Who Wants To Live Forever?

I want to be Winston Churchill.

Well, not Winston himself, obviously. That would just be silly. Besides, he’s dead, and I still have a novel to publish.

But on Monday I visited Chartwell, home to the great man for many years, and it left a pretty big impression.

Of course, I knew the esteem in which Churchill is held in this country. I’ve visited the Cabinet War Rooms. I’ve heard some of his speeches and seen some of his correspondence. I knew he was considered a great war-time leader. At the same time, I believe we’re all of us a mixture of strengths and weaknesses and that one man doesn’t win a war, no matter how stirring his oratory.  I’ve never been sure about the decision on Coventry.

But what Chartwell showed me was a man who was loved, sincerely and gratefully,  in his own time and by people across the world who believed they owed him their liberty.

On show were astonishing gifts from world leaders: cigar boxes in gold and silver and polished wood, painted and inlaid and carved; medals and scrolls and swords; an ebony fly swatter from an African tribal leader; carved boats with silver figures from Stalin; an ashtray, three feet tall, with model bombers flying in formation around the central stand.

More moving were the gifts from ordinary people.  The pendant in a matchbox sent by an old lady from Edinburgh.  The plain wooden snuff box, hand carved by a chap in Nottingham. Gifts sent by people who had suffered through the war and wanted to show their gratitude to the man they believed had led them to victory.

Then there were the honours. In addition to his knighthood, Churchill was given the freedom of over thirty British cities. Parliament published a resolution on his retirement to put on record its admiration for his achievements. He was made an honorary citizen of the United States. Oh, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He found time to paint over 500 pictures. He owned racehorses – that won races. He even spent seven years building an impressive brick wall around the garden at Chartwell. (I like to think his wife started encouraging him to “get a man in” around the end of year 2.)

Churchill: leader, statesman, Nobel Laureate and bricklayer

Winston Churchill: leader, statesman, Nobel Laureate and bricklayer

And this was a chap whose dad told him to stop mucking about after he finished school, or he’d end up a miserable failure.

What a remarkable life.

The truth is, though, I don’t want to be Winston for the presents, or the honours, or even the love. I’m still not sure what I’d have done with that decoded German message about Coventry, which is probably a sign I’m not cut out for wartime leadership.  I know my painting is amateur and I don’t really like horseracing. I’ve never built a wall.

But what a mark that man left on the world!

His words are still read. His speeches are still listened to.  Sitting here, I can call to mind his voice as clearly as my own mother’s.

And that’s the thing I want. I want my voice to outlive me. Even if it’s in a scruffy, dog-eared, paperback in a second-hand bookshop somewhere.  Because there’s always the hope that one day, someone will pick up that paperback and blow the dust off the cover and read a story I wrote; and then my words will make them feel something, long after I’m dust and ashes.

Perhaps that’s the dream of everyone who writes. Not fame, or glory, or six-figure publishing deals (note to any agents: those things would be nice too); just a chance to live on, in however modest a way, through the words we leave behind.

7 thoughts on “Who Wants To Live Forever?

  1. MoreThanACat

    Thanks for your post. I recently went back to Blenheim, having been to Llanistumdwy to visit the grave of my political hero Lloyd George. Goulish as it seems, I wanted to compare his grave to Churchill’s. What struck me – was how much family meant to Churchill. Even in death, he is surrounded by them. Unlike Lloyd George. Good luck with your book 🙂

    1. yakinamac Post author

      Thank you – and the same to you!

      Agree it’s fascinating to compare where and how people choose to be laid to rest: might sound odd, but it says so much about the their outlook on life.

    1. yakinamac Post author

      Thanks Sharon. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have kids – so think this is my equivalent of the “selfish gene”!

  2. Alex Rodrigue

    I’m 22, and as of right now, this very instant, I’m sorry, but I’d like to physically live forever. Maybe that’s just me being naive, maybe that’s just me being silly. I’ll revisit this in a few years.

    And as Oasis so elegantly put it:

    Maybe I just want to fly
    I want to live I don’t want to die
    Maybe I just want to breath
    Maybe I just don’t believe
    Maybe you’re the same as me
    We see things they’ll never see
    You and I are gonna live forever

    I said maybe…


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