Wednesday, 30 October 2019

OF LIFE AND DEATH

Yesterday the carcass of a dead Canada goose was lumped on the towpath, bedraggled and broken. A sad sight. I can only suppose a fox killed it, but it had clearly been in the water and been fished out. Rather odd.

A new goose has appeared, just a little larger than a Canada goose, and very similar, but with a white neck,white markings on the head, and orange bill and legs. I suspect it is a cross between a Canada goose and a white farm goose; but how has this happened? And how did it end up on our canal?

Today a colleague told of a firm of undertakers who didn't pay him, saying after the funeral, "Oh, we thought it was up to you to sort that out." No! It certainly isn't. The undertaker is meant to "undertake" all the arrangements on your behalf, and pay all the bills for you (the clue is in the name). That's how it has always worked. A rather alarming development if they are routinely doing that. I was also told there is a firm of undertakers whom the crem will only take a booking from if paid upfront.

A fox has started excavating my garden, but I can't understand why. It doesn't seem to be digging a hole to live in, nor is it succeeding in digging anything up, but it's certainly turning over a lot of earth. I don't want Casimir to disturb it, though he'd probably send it packing. He is a little subdued at present after getting a nasty wound in a vicious fight last week. I imagine the other cat had wounds at least as bad, as Casimir seemed to be winning, and chased the other when it made its getaway. Still, two nasty tooth marks in his cheek have resulted in antibiotics that need to be smuggled into his food. I also bathe it with saline. Of course we didn't see the wound until it started to suppurate and stink. Lovely creatures, pussy-cats!

I was in Sainsburys at Maida Hill the other Sunday, collecting my paper, and was queued up behind a young woman with two baskets of shopping, food and cleaning materials, that suggested to me that she had just moved into a new home. We were some time waiting for a person to negotiate for cigarettes and  pay, and during this time a large woman with a plastic carrier bag appeared at the far end of the tills and hovered. When the till was free the Sainsburys employee called the young woman in front of me forward, but the large hovering woman immediately marched in front of her. The employee said, "There's a queue," and pointed, but the large woman said to the young woman, "Oh, but I was here first before you pushed in." The young woman was understandably taken aback and said, "Did I push in?" to which she got the reply, "Well I was here. Don't get upset." The Sainsburys employee clearly didn't want to serve her, but she was occupying the till, removing items from the random plastic bags she was carrying, and the young woman just shrugged, being told again, "Don't get upset." She was eventually served after the large woman left, and with that a second till was opened; as I presented my paper, I leaned across and said to her, "Welcome to the Harrow Road." It really was a thoroughly Harrow Road incident, with an eccentric claiming black is white and making you feel guilty for being rational. 


The roads are now being dug up for fibre broadband, in a sudden outbreak of activity. At least the contractors seem to work quickly, but they just appear out of nowhere, and suddenly your route has turned single-track. It's quite disconcerting to return from an appointment to find this has happened. I'm sure it will be a good thing, but will it actually make any difference if your actual connection from your house to the network is old-fashioned copper wire?

We are preparing for our big event of the year on Saturday, the Requiem for All Souls' Day, with choirs and orchestra. This year our neighbours at St Augustine's, Kilburn, are joining us to commemorate all the faithful departed, which will be good. Some people don't approve of prayer for the dead, but it makes perfect sense to me: we pray for everyone we care about, living or dead, and are linked with them all in that great network of prayer. People regularly say how moved they have been by the service, using great music in its proper spiritual context. We always have a French Romantic setting of the Requiem Mass: sometimes it is a little-known one, but sometimes it is a great setting. This year we are using the setting by Durufle (who was president of the St Mary Magdalene Music Society in the 1960s). It should be a powerful act of worship.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

THE HEART OF THE NATION

Migration Watch

There were two Home Office immigration enforcement vans parked in Goldney Road yesterday. I saw no activity, but no doubt the Border Force officers were in a flat somewhere. A few weeks ago I saw a similar van cruising along the Harrow Road. I wonder whether they are regular visitors to Belgravia as well?

Meanwhile, the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations (who knew there was such a thing?) urges us to pray for forced migration because of climate change. This causes me some discomfort, as it is frankly tendentious. Most of the world's migrants are looking for a better life, or fleeing war or civil strife. Anyone migrating because of climate change at the moment (and I'm not sure there is anyone) is choosing to do so, not being forced. If Bangladesh or the Seychelles are flooded, then people will certainly be forced to migrate, but unless I've missed it, I don't think this has happened yet. It is the case that people are being forced to leave their homes on the Suffolk coast as they fall into the sea (as they have been doing for hundreds of years) but that's not what we're being asked to pray about. Our friends at the Anglican Communion Office are attempting to establish the notion that climate change is responsible for migration, and that therefore we in the West are guilty, and so can't complain. We are expected to feel guilty for the effects of colonialism, which have been alleged to be responsible for migration in the past, and now for climate change as well, and so the idea is being presented that we should just accept migration as the consequences of our own sinfulness. Well, I'm all in favour of a generous immigration regime, but I'm afraid I don't buy the guilt. In fact, people choose to migrate to the West because these are prosperous, peaceful and relatively uncorrupt countries where people have a chance of getting on in life. That's fine. Most Western countries need immigration for economic reasons thanks to our low birth-rate, and it's of course our duty to give refuge to people fleeing war or tyranny, but none of this adds up to a completely open door imposed on us as a punishment for sin.

This morning comes the news of thirty-nine migrants found dead in the back of a lorry in Thurrock. That really is a sin. People-trafficking is thoroughly evil, and those who seek to maintain national borders are not responsible for it. The callous criminals who do it are totally responsible. One of the main pieces of learning I took away from our involvement with looking after migrants in Reading, was that these people are totally heartless and deeply manipulative.


The Abbey Habit

We went in pilgrimage to the Abbey on Saturday, and changed our route to avoid the "People's Vote" march, but fortunately we started a lot earlier than them. There were already people around in silly blue berets, and I noticed that there were enterprising sellers of merchandise, rather like a pop festival, but during the morning they were easy to avoid. Most of the time that we were in the Abbey we weren't conscious of them, even as they filled Parliament Square next door, but when we went out into the College Garden at lunchtime we were conscious of a sort of hum beyond the garden wall. It was rather surreal to think that we were immediately behind the BBC's tent. When we were sitting waiting for Evensong to begin there came a loud cheer which was clearly audible, which was for the passage of the Letwin amendment. After that the remainers went home happy.

Our parish party was smaller than last year, which was a shame since the weather was so good, but I had enthused some Deanery colleagues, so Paddington Deanery was well-represented. It is great to see the Abbey given over to worship and prayer, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Picnics in the Cloister were very jolly (something that of course is normally verboten). The Abbey makes much of its position offering faith at the heart of the nation, but it genuinely felt like that, with this strange juxtaposition. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached, not very well. It was mostly about leadership, and he didn't really seem to have embraced the occasion, which was a shame. I guess he was thinking about what was going on across the road, but didn't dare say anything clear. His chaplain had not embraced the occasion to the extent of sitting there in scarf and hood when everyone else was wearing a stole. Oddly ungracious. I hope she enjoyed the copious quantities of incense!

Monday, 30 September 2019

IN TRANSLATION

St Jerome

I  write this on the feast of St Jerome, who translated the scriptures into Latin around the turn of the fifth century. Jerome was a pugnacious old character, some of whose views (as for instance on the moral superiority of the single to the married state) I find a bit distasteful, and he was very unkind to the memory of Origen, a great earlier theologian. The really positive point about Jerome, though, is his fervent desire to translate the scriptures, so that they could be understood. Christianity had emerged in a Greek-speaking environment, and in New Testament times Greek was the language of the people among whom Christianity was expanding, but three hundred and fifty years later this was no longer the case, and Jerome saw the need for an authoritative Latin translation of the scriptures. By Jerome's lifetime, although reading Greek was a badge of scholarship in the Roman world, it was no longer essential, as Latin had conquered the academic as well as the administrative world. For example, his great contemporary Augustine did not read Greek. More importantly, ordinary people in most of the Empire knew Latin rather than Greek.

There was a Latin New Testament before Jerome, which the scholars call the "Old Latin" text, the "Vetus Latina", only, confusingly, it was written in what linguists call "Late Latin" not "Old Latin", nor was it strictly "a Latin New Testament", because there were many different translations of separate books. So Jerome's work on the New Testament was partly about establishing a single, authoritative, version, in a consistent prose style, and he worked from the Vetus Latina, correcting translations against the oldest Greek manuscripts he could find, and generally improving the grammar. When it came to the Old Testament, although there were Vetus Latina versions for some books, Jerome was essentially starting from scratch, producing his own new Latin version, and going back where he could to Hebrew texts, rather than just the Greek. to work from.This was controversial in itself, as the Greek Septuagint was regarded by some of his contemporaries as itself a divinely-inspired text (rather as some Christians today regard the King James Bible) and Hebrew texts were, in some eyes, tainted by their association with Judaism. For Jerome, though, it was obvious that getting back to the oldest versions of biblical texts would reveal the most authoritative text, and enable the translation to be reliable.

Ironically, Jerome's Latin Bible (the "Vulgate") only finally officially displaced all the Vetus Latina versions in the sixteenth century, at just the moment that Reformers were translating the scriptures into vernacular languages under exactly the same impulse. Liturgy and scripture need to be understood by the faithful, was Jerome's view, and that of the Reformers.

At the school Mass this morning I took the Year 4 class into the middle of the nave and got them to look up at the ceiling to see the portrait of St Jerome up there. He is, of course, easily recognisable, as he is dressed in his broad-brimmed red hat and red robes as a (completely anachronistic) cardinal. I didn't bother with the anachronism, but asked them to find a man with a big red hat and red cloak, and a big black beard. They were very pleased to find him easily. Talking about putting the scriptures into different languages makes sense in this environment where there are more than fifty different home languages among the pupils.

I was struck while I was doing this with the thought that our attitudes to translation go to the heart of the difference between Christianity and Islam. In Islam, the text of the Qur'an is believed to have been uttered by God in classical Arabic, and taken down as dictation by the Prophet Muhammad. While translations exist, they are never allowed to claim to be the Qur'an, but "versions" of it, and essentially the believer is urged to learn classical Arabic in order to approach the text. The text is given; it is the person who must change. A perfect example of the "submission" embodied in Islam. Christianity meanwhile, maintains a notion of the sacredness and inviolability of the scriptures, but accepts that translation has always taken place (even in Old Testament times) and believes that the scriptures need to be translated into the languages of humanity so that humanity may hear the message properly. We don't even know for sure whether Jesus spoke Greek; we assume he taught in Aramaic, which means that the Gospels contain translations of his teaching. He could almost certainly read and speak Greek, but the evidence suggests he generally spoke Aramaic to ordinary people, because that was their language. So Christianity has always wanted to be accessible to different cultures on their own terms (despite remoulding Christianity into a European shape in colonial times, and an American shape in the modern world).        

Monday, 16 September 2019

TOWN AND COUNTRY

Wellness, or not.

Writing last Sunday's sermon was derailed on Friday lunchtime when I got a call from the PDT staff in the church, saying there was a lady there who was asking for the priest. So I went over. Three hours later I returned home. When I went into church one of the junior PDT staff said to me, "I'm pretty sure she's having a psychotic episode," so I asked them to please stay around while I talked to the lady. That turned out to be a correct observation, but the lady didn't seem dangerous, just very distressed. Fortunately the staff member thought to call someone who had delivered mental health first aid training for them, who came at once, and we spent the rest of the afternoon essentially trying to interact with the lady. She would talk about God, but not about herself, so we couldn't get any of the sort of information you need to help someone, It soon became clear that we weren't getting anywhere, so an ambulance was summoned, but it took the best part of two hours to get to us. This enabled the lady to have a rest, and she was more switched on when they arrived, but she wouldn't tell them her name, or let them look in her bag. She went outside with them, but then ran away when she saw the ambulance. They went after her, in a gentle way.

The last time we had someone as unwell as that at the church he ended up impaling his foot on the railings, trying to climb over them. The fire brigade had to be summoned to cut him loose, because apparently you aren't allowed to lift someone impaled off whatever they are impaled on in case it causes catastrophic bleeding. Actually the blood vessels in your foot aren't huge, so this wasn't much of a danger, but they had to follow their procedure, so I was reduced to saying, "That's a Grade-1 listed gate, be careful! And make sure I get it back." I was delighted to find a charming police officer on my doorstep later that evening (a Westcountryman) who gave me back the portion of gate, which St Mary's A&E had removed from the foot, and said, "Sorry, if I was back home, I'd weld it for you myself, but I haven't got my gear here." We found a blacksmith who did the necessary. It was at that point that I noticed that the gates and railings had clearly had extra spikes welded onto them at some point. Not the way we do it today.


Saturday night

Saturday night involved a lot of noise outside the house. When I went over to say Morning Prayer I observed a load of fast food cartons on the road, and about 50 nitrous oxide canisters. My virtuous churchwarden decided to sweep it all up, as you did have to pick your way through it to get to the church door, which she thought wasn't a great look for us. Cycling over to St Peter's to collect all the service sheets (which I would have done on Friday if I'd had an afternoon) I ran over a rat on the Canalside; it was spooked by a bike in front of me and ran straight under my front wheel. Still, it wasn't there when I came back, so I concluded that I didn't injure it much.


Music night

On Thursday, the Music Society celebrated the completion of our building work with an organ recital interspersed with talks from Nicholas Kaye and me, a recipe that worked generally very well (though I underestimated the length of some of the passages from G.E.Street's Life that I was going to read). This was very well received, so I think we shall use a similar recipe again, maybe featuring Betjeman, for instance. James made a very good choice of music, with a piece by Bill Lloyd Webber, who was choirmaster at St Mary Mags in the 1930s (before going to Margaret Street) as well as a Durufle piece that made reference to his "Messe Cum Jubilo" which had its first UK performance here in 1968 (and other rousing items). We were told that both Jean Langlais and Flor Peeters (famous composers for the organ) came here in the 1960s, which gives us some more repertoire.   


At the Museum

On Friday evening (somewhat shell-shocked) to the British Museum for the historian Tom Holland giving a lecture to launch his new book "Dominion"; the perfect antidote. I have rarely been at an event when I so thoroughly agreed with the speaker's every word. It is an account of how everything good in our civilisation comes from Christianity (I simplify, obviously). I bought the book, and he signed it. As he did so, I said that I had expressed some of what he had said in a recent sermon, which might worry him. He did look a bit worried. Still, buy the book!


The Thames Valley

On Saturday we thought to go out into the country to take advantage of the nice weather. A friend had an exhibition of his pictures in Henley-on-Thames, and so I thought we would go there and meet friends for tea. As a late afterthought, I decided to pop into All Saints, Boyne Hill, in Maidenhead, another major work by G.E.Street, on the way. We spent an hour and a half in Maidenhead, chatting to an enthusiast and looking carefully. That meant we didn't have long to get to our tea date in Henley, but I thought it would be easy, as it isn't far. However, traffic has got heavier in the Thames Valley since I lived there, and we spent forty-five minutes in queues and trying to park. This did not make for an enjoyable time. Still we managed to meet up with our friends, and had a very pleasant riverside walk in the end. Henley is a bit manicured for my taste, but the upper Thames is very lovely.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

OF MICE AND MEN

Mice and Other Rodents

Casimir killed a mouse the other day, and left it right in the middle of the kitchen floor, so it was there for me when I came down in the morning. I know, I should be grateful that he didn't put it on the carpet outside the bedroom door, so that we might find it with our bare feet in the night. Be grateful for small mercies, and all that. That's mistaking his motivation, though. This wasn't anything to do with us; a present to show how much he loves us, or a little snack should we be peckish in the night, or even something for us to play with. but which has unaccountably got broken. This was simply him doing his guard-cat job. It was one he killed earlier. The only problem is that he doesn't have a cat-flap, so this was a mouse from inside the house. I didn't know there were any mice inside the house. Perhaps there aren't now?

My experience is that mice are persistent. We have been having regular visits for some time at St Peter's from Wes, who we call "the rat man" (but not in his hearing). He tells us that no bait has been taken for a couple of months, and then someone sees another mouse. Tedious.

It's curious how mice have a largely positive image (especially when compared to rats) because they are just as grubby, and able to get through unfeasibly small gaps. You can clear up mouse droppings when you see them, but their urine is not so conspicuous, and as for their little footprints, the less said the better. We call poor old Wes the rat man because he was called in to deal with the rats that were living under St Mary Magdalene's School bin store, and running riot from there (school, church, my garden). He dealt with them pretty successfully (though that may be tempting fate), more successfully than the previous school site manager who had tried to fill the holes with cement, which the rats just chewed their way through. I think Wes has cleared the rats from school, but there are any number along the canalside, encouraged by all the waste food produced by the boat-dwellers. You regularly see them scuttling around.

A few years ago the BBC filmed a sequence for their reality show "I'd Do Anything" in our then-dingy undercroft. The show was to find an unknown actress-singer to take the role of Nancy in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's revival of "Oliver", and they took the young women out on various tasks as well as just singing and acting. The task that they faced at St Mary Magdalene's was to deal with rats. I can't remember whether the desired result was that they should act convincingly horrified, or that they should be able to keep their cool. Anyway, I encountered the animal wrangler unloading his stage rats from his van, and remarked that if anyone had asked us, we could have provided local rats because it was always good to provide opportunities for residents of the Estate. He didn't seem impressed. His rats were white and black, and not at all menacing.   

The real PR kings of the rodent world are the squirrels of course. London squirrels seem to be habituated to posing now, as they are the object of so many tourist photos, and are completely fearless. Or at least they seem fearless, but that may be a function of their reputedly poor eyesight. It's always amusing to see a dog chase one, because however dozy the squirrel seems, it is never so far from a tree or wall that it cannot escape by climbing, but that never deters the dog. Squirrels are making a big comeback on the Estate, having vanished completely for a couple of years, but I still wonder where they sleep, as there don't seem to be any dreys in the trees.


Men

On Monday someone used the church porch as a lavatory. I was clearing up (gloves, boots, disinfectant) when an Australian priest came to enquire about visiting; "Ah, the duties of the job," he said, smiling ruefully as I carried a pair of heavily soiled pants. I'm just grateful we now have running water in the building, as that made it a bit easier. One of those pressure washers would have been ideal, but I managed, thanks. The surprising thing was that it happened in the daytime, some time in the afternoon. Had the person been desperately hoping to make it to the loos in our new building and been thwarted by the building being locked? I wonder. Surely the nice new bin store would have been more discreet than our porch? Or did they choose us? Either way, the result did not improve my mood at Evening Prayer: it's quite hard to love the human race sometimes.  

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

NORMAL SERVICE IS RESUMED

Apologies for the delay.

A week after my last post we got married, and that took a bit of organising. Then we went away to Rome for a week, and when we came back Fiona's belongings were moved into the Vicarage. I hadn't really thought about how difficult it might be to put two adult households together in one house; a failure of imagination, I suppose. So the house was filled with boxes, and duplicates of everything are slowly being uncovered, and decisions made about what stays and what goes. It all takes a while. Then I went off to Provence, my usual trip (organised last autumn, before I'd even met Fiona) to stay with friends and watch the Tour de France, on which Fiona was able to join me for the last weekend. So, it's been a busy time, and I haven't had much time to write this blog.

Returning to Paddington I am struck by the randomness of some of the driving you see here. This morning I watched an Asda delivery van indicate right as if to turn off the Harrow Road into Amberley Road, but in fact execute a u-turn, in front of a bus. Amazing. Each day you see something that surprises you.The local belief that yellow lines are just advisory seems to be even more widespread in August, and there's a car outside the church more or less permanently. Westminster's lack of interest in enforcing anything except residents' parking restrictions clearly contributes to people's attitudes, as no-one expects any consequences. I wonder whether some people have simply no idea what single yellow lines mean;  it would be useful if Westminster used their glossy magazine to publicise the rules.

I am pleased to report that the Grand Junction Cafe is now open. We haven't got the fancy permanent furniture yet, but what we do have will do for the moment. It turns out to be a complicated process to get beautiful results when printing on formica table tops, but I'm sure they will be worth waiting for. We're gradually getting signs produced, so everything is looking a bit more finished. We still haven't quite got rid of the builders, though; are we now in month 26 of a 12 month contract?


Saturday, 15 June 2019

AND MORE EVENTS...

An Irish Hooley

At the end of May we staged our first big event as a venue, the annual "Irish Hooley" for Irish Music and Dance in London, an admirable organisation devoted to fostering traditional music and dance among the Irish diaspora here in London. They do two things: they put on a festival in the autumn, which used to be in Camden Town (but is now in Cricklewood), for which the Hooley is a fundraiser, and they organise classes for youngsters in traditional Irish music and dance, year-round. We first made contact with them about four years ago, and it seemed to everyone that we would be a suitable venue for their music classes. Not dance, though (not with our tiled floors and their hard shoes and stamping feet!) So, in the interim, they have kindly invited me to the Hooley each year, where I have had a good time, but felt a bit of a fraud. Finally, this year we thought the building would be finished, and it would be a good test event for us, and so it was booked in. As you already know, everything was not finished, but at least we had the loos and the lift working, which was the basic minimum. PDT organised volunteer stewards, and we observed carefully as Tommy and his hugely professional team of riggers turned the nave into a suitable venue for the Kilfenora Ceili Band and 200 people. They started bringing in the staging at 10am, had it up for afternoon sound checks and rehearsals, and took it all down as soon as the performance finished at 10.30pm, and were all out by midnight.

The Ceili Band were the big draw, but the first part of the evening was a showcase for some of the children learning traditional Irish music, who were really good. Their musicianship was really impressive (there was a particularly good young fiddler) and they were obviously well-taught, but clearly nobody was teaching them how to perform in public, as they all looked rather solemn, and one particularly prominent girl looked deeply miserable. It hadn't occurred to me before, but obviously performance does actually need to be taught, as most people are not natural performers.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band were genuinely impressive, and you can understand why their reputation spreads far beyond County Clare. I also learnt a useless fact, which I hope to deploy at a later date: that the first ceilidh took place  not in Ireland, but in London, in 1896 at the Bloomsbury Hall (a venue I'm afraid I don't know, but which Fiona assures me is still there).


Ecclesiologists

A few days later, we hosted a visit from the Ecclesiological Society, for whose journal I have written an article about the project. This event was bedevilled by confusion, as much of the content was due to be the same as we had done for the Victorian Society two weeks before, and many people are members of both. They were quite charming about making the arrangements, but charmingly vague; I suppose I have learnt the lesson to get everything nailed down beforehand. It was good to have the lift working, as we had some less mobile ecclesiologists. Bill Jacob, the former Archdeacon, is a member, and was hugely helpful. giving a talk about the genesis of the project. They were all very appreciative, and said kind things about the new building, and our vision.   


Giving Thanks

Two days ago it was finally time for our Solemn Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving for the completion of restoration and building works (notwithstanding the non-completion of those works in reality). 20 choirboys from one prep school, 31 choirboys and adult singers from another prep school, 30 stems of lilies, the Bishop of Fulham, visiting clergy, visiting servers, and about 150 other people in church, participating in one way or another. The Durufle Missa Cum Jubilo was indeed lovely (though I should have checked how long the Sanctus and Benedictus would be) and so was the Notre Pere. The choirs sang very well. James played superbly.The Bishop, unfortunately, had a summer cold; normally he sings much better than me, and he would have benefitted from a mic in the pulpit (another thing we haven't yet done). Still I shall post the text of his sermon on the website. It was a great and joyful occasion. I was delighted that lots of the conservators who worked on the ceilings and doors were there. There were also friends from my old parish in Reading, and people who have worked on the project for years, as well as local supporters of various sorts.

One of the servers said to me, "Father, we live in liturgical luxury!" (delivered in a tone rather like, "Ambassador you are spoiling us") when learning that the Bishop would say the canon quietly while the choir sang the Sanctus. His excitement at learning that we were also doing the traditional blessing of lilies on St Anthony of Padua's Day was visible. I have to confess to enjoying myself there; I found a translation of a traditional responsory of St Anthony, which, with a bit of editing, could be made to fit to Parry's "Jerusalem", so we sang that at the shrine. Very multi-cultural, I felt.

I say shrine, but it's only a statue on a rather grand plinth. The statue has been in my sitting room for the past two years, and didn't come back into church with the others because the table he used to stand on was needed for other purposes. I gave him a bit of a clean and touch-up, but wasn't sure whether he could go back into church. Recently it dawned on me that the base of a portable font that we have recently replaced at St Peter's might serve as a suitable plinth, and so it has proved. A little gold paint has improved things, and no-one recognised it. It fits very well, and we can continue to venerate the excellent St Anthony, whose magnificent shrine in Padua I have visited very happily.


Yesterday

So yesterday, having had the celebration Mass the previous evening, Fiona and I took ourselves down to deepest Surrey for my aunt's hundredth birthday party. A couple of weeks ago my aunt had phoned me, and said that if we caught the 11.03 out of Waterloo there would be transport waiting at the station to take us to the party, as it had been arranged for some other people coming by train from London. So that's what we did, and found ourselves travelling with Gillian Reynolds, the doyenne of radio critics, and three charming people from The Archers staff at the BBC, we came back with them as well, and  very amusing travelling companions they proved. The venue was the reception room of a theatre, which if I remember rightly, my aunt opened some years ago. Lunch involved coronation chicken and baked potatoes, so I was always going  to be happy. I was very taken aback to be asked to speak at the end of lunch, but my brother and I managed to say a few things, which were well-received. It really didn't matter much what we said, since the focus was Auntie June's speech, delivered standing, without notes, and perfectly audibly, to a roomful of people on her hundredth birthday. Frankly, everyone was in awe. I'm not sure that my aunt entirely appreciates the BBC's description of her as "the world's most durable soap actor", but she was very gracious about it all. She was most apologetic that she was not going to be able to make it to our wedding next week, but my cousin is making sure she has a rest after all this.