WHY I AM STILL A CATHOLIC
Edited by Peter Stanford
Continuum, 152pp, hbk
0 8264 8577 4, £12·99
It is forty years since Michael de la Bedoyere’s Objections to Roman Catholicism was published, a set of essays by famous Catholics wrestling with the challenges of the time. This latest slim volume of essays made one want to embark on one of one’s own – an essay or indeed a volume. ‘Why I am still an Anglo-Catholic’ might interest readers of New Directions, perhaps, but it wouldn’t sell too well and, indeed, it would be harder to write than it would have been, for any of us, a generation ago.
The fourteen contributors to Peter Stanford’s collection of colourful Catholics are distinguished men and women. Cherie Booth, Edward Stourton, Cristina Odone and Dermot O’Leary are paraded on the front of the dust-jacket but theirs are not necessarily the most interesting essays. What will Booth the feminist say? Stourton and Odone (the one a divorcé, the other married to a divorcé)? O’Leary the TV presenter? I found myself more interested in what Bruce Kent, the veteran CND campaigner, and Annie Maguire, the victim of nearly nine and a half years’ wrongful imprisonment, would have to say. These are what have been described as ‘cafeteria Catholics’: they take what they want and leave aside what they cannot accept.
Patricia Scotland – who describes herself as a ‘black socialist Catholic in government,’ not averse to taking out a rosary during a House of Lords debate – struggles with obedience, but Dermot O’Leary is selective in his following of official doctrine. He believes what Jesus preached but ‘what has come later is the man-made stuff.’ Even Annie Maguire, a classic cradle Catholic from Belfast, says, ‘I tend to do what I feel now, not what the Church tells me to.’ Charlie Brown, a generation younger and a convert from Methodism, wrestles with the Church’s attitude to his sexuality and takes comfort in ‘the primacy of conscience and its unparalleled importance within Catholic theology.’
The essays do not all wear their orthodoxy lightly. Professor Neil Scolding’s essay ‘On the Sidelines of a Culture of Death,’ the most substantial of the book, defends the use of adult-derived stem cells in medical research and wonders ‘why embryonic stem cell research continues to excite enormous excitement and to expand almost exponentially.’
As you while a way a wet weekend with I.M. Birtwistle, the poet, Shaun Edwards, the rugby international, Mel Giedroyc, the comedian, and the rest, take heart from what it is that inspires and unites them all. As Charlie Brown says of his conversion, ‘it was the Mass that dunnit.’
Bishop Andrew Burnham
Canterbury, 266pp, hbk
1 85311 655 6, £30
MONK, WRITER AND ARTIST
Anglo-Catholic History Society, 72pp, pbk
(Available from Brent Skelly, 24 Cloudesley Square, London N1 0HN)
0 9550714 0 2, £10
The fault-lines endemic in Anglo-Catholicism are becoming increasingly exposed in the historical revisionism that is taking place. The age of hagiography has passed. Important work over the past decade or so by the likes of Peter Nockles, George Herring, John Shelton Reed, and Frank Turner has altered perspectives and challenged orthodoxies. For a long time the standard text, S.L. Ollard’s A Short History of the Oxford Movement spoke of a more confident age. They were written in 1915 and the mud of Flanders had not yet sapped the confidence of English society and engulfed the high-Victorian ideal. His book reflected a degree of triumphalism, cast in heroic terms. It was the apogee of a particular, and of a particularly partisan, version of history. He told a story, vividly and compellingly, of ‘a small but courageous band of reformers battling against the forces of a hostile Establishment, and enraged protestantism, and a growing liberal tendency in theology.’ Much of the historiography of the Catholic Revival has been shaped either by Anglo-Catholic partisans or Protestant detractors like Walter Walsh, who wrote that superb and immensely enjoyable polemical work, The Secret History of the Oxford Movement. The modern historian does not see the Anglo-Catholic past in quite such heroic terms.
Anglo-Papalism, the subject of this significant study, was a distinctive strain in the Catholic Revival, at the extreme edge. Yelton identifies the Anglo-Papalist manifesto in his opening pages. They held the teaching of the Holy See in the matter of faith and morals not on the basis of any selectivity or argument from first principles but on papal authority alone. They did not take quite the same position on the validity of Anglican Orders: ‘they accept the validity of Anglican Orders, but do not claim that the possession of valid orders, or their continuity, justifies the Church of England. We who belong to this minority admit that we are in schism, though not by our own fault, and we desire nothing more ardently than to be in visible communion with the Holy See.’
Henry Fynes-Clinton, as the arch Anglo-Papalist, wrote that bishops ‘armed with the weapon of spiritual authority restored to it by the Catholic Movement, the Episcopal Bench as a whole has used it not as a crook to guide the sheep into true pastures, but to restrain or turn aside those who would follow in the ancient use and teaching of Christ’s fold.’ Mr Yelton rightly and judiciously comments that ‘this was a fairly typical attitude to bishops by those who on the other hand sought to uphold church order, displaying one of the ambiguities which has plagued the Catholic Revival throughout its existence.’
Some of the story that Yelton tells is familiar and does not add immeasurably to our understanding, but it is told with commendable clarity and concision. His history of the revival of the Shrine at Walsingham is a case in point. He rightly points out that Alfred Hope Patten requires a fully-considered biography. He re-visits Fr Sandys Wason and Fr Bernald Walke in Cornwall and rehearses their tribulations. It is, by and large, narrative history rather than analytical. Where he does bring fresh light is in his use of the papers of the late Canon Donald Rea and the Confraternity of Unity. Several names which have languished in undeserved obscurity have been recovered. Here is a wealth of material which deserves further detailed exploration.
The terminus ad quem in 1960, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, marks the demise of one of the one of the great figures of Anglo-Papalism, Father Henry Fynes-Clinton, and it is salutary to be reminded how much so many Catholic societies, or strains of Anglo-Catholicism depended on the charismatic character of individuals. Vatican II did change the face and nature of Anglo-Papalism. Those like Fr John Milburn of St Paul’s Brighton immediately re-ordered their churches and moved to concelebration and adopted wholesale the new Roman Rite as a matter of obedience to the Holy See. Others were more at a loss. One consequence of the advent of the Alternative Service Book was to make Anglo-Papalism look less distinctive. Among the young there now seems to be a neo-Tridentine backlash. Copies of Fortescue are being dusted and ceremonial not specifically suppressed by current norms is reappearing. The Catholic Church is in danger of becoming as liturgically fragmented as Anglo-Catholicism.
In his conclusions, Yelton rightly says that Anglican Papalists failed to see these modernizing tendencies. Once Rome changed, they were adrift and rudderless. The pursuit of unity, always at the heart of the Anglo-Papalist cause, suffered several severe setbacks by the unilateral action of the Church of England. Its last hurrah might be seen in the conversions to Rome in the period 1992 to 2004. It remains to be seen whether Anglo-Catholics can forge a degree of unity, the lack of which has critically damaged its cause, in the face of present dangers.
No one should hold their breath: the lesson of history is against them. ‘The Anglican Establishment absorbed and adapted Anglo-Catholicism,’ says Mr Yelton. Its teeth were drawn, its fire doused, its rebellion quelled. ‘It would be idle to pretend,’ he concludes, ‘that Anglo-Papalism now plays any great part in the life of the Church of England.’ And his book shows that it never really moved beyond the margins. He has written a study in failure.
One of those who figures in the book is also the subject of an attractively produced pamphlet by the admirably energetic Anglo-Catholic History Society. Peter Anson was one of those from the Community on Caldey Island who converted to Rome. He was a prolific writer, albeit of uneven quality, on a range of ecclesiastical subjects and on his other great passion: the sea and fishing. Four of his books have some lasting significance: his biography of the Abbot of Caldey Island, Aelred Carlyle, The Call of the Cloister and Bishops at Large which dealt with that odd and shady phenomenon episcopi vagantes and his vade mecum of church furnishing and vestments which captures the moment before the changes of Vatican II began to change the look and feel of things. This pamphlet is generously illustrated with his line drawings, with serried ranks of priests in variously shaped chasubles being particularly evocative.
This is a welcome introduction to Anson’s restless, hyperactive, neurotic life, marked by a dizzying number of moves of monastic houses (he had a long series of failed attempts in several religious communities) and domestic houses. He was clearly an obsessive and a depressive, enduring several nervous breakdowns: barking mad might be a fair summary. Mr Yelton deals with this sensitively, as he does with other aspects of Anson’s life, not least financial and personal: let the reader understand. Perhaps a full, critical biography should be his next book. Whatever his next project, Michael Yelton has already marked himself out as a serious historian of the Catholic Revival.
If the pamphlet is to be reprinted, the Society would do well to remove a smattering of typographical errors and to consider justifying the text to give an even more professional appearance. And were there not five rather than four priests who were prisoners for the sake of conscience in the wake of the iniquitous Public Worship Regulation Act?
GLORY DESCENDING: MICHAEL RAMSEY AND HIS WRITINGS
Douglas Dales, John Habgood, Geoffrey Rowell and Rowan Williams
Canterbury, 260pp, pbk
1 85311 630 0, £18·99
Here is a most welcome publication, which does, as they say, exactly what it says on the tin. The first part is a compendium of extracts from Ramsey’s own work, helpfully arranged, judiciously chosen, and attractively presented. The second part consists of half-a-dozen longer essays, which originated as lectures or papers given variously in York, Canterbury, Lambeth, Oxford and Cambridge, each a reflection on some aspect of Ramsey’s theology, or his life, or both (for the two cannot be kept apart). Thus we have John Habgood on Ramsey the ‘Man of God;’ Rowan Williams on Ramsey on priesthood, on glory, and on Ramsey, Catholic and Lutheran; Geoffrey Rowell on Ramsey, transfiguration, and Orthodoxy; and Douglas Dales on Ramsey and holiness, and Ramsey and ecclesiology. Two shorter tributes and appreciations, again by Williams and Dales, provide an epilogue. Each of the contributors writes well and brings out nicely some characteristic of the essence – one is tempted to write, the mystery – of Michael Ramsey; and all write with evident affection and respect.
What can one say of the quality of Ramsey’s own writing, as exemplified by the selection printed here? As we pass the centenary of his birth, we are surely only just beginning to assess the true stature of his theological and spiritual legacy to the Church of England, indeed to the whole of the Church of God. The near impossibility of choosing just one quotation from so many extracts to illustrate the style, the thought, the prayerfulness of the theology, the theological richness of the devotional material, is testament enough to the breadth and depth of Ramsey’s work, all of it revolving around that key phrase of St Paul’s in 2 Corinthians: ‘One died for all, therefore all died.’
In The Gospel and the Catholic Church, that verse is the seed from which grows Ramsey’s whole theology of the Church: the community in which men and women make the death of Christ their own, dying to themselves in order to rise again to share the resurrection life which is the mutual love of the Father and the Son. The Gospel and the Catholic Church is Ramsey’s supreme theological achievement. But here are a few lines from The Christian Priest Today, which show us Ramsey the priest, Ramsey the Christian soul: they are beautiful in their simplicity; and the editors have justly titled this quotation, ‘The heart of love:’
‘Amidst the vast scene of the world’s problems and tragedies you may feel that your own ministry and witness seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial. But consider – the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter, and that the small group, the very few, the one man or woman or child are of infinite worth to God. Let that be your inspiration. Consider our Lord himself. Amidst a vast world with its vast empires and events and tragedies, our Lord devoted himself to a small country, to small things and to individual men and women, often giving hours of time to the few, or to the one man or woman. For the infinite worth of the one person is the key to the Christian understanding of the many. You will never be nearer to Christ than in caring for the one man, the one woman, the one child. His authority will be given to you as you do this, and his joy will be yours as well.’
THE ART OF GOD
The Making of Christians and the Meaning of Worship
SPCK, 150pp, pbk
0 281 05629 3, £14·99
Catholic liturgy is not random. It is ordered, scripted and choreographed. It is disciplined and crafted, modulated and shaped. Liturgy originally meant a public service offered in the name of, and on behalf of the people, but in the Christian tradition the liturgy is more particularly the participation of the people of God in the work of God: opus Dei. The liturgy of the Church is the instrument whereby Christ continues his work of redemption in the world. It is also impersonal. It does not depend for its effectiveness on any individual nor on the personality of any of its participants: not celebrant, deacon, preacher, acolyte, singer or member of the congregation. It requires the sublimation of any participant into the offering of the whole. It is the offering of the community, not the individual, which is why we should participate by word and gesture in what the Church and in what the faithful community does, do what it does, say what it says, rather than indulge in some idiosyncratic individual devotional caprice.
This is an indulgent and unsatisfactory book. It is an exercise in exploring the relationship between art and liturgy. It has been much more interestingly and thoroughly explored by David Brown, among others; and even with these more eminent practitioners there is a feeling that the seam has been mined for all it is worth, and it may have had its day.
The trawl through the biblical and patristic stuff is solid enough but his conclusion that the New Testament offers ‘a vision of Christianity as a religion of transformation, change and transfiguration’ is hardly shattering. Herein lies the problem. The level of thinking seldom rises above the commonplace. This is inevitably reflected in the prose, which is platitudinous. It is debilitating to read page after page that rarely rises above the banal; and acutely embarrassing when he strives for effect, discussing Rodin’s oeuvre, for example, and sounding merely pretentious.
Mr Irvine does not convince. Comments on contemporary liturgical language and its infelicity, its demotic tone, its reflection of a linguistically debased and commercial culture come ill from someone whose own prose style is overblown, or riddled with the very characteristics he criticises. Anyone who can write about the Eucharistic gifts as ‘an antipasto, we might say, of the eschatological marriage feast of the Lamb’ has been to few good restaurants and cannot be taken seriously. This is piffle masquerading as learning.
Even though this in a modest and slim paperback (albeit nicely produced by SPCK), it would be a waste of shelf space. ‘As we contemplate Rodin’s Hand of God [illustrated on the cover],’ he writes in the Epilogue, ‘we might imagine that second hand gently drawing out and making visible our true form, the very likeness of Christ.’ As Miss Parker might have said: this reader fwowed up.
CHRIST OUR LIGHT
Praying with Rembrandt’s etchings
Anne Margot Boyd
Canterbury, 128pp, hbk
1 85311 649 1, £9·99
This is not my type of book at all, but after editing the damning treatment of the book above (the original review was a good deal longer) I thought I had better look at this newly arrived example of the closely related genre of art and prayer. I am glad I did.
This book reproduces fifteen of Rembrandt’s etchings (which happen, significantly for her but irrelevantly for us, to come from the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne). With each one, she provides the relevant gospel passage, and then gives a simple artistic analysis of the picture, drawing out why Rembrandt drew it as he did, and then a final page of ‘words to ponder’.
Personally, I found many of the questions to reflect upon too personal and individualistic, but that is the modern way. I would have liked some of the pictures to have been larger, but that would have made the book itself too large. No, this book is not exactly as one would like it, for that is the nature of this type of exercise, but it is done with a fine lightness of touch, and after much thought and prayer.
It set itself a modest task, to use one artist’s gospel drawings, to deepen the ordinary Christian person’s life of prayer, and it succeeds. Read her introduction, and follow what she says. It would make a good Christmas present, to give or receive.
The Worlds we live in
Dialogues with Rowan Williams
Edited by Claire Foster
DLT, 138pp, pbk
0 232 52614 1, £10·95
These are transcripts of a series of public dialogues on global issues, held in St Paul’s Cathedral in September of last year, in which Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke with and responded to a couple of other noted experts in each particular field. Making appeal to the nearby site of St Paul’s Cross, that saw so many fine sermons and public disputations in the late medieval and Reformation period, there were four dialogues – how should the world be governed? is there an alternative to global capitalism? environment and humanity: friends or foes? is humanity killing itself?
The brilliance of the Archbishop’s theological intellect is not always clear: both the style and the complexity of his reasoning often makes his own writing opaque. The untidy structure of discussion in some ways suits his thought better than a book or lecture: flashes of brilliance illuminate a wide range of issues. The first two dialogues are solid and substantial, and make for a demanding but rewarding reading; the last two were more generalized and to my mind less successful.
The format, even when transcribed on to the page, allows the less well informed reader access into the discussion, and gives an understanding of how Christian theology can enlighten a wide range of pressing problems. An interesting experiment; it makes good commuter reading, more stimulating than a newspaper.
Christian Thinkers in Conversation
DLT, 284pp, pbk
0 232 52545 5, £12·95
A conversation among priests taught theology at one of our historic universities in the early Nineties frequently runs like this. Why all that endless dissection of the Scriptures – the source critics, form critics, redaction criticism, and so on? Why all that time spent on Canaanite monsters, or, for that matter, on fourth century fonts? Why did we have to start reading and thinking about fundamental questions in theology for ourselves, under our own steam, often years after graduation? (Take the doctrine of God as an example – no Aquinas, unless you’d happened to do him as your special subject.)
I know that such conversations go on, because I often take part in them. There is no doubt that those for whom a theological education has meant the traditional Oxbridge stew of Bible, Church history, early doctrine and a couple of more exotic herbs thrown into the mix, there is an overwhelming (and rather desperate) sense of a struggle to gain any real grasp of systematics; to clear the trees from the wood; to plot some basic co-ordinates on a map of the theological landscape. If one particular question, to which I have already alluded, which is prompted by the disorientating realization of the limits of one’s grasp of the fundamentals, is: Why did we read nothing written between the fifth and the sixteenth centuries? another is: Why were nineteenth century German Protestants always preferred to twentieth century French Roman Catholics? (Why did no-one tell us about de Lubac?)
The most comforting thing about Rupert Shortt’s collection of interviews with eighteen significant (and mostly outstanding) contemporary theologians is that far greater minds have clearly felt the same thing. The note which is struck in so many of the contributors is that of exasperation at the failure of theology to establish its proper place as the key discipline for interpreting human endeavour and experience, and to have become content, rather, with being one academic subject amongst many, dusty, pedantic and inward-looking rather than large of vision and intellectually vigorous. (Whether the proponents of Radical Orthodoxy are not now over-egging the pudding has provoked one of the more lively theological spats to have run in the correspondence columns of the Church Times.)
There is not a chapter in this book which is not stimulating and rewarding to read. The transcribed question-and-answer session is a formula which does not always work; one imagines that there must have been a good deal of careful editing to bring the book into publishable form. The opening interview with Rowan Williams confirms what many have said, that the Archbishop is at his very best in responding to prompts and questions, rather than when delivering a set-piece, and here there are lucid and enlightening comments on creation, theodicy and what it means for the Church to proclaim life everlasting. Barth and von Balthasar are identified by the Archbishop as the two twentieth century theologians with whom one must get to grips. Also outstanding is the final chapter: Oliver and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, with hugely sensible things to say about (among other things) Iraq, WMD and the Bush–Blair invasion. John Millbank and Simon Oliver lay out the agenda for Radical Orthodoxy (downhill all the way after Scotus), while Sarah Coakley entices us into the suggestive world of priesthood, sacrifice, gender and transgression. Tina Beattie rebukes the proponents of the anthropology of Balthasar, John Paul II and now Benedict XVI; it was Beattie who famously wrote (in an article in the Tablet) of the ‘gay nuptials’ which would be the inevitable result of a Eucharistic theology rooted in the imagery of Bride and Bridegroom. (She has, surely, misunderstood the nature of a sign – but she needs to be read, in order that she may be carefully refuted.)
A review such as this cannot begin to do justice to all the contributors and the themes which they address. God’s Advocates is worth the £12·95 for the basest of reasons, that there will then be on your shelves a handy guide to what Top Thinkers are saying about some of the big questions which never quite surfaced in those tutorials long ago. Encouragingly, it is a book whose strap line might be ‘Theology is very much alive.’
LIT BY THE LIGHT OF GOD
Prayer and Meditations throughout the Year
SPCK, 126pp, pbk
0 281 05642 0, £9·99
INTERCESSIONS FOR THE CALENDAR OF SAINTS AND HOLY DAYS
SPCK, 140pp, pbk
0 281 05747 8, £9·99
THE INTERCESSIONS HANDBOOK
SPCK, 164pp, pbk
0 281 05765 6, £9·99
GLORY IN OUR MIDST
SPCK, 114pp, pbk
0 281 05582 3, £8·99
Where do people write their intercessions? In the bath? Whilst mowing the grass? Personally I have some of my best thoughts whilst doing the ironing. We are not given an insight as to where some of the editors of these volumes of prayers received their inspiration and in some cases I think I would rather not know. As one who prefers the general thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer to some prayer that addresses God as if he were your next door neighbour, I approached these four books with some scepticism.
Perhaps of most use to our constituency is Ian Black’s book of intercessions for Holy Days. One of the gifts our movement has given the Church of England over the past century is an appreciation of the lives of the saints.
Certainly the inclusion of Corpus Christi in the list of Holy Days should be welcomed. This would be an ideal collection for those who wish to expand their stock of intercessions for use at the parish Mass, and who might want to introduce their congregation to a greater devotion to the saints if this is something that is lacking.
If I have one criticism it is the use of different responses for each set of petitions. This to my mind can cause confusion for the congregation used to responding ‘hear our prayer’ or ‘Lord graciously hear us.’ The intercessions would no doubt have to be printed on a separate sheet in order to allow the congregation to follow them: this would, I think, be more of a distraction than an aid to prayer.
We do, it seems, live in a pick’n’mix church and this has, with the advent of Common Worship, spread into our prayer life. There are now so many options: do we need any more? Bishop John Pritchard comments in his book that ‘novelty is not always best and familiarity can encourage real engagement in prayer.’ I could not have put it better myself.
Yet I found this book perhaps the most difficult to deal with. As Warden of Cranmer Hall, Pritchard was in charge of educating many ordinands. Were they really taught to pray by imagining a stone thrown into a pool of water, or to see themselves as astronauts looking down on the earth?
During the intercessions entitled ‘the breaking of bread and pouring of wine,’ the intercessor considers that the mind might wander during worship (during the intercessions perhaps). This paragraph ends with the words ‘wouldn’t it be nice to be a happy pagan?’
Now I realize this question should elicit the reply ‘no, it wouldn’t be,’ because as the prayer continues, we encounter God in the bread and wine. I think it is the wrong question to ask in a church when we should be praising God, not considering the benefits of rejecting Jesus, for surely there are none.
Pritchard does encourage us to use silent prayer more and I think events such as the Caister retreat show that this is valuable. Whether one can have ‘guided silence’ as he suggests is another matter. A period of silent prayer is surely one that is uninterrupted, when people can pray or meditate in their own way.
Melvyn Matthews’ anthology of prayers for throughout the year is of some value to those for whom daily prayer is a new phenomenon, as well as for those who are looking to broaden the horizons of their prayer life. The prayers range from those by the great liturgists of the church such at St John Chrysostom down to an anonymous African Christian. Each prayer is followed by an explanation of what it means to Matthews and also some of its history.
Matthews does the church a service by introducing his readers, the men and women in the pews, to the prayers of earlier generations (such as those of Chrysostom and Julian of Norwich, as well as little-known Anglicans such as Thomas Traherne).
These prayers clearly deserve to be rediscovered by Christians disillusioned with modern liturgies. Matthews makes an interesting decision to include a prayer from both the Muslim and Jewish communities. It is up to each reader to decide the merits of doing this. This is a book to be used by the individual Christian and to be shared with friends and used in public prayer.
Michael Perham’s book of devotional meditations for use between Advent and Candlemas again has reflections on works by Christian writers of earlier periods, as well as liturgical texts offered by Common Worship. Perham reflects on the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph through the stories of the nativity with some skill, and there is much to meditate on.
I would certainly think that this volume will allow people to develop their own lives of prayer. By using poems and hymns as a basis for his reflections, Perham reminds us of the value of these two genres when praying. So often we can forget that a hymn can be a form of prayer set to music.
Having read all four books, I was struck by the question: who buys these volumes? I think the best advice that can be given to one leading intercessions in a church either lay or clerical is to choose just a few volumes of prayers that they can actually use. Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to take a leaf out of Melvyn Matthews’ book, buy a small notebook and create your own collection of favourite prayers, meditations and intercessions. Personally, I think I will stick to the Book of Common Prayer.
AN APOLOGY In a book review from late last year, it was stated that ‘in several states of the USA Christian Science youth organizations have been prosecuted for child abuse.’ This was careless writing, and we apologize. What the reviewer should have said is that ‘in several states of the USA individuals working within Christian Science youth organizations have been prosecuted for child abuse.’
On not being bothered
Inertia is one of the great forces of history. History is, of course, the story of change, of what is different. But it is as much, if not more, also about what is the same. It is a commonplace historical exercise to take the terminal dates of a century, or a reign, and to see what was different at the end from the beginning. It is an even more instructive historical exercise to see what is the same at the end of a reign or of a century as it was at the beginning. Vis inertiae should not be underestimated.
There is something infinitely satisfying about being busy doing nothing. Sitting, reclining in the sun, eyes shaded, an open book across the chest, a cool drink at hand, simply watching the world go by, only stirring to flick away an irritating insect or to summon up enough energy to order another cooling tincture from the memsahib. Ah, bliss.
When winter draws in, the days darken, the sun disappears, the garden is shrouded in mist, the inert regime is to wallow in daytime television. Ah, Richard. Ah, Judy. Oprah, where art thou at this hour (3.30 pm)? What will Countdown be without the ineffable Richard Whiteley? For those made of sterner stuff and seeking serious drama to wile away those difficult hours between pre-luncheon sherry and pre-dinner gin there is the King Lear of daytime TV, Neighbours.
The joys of inactivity should not be underestimated. The world is too busy. There is too much frantic activity. If our politicians spent more time sitting on the green benches making paper aeroplanes and chatting amiably about fly-fishing, rather than busying themselves with trying to run every aspect of our lives, we would be a happier land. Rest from your labours, ladies and gentlemen. Conserve your energy, my good fellows. Be not so liberal with your nannying enthusiasms, follow your leader. Charles Kennedy seems to have the right do-nothing idea.
Rousing myself early from the dinner table one night recently, my attention was drawn to a young lady performing on the television, Miss Catherine Tate, a comedienne of some note and inventiveness. She portrays, with all the delicacy so reminiscent of dear Dame Edith Evans and the poignancy always associated with the even more dear Dame Sybil Fossdike, a character of a charming schoolgirl whose answer to any and every problem that she encounters in her gilded life is ‘Am I bovvered?’ Of course she is not bovvered. Why should she be? Why should any of us be bothered? Being bothered just makes us hot. We wind ourselves up into paroxysms of anger. And to what purpose? Does the world totter on its axis? Do we feel better? Or do we not merely feel even more frustrated with life and its vicissitudes? Much better not to be bothered. Let it all wash over you. Rein it in. Lie down until the moment passes.
Well, I suppose I should rouse myself, press on and write this column for New Directions on the Conservative Party leadership election and its narcotic implications: but does it really matter? Much rather lie down, sip an early Horlicks and drift off for the rest of the afternoon. No bother.