Fans of Chris Patten will read his new book with growing worry: a cardiac patient, he seems to be saying good-bye. “First Confession” is Patten’s fourth book. He dedicates it “to my family and my cardiologists”.
In all of the books Patten’s formidable intellect is on display. He starts the last chapter: “Sooner or later, like Alexander and Caesar, and of course poor jesting Yorick, we are all dead and turn’d to clay… My mother died of a heart attack in her sleep, my stepfather too. My father died of a heart attack as well, but after a car crash. They were not very old…”
Egg tart-loving Baron Patten of Barnes is 73. Last Governor, Chairman of the BBC Trust, Chancellor of Oxford University, he is one of the few in the House of Lords who deserves to be called “M’Lud.”
A staunch Catholic, Patten writes that he believes in an afterlife. In one mournful sentence, he laments that his wife Lavender is not also a Catholic. “…With no intellectual shame at all, I declare my Christian beliefs, my Catholicism, as a fundamental part of who I am… I am a European, sport-loving, dog-loving, book-reading, Francophile, cautious, lucky, hard-working and besotted by my family. All those things are what make up ‘me’.”
Patten declares his love for Hong Kong and his belief that his years here were the most worthwhile of his life. He wonders at the Chinese attitude to the former colonials. “First in the summer of 1996, I record one or two minor incidents of hostility on the part of the Cantonese. The wonder was not that there was some hostility, but there was not more. Yes, we had done much good, creating institutions which worked. Colonialism could not be defended at the end of the 20th century, but in Hong Kong we British had been pretty decent. We had provided a haven for all those refugees from the tumultuous events on the mainland… but even the least sensitive Chinese must have encountered behaviour that offended them, being patronised by a small ruling minority, from time to time. Why was there not more of this quite mild bitterness? Presumably the answer is that there were many more British people who behaved well, who were not patronising, who did not humiliate others, and who loved the community of which they were a part, who loved it as much as I did and my family did, and who knew how much we had to be grateful for. Hong Kong was not British, but we had played a part in creating it and we thought it unique. Chinese Hong Kong with some British attributes.”
Much of Baron Patten’s writing is worth savouring. “First Confession”is now available at Sai Kung’s Kidnapped and other book-stores.