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29 May 2015


Shaken, not stirred

"GOOD evening, Mr Bond." As spoken by the Queen, these words were part of the jaw-dropping moment in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, when the Church of England's Supreme Governor flew over the Olympic Stadium and parachuted in.

Why were they going round my head? Because I found myself in the great courtyard of Buckingham Palace, on the way to a royal garden party. We had walked, rather self-consciously, through the main gates, under that balcony, up the steps that the Prime Minister negotiated only a week or so ago, and on into the entrance hall (rather like a theatre foyer, but I suppose that's what it is, really), and then out into the garden. No Bonds to be seen, though: only young people in livery cheerfully welcoming you.

The gardens are like a park, with wide sweeping lawns, a lake, and walks winding through the vermilion and cerise rhododendrons. It is hard to believe that you are in a private space in central London, despite the growing circle of cranes and tower blocks.

Industrial-sized tea marquees are on parade along one side, with pavilions for military bands at either end, playing surprisingly modern pieces, including, I was tickled to note, the theme from the latest Bond film, Skyfall.


Cassocks are forever

CLOTHES had exercised our minds, as you can imagine: my compan- ion had commissioned a splendid hat in the shape of a willow-pattern plate, which was a hit; I couldn't face morning dress, and opted for a new suit in sober clerical black.

There had been an extra note included in the information pack alongside the security details and the DVD order form that had accompanied the stiff invitation card (now in perpetuity on the mantelpiece), saying that clergy could wear cassocks. Around the gardens I saw that a fair number had.

There were more canons in pink piping than you could shake a cathedral verger at, and a cluster of purple-cassocked bishops in the centre who seemed to stick together for security throughout; but it was the Queen's Chaplains, resplendent in scarlet, dotted around like latter-day Cardinal Wolseys, who for me won the clerical-fashion stakes on the day.


Head of Q branch

WE QUEUED up and saw the Queen process through, then queued up and saw the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles. We then queued for (splendid) sandwiches and cakes. It was very British, all that good-natured queuing. But my favourite bit was the last half-hour, when everything was winding down, just sitting by the lake in the early-evening sun and watching the ducks and the shadows on the water, chatting with some other friends who happened to be there, too, on the same date.

It was a hugely special and not-to-be-repeated day, but I was surprised at how familiar it all felt. It is, I suppose, part of our national DNA and communal memory: all those royal engagement photos of shy girls in blue with sapphire rings, children running around, and packs of frolicking corgis. I suppose I had, in a way, just walked through the backdrop for our national family photo album.

I will now return to my natural and wonted obscurity. I am ordering the DVD, though.


You only live twice

BEING profoundly shallow, I'll do anything for a free full English breakfast; so it was that I tagged along as the Mayor's Chaplain, with the Mayor and Mayoress of Brighton, to a prayer breakfast put on by the High Sheriff of West Sussex at Wiston House, a beautiful Elizabethan pile in the foothills of the South Downs near Steyning.

The great and the good from both East and West Sussex were there, and the odd interloping hanger on, like me; and an excellent breakfast it was, too. The former Head of Public Affairs at the BBC talked to us.

I must admit, I normally glaze over at such events (ref. shallowness, above), but found him riveting on the subject of meaning and purpose in Western Europe in comparison with South America and Africa. Something he quoted from Mark Twain has stayed with me: "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." That will find its way into a Moulsecoomb sermon soon.


For your eyes only

BUT the visit unearthed for me a completely forgotten memory. Wiston House has, since 1951, been the venue for the Wilton Park Programme - a series of international conferences on world peace, initiated by Churchill and promoted by the Foreign Office ever since. Some 20 years or so ago, another university friend attending one of these conferences crash-landed on me (I was Deputy Vicar of Brighton and living in the town centre at the time), because accommodation at Wiston was full.

The son of a clergyman, he had joined the Treasury, moved to the Foreign Office, and ended up at GCHQ in counter-espionage. He turned up on a Harley-Davidson in full black biker leathers, and I took him to the pub to meet the choir after a choir practice. They were agog.

"What do you do?" a chorister asked. My friend smiled sweetly.

"I'm a spy," he said, "and I can't tell you."

It did my street cred no end of good. "Good evening, Mr Bond," indeed.


The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.


Wed 17 Aug @ 08:39
RT @rachywakeyNiche CofE tweet. What do you do with your @ChurchTimes packaging? Today a parishioner gave me two bags of apples… https://t.co/bJYqvmbyrQ

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