Friday, 29 April 2016

The Honour of the Drape

My Dad was a Ted, which was why I picked up this slim book from the sales stall at the local library (one of my main sources of books). I have a couple of photos of my Dad from 1956 (when he was 17-18). He didn’t have a great deal of cash and I suspect the longish jacket he’s wearing in the photo with my Mum was his own father’s, or something inherited at any rate. In a little passport-type photo he has a tie and something under his jacket, probably a cardigan rather than a waistcoat – an expedient adopted by less prosperous regional Teds. Incongruously he’s also wearing what seems to be a dufflecoat, which wasn’t part of the style, but there you go. Apparently older chaps would scathingly remark about Teds ‘a spell in the Army’d sort ’em out’ and that seems to be what happened to my Dad as a couple of years later after his National Service his quiff was a bit less obvious and he’d ditched ties for anything but very formal occasions. ‘We were Edwardians, that was where the name came from,’ he told me, so I knew that part of the story.

A couple of things struck me from the book. It’s written in a more committed way than one normally expects, certainly. Mr Ferris, the co-author, is very scathing about anyone who suggests social change in Britain got going in the 1960s rather than during his father’s youth in the ‘50s: ‘listen to their drivel for long enough and you end up believing it’. I recall my boss at the Royal Engineers Museum saying exactly the same thing. He remembered his time at St John’s College Cambridge: ‘some of us had come back from bloody Korea, and we were being told to wear silly little academic gowns and that we had to be back in by 11pm. We weren’t putting up with that.’

Mr Ferris also maintains that being a Ted wasn’t – isn’t, for those who still are Teds - mainly about music or about clothes but about ‘a way of living and thinking’. ‘That’s just the kind of thing a Goth would say’, remarked Ms Formerly Aldgate, echoing my first response exactly. It’s a sentiment that trips easily enough off the tongue or pen, but it strikes me as a fairly empty one. In the Goth context anyone who wanders into a Goth club on more than just a one-off basis – especially if not accompanied by a regular – is expected to join in, and joining in means at least wearing black – and I doubt Teds would be any different; possibly for them it would be all the more true as Goth lacks the aggressive working-class edge that Ted had. Its brand of rebellion is very different. For both, though, insisting outsiders do adopt the style, regardless of any statement that clothes and music aren’t the point, is about maintaining the safe subcultural space where questions don’t need to be asked nor explanations given, and perfectly understandable.

Mr Ferris, son of a Ted, who adopted the style in the mid-1970s, is an adamant champion of latter-day Teds and accordingly contemptuous of anyone who abandoned the style; but if there ever was a subcultural style that had its epochal moment from which the world then moved on, New Edwardianism was surely it. Born out of the marriage of an elitist British reaction against American culture with US zoot fashion, at a moment when media, economics and social change favoured it, the early-to-mid 1950s was its natural soil. Again, Goth differs from other subcultures because of its linkage into an artistic and literary tradition that stretches back centuries (millennia, you could argue), but the way it looks has changed at different moments over the decades: most Goths now, if you can find any at all, don’t look how they did in 1982. They were of their time too, and time moves on because society moves on (one of my favourite books, Robert Elms’s beautiful The Way We Wore, about his own journey through fashion from the 1960s to the 1990s, describes and expresses this truth to perfection). This is what makes essentialist analyses of subculture and narrow defensiveness about what they are and aren’t a bit daft. 

At one point Mr Ferris gives an account of the 1970s Teds who battled Punks on the streets of provincial towns: ‘rightly or wrongly’, he says – and it doesn’t take much insight to guess which side of that dichotomy he falls on – ‘they believed they were fighting for the honour of the drape’, the most ludicrous sentence I’ve read in a good long while. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

He Knows All The Secrets

People in a moment of crisis often find their way into the church, have a tear and a conversation if I (or a colleague) happen to be there, but very often - as I may have said before - that conversation may be affected and indeed prompted by alcohol and also tends to mark the end of the Church's interaction with that person as well as the start. It's far rarer for anyone to want to share important things outside those stressful moments and I always have a sense that most of my dealings with people are marked by a frustrating degree of superficiality.

So it was a great surprise to visit someone who is due to be baptised as they are acting as godparent to a young relative. We talked about the service, what it involves and what it means, and the business of being both a godparent and taking those promises on board for yourself at the same time. My interlocutor then took the opportunity to describe all the problems affecting the family, over about half an hour. Depression, money worries, tension, disability, medical negligence, all laid out in a sober and straightforward way: 'I'm sort of in the middle of all this, but you just have to get on with it, don't you?' We even prayed about it all as it seemed appropriate to do so, not something I always introduce into the conversation.

This knowledge will lend the christening service a distinctive quality, to be sure. I go to visit families and really have very little idea of what's going on as quite naturally people put on their best face when the 'vicar', or I suppose any other professional, calls. Suddenly I remember the christening I did some years ago after which one of the godparents went home and murdered his partner.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Another League

I'm still looking for a green dalmatic for the church. But it probably won't be this one currently on eBay.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Boss's Birthday

You can argue that Her Madge is Chairman of the Board of the Church of England and we are all being thoroughly encouraged to use her 90th birthday, spread, as royal birthdays are, throughout the convenient Spring and Summer months, as a means of talking about her faith. You can see the point of this: there are few other heads of state who are so sincerely and publicly Christian as the Queen is, and there have indeed been occasions when her own personal faith has poked through the official Anglican carapace of the Monarchy into clear view. The book you see illustrated here, The Servant Queen and the King She Serves, was produced by the Scripture Union as part of that effort, and we were all sent copies by the diocese. 

It is, let it be said, a game attempt to direct attention to the links between the Queen's work and her personal beliefs. In a way the slimmed-down version for schools is an improvement on the full one as it describes more clearly the liturgy and symbolism of the Coronation service that meant so much to the Queen and has shaped her life subsequently. I am toying with the idea of doing something here in Swanvale Halt that looks more directly at that liturgy, and its connections with the apparently humbler, but spiritually just as grand, liturgies which the rest of us take part in - baptism, matrimony, ordination.

As I say, a game attempt. But one which almost inevitably, no matter how decorated it may be in funny stories about Tommy Cooper and Saudi princes, can't avoid the reverent sycophancy which the subject-matter demands (again, the schools version is a bit better in this respect). Probably the most grating declaration in the book comes when we are shown a windswept monarch stomping along a beach with four corgis: 'She employs 1200 people', the caption tells us, 'but feeds her own dogs'. Well, bona. I can't help reflecting that a couple of dozen generations ago her ancestors would have been feeding their employees to the dogs, but then part of the genius of the British establishment has always been to ignore actual history while constantly banging on about how important it is. As somebody who is neither a republican nor a monarchist (my King sleeps in Leicester), I also can't help the feeling that concentrating on the personal faith and humility of this individual monarch diverts attention from the nature of the institution of monarchy, and I would quite like people to think about that as well. 

We discussed at the Staff Meeting what we should do to respond to the diocese's call to mark the Queen's birthday and use it as a means of talking about the faith. The meeting has a general leftish bias and there was a bit of reluctance evident, but we thought that perhaps we could get something for the garden around the church and use that a means of celebrating the event, which is rather like many communities marked the Jubilee a couple of years ago. However the chap who manages the garden is a definite republican and told me 'the obvious thing would be a plastic corgi', which was entirely unhelpful.

Interestingly I had lunch yesterday with a friend who is (partly) an employee of the Queen - even more directly than I am - and he said they'd been told not to celebrate the event with anything more than tea and cake as it was 'not an achievement'. I wonder whether this represents the opinion of Her Madge herself?

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Brevity the Soul of Bureaucracy

On Sunday we had our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, always an event people anticipate eagerly ... In theory it marks the lowest tier of the structures of the Church of England. In theory, too, there are in fact two meetings: the meeting of the Vestry which elects churchwardens and in which technically anyone in the parish can vote, and the APCM proper which does all the rest - elect members of the church council, receive accounts, and hold the officers of the church to account. I also take it as an opportunity to deliver a bit of a review of the last year and to look forward to the next, which can be fun to do. 

To say everyone sat in silence would be an exaggeration as there were murmurs of appreciation and assent now and again, but we managed to get through the whole exercise in less than forty minutes. I am not sure whether this is more because people are happy with the way things are in the church or whether they're simply cowed. Some of my colleagues are now competing to see how short their meetings can be.

Saturday, 16 April 2016


We've just returned from a few days in Jersey as Ms Formerly Aldgate was keen to fly but neither of us wanted a long trip - and minimal it was, barely more than half an hour aloft. I was surprised by the quantity of Art Deco buildings around, some of them of proper 1930s vintage, such as the astonishingly monumental garage which now houses the Mansell Collection, or this store in St Helier (just beside a very similar branch of Burton's) ...

... and modern interpretations too. A new block of apartments with sleek curved lines and porthole windows was going up beside the bus route from the airport, and on the clifftop above St Aubin I found the very pleasing house called St Cecilia, with its gate whose metalwork rather appropriately suggests musical notation (not sure that was the intention, though).

The Museum in St Helier includes a reconstructed 19th-century merchant's house and this life-size advertising figure, we concluded taking snuff. However notwithstanding an Iron Age gold torque and a Dark Age skeleton I thought the most moving object was the battered diary of 17th-century Jerseyman Jean Chevalier.

We called in at the amazing 'Glass Church', St Matthew's, rebuilt in 1934 and decorated by the great Art Deco glass designer René Lalique:

And Grosnez Castle presented its best side to my camera, aided by a beautiful blue sky speckled by assisting cloud.
It was only a slight disappointment to find a) that there is only one holy well apparently surviving on the island and we couldn't get to it, and that b) Grosnez doesn't mean Big Nose Castle as it apparently should, but in fact refers to a 'grey headland'.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Ambiguities of Birth and Death

Once upon a time the funerals of newborn children were commonplace and a family that had never had to experience any would have been fortunate. Now they are far less common; but I took one a couple of days ago. A young couple from the parish had twin boys, born premature at 23 weeks. It is far from unknown for such tiny babies to survive if born at that point in a pregnancy, but these were not expected to, and only lived a couple of hours. It wasn't quite as difficult an occasion as the funeral of a stillbirth I once did at Lamford, but rough enough. 

I thought of showing you the picture the parents put on the front of the order of service (such as it was), but decided it wasn't mine to share. There are two tiny forms, clearly not ready to come into the world, with dark, shiny skin, wrapped in the woollen hats and coats they never had much time to wear. Their casket was a single white box, which their dad carried into the church, and through the cemetery, when we got there, to the children's plot.

Of course these twins were a week below the legal abortion limit in this country. This terrible issue is one about which my opinions swing back and forth over time. I can't see the humanity in a small blob of cells, and, given the rate of spontaneous miscarriage early in pregnancy - which sometimes takes place before the woman is even sure she's pregnant - and that fact that we don't, practically or liturgically treat such events as the death of human persons, reason seems to support that assumption. But where, then, is the line where humanity begins? I find it a sobering thought that, in theory, in the same hospital where these two babies were born and died, two babies regarded by their parents as fully their children, perhaps just yards away another might have been regarded entirely differently, and treated so, without differing objectively in any way. Surely it is irrational for the status of a being, as or as not a human person, to be determined not by any objective standard but by the opinions of those who have created it?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

All Change Is For The Worse

The point of this unremarkable photograph is its unremarkableness. A couple of (!) my portable radios have become decidedly unreliable due to being repeatedly knocked off tables and so I went to the local Currys (other stores are available) to buy replacements. This one is exactly the same as its predecessor, a model bought too long ago for me to remember very accurately. How delightful to discover something not changing, something perfectly serviceable, reliable and effective in its task not being updated, redeveloped, or remodelled.

This was not the case with replacing my camera, which has again suffered from a couple of accidents and which now has a mysterious black blob visible on all photographs. The sales counter presented a somewhat bewildering range of cameras none of which were quite like the old version. 'I'll have that one,' I told the sales chap, who then went away to open his cupboards. Back he came: 'We don't have any more of those.' Several minutes elapsed while I selected the next least offensive model. That turned out not to be available either. 'We have the 200, the 180, the 2 & 5/8ths, and the sixpence ha'penny', said the weary sales assistant, which meant nothing to me until he took me round to the storage cupboard and showed me what they did have, most of which weren't on display at all. 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

To Find a Bishop

Jo at Guildford CathedralWhen asked my opinion about the Bishop-elect of Dorking, announced on Maundy Thursday to be the Revd Jo Wells, my usual response (depending on how facetious I feel I can be) is to express admiration that the Church of England cast its net so widely. All the way to the far side of the Archbishop of Canterbury's office, in fact: Revd Wells is currently Justin Welby's chaplain, and married, to boot, to the Vicar of St Martin in the Fields. It was a nice matter to decide which of them would be raised to the episcopal bench first, I'm told. Perhaps in the fullness of time they may both be. Won't that be nice. 

Facetiousness aside, the Diocese of Guildford now has two moderate evangelical bishops, and before long the only Catholic voice in the senior ranks of the diocese will be the Cathedral's - a somewhat diluted Catholic voice at that. Mind you, a couple of years ago both of the bishops were mild Catholics, so it is perhaps the swing of the pendulum. 

It is, however, a large and slow-moving pendulum and one which has been swinging this way for some time. It's increasingly hard to find clergy from the Catholic end of the spectrum to occupy senior positions, even those that have traditionally gone to them. Top posts (of which there really aren't very many) tend now to go to evangelicals because they're the only game in town. Not long ago I was contacted by the diocesan training department who have woken up to the lack of vocations emerging from the Catholic end of the Church and want to stage a mini-conference about it (they recently put together a video encouraging vocations among younger people, and evangelical bias was only one of those on awkward display in it), which I've offered to host at Swanvale Halt. My suggestion will be that vocations can only grow from parishes which are developing an active and healthy Christian life and that if the diocese really wants that to happen it'll have to do some pump-priming in a group of selected parishes - send them curates regardless of whether they qualify under the current rules, or fund children's-and-families workers - and not expect much in the way of results for a generation or so. Swanvale Halt may not be one of them, of course. I don't know whether they'll really want to hear that.

This week I spoke to S.D. who had spent Holy Week at St John the Divine, Kennington, a very longstanding trad-Catholic parish which shows that it can be done. 'There were 60-70 people at mass every weekday and 300 communicants on Good Friday', he told me, 'It was wonderful.' It was, I reflected, April 1st when we had our conversation, but even then S.D. doesn't need that occasion to exaggerate outrageously.