Thursday, 3 April 2008

Clive of India's tortoise

Sometimes the past is distant - looking at old ruins, you have to stretch your imagination to reinvest them with significance and life. Sometimes I've been able to do that - at Burgh Castle for instance, a Roman fort stranded in the middle of the Norfolk Broads - but sometimes, all I can see is a tumble of rocks that might be a lost 1970s rockery attempt or a bit of Victorian wall for all I know, and I just can't get any kind of connection with the past.

And sometimes, the past strikes you with great force.

I found out today that Clive of India's tortoise lived till 2006. I'd always thought of Clive as a far-away figure; interesting (he committed suicide after his return to England, no one quite knows why) but not really present as a character in the way that, say, Henry VIII is to generations of English schoolchildren.

But somehow knowing that his tortoise made it into this millennium - that's connected me to him with a little current of electricity.

I wonder what that tortoise had seen over its 250 years of life? I wonder if Clive, back in London, ever thought fondly of it; or was it just forgotten, like the furniture of his old house, the pots and pans in the Indian kitchen? I wonder if it was a happy tortoise... if the concept of happiness is actually applicable to tortoises?

And I wish... I know it's stupid, but I really wish I had seen that tortoise before he died.

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