In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

The German in the WoodEmma Tennant
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

I don’t think my father ever saw Bella. She was small, so small that her eyes and surprisingly large beaky nose came only just over the top of the kitchen table. Her chin – and a very slack mouth that muttered and dribbled in a kind of singsong language I could sometimes understand – were lost to view, below the rim of the thick, much-scoured, gargantuan table. Her hands, snapping at spinach, rolling a wooden pin in dough, fluttered about the sides of her head as she worked, like dancing ears.

Strong footsteps in the passage could mean my father. He might have a rabbit in his hand, and give it in through a half-window in the passage to Mrs Colne. It was like my Pollocks Toy Theatre – Mrs Colne might be whirling and skipping from the dresser to the iron pots on the old Aga, Sam Grieve the keeper might be back from the woods with birds’ tail feathers as bright as an actress’s plumed hat. Bella at those times was at the sink, invisible in the gloom of the far side of the old kitchen. Her head peered into the sink and her hands were high, shedding a rapid succession of soft fingernails, the oblong and glistening potato peelings that would then go out the back for the pig. Or she was in the scullery, climbing on a chair to cut down a wood pigeon or, very occasionally, a pheasant. In the scullery, with its trough-size stone sinks and dim light from a window that gave out on the cinder heap at the back, Bella looked particularly small. If my father came in, he would be bound to miss her in the uncertain light. But I didn’t think of her as being small then, of course; for Bella was the same height as me.

One day three things happened at the same time. The first was that summer came at last to our Northern valley. We’d been so long in snow and in skies as grey as the heron that kept flapping down by the side of the frozen burn, that it was hard to remember the green on the trees in the wood. We stood staring at it, Mrs Colne and Bella and I. What a lovely sight it was! And I immediately found I couldn’t remember at all what the winter had been like. I said I wanted to go up to the Fairy Ring. For I’d had the fairy stories of James Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd read to me and he’d written of this wood, where it was dangerous to go most of the time, and especially to the Fairy Ring. The toadstools, a pale, hideous necklace of poison round the thick, mossy neck of the Ring, had been people once.

Mrs Colne said we couldn’t go. It was dangerous. And yet I knew she’d been up there with Sam Grieve and her own daughter, they’d been picking bilberries on the heathery hillside above the wood and their mouths and cheeks were as purple as if they’d been drinking wine up there, waiting for the fairies and witches the Ettrick Shepherd had seen. I said I knew it was dangerous. In one of Hogg’s stories there was a boy who’d been wandering harmlessly and he had turned to a three-legged stool. And he wasn’t even in the Ring at all. The silver birches of the Ettrick forest were said to be very ancient. I thought that with their branches and roots they might have lashed at the boy, until he cried out to be made, like them, into a piece of wood.

The next thing that happened – after the astonishing refusal of Mrs Colne to lie in the beautiful mossy circle with the new summer sun coming in through the birch leaves – was that my father came out onto the grass from another door and stood beside us. Bella, as always, had slipped into invisibility behind a wall where once, before the war and the disappearance of gardeners, there had been a peony garden. She knelt on an overgrown path, pulling at dandelion leaves. My father and Mrs Colne and I stood staring right in front of us, as if we were hoping for something to appear on the hillside opposite, out of the wood.

My father said he was going away to the war. He would be in a very hot place, sometimes it was over a hundred. I saw a tent, and men like Ali Baba coming in and standing with my father. He said the dried figs we ate sometimes had probably come from there.

My father and mother must have already left in the old Wolsey for the war when I decided to run away myself – and this was the third thing that happened that day.

Mrs Colne kept a small purse for me, in which pocket-money went. I found it easily, in the drawer that smelt of biscuits, in the table by her bed. I went to the scullery, which was empty except for birds hanging from the ceiling – and Bella. I told her we were going away.

Bella put down the half-plucked bird on the great stone ledge by the sink. She had a bootlace in her pocket and she tied it round her hair. We went out the back, and then joined the front drive – which was overgrown too, with bright green moss, like the moss in the Fairy Ring. Bella tried to kneel down and pull out the moss, but it would have taken too long to tidy up a mile of road, and I tugged at her arm. I wanted to walk to the small town and buy an ice cream, and then climb up to the wood, which also lay behind the small town, and walk along paths drying out their last year’s mulch, to the magic place. I didn’t want to be turned into anything, but I thought that day that I was bound to see someone who was a fox – or a kingfisher perhaps, flashing over the trees.

Nothing seemed to go right. The road was very hot, and I saw we really had forgotten about summer, because our feet itched with a sort of dry heat that made us almost decide to go back. But we wanted the ice cream, which would be served at St Ronan’s Cafe by Mr Gigli or his wife. St Ronan was the patron saint of this small, grey Scottish town. Mr and Mrs Gigli, perhaps because they were Italian, were thought to short-change people. But they poured reckless quantities of raspberry syrup on the ice cream and you could carry it over the patch of fusty lino to a table. It was thinking of this that kept me going – even when Bella began to lag behind.

We were just in the last stretch of road, the straight stretch between the old manse and Traquair village, where James Hogg knew witches still lived in his own time, when I stopped and looked back and saw how far away Bella now was. She was certainly small now, on the road with the stern face of the old quarries to one side of her, overgrown with heather, and the forest, thick and white-barked with mottled patches on the trunks, looming on the other side of the road. She was as small as a three-legged stool. I felt as frightened as if we were already in the wood. But I walked on, and soon I crossed the Tweed and I was in the outskirts of the small town. I looked round once and Bella was completely out of sight. But before I’d got that far I’d seen a group of men coming along the road. They looked as if they’d been pulled through a hedge backwards, these men, and some of them carried picks or spades. I ran faster, past Traquair, the old white house on the edge of the Tweed, and then by the Traquair Arms where there was a stuffed salmon in a glass case in the hall. Now I was in the lonely main street where St Ronan’s Cafe stood.

Mr Gigli was talking about these men when I came in. He wanted to show he had nothing to do with them although they, like he, weren’t English. ‘The enemy,’ Mr Gigli said. He was short and fat and his hair was black and shiny with brilliantine. ‘B-risoners of Wuh.’

I didn’t know what Mr Gigli meant. He was directing his remarks to a man who looked like a shepherd, who had come in for a bottle of St Ronan’s Ginger Beer. The shepherd was absolutely dour and silent, and so Mr Gigli had to talk to me. He pushed down a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was made of whale fat really, or so said Mrs Colne. ‘Bloody Germans,’ Mr Gigli said. ‘Why they no just shoot them, I say.’

In his excitement Mr Gigli added another scoop to the existing one in the ribbed glass dish. I kept as quiet as the shepherd, hoping Mr Gigli wouldn’t see his mistake. The bottle of raspberry syrup came off the shelf and there was the usual rush of sticky red juice on the ice cream, but this time, of course, with more of it to cover. I gave Mr Gigli half a crown from my purse and went to the table and sat down.

Bella never turned up in the cafe. But the shepherd had recognised me and he went out and waved down a man in a car who worked on the next farm and I was told quite severely that I would be given a lift home. I had to finish the ice cream in a rush. When I went out in the street and got into the unfamiliar car, the man said he’d seen Bella on the road and we’d stop and pick her up on the way back. He seemed very angry. And when we found Bella, who’d hardly moved at all since I last looked back and saw her so small, she climbed into the car like a dog. She was giggling a bit, though, and dribbling too from her big, slack lips. I held her hand, because it was dancing so fast on my knee. ‘POWs,’ the farming man said.

Mrs Colne was no kinder when we were dropped at the back door and went in. First, she slapped Bella. She said Bella was old enough to know better. Then she said I had no right to take the purse without asking her. She demanded it back. And when she forced me to say how much I had paid for the ice cream and she looked inside the purse, she said Mr Gigli had short-changed me. Mrs Colne was in no mood to hear that Mr Gigli had given me a double portion of ice cream, in his agitation over the men.

‘Germans,’ Mrs Colne said. I was made to go to bed early. I was lonely in the room in the basement, with the sound of Mrs Colne bustling in the kitchen and the wireless going on and off. ‘What would I say to your father and mother?’ Mrs Colne said at the door, before turning off the light. A tormenting line of light of the Northern summer evening still showed under the door when she had gone.

My father had been sent to be head of SOE in Cairo. The SOE organised resistance in the war, and this was the summer of 1943. He had agreed to receive a delegation of Greek guerrillas from a landing-strip in the mountains of Thessaly, at his headquarters in Cairo. These resistance fighters made up what was known as ‘the andarte delegation’. Their bravery and cunning in ambushing the Germans who occupied their villages was well-known. But Churchill considered them to be little better than bandits. It was my father’s hope, along with Brigadier Myers who brought the six guerrillas from the tiny airstrip at Neraida, that these men would be allowed a say in the running of their country and of the military. They set off with Myers on the 9th of August in a small plane: the usual method, of going by caique to Turkey, was considered too risky. They arrived on August 10th. But their hopes were soon dashed. The Foreign Office was very much against the SOE in this matter. Churchill wanted the King restored in Greece. He didn’t want the ‘bandits’ to have anything at all.

The Germans were strung out in the stone villages of Greece. My father had told me ‘we’ were at war with the Germans. I saw the German prisoners on the road between Traquair manse and the small town, and I saw them run round the town and shoot and shoot, like in the Pathé newsreels Mrs Colne sometimes took me to see. The small town went up in a cloud of grey smoke. Up above the Ettrick forest, which was untouched by the war, a line of faint red showed for a red-sky-at-night-shepherd’s-delight sunset. Beyond the red was desert, where my father sat in his tent. He had a desk like the desk in his library upstairs and his fingers drummed on the leather top the colour of dried figs. He wore a white sheet, because it was so hot.

I got up when it was properly dark. I dressed and went down the tile passage to Bella’s room. This was up a small stone spiral staircase, over the scullery. There was a very old bathroom next to Bella’s room, and there was a grille in the floor where you could look down and see the pigeons or game hanging, through frosted glass. The door of Bella’s room wouldn’t open, so I went into the bathroom. The light was on in the scullery below, because I saw something hanging – and it was so big and bulky that I thought it was Bella there. But when I knelt down and looked closer I saw it was only a pair of hares, pushed up together so that their faces were kissing. One of them had a trickle of blood running down from the mouth to its white shirtfront.

I went down the spiral stairs and let myself out the back door. I knew where Bella must be, by now. Mrs Colne always kept the back door locked with a big rusty key, but now it opened without difficulty. It was so late that even her wireless was quiet. A big moon had come up over the wood. I had a torch, all the same. Bella must have forgotten it, although it hung inside the kitchen door, on a dog-chewed piece of string. I set off, over a cold dew, for the wood.

The six representatives of Greek resistance movements in Cairo were told they must return to Greece empty-handed. The Foreign Office would do nothing to help them. There would be frustration and disappointment, and fighters would turn against one another. They pleaded to be allowed to stay in Cairo, and try to have some effect on Churchill’s policy. Still, they were told to go. They were told to take the bumpy ride in the tiny plane to the mountains of Thessaly. And to the Germans, lurking in the woods and under the grey stone walls that built up in a series of terraces of olive and other trees to the village base. The guerrillas asked my father if they could visit the Greek ambassador in Cairo, on their way to the airport and the flight back to Greece. My father said they could.

I reached the wood by a gap in the fence: the wrought-iron gate that had been there had been taken for the war. Cowpats shone as white as big mushrooms in the moonlight. I walked up the path, and I was among the old trees. The first thing I saw was that the mottled patches on the white trunks of the trees had turned into faces. They looked as if they had been inked there. When there was a gust of wind, and the leaves moved higher up in the trees, the faces winked and grinned like a comic strip.

I walked on, because I knew that although Mrs Colne had said it was too dangerous to go up into the Ettrick forest, she was wrong. I always went there. This was the first time at night, but I had a torch. I shone it on the mulch of old leaves I’d been looking forward to walking in all day. Once, a hedgehog appeared in the leaves and then vanished again. I was pleased to see this, because hedgehogs only too often fell in the trap in our drive, metal bars in a grid to keep rabbits from eating the garden. The hedgehogs sat in the old leaves, and had to be rescued. I used to wonder if they got back to the wood again, or whether they had to make do with the ragged clumps of trees in the field.

The next thing that appeared was Bella. She was right up ahead of me, in the Fairy Ring. She seemed to be dancing round and round, but her shadow was too big.

The Greek resistance leaders were able to stay in the embassy in Cairo. They didn’t have to go straight back to the airstrip at Neraida. They were very grateful to my father for his understanding, and they composed a letter to him: ‘La Délégation de l’EAM est très sensible à l’honneur d’être reçu si cordialement par Lord Glenconner chez qui elle a senti fort la sympathie de la Grande Bretagne envers le peuple Grec en lutte contre l’ennemi commun. Le Caire le 10. 8. 1943’

Bella and the German danced in the wood. I stood outside the Ring and watched them. Once they fell, and they turned together into a wooden stool with four legs. Bella was singing, but it was a new song and I couldn’t understand it. They lay in the shadow, away from the moon, under a clump of trees that were not silver birches. I turned down the path and went home.

The Greek guerrillas had to go home, in the end. The FO would still grant them nothing, because they were Communists. The FO was set on the King.

All that summer, Bella went up to the wood and danced with the German. Mrs Colne never knew. I only went once again, in the bright daylight, to see if anything had come up in the wood. Apart from red mushrooms with a row of white bead spots on the rim, there was nothing. By now I knew the Germans couldn’t hurt us, so I wondered why the war was keeping my father away so long.

In October 1943 my father was recalled from Cairo. He, with two others who had agreed on the necessity of helping the Greek resistance fighters, had been forced to resign. I can’t remember any particular moment when he and my mother were back in the house again. The story of my running away to the small town was told, but it may have sounded quite unimportant. Bella stopped going out at night – at least I think she did, for with the return of my parents, I left my room in the basement and moved back upstairs, to rooms where light came in. The next time I went down to the kitchen, it was to find a hand of bananas lying on the ledge of the half-window in the passage. Mrs Colne was making a terrific fuss of them.

My father had brought back this spreading hand of pale green fingers from Cairo. And they seemed to personify to everyone a world without war. Mrs Colne told me again and again that I’d never seen such a thing before in my life. But the bananas didn’t ripen properly, and in the end Mrs Colne had to cook them with brown sugar and raisins found in a tin left over from before the beginning of the war.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.