Reading about the recent death of Adam West who played the Batman of my childhood made me reflect on the fact that the images of our formative years remain with us, despite later re-boots. Therefore, whenever anyone mentions Batman it is the image of the television series from the mid- 60s that comes to mind.
I was of an age that took these things very seriously so I did not, at the time, recognise any of the features that were later described as ‘camp’. I did not realise that the series was from another country, they spoke English after all. To me, it was all worth my attention and belief. I identified more with Robin than Batman, possibly because he was younger and I was a child.
I gave all the later films a miss. I grew away from Batman and superheroes generally but the truth is that the mid-60s television version remained with me and, when I heard the sad news about Adam West, there were all the images and references from childhood just waiting to return. Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin were all there (but in black and white- this was British television, 60s style!)
Here is a poem from Yeats to remind us all that we are getting older.
Sailing to Byzantium
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
W B Yeats
This poem is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I read this book by Philippe Sands after seeing the film ‘My Nazi Legacy’. The film shows his search for answers about his wider family in the company of two men whose fathers were important members of the Nazi regime. Although the experiences shown in the film are covered here, the book is wider. In particular, he shows how the work of two men from the city of Lvov were instrumental in thinking about human rights law. The awful events in Lemberg (as Lvov was called at certain points in the twentieth century) are covered as is the approach of the allies on winning the Second World War; the Nuremberg trials are detailed in the second half of the book.
Hersch Lauterpacht was a professor of International Law. He grew up in Lvov. His major contribution to the trials at Nuremberg was to focus on crimes against humanity; there was no hiding behind the State, if you committed a crime, you committed a crime. The other major thinker was Raphael Lemkin, also a resident of the Lvov, and also Jewish so restricted by the anti- semitic laws in pursuing his career. His contribution to law was to establish the concept of genocide. He believed that the intent to destroy whole groups or races needed to be recognised as a crime. It seemed to me that the ideas of both men overlapped, although it was not always seen this way when the trial was underway in Nuremberg and Lemberg, in particular, was frustrated that his ideas were not readily picked up.
Hans Frank features more than the other Nazi criminals as he was in charge of the area in which Lvov fell. He was also the father of one of the men Sands had come to know. It is this sense of the historical as personal that makes this book so powerful.
I was fascinated to learn that the idea of putting Nazis on trial was contested, especially as it looked as if some would be acquitted or receive lenient sentences. This is not a book about Nazis, though, and it is important to remember the people who suffered. Leon, Sands’s grandfather has pride of place in this memoir because the events formed him and allowed Sands to see history in a more personal light. This is an amazing memoir and I was left, at the end, with a sense that it was just that the two lawyers who had the biggest impact on legal thinking in the Nuremberg trials were both Jewish and had both been pushed out by the very regime they were holding to account.
I was introduced to this poem at school; so many of my favourite poems come from that time. It was used in the film ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ and, even though this was a film that veered towards the sentimental, I enjoyed the reference.
To the Virgins to Make Much of Time
- Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
- Old Time is still a-flying;
- And this same flower that smiles today
- To-morrow will be dying.
- The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
- The higher he’s a-getting,
- The sooner will his race be run,
- And nearer he’s to setting.
- That age is best which is the first,
- When youth and blood are warmer;
- But being spent, the worse, and worst
- Times still succeed the former.
- Then be not coy, but use your time,
- And, while ye may, go marry:
- For having lost but once your prime,
- You may forever tarry.
I am told that this poem by the wonderful James Fenton is frequently used in wedding ceremonies. I can see why but I am including it here because I like it.
Stay near to me and I’ll stay near to you –
As near as you are dear to me will do,
Near as the rainbow to the rain,
The west wind to the windowpane,
As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.
Stay true to me and I’ll stay true to you –
As true as you are new to me will do,
New as the rainbow in the spray,
Utterly new in every way,
New in the way that what you say is true.
Stay near to me, stay true to me. I’ll stay
As near, as true to you as heart could pray.
Heart never hoped that one might be
Half of the things you are to me –
The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day.
In the final pages of Mark Thompson’s book ‘Enough Said’, he makes reference to this poem by Keats. Having been reminded of it, I read it again after many years. It is in my hinterland.
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
I heard Mark Thompson, former Director- General of the BBC, speak at a conference a few years ago and was so disappointed by the fact that he, like the two prominent people who preceded him, gave a speech that was so concerned about not upsetting anyone in the audience that he spoke for about half an hour without saying anything of any substance at all!
I was surprised, therefore, at how much I enjoyed his book on rhetoric and the current state of political language in the UK and USA. The background is a gloomy one as far as I am concerned with our country divided by the toxic debate around Europe and Brexit. This book examines, in part, the reasons for the erosion of trust in politics. He also examines the skills and techniques used by politicians to obscure as well as make points. We really do seem to be in an age of poor political debate. Disagreements are often personal. The messenger rather than the message is attacked. Newspapers do not clarify but pedal points of view.
Thompson had a long, distinguished career in BBC journalism and speaks from experience. I could not help reflect, though, that his journalists created as well as suffered from the new world he bemoans. At the very least, they colluded.
Yet here we are, in a media age of infantalised debate and crude online comments attacking anyone we don’t agree with. The book shows that the study of rhetoric would make us all better citizens and, maybe, less susceptible to being taken in by the spin and misinformation of others. This book is a good place to start the fight back against the forces of ignorance.