Silence of the lambs

In principle, I am against hotheads. Indeed, I am somewhat hothead on the issue, for in truth, I am one of nature’s hotheads myself — a loud, fanatic, combustible advocate for quiet and moderation. A day hardly passes when I do not contemplate numerous homicides; though I try not to act on them. My little sister could perhaps testify to the continuities in my personhood, through six decades. Among her gifts, and the pleasures of her childhood, was an instinctive knowledge of how to provoke me — though without malice, of course, and strictly for her own entertainment. (Oh yes, I remember, my darling.) I co-habited with a woman in the state of marriage for some eighteen years; she could perhaps provide the most thorough inventory of my little foibles. And over the years I have fallen out with various other partners, in my farcically unsuccessful professional “career” — firing those below me; quitting (or being quitted of) when they were above me in rank.

These, I would say, in quiet reflection, are marks of a hothead.

My beloved papa, the seventh anniversary of whose death I observed the other day, was a great destroyer of teapots. And my mama was of the Gaelic genetic disposition; though strangely enough, a peace-maker. The two of them never fought; but my father sure took it out on the world, and on himself.

And too, on teapots. …

He would come home steaming from some unpleasant encounter with Power in some animate form. Or inanimate, as was sometimes the case. One could feel what were called in the ’sixties, “the vibrations.” For some reason it seemed often the sight of a harmless, silent teapot that triggered the final explosion. He’d be invariably sitting alone with it, so that apart from the pot, only he was ever scalded. Yet within ten minutes, he would apologize profusely, for being in such a temper, then become rather saintly again.

On one occasion, he returned from a battle royal with the (malicious) idiot who was the “chairman” of his “department,” out there in the world. Those vibrations were detected as he passed. He sensibly conducted himself down the stairs to the basement, where he had his workshop. Perhaps he would just hammer some nails into firewood today.

But know, there were shelves on the way down the stairs, on which crockery was set. He spied not one, but four identical teapots, which my mother had recently purchased on sale, in order, I suppose, to have one always in reserve. One, two, three, four: he smashed them all in succession. Then emerged from the basement within the usual ten minutes, looking rather sheepish; to find mama not weeping as he may have feared, but instead, still laughing.

It was only when reading his diaries, after his death, that I realized how much he had depended upon his wife’s good humour, good sense, iron loyalty, and forbearance; always, “My pillar of strength.” Notwithstanding, she would sometimes kick his shin, gently, under a table. And here I had always thought him the strength in that union. (No one outside, I observed, not even the children, can see inside a marriage.)

I think even the jolly, astoundingly well-adapted, and wonderfully caped G.K. Chesterton, may have had his inner asymmetries. Reading a biography of him, last week (by Ian Ker, and quite good, published 2011), I noticed that not only G.K.’s passing hackwork, but his books, were dictated to secretaries. And seldom corrected before the copy was rushed off to an editor somewhere; for like the rest of us the great man was working towards tight deadlines. And tended to put off, until each deadline was at hand.

Now, all these secretaries seem to have affirmed that he was the perfect knight and gentleman; a man of extraordinary thoughtfulness and kindness, though sometimes obtuse about the hour of day. These would include the mild feminist who thought his wife, Frances, rather weak for always taking her husband’s side, when surely he must be wrong, sometimes. This is just an aside (like everything I write), but I began to notice that the outward “weakness” of Frances (an interesting authoress on her own) was feint to an inner strength. She knew her husband drew enough nastiness from his assailants in the opinion trenches, to need any more at home.

Rather, I wanted only to suggest that the cause for sainthood, of both, could be more aggressively pursued.

G.K. liked to play with weapons while he dictated: a sword, dagger, or whatever, that he would twirl about. (I gather he collected fine examples.) Sometimes he would seize a bow, for instance, and fire an arrow through an open window (alas once to the surprise of a dog, whom we are assured was more shocked than injured). He may also have alarmed a secretary, or two, before she was broken in.

Let me not say that we live now in a world where people like G.K. Chesterton could be prosecuted; gentle reader will know this already. My father, on the other hand, lived in a world more “democratic,” where a man could be casually fired for speaking some self-evident Truth, to Power. Or to some other, who goes running to Power to settle his score. (Papa was fired often.)

The Truth I was intending to speak, this morning, was to some Power in Rome. But I’ve erased it all. For, being a hothead, I went immediately overboard. And after all, I now lack a mistress, to kick me under the table, so must try to administer such medicine to myself; or look for admonition elsewhere.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us. She whose strength and patience, the world could not explain.


POSTSCRIPTUM. Perhaps, instead of me, one might read another hothead, whose remarks appear to be correct in every particular. (Here.)