I have been musing today on the many ironies that attended the recently-curtailed life of my old friend and cell-mate Nelson Mandela. Take, for instance, his name: in the Xhosa language it means 'almond from a small town in Lancashire', yet he hated almonds and supported Yorkshire at cricket. Of such manifold mysteries is life made.
Many were the contented hours that Nelson and I spent debating ethics, politics and philosophy while incarcerated at Robben Island, he for treason, and I awaiting trial for entirely unproven charges of tax evasion, fraud, copyright infringement, money laundering, acting as a trustee for a charitable trust while disqualified from trustee-ship, dealing with intent to defraud, unauthorised currency exchange, and pyramid selling. Ours was a synergistic relationship: from me Nelson learned principles of justice, fairness, tolerance, forgiveness, and the importance of devoting ones life and abilities to the benefit of ones fellow man; while from him I learned the ancient Mpondo strategy game of Khohalai, which is played with pebbles, and how to avoid being caught by the screws with smuggled tobacco. It was sad for me, when the charges against me evaporated, to have to leave our haven, which, owing to our mutually fulfilling companionship, had felt more like a retreat than a prison. Years later he declared that he, too, felt cheated by my departure; particularly since I quite forgot to return his deposit for a rather natty pyramid in Machu Picchu, which for some reason I thought I owned at the time. That's prison for you- does your head in.