It would no doubt be very sentimental to argue – but I would argue it nevertheless – that the peculiar combination of joy and sadness in bell music – both of clock chimes, and of change-ringing – is very typical of England. It is of a piece with the irony in which English people habitually address one another.
The fact that logic cannot satisfy us awakens an almost insatiable hunger for the irrational.
On the rare occasions when I spend a night in Oxford, the keeping of the hours by the clock towers in New College, and Merton, and the great booming of Tom tolling 101 times at 9 pm at Christ Church are inextricably interwoven with memories and regrets and lost joys. The sound almost sends me mad, so intense are the feelings it evokes.
Brain power improves by brain use, just as our bodily strength grows with exercise. And there is no doubt that a large proportion of the female population, from school days to late middle age, now have very complicated lives indeed.
The latest research has revealed that women have a higher IQ than men.
It is the woman – nearly always – in spite of all the advances of modern feminism, who still takes responsibility for the bulk of the chores, as well as doing her paid job. This is true even in households where men try to be unselfish and to do their share.
It is remarkable how easily children and grown-ups adapt to living in a dictatorship organised by lunatics.
Since Einstein developed his theory of relativity, and Rutherford and Bohr revolutionised physics, our picture of the world has radically changed.
Anti-Semitism is extremely common.
The Royal Family are not like you and me. They live in houses so big that you can walk round all day and never need to meet your spouse. The Queen and Prince Philip have never shared a bedroom in their lives. They don’t even have breakfast together.
I might be deceiving myself but I do not think that I do have an inordinate fear of death.
Nearly all monster stories depend for their success on Jack killing the Giant, Beowulf or St. George slaying the Dragon, Harry Potter triumphing over the basilisk. That is their inner grammar, and the whole shape of the story leads towards it.
The death of any man aged 56 is very sad for his widow and family. And no one would deny that Steve Jobs was a brilliant and highly innovative technician, with great business flair and marketing ability.
I should prefer to have a politician who regularly went to a massage parlour than one who promised a laptop computer for every teacher.
If you read about Mussolini or Stalin or some of these other great monsters of history, they were at it all the time, that they were getting up in the morning very early. They were physically very active. They didn’t eat lunch.
Of all liars the most arrogant are biographers: those who would have us believe, having surveyed a few boxes full of letters, diaries, bank statements and photographs, that they can play at the recording angel and tell the whole truth about another human life.
I very much dislike the intolerance and moralism of many Christians, and feel more sympathy with Honest Doubters than with them.
If you know somebody is going to be awfully annoyed by something you write, that’s obviously very satisfying, and if they howl with rage or cry, that’s honey.
‘In Memoriam’ has been my companion for all my grownup life.
Tennyson seems to be the patron saint of the wishy washies, which is perhaps why I admire him so much, not only as a poet, but as a man.
Truth comes to us mediated by human love.
The United States is the ultimate land of optimistic promise, but it also gave birth to quintessentially pessimistic tragedy: ‘Moby-Dick.’
I’m like Jane Austen – I work on the corner of the dining table.
Reading about Queen Victoria has been a passion of mine since, as a child, I came across Laurence Housman’s play ‘Happy and Glorious,’ with its Ernest Shepard illustrations.
I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief ‘don’t matter,’ that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.
When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love.
If only Queen Elizabeth II had the intellectual, political and linguistic skills of Queen Elizabeth I, many people would support giving her some of the powers of an elected president.
In the past, I used to counter any such notions by asking myself: ‘Would you really want President Hattersley?’ I now find that possibility rather cheers me up. With his chubby, Dickensian features and his knowledge of T.H. Green and other harmless leftish political classics, Hattersley might not be such a bad thing after all.
It is eerie being all but alone in Westminster Abbey. Without the tourists, there are only the dead, many of them kings and queens. They speak powerfully and put my thoughts into vivid perspective.
I’ve never had a study in my life. I’m like Jane Austen – I work on the corner of the dining table.
IQ in general has improved since tests first began. Psychologists think that this is because modern life becomes ever more complicated.
There is no doubt that, since 1977 and the launch of Apple II – the first computer it produced for the mass market – many things which used to be done on paper, or on the telephone, have been done easier and faster on a screen.
The approach of death certainly concentrates the mind.
Fear of death has never played a large part in my consciousness – perhaps unimaginative of me.
I think that if you can’t be loyal to the Church, it’s best to get out.
Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist ‘explanations’ for our mysterious human existence simply won’t do – on an intellectual level.
I had lost faith in biography.
I don’t think you can tell the objective truth about a person. That’s why people write novels.
I don’t write books inadvertently.
Iris Murdoch did influence my early novels very much, and influence is never entirely good.
I think one of the very frightening things about the regime of the National Socialists is that it made people happy.
Everyone writes in Tolstoy’s shadow, whether one feels oneself to be Tolstoyan or not.
If you imagine writing 1,000 words a day, which most journalists do, that would be a very long book a year. I don’t manage nearly that… but I have published slightly too much recently.
I believe the collapse of the House of Windsor is tied in with the collapse of the Church of England.
I suppose if I’d got a brilliant first and done research I might still be a don today, but I hope not. People become dons because they are incapable of doing anything else in life.
I think I became a Catholic to annoy my father.
The scribbler’s life is never done.
My kind publishers, Toby Mundy and Margaret Stead of Atlantic Books, have commissioned me to write the life of Queen Victoria.
It seems astonishing to be paid for indulging in pure pleasure. For me to go to Coburg is rather as if a trainspotter was sent for a few weeks to Swindon or a chocoholic asked on holiday by Green and Black.
I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off ‘Thought for the Day’ when it comes on the radio.
Like many people in Britain, I have an affectionate respect for the Queen, and am surprised that I should be having such republican thoughts.
A busybody’s work is never done.
I wanted passionately to be a priest.
I’m starting to realize that people are beginning to want to know about me. It’s a jolly strange idea.
I’m boring. My beliefs are neither here nor there.
I’ve got nothing very original to say myself.
When Christians start thinking about Jesus, things start breaking down, they lose their faith. It’s perfectly possible to go to church every Sunday and not ask any questions, just because you like it as a way of life. They fear that if they ask questions they’ll lose their Christ, the very linchpin of their religion.
People become dons because they are incapable of doing anything else in life.
The really clever people now want to be lawyers or journalists.
Personally, I think universities are finished. So much rubbish gets taught.