Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sir Laurens van der Post

An abridged version of my interview with Sir Laurens van der Post was published in the Daily Telegraph in 1995, to the anger of at least one reader. Mr Michael Loewe of Cambridge fired off a letter to the paper to make his strong views known:

I write to protest against the offensive terms in which Naim Attallah conducted his interview with Sir Laurens van der Post. Is Mr Attallah quite incapable of recognising wisdom, greatness or nobility when he meets it?

If Mr Loewe had ever got round to reading the full version he would have been more incensed. Before conducting the interview I had been well briefed by the late Anthony Sampson, the writer and political commentator, who knew a great deal about the activities of van der Post through his extensive South African connections. I was therefore well prepared for my encounter with him. Unsurprisingly, I found him not to be the saintly figure his admirers portrayed. There was a definite flaw in the character of a man whose frequent exaggerations were in fact a litany of untruths. His intellectual arrogance suggested he had come to believe the myth about himself that he himself perpetuated. The interview turned out to be the most exhausting I ever undertook. He lost his composure more than once and became angry enough to want to throw me out. It was only his ego, his need to be in control of the situation that stopped him from actually doing it. Then he unexpectedly changed tack by insisting on a second session at a later date to attempt to repair the damage of the first session, but while I agreed to this, I refused to rise to the bait. At the outset I really wanted to form a better impression of the man considered by many to be a sort of guru matched by divine wisdom. In this ambition I failed miserably. Van der Post was my second failure, the first having been Conor Cruise O’Brien, with whom I had a similar but infinitely less charged experience.

Sir Laurens van der Post died in 1996.

As a child you were steeped in the legends and myths of the African people which have become so much part of your make-up. Do you believe that without that very strong childhood influence you could have become the man you are today? 

It’s very difficult to say what one would have been if something else had happened. The fact is that it was a very important part of my upbringing, and I feel enriched by it. It was one of the great formative experiences in my life, and one which hasn’t been diminished in importance by age.

Do you think the childhood experience was crucial – was it not something which could have been learned or acquired later? 

One’s whole life is a process of fulfilling the person you’re born, a process of being educated and growing older without losing the child that you were in the beginning, so that one can end up as a kind of child-man, man-child. It’s one of the saddest phenomena of our time that very few people seem to remain young in old age.

You were thirteenth out of fifteen children … how far did your being just one of a large family shape your character for later life? 

I’m not aware consciously of what being a member of such a large family meant to me, except that we were extraordinarily happy, and that we had diversity. Some of my older brothers may have found it more of a strain, but I personally did not. My father died when I was young, so that I was more aware of my mother’s influence. We were not a family of conformers, but a family of diversities, and all our diversities were respected and encouraged by my mother. I’ve often talked to my sisters and brothers about the great debt we owe our mother, because of her capacity not to have favourites. When I look back I can’t recall a single occasion on which my mother favoured one child against another … yet, when she was dying, I discovered that she did have a favourite. It was one of my brothers who had died some time before. In a sense he might have been thought to be the least satisfactory of the children, almost what others might have called a failure, yet when my mother was dying, although we had always thought that she would like to be buried with my father, she said to me, ‘I want to be buried with my son, because I can’t bear the thought of him being out there on his own.’

Africa, the place of your birth, has come to have as much symbolic significance as actual … am I right in this assumption? 

The earth where one is born always has a symbolic significance, but Africa especially, because of its immense charge of natural life. It is the continent which contains the greatest variety and abundance of animal and plant life in the world; it is also the home of the Bushmen, the oldest living people to whom we have access. I always felt in Africa that I was very near to the original blueprint of the country, and that brings one nearer to mythology. Life comes to us consciously first as a myth; then the myth becomes a legend, and the legend becomes history. Africa in that sense has an extra root in the spiritual organization patterns of the mind which we call mythology. In Africa the myth was the earth and the earth was the myth to a degree that you don’t encounter anywhere else.

You have described the story of black Africa as a horror story. Do you ever feel a sense of guilt by association, for being part of the story? 

The horror story I was referring to took place before we came on the scene, when Africa was constantly being raided by the outside world for slaves. It was a great source of slave labour both for Asia and the Mediterranean world. As Europeans we were accused of being the greatest exploiters of the slave trade, but actually we came at the end of the story. We were briefly involved in the trade, but we also played a leading role in putting an end to it. One of the unfortunate results of slavery was that by the time we came to Africa the black cultures had never been able to prove what they could have done if they had not been so grossly subjected to the horrors of the slave trade. There was also disease, life was very uncertain, and people didn’t live long. The further south you go, the further you are from the point of impact with the slave-owning civilizations, and the more integrated are the black cultures. That’s why I have always have such great hopes for the part of Africa where I was born; in southern Africa the people were least affected by what I call this horror story, and they produced considerable black civilizations of their own.

You have often said that the 1930s in England were the unhappiest years of your life, presumably because they were lived in the shadow of war breaking out. But it was also the time when your children must have been young. Was it not a time of joy and hope for the future through them? 

Not really. At the time we lived on a farm in the West Country. My son was about five when his sister was born, and when he was six or seven, I was terribly unhappy about what was happening in Europe. I felt ashamed at the way Europe had allowed the Nazi horror to grow when its Evil was so obvious to me. I had been to Japan and the Far East and I had watched the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. I love the Japanese, but I watched with horror how they walked out of the League of Nations, how Mussolini went into Abyssinia and nothing was done. I thought the war was going to come in ’38, so at the end of ’37 I sent my wife and children out to Africa to be looked after by my family there. But of course I was a year out. I never really enjoyed my young family because my daughter, still happily alive, was just a little giggling girl when she went out to Africa and I didn’t see her again until ten years later. So I didn’t have that kind of happiness you are asking me about.

Your autobiographical writing sometimes strikes the reader as fragmented and seemingly selective. For example, I could not find any account of the children you had by your first marriage, nor indeed much reference to the marriage itself. 

You didn’t find it because I’ve never written an autobiography as such. I’ve written about those parts of my life which seemed to me to be of objective interest to others. My own personal relationships are not there, and were never meant to be. I never wanted to indulge in writing about my sorrows; the importance of our lives is not in the outer eventualities, but in the inner eventfulnesses, and that is what I have written about.

Do you prefer to forget about those things you have omitted to tell? 

Oh no, they’re very precious to me. But if I were going to write properly about my life, I would have to live it a second time, and what a waste that would be. I’ve done it once, I don’t want to do it again in books. This would be to commit the sin of looking back over one’s shoulder, and all mythologies warn us against that. To do that is to be turned to salt like Lot’s wife, or, like Orpheus, to lose your Eurydice. Most autobiographies are a way of looking back, making the present a past, instead of trying to make the past a present.

What were you feelings when you came to join up? 

I was very glad that the sense of compromise had suddenly gone from life, although what struck me immediately was the difference between this war in 1939 and the 1914 war which I remembered as a young boy and which was the last of the romantic wars. Indeed my older brothers were afraid the war in Europe would be over before they could take part in it. But in 1939 we all went off rather sadly; there was no feeling of romance about it. The impact on the spirit of man was not in the war itself, as in the 1914-18 war, but in the demonstration of the depths to which the human race could sink if it neglected the challenges as it did in the ‘20s and ’30s of this century. I had been to Germany and seen the Walpurgisnacht rally in Nuremburg, and it was a horrible sight. I was reminded recently of the Walpurgisnacht march during the demonstration by the Labour Party in Sheffield just before the election which they thought they would win. Did you see the flags flying?  Did you see the holy light in their eyes? It was terrifying to watch the leaders on the platform, wearing exalted expressions as if they’d seen the eternal light. On such occasions we have to ask ourselves what will happen to the human spirit if we don’t stand up and fight. You must meet the challenges of life in their right dimension, and in 1939 it was clearly a dimension which could only be suppressed by force.

You must have felt fundamentally changed by your wartime experiences. Was this what led to your divorce in 1948 – was it impossible to return to the married life you had known? 

No, I don’t think it was due to that at all. My first wife is still alive and she is a great friend of ours, and although she lives in South Africa we see her regularly when she comes over here. She’s a wonderful person and we all love and admire her very much, but there was something that wasn’t quite right. For instance, I loved living in the country, while she liked living in towns; I’d already realized that I couldn’t write in Africa, but she loved Africa and didn’t want to be away from it ever. I can’t blame it on the war, but what the war did, particularly for those who were imprisoned, was to help me enormously in the process of getting to know oneself. My father always used to say that the most important inscription over the temple at Delphi was ‘Man, know thyself.’ War is a dark healer which works when all other methods of healing the human spirit have failed. One gets a heightened perspective on values; nothing but humanity counts again. In a sense war was a tremendous experience, and also confirmation of the intuition that I had had from childhood; it showed me again what I had seen when I was in the Far East, that empires would never again be able to be empires in the old way, simply because of what the Japanese had done when they won the war against the Russians. They shattered for the whole world the assumption that white races were superior. It confirmed my feeling that, great as one country is, one belongs to all life wherever it is. When the war came to an end, I went straight from prison to take over in Indonesia. Of all the prisoners, I alone stayed behind, because I found myself involved in the great revolution in the minds of the indigenous inhabitants of Indonesia. I felt I understood it and I had to stay. When the Japanese surrendered I was weak to the point of death, but I went straight back to active service because of this insight, this new feeling of certainty that there was a job to do and I must do it, otherwise I would never live my life properly. My war went on nearly ten years before I came home, so obviously when I got back to my family, the little girl was twelve and a half, and my son had done his first year at university and was charging around on a motorbike. Divorce at that moment seemed right.

I imagine that led to feelings of profound regret and sadness. 

Yes, it did…it was very sad. But it was also right. That helped.

Did you find it difficult to fall in love again? 

I don’t quite know what that question means. One’s always in love with life, and if one lives one’s life properly, love is so much part of it that however it arises, one recognizes it and welcomes it.

Religious feeling, according to you, come from the fusion of what you call our Little Memory – what we acquire in our lifetime – and our Great Memory, the memory of all life that has ever been. How does this differ from what one might call a sense of history, that is to say something one can have without the religious dimension? 

Religion is a sense of where one came from and where one’s going to, so it is the ultimate inexpressible intangible of history. In one of his lovely Quartets, ‘Little Gidding’, T. S. Eliot (who was a great friend of mine) wrote: ‘A people without history is not redeemed from time, because history is a pattern of timeless moments , so while the light fails on a winter’s afternoon, history is now and England.’ History is now, but one’s sense of religion is timeless.

You said in your book A Walk with a White Bushman: ‘If there is no God then there is no point in being responsible – it’s just chaos and eternal night.’ Are you saying that without God there would be no moral order? 

The Old Testament says that God is that which cannot be named, and that is the best negative definition of God there has ever been. But something in us knows that when we speak of God, we speak about the ultimate sense of law and order and harmony which there is in nature. Even the primitive people I knew in Kalahari, when they talk about the sun, they talk about it making a ringing sound. Goethe’s Faust begins: ‘Die Sonne tönt nach alter Weise’ – ‘The sun resounds in ancient manner.’ There is a sense of music, or order which comes from somewhere in creation, and one knows from experience that if you lose that sense of integrity in that form of awareness, your life has no meaning. People go to pieces, and the consequences are awful.

Would you allow that throughout history many acts of barbarism and persecution have been perpetrated in the name of religion, and continue to be perpetrated? 

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they religiously perpetrated. They have been perpetrated in terms of the dogma that people have made of religion. If you study the animal world, the animals don’t murder; they kill for food but that’s part of their law and order. When a lion stalks its prey, the other animals scatter, but the moment they know the lion has killed, they stop running away and go on grazing all night around the lions eating one of their fellows, because they know they won’t be killed. The lion will be contained in the natural order; he doesn’t kill for fun, only for survival. If you ask why wars break out, I would answer that a real war, something which is consciously fought, takes place to prevent a greater killing. But the terrible slaughter of millions of Jews, which I can’t ever get out of my head, or the massacre at Nanking by the Japanese, that was madness, and certainly not nature. That was man; it was not God.

On the question of forgiveness, you experienced torture and starvation at the hands of the Japanese, and yet were still able to forgive. Do you think the ability to forgive is related to innate virtue, something noble in the soul, or is it more a self-protective measure in that vengeance and bitterness are corrosive and ultimately self-destructive? 

Forgiveness in the great sense of the word is a natural thing, part of the natural order. Otherwise life wouldn’t go on; it would be locked in an eternal feud of killing and destruction. If you have lived honestly and truly through the challenge that’s been presented to you, and it’s over, then the question doesn’t arise. You don’t have to forgive in a conscious way; you just don’t hate anymore. There was a man with whom I spent a great deal of my time in prison, a medical officer called Dunlop who stood up many times to a particularly cruel Japanese. This Japanese singled out an officer for terribly vicious treatment. He tortured him, beat him and at times nearly killed him, and once he said to Dunlop, ‘Why bother giving medical treatment to that useless man – I might as well kill him.’ But Dunlop stood in front of the apparently dying prisoner, and said, ‘You’ll have to kill me first.’ And just by his bearing he prevented many further cruelties. When the war suddenly came to an end, it was decided that the people suspected of being Japanese war criminals should be tried as such, and they were duly lined up. Dunlop was asked to walk down the line and pick out the guilty men. The cruel Japanese stood in line and was obviously bracing himself to be hanged. But Dunlop looked him straight in the eye steadily, for a minute or more, and then turned his back on him and walked away. This is the kind of extraordinary thing I’m talking about, but it’s something people aren’t interested in nowadays.

There is a great deal of historical evidence that those who have experienced evil are very often contaminated by it. On a national scale the persecuted often turn into persecutors, and those who have been abused and maltreated as children, later grow up to inflict abuse on others. You have certainly been acquainted with evil, but are seemingly untainted by it. I am interested in how this has come about… 

So am I, and I don’t pretend to know the answer. The contamination you describe happens very often when people have been exposed to evil before they have developed the natural immunity possessed by a child. When you’re in a state of helplessness and you have not experienced the love and car of parents which is natural to life, and which animals show to their young, then this does happen. It starts through having had to live from childhood with a lack of love. T. S. Eliot told me that after the Korean War, the Americans appointed a high-level committee to investigate what made some human beings braver than others. They wanted to know why some people when they were subjected to brainwashing gave way to it and others not; what was this quality in people that made them, whatever happened, resist the evil to which they were being subjected. In every case they found that the most shining examples were people who had grown up surrounded by love. There’s so much evil around that unless there is some provision in the pattern of life to fortify us against that form of negotiation, there wouldn’t be life on earth, it would have gone. In the final analysis there has to be something which is greater than evil.

Your appeal to preserve the Kalahari Desert for the Bushmen seems on the face of it to contain a contradiction. On the one hand it runs the risk of becoming a huge tourist attraction which would defeat the purpose, and yet if it is left completely alone then no one will benefit from the lessons to be learned. Isn’t this a rather naïve approach? 

Perhaps all my approaches are naïve because they do tend to be defeated. I originally thought that in a world plagued by hunger, the Kalahari, which supports such a wonderful plant and animal life, could make a contribution, that it could be put to some use. But then I discovered that you can’t put it to any use without destroying it. It would have been wonderful to preserve the Kalahari as it could have been preserved in those days, and in time we would have learned what to do with it and the Bushmen. All we have done in the meantime is to destroy the desert and the Bushmen. Tourists are destroying the world; they are part of a very nasty phenomenon. To travel, to see and learn is wonderful, but when you make an ‘ism’ out of anything you’re on the way to doing something wrong. We are now fighting the greatest physical battle, also ultimately a moral and spiritual battle, that man has ever fought. We are going to destroy the planet if we don’t change our ways, and we can’t change our ways unless there is a profound spiritual transformation in the human being.  A Roman Catholic monk in America has written of ‘the comfortable disease of progress that’s killing us’, and he’s right. We are in great peril.

This primitive and natural state which you describe so lovingly and movingly in your books is also riven with problems and difficulties that such as illness and blindness which could easily be cured by Western medicine. In fact, it is difficult to escape the conclusion from reading The Lost World of the Kalahari that these people’s lives are short and often painful. How do you reconcile these two views? 

There’s no conflict in my mind at all about that I don’t want people to become Bushmen themselves – that’s not the answer. I don’t think they’ve achieved a perfect state of life any more than we have. But as I see it, they are rich in a way in which we are poor. What is the point if we cure the blind, or the sick, if in the process we give them all the spiritual ills we suffer from? You may give them hospitals, but you take away the meaning of their lives. I’d much rather stay and take my chance with life the same way they do, like salmon in the sea, just because life itself has been kinder to them than we have ever been. Our way of life at the moment is a way of death to them. It’s just the same problem with the rain-forest Indians. We take away what is light and eternity to them by cutting down their forests, by making it impossible for them to live there. It’s a horror story. You have to understand that we’re not better than they are; we’re only more powerful. I advised the British government not to open up the Kalahari Desert, but to keep it the way it was, or to send some officers to live with the Bushmen for twenty or thirty years and then see what they advised. But they took no notice. Every bit of that desert is staked for our destruction, whether it be for phosphate mining, opening it up for cattle, doing this or that. And once you’ve got rid of the desert, which according to an expert geologist took two thousand million years to create, you can never have it back. It will be gone forever.

You have had a great deal of influence on Prince Charles, who regards you as his mentor, his guru. Would you say that the knowledge he has gained from you is something which is likely to distance him from the nation, or bring him closer to it? 

I don’t know, but please don’t let us talk about Prince Charles. I never talk about him, not even in the most glowing terms.

But he admires you, and it would be interesting for people to know… 

That’s all invention. People have called me his guru, but it’s a very special subject and I feel honour bound not to talk about it. I am often asked, particularly when he’s so much under attack, to speak up as a friend, but I always refuse. I’m sorry. You have to be understanding and let me off that question.

Presumably you can talk about Lady Thatcher, whom you have also influenced? 

No, I’m not going to talk about her either. That is another subject I never speak about. I did once give my views in A Walk with a White Bushman but that was twelve or thirteen years ago and I have completely pulled out of that kind of field now.

I was only going to ask what it is about her that you so much admire. 

I’ve told you I’d rather not talk about her. I say this to you because I say this to everybody.

Perhaps you can comment on what you say in A Walk with a White Bushman? For instance, you describe her handling of the Falklands crisis as ‘a brilliant enterprise of war’, and the accusations of jingoism you describe as ‘radical and liberal slush’. Do you accept that that sort of language might have been offensive to a great many thinking people who very much hoped that war could have been avoided? 

I can’t understand how any reasonable person could have described it as a jingoistic exercise. It simple doesn’t make any sense to me. The Second World War started because the Japanese walked into a little part of China, and nobody did anything, so they walked into a bigger part… Can’t people see it was all against all concept of a civilized moral order to invade the Falklands like that, when our backs were turned? And by a Fascist government in the Argentine? To be accused of defending it out of mere jingoism seems to me nonsense. It is slush, and I don’t mind saying it again, it is slush. You must know what Galtieri and his people are like, you must have seen those thousands of mothers demonstrating every night for their lost children. Are we simply to allow a government like that to invade our territory and take it away by force? Is it jingoism to throw a burglar out of your house? I could not see any moral justification or any grounds for people saying it was jingoism. When I think of how quietly and with what little fuss this incredible military operation took place, and with what courage! The point is very simple: here was naked unprovoked aggression; unprovoked because the Falklands were no danger to the Argentine and had been in British possession for nearly two hundred years. We were wholly justified in defending the Falklands. And people call that jingoism! Let people be offended by my calling it radical and liberal slush – if they can be offended, there may be some hope for them. It’s a bad rotten way of thinking.

Some people thought that Lady Thatcher favoured war above all other options… 

All she was doing was throwing burglars out of her house. Is that a celebration of war? When are we ever going to learn the lesson? Stamp on the thing when it’s small. If we’d overlooked that, God knows what would have happened in the world. I don’t really want to go in to the Falklands issue, but what Lady Thatcher did was the brave, responsible act of a responsible government. It became a basis and precedent to show that that kind of action is still possible in the modern world.

You’ve described socialism as ‘a rotting corpse whose smell in our midst has tainted the political atmosphere for far too long’. This statement is based on the fact that socialists ‘release expectations they can never fulfil, and that is immoral’. I wonder if we can be confident about the difference between expectation and hope in this context? You approve of offering people hope, yet hope may also never be realized. Why is this not immoral also? 

Socialism betrays hope. It was a fulfilment at one time of a longing rather than a hope, a longing for a better world, but it’s proved itself to be such a shambles already, so clearly not a valid means of procuring for the human species what it professed to procure, that I felt justified in making those remarks. Socialism makes shallow collective values the ultimate test of human behaviour. It has done an enormous amount of harm all over the world. Not a single culture in the world infected by socialism has come to any good at all. Give me an example of a socialist country that’s done well; there isn’t a single one. As a temporary tactical challenge of existing values it was very good in its time, but as an ongoing pronouncement of the ultimate good for the human race, it’s been proved inadequate.

In A Walk with a White Bushman you say that socialism was only really valid in the nineteenth-century context when the working classes had no vote. Presumably, however, you would agree that the granting of the vote has not eradicated social injustice or deprivation, and that there is still a significant underclass in Britain and elsewhere. Isn’t the idea of socialism still valid today? 

No, I don’t think that follows. There will always be injustice as long as there are human beings on earth, and even when we don’t mean harm the consequences of what we do can be unfair and unjust. Socialism is not the answer to the prevalence of injustice, or indeed anything else. It was all right as a stage for clearing the mind and the structures of life for better things, but it has created new forms and perhaps even worse forms of injustice. You ask if I can deny that there is still an underclass in Great Britain. I do deny it, at least in the sense you mean it, in the socialist sense. People have never been more free in the history of this country to be out of what you call class, to be themselves. I don’t deny that there are poor people in the country, but it’s not a result of the system; it’s a result of what people are in themselves. There’s never been a society before in Great Britain where people, whatever their disadvantages of birth, are so free to be themselves, and not to be subjected to the sufferings of a class. The sufferings in England at the moment have nothing to do with class because people soar out of the class system with the greatest of ease if they want to.

But is there not a difference between what we might call socialist ideals and the unacceptable fate of socialism as deployed in the former Soviet Union…? 

No, because socialism always tries to solve human problems by creating systems. That’s the difference between capitalism and socialism; capitalism is not a system, and people are mistaken if they think so. It expresses itself in certain patterns from time to time but it’s much more pragmatic that socialism which starts with the concept of a system: life has to conform to the ideal system. But you can’t do that. It is utterly impossible and dangerous for any human being to think he can devise an ideal social system and inflict it upon other human beings. The great error started with something which was meant to be very good, like Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man. The great fallacy of The Rights of Man is that it ignores the fact that rights have to be earned, and that you have no right which is not accompanied by an equal and opposite responsibility. One of the basic implications of socialism is that the so-called working man is inherently good and the person who employs him is inherently bad.  There’s always a villain in socialism, and an absence of self-criticism; socialism never sees into the totality of the human scene, and its values are always collective values. It’s almost as if it regards the individual as a form of egotism; it doesn’t realize that an individual can be most truly and utterly and wholly himself without damaging the equal right of his neighbour to be the same. This is expressed much better in what is called a capitalist climate. Terrible things happen in that climate too but it’s not a climate of ideology; it’s part of the process of trial and error in life.

You also say in the same book that no ideas have come out of the Labour Party since the manifesto of 1848. Isn’t that a bit harsh and dismissive? What about the establishment of everyone’s right to education? 

The right of people to be educated was recognized before socialism. Some of the greatest pioneers of universal education weren’t socialists they were industrialists, and some of the most idealistic schemes of education were launched by individuals…

But the socialists put it into practice… 

Not at all. The socialists only came to power for the first time after the last world war. All the immense pioneering work in that area was done by the Liberal Party without a socialist ethic.

What about the National Health Service? 

It is a good idea that every human being who needs healthcare should be provided for, but the Health Service as it was created is a disaster; it’s wasteful, extravagant and uncreative. It’s obviously done some good, but medicine wasn’t at all bad before the war. You mustn’t ignore the enormous role that the private capitalist world played in pioneering medicine. You must also remember that any smooth-running private organization turned bad as soon as it was nationalized; there’s not a single area where this isn’t true, even the Post Office. Look at the railways – we had a wonderful railway system before the war. And look at the coal mines. I can’t see why the Health Service should be held to the credit of socialism particularly; it’s not just a socialist concept. These wonderful hospitals we used to have in London are run entirely by charity. Charity is thought to be a dirty word, but it isn’t. To receive help out of the love of your fellow human beings is not degrading.

I know you admired Bevin. Wasn’t he a worthy exponent of socialism? 

I don’t think socialism made Bevin. There were remarkable, wonderful people who were socialists, I don’t say there were not; but they were so in spite of socialism.

You have surprised people by being very critical of Nelson Mandela, saying that when he emerged from prison he was ‘more myth than man’, and still spouting ‘the moth-eaten clichés of the spirit’. Most people will regard that as harsh criticism of someone they see as essentially dignified, unsubdued by imprisonment…not unlike yourself in many ways. 

Did you see what I wrote about Nelson Mandela?

I heard, and I’m quoting. 

Well, you heard wrong. I said that Nelson Mandela, when he came out of prison, had become more of a myth in the minds of people than a man, which I think is true. When he emerged from captivity it was an immense opportunity for him to speak. I had been in prison myself, and I knew it was a terrible thing to do to a human being. But I think that prison is one of the finest schools for making the human spirit that can ever be. I myself only did a crash course, so to speak, but he went to university, having been in prison for twenty-seven years. You can imagine my disappointment when I heard him talk that Sunday, when he spouted all those moth-eaten clichés, thanking the communists and so on. I had to ask myself, has he actually been in prison? And I thought of the great examples of people who have come out of prison the right way, people like Solzhenitsyn who showed from the words he used that he had learned lessons in that prison school. What I bitterly regret is that Nelson Mandela didn’t come out as Martin Luther King came out saying that he had a dream for Africa, instead of giving us a lot of moth-eaten political platitudes. I was bitterly disappointed. Nelson Mandela is a miserable figure who speaks with a double tongue. You should hear the Dali Lama on the subject of Nelson Mandela, how after Tiananmen Square he cuddled up with the Chinese government when he was there. He’s a very brave man, but he’s a very great disappointment to me personally. He had twenty-seven years to think about life, and yet he still belongs to a party which hasn’t renounced power and war.

Are you hopeful of South Africa’s future? 

In the long run, yes. It’s got a long way to go, and it’s on a dangerous road, but the road is not so dangerous as not taking the road would have been. No doubt they’ll make mistakes, but the quality of the human beings, black and white and coloured in South Africa, is potentially so great that I think they can win through. History and life work much more slowly than do human beings. This is another part of the socialist slush that I talked about. Socialists think they can pass laws for the betterment of mankind, and men will then be better. They don’t realize that evolution of life and the human spirit is not a rational thing; it is a process of growth which you can’t learn at universities. You can only bring the improvements in life that you brought in your own nature and it’s a long and hard job. Nelson Mandela still has power over people, and he has a right to it after twenty-seven years in prison, but he didn’t rise to the responsibility laid on him by his imprisonment, which Solzhenitsyn and the other great dreamers of life, such as Martin Luther King, discharged so nobly. That’s the disappointment.

You were close to Jung, whom you describe as a profoundly religious person. Do you think you were on the same journey in life, only perhaps on a different rote? 

I don’t really know how to answer that. Religion is the most important dimension in life, and in a sense I was on the same road as Jung, but I don’t pretend to have been of the same calibre. He was of enormous importance for religion without organized religion realizing it. It’s one of the tragedies of the world. If you listen to certain archbishops nowadays, religion is a sort of socialist ethic, not religion at all; when I hear them talk, I can never recognize the religious content of what they say, but in Jung religion is given a contemporary language, it renews itself. And it’s a promotion of the whole fundamental world of the dream which the universe is destined to fulfil. Dream is a profound language of nature, particularly of nature to come. It’s where we get the blueprints of life, that whole area which Shakespeare and the great artists knew. Shakespeare talked about the prophetic soul of man dreaming of things to come. In that sense, yes, I felt I was in a similar dimension to Jung.

On the subject of religion, you say in A Walk with a White Bushman that until you had understood and absorbed the mythology of Africa, Christianity did not come alive for you. Do you regard Christianity as another branch of mythology? 

No. I don’t think of mythology as having branches. I think of mythology being evidence of a divine pattern in the human species, instinctively and wherever it finds itself. Religion is a profound instinctive pattern which has very often been cheated. It has suffered a great deal from what socialism suffered from, from being turned into rigid dogmas, rigid concepts and ideas, which were not large enough or flexible enough to express the true essence of religion. The mythology of Africa is an instinctive mythology, and it opened me up to religion from which I was excluded by my education, and particularly the form of Calvinism to which I was exposed.

Do you think the main tenets of Christianity – the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting – have a symbolic rather than actual significance, metaphorical rather than literal? 

They have an immense symbolic significance, but to me no actuality is complete without the symbolic. The symbol is an expression of the most profound actuality of the human spirit; it’s not, as you imply, not real. They all deal with reality in the only way in which it can be dealt with at that stage of human awareness. I wouldn’t like to consider them dogmatically. One of the great dangers that press upon modern life precisely the absence of symbolic reality. Immense impoverishment of the human spirit is going on all around us because people don’t realize how incomplete life is unless it is symbolic. Religion is not religion if it isn’t symbolic.

How can different religious traditions be reconciled if it is part of their essence to exclude one another? 

They’re not really religions if they exclude one another. Conscious religion is expressed by human beings, and everything we do is approximate. Our observance of religion is whole and ultimate and perfect perhaps, but the expression of which we are capable is approximate, and it is in being aware of what is provisional and approximate in our apprehension of religion that we find very often how much other religions can contribute. Here is the tremendous importance of the symbol again, because although people may use different symbols, they are all ultimately the same. Stone Age mythology was an early expression of Greek mythology, and the link is not only highly discernible but frightfully important. It’s our interpretations of the religious experience of mankind which vary, but the experience is the same everywhere.

But most religious faiths claim that their teachings alone are true, and that they are true for everyone. It follows that other faiths are mistaken. How does one deal with this problem? 

This is the problem of human beings valuing their ideas too highly, and has nothing to do with religion. This interpretation of religion is not a religious interpretation. When I’m asked this sort of question I have to say, my dear chap, you’re not talking about religion, you’re talking about a church, and a church is provisional and approximate and, thank God, often wrong.

Do you think you have discovered what is true for you in a religious sense? 

I have a feeling sometimes that I might be on the way to discovering it, but I do know that there is a long way to go. All human beings in all societies have a feeling of impoverishment if they’re not on the way. The Stone Age people I knew in the Kalahari had two dances, one for the little hunger, for food and for survival, and the other dance for the great hunger, the hunger for religion. This hunger is real and if we don’t get the food for it, we decline and diminish.

But do you think that what is true for you is necessarily true for everyone? 

Oh no, not for a minute. This is as far as I can testify: I live in the hope that my concept of the truth is right, but I do know that if I’m wrong it’s in a way that I’m probably not aware of. How do you distinguish between truth and error in life? The struggle goes on all the time, and that’s why consciousness must be increased, not diminished.

You have said that there is a kind of ‘foreverness’ incorporated in everyone. What basis do you have for saying that, and what exactly do you mean by it? 

I can’t express it more clearly than that. The little Bushman in the desert said to me, ‘There is a dream dreaming us…’ it’s what T. S. Eliot called this timeless element in every human being. All of us have something in the human soul which is beyond time; it’s even recognized by scientists now. The psychic nature of the human being is to behave as if it will go on forever. It is the soul of a man.

Perhaps because we live in a sick, cynical age, there are those who regard you as less of a sage and more of a charlatan, a romancer rather than a mystic. Are you wounded by such criticism? 

I don’t know anybody who’s ever called me a charlatan, certainly nobody who knows me would ever call me that. And of course I would be hurt if people thought I was. And why a romancer? A romancer in what way? Be specific, in what way have I been romancing? I can’t deal with a vague statement – you must give me an explicit example.

Well, a number of people have suggested your books are hopelessly romanticized and divorced from reality. Your Venture to the Interior, for example, is presented as a herculean journey but according to your critics it amounts to no more than a day’s walk up and down a hill. Do you perhaps mix fantasy and truth sometimes? 

I did go up those mountains, and nobody can say I didn’t. This is quite absurd…these are idiots talking. The peak of Mlanje is 12,000 feet above sea level – is that a hill? Those people who say it is a hill are liars. It’s three times the height of any mountain in Great Britain. Who are these idiots, where do they say these things? I can’t cope with this.

Your life experience has been so singular, so unusual, as to suggest the hand of destiny at work. Is your perception of yourself that of someone singled out for a special mission?

I’ve never had a perception of myself. I’ve never lived my life by a plan, or with any ambition. I’m somebody following the flight of the bird, I just do what life suggests and I do it as well as I can. I have actually done certain things quite well in life. For example, I won a prize for the best run small farm in Gloucestershire at a three-county show. Or is that being a charlatan and a romancer? And my record in the war – is that also romancing? I shouldn’t even have to respond to these remarks; they’re obviously made by singularly stupid people.

You have written that death is a natural and creative a part of life as birth. Can you develop that idea? 

This is how it appears to me, and it seems to be mythologically right too. The whole of life is a metamorphosis: growth, decay, decline, fall, rebirth. Death is a natural part of the process of growth and rebirth.

Now, in old age, do you feel a particular serenity? 

I’m prevented from feeling serene because at the age of eighty-six I still have so much to do. I’ve just finished a book, but I have about thirteen others I want to write, so I have an increased sense of hurry, a feeling that my ration is running out and I must get on with it. It’s not that I feel unserene, but I’m not at all of a philosophic turn of mind. I just try to live, that’s my main preoccupation. And my sense of wonder about life never leaves me.

How would you like to be remembered? 

One does certainly want to be remembered. My experience of being in prison and thinking we might all be killed, and the idea that people wouldn’t know how we died, or even remember us, was a profound horror. I would like to be remembered as someone who tried to perform some service for what I think is the overall value in life, and that is what is expressed by Eros and by St Paul as charity. Without Eros no human being has any hope whatsoever of having this immense capacity of spirit to learn to distinguish between truth and error. It’s only with charity that one somehow has the sense of where the frontier is between the two. If I can be remembered as somebody who felt that particular emotion all his life very profoundly, and perhaps rendered some service to it, well, I shall rejoice…

David Rose

Taking MorganThe following is taken from a speech I made last night to celebrate the publication of Taking Morgan by David Rose, at Lutyens & Rubinstein in Notting Hill…

Ladies and gentlemen – I’m delighted that David Rose’s book, Taking Morgan, is officially published this week.

When I first received the manuscript, which I read avidly over a weekend, I knew we had the makings of a bestseller on our hands. I hope my gut feeling will prove conclusive.

For David is an accomplished investigative journalist who can keep you totally gripped throughout the whole saga by the power of his narrative and the way the story unfolds before reaching its deadly climax.

Inspired by actual events, Taking Morgan is a galvanising novel of political intrigue and betrayal.

It is a taut story that keeps the reader in total suspense without a minute of respite. This is David Rose’s first novel, and what a story he tells.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Buy a few copies of the book and circulate them among your friends. This will encourage the author to write more in the same brilliant vein, to enthral us yet again.

In the present difficult climate, when the book trade is struggling to survive against a trend of mass-market fiction which seems below par, David’s thriller reigns supreme.

He’s certainly a great talent to watch, and I appeal to everyone in this room to take heed of my words and support him as much as they can. We need people of his calibre to keep the standards up and maintain a vibrancy in the book trade that is seldom found these days.

I now leave you to ponder, and act accordingly.

 

 

Call it a draw if you wish…

Growing old does not necessarily make us wiser, despite the vast number of experiences we might have had during the course of a very active and successful life.

We become over confident, slightly cantankerous and, worst of all, we lose patience when we need time to reflect, rather than act in an impromptu and sometimes foolish manner.

But once we knock at the door of old age we all seem to suffer moments of unusual behaviour normally not accredited to us; and though that’s a fact of life, the more prudent will try to harness it to avoid being looked on in a less favourable light.

This came to mind last week when I read with some amusement of the shindig between Taki Theodoracopulos (seventy-seven) and Charles Saatchi (seventy) which began when Taki voiced his utter disgust at Saatchi’s assault on his now ex-wife Nigella Lawson. He referred to Saatchi as having ‘a coward’s bullying manner’ and by way of a florid metaphor elsewhere declared ‘expecting a pornographer to have a heart is like counting on Charles Saatchi to act like a gentleman’. Clever phraseology perhaps, but deeply wounding to his intended target.

By way of a riposte Saatchi wrote, in an open letter addressed to ‘Ms Taki’ at the Spectator, that Nigella would have been ‘aghast’ at his support as ‘she always found you toe-curlingly vile’. This inflamed an already explosive war of words which has escalated now to the point where a challenge of a duel made the situation rather comical, but nevertheless incredibly silly given the age of both protagonists.

Copyright The Spectator

I have known Taki for over three decades. As one of his publishers I dare to count him as a friend. His column in the Spectator is often outrageous but always entertaining and, notwithstanding the numerous changes of ownership and editors at the weekly magazine over the years, his column seems to have survived the vicissitudes of time.

As for Charles Saatchi, I have never met him. I read his articles in the Evening Standard and find him enterprising as well as an art collector with vision and flare. Nigella Lawson, his ex-wife, I know well. Her first job and training after leaving university was with Quartet Books before she hit the trail in search of fame and fortune. We remain friends, although these days our paths rarely cross.

I sincerely hope that wiser counsel will prevail with all the parties concerned in this unholy fracas, to call it a day. Both Taki and Charles Saatchi should negotiate a truce and give up the idea of a duel in a cage or an open space. It would be laughable and degrading and I refuse to contemplate either its happening or its consequences if it ever came to that.

Kiss and make up would be the most honourable and sensible solution – and call it a draw if you wish.

An Awkward Encounter: The Sacred and the Profane

The latest picture to hit the headlines last Friday was that of President François Hollande on his first visit to the Vatican to meet his Holiness, Pope Francis.

The father of four, who has never married, met the leader of the Catholic world, for whom marriage and fidelity is considered the bedrock of society. The encounter, which must have been an awkward affair, came two weeks after revelations emerged of the French president’s highly publicised trysts with the actress Julie Gayet.

Mr Hollande’s ill-timed visit demonstrated his insensitivity and lack of consideration for the Holy See’s position and, notably, his own. Making the journey, leaving his moped and crash helmet behind, he was greeted by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the Pope’s personal secretary, and led up a red carpet – which he doesn’t deserve – into the Apostolic Palace at the heart of the Vatican. Flanked by Swiss Guards, he was escorted down the corridors of polished marble and through grand entrances, before being finally led into a reception room to meet the Pope. ‘I’m happy to be welcomed here,’ said the president. The Pope and the president posed for photographs and then held a thirty-five-minute private meeting.

Perhaps the gist of their conversation was as follows…

The Pope: ‘Mr President, have you anything to confess?’

Mr Hollande: ‘Nothing of importance, your Holiness. I lead a hectic life and quite frankly I have no time to enjoy myself or indulge in pleasurable pursuits.’

The Pope: ‘What about your philandering, which seems to take certain priorities in your daily life?’

Mr Hollande: ‘There is a French tradition that when you attain the presidency one of the perks of the job is to give as much pleasure to women as is possible. In order not to let the side down I’m simply doing my duty with the diligence it requires.’

The Pope: ‘But to engage in carnal activities jeopardises your chance of entering the gates of Heaven.’

Mr Hollande: ‘Your Holiness, I’m sorry to admit that I am a non-believer, but sensitive to Catholic values. I prefer to think in terms of spreading the joy of sexual congress with beautiful women, whose lives I’ve transformed to become responsible citizens of the Republic by virtue of the gratification I selflessly give them. To that end, I’m truly committed!’

The Pope: ‘All I can say is that I will pray for your salvation and perhaps miraculously you will be saved through the grace of God from eternal damnation.’

Mr Hollande: ‘Your Holiness, although your beliefs are contrary to mine, all I can say is that if there is a word that brings us together it is “dignity, the defence of human dignity”.’

It was then that the meeting reached an abrupt finality. The pontiff was visibly shaken, but remained stoic and determined to overcome the grave disappointment of the day. Mr Hollande, in turn, left with his now flaccid tail between his legs.

Could it be that his visit to the Pope gave the dithering Hollande the courage to dump the Rottweiler, after eight years of co-habitation of what one would assume to have been a tempestuous relationship, boosted by a strong sexual proximity that has now fizzled out? Only a bedroom voyeur could know the answer…

The Remarkable Brian Sewell

Outsider

Brian Sewell is a most remarkable man. One could easily brand him a jack of all trades who conversely excels in everything he does.

Besides being acclaimed by many – apart from his sworn enemies – as the best art critic in the world, his writing and humour are to the discerning few without parallel.  His prose and turn of phrase have to the reader a musical resonance that enthrals as well as standing alone for its fluency and elegant flow. Language is like music; it is an art form that is perhaps endowed rather than learned. And in Brian’s case, he owes it to the circumstances of his birth and his tutoring by a mother whose way of life imbibed him with extraordinary gifts.

sleeping with dogsHaving travelled extensively, met the good and the bad, the intellectually lame and the pretentious, he has over the years come to the conclusion that animals – particularly dogs – are more loving, loyal and comforting than the majority of humans. Yet, to his close circle of friends he remains a most accommodating and bounteous soul mate with an endearing sensitivity.

However, his pen can be deadly when provoked – for his lexicon is by no means to be taken lightly. Some of his previous encounters are but a testimony to an acerbity that tingles as well as bites.

Outsider-iiAs his publisher, I have over the last three years become aware of the multiplicity of his talents and his capacity to surprise with a sharp observatory power that brings new dimensions to any given subject. But above all, he possesses an uninhibited sense of humour – which in this particular case will not go down well with the sycophants of Margaret Thatcher, as the following piece from last week’s Evening Standard demonstrates:

‘Sewell’s urge to sit on Maggy T’

The rest of the world might be up in arms after the art dealer Dasha Zhukova was pictured sitting on a chair modelled like a black woman in bondage gear but Brian Sewell is amused: ‘It is just postmodernism; it is meant to be ironic.’

The Standard’s venerable art critic says he ‘would not pay tuppence’ for the work itself — made by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard as a comment on the original Sixties pieces by Allen Jones — but something about it has piqued his interest. ‘I would love to sit on Margaret Thatcher: if someone gave me a sculpture of her in sexy underwear, all done up in bondage gear, I would just adore to sit on that.’

Well that goes some way to encapsulating the thinking of a true humourist, whose wealth of repartee matches his formidable talent in other literary endeavours.

Brian has proved time and again that controversy has a premium value in our culture, so long as we maintain a highly envied standard in whatever we do, as learned debate is the key to a vibrant and intellectual society. Men such as he are indispensable.

Lord Amery

Julian Amery was a man of exquisite manners; a generous, munificent host, who lived in the same house in Eaton Square where he was born in 1919.

He certainly had the trappings of wealth, with a butler at his beck and call and bottles of good claret to serve his guests.

When I went to interview him in 1993 he gave me a good lunch and spoke to me freely, not only as a seasoned politician but also as a man who aired his views with great honesty, without rancour or hypocrisy. I liked him immensely and will always remember the three delightful hours I spent in his company.

Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, Julian Amery was a war correspondent in Spain towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. He joined the RAF but transferred to the army and fought in the Middle East, Malta and Yugoslavia. In 1941 he organised the first military missions to the Yugoslavian Resistance Movement and was wounded in 1944, leading a force of escaped Russian prisoners. His brother John, who made pro-Hitler broadcasts from Berlin, was later tried for high treason and hanged in London in 1945.

Amery married Catherine, daughter of Harold Macmillan, entering parliament in the same year, elected MP for Preston North. Defeated in the 1966 general election, he became MP for Brighton at a by-election in 1969. As Minister of Aviation he was responsible for signing the agreement with the French government on the Concorde project. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1960. He was created a life peer on his retirement from the House of Commons in 1992 and died in 1996.

A convinced member of the right-wing of the Conservative party, he was a leading figure in the Monday Club for over thirty years. His second volume of memoirs was never completed, though his entire papers were accepted by the Churchill Archives.

Here is the full text of my interview with him. 

You grew up in a family which was as much a part of the Establishment as any could be. Has that ever worked to your disadvantage, do you think? 

It worked both ways, though I don’t agree that the family was so very much part of the Establishment. My father was a fellow of All Souls, but he didn’t have much money or any particular family connections. He got on to The Times and later became a leader writer and a supporter of Joseph Chamberlain in the tariff reform campaign, but that hardly puts him in the Establishment class. Perhaps at the end of it all he had graduated into it.

But you went to Eton, did you not? 

Yes, of course. That was not a difficult thing to do, however, and it hardly makes me a part of the Establishment.

Was your father the most influential figure in your life? 

Certainly. He always treated me as an adult and would talk to me about economics when I could hardly understand it. I grew up imbibing the atmosphere of politics and I met Churchill and other leading figures when I was seventeen or eighteen. It was part of the air I breathed. And later in the early part of the war when I was catapulted into the whole morass of Balkan intrigue, we had the shared experience of political interest in that part of the world. This made a great difference and established a partnership between us which otherwise might have been difficult to achieve.

Most children seem to have a period of rebellion, quite often when they are students. They become Marxists for a while or hopelessly idealistic about the world. Did you ever waver from the Tory traditions in which you were reared? 

Yes, indeed. My youthful political career was not exactly straightforward, and not all that Tory. When I was eleven years old my father took me to the House of Commons where I met Lloyd George who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I wanted to go into the navy. ‘Why the navy?’ he asked ‘There are much greater storms in politics, you know. If you really want the broadsides, walking the plank and blood on the deck, this is the place.’ The scales fell from my eyes, and his comparison of modern parliamentary life to Treasure Island made me opt for politics. My father was of course delighted, but I kept in touch with Lloyd George, and whenever we had mock elections in my school I was always a liberal candidate. Then I examined Communism and Fascism and it was only when I went to Oxford that I opted for the Conservative party, though I also joined the Labour and Liberal clubs so as to be able to go to their meetings.

Some people have suggested that the driving force of your ambition may have been a determination to honour a well-loved father’s memory. Do you see it that way? 

I certainly inherited my father’s views on the Commonwealth and the importance of Britain as the centre of the Commonwealth and a leading power in Europe, and all my life I was greatly influenced by his thinking. The year after he died I fought over what I thought was the last great battle of the Commonwealth, the battle over the Suez. When we gave in at Suez it was really the end of the Middle Eastern and African empire which Britain had built up over many decades. I was very sad at that, and it seemed to me then that our only chance of playing an important role in history was within Europe; and so while I did my best to defend what was left of the Imperial position, in Cyprus, in Aden and elsewhere, Europe has become increasingly the important area for British influence to exert itself. I see no other.

At the Oxford Union you spoke in favour of conscription which reversed the notorious ‘We will fight for King and Country’ motion of some years previously. Did your conviction spring from your mood of the time or was it ingrained in your background? 

It had been ingrained. My colleague in the debate was Randolph Churchill, who had by that time become a friend. It was the first of several campaigns we fought together. When I left the debate, I went at once and joined the Royal Air Force reserve.

You had what people would call a good war, risking your life many times in undercover operations. How do you look back on these years … with pride, nostalgia, perhaps with incredulity? 

I have to confess, with enjoyment. There were of course moments of danger, moments of discomfort, but if you look at the whole spectrum of that sort of life it was pretty agreeable. Sometimes there were three or four days without anything to eat at all, then there were the times, when we were sitting around in Cairo waiting for the next assignment, where all the delights of the flesh were available. Denis Healey once said I was nostalgic for the life of Richard Hannay in the Buchan novels. I don’t think that’s true, but I did enjoy those days.

Didn’t you work for the Secret Service? 

There were always two secret services, intelligence and operations. I was in operations. My role was always to do things, to blow up trains or bridges, or to shoot convoys. One of our more dramatic coups was when the Bulgarian government wanted to arrest, and perhaps to kill, the leader of the peasant party. I supervised the arrangements which brought him out of Bulgaria in a diplomatic bag. He was transported to Istanbul where we unpacked him and released him for his future activities.

Were you ever a spy? 

The word is of course derogatory, and a spy is someone who learns or acquires information. If the spying side involves itself in operations it loses its security.

Apparently you made a suggestion to Churchill that he visit his weary troops in the desert, and as a result you are sometimes dubbed ‘The Victor of Alamein’. Do you think that visit had a significant impact on the outcome of war? 

Who shall ever say? What happened was this: I was flown back from Cairo to London to report on our plans, and when I came to my father’s house, I found him lunching with Harold Macmillan, then a junior minister. They asked me what the mood of the troops was and I told them I thought the 8th Army was rather demoralized. When they asked what could be done, I told them that it would be difficult to change the balance of forces, but the balance of morale could conceivably be altered by Churchill visiting the troops himself. I then went on to the SOE headquarters where I received a telephone call summoning me to Downing Street. When I arrived, there was the Prime Minister in a boiler suit with a rather weak whisky and soda in front of him. Alanbrooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was also there, and the PM asked me to tell my story. Of course the Field Marshal didn’t like the idea of a junior captain, not even in a regiment, criticizing the morale of the army and he kept trying to interrupt, but Churchill said, ‘Let him talk.’ I told him if he went out and talked to the troops it would have a dynamic effect on morale. When I left Churchill thanked me, but I heard nothing for a while. Later of course he did go, and it was his private secretary, John Martin, who said to me afterwards that my talk had inspired Churchill with the idea, so to that extent I could claim to have won the battle of Alamein.

You were a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Did you have any sympathy with the Republicans? 

I went three times to Franco’s Spain. The first time was in the spring of 1937, and I came away rather pro-Franco. I went again in the summer of the same year when I met Philby, who was then The Times correspondent, and very pro-Franco, rather more than I was myself. Then in a hotel bar I ran into a German colonel of my acquaintance who was fighting on Franco’s side. We had a drink together and, referring to the Munich agreement, he said, ‘I think we’ve got the better of you this time.’ That was the moment I understood that the Germans and the Italians were about to fight against us, and this changed my whole attitude. The Germans and the Italians were using Spain to advance their control of Europe at our expense, and once I realized that, there followed a kind of Pauline conversation. I came back to England determined to see what I could do to oppose it.

You mentioned Philby. Did it ever occur to you that he could be a Communist spy? 

No, I met him once during the war and once after the war, and he appeared on both occasions to be a rather right-wing Conservative.

In 1950 you married Harold Macmillan’s daughter. In political terms I imagine this was a mixed blessing in that there were the inevitable cries of nepotism and an element of resentment that you had a direct line to the Prime Minister. Was that difficult to deal with? 

I would want to get the story in perspective. Macmillan was then not even in office, and when he did get into office it was as Minister of Housing, so he wasn’t at all a senior figure. I’d also known him before because his son Maurice was one of my closest friends at school, and I had often been to their house. But there were many steps between him and the premiership. I liked Harold but my affection for his daughter was entirely personal.

Macmillan aroused very different opinions, both as a man and as a politician. Some people thought his devious, a charlatan and ultimately a very cold man. In so far as you could stand back from family ties, how did you view him? 

Every Prime Minister has to be to some extent devious and cold; he has to sacrifice people. If you’re at No. 10 Downing Street you have to keep the Party together, the Cabinet together, you have to drive through the policies to which you’re committed. And Macmillan served all these well. He was enthusiastic for Europe, though it took him a long time to get the Cabinet and House of Commons to accept his proposal for Europe, and then he was defeated by De Gaulle. He was always determined to maintain Britain as a nuclear power which now everybody accepts, even the Labour Party; but it wasn’t accepted in those days, and he fought a good battle. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he gave in too soon to American pressures over Suez – I don’t want to say he lost his nerve, but he became frightened by the run on sterling. He then made it his first objective to repair relations with the Americans, which he did. And we have to remember that inflation in his time never topped three per cent.

And yet people call him the father of inflation. 

There’s a lot of nonsense talked now about the Macmillan government and its effect on the economy, but in the light of circumstances of the time he was doing just about the right thing.

But how would you rate him as a Prime Minister? 

I wouldn’t put him in the Churchill or perhaps even the Disraeli class, but I think he held his Party together, he held the country together and he was vindicated at successive elections. He was a very remarkable political operator.

When I interviewed Mollie Butler there was no doubt in her mind that Macmillan was determined from the first day of his leadership to the last never to be succeeded by Butler, even though Butler was the obvious candidate. Do you think that’s true? 

Yes. He thought of Butler as an extremely able, intelligent political leader, but he didn’t regard him as a commander-in-chief. I don’t think it was jealousy – in fact he had very good personal relations with Butler.

Most people believe that Macmillan rigged the results of the investigation into whom the Party wanted as his successor, and Enoch Powell even wrote an article entitled ‘How Macmillan Lied to the Queen’. What view did you take at the time and what view do you take now? 

I don’t think he rigged the election. What happened was fairly simple: the Lord Chancellor and Chief Whip consulted members of the Party as to whom they would like as leader. There was a strong vote for Quintin Hailsham and a strong vote for Butler. We were all asked, myself included, whom we would chose if we couldn’t get the candidate we favoured, and there was a very large vote in favour of Alec Home. The Prime Minister had no choice but to tell the Queen that the Party was divided between Hailsham and Butler, but there would be a consensus for Sir Alec Home; and so Home got it. I don’t call that rigging it.

Why do you think Enoch Powell in particular opposed Alec Home? 

The official reason was that he didn’t think a fourteenth earl had the right image for the modern Tory Party, but I think it was really that he wanted Butler to succeed. He thought that if the leadership of the Party refused to accept Alec Home then Butler would have it, but when the time came Butler wasn’t prepared to throw his hat in the ring.

That Butler was prepared to serve under Home was commendable in itself, was it not? 

It was a matter of political morals.

What did you think of Enoch Powell at the time? I believe you have described him as something of a werewolf. 

He was always a friend of mine, I always liked him, but he does have some of the characteristics of a strange creature.

Butler is often referred to as the greatest Prime Minister we never had and indeed people often say you are the greatest Foreign Secretary we never had. Do you think these labels are ones which emerge only when we have events in some kind of historical perspective, or is it the case that you felt at the time you were being passed over? 

Let’s take Rab Butler first. I think if elected he would have been a great Prime Minister; what I’m not sure about is whether he could ever have been elected by the people. Of course he was an able man, but he lacked charisma and I don’t think he was a natural leader, though he was a great chief of staff. In my own case, the only comment I would make is that there is a difference, not always appreciated, between diplomacy and foreign policy. Diplomacy is the art of negotiation; foreign policy is determining where the interests of your country lie. Looking back on the years between the wars I have a clearer view of where the interests of our country lay and would have fought for those rather than attempted negotiation. Anthony Eden, who was perhaps the greatest negotiator we ever had, fought very hard over Vietnam, where there was no great British interest, yet he surrendered in what I thought was an area of vital interest, in the Suez Canal Zone in 1954. This effectively meant the end of the Commonwealth as a world force, and a major defeat for Europe, and for British influence in Europe. Later on there was the Rhodesian crisis where again Lord Carrington achieved a great success in producing agreement between the different sides, but in my view at the expense of vital British interests in South Africa. So I have sometimes said that we have to be careful not to let diplomacy triumph over foreign policy; I would have put the latter ahead of the former.

Don’t you think the loss of the Commonwealth, or the loss of the empire, was only a matter of time? 

Not necessarily. It might well have survived. The resilience of the old Commonwealth was quite remarkable – in 1931 when we went off gold, in 1940 when we went into the war, in 1945 when we came out of the war – and with a little encouragement we could have kept the system going for quite a long time, perhaps indefinitely.

Would it be fair to say that your views are right-wing as opposed to middle-of-the-road? 

I never know what people mean by right-wing. My views on domestic policy have been rather centre, some might say slightly wet. Where foreign policy is concerned I’ve always taken the Churchillian view that you first of all identify the enemy, and having made up your mind where lies the threat, who is the enemy, you must stand up against them and take whatever precautions are needed to counter them. I’ve always thought it right to defend British interests and to take a fairly long-term view of what they are.

When Alec Douglas Home became Prime Minister your position became increasingly difficult and there was a move to oust you from government. Do you look back on that period as being particularly difficult? 

Unpleasant … but these things happen. I was perceived as an extravagant minister, with Concorde, TSR2 and space projects, and people were beginning to say we must cut back on public expenditure.

Do you think they were justified in trying to remove you? 

No, I think I was right. Concorde has been a great technological success. It may not have been a moneyspinner  but it’s been our little space programme and it hasn’t lost any more money than space has lost to the Americans and Russians. And the TSR2 and the P1154 would have been remarkable aircraft – they haven’t found anything better twenty years later.

I suppose you came close to becoming Foreign Secretary when Lord Carrington resigned over the Falklands. Were you disappointed not to have been chosen? 

I don’t think politicians should be disappointed. But it was perfectly true, there was a strong movement from the Tory backbenches to make me Foreign Secretary at the time, and I would have enjoyed the opportunity.

Your career was badly damaged during your time at the Ministry of Aviation in the last days of the Tory government – I’m thinking of the Ferranti business. How serious was the damage in your view? 

Not very serious. I think I overcame that. The Ferranti family were prepared to cough up the money which we thought they had unduly gained. They repaid the debt, perhaps even more than they should have done.

Before 1962 your career was extremely promising, and you were tipped as a possible Minister of Defence. Are you philosophical about the volatility of political life? 

You have to be, otherwise you couldn’t go on in politics. I’ve never been very keen on securing a particular job; it’s been much more important to achieve certain policies and objectives. There’s no point in being embittered.

You were Aviation Minister when Profumo ran the War Office. What view did you take of the Profumo scandal? 

I supported him as far as I could. He was a friend, he’s remained a friend, and I thought he was not really as important as the media made out.

The official reason why Profumo had to go was that he lied to the House of Commons, but of course the real reason was his involvement with a prostitute. Isn’t that the ultimate in British hypocrisy? 

I think they could have tolerated the involvement with the prostitute; the real reason was that he was led into a situation where he told a lie to the House, and this was an indefensible position to be in. Had he not lied to the House, and had simply admitted to the affair, he might still have had to resign but would have remained in the House of Commons, and continued to claim the viscountcy which was the right of any Secretary of State in those days.

The number of scandals involving MPs has increased over the years, or at least the diligence with which the media expose the scandals has increased. Do you think the private lives of MPs are a legitimate area of public interest? 

In principle no, but of course if an MP or Minister gets himself into a flagrant position it’s bound to be discussed.

Discussed is one thing, but hounded out of office is another. 

Where do you draw the line between the two? None of this is new … it went on in the last century, and it goes on today. I think the public will accept a good deal, and any incidental action on the part of a politician does not necessarily render him incompetent; on the other hand, a man who gives a lead in not only political but moral affairs, obviously can become a little ridiculous if he’s caught in the wrong situation. Before the Second World War, the rule was that if the wife didn’t complain the press had no right to complain, but in those days a divorce was a clear block to continuing in political life. That convention has now disappeared; indeed it’s sometimes said that you can’t get into the Cabinet unless you’re divorced. But the balance has not changed very much; things go on very much now as they did before.

Thirty years ago you signed the Concorde deal with the French. Was that your proudest moment? 

No. I suppose my proudest moment was when Nasser proved me right about the Suez Canal, and I was able to say in the House of Commons. Much more politely than I’m saying it now, ‘I told you so.’

You seem always to have had a thinly disguised suspicion of America and the Americans. Even in the 1960s when the cold war with Russia was at its height, you said you were more alarmed by the Americans than the Russians … what was the origin of this alarm and suspicion? 

Objective historians recognize that it was the aim of the American foreign policy to destroy the British, French and Dutch empires. I myself became aware of this during the Second World War when I was attached to Chiang Kai Shek’s headquarters in China. It became quite clear that although American policy was well aligned with our own in Europe and the Middle East, it was quite plainly anti-British, anti-French and anti-Dutch in the Far East. And Suez was the touchstone, Suez was the coup de grace. 

So you don’t believe in the so-called ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America? 

On the contrary, but it doesn’t alter the fact that there was an American policy to destroy the British Empire; and it succeeded.

Do you have difficulty in accepting the view that without the Americans we would not have won the Second World War? 

I don’t see how we could have won without the Americans. I remember a curious occasion – January ’41 I think it was – when I was invited to a little dinner party where Churchill and Harriman were the principal guests and the talk came round to how the British were going to win the war. There were still oranges on the table, though they became rarer as the war went on, and Churchill picked one up and said, ‘If I were a worm wanting to get into this orange I would crawl round it until I found a rotten spot.’ He then turned to Harriman and said, ‘But you’ve got to keep the worm alive until it finds the rotten spot.’ Without the Americans I don’t think we could have won the war, but we’d already got to the point where we weren’t going to lose the war.

Did you yourself ever have any doubts about that? 

At the time when Rommel came to Alamein, I think my heart never doubted, but my head may have wondered a bit.

Your own patriotism during the war must have made your brother’s behaviour all the harder to bear. I wonder how you think it was possible for two brothers born of the same parents and brought up in the same environment to have turned out so differently. You must have asked yourself this a million times – what is the answer? 

Although you talk about the same environment, he had in fact lived on the Continent for several years, and that made all the difference. He’d been involved in the Spanish War, and then came very much under the influence of Doriot in France. He was convinced the Germans were going to lose the war and that the Communists would sweep over the whole of Europe. This was a view that became increasingly prominent in the occupied countries. Of course it was not for him to intervene, and he was able to do so only because of my father’s standing. He should have kept him mouth shut, but he felt he had to say something. It was regrettable but understandable.

It is difficult to imagine the depths of disappointment, the shame, the anger which must have been wrought on the family at the time, feelings which must have been made worse by the heightened tension of the war. How did you cope? Did you talk about it, or was it suppressed? 

It wasn’t suppressed. My father offered his resignation and I offered mine; we were both quite clear that it was the right thing to do, but we were both refused.

Did your father ever manage to come to terms with what happened? 

Yes. He came with me to say goodbye to my brother in prison and indeed he wrote a short verse in the taxi which took us there, and I think it sums up his feelings: ‘At end of wayward days/You found a cause/If not your country’s./Who shall say whether that betrayal of our ancient laws/Was treason or foreknowledge?/He rests well.’

In the course of my research I was struck by the fact that although you said you might have killed your brother with your bare hands if you had met him during the war, after you saw him in prison your feelings changed. Compassion took the place of anger, blood was thicker than water perhaps? 

I think that is about true. Also, if I had seen him during fighting he would have been with Hitler and I would have been fighting against Hitler, but when I saw him in prison the war was over and the Russians were dominating half of Europe.

Did your brother’s plea of guilty come as a shock especially after all your efforts on his behalf? 

No, I think it was a logical act.

Albert Pierrepoint, the famous hangman, said that of all the people he executed your brother was by far the bravest. Did that make the pain all the harder to bear? 

No, I think it was appropriate. He was an Amery.

As an MP you have consistently voted against capital punishment. Is that shaped directly from your personal experience? 

It has been influenced by it. Within our legal system when someone is charged for a potentially capital offence there is a considerable delay while the lawyers prepare their case, then there’s the trail, the appeal, and even when that is rejected there is the appeal for mercy.  All this takes a long time and it exacts its toll on all concerned, especially the family, quite apart from the person charged.

You were a vociferous opponent of the Official Secrets Act and were against the lifelong confidentiality imposed on former members of security and intelligence services. Why was that? 

There used to be a very flexible arrangement under which former secret agents could publish their memoirs if they had first of all submitted them to the proper authorities. This was a very good system and it should be allowed to continue, because it is right that people who spend their whole lives in the Secret Service should be able to explain to their family and friends what they’ve been doing, provided it doesn’t endanger future operations. It is wrong to have a blanket veto on anybody writing anything, even about what they saw of butterflies in Anatolia. I produced what I thought was a rather good amendment which was accepted by the home secretary of the day. But he then went back on it – orders from No.10.

Do you think Mrs Thatcher made herself and her government look foolish over the Peter Wright memoirs? 

Yes. She was his best publicist.

In a BBC interview with Robin Day in 1979, just after the Commons debate on Anthony Blunt, you remarked that there were a dozen traitors in the House of Commons, a remark which you later – under pressure – unreservedly withdrew. Why did you make that remark in the first place, and why did you then feel bound to withdraw it? 

I was not in a position to prove that the members concerned had been bought by the enemy; I could only have attempted to prove that objectively they were siding with the enemy. Mr Speaker asked me to withdraw my remark, otherwise there would have been a long and complicated debate. And so I withdrew.

You had great doubts about American foreign policy, especially in South East Asia and the Middle East. Did you therefore have doubts about the Iraqi war and the reasons, largely dominated by America, for going to war? 

I had no doubt about the American decision to go into the war. I still have the greatest doubts about their decision to stop. In Churchill’s famous words: ‘I don’t know whether I would have dared to start; I would never have dared to stop.’

You once said of Mrs Thatcher: ‘Her aims have usually been defensible, but her methods deplorable.’ What did you mean by that? 

I don’t remember ever saying that, though I remember seeing it in print. I’ve always had great respect and considerable admiration for her. We didn’t always agree about Europe, but she made a great Prime Minister.

You have crossed swords with Ted Heath in the past over oil sanctions and he sacked you from the opposition front bench, and yet on other matters you have been closely aligned. Am I right in thinking you have high regard for Ted Heath? 

We’ve known each other since student days at Balliol. I’ve always liked him, and I am a strong supporter of the European Union, though I think he goes sometimes too far in that regard. I thought he was wrong about Rhodesia, and wrong about the Suez Crisis when he was Chief Whip, but we have a good relationship. 

And was he wrong about Mrs Thatcher? 

Well, that was his opinion.

You’re very diplomatic. It has often been said that personal loyalty is one of your best attributes. Do you regard loyalty as a necessary political virtue? 

Personal relations play a much greater part in politics than is generally understood, and loyalty to friends at home and abroad is of great importance. Sometimes necessity makes you change friends, but if you have to change friends you should always take steps to ensure that it is done with proper decency and decorum.

The Tories at the moment seem riven with disloyalty … but isn’t that ultimately a more honest approach than the normal closing of ranks in political parties? 

I’m not a great believer in open government, and I confess I’m rather shocked by the speed with which friends of mine publish their memoirs. They bare all sorts of secrets which would have been thought very indecent until quite recently.

Politics can sometimes be a dirty business. Have you ever felt a distaste or at least an ambivalence towards the political life? 

No. If you go into the business you should be prepared to get your hands dirty.

As a politician you concentrated your energies on the wider issues of national importance – some said at the expense of your own constituency and the local interests of your own people. Do you think that is a valid criticism? 

Not really. I managed to retain the wholehearted support of both my constituencies, in Lancashire and in Brighton. But I’ve always thought that the fate of more people is determined by what goes on abroad than what goes on at home. Whether with the old imperial connection or the modern European connection, or issues of peace and war, or issues of export and import, the British people are terribly dependent on what goes on in the world.

What would you describe as your greatest failing? 

Perhaps it was to take up positions that were not popular at the time – I’m thinking of my support for Britain’s imperial and Commonwealth role when it was unfashionable (though probably right), and my tendency to make realistic judgements in foreign affairs when these were thought rather reactionary. I’ve usually been a little out of phase with the mood of the time.

If you were to relive your political life, would you do it differently? 

I don’t think so, I might have made greater efforts to soften some of the things I said, and I might have tried to sell my views rather more plausibly to audiences who didn’t want to hear the truth; but I would still have taken the same line.

Do you think you will be vindicated by history in all the causes you have chosen to champion? 

All is saying a lot, but I’ve already been vindicated to a very large extent in many of them. The chaos that has overtaken Africa as a result of a premature decolonization speaks for itself; the successive Arab-Israeli wars came about directly as a result of Britain’s withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone; and the anxieties I expressed about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, alas, were proved well-founded.

You were an advisor to BCCI. Wasn’t that a major embarrassment to you in view of what happened? 

No, because I was merely a consultant. I was only ever asked for my judgement on the political climate, the validity of investing in Africa or Europe. I was never involved in the banking or the finance, nor would I have been capable of helping in that way; they simply wanted political advice, which I was happy to give them at the invitation of the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, who was a good friend of this country and a friend of mine.

But you didn’t suspect anything at all? Weren’t you taken in? 

I was never anywhere near their books. I had no idea what they were doing. I certainly don’t think I was taken in.

You began life with many advantages: financial independence, public schooling, intellect, powerful connections. You still live in the house in Eton Square in which you were born. Do you ever think that these factors have effectively removed you from the lives of the vast majority of people in this country? 

No. Don’t forget I was for eighteen years Member of Parliament for Preston in Lancashire, a very marginal constituency, and in order to keep the seat I had to see very much how everybody else lived. I never felt out of touch.

How did you cope with the death of your wife, your companion for forty years? 

Of course it was a terrible blow, I can’t conceal that, though up to a point I was prepared because she had been ill for a couple of years.

Do you ever think you might see her again in another life? 

I don’t know. These are mysteries which are not unveiled to me.

Were women very important in your life? 

The whole problem is this: Which is more difficult? To have to do with women or to do without them?

And what is your answer? 

It is a dilemma. Further disclosures will await my memoirs.

Though you have had a very distinguished career in politics, many have remarked that it is so much less than you should have had. You give no outward sign of being disappointed. Does that reflect your inner feelings also? 

What is the use of being disappointed? In life one learns that the prizes don’t always go to the ablest or to the ones who were right; they go to people who are better connected, or have the ear of the powers that be. It’s stupid to be disappointed.

Nude Yoga and the Soul (Dedicated to my friend Omar Hamza)

Naked yoga has become more common today as we are no longer embarrassed to display our nudity in the public arena.

While many practise this latest form of Yoga without clothes, the inborn inhibition that was once a major factor in our psyche is no longer a preventive issue. The practice is gaining popularity, notably in western societies that have more familiarity with social nudity. As sexual liberalisation in Europe and the United States has overshadowed the more stringent code of nudity concealment, the trend to expose our hidden bits has become more plausible and common than it has ever been.

Naked yoga was probably a feature in Indian history going back to ancient times. One of the Indian sects, called Naga Sadhus, made nudity a part of spiritual practice, but Naga has been misunderstood as ‘Nagna’. Naga apparently means ‘who represents power’. The word originates from ‘nag’ (snake) which signifies power in Hindu philosophy, while the word ‘sadhu’ came from sadham (spiritual practice).

Members of the sect considered nudity a way of rejecting the material side of life. Celibacy and a disregard of the harsh outside conditions were among the key ideas of their philosophy. They practised naked yoga to tame their desires, identify with their physical bodies and to break the attachment with everything physical, sensual and material.

With the sexual revolution taking place all over the world, naked yoga is bound to be the elixir of the next generation, who worship the human form, pamper and tone their bodies, adding lustre to the shapely-crafted human art work their bodies have become. We can only wonder in amazement at the transformation of our bodies through exercise, contemplation and the freeing of our minds in order to rejuvenate its creative powers.

The female form is far more elegantly conceived than its male counterpart. It has no crude sexual organ dangling down, perhaps as a warning signal, but a hidden invitation more discretely enticing as a consequence of its low profile.

Naked yoga is a woman’s ultimate journey before she reaches the gates of paradise. As for the men – we are born to toil until the day we expire.