Search topics on this blog

Showing posts with label Alistair Cooke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alistair Cooke. Show all posts

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Sundry reflections


The Scottish news is consumed by one awful event. There is little I can say that can add anything useful to sentiments already expressed or to the analysis and speculation on  events and causes of this terrible human tragedy, other than that it appears to be one of those horrific random events that periodically wreak such damage on the lives of people.

Like everyone else, I now feel guilt in pursuing mundane activities, especially at this time of year, while such grief afflicts others, yet I must. But my thought are with the bereaved.


The referendum campaign consumed much of my energies over recent years, and I mean not just the official campaign, but the one that effectively started when a nationalist – and I use the word proudly with no equivocation – government was elected in 2007.

Along with thousands of Scots like me, my planned activities for this phase of my life – reading, writing and music - were sort of put on hold, or at least relegated to second place.

But now that things have calmed down, there’s more time and space, so I’ve made a 175-page dent in the intimidating 658 pages of Francis Fukuyama’s Political Order and Political Decay, and revisited old friends, including Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (my all-time favourite book), Raymond Chandler’s short stories, American Popular Song by Alex Wilder and as bedtime reading, Alistair Cooke’s collected Letters from America.

(I also re-read The Ancient Order of Moridura periodically, but that’s a sort of masochistic vice.)

The Alistair Cooke collection I’m reading for the fourth time, and I find it infinitely rewarding. Cooke was born in 1908 in Salford, Manchester and died in 2004. The classic Anglo-American, his first Letter from America came in 1946, and he was a part of my life in his BBC broadcasts from my childhood up until his death. He chronicled all the great political events of the twentieth century, and his unique insights into America, American life and Americans were delivered in an inimitable prose style, carried by an inimitable voice in his broadcasts.

I’m back in 1956 with him at the moment, as he writes of the death of the grand old man of American letters, H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore. Apart from giving me another title for my re-reading list, his HLM: RIP essay came up with this strangely comforting quote on death from Mencken -

“… the dying man doesn’t struggle much, and he isn’t afraid. … he succumbs to a blest stupidity. His mind fogs. His will power vanishes. He submits decently. He scarcely gives a damn.”

I know not all deaths are like that, but only a man who had been close to death himself could have written that. It mirrors closely how I felt in the lead-up to my own cardiac arrest in 2010 and my subsequent six minutes of ‘death’ before resuscitation.

But here I am, almost five years on – five good years – and looking forward to Christmas, and New Year and the May general election, and an SNP landslide – and ultimately independence.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Letter from America – the prescience of Alistair Cooke

I grew up with radio in pre-television days, and one of my favourite programmes was Alistair Cooke’s Letter form America, the longest-running series in broadcasting history, from 1946 to 2004, the year of his death.

Alistair Cooke could fairly be described as a liberal conservative commentator, and in his later years he moved further to the right, although some might dispute this. But he understood America in a way that few Europeans and even fewer Englishmen have done, before or since.

Consider this excerpt -

“Americans are not particularly good at sensing the real elements of another people’s culture. It helps them to approach foreigners with carefree warmth and an animated lack of misgiving. It also makes them, on the whole, poor administrators on foreign soil. They find it almost impossible to believe that poorer peoples, far from the Statue of Liberty, should not want in their heart of hearts to become Americans.

“If it should happen that America, in its new period of world power, comes to do what every other world power has done: if Americans should have to govern large numbers of foreigners, you must expect that Americans will be well hated before they are admired for themselves.”

This was written in the spring of 1946, just after the Second World War, when America was just beginning to understand itself as a world power. When we consider what America brought to the world in the sixty four years since that was written, the analysis was prescient indeed.