‘Thurifer’ recalls his time as an activist, among other things
Even from the perspective of two months, the maelstrom of events following the Referendum is dizzying. The resignation of the Prime Minister, the serial resignations from the Shadow Cabinet, the political assassination of Boris Johnson (the Emperor was shown to have no clothes), the bizarre behaviour of the assassin and his subsequent feeble showing in the election, the self-immolation of Andrea Leadsom, the limpet determination of Jeremy Corbyn, the ludicrous hyperbole of Len McCluskey, the unleashing of darker forces, the ignorance of history and the representative nature of our constitutional arrangements were almost overshadowed by the Report of Sir John Chilcot, whose damning verdict was only emphasised by the poised, measured, mandarin prose in which it was delivered.
In this whirligig some commentators lost their grip on language. Among the plethora of dud notes I particularly liked one journalist’s view that the withdrawal of Mrs Leadson meant that Theresa May would be “coronated”. The political editor of Newsnight, meanwhile, managed to mangle one of the most famous of political dicta: commenting on David Cameron’s tuneful return to No.10 after a statement, the unfortunate hack said that it disproved Enoch Powell’s remark that all political careers end in “tears”. Powell said memorably (but not memorable enough for a political correspondent, clearly) that the end was “failure”. Mr Cameron has been wrecked on the rocky coast of the European Union: he was not the first, and may not be the last.
A diverting weekend in Bristol began dramatically. Collected from the railway station by my host, we took the scenic way to his flat so that I could see some of the city, which I do not know well. There was a considerable police presence, whose ubiquity was explained by a demonstration. We could not work out whether it was a pro- or anti-immigration demonstration. What we did see was a number of anarchist and anti-fascist banners. At one point we were overtaken by a number of mounted police. They were heading off a large group of black-clad, balaclava-wearing protesters. Dressed so that they could not be identified, they were clearly out for trouble and immediately forfeited any sympathy I might have had. As the police blocked them and moved them back, our car was caught up in the mêlée. We did not feel threatened but, as advised by what we took to be an undercover officer, we turned around and drove away. It brought back my radical past. I once joined a demonstration, some forty years ago, outside the offices of Edinburgh City Council protesting the refusal to build an opera house. It was rather sedate, as you might imagine. “What do we want?” “An opera house!” “When do we want it?” “As soon as possible, please.” In the end we didn’t do any chanting. Instead we stood around chatting, signed a petition, and then wandered away to lunch.
The publication of A-Level and GCSE results in August brought to mind an incident during my tertiary education. A friend was late with an essay, and under pressure from his tutor. I loaned him mine, which had been handed in on time [Inky swot. Ed], and he duly copied it out. It was in the days of those new-fangled writing implements, fountain pens. It was returned with a C grade. Mine had been given an A. I have never really trusted examinations since, even when I was an examiner.
The death of Alberto Remedios in June reminded me of my introduction to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. From up in the gods at ENO I heard him as the eponymous hero of Siegfried, conducted by Reginald Goodall and with Rita Hunter as Brunhilde – a Cycle that has passed into legend. I can still see in the mind’s eye and hear in the inner ear the final thrilling scene, as these two soared above the orchestra at full stretch. Forty years later it seems as fresh and immediate and passionate as it was then. Both Remedios and Hunter came from modest, even straightened, circumstances in Liverpool, and both achieved international fame. I saw the complete Cycle in the ENO provincial tour with Charles Mackerass conducting, and have subsequently seen Cycles by Scottish Opera, WNO, and the most recent (a dreadful production) by ENO. I cannot claim to be an entirely committed Wagnerite, and I am certainly not “The Perfect Wagnerite,” of George Bernard Shaw’s book. Nor am I unaware of the moral perplexity aroused by Wagner; but I would sacrifice much for the last act of Siegfried.
I have been attending the public lectures at St Mary’s, Bourne Street, in London, given in memory of four distinguished figures in the church’s history. Before the summer Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music gave a moving and eloquent address in memory of the late David Trendell, who was Director of Music at St Mary’s until his sudden premature death last year. The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, spoke on “The Grace of God is in Courtesy?” in memory of Fr John Gilling. This month Lord (Rowan) Williams will lecture on “The Malines Legacy: a vision for Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue?”, in memory of the second Viscount Halifax – that great Anglo-Catholic layman among whose several offices was Churchwarden of St Mary’s, and who initiated the informal conversations with Cardinal Mercier that took place in Belgium between the wars. The final lecture will be given in memory of Fr Eric Mascall, still fondly remembered by many for his erudition and wit, who was resident as an honorary assistant curate. It will be delivered by the Principal of Westcott House, Canon Chivers.