Spying in Salisbury

You could not, as they say, make it up. Gentile, refined, sedate, medieval, touristy cathedral city Salisbury has been the unwitting scene for a clandestine but audacious attempted murder of an international spy.
This is a bizarre story. We are used to the spy yarns of fiction. They are the tales that have informed we lay people over the years. We think of The Third Man, staged melodramatically in a post-war, crumbling, gothic Vienna or of Le Carré novels such as     The Spy who came in from the Cold, set in the cold war era of the 1960s with brooding double agents and East German backdrops. Or our experience of spies may be based upon James Bond, whose daring exploits, car chases, gadget-ridden confrontations and glamorous lifestyle has become increasingly divorced from reality.
On a serious note, the use of a lethal nerve poison in a public space is a frightening prospect and who is to know what the effects on the fellow diners at Zizi’s restaurant have been? I think, ‘I’ll never go to Zizi’s restaurant again’ and then of course  I realise that I have never been to Zizi’s and never will, since there is a plethora of beautiful, cosy independent Italian bistros to frequent.
As the substance is Russian made it is safe to assume that the attacker is Russian, particularly since so are the victim and his daughter. How should we respond, then to this outrageous assault in poor, provincial Salisbury? Should we, it was suggested, boycott the football world cup? I’ll admit to finding this idea hilarious as a] Who would care if little old England was not there and b] The absence of our national team [whose track record at world cups is less than exemplary] serves a useful purpose in terms of face-saving for we English.
So now our government has slung out a number of Russian diplomats-those deemed to have been conducting espionage and perhaps, amongst them, the attacker him or herself? The Russian government [Putin] has responded by holding up their hands and saying, ‘What, us?’ The next action will be expulsion of British diplomats from Moscow. Wonderful. Back we go into a cold war. We are advised against travel to Russia in case we are ‘harassed’. ‘Does this mean,’ I ask Husband, ‘that a visit to St Petersburg must be crossed off my list?’
Personally, I’m all for ousting Russian property investors from our little land. Goodness knows we’ve enough need of the housing. I’d love to think that all those homeless people displaced by the Grenfell fire and those in sub-standard accommodation could reside in the glitzy towers that lie empty in the capital. I doubt, however that the government would have the backbone to requisition the properties.
I am sorry for the terrible toll wrought on the victims of the crime and hope that they will be able to recover; but at the same time I’m intrigued by the story and to learn how the repercussions might play out.
In the meantime I’m off to persuade Husband to build a bunker in the back garden…

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A Tourist in my Birthplace

So last weekend we became tourists in the city of my birth. Strictly speaking, since, like my siblings I was born at home in a house with the aid of midwife I was not born in Salisbury but nine miles away in what was then a small village but officialdom does not accept small villages as places of birth, so Salisbury it is.

We parked up in a site overlooking ancient Old Sarum [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/old-sarum/]

Clearly, Salisbury and its environs are a magnet for overseas visitors as we were surrounded by vans and tents from Germany, The Netherlands, France and Italy. So we are not yet ostracised to the extent that ‘etrangers’ will not set foot upon our shores; rather that we are, I suppose cheap for visitors from the EU.

We followed a nifty, easy cycle path down into the city, where I dragged Husband around in a search for my old Aunty Ethel’s house, long since occupied by others. Aunty Ethel was one of that breed of spinster aunts whose vocation was to care for elderly relatives, which she did in return for occupying a small apartment upstairs in their house. She also worked on my uncle’s market stall, as did my mother, on Saturdays. My father would then bring me on the bus to ‘Miss Pinegar’s’ ballet school for my morning session, after which he’s buy me ‘99’ ice cream in the market and I’d sit at the back of the stall swinging my legs and eating it. The stall backed on to a second hand bookstall which, together with the ice cream combined to create small-girl heaven.

I’d been convinced that the house had an arched porch but memory is a fickle attendant; the arched houses occupy the opposite side of the terraced road. Aunty Ethel’s had a square porch. The road now seems quaint and fashionable, having been gentrified and tiddled up.

We cycled up the steep slope to The Wyndham Arms, once a lowly backstreet corner pub, now with a trendy, real-ale, Tripadvisor reputation and ate at ‘The Wig and Quill’ where banners announced a third birthday party [for the pub] to be hosted by ‘Beaky’ who we assume is Beaky from the 60s pop quintet ‘Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch’. We consumed our [presentable] steaks as a trickle of blinged-up party arrivals entered for the celebrations and it was time to leave.

Next day we undertook a hilly cycle to Amesbury, narrow lanes along the Avon Valley and some steep climbs causing intermittent knee protests. The rolling English countryside is voluptuous in late summer, full blown oaks and beeches in their last Hurrah before Autumn begins to get a grip. Arriving at Amesbury we quickly decided that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for visiting this unremarkable, small town and I imagine the population might be on their knees every day in a debt of gratitude to Wetherspoons, whose establishment dominates the main street and who are able to provide a decent cup of coffee.

On the return and after more hills we stopped at The Bridge Inn for a glass of cider in the sun, with a view of the river flanked by weeping willows and bulrushes. Beautiful!