Lord of the river
WE ARE back in Cambridge, Pat and I. Tomorrow, I have another
examiners' meeting, but today is "at leisure", as the
package-holiday brochures say. It is a miraculously beautiful day;
so - ticking off one more item on our bucket list - we go
To my astonishment, I find that I can still propel a punt in an
approximately straight line. The tourist season is over, and we
have the Backs almost to ourselves - almost, but not quite. A
lonely punt, populated by Chinese gentlemen, passes us on our port
bow. To a man, they point their smartphones, tablets, and cameras
Perhaps that is because, with my Mephistophelean eyebrows,
unkempt beard, and sober countenance, I bear a passing resemblance
to Lord Williams of Oystermouth, Master of Magdalene College and
Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers. So, at least,
I am told. I feed the possible fantasy of these punters-by by
gravely raising my hat and inclining it towards them in a vaguely
RIDLEY HALL once had its own punt. She was an ancient craft,
possibly dating from the time of Ridley's first Principal, Bishop
Handley Moule. Curiously, the punt had never been named. The
omission was repaired in my time when, after prolonged debate among
the student body - anything to postpone doing any work - she was
dubbed Ichabod, "the glory has departed".
We painted the name on her prow in Hebrew characters. Those
passing us on the water would ask what these strange runes meant.
(CICCU men - all men in those days - saw such enquiries as
evangelistic opportunities.) Alas, Ichabod did not long
survive. The old tub leaked like a sieve. Before you could take
Ichabod out on the Cam, you had to take the Cam out of
Ichabod. Her days were done.
But of those days none was more glorious than that of her
passing. An immense pyre was built on Ridley's football pitch, and
Ichabod was hoisted on to it. The fire was kindled, and,
as the flames rose, like a Viking longship, our punt embarked on
her voyage to Valhalla.
We processed around the pyre, a procession that became a wild
dance as one of our number - now the Church of England's most
distinguished ethicist - took up his clarinet. All of which was
either very silly, or a glorious and entirely fitting rite of
Feed your enemies
"IS THAT what we want to do?" a wise friend asked. Such was his
question when we mentioned the title of a course we had attended:
"Living Without Enemies: Christian Responses to War and Violence",
a splendid series of lectures at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
Our friend's question worried me. Did I want to live without
enemies? I wondered whether I had ever had any. Bombs fell around
me in the war, but I harboured more hostility in my heart for a boy
at school called Hopkins than I did for the Germans.
Serving as a soldier in Berlin, I was, I suppose, on the front
line in the Cold War, but I never felt any enmity for the Russians.
And today? Apart from an antipathy towards over-zealous traffic
wardens, I feel little animosity towards anyone. But perhaps living
without enemies in this lukewarm way, in a world where really bad
people are doing really bad things, is irresponsible.
Curious to see what the Bible has to say about the matter, I don
my anorak and search my Crudens. I find that, in the New Testament,
it is taken for granted that, as a Christian believer, I will have
enemies. I am not told to call them anything else, but I am told to
love them. And how, pray, should I do that?
Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad and one of the speakers
in the St Martin's lecture series to receive a standing ovation,
tells me that I must invite them to lunch.
ON CHRISTMAS EVE, we gather round our kitchen table for the
vigil supper of Wigilia. It is a tradition that our Polish
daughter-in-law, Kasia, has been eager to maintain. Kasia and our
son Oliver, and their two boys, Alex and Max, share our flat and
much of our life. (Since you ask, it is an arrangement that works
The vigil begins as the first star appears in the sky. There is
an empty seat at the table, which is there in case a traveller
should call. He - or she - must join in the celebrations.
I read the story of the nativity, and then I bless the
opłatek, the Christmas wafer. I break the
opłatek, and give a piece to everyone at the table. Each
then breaks off a piece of their portion, and shares it with
everyone else; for we are all one. (Were we in the countryside, we
would share the opłatek with our livestock, too; for on
this most holy night, as we all know, cattle speak with human
We wish each other joy at Christmas, and in the coming year. A
feast follows: always borscht (beetroot soup) and always fish. Soon
afterwards, approaching our apartments across the square, a
red-robed figure with a sack on his shoulders is seen. Who can this
be? Alex and Max have no doubts who it is. Who are we, mere
grown-ups, to contradict them?
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.