Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dad in Budapest

P. C. Trumble (front row, far right) attends a murder trial in Budapest.

Shortly before Hamish took up residence at Jesus College, Cambridge, Dad took him on the old Orient Express to Vienna and Budapest, where for some reason he had arranged to attend a law conference, along with several other Australian delegates, including, I fancy, Diane Baker. This must have been in the early fall of 1974. I must have inherited my interest in espionage from Dad, because on this brief excursion to the eastern bloc, he was thrilled by the prospect of being subject to covert surveillance, and certainly alert to the possibility that everyone from concierge to putzfrau was a covert Soviet functionary. I am sure he knew that this was almost certainly not true, but part of him would have regretted it. Some people are disturbed by the thought that all is not as it seems, but Dad was simply delighted, and I must admit that I usually am too. He loved the thought of hidden microphones, agents provocateuses lurking on every street corner, intrigue aboard the steamer on Lac Balaton or being followed across the Heroes’ Square. Certainly, part of the entertainment provided to the conference delegates was the opportunity to attend a public murder trial, of which this photograph is the slightly sinister record. There he is, seated in the front row on the far right, wearing headphones, and looking wholly absorbed. I suppose it is rather depressing to think that for some poor wretch in that court room the only thing worse than being tried for murder was being tried before an audience of well-fed lawyers mostly from the other side of the iron curtain. In any case, the more some foreign capital resembled the setting of a spy novel, the happier Dad was. He loved spy novels. And in his hotel room, late at night, he poured his delight into ridiculous verses, written in longhand with his fountain pen, and posted them home to us in envelopes decorated with cartoons, almost always harnessed to the PAR AVION portion at the top left hand corner of an airmail envelope. Incidentally, does anyone under 50 remember air-mail envelopes, or the frisson of pleasure caused by receiving one, and devouring the onion-skin contents? If the attention of the Hungarian authorities was ever drawn to these, one can only imagine what perplexity they must have caused. Such was the pointlessness of Cold War paranoia. Certainly Dad’s gleeful presumption that Budapest was a seething nest of Russian spies went hand in hand with the certain knowledge that there was nothing much that they could gain by ensnaring a Melbourne city solicitor who was also, at that time, director of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, honorary treasurer of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, and a member of the board of management of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, etc. etc., except general confusion, and a lot of wasted time and effort. Safely back in the free world, and coinciding there with Kenneth and Sylvia Aitken, of all people, Dad and Hamish attended the Staatsoper in Vienna. In the audience that night, in other words the night of Monday, September 16, 1974 (Parkett, Reihe 8, Sitzen 3 und 4), only a few places away and in the same Reihe, were seated Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. Was it The Tales of Hoffmann, I wonder? I must remember to ask Hamish.

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