The questions I’d ask Julius Caesar

Elizabeth Taylor as CleopatraIn between reading the Book Club choice Longbourn, which is an imaginative take on life below stairs in a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I have been revisiting Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. I remember the drudge of having to translate passages from Latin while at school. Now, more than 50 years later, they make a fascinating read. Putting aside the million-odd deaths he was responsible for, Caesar was a remarkable man. Plutarch describes him as slight of build, pallid of complexion and prone to bouts of epilepsy. All the more remarkable then that he became one of the greatest generals of all time. He was a master tactician and brilliant motivator. His victories over the Gauls were due not so much to the strength of his armies – they were frequently outnumbered – but to his vision in the battlefield. To know where to pitch camp, or how to lay siege, or keep troops in reserve for when they were needed to charge in and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s amazing to read these stories and find that one of the greatest figures in history fought only a dozen or so miles from here, at Wheathampstead. This was against the British tribal leader Cassivelaunus, who was one of the few adversaries who escaped death at Caesar’s hands. Unlike poor old Vercingetorix, the famous Gallic leader who was taken back to Rome and executed, Cassivelaunus was spared and, according to reports, he and Caesar became friends. It’s not so well known that Caesar was also a great statesman, a man whose name still lives on as the 7th month of our calendar. When you’re sometimes asked which figure in history would you most want to meet, I’d nominate Gaius Julius Caesar. I’d ask him how many people he had personally killed, what he thought of Wheathampstead and was Cleopatra really as good looking as Elizabeth Taylor.

Which would you rather be inconvenienced by, snow or rain? Taking an hour to get to work on a journey which normally takes 20 minutes, is usually the story associated with blizzards and blocked roads. Not last week. I’ve never seen the roads under so much water. We can’t blame lack of dredging river beds around Gaddesden Row! But given the choice, I’ll settle for rain over snow any day, even if the latter does produce some beautiful landscapes. One upside of the mild winter is that the snowdrops are out early and I’ve even seen a daffodil in flower on a Harpenden verge.