What makes a hero?

I had one of those FB anniversary things popping up, with a (broken) link to a post I’d done. It linked in my mind with a) another post I’d seen about the poppy installations and b) the fact that the Riptide Cambridge Fellows books are on offer this month.

So reproducing it here:

This post was inspired by a post I once read about heroes. It defined a hero as “A man who has honour and a sense of duty, which he holds true to quietly, without a fuss.”
That immediately made me think, “That could be Jonty, or Orlando!”
Admittedly my Cambridge lads don’t normally wear armour, (in fact I’m not sure they’ve ever worn armour except perhaps for the obligatory “box” to protect the old meat and two veg when playing cricket). Nor do they ride on white chargers; Orlando gets cross enough about Jonty’s obsession with motor cars; he’d hate having to mount a horse!
They did, however, serve in WWI, both with the Room 40 cryptanalysis boys (which is referenced in “Lessons for Sleeping Dogs”) and later out in France. But they’re also heroes in their everyday lives, sticking steadfastly and stubbornly to what they believe is decent and right.
They’re creatures of their time, of course, born in the late Victorian era but Edwardians through and through. They’re based at a forward thinking but still ancient Cambridge college, trying to knock some knowledge into their students, solving mysteries on the side and desperately trying to stop the world finding out that they’re lovers because exposing that fact would have exposed them to the risk of disgrace and prison.
I’ve often wondered what Jonty and Orlando would have done with themselves if they’d been born in another era. Solved mysteries? Of course! Fallen in love with each other? Naturally. I always associate my lads with the great last line of Mary Renault’s “The Mask of Apollo”: No one will ever make a tragedy – and that is as well, for one could not bear it – whose grief is that the principals never met. It would have been a huge tragedy for these two not to have found each other, but let’s not be mawkish. Whatever era they’d been in, they’d have been funny, annoying and adorable.
But I can’t help but wonder what career they would have had and how their heroic tendencies would have manifested themselves. If they’d been born thirty years later then they’d have been Bletchley men, of that I’m certain. Or would Jonty have been a bomber pilot while Orlando was his wingman, in a nippy little Hurricane? I prefer the thought of them annoying Turing at Bletchley – it would have been safer for them, for one thing, and maybe Alan T wouldn’t have misplaced the silver he buried in the woods if he’d had the lads to help him locate it.
A hundred years earlier, Jonty and Orlando might have been in Nelson’s navy, one of his band of brothers. I can imagine Edwardian Jonty and Orlando having a discussion about this scenario and arguing over which one of them would have earned his captain’s “swab” first.
I can also see them at the time of Agincourt, knights in Henry’s army, part of those “happy few” although Jonty has the build less for a chevalier than for one of those famous British archers. Maybe Jonty would actually have ghost written the “Once more into the breach” and “We few, we happy few…” speeches for the king. It’s just the sort of mellifluous language he’d have enjoyed creating.
Go back another few hundred years and I could see my lads having taken up arms on a crusade. Not for any religious reason or for the glory, but as a means of running from the traumas of their younger lives. Neither of them had particularly happy formative years; maybe that’s one of the reasons they find so much comfort in each other and in putting wrongs to right.
So, what if Jonty and Orlando had been 1980’s babies? I know Jonty would embrace modern technology with great glee and Orlando would tolerate it, much as he tolerates that car of Jonty’s. Maybe they’d be at 21st century Cambridge University, trying to knock some sense into the modern undergraduates, or Orlando would have a job in a bank, working out complex algorithms to maximise the company’s investments while Jonty treads the boards at the National Theatre, making the young girls swoon at his Hamlet. But that doesn’t seem heroic enough. I don’t think they’re really the men for modern warfare, so where would their valour find an outlet?
I think (and this may seem odd but it makes perfect sense in my head) they’d be leading lights for a charity like Help for Heroes, or the British Legion, working their socks off to make sure that people who’ve served their country aren’t left to cope alone. That would be an admirable outlet for their brains, bravery and sense of right and wrong.
Oh, and I think Orlando would be working doubly hard to make sure their Civil Partnership ceremony wasn’t splashed all over “Country Life”!




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