Tuesday, 4 March 2014

You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth.

Like Robert Graves, I don't believe in great men. 

But that doesn't mean, as a girl after Caesar's heart, I can't love a great story.  Or a well ordered camp, but that's another story.  So of course, when I turned 30, I also sat down and wept because by that age Alexander the Great had conquered most of the world as he knew it.  I was mostly reading financial regulation.  Have a look at Plutarch's Life for the original story.

It won't then surprise you that I haven't done much conquering to date.  The closest I've got to Alexander is naming my dog after his favourite dog.  Can you see the resemblance?

Peritas hunting the noble foe-beast

Peritas hunting the noble foe-beast

Someone who got much closer than I have is another favourite soldier: T.E.Lawrence. 

Lawrence in 1918

Or Lawrence of Arabia, for those of us who are also slightly in love with Peter O'Toole.

Ah well, we can't all be lion tamers...

During the First World War, Lawrence famously led (or at least encouraged) an Arab revolt against the Turks in support of British strategy and captured Aqaba, as well as fighting alongside Arab troops at a number of other Arabian battles.  His dream of an independent Arabia was, in the end, frustrated by an English-French pact, but he became famous nonetheless partly because he was himself a prolific writer but also thanks to the sensational reporting of an American journalist.

For those who are interested, you can visit the motorbike he toppled off in the London Imperial War Museum (a rather lovely Brough Superior, if you like motorbikes) (I do).  

Lawrence on one of his eight Brough Superiors

If you also love a great story, Lawrence of Arabia was made into an extraordinary film, starring Peter O'Toole (see above).  The best scene is Omar Sharif, riding out of the desert haze.  This still doesn't do justice to the film or to Omar but you'll see.  Watch it.

So as I sit dreaming of Lawrence and camels and dust, on this beautiful Spring day...

Some favourite words of his come to mind.

"You wonder what I am doing?  Well, so do I, in truth.  Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep.  What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me.  Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it?  That’s the feeling."

(T.E. Lawrence to artist Eric Kennington, May 1935 )