Our Father, Who Art In Infamy

In school playgrounds, boys will often debate on which boys fathers could whup other boys fathers. If I remember rightly, the most common case made was with an argument that ran something along the lines of ‘my dad could beat up your dad’. But little boys eventually progress into big boys, and the competition revolves around what car their fathers drive. Ironic, really, that the boys who bragged about the Ferrari or Porsche in the drive way at home, probably didn’t have such ‘big’ dads after all. If you follow. But the pattern is clear. Boys find inspiration in their fathers. Or a curse. The latter of which is the point today.

Firstly, let’s pay a flying visit to Sherborne Castle, in the heart of the Dorset countryside. The castle itself is a ruin, destroyed in the civil war. But even by the time of it’s demise it had been replaced by a grand stately home. Castles were costly enterprises to run, and not quite so comfortable as modern brick and mortar mansions. Although you’ll find many of them keep the word castle in the name. A castle has far more street cred.

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The man who built the home at Sherborne did, from time to time, need a little something to boost to his credibility. His name, however, has survived the ravages of time and the weight of history. He gave us Brits not only his glorious Sherborne stately home, but also the potato and tobacco. He was, if you hadn’t already gathered, Sir Walter Raleigh. One time favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. The scourge of the Spanish armada, looting their ships for all the gold and silver he could lay his hands on. The reason that more than one Mexican used to refer to me as the pirate. And patron to the capital of North Carolina.

By all accounts, Raleigh loved Sherborne. He made every possible arrangement to ensure that it would remain as the family home for generations to come, starting with his son Walt, by placing it into a trust. He was a sensible chap, was Sir Walter. In those days, it wasn’t hard to fall foul of a new monarch and to lose the lot. And so it was to pass. Elizabeth died, and King James failed to take to Raleigh as his predecessor had done before him.

Unsurprisingly, Raleigh came to a bloody end with his neck at the wrong end of a swinging axe. His tobacco habit kept him company to the end, and the pipe he smoked on the scaffold is one of the exhibits in the house. Worse was to come however. Lawyers pored over the wording of the legal documents that formed the trust, protecting is from seizure. They found that a single, key, phrase had been omitted. And the house was seized. Walt Junior was turfed out on his ear. First born sons have always been regarded as a potential future threat by those who have wronged the father. It’s best to deal with the threat at the earliest convenient moment. For photos of Sherborne, click here.

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I followed up our visit to Sherborne with an evening movie. About a young chap called Sebastian from Colombia. I suspect that no boy ever dared to suggest that their dad could beat up Sebastian’s dad. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? Young Seb’s daddy was, after all, Pablo Escobar. Life as the son of the world’s most famous narco-trafficker had its ups and downs. Mostly downs, while on the run. Millions of dollars packed in suitcases, but no way of getting to a shop to spend it.

The Sins Of My Father is a documentary film, with Sebastian as the focal point. He recounts life as a youngster, tells the inside story of his infamous pa and deals with the struggles that has ensued since Escobar was gunned down by the police. It’s a fascinating story told by a very credible and seemingly nice guy who builds up to a meeting between himself and the sons of men who were killed by his father. It’s one of the most interesting films I’ve watched in some time. It’s on Netflix too.

Two stories separated by nearly half a millenium, with a similar theme and equally sad endings for the children of the protagonists. Who’d have ever seen the link between Pablo Escobar and Sir Walter Raleigh? Although no one thinks about it, they’ve more in common than I’ve touched on today. Their hold on power, their political relationships, their trade of choice. One clearly caused more harm that the other. Tobacco, ultimately, has been a greater curse than heroin.

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