Passion’s overrated, detachment makes better reading. Try writing one’s own obit.
ALTHOUGH tall, RR seemed inauspicious. Sideways he was S-shaped; stooping shoulders down to convex derrière. He ruined the effects of a magnificent nose - long, straight and Romanic – by constantly fingering it. Uncut grey hair, aimed at aping Byron, was rarely washed. Worn once, his clothes immediately looked secondhand.
Many thought him sociable. Not so! He asked questions, remembered answers, then divulged what he’d learned to embarrass the questionee. He sold writing as a form of morality but was a fraud. Unbefriended he wrote to disguise an existence that was no more than shouting down a dry well.
RR's sporting interests (rock-climbing, ski-ing, swimming) were inevitably solitary. During National Service with the RAF he attached a line by Horace to his foot-locker: Odi profanum vulgus et arceo (I loathe the profane mass and spurn them). In an unexpectedly long life he drank wine and memorised many bottle labels; alas he imposed this knowledge on those he dined with and frequently ate alone.
Impatience and assertion were at odds with his left-wing politics. His few achievements were tainted: non-idiomatic, if inventive, French allowed him to avoid monoglot English tourists in France; the lengthy difficult novels he’d read discouraged bookish conversation in his presence. He married well and some were “astonished”. There was polite applause when he took up singing late in life but suspicions grew when he refused to release recordings of his progress.
That he was tolerated says more about those who did the tolerating; residents of North America in particular treated him as a once menacing animal, now tamed and harmless: a scorpion perhaps. In an uncharacteristic burst of irony one asked: “Whence comes such another?” A short answer suffices: From West Yorkshire.