If we could only go back and live our lives again, knowing what we know now: ah! what a mess we could make! In my case, the mess I made of life was appalling, but could have been much worse. That it wasn’t, I attribute to beginner’s luck; and perhaps, a lack of ambition. For I was born with a wee angel on my right shoulder, who is in the habit of shouting, “No!” — right in the hollow of my starboard ear. It (I have never known how to sex angels) has interrupted many things I might have done, by my own inclinations. Would I get the angel for my second try? A bore if I did; a catastrophe if I didn’t.

A priest in Italy (Don Minutella) was granted nine months’ silence, in return for some criticism of his bishop and pope. On emerging, he compared this to time in the womb. I suppose, given one’s life to start over, we would get these nine months to think things through. I suppose this would be an advantage. I made poor use of it, the first time round: hardly a thought about how I would play the big game. Or so I construe, in view of the results, for I think I was born with no clew whatever.

We encounter the same problem whenever we reverse time. It changes everything going forward. We enter an entirely new time series, in which the shares we buy in, say, the Apple corporation, turn out worthless. Gold will rise and fall in different order, and so our scheme to get stinking rich quickly ends in the usual bankruptcy. Similar things happen on all other channels, so that our plan to fix history also comes apart. This is a problem with alternative worlds; bigger than we guess in any Faustian bargain. Best leave God in charge of this one; and the young to endure the advice of the old.

But what can we tell them they don’t think that they already know?

Hence my dated advice for “depenguinification.” I allude to a mistake in my self-education I would surely correct if I had another go. “Dewikification” might be the updated term.

I had the stupid idea that I could read everything. I read hundreds if not thousands of Penguin books, or their equivalent in other pulp series. And even when I did not read them, I read the blurbs. Soon I acquired what might be called a “blurb view of the universe.” Only with advancing age have I come to realize that almost everything I thought was wrong. I look back on, for instance, the Penguin translations, all of them redolent of the ’sixties. I look back on what I learnt of Greece and Rome, and recall the quick confident summaries, also redolent of the ’sixties. For that past, and all others, are murky. One cannot ride a bicycle through a mangrove swamp.

The popularization of all arts and sciences has played a significant part in our civilizational disaster. I may claim to be among the victims; “me too” let me tweet. Our cockiness has gone to extremes, as our cultural heritage has been journalized by hacks. We were tricked into self-destructive glibness.

“In order to read Virgil, one must read Virgil.”

This was advice from an old Latin mistress. She meant, no smooth translation would do. A crib might help the beginner, or a commentary if it is reticent. But the smoother the translation — the more it is in step with our times — the better it will defeat one’s purpose. We haven’t read Virgil, only passed him by.