Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Winston! Thoughts on Churchill

Today would have been Winston Spencer Churchill’s 141st birthday. I propose we share a toast in his honor before his ghost guzzles all the booze left in the world.
I’m on page 432 of the third and final volume of William Manchester and Paul Reid’s epic bio of “The Last Lion.” That means in one year I’ll have absorbed 2,920 pages about the man who to me is one of the most interesting human beings since Jesus Christ.
He’s profane, irascible, witty, brilliant, wise, artistic, sentimental, egomaniacal, self-deprecating, uncompromising, indifferent, hilarious, profound and daring. 
Sure, most of us know individuals who are all of those things, but how many of us know one person who is all of those things?
Churchill was like the Swiss Army Knife of drinking buddies.
Because, drink he did.
I’ve written that if it’s true impairment begins with the first drink then I’ve been impaired since 1975.
It’s, I think, a clever exaggeration.
But Manchester, a scholarly researcher, painstakingly writes of how Churchill after he turned 50 never again drew another single sober breath. He lived another 41 years, dying finally in 1965.
Understand, he wasn’t fully drunk.
But he was never fully sober.
When told he drank too much, he said, “I’ve taken far more out of alcohol than alcohol will ever take out of me.”
He lived to be 91.
I’m enjoying the Manchester biographies so much I think the first thing I’m going to do when I stop reading about Churchill is begin to read Churchill. He authored 40 books and in 1953 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
So today on his birthday, I’m going to list some of my favorite anecdotes and quotes about this monumental man so worthy of our attention.
• He was persistent. He said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
• He was brave. During his military service, he saw combat in Cuba, India, Sudan, South Africa and the World War I. During the Boer War in South Africa he was captured, escaped, and became a national hero by traveling 300 miles to rejoin his unit and resume fighting. He said: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
• He was arrogant. He once got into an enormous row with a man servant who had the nerve to stand up to Churchill. When the argument was finished, Churchill upbraided the man by saying, “You know, you said some very rude things to me.” The antagonist quaked and said, “Well, you said some very rude things to me!” Churchill said, “Yes, but I am a very great man.”
• He was durable. While visiting New York in December 1931, he was nearly killed in when a car ran him over while he was on foot crossing Fifth Avenue. Historical archives in prestigious libraries include hand-written notes from his family physician insisting that the patient, in spite of American Prohibition, must have alcohol to survive.
• He was thoughtful. When he was called on to edit a national newspaper during a labor crisis, he asked one of the pressmen what was the purpose of all the ceramic cups near each work station. He was told they were for beer. Churchill asked, “Do you have enough beer?” We do, he was told. “Nonsense!” he said. “You can never have too much beer. Order more beer right now!”
• He was indulgent. Manchester writes how he clashed with Sir Alan Brooke during World War II over personality that, “for Brooke, self-control was a duty, for Churchill, an impediment to life’s joy.”
• He was flexible. He was a liberal when he was young and became the leader of the conservative party when he was older and said the man he most admired above all others was liberal president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
• He was precise. Whenever he had to spend time with Eisenhower's dour Sec. of State, John Foster Dulles, he'd always remark, "Dull, Duller, Dulles."

• He was secular. He disdained moralizing prig Stafford Cripps and once when stranded in the Sahara desert said, “Here we are marooned in in all these miles of sand — not a blade of grass or a drop of water or a flower. How Cripps would love it.”
• Also about Cripps: “There but for the grace of God, goes Cripps.” And, “He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
• He was scathing. On Nazi appeasers, he said: “They are sheep in sheep’s clothing.”
• He was inspirational. The British people were so deeply moved by his defiance in the face of Nazi annihilation, they named their children after him even before anyone dreamed he’d prevail. In fact, another famous Briton was named after him. Born on Oct. 9, 1949, he was John Winston Lennon. Although he was alive to understand the impact of Beatlemania, I’ve seen no Churchill comment on the phenomena.
• He was artistic. At the behest of artist Paul Maze, he in 1915 tried his hand at art. It became a consuming passion and he painted over 500, some of which have sold for millions of dollars and are critically acclaimed. The Guardian in 2014 wrote a story headlined, “Painting: The hobby that saved Churchill’s sanity.”
• He was profound. He said, “History will be good to me because I intend to write it.”
• He was elite. He said, “The best argument against democracy is a 5-minute conversation with the average voter.”
• He was an animal lover. He said, “I like pigs. Cats look down on you, dogs look up to you, but pigs treat you as equals.”
Happy Birthday, Winston!
Pigs may have considered you their equals, but few men should ever dare to.


darly gross said...

He was a member of the Conservative party before jumping to the Liberals. And he had some awful things to say about Labour following the call for the general election, and was voted out of office during WW II (though with the War in Europe won). Having said that, he was a remarkable man and statesman, and kudos for working your way through the biographies.

Chris Rodell said...

Yes, I'm a bit dodgy on parliamentary nuance and his shifting alliances. I'm eager to learn the particulars of why he got voted out of office during the war. Seems very fickle. But it's clear he made a lot of enemies in his day. But you're right, Darly, just a remarkable man. I'm really enjoying learning about him and do intend to read his books next.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and flatter me with your comments.


Chris R.