Room 101

THERE ARE SOME things one simply does not see the point of.

For me gambling is certainly one of them. I know plenty of people who get positive and obvious enjoyment from the National Lottery, and are willing, as a weekly routine, to queue at the newsagents or in W.H. Smiths to buy a ticket. Our local Roman priest is one of them. But I simply cannot imagine the nature of that enjoyment. It is as mysterious to me as sado-masochism.

Then there are Hamburgers.

I have never eaten a hamburger. My Texan friends John and Katherine assure me that there is nothing so tasty as a home made hamburger (‘like mom used to make’); and they have threatened me with one on many occasions. But I have so far resisted. Perhaps it is the ambience in which hamburgers are usually eaten – the very reverse of any environment I would associate with food. Perhaps it is the bizarre notion that this should be the national dish of the greatest nation on earth. I do not know. Perhaps it is simply the fact that on any given occasion there are always things one would rather eat.

Travelling on a boat up the Yangsi recently the diligent Chinese purser talked the kitchen into making hamburgers as a treat for his Western passengers. The result was inedible, even to the Americans on board, and it was with relief that we managed to persuade him to provide a few of us with a bowl of simple noodles in soup.

Then there is chewing-gum.

The pavements of Lewisham are pock-marked with white dots. At first I blamed the pigeons. (At vast expense we have managed to drive them from the bell tower and they now roost along the High Street, distributing their guano more equitably between the just and the unjust fellow).

But the rains have come (and what rains!) and fallen upon those dots, and they have not been washed away. I have therefore concluded that they must be chewing gum.

How many people, then, chew gum? It was famously said by Lyndon Johnson of Hubert Humphrey that he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. But the Lewisham depositors, if I am right, are consistently ambulant. They chew it everywhere and expectorate it frequently. But why?

Chewing-gum has no nutritional value. It quickly loses its taste. Some is said to be good for cleaning the teeth. Otherwise the most that can be claimed in its favour is that it gives ample exercise to the jaws of those who are into public mastication.

And who chews gum? Do bishops chew away in their Mondeos, as they are whisked from important meeting to important meeting? Do High Court judges surreptitiously stick it under convenient flat surfaces as they leave the robing-room for the Court? And how do servers and clergy void it on their way to the sanctuary? The assumption would naturally be that chewing is most prevalent among the young. But what is the evidence?

Judging by the pavements of Lewisham, dappled as they are, gum-chewing is now a major national occupation. Those of us who do not chew gum (worse still never have chewed it) are missing out on what has become the most popular of all British pastimes. Chewing-gum is just one more reason why I shall be spending my Church Commissioners’ Pension in Singapore.

Then there are television game shows.

People, I am reliably informed, turn an honest penny setting those inane questions and checking the accuracy of the answers – so game shows make a modest contribution to the domestic economy of the middle classes. But it is hard to justify them in any other way.

From ‘Lily Savage’ to Anne Robinson the presenters are uniformly the sort of people one would choose not to spend an evening with in one’s own home. And the questions asked and answered, even for a million pounds, are hardly taxing. Since the average contestant on Mastermind or University Challenge could probably win a million pounds from Chris Tarrant on a weekly basis, the principal problem in mounting such a programme must be that of vetting the applicants so that there is a fair to average chance that they will not know all the answers. A team of advisers from the National Union of Teachers is no doubt permanently on hand to advise about lowest common denominators.

Then there are Archdeacons.

As a matter of fact the present Archdeacon of Lewisham is a charming man who well deserves the promotion which has overtaken him. But for heaven’s sake, there are six of them, in this diocese alone! As a parish priest struggling with the restoration of a vast Victorian edifice, what I would value most would be a diocesan department of experts in appeals organization and charitable funding – people who would draft begging letters, design brochures, and deal with the National Heritage Lottery Fund instead of me; who would press for intelligent revision of faculty legislation and get the Victorian Society out of my hair.

A posse of failed or potential bishops is not of much practical help, and the committees they chair, with their lack of taste and obsession with disabled lavatories, are even worse.

The salaries, housing costs and expenses of around four Archdeacons would make a serious dent in the cost of such a department. And, unlike Archdeacons, I suspect that the savings made on present procedures, not to mention the funds obtained which would otherwise not accrue, would soon show the wisdom of such an arrangement.

Of course there would still be the problem of finding gainful employment for failed or potential bishops. Perhaps they could work in parishes.

Geoffrey Kirk is the Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark