David Wilson (2016) Left Field

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I share the same page as Jeremy Corbyn. We supported this crowdfunded book published by Unbound and I’d guess Corbyn shares many of my interests in equality and social justice. Left Field as the name suggests is about the You and non-You as a house master described the apparent differences between houses at Canford school in Dorset, to a pubescent Wilson, at the fag end of the not-so-swinging fifties. David Wilson or Commie Wilson as he was known as teenager, in that oxymoronic term we call public school, had decided on a path that was non-You. Consider, for example, the tweed-suited seven-year olds— Andrew, Charles and John—in Michael Apted’s 7UP series.  A the age of seven they already know the differences between You and Non-You, someone like wee Tony from the East End of London, who are a bit rough and smelly, are decidedly Non-You. They delight in reciting a mantra of how their lives are going to play out and be, preparatory public school, then Westminster public school, then on to Oxford.  And, more or less, so it comes to pass. You always know where he and Non-You is destined to be. I’d never heard of David Wilson, but he didn’t agree. He has some rich friends and some poor friends. Through his involvement in the charity, he began, War Child, he met movers and world shakers such as Luciano Pavarotti and included a walk-on cameo of meeting Nelson Mandela.  The latter asking for his advice and support. You don’t get much bigger than Pavarotti, but Mandela dwarves him. This is an autobiography worth reading not for any of these reasons, but for its humanity.

The structure of the book is quite simple. Dad, mum and family. Towards the end of the book Wilson has one of his Commie moments and rips up convention. ‘Hooptedoodle,’ he tells us was a term used by John Steinbeck in his novel Sweet Thursday, to ‘spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language’. I’d call it padding.

Wilson’s second wife Anne Aylor whom he married in 2009, for example, reproduces an unabridged ‘Behind God’s Back’ about her first trip to Mostar, which the notes tell us was first turned down by David Greenberg, Managing Editor at The New Republic in 1994, with some advice that they might consider publishing a shorter piece on the bakery. It’s interesting and insightful, but doesn’t fit into an autobiography and there is a sense of getting even.  And there’s a hotchpotch and parts of a play that are not so interesting.

Yugoslavia. Remember that place, pre-Tito and post-Tito, a Communist paradise that worked and didn’t work but with sunshine and beaches somehow seemed so much better than the others. Here is where Wilson finds himself and the woman he will marry Renata Kasun from Zagreb.

‘A foxy young woman…wearing a yellow bikini. At the beach-side café I made sure to sit as close to her as I could, but we had a problem communicating because she hardly spoke any English and I didn’t speak a word of Serbo-Croat.’

That didn’t matter. ‘From 1965 until the early 1970s, I’d board the train for Dover, ferry to Belguim and then couchette trip to Cologne, Munich, Salzburg, Ljubljana and Zagreb.’  That must have been some yellow bikini. Makes me tired just thinking about it. But it reminds me of a conversation I once had with a girl that said she’d a boyfriend in Australia and they kept in touch by email, which was a new thing then. But how do you have sex? I asked, which wasn’t such a new thing.

Nada, Renata’s mum said a prayer for them: ‘Holy Mother, please look after my family and may my daughter Renata and David stay together, get married, have healthy happy children and a happy life’.

The answer to that would be no, yes, no and yes and who knows but God?  Yugoslavia imploded into internecine strife, genocide and mass killings. David Wilson has done a very great thing. He has given daily bread to the Bosniacs, fed tens of thousands in Mostar, bread to the poor, the cut off and the suffering. He has given the children music.  Left Field it may be, but with the right heart he has made the world a better place.

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