IF YOU are living at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro, as I once was,
and you want to listen to the BBC World Service, you have to have
an efficient aerial. I thought I would have to wander out into the
jungle, stringing picture-wire between the trees; but, in the
event, a metal coat-hanger did the trick, and soon I was listening
to the signature tune of the World Service, "Lilliburlero".
This lilting melody began life as an Irish jig. I learn that it
was first published in 1661, in a collection called An Antidote
Against Melancholy. There, it was set to the words "There was
an old man of Waltham Cross". (I offer a small and worthless prize
to anyone who can complete a plausible limerick that has such an
Recently, they held a thanksgiving service in St
Martin-in-the-Fields to celebrate 80 years of the World Service -
something described by Kofi Annan as "Britain's greatest gift to
the world in the 20th century." The celebration, at which Lord
Williams made one of his final appearances as Archbishop of
Canterbury, was an inspiration and a challenge. The canapés at the
subsequent reception were succulent.
After all this excitement, my wife, Pat, and I sat quietly in
the Dick Sheppard Chapel at St Martin's. Someone at the back of the
little chapel was singing softly and beautifully. It was a moment
that held the promise that all shall be well.
THE last time I preached in Westminster Abbey, I was nearly
late. I had not been warned that 144,000 cyclists, in lurid Lycra,
were racing around London that Whitsunday. Traffic was gridlocked,
and I had to abandon my car and head for the abbey on foot. I was
still in a tizzy when it came to the sermon. But then I suppose
Peter was, too, on that day. On this occasion - choral evensong on
Remembrance Sunday - I was on time.
I preached on our need for silence. Curiously, no one
interrupted to ask why I was talking about the importance of not
talking. After the congregation and tourists had left, our kind
host, the Treasurer, Canon Robert Reiss, gave us a guided tour of
the abbey. Empty of the milling crowds, the great building
reasserted its immense and immemorial authority. I was aware of an
So, too, long ago, was the composer John Raynor ("one of the
purest artists who ever lived, one of the world's most beautiful
people"). As the child of a housemaster of Westminster School, he
grew up in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. In his wonderful
memoir A Westminster Childhood, Raynor writes of the
abbey: "Its ubiquitous presence ensured that one never wholly
forgot the ascending spiritual impulse life should be."
WE WERE in Washington a day or two before President Obama's
inauguration. We breakfasted at Lincoln's Waffle Shop, across the
road from the Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot, and next
door to William Petersen's boarding house, where he died of his
wounds. We dithered between "grits with gravy" and "eggs easy-over
with hash browns". Finally, and unadventurously, we settled for
Later in the day, we watched Steven Spielberg's film
Lincoln, which documents Abraham Lincoln's efforts to
secure the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution - the measure that would formally abolish slavery in
Whether or not Lincoln leaves something to be desired
in terms of its historical accuracy, the film is a cinematic
masterpiece, and Daniel Day-Lewis's riveting portrayal of President
Lincoln deserves all of the awards that it is winning.
Lincoln can be seen as an essay in the cost of
discipleship, showing how the path to justice and the way of the
cross are the same. The film demonstrates, too, how messy that road
can be. If justice is to be done, deals must be done - often with
All of which Lord Williams well understood. He has more in
common with "Honest Abe" than an abundance of facial hair.
MY WIFE and I set off from Brighton to London for another spell
of "cat-sitting" in Fulham. We are to be away for weeks, and we do
not travel light. Luggage trolleys are as rare as camels at
Brighton Station (and just as refractory), but - for once,
providence uncloses its clenched fist - a trolley awaits where our
taxi decants us.
Our caravan makes its unsteady progress to Platform 4, where we
just miss our train to Victoria. A young porter appears, and
directs us to the train on the opposite platform. (Are they still
called porters?) With a sunny smile, she helps us to board. To be
sure, the train we now must take is the slow train. But, although
time is lost, much is gained; for this train stops at Hassocks, and
a life that does not allow one to pause awhile in Hassocks, where
surely many a retired cleric cultivates his euonymus, is a
As the train is about to depart, our "porter" suddenly
reappears, pressing on us the pound coin that we had had to
disburse to secure the trolley, and which we had forgotten to
retrieve. An angel has crossed our path.
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.