Thurifer comes out of lockdown

 

One of the modern tropes that I do not understand, among many, is “my truth”. What does that mean? Does it mean perception? Opinion? Outlook? Interpretation of events? And why should I believe your truth if it is patently false? It may be the result of misunderstanding or bias on your part, a sense of misplaced grievance, or wilful distortion, or a refusal to accept that you might be wrong? How can anyone even begin to engage with such an absurd assertion? “What is truth?” said jesting Pilate but did not wait for an answer.

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This is the month when all the restrictions to which we have been subjected and to which we have adhered – well, some have adhered – are likely to be lifted. This is being written in early May so, given the history of last year’s lamentable track record of government prognostications, over promising and under delivering, but ultimately redeemed by the vaccination exercise, we may be exactly where we were before. The pandemic has irreversibly seeped into our consciousness and memory. After years of over indulgence and under achievement, after fifteen months of near isolation, the words “Would you like to go for a walk?” are anathema. Although perfectly content to walk from point to point, from house to shops, around galleries, museums, stately homes, a walk has to have some destination and some purpose, just to walk does not inspire me. During lockdown, however, I did go out to take exercise a few times and walked around my leafy suburb to admire the varied architecture and explore side streets, crescents and cul-de-sacs that were not my usual routes. That gave me some sense of a purpose. Fortunately, I live in a suburb full of architectural interest, an environment where the air is perfumed with hints of autumnal decomposition or spring growth and entitlement, but there was only a limited number of routes and they just about saw me through the first two lockdowns but by the third I had seen several times most of the interesting features that there were to be seen and in the cold and damp the appeal, such as it was, weakened and quietly expired. I gave free rein to my inner idleness.

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I was invited to a diocesan “webinar”. I declined.

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My first al fresco restaurant lunch for over six months confinement in my leafy suburb was shared with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Admittedly, he was several tables away. Our table was episcopally graced and signalled a return to the social whirl. Invitations to a free-loading lunch are welcome.

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One of the successes of the irksome lockdown was online liturgy. Given constraints and the technical wizardry involved I dipped into some excellent offerings. I decided, however, that for Sundays and Holy Days I would stick with one church. I doff my biretta with much gratitude to S. Mary’s, Bourne Street. It was not the same as being there but it was beautifully executed, even with the odd technical hitch, and too few sightings of the Vicar’s dog, Sam.

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14 August 1925: “I finished reading Casanova’s memoirs today. They are absorbing and yet … they are dull enough in themselves. A thousand pages of adventures of loving every woman who would let him – of raping nuns and seducing servant girls and cheating friends and generally being a cad. Anyone’s life – anyone in ‘our world’ I mean – would be more illuminating if candidly revealed?? But would it?” There are 951 pages in the first volume of Henry “Chips” Channon’s diaries with two more to come. A much shorter volume, a heavily redacted and expurgated edition of the diaries was published in 1967 edited by Robert Rhodes James. Simon Heffer is the exemplary editor for the current publications and his many footnotes while necessarily concise, convey all that is necessary for context and biography and sprinkled with deadpan wit. Universally inaccurate ages are corrected with lapidary regularity. Whether or not Channon originally intended them for publication, by his death he left instructions that they ought not to be published until 60 years after his death. He died in 1958. The best and most unbuttoned diarists tend to be of the second or, in Channon’s case, third rank of whatever profession they follow. Channon was an inveterate socialite of private income with connections in every social stratum. From kings to commoners. He also had the good fortune of being so often in the right place at the right time. He was often on the wrong side of history as his social and political world disintegrated. Unencumbered, mostly, by office or an eye to posthumous reputation made him a more acute chronicler. Malcolm Muggeridge’s review in The Observer of the original publication had it right, ”Grovellingly sycophantic and snobbish as only a well-heeled American nesting among the English upper classes can be, with a commonness that positively hurts at times. And yet – how sharp an eye! What neat malice! How, in their own fashion, well written and truthful and honest they are! … What a relief to turn to him after Sir Winston’s windy rhetoric, and all those leaden narratives by field-marshals, air-marshals and admirals.” Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, The Diaries 1918-38 Edited by Simon Heffer, published by Hutchinson £35. Given its heft and entertainment value, and the calories lost carrying it about the house, it is not eye-wateringly expensive.