Diary: Pat Ashworth

05 April 2019

Star chart; Daughters of Jerusalem; Skewing the view; Getting into the habit

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Star chart

TODAY, I rode on Ada Lovelace; yesterday on Vicky McLure. The 38 trams on our system are named after local heroes past and present, nominated by the people of Nottingham. It’s a crazy galaxy of stars in which Robin Hood, Lord Byron, and Sir Jesse Boot (of Boots the Chemist fame) rattle happily down the tracks alongside Brian Clough, Alan Sillitoe, and Torvill and Dean.

There’s William Booth of the Salvation Army; Mary Potter, foundress of the Little Company of Mary Sisters, and some worthy charity workers. The latest name to be added is the much respected head teacher of a school for children with severe learning difficulties. But I’m pondering the absence of any bishop or cleric. Even Friar Tuck didn’t make it.

As we rumble past some of our finest city churches, I reflect that maybe it’s the word that’s the problem: heroic though many of them undoubtedly are, there’s no ready association of “hero” with “clergy”. I catch Colin Slater for the journey home; anyone who has sat on the General Synod for decade after decade is a hero in my book, but the honour is actually for his 60 years and 2000 matches as a Notts County football commentator for BBC Radio Nottingham. There’s surely a sermon there.

Daughters of Jerusalem

NAMES and titles have been on my mind. What used to be the Women’s World Day of Prayer — always a March fixture — this year turned into the “women-led” World Day of Prayer (Letters, 1 and 8 March). What? If ever there was a year not to make that change, it was this one: a service prepared by the women of Slovenia on the theme “Come — Everything is Ready”.

A table, bare at the start of the service, is lovingly laid for a meal, as it would be in a Slovenian farmhouse. Out comes the lace-edged linen tablecloth that we all keep out of sentiment for our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, and which is the one thing even the slatternsamong us will iron. Careful hands put out the basket of bread, the wine in a decorated ceramic jug, the water, the salt in a treasured shaker, and the vase of red carnations and scented rosemary that symbolise celebration.

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It is simply done. Readers voice the Slovenian women’s experiences: the Roma children mocked at school; the hard-pressed single mother who speaks of the double burden of work and family care; the woman who has suffered domestic violence; the 80-year-old whose children have moved to the city for work and who is left to maintain and manage the farm. Faith and resilience are being celebrated here, and it is women’s experience.

This annual service has always been open to all, but there was something special about a wave of women’s prayer encircling the globe. We question the change and lament the loss.

Skewing the view

I AM determined to make only oblique reference to the “B” word, but it’s been interesting times here in the Broxtowe constituency, where our MP, Anna Soubry, left the Conservatives to join the Independent Group (News, 22 February). On the day of the announcement, the television cameras hastened to nearby Beeston, where both main parties have constituency offices. Beeston is close to the university, and is, on the whole, a desirable place to live: the growing number of Chinese and Malaysian students are broadening the population mix.

But a vox pop on the High Street highlights a grumpy man in a flat cap, buying vegetables with a lack of pleasure which amounts almost to distaste; and — for some unfathomable reason — a dim and sparsely populated hall, where a few elderly couples are doing the foxtrot. I think it’s probably for the sake of a pun about what the next steps are going to be. And I wonder how much our perceptions of people and places are determined by hasty media forays such as these; and I think that, in this whole débâcle, it really matters.

Getting into the habit

MY SANCTUARY from the politics of the day is immersion in all things monastic. In the interests of authenticity in a play coming up for performance this summer, I’m trying to get to grips with plainchant, and I drive to Mount St Bernard Abbey to hear the Cistercian monks sing the daily Offices. The building is visible for miles around in this part of rural Leicestershire, where sheep grazing in the surrounding fields are untroubled by the confidence and urgency of the monastery bell.

Calvary is created in the grounds, high up on a rocky crag. There is no irony intended, I’m sure, in the notice that warns those aspiring to reach its Gothic heights that “The steps to Calvary are dangerous.” The steep path twists and turns in the ascent, and the wet stone does require care, but the effort is worth it for the immeasurably rich experience of being above the monastery and looking down on its Pugin magnificence.

There’s a surprising lack of formality about the Office. There’s no solemn procession; rather, a gradual filling-up of the stalls and the Brothers wandering in, in the way of congregation members anywhere. They are remote from us: a distant sound with an unmistakable thrill; a blur of white habit; words hanging in the echo.

In the bookshop, I’m drawn to an exquisite illustrated copy of the Rule of St Benedict. But I’m even more pleased to find among the books on display Dave Walker’s How to Avoid the Peace — a sense of balance that satisfies.

Pat Ashworth is a journalist and playwright.

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