In the summer, my wife and I visited the small Danish island of Møn. We have been going there for years and by now have learned that to travel such a small distance offers no real escape from the news, particularly in the crisis month of August. The previous year the attempted coup in the disintegrating Soviet Union kept us huddled round the radio; the year before it was blanket coverage of the Gulf crisis; this year it was Germany.
The island of Møn has plenty to offer. It is a stopping-off place for a thousand and more grey geese, and in August there is heavy air traffic on the wide grazing pastures sheltered by Baltic dunes. All day long the geese practise take-off and landing. Sometimes herons will suddenly plunge and scatter them: wild consternation that gradually abates. The sky above the dunes and sea is always full of their formations.
Last August, though, the sky was empty but for a few seagulls. The dry summer had parched the grazing grounds, and there were no geese on the great airfields. Only the crises still arrived punctually by wireless. Two events arrived together, the sporting successes and failures of Barcelona and the war in Bosnia. The news overlapped. Events happening at the same time became the same events. The Olympic Games were being held in Sarajevo; the stadium was within reach of Serbian artillery. Here they totted up medals, there it was casualties. Terror became an Olympic discipline. A younger writer than me, with a lighter touch, would have found words to cover both arenas in one epic narrative: snipers and Ladies’ Epée, beta blockers and blockade runners, abridged national anthems and the seventeenth pointless ceasefire, one lot of fireworks here, another there . . .