Diary: John Pridmore

26 September 2014

ISTOCK

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." 
 

Inappropriate viva

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 celebrity?" 
 

Dental challenge

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 uncrowded.

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.

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