Tuesday 27 September 2016

By George, what a gay day to share away

Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30

So if today is your birthday, consider celebrating instead that you share it with George Bernard Shaw.
So if today is your birthday, consider celebrating instead that you share it with George Bernard Shaw.

'The child who is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe and good and gay," according to the old nursery rhyme. Though our recent marriage referendum might view the last adjective as discriminating against those who make their debut on a different date.

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So if today is your birthday, consider celebrating instead that you share it with George Bernard Shaw. His name would be prefaced with a 'sir' except he refused all awards and honours, including a knighthood. Yet he remains the only person to be awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar. (Though Shaw only accepted the former at the behest of his wife, who thought it would bring honour to Ireland.)

Nor did Hollywood success fill him with hubris: when Shaw's house became a museum after his death, aged 94, his Oscar statuette was so tarnished that the curator assumed it had no value and used it as a doorstop.

It would have amused this commendable contrarian, who believed "there is no love sincerer than the love of food" yet considered that "I was a cannibal for 25 years. For the rest I have been a vegetarian".

But Shaw also made fun of himself for what many then - and even now - considered a fad, though vegetarianism was an expression of his deep concern for the plight of animals. He once turned down an invitation to a vegetarian gala dinner because "the thought of 2,000 people munching celery at the same time horrified me."

However, Shaw also pointed out that "no diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office."

The pacifist playwright was too outspoken for that. His stance on World War I led to him being blacklisted, with calls that he be shot or at least tarred and feathered. Bookshops removed his works, while newspapers urged a boycott of his plays.

But there were plenty who admired him, from the powerful to the pious or playful. "I think he is a very good man," said Gandhi, who Shaw hailed as 'Mahatma Major' while calling himself 'Mahatma Minor'.

This George with the gift of the gab was also a lifelong friend of that magnificent man of few words, Harpo Marx. And TE Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, used 'Shaw' as his nom de guerre when he joined the Royal Air Force.

Shaw also campaigned against the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising. He invited Michael Collins to his home for dinner while Collins was in London negotiating the Treaty.

So whatever about the Dublin pub of the same name, this George may not be the worst with whom to share your gay day.

Sunday Independent

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