Thursday, 8 May 2014

Remembered for Something Else

The way life treats us when we're gone is strange.

So it is with Prof Pillinger, who has died. A distinguished scientist. A friend of the Prof, an expert in Agile Methodology, once told me that the Beagle expedition was a brilliant case study in some project management technique or another.

It wasn't a great chat up line, to be fair. Agile Practitioners are great advocates of "Scrum" Methodology, as that's the only way they can get members of their preferred potential mating-partner gender to tell them what they'll be doing for the rest of the day. People with Agile qualifications tend to be strong on buzzing, teaming, storming, norming and Mormoning, but with empty evenings.

Oh. Lost my track. Sorry.  Been a busy day, what with the baby-visiting and the knitting.  Not me knitting, Hnaef. I've given him strict instructions.

Right. The good Prof.  Point is, for all the distinguished science and the brilliant Agile thing whatever it was, what is he famous for? Landing a barbecue on Mars and leaving Beagle II in the OU Summer School Entz storage shed.  He's the man famous for not achieving something.

Likewise Catherine the Great. A Great (hence the name) queen of Russia. What's she famous for? Getting null points with "My Lovely Horse". Totally untrue and unfair. But that is what Posterity does to you.

Take Alexander the Great. Famous for conquering the known world by his thirties. People are told "by the time he was your age, Alexander the Great had conquered the known world". That's if they're in their mid-thirties, obviously. Although it may also be Michael Gove's latest reporting method for Year Sevens. Got to keep them on their toes.

But there are numerous other things wrong with this encouragement. First up - we can't all go conquering the known world. Place would be a nightmare. We'd all get to be Grand High Panjandrum or whatever for about six seconds. That's no way to run a system of world government.

Secondly, Alexander did not conquer the whole known world. You think about it......

Somewhere out in the Steppes of somewhere - Russia, or China, or Croydon or somewhere. The Greek army comes to a halt. Hoplites and Lance Corporals turn and salute their semi-divine leader.

"Hail Alexander, ruler of the known world!' they shout. Their youthful, dynamic and strangely attractive leader accepts their acclaim, a mixture of pride and modesty adorning his noble brow. But then a voice pipes up. It is Stavros, Junior Hoplite with the Kilburn Regiment.

"What about that bit, then?"

The living god turns. Bafflement crosses his divine brow.

"What bit, Stavros?"

"That bit over there. Are you ruler of that bit, O Great Leader and demiurge?"

"No. I am the ruler of the known world. And that bit is currently......"

"I'm over there now," calls Stavros, "So it's known now. You'd better come and conquer it, oh great conquering hero".

"OK. Army - put the flags in here.  I am now the very definite ruler of the known w....."

"Ooo look, O Slayer of the Fierce Older Brother of Medusa!  There's another bit over here...!"

And so it was that Alexander the Great was known to his army as "Conqueror of the whole known world. Except the bits round the edges. And inventor of a brand new form of execution for Stavros."

And the third thing wrong with Alexander the Great as a mark at which to aim is this. Two days after Stavros was horribly scoured to death with Brillo pads, the king himself died. When people tell you what Alexander the Great achieved by his thirties, "died unexpectedly leaving his empire to be divided, disintegrate and then partitioned by the Persians and Romans" is never listed. Posterity has been kind to the genocidal, bloodthirsty young tyrant and narcissist.

Posterity's a fickle thing. I reckon, whatever you do in life, there's only two sets of memories you should care about.

Let your friends and family remember you as being kind, and having time for them. Colin Pillinger's family will clearly remember him that way, bless them. And hope the poor, imprisoned and sick remember you one day. They need not even know who you are, today. But they will, one day.

Everything else - space craft, empires, hit singles, your name on a company's annual report - everything else is just froth.

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