Yesterday a friend reminded me of a story I’ve been telling for years, but not yet on this blog, I think; about an incident at O’Hare Airport in Chicago some time ago, when I came off a plane, only to trip over a kerb in the tunnel you walk through to disembark, and hurt my ankle. I writhed there in agony.
Immediately an Airport employee came running up to me. Her first question was: ‘Can I get you a lawyer?’ Only afterwards did she offer to call a doctor. – ‘OK’, I thought. ‘I must be in America’.
I turned down her offer of a lawyer: ‘My own silly fault’, I said. ‘I should have looked where I was going.’ She looked surprised and relieved. The ankle turned out to be broken (it still gives me arthritic pain), and had to be set and plastered; which gave me some interesting experience (mainly good) of American hospitals, and a talking point at the conference I was attending, now on crutches. Everyone there said I should have sued the airport. ‘You could have won a million dollars.’ I was just grateful for the free treatment (on my travel insurance). But then, I’m British.
Some people don’t believe that. But I swear it’s true.
Excessive modesty, Bernard: you have at the very least lived through interesting times in interesting places. As a pre-eminent historian you are much better placed than the vast majority of memoirists to reflect insightfully on what you have experienced. Memoirs, surely, are valuable literary-historical documents. I hardly see why being ‘privileged’ – which offers access to perspectives not available to others – counts as a reason for not writing about one’s past. [Proust should not have written his great memoir-novel because of his privileged social position?] The most valued memoirs have, unsurprisingly, been composed by highly literate authors, and this tends to correlate positively with a degree of privilege.
You should write a memoir, Bernard. Growing up in ravaged post-War England, Hull, rags to riches, dramas and intrigues in the academy, the triumph of the leftist historian, backstage in the theatre, a late-life Swedish consort, a post-national middle-age, and much more. I would read it.
I think not. My life has been too dull, privileged, ‘lagom’ as they say in Sweden. Sorry!