Young Lawrence by Anthony Sattin

I am absolutely fascinated by the lives of a few historical figures. I will read anything written about Napoleon (negative or positive – I am on the side of Andrew Roberts rather than Charles Esdaile – Napoleon is one of my heroes, albeit a very human hero). I will read anything about Churchill (particularly if it was written by Max Hastings). Similarly I will read anything that is about TE Lawrence.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Anthony Sattin’s earlier book ‘The Gates of Africa’ about the European ‘search’ for Timbuktu I was excited to see that he’d written one about Lawrence of Arabia. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Lawrence’s life up to the outbreak of World War One. His later life and involvement in Middle Eastern politics have been copiously written about and described by numerous people, and so it was interesting to be able to read a book that focused on his early years, as he, maybe unsurprisingly, had a fascinating life from the word go.

Lawrence in his Arab outfit (image from Google)

Lawrence in his Arab outfit (image from Google)

TE Lawrence is one of those people whose lives I envy and who I can identify with (in a small way). An interest in other cultures, a love of travelling and finding a ‘foreign’ place that feels like home all resonate with me. Not that I would want to live anyway except London necessarily, but it’s always good to have somewhere else you can go to, where you feel familiar and fit in. I love his confidence, tromping round alien parts wearing a suit and hob-nailed boots. Refusing to do as other ‘tourists’ and hire a load of people to carry his luggage (no tin bath and crates of brandy for him). Not liking, at some points in his journeying, being surrounded by men with guns (to protect him, although it didn’t always work out that way).

Sattin’s book has made the older, more frequently portrayed Lawrence more easily explained, although he will always remain something of an enigma, and no doubt we will never know the truth of some of the events that allegedly happened. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Not knowing is part of the attraction of the man.

There is a wealth of information about the digs at Carchemish, how TE lived there, and his very close friendship (if it was only a friendship) with Dahoum, who educated him in many ways. There is an explanation of his illegitimacy and how this may have affected his relationship with his family, and particularly his rather domineering-sounding mother. There are snippets of other people’s views of him. I’ve read books about and by Gertrude Bell (another hero of mine), who mentions him, so it’s interesting to read his view of her.

Dahoum (image from Google)

Dahoum (image from Google)

The book is supremely well written and is peppered with quotes, both by and about Lawrence, my favourite being ‘To do the best of anything (or to try to do it) is not a waste of opportunity’. Or of time, I would add. And certainly reading this book was not a waste of time – I thoroughly recommend it.

Meet my little furry friend

We adopted Elvis the degu (octodon degus if you’re a Latin aficionado…) just after we bought our flat in July 2013. Degus normally live in pairs, but according to the man in the pet shop Elvis has to live alone. I’m not quite sure why, but we think he was probably the runt of his litter, as he is smaller than most degus I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and also has a nip out of one of his ears, so no doubt he had a traumatic upbringing! He came to live with us and right away it became apparent that we had one issue – books. Now, we read a lot, and we have a lot of books (I’m not a fan of those new-fangled kindle things. I spend all day at work staring at a screen – why would I want to do that in my own time?!?! Apart from when I’m writing blogs obviously…) Elvis has a thing about old books in particular. I think he must love the smell and, more importantly, taste of these particular books. He has munched my old and decrepit Penguin copy of Anna Karenina (it wasn’t in great condition BEFORE Elvis, but that isn’t quite the point).


Elvis also has the strange habit of attacking feet when the owner of the feet is on the phone. I wonder if he is able to hear the other person’s voice and so gets confused and feels threatened. He dashes toward one of the feet and goes in for a quick nip, before running away as quickly as possible. If it wasn’t quite so painful it would be funny. He does seem to have a mild foot fetish in general actually. It’s the first thing he visits if you’re sitting on the floor. Maybe they’re the most fragrant bit of the body in his opinion…! Elvis, the little happy chap, loves snoozing in his hammock (yes, hammock). I thought it was a bit odd at first too but he absolutely loves it. So much so in fact that we have two hammocks, so that while one is being washed the other one can be snoozed in. Unfortunately I can’t get a photo of him in the hammock though, because as soon as he sees the camera coming toward him, he jumps out. Another photo of him will have to do!