Tony Benn

Not ‘totallygone’ at all, of course. Just a few steps ahead of the rest of us…

Here, giving a talk at Stratford (atte Bowe) library on 14th March 2005. He’d just left Parliament “to spend more time in politics” and was promoting his latest set of memoirs.  Interested but not excited by the idea of going, I was persuaded to do so by a wiser, smarter friend.

My mother (a dyed-in-the-Missoni Thatcherite) joined us and, when I told her of his death this morning, she said “oh, I never liked him, until I met him”.  The evening was a memorable one; he was extraordinarily knowledgeable but not patronising, fiercely intelligent but not cold, very posh but not remotely snotty.

He felt, he said lately, no fear of death, but saw it as “a great adventure”.   I took this image of him nine years ago today and even then the title of his memoir was eerily prescient. As I fetched it from the archive this morning, I called to mind a passage from Donna Tartt’s recent novel The Goldfinch.

…in whatever wink of consciousness that remained to me I felt I understood the secret grandeur of dying, all the knowledge held back from all humankind until the very end: no pain, no fear, magnificent detachment, lying in state upon the death barge and receding into the grand immensities like an emperor, gone, gone, observing all the distant scurryers on shore, freed from all the old human pettiness of love and fear and grief and death.

Free at last.