Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

My Companion in a Pod on the London Eye Was None Other Than Death, Destroyer of Worlds

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

My Companion in a Pod on the London Eye Was None Other Than Death, Destroyer of Worlds

Article excerpt

The first time I met General Mikhail Kalashnikov he was wearing fun-fur leopard-skin ankle slippers and his housekeeper's cardigan. He was standing in the doorway of his dacha in the Urals, a cabin by the shore of the reservoir that fed the great arms factory at Izhevsk. I was writing a book about the AK-47, the gun Kalashnikov had invented in 1947: a gun so simple, children could use it. And, 60 years later, they increasingly were.

The housekeeper served elk soup. The general's grandson Igor passed round pickled herring and beetroot salad, poured vodka and Chilean red wine, and translated.

As we talked, there were, according to the UN, 70 million AKs in circulation throughout the world. The real number was far higher and no one had any accurate idea of how many people had been killed by the gun across the globe or even, most painfully for the general, across the ex-Soviet Union. I asked about the people who had died until, angered by my questioning, the 83-yearold exclaimed: "I invented a gun to defend my motherland, to beat the fascists."

A month later, the general came to London and a different translator called me. "The general would like to see the big wheel." Big wheel? She meant the London Eye. In 2004, it was only four years old and people still stopped simply to watch it go round, partly because it cost so much to get on. I hoped Kalashnikov would be content to do the same, as I had even less money than he did. Eugene Stoner, the American inventor of the M16 assault rifle, had become a millionaire. …

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