Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Londoner's Diary; Anne McElvoy on Lord Levy, Alan Milburn, Lenin, Combat Trousers, and Anglo-German Relations

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Londoner's Diary; Anne McElvoy on Lord Levy, Alan Milburn, Lenin, Combat Trousers, and Anglo-German Relations

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MCELVOY

I bump into Lord Levy, Tony Blair's Middle East special envoy, fundraiser and affable man of means. A few weeks ago, the Levys were burgled and badly beaten up in their North London home by a gang of thugs who blowtorched their way in through a window. What on earth flashes through your mind at a time like that? The cheerful peer tells me he was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire? at the time. 'It occurred to me, as they rifled the safe, that here was a bunch of people who definitely wanted to be millionaires. I just wished they'd find another way of getting there.' When I heard that Alan Milburn was leaving the Cabinet, my first response was a sense of regret based entirely on a phenomenon of being a fellow GIL - Geordie In London. Mr Milburn and I hail from villages a few miles apart in County Durham and our main source of conversation has not been Foundation hospitals, but mutual teasing about which of our beloved home villages is more remote and inward-looking. Still, it was nice, for old times' sake, having a minister who could say 'Haddaway man' and get the intonation right.

A marvellous film called Good bye, Lenin! is on limited release - go if you can find it. It's set in the last days of East Germany and the comedy turns on a family trying to pretend that the Wall hasn't fallen, for the sake of their Communist mother's health. I feel some special sympathy for all this, having finally just agreed to say goodbye to my own Lenin.

My large oil painting of Vladimir Ilyich was the pride and joy I saved from a skip in my years in Moscow and had restored. I've always found it hard to explain exactly why. Certainly not ideological sympathy. But there is something fascinating about iconography because it is the repository of so much belief and memory. The Lenin on my wall became a kind of meditative object which reminded me of the changes I had seen during my travels with a laptop.

But my study has been given over for the summer to a Slovakian au pair and it struck me that an oversized Lenin would not seem the most welcoming of images. So the bearded one has joined my Day-Glo Honecker in a cupboard. My only worry is that she will go searching for a tennis racket one day and stumble on my surreptitious Dorian Gray collective of the Soviet era. It would make you wonder what sort of family you had landed in. …

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