Turn The Page

In the last couple of months, my free time has been filled with books and music. Not that I find the words ‘free’ and ‘time’ popping up in the same phrase that often, but you play the hand you’re dealt.

On the music front, this meant finding a rock n’ roll band to play with. Easier said than done, my friends, but now we jam twice a week—I find it immensely curative. When times are tough, everyone needs to hook on to whatever works.

Some people find love—or find it again, others take up meditation, gardening, or yoga. Therapists make a bunch of money out of folks who seek professional help. Boris Johnson, or Bojo, as he’s known in Private Eye, builds model buses out of wine boxes.

Bottom line, everyone needs something. When things go wrong, the bad spaces need to be lined with good things, so that the silver lining slowly edges the clouds away.

Writing is a silver lining for me, playing music does the same.

In my case, the key trigger for this therapy has been death. Over the past two years, friends and loved ones have been dying or falling gravely ill at an unsettling rate—you quickly discover all these events have a profound effect on you, and somehow the disappearance of someone you love means you carry a little—or a lot—of their burden.

Compounded, the weight adds up.

Often, the small things unsettle you—perhaps because you focus on fighting the big ones, and suddenly the memory of a particular city, situation, or synergy digs a hole where you thought there lay solid ground.

I find myself more attracted to history, to books that guide you through a life, than to novels that focus on a sequence of banalities—however well-written such fiction may be, and how imaginative the plot!

After reading about Churchill, I’m now immersed in a similarly excellent biography of Napoleon. Churchill exhorted us to ‘Study history, study history. In history lie all the secrets of statecraft.

I’m not personally interested in statecraft—I believe any indulgence in politics would destroy what little common sense I have left, but I’m fascinated by the twists and turns of those who make history.

Napoleon and Hitler have often been compared, but they were quite different beasts. In the first place, the XXth century was without a doubt the age of ideology—Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Fascism, Imperialism, Liberalism… The isms go on.

On either side of this ideological sandwich the world is quite different. We now struggle with Trump, Putin, Xi, Duterte, Salvini, or Farage—in many ways we regressed to the XIXth century and earlier, when nation-building and politics were projected into one person. The world we live in now has echoes of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Charles V, Elizabeth I, and the Perfect Prince.

None of those historical figures had much truck with ideology—the leitmotif, if you excuse the redundancy, was themselves. Sure, in some cases there was a beating of the religious drum, but it’s difficult to see that as central to the ruler’s theme, the main objective of which was self-aggrandizement.

Napoleon was a complex and brilliant man, who held various posts during the troubled years that followed the French Revolution. He is on record as saying that if the kings of France had not been executed, the revolution would have gained a foothold in Britain and a number of other European countries—If he was correct, think how different Europe might look now.

Instead, the National Convention condemned the king and queen to death, and the royal courts of Europe reacted by declaring war on France—arguably, this is the root cause of the Napoleonic Wars.

Another book on my summer list was described by John Le Carré as ‘the best true spy story I have ever read.’ This is fulsome praise indeed from my favorite spymaster—of course he’s a cold war aficionado, but ‘The Spy and the Traitor’ is well worth a click.

Like a man with two lovers, I drift from one book to another as the fancy takes me—both are captivating, demanding, and seductive.

Summer progresses in a bizarre way, with Scandinavia and Southwest Europe chilly and damp, and a red-hot filling that has shattered temperature records in France and elsewhere.

A few good books and hot tunes is what we need in the meantime, tempered with a wee dram.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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