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Diary

10 January 2014

ISTOCK

Safely in harbour

THESE days, I tell anyone interested that I am "a retired retired clergyman". That is to say, I no longer do anything. I don't help out or stand in. I crave neither altar nor pulpit. I have forgotten where I put my canonicals.

To be sure, I do go to church. Eighteen months ago, after some years at sea, my wife and I made harbour in a church that suits us - a church where you do not have to leave your mind at the door, where you are welcomed without being pestered, where you are not required to sing drivel, where the clergy wear neither the smiles of Mormon missionaries nor the wardrobe of pantomime dames, and where - above all - eyebrows are never raised.

But, for me, the great blessing in attending this church is that here I can at last be a layman again. Pat and I can sit side by side in a pew after the long years in which my professional pursuits in chancel or sanctuary separated us. So it made good sense to ask if we could go on to the parish electoral roll together. Alas, we can't.

We were dismayed to be told, albeit quite correctly, that Pat could be registered, but I could not. If you are ordained - even if you have ceased to officiate - you cannot be on the electoral roll; period. In the eyes of Church House, never to be distracted by common sense, I am to all eternity an ontological alien. (I gather from Deuteronomy 23.1 that, in Old Testament times, some gentlemen were similarly "excluded from the assembly of the Lord". I'm relieved to say that I'm not banned for the same reason.)

But it is not all bad news. I learn, from the eminent ecclesiastical lawyer I consulted, that: "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" - I can still stand for deanery synod.
 

Cemetery courtesies

WE SPEND much of All Saints' Day - which happens to be my birthday - in a cemetery. The cemetery climbs the steep slopes of a deep valley in the forests above Gdynia.

We are here, with tens of thousands of others, to remember those no less loved now that they are departed. Many have made long journeys to be here, travelling from all over Poland or from wherever the Polish diaspora has settled. We come bearing flowers and candle-lit lanterns to the graves of those as dear in death as in life.

The beloved mother of Kasia, our Polish daughter-in law, is buried here. We place our gifts, and say our prayers, but we do not hurry away. We do not inflict a discourtesy on the dead that we would never visit on the living. At midday, mass is celebrated at a temporary altar among the tombs.

The liturgy is accompanied by a soloist, a woman with a voice of such surpassing splendour that I wonder briefly whether the Revd Lucy Winkett has joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and has been parachuted in for the occasion.

Night falls, and the hillsides blaze with the shimmering lights of the myriad lanterns. It is achingly beautiful. The multitudes are reluctant to disperse. For them, the communion of saints is not a form of words, but a fellowship to delight in. This is a night out with family and friends. It occurs to me that nothing quite like this will be going on in Hove Cemetery.
 

An utter travesty

Floating, floating, floating like a  Mutant bird-girl glitch; she's a puking witch.

THE couplet, bellowed by the chorus, indicates the level of the lyrics of the National Theatre's adaptation of George MacDonald's fairy tale The Light Princess.

MacDonald's story tells of a princess who, in both senses, lacks gravity. Unless tethered to the ground, she floats to the ceiling or the clouds. But she also finds everything irresistibly funny. She is delivered from her predicament by, of course, the kiss of a prince. It is a whimsical tale in which MacDonald playfully explores the themes of levity, and the trials of love.

The National has turned this delicate jeu d'esprit into yet another of the brassy extravaganzas that are taking over London theatres like Japanese knotweed. We were told in the programme that the show "engages with the current malaise over many issues: war, sexual violence, and the young girl's unfocused desires, the despairing escapist search for numbness and nullity in binge drinking, drugs, eating disorders, and self-harm." (The issue of the spiralling cost of postage stamps was unaddressed.)

On the night we were there, this lamentable production received a standing ovation from a packed house.
 

Yes, they can

WE WERE at the Mansion House recently for the launch of a remarkable book, Children Can Do. It is a celebration of how children make the world a better place. Most publications about children in poor parts of the world focus on their plight: typically, they picture children with bloated bellies, skeletal frames, and flies crawling on their faces. There are no such pictures here.

The focus of these pages, organised as a desk diary for 2014, is on what children in impoverished places are doing to help themselves and others. "Children Can Do" is the maxim of Child-to-Child, a small charity with the belief that children themselves can be effective agents for change. Copies of Children Can Do can be obtained by contacting ccenquiries@ioe.ac.uk.

The Revd Dr John Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney.

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