Thursday, 12 October 2017

Do I love my country?

My instinctual answer to the question is, "No". What is there to love about a political entity with a dubious history, at least part of which pitted my ancestors against each other (in Ireland). I see its tremendous flaws - the corruption of its politics, more by vanity and indolence than by money, as few people are able to get into politics unless they are already rich; its class-ridden snobberies; its failure to integrate its parts and regions into one nation; its contempt for intelligence, science, the arts, the hinterland of the mind and the sense of wonder; its new-found disdain for the poorest in its society; its short-termism and "can't do" mentality; its faddish conformity in all things from coffee shops to tattoos. But .... would I leave? No.

So, what is there to love about this land? Here's a random sample, in no order of priority

1. The land itself, and this autumn, the landscape of trees and hedgerows in particular;

2. Euphemism and understatement that falls only just short of outright deceit;

3. Graveyards of our ancestors, almost all in unmarked graves;

4. Parish churches everywhere proclaiming in stone and brick the Divine love and pastoral care that the Church of England no
longer feels;

5. Uniforms - for schoolchildren, medical professionals, clergy, black tie diners;

6. Gardens and allotments tended with such care;

7. A filthy sense of humour which is generally denied;

8. The shipping forecast;

9. The priority of dogs and cats over people;

10. The weather;

11. A Monarchy and House of Lords which have absolutely no right still to be there, but which have clung on through evolution;

12. Free public museums and galleries;

13. The way we all know the aspidistra is part of our national heritage, but few could identify one;

14. "Just a Minute" and "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue";

15. The Lord Privy Seal;

16. The Thames and the Tyne;

17. Birdlife, from wrens to kites to kingfishers even in suburban Barton;

18. Bluebell woods;

19. The NHS;

20. "The Archers".

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


Caspar: but did you want a younger guy from the start?
Giles: no, never have
Fred: I chose him
Caspar: so have you done that stuff, like, done it all?
Fred: I wouldn't ask you
Cam: Casp, I think you should shut up now

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Fallen tree

“You’re not yourself, Giles” I said, as we sat on a fallen tree in the copse. “Have I upset you, did I go too far earlier?”

“I think ….” And he paused, and stammered, a lot, and then said “I think I’ve fallen in love with you”.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

An Excursion with Old Friends

"Friends" might be over-stating it a bit, but a few months back in 1988-89 John and Muriel Sutters were very friendly to me and my first ex. John was a retired priest who assisted at the parishes of Saint Frideswide and Saint Thomas, either side of the railway station in Oxford. Back then, I was a server, living along the Botley Road I tried to be a good Anglican and worship in my parish church, which was Saint Frideswide's. That suited me fine. The vicar said that parishes are like sherries, and "Toggers" as he called it, was an olorosso, whereas "Friggers" was a fino. I don't think he let the parishioners know what he called them, although occasionally they noticed the sherry.

John was a man of great erudition, and also humility, and the latter might perhaps have got in the way of his doing more powerful things in his career, but he was a parish priest, and a teacher of ordinands, and a private scholar - I still have his book on Saint John. Muriel was attentive, caring, and businesslike, the person to notice what the men had not, in those days before women were ordained (of which John approved, but the vicar didn't, yet they didn't fall out about it).

I remember two occasions on - I think - a Tuesday night when John was saying mass for us when the vicar was on holiday. The first was a great kerfuffle because the keys to the safe had been mislaid, and there was no access to the customary wine and wafers. "I'm only round the corner", said the helpful churchwarden, "and I could bring a bottle and I'll quickly iron a slice of bread ...." John was withering. Then the other churchwarden said "What about a nice little evensong?" "The people have come for Holy Communion!" Eventually the key was discovered in the bottom of someone's handbag, and all was well. I was new to church life back then, and it was a fascinating little glimpse.

Another time I was again serving for him at the altar, kneeling to one side, with a rather lavish lace altercloth right in front of my nose. I loved listening to John saying mass, he knew it all almost off by heart - including the collects ("no, I sha'n't be needing the book for that, thank you"). And in the intercessions, with utter sincerity and kindness, he said "Father we pray for those poor dears in the Sudan". It totally cracked me up. The altarcloth was shaking.

They invited Richard and me (yes, my first ex had the same name, really bad planning) to dinner. We spent ages choosing a bottle of wine to bring, which instantly disappeared into their cellar, because, of course, John had already chosen the evening's wine. That took us aback a little, but we were wet behind the ears in the ways of society. At the end, they asked us to sign their visitors' book. That was a new thing, too. We penned our names many pages after Dorothy L Sayers in the 1950s. They were rather proud of that one.

I knew John had died a few years back as he'd had an obituary in the Church Times, but was pleased to meet Muriel at an event at Saint Frideswide's not long after I came back to Oxford. And a few years after that, I was walking through Saint Thomas's churchyard, and saw her name had now been carved with his on their headstone. I saw it again today.

For John (1915-2003) and Muriel (1920-2015) Sutters, Deo gratias.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Accidental diamonds

A drop of rainwater on a blade of grass, just opposite from my collapsing park bench, shimmering in the sunshine that had just returned, refracting the rainbow colours like the finest of diamonds. Here it was, on Barton Meadow, for anyone to find, and no one to keep.

Monday, 28 August 2017

My Families:

If you have an ancestor with any of these surnames, it's just possible we might be cousins!


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Hospital clip

"I saw him, that old man, Giles, with his hands all over the boy"
"Come on, you've made that up"
"Arms round him at least"
"Men are much more demonstrative with each other these days"
"There are some things they didn't ought to demonstrate"