Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Little Chill

I’ve been spending some of my summer reading time enjoying The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists edited by Irene and Alan Taylor. What fun they must have had. The format goes from January 1 to December 31. The entries start in the 16th century and go to the late 1990s. For instance, January 7th starts with Fanny Kemble and ends with Brian Eno. Most diarists are British or European, but the collection also includes, among other Americans, Alice James, Henry David Thoreau, and John Steinbeck.

There is a delightful entry from Lord Louis Mountbatten in which he recounts that when he was going to Cairo, Barbara Cartland gave him some of her romances because she had heard that Jehan Sadat was a fan. But President Sadat said, “No, I will read them first. I’m a great fan myself.” He also suggested that Ms Cartland might visit Egypt to do research for a romance. I tried to picture him reading An Unexpected Love from The Pink Collection but my imagination failed me.

We also have Lawrence Durrell reporting from Corfu on the legend of the woman who rises from the ocean and inquires “How is it with Alexander [the Great]?” Wise sailors who do not want their boats destroyed know to answer, “He lives and reigns still.”

But I got a distinct chill when I read the following 1970 entry from Cecil King, a British newspaperman: “Took part yesterday in a radio programme, ‘Speak Easy,’ to be broadcast this evening. The chairman was Jimmy Savile, an unprepossessing figure with long, bleached-white hair, a necklace of painted shells; gym shoes, white socks and a very shabby corduroy suit. But ignoring the trimmings and looking into his face, you could see that here was an absolutely genuine human being. He gets lots of money from the B.B.C. and from a column in the People, lives in a mini-bus or a caravan, (sometimes one, sometimes the other), and devotes his life to good works—particularly at Broadmoor and Rampton. He is indeed a latter-day saint, dressed up in clothes that render him acceptable to the young multitude. He has great psychological insight. I was saying that I wondered why people are uninterested in the old, though they will be all old some day. He said it was ‘conscience:’ the old remind them of their old relatives, who they neglect. He said one of the B.B.C. higher-ups had a mother in Leeds he had not seen in several years. He said also people don’t want good health. He recently broke a finger wrestling and still wears a finger-splint when he wants attention and sympathy. People don’t want to have to cope with someone really ill, but like sympathizing with someone wearing a finger-splint. With all his good fun, he devotes his life to the drearier kinds of good works.”

Mr. King died in 1987, long before the world found out to what uses Jimmy Savile put his ‘great psychological insight.’ Indeed this anthology was published in 2001 when Mr.Savile was still admired for his good works among society’s most vulnerable. It was only a year after his death in 2011 that the British public found out that he was a sexual predator and that his image as a “latter-day saint” gave him almost unlimited access to facilities where he molested the people for whom he also raised money. There were 450 complaints of sexual abuse lodged against Savile. Some of them occurred before his death, but the reports were not believed. What chance did these people have against “this absolutely genuine human being?"

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson

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