Archive for September, 2008

Eulogy

Recibí esto en mi blog hoy:

Dear Mr Priego,

I would be so pleased if you could attach my eulogy of Colin to the others on your weblog.

Timothy Mo

Colin would have been touched by this blog’s bouquet of polyglot tributes; these blue link lines must be the cyber age’s version of pastel petals strewn on the Pacific swell. That he got long obituaries in the major London newspapers might have surprised this modest man; that he was so widely loved would have astounded him. Although his intelligence and straightforwardness were patent, as was his charm, he did not think of himself as sociable but rather as scholarly to the point of severity. In this, but in little else, he was wrong.

I met Colin when I was part of a British Council tour to Mexico exactly 20 years ago last month. He was a wonderful host, on one occasion driving me on a 300 miles return trip to the arable lands below Mexico City, which I rate as one of the most interesting and companionable excursions of my life.

We can’t feel cheated that Colin died at 75. The world was fortunate that this unconventional man could attain such a conventional age. Colin lived, and this is the opinion of someone who resides in Mindanao, with an abandon that could be described as reckless. He smoked like Popacatapetl and inhaled as if there would never be any reckoning. I worried about his wheezing in 1988 and that he went on so long is a tribute to an abused constitution. ( As we all know, Colin hated being rebuked about his cigarettes and would respond with asperity that it was his choice).

He presented a tweedy and professorial exterior to the world; I rarely saw him without a collar and tie. Yet as we drove it slowly dawned on me that this rather prim-looking Englishman lived with a greater contempt of consequence than a drug-dealer with a gold chain and a shirt open to the waist.

We passed a shady avenue of trees some three hours out of Mexico City. “Luz and I picked up a couple of girls there 20 years ago. They’d been raped and there were bandits in a truck chasing them”

“Did you have a gun?” I asked.

“Good Lord, no. What do you think I am, a bloody Mariachi?I won’t have firearms in the house either. I’ll take my chances. Nothing’s going to happen anyway.” I should mention that Colin’s self-built house was not exactly an impregnable fortress. Constructed of fine hardwood, it made you think of the tale of the piggies and Mr Wolf who huffed and puffed to no avail against the piglet wise enough to build in bricks and mortar. I remember some dispute which occupied him – there was an anomalous situation where he owned the house but not the land.

As we sat in the sun against the wall of an adobe house in a village cleaner than Singapore and waited for Colin’s Padrone to come, he warned me I could use bad language but not swear on the Host. “My padrone shot an Argentinian two years ago with his revolver for swearing on the Host. Typical Argentinian oath.”

The padrone did come, revolver-less, and Colin told him he was going on a trip outside Mexico soon. Apparently he would come to inform the old man when left and again when he returned, but never during a sojourn even if it was one of many years. After that he told me how he’d had to fight his brother-in-laws with machetes for his wife’s hand in a ritualistic duel which had got rather too realistic for his taste.

Englishmen like Colin don’t exist any more. He was very far from being a Colonel Blimp (though he was scathing about the radical tendency to inflate the casualties in the Mexico City demonstrations of 1968) and loved his adopted country without any shade of condescension. We had a long argument about contemporary Latin American novels as the tranquil countryside flowed past. I had a low opinion of Marquez & Co – all that jejune bombast which avoided the real possibilities and difficulties of the form – while Colin was more charitably inclined. Perhaps two centuries ago men like Colin would have been a Clive of India or a Stamford Raffles. As it was he he became a Professor at UNAM.

Colin came to spend a couple of nights at my London flat some years later, just before I moved to Asia, and it was clear he was a fish out of water in his own country. It reminded me of the old Japanese he had taken me to see – his friend’s father had come to Mexico before the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, had made no friends,and learned to speak no Spanish in nearly 70 years! Colin said his wife and children felt more at home in Yorkshire than he did. No surprise – in some ways the old gringo with the exterior of the quintessential English gentleman had become more Mexican than the Mexicans.

Colin, whether the happy hunting ground your spirit roams be Sierra or Dale, it was a joy and an honour to have walked with you a little on this side.

Texto de Timothy Mo.

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