Sometimes writing is a messy business given a tidy up. What follows is a guide to how this blog is being pieced together today, live and as it happens…
8.15am: Sit down at laptop with a head full of bad sleep. Skim the headlines. Reject Europe. Nothing personal, Europe. It’s just that whatever dodgy deal David Cameron might or might not be weaselling his way towards is elusive and plain boring anyway.
8.20am: Tired red eye slides to a story in the Daily Telegraph. This says Oxford University has decided to keep in place its statue of Cecil Rhodes. Ah, yes, remember something about that. The statue upset student activists because Rhodes was a Victorian imperialist and a racist.
8.25am: A thought stirs in my mind, like a fish at the bottom of a weed-wrapped pool. Hasn’t a statue of Rhodes already been brought down in South Africa because of similar protests? Ah, yes so it has (thank you Google, where would I be without you).
8.30am: Think about history, then remember I haven’t finished with Rhodes yet. Oriel College, owners of the statue, say it will remain. Now me and my tired mind think this is the right decision. You cannot go around censoring the past to suit the present, can you? The trouble is, the university logic appears to be less nuanced. It’s all about money, you see.
8.40am: Yes, the statue is staying in place because “furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million if it was taken down”, according to the Telegraph. Ah, so this isn’t about academic rigour or anything. Nope, just follow the money.
8.50am: Tell myself that this is disappointing. Look, shouldn’t a great university make a proper intellectual case for not tinkering with the past to suit the present? Yes, but in the end just follow the money. According to the Telegraph, donations worth £1.5 million have already been cancelled, with more to follow if the university bows to the Rhodes Must Fall student campaign.
9am: I reckon those students were wrong, however heartfelt their arguments about Rhodes, whose legacy still funds Rhodes scholarships for overseas students. These students, they’re like Doctor Who in a time-cleansing machine, wanting to tumble back in time and remove the bits they don’t like.
9.05am: Focus again. Here is what Sean Power, development director at Oriel College, reportedly wrote to staff: “Pride in the institution is major currency when it comes to fundraising, and this has already been severally diminished. The fact that Rhodes was the College’s most generous benefactor only compounds the issue; ‘is this now we treat our donors?’ etc.” God, but that’s a depressing paragraph. Rub eyes. “Pride in the institution is major currency…” Where do they find these people?
9.10am: Didn’t Henry Ford say something about history being bunk? Yes, he did. Don’t even need to Google that, although the full quote is out of mind’s reach. The founder of the Ford Motor Company was speaking 100 years ago, in other words during the First World War, a time history cannot forget. But Ford, yes, he said it and then became history himself.
9.15pm: I think Ford’s point was that we should live in the present, as history is bound by tradition. “We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today” (thanks, again, to Google). History doesn’t work like that. One moment you are vitally in the present, beset by all the present problems; then time rolls on and you are the past.
9.20am: Scratch head. Is it fair to say that history is complicated, messy and open to many interpretations? The past is constantly being rewritten, for sure – but we shouldn’t try to change what we don’t like about the past.
9.25am: Another quick trawl. Ah, here is a quote by Mark Twain. Did that man ever say anything that didn’t end up in quotation marks? I am sure that in a book somewhere there must be a Twain quote saying: “Yes, coffee, thank you, milk and sugar.” Anyway what Twain said was this: “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Now that is a quotation, suggesting that is always written with a partial eye. True enough, but if we can’t help but see the past through the present, we shouldn’t change the past to suit the present, should we?
9.30am: Read again, press button and publish…