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Diary: Serenhedd James

17 February 2017


Under the doctor
I WENT into hospital in London late last month for an operation on my right arm. I am fine now, if still a little bruised; but keep the hampers coming. As the operation did not need to be carried out under general anaesthetic, I spent most of the three hours chatting to my anaes­thetist on the non-business side of a paper screen. On the other side, the two surgeons skilfully plied their art, popping their heads over now and then for an update and a chinwag.

Any ministry to the sick, and par­ticularly chatting to a conscious pa­­tient during surgery, calls for a good deal of compassion and pastoral in­­tuition. Once we had established that I was based at Oxford and that my anaesthetist had been to Cam­bridge, however, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to working out that the friend we had in common was the Revd Robert Mackley, Vicar of Little St Mary’s, Cambridge, and erstwhile Church Times diarist. He had, in fact, married her to her husband, and is godfather to one of their chil­dren.

A few days later, I was at high mass at Little St Mary’s. It is re­­markable how dextrous, literally, you need to be in church; and to be without use of the hand that makes the holy gestures seemed emasculat­ing. But it was good to hear Fr Mackley announce in the notices that one of our priest-students at St Stephen’s House was going to be his assistant curate at Petertide.


Selling Bach
I WAS visiting a friend, Rupert, who is a choral scholar at King’s: the strapping, strawberry-blond coun­tertenor, if you watched the service on TV at Christmas and are won­dering. He often invites me to con­certs and the like, and, too often, I can’t go; but this time I could. He and other talented young things were performing Bach’s little-heard cantata Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit, and Handel’s better-known Dixit Dominus.

The Bach is a gem. It has a gloriously hearty double aria for alto and tenor, “So geh ich mit beherzten Schritten”, which Rupert and his fellow-scholar Harry carried off with élan. They look alike enough to be brothers, and often, apparently, to be congratulated after concerts on each other’s solos.

Rupert has recently joined Twit­ter. Over a long lunch, we thought about potential marketing hashtags for the performance. As the Handel was probably going to pull in more punters, we settled on #DixitmeansDixit.


Next to godliness
I STAYED in a sumptuous set at Peterhouse through the good offices of the Chaplain. The bathroom had a closet which, on closer inspection, led into the organ loft. As I wal­lowed in the bath, the organist struck up with “The Heavens are Telling” from Haydn’s Creation, and choir practice began.

By the start of evensong, I was reading on my bed, and so heard the music all over again. I suppose I should have gone to chapel, but had already attended evensong at King’s, and intended to go to college matins the next day. So I stayed put, like Philip II in his room at the heart of the Escorial, except with the BCP and Walmisley in D minor, and without the gout.

The concert was splendid: an hour of music-making by some of the finest young musicians in the country, and for less than the price of coffee and a sausage roll at King’s Cross. I was scooped up afterwards and taken to drinks: passable wine in paper cups in a choral scholar’s rooms, and a sense of déjà vu.

The next morning, I awoke in the velvet-draped four-poster bed (I told you it was sumptuous), drew back the curtains, and took in the painting hanging above the fire­place. It depicted King Charles the Martyr receiving his incorruptible crown: his anointed hands raised in prayer, and his royal eyes lifted to heaven. By coincidence, it was day­break on 30 January.


Fond farewell
THE ecclesiastical offices held by the Rt Revd John Salt OGS, who died on 7 February (Gazette, 10 February), read like an old Colonial Office list: among other things, he was Dean of Eshowe and Arch­deacon of Zululand.

I cannot remember when I first met him, but it was, perhaps pre­dictably, in the Bull, at Walsingham. I was a callow youth, and he was in mufti. I ventured something vacu­ous along the lines of “Where do you serve, Father?”

”I’m the Bishop of St Helena,” he growled, extending one of his huge hands across the table.

At the time, this seemed highly unlikely, but I went along with it to humour the old boy. The next even­ing, after devotions in the grounds of the Shrine, he bore down on me — a very big man in a very big mitre.

”See?” he grinned. “I told you I was the bloody Bishop of St Hel­ena.”


Dr Serenhedd James is director of the Cowley Project, and Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

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