George Woodcock, gentle anarchist


May 28, 1989: What a marvellous spirit George Woodcock is: insatiably curious, incurably anarchist, unstoppably generous. It’s a pleasure to have been part of his Canada-India Village Aid Society and to get to know him a little better.

His writings just pour out: 80 books and counting. He has that rare knack of making complexities accessible, of speaking clearly and engagingly without ever talking down. For my birthday the other week he gave me a copy of his new book on the awakening of reason in the sixth century BC. When Susan and I went to India a couple of years ago he gave us a copy of his history of Kerala, where he knew we would be staying. What interests him is human life in all its wonderful diversity. He wants to know; and he wants to share that knowledge.

Inge guards his working time ferociously; forget about getting phone access to him while he’s writing. But she’s also a kind and hilarious hostess. They pour generous drinks and let you relax in their comfortable Southlands house, with its ramshackle collection of objects, many of them with Buddhist or other spiritual connections, from their world travels.

They’re both delighted at my tale of the publisher’s rep who told me he was stopped at the U.S. border because he was carrying a copy of George’s History of Anarchism. In return they tell a curious story about olfactory hallucinations at that McCreery house.

When they moved in, in deep winter, and for a long time after, they could smell two things: horses (leather, horse-sweat, droppings) and violets. But they could find no evidence of either anywhere around the house. So George did some investigating. It turned out the house had originally been the home of the man who ran the farm on the estate that occupied that part of Southlands, which would account for the horses. And his wife had apparently planted violets outside the front door.

But the estate had long been subdivided and built up, and the couple, the horses and the flowers had all been gone for decades. Even so, sometimes, when the air was right, Inge and George averred, visitors said they could smell them too.

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