Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On Bias and Bad Humour.

I was reading an account of the life of Mary Queen of Scots tonight, and being reminded yet again that I no longer trust historical accounts. This one was awful – biased as hell in her favour. The sun shone out of every orifice, especially those which saw the light of day more than is common in a Christian country (or so I gather from other historical accounts I’ve read.) The only bit I found easy to believe was the account of her head slipping from the hand of the executioner, while he stood there holding the wig he hadn’t known she was wearing. I expect he was embarrassed, and no doubt the many English peasants among the ‘hundreds of onlookers’ were doubled up and shouting ‘Encore! Encore!’ (Being English peasants they wouldn’t have known what ‘encore’ actually means, you understand, but that isn’t the point. Or maybe it is.)

And so it led me to ponder how different my life would have turned out had I been blessed with a different stepfather, and had we done a different history syllabus at school. Having always been interested in history, I think it quite likely that I would have sallied off to university and become a historian.

Just think of the possibilities…

I might have become a TV personality. I might have been invited across the pond to become a guest lecturer (or whatever they call them) at some prestigious Ivy League institution, with all the attendant attention from young lady Americans attending there. I might have become a successful author of books with titles like Executions: Seeing the Funny Side and Mary, Mary, Not So Hairy.

It is equally possible, of course, that I might have fallen out of a dormitory window in a drunken stupor a week into my BA studies, broken my neck and never smiled again. (For which expression I am indebted to Messrs Sellars and Yeatman and their unrivalled version of English history entitled 1066 and All That, a tome which I would recommend to anybody wanting to read a historical account which tells it as it is – or was. Or wasn't...) This is precisely why I never express regret at not having become a historian, or not having done anything else different for that matter.

And I might have ended up like David Starkey. Yuck.

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