”
He held up a small, threaded metal disc. “This is base plug, and here is striker lever.  But it go off too quick, see? Maybe blow off his whole hand. Now I collect it up. If we get bigger pieces of fingers like these, we get good fingerprints! We look for more. You help.”
While the crew of the other jeep followed the trail of blood from the house with their flashlights, Davies, the gunner, watched over us while we searched the floor inch by inch. Scrabbling in the dirt, in addition to a handful of used 300 caliber cartridge cases, we found a few unidentifiable pieces of flesh and bone, and had soon accounted for what were later identified as pieces of three fingers.
“No thumb,” Mustapha said. “Big pity. Thumbs make best prints.”
We searched for a while longer until, with a joyful whoop, the Turkish sergeant pounced on most of a right-hand thumb.
“With this,” he said, holding it up, his eyes popping with excitement, “we get fingerprints. Now we can do something!”
But for all of our patient searching that night we achieved nothing. It was a mystery. The trail of blood led some fifty yards round the back of two houses and disappeared without trace on the narrow street through the village. The forensic people at the police headquarters in Nicosia got good clear images from Mustapha’s trophies, but their CID – Criminal Investigation Department – colleagues could find no prints in their files to match them.
Why hadn’t he thrown the grenade? There were two fuses available for a Mills bomb, for four seconds and seven seconds. Maybe he had a four second fuse and thought he had a seven second one. And why wasn’t he killed by a bomb that had a killing range of up to fifteen feet? Had the bomber maybe been killed instantly and borne away by his comrade? Or had he lived to tell his own grizzly tale? 
.  .  .

Three years later, a civilian again, I was back in Cyprus on contract to the British Government as the press officer for the colony’s emergency police force. On my last day on the island I stood, incognito, on a sidewalk in Nicosia, the island’s capital, within sight of the saluting base as Sir Hugh Foot, the colony’s last governor, relinquished the government of Cyprus to Archbishop Makarios, the new Republic’s first president.
After the hand-over, the handshakes and the hymns, a military band struck up. Leading the freedom parade, marching past the Archbishop and his fledgling cabinet ministers, came the heroes of the revolution – the men of  EOKA.
Remembering that night in Kokkino a few years earlier, I searched for a marcher with no hand with which to salute. In the first little squad there seemed to be no such man. And nor was there one in the second group. But as the last squad passed there was, indeed, a limping man who, with his right sleeve hanging empty and pinned below the elbow, saluted with his left hand.
Could that have been he? I’ll never know. Looking back over more than sixty years I accept that, while to me and my comrades he was simply a terrorist thug, to himself and his fellow countrymen he was a freedom fighter and more than that, a patriot.
I’m old now, well into my eighties, and I don’t care anymore. After all, at least in our own minds, didn’t each of us have right on his side?


Friday, September 1, 2017

Tough Assignment

Looking out over that calm lake at dawn, with its fishing boats and flying cranes, it was hard to believe that this beautiful place had been the scene of the worst industrial accident in history.
But months earlier, at about midnight on a cold winter night in December 1984, an airborne blanket of poison gas fell over a sleeping city. By dawn, 1,750 men, women and children were dead. More than 500 people suffered injuries, many of whom died of cancers and other diseases.
            The city was Bhopal, in northern India. By the time the case came to court nearly two years later, almost 4000 people had died, 40 were totally disabled and more than 2600 others had lasting partial disability. The agricultural chemicals plant was owned by the giant and now defunct US chemicals firm, Union Carbide, that made an arguable case for sabotage.
            At Carbide’s Connecticut headquarters, chairman Warren M. Anderson pledged
his company’s moral commitment to the victims and their families, and flew to India a few days afterward, accompanied by some technical experts and a medical aid team, only
to be arrested and sent home by the Indian government before he and his colleagues had
even visited the site of the catastrophe. The US and Indian Carbide companies offered nearly $2 million in immediate emergency relief, and afterward pledged more than $20 million more in funds and services. Carbide employees and its retirees voluntarily raised more than $120,000 for the relief organizations working in Bhopal.
            But UCIL, the Indian company, was less quick off the mark. While it did much to provide relief for the victims’ families, and endured national ostracism with a brave face, it was almost as though its entirely Indian management had been paralyzed with shock. In particular, it had failed to tell its side of the story adequately.  This was why, about ten months after the tragedy, I and my colleagues met Warren Anderson with Carbide colleagues at a working lunch at the company’s impressive Danbury, CT, headquarters. He was seeking help for the local directors in Mumbai, then Bombay. As a member of a New York firm of public relations consultants that advised Carbide, I was assigned to fly to India to develop and implement an India-wide program to better explain the situation to the public at large, to its 23,000 Indian stockholders, Parliament and the many communities where it had numerous plants, five operating divisions and 9,000 employees.
Although I’d worked all over the Pacific Rim, I’d never been to India, but within two or three days of that first meeting with Anderson I was flying to Mumbai, on a solo as-long-as-it-takes assignment.  On the weekend I arrived there was a meeting at my hotel. The meeting was attended by the Carbide company’s Indian board of directors and the managers of their 13 facilities based all over India.
My chief contact was UCIL’s chief executive, Vijay Gokhale, a handsome, intelligent and civilized man who’d had the misfortune to be promoted CEO only two or three months before the Bhopal catastrophe. Within hours of landing I found myself giving, at Gokhale’s request, a ‘reassuring presentation’ to his discouraged audience.
Having met and talked with the worldwide managers in Danbury, and now to the earnest directors, all Indians in Bhopal that weekend, it seemed to me tragic and ironic that, in India and the many other countries where it operated, Carbide had always acted as a company that cared. A major player on the Indian sub-continent since the early 1900s, it looked after its employees and retirees well, and was a good neighbor in every country and city in which it had operations. Carbide’s people were convinced at the time, and its veterans still are, that the Bhopal disaster was caused by sabotage. How else, they asked, would it be possible to pour, at dead of night, as much as 200 gallons of water into underground tanks of poisonous methyl isocyanate, in defiance of warning signs and color-coded faucets, causing gas to erupt and escape?  Since Anderson and his emergency experts were denied access to the Bhopal plant by the Indian Government, they could never carry out their hoped-for search for evidence.
But there was still an untold story to tell.  On the following Monday morning my new Carbide colleagues and I set to work. Over the next few weeks we produced a series of reports, each aimed at a special audience, describing what we were convinced had happened in Bhopal, the social, economic, human and other ramifications, and what action UCIL was now taking. While putting these together, we trained the directors and other managers to handle interviews with newspaper reporters, and on radio and television. Oddly, what I remember most vividly of those long, videotaped training sessions in a stuffy top-floor conference room was the constant squabbling and scrabbling of a flock of vultures that had settled on the flimsy iron roof directly above us.
When we were ready, we issued this new material to the Indian media. There are no fewer than 14 Indian languages, yet English is the lingo of government and business, and most educated Indians speak it well.  And since India is a true democracy, its media are unfettered and outspoken. While they were generally unsympathetic to Carbide after the disaster, and skeptical about the sabotage claim, the national and regional press, radio and TV generally gave fair space and airtime to the company’s viewpoint.
            Several times during the assignment, I made the 450 mile train journey between Mumbai and Bhopal, to see the community and the victims and meet the few remaining Carbide managers there. It was a tough journey alone. Late one night, after an abrupt stop, I woke and found myself looking down from the train window as two railroad workers, lit by searing arc-lights, carried a headless man away on a stretcher. He was presumably the hapless cause of the delay.
Because of the risk of a revenge attack, no one associated with Carbide was allowed to stay at any of the hotels in Bhopal. Instead, I lodged at a company-owned guesthouse in a compound that included their research laboratories, which were still operating near the now-locked and otherwise abandoned pesticide plant. The guesthouse and the laboratories were protected by dense barbed wire, patrolled day and night by armed security men with sub-machine guns. The buildings stood on the shore of the placid lake, across the water from the city’s huge mosque.
The job took two months. Before returning to New York I spent several days in Bhopal meeting with the overseas news reporters who returned to India during the first anniversary of the disaster, to write about the city and the continuing plight of the casualties. At that time, angry crowds milled outside the barricades around the lakeside guest house.
Fax machines and computers were uncommon even in the US at that time, and probably didn’t exist then in India. I wrestled with obsolete copying machines, typewriters and teleprinters that broke down almost daily. There were few telephone lines between Bhopal and the outside world, and those that were available were nearly 50 years old. Our telephone lines were also tapped, which made security difficult, as did the fact that the time in Bhopal was ten hours later than in Danbury and New York. Then there was the heat in Mumbai, heart-rending poverty, and endless, pathetic begging on every street. Above all, there was the touching resignation of the people of India to their intolerable condition.  
            But for all that, a movingly warm, almost affectionate relationship grew between us. These men -- and they were all men -- were in such desperate straits in a company that was now India’s public enemy. Some of them were expecting criminal indictment, and they all so desperately needed help, encouragement and advice. When I left, they gave me a memento, a bronze effigy of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity. It has little intrinsic value, but is still one of my most cherished possessions.
I returned to India a year later for a further two months. This time, among other things, my mission included handling local and foreign media relations when UCIL faced criminal trial by the Indian government. It was a strange, anachronistic ritual. The law, and all the trappings of the court, from the judge himself to the barristers and solicitors and their robes and wigs, were reminiscent of nothing more than Public Television’s then popular Rumpole of the Bailey.  Yet there was nothing laughable about the prosecutors, and the cross-examinations, nor about the sentence. UCIL was found guilty and fined $470 million.

But the most distressing thing of all is that now, more tthan 30 years after the tragedy, far too little of that litigation money has ever reached the survivors of that now distant nightmare.