It takes a lot to impress me, I’m difficult I know – but the thing is Nelson Mandela was just a bloke see – maybe a decent bloke, maybe a little more unusual than the chap who fixes our gas boiler but still a human being made of the same stuff. Ultimately the amount of affection we choose to shower on one person more than another is what bothers me, because I think we are prone to become hyped and lose the real perspective.
As soon as someone who has been in the public eye or has been associated with some tremendous deed passes, the mourning process begins in a melodramatic fashion, everyone is sombre and sincere, respectful and humbled by the void of greatness left behind.
I guess a lot of what I find tedious is the subservient rhetoric, the unworthiness and then of course the outrageous amount of money and everyone else’s time it costs to bury the soulless husk this person has left behind.
In my time alive I have never met a single person who was any more than 50% decent and 50% massively flawed it is human is to be conflicted in this way. We are so fond of transforming our politicians, states people and humanitarians into mythical experiences and I don’t buy it. If Nelson Mandela was such a sound human being then I don’t understand how he came to be divorced from his great love Winnie. If he was permanently such a great human person then you couldn’t not want to be with him – however I suggest that once the political curtains were closed for the evening and it was just the two of them that arguments about chicken nuggets for dinner or whose turn it was to clean the shower reduced all greatness to the kind of drudgery we all have to endure.
I can quite imagine that effective as NM’s prose was for stirring the hearts of a divided nation – his poetic command of language that would inspire a rainbow nation - nothing can be said to alleviate the shame of leaving a smelly poo in the bathroom or defend against the jibes of your partner wafting a hand in front of her face and cracking open the windows before guests come round.
The other thing about how global fame commands this disproportionate level of grief is that all these people ever do… is what pleases them.
Hard to believe but we all have our own skill sets and gifts, there is someone out there who is born to lead people but there is also someone who is utterly committed to sweeping the streets or punching holes in pig iron. Often we shower those who appear to make great sacrifice with a disproportionate amount of respect when the truth is – we don’t know the real truth of why the person is doing it or what strange pleasures they get from it.
I guess that it might sound extremely odd to suggest that Nelson got a kick out of being incarcerated for most of his life and probably beaten and mistreated daily – I’m not saying that was not a bind but we do not fully know the mind of the man who put himself in that position.
I can imagine that hard as it is, for the right kind of person real strength and sense of purpose can be drawn knowing that the world thinks of you moment to moment, that much hope rides on your survival and that for every day you make it through you become more powerful than the last. That’s a hell of an ego ride and given that most of us live in seemingly total insignificance, hammering out a dull existence where most people couldn’t honestly give a shit if you contracted bowel cancer and died, I can see the benefits of a more extraordinary if distressing life for at least you get to run your fingers against the veil of immortality, and comfort yourself that you will be remembered for all time, that the entire world will discuss your passing and endlessly wax lyrically about your best bits. I find it extremely hard to imagine that such people are not kept awake at night marveling at their incredible charm and broad public approval.
I can also quite believe that given the heady quality of such experiences, ordinary life – the getting up, dressing the kids, vacuuming the carpets and filling the car with petrol is utterly stark and when such time our deities are called upon to do this, I can only imagine that the aura of impenetrable goodness is laid quite bare and all their laziness, misogyny, insecurity and arrogance is on show.
I've an idea I cannot shake from my mind – Jesus – to most of us I am sure would be a man of extreme dignity, of beautiful phrases and endless morality, but in some ways that’s the easiest way to be - if you are afforded that level of fame and notoriety and can bask in the respect of your followers it’s a privilege and one that could be profoundly self-satisfying –for example we can appreciate the scene of him with his hand on the head of a young child and proclaiming to us all that these innocents contain within them all that is God, before mysteriously floating off-wards.
Who wouldn't want to be that guy sometimes?
I can even imagine the child being entirely in awe and full of love for this complete stranger which would seem to compound the evidence that he was in fact the son of God, or at least someone a bit special we’d quite like to sleep with.
But such a vocation is relatively easy – a brief encounter with the beauty of an infant with a few rousing words about love, before being escorted to your next appointment is romantically effecting, an unresolved, unexplored and unchallenged relationship - but what then if that same child followed him everywhere and rather than being in constant and complete compliance, got bored of paddling in this lake of divine positivity and got a bit whiny and demanding instead.
‘But child there is nothing to eat here in the dessert.’
‘But I’m hungry, what can I eat?’
‘Have not the fish and the loaves fed you once?’
‘I don’t like fish’
‘But you didn't even try them, how do you know you wouldn't like them until you tried them?’
‘Are there any Skips?’
‘No, you can’t live off Skips alone, you’ll get ill if you just eat crisps all the time’
‘I’m h-u-n-g-a-r-y!’ Whining more now…
‘You’ll just have to wait, I’m in the middle of something important.’
‘Can you put the T.V. on?’
‘In a minute…’
‘Can you put Gnomeo and Juliet in the DVD player for me?’
‘Honestly child, patience is a virtue.’
‘Can I have some Cheese Dunkers then…’
‘Look for Christs sake!!!’
Where upon Mrs Christ might berate Jesus for raising his voice to the child…
‘Oh let her have a Cheese Dunker.’
‘But those things are full of additives and I’m putting some Jacket Potatoes on in a minute.’
‘She’s four years old, kids are like this sometimes.’
‘It just doesn't seem right to me.’
‘I mean it’s not just cheese dunkers and skips it’s all the other things like the Ballet and trumpet lessons, oh and the after school clubs – I mean I had nothing when I was a boy, apart from the occasional judo lesson or a visit to the cinema with my cousins, back when it was 25p for a matinee.’
‘Well that was then and this is now, I want to make sure she has a good start in life.’