This post is by way of work-avoidance behaviour. That is, I have quite a few things I should be doing, but I’m avoiding them by displacement activities such as blogging, taking Crox Minor to her weekly crumhorn lesson, and sleeping. It’s time, perhaps, to take a leaf out of the book – or, rather, the six-volume tome – left by Winston Churchill, whose splendid biography by the late Roy Jenkins I have just read.
Jenkins takes a very balanced view of his subject, exploring his flaws as well as his greatness. That Churchill was a great orator, great author (the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature) and great politician is recognized universally. However, were it not for the Second World War, Churchill might have rated at best a footnote (albeit substantial) in early twentieth-century politics. When Churchill took the helm in 1940 he was sixty-five years old, an age when most people are content to hang up their dispatch boxes and retire. And yet 1940 was, in his own words, albeit in another context, his ‘Finest Hour’ – when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany and seemed on the brink of defeat. In later life, Churchill said that if he’d had to live any year of his life again, it would have been 1940. The tension and anxiety satisfied his lust for danger (he always had to be close to the action), as well as the impression that he was the hub around which the world revolved.
He was, therefore, vain to a degree and restlessly hungry for power and the exercise of it such that he would always be the centre of attention. Wherever he went, in his later years at least, he was accompanied by an entourage of staff, including a valet, a detective, research assistants and dictation secretaries who had to keep Churchill’s notoriously long hours (bedtime was rarely before 2 or 3 in the morning). The only person who could outlast Churchill was Stalin.
Even when Churchill was frail and ill – increasingly so in his later years, when he was plagued by heart trouble and strokes, no doubt exacerbated by obesity, stress and a diet of rich food, brandy and cigars – he still managed to produce a barrage of memoes, letters, orders, papers and books.
Perhaps there is hope for me yet. I am also overweight, but as yet only 48. Perhaps I have yet to see my Finest Hour. I have also been rather unwell lately and as a consequence deathly tired, so have not yet managed to address a lengthening list of pressing engagements and commissions. In the next couple of weeks I am due to deliver, in addition to my regular employment…
* A foreword to a Festschrift for a famous scientist;
* A book review;
* My regular column for BBC Focus;
* A first cut of the next issue of Mallorn, and;
* A long-overdue essay for a Tolkien fan website;
* A scope of a lecture I’m scheduled to deliver in October.
Matters will not be helped by the fact that at times during the next six weeks I shall be at conferences in London, Paris and Punta Del Este, Uruguay.
Such a schedule wouldn’t have worried Churchill a whit. Even into his seventies and eighties he was a relentless traveller and writer.
I think that my only excuse is that Churchill had people to do things for him, whereas I’m substantially on my own. Churchill, however, didn’t have an iPad, though I have a feeling that this is hardly sufficient compensation.
In other news, the proposal for my forthcoming enormotome on evolution has been turned down by a likely publisher. Still, onwards and upwards. Such a setback wouldn’t have deterred Churchill a bit.