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Book Review: “Once Upon Another Time” by Jessica Douglas-Home

April 4th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Books, OPINION, PEOPLE, quotations, Reviews, Uncategorized

"Once Upon a Time" - Memoirs of Ceausescu's Romania

"Once Upon Another Time" - Memoirs of Ceausescu's Romania

Once upon Another Time
by Jessica Douglas-Home
Michael Russell Publishers, Norwich, 2000,
Hardback, 231 pages
ISBN  0 85955 259 4

Memoirs of Ceausescu’s Romania of the 1980s

Jessica Douglas-Home (pronounced Hume) is a British  painter, theatre stage designer and writer who during the 1980s dour period of Communist dictatorship got involved in the fledgling Human Rights movement first in Czechoslovakia and subsequently in Poland, Hungary and Romania. Jessica’s husband was   a defence correspondent for The Times who was jailed in Prague during the Soviet invasion of 1968. He was later to become Editor of The Times and a friend of PM Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately he died before the fall of the Iron Courtain, but his widow continued her involvement in a cloak-and-dagger series of visits which are described vividly in the pages of this book revealing the sinister face of communism, the malnutrition of ordinary folk and the systematic destruction of the historic monuments and memory of a cowered society.

Having come under the radar of Romania’s Secret services – the infamous Securitate, Jessica is described as:

a very dangerous lady

However and quite surprisingly, this does not seem to have precluded the same Secret services in allowing hand-picked individuals such as Andrei Plesu and Gabriel Liicianu to frequent the same dinner parties given by the British Envoy in Bucharest in honour of the visiting Mrs Douglas-Home – quite extraordinary given the circumastances (see quotes below), but then the whole book is full of such extraordinary episodes.

Quotation from page 169-170;
"the Arbuthnots (British Ambassador to Romania, – LC note) second party took place that evening – a lavish buffet for twenty. As with the first one, people sat in huddles whispering on the stairs and in corners.  A gaunt professor of architecture entered and for a time seemed frozen by the sight of the two tables piled high with unheard of delicacies. A waiter broke the spell by handing him a glass of wine from a silver tray whereupon he fell on the food like a starving man.

(LC note- Romanians had next to nothing to eat under Ceausescu in the 1980s, except chicken claws).

I have a picture of Plesu and Liicianu stretching their legs out from the deep velvet sofa, arms clasped behind their necks, their eyes glinting amusedly at me, relaxed and at peace with themselves.

* it speaks volumes for the bad manners of Plesu and Liicianu to

stretch their legs out of the deep sofa,

with their arms behind their necks (sic);

– at best a posture of ill-bred rugger muffins, completely out of place for the occasion, although perhaps quite acceptable at Communist Party rallies.

looking amusedly


completely relaxed and content with themselves

as opposed to the rest of the guests who were

whispering on the stairs and in corners…huddled together …

Plesu and Liicianu’s contrasting  body language compared to the rest of the guests again speaks volumes about the two “philosophers” who after 1989 were going to improve their privileged position. But what cries out loud from the above paragraph  is HOW WAS IT AT ALL POSSIBLE for Plesu and Liiceanu to frequent the British Embassy during the harshest period of communist terrorism in Romania AND feel so relaxed, even content with themselves???

The above situation, whereby the Plesu-Liicieanu couple were allowed to visit the British Embassy in Bucharest in the 1980s, is even stranger if one  thinks that their host – HE Hugh Arbuthnot, British Ambassador to Romania was the butt of some very rough treatment in the hands of the Securitate agents in Cluj where the  Ambassador went to visit the dissident Academic Doina Cornea.

Clearly in such context, Messrs Plesu and Liicianu  knew very well at the time  what it was all about and they also knew what they were doing! Any further speculative questions about the real meaning of their visits to the British Embassy during Ceausescu’s dictatorship are therefore superfluous, to say the least!

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