Diary - Linda Grant
I have discovered that Alastair Campbell is one of the sexiest men in Britain: the eyes, the size, t
I started the week on Start the Week, talking about my new book. There are certain facts that are as unalterable as, say, that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, not Nairobi. As Marlon Brando remarked: "The penis has its own agenda," and while I don't have a penis, a similar phenomenon occurred as Alastair Campbell entered the green room and I discovered that he is one of the sexiest men in Britain. He just stood there in his combat pants and his fisherman's sweater, then walked over to sit down and lay a thigh next to mine on the BBC sofa, and I understood how he had come to dominate Downing Street. He is an alpha male, power and testosterone radiating out of him. "You and a thousand other women in the Labour Party," said a baroness. "The eyes!" cried the wife of a distinguished professor. That's it: the eyes, the size, the thighs. The documentary-maker Nick Broomfield neatly skewered him over the use of the internet and the dodgy dossier, but the effect won't go away. I'm stuck with this knowledge for ever. Alastair Campbell, sex bomb.
David Irving was stepping up to the dock to plead guilty as we went on air and by the end of the day had been sentenced to three years. I was reminded of a long-forgotten figure, Ernest Saunders, one of the Guinness Four, who pleaded for clemency while in prison on the grounds that he had Alzheimer's disease, which, in a first for medical science, happily cleared up when he was released.
David Irving had announced, as far back as 1998, that he had realised he was wrong about Auschwitz and the gas chambers. Two years later, in the libel case he brought against Deborah Lipstadt, he had forgotten all about this revelation, but it must have popped back into his head again, when facing the Austrian prison system. According to the Independent, the only treat on offer in his jail is kosher meals, brought in from a Jewish old people's home, some of whose residents might perhaps be glad of Alzheimer's.
Ken Livingstone has his own version of Alzheimer's. He loathes Associated Newspapers because they were anti-Semitic during the 1930s - quite apart from the lucrative contract he once had with them to write restaurant reviews. I'm sure he would answer with the time-honoured cry of those cornered by their own rhetoric: "That's different!" Livingstone's utterances seem more and more to resemble NUS meetings in the 1970s, with their cries of "Fascist!".
I can do no better than to quote the poet George Szirtes, who, on his blog after hearing the news of Livingstone's suspension, remarked of the mayor's run-in with the London Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold: "It is of course well known that the role of concentration camp guards was to stand outside houses and ask partying Jews as they emerged how the party had gone."
Jewish Book Week began on Saturday night with a huge crowd to hear the Israeli novelist David Grossman being interviewed by the journalist Maya Jaggi about his recently published book Lovers and Strangers made up of two novellas. He said that jealousy turned everyone into an artist, constructing vast fantasies about what the loved one was doing in their absence. He thought that jealousy was a perverse way to expel oneself from paradise. He argued for knowing the other, but not so much that there were no borders between you. He spoke passionately in defence of the right of Jews to their own state. Some members of the audience, who had come to hear him denounce the occupation (which he did), seemed startled.
The next day I did my own event, when I was interviewed by Jonathan Freedland. While writing my book, I was watching Edgar Reitz's television masterpiece, Heimat, and reviewing Anonymous's A Woman in Berlin, about the rape of German women by advancing Soviet troops as the city fell. Perhaps this had coloured some of my thinking: about how even Nazi-era Germans were fascinatingly human (the Gaza settlers I interviewed certainly were). But Jonathan asked why we fall so easily for the German analogies when we talk of Israel. Why does the mind move along these well-worn grooves? For if you want an analogy that fits the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would be the colonial wars in Algeria, with the return of the French settlers, and the resurgence of Islamism out of a popular resistance movement. But this doesn't spring to mind. Why? Nazis are on the brain. We should watch out for that.
Linda Grant's The People on the Street: a writer's view of Israel is published by Virago (£9.99)