We play an awful lot of parlour games at Hide&Seek. And we play quite a lot of spy games – it’s a great theme if you want to sneak, decode or use a gratuitous number of walkie-talkies.
But we haven’t, as far as I know, ever managed to play parlour games with spies, which is why I’m so impressed by this passage, from Claud Cockburn’s autobiography Crossing the Line. Here he’s discussing a time during the Second World War in which he – a notorious Communist – was sent to the US as correspondent for the Daily Worker, on the same boat as an assortment of other dignitaries and journalists…
A voyage which might have been otherwise almost intolerably tedious was transformed into a pleasure chiefly by the accomplishments and charm of Sir John Balfour, who had been British Minister in the Embassy at Moscow, and was now being transferred to the same position in the Embassy at Washington.
I reminded him of how, years and years before, when I was a student in Budapest and he was Second Secretary at the Legation there, we used to play a game which might be described as a kind of literary Consequences. I have forgotten just how it was played, except that it involved inventing the title of a book, inventing a suitable name for the author of such a book, and writing a long review of this non-existent work.
This game we now revived, and for hours on end four or five of us sat at a table in the corner of the saloon, scribbling and passing our sheets from hand to hand.
The amusement of the game was enormously enhanced by its effect upon the spies who hung around the table with flapping ears and bulging eyes. The scene, they obviously felt, must mean something, must have some kind of international significance. How could it be otherwise than significant than to have there, huddled round the corner table of that rolling saloon, writing notes to one another, concentrating deeply or bursting into laughter, the new British Minister to Washington; the diplomatic correspondents of The Times and the Daily Mail; a notorious Communist; Mr Cecil King, the effective controller of the Daily Mirror; and Professor Catlin, who was believed by many to be on a secret mission from the Vatican to the State Department.
The spies’ nerves were fraying fast. Day after day they crept nearer and nearer, breathing down our necks.
I’m going to leave it on that cliffhanger – but if anyone can suggest a set of rules for playing the literary Consequences game, maybe I’ll add the story’s denoument…
(Picture from Flickr user ocularinvasion)