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Diary: Glyn Paflin

14 December 2018

“Bethlehem, Dec., 1918” from The Last Crusade by Donald Maxwell

“Bethlehem, Dec., 1918” from The Last Crusade by Donald Maxwell

‘R’ you prepared?

THERE is a trivial pastime in which you change one letter — of a film or a book title, say: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Punner. The results are occasionally amusing and often unprintable. But does the Church of England now have a department “intentionally” doing it to the Church’s seasons? If so, I wait to see what Lent will be. Advent has obviously become Advert.

Now, adverts are a splendid thing (the CT has a department, too), and this is the last church season to spark a glimmer of recognition in most of the British public. So, I don’t at all blame the Church Near You people for chivvying me about Advent and Christmas services — though what I would really like to know is how the regular page can be fixed so that we don’t appear to have the Vicar who retired three years ago, or to hold all our evensongs at midnight.

Nor have I yet lost control over the urge to “snooze” the Facebook friend who is “interested in” every darn festive thing happening in any church or chapel in London; and I can only envy the neighbours their Christmas-service posters lavishly filling billboards at regular intervals on the Tube-station escalator, since, after all, it is in their parish. (But the Overground stop is ours, it is tempting to add.)

But it is all looking just a bit anxious and competitive, and there may be overkill. After all, plenty of people are able to find their way to a Christmas midnight service when they are blind drunk.


Present imperfect

A SPIRIT of calm has descended at the office, however, in the shape of a London City church’s leaflet, which includes a reassuring Rector’s letter: “We can find ourselves nagged by a feeling that our Christmas is not like those ‘perfect’ ones we see in the media. #FollowTheStar doesn’t ask you to be perfect either, we’d just like to get to know you,” writes the Revd Katharine Rumens, of St Giles’, Cripplegate.

It is a smart and informative leaflet that wouldn’t disgrace a Barbican mantelpiece (if there be such a thing); but the irony, of which Ms Rumens is also aware, no doubt, is that the judging — be it of the music, the mince pies, the biblical protein content, the evocation of unknown Christmases past, or the “welcome” — is more likely to be done by occasional visitors than by clergy or the regular congregation.

I recall the lady who came to a thinly attended Easter service and told one of the churchwardens that we had made it the worst Easter she had ever had; and the people who came to a carol service, sat near the front, and marched out after the bidding prayer. No wonder there is always a tense moment some time around the end of the final choir rehearsal when you wonder who is going to blow up first.

Well, it’s church. No, it’s not going to be perfect, far from it, because it’s real, not a shiny, smily cult or even a TV commercial for Marks & Spencer’s. All complaints should be addressed to Santa (c/o The Coca-Cola Co.).


In terra pax

WHEN we were looking for something different to illustrate our Armistice supplement (9 November), I dug out the artist Donald Maxwell’s wartime record The Last Crusade (Bodley Head, 1920).

Since he died in 1936, the last reader to have looked forward to his full-page illustrations week by week in the Church Times has probably gone to join him by now (I knew a lady in Clapham who recalled them fondly; her father had crossed swords on our letters page with Athelstan Riley).

But before the CT, Maxwell contributed (among other things, a series on the Holy Land, 1914) to a magazine from our stable, The Treasury, for which we now have a pictorial archive but not the volumes themselves; and had been a war artist with the Royal Navy, which is how this book came about.

Apologies for the book’s title, but the British do seem to have been rather pleased with themselves about their newly achieved occupation of the Holy Land. The final chapter is headed: “In Terra Pax”:

“The war is over. Christmas is near. The road to Bethlehem is thronged with British troops. Officers and men on leave are up to visit Jerusalem and see the Holy Places for themselves before returning to their homes. British soldiers are guarding the Church of the Nativity, men of Kent and yeomen of East Anglia.

“Across sun-baked plains by the rivers of Chaldea, wise men, the wise men from the west, are setting out towards their brethren in Syria to bring a highway and a road to make the rough places smooth and to cause the desert to blossom as the rose. . .

“Swords are being beaten into ploughshares, and the lion, the British lion in the person of each military governor of the country districts, is lying down with the lamb, the lamb being represented by the poor Syrian peasant fleeced again and again by the ruling Turk. . .”

And there is a lovely picture, which seems to imply that since the first Christmas, Bethlehem, Dec., 1918, had never had it so good. I wonder.


Sussex memoir

HEAVEN knows why, but they never ask me for my Book of the Year; so last year I named it anyway (Diary, 24 November 2017), and, now that that is a tradition, it must be maintained.

This year’s book, with a preface by Lady Maude, has to be Mixed Fruit from a Sussex Tree: Aspects of John Snelling*. John Snelling is a Horsham author and a member of the Rotary Club. He is also what we used to call a Churchman, and his somewhat serendipitous hardback is enlivened for a Church Times readership in particular by personal recollections of his lifelong friend the late Anglo-Catholic Bishop Brian Masters, and of church life in Cambridge in the 1950s.

Of the latter, the most piquant passages concern a party with poor refreshments but a red biretta with two candles on either side of it as you went in the door, and a distinct atmosphere of Against the Law. The author made his excuses and left.

There are recollections of Bishop Masters which may not be found elsewhere. When Masters was a parish priest in Hoxton, he was walking through the streets, caped and biretta-ed, of course, with his widowed mother, who kept house for him, and the author’s mother. Among a group of children that they passed, one small boy, pointing to Masters, confided to another: “That’s Jesus, that is.”

I thought our readers had better know before he returns.

*Country Books, www.countrybooks.biz, or www.sussexbooks.co.uk, £20; 978-1-910489-52-9

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