I grew up in the latter part of the cold war and despite our modern day challenges we are far better off with the nuclear armed and ideology fueled terror that pervaded the post war era well behind us. But the cold war had its allure for an Australian boy often bored by the banality of summer barbecues, afternoon teas and dull middle-of-the range local politics. The cold war was the great war of my youth and it had its own strange allure. I feasted on a diet of Le Carre where stoic and very clever little men from the Circus fought an endless twilight war of attrition against their bleak opponents from Moscow Central. I lapped up the gradual leakage of information on the compromising of western intelligence agencies by soviet moles, and was surprised by the subsequent revelations that MI6 and the CIA were at least their equals.
My spies weren't James Bonds. They were non-descript George Smileys. They shuffled in the shadows and plotted against the Soviets whilst mostly fearing betrayal from their closest colleagues. And the imagery was strangely compelling. Their work was done under grey skies and in dank offices. Bitterly cold middle European cities were most often their battle ground, so that dark heavy coats was their attire of choice. Their boots would clash on frosted cobbled streets as they shuffled out for a drop off. Everything was very serious. It was the raw, cutting edge of the battle of ideas.
But Reagan and Gorby put an end to all of that - and Le Carre was never as good again.
So now we are on the cusp of a likely spy exchange - with the 10 Russian sleepers to be exchanged for western agents who have been buried, along with non compliant oligarchs, somewhere in Putin's modern day gulag. The US and Russian agencies quite sensibly could simply put the spies on a plane and be done with it - but that would be an aweful waste of a good spy exchange. There is a theatre to these things that must be upheld. I know the Anna Chapman fans probably have other ideas - but I miss the Le Carre style of cold war chic. Here is one last chance to see an exchange done as it should be: people as puppets, all victims to realpolitik.
A cursory Google Earthing of North Eastern Estonia suggests that the bridge from Narva to Ivangorod could work very well. The exchange needs to be conducted at dawn and the spies brought to each side in military lorries or dark limousines. The dress code is sombre, bleak and ill fitting. Cigarettes should be provided for each spy so, as they are released, they can trudge across the bridge and share a smoke and a wry exchange with their counter part. As the last exchange is made the sun will rise and, modern day traffic can re-enter the bridge and the cold war can once again slip into the past.