The Bluestocking, vol 217
and you are not to feel bad about this--
This week, I wrote about Boris Johnson, after watching the moment that David Davis compared him to Neville Chamberlain. Ouch. One of the strangest things when writing about Johnson with any distance is that you do realise quite how long the metaphorical charge sheet against him is. He shares that with Trump—your brain has to hold together “jeez, who would trust this man to lead a country?” with the second thought “oh, clearly lots of people, actually”.
PS. On Monday I am doing an online event with John McWhorter, on how the elite betrayed Black America. I really enjoy John’s writing, but I am more sympathetic to the pro-reparations/affirmative action argument than he is, which should be entertaining.
Searching For Anne Frank’s Betrayer, 80 Years On (The Times, £)
[Arnold] Van den Bergh was a Jewish Dutch notary who had been a member of the Jewish Council, the body the Germans had insisted that the Jews establish to administer the communities’ affairs during the war. The council became very controversial among those who believed resistance was the only possible stance, and who argued the council helped administer the Holocaust.
But the council also made sure that Jews were able to live in the increasingly impossible conditions. When the Jews were forbidden from shopping in the market, the council provided an alternative way of obtaining vegetables. When Jews were excluded from schools, the council helped organise alternatives. When Jews were deported to camps without coats, the council helped provide coats. And it also provided jobs. Some people — my family’s home help Betty Lewin, for instance — were given unpaid council work because while they were doing it the Nazis wouldn’t send them to the gas chambers.
The cold case team traced Van den Bergh’s war and discovered that somehow he had managed to have himself designated as a non-Jew and had quit the council. Things hadn’t gone well. His business had earlier been confiscated and the new owner felt he’d been tricked. This man had managed to have Van den Bergh redesignated as a Jew. Now the notary and his family were without any protection. Yet somehow he didn’t go to the camps, nor did his daughter. Why?
I’ve been haunted by these councils—there was something similar in the Warsaw Ghetto—ever since I found out about them at Yad Vashem. Imagine taking the murky moral choice of working with people who hate you and want you dead. . . in the hope of improving the lives of other people like you. Or are you just deceiving yourself, selfishly trying to save your own skin?
This whole piece is worth reading, though, to bring some more background to the very well known story of Anne Frank. The lesson of it is that many people were involved in concealing the Franks, and so there are many suspects for their betrayer. “In 1943, some friends living in the Amsterdam suburbs offered to hide my mother,” writes Danny Finkelstein. “My grandmother decided it was too dangerous. Reading this book I understand why.” Both women, instead, ended up in Belsen.
Let’s Do Lunch (Financial Times, 2012)
We cannot be sure of the all-time record for the most expensive lunch. It may have been achieved when Spivey met the 79-year-old poet Gavin Ewart at the Café Royal in October 1995. The exact cost is lost somewhere in the bowels of the FT accounts department. But the bill was somewhat overshadowed by the aftermath. The main item on the agenda was alcohol, not food. Ewart began with several negronis (gin, vermouth, Campari), which is not an amateur’s drink, and carried on from there.
“We departed the Café Royal in a moderately straight line,” Spivey said in the article. He put Ewart on a bus home then lurched off himself. The following day he received a call from Mrs Ewart. “There are two things you need to know,” she said. “The first is that Gavin came home yesterday happier than I have seen him in a long time. The second—and you are not to feel bad about this—is that he died this morning.”
From the archive, a history of the “Lunch with the FT” feature. My own favourite will always be Henry Mance interviewing Richard Desmond in 2015 over a £580 bottle of wine, breaking Ewart’s record: “That afternoon Desmond calls three times to clarify various points. Asking about liking his father was a ‘very very good fucking question’, he says, without elaborating much on his answer.”
The Undoing of Joss Whedon (Vulture)
Whedon now has a term for the damage his childhood caused. He says he suffers from complex post-traumatic-stress disorder, a condition that can lead to relationship problems, self-destructive behavior, and addictions of various kinds. I asked if he would be willing to share his most traumatic memory with me. “I’m going to run to the loo,” he said. Later, he would let slip that someone had advised him to pretend he needed to pee if he felt uncomfortable with a question.
Returning to the couch, he affected a sort of Vincent Price voice. “And now,” Whedon said, “tales of horror and woe.”
When he was 5, a 4-year-old boy, the son of family friends, disappeared on his parents’ property upstate. Eventually, his body was found; he had drowned in the pond. Years later, as a teenager, Whedon remembered he had called the boy over to the pond to play with him. After getting bored, he had walked away, leaving the boy alone by the water. “I didn’t think it was my fault,” Whedon said. “I knew I was 5. But it doesn’t just disappear as a thought.” It took him another 30 years, he said, before another thought dawned on him: Even after the incident, his parents never taught him to swim. “There was no structure,” he said. “There was no safety.”
This piece really gets into the allegations against Joss Whedon (bullying, shagging) and his defence (being bullied, overbearing mum), and the possible industry politics of why his fall happened when it did. It really wades into the messiness of it all, and while I didn’t come away thinking better of Whedon, I did feel like I understood the situation better.
From the postbag: “Remarkable news about Barry Gardiner. If only there’d been a ... whistleblower.”
Further Barry Gardiner news from Skawkbox: “Keir Starmer has signalled his fear of a future leadership challenge by the popular and capable Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, say Labour insiders. . . Labour insiders told Skwawkbox that Keir Starmer fears a challenge by Gardiner—one of the few MPs with broad popularity in different wings of the party and one of Labour’s ablest media performers, so much so Starmer sacked him from the front bench on taking the leadership, seemingly for fear of being outshone and MPs were clamouring for more information on a rumoured challenge late last year—and that Starmer’s allies were hoping to tarnish Gardiner’s reputation by association.”
“From an early age, women clearly dislike group hierarchies of same-sex individuals more than men do.” This is an interesting research finding, quoted in a New York Times piece about men and women’s divergent political beliefs.
Kate Mossman on her (and her daughter’s) love of CBeebies (New Statesman).
Brian Cox (the acting one) on whether writing an honest memoir has made him vulnerable: “I’m too old, too tired and too talented for any of that shit.” (Deadline)
“I was young, and I had huge blind spots. I came right at the cusp of the internet becoming a thing. The speed with which the hammer comes down is so much more intense right now.” Lena Dunham is back, wants to someday reboot Girls, and is apparently still 35??? Is she ageing slower than me? (Hollywood Reporter).
Whether it’s justified or not, Kate Clanchy has very definitely been cancelled (Unherd).
Jordan Peterson has cancelled himself by resigning from the University of Toronto, and announced the news in a piece which worries about censorship in America and then . . . quotes Vladimir Putin at length? Strange not to mention that intellectuals and dissidents get cancelled out of a fifth-floor window in Russia. (National Post)
“I had a hunch that old songs were taking over music streaming platforms—but even I was shocked when I saw the most recent numbers. According to MRC Data, old songs now represent 70% of the US music market.” Are old songs killing new songs? (Ted Gioia, Substack)
See you next time!