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Diary: Jonathan Boardman

21 November 2014

ISTOCK

Perusing the journals

I DO NOT buy newspapers or magazines as a matter of course, save for a tablet subscription to Opera (other lyric-theatre periodicals are available). So I take pleasure simply from their novelty in leafing through the unsolicited alumni, charitable, and church publications that make it to my letterbox.

The Oxford and Cambridge University "colour supplements" can be worth reading, if only to find out who has become professor of this or that, or to ask yourself how rich and unimaginative you would have to be to consider a holiday organised by the intellectually aspirant tour operators advertising therein.

Abbey News, the organ of St Albans Cathedral, is bright and attractively produced; the Missions to Seafarers' magazine and the Mothers' Union quarterly, Home and Family, are decidedly worthy; and The Maltese Anglican can raise a laugh - not always intentionally.

Considering the last issue of my old theological college's review, I was struck by the sheer weight of Westcott House activity. I paid more attention than I perhaps normally would, since I have been much involved in the arrival there of Fr Emmanuel Nazir and his wife, Fauzia.

These Pakistani former Roman Catholics were received into the C of E at All Saints', Rome, a couple of years ago, and finally they have been successful in obtaining visas to complete Fr Emmanuel's transition to full-time ministry. I will miss them enormously, as Emmanuel has been self-sacrificial in assisting me in serving our Padova parish, nearly 500km away.

I'm glad to think of them living down the Newmarket Road, and worshipping in the chapel, and walking through the cloisters of the court; and I look forward to seeing them turn up in the pages of the review.

 

From the other side

IT WAS during All Saints' and All Souls'-tide that I read the Westcott House obituaries. Two deaths of alumni - neither of them of my generation - gave me pause for thought.

John Hughes was clearly a much loved star, and dying so young added poignancy to his passing; Alan Carlton-Smith was almost 94 at his death, just before Easter. I never met the former, though was aware, even before his fatal accident, of the esteem in which he was held by others I esteem; whereas, I was one of Alan's and his wife Nan's "pals" - her word.

I would house/cat-sit for them during my Cambridge years, when they were already very much retired and dashing about on self-organised intellectual jaunts. Alan drove his roomy Volvo to Liverpool for my first mass, replete with borrowed timpani for the ad hoc orchestra, and, when occasion dictates, I still wear his MA hood and tippet.

They continued hyper-busy until Alan's failing sight reduced its attractiveness. His eccentricity and love of life was captured neatly in the published obituary; as, I sensed, was the more human side of Fr Hughes, who might otherwise have come across as a bit "pi" to those who hadn't had the privilege of knowing him.

A few days later, I was glad to come across a copy of a sermon delivered by Fr Hughes for Easter 2012, which had remained unread. It talked of ghosts and resurrection, as the appropriate text from St Luke's Gospel suggested: and, despite his proper differentiation between the character of belief in the two phenomena, I was glad that he left some room for "spooks".

Once, at the start of a stint looking after Alan and Nan's house in Alpha Road, Cambridge, I was disturbed throughout the night by the range of bangs, crashes, and bumps that were audible and felt. Succeeding nights proved much calmer. This would have remained totally unexceptional, had the same thing not occurred on the first night of a subsequent stay there, again followed by peace and quiet.

Anecdote to evidence? I suppose not, but I have had a bit of a soft spot for ghosts ever since.

 

Heartfelt wishes

AFTER returning from the archdeaconry synod in Sicily, I caught up with an old friend from Cambridge days, Maurizio Caserta, now Professor of Economics at Catania University, and a recent non-party, self-financed candidate in that city's mayoral election.

He obtained 27 per cent of the vote, and his reflection on what someone going through a midlife crisis might do - "spend money on a sports car, or run for mayor" - seemed reasonable if somewhat dependent on a healthy bank balance.

I had not seen him since the sudden death of Gaetano, aged 47, his partner of 17 years, while on holiday together in Greece, and I found myself deeply moved at my friend's loss, and at his dignified, loving grief. I was touched, too, by Maurizio's revelation that he has rediscovered his childhood faith, and goes to mass from time to time.

"I have no doubt that Gaetano died at the time that was intended, as much as I desired that we should have had more time. His death has shown me that, with God, we will be together again." With what longing do I believe so, too.

 

Back on the circuit

LIKE Barbara Pym's Archdeacon Hoccleve, I relish a bit of self-absorption in an elegiac key, although I cannot just step out of the front door to mooch around the graveyard as he could. Fifteen years now out in the European Anglican netherworld, with not even a place on the General Synod to anchor me to the insular dioceses, I can report that invitations to preach "back home" dried up long ago.

Clearly, the entirety of this diary entry has been geared to wangling an invitation to preach somewhere in Cambridge - anywhere will do: it does not have to be Westcott House. I would just like an excuse to go and visit Nan Smith, and grieve a little with her - as well, of course, as dine at my college.

But I am resigned to the fact that such an openly expressed wish, like too obvious a desire for preferment, is bound to go unheeded. I shall prepare myself for a more elaborate ghostly existence, perhaps by considering joining an organised tour promoted by the university mags - to the Safavid empire of Central Asia, say; or, better, "Haunted Castles of the Teutonic Knights". It could be a fate better than death.

 

The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.

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