Magazine article The Spectator

Pity He Was Wrong about the Existence of God, Because Jesus Was So Right about Compassion

Magazine article The Spectator

Pity He Was Wrong about the Existence of God, Because Jesus Was So Right about Compassion

Article excerpt

' "I weep for out those of the largest size.' You "I deeply sympan recognise." With sobs a cruel man, observed tears ham Greene: he sorted out those of the largest size.' You I thought of Green recognise a cruel man, observed Carham Greene: he New Year, cries in the cinema report

from thought of Greene's remark, and in Moscow, Richard Beeston. It seems that after the New Year, reading a report from the Times's correspondent the Kremlin Mos longestRichard Beeston. It seems that afterving cleaning lady, 60 years finally broken her silent the Kremlin's longestserving cleaning lady, Polina Malankina, has finally broken her silence. . . . the wiry 80-year-old has concluded that, by and large, the Kremlin's leaders `are not a bad bunch' and that Stalin was one of her favourite bosses. `He was so small and kind. I used to weed the flower beds. He would come out and sit on the steps to smoke a pipe. The security people would try to shoo me away. But Stalin would say, "Do not bother Polina. Let her get on with her weeding."

He looked at me in such a kind way. Sometimes there were tears in his eyes. He cared about the common people. When I hear gossip about the repressions, all I can say is that I did not see anything, and that is the truth,' she said. Mrs Malankina said her only disappointment with the Soviet dictator was his desecration of cathedrals. A pity about the desecration of the cathedrals. Still, such a nice man.

It is, I suppose, cardinal among our presumptions about human behaviour that, off guard and off parade, we see the real man. The smaller the scale and the closer the quarter of our observation, the more 'true' it is. The little intimacies of personal life act as telltales to an individual's true nature. In vignette we have a key to the wider canvas, the broader sweep of a public career. What is Mrs Thatcher really like? Ask her driver -- George - one would reply. He knows the 'real' Mrs T. `She was always so kind,' George used to say. `If only every voter could meet her.'

Or ask me - I worked as a clerk in her office in the years before she became prime minister. She was always immensely kind. She took trouble to remember the little things. When my father had a heart attack she insisted I took a holiday, and often questioned me later about his health. She looked at me in such a kind way.

Sometimes there were tears in her eyes. There were, I remember, when her son Mark became temporarily lost in the Sahara. The real Mrs Thatcher, then, was a bit of a softie underneath?

Was she, heck! Thank heavens she was not or she would never have achieved what she did. But in a career marked in all the large decisions by a notable unsqueamishness Margaret Thatcher found time for sentiment in the little things. She hated sacking people. If, opening her post, I showed her sad letters from lonely people, she would sit up late, penning kind replies in her own hand. That was at a time when her postbag exceeded a thousand letters a week.

What does this reveal about the real Margaret Thatcher? What do Polina Malankina's reminiscences reveal about the real Joseph Stalin? What light do the Walrus's tears shed on his real attitude to the Oysters? What does it tell us about Graham Greene's cinema-goer, after the lights go up, that he cried when the lights were down?

If it says anything at all, it is the opposite of what may appear. To indulge ourselves in those sudden rushes of sympathy for what is close and present to our senses is a retreat, a disclaimer, a sucking of the thumb. …

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