Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Titles, and an old joke

The post today brought a book which reminded me of a joke I had forgotten.

"What's that book the Hindus read, the Baghdad Vita, or something?"
"No, dear, you're confusing it with the Iraqi edition of "Portrait of a Marriage"".

Of Pots and Potts

My seven mile walk on my arthritic ankles was partly justified by the chance to buy a clay pot for Miss Figgy, my new tree. Turned out, when I got home, that HL had already found quite another and completely inappropriate pot, and re-planted the fig tree, so she'll have to be re-housed again tomorrow. Hurrumph.

Wandering along, I was reminded of something the Widow, my first ex, said to one of the college staff in hall when we were undergraduates.

"What's your name, then?" he asked, with innocent ingratiation.
"Mrs Potts"
"No, your Christian name"
"I shall call you Chamber ..." (severe elbow in ribs from me and sotto voce "no you bloody won't") ... "no, I shall call you Flower". And Flower Potts is what he called her the rest of our time there, and she really seemed to like it.

She managed the bit of the college over the road in 88 St Aldates which was becoming a new little quad back then, and which now occasionally houses visiting Americans, amongst other honoured guests.

What A Difference A Kiss Makes

Chatting with internet friends today, I bothered to check and see that 17 of America's 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, have ratified gay marriage. So has Uruguay, so has France. So has the UK (well, apart from Northern Ireland, which only seems to be united when it wants to be). It was only in 1996 that the America Congress passed the "Defence of Marriage Act", which the Supreme Court has since declared unconstitutional. And, although I sulk about the retarded crassness of the Churches to be part of this revolution, and in particular, my own Church of England's insistence on being protected by law from having to look reality in the face, I also see the amazing steps forward that people all round the world have been making, for the sake of a small (but let's admit it, glamorous and rather wonderful) minority.

And with such thoughts on my mind I was hobbling towards Cowley to sort things out at the building society which can only be sorted in person, and I saw two forms in the middle distance. At first I thought they were a girl and boy. Obviously teenagers, dressed from school, it was that time of day. But no, on coming into closer focus I saw that the willowy dark one was a tall black boy of perhaps Ethiopian ancestry, the other a meatier white Barton chav. They were clinched in the tightest embrace, sealed, before they parted with a passionate kiss.

What were they? 14, 16? I can't guess that. They weren't full-grown, but they were adult height, at least as tall as me. And I wondered as they parted their separate ways to go home to the "tea" (this is Barton) their mothers will have ready for them, whether their mothers know, and if they do, what they think, and if they don't, what they might.

And then I thought it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks, because that kiss in broad daylight on the street said it all - that it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks any more. We are free to live and love and pursue our happiness however we choose.

This is what we have fought for. It is happening. The truth is making people free.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
May 2014

The Order of Merit - a Nomination to the Registrar

Dear Lord Fellowes,

When I was a teenager, too many years ago, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Sir Edward Ford, then Registrar of the OM, and we exchanged an amusing correspondence - he was must indulgent to a tedious young man who ought to have been out having fun. Years later, in my last clerical post in Chelsea I met him in our congregation, when he was in his 90s, but still all about. He asked me if I was still interested in the Order and whether I would place a bet. I suggested David Attenborough and he said I might well be right. Perhaps he knew already!

I'm writing to you to suggest an entirely different kind of person to draw to Her Majesty's attention in this particular regard. In my pastoral ministry as an Anglican parish priest and school and college chaplain, I have had to listen to many sorry tales of people who were in childhood treated with an unkindness, abuse, and cruelty, quite unimaginable from my own comfortable upbringing. One of the things that has helped people to speak out about the vile ways they have been treated has been "Childline", set up by Esther Rantzen in 1986 (and now part of the NSPCC). I really do think her work in this field is on a par with that of Dame Cicely Sanders, OM, in the the hospice movement, and has actually changed the world that all our children live in for the better.

I realise she would in some respects be a complex choice, certainly not Establishment, but I also notice with some concern (am I becoming a feminist in my middle years, and with only nieces to care for me should I grow old?) that since Lady Thatcher's death, there is only one woman in the Order of Merit. I despise tokenism, which harms all parties, but this wouldn't be, and there is a vacancy. It would be a radical and imaginative choice, and nail the royal colours to the mast of the protection of children.

I know greater minds than mine sift through these things, but I should very much appreciate your at least considering the idea.

With every blessing for the Feast of Saint John before the Latin Gate!
Yours sincerely,

Friday, 2 May 2014

Figgy Pudding

The tree arrived. I'd wanted a juniper, but they weren't to be had, and although I'd love a lilac we had a sadness when HL thought he understood pruning with the last one. And that was the end of that. So, here was a wee fig tree, in the post, in a parcel, on the doormat - you really don't expect them to survive, do you? But it looked OK, about ten inches tall after a little watering, and with the lovely leaves which I like far more than the fruit.

And then I went for a walk through Old Headington on the way home from failing to find a terracotta pot for it in the local shops (after strenuous, and largely contradictory advice from people I esteem and trust). And there against every south-facing wall, and some not so south, oh yes, I noticed that, were thriving figs, with leaves emerging and budding fruit on the stems. And I thought, like some ghastly bourgeois pushy Oxford mother, "I wonder how long it will be until mine gets like that?"

Coming home, walking along the brook, the Bayswater was in rather a torrent, most unusually for it - very heavy rain on the hillsides yesterday, I imagine. And there was a robin dashing across to its nest on the safer side. And the meadow - park - recreation ground - whatever it is - was strewn with dandelion heads in full fluff.

And I thought, I ordered nature to be delivered in a box.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
May 2014

Thursday, 1 May 2014

On Belonging

Written for the Littlemore Parish newsletter, The Window, Sunday, 4th of May, 2014

On Belonging

The worrying violence and tension between the Ukraine and Russia, focused first on the Crimea, now on the Russian-speakers of the Eastern Ukraine, and in a tamer, more civilised way, as the Scots proceed to the independence referendum in September, have me wondering about this sense of nationhood and nationality. Are you in the Ukraine, but feel Russian enough to ask Russia to invade it? Are you a Scot who feels sufficiently more Scottish than British to wish to sever the historic ties that unite the United Kingdom? It’s not a feeling I share.

Like many superficially English people, my family roots are not entirely within this country. Most of us, if you trace it far enough, are the descendants on at least one line of immigrants, strangers who travelled perhaps long distances to make their home here and amongst us. How long does it take to feel assimilated, to belong, in the new country? For all of her eighty-one years my Great Auntie Marie, although she was born in Battersea, felt she really belonged in the Italy her parents left. When I visited the farm in Ireland where my grandmother was born, I felt I could belong there - but could also understand why she’d left. So where do I belong?

The people of Israel in their wanderings discovered an interesting thing about belonging - that leaving Egypt for the Promised Land, or that land for enforced Exile in Babylon, God would always go with them. They eventually understood that was because God was not only everywhere, but everyone’s, a revelation brought to fruition in the Acts of the Apostles and the story of the church ever since.

Whether we feel comfortable or not with our belonging in this world, there is solace in God’s words “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1), and there is our true belonging, we belong to God.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
Mayday 2014