Friday, December 30, 2016

William Waldegrave's A Different Kind of Weather

Just finished this delightful and brilliant memoir by William Waldegrave, giving a frank account of his burning youthful ambition to become PM and how he failed but learned some wisdom on the way.  Far too many gems to list, but here are a few:

  • What was Sir Richard Waldegrave's friend Geoffrey Chaucer really like?  What colour was the dragon... against which his son, another Sir Richard, rode out in 1405...And did it breathe fire like Mrs Thatcher? After meeting either, the younger Sir Richard's experiences at Agincourt would have seemed tame. Were these Richards, father and son, really, as my mother suggested, the very parfit gentle knight and his son of the Canterbury Tales? Chaucer dresses the son in our family colours, and the father had fought with the Teutonic knights in Russia and at the taking of Alexandria in 1365, just as the elder Richard Waldegrave had done. One can dream.
  • One day... when I was a minister... George Jellicoe rang my office to as if I would go to Athens over a weekend ... to deliver the Onassis Lecture. Weekends at home were extremely precious. I said, 'No.' There was a pause of a few hours, then George rang back. Would go to Athens over a weekend ... to deliver the Onassis Lecture and drive on the Mani and stay with Paddy Leigh Fermor.... He might as well have asked. 'Would you like to go to Ithica and meet Odysseus?' Of course I would.
  • {on a visit to Mao} we gave our hosts a Darwin first-edition facsimile (this was the first item on the television news for three days running). The Keynes family had suggested the latter as a suitable present for Mao, said to be a Darwin enthusiast, but they refused to surrender the presentation copy of Das Kapital that Mark had sent to Darwin. The book is, satisfactorily, unopened, the pages not separated.
He  became Chairman of the Rhodes Trust and got to know Mandela. Mandela agreed to establish the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. 
  • "He knew exactly whom he was offending - on the right and the left - by doing this, and he rejoiced in it. There is a photograph of him standing beneath the glowering portrait of Rhodes in the MRF headquarters... He is wagging a finger at the portrait, and was saying, 'Cecil, you and I are going to work together'
And in the epilogue he asks "what would I answer finally to Isaiah Berlin's question... 'What did you learn? What did you learn?'
  • First, I have learned that ... there is no such thing as a process of history.  Nothing is inevitable; people can and do make a difference...
  • Second, I have learned that the occasions where such a decisive swerve can be imparted to history are quite rare. Churchill in the May days of 1940... Thatcher in the key years between 1981 and about 1984. But most of politics is not like that: it is normally an unending struggle to make things a little better, or stop them becoming a little worse... it is usually better to have honest and decent people in power, rather than heroes. And it is important that they use the rhetoric that reflects the routine nature of what they do... Democracy - not just head-counting in order to avoid rational discourse, but real, complex democracy - faces as much danger from the ridiculous mutual savagery of those who compete for its prizes as it does from external hazards
  • Finally...if you wake up one day and think,  'There is no significant life beyond politics,' then that is the time to quit.

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