Glen Wickens, my husband and a retired English professor, submitted this article of apt quotations by Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Churchill served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. He led his country from the brink of defeat to victory during World War II.
Over the past seven months, enduring the pandemic has often been compared to experiencing a war, although one waged against an invisible enemy. When clinical trials of vaccines reach their final stages, we may all hope, in the words of famous war-time leader Winston Churchill, that while “this is not the end” or “even the beginning of the end … it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” The master of the inspirational word — “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire” and the like — Churchill never lost his sense of humour. Let me give you a few examples as they might apply to life in the time of COVID-19.
If your alcohol consumption increases with each spike in cases and your spouse or partner grumbles, try recalling what Churchill, who loved his whiskey and water, once told his wife: “Always remember, Clemmie, that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
Have you grown tired of your own voice during countless FaceTime or Zoom calls? Just remember that “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
Worried about the upcoming U.S. Presidential election and how it will impact the struggle to control the pandemic? Be consoled: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”
Golfers have been allowed to flail away during the pandemic but might be running out of stories for the 19th hole. Churchill told one of a golfer who managed to hit his ball onto a beach strewn with anti-tank mines: “He took his niblick down to the beach, played the ball, and all that remained afterward was the ball, which returned safely to the green.”
Our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, never tires of telling us to be kind and calm. That often means using tact or diplomacy to make a point. After all, “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”
If, however, you want to be ready to confront a COVID ‘Karen’, you might study the art of the insult as perfected by Churchill. In one supposed exchange, Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in Parliament, complained, “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” provoking Churchill to reply, “If I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
Have you been putting on weight during the pandemic? Don’t be self-conscious. Churchill, a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other, often dictated letters or orders in the buff. Even when he met Roosevelt in the White House for the first time he did not bother to put on any clothes: “You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide.”
Having trouble filling out your day because of all the pandemic closures? Keep writing. “History will be kind to me,” said Churchill, “for I intend to write it.”
Have you got in touch with old friends during the pandemic? In a controversial move, Churchill reached out to his longtime friend Lord Beaverbrook (Canadian born Max Aitken) to head up the Ministry of Aircraft Production. While novelist Evelyn Waugh felt compelled to “believe in the Devil if only to explain the existence of Lord Beaverbrook,” Churchill explained that “Some take drugs. I take Max.”
Living in serious times does not mean we need always be serious. When his private secretary recited bits of doggerel, Churchill laughed at one particular quatrain that begins high and ends low:
“Oh, Moon, lovely Moon, with thy beautiful face
Careering through the boundaries of space
Whenever I see thee, I think in my mind
Shall I ever, oh ever, behold thy behind.”
How many readers, nervous about flying, miss seeing their grandchildren and doing childish things with them? In Churchill’s case the boy never left the man in spite of the war. When a toy train set arrived for his grandson, Churchill supervised its assembly. Once both engines worked, he got down on his hands and knees and said, “Now, let’s have a crash!”
For anyone feeling down, Churchill offers a last piece of advice: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” •
P.S. Churchill took naps, ordinarily for an hour or so.