Well do I remember those cold winter days and nights when thousands queued silently to pay their respects to one of greatest figures of history.
And I remember the journey on the Thames barge, as if a salute by Royalty to a great Commoner.
To realize that was 50 years ago means we who remember him still have become a part of history.
I will always remember going to an evening with Seamus Heaney in Glasgow 12 years ago. His spirit filled the hall floating on the poetry he recited. Not always easy poetry but based on experience and validated by struggle. The importance of tradition and having come from somewhere distinct, in his case Northern Ireland, was evident, but tempered by an enormous depth of humanity and understanding. A Nobel Prize and his numerous academic distinctions did not change him.
A relic of civilization survives. Is this our future? John Grey gives his thoughts on this massive work by Mervin Peake who grew up in China which heavily influences his writing. He was also a superb illustrator. Is the coming century China’s? Only time will tell. Strange that the USA with its Constitution enshrining individual liberty and justice for all should sacrifice them so easily in its war on terror. Is the USA, currently the world’s dominant superpower, going to buckle in the face of the increasing influence of China?
A more distant viewpoint was taken by Olaf Stapledon in his very influential and prescient writings (Last and First Men 1830, Starmaker 1938) which describe the rise and fall of civilizations over millennia.
Alec Guinness was a versatile and brilliant actor, a keen observer of human nature and of animal behaviour. When young he would follow people as they walked in the street and mimic their behaviour, especially their way of walking. Hopefully they did not notice. He was self depreciating and had a wry sense of humour.
He had an intuitive understanding of human nature, and a bit more. He tells what happened when he met James Dean. Alec Guinness was looking for a place to eat in Los Angeles one evening but the restaurant was full and he was turned away. A young man got up and introduced himself as James Dean and asked if he would like to share his table.
As they got talking James Dean took him to the parking lot and showed off his new sports car. Alec Guinness, who knew nothing about cars,but realized it was a powerful machine, asked how fast it would go.
James Dean said he had not driven it but it would do 150 mph.
Alec Guinness said a strange intuition came to him and he turned to James Dean and said ‘Never get into that car. If you do you are dead.’
He made excuses and left.
He had a premonition that in a weeks time James Dean would be dead.
Almost exactly a week later James Dean was killed driving that car.