As I write the sun is shining and the weather is unseasonably mild and dry: quite lovely. On Palm Sunday, 1461, it snowed. For some reason I know this sort of stuff and I had occasion to check again recently while researching background for my cruise lectures.
The Battle of Towton was fought on this day. According to the chroniclers, 20,000 men were killed, which makes it the bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil. Impressive as the number is (20,000 in a couple of days compared with say 500 over ten years in Afghanistan), the horror is more stark when one considers that these corpses were heaped along a front that probably didn’t extend more than two miles. Still more terrible is that, if the figure were scaled up to reflect our present population, it would be 200,000 to 300,000. Towton was in its own terms a bloodbath and in today’s terms was bloodier than the Somme or Stalingrad. Yet it’s almost wholly forgotten.
The remembering and forgetting of incidents such as the Battle of Towton has an effect on what Daniel Kahneman calls “the availability heuristic”. Our judgements are powerfully influenced by the ease with which we can recall relevant examples, but not necessarily by their weight. So our attitude to “acceptable” battlefield casualties is anchored on the most recent conflict which we can call to mind, namely Afghanistan. If we remembered Towton – if Towton were the more recent event – the losses in Afghanistan would be considered trifling. Please understand: I don’t consider them trifling. My comment is about the psychology of judgment.
Today I’ve decided to have a “writing day”. This blog is a warm-up. As I ease myself gently into retirement, I’m trying to create a structure to replace that afforded by work (and incidently fill my days with activities that spare others the tragedies that might arise if I were to attempt to Do Good). The notion that I might, in a loose way, dedicate a day each week to writing seems like a good idea if I can pull it off.
I’ve never been able to characterise my writing method. Non-writers seem to think there are mutually exclusive alternatives: one being the following of a rigid routine, come what may; the other being a reliance on inspiration (after one has run out of fridges to clean). However my method reflects neither of the above. I am tolerably self-disciplined in my work habits, but not obsessively so, and am happy to break off to go walking with my son or friends or do one of the myriad things my wife and I do together. These interruptions to routine fill me with neither guilt nor anxiety; I know I’ll return to writing. My working life outside of literature has largely consisted of reviewing and drafting documents. I can put down a contract and pick up a draft novel and tackle it for half an hour, and it’s all nuts to me.
This morning, from the oriel window on the first floor, I saw the laurels in blossom. The rear lawn is covered in golden catkins. One of the qualities of my house – an incessant delight – is that it’s filled with natural light. Sometimes (today for example, but, in fact, most of the time when I’m at home) I could hug myself out of happiness and a sense of well-being. I do wonder about this, and incline to the view that it comes from a combination of a happy temperament, luck and the undeserved kindness of others. I toy with the idea that I may be Wise and Virtuous, but, frankly, it doesn’t seem in the least likely. At best I aspire to fit the description of the Earth given in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy: “mostly harmless.”
Since my teens I’ve been a fan of Montaigne’s Essays. As well as his skepticism, moderation and wryness, I enjoy his sly discursive style, which wanders from the nominal subject of the essay only to return to it at the end, despite which one feels that there is an indefinable meaning to the whole. I’m reminded of country walking (something I love). One is never certain what pubs one will encounter or what flowers one will see. The only certainty is of returning refreshed.
I have a vague notion this blog is about something but I don’t know what. It might have been longer, but even now, as I’m sitting at the keyboard, my son has phoned to suggest I go for a short stroll with him.
And, naturally, I’ve agreed.