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Diary: Jonathan Boardman

23 January 2015


Basic woodwork

I WAS startled to learn, during my shuffle along the airbridge while boarding an Air France jet, that technology has yet to reach as far as the chucks positioned beneath the plane's wheels.

I seem constantly to be boarding these days, and so was surprised that I had never seen this before; maybe there was a longer delay at the access point to the plane's cabin than usual - a fellow passenger blocking passage in a last-ditch attempt to turn left rather than be directed right, or perhaps someone's hesitation about whether to take a complimentary copy of Le Figaro or Le Monde.

In either case, I was afforded more opportunity than usual to contemplate the ground preparations before take-off. Jammed under both tyres of the forward landing-gear were huge, plank-like wedges, which were removed by a member of the ground staff's kicking another heavy wooden block, held on the end of a rope, against them.

I had not envisaged anything quite so manual (or, I suppose more precisely, pedal) in this world of micro-precision, automation, and gadgetry. But a question remained - was I reassured or disappointed by this? I remained undecided, but it was "chocks away", and off we went just the same. 

Get ready for change

AND so it seems that "Ecclesia semper reformanda est" is to be the order of the day, pace the Green report and the opening of the talent pool. Suitable enough, one might think, when our Church has just kept its annual commemoration of Archbishop William Laud. His prayer for the proper furnishing of the church is well known, and I have often found it useful on Italian ecumenical occasions when something is requested "dalla tradizione Anglicana".

Rather than fuss about whether such a tradition really exists, I've usually acquiesced, contributing such diverse things as lyrics by Herrick, and verses from Christina Rossetti and Mrs Alexander, as well as examples of Eliot's and Herbert's prose and poetry. With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity once again upon us, my little stock of "Anglicanalia" rendered into the Italian is to be called forth and applied - at times, I think, rather randomly.

Years of experience, however, have confirmed to me that, in general, flexibility, a co-operative attitude, and relative brevity are what is most appreciated by the ecumenical partner organising the event - almost always the Roman Catholic local authority hereabouts. This is even more the case if the Orthodox/Free church representative called on to contribute five minutes' worth immediately before our turn rambles on for half an hour.

Humour also goes down well at Italian church gatherings - not a tribute to any specific comedic talent I might possess; rather, simply a result of their being starved of it in normal circumstances. There is plenty of chat in Italian sermons, but few jokes. Could this explain the high levels of national church attendance? Certainly a special task force to investigate the possibility might be in order. We could find that the "sermon joke", rather than, as now, being obligatory, is banned in the newly corporate C of E. Prepare yourselves. 

Germ of an idea

SATIRE, of course, has taken central position on the global stage after the terrorist outrages in Paris. Condemned for so long as the lowest form of wit, it is riding high just now. It is such a pity that W. S. Gilbert never completed his projected opera libretto The Rival Curates, a sideways take on the Victorian Church which eventually morphed into Patience, whose targets are the British poetic equivalents of the French symbolists: Wilde, Swinburne, and Patmore. Easy meat in comparison.

One or two tell-tales survive from the original text, however: Reginald Bunthorne's "putting himself up to be raffled for", and the couplet "Your air is too parsonified, your cut is too canonical"; "Sing 'Hey to you - Good-day to you' - And that's what I shall say!"

Anna Russell memorably satirised the satirists in her identikit single-handed version of a Savoy opera. "This is the bit where we salute the flag - it's very traditional"; "Now we have the madrigal - it's a mixed quartet, and I'm not so proficient in rendering that." She tries, and of course succeeds, just the same.

In search of potential Gilbertian material, I took a quick look at the website Affirming Laudianism, as directed by a Facebook post, but had expected better. Now a little musical comedy, The Pioneer Minister, or Talent Misdirected, might be just the thing. As Miss Russell so memorably said: "As long as you follow the formula, you can put the opera where you like."

A scene in which Mrs - shall we say? - Wroudie cuts a ribbon and declares something open is tantalisingly near the surface of my consciousness. Do I have any volunteers for collaboration?

Look to the essentials

IN A world of technical complexity, modern systems, and precision engineering, a jet plane still relies on two rough-hewn pieces of wood, positioned by brute force, to be held firm or to be let free.

The project of renewal within our Church requires a strong focus on two planks of wood, fixed together to bear a human body if it is to bear good fruit. Chocks away! 

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

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