What's your favorite Churchill quote/moment?
There are so many we're spoilt for choice. But I guess, being like Churchill prone to depression - the "Black Dog" as he called it - the most useful of his mottos, applicable on a daily basis, would be "keep buggering on."
If I couldn't be myself - I think not wanting above all to be yourself is a sign of failure - the person from history I'd most like to be is Winston. I wrote about this in the Spectator in one of my TV reviews a few years ago. Here's what I said:
Forty-nine - even more than 40, which is the freaky landmark I've just reached - strikes me as a terrifyingly interesting age to be. You're still sexually and sportily capable enough to think of yourself as an elderly young person rather than a young old person, and you've still enough years left not consider major changes of life wholly out of the question. At the same time, though, you know you've pretty much had it. If there's something in your life that you still feel you lack now, you really should have got on the case and chased it much earlier.
I became very conscious of this watching Richard Holmes's magisterially brilliant In The Footsteps Of Churchill. Churchill - apart from the depression and wilderness years and 1945 election part - is the person from history I would most like to have been, but I know it just ain't going to happen because if it were I would have been conscious of my destiny much earlier as Churchill was when, at 16, he told a friend...."I see into the future and in the high position I shall occupy it will fall to me to save the capitol and the Empire."
What's so worrying about his life - for those of us, that is, who always kind of hoped that if we just keep bumbling on, good stuff and great rewards will eventually come our way because hey we're nice we deserve it - is that, even at its most shambolic, every inch of it seems to have been planned like a military operation. (I sometimes worry that something similar is going on with my Oxford contemporary and near-age-alike Boris Johnson). [Note to Ricochet readers: he's now Mayor of London]
Think, for example, of the assiduousness with which Churchill managed to worm his way into that swansong of a cavalry charge at Omdurman. Kitchener didn't want him to be there arguing, not unfairly, that Churchill was a bumptious young pup who was only after personal glory. But still, by pulling strings and not taking no for an answer, young Winston got himself posted not just to some crappy rear HQ job but in the single most thrilling place a would-be war historian could find himself: as scout, on a hilltop, watching the ululating, brightly-coloured 60,000-strong Mahdi hordes advancing to within a few hundred yards of him and then seeing it cut to pieces by the British artillery.
Part of the deal, then, clearly, is to know very early on exactly what you want and don't stop till you've got it. But another, much harder to arrange, is to be quite exceptionally lucky - as Churchill was the most dangerous two minutes of his life when he sheathed his sword, unholstered his Mauser and galloped headlong with his fellow lancers towards the Mahdi's lines.
Your typical chippy, post-Imperial revisionist would probably make light of this, pointing out that with 25,000 dead on the Mahdi's side and 500 on the Anglo-Egyptian one, Omdurman was hardly the toughest of contests. But this is one of the things I so love about Holmes: he'll give you the broad historical sweep but where he truly excels is in his thrilling, generous, empathetic description of what it must have been like for the men in the thick of the fighting. The lancers did not have it easy. Charging what they thought was a line of just a few hundred men, they realised too late that this was a screen for a massive body of men, twelve ranks deep. Those of Churchill's comrades who hit it at the thickest part inevitably foundered and were cut to pieces. Young Winston, by a fluke, hit it at a point where it was only a couple of men deep, rode through them, wheeled round, emptied his handgun into their faces and got off scot free.
Now that's the bit that makes me want to give up. If you or I had been there, you can bet your arse we would have hit the Mahdi's lines at the thickest point and finished up in tiny pieces on the floor of the Sudanese desert. Character is destiny, see. So really, it doesn't matter what we do. We're buggered from the off.