A bridge too far?

Life can be a series of ironies. My contribution to the genre is that penury has constrained me to live in London – the most expensive city in the country, if not the world – and in one of the most expensive parts of town. One of the joys of this, however, is walking around areas of pitch-perfect domestic architecture. Pimlico, South Kensington, and Bloomsbury – almost wholly colonised by London University – among other areas, offer much to admire. Even somewhere that you might expect to find little of architectural interest like Kentish Town can have much to offer if you apply the dictum of the late Sir John Betjeman and look above the garish and corporate shop fronts. On the most unprepossessing buildings you will often see a neat pediment, decorative touches, wrought ironwork, something graceful and deft. To turn a corner and find an unexpected square or terrace of neat Georgian house raises the spirit.

These are buildings that are humane and on a human scale. Others are not. Canary Wharf and much of the development of the City of London are soulless, and some of the buildings patently absurd. In a recent edition of the Literary Review, Jonathan Meades – in the course of a favourable notice of a book by Rowan Moore, Slow Burn City: London in the Twenty-First Century – offers a coruscating critique of the state of public buildings and London’s architecture. It is ‘laughably boorish, confidently uncouth and flashily arid … [London] is a magnet for a caste of designers who seem hardly to notice that the milieu they inhabit is chasmically remote from the lives of those affected and afflicted by their creations’. He calls Boris Johnson ‘mendacious’, and National Treasure Joanna Lumley à gurning veteran dolly bird’ over the proposed Garden Bridge over the Thames. A bridge too far, I suspect. Agree with him or not, Meades writes whirling and cavalier prose, striking the erring Amalakites hip and thigh. I tend to agree with him: three cheers for Jonathan Meades.

Common wordslip

I enjoyed Dickensian, which was shown on BBC1 between Christmas and mid-February. The imagining of Dickens’s characters from different novels as strands in one story was the idea of Tony Jordan. He was the co-creator of EastEnders, and Dickensian was a nineteenth-century version. It was darkly atmospheric, claustrophobic, fogged, and dank. Much was owed to Debbie Wiseman’s fine, spare, telling score. There were no weak performances from an array of superb actors. Particularly outstanding were Ned Denneley (Scrooge, from A Christmas Carol, and previously unknown to me); Tom Weston-Jones, the charmingly malicious Meriweather Compeyson from Great Expectations; and the superb Stephen Rea (Inspector Bucket from Bleak House), who gave a masterclass of forensic intelligence and humanity. Richard Ridings as Mr Bumble (Oliver Twist) and Caroline Quentin as Mrs Bumble were my favourites: relentless and inept social climbers, hugely comic, grotesque, yet ultimately touching.

It was Mrs Bumble, however, who was given the most egregious error. In rehearsing the Workhouse children for a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer before the Management Committee of the Parish Workhouse, she ferociously corrects them when they say ‘in earth as it is in heaven’. ‘No, no, no,’ she screams, ‘on earth, on earth!’ Not according to the Book of Common Prayer, the only liturgical text that would have been available to them at the time. It could have been an elaborate joke – when the hapless children recited the wrong word, the simpering clergyman present could have corrected them. This would have resulted in collapse of (literally) stout party. But no: instead another step on the road to barbarism.

Hats off to Fr Cartwright

While I am on the subject: why do the men in the relatively new BBC series of Father Brown stories never remove their hats when indoors, even when in church? Perhaps Fr Brown could solve that mystery, as well as the one of why his church in Kembleford is medieval. However, all was done very properly indeed in a recent episode of Happy Valley, a gritty and hard-edged police drama. I have to record it, as the dialogue is often so badly spoken that I have to replay sections several times before I can understand what has been said. No such criticism could be made of Fr Paul Cartwright (of this parish), whose conduct the funeral in the crematorium of the mother of the main villain was exemplary. There should be a BAFTA for the most convincing portrayal of a priest, with extra marks for the correct wearing of a biretta. Fr Cartwright has my nomination.

In or Out?

I am old enough to have voted in the last referendum when we were invited to remain in or leave the Common Market. Harold Wilson’s re-negotiated terms then were as thin as Mr Cameron’s now. The Parliamentary majority to go into the Market had been provided by Labour rebels, led by Roy Jenkins. Then there seemed a greater split in Labour than the Conservatives. Enoch Powell and Tony Benn (who ‘immatured with age’, as Wilson sharply put it) led the failed ‘Out’ campaign. Now the debate seems to be an internal one for the Tories. History repeats itself: this time, apparently, as farce. I am too old to benefit or suffer much from the result whichever way it goes, so I asked a younger friend who lives and works here but is not eligible to vote which side he would choose. He came down, marginally, to stay in. I will act as his proxy.

Lent seemed to come and go quickly. A sometime Principal of Pusey House was asked by an undergraduate what he was giving up for Lent. ‘Sex and opera’, he replied. The student blanched but gamely pressed on, and asked one of the Priest Librarians what he was foregoing. ‘I believe in taking up something extra during Lent,’ came the reply. ‘I am taking up what the Principal is giving up.’ That’s the spirit. Happy Easter. ND