To Russia with love
THE Cold War may not have resumed, but Anglo-Russian
relationships are certainly icier. Getting a visa to go Russia is a
chilling process, as we found recently.
First, you have to fill in a vast online form. Among other
sweeping demands, the form tells you to list every overseas visit
you have made in the past ten years. Both Pat and I are airborne
enough to find this task challenging. We knew that they would check
our forms against our passports, and that, if we got the tiniest
detail wrong, we would be met with a firm "Nyet." But,
finally, we completed and submitted the forms. And in good time,
too - so we thought.
A few weeks later, trusting that our applications had been
approved, we pitched up at the Russian visa office to collect our
visas. There we joined a queue. (A matchless capacity for queuing
is one feature of Soviet culture to have survived the fall of
Communism.) But, when we got to the counter, Svetlana, let's call
her, told us that they had no record of our application.
Apparently, we had applied too soon. The Kremlin computers had
automatically deleted our forms. There was no alternative but to
start the whole rigmarole again. At which point I lost the will to
live. Were the treasures of the Hermitage so glorious, I wondered,
that it was worth suffering such pain to get to see them once more
before I died?
My misery must have been etched across my features, or my sobs
have been insufficiently muffled; for Svetlana suddenly ceased to
be the impersonal tool of an uncaring bureaucracy, and became a
compassionate human being.
"John," she pleaded, leaning across the counter, "please do not
look so sad."
THE other day, strolling along the seafront, I was solicited by
a young lady. There was nothing improper about her advances: she
was here to learn English at one of the many language schools in
Brighton. On a fine summer's day, they send their students out to
talk to people.
They provide them with a list of questions to use as
conversation-starters, but they do not, it seems, give them any
guidance about matching their questions to the kind of people they
approach. Clearly, no one had told this girl that it was no use
asking an elderly retired clergyman: "Who is your favourite
WHAT does everyone do on a wet Sunday afternoon in August in
London? We found out on a sodden Seventh Sunday after Trinity. Most
of mankind, as we used to call it, seeks refuge from the rain in
the British Museum.
We found ourselves caught up in a mêlée at the main gate in
Great Russell Street. The young man on the gate had clearly lost
control, and there was the threat of violence. I wondered if the
museum would deploy ordnance from its unrivalled collection of
ancient weaponry to repel boarders.
In the event, we made it into the museum with no injuries.
Skirting the hordes of Japanese tourists taking selfies in front of
the Rosetta Stone, we headed for our goal, the Museum's current
special exhibition "Ancient Lives, New Discoveries". Most people
find mummified corpses resistible, it seems, and we found the rooms
In fact, the exhibition is fascinating. Modern technology lets
you see inside a mummy without unwrapping it, and CT scans,
projected on to the wall, showed us both the corpses and their
insides. I paused in front of Paddy, one of the eight mummies on
display. (Padiamenet was his full name, and he was Chief Doorkeeper
of the temple of Ra, c.700 BC.)
Paddy suffered - how he must have suffered - from numerous
dental abscesses. I wondered, as so often I wonder, about how the
statements that Christianity breezily makes about the human
condition generally relate to the circumstances of one particular
human being. I know what Christianity says about humanity - we're
made in the image of God, and all that - but what does Christianity
say about Paddy and his abscesses? Please tell me.
First things first
OVER lunch with friends in a sea-front restaurant - I go for the
tagliatelle alla carbonara - one of the party asks: "Is the world
getting worse?" Her question is a cry from the heart, a visceral
response to the reports of human affliction and wickedness that
fill the news. Our despair at the horrors unfolding in our own time
merges with the sickness of heart we suffer as we revisit the
events of a century ago.
These days, I often turn to Ethelbert Stauffer. Stauffer,
writing as darkness gathered in Germany in the 1930s, saw clearly
how history was taking the course that the New Testament foresaw.
"All the calamities which meet us", he wrote, "are but the menacing
heralds of a final, fearful visitation which God has appointed for
the end of history.
"When that time comes, the avalanche of sin, sorrow, and death,
which, ever since man's first sin, has been sliding down history
with unremitting increasing and overpowering momentum, will finally
come to rest in one mighty roll of thunder."
For dessert, I plumped for the lemon sorbet.
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.