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
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,
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
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
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
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.