Lost in contemplation
OUR "city-break" in Amsterdam began inauspiciously. On the way
to our hotel, we got lost in a neighbourhood of the city best
avoided by elderly clergymen of a nervous disposition. We rang the
hotel, and, rather impressively, they sent out a search party to
find us. Perhaps in the past they had lost guests who, thrown off
balance by the disconcerting shop windows on the Trompettersteeg,
had fallen into a canal before checking in.
We were at grave risk, anyway, of ending up in the water during
our time in Amsterdam. We spent our days in the Rijksmuseum, the
now gloriously restored national collection. Contemplating the
Rijksmuseum's tremendous Rembrandts, his Night Watch among
them, leaves you temporarily concussed.
Stunned by such masterpieces, it's hard to think of anything
else, such as the small matter of staying on the pavement on your
way back to your hotel. It is much the same if you have just seen a
production of King Lear. With your heart and mind shredded
by Lear's tribulations, you are in great danger of stepping out of
the theatre and straight under a bus.
The comparison between Rembrandt and Shakespeare has often been
made. The French critic Élie Faure says that both of them "follow
our steps to death in the traces of blood which mark them".
We twice visited our own National Gallery's recent great
exhibition "Rembrandt: The Late Works". That show has now
transferred to the Rijksmuseum. Perhaps I should go back to
Amsterdam and see it for a third time, contemplating once more
Rembrandt's unflinching account of our mortality. But I'm not sure
that I dare.
Waste of time?
I HAVE been tidying up. I have been doing so, to no great
effect, since my infancy. I am still the toddler who never puts his
toys away. The trouble with tidying up is that you stumble across
things that distract and detain you. Those toys, for example, never
make it back into their box because a broken-down clockwork car
requires your immediate attention.
Today's clearance of long-unvisited files grinds to a halt when
I stumble across a yellowing document. It turns out to be a copy of
my first publication. (I provide the reference: Pridmore, John.
1955. "Haggai." Nightlight 2(1): 7.) Nightlight
was a tatty pamphlet of half-a-dozen or so cyclostyled pages,
circulated in the mid-'50s among the Christian Unions of a number
of south-London independent schools. It fizzled out after a few
I abandon my tidying up to peruse this piece of juvenilia. Its
tone is characteristic of much post-war Evangelicalism: hectoring,
joyless, and smug. I see that I struggled to say anything edifying
about the book of Haggai, beyond urging my readers to take a lead
from Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah and all-round
good egg. (If I already knew the ribald limerick about Zerubbabel,
I was too pious to quote it.)
I know that self-pity must be avoided at all costs, but part of
me feels sorry for that poor kid with his head buried in the Minor
Prophets when he should have been out enjoying a misspent
Things to come
THIS file of early works yields another diversion - a copy of
what must have been my earliest broadside in a broadsheet.
Published 45 years ago in The Church of England Newspaper,
it was "A Plague on the Pastoral Measure". (I see that I had
already adopted the emollient tone that I have always tried to
maintain in the church press.)
I began with a far-fetched flight of fancy. "If you walk
blindfolded into your nearest church bookshop, and reach to the
shelves for support, you will find, unlike Karl Barth with his
commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans, that you have not
caught hold of a rope that sounds a bell that rings around the
More probably, I suggested, you would find that you had in your
hands a document less likely to strengthen the faint-hearted or to
support the weak. You would find yourself clutching a report. All
those years ago, the tide of reports flowing from our compulsive
planners was already mounting, though it was not yet the tsunami it
My objection to the Pastoral Measure was to its assumption that
"the efficiency befitting the Church of God is the same as that
appropriate to ICI or Shell". In those days, the disease that had
already taken hold did not have a name. Today, we know it as
"managerialism": our Church's craving to keep up, at all costs,
with the secular business world, embracing as its own that world's
understanding of success, and how to achieve it.
It is an affliction whose growth today invades every level of
church life. (Ask your vicar.) The fear is that the malady is now
incurable. Except that one does not fear, because, of course, the
order of things that our betters are seeking to shore up is not the
way of Jesus - who never planned a thing save to suffer and die -
but of "Christendom", the institutional counterfeit of the
rag-tag-and-bobtail fellowship of his followers.
"Christendom" may yet put on a show. But not for long. Already,
stealing on the ear, there sounds the distant triumph song.
With this Diary, I must, after 20 years, "sign off". I am deeply
grateful to the many Church Times readers who, over the
years, have been kind enough to respond to my jottings.
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.