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Sunday has caught up with me again. I don’t mean in that religious way, but only that I have no blog post written.

The blank page is always a challenge, and often a defeating one. Oh, go on then: and always a defeating one. Write about what you’re reading, I tell myself. And that’s an odd choice on this occasion, because I’m reading the biography of one of those hyphenated characters that I wouldn’t normally read about. It’s not his name that’s hyphenated, but his subtitle: Soldier, Scientist & Spy.

Richard Meinertzhagen (and yes, I’ve often thought of the pun on that surname), lived just long enough for me to remember him (1878-1967). He was a contemporary of many of my favourite writers. When I worked as a second-hand book dealer his Kenya Diary came into the stock, and I read it. He seemed a bit of a shit, I thought. In fact, I used one of his shittier ideas as the starting point for the story The Rage, which was one of the earliest stories I got into Katy Darby’s Liars league (a now worldwide ‘franchise’ of short story readings). That was the idea that if men don’t kill animals often enough a rage will build up inside them to the extent that they will be prone to kill other men (and women and children, no doubt).

It’s clear, from Kenya Diary, that Hishurtsagain believed this. It’s also clear that he was a very intelligent man, a very observant one, and a very articulate one. Or in other words, he must have had reason to make that suggestion, and will have made it clearly. In the circles of which he was the centre, he must have believed it true, and believed also that he had reason to do so.

I made a visit to Shropshire last week, and met a friend there who greeted me with a copy of Mark Cocker’s 1989 biography of the man. I thought you might like to read this, he said.  So that’s what I’m doing. It is an interesting read. Shocking, and disappointing in its portrayal of human folly, and yes, ‘the rage’.

There’s a context for me, too, in that I have spent the last few months reading though five volumes of Kipling’s short stories. Despite his often criticised attachment to imperialism, Kipling comes over as a much more humane character, more tolerant, more loving one might say (and of all breeds, casts and races), and more understanding than the rather harsh and dogmatic Meinertzhagen. Both men had appalling childhoods – Kipling suffering abandonment to cruel surrogate parents for several years – but Meinertzhagen suffered systematic sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a Victorian schoolmaster, an abuse that was both ignored, and denied by his parents. Perhaps the lives that they both led, and the characters they assumed were to some extent set (as, it seems likely was Dickens’ following his ‘Blacking Factory’ experience) by those abuses. In fact, I would guess it’s overwhelmingly certain.

As I write this I’m at page 96, and wondering if I need to read on. A few weeks ago I heard a programme on Radio 4 in which a convicted and time served terrorist confessed (or asserted) his sense of shame at his past acts. I rather respected him for that, not least because of his particularity in finding the word. Shame for what we have been is a step forward, and admission of it a leap. Perhaps I need to read on to find out if Meinertzhagen made such a leap. I write, by the way, as one who hasn’t.

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