red-plentyThere’s a wonderful novel by Francis Spufford called Red Plenty. It’s about the economic system in Stalin’s Russia, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not about that, really. It’s about the hopes and aspirations of many very interesting people over the past century. It’s utterly wonderful, and pure fiction in this new way. Maybe the term ‘speculative fiction’ should now be applied to the past, rather than the way it was once intended, about the future? What does that imply?

At the end of that book, Spufford fesses up to being unable to read a word of Russian. So in a way, he was only getting what was available already in translation too. But as a result of the internet, this is much greater, yet only a fraction of what could be researched in libraries, with time and patience. And financial resources. I probably went a bit further, in razoring apart entire German page texts that I couldn’t get via the internet and feeding them through the scanner and then into Google Translate. The research got a bit like panning for gold, I guess.

Meeting Rainer Langhans and Christa Ritter, who’s the archivist for all the Kommune 1 stuff, was equally illuminating, and as frustrating in a different way. Their versions were what I already had. They couldn’t tell me about the texture of a table, the colour of a cigarette packet, the smell of a street scene in 1967. That was down to imagination. It made me realise there wasn’t even any point in approaching anybody to do with Fleetwood Mac, that story being even more layered in the retelling – and buffered by an entire industry propagating the ‘official’ version.

If the past is, as has been said, ‘another country’, then it’s already over-populated with ‘official’ guides. The interest, as always, is in ducking down the side lanes, yesterday, today, or tomorrow.

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