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A second morning of mist and frost. The sheep merge into their background. We were in Paddock Wood yesterday and it was colder there than it was up here on the high ground, which seems entirely the wrong way round. Surely its normal for the valleys to be warmer that the hills?I liked how they sang and danced at the Mandela Memorial; that's the way to do it! Also how they booed Jacob Zuma- who deserves it. Also how Obama took the opportunity to shake Raul Castro's hand; it was as if he'd been giving thought to Mandiba's way of doing things.I ordered two books by Colin Wilson from Amazon. I expect many people had the same impulse. I wonder if it's generally the case that an author's sales figures go up immediately after they die. I'd be surprised if it wasn't.
Friends,It is a snowy day, the first with accumulating snow that we have had here in the lower Hudson. I find I like driving in snow lessand less but it is what it is, and on the other hand it has an attractive side and here is a bench to view that from...the white world beginning ,if you will here, merges into a place where"sheep areindistinguishable from snowthe snow from the cloud, theclouds from the sky.. "Robert Lax.+Seraphim.
Colin Wilson caught the zeitgeist of the late 50s with his first book, The Outsider, then got ploughed to the edge of the culture. I think of him as a misplaced Edwardian- an all-round man of letters, more interested in ideas than art. His output was Edwardian too- well over 100 titles in all. By mid-career- in spite of being somewhat famous- he couldn't always find publishers for his work. He became a mild-mannered outlaw, a hedgerow-creeping contrarian, a man you could count on to say the thing that wasn't being said by the panjandrums of the age. Some of what he said was slightly bonkers, but he wasn't solemn about it and you got the impression he enjoyed making mischief. He was an optimist in a time of pessimism who believed- like his masters Wells and Shaw- that mankind had come to the brink of a great evolutionary advance. He was interested in Psi and Magic- and that huge bibliography includes books on Atlantis and the Priory of Sion and all that Dan Brown jive- only he got there long before Dan did. Serial Killers were another speciality. He argued man to man with Albert Camus, corresponded with Ian Brady and was- as is the way with prophets- more honoured abroad than at home. The Telegraph gave him a playful half page obituary that painted him as an amusing British eccentric- and all but ignored the books. I laughed along with it then went away and wrote this by way of protest.
The terracotta army was drawn up in front of the Chin emperor's enormous tomb in order to defend him against the angry ghosts of the people he had killed and conquered. That's what the experts say, anyway, according to the documentary Channel 4 aired last night. Do they have evidence for this view or are they guessing? I wish documentaries came with footnotes.The warriors were issued with real weapons- bladed bronze and crossbows powerful enough to send an arrow whizzing through metal, padded cloth and the body inside. I do wonder what sort of garbled idea of an afterlife the Emperor and his wizards entertained. Why should a bodiless ghost be deterred by a golem with a crossbow? Or did the buried warrior become a ghost himself and his real weapons ghostly weapons? Can you stop a ghost with the ghost of a crossbow bolt? Had anyone thought this through?The Chin Emperor was one of the great bastards of history. His was a terror state- one in which every subject was primed to be a spy and an informer. He created a formidable bureaucracy, build roads, canals and the first version of the Great Wall. Unlike our modern tyrants he got things to stick and his Reich really did last a thousand years. Two, in fact.The terracotta warriors are a wonder and a horror- artefacts of a system designed to crush the human spirit into conformable, mouldable clay. I can't love them. But then they weren't made to be loved. I find it hard to appreciate them as art either- but that's to assign them to a category that didn't exist at the time of their creation. They were made- the experts tell us- in small workshops- each workshop identifiable by quirks of design and execution. The same goes for their weapons. Each component part of every weapon is marked with the monogram of its maker, his overseer and the overseer's overseer- right up to the prime minister. This wasn't done out of pride in manfacture (we're told) but so that faulty goods could be traced back to the guilty craftsman and due punishment carried out. This was a culture in which incompetence was a crime to be ranked with theft and rape and murder.Every face of every warrior is unique. Are they portraits? Were the spirits of actual individuals bonded to the imagos?We have dug up a small proportion of what we now know to exist. The pits contain not only soldiers but scribes, acrobats, musicians- all the people it took to keep the Chin Emperor occupied and amused. Some day, when we're sure it can be done without damaging the contents, we'll break into the tomb itself- where the scriptures say the Empire of Chin is reproduced in miniature with a night sky full of golden stars and rivers and seas of mercury.It is human and admirable to want to preserve and restore all this. Equally human- if not so admirable- to feel an impulse to take a big heavy spade and smash all those golems back into the earth from which they were made.
An apple falls from the tree and hits you on the head- I get that. Survival of the fittest- easy-peasy. Relativity? Yes, you can tell little stories about it. For example.There was a young lady called BrightWho travelled much faster than light.She departed one dayIn a relative wayAnd arrived on the previous night.Great scientific theories have an elegance about them. They can be reduced to their essence and expressed in terms that the layperson can grasp. There's something at the core of them that's memorable. So, if Stephen Hawking's cosmology is true it should, I feel, be possible to express it in a catchphrase, a short story, a joke, a limerick. Since nobody seems able to do this I conclude that it's almost certainly false.Hawking himself was narrating his life story on TV last night. He comes across as remarkably naive. And vain. And smug. He seems to want to be seen as a universal sage- on the Einsteinian model- but lacks Einstein's ability to come up with tremendous one-liners. You may have gathered that I don't much care for him. And you'd be right.
This morning's Telegraph has a front page picture of a dark-skinned woman and a very blonde young man embracing in the street outside Mandela's house. It would be nice to believe this is a fair representation of the new South Africa. A line from A Tale of Two Cities keeps popping into my head. Sidney Carton gazes out from the scaffold and sees "the long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on the destruction of the old." This is a truth of revolutions. You get rid of one disgusting boss class only to replace it with another. The ANC elite is an incompetent kleptocracy- and the pile is topped by a President who very narrowly escaped doing time for rape. Meanwhile the townships remain as poverty-stricken and crime-ridden as they always were. Marina Hyde has a nice piece in the Guardian about how we're all Mandelians now- including those of us- like Elton John- who once played Sun City- and David Cameron- who as a young man enjoyed a South African freebie paid for by a PR company that lobbied against sanctions. An angry young man was sent to prison. He was one who in the recent insurrection had committed murder. To gloss over those murders is to cheapen what happened next. In prison the anger leached out of him and he emerged- after a quarter of a lifetime- as one who forgave as he hoped to be forgiven. He reached out to his enemies- and on the back of a regime that was flagrantly unjust helped establish another that was less so- if only by a hair's breadth. Few human lives make much difference in the world. This one did and will continue to do so. His story will be told- accurately, inaccurately- as history, as myth- again and again and again.
Let me say first and foremost that I have the utmost admiration for Mandela. He fought bravely throughout his life,was a model of clemency upon victory and left the world a better place than he found it. Who among us will be able to boast as much upon our demise?Nonetheless I am bracing myself for a lot of sentimental guff in the next few days and goodness only know what is going to happen in South Africa. The ANC has not exactly distinguished itself in recent years, with Jacob Zuma proving corrupt and Julius Malema's own racism threatening to undo all the good and trust that has been achieved. It has been eroding its moral capital for some time now but as the party of Mandela and the struggle it continues to have a hold over many South Africans. It could be argued that it is time for a period in opposition. But symbolism is a dangerous thing, facts can be forgotten and the ANC will legitimately use Mandela in its future campaigns.Mandela showed great mercy and this must never be forgotten. Nonetheless he is relentlessly sentimentalised as a kind of secular Jesus/Gandhi/Angel hybrid however he was a man and like most me, well, pretty flawed actually. By all accounts he was a beast to his first wife, I am told would have got rid of a lot of the (white) civil service after his election but for agreements he made with FW De Klerk (which, to be fair, he kept to) and advocated the use of violence and terrorism in the apartheid struggle. This is a difficult one, for while I think I can comprehend the frustration and agony black South Africans had to go through (though as a middle class white Brit I would never presume 100% that I could) on principle I don't think violence is a good idea. It was bourne of desperation but in the end I think it merely hardened the attitude of many in power who might (though not definitely, definitely not definitely) might just have had a little sympathy, for apartheid was a doctrine of utter putrid folly and repugnance which anyone with half a brain cell or fragment of compassion should have repelled and rejected. On the whole terrorism merely plays into the hands of the people in power, enabling them to claim that 'x is evil because s/he uses violence. Therefore we are justified in oppressing them' (as can be seen among out glorious leaders vs Islamists today alas). And violence merely breeds violence. South Africa is an incredibly violent country, I believe the violence to be a result of poverty, fear and a lack of mobility but also due to the expectation of hostility which creates a defensive terror, a nation of cornered rats. The campaign of the 60s was symptomatic of this latter point but also I would argue helped to perpetuate it, continuing the bloody cycle which began when the Dutch landed and continues to this day. What brought about the end of apartheid was the power of thought. The campaigns of the oppressed (and their friends) had an effect. They changed minds. De Klerk deserves credit for though he was reluctant to negotiate with the ANC he did it and did the right thing calling for free elections. I would argue it was Robbin Island that really made Mandela. It turned him into the symbol of oppression and earned the world's sympathy. It prepared him for his role and let's face it, who could have played it better? The fact that Mandela had imperfect humanity isn't noteworthy. What is is that, despite the awful conditions of prison, he kept it. I don't know how far I could keep my humanity if I were hated because of the amount of melanin in my skin, let alone make friends with my gaolors.Today is a sad day. But what is sad is not the death of Madeba but that South Africa s still a mess. I hope attention will be paid to building on his legact rather than empty tribute.
In The Sign of the Broken Sword Father Brown- G.K. Chesterton's priestly detective- uncovers the disgustingly unheroic truth about a legendary war hero but resolves to keep it quiet because he believes- as a Catholic brought up on the cult of the saints well might- that hero worship does more good than harm. A tale of heroism- even a false tale of heroism- will inspire heroism in others. I see the strength of the argument but I've never been wholly convinced by it. How can we prepare a right response to the world if our data about it is faulty? Better to face reality in all its baffling complexity than as an innocent who still believes in goodies and baddies.Nelson Mandela showed great courage, great wisdom, great magnanimity. He was also a working politician who made choices, took decisions that...Ah well, never mind. That other stuff will keep.
A good gust still brings aspen leaves fluttering down like confetti. I'm impatient to see the trees all bare because I tell myself- unreasonably- the sooner we're into winter proper the sooner it'll be spring.Ailz bought a big lot of bird food online from the RSBP. We've got table mix, we've got cranberry flavoured suet nibbles, we've got dried meal worms, we've got suet balls. I put some of everything out this morning and now I'm waiting.
Last night: Orion glittering behind the trees with Jupiter at his shoulder.This morning: a dark pink sunrise with frost on the lawn.