October 5th, 2008


One of my friends in the parish once asked me who my heroes were.  I thought about it, then answered, "Ian Botham*."  He was taken aback. "I'd have thought you'd have chosen some saint,"  he said. "No," I replied, brashly.  "And what about you?"  "My hero is my parish priest," he said- meaning me.

This, of course, was only a year or so before I resigned from the ministry- amid much scandal.

Heroes- living heroes, anyway-  can be counted on to let you down.   I'm not surprised Johnny Rotten is now this clown who advertises butter. My admiration for Ian Botham has never fully recovered from his appearance in Weetabix commercials.

Which is why my heroes are all of them safely dead. Here's a list.

Goya. Because he went on creating into crotchety old age- and the work just got better and better.
Balzac. Because he had a grand idea and then wore himself out trying to give it shape.
Lennon. Because he really seems to have meant it when he said, "just gimme some truth!"

There's a new Lennon biography in the shops- by Philip Norman.  It contains fresh revelations: Lennon felt a little bit gay around Paul McCartney: he felt a little bit incestuous around his mother. Drip, drip, drip, drip. Do these things erode the heroic profile?

Actually, no. I've been thinking about this. Foibles don't matter. Everyone has them. And everyone's life is packed with embarrassing and discreditable incidents. What does matter is the over-all shape of the life, its trajectory. Lennon did appalling things- a whole heap of them- but he never stopped following the gleam (his own particular gleam, not somebody else's).  And it's that that makes a person a hero.

*English cricketer- key member of the English team that beat the Aussies in 1981.